HC Deb 23 January 1967 vol 739 cc1198-225
Mr. Marsh

I beg to move, Amendment No. 93, page 24, in line 31, to leave out subsection (2) and to insert:

This is an important Amendment, because it represents the culmination of a long discussion in Committee and many representations, which were made on a large and growing scale, by people outside the House. The issue which has been under consideration for a considerable time is the extent to which workers in an industry should be entitled to participate in the administration of that industry and the extent to which consultation could be extended beyond what have become the traditional forms of consultation.

Everybody is now in favour of consultation and workers' participation in industry. However, it is fair to say that the variation in the level of consultation is very wide indeed. There are firms in which employers make a real attempt to take workers into their confidence and ensure that they are given an opportunity not just to express their views on matters of health, safety and welfare, but to take part in the actual decisions which affect their destinies, just as they affect the destinies of everybody concerned in those companies.

A great deal of thought was given by the Government to this matter to see how far we could go in ensuring that consultation in the new steel industry becomes a real working thing, enabling workers to talk about far more than the usual dirty towels, the quality of the food in the cafeteria—subjects which have frequently been the level of consultation in many firms.

The Amendment sets out to ensure, first, that machinery is in operation at every level—the national level, the workers' level and the level falling between the two; in lay terms, any levels within the industry where this is feasible —to enable consultation to take place.

We have defined this as: the promotion and encouragement of measures affecting efficiency, in any respect, in the carrying on by the Corporation and by publicly-owned companies of their activities, and the promotion and encouragement of measures affecting the safety, health and welfare of persons employed by the Corporation and by publicly-owned companies;". There are no limits on the level of worker participation. This is a very new and original provision. For the first time no limit is placed on such discussion.

In any organisation, particularly one as important as this, management must be the people who carry the responsibility for final decisions. We cannot run organisations by large committees. We certainly could not run the Steel Corporation like that. We are producing a situation where there are no limits on the level at which workers may make representation. One of the objections made over the years by many people has been that, even if workers are given the opportunity in theory of participating in such discussions and playing a part in these major issues, it is not possible to do so because they do not have available the information to take an active part in such negotiations.

So the Amendment carries a significant provision when it says: Where it falls to the Corporation or a publicly-owned company to participate in the operation of machinery established under this section, and the operation involves discussion of a subject by other persons participating therein, the Corporation or, as the case may be, the publicly-owned company shall make available to those persons, at a reasonable time before the discussion is to take place, such information in their possession relating to the subject as, after consultation with those persons, appears to the Corporation or, as the case may be, publicly-owned company to be necessary to enable those persons to participate effectively in the discussion. There might be an immediate reaction that this leaves the Corporation as the body which has the right to withhold certain information even after it has had consultation with the bodies concerned, but this is absolutely essential. I think hon. Members on both sides will accept that there are some things which have to be regarded as commercial secrets. To give a classic example, it might well be that a particular development showed that the Corporation was contemplating purchasing plant, property or land—I take this as an extreme example—then clearly the effect of making it public would mean that the price would immediately rise.

It might be that in some fields the Corporation, which will be in strong competition with very powerful bodies internally and externally, might be in danger if certain commercial information were publicly known. None the less, we have a Statute which says that the Corporation shall make available such information in its possession relating to the subject as it is virtually possible for it to make available.

I wish to make clear that the intention of the Amendment is that the management side in the consultative and conciliation machinery should make available all relevant information except where there are special circumstances of confidentiality. We are introducing an Amendment which lays down in a Statute the right of workers' representatives to participate in the whole future of their industry, quite rightly and properly. There are no limits to this. They are entitled to discuss profitability and development and as of right by Statute to have available for those discussions such information as can be made available without endangering the commercial interests of the Corporation itself.

2.15 a.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)

What kind of numbers does the Minister visualise as having access? Would it be the whole range of employees? How would such persons be selected?

Mr. Marsh

The hon. and gallant Gentleman raises an interesting point. There are a large number of unions involved. Some have different views about some things. The setting up of the consultative machinery will be a major job. It is not a job for Members of Parliament. It is for the unions themselves, in consultation with their employers, to work out what is for them the best method of achieving machinery to put this into effect. The Bill merely says that there shall be such machinery.

Mr. Ron Smith, who, if there can be such a thing, is the industrial relations member designate of the Corporation, is already in discussions with the unions on this matter. It will be primarily his responsibility to ensure that such machinery can be introduced. It is not possible for me to say at the moment exactly what form it will take, how many unions will be involved, and in what way they will be involved. All I am concerned with is that there shall be within the industry, first the acceptance of the fundamental principle, that people whose entire future is bound up with their company have a right to express their views and to discuss the interests of the company, and, secondly, that it is im- possible for people to play an active and sensible part in such discussions unless they have the necessary information.

