§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
More than 60 hon. Members have so far indicated their wish to speak in this debate, among them are 12 who wish to make their maiden speeches. Much as I would like, it will be impossible for me to call all hon. Members who have been waiting for a considerable time to make their maiden speeches. I propose to call today the following five to make their maiden speeches: the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mr. Parry); the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. McCartney); the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton); the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Coombs); and the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith). I may be able to fit some in tomorrow.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Robert Carr)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Before I begin the substance of what I have to say, I crave the indulgence of the House on two points. The first is in connection with the important matter about which we have just had questions and answers and on which I made a statement. It may be necessary for me to leave the Chamber to continue those discussions. I feel sure that the whole House will acquit me of any discourtesy if, therefore, I am not in my place as much as I would otherwise have been during the evening.
The second is partly for the same reason and partly because of the length of the Bill. Because of the need to give as many hon. Members as possible on both sides of the House an opportunity to contribute to this debate, I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I am not as generous as I hope I usually am in giving way to interventions. Even if I deal only broadly with the contents of the Bill, it is inevitable that I will have to address the House for a considerable time.
The Bill is essentially about regulating the eternal tension between, on the one 962 hand, the desire of the individual person and group for complete freedom of action and, on the other, the need of the community for a proper degree of order and discipline. Unfettered freedom destroys itself. Liberty cannot exist without order, or rights be long sustained without corresponding duties.
We must, all of us—both as individuals and in respect of the groups to which we belong—accept some restraints on our actions wherever they affect other people and other groups. In other words, we must all accept some rules governing every aspect of our activities.
In the private sphere these rules can, of course, be informal—often unwritten and almost subconscious. They can also be self-regulating. In the public sphere, as our personal and group activities infringe more on other people's lives, the rules and their regulation need to become more formal; and when they reach the point when they have a major effect on the social and economic life of the community as a whole, they become the subject of law. Law, in a civilised society, is a condition of freedom and not its enemy.
So it is with this Bill. I respect the genuine fears which some may have, but looking ahead in this unknown sphere—because this is hitherto unexperienced legislation—I am convinced that they will prove unfounded. However deeply some hon. Members may disagree with the principles of these proposals, I hope that they will accept that their purpose and object is the basic one I have just stated. My right hon. Friends and I are convinced that those fears will prove unfounded and that the years will show that the Bill will increase the strength of the trade unions—[Interruption.]—and their size and the degree of their freedom and independence from State control and interference.
Whatever may be our views and however fundamentally opposed to each other we may be, I hope that it is not necessary for anybody to doubt motives. I can only say that this is what we intend should result from the Bill and that this is what we believe the effect will be. Only time will show, and we believe that we will be proved right.
The proper balance between liberty and order is a delicate one. There is no 963 external objective standard by which to measure it. It must be a subjective judgment and the right mixture will change from one time in history to another. I am not vain or stupid enough to believe dogmatically that adventuring, as we are, in this new and complicated sphere, we have got the balance precisely right, even for the moment, let alone for the next 10 or 20 years. That is why I shall welcome and want to listen to constructive debate and criticism.
However, I am convinced that anybody looking objectively at the industrial scene in Britain today must agree that new rules are needed, that liberty has in some areas degenerated into licence, that the balance between order and chaos is in need of being redressed in favour of a more orderly and disciplined system and that the freedom of the ordinary industrial worker will be increased and not diminished by a change which brings that about.
Clause 1 lays down the basic purpose and principles by which we ask the whole Bill to be judged. The basic principles are four. The first is the principle of collective bargaining, freely and responsibly conducted. The second is the principle of developing and maintaining orderly procedures in industry for the peaceful settlement of disputes by negotiation, conciliation or arbitration, with a due regard to the general interests of the community. The third is, the principle of free association of workers in independent trade unions and of employers in employers' associations, so organised as to be representative, responsible and effective bodies for regulating relations between employers and workers. The fourth is the principle of freedom and security for workers, protected by adequate safeguards against unfair industrial practices, whether on the part of employers or others.
Subsection (2) lays down that the Secretary of State and all the other officials and institutions established under the Bill must be guided by these four basic principles in carrying out all these functions under the Bill.
I come now to Part II which deals with the rights of workers. I wish that I could have found a less Victorian word than that of "workers" to describe what we 964 had in mind, and I dare say that the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) may have had a similar wish when grappling with earlier legislation.
§ Mr. Carr
Of course the worker is honourable. I am really surprised at the hon. Gentleman. I thought, however, that he would know that for all sorts of reasons, unfortunately, the word does have, and I do not wish to labour the point, a certain Victorian connotation about it. But in this Measure we have to include both employees in the literal sense and those who come under contracts of service. There was no single word that I could discover which could be a better name or, at the same time, a more accurate name to apply.
§ Mr. Carr
I do not say that there is anything wrong with the word, but there are many people on both sides of the House—and, perhaps, on both sides of both parties—who believe that it still has a certain sectional and Victorian connotation. However, I thought that I was making a very non-controversial aside, and I can only assume that the whole of the rest of the Bill is so uncontroversial that hon. Members are hard put to find anything to argue about. I expect that they will recover their form in due course.
Part II deals with the rights of workers in principle: the right to join a union; the right to remedies against unfair dismissal, and the right to longer periods of notice. I believe that we have in the Bill the most comprehensive and enlightened code of workers' rights in the history of our country.
The Bill establishes absolutely the right of every worker to join a trade union and to take part in trade union activities. Any infringement of these rights by an employer will entitle the worker concerned to take his complaint to an Industrial Tribunal for redress. If an employee is dismissed because he joined a union that would automatically constitute an unfair dismissal. In short, here is a massive buttress to support the organising effort of the trade union movement. Although I 965 am sure that blatant discrimination by employers is nowadays exceptional, I believe that this support should prove valuable, particularly in certain fields where unionism has traditionally been weak and where employees have often been very uneasy about joining a union.
The Bill also secures, in Clause 7, the right of any worker not to belong to a union or to any organisation of workers—[Interruption.] I know that this is strongly disliked by many trade unionists, and I should have understood it in the context of the conditions of the past—[Interruption.]—but in modern conditions, and in the context of a Bill which in general encourages union membership—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh yes, it does, and it will—and which, in particular, for the first time gives unions a legal right to recognition which they have never had before, I do not believe that it is necessary on grounds either of union solidarity or of good order to force people to join unions against their will, and I am sure that it cannot be justified in terms of basic personal liberties—[Interruption.]—If any hon. Member—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Carr
If any hon. Member likes to say that it is justified in terms of basic personal liberties to force people against their will to join a union he is welcome to do so both here and outside in the country, and I am willing to judge what sort of answer he will get from the great majority of the people.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a moral principle involved which says that if people are gaining the benefits of trade unionism, such as holidays and pay increases, they should pay their subscription to finance the machinery which enables them to get those benefits?
§ Mr. Carr
Of course—but that is precisely what the Bill does. I will come to that point in just a moment.
I am well aware of the argument that the right not to belong to a workers' organisation will undermine the position of strength built up over many years by unions in many industries. To many, the outlawing of the closed shop as such seems to encourage those dissatisfied with 966 their union—perhaps dissatisfied quite irresponsibly or for some temporary reason—to withdraw support. Many employers, it is fair to add, take a similar view to most trade unions and both sides are—and I recognise this in some industries—genuinely concerned that the removal of the discipline and control which a closed shop agreement enables unions to impose on members will exacerbate the problems we are trying to solve.
Well, there is a risk, but I do not believe that these are the sort of means that we in this country, in the 'seventies and beyond, ought to seek to retain.
If I thought that that would happen to any grave extent I would not be recommending this Bill today. But in the "agency shop" proposals I believe we have struck a fair balance between an individual's right not to belong to a union, his social responsibility to contribute toward the support of the negotiations from which he benefits, and the reasonable need for discipline and order for industry—[Interruption.]
This is a balance. No one can pretend that it is an easy matter but we have to determine it as near as we can at this stage. I ask the House to remember—and this is the direct answer to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton)—that our proposals eliminate what the unions call the "free rider". I also ask the House to remember that we are by no means making it quick and easy for disaffected union members to break away and join a rival union to challenge for negotiation rights. We make it possible—and I believe that it is right to make it possible—but it would be wrong to make it too quick and easy. Here again, and anyone who looks at it seriously must recognise, there is no absolute balance. It is an awkward matter of balance between freedom and order. As I said at the very beginning, this is really what law in this or any similar field is all about, and why it will no doubt need, and does need, adjusting from time to time. What is right in 1970 would certainly not have been right in 1900, or even perhaps in 1906.
I do not propose to say more about the concept of the agency shop today, because this is one of the issues which we are bound to discuss further during the Committee stage. I simply reaffirm my view that these agency shop provisions 967 offer not only a fair but an attractive opportunity for trade unions to consolidate their position in many situations where they are now recognised.
I shall naturally be ready to consider whether in some sectors special problems call for special solutions complementary to the agency shop agreement Clauses. But I am quite sure that these Clauses provide the most just and equitable basis for union security in the future.
Now, still on the subject of workers' rights, I come to the question of unfair dismissal, which is dealt with in Clauses 20–31. As the Royal Commission pointed out, we are almost the only advanced industrial country that does not have some kind of statutory protection against unfair dismissal. We agree that it is high time that this is put right. I believe that that at least is non-controversial. The previous Government's Bill showed the same intention. However, I want to correct some misinterpretations which have gained currency as a result of attempts—I hope not deliberate—to suggest that our proposals are in essential aspects less liberal than those of our predecessors.
First, I think that there is a misconception on the question of burden of proof. Clause 22 provides that a dismissal shall be regarded as unfair unless the employer can show a good reason for it, such as redundancy, or a reason connected with conduct or capability. Even if the employer does show that he dismissed the man on one of those grounds he still has to show that he did not act unreasonably in doing so. In the light of this, I do not accept that we have tilted the burden of proof to the disadvantage of the employee. We accept that it must be for the employer, since he carried out the dismissal, to show the tribunal what the reasons for his action were. I believe, therefore, that as far as burden of proof is concerned, our proposals have substantially the same effect as those in the right hon. Lady's Bill, but this is an important point which the House may well want to debate in detail in Committee.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
The Tight hon. Gentleman is describing fears that are in the minds of the constituents of many of us. Will he address himself to a real fear that many people have 968 written to us about? The main sanction against unfair dismissal has so far been a bad employer's fear that the fellow workers of the man he has victimised will come out, declaring their solidarity with that man. Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House and the country that such sympathetic action will not be regarded as an unfair practice under this Bill?
§ Mr. Carr
This is a very important but very detailed question which needs a very considered and properly defined reply. I should like to ask one of my hon. Friends to deal with it in detail later, and perhaps we can also return to it in Committee. Generally speaking, we want to provide proper machinery for resolving disputes and possible causes of disputes. What we are saying in the Bill is that where proper machinery exists for their resolution it should not be right to take strike action while that machinery is being used. I believe that that is a sound principle, and that hon. Members will also consider it to be sound when they think about it. Let the hon. Gentleman argue about it, but I believe that I have put an important point of view which commands a good deal of support, and not only on one side of the House or among one set of experts or party adherents. But let it be debated.
I come now, under the heading of unfair dismissal, to the question of reinstatement and compensation, another matter on which misleading attempts have been made to compare our proposals unfavourably both with the Donovan proposals and those in the previous Government's Bill. Although our proposals are contained in Part VI, Clause 94, dealing with the power of industrial tribunals, I think that they can be most conveniently mentioned at this point.
First, Donovan acknowledged, at paragraph 551 of the Report, that there were strong arguments against making reinstatement the only remedy, principally because of the difficulties of enforcement. Although it provided for reinstatement, the right hon. Lady's Bill did not provide for the enforcement of a reinstatement order for the same reason that Donovan had in mind, so I maintain that the difference between her Bill and mine is a difference in words only. I prefer to call a recommendation a recommendation, not an order, unless there can be enforcement behind the order.
969 As to the amount of compensation for unfair dismissal, I must remind hon. Members opposite that under this Bill the maximum possible compensation for unfair dismissal is about £4,000, whereas in their Bill it was about £1,900, rising in exceptional circumstances to about £2,800.
§ Mr. Carr
It is true that under this Bill the award will be determined less on the basis of an automatic formula as under the right hon. Lady's Bill, and more according to the loss suffered in each particular case. I accept that this is a matter for debate, but I ask hon. Members to ask themselves this. Are there not at least strong reasons for having a larger maximum for someone who really has suffered a serious loss rather than a smaller maximum with sums more equally and more widely distributed? There are good arguments on both sides, but I ask the House to weight the fact that they are not all on one side, either on the side of our proposals or entirely on the side of the right hon. Lady.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
Apart from the question of compensation, on which we shall clearly want to challenge what the right hon. Gentleman said when we come to Committee, is not the difference between an order to reinstate and a mere recommendation this—that if the order is defied the additional damages which the tribunal can then levy will be punitive?
§ Mr. Carr
My hon, and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will no doubt deal with this technical point better than I can. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It may be a very important point, but it is a technical point. The right hon. Lady proposed an order but with no means of enforcement. "Punitive damages", says the right hon. Lady. I prefer to call a recommendation a recommendation, but if a recommendation is disregarded that fact will and should be taken into account by the court under the principles of calculation of damage when it assesses damages. Therefore, if a recommendation was not implemented, and the court took a serious view of that, and the loss that it would cause, it could lead to a higher maximum compensation for the 970 individual than was possible under the right hon. Lady's Bill.
The House should consider very carefully what I have said. I have admitted that there are pros and cons about each way of doing it, and that the issue is not clear-cut. Hon. Members opposite must not just shake their heads and imagine that all the advantages are in favour of their way of doing it and that our way has all the disadvantages. It is difficult balance to achieve. After careful thought, we have chosen this method rather than that proposed by the right hon. Lady last summer.
§ Mr. Carr
I am sorry. I have given way a lot to the hon. Gentleman over the years. I want to remind him and the House of what I said earlier. We shall have to debate this at considerable length in the Committee and, since the Committee will be held on the Floor of the House, I think that this makes it easier.
I press on to the last point which I shall deal with briefly under this section of workers' rights, and that is the disclosure of information to employees. In Clause 53 we say that all employees in large companies have the right to information about the affairs of the undertaking in which they are employed and we believe that they have as much right to the information as the shareholders. So we are providing in Clause 53 that all employees shall have that right, written into law.
I turn to Part III of the Bill dealing with collective bargaining. Clauses 32 to 56 are the Clauses containing the Governmen't major proposals relating to the development of collective bargaining and the improvement of collective agreements, particularly procedure agreements.
This Part of the Bill embodies four major principles to which the Government attach great importance. First, is the legal status of collective agreements, second the selective enforceability of procedure agreements, third the recognition of a sole bargaining agent and fourth the disclosure of information to trade unions for the purposes of collective bargaining. The House will realise that is different from the sort of disclosure with which I was dealing a moment ago. There is also the other aspect of the disclosure of 971 information to trade unions for the purpose of collective bargaining. I want to say something about each of the four points in turn.
First I will deal with the legal status of collective agreements. Clause 32 simply creates a presumption that, in the future, when parties enter into a collective agreement they intend that it shall have legal force. This in no sense implies that the Government intend collective agreements to be enforced willy-nilly. The purpose is to secure greater certainty about the legal status of collective agreements, to encourage greater clarity and comprehensiveness in collective agreements, particularly in relation to their procedural aspects, to inculcate a greater sense of responsibility on both sides in honouring agreements into which they have voluntarily entered.
We believe that in clarifying the legal status of collective agreements the law will exert pressure on both sides to reexamine and improve the rules which govern their relations and will encourage both sides to examine and reconsider ways of securing compliance with rules which they have voluntarily agreed upon.
I know that these provisions have been criticised from varying points of view but I cannot go any further into the arguments now.
§ Mr. Carr
I look forward to discussing them with the hon. Gentleman and any other hon. Members in due course at another stage.
I come now to the controversial question of the remedial action where procedural agreements are non-existent or defective. Here I am referring to Clauses 35 to 40. These Clauses outline the provisions under which it will be possible for procedure agreements recommended by the C.I.R. to be made enforceable in selected cases where one or other of the parties concerned applies to the National Industrial Relations Court.
I want to emphasise some fundamental points about these provisions. First, as will be seen from Clause 35(1) they are to be invoked only in exceptional circumstances where a company or plant has a history of unconstitutional industrial 972 action or where a procedure agreement is defective or non-existent and as a result where orderly industrial relations are seriously impeded.
Secondly, as Clause 37 makes clear, it is no part of the Government's intention that an existing procedure agreement should be enforceable as it stands. I want to emphasise that because there has been some genuine fear and misunderstanding about it. I want to make it clear that it will be the responsibility of the C.I.R. to carry out a thorough examination of the procedure and to recommend any improvements that it thinks should be made to the procedure agreement before it could be claimed to be made enforceable.
Thirdly, these provisions contain no presumption that responsibility for the unhappy state of industrial relations in the company or plant concerned rests largely with the union or with employees who have been prone to industrial action. As drafted these Clauses imply—in my view realistically—that much of the responsibility for disorderly industrial relations will rest with the inadequacy of the procedure agreement itself. That is why we are laying this importance not on enforcing existing procedures but insisting that the procedure agreement shall be made a proper one first of all before any action of enforcement is considered.
Fourthly, there will not necessarily and in all cases be an enforceable order at the end of the road. After the C.I.R. has made its recommendations the National Industrial Court will only make an order on the application of one of the parties concerned enforcing the recommendation of the C.I.R. where an order is necessary for the recommendations to be implemented and observed.
This procedure which we propose for selective enforcement should be seen not as the antithesis or denial of free collective bargaining so much as a means of giving collective bargaining, in individual cases where it has fallen into a chaotic situation, a chance to make a fresh start on a new and more satisfactory basis recommended by the C.I.R. and we hope voluntarily agreed by the parties on the recommendation of the C.I.R.
§ Mr. Carr
It is not, and that is why we need these new procedures.
