HC Deb 22 May 1969 vol 784 cc630-8
3. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what consultations she is currently conducting on her proposed legislation on industrial relations; and when she proposes to present the Bill.

19. Captain W. Elliot asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity when she will introduce an Industrial Relations Bill.

57. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity if she will make a statement on the consultations she is conducting on the subject of the proposed legislation on industrial relations.

The Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (Mrs. Barbara Castle)

The Government are consulting the T.U.C., the C.B.I. and representatives of the nationalised industries and local authorities about the proposed interim Industrial Relations Bill. I hope to introduce the Bill as soon as possible.

Mr. Biffen

As a result of the proposals of the T.U.C., is it now the right hon. Lady's intention to introduce a Bill which does not, even in a modified form, propose to include those clauses which her hon. Friends have described as penal?

Mrs. Castle

The discussions which we have been having with the T.U.C. have shown that the T.U.C. has gone a very long way, and we welcome this. There still are, however, differences between us and these will be the subject of further consultations. I believe that it would be most unwise of me to try to foresee the outcome of those discussions.

Captain Elliot

Is the right lion. Lady aware that after all these years—after a Royal Commission and with time now running out—the spectacle of all this feverish haggling between the Government and the T.U.C. is gravely damaging the national interest? Will she please announce the Bill forthwith?

Mrs. Castle

I cannot accept that grotesquely distorted picture of what is happening. On the contrary, the country welcomes that fact that the Government and the T.U.C. are now in constructive and meaningful discussion as to how to improve industrial relations in Britain. This is exactly what everybody wants.

Mr. Taylor

Is it the position that the right hon. Lady would like, if possible, to avoid legislation in the event of meaningful proposals being put forward by the T.U.C.? In her discussions with employers, has she gained the impression that many employers would, in practice, be prepared to use the so-called penal clauses against their employees?

Mrs. Castle

My aim and that of the Government is to improve industrial relations and reach a situation in which we can get increasing recognition of the need to observe bargains which are freely struck. This is the aim, and we have had, in the response from the T.U.C., encouraging signs of co-operation. It would be most unfortunate if Questions in the House were to try to damage the outcome of those discussions.

Mr. Heffer

Would my right hon. Friend accept that many of us welcome the fact that the Bill will not be published until after the special congress of the T.U.C. on 5th June? Would she assure us that, in considering the penal clauses, she will consider seriously the events in Australia where there is industrial chaos as the result of such clauses and, second, the overwhelming evidence provided by Professor Turner in his book that there is no necessity for this type of legislation in Britain?

Mrs. Castle

Of course, the legal sanctions which obtain in Australia are quite different from those which we have proposed in our legislation, and that would be a false analogy to draw. On the first part of the question, I repeat that we do not intend to introduce the legislation, not only until after the special congress, but also until we have had further discussions with the T.U.C. in the light of the special congress.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend assure us that she will not allow herself to be stampeded by the Opposition or the Press? Will she further assure us that she will try to reach an agreement with the T.U.C., since we on this side realise that, given any Government co-operation, only the T.U.C. can solve our industrial problems?

Mrs. Castle

I can give my hon. Friend a firm assurance that I will not be stampeded by anyone. I agree with him that the co-operation of the T.U.C. is vital in the whole industrial relations exercise. The Government appreciate the spirit in which the T.U.C. is approaching these negotiations.

Mr. R. Carr

Would the right hon. Lady assure us that her worthy determination not to be stampeded by anyone includes the Leader of the House? Would she bear in mind the fact that the House will need an adequate time between the publication of the Bill and its debate on it?

Mrs. Castle

Of course I appreciate that. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that that is a matter for the Leader of the House.

11. Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity whether, in the forthcoming Bill on Industrial Relations, she will seek provision to deal with the interference with output and production caused by company directors and higher paid executives absenting themselves from work to go to golf matches and horserace meetings; and whether she will also provide for financial penalties for such absenteeism.

