§ Question again proposed.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I was saying before our interruption that many of us felt passionately about this relationship between the Government, this House, and the Privy Council. A number of my hon. Friends wish to take part in the debate, and I conclude this part of my speech by saying that I hope there will be some serious inquiry into the whole question of this relationship and fitting in the modern needs of our country with what we believe to be a modern Parliament and a modern Parliamentary system.
I welcome the setting up of this inquiry, and the pledge given by the National Union of Seamen that it will participate in and co-operate with the inquiry, on the understanding that it is free to examine the industry in the light of the present situation, without any restriction being placed on it as a result of the policy being pursued by the Prices and Incomes Board.
The N.U.S. is very clear about that and that is why, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour made his statement after Questions, I asked him to give an undertaking that the outcome of the inquiry, freely conducted, would not be subject to review by the Prices and Incomes Board. Many of us on this side of the House clearly understood my right hon. Friend to say, "Yes" in answer to my question, meaning that the outcome 783 of the inquiry would not be subject to review by the Board.
I am informed that on the Exchange Telegraph or the Press Association tape my right hon. Friend is reported as having given no answer to my question. This is an extremely important matter affecting the whole of this dispute and the participation of the N.U.S. in the inquiry. I hope, therefore, that during this debate my right hon. Friend will make clear what his reply was, and will, I hope, confirm that it was "Yes". A clear and loud "Yes" should be the answer to my question.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I think that my right hon. Friend made some noises while he was nodding. I am told that he said, "Yes". If any hon. Member has a contrary view, I should be glad to hear it, but I think that the answer heard on both sides of the House was "Yes". This matter is so important to the inquiry that there should be no ambiguity whatsoever about it. We should, therefore, have a clear statement from my right hon. Friend.
The seamen's case is based on their application for a 40-hour week. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) said that this represented a 17 per cent. increase. He assumed that the hours of overtime would remain the same as at present. This is not the case, nor is it part of the argument put forward by the seamen. They grant, however, that if there is a reasonable amount of overtime somewhat similar to the present arrangements there will be a 14 per cent. increase in terms of total cost.
I think that the House ought to judge the merits of this application against the background of what has happened since the war, as has been done with doctors, judges, and with various other infamous claims which have recently been granted. We ought to look at the application in that light, and not merely say that this year the seamen are negotiating a claim of this size. The claim ought to be looked at against the background of what has happened since the war, because if we 784 do this we will get a more realistic appraisal of the situation.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the profitability of the industry, and I want to pose a question which is being posed to the shipowners who are adamant in claiming that the industry cannot meet this kind of increase. Let us consider the position of two ships coming into the London docks side by side—one a Swedish ship, and the other a British one. They are of the same tonnage, they use the same sort of fuel, their costs are the same, their port costs are the same, they have the same number of crew, the same kind of overall efficiencies are being employed, basically the same methods are being used, the overheads are about the same in terms of movement within the ship and dock facilities, and the costs involved are about the same. Given all those similarities, Swedish seamen earn about £91 a month for 192 hours, while their British counterparts get £58 a month for 224 hours.
What is the matter with British shipping? What is the matter with shipowners in this country when we have two similar ships with comparable costs, and the same kind of efficiencies—excluding of course, the system under which the respective shipping companies operate, because I suspect that this is part of the answer to the problem—yet British seamen are being paid about £58 a month for 224 hours compared with £91 for fewer hours being paid to the Swedes? That is a challenge which must be answered, and a matter which should be looked at by the inquiry being set up by the Minister of Labour.
As I have said, the introduction of these emergency powers is a clumsy method of approaching the whole question. It is archaic and outdated. We should have a much more sensitive system, in order to overcome difficulties which may arise in the case of disputes of this sort. The system should be sensitive, and under it we should be able to bring issues before the House and discuss a particular aspect of a problem without having to give a blanket approval which enables Ministers to go berserk and do what they like in respect of all sorts of situations. They should be answerable to the House on each issue, and not exacerbate situations needlessly.
It is now possible for the police or military authorities to interfere with 785 groups or assemblies of dock workers, or members of the Transport and General Workers' Union who may want to discuss certain aspects of the strike. Men coming ashore to discuss these matters can be interfered with under these Regulations. This does not help our democratic processes, or industrial relations. The threat to introduce provisions of this sort is an inherent danger.
I accept the sincerity of my right hon. Friends when they say that they will not needlessly introduce these provisions. None the less, they are there and they can be used as a deterrent against the democratic process of wanting to meet and discuss the issues of the day. These provisions are completely unnecessary, and are inflammatory in themselves. They are not conducive to good industrial relations. In those circumstances, I hope that the Minister who is to reply will give some assurances on this matter and tell us that we are not authorising a blanket approval for such methods.
Then there is the question of people driving vehicles. A fantastic situation might occur. We might have learner drivers or inexperienced drivers—even "dodgem car" drivers—taking out articulated lorries or driving passenger transport vehicles. My criticism of this blanker method of operation is that if such a situation arose it would be outside the control of the House once approval is given tonight and these questions are put in the hands of Ministers who can apply the provisions as they think the situation demands them. We know that we have a sympathetic Government who will be loth to do anything to worsen the situation, but the danger is there.
One Regulation that I totally endorse, and which I hope the House will—not necessarily because it is in the Regulations but because it represents something which should be built into our system—is Regulation 18, controlling prices. It is right at this stage for the Government to take measures of this kind, but we should warn the country what is coming along. The House must not be complacent in the developing situation.
This morning I made some inquiries about the prices of potatoes and tomatoes, not because I wanted to use them here but because I was concerned about the drift of prices in the last few days. I discovered that the price of 786 tomatoes in London this morning was between 3s. 6d. and 3s. 8d. a 1b. in the Westminster area and that new potatoes were being sold at between 1s. and 1s. 2d. a 1b. I talked to greengrocers about this, and they told me that the situation was beyond their control. They assured me that they were not making increased profits, and I accept their good faith.
Nevertheless, this weekend houswives will be called upon to pay prices which are very much in excess of the already inflated prices, and far above what they should be paying at this time of year. The situation has already been exploited by the purveyors of food, and the House should take cognisance of this fact. It is a fantastic situation, and provides an absolute justification for the Government's saying, "We already have the necessary Regulations. We have the power to lay before the House the necessary provisions". A call from the House should be made emphasising that the Government are prepared to take these emergency measures. We think that the housewives should not be exploited by the situation, and the Government should make this clear. The evidence is in every greengrocer's shop.
If the Government say that they are not prepared to allow such price increases the people—and the housewives particularly—will respond. This will give us some indication of the kind of climate we could create within the prices and incomes policy if we stopped chasing hares, in terms of putting the brake on wages and, instead, stressed the need to expand production. If we told the people that the Government believe in what: they are doing and are prepared to take action on prices we would have the necessary response from the working people in terms of a national productive effort the like of which we have not seen in post-war years. That is the sort of adventurous future to which we should be looking. Let us look at Regulation 18 as a blueprint for that.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I am aware of the points in dispute, but I should not be contributing anything of value to the debate if I were to follow the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) in what he said in the earlier part of his speech concerning the matters in dispute. I do follow him, however, 787 in his criticism of the Regulations themselves. I agree with him that the very issue of these Regulations is inflammatory and likely to cause difficulties between the parties in dispute themselves and between those parties and the Government.
I do not think that I was the only Member to be disappointed by the Home Secretary's speech. I felt that it was not sufficient for him merely to say that these Regulations covered a wide variety of situations but that the Government did not intend to use them in a premature or unnecessary way. That was not being frank with the public, and was not following the precedents set in previous debates on similar emergency Regulations.
As an example, may I refer to Regulation No. 18, dealing with the fixing of maximum prices, which has been referred to by the hon. Member for Tottenham. The public should know a little more about the intentions of the Government and the Home Secretary in the use of this Regulation. It gives the Minister of Agriculture power by order—and the order does not have to come before the House, nor is there any direction as to how it shall become known to the public—to regulate maximum prices in such manner as may be specified in the order. This gives the Minister power to delegate the decisions to somebody else, and if there is any intention of doing that we should be told. We should not be given a vague Order of this sort with no explanation of how it is to be used.
But more important, perhaps, at the moment than the lack of frankness with the general public in that way is the lack of frankness with the parties involved in the dispute. Surely the Home Secretary could have given some assurance and some undertakings as to how he intended to use some of the very wide powers, not only over seamen but over other employees such as dockers, contained in Regulations 1 and 2. The Orders which can be made by the Home Secretary and other Ministers by virtue of these emergency Regulations which we are asked to confirm are not to be brought before the House for further debate unless we on this side of the House choose to use a Supply Day in debating some Order which has been made by a Minister, or 788 unless we put down an Early-Day Motion, which may never be called for debate. The Orders made by virtue of these Regulations may be put into operation without any debate at all.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman being over-cautious in explaining what he means to do with these Regulations is calculated to increase confidence between the parties in the dispute or to decrease suspicion one with the other and both parties with the Government. If I may respectfully say so, the right hon. Gentleman has failed to understand the kind of employer and the kind of employee involved in this dispute and the unique relationship between these employers, the shipowners and the seamen. I am afraid that I use "unique" not in its favourable sense.
We spend a good many hours in this building, but if we spent 24 hours of the day in the place in which we work, heaven knows how we should look at our problems. This is the life of the seaman who is living at and on his work, remote from his family for so many months in the year, and remote from his employers, too. The employers are remote from their employees in the relationship between shipowner and seaman. I find in representing a constituency in which a very large number of seamen and their families live that the seaman has an inbred reluctance blindly to trust anyone other than those who are his closest colleagues, and it is absolutely necessary to be frank with a man of this sort. I do not think that the Home Secretary has been frank in introducing the Regulations, and he has left us very much in the dark, and must have left the parties to the dispute in the dark, as to how he intends to deal with the Regulations.
In order to give an example of that in more particularity, may I refer to Regulation 1 This is a Regulation which gives the Minister power to direct any person to do any work in connection with a port. I am summarising it, but this is what it amounts to. It is, as it is worded, an incitement to suspicion and an encouragement for the parties to keep at arms length from themselves and from the Government.
There is no doubt but that Regulation 1 empowers the Minister to give directions as to work. The Act forbids the 789 Minister to make Regulations under which it would be an offence to strike. Taken by itself, Regulation 1 undoubtedly gives the Minister power to order a man who is striking to go to work. Taking Regulation 1 alone, this is its clear implication—that he can order a seaman to bring a ship in and out of port or that he can order a docker to sail a ship and a seaman to unload it, if he thinks that that might get round the Regulations. I think that he would be caught by Regulation 2 even in those circumstances.
It is true that if we turn to the penalty clause, there is the proviso that no one shall suffer a penalty only because he is striking, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, an offender will not be prosecuted for striking; he will be prosecuted for breach of a direction made under Regulation 1. The proviso should have been in Regulation 1, and we should have said in passing the Regulations, "The Minister shall not make any directions which would have the effect of making a striker a criminal". This would have been carrying out the terms of the Emergency Powers Act, 1920. It is not carrying out those terms by putting the proviso in the penalty clause.
I fear that when the parties to the dispute realise these extensive powers which are being taken by the Government and the fear that they may be used if the strike goes on for any length of time, it will not be conducive to an agreement between those now in dispute. I therefore ask the Attorney-General, who is to reply to the debate, to go much further than the Home Secretary went in explaining to us how these Regulations are to be used. I ask him to give some assurances. I have five assurances that I want from him.
The first is that if a direction is made under Regulation 1 that a man shall do some sort of work in a port, and if that direction is made to a seaman who is on strike, and if it is disobeyed by that seaman, then that seaman will not be prosecuted. I do not want the answer, "If he goes before the court the proviso will apply and he will not be convicted because he is on strike." That is not sufficient. We ought not to pass Regulations in the House and leave the courts to construe them. We ought to 790 say definitely, and I hope that the Attorney-General will give me this assurance that in the circumstances which have mentioned, the seaman will not be prosecuted.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)
I can give that assurance now in case some of my hon. Friends may be unduly alarmed by these misconceptions.
§ Mr. Page
I am delighted to have got that assurance out of him. The fact that I brought him to his feet shows that it was no misconception and that it was necessary for this to be said.
The second assurance which I should like is that if there is a direction to an employee to accept certain employment, and if he disobeys that direction, then he will not be prosecuted. My right hon. and learn Friend talked about industrial conscription. The question was, what was meant by that? I would reply that I think a definition would be forcing a man to submit to certain employment. If it is to be said that it would apply only to employment by the Government, let us look at Regulation 2(3). The Minister of Transport pays the employee here. It may be that he is only indirectly the employer of the employee, but reading through Regulation 2, it looks very much as if there could be industrial conscription of employees who were told to go and work at a certain job and paid by the Government to do it. What is nearer to industrial conscription than that? But the Act says that the Minister must not make Regulations which could create industrial conscription. I should like an assurance that any man who refuses to work in a job to which he is directed will not be prosecuted under these Regulations.
Thirdly, throughout these Regulations, the Minister—not only the Home Secretary but other Ministers, too—is given power to make certain orders as to the manner in which certain things will be carried out. On the wording, they would have the power to delegate those directions to somebody else. I want the Ministers themselves to exercise their powers under these emergency Regulations. I do not want some civil servant appointed to give directions. I want the Ministers to make those directions so that they can be called to account for them in the 791 House. Perhaps I could have that assurance.