973 Let me next turn to the question of the recognition of the sole bargaining agent. Clauses 41 to 51 contain the main provisions on trade union recognition and bargaining structure. The objective we are seeking to assist by these provisions is the establishment, in difficult cases, of a single negotiating agent for a single defined group of workers—an objective to which the Donovan Commission attached much importance.
Issues referred under these provisions to the C.I.R. will all involve, in some form or other, two basic questions. First, what should be the bargaining unit or units and, second, what organisations, if any, should be the sole bargaining agent for the unit or units? These are the major questions which the C.I.R. has to answer in these cases.
The range of problems or disputes which may be referred to the C.I.R. is considerable. Clause 42 will, for example, permit a single union claiming recognition to refer its claim to the National Industrial Relations Court. The Clause will also cover situations where two or more unions are contesting recognition in a given company in respect of a particular group of workers.
The Clause provides too for an employer to apply to have the competing claims of two or more unions referred to the C.I.R. for resolution. It will also be possible under the Clause to refer to the C.I.R. disputes about the extent and scope of the definition of a bargaining unit and also about the composition of a union negotiating panel or committee. I want to mention this point about the possibility of a joint negotiating panel or committee because we recognise that in the British industrial relations scene it may often be preferable to have a joint negotiating panel as long as it is properly mandated by its constituent unions rather than try to insist on a single union being given the negotiating rights in a particular unit to the exclusion of all others. The system we envisage will prove to be flexible and effective in dealing with some of those obstinate cases about union recognition which arise in our economy.
I turn to the question of ballots of employees in relation to trade union recognition. I want to draw the attention of the House particularly to the method by which we envisage that the C.I.R.'s recommendations will require 974 —as we believe they should require—the endorsement of the employees covered by a recognition dispute reference. There will be a ballot in two different situations. In the first case, under Clause 46, the ballot will determine whether the employees concerned wish to accept the C.I.R.'s recommendation that a particular union, or a panel of unions, should be accorded the right to be sole bargaining agent. In this situation, provided that a majority of employees voting supports the C.I.R.'s recommendation, the recommended union or unions will be accorded statutory recognition rights, and the employer will be under a statutory duty to negotiate with the union or unions constituting the sole bargaining agent.
The second situation where a ballot might take place is where a percentage of employees feel dissatisfied with the union which represents them, and where they have presented a claim to the Court that the union should be deprived of its negotiating rights. This situation is covered by Clauses 48 to 50. Here I want to stress something I said earlier, namely that the Government do not believe that it ought to be too easy to "disestablish" a union which is in situ simply because of a passing dissatisfaction on the part of a minority of employees. None the less, it would not be a healthy situation—there have been cases recently which have shown this—if there were no orderly method whereby a union which had completely lost the confidence of the people it represented could have its negotiating rights challenged and if necessary withdrawn. Therefore we have provided in Clause 48 that if an application is supported by 20 per cent, of the employees in a bargaining unit, and if the C.I.R. is unable to resolve the difficulties between the union and its discontented members, but only if the C.I.R. has failed to resolve the difficulties, then a ballot can be held to determine whether or not the union should continue to he the bargaining agent. Where a bargaining unit has been established, following a previous reference to the C.I.R., under a statutory order, the claim under Clause 48 would have to be supported not by 20 per cent. but by 40 per cent, of the employees. These provisions strike a reasonable balance between a constant threat to a union's security of tenure on the one hand, and provide the possibility, on the other hand, for employees to change a 975 union which they genuinely and substantially feel no longer effectively represents them.
If we are to deal and talk in terms of industrial democracy, then there is one subject about which, under controlled conditions—I emphasise, under controlled conditions—there must be occasions when those affected by decisions on negotiating rights should have the opportunity to express their approval or disapproval by means of a secret ballot.
§ Mr. Carr
The hon. Member says "anarchy". In industrial democracy terms, this will be equivalent to the right to choose or change the Government. It is fundamental, and it works. I believe that this is right and that it is an important addition to the freedom and the democratic rights of those who work within British industry. It will be shown to be so in practice. These important provisions provide a great opportunity for well-supported unions to secure negotiating rights whenever these are unreasonably resisted. At the same time, these provisions enable the more serious recognition and bargaining structure problems to be resolved by an objective agency without the pressure of industrial action being brought to bear to influence the outcome.
I emphasise that the provisions allow a genuine measure of democratic decision-making after the C.I.R. has examined and made its recommendations. Where a ballot favours what the C.I.R. has recommended, the law will support and maintain the decision that employees have taken.
Finally, under this part of the Bill, I want to come briefly to the disclosure of information for the purposes of negotiations, that is to say, for purposes related to collective bargaining. We provide that where there is collective bargaining with trade union representatives, employers have a duty, subject to certain safeguards, to provide information without which the trade union would be handicapped in carrying out its job of bargaining. The safeguards are on such things as national security, protection of commercial interests and information relating to individuals. This is one part of the Bill which the right hon. Member 976 for Blackburn will agree need not be controversial between us.
Park IV deals with the important matter of registration, which is of central importance in the reform of industrial relations law. In the debate on 26th November, and on other occasions, I have expounded the philosophy of our proposals for the registration of trade unions. Today I want to explain what registration involves. Hon. Members, and many people outside the House, have been free with the charge that we are requiring that trade unions obtain "a licence from the State" before they can operate. That is very wide of the mark. In the first place, there is nothing in our proposals that interferes with the basic right of workers to associate, whether or not they choose to register their association. The existing immunities in respect of conspiracy are preserved. The crucial change, in Clause 85, is that the immunity from legal action for inducing a breach of contract is withdrawn from unregistered associations. We believe that this privilege should not be enjoyed—because it is not deserved—by a body that is not prepared to accept the obligations of registration. The same goes for the new positive rights created by the Bill, for example, the right to statutory recognition and so forth. I am confident that once the heat of the present controversy has cooled down, once our provisions are in force, the trade unions will come to recognise that this right should be confined to properly established, responsible bodies like themselves—whose position, I repeat, this legislation is intended to strengthen and will, I am sure, strengthen as it works—
§ Mr. Carr
Perhaps the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr) finds that he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
As regards the obligations and conditions of registration, they are fair, moderate and reasonable. No union that conducts itself in a democratic, constitutional way should have the slightest difficulty in complying with them. I do not believe that the Opposition has any chance of persuading public opinion, or for that matter rank and file trade unionists at large, that anything here represents an iniquitous interference with trade union principles.
In Clauses 61 to 71—
§ Mr. Carr
—we have set out certain guiding principles, principles of democratic right and constitutional process, to establish the standards which the rules of unions and employers' associations must satisfy. We have supplemented these guiding principles by another set of rules and requirements about rules in the Third Schedule. These do not require that unions should have rules which say this and that in particular terms, because, as voluntary associations, that is their affair. They merely require that they should have clear rules on certain subjects; for example, the rules must state those bodies or officials within the union who have authority to instruct members to take industrial action and in what circumstances. The rules must also cover such important matters as electoral procedures, the conduct of meetings and the manner in which the rules themselves may be altered.
The guiding principles and the other requirements apply in three ways. First, they are conditions for the approval of rules and, ultimately therefore, for the keeping of registration. Second, the Bill provides in Clauses 77 to 79 for a right of complaint by any member of an organisation of workers or employers, registered or unregistered, that he has suffered as a result of a contravention of the guiding principles or a breach of the organisation's rules. There is a right of complaint. Third, the registrar may also, in the case of a registered trade union or employers' association, initiate an investigation of his own accord if he thinks that there is a serious or persistent transgression of the guiding principles or of the rules.
The registrar is the custodian of trade union rules and behaviour, the guardian of the public interest, and the protector of individual trade union members against unfair or autocratic treatment. But he does not act and has no power to act by administrative fiat. He cannot penalise a union or employers' association. He must apply to the National Industrial Relations Court or to a tribunal, and his own decisions can be appealed against by those affected.
I turn now to the matters dealt with in Parts V and VII, namely, restrictions 978 on legal procedures. These Parts of the Bill will make important changes in the existing Trade Disputes Acts. It is important to emphasise that the full protection of the 1906 Trade Disputes Act will remain to registered trade unions, except in so far as they engage in clearly defined unfair industrial practices which are specifically identified at various points in the Bill. In general, these unfair industrial practices concern industrial action to achieve trade union objectives which the Bill provides other and better statutory methods of securing; notably, for example, the obtaining of negotiating rights and the agency shop.
I do not believe that any union need indulge in the unfair industrial practices listed in the Bill in order to achieve their justifiable aims. Unless a case could be made out that a union, in the 1970s, had to indulge in any one or more of these practices in order to achieve its justifiable aims, I do not believe that such practices should be tolerated without liability in the public interest.
I must emphasise that unregistered organisations and individuals acting outside their authority as officials of a registered union will not continue to enjoy the immunity provided by Section 3 of the Trade Disputes Act to induce any other person to break a contract in the course of an industrial dispute. This limitation of a special legal privilege follows the recommendation of the majority of the Donovan Commission. It is consistent with, not to say essential to, the principle that only registered organisations should be protected from legal action for calling a strike in breach of individual contracts of employment.
In the Government's view, this restriction of immunity is essential both to strengthen the authority of trade unions and to discourage unconstitutional action which is at odds with voluntary agreements, at odds with union instructions and in breach of individual contracts of employment.
Clauses 86 and 87 deal with secondary industrial action. The purpose of these Clauses is to protect an innocent third party not involved in the original industrial dispute. Under these proposals, it will be unfair for anyone to call or organise a strike, a lock-out or irregular industrial action in order to aid and abet 979 anyone in doing something which is itself an unfair industrial practice. It will also be an unfair industrial practice to induce anyone to break a commercial contract if that person is not a party to the original dispute or is not supporting one of the parties to it. But I want the House to realise that these Clauses do not rule out reasonably sympathetic action—
§ Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)
I think that there are two points here. The first is that the definition of an industrial dispute is changed under this Bill and no longer includes a dispute between employees and employees. Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman clarify Clause 86, with regard to aiding and abetting, which hitherto has been a strictly criminal concept? Does it mean that the trade union which supports action under Clause 85 and turns a strike into an official strike is guilty of aiding and abetting and loses the immunity of the 1906 Act?
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
Why does not the right hon. Gentleman say that he does not know?
§ Mr. Carr
I made a particular point at the beginning of my speech. I would have hoped, without referring to the hour at which I went to bed, that the House 980 might have realised that the many hours of detailed preparation that I had expected to give to this speech over the last few days has not been possible. I hope that I shall—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. The House must realise that it is in the interest of hon. Members on both sides to hear this speech, as I hope it will hear other speeches.
§ Mr. Carr
I appreciate the nuance in the question put to me by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), which is not just in sympathy with my position but because he knows that his question is a very difficult one. It gives difficulty to lawyers under the present law. It will give difficulty to lawyers under any law that we have. It always has done, and it always will do. It is a question which needs the reply of a lawyer—Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have appealed to the House before. I hope that it will be accepted that it is in the interests of the whole House to listen to both sides of the argument about this admittedly controversial Measure.
§ Mr. Molloy
On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman was asked questions because we on this side are following his argument closely. Clearly he does not intend to answer and, instead, he passes the buck by saying that someone else will answer. We assumed that the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for this Bill.
§ Mr. Carr
I am sure, anyhow, that the majority of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that what I have said is true. This has nothing to do with the introduction of new law. This is the position under our present law, the law as it has been for the last 100 years. This sort of definition is a difficult and highly technical matter, and I suspect that very few laymen over the last half century—
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
We were talking, as opposed to the right hon. Gentleman, about he law he is trying to introduce at this moment. If we are at cross purposes with the right hon. Gentleman it is probably because most of us have been half asleep.
§ Mr. Carr
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has been half-asleep. That may be my fault, and if it is I apologise to him. But I want to make this serious point. The question referred to a change in the law. The law on this point is very complicated, and has been for several generations. It will be complicated also in the new situation. We are not taking labour relations on one point of legal non-complexity and introducing complexity. We are already in a position of great legal complexity of definition. Neither I nor anyone else, I am afraid, has discovered how to remove this point from great complexity. Does the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I will deal with it when I reply. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The right hon. Gentleman has been speaking for an hour now.
§ Mr. Carr
Not an hour. I want now to summarise what we are achieving by the Bill in relation to strike action.
First, no change is made in the individual's right to participate in a strike, and we make it quite clear that no court will be able to compel anyone to remain at work against his will. This is very important because of a misunderstanding that has arisen in the past. Orders or, as we used to call them, injunctions, are often believed to be made against the mass of people who are or may go on strike. That is not the case.
Secondly, anyone who calls a strike will be protected from an action in tort in the ordinary courts on the ground that he has engaged in a civil or criminal conspiracy, or on the ground that he has induced others to break their contracts, or on the ground that he has interfered with another person's trade or business.
Thirdly, any individual acting without the authority of a registered union or em- 982 ployers' association will be engaging in an unfair practice if he persuades others to strike in breach of their contract but action against such a person will be take-able only in the N.I.R.C.
Fourthly, a secondary strike will only be unfair if it is carried on in support of another unfair practice or if it forces any person who is not a party to a dispute to break a contract.
Finally, a number of clearly identified unfair industrial practices will be actionable in the N.I.R.C., whether the person engaging in them is a registered organisation or not. These practices may consist in calling or authorising in certain circumstances either a strike or any irregular industrial action short of a strike. But I should emphasise, as I emphasised on Clause 6, that collective industrial action short of a strike may be unfair if it involves a breach of the contracts of employment by some or all of the employees concerned.
I turn now to Part VI of the Bill, which deals with the institutions set up by the Bill. The N.I.R.C. is one of the key institutions which we propose to set up. Its existence shows in fact as well as in symbol that the provisions of the Bill will not be arbitrarily implemented by the Secretary of State of the day but will depend on the rule of law. The court itself will be something new in British justice. It will have the same status as the High Court but will consist of judges together with laymen who have special knowledge or experience in industrial relations. It will be able to sit anywhere in the country and an important feature will be the emphasis on keeping its proceedings simple and informal and avoiding, if I may say so, without disrespect to my lawyer friends, those attributes of an ordinary court which, to the layman at least, make the latter a rather forbidding place.
The N.I.R.C., however, will have the same rights and powers as the High Court in England and Wales and the Court of Session in Scotland. Another important difference from the proceedings in other courts is that there will be no equivalent to an ex parte injunction, which may be granted in the absence of one of the parties to an action, as is the case at the moment. The court will he obliged to take all reasonable steps to ensure that anyone against whom an 983 interim order is sought has been given notice of the application and has an opportunity to appear.
It is also important that the court should be a means of last resort and not of first resort. As I have often said before, our intention is that the Bill should provide a framework of law within which industrial relations may be improved. It does not provide either the excuse or the opportunity for litigation at the drop of a hat. Because of this, we intend that in cases which come before it the court will be obliged to satisfy itself that other avenues have been explored before it is resorted to. So the court will be able to ask parties to an action before it to use the services of the conciliation officers of my Department or, indeed, of other opportunities for conciliation which may be available. In its composition, its informality and its attitude on a number of other matters, the court will therefore be a new departure as one of the cornerstones of our policy.
Similarly, the Industrial Tribunals are to have an extended jurisdiction to match and will form the lower tier of the system. Broadly speaking, they will deal with individual cases while the N.I.R.C. will deal with collective issues.
The Bill also provides for the Commission on Industrial Relations, which at present operates under the provisions of a Royal Warrant, to be established on a statutory basis. I want to emphasise that we regard the Commission as having a leading role in the new system. Perhaps I may emphasise, to dispel some current misunderstandings, that many of the references to the Commission will continue, as we envisage it, to be of the present kinds and by the present procedures. Thus, the Commission will continue to tackle problems by exposure of the facts, and by analysis, argument and persuasion. The Government regard this task of voluntary reforms as the main job of the Commission and intend to give it every encouragement.
Finally, I want to say something about Part VIII of the Bill, dealing with emergency procedures. Perhaps understandably, but none the less unfortunately, a good deal of the commentary on the Bill has focussed too much on the emergency powers as if they were the central feature of the Government's proposals. I say 984 "unfortunately", not because I think these powers unimportant or unnecessary—far from it. Any modern society should have the right and I think has the duty to protect its members from threats to their lives, their health and their safety, wherever the threat may come from. But the Government see the emergency powers to defer a strike or to call for a strike ballot as a last resort and as marginal to the central purposes of the Bill. They will not prevent strikes; they can be invoked only to defer them, and only where the N.I.R.C. as well as the Secretary of State is satisfied that an emergency situation exists or is likely.
Quite aside from these protections of the right to call a serious strike, I must emphasise that the powers will only be available where the Secretary of State believes that the strike has been called with undue haste or that a period of reflection or further negotiation is desirable. I am certain that neither the present nor any other Government will lightly invoke these powers. I am equally sure that their existence will encourage employers and unions to do all they can to compose their differences before they embark on damaging Industrial action.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member knows that, if the right hon. Gentleman does not give way, he must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Atkinson
On a point of order. I must insist upon raising the point because the right hon. Gentleman has just contradicted something—
§ Mr. Ashton
Further to that point of order. Are you aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we have had already—
§ Mr. Ashton
On a point of order. Are you aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have asked that there should be no interruptions and interventions and noises from this side, but that in the debate on the consultative document only two back benchers, apart from Members making maiden speeches, were called from this side, and that your predecessor in the Chair said he hoped to call five or six speakers today, and tomorrow, apart from Front Bench speakers, who are taking an inordinate length of time? Will you allow some questions to the Minister so that people who know something about the subject can thus get in?
§ Mr. Atkinson
Further to that point of order. May I seek your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker? I seek your advice to find out how it is possible to raise questions with the Minister on something which he published today outside the House and which he contradicted in his statement just now? How is it possible for points of that sort to be raised with the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member will know that there are likely to be further opportunities for him, but not at the present time on a point of order.