The Corporation will clearly have to carry the responsibility for the managerial decisions. That is what managers get paid for. The Corporation will also have to carry the responsibility of deciding if some items of information are of a type the disclosure of which would be injurious to the commercial interests of the Corporation. The Corporation will have to have consultations with the bodies concerned about the provision of such information. It may rightly be said that this is a fairly revolutionary development. I think it is. It is unique. It exists in no other nationalisation Statute. Nor does it exist in any other Statute affecting any other industry. We now have the opportunity of putting together this new industry which is being scrambled and seeing how far in a literate, sophisticated society we can carry trade unions and trade union members with us as participants in the job.

The industry will be faced with very difficult problems indeed. We all know the problems of manning and overmanning and of industrial relations. I do not believe that the major reforms which are necessary in this industry can be carried through unless we carry the men with us. I do not believe that we can carry the men with us unless they are parties to some of these decisions. It means that they will have to be parties to the unpopular decisions. They will have to place themselves in a position—this is a real challenge to the unions—where there will be no excuse for dodging the issue, where the facts and figures will be laid out, and where they will see the figures and the economic and business implications of the policy which is being pursued. If it is in the long-term interests of their members, they will have to carry the responsibility for some of the unpopular decisions as well as the popular ones.

None the less, if we do not try this experiment at some time, we shall never know how far we can carry trade unions and trade union members with us. It is a declaration of faith in a trade union movement which is one of the oldest in the world. It is the biggest in the world among free trade unions. We want to see how far the unions can go along with this. There will be arguments. I would be surprised if there were not. There will be arguments about how the Act is implemented. There will be arguments from time to time to the effect that certain pieces of information should be available which are being withheld. This would not surprise me. I am not at all sure that one would not have a much easier life without this Amendment than with it. But I am not at all sure that it is a good thing always to have an easy life and that this is not something we ought to try.

There has been a lot of thought devoted to this Amendment by many people in my own party and in the trade union movement generally. We have talked in the Labour movement for many years about what we have described as workers' control and this has been defined as meaning almost anything under the sun. In the course of this Bill and the pressures which I admit have been placed upon me to meet arguments on these matters, we have all had to think a lot more specifically and firmly than we have had to do, for instance, when people have been writing pamphlets and taking part in debates in Bloomsbury front rooms on Sunday afternoons. Nevertheless, having been forced into the position of facing the realities of this matter, certain things have emerged. There can be no escape from the simple proposition that managers have to manage. This is what they are paid for and that is what they carry responsibility for. Secondly, organisations and great industries cannot be run by representatives of outside bodies. People who serve on a board or on a Corporation must serve on that body with a loyalty purely to that body.

Having said that, one looks to the extent to which people are able to participate in this great debate which affects their future and their industry. The Government have attempted by this Amendment to produce a real experiment where by statute joint consultation is anything that affects the future of the industry, where by statute any information which is necessary, if it can be given without damaging the industry, should be given to enable workers' representatives to participate in this. It may be a failure —I do not think it will be—but it will certainly be a very interesting couple of years to see how this emerges. It could be the start—if I may say so with all due modesty—of a real assessment of the rôle of the British trade union movement in industry.

Mr. Ridley

The Minister has paid a tribute to the Standing Committee dealing with the Bill by saying that he had been forced to think up arguments against points put from this side. If he has been forced to think about this matter, I think we are all delighted that he has carried his thoughts into words with this Amendment. I do not think the Amendment is yet perfect, but I agree that it goes a long way to being a serious attempt to improve industrial relations in what, after all, will be a new industry when it is reorganised.

The hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) put his finger on the point when he said that there were three degrees of consultation in the Bill. There was, first, to be negotiation of wages and conditions; secondly, the promotion and encouragement of certain things like safety, health and welfare; and, thirdly, discussion of other matters. What the right hon. Gentleman has done by this Amendment is to remove the last category —discussion—and to have only two categories: negotiation of wages and conditions—that is Section 39(1,a) of the 1949 Act—and promotion and encouragement of the other matters such as efficiency, health, welfare and safety. I believe that is a step in the right direction but I cannot see the difference between negotiation, and promotion and encouragement of the other matters.

The function of a trade union is to maximise the interests of its members. This is achieved by many small things, but by three things in particular: to get the best wages and conditions; to get the best working environment and safety arrangements; and to make sure that the business is being carried on in the most efficient, prosperous and rational way so as to maximise the emoluments of its members.

Those three things seem to me to hang together. It is in the interest of the unions to achieve all three things at once. Obviously, no wise union will try to extract more money at a given moment, in terms of income for its members, than a company can afford, so it would be wise at some stage to have regard to the long-term development and investment for the future. At another stage, it might be better to press for conditions or for a mixture of the three things. For the life of me, I cannot see why it is still necessary to separate the negotiations on pay and conditions from a mutual discussion and debate of the other matters.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, for those who work in the industry, the industry is their whole life. Their whole future is bound up in it. Why are they to take part in discussions on the future of the industry, the manning, the efficiency, the processes and the development of the industry as a whole and then, as it were, withdraw from that piece of negotiating machinery, to stand back, to come again in a different set of clothes and have a pitched battle over wages and conditions?