Mr. Harold Walker

As my right hon. Friend announced in the House on 16th April, the Bill will impose restrictions on strikes and lock-outs in defined circumstances. It is not intended to deal with interruptions of work from other causes.—[Vol. 781, c. 1184.]

Mr. Lewis

That reply was not unexpected. Can the Minister explain what will happen if workers decide not to go on strike, but just to go to a horse race meeting, or to go golfing, while their wages are discussed? How will the Government deal with this in the Bill?

Mr. Walker

It is my experence, and I am sure it is that of my hon. Friends, that when workers are on strike, they say so; otherwise, it becomes pointless. The Bill is intended to deal with people absent from work due to strike and for no other reason.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Even if there were anything sensible in this ridiculous Question, would it not be fair to say that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) is the last person to ask it?

12. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what progress she has made in her discussions with the Trades Union Congress representatives on the use of a special fund collected from unofficial strikers; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Castle

This is one of the suggestions I am discussing with the T.U.C. in our consultations on the interim Bill.—[Vol. 781, c. 1186.]

Mr. Bidwell

As discussions on this point have apparently not yet taken place, which indicates a shyness on the part of my right hon. Friend to raise this specific matter, and as the T.U.C. has apparently not yet been allowed to say what she can do with such collections, does that not show that this will never be "on" and that it is best to rely on the T.U.C. intervening in industrial relations, especially to expose shoddy management, rather than to involve any concept of State penal law?

Mrs. Castle

I cannot say that I am conscious of any shyness about this point. It would be wrong of me to say here and now that this was not "on" because it is now before the T.U.C. as part of the consultative document sent to it on the clauses now proposed for the interim Bill. The T.U.C. has not yet pronounced upon it and I do not think that my hon. Frend ought to try to prejudge its response.

13. Mr. Roebuck

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what representations she has received from the Confederation of British Industry about her proposals to make it a condition of employment that a worker should be granted the right to belong to a trade union; and what reply she has sent.

Mrs. Castle

This matter is among those on which consultations are taking place with the C.B.I. They have not made formal representatons to me on it.

Mr. Roebuck

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many firms positively discourage people from joining trade unions? Can she assure the House that she will not be deterred from introducing legislation to wipe out these and other Tolpuddle practices by troglodyte employers which result only in wasteful disputes which are damaging to the national interest?

Mrs. Castle

I certainly assure my hon. Friend that I believe that the time is long overdue when we should have had on the Statute Book the right of every worker to belong to a trade union, and this will be one of the very important clauses of the interim Bill.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Will the right hon. Lady at the same time write into such a Bill the right of any individual not to join a trade union if he has deep-rooted or conscientious objections to doing so?

Mrs. Castle

Nothing in the Government's proposals impinges on this right.

20. Captain W. Elliot

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what is the result so far of the conversations which the Government has held with the Trades Union Congress on the implementation of the White Paper, "In Place of Strife".

31. Mr. Kenneth Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what further discussions she has had with the Trades Union Congress to consider industrial relations legislation.

39. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what progress has been made in her consultations which have been undertaken with the Trades Union Congress with a view to ensuring that the trade unions take effective steps to avert unofficial strike action, without recourse to legal sanctions.

54. Mr. Archer

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what is the result to date of her consultations with the Trades Union Congress on the implementation of "In Place of Strife"; and if she will make a statement.

60. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity if she will state the result of the discussions which the Government have had with the Trades Union Congress on the White Paper, "In Place of Strife".

Mrs. Castle

I would refer hon. Members to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 20th May to Questions from the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). Since then, my right hon. Friend and I have had a further meeting with the General Council to discuss revised proposals which are being put to the special Congress on 5th June. A meeting with the General Council is being arranged to take place after the special Congress.—[Vol. 784, c. 64.]