§ Mr. Carr
I want to draw to a conclusion. It really is impossible to expound shortly a Bill of this nature. I know that, despite the length of my speech, there are many points with which I have not been able to deal, though I think I have tackled the most important ones, and in a two-day debate I trust there will be time for those I have not dealt with to be raised, and replied to by my hon. and right hon. Friends.
In conclusion, I want to stress that this Bill is the product of much thought by many people and organisations over a good many years, and that it is woven from various strands of knowledge and advice. Many of the proposals of Lord Donovan and his Commission are included. Whether or not we have adopted this or that proposal of their particular recommendations, or this or that important attitude, the fact remains—I think the House would wish me to say this—that their analysis and argument have had a profound influence on the development of thought about this problem, and, in one way or another, on the shape of our Bill.
I repeat, yet again, that the law can only help gradually in changing behaviour. It will be judged by the extent to which it supports the constructive evolution of the voluntary system of industrial relations in British industry. That is the test we set, and that is the test we shall be judged by. We do not expect the law to produce a direct or immediate effect, or to cure problems simply by the principle of punishing offenders. Good law will, however, assist, while bad law handicaps, responsible voluntary action. It will put on record what the community believes to be fair and reasonable conduct. It can help continuously and cumulatively to form opinion and mould behaviour. While it may be some deterrent against irresponsible action, its main purpose is to stimulate positive, responsible leadership by management and trade unions.
Having created a better environment, as I said in our debate two and a half weeks ago, the House and the country will expect such leadership from both sides of industry, and particularly from management, because, by definition, the duty to take initiatives rests upon management. Leadership must start at the top, with the chairman, directors, and senior managers of every company in 987 this country, because if they do not lead, no one else will follow. What we are creating are better conditions for positive leadership, first from management, and then from the trades unions. I believe that the new environment will promote that leadership, and it is with that hope and in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
May I say at the outset how much I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman? I can well understand his anxiety to get away. I can well understand how fatigued he must be, and what strain he has been under, because I have been in a similar situation myself. None the less, I would say to him that I hope that he will not have to dash away from the House till I have concluded my speech, because I have a lot of very direct points I want to put to him. I am afraid that they are going to be technical points, for the simple reason that this Bill is riddled with technicalities, and for the simple reason that, by the right hon. Gentleman's own choice, industrial relations in this country are going to be bedevilled by technicalities from now on—
§ Mrs. Castle
I am talking about legal technicalities. I really do say with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not good enough to come along to this House and say, when he is asked about one of the legal technicalities, which lie at the very heart of this Bill, "I am sorry, but one of my expert friends will answer". It is not good enough, because he is responsible for the industrial relations system and the conditions the Bill is going to create, and he, therefore, I should have thought, ought to have understood what it was he was proposing to the House.
I can assure him that none of his hon. Friends behind him understood a word he was saying from beginning to end. They did not. They nodded wisely at every generality, and a glazed look came over their eyes whenever the right hon. Gentleman became specific—just as a glazed look comes over the eyes of the public when we talk about making collective agreements legally enforceable, blah blah blah blab. They just nod and 988 wait when they are told that this Bill will help reduce strikes. They have not a clue how it will do so. The right hon. Gentleman has not shown how it will do so. They have no idea how this complex of 150 Clauses will impinge upon the industrial relations situations as they are. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not know, and the public do not know.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. The hon. Member knows that if the right lion. Lady does not give way he must resume his seat.
§ Mrs. Castle
No. I am sorry. I cannot give way. I have barely started. If on any specific point which I query anyone wants to challenge me, I will give way. I listened to the introductory homily by the right hon. Gentleman, as did my hon. Friends, with courtesy, attention and seriousness, and I suggest that hon. Gentlemen opposite learn a few manners for once.
I repeat that, much as I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman having had very little time to prepare his speech, none the less I find his inability to answer detailed points inexplicable. After all, he must have taken these points into account when he was drafting the Bill. I ought to know. I drafted an Industrial Relations Bill myself—[Laughter.] I learnt, and I know. The hilarity of hon. Gentlemen opposite just proves their unfittedness to deal with serious industrial relations problems. I know of the complexity and how one has to put wet towels round one's head and get the lawyers to explain it before one can proceed to draft a Clause.
The right hon. Gentleman must have done this when he was drawing up the Bill; or was it his Bill? Was it not rather the Bill of the Solicitor-General who was incarcerated in that special room at the D.E.P. for months and months? I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is merely the front man for the Government. That is why he can be so earnest and moderate in introducing a Bill that is far from moderate and is indeed a deeply frivolous and irresponsible Bill.
989 This separateness of the right hon. Gentleman from the policy of which he is nominally the author was revealed very interestingly in a remark which he made in the House only the other day. It was one of the most penetrating remarks I have heard for a long time, certainly from the benches opposite, on the subject of industrial relations. It was not a remark made this afternoon in the middle of his elaborate apologia for a complex Bill, but one made in the heat of an industrial relations situation, when we all suddenly come up against not the theories or the legal clauses but the facts of a situation in which men and women are on strike.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am sorry—the power workers' dispute. Challenged last Wednesday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition as to why the employers had not exercised their right under the constitution of the J.I.C. and taken the matter to arbitration unilaterally, the right hon. Gentleman replied:I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the House whether it is sensible for one side to push ahead with arbitration like that against the wish, or at least the willingness, of the other side."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1970; Vol. 808, c. 513.]I know that the right hon. Gentleman came along a couple of days later with a different explanation, but this was the instinctive response of a man of practical experience who had temporarily mislaid his Departmental brief. By that instinctive reaction the right hon. Gentleman has given us the whole case against the Bill.
I suggest to the House that the power workers' dispute is an object lesson in the sort of situation we shall have to deal with which it is worth spending a little time examining. Many people in this country support the Bill because they believe that through the exercise of legal sanctions the Bill will prevent the disruption of power supplies, just as they believe that, if it had been law, it would have prevented the "dirty jobs" strike. The Bill, of course, will do nothing of the kind. We all know why our dustbins overflowed. The strike was official, not in breach of procedure, and 990 it could not have been prevented under any Clause in the Bill.
The power workers' dispute is a little more complicated. There are on the Statute Book Acts which are supposed to prevent the disruption of electricity supplies. The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, and the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, make it a criminal offence for a person employed in an electricity undertaking wilfully and maliciously to break his contract of employment when he knows or has reason to believe that the consequences of his doing so will be to deprive people wholly or to a great extent of their electricity supply.
We have been through a traumatic week and have heard stories on the television about the effects of the interruption of supply on hospitals, on the elderly and on mothers with children, and one would have thought that in this situation these Acts would have been neatly applicable. Certainly people were deprived of their supply. Was it to a great extent? Was it done wilfully and maliciously? Was there a breach of the contract of employment? In the last resort only the courts can say.
The law is a complicated and chancy business, but the Electricity Council had no doubts; indeed it had people on television in the last few days saying that the inconvenience which the public had been suffering was not due to lack of contingency planning by the Electricity Council or the Government, but to the fact that the power workers had been working to their own rules and not those of their agreement.
In other words, the accusation has been made that the public has suffered this inconvenience because the power workers had broken their employment rules and so their contract of employment. The right hon. Gentleman has given implicit support to this view. Challenged in the House last Friday by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) who asked him if he thought he was doing his duty by not drawing the attention of the power workers to the existence of these ominous powers and how they could be caught under them, the right hon. Gentleman did not enter any cautionary note by saying that perhaps the power workers were not breaking the law, but 991 merely said, grandly, as we have heard him say it so often:… we on this side of the House do not believe in the detailed application of the criminal law to industrial relations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1970; Vol. 808, c. 821.]As is becoming rather usual, I am sorry to say, the right hon. Gentleman was not being entirely honest with the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—listen and judge. The right hon. Gentleman forgot to mention that the Government are retaining the criminal law in the Bill. The Bill merely repeals Section 4 of the 1875 Act. The right hon. Gentleman nods; he knows that it is spelt out in the Consultative Document. The Government are retaining Section 5 as, in the words of the Consultative Document,a necessary safeguard against industrial action leading to serious harm.I am not complaining about his retaining Section 5—it has never been used anyway—but I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman drops his air of injured superiority. The fact is that he merely prefers his criminal law in these situations to be general rather than specific.
The right hon. Gentleman is being disingenuous in other ways, too. He says that he prefers to rely on civil actions, though how he thinks this will encourage industrial peace is a mystery—a matter between the right hon. Gentleman and his Maker. I do not know an intelligent employer who believes he can promote good relations between himself and his employees by taking them to court. However, for the sake of this debate, let us accept the right hon. Gentleman's argument. If he knows his law—and if he does not, he had better start to learn it quickly because, from now on, we shall all have to employ legal advisers—he will know that a civil action could have lain in the power workers' case. Surely the right hon. Gentleman remembers Cunard v. Stacey in 1955? If he does not, he had better begin taking Lloyd's List Law Reports to bed with him, as the rest of us do. [Laughter.] I can assure hon. Gentlemen that they are merely proving that they are ill equipped to comment on the Bill, because law books have never been in such demand from the House Library.
992 Cunard v. Stacey was a case in which it was held that, as certain seamen had committed a criminal offence by conspiring to break their articles of engagement, they had also committed a civil wrong. And Cunard obtained an injunction against them for the civil tort of conspiracy. Therefore, in the power workers' dispute the Electricity Council, which has hinted that there has been a breach of contract, could have taken the power workers to court for an injunction as a civil case. Why did they not do so? Since we have heard all these stories in the last few days about the sufferings of the public, did the right hon. Gentleman press the Council to do so? If not, why not?
I suggest that this is the kernel of the whole argument between us over this Bill. The Electricity Council did not do so, and the Secretary of State did not press it to do so, because they all knew it would not have helped. They knew that the power workers were reasonable men, and not criminals. It was not done because this dispute, like other industrial disputes, will be settled by the good, old-fashioned, well-tried method of an inquiry—I was going to say by a Jack Scamp type of inquiry, except that the Government will be damned sure not to have Jack Scamp this time!
This is not a legal farce in which we are engaged, although I agree that it sounds like it. It is an industrial relations tragedy because this kind of legal fandango permeates the whole Bill. If the Bill is passed, a code of good industrial practice will become a museum curiosity. Instead we shall all need to have a code of court cases.
This Bill, as the lawyers are the first to admit, is a lawyer's paradise. It is not only a lawyer's breakfast; it is his dinner and tea as well. By the time the present Government have finished, the legal profession will be the only growth industry we have. It will not only be the Government who are finding millions of pounds more, as we are told in the financial Clauses of the Bill, not to promote constructive solutions, but so that the trade unions and their representatives can be prosecuted and the machinery be provided to make it possible; it will not only be the Government who are spending all these extra millions so negatively; 993 but it will also be industry and the trade unions who will be setting aside millions of pounds to employ lawyers to deal with industrial relations situations that ought to be dealt with by personnel managers and by well-trained union officials.
Let me give the House some examples from this Bill. First, on the matter of legal enforceability—
§ Mr. R. Carr
Since the right hon. Lady is very keen on the details of the Bill, would she point out under which Clause any trade union official may be prosecuted?
§ Mrs. Castle
Yes, I shall be coming, with great pleasure, to the details of the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I had just started when the right hon. Gentleman interrupted me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come to them now."] I am delighted. The right hon. Gentleman will have an interesting time. Let me give the House some examples. Legal enforceability of collective agreements used to be the central theme of Conservative policy. The Prime Minister himself from time to time has expressed this theme so movingly on television. The Conservatives have always made it sound simple and straight-forward. People were led to visualise big important industry-wide or plant-wide agreement, if both parties agreed, being made legally enforceable. However, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman too look at Clause 33 of the Bill which gives an absolute indication of the sort of complexity of detail that the law is reaching.
Clause 33 says that every collective agreement made in writing will be legally enforceable, unless there is an express provision to the contrary written into it. But how does the Clause define "collective agreements"? It defines them as any agreement made by any body "representing workers" which determinesany matters for which a procedure agreement can provide".Any body! Any matters! It must be remembered that we are supposed to be dealing with the law, and we are told that there must be a framework of law clearly defined in Statute.
Let us see what this means. It means that any works committee—any one of thousands of works committees throughout the country—when deciding on new 994 rules for the tea break, or on when the chaps can go to the smoking booth, had better not jot it down on the back of an envelope, or write it into the minutes, unless they have a lawyer to advise them on how to avoid making it legally enforceable. This is a vast extension of the area of legal enforceability which was never spelt out in the Consultative Document, nor in the speeches made by right hon. Gentlemen. Yet it is in this matter of legal enforceability that we begin to see the complex network of obligations now to be laid on trade unions.
§ Mrs. Castle
I do not want to give way because I am trying to give the House details. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to challenge me on a point I will give way—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] Very well, I will give way if the House wishes me to.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Could the right hon. Lady enlighten the House as to exactly what would happen if an agreement about two minutes' tea break became a matter of issue? There would be no question of prosecution or of anybody finding themselves in the dock, and there would be no question of fines. What grave disaster would overtake anybody if such a matter were jotted down on the back of an envelope and became a matter of issue afterwards?
§ Mrs. Castle
I am sorry, the hon. Gentleman is wrong, because any collective agreement defined in the terms which I have spelled out, if written down, can be legally enforceable by any of the Clauses of the Bill. I was just coming, had the hon. Gentleman not interrupted me, to the significance of Clause 34 which says that:It shall be an unfair industrial practice … to break … legally enforceable …agreements.
That is fair enough in the right hon. Gentleman's philosophy, but has the House studied Clause 34(2) which says that where a collective agreement is legally enforceable, the union shall not only be answerable for its own policy and its own behaviour, but must take "… all such steps as are reasonably practicable …"—what a bonanza the 995 lawyers would have over that one!—to prevent persons acting "or purporting to act" on its behalf from breaking the agreement; secondly, to prevent members of its organisation from taking such action; and, finally, to secure that the action is not continued and does not recur.
These impossible responsibilities are to be placed not only on trade unions, but on any organisation of workers. So the unions cannot escape by choosing not to register. Indeed, that is the whole idea.
What happens if someone "purports to act" on behalf of a party to one of these thousands of agreements which are made in factories and workshops up and down the country? One then has to turn to one of the many sanctions clauses dotted about the Bill, making sure to get the cross-references right, and spending hours on it. One has to turn to Clause 90 as amplified by Clauses 102 and 103, to say nothing of Clause 86, aiding and abetting, or Clauses 57 to 84 which spell out the processes and pitfalls of becoming registered.
No wonder personnel managers studying the Bill are going mad. As for trade union officials and shop stewards, they will have to drop all those courses of training on how to do their jobs properly and concentrate instead on mastering these legal intricacies.
But the right hon. Gentleman has not yet finished with them. There are Clauses 35 to 39, the "fictitious agreement" Clauses, which are some of the most iniquitous in the whole Bill. If, appalled and bewildered by the dangers of legal enforceability, negotiators say that they will have nothing to do with written agreements, the right hon. Gentleman himself, as well as other parties, can step in and set in motion the procedure which culminates, in Clause 39, with an order of the industrial court directing that revised provisions for procedureshall have effect as a legally enforceable contract, as if a contract consisting of those provisions had been made between those parties."As if"! But there is no contract here. The essence of the contract is that it is entered into voluntarily. How different 996 this Clause is from all the talk we had from the Prime Minister about giving this country "freedom and responsibility". Under this Government the unions alone will be asked to accept responsibility without freedom.
Does the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite really had better spend a little time reading the Bill which they are going to endorse so happily. Does the right hon. Gentleman know how the mere presentation of these proposals has already cast its shadow over the negotiations for a new engineering procedure to replace the York Memorandum—negotiations which, before these proposals were promulgated, were coming to a satisfactory conclusion? Heaven knows, it was long overdue. But now the unions have said—who can blame them?—that they will not sign any agreement unless it includes a provision that it is not to be made legally enforceable.
What is the right hon. Gentleman proposing to do under this Clause which he said is so essential to give us modern and satisfactory procedure agreements where they do not exist? Is the right hon. Gentleman waiting in the wings ready to step in and say that if the unions will not have any agreement without this written proviso, he will impose a procedure agreement unit by unit throughout the whole of the motor car industry? Does he really think that, if he did so, this would improve relations in the motor car industry?
How very different all this is from not only the terms, but the spirit of Donovan. Has the right hon. Gentleman not read Chapter VIII of the Donovan Report? Of course he has, because he quoted from it in the debate on the Consultative Document. The right hon. Gentleman, with great panache, quoted paragraph 500:It is imperative that the number of unofficial and especially of unconstitutional strikes should be reduced and should be reduced speedily.The right hon. Gentleman claimed that this meant that Donovan was in support of the proposals in the Bill.
It is typical of this Government's whole dishonesty over this matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes—that the right hon. Gentleman did not go on to quote 997 the very next paragraph in the Donovan Report, so I will remind the House that it said:The first and most important step to be taken in order to get rid of unconstitutional strikes is the reform of our collective bargaining system. This is our central recommendation. We cannot recommend anything that may jeopardise its success.That is why the Donovan Commission rejected the very steps which the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to take, his policy on legal enforceability and the imposition of procedure agreements, just as it rejected the other items in the right hon. Gentleman's penal package—his attitude to registration, to the closed shop, and to the sympathetic strikes.
The right hon. Gentleman's answer is astonishing. When we spell out the details of these legal powers, he said, we do not need to worry about them because they will never be used.
In fact, only last Thursday at Question Time, the Minister of State, when asked how many employers would actually take their own workers to court, said "Very few". But this is exactly why Donovan rejected these powers, pointing out that to make procedure agreements legally enforceable and then not to have them enforced would bring the law into disrepute.
Worse still, the right hon. Gentleman is admitting that these powers would be intolerable if they were to be used. Yet they are to be held in reserve and can be used. By whom? Not by the good employer, but by the lazy or vicious one—by the sort of chap with the kind of mentality which we saw on the David Frost programme on Saturday night. But these civil actions by employers by no means comprise the whole of the legal sanctions in the Bill. On the contrary, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, they form a relatively insignificant part of it.
