§ Order read for consideration of Her Majesty's Message [23rd May].
§ Message from Her Majesty read.
§ The Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act 1964, having enacted that if it appears to Her Majesty that there have occurred or are about to occur events of such a nature as to be, calculated, by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life, Her Majesty may, by Proclamation, declare that a state of emergency exists: and the present stoppage of work among merchant seamen having, in Her Majesty's opinion, constituted a state of emergency within the meaning of the said Act of 1920 as so amended:
§ Her Majesty has deemed it proper, by Proclamation dated the 23rd day of May 1966, and made in pursuance of the said Act of 1920, as, so amended, to declare that a state of emergency exists.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
On a point of order. Can you tell us, Mr. Speaker, whether this debate is taking place upon a Motion? If it is, should not hon. Members be in possession of further documents, apart from the Order Paper? The Order Paper refers to a consideration of Her Majesty's Message, but does not refer to a Motion.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)
I beg to move,
That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty thanking Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Message communicating to this House that Her Majesty has deemed it proper oy Proclamation, dated the 23rd day of May 1966 and made in pursuance of the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act, 1964, to declare that a state of emergency exists.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House on Monday, the Government have a clear duty to maintain the essential supplies and services of the community whenever these are or may be interrupted. I do not propose now to review the course of 738 events leading up to the strike by the National Union of Seamen, nor the efforts which have been made and which will still be made to settle the dispute. What the House will be concerned with today are the measures which the Government. are taking to deal with the grave situation which now confronts us.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would propose to deal not only with this Motion, but also the following one,
[That the Regulations made by Her Majesty in Council under the Emergency Powers Act. 1920 by Order dated 23rd May 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd May, shall continue in force, subject however to the provisions of Section 2(4) of the said Act.]
and describe briefly what has been done and what we propose to do under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920. I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if the two Motions are debated together, although the Questions can, of course, be put separately.
Hon. Members may wish to raise points of technical and legal detail about these Measures during the course of the debate, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who will wind up, will be glad to deal with these.
As the House knows, the Proclamation of emergency was made on Monday, 23rd May, and on the same day the Emergency Regulations, 1966, were made and laid before Parliament. They came into operation on 24th May. Section 1 of the Emergency Powers Act providesIf at any time it appears to Her Majesty that there have occurred, or are about to occur, events of such a nature as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the corn munity, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life, Her Majesty may, by Proclamation declare that a state of emergency exists.I hope that the House will agree—as, indeed, the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition accepted on Monday—that in present circumstances the Government had no real option but to advise Her Majesty that the time had come for the Proclamation to be made. If Parlia. ment approves these Regulations today, they will continue in operation for one month only since Section 1 of the 1920 Act provides that the Proclamation of an emergency is valid only for that time.
739 The Regulations with which we are now concerned have of necessity been drafted to cover a wide variety of situations. We must cover action which, though not yet necessary, may become so if the strike continues. I wish to make it absolutely clear to the House that the Government have no intention of making use of these powers unless and until the needs of the situation compel us to do so. There will be no question of the premature or unnecessary use of the Regulations. At the moment, their purpose is precautionary. So far, it has been possible to avoid serious congestion in our ports and I know that port authorities and those who work with them are doing everything possible to keep the ports open. The provision of essential supplies to all islands around our coasts is at present being maintained.
I do not propose to weary the House by going through each Regulation in detail, but it will be observed that they fall into four more or less distinct categories. The first two relate to the control of ports and dock labour. Under Regulation 1, the Minister of Transport can give directions to port authorities, or to other persons, to ensure the best use of the ports and to avoid congestion. Regulation 2 enables the Minister of Labour to override the Dock Labour Scheme, under which only registered dock employers may employ dock workers and only registered dock workers may do dock work.
The next eight Regulations relate to the relaxation of certain existing restrictions on road transport. For example, the Minister of Transport will be empowered to allow goods and passenger vehicles to be used without certain of the usual licences.
Regulations 12 to 21 enable the appropriate Ministers to give directions as to the supply of fuel, food and animal feeding stuffs, as to the restriction of postal services and home trade shipping. In this category I draw special attention to Regulation 18, which empowers my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to provide by Order for regulating the maximum prices which may be charged for such foods as may be specified.
The Government hope that it will not be necessary to use this power, but they 740 are determined that the community shall not be exploited by those who, for reasons of personal gain, might wish to take advantage of the present situation. At the moment, the price situation is somewhat better than it looked a week or so ago and this may well owe a good deal to the fact that the Government have made it clear that we are prepared, if necessary, to take resolute action.
If we can, we would prefer to leave it to the good sense of traders reinforced by the good sense of the shopping public. But we now have the powers and if there is any widespread sign of exploitation, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will not hesitate to use them. I remind the House that without the Proclamation and these Regulations we could not have had the powers.
Other Regulations provide for the maintenance of law and order and for the enforcement of the Regulations. While we all hope that only the most limited use of these powers will be necessary and that full co-operation will be given by all those to whom we look for assistance, there are necessarily provisions for the enforcement of the Regulations.
However, I wish to make it absolutely clear that, as provided for in Section 2 of the Act of 1920 and in Regulation 31 of those before us today, it is not an offence for any person or persons to take part in a strike or peacefully to persuade any other person to take part in it. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made abundantly clear, these Regulations are not directed against the National Union of Seamen, nor are they designed in themselves to affect the continuation or outcome of the strike. Their sole purpose—and this is a responsibility which no Government should avoid—is to maintain the essentials of life for the community at large.
It will, I am sure, be the earnest hope of all of us that the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to bring this damaging strike to an end will meet with early success and that the need for the powers which we are asking the House to grant will be short-lived.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
May I ask my right hon. Friend a question to which I referred earlier? A grave public danger is caused by ships being allowed to leave British ports 741 manned not by crew, but only by officers. There was an incident concerning which I wrote to the Minister—
§ Mr. Hughes
I am not making a speech; I am explaining my question. I should not like it to be thought that I was speaking without the book. I have sent to the Board of Trade the incident of a vessel allowed to leave a Scottish port when manned only by four officers and without any crew. I am asking the Home Secretary how the Regulations will deal with that. Is not that a grave public danger to the ship, to the freight and to any passengers who may be abroad and generally to the public? What Regulations will deal with that?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I do not think that the events to which my hon. and learned Friend refers as having taken place are affected by the Regulations, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will deal with this matter in detail in his reply.
§ Mr. Speaker
In view of the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), may I make quite clear to the House what is happening? We are taking this Motion of thanks to Her Majesty. It is without notice. as is normal in the case of votes of thanks to Her Majesty for the Gracious Speech and on other occasions.
It has been suggested by the Home Secretary—I understand with the concurrence of both sides of the House—that while debating the Motion we should also discuss the Regulations themselves, so that the debate upon which we are to enter can be quite wide on the Regulations, the causes which have led up to the Regulations, and the strike itself.
I would point out to the House only the technical point that I shall put the Question on the vote of thanks at 10 o'clock, and must by Standing Orders, but that that will not prevent the debate on the Regulations from continuing, because the Regulations are exempt business. I hope that that is quite clear.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for the statement which you have just made. But is it the case that a Motion of thanks to Her Majesty for a Message is always presented to the House in the form in which this is presented today, thereby prohibiting the House from moving Amendments? Is it not the case that in certain circumstances such a Motion is presented so as to enable the House to move Amendments?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am advised by the Clerk—this point has not been put to me before—that it would be possible for me to accept a manuscript Amendment. This would make the debate rather very difficult and complicated. The issue is now quite clearly before the House—the broad events which led up to the present crisis and the question whether we adopt the Regulations which are proposed. In this general debate up to 10 o'clock we shall discuss everything connected both with the Regulations and with the events leading up to them. After 10 o'clock, the debate, if it should continue, will be narrowed to the Regulations.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
(Peterborough). On a point of order. I understand the procedure for dealing with the Message to Her Majesty, but, unless I misheard him, I felt that the Home Secretary proposed a new Motion at the opening of his speech. Should not that have been in manuscript form?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am not aware of any disparity between what the Home Secretary said and what I read to the House.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Maryle bone)
Before I embark on any discussion of the Motion which the Home Secretary has moved, I am sure that the whole House would echo his closing words of hope that the Court of Inquiry which was announced by the Minister of Labour immediately prior to these proceedings will have a fruitful result. I think that the pendency of the proceedings of that court of inquiry make it even less than ever appropriate for me, or perhaps other hon. Members, to embark at any length upon the merits of the dispute out of which this emergency arises.