Fourth, I refer again to Regulation 2, and in particular to its second subsection. This gives the Minister of Transport power to subject dockers to directions to work. My constituency takes in part of the docks and I am most concerned as to the effect that this will have on the many dockers who live and work in my constituency. Subsection (2) of Regulation 2 states that:Notwithstanding anything in the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Scheme …"—and I will summarise the rest—an employer must take on a dock worker allocated to him by the Minister of Transport.
Is it the intention to break the Dock Workers' (Regulation of Employment) Scheme? Is it the intention to alter the terms of employment of the dockers? The Home Secretary ought not to have glossed over this Regulation. It is vitally important, and if the powers under it are used it will change the lives of many of my constituents. Will it be used, or what is the intention of putting it there? This Regulation and Regulation No. 1 had no precedent in the 1955 Regulation. They are new to the emergency Regulations, and that is why I question them rather fully.
Finally, if it is wrong to use these emergency Regulations to break a strike—and I think that all right hon. and hon. Members would agree that it would be wrong to use them deliberately to break a strike—then it is wrong to use them as duress on the employers to submit to demands by the strikers. Therefore, I should like to have the assurance that these emergency Regulations will not be used against the parties on either side of this dispute to try to force them into accepting the terms of the opposite parties or the terms of the Government.
These Regulations are for the protection of the public and to provide the service of goods and so on to the public. I hope that we can be assured that they will not be used in what I would think an improper way, namely, to force the parties to accept some demands either of the opposite party or of the Government.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), who opened the debate, was interrupted from this side of the House by an observation with which I entirely disagreed. It is right that we should consider the Regulations with great care and should compare the precedents.
I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, whose filial devotion, I understand, is to a certain extent committed in this matter, was in the least right in saying that these Regulations were more strict than the Regulations to which he referred, which were made during the General Strike. No one would doubt that the General Strike, whatever view one took of it, was a very serious and grave situation, and that if emergency Regulations were made they would have to be grave and serious. Unhappily, the Regulations were in use during the whole of the long coal lock-out. I lived through that period in a colliery village, but it would not serve any purpose to recollect all that now.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had pursued his researches, as we have both no doubt been doing in the Library within the last 48 hours, he would have found that after the Regulations were renewed in the first and second months of the lock-out, in terms of a Motion of thanks to His Majesty for again signifying the state of emergency, there came a point when the then Conservative Government decided that thanking His Majesty for something which wai extremely unpleasant was leading to undesirable comments. Quite by chance, and without any indication so far as I could find of any change in the attitude of the Chair, that Motion was dropped and the House went straight on to the discussion of the emergency Regulations and the Amendments that were tabled.
In fairness, I should go on record as saying that I studied these Regulations with great suspicion and great care, because that is our duty. I respectfully say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was wholly wrong in saying that these are grave issues. If one looked at the position from the point of view of the Parliamentary draftsman trying to 793 draft Regulations for this type of situation, and remembering his need to try to draft for all possible contingencies, I would say that the Regulations were pretty fair and moderate. I am perfectly prepared to trust the Government with them.
The real question is whether they are premature and whether it is necessary to declare an emergency. At the back of our minds is the question of whether the declaration of emergency is part of the sudden passion that seems to be afflicting the whole country to create an image, to create public impressions, to affect public opinion, and so on. I do not think that when I came into this House I had ever heard of P.R.O.s. When I heard hon. Members on this side of the House desiring to have P.R.O.s all over the place, I had the greatest possible doubt as to what services they would render. On balance, I think that they have been a liability. This growing attempt to have "Iron Chancellors", l'état c'est moi and so on, is perhaps a sign of the times. There is no personal connotation in those observations, even if it is possible to deduce one.
This is one of the undesirable signs of the times, and that is why I wanted to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who has been under very heavy criticism on many subjects. But, in my experience, the work he has done in relation to disabled persons' employment and other matters has been worthy of admiration. The replies which I have received from him about personal cases raised by me have always been admirable. He made a statement today which I thought was excellent. I do not always agree with everything he says, and no one would expect me to, but one can understand what he means. I prefer the clean, forthright statement, even if it is not what I would have said, to the statement that leaves us in some doubt.
In the absence of the Minister of Labour, I ask the Home Secretary to intervene on a vital point. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), who made an admirable speech, said so many things which should be said and said them so much better than I could say them that I do not propose to try to keep the House for 794 more than a few minutes. This, however, is a vital and serious point. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour announced in the House today—at a time when it is always rather noisy and one cannot hear every word the appointment of a Court of Inquiry with wide, and, so far as I can check—and I have checked on the tape—admirable terms of reference. I understood him to say that the Court of Inquiry would be asked to report very shortly, at any rate on interim matters which could bring the dispute to an end. I also understood him to say that both the union and the employers had approved of this step and were anxious fully to participate as far as they could.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham then put the vital question: are we still holding over the merchant seamen—after their participation, and after the report has been received by the House—the threat that their case may be sent back to the Prices and Incomes Board? Incidentally, the Board itself ought to be on strike today, because while we have been discussing this situation the wages bill seems to have gone up in one or two directions.
I was assured that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour gave an assurance that that had been excluded. I was assured that he gave a single affirmative which I did not hear.
§ Mr. Mendelson indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hale
My hon. Friend shakes his head. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, who was in a position to see, said that he saw an affirmative nod. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who was sitting next to me—he will not mind my quoting this, because I asked him what the reply was—said that he agreed. It is important that we should know this. It was a fair question. It is a question that affects the whole debate.
When my hon. Friend made the point, my right hon. Friend rose and went in the direction of the Box. I thought that he was checking up so that there could not be any misunderstanding. We might have a statement on this. Did the Minister of Labour say that that would be excluded quite definitely, or did he not give any reply? I have been to read the tape 795 which says that he made no reply, but the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, my hon. Friend and others assure me that he gave an affirmative nod.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
One is always in extreme difficulty in interpreting what one of one's colleagues has said, particularly as my eyes were not on my right hon. Friend at the time. The House will, I am sure, appreciate that there are great difficulties in basing an impression in reply to an important question not upon sound but upon a gesture which may or may not have taken place. I will, however, endeavour to find out what reply, if any, my right hon. Friend gave. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will mention it in his reply.
§ Mr. Hale
That is a generous observation from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sure that if he had not had that impression, he might have said a good deal more on certain aspects of the argument. Certainly, many of us would have wished to do so. It is an important matter and it is important that it should be cleared up.
In this position, there is a good deal to be said for the fact that it is our duty to examine the emergency Regulations and say very little more. I was a little disturbed about the Western Isles, but my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) has dealt with that very thoroughly. We were a little disturbed about what seemed to be a premature demonstration of what used to be called gunboat diplomacy when we were on the Opposition benches. Knowing a little of the Western Isles, I made some inquiries and I was assured that it must be a shortage of avocado pears or delicatessen which was being remedied. Now we are told that it was butter which was being taken and that the Silent Service would become the sacred cow. That has been dealt with.
796 For my part—and I do not think that anyone would suspect me of currying favour—having studied the Regulations, if we have to declare a state of emergency and if we have to make provision for anything, I think that such criticisms as have been made have been generally unjust. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) tempted my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to reply to one of his questions. It was, perhaps, a little significant that the final question did not elicit a reply.
My right hon. and learned Friend gave the assurance which I confidently expected from him in reply to the first question. I consider it all nonsense, with great respect—and I do not want to use the word in a derogatory sense in talking about industrial conscription in respect of the Parliamentary draftsmen—to say that one will be able to call upon somebody to help in an emergency.
I was deeply touched, as we all were, by the conception of personal liberty shown by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone. Once land is touched or is taken over, that is the final injury. I could not think of anything more reasonable, however, than to say that if we are establishing food dumps, and so on as the situation develops, and if it is necessary to make provision for food distribution, we should have the right to borrow a bit of land on compensation without arguing about it. That did not seem to be the important point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Last night, I went through the 1926 debates on the Amendments tabled by the Labour Party. Virtually the whole discussion was on clauses which do not appear in today's Regulations, many of which I saw functioning in months of bitter hardship of something like a bloody persecution, in which our courts began to lose the confidence of the people, in which the police were being miserably employed to enforce Regulations which they disliked, and in which the lifeblood of the nation was being expended month by month so that our whole economic life was being drained away. I doubt whether anyone would like to get up in this House today and say that he thinks that the coal owners were right then.
797 I am a little disturbed about the lack of information. We have had a memorandum from the shipowners' federation, couched in effective and soothing language. If, however, the shipowners' federation is sending a statement to the House of Commons, it should at least establish some form of definition. When we talk about incomes, it is for a seven-day week. When we talk about percentages, the thing shifts. We do not know at any time in that memorandum whether we are discussing normal working hours or other factors.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham made the point, which seems to have been accepted by the informed Press throughout this dispute, that our merchant seamen are worse off than those of many other nations. I have not done much voyaging, but late in 1945, on a professional journey, I crossed the North Atlantic in a banana boat immediately after the conclusion of hostilities. The circumstances were exceptional, because banana boats do not usually go to Newfoundland and they do not usually convey G.I. wives and their babies. It may be reasonable to assume that rather more crew is needed for G.I. wives than for bananas, but the accommodation for our merchant seamen was appalling.
Our merchant seamen were in the forefront of the battle from the start to the end of the war. By God we talked well of them then. They were great heroes. I remember starting the war with a machine gun to defend the Rolls-Royce works. We said that if those guns worked—and we did not often fire them —would they not be a dashed sight better on merchant vessels. A colleague of mine was busy designing a swivelling apparatus for a Bofors gun.
Our merchant seamen were the most exposed of our people continuously throughout the war. They were the first victims of the war, and they won an admiration which is apt to go the same way as Kipling described in words too well remembered for me to need to quote them.
Our merchant seamen have had a raw deal. The story of Samuel Plimsoll is an old one and we need not recall it now, but when I came back I submitted memoranda and so on about the accommodation of seamen. What has been done 798 about it? Accommodation is still bad and still compares unfavourably with that provided by some other nations. Over the years, however, we have had debates about flags of convenience, unfair competition and shipping galore.
Many people today have great sympathy with the merchant seamen. think that the whole of Britain would join in saying to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour that we welcome the steps which he has taken today. We hope that they will bring this dispute to an end on honourable terms. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone philosophised, and very properly, about blaming one side or the other. At this stage, there is no particular point in recriminations and I do not want to expand upon it. Probably it is true that all three sides have made blunders in the course of this dispute.
We do not want to see this House being summoned every month to renew these Regulations. In 1926, the House was summoned three times in the Parliamentary vacation to renew the Regulations until, finally, some of the miners went back. The greatest demonstration of working-class unity in the long and sometimes unhappy history of industrial strife was broken after six months by sheer poverty and oppression. I am sure that the Government do not have anything of that kind in mind, and I am glad to welcome the announcement that was made today. I hope that it will mean an end to the fears that have been expressed.
Everyone understands the dilemma of the Government and realises that my right hon. Friend the First Secretary has embarked on a difficult and crucial task. I cannot think that anyone does not hope that he might achieve it. I cannot think that anyone, realising the odds against him, does not realise that he may not achieve it. No one wants to say one word to prevent the substantial achievement of the ends which my right hon. Friend has in hand.
However, if we are to keep, as we have always had, the support of the trade union movement—and goodness knows that movement has been generous in its support, understanding and co-operation, not only to this Government but to the Government of which the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone was a member—particularly since the trade 799 union movement has shown its real patriotism in these difficult times, we must desperately avoid giving the impression that the upper bourgeoisie can have their demands met but that we cannot meet the demands of the large unions, even though they inevitably often involve relatively small sums.
We must face up to the dilemma that, in a sense, the Government are pursuing the same objective but by contradictory means. The constant observation that a man eats only three meals a day is not economically sound, because a man can dispose of two or three mink coats and still eat the same three meals. I equally believe that the restoration to Surtax payers—of whom I am one, and they can persuade me to pay—of a greater amount of spending power under the last Conservative Government did much to loosen the floodgates of inflation. Our failure has been to remove taxation from old-age pensioners and to leave the Surtax payers with the reliefs which the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) gave to them when he was Chancellor. This may very well be one of the most potent forces, not only economically but also socially and politically, because many of the merchant seamen do not feel that they have had a square deal.
If one examines their position in the economy of the nation and the work that they do, one may well feel some understanding and sympathy for the step which the seamen have taken, a grave step which may do harm to the nation. That is why I welcome what has been said today by the Government and passionately hope that this is the beginning of the end of this affair.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I regret that I had to leave the Chamber during the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). However, I was able to return to hear his closing remarks, with some of which I agreed. My support of these Regulations and the advice which Her Majesty's Government have given to the Queen to some extent depends on the fact that, unlike the hon. Member for Oldham, West, I do not regard these Regulations as intervening in this trade dispute between the seamen and their employers.
800 It would be wrong to say that the Regulations are designed to implement the policy of the First Secretary. Indeed, if they were that would be an abuse of the powers under the 1920 Act. The state of emergency and the Regulations are right because they intervene in the dispute only to the extent that there an element of pressure on the community.
I wish to emphasise, in what will be a very short speech indeed, that this element of pressure on the community is becoming too common in industrial disputes, and I envisage a future in which it seems likely that it will become even commoner. It is regrettably coming to be accepted that the infliction of inconvenience and even hardship on the pubic is a legitimate weapon in trade disputes. This is due partly to the process which we have seen in recent years of the growing size of organisations on both sides of industry.