The right hon. Gentleman likes to make great play of the fact that he does not propose to introduce the criminal law into industrial relations, unlike, as he claims, the Labour Government. But the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that lie is hiding behind a technicality. Indeed, one of the most significant and disturbing features of the Bill is the panoply of powers which he gives to the National Industrial Relations Court. Time and again, as we look at the sanctions proposals, we find that the 998 remedy for a complaint brought to the court is not only compensation; not just civil damages; but an order to refrain or a direction to do something—a cease or desist order, with which the law is so familiar.
Under Clause 90(3), a complaint that unfair industrial action has taken place, the penalty is compensation and an order to refrain.
Under Clause 92(3)(c) where someone can complain that a union has breached its rules, it is compensation and again an order to refrain.
Under Clause 93(2), where the registrar can take the union to court for breach of rules, again there can be an order on the union to take such action as will prevent a continuation or repetition of the breach.
I could go on with a large number of instances. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that any defiance of these orders is contempt of court. The right hon. Gentleman may say that it is not criminal contempt, but in its practical effects there is no difference: a person can be sent to gaol for it just the same. He says, "You cannot send a union to prison". O.K., but a union could not have been sent to prison under my White Paper, either. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how he would enforce his court's orders against a union? Would he impound its property? How would the orders be enforced? We have not had a word from the right hon. Gentleman about these practical effects.
The right hon. Gentleman goes on to imply that individuals will be protected from actions under his Bill. He says that under Clause 90(5) the court will not make an order or an award for damages against a trade union official, but only if the trade union official actedwithin the scope of his authority".What happens if it is shown that he did not act within the scope of his authority, and the onus of proof is on him? Will an order then lie against that individual, with all the potential liability for contempt? If so, at the end of the road individuals could go to prison under the Bill.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington. South)
What the right hon. Lady is saying is that because, at the end of 999 the day, prison is the sanction, the law is not in practice enforceable. Exactly the same arguments were advanced against having a Race Relations Act in this country. Nobody has been sent to prison under that Act, yet that legislation has had a real effect on people's behaviour and attitudes, because the vast majority of people in this country will allow their behaviour to be influenced by the law.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am interested to see the sudden conversion of hon. Gentlemen opposite to the Race Relations Act. [HON. MEMBERS: " Answer the question."] They are converted to it now. My reply to the hon. Gentleman is that what I am trying to do is to get his right hon. Friend to be frank with the House and the country. [HON MEMBERS: " Answer the question."] I am answering. This was the tenor of my argument. I am not saying that these powers cannot be used. What I am saying is that if they are used the effects could be exactly the same as under the criminal law. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, and he ought to be honest enough to admit it to the House.
The only difference in the right hon. Gentleman's case is that the order is made by the court, and not by him, but is he seriously arguing that it is desirable that a court, composed as his is, should have the far-reaching discretions in industrial relations matters which the Government are giving to it? This court will not be answerable to the House for the exercise of those powers. It will be presided over by a High Court judge accompanied by nominees of the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor; nominees who no longer have to be representatives of employers or employees, as they have to be in the composition of the present industrial court.
§ Mrs. Castle
They merely have to be two people who, in the view of the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor, have special knowledge and experience of industrial relations.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Is not the converse of the right hon. Lady's argument possibly truer, that there is no effective sanction, no prison at the end of the day, and the real criticism is that 1000 there is nothing to make the order effective?
§ Mrs. Castle
All I can say is that I wish the Government would decide which argument they are using. When one points out the potential powers under the Bill the Government say that the powers will not be used, yet for the non-use of these powers we are to have the expenditure of this money, this army of new officials and this elaborate legal procedure, but as yet the right hon. Gentleman has not put his choice to the House.
I believe that these powers can be used. Every hon. Member can make his choice. I believe that it is extremely dangerous for the future of the trade union movement that this lawyer-dominated and Government-dominated court should have the power to decide such matters as whether, for instance, a procedure agreement is unsuitable in any particular undertaking, and therefore a new one should be imposed by law; whether unrest in a particular plant has seriously impeded orderly industrial relations, and therefore a procedure agreement must be imposed; whether the Registrar is right in saying that the rules of a union are seriously defective, and that the registration of a union should be cancelled, with all the legal disabilities that that would bring.
I cannot say to the House that I believe these powers are unimportant because they are unenforceable. I think that the discretion of this court and of the Registrar are almost unlimited, and this has caused grave anxiety, not only among trade unions, but among those who are experienced in the law. Let us consider one example. If the Registrar, exercising his snooping powers, decides that there has been a "serious" breach of a union's rules, and that the union has not taken the necessary action to stop it, he can then go to the court which can direct the union to take actionrequisite to prevent a continuance or a repetition of the breaches of the rules".That illustration takes us straight back to the Pilkington case, which we discussed last time, in which there was a breach of the rules of the General and Municipal Workers Union because the strike was not called with the authority of the union's National Executive. That union has the sort of rules in that regard which the right hon. Gentleman says he wants to impose through his Bill, 1001 but under this Measure, which we are being asked to vote for so lightheartedly tonight, the Registrar—we none of us know who he will be—can go to the court, which can then direct the General and Municipal Workers Union to take action to prevent a continuance of that breach. How? Only by expelling the unofficial strikers who had defied its authority and yet, as I explained last time, no one would have been more alarmed at that disciplinary action being taken than the management of Pilkington's.
That case proves that in attacking the Bill as a fundamental attack on trade union rights and activities the unions are not seeking a licence for anarchy. They are merely trying to drum into the closed and prejudiced mind of this Government that they know more about the complexities of industrial relations than the Government do, and that by undermining the freedom of unions to exercise their own judgment the Government are merely cutting all our throats.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West) rose—
§ Mrs. Castle
No, I am sorry. Anybody who is experienced in industrial relation', and is aware of the needs that have to be met if we are to have industrial peace knows that there is no more irrelevant and dangerous piece of frivolity than the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for an agency shop. Look at what the right hon. Gentleman has told us about Clauses 41 to 45. Under these Clauses, any employee covered by a bargaining unit agreement can complain that a union does not "adequately represent" him. If 20 per cent. of the employees support him, a ballot can be held. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If a majority of those voting say that they want the union to cease representing them, it does so cease, and they can choose somebody else. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] One shudders to think what disruption that will cause. I cannot imagine a better charter for militants, and when hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer this kind of provision they merely show their total ignorance of what actually happens on the shop floor. They merely show for instance that they do not know how many times trade union leaders, whom they are so quick and happy to pillory in this 1002 House, fight a rearguard action against their own militants, and how many times wage demands presented by the unions are far less than they would have been it the militants had had their way. Now, in this Clause, the Government are giving a charter for the break-away unions in which the ballot result will go to the union which promises the chaps the most—and then this Government say that this is a serious contribution to dealing with the inflationary situation which the country faces.
No, this Bill is the climax of a series of miscalculations and mismanagements by this Government. It is based on the belief that one can cure the problem in 1970 by turning back the clock to the 1870's. Of course progress brings problems—all progress does—but one has to deal with them by the methods of the future, not the past.
There is no one on this side who does not want to reduce the effect of strikes, though it is folly to suppose, as the right hon. Gentleman has begun to do, that the only important thing is to reduce the number of strikes and that it does not matter if we increase their duration and intensity. Surely the experience of the last few days, when we groped our way through this place by candlelight, should have disposed of that belief once and for all—the belief that industrial action does not matter, so long as strikes are fewer, longer and official, which is what the Bill sets out to achieve.
If we want to reduce strikes, we do not need more legal restrictions; we need better psychology. What we need to do is remind ourselves that industrial relations are about people — frustrated workers on the one hand and, no doubt, very often frustrated managements on the other. We do not like the growing reliance on the strike weapon any more than the right hon. Gentleman does. In fact, speaking as a woman, a thing I do not think I have ever done before in this House—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. The hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Sally 1003 Oppenheim) has been here long enough to know that, if the right hon. Lady does not give way, she must resume her seat.
§ Mrs. Castle
I do not think that I can be challenged on being a woman, so the hon. Lady must forgive me if I do not give way.
But speaking as a woman, I think that the strike weapon is essentially a masculine device. It is crude, it is clumsy and it is often inefficient in achieving its avowed purposes. Let me also add, speaking as a product of this day and age, that it is an instrument which men and women of all sections of society have been driven to use from time to time.
We on this side want to move away from a situation in which workers, or doctors or consultants come to that, feel that the use of the strike weapon is appropriate to the morality of the society in which we live—and the prime responsibility for creating the moral tone of a society rests with Government.
What kind of morality have this Government preached? From their first breath, they have preached the morality that the world belongs to the strong, that we must all rely on our own strength, because this Government have nothing but contempt for the lame ducks, including no doubt the old-age pensioners or anyone else who has not been very good at looking after number one. One can only get unions to belong to a compassionate society if there is a compassionate society to belong to, and this Government have destroyed the compassionate society. What sort of example does it set when their first step is to take 6d. off the income tax at the cost of about £330 million, a sum which would have given our desperate old-age pensioners another £1 a week?
None of us who are opposing the Bill is doing so because he wants to give the all-clear to inflationary wage increases. This Bill will not cure inflation, any more than similar legal curbs on unions have cured inflation in Germany or the United States. In fact, it will make it worse because it throws away any chance of winning the co-operation of the unions in any policy of voluntary restraint.
As The Guardian put it this morning, the problem of inflation can be cured only by mobilising the more generous 1004 instincts of our whole society. It went on:It is because the Industrial Relations Bill, due to be debated today, is a symptom of a divisive, ugly and negative public mood that it is a step in the wrong direction.It is indeed. It is because the Bill is a symptom of a divisive, ugly and negative Government policy that we shall vote against it.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Normanton (Cheadle)
It is a privilege at long last to make my maiden speech and I crave the patience and indulgence of the House while I do so, as the newly elected Member for Cheadle, a constituency with many characteristics which distinguish it from most, if not all, others represented here. Although close to, and in many ways connected with, the greater cities of Manchester and Stockport, we are determined to retain our separate existence and individual identity and to be masters over our own fate.
Yet within the division there are four separate and distinctly identifiable communities with long and proud traditions of local independence and character. The village of Marple, with some 20,000 inhabitants, with Mellor and Ludworth, occupies a proud place in the history of the Industrial Revolution, the age of enterprise and inventiveness in technology as well as in social awareness, which was manifested by that great name in history Mr. Samuel Oldknow.
The urban district of Bramhall and Hazel Grove has 35,000 people, and to be a "Grover" depends on at least a generation, if not two generations, of residence in the community, but where, with Woodford, the most advanced and the deadliest modern technologies have found a ready home, thanks to the enterprise and initiative of such a world famous name as A. V. Roe, and where engineers and scientists have contributed in peace and in war to the economy of this country in so many ways.
From Bredbury and Romiley, with Compstall, an area with 20,000 people, flow to all quarters of the world the products of steel mill, heavy engineering and machine shops. To the west is the urban district of Cheadle and Gatley, which gives the constituency its name, and which has expanded in the last 25 years from relatively a mere village to its present size 1005 of 50,000 inhabitants. The industry has such world famous names as Simon and Oilwell playing a vital part in influencing its economic and social character.
Yet with all the importance of the major industrial enterprises in the constituency, the character of the whole division is still seen to be predominently residential, with probably the highest incidence of owner-occupation in all the north of England. The population is extremely mobile and it moves more frequently and freely than in any constituency I know. For a house to be sold three times in 12 months is by no means uncommon.
For any hon. Member, this great constituency sets a major challenge, for its political views are not dominated by parental tradition or local custom, the standard of service demanded from its hon. Member is based on a highly critical judgment of politicians and expectations from them and it has an almost unique ability to express its views in a highly articulate manner.
It is for these reasons that the seat was won by my predecessor in this House, who established for himself the reputation of being a good local hon. Member, a reputation for which some—perhaps I might say many—hon. Members would justifiably be proud. His involvement at national level with journalism, radio and television, in addition to his participation in the proceedings of this House, made his a household name. His defeat, on the 18th June, leaves him still with many friends.
For critical Cheadle is, and will continue to be so, critical of its hon. Members and Governments alike, whatever their complexion. But neither hon. Member nor Government need fear such criticism since most of it is analytical and constructive.
This House is today debating industrial relations. In a constituency with heavy engineering plants, a steel rolling mill and a considerable number of factories in the medium and light industrial classifications, one might be excused for expecting to find among its constituents a large volume of public opinion both deeply concerned with, and probably vehemently opposed to, the kind of legislative proposals which we are debating. Yet I assure this House that this simply is not the case.
1006 I entered this House after nearly 30 years of active personal involvement in one of the major industries in this country, and particularly of the North-West. I served it, in my firm, at district employer level, at regional and at national level. I also represent my industry internationally, in industrial relations as well as in commercial negotiations.
I ask the House to accept this as a personal statement of fact—not by way of a personal testimonial because I am sure that in this House one is expected to earn that by performance rather than by words—with my assurance that I view this Bill through the eyes of one who speaks for my industry and from within it and not through the tinted glasses of a party politician or as an occupant of an ivory tower.
Industrial relations in this country have traditionally been built up on the concept of a bargain of mutual benefit for the proper regulation of working conditions and reasonable wages, having regard to the merit and need of the worker concerned and the ability of the employer to pay—a bargain made collectively between responsible employers on the one hand and responsible representatives of those whom they employ on the other.
In the development of industrial relations over the past century, the stress has been on enabling trade unions to be effective and responsibly representative of their members. Legislation was enacted largely to enable them to carry out their proper functions in this field without fear of disruption or victimisation.
A basic condition of this concept was that a voluntary bargain was struck between responsible people whose word could be relied upon. In other words, they were, to use a hackneyed term, gentlemen's agreements—and it follows that gentlemen's agreements not only imply, but must essentially be based on, the principle that the parties concerned act like gentlemen in keeping to their word and bond.
It would be wrong, and it would be unfair to assume, that this position has entirely vanished. There are many industries—and in those many industries there are a very large number of instances of companies to which this applies—in which industrial relations can be, and still 1007 are, conducted along the lines I have indicated. But a number of things have basically altered this rather simple but long-standing accepted concept.
The first is the changed structure of industry, which has been effected by the growth of large firms and an often bewildering increase in the technological complications in some of these spheres. This, in itself, has tended to make it essential that detailed variations of wages, working methods and even working conditions should in some instances be resolved increasingly at or near the place of work. This has also led to a weakening of basic trade union authority and responsibility, which has stretched for a long time between those at the top of the union hierarchy and their representatives on the shop floor.
Secondly, there has developed, in consequence of this change of the balance of authority, a divorce of actual power from actual responsibility, and this has enabled many irresponsible and disruptive individual elements in industry to acquire shop floor power—to shelter under the immunity clauses of trade union legislation passed by Governments under circumstances which no longer prevail—and for the same people to be able to act irresponsibly and disruptively without fear of the consequence of their actions.
One consequence at least of this sort of situation, particularly if it gets into the hands of unscrupulous people, is that these people can bring about immense disruption. In effect, they are bound by no rules, no laws and no written agreements. Indeed, their aggression feeds on the success which this sort of action can only too frequently achieve under these circumstances. In brief, there is a situation akin to anarchy, and this is not, and never can be, the basis of a rational system of industrial relations to the benefit of employer and employed alike.
It seems to me, therefore, that one of the essentials now is to restore this balance of power and responsibility, to establish good faith between the parties and to establish rational rules under which the conduct of industrial relations can be properly and effectively conducted. This is essentially what I see this Bill to be aiming to do. It aims, first, to put back responsibility and authority into the hands of the trade unions, with an obli- 1008 gation on them to conduct their affairs in a reasonably democratic fashion. That being so, I fail to see why they should fear the Bill.
The Measure will also enable bargains which have been freely entered into to be properly observed, if not by good faith—and this happens in very many cases already, and I would not want the House to underestimate the extent to which that situation prevails—then, in substitution for it, by legal obligation of the kind we have with a contract of sale of goods between buyer and seller.
On the other hand, the Bill aims to take away from those who are not prepared to play the game according to long standing and accepted proper rules their right to act irrresponsibly and disruptively without fear of the consequences of their actions. It is only the wrongdoers who ever need fear the law, and that applies in many spheres of the law other than industrial relations. Those who conform to reasonable rules—and I stress that the rules must be reasonable and must be seen to be reasonable—have nothing to fear.
Employers, I must admit quite freely and frankly, are by no means faultless in respect of their responsibility for ensuring a proper and effective system of industrial relations. Good faith and good will are admittedly not capable of being imposed by law, but the enactment and enforcement of fair and equitable laws must foster the growth or the restoration of good faith and good will where there are not proper rules. In industries or companies where there are either poor procedural agreements or no procedural agreements the position will have to be rectified, and the Bill provides accordingly. The exchange of information, always provided that it is kept to reasonable proportions and will not put employers at an unfair disadvantage in negotiations or prejudice the commercial security of firms, can be beneficial, though there is some danger of exaggerating the importance in practice of this so-called opening up of data.
The growth of very large firms has thrown great emphasis upon the need for better communications and for better consultation between management and factory floor. I equally stress the need for better communications between and 1009 within responsible trade unions and their agents at the shop floor level. This is the part of the need to remedy the divorce of responsible union authority from the shop floor, and to restore effective union authority regulated and exercised under proper rules.
Remoteness—and it is a term that I have used on many other occasions and in many other contexts—is a dreadful disease which is gnawing away at so much of our national life, social and economic as well as political. This is particularly serious in its implications and effect on industry.
There is no substitute for good leadership; no substitute for good management. As firms grow larger the personal link of the employer as a human being comes into doubt. How can we have a gentleman's agreement and respect it as such when one gentleman does not even know of the very existence of the other, never mind his identity? How much worse is the situation which exists in some huge corporations I could mention where the worker at all levels is no more real than the ink on the computer tape and the employer is no more human than the heading on the firm's notepaper?