743 If I may revert in a substantive form to the points which have been discussed on a point of order, I confirm that it is agreeable to my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself to discuss, as we think it would be for the benefit of the House in this instance, both the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman moved and the other Motion for the continuance of the Regulations which stands in his name on the Order Paper. I must point out, however, I think correctly, that this is a matter for the convenience of the House and is not to be supposed to have happened or to happen on every occasion.
I have been at some pains in the last 48 hours to look up the precedents in this matter, and it appears that in the past the House has not pursued a uniform course of practice at all. In 1926, for instance, the Prime Minister of the day declared this Motion which is being moved to be undebatable, I think wrongly, and it was not in fact debated, but it was divided upon without a debate.
On the other hand, the second Motion for the continuance of the Regulations was debated at very great length over two or three days and is amendable by the express terms of the Statute, although we would not seek to amend it in the present case, nor do I suggest for one moment that it would be appropriate or desirable for anyone to do so.
In 1949 the present course was adopted—that is to say, the two Motions were discussed together but divided upon separately. In 1955 there was no Motion corresponding to this because the Proclamation which declared the emergency took place before the opening of Parliament. The result is that there is no uniform practice in this matter, and I think it proper that the House should pursue whatever happens to be convenient in the light of the circumstances of the particular emergency and the form in which the debate and the Regulations were placed.
I am sure that the Home Secretary will agree that this is not a happy moment in the history of Parliament or in the history of industrial relations. Nor is it a happy thing that we have been asked to do. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues thought long and anxiously before taking the step 744 which they advised Her Majesty to take. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we for our part, viewing our responsibility as an Opposition, thought anxiously and long, too, before acknowledging, as my right hon. Friend did on Monday, that we regarded it as our duty to give the Government general support in the course which they have decided upon. In giving it we shall make it plain that we do so chivalrously and generously, we hope, and not in any niggling or niggardly or carping spirit. We think it is the duty of loyal subjects to support the Government in this matter of whatever political persuasion, and we intend as far as we can to pursue that course and to give an example of it for ourselves.
Yet it is an unhappy thing that we are being asked to do, and the moment is a grave one and not less grave, if I may say so, because there are no symptoms of crisis yet obvious abroad. There are no shortages in the shops. After a moment of tremulousness, prices have apparently settled down, as the right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged. There are no angry demonstrations in the streets and there are no obvious signs to anyone visiting this capital city that a state of emergency is in the air.
None the less, an emergency may be not less grave if it consists in the slow and gradual strangulation of the sources of supply than if it consists in some violent and catastrophic cutting off of the sources of supply, and it is for that reason that we think that the Government have been right in declaring that the conditions laid down in the Act of 1920, as amended by the Act of 1964, which is the statutory basis on which we have been working, have been fulfilled and that events have occurred and are about to occur—and here I am following as nearly as my memory permits the phraseology of the Statute—of such a nature that the community, or a substantial portion of the community at least, may be deprived of the essentials of life including food, fuel, light, water and the means of transport.
It is, I think, important to stress that this is something which is liable to happen to any Government—and this is the only point of a quasi-party nature which I desire to put to the right hon. Gentleman. He, like me, will have studied the 745 precedents. I would only ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to search their consciences and to ask this question: if the positions had been reversed and the Conservative Party had been in Government and the Labour Party had been the Opposition—
§ Mr. Hogg
That has happened in the past and in the ordinary course of the political future—as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) knows as well as I; he has been in Parliament as long as I have—will happen again. If that were the case, could the Conservative Government count on the same generous and chivalrous attitude from the Opposition as we are trying sincerely to show this afternoon?
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman record any instance when a previous Government submitted Regulations similar to these and the Opposition opposed them?
§ Mr. Hogg
In the ordinary course of events and over a period of years all industrial societies from time to time face emergencies of this kind, because modern industrial societies, through no fault of their own, have certain vulnerable points al. which industrial disputes of one sort and another can cut off the essentials of life. It is useless to pretend, it would be naive to pretend, over a period of years, that management is always wrong or that employees are always wrong or that the Governments are always wrong or that the fault lies always with all three or any two of them. The fact is that every kind of permutation and combination of responsibility can and will, over a period of years, give rise to an emergency of this kind.
What we believe is that in such circumstances, whoever may be to blame, whatever may be the true merits of the dispute—and, as I have said, I do not believe it would be helpful or appropriate if I 746 sought to say anything about the merits of this particular dispute—the community is entitled to protect its essentials of life. So far as we can see, that is the only point which we need to decide today. The only instrument by which the community can protect the essentials of life is the Government of the day, of whatever political persuasion. Notwithstanding the Government's indispensable role as a mediator in industrial disputes, and their duty to remain aloof from them except where their role of mediator may be involved, the Government of the day are bound to be the instrument whereby the community protects the essentials of life, whatever may be the merits of the case in the particular dispute.
Although we may hope that the dispute will be settled shortly, either independently or as a result of the measures proposed by the right hon Gentleman the Minister of Labour today, we must recognise, in deciding the rightness or wrongness of the Government's action today, that there is no immediate prospect or sign of either party yielding its position. If there were, it might be that the Government would have been justified in postponing their declaration, but certainly on Monday and—as I believe—today, there is no such sign, and it is for this reason, too, that we think that the Government have come to a correct conclusion.
Thirdly, there is the question of timing. I confess that I am not altogether happy about the prospect of parting in Recess, giving the Government very wide powers of legislation by decree without the smallest indication in detail—as the right hon. Gentleman will admit—of how they are intended to be used and in what circumstances, and without their having been used in any particular to date. I think that it could be represented that this was a sign that the action was premature, but we do not, on reflection, think that this is so. We do not desire and did not desire two days ago, that we should interfere with the Parliamentary arrangements for Recess. I do not suppose that a single Member of the House would object to changing the arrangements if this was in the public interest, or seemed to be in the public interest to any extent, but we think that the contrary is the case.
In these conditions, it is above all desirable not to undermine a spirit of 747 calm and confidence. We think that there is nothing more likely to undermine calm and confidence than an undue or precipitate interference with the arrangements for Parliamentary sittings, either by prolonging them after the time arranged for the Adjournment or by hasty or precipitate return after the Whitsun holiday. We therefore think that, in this case at least, the Government have done right to take the step which they took on Monday, and at the time when they took it.
This brings me to the actual Regulations. I think it right to point out to the House that these are the stiffest, widest and severest to be introduced, so far as I can ascertain, since the General Strike of 1926. They are certainly the most numerous. They are more numerous than the Labour Government's Regulations of 1949, which were designed to deal with the dock strike. They are more numerous than the Conservative Government's Regulations of 1955, which were designed to deal with the railway strike. What appears to have been done is to add the one to the other, and then to go back to my father's Regulations at the time of the General Strike, and finally to add something for good measure. There are even Regulations here which were not in the Regulations of 1926. The Government are taking very wide powers indeed, and I ask the Attorney-General whether they are completely necessary.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman allow me? If, as he said earlier, the Opposition intend to support the Government in bringing these Regulations into effect, what earthly purpose is he serving by criticising the Regulations and by going over earlier ones? Is it not ridiculous to do so?
§ Mr. Hogg
It is extremely valuable, when Parliament is asked to sanction Government by decree, that we should examine the details of what it is asked to do. I say that without the smallest reservation or desire to make the responsibilities and anxieties of the Government greater than they are. Parliament is entitled to an explanation of what is proposed, and I should not be doing my duty as spokesman for the Opposition party without raising these points, for which, of course, there may be a per- 748 fectly adequate explanation. I would point out, for instance, to the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is to reply to the debate that Regulation 23 gives power to take possession of land.
Unless I am mistaken, this was not thought necessary in the dock strike of 1949 or in the railway strike of 1955. What has happened in relation to this particular dispute which makes it necessary to go back to the General Strike of 1926 and obtain power to take possession of land? No doubt there is an adequate explanation, but we are entitled to ask what it is, because, whatever view the House or the parties might take about the responsibility for the General Strike, there is no question that that was a very much more serious situation than has to be dealt with at the present time.
We are entitled to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman exactly why all these 35 Regulations, far more numerous than any laid since the war in like circumstances, are really necessary. I say to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, in relation to the power which has been taken to regulate the price of food, that there can be no objection in principle from any part of the House to taking such power. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right to say that in moments of crisis the public must be protected and that profiteering must be prevented. But I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman—I do not offhand recall whether even in 1926 there was such a power, although I think that there was—but if in 1926 there was such a power, it was because it was armed and supported by a power to regulate distribution and supply.
