HC Deb 10 July 1969 vol 786 cc1559-64
18. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what plans she has for legisla- tion to impose penalties on employers who provoke strikes.

41. Mr. Speed

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what rôle sanctions, penal or otherwise, will play in her forthcoming industrial relations legislation.

Mrs. Castle

I would refer my hon. Friend and the hon. Member to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's statement on 19th June when he said that consultations on future industrial relations legislation will continue with the T.U.C., the C.B.I. and the other organisations concerned.—[Vol. 785, c. 701.]

Mr. Jenkins

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind in the course of those consultations that it has been determined on examination of the cause of strikes that in a substantial number of them the cause of the trouble was abrogation of agreed terms by the employers?

Mrs. Castle

In the White Paper we pointed out that it was undoubtedly true that arbitrary action by an employer without proper consultation was a substantial element in the causes of unofficial strikes. That is why we included the status quo provision in the conciliation pause procedure which was outlined for the interim Bill. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to rectify this, but probably the best way to deal with it is again, as the White Paper points out, through the reform of procedures so as to allow a status quo provision.

Mr. Speed

Can the right hon. Lady confirm that it is the Government's intention to introduce comprehensive and effective industrial relations legislation in the next Session, and that it will have sufficient teeth to bring about the necessary changes of heart on the part of both management and trade unions?

Mrs. Castle

As I said in my main reply, the position on penal clauses was outlined by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 19th June, and consultations on the contents of the major Bill are now going on.

Mr. Ogden

Whilst the earlier provisions of the White Paper laid great emphasis on the improvement of industrial relations and bargaining and negotiating procedures, did not it also include provisions for the imposition of sanctions against an employer who broke the rules? Was not that Clause opposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)?

Mrs. Castle

It is true that in the interim Bill provisions there were to be equal obligations laid on employers and unions, and therefore equal sanctions were to operate.

Mr. R. Carr

Can the right hon. Lady confirm that the question of penalties cannot be in any way part of the consultations to which she refers, because, as the country understands it, the Prime Minister has given a solemn pledge that there will be no legislation with penalties in it during the lifetime of the present Parliament?

Mrs. Castle

The Prime Minister's statement was perfectly clear—[Laughter.] It is never any good answering questions from hon. Members opposite, because they do not wish to be enlightened. The Prime Minister made it perfectly clear that the outcome of the discussions we had been holding with the T.U.C. on the provisions outlined in our interim legislation had been successful, and therefore the undertaking had been given that those penal provisions would not be introduced in the lifetime of the present Parliament. He aded that the consultations were now proceeding on the contents of the major legislation embodying the rest of the White Paper, which we are to introduce later.

19. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity how many unions are committed to observe the Trades Union Congress policy of voluntary supervision of industrial relations; and how many union rule books will require revision to satisfy the Government that this policy can be effectively imposed.

Mrs. Castle

The undertaking given to the Government by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress applies to all unions affiliated to the T.U.C. The T.U.C. has taken up with affiliated unions the question of amendment of union rules.

Mr. Biffen

Does not the right hon. Lady recollect that with great clarity the Prime Minister indicated that the rule book was one of the sanctions whereby the T.U.C. could apply its policy? Surely, the Government must have some idea about the present state of the rule book? Surely, they must be aware that the T.U.C. is trying to obtain a revision of the rule book? Surely, that is the kind of information which the right hon. Lady should be able to make available to Parliament?

Mrs. Castle

Exactly. That is just what I have been saying to Parliament, that the T.U.C. has taken up with the affiliated unions the question of amendment to union rules. It conducted a survey some time ago on the contents of union rules, and it made the information from that survey public. It followed this up on 25th June with a circular to affiliated unions setting out the principles which should be contained in all union rule books. Therefore, it lost no time whatsoever in following up its pledge to the Government given in the solemn and binding undertaking.