As a nation, we are rightly embarking on a process of amalgamating trade unions, and we wish to see that process go further. It seems to be generally accepted, whether or not an incomes policy will work, that it stands a better chance of working if both employers' associations and trade unions are bigger and cover a wider area of the industry to which they relate. Once that becomes the case, the dispute tends to become national on both sides.
This dispute with which we are concerned is national in scale on both the employers' and seamen's side. That is why the consequences of it are themselves national in scale and why we are considering these Regulations today. If this process is to go on, it seems that we will fairly commonly have to consider the infliction of hardship on the public as an attribute of a dispute between employers and men.
We have seen this in the last few years. Strikes in the public services, transport and shipping have affected the whole life of the country. I do not wish to say anything which would be provocative or inflammatory, but, casting my mind back, without mentioning names, I remember occasions when I think we all recognised that the particular occasion chosen for a strike, for the withholding of services, had been chosen because it caught the public at a particularly sensitive point; for example, Christmas and Bank Holidays. If I were going to quote 801 from any source I would quote some words used by the present Minister of Labour on one such occasion, but I will not quote any. We all know that this is true, and it illustrates the point I made at the beginning of my remarks; that exercising pressure on employers, through hardship on the public, is going to be regarded as a legitimate weapon. I am sure that none of us thinks that that is a good thing.
This prompts two questions. First, is this scale of disputes and arrangements a good thing? Must it follow that when we amalgamate trade unions and build up larger employers' associations we must decide everything on a national scale? Let us assume that it is possible for arrangements between ship owners and seamen to be made on another basis, and in other industries on a regional basis. For example, in the coal industry that used to be so, although it is not so any longer. I know that these are highly controversial subjects, but if that were so the consequences of a dispute would be just as serious for the employer affected but not so serious for the public, and the public interest would not be involved in the way it so clearly is today.
The second question which is prompted is of a more general character, whether strikes are a sensible operation at all in the times in which we live. People sometimes say rather odd things about strikes because they are all tied up in the history of the battle between employers and men. I have heard in the same week some years ago Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, as he then was, speaking for my political party in this House, saying that he would go to the State for the right to strike, which was something we had always believed in as a party and always would, and the late Aneurin Bevan saying that strikes were coming to be something of an anachronism in the middle of the 20th century. That shows how oddly the threads can get crossed when people begin to theorise about these things. I am afraid I have more sympathy with the late Aneurin Bevan on this point than with my right hon. and learned Friend, as he then was.
Trade union legislation which supports strike action was passed to redress an imbalance between employer and employed which no longer exists. We might 802 do well to consider again fundamentally the whole question of the rôle of combination in furtherance of trade disputes, on both sides of industry. Indeed, if we do not consider it, I do not see how we can in any permanent and constructive manner solve the problems we face in our labour relations and in our economic policy.
§ Mr. Bell
Mr. Speaker, I am indeed having wholly in mind the Regulations which are the subject of our debate today, but as I hope I made clear—if I did not I am at fault and seek to do so now—I believe the Regulations are. before us today solely because of the scale on which this dispute has taken place. What ought to be a dispute between employer and employee is in fact: a dispute in which the principal victim is the public rather than the employer Whilst supporting the Regulations, as of course I do, I desired to offer the general comment that, while it is true that this may be applicable to many other situations, it is also applicable very closely to this situation, and that this arises out of the progressive growth of the use of combination in furtherance of trade disputes in a period when there has already become established a balance between the supply and demand of labour so that it is not in the end the employer who is much affected.
In the inflationary society in which we are living today, it will not be the shipowners who will be very much affected in the end. I sometimes think that no one industrially is much affected by anything in such an inflationary society as that in which we live at present. Everything seems to be swallowed in the flush of inflation. The public as consumers are the people who are struck at. I venture to give one more quotation from a speech by the late Aneurin Bevan in, I believe, the same debate. I certainly remember hearing him saying that the real danger is that as producers we should give ourselves a black eye as consumers.
That is why I have ventured to say something which may be mildly provocative to hon. Members opposite, that we ought now to start thinking again about 803 the propriety of the role of combination on both sides of industry in furtherance of disputes about rewards and conditions of work. Subject to these general comments, I gave these Regulations my regretful but entire support.
§ 7.15 p.m.
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)
I listened very carefully to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and also to the points made by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). In both speeches they made one single point which I think needs emphasising in this Chamber this afternoon.
The right hon. and learned Member said that the decision to bring in the Regulations was grave, but there was no symptom of crisis. The Home Secretary said that at present essential supplies were being maintained. So we had agreement by the two Front Bench speakers. There is no symptom of crisis and essential supplies are being maintained, yet despite that fact our country is going on in the same way; and no one understands that we are in a great state of emergency. Nevertheless, we have before us these emergency Regulations which we are asked to support.
I also listened to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. I am sure that every hon. Member welcomed the very important statement he made when he announced that an inquiry is to be set up. We have a situation in which the Minister of Labour is setting up an inquiry with the full agreement of the National Union of Seamen on one side and the Shipping Federation on the other, and it was announced only yesterday that agreement was reached between the Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Union of Seamen.
I quote from the agreement, in fact part of the speech made by Mr. Harry Nicholas, the acting General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union:An understanding has now been reached that our members will be expected to continue to do their normal work as dockers. Shore gangs and riggers will continue to do their normal practice but not where the work was previously done by the National Union of Seamen members.We have had the statement made in the House by the Minister, the agreement 804 between the National Union of Seamen and the Transport and General Workers Union and the agreement between the two Front Benches that there is no symptom of crisis and essential supplies are being maintained.
Mr. John Homer (Oldbury and Halesowen)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that the reference in the trade union agreement to the work of riggers means that ships alongside, having discharged their cargo, will then be moved out to buoys or to midstream so that further ships can be brought in for discharge?
§ Mr. Heffer
This is true. It underlines my point. Why do we need to pass any Regulations declaring a state of emergency? There are some disturbing aspects of the whole question. I was one of the three or four people who became mediators in the strike of 1960. Incidentally, although that was not an official strike, it was a large strike affecting most of the big shipping companies. Seamen were on strike in London, Southampton, Liverpool, on the North-East Coast, and in Glasgow. The National Seamen's Reform Movement was set up. Even though obviously the economy was being affected, the Government at that time—not a Labour Government, but a Tory Government—did not declare a state of emergency.
That point must be made, because this time the seamen went on strike on a Sunday evening and within two days my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was on television telling the whole nation that this was a dispute against the State. I do not know who advises my right hon. Friends in industrial relations. Whoever these people are, they must be the most inept people in the world, because if it is desired to harden the workers in an industrial dispute the thing to do is to go on television and make statements of that kind.
On Monday of this week, the very day on which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour was trying to get the two parties together, a statement was being made in the House to the effect that a state of emergency had been declared. I have had many dealings with industrialists and trade unionists. Can hon. Members picture the employers and the national union both in their little rooms with the Minister trying to get some 805 agreement? Perhaps some slight movement was about to be made. Then a Mote was passed in to Mr. Ford Geddes saying, "The Prime Minister has just declared a state of emergency". Mr. Ford Geddes says "Thank you very much. I have no need to do anything. Why should we give anything away? A state of emergency has been declared. Obviously;he Government will involve itself in a struggle with the seamen". So he sits back and hides behind the Government's skirts. It could have been the National Union of Seamen. The General Secretary could have said, "In that case, if this is the attitude, we will not give anything away. We will fight this out to the bitter end".
Who in God's name is giving our people this sort of advice? In industrial disputes, one needs to be very delicate in the way one negotiates and handles things. Subjects need to be approached very carefully. One must ensure that, if there is some slight movement in the right direction, one can keep the thing going in that direction. To talk about a state of emergency and to go on television in this way does not help to solve this question.
At the moment the docks are in a very tender position. The dockers are in asosciation with the seamen. At any moment there could be a flare-up. In Liverpool yesterday the dockers stopped work, for three reasons—first, because of their sympathy with the seamen, their solidarity with their brother trade unionists in dispute; secondly, because of their own internal attitudes; and, thirdly, because they are not satisfied about the amendments being proposed by the Government to the National Dock Labour Scheme. Anything which can set alight this position does not help and may mean that the seamen's strike can go on much longer than it ought to.
I have said in the House and elsewhere that the basic question in this dispute is that of hours, not that of wages. It is true that the seamen want a reduction in hours without a reduction in wages, but it is the question of hours which is the issue. When my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) said that another offer should be made by the employers, he meant that it was on the question of hours that the offer 806 should be made. I believe that the Government should tell the employers, "You are not going to hold the country to ransom. You are not going to put the economy in a state of jeopardy because of a refusal to make some further offer on hours".
That pressure should be applied to the employers. The Prime Minister should not go on television or declare a state of emergency and give the workers the impression that the whole battle is against them. The suggestion was made that if this claim was granted it would breach the dyke of the prices and incomes policy. That dyke has been well breached. It was breached by the increase in doctors' salaries. It was breached by the increase in judges' salaries, and, if you like, even when we got our salary increase, because that could have been handled differently.
We must be honest. I make this plea to the Government. In view of the statements made by the spokesmen from both Front Benches to the effect that there is no great crisis, the Government should withdraw these Regulations. They are unnecessary. I plead with the Government to withdraw them now so that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour can pursue the policy he is pursuing to try to get a settlement.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone said that these Regulations were much severer in some respects than the 1926 Regulations. I do not know this, because I have not studied the 1926 Regulations in detail.
§ Mr. Heffer
The right hon. Gentleman underlines the point I was on. I have not read the 1926 Regulations. I have read the 1949 and the 1955 Regulations. When these Regulations were issued, I made it my business to go to the Library and study the previous Regulations and compare them with these. These Regulations are much more severe than either of those Regulations. Yet this is a Labour Government. It must give the impression to the workers and to the trade union 807 movement that the Regulations have been introduced for a purpose, the purpose being to stop a breach in the dyke of the prices and incomes policy, and that the poor seamen are to be used for that purpose.
As for Regulation 18, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) made the position clear. I agree with him. I would very much like to see Regulation 18 in operation in any case, whether we have these Emergency Regulations or not.
But let us look at some of the others. First, Regulation 26, which is headed "Trespassing and Loitering". What does that mean? Does it mean that a group of dockers having a meeting close by something which is being directed by the Minister will be treated as trespassing and loitering, so that action will be taken against them? We have been told about Regulation 1, and I am very glad about that. This was a point which had worried me. In my opinion, Regulation 1 contradicts the Act, but we have been given an assurance that it does not mean that seamen can be directed even though they are on strike.
But I want to pursue this a little further. What does Regulation 1 mean? It provides that,The Minister of Transport may, in the case of any port, give such directions to the port authority or any other person as appear to him to be necessary or expedient …If it does not mean seamen, who does it mean? Which sections of the community are to be covered by such directions? We have a right to know because the House is being asked to pass all these Regulations.
I return to the point about trespassing and loitering. I ask again: does Regulation 26 mean that certain sections of the workers who may be showing their sympathy with the seamen and who are in or around the docks at a particular time can be dealt with under these Regulations once they are in operation? Regulation 26(3) opens with the words:No person loitering in the vicinity of any premises used or appropriated for the purposes of essential services …What does that mean? All these are matters which ought to be clearly defined. We want to know against whom they are 808 being directed and precisely what the intention is.
We are told that there is power to arrest without warrant. Regulation 29 provides that,Any constable may arrest without warrant any person whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to have committed an offence against any of these Regulations".This is very serious, and I want the House of Commons to treat it seriously. We have had emergency powers on only four occasions since 1926, apart from war time, and I hope that no one in the House will allow these Regulations to go through unless we are given the clearest assurances. What is likely to happen? Whenever emergency regulations are brought in, because of their hard and bitter experiences in the past, there is immediate hostility on the part of trade unionists to these things, and it hardens the whole atmosphere. It does not help towards solving the dispute. I want a clear statement from my right hon. Friend and a clear assurance that these Regulations are not directed in any way against the National Union of Seamen or against any of the strikers and that they cannot be interpreted as an attack on them.
On an earlier occasion, I spoke of the need to put pressure on the employers so that we could have a settlement of the dispute. I still think that this is the way forward. I asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to consider whether, under the emergency powers, we should take over the shipping industry on a temporary basis and run it with a temporary subsidy, setting a date to get these matters ironed out, in order that we might achieve stability in the industry for a long time ahead. I was told that this was not the way we ought to proceed, but I notice that under Regulation 22 it is possible for a competent authority, if necessary or expedient, torequisition any chattel in Great Britain (including any vessel or aircraft …Does this mean that we can take over the ships and run them ourselves if a settlement cannot be reached within a short time and if these Regulations are passed? Incidentally, I have a horrible feeling that, in spite of my endeavours to persuade the Government to withdraw them, these Regulations are likely to be passed. But could that be done according to that interpretation of the Regulation? I ask 809 the House and the Government to consider very seriously the whole question of a temporary subsidy so that we could run the industry on that basis and get an early solution to this problem, assuming that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has not been immediately successful in his endeavours.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. John Horner (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Helfer) in expressing disquiet at the fact that the House is being asked to approve these emergency Regulations today. I find myself in a difficult position. I agree with my hon. Friend that, if the introduction of these Regulations could have been postponed, we might well have reached a state of affairs in which they would never have been necessary.
At this stage of the debate, I shall riot go into the Regulations in detail, but, whether or not they are more severe than the Regulations brought in at the General Strike, we are all agreed this evening that they are more severe than any Regulations used in any emergency situation since the General Strike. Yet, surely, no one is contemplating a situation in which this country became involved in circumstances in any way similar to those which we had to face in 1926. There is every evidence of this. Even Mr. Jack Dash, the unofficial leader of certain sections of the London dockers, has urged those who follow him that any action they take in the London docks must be wholly in accordance with the policy of the Transport and General Workers' Union. If Mr. Jack Dash in London's dockland is taking that view, I see no emergency arising which requires Regulations of this kind.