I must tell the right hon. Gentleman —because I have had some personal experience of this—that if he takes a power to fix prices without arming himself with some control over sources of supply and distribution, and then uses the power, he is apt to achieve a situation in which the power is found either to be superfluous or objectionable. With respect, he is utterly wrong in thinking in such circumstances that the danger lies in the suppliers taking advantage of the situation to try to put up the prices. On the contrary, when there is plenty of money about, the danger lies in the consumers 749 baying excessive supplies at an attractive price, fixed by regulation, to stock their own larders for the very innocent and reasonable purpose of feeding their families.
This is what I saw happen in the Lebanon during the war, and this led to actual famine, with people starving. This was largely due to the fact that the authorities had taken powers to regulate price without first arming themselves with power to control supplies and distribution.
My father's Regulations of 1926 did the latter and, therefore, it was possible to do the former. In the war we did the latter, and that was why it was possible to do the former. If, however, this power to regulate food prices is really to be more than a public relations exercise and is designed for actual use, which I venture to doubt, I would say that either too little has been taken or too much. The Home Secretary, I think, will not find, should the situation develop—which I believe it will not—that his powers are adequate. On the other hand, if it does not develop, I doubt whether they are necessary.
I wish to raise with the Attorney-General one other point on the Regulations. There is one Regulation, and that the first of all, which—although I may be mistaken, because these are complicated documents—I cannot find either in the Regulations of 1955 or in the Regulations of 1949 in exactly the same form, although something rather similar existed in those Regulations, and not in the Regulations of 1926.
The Home Secretary has said that these Regulations are infra vires the Act, and I have no doubt whatever in accepting wholeheartedly the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman that they are intended to be so. But I wonder how carefully consideration in draftsmanship has been given to them.
The Act precludes two separate types of Regulation. First, it states that no offence shall be created which consists only in participation in the strike. Secondly, it states that no regulation shall be created which imposes any form of industrial conscription. I do not find any definition of "industrial conscription" and I do not know what it means. Perhaps the Attorney-General knows, but I do not. At 750 least, Regulation 1—I think that I am quoting almost textually, although from memory—states that the Ministry of Transport may order, not only a port authority, but "any other person", to do any act which may be expedient or necessary for, amongst other things, the berthing or movement of ships.
Either "any other person" might include a seaman or it might include somebody other than a seaman. If it includes a seaman, obviously the Home Secretary is entitled to say on the penalty clause that that clause states that nobody shall be punished by reason only that he is participating in a strike. The right hon. Gentleman would have a good point there, but, as I see it, it is not quite good enough, because what the seaman would in those circumstances be charged with would not only be participating in the strike, but disregarding a direction of the Minister of Transport.
I wonder whether that is not, in effect, going against the proviso to Section 2 of the principal Act if the person receiving the direction is a seaman. If, however, somebody other than a seaman is ordered to move a ship and refuses to do it is this not industrial conscription? Again, I do not know what is meant by "industrial conscription". I cannot pretend to advise the House what view the courts would take. Perhaps the Attorney-General is able to do so. I think, however, that one view of what "industrial conscription" means would be telling a person to do an industrial act and then punishing him if he does not. These things require careful consideration before the powers are put into effect.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred more than once to industrial conscription. I wonder what he has in mind in referring to it.
§ Mr. Hogg
The proviso to Section 2 of the 1920 Act, in which, I think, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will find those very words. A copy has now been handed to me. I refer, of course, to the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, and to the first proviso to Section 2(1). Perhaps I had better read the two provisos:Provided that nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorise the making of any regulations imposing any form of compulsory military service or industrial conscription".751 That was the last phrase to which I was referring. Secondly,Provided also that no such regulation shall make it an offence for any person or persons to take part in a strike, or peacefully to persuade any other person or persons to take part in a strike.I have referred the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the two passages each of which has a certain relevance to the point I am seeking to make.
My last point is this. The Home Secretary has chosen, probably wisely, but still boldly, to play his cards extremely close to his chest. When my father came before this House in 1926 with Regulations which, as I have said, in some ways did not go the whole way of these Regulations and in some ways went further, he was made to explain over three days exactly what the Government proposed to do with their powers.
The ultimate test of the Government's action in this respect will not be the powers they take, because the Home Secretary is perfectly correct in saying that those powers will die unless they are renewed at the expiration of one month. The test of them will be the use which the Government propose to make of them. The Home Secretary has told us nothing whatever of the circumstances or extent to which those powers are likely to be used or the method of use.
As I have said, we on this side are prepared to trust the Government on this matter. But it is an act of faith on our part. The right hon. Gentleman must accept that the public are the very people whose essentials of life—and here I quote the words of the Statute—are in danger and have been declared to be in danger in the Proclamation declaring the emergency.
We understand, of course, that incautious words by a Minister in answer to a debate could spark off repercussions by some trigger-happy gentleman whose political opinions are not represented in this House, as we learnt from the Prime Minister only on Monday. All the same, the public are interested in this matter and if we take it from the Government that they intend to use these powers discreetly and moderately, we shall expect from time to time to be given the fullest information and we shall not necessarily 752 be content on a later occasion to be so easily happy with what they are doing.
In the course of his remarks on Monday, the Prime Minister said that the main problem—I quote his exact words—was import and export trade. I must point out to the Home Secretary that, although we on this side of the House agree with him, and although that is the main problem and probably the real danger, it is not one of the factors which the Emergency Powers Act enables a Government to take into account in tendering their advice to Her Majesty. As the Act stands, it would not be a legitimate motivation to take those circumstances into account in declaring an emergency.
What conclusion one draws from that may be a matter of dispute. Some people would say that it was, perhaps, a reason for not allowing the emergency. Others might say that it was a reason for amending the Act. Possibly the time has come—a great deal of industrial water has flowed under the bridges since 1920—to examine the phraseology of the Act in the light of contemporary economics. That, of course, must wait for another occasion.
I conclude by making one more request to the Attorney-General. When the Conservative Government in the rail strike of 1955 laid Regulations of this kind, the then Opposition asked the Government for an explicit assurance that, so soon as the strike terminated, the Regulations would be revoked. I ask for a similar and reciprocal assurance from the present Government.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) is not alone in supporting, so far as some of us reluctantly feel that we can, these emergency Regulations largely as an act of faith. It will lie heavily with Her Majesty's Government to do exactly what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said in the last phrases of his speech: first, to bring the Regulations to an end as soon as the emergency is over, and immediately it is over, and, secondly, to use them minimally and with the greatest possible moderation. These are among the matters which are exercising the minds of hon. Members, not only 753 on the benches opposite, but particularly, and possibly for entirely different reasons, on this side, too.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was, in many respects, characteristic of him. He was generous enough to commit himself to an act of faith in the Government, but with that characteristic suspicion of the enemy, he questioned whether the Government would be equally generous in similar circumstances; and I thought that question itself rather ungenerous.
Many of my hon. Friends have deep questicnings in our minds about the wisdom and necessity of asking for these powers at this time, and not least because we are not always reassured by the ready support of Her Majesty's Tory Opposition in circumstances of this kind. I thought it characteristic of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, when giving us the catalogue of priorities of his suspicions, doubts and reservations, that he should deal with that most popular of popular subjects for Tories, the question of land. By all means, rule the waves, regulate the seas, direct labour and use the Forces, force even itself, if necessary; but interfere with control of private land? No. That is a fundamental matter for the Tory Party and on that subject the complete Tory came through in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks.
There, is no comparing the present situation with 1926. In the minds of many people there is a doubt whether there is any real comparison between the actual facts of the situation and the views which hon. Gentlemen opposite and even some members of the Government have taken in this case. I have doubts and I will express them in the context of my experience of the last weeks. I have spent a considerable time with the seamen and communities in the areas affected by the strike, particularly during these last several days of the strike.
I even begin to question whether a form of emergency powers have not already been used, before they have been brought before us for the endorsement of Parliament. Certainly, extraordinary measures have already been taken and the question is whether they were wholly necessary and whether, even now, it is wholly necessary to continue to use them.
754 This is a question in the minds of not only the members of the Seamen's Union, but of many other people affected. I therefore have serious questionings whether all these powers should be accorded to the Government. It is as well to express these views because they are felt, not only by many seamen and others who support their claim—as I think most reasonable people do, certainly from the point of view of the justice of the claim and many of the terms of the seamen's demands.