This traditional separation in the minds of Socialists between the rôle of the trade union regarding the long-term future and development of industry and its day-to-day rôle to hit management as hard as it can for better pay and conditions is, I respectfully suggest, an artificial one. The best interests of the trade union is served if it spurs the management to adopt more modern techniques, more efficient machinery, to suggest ways in which things can be done better, to suggest plant that can do the job of men.

I want to see the trade unions have this opportunity at all levels at national, intermediate and plant level. I do not want these things separated in the way that the Bill, if we accept the Amendment, will do.

Many of these negotiations, if they are to succeed, will have to take place at plant level because it is at plant level that the actual efficiency of the steel industry can be improved. It is only in a works that men and management can know how a better manning schedule can be arranged, what new machinery can be installed, what better techniques exist. So I welcome very much in this Amendment the inclusion of the works level machinery, which, I think it is right to say, is the first time that it has ever been included in a nationalisation Statute.

I turn briefly to the second point, which again I welcome, the onus on the company or the Corporation to make available the information which trade unions will require for discharging their functions. I have always made the reservation that there will be many confidential matters which should not be divulged, for reasons which the Minister quite rightly gave. But beyond those, it is absolutely right that full information should be made available to the trade unions negotiating.

I would carry the argument one stage further. If this information is to be made available to the representatives of the workers, there is always the risk that it will be leaked out, that it will get into the local and perhaps the national Press. So we must release only information which, if it appeared in public form, would not be disastrous.

This leads me to the conclusion that, if any of this information can be suitably released, it can be released to the world at large. I do not see why it should not be published.

2.30 a.m.

If the Amendment is adopted, the representatives of the workers will have more information than we here have received about a nationalised industry either in the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries or in the House itself. We have not had nearly the degree of information which is likely to be yielded here. I see no reason, beyond questions of commercial secrecy, market value of securities, land prices, contracts and the other matters mentioned by the Minister, why this information should not be discussed in public to a far greater extent. It would be a good thing if this were accepted and a far greater part of decisions of this sort were public knowledge. Everything cannot be published, but a great deal more could be published than has been the practice hitherto. If it is to be made available to the trade unions, I very much hope that everything possible will be made available to the public as a whole.

I agree with the Minister that the Amendment represents a major concession to those hon. Members—led, I freely admit, by the hon. Members for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) but supported from this side—who have said that we should take more seriously in our legislation the need for consultation, for creating a new atmosphere, to help the general tone and also the productivity of the new steel industry. I wish the experiment the greatest success. I believe that it can lead to enormous success. But I emphasise also that the representatives of the workers will have to participate in unpopular decisions as well.

I hope that it will be recognised that, if the Amendment is carried, responsibility will be shared by the trade unions in decisions on such matters as redundancy, closing uneconomic works, perhaps dropping bonuses in lean times, perhaps wholesale closures leading to unemployment. I think that this is the right way for us to proceed in getting accepted in Britain the sort of rationalisation or technical change, call it what one will, which is the purpose of what the Government are trying to do in the Bill and which will have to be done not only in the steel industry but in all the industries of our country.

Mr. Mendelson

According to Mr. Speaker's decision, we are taking one of the following Amendments together with the Minister's Amendment, and I therefore beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. Mr. Speaker has not selected the hon. Gentleman's Amendment to the Government Amendment, in line 21, after 'such', to insert: 'records, books, papers and other'. but has permitted it to be discussed at the same time.

Mr. Mendelson

Then I shall speak to that Amendment, which several of my hon. Friends and I put down as an outcome of our discussion in Committee, but, before I come to the specific details raised, I say straight away that I liked both the tone and the content of what my right hon. Friend said in moving his important Amendment.

Since our debate in Committee, two goods things have happened. First, my right hon. Friend had a meeting with the national executive council of the steel workers' trade union. I quote from the journal of that trade union, Men and Metal, which said that the Minister … also entirely agreed that there should be the fullest consultation with representatives of the workpeople before decisions about the future structure of the industry were reached. That is all to the good, and it will inspire confidence in the areas where the steel works are situated and people earn their living in the steel industry, but it is also of the greatest importance in this transitional stage when these decisions are being shaped.

The second good thing that has happened is that my right hon. Friend has put down his detailed Amendment. He gave an undertaking in Committee. I rather pressed him to give it in the firmest possible terms, and he was patient most of the time under that pressure. His Amendment now implements about 80 per cent. of what we asked for in Committee. It is right, as he said, that it embodies certain important advances in the matter of consultation beyond what has been incorporated in past nationalisation Bills.

In the Amendment with which I am particularly concerned there is reference to records, books and papers, and I want to explain briefly why I and my hon. Friends attach particular importance to their inclusion. The first main reason urged in Committee was that it was about time better and more far-reaching machinery for consultation was established, and that the taking into public ownership of the steel industry represented an excellent opportunity to think again and make some progress.