A heavy duty rests upon my right hon. a nd learned Friend the Attorney-General tonight. These Regulations could not have been easily or lightly drawn. They roust have been in contemplation for a considerable time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walton said, I think it wholly unfortunate that their introduction was announced at the time it was. Now that we have read them at leisure, I am sure that many of us must be deeply disturbed by some of the provisions. I will quote only one—Regulation 30. It does not deal with an offence under these Regulations but with the offence which 810 is committed by attempting to commit an offence. It says:Without prejudice to the operation of section 8 of the Accessories and Abettors Act, 1861 … any person who attempts to commit, conspires with any other person to commit, or does any act preparatory to the commission of, an offence against any of these Regulations shall be guilty of an offence against that Regulation.Whether or not this is common practice in drawing up emergency Regulations, it seems to me that the Government have stretched them to the limit—apart from instituting "thought police"—in being able to charge someone with preparing something which, it is argued, might lead further on to the commission of an offence under these Regulations. We do not need these Regulations. All of us who speak in this debate are most anxious to do nothing to exacerbate the present grievous position in the shipping industry as we examine the circumstances which have led to the Government taking this step. I am sure that everyone hopes earnestly that the step taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will lead to a settlement of this tragic dispute.
I have been puzzled by Government policy in the last few weeks and feel bound to express that puzzlement tonight. The powers which the Minister of Labour has now exercised he has had all the time during which the dispute has been brewing up. Why has it taken two weeks before he has exercised that authority? I am informed that it is about seven weeks since the National Union of Seamen met the Shipping Federation employers. It is a fantastic situation for a country largely dependent upon shipping to find itself in.
Everybody knew that the strike would take place. Both sides were set on a collision course. That is why I am puzzled, and we should have an explanation from the Government of why they felt it impossible for the Minister to exercise his authority as he has done today. There may be good reasons. Perhaps one side or the other was not prepared to co-operate. Nevertheless, without such co-operation the Minister still had power to create such an inquiry as he has set up today.
If I were back at sea and had just come in from four-and-a-half months on the Australian run, or had spent the winter in what is called "punching" the 811 Western Ocean, or had spent the spring in the Atlantic gales, and had been met at the bottom of the gangway by a union official who told me that he did not wish me to sign on again until I had the all-clear from the union, I would be very pleased. I would regard him as a friend. There is no urge upon a seamen to sign on again. I would, in these circumstances, like to go home to my wife. I would know that I was not on strike. It is necessary to point out that the seamen are not on strike. No contract is being broken. No orders are being disobeyed. No breach of the Merchant Shipping Act has been committed. These men are not presenting themselves for hiring.
If I had been on the Australian run in the last four-and-a-half months, I would not have been here for the election. I would not have been able to see television programmes. I would not have been able to follow closely the political developments of the last three months. I would have been puzzled, having been told by my union official not to present myself for hiring, to be told later that I was striking against the State.
The voyage just completed may well have been hard. I would have recalled that, on many occasions, there were sharp disputes between me and my mates in the foc'sle and the chief mate and bosun. When failing to present myself for hiring, I would have thought that I was taking action against the people whom the mate and the bosun represented—the owners.
I should be disturbed and unhappy to know that I was in fact striking against the State and to find the Government being obliged to present to the House and the nation a state of emergency arising in such dire and grievous proportions that these Regulations must be passed. I should have been most unhappy about it. I should want to know who my friends were.
It is difficult for people in this House who have not worked at sea to put themselves in the position of a merchant seamen. Hon. Members opposite have pointed out the very isolation of life aboard ship and the narrow and confined association between the officers and the men, with the officers as the visible and outward sign of the owners. Naturally, sharp differences occasionally occur. But 812 these people in their industrial relations are governed by an Act of Parliament over 80 years old which everyone knows is outmoded and must be revised.
I do not want to become involved in great detail on the question of what the dispute is about. Hon. Members have given enough indications and I do not want to prejudge, as it were, the outcome of the committee of inquiry set up by my right hon. Friend. But, in my experience, the most important book aboard a Merchant Navy vessel is not the log book, which is the master's responsibility, but the overtime book. There are many disputes about overtime. In the hand-out sent to hon. Members by the Shipping Federation today it is said that when the 44-hour week was introduced those few in the ships who do not have to work overtime were very dissatisfied. The hand-out states:There are not the same leisure attractions on a ship at sea as there are ashore …Then comes this astonishing revelation:…the main aim of the seamen is to accumulate as high earnings as possible during the voyage.I agree with that. Dr. Johnson said that no man went to sea who had sufficient intelligence to get himself locked up in gaol. People go to sea not for mere pleasure, but to accumulate earnings. I am entitled to say to the Shipping Federation that the main aim of the owners is to accumulate profit as high as possible during the voyage.
We have to talk in terms which are applicable to and consistent with the way in which these 50,000 or 60,000 seamen will come to see the dispute as more and more of them reach these shores. It is a very special form of dispute. It is not a strike. It is a dispute which will become cumulative. Every day National Union of Seamen officials will have to see more and more seamen as they are paid off at various ports and explain the full facts of the case and the incidents of the last ten days as clearly and as simply as possible, so that these men who may be returning from long voyages can appreciate the facts.
It is because of this that I am disturbed about the presentation of these emergency regulations. They are unnecessary and they will not help. We are not on the eve of a General Strike. Ships are 813 not cluttering up our ports. As has been said, only yesterday there was a vital trade union agreement between the two key unions in the docks to permit ships which have discharged their cargoes to move away and other ships to come in.
We are not on the eve of some dire emergency, but as the seamen return to these islands and find that they are coming into a situation of this kind they will discover that they are being charged with creating this dreadful situation, and that will not help. This move is unnecessary and unwise. The union is operating with a maximum of responsibility it is entitled to the support of fellow rade unionists. It is entitled to the support of a sympathetic Government.
There is an enormous backlog of dissatisfaction with bad conditions and of bitterness in the industry going back half a century. The pus from this boil is now oozing out and it is a very unpleasant experience for us. The seamen have been the forgotten men. When they are on the Western Ocean or on the "Aussie run", we do not think about them. We are thinking about them now. I earnestly hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will do his best to allay the fears of my hon. Friends and myself and do his best to make it quite clear to the seamen who are here and to those who will be arriving in the next day or two that the steps which the Minister of Labour is taking will in no way be qualified or prejudiced or jeopardised by the exercise of these unfortunate regulations.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
I wish to concentrate my remarks on two aspects of the present position. The first is the situation as it will be after ten o'clock tonight and the second is the background of that decision which raises certain fundamental questions about future industrial relations.
After these Regulations have been passed, we shall have set up a Court of Inquiry as announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour this afternoon and the powers which the House is discussing will be in the hands of the Government. The fact that these two decisions will have been taken side by side will be of great importance to the 814 continuation of the dispute and to our hopes that it might be brought to an early conclusion.
When the Court of Inquiry begins its work, it will be essential that it has the continued good will and co-operation of the two sides involved in the conflict. I was very glad to hear that the two sides have announced that they will fully cooperate with the Court of Inquiry.
I should like to say in passing that, having been one of the critics of the Minister of Labour when he made his first announcement on the Monday after the strike started, when I said that his tone had been too one-sided and that pressure should be put on the employers and not only on the National Union of Seamen, I should like to say that I very much welcomed the tone as well as the substance of his announcement this afternoon.
When the inquiry gets to work, two major problems will be facing the Government. First, having been granted these powers by Parliament, they will have said that they will be most careful about making any decision to use any one of them. That announcement is of great importance in helping to create the atmosphere within which we all hope to arrive at a solution to the conflict as speedily as possible.
The precise problem which will then arise has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Homer). We have an important agreement between the seamen and the dockers, represented by their respective trade unions, making it certain that the arrival of essential goods will be looked after by the men who do the work in the docks.
In those circumstances, will the Government reaffirm that for their part they will pay heed to the statements of Mr. Hogarth on several occasions during the last seven days or so, when he has said that while the union would regard the arrival of essential food and the creation of space in the docks to allow ships carrying the goods to arrive as legitimate within the confines of Government action, they would be obliged on the other hand to take a completely different view if the Navy were used to move ships merely for normal ordinary trade in all kinds of 815 things, because that would obviously be the use of military force to break the strike?
Given the agreement between the dockers and the seamen, I ask the Government to reaffirm that they have no intention of using naval forces to move ships in the second category mentioned by Mr. Hogarth. I would assure them after the agreement reached between the seamen and the dockers, and the very responsible attitude adopted by the National Union of Seamen, that it will not be necessary for the Government to use the powers which they are asking the House to grant them this evening. If the situation is properly approached and properly preserved it should mean that at no time will these powers be necessary.
The second point I want to raise concerns the attitude and activities of the Government while the Court of Inquiry is sitting. I should be grateful if I could have the attention of my right hon. Friend the learned Attorney as I turn to this point, without in any way underestimating the great importance of the private communications which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is having with him. I am trying to make a point and I should like the attention of the representative of the Cabinet who is to reply to this debate.
The second point concerns the attitude of the Government, and their activities while the Court of Inquiry is sitting. It has already been indicated, during Question Time today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) who now sits on the back benches, but who has great experience in these matters as a former senior member of many Cabinets, that the Court of Inquiry will take some considerable time. Although we all welcome the announcement of the setting up of the Court of Inquiry, and the fact that it has been asked to prepare an interim report, even that report might take 10 to 12 days. Therefore, I urge the Government that they should continue their activities to bring the two sides together while the Court of Inquiry is in session.
The Minister of Labour gave a hopeful reply when the problem was raised this afternoon. He said that the President of the court would speak to the two sides just before the inquiry opened. Although 816 this announcement is very welcome, I want the Government to take further steps in trying to solve this problem. I hope that both sides will meet the Chairman of the Court and that there will be some positive results even before the inquiry begins. We must bear in mind the situation which will arise if these talks do not produce any result. It is the Government's duty to put pressure upon the employers so that they will produce an improved offer for the consideration of the National Union of Seamen. In this serious situation it would be quite wrong of the Government not to take any further action just because the Court of Inquiry was sitting. In the better atmosphere created, I hope, through the work of the inquiry, if the Government were to urge the employers to make such an improved offer there would then be some hope that the other side would be prepared to start discussions.
I want to deal with the background of the dispute, because it has some disquieting aspects and some serious implications for the future of our industrial relations. From the very beginning some Members have felt that the Government adopted too much of a one-sided attitude to this conflict. This was shown very clearly in the television broadcast made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister just after the dispute had started. My right hon. Friend has, not only as head of the Government, but over many years, rendered valuable personal service to the trade unions, and there is no one here who can teach him anything about relations with the trade union movement. He is on record as having done excellent work for the textile unions and having been one of those who worked out a national fuel policy for the National Union of Mineworkers. Over the years he has worked in close co-operation with the trade unions on such matters.
However, in this television broadcast he was wrong on timing, wrong in tone and wrong in substance. He was wrong in timing because it was far too early to rush ahead with that type of broadcast on the second day of the dispute. We are told that one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend decided on the timing of his broadcast was not because it was intended for home consumption, but, very largely because he wanted to 817 reassure our creditors abroad that the Government were going to adopt a very stern line with the seamen—that it was part of what is called the defence of the prices and incomes policy. One can scarcely discern any other reason why such a broadcast should have been made then.
Secondly, the broadcast was wrong in tone as was the tone of the entire Government in those first few days. It was bound to have the worst possible effect upon members of the Seamen's Union. If Members talk with the seamen, as I have done, after they have come off their ships, one would realise after 20 minutes that for them it is a normal industrial dispute between them and their employers., and that there was no idea of taking part in a conspiracy to attack the prices and incomes policy of the Government. This was completely foreign to their minds. No one who has talked to them will suggest such a thing, or say that this is a strike against the State and the community.
If the doctrine that, because of the prices and incomes policy, any major ndustr al dispute is ipso facto a strike against the State and the community is encouraged it will have the most destructive consequences for our industrial relations. There is a very serious confusion here. In the past it has always been held that any long-drawn-out industrial dispute involving the public utilities or more than one industry would at some point pat the country in a position where the community would be gravely affected. This has nothing to do with the new interpretation given by the Prime Minister to this problem. The old idea and definition of what may become a very grave matter affecting the community is something quite different from saying that any major industrial dispute, because it attacks the prices and incomes policy by implication is ipso facto immediately a strike against the State and the community. This is a wrong and dangerous doctrine.
I would call in aid any Member of this House who has held the office of Minister of Labour. I am confident that, no matter to which side of the House they belong, they would have to agree with me that neither they, nor the present Minister of Labour, could have done their job properly if they were burdened 818 with the doctrine that as soon as any major industrial dispute broke out it had to be regarded as an attack on the State and the community.
It is for this reason as well as many other reasons that this is a debate of the greatest and most serious consequences for our industrial relations in general and not only as it affects this dispute. By making it appear as if the seamen were to be made an example of, and by thinking that by making a sharp counter-attack immediately against the claim of the National Union of Seamen the incomes and prices policy would be defended successfully, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his colleagues in the Cabinet have made a most serious miscalculation. My right hon. Friend is being urged to adopt just this attitude. In its first leading article last Friday, the Economist urged the Prime Minister not only to adopt this attitude to the claim of the National Union of Seamen but to make a counter attack. This is advice which he should reject.