There is a strong suspicion that, above all, the seamen are being cast in the role of a test case; that their claim is to be made a test case for the Government's incomes and wages policy. I am not accepting that this is so; and hoping it is not. This suspicion, however, is one of the factors which have been creating resentment and suspicion about almost every other move on the part of the Government, however well-intentioned it might have been. This adds to the sense of provocation; though I certainly accept and trust it is not the intention of the Government. But a clear statement must be made at this time to clarify the position.
§ Mr. MacMillan
Perhaps I have already adequately dealt with that point, though on another point and in slightly different vocabulary.
The seamen feel that they are being endlessly lectured by virtually everyone. They are being lectured by the Opposition, the Government, hon. Members, the Press and from all quarters. There may be some reasons why they should be lectured on aspects of these developments; and I do not dispute that. On the other hand, the Shipping Federation seems to escape extremely lightly on this score. The federation has been more than equally intransigent in this situation, though there has been hardly a word said against its intransigence and unreasonableness.
Could not the federation have offered better terms long before this strike situation arose? Before the question of industrial action entered into the picture, when the last agreement was being negotiated, 755 for example, the federation might, for once, have taken the initiative themselves, at any rate in matters of modernisation and liberalisation of the Merchant Shipping Act and regarding working hours. The federation is as well aware as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone and the rest of this House that this Act is out of date and is becoming rapidly an antique on the Statute Book. It embodies conditions which we would not dream of imposing on any other section of working people—disciplines and petty niggling restrictions which would not be tolerated by Her Majesty's Armed Forces.
The seaman is not only subject to those disciplines, but is living day by day in what is, in fact, both his workshop and his home, sometimes for months and possibly for years on end. He is cut off from all the amenities and comforts of his home and his country and is not part of normal mixed society in which the rest of us are privileged to live and work and pursue our domestic lives.
I recall the debates which took place in Parliament on this subject as long ago as 1936. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone will possibly remember them as well. I recall the priority list of grievances at sea which were given to us at that time and which were accepted by the seamen as being the chief complaints among their many problems. Speaking in 1938 about the situation then, I said:The first subject of complaint may be taken as food and accommodation—and the second, hours of work and the way in which hours are worked. Then comes the question of wages.Wages came third, although today things are somewhat different. In those days we should perhaps have been even more concerned as first priority about the proper and safe manning of ships. However, it was agreed then by the seamen themselves that food and accommodation was No. 1 problem, while the hours of work and the way those hours were worked came second—and wages third. Certainly, in regard to food and accommodation, there have to a large extent been great improvements, although there are still quite a number to be made.
The seamen do not now have such secure employment as they had for some years, particularly during and imme- 756 diately after the war. Bigger and bigger ships are being built, and ever fewer skilled seamen are required. Thus, the number of seamen employed will be getting fewer year by year. Ironically enough, out of this strike situation itself may arise immediately and continuously a further diminution in the number of seamen available in Britain, because as shore jobs become available, even during the strike and later, more seamen will continue to drift into them. As this happens, the mass influence of the Seamen's Union may, to a certain extent, diminish; and I only hope that no unfair advantage will be taken of that fact in future years.
I hope that the Shipping Federation, in any further approaches—which, I hope, we will see in the near future, jointly with the Seamen's Union—will be a little more generous than hitherto, and will not approach the negotiations in the spirit of people who are anxious to evade, bypass and dodge the implementation of vital obligations, as happened after the signing of the recent agreement. This evasion by shipping employers has been part of the trouble. Their actions also caused some loss of face on the part of the union leadership as a result of breaching what I do not think was a particularly competently negotiated agreement.
I sense that there is consciousness of some loss of face among senior officials because of some loopholes in the Agreement; but that, too, is something of which advantage should not be taken to embarrass them further. The Shipping Federation could have been more generous, even to the extent of pointing out the loopholes in the agreement. But the federation did not do any such thing. They did the opposite and exploited them. It is not a characteristic of negotiations across the table in British industry to find all the generosity coming from the employers' side.
Therefore, we must face the facts. Loopholes in the Agreement did exist and they must have been known to the Shipping Federation; because the federation certainly quickly recognised them within weeks of the agreement being signed and members of the federation took every advantage of this. Had they been recognised and something done about them at that time and the Agreement improved before being ratified the 757 country and the seamen might have been saved a lot of trouble now.
The trouble is that the agreement left so many things still to be decided and many ends to be tied up. The Merchant Shipping Act has also been left as it had been for well over sixty years. Successive Governments must be blamed for this. Both parties must take a share of responsibility for having failed to put the amendment of the Merchant Shipping Act well in the forefront of their legislative programmes. The present Labour Government must take their share of the responsibility, too. All of us are to blame.
On the other hand, in the National Union of Seamen we are referring to a trade union which was not particularly politically alive and active till recent years and which did not have nearly enough effective liaison with those in politics who could have helped it most.
Why does the strike come at this particular moment? A strike at this moment is obviously the last thing which the seamen's union normally would have wanted—or wants now—but in the union's view to a large extent events dictated this situation and this action. If one looks at the history of the union over the last few years, through the period of the unofficial strike, the reform committee, and the growing ultimate unity of the trade union to the point at which it felt it had sufficient power to employ industrial action if forced to do so, one understands the reasons for the timing of a strike which, two years ago, could not have been possible because of unsatisfactory internal conditions within the union itself.
The way out is something more difficult for anyone to find at this moment than the factors which created and gave rise to the strike. I feel desperately sorry for the responsible leaders of the National Union of Seamen. It will he a terrible ordeal for them and for the membership to keep this union fully and effectively alive, to rebuild its resources and make it strong again after the strike is over. Strike committees may come and go, but the elected permanent officials will have to live with their union as a living organisation, rebuild its strength and continue the permanent work of a body for which the Government and 758 the whole shipping industry itself, should have the greatest respect and with which we should co-operate and give encouragement to the greatest degree in our power.
Therefore, having regard to all the factors which are known to us and allowing for the mistakes they themselves have made, we should nevertheless try to approach their problems, which have long enough been neglected by all of us, in a spirit of reasonable sympathy and not simply in an attitude of outraged annoyance at their action in calling this strike.
The Shipping Federation, I must say, could get people to present it case who would make the situation a great deal easier. If I were a negotiating member of the National Union of Seamen, I should not greatly care to have to confront Mr. Forbes Geddes in his present mood across the table. If ever there were intransigence personified, it is there. There has not been any official or public condemnation of that. The federation has been only very lightly criticised. Certainly, the Minister of Labour said his piece about it and the Prime Minister recognised, rightly, that there had been abuses of the agreement by certain shipowners; but the federation as such has very largely escaped blame and it certainly is not unblameworthy.
As long ago as 1938, when the federation was pleading that it could not afford to give better working conditions, better hours and wages to the workers in the industry, none other than the late Nancy Astor told us:It is no good telling us that the industry cannot afford to make improvements. What we say is that the country cannot afford to lose the Mercantile Marine because young men will not go into it. No parent will willingly send a son into the Mercantile Marine until conditions are far better than they are."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1938; Vol. 338, c. 846.]She also said that if we cultivated by the best agricultural practice every acre of land in the country we would still have to rely on the Mercantile Marine for most of our food and to sustain our industry. Today, the industry is much more prosperous than it was in those days and it can well afford to give better wages and hours and conditions. That is what the seamen are asking, a better basic wage with reasonable working of their 40 hours and overtime by the men engaged in the industry.
759 I make two criticisms of the action of Her Majesty's Government in this situation. The confrontation was created and established far too soon by the Prime Minister, broadcasting to the country in the early days of this situation. It is well to say and recognise this, because this is said and felt widely in the country and is one of the factors which have aggravated the feelings of those in this dispute and many sympathisers. I appreciate that the Prime Minister has a special burden and responsibility—more than any of us has—but at that particular moment it would have been as well to have waited a few days to see how the situation developed while there was still a lingering hope of resuming talks, which I personally was still coming across at that stage in Glasgow, in my own seafaring constituency, and elsewhere. To say with the Prime Minister's authority that it was a conscious confrontation between the State and the Seamen's Union and an attack by the seamen on the nation was to ensure it became so and help towards creating the worsened situation with which we are faced now.