The second main reason was that there was a general feeling among trade unionists, and quite a sizeable group of managerial personnel in various industries, that it would be a great advantage if there could be improved machinery of consultation.

The third main reason was that in the past there had been a great deal of criticism that the consultative machinery in various industries dealt with things that were not really the most important in the life of an industry. There was criticism and complaint that often the consultative machinery concerned itself with relatively less important matters like the quality of the food in the canteen or the availability of certain facilities.

On the other hand, there was complaint that consultation did not go far enough where there was discussion on some other matters, such as whether the props arrived in time in the mining industry, or whether there was sufficient supply of material of the right kind. Very often the work people on consultative committees had the impression that when they got into the committee room everything was cut and dried, that the decisions had been made in advance and that a wealth of information had been available to the manager and only very limited information had been supplied before the meeting to the representatives of the work poeple, so that they were at a disadvantage from the start.

In our Amendment in Committee and now, we argue that both these defects and criticisms must be met. That is why I attach particular importance to full information being supplied to the representatives of the work people before the consultative meetings are held. If this information is to be supplied, there must be some agreement between the two sides as to what kind of information is needed and required. Both the Amendment I moved in Committee and the Amendment we had hoped to move to Amendment No. 93 agree with the Minister on one important point. If there is to be any real importance in these consultations, the representatives of the workpeople must have a major say as well as the management as to the form in which the information is to be supplied to them.

My right hon. Friend has made a helpful statement. Referring to the information to be supplied, he said that, apart from matters which, for some special reason, must be confidential, he saw no limit to the supply of such information. In Committee I established that the limiting factor was that there must be certain information which it would not be desirable to supply to members of the consultative committee and which some of them would not wish to have anyway. There must be some area, although small, where it was not necessary to provide detailed information.

I urge on my right hon. Friend that it must be agreed between the two sides as to where this area should be, although in the end, in my view, it will be for the management to make the final de- cision. But the two sides must start from the basis of reasonable equality in deciding the area of information which should be open to the representatives of the workpeople on these committees. This was why we have proposed that the records, books and papers should be reasonably accessible to the representatives of the workpeople in so far as they require such information to fulfill their function on these committees.

In Committee, we introduced the important limiting factor—that it should be information strictly relevant to the job to be done. That being so, why do I attach so much importance to books and records? Because for many years in the trade union movement and industry generally there has been a feeling that this kind of information—how the firm is running and how the order book is going, for example—has been withheld. In some of the most modern firms, a fair amount of this information is already being supplied to representatives of the unions on various occasions. To some of the managers I know this would not appear to be so revolutionary a demand. But practice varies. Many others are very reactionary in this respect.

We are trying to ensure that, when there is consultation on matters of real importance—and this is in the Minister's mind because he deals with the operations of firms and all the essentials which make up the industrial process—then people should feel a sense of responsibility. We believe that those responsible should be in a position of equality as far as access to information is concerned.

One may expect my right hon. Friend to argue that what we are asking for is included in the Amendment, that he has given an assurance that information to the fullest extent, with some exceptions will be supplied. I submit that this does not cover the point because the wording he has chosen would allow the management to produce a digest of information contained in the books and records and supply this to the representatives of the workpeople, and in doing so they would be fulfilling their obligation under the Statute.

We want to remedy that. We want it to be possible for the representatives of the workpeople to argue under this Bill, "You should supply us access to the books, records and papers themselves." There would still be cases of the overriding power of decision to limit information that would be particularly confidential but if a reference to books, records and papers were included in the Amendment it would give a strong case to the representatives of the workpeople to argue that they should have direct access to them.

2.45 a.m.

If my right hon. Friend were to say in reply to this particular point, "But I assure the House that in fact this will be covered in most cases—it makes no difference", I would say to him that, if it makes no difference, he should include these particular words and it would not make any basic change to the Amendment which my right hon. Friend himself moved.

We have made important progress, and it will be important to make known to trade unionists, workpeople in the steel industry and other industries, that such progress has been made. This is of great importance to people who work in steel, and it is also important to people in many other industries. Since the completion of the Committee stage, the General Secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, Mr. Conway, has published a major article in the A.E.U. journal in which he urges that we should now make real progress in the field of workers' participation in industry. Therefore this debate is of considerable importance.

I would say to the Minister that a matter of confidence is involved here as well. If he accepts our Amendment it would not represent any major change in the direction he is already taking, and there will be a strong feeling, "We have the confidence of the Government in this —the Minister embraces the arguments that have come from the trade unions and the Labour movement on these matters. "This would be a very good start to the new life of the publicly-owned steel industry.

Mr. Mikardo

Little more need be said on this subject, but for those who did battle with the Minister on this subject in the Committee there is a special duty, which is for me genuinely a pleasure as well, to thank him in the warmest terms for what he has done in putting down this Amendment and for the terms he used in moving it.