I see this Bill as a challenge to both management and men; to employers and trade union leaders. It is a challenge to trade unions to accept as a fact that British industry is in the twentieth cencentury—and near the end of the century, too—and that industrial legislation of the last century or the very earliest part of this century is substantially irrelevant in dealing with the situation at this end of the spectrum. Designed to protect, as it were, the hard-pressed minority, that legislation no wserves to let the minority oppress the majority from a position outside the law by which the majority, the nation as a whole, is bound. Rights, privileges, security cannot be divorced from responsibility for one's own actions.
It is perhaps advisable not to overlook the fact that most of British industry is still conducted by relatively small firms, and that in many of those firms industrial relations are still good, not only between the employers and the work people, and their representatives, but also between employers' organisations and responsible trade unions. It is only in certain sections of British industry, albeit very important 1010 sections, where action is at this stage needed.
I enter here one final but significant caveat. The Bill is not of itself the only means by which industry and commerce can be made more effective in performance and more rewarding to all parties engaged in it and enabled to assist the nation to become more prosperous, but it is undoubtedly an extremely important instrument and one which lies directly and exclusively in the province of Government.
There are other areas which I regard as of equal importance, each in their own particular way, which when put into operation alongside this Measure will prove to be a comprehensive formula for resolving the many dilemmas which have dogged British industry increasingly and for so long. One dilemma of particular significance is taxation. We need an end to the disastrous disincentive to effort which the present system has to all who are engaged in industry and commerce.
I ask the House to forgive me for having trespassed on one of the traditions of the maiden speaker by having talked at too great length, but I regard my entry into this honourable House as a challenge to me personally to make a humble but sincere effort to contribute towards solving the problem of industrial relations. One of the ways in which I see this being done is by the Bill being enacted. I am absolutely certain that by this Measure the Government will have made a major contribution to bringing industry and industrial relations right up to date.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Exchange)
I rise with trepidation to make my maiden speech, but I have pleasure in congratulating the previous speaker, the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) on his maiden speech. He will appreciate that I could not agree with what he said, but no doubt hon. Members look forward to his future contributions.
I understand that on occasions like this a new Member is expected to observe three conventions: first, to make a reference to his predecessor and constituency; secondly, to be brief; and thirdly, to be non-controversial. I shall try to observe the custom and practice 1011 of the House, but I hope that I shall be forgiven if I stray into the realms of controversy, because it is a very controversial Bill.
The Liverpool, Exchange constituency is typical of constituencies covering the central area of a large city. It has within its boundaries the main shopping, commercial and cultural centres of Liverpool, including the two cathedrals, the university, the Philharmonic Hall, the Mersey Tunnel and several miles of dockland. It is a paradoxical constituency, because the other side of the coin shows thousands of slums and near-slum properties, pre-war tenements and post-war multi-storey tower blocks of corporation flats. My constituents are mainly people in the lower-income brackets, and most of them are trade unionists.
My predecessor, Mrs. Bessie Braddock, was respected on both sides of the House. She was loved by the people of Liverpool, and her death a few weeks ago created a great sense of loss for Merseyside in general and the Exchange division in particular. Her service to her constituents gave her the reputation of being probably one of the finest constituency Members the House has seen. She will never be forgotten in Liverpool. I hope that I can follow in her footsteps, particularly in regard to giving service to her constituents.
The Bill has been hailed by its authors as a break-through in industrial relations but attacked by its opponents as an attempt to shackle and imprison the trade unions. Mr. Scanlon, leader of the A.E.F., has called it probably the most iniquitous piece of legislation ever to be put on the Statute Book. I agree, as I am sure many of my hon. Friends do. The hostile reception to the Bill by the whole trade union movement indicates the opposition to the Bill and the strong feeling it arouses.
I should like to refer briefly to several of the 150 Clauses in the Bill on which I feel strongly. I am sure that my hon. Friends will adequately cover other points in the Bill.
Clauses 5, 6 and 7, dealing with the question of trade union membership, the rights of workers and the closed shop, contain provocative and inflammatory conditions which will only lead to bitter strife in industrial affairs. The right of 1012 a worker legally not to be a member of a trade union will lead to more industrial recriminations than we have ever seen. Can any hon. Member honestly believe that a man would be employed on the Liverpool docks or at the Ford factory at Halewood if he were not a member of a trade union? Do hon. Members think that if such a man is employed there we shall have no trouble? Anyone who believes that is living in a fool's paradise. If the workers take action in those industries, what will happen? Who will be liable for the fines? Will it be the shop stewards, the local trade union officials, or the leaders of the unions concerned? Surely, recurring incidents of that nature will eventually lead to a complete breakdown in industrial relations.
The Bill's supporters feel that it will strengthen unions and reduce strife. We as trade unionists know that it will have the reverse effect. It will weaken the unions. It will give them and their members less legal protection and undermine the unions' authority.
The proposals in the Bill are based on the Taft-Hartley Act in the United States. Every student of industrial law knows that the law does not work in America. Far more days are lost through strikes in the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries with legal restrictions than in the United Kingdom. Legislation against strikes just does not work. These facts must be faced. The deliberate interference and intrusion by a Government into the affairs of the trade unions and their members is a retrograde step, turning the clock back nearly a century.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) have stated the Opposition's intention to oppose the Bill tooth and nail, line by line. I am also pleased to know that if the Bill is passed in its present from the next Labour Government will repeal it. The Bill is full of legal jargon, full of penal and punitive Clauses which will hamstring the unions as well as any straitjacket.
I understand that Sir Winston Churchill once said that jaw-jaw is better than war-war. In this instance, I should like to see more negotiation and less litigation.
A T.U.C. pamphlet on the Bill says:The Government's proposals offer the minimal additional legal protection to people 1013 in employment while creating a whole jungle of new legal hazards for workers acting through their own organisations to protect themselves.…Far from improving industrial relations these proposals could create innumerable new sources of friction within industry and generate the most widespread bitterness and anger.Far from strengthening voluntary agreements they would bring confusion into established voluntary procedures and undermine both the will of employers and the power of unions to bargain freely and realistically.These plans do not stem from any proper study of industrial relations problems, but from prejudice and political dogma.The Secretary of State is adopting a Canute-like attitude towards industrial relations. I feel that his optimism will be as ill-founded as that of that misguided monarch.
I shall conclude now, as I realise that many hon. Members wish to take part in this important debate, but I should like to make one final point. The Bill is provocative, myopic and ill-conceived. It is not a charter for better industrial relations but a charter for scab employers, for blackleg labour. In short, it is a prescription for industrial chaos. No Government, irrespective of their political colour, can ever hope to achieve industrial peace at the point of a gun or through legal sanctions.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye, and I hope to take part in further debates in the future.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Coombs (Birmingham, Yardley)
It is a great privilege to address this House, though it is rather unnerving on the occasion of a new Member's maiden speech. As the, I think, 111th virgin of this Parliament, I cannot help but be reminded of the old theatrical saw:Nothing is ever as easy as it looks. Everything takes longer than you expect. If anything can go wrong, it will—and at the worst possible moment.On that cheerful note I shall get on with what I have to say.
The trend of political swings during recent General Elections suggests that Yardley, my constituency, is very representative of Britain as a whole. Indeed, it is often said that as Yardley goes, so goes the country, so it is obviously a proud moment for me to represent a constituency that is in its way the barometer of British politics.
1014 My predecessor, loan Evans, represented Yardley for six years and served his party well as Government Whip and Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household.
Now, it may surprise hon. Members to learn that we have an historic heritage lurking within the suburbs of Birmingham, outdating even this Parliament, for in 1972 Yardley celebrates its 1,000th birthday, and to be the Member of the millenium, even if only in the parochial sense, is particularly pleasing to me.
Our country's industrial relations record is poor by any important standard, especially in regard to unofficial strikes, for it is the unexpected disruption which causes the greatest damage to our economy. Germany and other countries generally show that where management and trade unions work together everybody gains, and where they do not, everybody suffers. "Profits" is not a dirty word; it is the only means, in a free society, of providing and establishing full employment.
I would like, therefore, to speak about the economic as well as the industrial aspects which are so relevant to this Bill. The prime function of government in the economic field is to help people to create more wealth for the nation as a whole. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House share that common goal. For this is the only way in which we can help the elderly and the poor in our society; the only way in which we can provide equality of opportunity.
The practical difficulties in achieving this are, of course, enormous, but I often wonder whether they are not as much a result of our inability in the past to follow a coherent policy as the traditional factors that are so often advanced as excuses, such as balance of payments, and the rest. My political philosophy is simply that no policy can be judged unless it is tried out in its entirety. This explains our failure, under successive Government, to achieve a high rate of growth, because such things cannot simply be willed by the Government of the day; they stem from a basic platform of policy. In this I believe that any Government have three real options; first, to go all out for growth and hope that inflation will be absorbed within it, and this seems to me to be an easy, lazy and dangerous course to follow. 1015 Secondly, positively not to go for growth, with the certainty that our standard of living will not be comparable with that of other advanced countries by the end of this decade. That will mean, whichever party is in power, more and more selectivity in Government spending, although I believe that selectivity is an essential economic adjunct to creating growth and really helping the poor in our community.
Thirdly, and to me this is the most attractive proposition, is initially to create the right base from which our economy can grow at a faster and more consistent rate without unduly jeopardising the present parity of the pound. A nice balance to keep, of course, but one that is both possible and right. That is why I am particularly interested in our industrial relations proposals, for over a period of time I believe that, in conjunction with our tax changes—and the two things must be considered together—they will establish the type of platform to which I have referred—a sound structure for sustained expansion.
Certainly the long-term benefits will be of real value to our country. My only concern in the short term is that they could be prejudiced either by bloody-mindedness or fear from either side of industry. This country has a long history of industrial review bodies and joint councils, but the quality of their effectiveness varies enormously, within private industry and also within public corporations. The worst industries for stoppages are well known, but that is not to suggest that all their conciliation machinery is poor; on the contrary, some industries, like the coal industry, have highly professional and effective procedures; their problem is not the official but the unofficial stoppage.
On the other hand, the procedure methods in other industries breed frustration, and because of delay encourage irresponsible attitudes. The engineering industry is an example. The Minister has mentioned the C.I.R. and the part it will play. I endorse his remarks. I therefore suggest that we should have C.I.R. regional supervisory boards to cover all major industries within a given area. They could investigate at their own instigation without reference—unlike the Department of Employment the effect- 1016 tiveness of existing procedure agreements. Where these were found inadequate they could advise both management and unions how best to put their house in order, ensuring that the right relationship existed at the national, regional and local levels.
In cases where these recommendations were ignored both sides of industry could be referred by the C.I.R., as in the Bill, to the industrial courts. It should be obligatory on both management and unions that all agreements must contain a clear commitment, effective beyond the term of contract, that before resorting to strike action disputes must be referred to this type of review. In this I include employment contracts. The very fact that an independent opinion, outside the industry, has been passed on any dispute will go a long way towards limiting the rejection of that recommendation.
If disputes subsequently come before our industrial courts they would find it much easier to reach speedy decisions if these procedures had already been followed and, where industrial courts are not involved, public opinion would be in a much better position to pronounce judgment. I know that many people will say that if management and unions can always take their differences elsewhere, inevitably they will never settle amongst themselves. That is partly but not wholly true. Very much depends upon the responsible attitude that is taken by both sides in using conciliation services.
The big difficulty in our industrial relations is that so often workers on the shop floor work independently of union leadership. We have too much plant bargaining, and even in those industries where national agreements are reached they are often invalidated at plant level. We need a more effective two-tier system which combines for all industries minimum national wage agreements and allows for local productivity deals. But whatever we do we must re-think parts of the present system—generally over 50 years old. They work reasonably well for official but not unofficial stoppages. Our Bill will help, but it needs to be supported by procedures at plant level and it is important to see that these procedures are used and not ignored.
Creating the right climate of good will for our industrial relations proposals is 1017 essential, and this will be seen very much against the background of incentives, savings and inflation. One move would be to encourage both management and trade unions to relate at least part of wage increases to annual bonuses. There is clear evidence—for example, in the Japanese economy—that this stimulates more savings. But most important, I see our strategy in using the next two years to revolutionise our tax system, as Iain Macleod promised, and to modernise the attitude and responsibility of both management and unions. Then and only then shall we have the right basis for going all out for economic growth. If, in so doing, we have to have a temporary flexible exchange rate for a limited period, so be it, because then and only then shall we be able to build up a trading surplus that will go hand in hand with expansion.
I made a point recently of talking to three shop stewards and found that, without exception they welcome our proposals. Theirs is a very different attitude from that of the T.U.C. and the party opposite. They think that these reforms are long overdue and will go a long way to shake up management inertia, as well as strengthening trade union control at plant level. When I asked Vic Feather what action trade unions could take against the persistent unofficial striker, he said, "You tell me what we can do to them. We can withdraw union membership, but what penalty would that be?".
It seems, therefore, that as the trade unions are incapable of controlling their own extremists, the law must do it for them. This way the persistent unofficial strike leader will suffer, and rightly so.
I believe that simply because this Bill is on the Statute Book, it will have a moderating influence. Just as important, it will encourage trade union unity. I do not accept the argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite—trade unions will he more unified and less fragmented as a result of the Bill. This must be right for our prosperity as a nation.
The success of the Bill in restraining and moderating will not be so much in its use as its presence—like the constable on the beat, it reminds us that our behaviour must have regard to the interests of others. If I were a trade union leader, I would welcome the Bill. It would put me in a much stronger bargaining position with the extremists and 1018 I believe many trade unionists secretly share this opinion. They may oppose the Bill publicly as do the Opposition, but with some—not all, of course—it is simply a tactical political move. If ever we needed a reminder of how essential it is not only to have this Bill but also to look again at some of the work-to-rule procedures, we have it now. We must ensure that the armed forces are capable of coping with emergencies where the public interest is at stake.
The Communists and militants are trying to scuttle this country by encouraging inflationary wage demands and they must not be allowed to get away with it. Wage moderation breeds price moderation and vice versa. Neither should be allowed to get ahead of the other without big productivity gains. As prices are still far behind it is obvious that wage restraint must come first.
The greatest number of strikes are among the higher-paid workers and, as always, it is the underdog, the lower-paid worker, the pensioner, who suffers most of all. We cannot say, "Good luck to the inflationary wage settlements" on the one hand and, "Good luck to the old-age pensioner" on the other; it does not make economic sense. The threat to our prosperity as a nation and thus to our democracy is almost as great now as at any time in peacetime. The Labour Party and the trade unions are being used as tools and either they are too bigoted to acknowledge it or too frightened and weak to resist it.
§ Mr. Coombs
It is, broadly speaking, fair to say that the United Kingdom is the only advanced industrialised country at present without legislation of the kind envisaged in the Bill and the sooner that is changed, the better. The Opposition should recognise its responsibility in this regard and not substitute instant opposition for instant Government, for in so doing it does a great disservice to the real interests of the British people.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh McCartney (Dunbartonshire, East)
Like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Coombs), I rise to make my maiden speech, but I should like to assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not one of the virgins to whom he referred during his remarks. Nor am 1019 I inexperienced in industrial relations, having been responsible for 25 years for negotiations at all levels, from plant to national level.
I should first like to make some references to my predecessor. Cyril Bence was known to all Members of the previous Parliament, and those before it, as one of the most active and able debaters in this Chamber. He covered a wide range of subjects with skill and determination, and if I manage to cover some of them during my period here, I shall feel proud. During the 19 years that he represented Dunbartonshire, East he came to be loved and revered by all the community. Throughout the whole of Dunbartonshire, which is the biggest electorate in Scotland, Cyril Bence is held in very high esteem indeed. He became known as a good constituency man, a man prepared to work hard at all times in the interests of his constituents, whether they were his known supporters or otherwise. I am sure that we all wish him a long and happy retirement.
It is interesting to note that when Cyril made his maiden speech on 7th November, 1951, talking about that strange commodity, money, he said that there were very few pounds around, especially in the pockets of the workers of Clydebank and Clydeside generally. When I reflect on what has been happening recently, I do not think, relatively speaking, that there has been a great deal of change, because the Clydebank and Glasgow area generally have suffered most from the rundown in heavy engineering, shipbuilding and boiler-making. We have recently suffered closures of plants and redundancies in some of our major industries.
This is not conducive to good industrial relations; it creates suspicion of management, and tensions. I am certain that had this Measure been on the Statute Book now, the relationships between management and workers would be even worse. The efforts of the trade union representatives at area and national levels who have been involved with Government ministers and with employers in trying to resolve the problems would have been made worse if they had had to operate under the system which this Bill seeks to impose upon them.
1020 Irrespective of what is said tonight, at the end of the day it will make no difference to the result of the Division. That the debate takes place is good because it emphasises that the Bill is one of the most iniquitous pieces of legislation that any Government, Tory or otherwise, have sought to put on the Statute Book dealing with industrial relations. In spite of the blandishments held out in some of its Clauses, it seeks completely to shackle the trade unionists and trade union organisations; it seeks to contain and restrain them from functioning in the traditional way by which they represent their members in the best way possible and achieve the best for them in prevailing conditions.
Because of the dogmatic and doctrinaire attitude of the Tory Party, evidenced in some speeches, the Bill is flying against the advice of all those who are well informed, who have spent years involved with industrial relations and who have consistently said in discussion, on the issues covered by the Bill, over the last couple of years that this was not the way to do it. They are flying in the face of this advice simply to satisfy the hounds on the Conservative back benches. They are proposing a legal structure substituting litigation for negotiation. It makes law supersede justice. It enables hon. Gentlemen opposite to express their usual law-and-order gambits.
We have had the catch phrases used time and again in the past. We know that members of the Tory Party will cheer anyone who is prepared to stand up and talk in these terms. It bodes ill when members of a Government are prepared to use these expressions to justify their actions in promoting legislation. I am concerned at the sinister nature of this legislation and of some of the speeches made by Tory Ministers.