I have a second criticism. I am not blaming my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, as an individual Minister, for the situation which arose in respect of what was intended, and well intended, to be the relief of the ostensibly starving Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. Let me be wholly serious and take away the adjective "starving" right away—they were not starving and are not starving yet. There was no cri de coeur or cry of desperation, no cri de désespoir from the Isles. There was no demand that the Navy should be used at once, or within a week, or a fortnight. There was the growing prospect of a shortage of fuel in one or two. at least, of the islands; and in one or two which have not bakeries there was the prospect of a shortage of bread and flour—perishables. The Seamen's Union quite rightly said that it was not prepared to see any area going short of food or essential supplies. It had only to be proved to them, they said, and they would see to it that relief was made available. They would be responsible for helping to get it there.
My right hon. Friend had consultation with the MacBrayne Company, which has 760 a close connection with the Government because it is heavily State-subsidised. It may be said that it is to some extent subservient to the Government, although I sometimes have had cause to think that the situation is the other way round. The Seamen's Union tried to negotiate with MacBrayne's on the basis, if need be, of what is now called escalation. The union said that it would meet local essential needs proportionately with vessels and manning suitable for the purpose. The union was not prepared to see the whole paid State-subsidised MacBrayne fleet put on, while the rest of its own members were living on £3 a week strike pay. On the other hand, MacBrayne's were not content to reach any realistic accommodation with the union at that time. I give one example. I am sorry that this is a local question, but it happens that this area was spotlighted and this is where the Navy first went in and where the consequences may increasingly be felt nationally.
A means of importing milk supplies was needed. When MacBrayne's discussed this with the Seamen's Union in Glasgow, the union said, "All right. Let us get a vessel of the right size for the strict purpose of taking milk to the islands and ensuring that there is no shortage." This MacBrayne's were not prepared to do. They wanted to use the largest ship of the fleet—and not for milk only. These facts possibly are new to my right hon. Friend. The union said that it was also prepared to put on even the largest vessel of the fleet, provided that it carried only milk, but then, MacBrayne's said, "No, it would be uneconomic." MacBrayne's wanted to carry general cargo on a normal basis in their bigger ships. That was stupid in the circumstances, and it led to a lot of damage to good will and to the negotiations breaking down.
Even after that, in discussion with the Seamen's Union I was assured, and am assured even now, even though the union was provoked and challenged all along the line by the use of the Navy when there was no demand for it from the islands, that the union is prepared to help to meet every proved need of the islands as it arises. In a strike situation this is a gesture which the Government should value and understand, instead of sending in the Navy, unasked. People in the 761 Western Isles know the feelings and conditions of those in the merchant service and many families there will in time, be very much affected. Yet in the Island of Barra they said, "We shall not go short for three or four weeks." when asked, "What will happen then?", they said, "We shall tighten our belts". They support the seamen. But I do not want them to have to tighten their belts exceptionally in the Islands. Nor did the seamen, so many of whom belong to the Isles.
This is the local case we put to the seamen. "The national impact of the strike on Britain as an island we in the Isles are prepared to accept and share fully with the rest of Britain. But the special additional hardship because we are small islands, isolated from the main body of the country, we are not prepared to bear; and we think that it would be unreasonable to be asked to bear it." The seamen said that they would not expect the Western Isles, the Orkneys or Shetland to have to bear any disproportionate hardship over and above that suffered by themselves, their families, and the rest of the community, as a result of the strike. This was a very reasonable attitude adopted by the seamen, of which no one in the Western Isles or elsewhere could complain.
The other day I met the employers in the textile industry, which is the major industry in my constituency, the Seamen's Union's local representatives, and representatives of the Transport and General Workers' Union, many hundreds of whose members are affected by the seamen's strike. Around the one table they all agreed that nobody wanted to break the seamen's strike even to avoid its harsh impact on their textile trade. Like the great majority of people, no doubt they recognise the basic justice of the seamen's claim to fair hours and working and wages, and the long denial of that justice to the seamen.
The employers themselves said that they would not wish to be associated or appear to be associated with any form of strike-breaking and would rather send their arrears of textiles, which are piling up in the islands, to the mainland ports only under an agreement with the Seamen's Union in vessels which were approved, manned by volunteers or by 762 some special provision, negotiated with the union.
There is complete unanimity on the islands that the seamen have a powerful case. The islanders are prepared as a local community to share equally the hardships, if any hardships arise, of which there is little evidence so far, with the rest of the country. At the same time, they do not wish to be associated with any form of special concession which might appear to be strike-breaking.
This is the attitude of a community which is more vulnerable than any other part of Great Britain, because there is special isolation as islands within islands. They can be called off-shore islands, although I do not like the past political associations of that phrase. When this attitude prevails among people on whom the hardship may well come first, and with the greatest severity, if it comes, people generally, who are less isolated and affected, should be more willing to see the seamen's point of view and be a little more tolerant and understanding of their case.
So many people have accepted the sensational slogans in the Press headlines, fallen back on their own prejudices against all union activity, and added the two together to produce an attitude of hostility more in keeping with the mood in the House in the days when the 1926 Regulations were brought before it in the right hon. and learned Member's father's time. Others, in ignorance of the union's case, have simply condemned the seamen out of hand.
All the island people I have spoken to recently deplored the premature use of what virtually amounted to emergency powers, the use of the Navy and the use of Service men, who themselves are always pretty uncomfortable at being used in a situation of this kind. We have addressed an appeal about helping to get local textiles to the mainland and keeping textile workers in jobs to the Seamen's Union; but we have tried to do it the right way—as we conceive it—through the textile workers of the Transport and General Worker's Union themselves, affected by the strike in the islands; and we have found that that approach is wholly acceptable to the Seamen's Union, whether they can agree it or not.
763 With a little more tact, a little less public bulldozing, a little more give and take by the federation, less Press misrepresentation and a little more tolerant understanding of the seamen's case by some Ministers, it seems to me that negotiations in some form could in fact have got under way and might even by now have been nearing some workable conclusion. As a result of all the violent misrepresentation, the premature use of the Navy, and because of other faux pas in handling this complex and delicate situation, arising from failure of the federation and of the N.U.S. to come to terms on which to negotiate, the Seamen's Union has toughened over the last week. Certainly, over the last weekend its attitude has perceptibly toughened, regarding its full demands, regarding the terms for negotiation and anything else; though it has not closed the door. On the other hand they feel, as many of us in this party feel, that we must address ourselves much more resolutely to bringing strong pressure on the people on the other side of the table—the Shipping Federation.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)
I want to follow three of the points made by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan). I am sure that the whole House will find itself most sympathetic to the case he has made for the Outer Islands not suffering additional hardship to that suffered by the country as a whole as a result of the seamen's strike. This seems sane, fair and sensible, and I am sure that it will commend itself to the House. Equally, the House will find little difficulty in finding general sympathy for the seamen in the predicament in which they find themselves. However, I feel that this has to be qualified. It is always easy to sympathise with human beings in a predicament. If that predicament is self-imposed, that should not preclude us from giving them all our sympathy, but this does not compel us also to follow their logic, because their logic may have led them into this predicament for reasons which we cannot wholly accept. Therefore, it is possible on the one hand to have sympathy and, on the other hand, to disagree fairly profoundly with their actions and the causes of their actions.
764 The point which the hon. Gentleman made with which I disagree most profoundly is his constant reference to the shipowners as "they"—his assertion that "they" can do this and "they" can do that. One needs to know very little about the economic fortunes of the shipping industry at present to realise that what "they" can do, in the case of a very large proportion of the shipping companies, earning, as we all know, the lowest return on capital of any major industry in this country, would not go far. What "they" can do as shipowners out of their profits and resources and reserves would not finance an increase of this kind possibly for more than a few weeks. In the case of a number of major shipping companies, which last year earned negative profits—that is, made losses—I doubt if it would finance it for even a few days.
"They" in this context is clearly the community as a whole, because it is the community as a whole which in the context of a long period of time—over a year—clearly bears something like 98 per cent. of the total costs of the shipping industry. This is where the flow of funds comes from—through the great apparatus of collecting rates of freight throughout this country and foreign countries which the shipping industry serves. This is the flow of income which finances any increase in the wage levels and the earnings of the seamen.
It has come as some surprise to me that so far no one in the House has referred to the remarkable coincidence that the new drug about which there is so much controversy is known as l.s.d. This is a drug which does two things. It produces hallucinations and it facilitates the recall of repressed events. I am sure that the ability to produce hallucinations might be quite acceptable on occasion to the Labour Party; but the ability to recall repressed events would certainly be one of those attributes which would not be eagerly sought after by, shall I say, the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. His attempted repression of the economy by various components of the national income over a very wide front must have produced by now what one can only call a palpitating neurosis in the Department of Economic Affairs. It 765 must also have caused some qualms to the Prime Minister, whose dexterity has certainly enabled him to conceal a number of repressions, both economic and non-economic. Indeed, the Prime Minister may be bursting at the seams as a result of his repressions, and the economy over whose destinies he presides is steaming at the bursts. The right hon. Gentleman needs all his skill to calm the electorate on the studio couch of the television screen.