When the Bill was first presented to the Committee, the Clause which dealt with this subject was, word for word, a copy of what had been in the 1953 Act, and that is a copy of the standard common form Clause in all the other nationalisation measures. A number of us urged upon the Minister that we ought to have learned something since 1953—no, it is earlier than 1953–1949. We said that we ought to have learned something in the years that had passed and should do something better.

It is general practice for Ministers to take the view that no ideas contain much wisdom or value that do not emanate from their own Departments. It is a great credit to the Minister that he showed enough flexibility—and if I may say so without offence, teachability—to take ideas from the back benches of the Committee, especially in the way in which he has put down this Amendment and carried out quite fairly—not 100 per cent., but very fairly indeed—the undertaking he gave to incorporate the views put to him, and in many parts of his Amendment actually using the words of Amendments which were proposed by others in the Committee. That is a rare thing to happen in the House under Governments of whatever colour, and the Minister is breaking new ground in dealing with the matter in this way.

Having thanked him, I want to endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) about access to records. There is the occasional matter where commercial prudence dictates secrecy, and that is why none of us objects to the final detail of what is to be supplied by way of information to workers' representatives resting with the Corporation or the publicly-owned companies. I would say at once that in my experience this consideration of commercial secrecy in this context happens in practice very seldom indeed, and is often used as an excuse where it does not really exist. The plain fact of the matter is that anything one can safely tell to 30 members of the management of a company, without fear that it will be passed on to its competitors, one can safely tell to half a dozen shop stewards, because there is more chance of managers being got at, as we all know to our cost, by competing companies than of shop stewards being got at by competing companies.

But, of course, there is a residual area in which one does not even tell members of the management, in cases my right hon. Friend quoted. One would not want to object to that information being in the hands of the Corporation or company, but because that is so I want to put it to my right hon. Friend that it is all the more necessary for him to show that it is intended that this should operate in the spirit as well as in the letter.

My right hon. Friend used one sentence which was very cogent in this connection. I understood him to say—I am sure I did not mishear him—that it was his intention, so far as it concerned him, that there should be no limit on the information provided to workers' representatives, except in these little, narrow cases of commercial secrecy. If I understood him aright, I think that that goes a long way to meet the points which we have been putting to him, but I hope I did understand him aright.

I do not say this out of theory: I am a workers' representative on one of the joint councils of one of the nationalised industries. I am talking about actual practice, 20 years of it in this regard, and I want to ask my right hon. Friend, if he seeks to get the permission of the House to say a word or two more, whether he intends, for example, that workers' representatives shall have the right to see the cost sheets, the forward order book, the forward capital budget, the projected list of plant to be purchased or plant to be renovated; whether they will have the right to be informed in advance both of plans for expansion and for contraction, not only of output as a whole but of particular departments; whether they will be allowed to see the deviation figures on the budgetary control returns which are given to departmental managers. These things are the raw material of management.

Here we are asking workers to participate in management, and if we are asking them to do that we must give them the same tools with which to do the job of management, or they will not be able to do it. In that situation I should want to see the budgetary control sheet which shows whether I have done better than my budget or whether worse, and why that was, and to use that to decide on changes, and if I am going to discuss proposed changes with my chaps, I should have that, too.

So I repeat to my right hon. Friend; do the chaps have the right to see the cost sheets, the interim draft P. and L. accounts, the forward order book, the capital budget, the revenue budget, the budgetary control returns, the deviation figures on the budgetary control returns? If the answers to these questions are all in the affirmative, then I am sure there is nothing to worry about, and all of us will welcome this Amendment without any reservations whatever. I end as I began, by saying to my right hon. Friend, even if he does not give me affirmative answers to my few questions, "Thank you very much so far." If he does say "Yes" to my questions, a double "Thank you".

Mr. Booth

I join in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Minister on bringing forward the Amendment. It marks a major step forward in appreciation that the success of a major undertaking such as the nationalised steel industry will come about through technical changes which can be implemented by men who have the confidence that their representatives have had a proper say in determining the shape and content of the industry to which they subscribe.

Having said that, however, I wish also to urge the point urged by my hon. Friends concerning access to records and books by workers' representatives. I wish to decry the suggestion that was tentatively made that only such information which could be released to the general public should be released to workers' representatives.

It is important, and it can be seen to be important, that the special position that these representatives must occupy can be demonstrated to them only if they have access to information which could not be made available to the general public. This is part of the process of being concerned in taking the decisions of the industry. More particularly is this true if these representatives are to he expected to participate in taking unpopular decisions.

Having represented my fellow trade unionists on a number of occasions, I assure anyone in the House who has not had that experience that I would not go back to a bunch of my fellow trade unionists and say to them, "We have decided this, but I cannot tell you the reasons, because I have not been told." This must be evident to anybody who has participated in the particularly difficult task of reconciling a number of conflicting requirements of industry concerning the way in which a firm or plant is run or the wages and working conditions of the men in the industry.

