HC Deb 13 June 1968 vol 766 cc449-53
The First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (Mrs. Barbara Castle)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

The Report of the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers' Associations has been published today. I am sure that the House will want me to thank Lord Donovan and his colleagues for this valuable and constructive Report.

I am initiating as a matter of urgency consultations with both sides of industry on the Royal Commission's recommendations, which are detailed and far-reaching and will require careful study by all concerned. In the light of these consultations, I shall present a White Paper setting out the Government's proposals.

Mr. R. Carr

We would, of course, like to associate ourselves with the right hon. Lady's thanks to Lord Donovan and his colleagues and also agree with her that this Report will need careful study. We have, however, had to wait a very long time for this Report and we would like to stress the need now for really quick action.

Therefore, may I ask the right hon. Lady two questions? Could she give a target date for publication of the White Paper? Could she confirm the strong indication given by her predecessor, the present Minister of Power, that the necessary legislation will definitely be introduced next Session?

Mrs. Castle

I would certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we should now try to initiate follow up action with a sense of urgency. This is what I indicated in my statement. I shall lose no time whatever in entering into consultations with both sides of industry. My difficulty in giving the right hon. Gentleman any precise target date either for the White Paper or legislation is that one must await the outcome of those consultations or progress with them, before one is able to see either what conclusions will come or when it will be possible to legislate, because one does not know how comprehensive such legislation may be.

Mr. Orme

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this matter is of such importance that many hon. Members want adequate time to consider it and do not want this matter to be rushed? Further, as this Report is dealing with one of the basic democratic institutions within our society we would like consultations to take place not only with just both sides of industry, but with this House and representative bodies within it.

Mrs. Castle

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that hon. Members and all those concerned will need adequate time to study the Report. It is very detailed and comprehensive and some of the changes proposed are very fundamental. This is why I find it difficult to give a target date for publication of the Government's final conclusions or for legislation.

No doubt, as has been discussed earlier at Business Question time, there will be opportunities in due course for debate to enable the House to make its views known.

Mr. Iain MacLeod

The right hon. Lady has said that the Report is published today. Is it available to hon. Members now in the Vote Office?

Mrs. Castle

Yes, from 3.30.

Mr. Brooks

Would my right hon. Friend say whether, in view of the importance of the arguments contained in paragraph 519, which I have just had an opportunity to study, she can tell us whether the Government have yet had an opportunity to consider the merits of the arguments contained in this very important paragraph?

Mrs. Castle

As the paragraph to which my hon. Friend refers deals with a note of dissent, I think that we will discuss the agreed recommendations before going into the minutiae of dissent.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Could the right hon. Lady say whether the Government intend to have a debate before the White Paper is issued? May I suggest that she takes that course into consideration?

Mrs. Castle

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that quesions of debate are matters for the Leader of the House. My right hon. Friend was asked earlier about this and said that he would consider representations very carefully.

Mr. Ellis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some hon. Members on this side of the House are most concerned that nothing shall be done with too much haste? This is a very important subject and it may be that consultations and considerations that arise along the way would inhibit my right hon. Friend from making any statement about a White Paper or anything else?

Mrs. Castle

I would not quite concur in what seems to be the rather negative approach of my hon. Friend. I agree that there must be consultations, and extensive consultations, before the Government produce any documents setting out their views, or indicate lines of legislation. Equally, I believe that it is important that action is needed in this field. The Report gives valuable indications of the lines along which action ought to be taken, and taken with a sense of urgency, just because of the importance of this whole matter and the importance of its rôle in our economic life.

Sir T. Beamish

The right hon. Lady said that until consultations are completed she does not know if it will be possible to legislate. Those were her exact words. Does she mean that it will not be possible to legislate next Session or to legislate at all?

Mrs. Castle

I was asked to give a date for legislation. Obviously, I could not do so until we make progress with the consultations. I am by no means ruling out legislation altogether.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Would the right hon. Lady take particular note of the request of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) that before the Government reach a final conclusion, and get committed to a line of action, the best consultation possible is a debate in this House before such a committal? Would she convey to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House that that is our view?

Mrs. Castle

I can only repeat that the Leader of the House has already responded very sympathetically to points of that kind put to him; and it is, of course, a matter for him and for discussion through the usual channels.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind that some hon. Gentlemen are a little disconcerted over the emphasis she puts on the need for consultation in the way she presented it? The trade unions and the C.B.I. were represented on the Royal Commission and the Report is surely part of the considered views of both bodies; and I would have thought that since that view is on record we should have the view of Parliament to round the circle. I hope that her explanation of wanting further consultation is not only an excuse for not bringing in legislation which, clearly, the nation needs.

Mrs. Castle

I do not believe that the two Gentlemen on the Royal Commission to whom the hon. Gentleman refers would accept his view that they were in any way speaking in a representative capacity for their organisations. They were there as individuals and they have individual varieties of views. I do not think that they would agree that their presence means that it is not necessary for the organisations to which they belong to be consulted. It would be quite intolerable, in a matter of this far-reaching importance, for me not to consult with very great care and firmness the T.U.C., the C.B.I. and others interested.

Mr. Heath

We recognise that the Leader of the House is to consider the question of a debate. What we are asking is that the right hon. Lady should not publish the White Paper until the House has had a debate so that she can take the views of the House into account before doing so.

Mrs. Castle

I appreciated that that was the point being made. The Leader of the House will be consulting through the usual channels.

Mr. John Page

In view of the fact that in paragraph 4 of the addendum by Lord Donovan he draws attention to the continuing and expected continuous growth of unconstitutional and unofficial strikes, would the right hon. Lady arrange for special time to be devoted to a debate on that subject alone?

Mrs. Castle

I think that it would be quite meaningless except in the context of the Report, which, I believe, throws valuable light on some of the causes of unofficial strikes and, therefore, enables us to consider positive remedies.