Mr. Brooks

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the eagerness with which unions may be prepared to modernise their rule books will depend on their anticipation of the shape and content of the industrial relations legislation next Session? Could she tell us, therefore, whether we shall now have a White Paper or Green Paper within the next few weeks on the basis of which it will be possible to consider the proposed changes during the next few months?

Mrs. Castle

There will certainly be a White Paper in due course, but I could not hold out any hope of its coming within the next few weeks, because there are some very far-reaching proposals involving detailed consultations. These are already going on, for example, on how one operates the statutory right of appeal against unfair dismissal. That is only one example. It is a very complicated matter, and we shall have to spend some time in carrying out these detailed consultations.

Mr. Scott

What consultations is the T.U.C. having with unaffiliated unions on how the policy will affect them? Is not there something to be said for referring the question of union rules to the Commission on Industrial Relations and asking it to produce a model set of rules embodying basic principles of justice and so on?

Mrs. Castle

Obviously, the T.U.C. is not circulating non-affiliated unions; that is clearly not within its sphere of responsibility. With regard to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, it would be inappropriate to refer the matter to the C.I.R. The T.U.C. is actively dealing with it, and we must wait and see what results.

Mr. James Hamilton

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that such questions do a disservice to good industrial relations? Is she aware that as a result of the circular letter that has already gone to all affiliated organisations it is now being shown that unofficial stoppages are being dealt with expeditiously by the T.U.C., much to the disgust of the Opposition, who are obviously keeping the issue aflame, as is the national Press?

Mrs. Castle

It is a tribute to the good word of the T.U.C. that, although the solemn and binding undertaking was signed only on 18th June, within a matter of days three circulars had gone out to affiliated unions on the ways in which the undertaking was to be implemented. I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a great pity that there should be so much desire among hon. Members opposite to see the T.U.C. fail.

20. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity if she will publish a White Paper setting out the reserve statutory powers she proposes to seek to enable the Trades Union Congress to supervise a voluntary policy of control of incomes and industrial relations, respectively.

Mrs. Castle

No, Sir.

Mr. Biffen

I am not surprised. If a voluntary industrial relations policy proceeds without the background of penal sanctions, why cannot a voluntary incomes policy proceed without the background of penal sanctions? Will not the right hon. Lady take this occasion to make a clear statement that, come this November, she will not proceed with the reactionary and meddlesome Sections of the Prices and Incomes Act, 1966?

Mrs. Casle

I made clear to the House recently in a lengthy speech what we intend to propose to the House in the form of legislation following the expiry of the current powers—namely, the reactivation of Part II of the Act in order to enable references to be made to the Prices and Incomes Board. This will be discussed in the House in due course.

Mr. Orme

Did not my right hon. Friend note yesterday that the T.U.C.'s Economic Committee believes that reactivation of Part II will be harmful to industrial relations and to normal wage bargaining? Will she take this view seriously into account?

Mrs. Castle

I cannot agree with the comments made by the T.U.C. on this. I think that the T.U.C. appreciates as much as anyone in this House the valuable rôle played by the Prices and Incomes Board, and we all hope that it will go on playing a valuable rôle. But if it is to do so it must be given scope and time in which to consider references and to make recommendations at a point at which they can influence decisions.

Mr. R. Carr

Will the right hon. Lady reconsider her flat "No" to my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen)? Among other reasons, if I remember correctly, in her speech on the Budget, she made some references, for example, to rents, which are not covered in Part II of the 1966 Act and therefore not only this House but the country needs a statement from the Government urgently about their intentions.

Mrs. Castle

We know that the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) does not like statutory powers over prices and incomes when they apply to rents. Hon. Members opposite have never wanted any interference with the rent increases. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] The policy of hon. Members opposite is that they object to statutory interference with rent increases and that is part and parcel of the attitude of the right hon. Member for Mitcham. The Government have explained why they believe that certain statutory powers are necessary—the "early warning" power, for example—and we still believe them essential if we are to have any influence on prices and incomes. Consultations on the details of the legislation are now going on.