It must be appreciated also concerning accessibility to books and records that those who work in the steel industry have a vested interest in the industry which is not a narrow commercial interest. Vested in it is their skill, their training and special knowledge and, to no small extent, their living standards. I am certain that the sort of spirit and the sort of machinery which can be evolved and the sort of results which we want to see achieved by the terms of the Amendment are things that cannot be done overnight.

Having said that, however, I stress that it is of the utmost importance that we go as far as we can in this direction in the shortest possible time. There is a psychological moment with the vesting of the industry for having this change in attitudes towards representation and participation. If we cannot grasp it quickly, if we cannot bring it about within the first few months, there will be much greater difficulty in achieving big advances later. The attitude will set in, "Well, it is pretty much the same anyway." Therefore, it is important that we should establish this quickly.

I suggest to the Minister that access to records and books can do as much as any other single factor in bringing about that new attitude, because this is something which will be truly new in the experience of many workers' representatives in industry. It is wholly appropriate that a publicly-owned industry will, I hope, make this major leap forward and will be run in very real partnership of people deeply concerned. Their success will be success not just for them and their industry, but for the nation.

3.0 a.m.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

I want to deal with the central theme of the argument which my hon. Friends and I are putting forward. I was interested to see that in the only contribution to this debate from the opposite side of the House the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) supported the basis of the Minister's Amendment which in effect makes a long overdue frontal attack on managerial functions in this country. It is all right for the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) to laugh. It is these managerial functions which have held back worker participation in industry for half a century.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

I rose to speak, but the hon. Gentleman was called before I was. I agree that there has been only one speech from this side of the House, but I was slightly amused at the hon. Gentleman starting his speech by talking about the co-operation which he is seeking in industry—something which is greatly desired and supported by both sides of the House—and then using rough words about managements.

Mr. Orme

That is not germane to the argument.

Mr. Ridley

I addressed myself to the desirability of the Amendment, but I did not mention worker control, nor, I think, did the Minister. The suggestion here is that there should be consultation at all levels, and to the fullest depth. Worker control and worker participation are not quite the same thing. That was not part of my argument, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not attribute it to me.

Mr. Orme

The hon. Gentleman should not run for cover merely because I take the view that he said something sensible on this issue.

What I am trying to say to my right hon. Friend—and this is germane to the argument—is that those who have played some part in negotiations with managements have come up against this fundamental barrier of managements refusing to concede information, to show the state of the order books, to say whether or not the redundancy they are declaring is fair, to say whether a wage application is fair, and so on. When workers' representatives ask to see the order books, and to be given other information about the state of the firm, the vast majority of firms refuse to comply with these requests. There are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) said, some firms which do not act in that way, but usually there is no real joint consultation or joint participation.

We are asking my right hon. Friend to write this provision into the Bill because it will act as a beacon not only in the steel industry, but in others, and will go a long way to meet the demands of many people in the Labour Party and in the trade union movement who genuinely want to play a part in the management of industry, but who at the moment have no chance of doing so.

Our criticisms apply to the managements of many publicly-owned companies, as well as to those of private companies. This lack of participation is holding back what many of us think could by a dynamic contribution at all levels by workers in these industries. This could be a beacon—

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)

Would not it be useful if this provision were incorporated in the Statutes affecting all the nationalised industries?

Mr. Orme

It certainly would. My right hon. Friend is carrying a beacon here, and if he gets buffeted about while carrying it he can rest assured of our support in any difficulties that he meets. I have been engaged in this type of negotiation and I know what will happen. The Minister has expressed his understanding of the basic arguments, discussions and rows that will probably take place in the plants.

This will not be achieved overnight by gentle words. It will have to be hammered out. When the ink has had time to dry on the Measure and we can see what is in it things will happen. We need full information and not a digest. I feel that we are on the verge of a real break-through. Many of us have fought for workers' control and participation in industry. Many of us put different interpretations on what that means. But this is a break-through. In the steel industry we can make a fresh start. My right hon. Friend is going very much in that direction, but I ask him to spell out the situation a little more, as we have sought to do in the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.

We accept that all information cannot be divulged, but the information that is given should be given fully, and should be what the negotiators require. If we can get that principle accepted by the Minister we shall have achieved what we set out to do. I hope that it will provide a basis for joint participation in management, which will lead to further steps in future.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

I thought that the suggestion by an hon. Member opposite that management can be criticised for what it has or has not done in the past was inappropriate. It seemed to me that the debate was leading us to the position where we were expecting an ecumenical movement in the trade unions in the industry. Then I was worried because I thought there was an ecumenical movement in the Labour Party. There seemed to be so much agreement among hon. Members opposite that I was beginning to get worried. I did not want to see a movement too far in that direction.

We wish the new move success. It is an innovation. I hope that it is fruitful. It will have teething troubles, and the Minister will have to go slowly. If it is successful there is no reason why the principle should not be transferred to other nationalised industries, but I would prefer to see it working in this newly nationalised industry first, before experiments are tried in other nationalised industries.