Today it is the consequences of the event which have led to the need for the Government to take emergency powers that the Regulations enable us to deal with. Are we as a House of Commons concerned merely with the consequences? We are concerned with something much more fundamental. I mentioned the drug l.s.d. We are concerned with an £.s.d. deficiency which is now universally recognised, not only in this country, but virtually throughout the Western world, as a form of inflationary anaemia. As I understand it, not only this House but, if we are fair and frank, all other Houses in Parliamentary democracies have to confess to humiliating ineptitude when it comes to dealing with this problem.
It seems to me right, when Parliament is debating emergency Regulations, to probe below the surface and look not just at the immediate causes but at the fundamental and real causes of the situation giving rise to the demand for emergency Regulations. If the real causes cannot be eliminated by the use of emergency powers, then Parliament should ask itself how otherwise it can deal with them.
In my view, this strike is a direct consequence not of conditions at sea, not of the level of money wages in the country, and not of the, possibly, conceded abuse—though I believe this to be small—of the weekend bonus settlement made a year ago. I believe that it is not the consequence of widespread management failure in the shipping industry, though I myself at times have been a critic from within of management failure in the shipping industry. I do not believe that has been a consequence even of the obsolete provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, for not only in shipping but in any industry 766 today enlightened employers move with the times, not behind Acts of Parliament.
It is, as I see it, the clear consequence of galloping inflation not only in the United Kingdom but in ports abroad. Seamen more than any others spend a large proportion of their money incomes and, indeed, their real incomes in ports abroad. Of all sections of the community, they are probably better placed to experience what is happening throughout the world wherever their ships serve.
The depreciation of money abroad is much more serious than it is in the United Kingdom. The First National City Bank in its recent review gave some illuminating figures of rates of interest on short-term funds throughout the world. One can, I suppose, take some sort of inverted encouragement from these figures because the United Kingdom's position is relatively favourable, but it seems more the sort of inverted encouragement which a man feels when, on falling down a manhole, he finds that someone has fallen down before him.
The short-term money rates in about 90 countries are shown to be as follows: less than 6 per cent. in only 6 countries; between 6 and 7 per cent. in 27 countries; between 8 and 10 per cent. in 23 countries; between 11 and 15 per cent. in 9 countries; and over 15 per cent. in four countries, in two of which the rate is, in fact, over 20 per cent.
These figures show very clearly the depreciation in money which is going on throughout the Western world and the way in which it is reflecting itself in prices and interest rates.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it is not readily obvious how this relates to the Motion before the House.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I was coming immediately to the point that the seamen, who are responsible for this strike, are constantly experiencing these conditions abroad and, on their return to the United Kingdom, that experience is reinforced by the operation of an incomes policy under which the norm is becoming exceptional and the exceptional has become the norm. This is wholly relevant, I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the conditions which 767 have given rise to the strike by the seamen and the need for emergency Regulations today. The seamen having themselves breached the norm most successfully in 1965 with a 13 per cent. increase, following a 30 per cent. rise since 1961, it is hardly surprising that they should continue, or wish to continue, or be ambitious to achieve settlements of that kind when they are encouraged by other plus-or-minus 10 per cent. settlements in the community.
The leader of the National Union of Seamen, Mr. Hogarth, made the interesting remark some days ago that charity begins at home. This is a strange concept of charity. As I understand it, the sort of charity involved in a settlement of this kind consists of taking from someone, in this case the community, who has no power whatever to withhold except by the sort of resistance which the community is now making, at great cost to itself. It is not merely taking change out of the national collection plate; it is taking out more than one puts in. Of course, the seamen may say, "Why not? Others do it". This is a perfectly logical attitude for them to adopt in the present context.
I have posed a problem, and I am obliged to suggest a solution. Carried to its logical conclusion, this is a component of runaway inflation, and runaway inflation leads to national disaster of the type experienced over as broad a period as the 2,000 years from ancient Rome to the post-1914-18 war period in Germany. What happened in Germany was responsible for National Socialism and many of the evils which followed. We dare not carry these policies to their logical conclusions, and we are forced to find another logic.
Governments anywhere which surrender to inflation, however grand their social ambitions, however widespread their electoral support, however ingenious their economic and technical devices, have abdicated their responsibilities and will ultimately lose all effective control over real resources if they do not meet the problem head-on and tackle it successfully. Moreover, the damage which inflation causes to that part of the community which is dependent on sound money is always more widespread than can be repaired by what is achieved in 768 the short run by legislation. I give a simple example: the relationship between the incomes of pensioners and retired people and those of people currently at work is wholly dependent on the maintenance of the value of money.
It has been said that this is a strike against the community. I do not imagine that anyone will dispute this. [Interruption.] No one can dispute that it has that effect and that the community is obliged to deal with the symptoms. But are not all strikes really protests against the sheer infirmity and incompetence of modem Government in its refusal to accept, to proclaim and to gain national acceptance for a number of disciplines?
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has ever been on strike or has been in a ship. I have. I have been on strike over various issues, and most of them never involved the Government at all. They were about 6d. an hour or what the foreman did. It seems to me that the whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech is completely irrelevant to this debate.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have never been on strike but I have been in a good many ships. In my view, what the hon. Gentleman has said is not relevant. The argument now is about whether a large body of men on strike—whether it be for 6d., 6s. or 12s. 6d.—are in any sense able to do this intelligently and to their own benefit within the context of benefit to the community under the system which we now enjoy. I contend that, under the present system, it is not possible. Too many people are quite unaware of the national consequences of their local actions. We must change this situation or the country will founder. It is as simple as that.
The First Secretary of State might plead exemption from what I am saying. The House will concede that he has made a great endeavour in recent months precisely to demonstrate this situation to the country. He might say, "My incomes policy is an attempt to do just what you are asking should be done". That is a fair point, but the simple answer is that good intentions are not enough. The right hon. Gentleman might refer us to Holland. We have heard a lot about 769 Holland as a country in which this type of settlement is agreed with great skill, great economic expertise and great satisfaction to both parties. But there was an article on Holland in The Timesthe day before yesterday, and, if one took out the word "Holland", it could be applied almost exactly to the situation here in Britain. So Holland can teach us little.
The United States is reaching the stage where it can teach us little. We have to devise procedures suited to our conditions which will meet this problem and deal with it. So far, there has been no conspicuous success nor are any conspicuou successful techniques being developed which one can say wholeheartedly are getting to work on this problem and solving it.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
How does the hon. Gentleman explain the fact that, in the United States, a proportionately far higher level of production is lost through strikes than in this country, and there is much higher unemployment?
§ Mr. Lloyd
The United States certainly has higher losses through strikes, but the figures are not entirely comparable with ours. But it has much higher productivity. The increase in the American gross national product over the last 15 years has been phenomenal and that has made it possible for them to have many Clings that we cannot afford.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has the power to take out surplus purchasing power created by a settlement outside the norm. He can do so by specific taxation. Surely it is possible for him to conceive some form of surplus incidence payroll tax. In this way, if a claim were settled at about 15 per cent. whereas the available resources of the nation permitted a figure of only 4 per cent., would it not be possible to levy a specific tax, collected by pay, on all those salary and wage increases specifically the result of this settlement, with the money collected by and returned to the Treasury?
The main controversy would then be shifted, as it should be, to determining the size of the increase in gross national product. That is what the argument should be about. The techniques of distributing it should be a great deal more automatic. There should be more argu- 770 ments about differential increases and these would have to be discussed and agreed before general across-the-board increases such as that demanded by the seamen take place.
Such changes are a precondition of general increases in national incomes when they are a response to changing patterns of economic and technical opportunity. Unless we get this national response to changing patterns of technical and economic opportunity, increases in real income, which are the only increases with any meaning, will not take place as widely or as rapidly or as effectively.
That is the hard core of the problem, which, as a nation, we are refusing to face in most of the mechanism that we us to deal with it. It has underlain practically every serious strike, every wage claim and every settlement since the war. At its root is the problem of inflation and we have not solved that. While these emergency Regulations may solve the symptoms of this particular failure, they will not solve the problem itself.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I listened, somewhat unwillingly, to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) with growing wonder. I can only assume that he actually prepared that speech for the debate we had yesterday. I am relieved that he has not been appointed chairman of the inquiry announced today by the Government.