I was especially concerned about the remarks of the Prime Minister to the General Assembly of the United Nations on 23rd October. He said:Moreover, we must recognise a new threat to the peace of the nations, indeed to the very fabric of society. We have seen in the last few years the growth of a cult of political violence, preached and practised not so much between States as within them. It is a sombre thought, but it may be that in the 1970s civil war, not war between nations, will be the main danger we will face.1021 Could it be that the Prime Minister, when speaking, was not so much concerned with the context in which part of that speech was made—the troubles in Northern Ireland—as concerned about the results of the social and industrial legislation of the Tory Cabinet, and that he recognised that in this country, except for the odd sporadic occasions through the years, there has been a tradition of peace and quiet and good relationships with each other irrespective of the political differences that may have occurred. I am certain that that was not far from his mind.
Is it possible also that a job will now be found for those Gurkha troops spoken of in the Chamber by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs some weeks ago? Surely these troops will not be brought here purely and simply to empty the chamber pots in the Palace. Nor is it likely that they will collect dung on Horse Guards' Parade for distribution in Kew Gardens.
These matters suggest to me that the Government fully realise the implications and the social upheaval that can be caused by the legislation they are pushing through. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), following the Government's statement on the mini-Budget, said that the Government had declared war on the working class. That is also my opinion.
If that is true, surely no one believes that the industrial worker will rush to join an industrial peace pledge union. Surely the Government must accent that the natural reaction to this attack on workers' conditions and on their organisation will result in at least a measure of fight-back and resistance which has not been required of them in the past. That is something which responsible trade unions do not want to occur. Trade unions prefer to see a continued era of peaceful negotiation in industry, where trade unions are free to bargain for their members, and a truly free society where they can function on behalf of their members.
But if civil strife occurs, the responsibility lies squarely on the Government's shoulders. It will not be reverting to the 1926 situation. There will be no general strikes. There are much more sophisticated ways of fighting our battles these days than there were then. There are no 1022 tram-cars now, except in the Tory back-wood of Blackpool, where a few still operate. Even if there were, I doubt whether there are sufficient reactionary students to operate this service, and others, as they did in 1926. Large numbers of students now come from ordinary working-class homes. The working-class man's children are in the universities and colleges. They are showing already their attitude to the Bill. They have demonstrated in various places their opposition to it and their support for the industrial worker.
Although ostensibly designed to reduce friction in industry and the number of man-hours lost during industrial disputes, the Bill will have the reverse effect. When the mass of workers in the major industries, with the power in their hands and feet to exercise the right to protect their interests, reject the Act when it goes on the Statute Book, will they all be put in prison?
A well-known trade union leader has said:Put one trade unionist in prison and we will stop the whole of industry.He will not have to call hard to have action taken should the Bill be passed.
As people who have been involved in negotiations in industry and who know something about the shop floor and the complexities of life, especially in the big industrial plants, we recognise that there is inefficiency in management as well as on the trade union side. We recognise also that many industrial disputes are caused by a complete lack of interest on the part of management to the problems that arise from the changing circumstances in industry. We are prepared to see a system where there is free negotiation. We are opposed entirely to the system proposed in the Bill, which will involve everyone in litigation of one kind or another.
During the course of my work I have been involved in industrial accident prevention over a long period of years. It surprises me to hear the furore that strikes, including unofficial strikes, evince in the breasts of our Tory friends, when not a word is spoken about the colossal loss of man-hours through industrial accidents and reportable sickness in industry. The figure for 1969 is about 23 million man-hours and when that is posed against 1023 the 1970 figure of man-hours lost through industrial disputes of just over seven million, one wonders where our priorities lie.
The Government should drop the Bill and adopt the Private Member's Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) is introducing, even with its very limited measures, to bring into industry compulsory safety committees, because even this small Measure would have a far greater effect in establishing good industrial relations than this or any similar Bill intended by the Government.
As I know that other hon. Members are anxious to speak, I shall close my remarks. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to speak and for your tolerance during the course of my address. If I ever catch your eye again, I hope I shall be as non-controversial as I have been today.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. D. G. Stewart-Smith (Belper)
I should like to say a very special thank you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me today. My grandfather, Dudley Stewart-Smith, was the Liberal Member of Parliament for South Westmorland, and he spoke in the great historic debate of 1906. If I had been alive at the time I should have supported giving the unions the privileges which they then obtained. But I support the Government today in withdrawing privileges. I had occasion to read the HANSARD report of what was said in that debate, and, bless me, the same arguments are going round and round the Chamber tonight: how, in a free society, to enforce contracts freely entered into.
I am glad to say that my constituency has happy industrial relations. In Belper town the hosiery unions and managements work together. In the south, in Swadlincote, the miners and the Coal Board have a remarkably restrained and harmonious attitude. We have been led to believe by some hon. Members opposite that miners are endlessly wanting to come out on strike and have been disgusted with certain pay awards. In South Derbyshire the opposite is true. I have been most impressed by the very high standard of mining economics amongst the face-worker miners. They know that what is good for them is coal coming up the 1024 shaft, and that anyone who stops it is their enemy.
It has been the custom recently to attack my predecessor, but I will have nothing to do with it. During the General Election campaign, at all times he was a most fair and charitable opponent. He seemed to have a vitality, a life, a humour and a character which the Palace of Westminster would be a poorer place without. From the very beginning, I have advocated that he should go to the other place—and not just to make way for me—and I am certain that I speak for the majority of my constituents when I say that we wish him well in a very fitting culmination to a distinguished career.
As a new Conservative Member, I find myself in the slightly unusual position of having 32.000 Labour supporters in my care, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will hear with me if I pursue a point which has been raised by a number of lifelong members of the party opposite. There is a tradition in this House that maiden speeches are non-controversial. However, if I have to choose between justice and controversy, there are limits to my conservative nature.
Mercifully, the closed shop and its tyranny will be killed off by this Bill. But some of the background to the intimidation in our unions is an unlovely chapter in our history. We had the brutality revealed in the Rookes v. Barnard case, yet one of the earliest laws put on the Statute Book by the party opposite was the Trade Disputes Act. 1965. which reversed that decision.
We have been invited by my right hon. Friend to criticise the Bill. I want to give tongue to a small group of people who are very concerned about the agency shop agreement. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is quite specific: no one should be compelled to belong to an association. When in Government, the party opposite pledged Her Majesty's Government to uphold that Declaration.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mr. Parry) said that anyone wanting to breach the closed shop was living in a fool's paradise. But it is a free man's tyranny that the denial of this right exists.
In 1966, the Conservative Trade Unionists National Advisory Committee 1025 demanded that the closed shop should go. It described the power of the unions in this connection as "savage beyond feudalism" and said that it should be curbed. In my view, the Government should have some loyalty to their supporters. After all, they number some 3 million.
When the Conservative Party gave evidence to the Royal Commission on Trades Unions in 1966 it said:We are in favour of 100 per cent. trade unionism, but we feel this must be achieved on a basis of recruitment and example. We are utterly opposed to making trade union membership a condition of employment. … We regard this as an absence of elementary human rights.In the debate in this House on 12th August, 1966 the then Minister of Labour, the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), clearly said that he supported voluntary membership, and that is precisely the sort of fair-minded attitude that the nation has come to expect from him.
A closed shop is not legally required in social democratic Sweden and West Germany. Neither country finds the closed shop necessary. The brutality of how it works was shown vividly in the case of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association at the British Railway depot in Derby. There, a man who refused to join a union, Mr. Hartington, was thrown out of his job, and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) took up his case, since he was told that there would be no appeal, no pension rights and no compensation. The Government's response to this is to legalise the agency shop, which in many ways is a continued form of closed shop, plus or minus a few days.
Clause 5(3) of the Bill says:Where an agency shop agreement is for the time being in force between an employer and a trade union, a worker to whom the agreement applies shall not have the right to refuse to be a member of that trade union unless he agrees to pay appropriate contributions to the trade union in lieu of membership of it and accordingly it shall not be an unfair industrial practice for the employer, or for any person acting on behalf of the employer,—The agency agreement merely allows a worker to take up employment on condition that eventually he joins the union, or pays the money to the union or to a charity. In my view, that is indefensible. In effect, it is a deliberate denial of the right of a worker not to join a union. Surely it is intolerable. Why should a worker be answerable to some petty trade union for his decision? Why should he have to pay money to a union which he does not support? Why should he have to pay to an alternative charity? Why should Conservatives be expected to connive at this sort of intimidation?
- (a) to dismiss, penalise or otherwise discriminate against any such worker on the grounds that he is not a member of that trade union and has not agreed, or has refused or failed, to pay such contributions to it, or
- (b) to refuse to engage as an employee a person who, if so engaged, would be an employee to whom the agreement applies, on the grounds that he is not a member of that trade union and has refused to become a member of it and has also refused to pay such contributions to it.
I have constituents in the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association who, under the existing closed shop agreement with the British Railways Board, have to go before their local trade union representative and a local manager to explain why they do not wish to join a union. I have the relevant documents with me. They are advised that they had better join for the good of their career. If they still refuse, they have to go before an appeals body which in many cases is not much better than a kangaroo court. Often it is made up of trade unionists or ex-trade unionists, and its power is the ultimate sanction of dismissal. Those provisions remain in this Bill.
Another aspect of the agency shop agreement affects professional men. I have been approached by a large number of professional engineers in Rolls-Royce. They are almost always a minority group, yet they may be compelled against their better wishes to be subordinated as a minority by a large non-professional majority, and this can lead to "blacking".
I have a letter from the United Kingdom Association of Professional Engineers. It is dated 4th December, and it may interest hon. Members to consider the subtle pressures which will be put on the agency shop:If the professional man is not protected by clear legislation, pressure can be brought to bear upon him by the process known as 'blacking'. Its existence is impossible to prove to the satisfaction of a tribunal. A number of professional engineers are at this moment under sentence of blacking at a Midland firm 1027 because of their refusal to join D.A.T.A., a union that has no representative right over them whatsoever. Their instruction notes are ignored and work stops if they enter any department but their own. D.A.T.A., which is the Technical and Supervisory Section of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, have obtained the assistance in this blacking' of the other unions affiliated to the Trades Union Congress.Surely a Conservative Government will not connive at or approve of this sort of conduct. It applies also to doctors, students and local authorities.
The only answer to prevent this subtle pressure is the total abolition of the agency shop. I do not see why any worker should be answerable to anyone, to me, to any other Member of this House, to the trade unions or to the employers. He is answerable only to his Maker. That is a man's right, not a privilege; otherwise, unless there is such safeguard in the law, there is no realistic safeguard against unfair dismissal from employment on other rather specious grounds. I make a specific request to my right hon. Friend to delete all reference to the agency shop from the Bill. This is not a small matter—the closed shop affects 3¾ million workers.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised a great reforming Administration. I want to see the creation of a free society in which the trade unions are held in very high public esteem as being voluntary associations of free men and not dragooned serfs. The only safeguard is the existence of free riders and non-unionists with absolutely clear rights. If they are not given those rights, there is no safeguard.
When choosing a man whose judgment would uphold the rights of workers and the right of the ordinary working man to work, the people of the constituency of Belper did not choose a lifelong trade unionist; they did not choose the deputy leader of the Labour Party—they chose an uncompromising libertarian.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Following five successive maiden speakers is a responsibility which I do not believe that I or any other Member have ever faced before. It almost reminds me of the virgins in the city square at Leeds. There are 12 of them. But I am not 1028 a political maiden. I have been 50 years a member of my trade union and therefore the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith) will understand that at least I speak from long experience if I speak with 50 years of prejudice behind me.
I want to say something about maiden speakers. I congratulate those who have spoken for the first time in the debate. I want to tell them what Peter Thorneycroft, as he then was, told me after my own maiden speech 21 years ago. He said, "That is probably the easiest speech you will ever make in this House. They get tougher as you go on." I want to tell one or two of our maiden speakers tonight—I shall not single them out—that there was an old tradition that an hon. Member either asked for indulgence or did not. F. E. Smith did not ask for indulgence and he spoke for 65 minutes attacking the Liberal Government. Sir Edward Carson said to him, "There is only one thing wrong with that speech." F. E. Smith asked, "What is it?" Carson replied, "There are too many good things in it." Smith was immediately invited to join the Front Bench. Keir Hardie never asked for indulgence.
Generally speaking, if an hon. Member does not ask for indulgence, he presumes on the House and it is a fact that a maiden speech must never be reflected upon adversely in subsequent debate. This, I ask the hon. Member for Belper to understand, inhibits some of my hon. Friends. Sitting behind me is a distinguished member of D.A.T.A. Had the hon. Gentleman's not been a maiden speech, he would have intervened, and probably have justly done so. An hon. Member making a maiden speech presumes on the House and believes that he will not be interrupted. He has everyone at his mercy and to that extent he must observe the decencies.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I hope I am right in thinking that the right hon. Gentleman's strictures, which I think were not unjust, were at least spread across both sides of the Chamber.
§ Mr. Pannell
I greatly enjoyed the speeches of hon. Members opposite. There were maiden speeches on both sides. I do not particularise, but some of them were more non-controversial than others.
I look upon this as a symbolic Bill. I am not very much interested to examine 1029 the small print. The test of the Bill is whether it meets the mood and the purpose and is right in timing. The Secretary of State is now dealing with one of the great estates of the realm—and the trade union movement is an estate of the realm. It has struggled for 100 years to make itself one of the great movements that can give or withhold supplies, and that is the definition of an estate of the realm.
It is probably true that, despite its struggles since the early days of the Reform Bill, it never achieved full maturity until the greatest of all Labour Secretaries of State, the great Ernest Bevin, insisted throughout the war that trade unionists should be given equality on every body. Now that has become the rule and, indeed, when the Tories got back in 1951, Winston Churchill was at great pains to appoint Sir Walter Monckton so as to get on the right key with the trade union movement.
I am rather surprised and, indeed, a trifle upset that the present Government should have started off directly not to meet the trade unions but to antagonise them.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
§ Mr. Pannell
It is no use the Under-Secretary of State shaking his head. I am speaking of the mood of the moment, something for which he shares responsibility. The time allowed for consultation on the Bill was far too short. Admittedly the Government had already put it in "Fair Deal at Work", but legislation starts with an election and the fact is that the trade unions consider that they have been sharply dealt with.
It has to be borne in mind that the trade union movement—[Interruption.]—was of itself born of a voteless peasantry and proletariat—[Interruption.]—and that for over 50 years the trade unionists in this country were inarticulate in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Even a right hon. Gentleman cannot address the House against the background of a second debate.
§ Mr. Pannell
The trade union movement was largely politically inarticulate, so what the Government propose to do 1030 to the movement must be seen against the background of a movement that had been striving for an increasing purpose and an increasing share of a proper say in industrial arrangements.
I looked up the debates on the Trade Disputes Act, 1927, the last great trade union Measure brought in by the Conservatives. It is indicative of the climate of that time—and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will never be guilty of this—that, in order to bring that Measure in, the long-promised Factories Act was put hack, together with a repeal of the Poor Law which the Conservatives had in mind for that Session in order to take away the vote from the unemployed who were in receipt of Poor Law relief. That had been demanded by the Conservative Party Conference.
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not know about that, but if the Secretary of State will bear with me he will understand that I took some part in that sort of controversy. When I consider the trade union movement, I combine a sense of justice with a tinge of memory.
I propose now to refer—and perhaps no one else will do so—to the setting up of the great new bureaucracy proposed by the Government to deal with trade unionists. The Department will need 90 more staff; the N.R.C. will need 40; the Industrial Tribunals will need another 320; the Commission on Industrial Relations will need about 435 additional staff; the Chief Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers' Associations will need 50 staff. All together about 1,250 extra staff will be recruited and the Bill and all that is enshrined in it will cost £5 million per annum. I am just wondering how much of that will go to the lawyers. There is no question about it—it is a new industrial bureaucracy. I do not know whether the Secretary of State wants to intervene. I think lie was disagreeing with me.
§ Mr. R. Carr
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's giving me this opportunity. I expect he knew that the cost of his right hon. Friend's Bill, which was printed last summer but never debated, would have been a little under £4½ million, which is not very different. As to the great industrial bureaucracy about 1031 which he speaks, some 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the extra people will be engaged in conciliation. Unlike the right hon. Lady, I do not believe in boasting about how few of my Department are engaged in conciliation. I shall be glad when a higher proportion of them are.
§ Mr. Pannell
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman takes some pleasure in the fact that he is going to copy my right hon. Friend and then add another £500,000 on top.
§ Mrs. Castle
It is necessary to correct the distorted picture which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has given, because the cost of my Bill included the cost of a trade union development scheme which the right hon. Gentleman jeers at. I calculate that, taking away the cost of the tribunals for unfair dismissals, on which we are both agreed, the additional cost of this bureaucracy to control the trade union movement under the right hon. Gentleman's Bill will be about £3 million.
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not want to get bogged down in that matter entirely of the set-up of the industrial court but it does seem to me to be unnecessary bureaucracy.
§ Mr. R. Carr
I am sorry to do this, for I do not wish to keep interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but when he talks about bureaucracy and a large increase in staff, we are talking about conciliation staff.
§ Mr. Pannell
I think this whole thing will be a lawyers' paradise. I came across this quotation which was used by Philip Snowden on the Trade Disputes Bill in 1927. I only use it because he quotes Winston Churchill in an earlier incarnation. He said:It is a very unseemly thing, and indeed in the House of Commons we must regard it as such, to have the spectacle we have witnessed these last few years of these workmen's guilds, trade union organisations, being enmeshed, harassed, worried and checked at every step and at every turn by all kinds of legal decisions, which came with the utmost surprise to the greatest lawyers in the country. It is not good for trade unions that they should be brought into contact with the Courts 1032 and it is not good for the Courts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1927; Vol. 207, c. 2164.]Yet these are courts, and one of the prime objections I find to this Bill is that it will lift industrial relationships into the purely legal atmosphere, where precedent will be added to precedent and very few things will be discussed on their merits.