Captain Elliot

Is the Minister aware that I well appreciate the importance of carrying all the interested parties along with her if she can, but the Government's proposals were not enough. Will she therefore, without further delay, make up her mind and announce her intentions so that we on this side of the House can decide what further building is necessary on the foundations which she has laid?

Mrs. Castle

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to put forward further proposals, alternative proposals, he and his hon. Friends had better consult the C.B.I., as Mr. John Davies has just denounced their alternative as being rather ineffectual.

Mr. Hamilton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that everyone on this side of the House would hope that voluntary agreement may be reached between the Government and the T.U.C. as to how this problem may be resolved without legislation? If in any case she is to introduce legislation, will she introduce a complete measure, with all the proposals in the White Paper rather than half of them, the half containing the most objectionable penal clauses?

Mrs. Castle

I am aware of my hon. Friend's preference for waiting for a comprehensive industrial relations Bill. But there are some matters which urgently need to be got on the Statute Book and I have already mentioned one. They are vital to an immediate improvement of industrial relations. The whole of the proposals in the White Paper are so far reaching and complex that it would take a long time to prepare legislation to get the whole on the Statute Book. Therefore, we have certain proposals which will follow later.

Mr. Archer

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many hon. Members on this side of the House are hoping anxiously that both parties to the negotiations will make serious efforts to reach an accommodation because, whatever differences exist within the Labour movement on industrial relations, they are much narrower than our mutual differences with the Conservative Party?

Mrs. Castle

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As he says, this is something which calls for efforts on both sides. I repeat that we think that the T.U.C. has made a marked advance, but there are still differences between us which are subject to continuing consultation.

Mr. Winnick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all of us who have been firmly opposed to the so-called conciliation pause and fines obviously hope that agreement can be reached with the T.U.C. on the basis of its present programme? However, is she also aware—and I am choosing my words as carefully as I can—that if no agreement can be reached, those of us who honestly believe that we cannot vote for such measures cannot be blackmailed into doing so?

Mrs. Castle

As soon as we are in a position to do so, we shall make a full report to the House on the whole of the discussions and their outcome. It will then be for every hon. Member, in the light of the outcome of the discussions, to decide his reaction to it.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Will the right hon. Lady stop over-dramatising these proposals and their alleged scope? Is she aware that, while this is a useful advance, it is very limited and, as was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot), it will be left to the next Government to implement proper industrial reform?

Mrs. Castle

I am well aware that the T.U.C. has taken very careful note of the sort of negative attitude to industrial relations taken by hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Orme

Will my right hon. Friend also take careful note of what has been said by hon. Members opposite and not lay a base for the Conservatives to build upon? Does she not think that the T.U.C. has gone so far to meet her that it is up to her and her right hon. Friend now to go to meet the T.U.C., drop the penal clauses and get on with voluntary industrial relations?

Mrs. Castle

If my hon. Friend believes that the proposals which I have put to the House, in general terms so far of course, provide a base for Conservative policy to build on, he has not carefully studied either my proposals or those of the Opposition. I therefore say to him that it is tremendously important for all of us in this crucial matter to weigh our words carefully and to state the facts objectively.

Dr. Winstanley

On the question of urgency, is the right hon. Lady aware that my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Liberal bench would prefer to wait a little if that is necessary to get workable and enforceable proposals, rather than have unworkable and unenforceable proposals at an earlier date?

Mrs. Castle

I entirely agree that proposals put forward at any time should be workable and enforceable. We would not put forward any which we did not think would work.

Mr. R. Carr

Is the right hon. Lady aware that one of the main differences between her proposals and the proposals by the Opposition is that in the Opposition proposals sanctions against individuals play a very much smaller part than in her proposals? Is she further aware that the next Conservative Government will undoubtedly bring in a full-scale comprehensive measure on this subject?

Mrs. Castle

I would say that the implications for individual trade unionists of the Opposition proposals are very serious indeed. As to their workability, I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the article by Mr. John Davies of the C.B.I.