I share some of the anxieties of my hon. Friends about the Emergency Regulations and particularly their timing, because many of us are anxious lest the announcement of the Regulations at the beginning of the week should have set back in any way possibilities of negotiation and agreement that appeared to some of us to be available at that moment. I represent a seaport town. The seamen are part of its life and many are friends of mine. I am much concerned about the possibilities that may develop from the use of these Regulations if ever they are to be used.
I should say at once that I do not know of any other occasion of a strike of such importance where the good will and support of the general public has so much increased during the strike. The way in which the National Union of Seamen has 771 handled the situation, including the matters referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan), has added enormously to the good will of the general public. Certainly, in a town like South Shields, there can be no doubt about the eagerness to support the striking seamen—an eagerness held back in part by the statesmanship of the union itself. That is certainly my experience.
One should pay tribute to the way in which the situation has been handled and the efforts being made by the union to avoid any inflammation of feeling in the country. For example, there are the efforts the union is making to ensure the proper handling of food ships coming into the Thames, and how it has gone out of its way to try and ensure that refrigeration facilities are kept working on ships with perishable cargoes and to ensure that ships, when they are unloaded, are "parked", if it is at all possible, in a suitable way.
It is an unusual situation and one we should pay proper regard to. I share also the feelings of many of my hon. Friends in the view that the claim of the seamen is not unreasonable. It is unfortunate that, to the general public, it appears as though two claims were coming one on top of the other at a very short interval. If one were to pay attention to the situation that would be achieved for the seamen were their claim to be granted in full, it would not suggest that they were claiming anything out of the way in relation to seamen in other parts of the world.
From that point of view, their claim could perhaps be more fairly stated to be a criticism of both sides of the industry in the past. We are asked to regard the claim in relation to the prices and incomes policy, of which I am a supporter because an effective policy is needed by the nation—
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
—in order to achieve progress towards the planned society that I want to help to create. But, of course, the policy must clearly be seen to be just and fair and must apply equally to us in this House as it applies to others in the community.
772 It is most unfortunate that, to the general public, the policy appears to have been applied most severely to those whose incomes are amongst the lowest, while those more fortunately placed appear to have done better. Good reasons have been advanced for the exceptions but, if the prices and incomes policy is to have any chance of success, it must be administered both to help those left out in the general pressure for wage advances and to establish a better balance.
On these criteria, the National Union of Seamen has a proper claim for consideration. I agree with some of my hon. Friends. Many of us feel impatience with the owners for their present unwillingness to come forward with some advance on the offers which they have made up to now, particularly on hours, the major issue in dispute. I very much hope that the owners will not shelter behind the statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House last night. While I accept that we must have a proper understanding of our economic situation and avoid pressures causing damage to the economic fabric, particularly for large advances, I do not believe that that can be fairly applied to this claim, especially because of the way in which it is being advanced. I hope that there will not be trotted out the excuse that no kind of offer can be made because of the attitude adopted by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
I come to the most important issue of all: what action can now be taken to try to ensure that this disressing situation, this tragic situation as it is, should be brought to an end as soon as possible. This is a matter which affects us all and all of us have welcomed the announcement today of the setting up of an inquiry. We would have welcomed it even more had it been possible to make it a week ago. While we recognise the need for a thorough inquiry into all the conditions of the industry, we are concerned to have an immediate and rapid examination of the immediate issues in dispute and nothing should be done to prevent or hold up any offer which might bring the dispute to an end.
For that reason, I very much hope that the little glimmer of hope, which we were offered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour when he announced the setting up of an inquiry, 773 may broaden out into a shaft of daylight with the proposition that it may be possible for some interim suggestions to be made, if necessary, by the chairman himself after the discussions which he is to have almost immediately, suggestions to the owners, seamen and Government which might help to bring the whole matter to an end so that we do not have to wait until the formal meetings of the inquiry and lengthy discussions before the situation can be ended.
It should be possible to take advantage of the good will which appears to be available on the side of the National Union of Seamen to avoid this issue developing into an even more tragic situation than we have. I appeal to my right hon. Friends not to use the powers of the Regulations unless they are absolutely forced to do so. We want to have an assurance that they think that it would be far better to come to an arrangement with the seamen, who have offered to maintain essential supplies of foodstuffs and to do nothing which might lead to an aggravation of the situation. There are many groups who would like to take advantage of the situation and make matters worse, but I appeal to my right hon. Friends not to use the Regulations, unless that is vital for the country's food supplies, and, above all, to enable negotiations to start, even before the inquiry begins to sit formally, to see whether some agreement or compromise cannot be reached to enable at least part of what many of us regard as a reasonable claim to be met.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd
The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the good will being shown by the National Union of Seamen. Does he imply that the offer by the employers, which is already in excess of the national Norm, does not imply good will? If so, what sort of offer would he regard as defining good will?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I am merely suggesting that in this situation and having regard to the average pay in this employment in other countries, it is incumbent on the owners to make some further offer to see whether something can be done to reach agreement.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
There appears to be some misunderstand- 774 ing about the last point which the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) made in reply to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd). I may have got the position completely wrong myself and I readily and openly admit that. I listened with a great deal of sympathy and interest to the speech of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan), but I thought that the shipowners, the employers had already made an offer.
The hon. Member for South Shields quite properly mentioned that the claim by the National Union of Seamen followed very rapidly on that of 1965. He will know that that claim amounted to an increase in average earnings and therefore an increase in costs of about 13 per cent. If the whole of the new claim were to be met, it would mean a further increase in crew costs of about 17 per cent. As has been said, this is very much more than the industry itself can possibly afford.
§ Sir J. Eden
I hope that I may develop this aspect of my argument, but I do not want to be violently controversial in doing so and perhaps it would be safer not to interject.
I believe that this amount is more than the industry can afford. This is largely because the average return on capital is about 3 per cent., which, when compared with the rest of industry generally, is very small. The return in the rest of industry is much more like 14.6 per cent. The reason is largely the international competition in shipping.
However, in spite of this and in spite of what the hon. Member for South Shields has just said, the shipowners recognise and accept that the N.U.S. now wants direct overtime to be paid for weekend work at sea. My understanding of the position is that the owners have offered to do this in three stages over two years which would cost 5 per cent. now 4 per cent. in 1967 and a further 4 per cent. in 1968.
The hon. Member for South Shields spoke about being reasonable. I think that that is a pretty reasonable basis for negotiation. It is certainly an offer and 775 not the sort of destructive attitude which some people would seem to imply that the shipowners have adopted throughout. Particularly is that shown not to be the case when one recognises, as we all do, that the claim follows on the acceptance of the 1965 claim for a 13 per cent. increase.
I think that everyone in the House and outside knows that although we are discussing a claim for shorter hours, what in fact we mean is a claim for more pay, for greater rewards, for the opportunity to increase earnings. We all know that it is not possible for people employed in this industry to work shorter hours in the sense that they have more leisure, particularly when the ship is at sea. That is clearly not on. What we are saying is that a larger proportion of the working day shall be devoted to overtime, thereby attracting a higher rate of remuneration than at present.
The average earnings of ratings are, I am told, about £20 a week. To a large extent food is provided in addition to that. One point that so far has not been brought out, and it is one upon which hon. Gentlemen opposite who have a great deal of knowledge and experience in these matters might refer to, is that the average age of those concerned is surprisingly young. It is about 25 to 27, and a very large number of these men, the majority of them, appear to be unmarried.
I recognise that there is undoubtedly a great deal to the background to this, but so far as it concerns the Merchant Shipping Acts, I am told, as a result of the inquiries I have made—because I have nothing to do with the shipping industry; this is purely an interest which I have in this situation—that the owners are well aware of the need for the revision of the Acts and that by the end of January of this year they lodged their views on the Acts with the Government.
§ Sir J. Eden
As the hon. Gentleman will certainly recognise, the next step to be taken in the revision of the Merchant Shipping Acts is primarily the responsibility of the Government.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I was intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's reference to the com- 776 paratively young age and single state of some members of the Merchant Navy. Did the hon. Gentleman raise that point as being relevant in arguing for a lower increase when we discussed and approved the increase for housemen in the medical profession, many of whom are equally young and unmarried?
§ Sir. J. Eden
No. I am not arguing in any way for a lower increase. What I am attempting to do, and I hope without adopting any particular side, is to assist the House to have a more balanced picture before it than it would have if one heard only one side of this. As with most disputes, there are two sides to the case.