I am, therefore, much concerned that we should draw from this dispute conclusions which should guide us in future in our industrial relations. This dispute was the worst kind of dispute to make an example of, even if the policy of making an example of any dispute made sense. The sympathy which has developed all over the country for the case of the National Union of Seamen is proof that my belief is widely shared.
Some of the contributions of hon. Members opposite this afternoon have shown that they do not have much knowledge of the work of the trade union movement. They talk glibly about 13 per cent. and 17 per cent, without knowing what they are talking about. If they were to examine the facts, they would realise why there is such widespread sympathy for the claim of the National Union of Seamen. The members of the National Union of Seamen are providing an essential service and they are grossly underpaid, not to speak of the difficult conditions in which they have to do their work. The more knowledge spreads among the people in this country and in the House, the more sympathy for the seamen will increase.
When we realise that as a result of the 13 per cent. increase a seaman's total 819 wage per week is £14, we must ask ourselves how low their wages must have been before. The union's case falls directly within the confines of the point made again and again by my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State, that the incomes and prices policy, if it is to be fair, does not mean that people whose wages have fallen behind will not have them increased even beyond the norm. This is an excellent example to which to apply this criterion so often repeated, and with good reason, by the First Secretary of State.
What is the position when one makes a detailed study of conditions in the industry and considers the way in which the 1964 Agreement has been misused and abused by so many employers in the industry? On many ships there used to be no real work done on Saturdays after lunch. Merely because the agreement on the 56-hour week had been concluded, many companies firmly insisted that work must be found for everybody after 12 o'clock. We now begin to get a glimpse of what is in the minds of the seamen when they approve the strike policy of their union. It is misguided of hon. Members opposite to try to enter into the details of this case without real knowledge of it, and they certainly cannot do it on the memorandum sent to all of us by the Shipping Federation.
When the Government carry their proposals this evening, and when the work of the Court of Inquiry begins, this will be a testing time for the Government's attitude to this dispute and the best possible time for preparing for a successful conclusion of the dispute. I urge them to make certain that because of the very delicate line which has been drawn by agreement which would make unnecessary the use of any of the powers for any of the military forces, they should be very careful. I am convinced that in the light of the agreement between the seamen and dockers most probably none of these powers will have to be used.
Secondly, the Government must continue to accept their responsibility while the Court of Inquiry is sitting and put pressure on the employers to improve the offer to the National Union of Seamen because that is the best basis for a speedy settlement of this dispute.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
We are told that we are debating Regulations introduced at a time of great national emergency. Yet, at 6 o'clock, one of my hon. Friends, while he was speaking with the full attention of the House, was interrupted and bellowed at by someone who is not a Member of this House, but who was doing his duty, and for 12½ minutes the debate ceased. We went into limbo and suspended animation while the Royal Assent was given to certain Bills. I accept that this was a necessary thing to do, but it seems strange, and possibly only the British could do it at a time when we are discussing emergency powers in a state of national emergency. In this Parliament at least some attention should be given to this anachronism.
The debate should be about emergency powers. You, Sir, and your predecessor in the Chair have allowed discussion on the need for the emergency powers, and this leads us to the reasons for the dispute. I should like to ask for information on one point. I ask my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to note a situation which we are told arose a week or more ago when representatives of the National Union of Seamen went to the Ministry and Downing Street. They were asked to accept a pay offer which would be linked with the offer of a Court of Inquiry or a Royal Commission.
I have been told that during the negotiations between the employers and the National Union of Seamen's negotiators, four offers were made by the employers. Three of them were discussed and rejected. I am told that the fourth was discussed, amended and accepted by the negotiators and was taken back to their executive for acceptance or rejection. In the event, it was rejected.
I am told that the offer linked with the Court of Inquiry from the Minister of Labour or the Prime Minister was not the last offer which had been agreed temporarily between negotiators across a table, but an offer which was less attractive to the National Union of Seamen than the previous offer. That is one point which he could clear up, because it is causing some difficulty. If it is suggested that the dispute is only about the 40-hour week, whoever is suggesting that knows 821 very little about the past history of disputes The 40-hour week is an issue, of course. In my time, I have been on the Australian run, and we always used to say—
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. R. J. Gunter)
Perhaps I might intervene to explain the point, which I know has given rise to some doubt, as to why the 3 per per cent. offer was allied to an offer of a court of inquiry. It was because the first offer of 19th March of 3 per cent. really left things as they were, basically. At that stage, the owners' offer, which was also discussed, had strings attached to it that would have complicated future negotiations. That is why I suggested to the seamen that if they took the first offer, which was an improvement on the basic rate, that would leave every other complication over to be dealt with by the Court of Inquiry, which would perhaps be better for negotiations in the end.
§ Mr. Ogden
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention.
As I was saying, it is not only the 40-hour week, but a very wide range of grievances. When hon. Gentlemen opposite were talking about 13 and 17 per cent., I was trying to intervene to say that it is not a question of the percentage increase, but the total wage at the end of the week. After all, £10 per cent. of 10 and 10 per cent. of £10,000 are two very different things. It is the total increase in hard cash and how much it will buy that is important.
One thing that caused me concern about the last pay settlement and the one being negotiated now is that, in the one which was negotiated 12 months ago, the proportion of basic pay was gradually increasing. It is on the basic pay that allocations home are made. It is on the basic pay that a man's creditworthiness is reckoned at home. It is on the basic pay that he can possibly get a mortgage.
Some of the better companies, particularly in the case of their long-term seamen, are trying to get them on to staff status, with fringe benefits and pensions. There is doubt in my mind about the wisdom of accepting an offer which will affect the basic pay. It is the total and the basic higher up which are important. Equally, I think that the extension of staff status could well be taken into con- 822 sideration by the employers' association as a whole and the union as a whole.
Mention has been made by many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen about the support for the seamen from the general public. It has been greater than I had personally expected, and it would have been even greater if the Seamen's Union had hired that person who is not liked very much by the right hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), or perhaps it was my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale)—a public relations officer.
§ Mr. Ogden
Neither my hon. Friend nor the right hon. Gentleman needs them very much. They are their own public relations officers.
The seamen have a good case, but only this week, after the dispute had been going on for three or four weeks, have the seamen taken the opportunity of writings to hon. Members to tell us about it. In my constituency, they were on to us right away, but it would have been better if they had hired the services of a public relations officer to give everyone an idea of what was going on.
Public support has been growing, and it is probably due to the fact that so far there has been little public distress or inconvenience. No one has had to stop travelling on trains, no one has gone short of food, and there have been none of the inconveniences generally associated with a transport strike.
Perhaps one of the reasons for introducing the Regulations is that difficulties at home are expected, with employers going to their factory workers and telling them that, if the dispute is not settled within a week or ten days, they will be on short time. If a worker goes home with that sort of news, it is a testing time for public opinion and for the seamen's union itself. That is something which we have not yet faced. Word is going out already through factories on Merseyside to the effect that, if the dispute is not settled fairly shortly, short-time working will come to Merseyside and spread to other regions.
It has been said of the union that it had to have a strike. It did not help earlier when hon. Gentlemen opposite tried to suggest who should be on the 823 executive of the union and who should not. Having shown their ability, their determination and that they can bring the men out and get their support, realising the position that total action can lead to, it is time that the effect of it was borne in mind, not only by the Seamen's Union but by the employers.
Equally,there are employers on Merseyside who have tried to play this as quietly as possible and keep the heat off. It has been said that they have played it according to the Queensberry Rules, and now we have the Court of Inquiry.
I hope that the basis of negotiations will be for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to say, "Come back, not to separate meetings in different rooms of the same building, but come back and let me talk to both of you at the same time round a table." There are many suspicious people in the world who would say that my right hon. Friend is saying one thing to one side and another thing to the other side. I do not for one moment accuse him of doing that, but it would strengthen the hands of the union and the employers with their own people to be able to say that they had talked things over with the Minister together. Such a meeting with the Minister would be extremely useful.
Mention has been made of the suspicion in some areas that the Government regard the seamen as a test case for their incomes policy and that they went out of their way deliberately to seek this dispute. That is an understandable suspicion when one thinks of some members of our Government who can be a little Machiavellian at times. With all respect to their political ability, I would say that if they were seeking a test case to challenge, they would not have sought a dispute where the withdrawal of labour will paralyse industrial and commercial life so rapidly. They would not have challenged a strong union. Surely they would have picked on a weak one.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone said that these were the widest Regulations of which he had knowledge since the 1926 General Strike. He seemed to be suggesting that he would have preferred phase I and phase II Regulations, with limited ones for the first phase and then, if the emergency went on for another four weeks, more severe 824 Regulations. I wonder whether this would have been wise, whether it is not better to let everyone know the Regulations in the first place so that they know what is in them, and we know what is in them, before any action is taken. This was the Government's dilemma. They could have introduced them, acted on them, and then debated them, but acting like good boy scouts, they allowed us to debate them so that all points of view could be made known before any action was taken on the waterfront or anywhere else. This was the Government's dilemma, and this is the course which they have chosen.
On Monday it was said that the port in my area was becoming congested. Some help will come in because there is agreement by two unions. This will lessen the congestion, but eventually the port will close. Factories in the area are talking about short-time working, and prices are going up. Therefore, although I do not think that anyone in the House welcomes the idea of having emergency Regulations under which the rule of law is suspended and handed over to the Front Bench, I for one accept them because of the knowledge that I have of my right hon. Friends, but I ask that they be used as little as possible, and, above all, as carefully as possible.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dickens (Lewisham, West)
I welcome the setting up of this Court of Inquiry into this very serious dispute. I am pleased to learn that the Court of Inquiry includes Mr. Hugh Clegg who, as hon. Members are aware, is a member of the Prices and Incomes Board. He is a man of considerable experience in industrial relations, and a man who, I am sure, will add tremendous drive and prestige to the inquiry.
I am happy, too, that the Court of Inquiry will be able to carry out a wide-ranging and comprehensive review of the situation during the next few weeks, and that its recommendations will include suggestions on wages and hours of work.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is present in the Chamber. I listened carefully to him explaining his reasons for asking the N.U.S. to accept the first offer made by the shipowners as a basis for setting up the Court of Inquiry. This was a fortnight or so ago. In the light of 825 his statement this afternoon that was understandable, but, having established the Court of Inquiry, what is there to prevent the N.U.S. and the shipowners themselves arranging a settlement of the dispute on the basis of, for example, the shipowners' final offer which, it will be recalled, Mr. Hogarth and the negotiating committee of the N.U.S. initially accepted? It seems that the Government have set up a Court of Inquiry without getting any sort of undertaking from either the N.U.S. or the shipowners on this aspect of the matter.
It is obvious that any form of settlement will have to be a variation on the shipowners' last offer.
§ Mr. Gunter
Does not my hon. Friend understand that the N.U.S. has absolutely rejected the first stage of the shipowners' offer?
§ Mr. Dickens
I do, indeed, understand that the union has rejected the shipowners' first offer, and I also understand that it has rejected the final one. What I am saying is that any settlement of the dispute will have to be a variation of the shipowners' final offer, and it is this point which Mr. George Woodcock, the General Secretary of the T.U.C., made in a recent statement on the dispute when he put forward the proposition that one way out of the difficulty might be to get a minimum reduction of hours from 56 to 48 without any accompanying strings. This might be one way in which the dispute is settled.
§ Mr. Dickens
I think that the basis for a settlement here must be around a variation of the final offer made by the shipowners. I think that this offer is well within the general terms of the Government prices and incomes policy, which allows for considerable variations above the 3½ per cent. norm for certain lowly paid wage earners. It is the sort of policy which could properly be applied in this dispute.
The men involved in this dispute are lowly paid. They have a right to expect the 3½ per cent. norm not to be rigidly applied to them. In their case I would expect the settlement to be significantly higher, and therefore I think that the offer made by the shipowners of 826 5 per cent. in the first year, 4 per cent. in the second year, and 4 per cent. in the third year in terms of cost is a reasonable basis for a settlement of the dispute.
I think, too, that the Court of Inquiry having been set up and given these wide-ranging and comprehensive terms of reference, the N.U.S. would be well advised to look at the effects of the strike on the economy as a whole, and it is this aspect with which I am particularly concerned.
What worries most of my hon. Friends and me is the fact that with each day that passes the strike is having a most damaging effect on the country's economy. After the strike has been concluded in one way or the other, we shall be confronted with a situation in which the prospects for social advance have taken a setback. It is bound to mean, in the long term—taking this year overall—not only that our economy has suffered a setback but that the prospects for improvements in education, pensions, housing and social welfare generally have deteriorated. That is the aspect of the problem to which I want the National Union of Seamen to pay attention.
There is much in the point made by some of my hon. Friends that the strike is in the nature of an exercise in industrial psychology. We are now paying for a decade or more of complaisant, as distinct from complacent, trade union leadership in this matter, and today the union feels that it has to prove its maturity or man-hood in fighting for what it believes to be a reasonable settlement of the seamen's claim. I can understand that in the initial days of the dispute this was a tenable proposition, but after virtually a fortnight, I suggest that this explanation is wearing a little thin.
On such an occasion as this it is perhaps as well to make one or two passing references to certain basic assumptions which must lie behind any successful prices and incomes policy which may be introduced or carried into effect by a Labour Government. First, such a policy must be comprehensive, and must include incomes from all sources. At present it does not do so. So far as I know, there is no provision for including unearned income within the purview of the Prices and Incomes Board. I hope that this will soon be remedied.