The important words are the promotion and encouragement of measures effecting efficiency. Over the years we have seen the development of negotiations between employers and trade unions in matters of welfare and things of that kind, but this is something new. These measures will include all kinds of things, including many things that the trade unions might not like. They will bring into play the introduction of new technologies which may lead to redundancies, and there will be the question of ending restrictive practices, the existence of which the unions might not like to admit. It will mean bringing into the light of day demarcation disputes which now exist between various unions. That is why it will be necessary to take it slowly.

Mr. Mikardo

It could mean all of those things which the hon. Gentleman says, but would he like me to add one more example? It could also mean that trade unions could come along and say that a factory will not be efficient until it reduces on-costs by removing a lot of redundancy and flummery among management practices.

Mr. Lewis

Yes, except that I should have thought that this was a matter which would be dealt with by the Minister at the beginning rather than at the end. If what he has been saying on Report means anything the Minister will deal with the question of any redundancies among management when he sets up the new boards.

On the subject of books and records, hon. Gentlemen opposite were under some misapprehension as to the powers in the Amendment that the Minister put down, because the Minister cannot say tonight exactly what books and records can be made available. This is a matter for the Corporation. It is right that it should be so. When one is dealing with matters of efficiency in industry it would obviously be necessary, and in the interests of the management, that the maximum amount of information should be made available to those on the trade union side. If management fails to do so, it clearly could not expect, nor could it have, physical co-operation, which would be necessary to gain maximum efficiency which is the objective of this Amendment.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

I wish to raise two important points. The first concerns the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister, which I consider to be a landmark and an illustration of the tremendous forward thinking that the Labour Party has now developed for its nationalised, publicly-owned industries. This House has spent a good deal of time talking about signposts, whether in the 'sixties or the 'seventies, but tonight the Minister has erected, loud and clear, an important signpost in talking in the terms that he has about worker participation.

Having said that his speech was stimulating, and I predict that most of it will be printed in an issue of that wonderful paper Tribune, and will be a wide debating point in the steel industry, I come to the point that he made about those things to which workers may not have access in terms of this general information to which he referred. Why we have suggested that it is necessary to include the words "books and records" is because of this important point. I know from my own experience that one of the great problems has always been finding sufficient information about the purchase by management of plant and equipment.

If part of the purpose of having joint participation of this kind is to eliminate some of the problems in the industry, including perhaps restrictive practices, then this can be done only if workers are provided with maximum information about the cause of some of these restrictive practices. By far the greatest cause is the whole question of manning machinery and plant and equipment. The Minister went on to explain that in his interpretation the Bill meant that workers would have full information except where there were commercial interests involved, particularly concerning plant and machinery and general equipment.

I should like him to give some explanation of this and to reconsider those words so that they cannot be used in future for the purpose of denying full information about the kind of plant and equipment and machinery that is to be produced by management and so that workers can take part in discussions and therefore avoid the kind of restrictive practice and disagreement which has led to this misunderstanding throughout the industry in the past.

While recognising the Minister's great contribution this evening, in establishing this signpost and making this sort of progress possible, could he go a little further and reconsider his words about plant and equipment? If this worker participation to which he refers is to have the maximum value this is necessary. He should make another assessment of what he means by full information, and give this assurance to the House.

3.15 a.m.

Mr. Dickens

Because of the lateness of the hour, I will not detain the House for long. I join my hon. Friends in thanking the Minister for the admirable way in which he moved the Amendment. We are tonight discussing the need to improve the quality of consultation and widen the whole sphere of industrial democracy. That is really what this debate is about.

I wish to raise two matters. The first is the need to widen the amount of information given to the workers' side of the various consultative bodies prior to managerial decisions being arrived at; in other words, the need to ensure that the workers' side of the consultative bodies have all the information they consider they need to enable them to come to a joint decision on the need for future policy making.

That brings me to my second point, which is that we are really asking not just to improve the type and amount of information provided, but for the participation of workpeople in the policy-making decisions of managements. This means, for the steel industry, that should there in the years ahead be a case of a steel works having to be closed, the Corporation should go before the appropriate consultative body not just with a full statement of the facts about the closure, but with an invitation that a joint union-Corporation team should have access to the records, books and other material necessary to enable it to reach an informed judgment on the need for the closure or otherwise.

Only in this way can we carry with us the support of the workers in the steel industry and in industry generally in an age which will throw up an increasing number of problems—of redundancy and many others—created by the more rapid application of science and technology in industry. For the unions this will mean greatly strengthened research departments. They will have to man these joint teams effectively. I believe that we can look forward to a genuine and fruitful partnership in the steel industry. I endorse the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme); that my right hon. Friend has tonight begun to wave the torch of industrial democracy for the steel industry which, under private ownership, has become ramshackle and riddled with nepotism.

Mr. Ridley

Nonsense. Rubbish.