I want to come to one vexed question, the closed shop, because I do not think there has been enough experience in the right hon. Gentleman's Department to understand what that means. In speaking about the closed shop I am speaking about the pre-entry closed shop. I want to ask the hon. Gentleman one straight question. It is a very short one. Does he think recruitment of staff for industry is purely the prerogative of management?
§ Mr. Pannell
Does he think that recruitment of staff for industry is purely the prerogative of management?
§ Mr. Carr
I think management must be responsible, obviously, for the recruitment of staff. I think it is absolutely proper for management and trade unions to have agreements about, for example, qualifications which are needed for staff, but that is a very different thing from having to have a pre-entry closed shop.
§ Mr. Pannell
I carry in my pocket my trade union card, which is not only a trade union ticket but a qualification. My trade union ticket will take me to work as a tool maker, a mould maker or a millwright whereas another ticket from my own trade union would not so qualify me. When I was a convenor of shop stewards we discussed the qualifications needed by men for the jobs, with their differentials and rights, and for 15 years before I had come to the House I never believed, nor did my management believe, that the recruiting of staff for the shop in which I worked was a prerogative of the management alone; it had to be shared.
This leads me to other considerations about this question of the closed shop. The machinery which the right hon. Gentleman proposes would cut across the grain of society. What happens in a club if a man does not observe the code? 1033 He is blackballed in the club; he is, so to say, turned out of the regimental mess. What happens if one's wife does not like anybody and says, "I do not want to speak to her"? This goes right throughout society. We have a right to choose to whom we will speak, with whom we will work. Anti-social qualities come into this, for to condone unworthiness is an unworthiness, in itself, as my parents told me. I do not agree that nobody has the right but the management to consider who will be brought in to work in a shop. Some disruptive element might be brought into the shop—some product of the fifth-day generation on which the Lord made all creeping, crawling things, as Jack London called them. We all reserve the right throughout society to choose with whom we will associate, and that is a very real thing in life, and it poses a problem which is not resolved by the Bill.
The Bill will break down because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) said, on the difficulty of the lightning strike. Very often, if there is an act of injustice, by a foreman, or a manager—because it does not happen only at board level, but it happens at the non-commissioned officer level, too—people say, "Take it back, otherwise we stop". That happens. None of the things in this package will get over that difficulty. In fact, such a difficulty can be settled within an hour, because people do learn better, and the threat of the stoppage is the sanction. If a man is victimised people will respond instantly. This is a factor in industrial relationships. I can think of an occasion when one shop steward, who had enjoyed good industrial relationships for many years, was on the telephone to a new manager who said, "I cannot talk to you" and cut him off the telephone. That caused a stoppage over 300 square miles. Of course, within a day we had an apology from the board.
We have to allow not only for places run by civilised men like the Secretary of State. This would never happen in his shop. It is the scallawags who lead us into trouble in this business. It is for fair-minded shop stewards and fair-minded managers to deal with them.
I have somewhere here a brief from somebody—
§ Mr. Pannell
Yes. Here it is. It says that "We do deny the assertion which is implicit in the Bill that recruitment is solely a question of management prerogative". Perhaps, if the Secretary of State is listening constructively to experience, he will think about it, and put into the Bill certain words to cover that point, because, assuming the Bill works in the way he wants it to, he will not want to be bedevilled by hundreds of thousands of little local difficulties. I am thinking about day-to-day living, which hardly requires this machinery.
I respect the right of a conscientious objector and I have spoken on behalf of conscientious objectors before a tribunal. In wartime they have to justify themselves before a legal body. But conscientious objection to joining a trade union is a different thing altogether. The standard of life of workers has largely been fought for and paid for by better men than themselves, and I have never yet known a conscientious objector who refused to accept the benefits of a trade union.
I do not think we can get over the problem by saying that the conscientious objector can pay his subscriptions into a charitable fund. I have no doubt that the Minister and the draftsman of the Bill thought it right to ensure that a man had a right to belong to a trade union and a right not to belong to a trade union, in exactly the came way as employers have protected his right not to belong to a trade union for a hundred years. I remember that back in 1926 the Engineering Employers' Federation circulated my details and photograph as a man not to be employed. That has always been done, and we have a collective memory of this. It is not so hard for a man to say that he will not be a member of a trade union; there are any number of jobs he can go to. But there are, equally, any number of jobs where he will not be acceptable.
British people are all of a type. The British trade union movement has been built out of the Industrial Revolution. In America the trade unions are completely different. In Communist countries there are Communist trade unions. In Africa trade unions are associated with African independence. I have studied trade 1035 unionism in all these countries. The British trade unionist has all the virtues and vices of a British infantryman: the capacity to fighting or losing the battle; standing by himself; not standing the rat; being careful whom he works with. These are the things we think about.
The narrowing of the legal definition of "trade dispute" would mean that in many strikes trade unions would no longer enjoy legal immunity. My trade union takes the view that if there is to be up-grading in industry it must be of a man who is semi-skilled and who has worked in the job for many years, but that clashes with the idea of up-grading the Government-trained dilutee. This is a difficulty that can be settled only by the men on the job.
I think that the ballot vote is misconceived. If the ballot vote went against acceptance of the employer's last offer, as it often does, the union leaders' hands might be tied, and the chance of a compromise settlement would be jeopardised. The Bill is shot through with day-to-day problems. The Consultative Document does not safeguard the reinstatement of a worker.
All these considerations lead me to believe that the effect of the Bill will be largely negative. As the Minister said, unless everyone co-operates, it will not work, and I do not think that they will co-operate. The Bill will go down because of its many contradictions, and it will be found to be largely irrelevant.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I listened with the greatest interest and attention to the speech of the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). I have always had the greatest admiration for her powers of debate. When I was in the House previously and now that I have the privilege of being back again I have always found her speeches worth listening to but on occasion, unhappily, she lets her rhetoric run away with her. When she described the Bill as a deeply frivolous Bill I feel that she must have lost her sense of proportion. This is a very serious Bill, perhaps one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before the House in this century.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said that the Bill would remove industrial relations into a purely 1036 legal atmosphere. I appreciate that this is one of the criticisms that is made of any attempt to impose a legal framework on industrial relations. In all humility, I simply do not understand this argument. When two individual people agree to enter into a contract, how can it be said that the law removes their relationship into a purely legal atmosphere'?
§ Mr. C. Pannell
We are not talking about two people who enter freely into a contract which they both find agreeable. We are talking about people who differ on questions of interpretation. My criticism of the Bill and of the procedures arising from it is that there will be laid down a set of new precedents which will be slavishly followed and, therefore, a legal atmosphere will come into industrial relations.
§ Mr. Gardner
The right hon. Member for Leeds, West knows as well as anyone else that there are difficulties of interpretation with a voluntary agreement between two individual people; that cannot be avoided. The advantages that are to be derived from following the principle of having an agreement within the framework of law surely are as valid for a trade union member and his employer as they are for two individuals. There is no compulsion in the Bill. There is a presumption—
§ Mr. Rose
The whole point about it is that there is an astonishing departure from the principle of freedom to enter into a contract. Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the departure is that two parties who do not consent to an agreement can be brought before the N.I.R.C. and that a non-agreement can be enforced against the wishes of both parties?
§ Mr. Gardner
I agree only to the extent that where the parties, the trade union and the employer, have come to an agreement, there is created by the Bill a presumption of an intention between the parties that the contract shall be legally binding and enforceable. If, however, the parties are not willing to be bound by law they are entitled, and are so entitled by the provisions of the Bill, to say that their agreement shall not be legally binding. The right hon. Member for Leeds, West shakes his head, but it is there expressly in the Bill.
Has the hon. and learned Gentleman not an even more valid reply to the hon. Member for Leeds, West, that when the Race Relations Bill was before the House criticism was made that it was subjecting a sensitive relationship into a purely legal one, whereas practice has shown that it has had a salutary effect?
§ Mr. Gardner
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for that point. The right hon. Member for Blackburn attempted, as have other hon. Members, to lash lawyers. I am not afraid of their strictures, nor am I incapable of answering them if need be, but I make the serious point that I would rather speak on this Bill and upon such virtues, and indeed defects, that it has not as a lawyer, but as a former active member of a trade union. That is the spirit in which I wish to address the House.
The principle that has been accepted in the Bill is simple. There may be complexities and difficulties in applying it, but the principle itself is well defined and easy for everyone to understand. Relations between trade unions, members of trade unions and employers and employers' associations are best able to develop in an orderly and efficient way if they are allowed to develop within a well-understood framework of law. This is no novel principle. It may be novel to the House, it may be new to the country, but it is a principle that has been accepted by every other major industrial country. It is a principle that is now accepted by the present Government. And it must be added, because it is a fact, that it is a principle that was accepted by the Labour Government. And I suggest that it makes sense.
I say in all seriousness that I believe advantages will accrue to the trade union movement as a result of the enactment of this Bill. This legislation involves mighty organisations and it would be a sad day for this country if they were to become ill-used and were to reach a low state of repute.
I believe that the Bill will help trade unions to recover much of the reputation which daily, unhappily, as we know from our experience of industrial affairs, has been diminishing. I believe that the Bill is more likely to restore confidence in the trade unions and to give them back the strength they are rapidly losing than 1038 anything else the Government can do. This Bill is a lifebelt to the trade union movement which can save them from sinking into a sea of anarchy in which they are in danger of disappearing.
§ Mr. Brian Walden (Birmingham, All Saints)
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not read the correspondence columns of his local newspaper, or the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express or the Daily Mail? Does he think that if the Government received a mandate for this Bill they received it from people who wanted to strengthen the trade unions and to bring them back into repute?
§ Mr. Gardner
I take very much more notice of what I hear from the shop stewards and from people working on the shop floor in the factories which I regularly visit in my constituency and elsewhere—
§ Mr. Gardner
They are not mythical, and would not like the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) so to describe them. They are very real persons with real ideas. Their ideas are worth noting and accepting. Based on those ideas, I am putting forward views to the House which I believe are realistic and which will benefit those persons, the trade unions and the employers.
Surely we can all agree that the central problem of any legislation which any Government decide to bring in can be summarised by what the Donovan Commission described as a grave and significant question. The question which was set out in paragraph 458 of the Donovan Report was:What can the law do to help to improve our industrial relations?Do the Government have to remain passive, looking on, doing nothing, while things go from bad to worse, or is the Government's duty to act in a way in which they are best fitted to act, through legislation? It is perhaps not a surprising coincidence that on the 18th June, 1969, the Prime Minister of the then Labour Government declared that he would not pursue any legislation to deal with industrial relations. I submit that that declaration was properly celebrated on 18th June this year. That result has 1039 made it possible for this Government to introduce the present Bill.
One figure that has been well rehearsed is that unofficial strikes amount to 95 per cent, of all the strikes which take place in this country. If we could deal effectively with unofficial strikes, perhaps we should not have to be too concerned about the 5 per cent. of official strikes that remain. Unfortunately, unofficial strikes often are a symptom of a deeper disease—what unhappily has been called the English disease. To get rid of this disease of unofficial strikes we must, as the Donovan Report concluded in paragraph 501:The first and most important step … is the reform of our collective bargaining system.
§ Mr. Gardner
If it could be done on a voluntary basis I should be one of the first to applaud that solution. I think that it would be the ideal solution. Where people can be got to act without having to impose on them the restraints of the law, then let them get on with it. I am sure that if it were possible to come to a voluntary solution of this almost intractable problem most hon. Members would be very happy to see that solution applied.
Unhappily, the months and the years pass and things get worse, not better, and somebody has to do something. Somebody has to apply the best of the wisdom which they have. It seems to me, as, I am sure, to many hon. Members in this House and to many people outside, that, whatever might have been the hoped for solution in 1968 or earlier, the solution today cannot be left to voluntary action.
I believe that it would now be wrong for collective bargaining to be left outside the law. This was the view in 1968 of Mr. Andrew Schonfield in his note of reservation in the Donovan Report. I think that that is right. We all know the complexity of the problem. Although we may not have personal experience of its complexity, we all understand that industry-wide formal agreements are frequently supplemented by work place informal agreements. We all understand that work place informal agreements are often comprised of agreements by word of mouth. They are not always written down. When 1040 they are written down they are rarely collected together; and even when they are written, they are usually in conflict with the industry-wide agreement.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us why he chooses to quote from a minority Report attached to the Donovan Report when he does not accept the majority decisions and findings of the Donovan Commission which sat for three years investigating the trade union movement and came out against all the basic premises of his right hon Friend's Bill?
§ Mr. Gardner
I can certainly answer that one. I quote the minority Report because I think that it is correct. Experience has shown it to be correct and the majority of people believe it to be correct. Nothing in the months which have gone before will persuade me that the contrary is true.
I agree that Donovan said something different by way of remedy to what I am submitting. But Donovan was certainly at pains to point out in paragraph after paragraph that the overriding need wasfor a reconstruction of the voluntary collective bargaining … to put an end to the conflict between the pretence of industry-wide agreements and the realities of industrial relations.The Bill is aimed at doing just that. The central provision is the creation of the presumption, which I believe is a valuable presumption—
§ Mr. Rose
Clause 39 says that the provisionsshall have effect as a legally enforceable contract, as if a contract consisting of those provisions had been made between those parties.In other words, where there has been no agreement, where neither side has agreed, an agreement can be forced upon them. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that that is voluntary collective bargaining? This is the corporate state.
§ Mr. Gardner
Of course I have read the Clause and I have already pointed out, I think accurately, its effect. It is there for all to see in elementary language 1041 —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—well, fairly elementary language. It is quite clear that the effect of the Clause is to create the presumption—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] But it does. That presumption can be rebutted by a written provision in the agreement that the agreement is not intended to be binding.
§ Mr. Rose
The hon. and learned Gentleman is continually missing the point. If he looks at Clause 32 he will find that the procedural matters can be made enforceable, despite the wishes of both parties. If the hon. and learned Gentleman then looks at Clauses 38 and 39 he will find that this applies to substantive matters. What is happening here is that where neither party wishes to enter into a binding agreement, it can be made binding by an application. The hon. and learned Gentleman, whom 1 respect very highly, seems to have missed the point entirely. This is nothing to do with collective bargaining. This is imposed agreement by an enforcement agency. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman read the Clause?
§ Mr. Gardner
I do not want to waste the time of the House. It is there for all to read:Presumptions relating to collective agreements.
§ Mr. Gardner
That is what it says. The hon. Gentleman really must look at the print on the page. Clause 32 is headed,Presumptions relating to collective agreements.
§ Mr. Gardner
Clause 39 is headedOrder of Industrial Court on report under section 38.It does not in any way interfere with the proposition which I put to the House.
§ Mr. Brian Walden
I apologise for interrupting the hon. and learned Gentle- 1042 man yet again—he has been generous in giving way—but if his presumption is correct, which is a matter of some dispute, may I ask him to tell us what earthly use this is supposed to be? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman fondly suppose that if a union can escape from the consequences of the Clause by having written into an agreement that it is not legally binding that it will not do that in every case? If 1 ran a union I am sure that I should do that.
§ Mr. Gardner
If the union or the employer—it is for both parties—wishes to write into the agreement the condition that that agreement shall not be legally binding and enforceable, it is entitled to do so.
§ Mr. Gardner
The purpose is to give people the choice.
I now go to the next point—[Interruption.] It is terribly difficult to understand—
§ Mr. Gardner
The words in the Bill help. It is hard to understand—one might be accused of being blind and misreading parts of the Bill; I hope those accusations are not true—how a trade union could be harmed by this central feature of the legislation.
I come back to the point which was raised a moment ago. The hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) and I differ in our ideas about the reactions of employers and trade unions if I am right in my interpretation of the meaning of the Bill. I submit, in all seriousness, that no trade unionist and no trade union can be harmed by this legislation. They can only be helped. The trade unions have nothing to fear from this legislation, and only those who wish to introduce, and let it be faced now, what we are threatened with having, namely, anarchy, can be real enemies of the Bill.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. James Tinn (Cleveland)
I approach the Bill very much from the viewpoint of a trade unionist, but I am the first to insist that I approach it also from the viewpoint of a member of the 1043 public as well as a Member of the House, and perhaps it is worth making the point, as it sometimes seems to be forgotten, that trade unionists are very much members of the general public and form an important section of it. Trade unionists and their wives are consumers as well as wage earners.
I hope to be brief and, if I am not able to throw any light on the problem, I shall do my utmost not to generate any more heat than is necessary, because this is a topic about which we should try, above all, not to exaggerate, but to approach proposals put forward from either side as objectively as we can.
I acknowledge right away that a Government, particularly a recently elected one, have a right to legislate about this matter if they see the need to do so, and clearly the Government must be the judge of that, as they must be of the best proposals for dealing with the problem, and they have to stand by the consequences.
I hope that in this matter the Government will not be tempted to put party interests before the public interest. There are temptations for both sides of the House. There is the temptation for our side perhaps to exaggerate some of the implications and effects of the Bill. There is the temptation for the Front Bench opposite perhaps to try to capitalise on public opinion, which I believe the Minister would recognise to be unreasonable in many ways, and uninformed. That is an accusation which I should not level against the right hon. Gentleman. I trust that the Government will resist any temptation to capitalise on what is sometimes regarded as the unpopularity of the trade union movement, and industrial action generally.
§ Mr. R. Carr
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has just said. I think that he should do us the credit of admitting that when my party first put forward these proposals, which is now five years ago, they were not popular with the majority of the public. We have been committed to them root and branch because we believed that they were necessary, long before there was any question of them being vote winners.
§ Mr. Tinn
We are dealing with the proposals in the Bill, which we have not had such a long time to study.
1044 I propose, first, to say something about what I see to be the nature of the opposition. We have to recognise that there is a major problem here. Indeed, we would be foolish and ostrich-like if we did not. We have to recognise, and we do, and I think that this is something to which the critics of the movement should pay attention, that this is a complex and human problem, tremendously difficult and absorbing in all its ramifications, and almost impossible to prescribe a solution for. I think it follows from that that there is no easy solution, no panacea, for all the ills.