827 Secondly, a prices and incomes policy under a Labour Government must contain a major element of social justice. The 3½ per cent. norm should not be rigidly applied to every group of industrial workers who happen to be bargaining for a wage or salary settlement. Clearly, some people must do with less than 3½ per cent. and some with rather more.
Thirdly, we expect from a Labour Government a prices and incomes policy which includes an element of income redistribution. We must start on the assumption that with unequal incomes among various sections of society the application of a 3½ per cent. norm rigidly over the whole range of employment makes nonsense of such a policy from Socialist point of view. So, although I support the prices and incomes policy, and the Government's endeavours to frame such a policy, I want it to be made more comprehensive and to contain a large element of social justice as well as an element of income redistribution.
I have suggested ways in which the strike may be settled. In passing, and in the Minister's hearing, I refer to the fact that Mr. Hogarth himself adhered to the view that the owners' last offer "was as just and reasonable as could be expected in all the circumstances". The owners, who have offered roughly what the union wanted, have taken the opportunity of phasing it over three years. Having read the statement made by Mr. Hogarth at the conference of the National Union of Seamen called to consider the rejection of the shipowners' offer by the N.U.S. Executive, I wonder, in the light of the fact that we have set up a Court of Inquiry with very comprehensive terms of reference, why this dispute should continue.
It has been suggested that the Government have chosen this dispute as a test case for the success or failure of the prices and incomes policy. Certain remarks along these lines have been made by some of my hon. Friends today. I think that this is completely untrue. Even if it were true, the Government would be making a fundamental error in all the circumstances to take on a group of industrial workers such as the seamen as a test case.
828 The National Union of Seamen and seamen in general are in the unique position to damage the economy while they themselves avoid many of the material effects arising as a consequence of the dispute. We all know that many seamen can find alternative employment readily on land, especially with the holiday season getting under way—employment in hotels, holiday camps and elsewhere. If the 65,000 men, the total number of members of the N.U.S., were on strike, they could be swallowed up by the economy of the country quite rapidly without their having to suffer any undue material disadvantages from the strike. At the same time the ports of this country are tied up and the stoppage is having a very serious and damaging effect on the national economy.
Secondly, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is well aware, with each ship which comes into port there is a new injection of enthusiasm given to the men already on strike, because with each ship which comes into port there is a new batch of men to join the dispute in successive days, men who are not at all affected by the initial ten days of the dispute which we have already undergone. The dispute could be a very long-lived one. The men, because of their peculiar position, can avoid the worst materal effects to themeslves and, in addition, they are adding to the dispute day by day this additional dose of initial enthusiasm from men who are just coming off ship. So I do not think it true that the Government have chosen this as a test case for the prices and incomes policy.
We are now in a position in which the Labour Government have taken the step this afternoon of announcing that they intend to set up a Court of Inquiry composed of men of very high calibre, men on whom we can depend to arrive at a fair and reasonable conclusion. I am certain that this Court of Inquiry will result in findings which will recommend a greatly improved quality of life for seafaring men in this country for many years to come. I am also certain that there is still considerable room for manœuvre and negotiation between the shipowners and the men. If we can now return to a variant of the shipowners' final offer, perhaps in terms of hours, perhaps making the offer on hours over two years and not three, this might well provide a 829 basis for a settlement which the men can adopt reasonably and which the union can successfully put across to the rank and file of the membership.
I think that we are entitled to expect from the National Union of Seamen that, having shown their capacity to engage in a major industrial dispute, having succeeded in getting a Court of Inquiry to examine a wide range of problems affecting the industry, they accept that the onus is now upon them to consider very seriously whether, having made their point, they should now return to work. They can expect, as they have the right to expect—and as they will find to be the case—that a Labour Government and the back-bench Members on this side of the House will see that they get social justice not only as a consequence of the evidence of the Court of Inquiry but in the months and years ahead.
I therefore conclude by saying that I did not support the strike when it began. I listened carefully to Mr. Hogarth when he came to the Palace of Westminster yestercay to discuss the matter, and I was very unconvinced by his continued reiteration of the National Union of Seamen's case for remaining on strike. I ask them now in all the circumstances, taking cognisance of today's development, to reconsider their decision, and I invite them to return to work.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
I have every intention of being brief. I do not want to go over the ground which was covered by so many of my hon. Friends. I wish to make one or two simple points and leave it at that.
My first is that throughout most of this debate, which is so involved with the question of individual liberties and freedoms, the benches opposite have been empty. Four hon. Members, three of whom were on duty, has been the general number present, and the entire Liberal bench has been empty. It would be as well to compare the fight for individual liberties put up by Members on the other side of the House throughout the day—and by that I mean none—with the fight in a few weeks' time, when the Finance Bill comes before the House when they will be present to defend their financial interests.
830 There is a moral to this. if the Government come forward with certain proposals and we receive such unanimous and confident support from the other side that hon. Members opposite do not even need to turn up to keep an eye on us, it is time we looked at our own legislation with care and with some suspicion. Quite obviously, if a provision were written into the Finance Bill to attack directly the shipowners' profits, we should see that particular lobby in action during the long darkness of the night. Therefore, it would appear that that group, at any rate, do not see the measure as being imposed against them.
If that is the case—and I think that it follows quite logically—we must be excused if many of us on this side of the House tend to say either that these Regulations are being imposed one-sidedly against the N.U.S. in this situation, or—and perhaps this is equally serious, because ideas can become facts—that the seamen will see it in this way. I therefore feel that we cannot look upon the Measure as being impartial. It has its effect upon the dispute which we are facing—we must remember that it is not a strike but a dispute—and I am afraid that it will have a bad effect, because no hon. Member should underestimate the potentials and strengths of the National Union of Seamen.
As other hon. Members have said, with each ship that comes in there is a fresh accession of strength for the union. Indeed, since the seamen are not on strike, as they are not breaking any contract, there is no reason why they should not be taking up more lucrative employment in other areas. This could go on for a very long time.
My second point is to stress that the freedoms of the individual are involved. After a week or so of this dispute we are bringing in measures such as Regulation 26:No person shall trespass on, or on premises in the vicinity of, any premises used or appropriated for the purposes of essential services.…Furthermore, if a person is so found "in the vicinity of" and any proceedings are:…taken against a person by virtue of this paragraph.… the prosecution may thereupon adduce such evidence of the character of that person.… as tends to show that he was so present for a purpose prejudicial to the public safety ".831 When I consider what evidence may be adduced upon my own character and consider some of my own record—and of many hon. Members on these benches who have been involved in industrial argument and dispute of one kind or another—I shall be terrified to go within many hundreds of yards of Glasgow Docks for several weeks to come. I should not have a leg to stand on if this Regulation were brought before me. That is the kind of measure which is now before us. Therefore, even if the Government are convinced that this is necessary, they must assure us tonight that this kind of vague, abstract and, indeed, dangerous attack on the liberty of the subject will be removed.
We have had discussion about whether the strike is due to an involvement with the Government rather than with the shipowners. I remember reading the seamen's posterSeamen v. shipowners, not Seamen v. Parliament".There has been a great tendency on the part of the Government through their actions, of which the Regulations are one, to turn the strike or dispute into a dispute between the seamen and the Government. This is an error. We do not intend to do that, but there is a tendency for it to happen. How are we to overcome that? Regulation 18 is one way round it. It states that there will be regulation of food prices, so that we are beginning to implement for the first time, not only an incomes policy, but a prices and incomes policy. We have had little of this over the past year and a half but we have had plenty of strikes and disputes about keeping wages down. We have not had much powerful action to reduce the cost of foodstuffs, and it is time that we did this.
If the Government feel it necessary to introduce this measure—which, I fear, will not help them in this situation but will only exacerbate it—I direct their attention to Regulation 22. This is an interesting provision. If the Government feel it necessary to take these emergency powers, here is a way out for them.
The shipowners' lobby has been absent today. That lobby should have had a more careful look at the emergency powers, because Regulation 22 states that a competent authority.
832may requisition any chattel in Great Britain (including any vessel or aircraft or anything on board a vessel or aircraft)… and may hold, or sell or otherwise dispose of, the chattel as if the competent authority were the owner thereof and as if the chattel were free from any mortgage, pledge, lien or other similar obligation.This means that we can requisition the merchant shipping if we wish. We have nationalised the Royal Navy, and I see no reason why we should not nationalise the Merchant Navy. Indeed, the Royal Navy is our oldest nationalised institution, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is fond of telling up. Here, therefore, is possibly a way out for the Government in their dilemma.
I make this suggestion seriously, and I make it to the seamen. The seamen say that this is not a strike against the nation or the Government but is against the shipowners, and they are correct. Instead of loading any essential supplies on frigates and destroyers, why not load them on to the nearest merchant ship, as we are entitled to do under the Regulations? We should then say to the seamen, "It is necessary to run this load up to the Isle of Lewis. We can make sure that the profits do not go to the shipowners but come to the nation, and the nation will divide the profits between ourselves and the seamen".
Hon. Members opposite may laugh because I speak of profits not going to the shipowners. To hon. Members opposite, that is unthinkable. We have not heard so much from them today about the freedom of the individual being taken away but one word from me about the freedom to make profit being taken away is so abnormal that it is thought to be funny. If we could take over one section of shipping, the Royal Navy, why cannot we take over this section and say to the seamen, "You run these ships for us and we will collect the freight charges and, during the period of the dispute, share the profits, half or thereabouts to you and half to the Government"?
The captains, officers and men are there, and if we took this action the seamen would benefit and I am sure that the shipowners would rapidly proceed to the negotiating table. I offer this suggestion seriously to the Government and I trust that it will be considered in 833 the same vein. After all, the Government have the means in their hand to take this action and I am sure that the seamen would co-operate. It would demonstrate that this is a dispute with the shipowners, and if the shipowners say, "This is taking over our property," that will not matter because for many years they have taken over the lives of the seamen whose claims they say they cannot at present meet.
If the shipowners say that the amount of pay which the seamen would have been getting in the interim period, if my suggestion is accepted, cannot continue to be paid to them, we should point to the example of Sweden, America and almost every other country and reply, "If you cannot make your organisations work efficiently enough to pay reasonable wages, as other countries are able to do, and make a profit, it is about time that you went, anyway".
The Labour movement has frequently referred to the need to clear away the dead wood in board rooms and to make industry efficient. If this industty cannot pay decent wages something must be done about it. The solution is easy. The ships and the men are there. The men would be willing to co-operate, in the knowledge that they would share the freight rates with the Government and would get higher wages than they are at present. The only people who will not co-operate are the shipowners. The main task is to begin to bring them into line with the human conditions which exist in other countries.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I wish to make it clear, in the few minutes of the debate remaining to me, that of all the issues which are likely to be raised in the lifetime of this Parliament, I do not believe that any could engage more of my sympathy and compassion than the one we are discussing today.
I am an ex-merchant seaman. I served for 13 years, in peace and war, in the British merchant service and I am only too well aware why the strike which is now taking place, this withdrawal of labour, can be justified as no other industrial strike could be since the war. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was announcing the imposition 834 of these Regulations he made this important statement:I believe that the accumulated difficulties. grievances, frustrations—and we must say this plainly—the failures of the union in past years to deal with these frustrations…"—[OFFICIAL. REPORT 23rd May, 1966; Vol. 729, c. 38.]has brought about the present position. No one could agree more than me with the Prime Minister.
For many years after the war the position was that the shipowners had the National Union of Seamen in their pockets. For many years members of the union attempted, by all means at their disposal, to elect an executive which would carry out its wishes. Contrary to what is stated in the circular which was received by most hon. Members this afternoon, the majority of British seafarers are not young men. Yesterday afternoon I met a deputation to the House and spoke to my former shipmates, men who took convoys to Russia with me during the war. These are married men with families and they are merely asking for a decent living.
The Prime Minister was quite correct in saying that the unions had failed to deal with the grievances of their members in past years, but if we interpret that literally we must come to the conclusion that in failing to act on behalf of its members over the past 10 or 15 years the union also failed to better the conditions of its members. This becomes quite obvious when we realise that today they are working a 56-hour week. When the employers cry that there was a rise last year of 13 per cent., and 17 per cent. is asked for now, we can see that for the past 15 years the employers have been getting away with absolute murder.
The numbers in the merchant service have been depleted from 90,000 to 65,000. The union takes pride in the fact that its members have contributed to productivity in this industry. Even without automation and the new technological developments which have been applied to merchant ships over the last 10 or 15 years, from personal experience I can tell the House that when I served in the engine room of a ship which sailed from the Royal Albert Docks in London three men were required in that engine room to carry out a watch. In 1946, only a year later, one man was expected to 835 do the job of three men. Here was cooperation from the union. There was no technological development which led to an increase of productivity there.
I state once again that the National Union of Seamen has only once had a national executive which it could hold in respect. It has been felt by seamen with whom I have sailed during the war and whom I spoke to yesterday afternoon that the threat of imposition of these Regulations is made directly at the National Union of Seamen. The Government, they feel, regard the union and its members as the weakest link in the chain. It must be remembered that the union can never at any time have all its members assembled in one place. Even now half its members are scattered in the various maritime ports of the world.
Great credit is due to the present executive of the union that the loyalty of its members is such that every member in Britain at the moment is unanimous in support. On television one night last week there was a story about sailing conditions in the "Queen Mary". In the "Queen Mary" seamen are still sleeping 10 or 15 to a cabin. If that happened ashore it would not be sanctioned by any medical officer of health. It is injurious to health for men to have to sleep in such close, overcrowded conditions. The members of the British merchant service have taken up this stand after many years of frustration.