Mr. Dickens

Other nationalised industries will wish to take wider cognisance of these developments and I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will accept the proposed Amendment to the Amendment, so making it absolutely certain that when this legislation is implemented at the works level, the people concerned will have full access to all the information they need. I close as I began by thanking the Minister for his statement at the beginning of the debate, and I ask him to consider the points we have made.

Mr. Marsh

I have never received so many bouquets from so many unexpected quarters. I have a feeling that I shall never repeat the performance, so I bask in the experience while I may.

Mr. Barber

Only because of the lateness of the hour, I have not added my welcome.

Mr. Marsh

The alliance between the right hon. Member and some of my hon. Friends would be fascinating.

This is an important debate. The number who have made contributions is interesting. I make no great point of it, but it is also interesting that, with a couple of notable exceptions, the interest in this subject has been concentrated on this side of the House. This is a matter with which the Labour movement has been concerned for many years. I have always expressed the view that nationalisation of itself solves nothing. One thing in which I think we have failed in British industry over the years is the extent to which we have persuaded workers to identify themselves with the particular industry with which they are associated. In many companies the workers do not feel that they are a part of the industry. It may be said in all fairness that in many industries—indeed some publicly-owned industries—the extent to which the workers feel that it is their industry is doubtful.

I do not suggest that the Government Amendment will solve all our problems —indeed, it may produce more than it solves—but it opens up a realisation that people in an industry, through their representatives, are entitled to express a view—and their view should carry weight —on the efficiency of their own company. I agree with the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) that this means that workers must face very unpleasant decisions as well as those on the other side. It is my belief that the workers will accept this. A classic example is the coal mining industry. There workpeople have undertaken and accepted a degree of change at a speed which probably has not been achieved in any other industry and with less industrial disruption than in any other industry. People will face such change provided they know what they are asked to face. One of the great mistakes which all of us in politics make is to underrate the intelligence of a highly sophisticated electorate.

I wish to underline two things. The Amendment says that the consultation shall be for the promotion and encouragement of measures affecting efficiency, in any respect,". As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens) said, it is important that the representatives of the workers should have the information necessary before going into the room for discussion. We have all had the experience of being given information which the chap on the other side has had for a week.

The Government Amendment clearly says: the Corporation or… the publicly-owned company shall make available to those persons, at a reasonable time before the discussion is to take place, such information in their possession relating to the subject … There must be managerial responsibility all the way through. The management must take the responsibility for this. But, even then, it shall be after consultation with those persons". So the decision not to provide information must be a decision taken after consultation with the persons concerned.

This leads us into an interesting field. I would rather wait a week or two before extending it to the whole scope of nationalised industry, because it will be interesting to see how it works out. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens) said that this means that the unions also, if they are to be involved in this, must look hard at the machinery, the equipment, the tools they possess for taking part in such decision-making. I am not sure that it will do the trade union movement any harm to have to look at some of its support de- partments and work out whether they are adequate for the job they will be doing.

I intend that the Corporation shall follow the spirit of the Amendment as well as the letter of it. Normally, the information would take the form of records, books or papers, as well as other forms. There are some books and some papers which, by their very nature, would be excluded, regardless of the issue. To give one typical example, I would think that the minutes of the Corporation would not normally be available, whatever the issue. Notes of some of the Corporation's fall-back positions in a negotiation would be things which it would not want to put up.

I have only one quarrel with the Amendment to my proposed Amendment. I do not know that it is a massive point. It is possibly a footling point. Precisely because my Amendment refers to necessary information, the Amendment to my proposed Amendment, by specifying records, books, papers and other information might carry the implication that some confidential books and records, such as minutes of the Corporation, might be expected to be made available. I do not make a great point of that.

My main point is that, given that we will be dealing here with sizable and experienced trade unions which—and I know most of the personnel involved—will recognise what their statutory rights are and will not be backward in taking advantage of them, they will be able to get the information they require. I repeat that, used to the full, we could get the right balance. I do not believe in a system whereby we try to run industries by workers' councils. I believe that management has to take these decisions. I believe that we can produce a genuine partnership where the decisions about the efficiency of the industry and where decisions which are regarded in some cases as the managerial prerogative, to use a favouriate phrase frequently used to trade unions, can be challenged.

An Hon. Member

The managerial function.

Mr. Marsh

Clearly, the management must have the right to hire and fire. It must have the right to decide what decisions it will take. It is right that those whose destinies are involved in those decisions should have the right to express their points of view and to press them with the knowledge available.

It has been said several times that this is an experiment. Used to the full, it could be a very important one. If it is a failure, we will all share in the failure. Far more than any feelings of failure any of us will have, it will be a very sad and unhappy thing for the labour movement generally if it fails. If it is a success, it can only produce good—for management relationships, for the efficiency of the industry, and for the wellbeing of those employed in it.

For all those reasons, I hope that hon. Members on both sides will feel able to support the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Marsh

I beg to move, That further consideration of the Bill, as amended, be now adjourned. I do so in order that I may savour to the full some of the things that have been said in the course of the debate tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be further considered this day.