On the point about the revision of the Merchant Shipping Acts, the responsibility clearly rests substantially with the Government, and they should take the initiative. I am not saying that previous Governments could not have acted in this respect. I am saying that the Government must recognise the amount of responsibility which they bear. I am glad that a Court of Inquiry has been set up, but is it more than human nature can expect to hope that the strike will be called off and the findings of the inquiry awaited? The inquiry covers a fairly wide scope and both sides seem to have committed themselves. I was intrigued by what the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said the other day when he referred to interest apparently being shown in this strike by those of political persuasion not represented by any hon. Member in this House.
What did he mean by that? I think that he was talking about the Communist influence behind the strike and I wonder why he did not say so. Why did he not spell that out? If this is really so, and I cannot see that there is anything else to it, although I may be mistaken, then the one thing we should all be concerned to see is that people are made aware of the dangers to the principles for which we stand by the entrenchment of influences of this nature. If the Prime Minister, as he clearly implied, deplores this type of infiltration, then it is much better that he should say so in language which is clearly understandable by all and particularly by those who are likely to become subjected to these influences which he deplores.
§ Mr. Heller rose—
§ Sir J. Eden
I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman because I am 777 interested, out of idle curiosity more than anything else, to hear what influence he has in this respect and why his name was brought in by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Heffer
The Prime Minister was referring to the 1960 dispute and at that time the seamen had formed within their organisation a movement known as the Seamen's Reform Movement. It was an unofficial body, operating partly within the union and partly outside it. I became a mediator in that dispute and helped to bring it to an end. It is in that context that the Prime Minister was talking when he spoke of outside influences. He was referring particularly to the 1960 dispute and the circumstances surrounding it.
§ Sir J. Eden
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for assisting me and any other hon. Member who is left in any doubt about this. I have always been told from the very beginning of this dispute—although I have never met the gentleman concerned—that Mr. Hogarth is an eminently reasonable man, a moderate man, and someone whom we would wish to preserve in the position of influence which he now holds in this important union. But it has been said that there were evil influences behind him and that it was these pressures against which he was having to fight. Whatever the devious interpretation which may be placed upon this and other similar references, I hope that I am not offending anyone by saying that there are Communist influences at work here and it is very much to the advantage of such influences that there should be economic dislocation brought about by this or any other industrial situation.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)
No one would deny that there is some Communist influence in the union concerned, as there is in any other union. Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that the whole dispute is due to subversive agitation?
§ Sir J. Eden
I would not go so far as to adopt the words of the hon. Gentleman, but I would say that the Communists of this country, as of any other country, are past masters in the art of fastening on to any particular grievance, industrial, political or otherwise, and so manoeuvring the situation as to gain the maximum advantage for their own political objectives.
778 That is what I am concerned about and I am certain that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about this, too.
It is this aspect which needs to be brought out more clearly. We have had a situation like this before, and I am wondering whether the Court of Inquiry announced by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour will look not only into this aspect of the situation, but will publicly comment upon it in words of one syllable, which all of us can understand. Until the country is educated to be more aware of the dangers of political subversion by Communist elements, we will continue to have situations of this kind which, on the face of it, are due to a genuine grievance or misunderstanding, but which have been exaggerated and exascerbated by what the Prime Minister described as political influences not represented in this House.
§ Mr. Atkinson
It is surely recognised on all sides that the cause of this dispute is the rejection by the employers of the application for a 40-hour week and the fact that they have offered the 40-hour week over three years. Is the hon. Member suggesting that the boards of shipping companies are members of the Communist Party?
§ Sir J. Eden
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's intervention justifies my proceeding further along that line.
Like every other hon. Member, I am very concerned that the Government. should have found themselves in a position in which they thought it essential to bring in these emergency powers. I agree very much with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said about the extent of these emergency powers. He was absolutely right—and I followed what he said with a good deal of interest—in pressing the Government to open their heart a little more to us and to give us some reasons why they want these far-ranging powers. I hope that the Attorney-General, when he replies to this short debate, will make it clear that should the situation materially change, which we hope it will, the Government will bring these powers to an end as soon as possible.
Looking at the powers, I wonder what is likely to be the position if the ports become seriously overcrowded. At the moment, many essential materials are 779 being brought into and sent out of this country in foreign ships. The longer the strike persists, the longer will British shipping lie idle in the ports, the more congested will the ports become and the more difficult it will be for ships of other nations to have access to the port facilities for loading and unloading.
I assume that the powers to be taken under Regulation 1 will give sufficient scope for the Minister of Transport to move British ships berthed in port in order to avoid the congestion which they might otherwise cause, but I do not see how physically this will be done or to where they will physically be moved. This is an essential aspect. Because we want to ensure that the minimum possible damage is done to the economy, we want to ensure that the maximum movement of goods continues to take place, if not, because of the strike, by means of British ships, then by means of foreign ships entering British ports.
Looking ahead, as we should do, to the time when the strike is ended, we can take a great deal of heart from the fact that the shipping industry appears to be entering a completely new phase. In 20 years, since the end of the war, shipowners have spent about £2,200 million on new ships. This country can be, and I am sure is, proud of the fact—this is in some small measure a reassurance to the hon. Member for the Western Isles—that it has the largest single active trading fleet under any flag, and more than half of it is under eight years' old. I hope that in presenting any case no undue exaggeration will be given to the lassitude of British shipowners, for they have served the nation well. The Mercantile Marine fleet is something of which we can all be justifiably proud. The developments taking place are extremely exciting and novel.
There is a great need to speed up the turn-round, and the time spent at sea is the all-important factor. It is therefore relevant to consider the amount of work being done to encourage the shipment of cargo in unit loads and the possibilities opening up of the large-scale carrying of cargo in containers. In view of the new developments in handling and methods of carrying goods, there is an urgent need to get a new spirit, a new 780 atmosphere, in the relationship between owners and the seamen who work on the ships.
I hope that the dispute will end as rapidly as possible. I hope even more that at the very earliest opportunity the Government will end these emergency powers which are extremely wide-ranging but which, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone, I support.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
I understand that shortly we are to go through the traditional form of receiving messages, not by telephone, but by messenger from another place. I hope that it is recognised as an interruption in the proceedings rather than the end of my comments because I may divide my remarks into two halves.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) raised some very important issues in his cogent remarks. His was a tremendously inspiring and deep analysis, a critical analysis perhaps, of our existing situation. He is making his contribution to increasing the value of the House and to stopping the steady decline which has been taking place over recent years. We all recognise the contribution which he is making to the seriousness of this place in demanding recognition for the ideas exchanged across the Floor of the House.
On a lighter note, perhaps, it is beyond my comprehension that at Llandudno one or two years ago the Conservative Party did not recognise his talents. If it had, we should have had a very different situain the House, particularly from an opposition point of view. Speaking as a Labour Party member, I welcomed his rejection because I think that otherwise we should have had a very much more difficult time than we are having now.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman posed a very important question which tied in with your own comments, Mr. Speaker, on what this debate was about. You said that it was permissible for the House to amend the Regulations. That is in contradiction to the situation posed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman because, as he suggested, if the House rejected the Regulations there would be a constitutional crisis of the first order. We should be rejecting, as 781 a Parliament, the advice of the Queen. Therefore, looking at the matter from that point of view, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was correct in suggesting, rather indirectly, that we were going through an academic exercise in discussing the Regulations in detail. This is an important matter which should be considered very seriously in terms of our relationship with the Sovereign, with the Privy Council and with the Cabinet and exactly what contribution Members are allowed to make.
It is suggested that the Regulations have been presented in this way because they originate from a non-political source. It is said that under our modern Parliamentary technique the only way in which one can introduce what is called a nonpolitical Order in the House is by doing it via the Privy Council. It is a process which needs to be examined seriously in the light of modern needs and the fact that we have a Government who believe in a modernised Britain and a modernised method of Government. They want no part in something which originated a long time ago. In fact, the original Act under which these Regulations are laid before the House was passed in the year 1679.
If one looks at the record of debate here since that time, one sees that it is not permissible for the House to do anything about such Measures which are laid before it; nor can we reject them without a major constitutional upheaval. I am sorry that I cannot have a word with our expected visitor to develop the relationship between the traditional politics of the other place and those of this place.
I believe that this is a juggernaut method of trying to solve the problems which face us as a result of the dispute. The needs of our times should be much more precise, less clumsy and less blunt. We want a much more delicate instrument to deal with problems. That is something else which we should inquire into in situations of this kind to seek ways of solving difficulties other than by this ancient and archaic method of using the sovereign process—