It ill becomes this Government to take a stand in defence of the employers against the union. As a member of the National Union of Seamen I and every individual member whom I have known for years pay a political levy to the Labour Party. All the years I was at sea every man I met believed in the principles for which the Labour Party was fighting. They must now feel absolutely sickened at the spectacle presented, which they could not have expected, in the attitude adopted by the Government. They could not have expected any other attitude to be adopted if it were a Tory Government. Unless a clear distinction is drawn by which the Labour Government will act and abide by Socialist principles, it will lose the support of the people and they will know in what way to vote when the next election comes.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
We have spent a long day debating a very important subject. A declaration by Her Majesty upon the advice of her Ministers of a state of emergency is of the greatest importance to the nation. The Regulations which are made under the statutory powers are likely to affect the working capacity, the livelihood and the way of life of the community as a whole.
Immediately before the debate the Minister of Labour made the very important announcement that he had referred, as I understand it for advice only, a number of questions connected with the strike to a Court of Inquiry. He has not referred the industrial dispute as such for settlement by the Court of Inquiry. As I understand it, he has referred for advice only certain questions connected with the dispute to the inquiry.
A number of questions have been raised in the course of the debate as to whether at that time the Minister of Labour did or did not assent to the fact that the appointment of the Court of Inquiry will mean that the industrial dispute will not hereafter at any time be subject to review by the National Board for Prices and Incomes. We had the pleasure of the presence of the Minister half an hour ago. I had hoped to have had the opportunity of inviting him to clear up this point, which seems to be in doubt; but I have not the slightest doubt that he will have communicated with the Attorney-General, who answers on behalf of the whole Government. We therefore await the answer of the Attorney-General as to the attitude of the Government on the Court of Inquiry and whether this industrial dispute is or is not hereafter to be the subject of review by the National Board for Prices and Incomes.
Many of the speeches today have been concerned with the merits on either side of this industrial dispute. I do not think those questions are strictly relevant to the topic we are debating. As I understand the matter, the only topics which we are entitled to debate today are, first, whether the Government were correct in advising Her Majesty that a state of emergency both existed and ought to be proclaimed under the 1920 Act; and, secondly, whether, if that decision was 837 correctly taken, the Regulations which have been laid should be approved by the House.
I support what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said at the very beginning of the debate. We as an Opposition do not desire to criticise the advice which the Government gave to Her Majesty to proclaim a state of emergency at the beginning of this week. Although we have some anxieties about the Regulations, we do not intend at this stage to divide against them or to endeavour to amend them.
We agree that the consequences of the eamen's strike fully justify the declaration which has been made of a state of emergency, and we think that the Government were right before the Whitsun Recess to take powers to deal with a situation which could very easily deteriorate quickly. As the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens) said, with each day a more damaging effect can occur on the economy and it is true, as has been said in the debate, that the slow strangulation of the necessary supplies for the community as a whole can occur during the course of the Recess. It was, therefore, very much better, in our view, that the Government should take the powers that would be necessary to deal with this situation.
Of course, this is not a question of whether the Government ought or ought not to enter into the industrial dispute on one side or the other. As I understand the matter, these powers are not intended and ought not to be used for the purpose of bringing pressure to bear on either side to settle this industrial dispute. The sole purpose of these powers is to secure the necessary interest of the community and of the nation as a whole. It is only in case the situation deteriorates to such an extent that the public are being prejudiced that the Government are justified in taking such. powers. We consider that they were right to take them at this stage, and we think it obvious to all that, unless the strike is settled soon, these powers may be needed very quickly.
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) asked the Attorney-General about the use of naval forces, and I should be grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view on whether the 838 situation is this. The Regulations and the declaration of emergency have nothing whatever to do with the employment of military or naval forces and that the Government could at any stage, without a Proclamation and without these Regulations, have employed either naval or military forces for any purpose provided that it was essential in the national interest. I hope that the Attorney-General will make clear that the debate today and these Regulations have nothing whatever to do with the use of military forces, which could be used whether the Regulations had been made or not.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that we know very little about these Regulations, about their purpose or about the intentions which the Government have in laying them. The Home Secretary played this matter very close to his chest. He said almost nothing at all about the details of the Regulations and less than nothing about how he intended or foresaw that they might be needed in future.
While not opposing the Regulations, I agree with the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Horner) that the powers which the Government are now taking go very much wider than those which were taken in either 1949 or 1955. They go almost as wide as the powers taken at the time of the General Strike in 1926.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) was wrong when he said that those Regulations, which were prayed against by the Labour Party in 1926. are not included in these Regulations. There are many Regulations contained in what the Government have now tabled which were contained in the 1926 Regulations which were prayed against at that time.
As very little has been said about the nature and extent of the Regulations, I hope that the House will forgive me if I briefly point out their very wide impact. Apparently, the Government took what had been done in 1955, leaving out only one Regulation, that is, the power of the Home Secretary to authorise the use of police in other areas, because he had that power under the Police Act, 1964. The 1955 Regulations gave powers of arrest without warrant. They provided for 839 relaxation of many controls on road transport which had been imposed for the public safety and advantage. They relaxed the obligations on many public authorities to provide public services, notably, the railways, the Post Office and the electricity and gas authorities. The 1955 powers provided also for the requisitioning of any chattel in Great Britain.
That was all that was thought necessary for dealing with the railway strike. We now have a shipping strike. What the Government have done is to take those powers in tow and then to add a very large number of other powers. One presumes that all Departments had a look at them and added anything that they thought of, and the Government approved that such widespread powers should be in their hands.
Regulation 1 enables the Government to control and direct the use of the ports and, as has been pointed out, to direct people on how they shall work in the ports. Regulation 2 does away with the Dock Labour Scheme and allows the employment of workers in the docks in disregard of the Dock Labour Scheme. Regulation 7 allows the use of motor vehicles on the roads without any test certificate even though they may be as old as anything and as unfit for use as maybe. Regulation 8 enables the Minister of Transport to authorise the driving of heavy lorries and heavy locomotives by persons not holding a proper licence so to do.
Regulation 12(1,b) allows the Postmaster-General for the first time to refuse to transmit postal packets sent by or addressed to any person or class of person. This is a new power never included before. Regulation 14 gives power for the Minister to authorise the taking of water or the ignoring of restrictions on the taking of water simply on the say-so of the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
Regulation 17 allows powers to direct and control the distribution of all fuels, liquid or solid, and power to control the supply and to direct the supply of both solid and liquid fuels. Regulation 18 contains the power, already discussed, to regulate maximum food prices. It is, perhaps, worth observing that, in 1955, that power was coupled with the power 840 to requisition stocks of food. The Government have not taken that power this time. Nor have they taken power of enforcement, inspection and entry to see that the regulations on maximum prices are being observed. No such necessary powers of enforcement are being taken.
Regulation 20 contains power to control carriers of goods by road, to direct what they shall carry, how they shall conduct their business and what they shall do in the day-to-day use of their lorries. Regulation 21 contains the power to control and direct home trade shipping, to direct what should be carried and where the boats shall sail. Regulation 23 contains power to take possession of any land in Great Britain. Regulation 24 extends the power of naval billeting.
These are the list of additional powers the Government have taken to deal with the strike and it will be seen that they are very wide—much greater than in 1949 or 1959. Indeed, they are equivalent, almost, to the powers taken in the General Strike. The Government have added to these emergency powers that they are placing in the hands of Ministers.
We are not opposing these Regulations. We think it necessary that the Government should be properly armed with very extensive powers. But the House should realise that they are putting into the hands of the Executive much of of the manpower in large sections of the community, much of the property and services of the community and large parts of many liberties of the people.
As the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said in a striking phrase, the rule of law has been suspended and handed over to the Front Bench. That exactly describes what is being done. While we think that the Government are right in such a situation to arm themselves with such powers, the real question will come on the judgment as to how those powers are used.
It is not so much the committal of these powers to the Government at this stage but the way in which the Government ultimately use them as the situation develops that really matters, and the Government will be judged not on 841 whether they should or should not have had these powers, but on the courage, the judgment, the moderation and good sense with which they use them as the situation develops. Like many hon. Members opposite, we reserve the right to criticise hereafter abuses, misuses or misjudgments of these powers.
The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) seemed to think that we should have delicate mechanism whereby, whenever a fire occurred, the House would have power to discuss it. He seemed to think that once these powers are given to Ministers that is the end of the matter. But I remind him that Ministers are wholly responsible as to how these powers are used and will be answerable to the House hereafter for all they do with them. The hon. Member for Oldham, West was wrong in suggesting that it might make a difference if Ministers delegate their powers. Even if they do, they will still be responsible for how those powers are exercised by those to whom they delegate them. The real question will arise not perhaps today but hereafter when we see how and in what manner the Government exercise their powers in the very difficult situation facing them and the nation.
There is one matter of which I should like to remind the Attorney-General. It is the problem which arises under Regulation 1 and the proviso to Section 2(1) of the 1920 Act. To remind the House of that proviso, it says: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 …It is quite obvious from the reaction of the Attorney-General that he at any rate has not considered the Regulations in relation to that Section, because he appeared to be wholly unaware that that proviso was contained in the Act. We can therefore rely on the fact that the Regulations were made without the point having been considered, and in the circumstances I therefore turn to consider Regulation 1(1).
It enables the Minister of Transport give such directionsas appear to him to be necessary or expedient for securing that the most advantageous use is made in the public interest of the facilities provided at the port "—842 and in particular such directions maymake provision for"—among other things—the loading and unloading of ships …The vital question which the hon. Member for Walton put was, "Who is intended by 'any person'?". Of course it is not who is intended by the Government, or who is intended by the Home Secretary, or who is intended by what the Attorney-General says, but who is intended by the wording of the Regulation as laid. That is the point. I should have thought that there could be no doubt that it gives the Minister of Transport power to give a direction to any person if it appears to the Minister necessary to do anything in respect of the loading or unloading of ships.
I would have supposed that there could be no doubt that a Regulation giving a power, for instance, to the Minister of Defence to give directions to any persons for securing the full manning of all Royal Navy vessels, was a Regulation imposing a form of compulsory military service, and I am unable to understand, and await with interest the Attorney-General's explanation, how it could be said that this Regulation does not impose a form of industrial conscription. Of course, if it does it is ultra vires.
I suppose that it does not very much matter what view I express, or what view the Attorney-General expresses. We should be expressing opinions only and the crunch would come if anybody should take the point to the courts. But it is a matter of some importance and no doubt among the considerations of whether the point should be taken to the courts would be the view expressed by the Attorney-General upon it. As I have said, we await with interest what his explanation may be, but I am bound to say that as at present advised I would have formed the opinion that this was a form of industrial conscription and that the Regulation was probably ultra vires.
There is a further point as to whether it does not give power to order a person who would be participating in the strike to take part in the loading or unloading of a ship, and to that extent it would also be against the second proviso of Section 2(1). As has been pointed out, the only answer which there can be to 843 that is Regulation 31(1) which sets out the statutory proviso thata person shall not be guilty of an offence against any of these Regulations by reason only of his taking part in, or peacefully persuading any other person or persons to take part in, a strike.I need not remind hon. Members of the word "only" in the litigation about Rookes and Barnard. I see that the Minister of Labour is only too conscious of the point that if one is charged with one offence, the fact that there is a proviso of this sort does not protect anybody who is accused and prosecuted for failing to obey a direction given by the Minister of Labour under and in accordance with Regulation 1 as laid in the House.
My only other comments are concerned with the termination of these powers. I remind the Government that in 1955 the then Home Secretary, Major Lloyd George as he then was, gave an undertaking in the debate on the Regulations that the powers would be terminated within two or three days of the termination of the railway strike. I hope that the Attorney-General, on behalf of the Government, will be able to give a similar undertaking. Whatever the situation at the end of the strike, these Regulations ought to be revoked, because they should not be used for any other purpose than dealing with the emergency created as a result of the strike coming into being. If there are other difficulties, and the Government need additional powers, then they ought to seek different and separate powers under a different procedure to deal with that other situation.
In my view, it would be quite wrong for a Government to keep these Regulations in being once the seamen's industrial dispute is terminated, just because there may be difficulties that require attention. I hope that the Government will recognise the force of this and that the Attorney-General can give the undertaking which has been sought. There is no opposition from us to the recommendation which the Government have made to Her Majesty, as a result of the situation during this week, that Her Majesty should proclaim the emergency. There is no opposition from us to the grant of the powers as laid by the Regulations, wide indeed though they are and surprising per- 844 haps though they may be in their width and nature. We reserve the right hereafter to criticise the use that may be made of these powers and to hold Ministers responsible for the way in which they are exercised.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)
On behalf of the Government, I am grateful for the welcome that has been given on all sides of the House to the announcement—[Interruption.]—wait a moment, hon. Members will not quarrel with this one—about the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour this afternoon to set up the Court of Inquiry. [Laughter.] I am delighted that I have my hon. Friends with me so far. There is one matter which I propose to raise at once relating to the statement of my right hon. Friend in which he said that he had discussed with Lord Pearson, the distinguished Lord of Appeal, who is the Chairman of the court, the possibility of the court making an interim report dealing with the immediate issues in the dispute. He will be considering this possibility with his colleagues as a matter of urgency. That is a matter of importance.
There was one further matter in relation to the statement of my right hon. Friend, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) has referred, namely, the answer of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, to the question put to him at the end of supplementary questions when my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) asked him, "Can you assure us that this inquiry will be quite free to reach its own conclusions about wages and conditions?" There followed a second part to that question—"When those conclusions are reached, they will not be subject to findings of the Prices and Incomes Board?" My right hon Friend gave the answer by an affirmative nod—yes—to those two questions. Ag is often the case when two questions are asked in one, that may not have been entirely enlightening and I think I ought to make the position quite clear to the House. I am instructed—I am advised by my hon. Friend—[Laughter.] that I may do so.
It is certainly free for the inquiry to reach its own conclusions about wages 845 and conditions, and its report will not be referred to the Prices and Incomes Board. I should add in this connection that the House will recollect that one of the terms of reference of the Court of Inquiry is:to inquire into, … terms and conditions of service of seamen, taking into account the national interest, technological change and the need for an efficient and competitive shipping industry;In this connection, perhaps I may be permitted to underline the words, "taking into account the national interest.The main criticism of the Regulations and of the Proclamation of the state of emergency has been as to timing and the plenitude of power taken under the Regulations. On timing, may I repeat what was said by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The sole purpose of the Regulations is to maintain the essentials of life of the community at large. That is their purpose and only purpose. They are in no way directed against strikers or the National Union of Seamen, or the employers. They are intended solely and exclusively to protect the life of the community. They are not a means of bringing pressure to bear on either of the parties in the dispute. Indeed, in view of the announcement of the setting up of the Court of Inquiry, it would not be helpful for me at this stage to enter into a discussion of the issues which the court will be considering in relation to the dispute.
As to the powers which the Government are taking by these Regulations, it is quite true that some of them may never be used at all. Indeed, the Government greatly hope that none of them will have to be used, or, at any rate, that only a few of them need to be used It is the Government's earnest hope that there will be an early settlement of the dispute. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) that none of the powers which the Government are taking will be used unless it is absolutely necessary to use them.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that this strike clearly confronts our country with serious dangers and risks of serious disruption to the life of the community which could arise any day even if they have not arisen to any great extent yet. The Government—indeed any Government—have the clear duty to protect the 846 vital interests of the nation, and that is why the Government took the action which they did in regard to the Proclamation of the state of emergency and the powers which they are inviting the House to approve.
It is quite true that the occasion for the exercise of many of these powers is hypothetical. As I have said, that occasion may never arise. I doubt whether it would be helpful for me to accept the invitation given to me to suggest some hypothetical situations which may arise calling for the exercise of these powers. I have never thought it advantageous to paint the devil on the wall, and, as I have said, it is hoped that the contingency will not arise for the exercise of a particular power. Nevertheless, it is imperative in a state of emergency, when one knows not what crisis in transport, or whatever it may be, may arise, that the Government should be fully armed to protect the life of our community.
There has been some criticism of the Regulations because they include some new regulations and that they cover contingencies which were not previously dealt with. It is true that the Departments, in reviewing the needs of the Department, have added to what they deemed to be necessary. To describe any of those new features of the Regulations as introducing elements of severity has no foundation whatever. The additional powers that are taken to dispense with test certificates in respect of vehicles, to dispense with strict provisions about driving licences, excise licences, etc., the new provisions about the safeguarding of water supply, sewerage and sewage disposal, and the provisions about making vehicles available for use in emergency for dealing with home trade shipping, are merely part of the machinery for the protection of the community and contain no element of oppression of any kind to any citizen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham raised an interesting constitutional point in his speech and said that if the Regulations were continued, there would be no Parliamentary control over the exercise of the powers that were conferred.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I gather that the right hon. Gentleman has left the point 847 about whether there are any unusual powers and how they are to be used.
§ The Attorney-General
Yes. I have not forgotten the inquisition of the hon. Gentleman, and I shall come to it in a moment. I should like first to deal with a preliminary matter, if I may.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham submitted that there would be no Parliamentary control over the exercise of the powers once they are given to the Government by Parliament. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington dealt with that point in the outstanding respect that, of course, Ministers will be answerable to the House for the use to which the powers are put. The House is very jealous in guarding against the abuse of powers by Ministers.
There is a somewhat unusual feature of the parent Act in that Section 2(4) of the 1920 Act provides for an unusual form of Parliamentary control. The Regulations may not only be amended or revoked by an Order in Council. They may also be amended or revoked by Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. However, the main check and control will be the vigorous procedure of Parliamentary Questions, Adjournment debates and the manifold opportunities that, happily, the House has of calling Ministers to order if they have transgressed in any way in the exercise of their powers.
The hon. Member for Crosby, with his customary care about emergency regulations and similar statutory instruments, put the proposition to the House that these Regulations empower Ministers to legislate by Order over a wide field, and he found that rather unattractive. It would be, if it were true. The general pattern of the Regulations is that they also authorise executive directions and not legislative orders.
The only Regulations that provide for legislative orders are, first of all, Regulation No. 16, dealing with fuel control, which in effect repeats Orders that were provided for in the 1955 Regulations; and, secondly, Regulation No. 18, to which I shall turn in some detail in a moment. To them, perhaps, I ought to add Regulation No. 33(2) which enables 848 the Minister to make an order rather than issue directions in identical terms to a large number of persons.
Apart from those, the other Regulations provide for the making of executive directions.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Surely the Attorney-General is not suggesting that it is merely an administrative or Ministerial direction to set aside the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Scheme?
§ The Attorney-General
I say that, and I shall come to it in a moment in dealing with Regulations 1 and 2 as to how they are to operate. But it is not setting aside the Dock Workers Scheme. It is making provision for the carrying out of certain operations, and in doing so enables the authorities concerned to do so, despite the fact that their actions may not be in compliance with the scheme. But perhaps I might come to that in a moment when I deal with the Regulations in the order to which they have been referred.
§ Sir J. Hobson
Surely this point is largely a matter of semantics. If one looks at some of the Regulations, one sees that if the Minister gave a general authority he would be legislating. Consider the Instruction and Use Regulations. The Minister of Transport could issue a general regulation that those Regulations should not apply, and that would be delegated legislation.
§ The Attorney-General
I think I am accurate in what I am saying, that the only Orders which involve legislation in any constitutional sense are Regulations 16 and 18. However, let me deal with more particular matters and depart from what is perhaps largely an exercise in semantics, but I do not think an unimportant one.
I was asked about the use of naval and military forces, and whether any regulations were necessary to empower them to take any action in a situation which the Government hope will not arise, and may not arise, but in respect of which powers are provided.
It is true, as has been said, that the Armed Forces of the Crown can be used for any purpose of national importance, regardless of the taking of powers under the 1920 Act. The Armed Forces may 849 be used under the Emergency Powers Act, 1964, which, as the House knows, made permanent provision for their use and for the arrangements which were made in the 1939 Regulations. But the Armed Forces might not be very successful if they could not make use, and were not allowed to make use, of civilian facilities such as cranes and docks. The power to requisition these facilities comes only from emergency Regulations, and in practice, and as a matter of administration, it is necessary for these Regulations to be passed so that if it becomes necessary to use the Armed Forces—and, as If have said, the Government hope that that situation may never arise—they can be used.
Coming to the particular Regulations about which I was asked, most of the attention has been concentrated on Regulation 1. I hasten to say that I have not overlooked the two provisos, but I think that I misunderstood the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and thought that unbeknown to me the reference to industrial conscription had crept into the Regulation. However, the matter was certainly not overlooked, and the position about Regulation 1 is, first, that there is nothing new about it. In 1949 the Emergency Regulations made on the occasion of the dock strike contained an almost precisely similar provision to Regulation 1. It referred to directions which could be givento the port authority or any other person …The House will see that the primary power conferred by Regulation No. 1 is to give directions to the port authority or any other person, and in that context the reference is to someone with a responsibility similar to that of a port authority. It is the granting of a power to the Minister to give directions to the port authority, to foresee that advantageous use is made of the facilities provided at the port. The power is particularised in subparagraphs (a) to (f). It is clear that the Regulation contemplates directions as to the operations to be carried out, and relates manifestly to directions to employers rather than employees.
It has nothing whatsoever to do with industrial conscription; nothing in these Regulations compels an employee to do 850 anything, and nothing in them introduces any element of industrial conscription. The House has already been reminded of the provisions of regulation No. 31(1), which would protect a man on strike if he refused to carry out an order in relation to any such duties.
Anxieties were expressed about Regulation No. 2. That Regulation does not enable the Minister of Transport to require employees or dockers to perform any particular task; there is no element of conscription or compulsion in it. It does not enable the Minister to require art employer to employ labour, but it provides that notwithstanding the Dock Labour Scheme any employer may employ on dock work workers who are allocated to him by the Minister and, secondly, any workers on work approved by the Minister. There again, there is no element of conscription of compulsion.
§ Mr. Graham Page rose—
§ The Attorney-General
I am sorry. I want to get on, because I have a number of other matters to deal with. The next Regulation about which questions were asked was Regulation No. 18, dealing with maximum food prices. That Regulation did not appear in the 1955 Code—although I understand that it was in the first draft—but similar powers were taken in 1926 and 1949 and there is therefore abundant precedent for taking them.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, this provision is a reserve power in case developments hereafter make it necessary to regulate food prices. It is manifestly a reserve power, and if everyone plays his part, and housewives not only avoid panic buying but also act as good watchdogs—and if food traders maintain their co-operation in keeping down prices—it may never be necessary to use this power. Nevertheless, the Government again think it right to have this power in hand. It is clear that schemes made under these emergency powers, which it is hoped will be needed by the Government only for a short time, cannot be either as comprehensive or as universally enforced as a food control scheme designed for permanent use in war-time, but the Government are nevertheless confident that within the present context of a strike situation, what they might have to introduce would be effective in holding down prices and at any rate 851 bringing to book the most flagrant offenders.
I do not think that the House will expect me, nor would it be in the national interest, to reveal in advance the scope and method of any orders which might have to be made. As I emphasise, the Government hope that the powers will not have to be used and that the nation can continue to rely on the co-operation and public spirit of those who are engaged in food supply.
I was asked about Regulation 22 dealing with the requisition of chattels. That is not a new power, but it can be exercised only for the essential purposes which are specified in Section 2(1) of the 1920 Act. There was an inquiry about the taking of possession of land. That is a power in the Ministry of Public Building and Works to requisition land and to use it, but again only for the purposes specified in the 1920 Act. This, too, is a reserve power which it is most unlikely will be used. No similar Regulation was included in the code in 1955, but in 1949 requisitioning powers were available in Defence Regulations, and the father of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone played his part in including these powers in 1926.
§ The Attorney-General
And I noted with what pride the right hon. and learned Gentleman did so. I was asked about Regulation 26 dealing with trespassing and loitering. These powers were taken in 1949 and 1955. The Regulation applies only when a person trespasses on or near premises used for essential purposes or is otherwise on or near such premises for purposes prejudicial to the public safety. These powers were taken before.
§ Mr. Buchan
There is the question of evidence of character tendingto show that he was so present for a purpose prejudicial to public safety".
§ The Attorney-General
I am aware of that provision which has appeared in all these Regulations from 1920 on.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not take any pride in that from this side of the House, but that again is a provision 852 which existed before and in the circumstances of the emergency it is not an unreasonable provision.
I was asked to give assurances to the House about the Government's intentions in regard to the termination of these powers. As soon as there is no longer an emergency the Government will advise Her Majesty to revoke the proclamation of the emergency, and when that is done the emergency Regulations will lapse. We have no desire to maintain the powers, just as after the 1939-45 war the Labour Government quickly terminated their powers under Regulation 18B—[Laughter.]—as soon as the opportunity arose. We take no pleasure in taking these powers, but we regard doing so as a vital necessity in the present situation. Accordingly, in my submission, not only was it timely for the Government to advise Her Majesty about the declaration of the state of emergency, but it was also timely to take the powers that we have taken.
We earnestly hope that wise counsels will now prevail between the two parties to this unhappy dispute, and the House will, I know, welcome the initiative that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has taken. We pray that that initiative will soon result in a conclusion to this unhappy situation, and that the extra powers will not have to be exercised by the Government, which is most anxious to return to normality but is, nevertheless, determined to maintain the interests of the community at large.
§ Mr. Graham Page
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not given the assurances for which he was asked, not one of the five assurances for which I asked him. No matter about that, but the assurance which was asked for from our Front Bench, that these Regulations would be revoked immediately the crisis was over, has not been given.
§ The Attorney-General
I thought that I had given not only that assurance but also all five assurances for which the hon. Gentleman asked. He really must not expect me to repeat them five times even because he asks them. I have given that assurance. Of course, I cannot give an assurance that the Measure would be brought to an end in one day or two days, 853 but clearly it would be a very short time. An emergency situation might continue as a consequence of a strike for a short time after the settlement of a strike, so I must not be bound to an irresponsible undertaking in advance.
However, the Government clearly wish the emergency to end, and when it ends the powers which they have taken to deal with it will, of course, be ended. We do not enjoy the exercise of unnecessary powers. As the House well knows, the Government are dedicated to the rule of law and to the responsibility of Ministers to Parliament, and this is a principle which we shall always strive to maintain.
§ Question put and agreed to.854
§ 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 by 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.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.
§ That the Regulations made by Her Majesty in Council under the Emergency Powers Act 1920 by Order dated 23rd May 1966 [copy of which was laid before the House on 23rd May], shall continue in force, subject however to the provisions of Section 2(4) of the said Act.—[Mr. Roy Jenkins.]