Before proceeding further I should like, as it were in parenthesis, to try to put the problem into perspective. 1 have acknowledged that there is a serious problem, and I should like now to make it clear that it is a problem which we in this country often tend to exaggerate when discussing its intensity, and even more in regarding it as an almost uniquely British phenomenon.
Let us consider how serious these strikes are in terms of national comparisons. I do not intend to weary the House with statistics which I know have been brought out in Questions and Written Answers. but all the figures that I have seen quoted on this subject show that, far from strikes being a purely uniquely British disease, we are in a median position in the league table. We have no great record of which to be proud, but neither need we hang our heads in shame. I do not think that we are bound to listen in all humility to American visitors lecturing us on the virtues of their system when, as is well known, in a typical year, and making allowance for the difference in population sizes, their problem is much worse than ours. They can lose as much as twelve times as many working days per 100,000 workers as we do.
The problem is not just that of strikes themselves, but that of the cost of buying off strikes, of settling strikes, the cost of rising wages, and our inflationary situation. Here again I should like to make comparisons with other countries, because it is only by so doing that we can keep our feet on the ground and not fall into the error of making alarmist statements or taking extremist measures.
Recently the O.E.C.D. issued figures showing the percentage increases in hourly 1045 wage rates over the past 12 months. These were the figures for the 12 months to May of this year for a selection of member countries. One is conscious of the way in which wage rates have been shooting up in this country in the past 12 months, but perhaps it is a little surprising to find that while wage rates in the United Kingdom went up by 7 per cent. that figure was exceeded in West Germany, France, very much so in Sweden, 13.5 per cent., Japan and Canada. I do not want to labour the point, but I am trying to put the problem into perspective and to show that we are in neither a uniquely serious situation, nor that we are trying to cope with a uniquely British disease.
There is one thing which must clearly be in the mind of anyone trying to prescribe a solution for our ills. In looking at possible solutions the Minister should ask himself what his objectives are. Are they long-term, or short-term? Are the problems immediate and pressing problems which make the headlines every day? Are those the problems that he is trying to solve, or are the problems longer term, involving, perhaps, a transformation of attitudes and atmosphere in industry and in collective bargaining? This is very important, because the solutions to either sector of the problem can be contradictory.
I would not condemn the Bill as a massive threat to the trade union movement, but I do believe that its most important provisions are at best irrelevant to the real causes of industrial dispute, and may in some cases make disputes even worse.
I should like to look at the contentious question of legal enforceability of agreements to illustrate the point about irrelevancy. Very little seems to have been achieved here, so I do not join those of my hon. Friends who seem so alarmed. This seems to be replacing a contracting in system with a contracting out system. Previously, parties had to agree that an agreement should be legally enforceable: now they will have to agree that it should not. That is not a revolutionary change. If the unions take exception to this, they will simply write in a clause, and I doubt whether many employers would resist them.
§ Mr. Rose
I am sorry to belabour this point, but both sides seem under a misapprehension. Clause 39(2)(b) provides that there does not need to be an agreement—indeed, that where there is no agreement, the Secretary of State and the N.I.R.C. between them can enforce a nonexistent agreement. Perhaps, my hon. Friend would consider the headingRemedial action where procedure agreement non-existent or defective".
§ Mr. Tinn
My hon. Friend rather anticipated a reference I was about to make to the difficulties of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner). I intend to suggest that this Bill is replacing a rocky, difficult and sometimes tortuous road of industrial relations with a legal quagmire in which we saw the hon. and learned Member floundering and the Minister himself in difficulties. Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) can clarify the position or perhaps dig himself a little deeper into this same quagmire.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Warrington)
We are making somewhat heavy weather of this Clause, because Clause 32 refers in turn to Clause 35, which refers to the intention of the parties to make an agreement and who fail to make an agreement or who make an agreement which is defective. If either of those two things occurs, it is open to the National Industrial Relations Commission to inquire into the intention of the parties. If they have made an agreement which is defective, the Commission will put it right; if they have made an agreement which is in no way relevant, the Commission will substitute for it an agreement which is the intention of the parties. I am sure that no one's purpose is served by making false and bad points.
§ Mr. Tinn
If the House should be misguided enough to give the Bill a Second Reading tonight, I am looking forward to the Committee stage with apprehension; we will all enjoy ourselves.
Legal enforceability is very important. I wonder whether employers to whom we are giving this new facility of legal action to enforce agreements will choose to use it. It is very doubtful that they will, which reinforces my view that the provision itself is largely irrelevant. The 1047 point was made earlier that it is almost certain that the electricity workers in the recent dispute broke all the Statutes, yet, rightly, no action was taken against them—and a solution of the dispute would not have been hastened if action had been taken.
German workers, those paragons of industrial virtue, last year broke their 1963 Federal Court ruling banning unofficial strikes, but in a country with a structure of industrial relations largely dependent upon legal underpinning, no action was taken against them. On a visit a few months ago to West Germany, I found many trade unionists ready to agree that, while the German system had a strong legal content, it worked only because it was acceptable to the unions. In the last analysis it is a voluntary system, because the machinery provided by law is acceptable.
One part of the Bill which gives me grounds for concern is that which provides for plant elections to decide whether a particular union should represent that group of workers and whether a union should continue to represent a body of workers a fixed proportion of whom might indicate their dissatisfaction, in which case a ballot may be ordered. In the trade union movement, we have had for many years a problem of poaching, of clashes between unions. Almost invariably, over the past 30 years, these have been peacefully resolved—well over 1,000 of them—by means of the formula contained in the T.U.C.'s Bridlington Agreement, an internal trade union agreement honoured by all the parties, which has been silently working over the past 30 years, promoting industrial harmony, avoiding strikes.
This provision will, at a stroke, destroy that, make it irrelevant and unworkable, and replace it with machinery which I fear could well provide for escalation of militancy between unions. I do not know what Clive Jenkins thinks of the Bill, but I imagine that he is keen on it because it gives his organisation the key to many industries in which his union does not at present play an important part, and I am not certain that hon. Gentlemen opposite want that.
I have argued, I hope with conviction, that the Bill is not as dramatically bad as is made out by some of its opponents, 1048 on this side of the House and in the trade union movement. However, it stands condemned as irrelevant in dealing with both the long-term and short-term problems we face. Even if it more adequately replaced what I admit to be the present rocky road of negotiations, we would finish up in a deeper quagmire of legalism because it is not sufficiently acceptable.
Even the most perfect system, including the judgment of Solomon, cannot work in a free society such as ours, with its free collective bargaining, if it is not acceptable to all concerned. Acceptability is of the essence. There was a great deal in the Labour Bill on industrial relations. About 90 per cent. of that Measure was unmistakably beneficial to the unions, but it would not have worked because of the 10 per cent. that was unacceptable.
I beg the Government to put the national interest and long-term considerations first in examining this matter and to reconsider whether these proposals will not, in fact, do more harm than good.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)
It is a pleasure to speak following the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn) because I agree with much of what he said. Like him, I foresee a formidable Committee stage to this Bill, and I do not intend to make Committee points tonight.
Perhaps one point about which I dissent from the hon. Gentleman is that 1 believe the general strategy of this Measure to be right. It is undeniable, however, that much anxiety is felt about the Bill among trade unionists, including trade unionists who voted for the Conservative Party on 18th June in the knowledge that such a Bill would be introduced.
It would, in my judgment, be just as foolish for my hon. Friends to close our eyes to that anxiety as it would be for hon. Gentlemen opposite to close their eyes to the fact that a large majority of the people, including many trade unionists, want legislation along these lines.
The causes of anxiety are plain. There has been some misrepresentation, some misunderstanding—of which we have just witnessed an interesting example in the 1049 exchanges across the Floor—some failure on the part of the Government and the Conservative Party adequately to put across the public explanation of the Bill and there has been insfficient emphasis on those aspects of the Measure which are beneficial to trade unions and restrictive of employers.
I regret that the publications which have been put out by the Government, though excellent in themselves, have not been well distributed. I regret, too, that my right hon. Friend, in his speech on the Consultative Document some weeks ago, did not sufficiently bring out those provisions of the Bill which are attractive to organised labour once they are understood. I am glad that he tried to correct this today.
I will give an example of what I mean. One of the most important innovations in the Bill is the provision for an agency shop in Clauses 11 to 16 which must mean, as a consequence, a numerical expansion of trade unions and an extension of their recognition by employers.
I call this an important innovation because I have long been convinced—I have said this publicly on many occasions—that any large-scale employer would be wise to encourage a 100 per cent. union shop in his works in the interests of good relations. I say " encourage", of course, and not "compel"; and Clauses 11 to 16 go as far as I think legislation reasonably could go to promote that. It has always seemed to me unjustifiable that a man should benefit from the gains achieved by a trade union without contributing in any way to them.
I believe that many who share my own experience of employers' organisations would also share that view. Indeed, I think that some of them would wish to see the same kind of provisions extended to employers' organisations. I looked in vain in the Bill for any provision to that effect. There is none, and there can be none in the voluntary system.
That draws attention to what seems to me to be the crucial problem of any legislation such as this. The crucial problem is that although the intention, which my right hon. Friend has very clearly expressed, is to make the law bear equally on both sides of industry with complete impartiality, this cannot be done simply by laying down verbally indentical rules for both sides. The reason is that trade 1050 unions and employers' organisations are constitutionally quite different bodies. The essential difference is that the trade union consists of individuals and the employers' organisation consists of corporate bodies, and an individual is much more vulnerable in this hard world of industrial relations than is any corporate body.
The first consequence of that difference is that the incentive to belong to a trade union is much greater than the incentive on the employers' side to belong to an employers' organisation. The disincentive to resignation is correspondingly weaker in the case of employers' organisations. Statistics would clearly show this. I do not have any figures, but I am quite sure that the proportion of insured workers who belong to trade unions is very greatly in excess of the proportion of registered companies that belong to employers' organisations, and many even of the companies which belong to employers' organisations would be perfectly happy to resign at the slightest sign of a difference of opinion. So there is a further consequence that in the Bill the trade union will have much stronger powers over its members than the employers' organisation will have over its members because, in the last resort, expulsion from a trade union is a very formidable sanction whereas the notion of expulsion from an employers' organisation is a joke.
It seems to follow that the Government cannot make the law equal and impartial between the two sides of industry simply by drawing up identical rules and simply by mentioning employers' organisations wherever it mentions trade unions, yet that is what they have sought to do in Schedule 3 and in one or two other places in the Bill.
In order to be fair to both sides of industry the law must be different for each, and must not simply be identical. There are various possible differences, and I do not want to go into detail into ways in which this might be achieved, but I will mention just one that I believe to be cardinal, and it will be already clear from the distinction I have drawn between the trade union as an organisation of individuals and the employers' organisation as a collection of corporate bodies.
In order to be fair, the law should make it clear that in no case, whether dealing with the employer's side or with the 1051 organised labour side, will any individual, as an individual, be taken to court. Action in court should be available only against the corporate body; that is to say, a trade union, an employers' organisation or a company, or any of their officers in his capacity as an officer of the corporate body. That would get rid of the one feature of the Bill which seems bound to lead to trouble, because if the individual, as an individual, is liable to be taken to court even by way of civil action—and this point has been made before—and if that individual is really obstinate there is, in the last resort, no alternative but to send him to prison. I am talking not about criminal actions but about civil actions.
Once that last resort is reached, and especially if it is reached in dozens of cases at the same time, public opinion will end up on the side of the dissidents, whatever the rights and wrongs of the case. The dissidents will become martyrs, and the law will be brought into disrepute. That is not only objectionable and unworkable, but entirely unnecessary. I can conceive of no circumstances in practice in which it would not be possible to deal with the obstinate dissident individual either through the enhanced powers of a trade union which will arise from the Bill or through the ordinary right of dismissal in the hands of the employer, or both.
My right hon. Friend may say that this is all very well in theory but that he must have a reserve power to deal with the extreme case of dissident individuals even if that power is seldom or never used. I beg to differ. But if I am wrong in thinking that the power to proceed against an individual as an individual in the courts is unnecessary, and my right hon. Friend proves right in thinking that it will be needed sooner or later, it would not be difficult to amend the law accordingly when it proved unavoidable. For the Bill will certainly not be the end of the road, and we should not be trying to achieve everything overnight.
In the meantime, the inclusion of the power to proceed against an individual will do more than anything else to make the Bill unpalatable to organised labour. I beg my right hon. Friend to think again about this, because to dispense with the power, at least as a trial, would 1052 probably contribute very substantially to confidence and good will in passing the Measure, and confidence and good will more than anything else are what he will need to make this legislation succeed.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Warrington)
Since I was ill advised enough to interrupt my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn) on the matter concerning Clauses 32 to 40, I have had the opportunity to talk briefly to a number of my hon. and learned Friends about it. The interesting point that emerges is that a matter which I thought was simple is one on which all five of us have been disagreed. At least that is sufficient to establish the point that my hon. Friend was making at the time, that the Bill will be a lawyers' paradise. I think that it will also be a Committee point of some substance.
At the beginning of his speech the Secretary of State introduced the Bill by saying that he intended it to establish a framework of law within which improved industrial relations could develop. His final paragraph was a plea to the House to regard the Bill as an instrument for reforming and improving human relations in the factory, on the shop floor and in the office. The middle of the sandwich, however, proved amply the adage that what is one man's meat is another man's poison.
The extraordinary thing is that the only achievement to date of a Bill designed to be an emollient is to cause such an eruption of bitterness as to make the trade union members of my party, certainly, and probably throughout the trade union movement, feel that if the former Government whipped them with cords, the present Government appear to be determined to whip them with scorpions.
There can be no argument between us that industrial relations in Britain can do with improvement. There can be no quarrel with statistics that tell us continually about the increase in the number of working hours and even working months that have recently been lost by industrial disputes.
We can concede immediately that there may be a need for a more disciplined society than that in which we are now living, but the Bill—and, I suspect, other Bills of the same ilk with which we 1053 have been plagued from time to time— would have found a readier acceptance, certainly from the trade unions, if the Government had shown equal enthusiasm for actions intended to ensure the continuance of a just and compassionate society. Instead of that, the Bill has been introduced in an atmosphere and with the language of a battlefield—and Britain is increasingly becoming encamped in two hostile battlefields—as though the trade union movement were threatening our democratic institutions and the Government were attempting to restore government by democratic means.
The bitterness of the trade union movement against the Bill arises directly from the conviction of trade unionists that it is motivated by class considerations and will deprive them of the hard-won rights and safeguards that they will need to protect their workers in what has become a hostile world. If the Government really believes that the trade union movement is launching an attack upon society, then it can only be because the Government are not exercising their responsibilities in the interests of all the people. For a large section of the trade unions equally believe that the actions of the Government are directed specifically against them.
I personally have no great fear of the Bill; I believe that it will not work, and that the time is not far distant when it will be a little more than a museum piece. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that a large section of our people feel that it greatly wrongs them.
The Bill arises from the bland acceptance by the Government that the Bill is a just and workable Bill, and is relevant to the problems with which Britain is faced in 1970–71.
It is none of these things. It is not just, because of the context in which it has been introduced. Since the Government were elected to power they have made a fetish of their belief in a free-for-all economy. The Chancellor's unfair mini-Budget of 27th October has added to the conviction of many poorer people that the Government are deliberately slanting the economy so that the rich may become richer, even at the cost of the poor.
The Government have made their boast that what they will withdraw the intervention of Government in our economic 1054 affairs and give assistance to the strong and the powerful, who deserve the prizes even if that is at the expense of the lame duck. If I may change the metaphor, although it is not mine, what is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander. If it is the case that the Government will increasingly withdraw from the assistance of the under-privileged and the weak, then the Government must withdraw from intereference in the places in which the weak and underprivileged band together to serve their own interests.
If the Government believe that it is right that the free-for-all must be strong, then the Government must not complain, and nor must the nation which elected them, if the trade unions say, "In that case we will be strong to join in the free-for-all ".
This Bill is not workable, and when I say that it is not because I think it will be a lawyers' paradise, although no doubt a lawyers' paradise may mean the litigant's everlasting purgatory. It is not even because I believe that the provisions within the Bill are an invitation to industrial anarchy.
Take even such Clauses as 48 to 50. They are an invitation to workers to leave trade unions that do not serve their purposes and to join ones that promise so to do. Workers will clearly always be tempted to join the most militant of the unions and these Clauses are in themselves an invitation to militancy.
When I say that the Bill is not workable I think of it rather in a more exalted context than that of the problems which are contained within its four corners. I mean that any law will work only if it has general acceptance by the majority of those affected by it. This Bill lays down a law that is not only unacceptable to the majority but is unacceptable to all trade unions. Nor can such a Bill be acceptable until it is fitted into a framework of social justice that is recognised by those affected by it to be just. It is not just to create a framework of society which allows a free-for-all to those who earn profits and places restrictions and pressures on those who seek to earn wages.
The irrelevance of the Bill has to be seen against its current background. The Government are attempting to introduce it at the same time as they withdraw from intervention in the social and 1055 domestic affairs of our nation; when they have created a situation in which prices are allowed to rise; when they have ended the Consumer Council; when they have ensured by their activities that the market rate shall apply in every sphere. At the same time they are involving themselves in the contradiction of interfering in the free play of the labour market, and while they are determined to ensure that the trade unions are prevented from exercising their rights, in freedom, without the interference of the Government. by such diverse policies, the nation is being squeezed into a situation of contradiction which is bound to result in the kind of conflict that will follow, and which is already beginning to show its head.
In the present situation, and in the context in which the Bill has been introduced, the nation is already being divided. Rather than have introduced this Bill, the most helpful contribution which the Government could have made was to restore the language of moderation and the policies of reconciliation. Working people might then have felt what they do not feel now, that they might have a few friends in the Government. Let them repudiate the antitrade unionism which is dividing the nation of which we saw only too-unpleasant an example of anti-trade unionism as recently as last Saturday on a television programme.
The Government should start repairing the consensus necessary for the successful working of a democracy. The Prime Minister has no reason to be proud of the rejection of the consensus approach. Almost the only result of his rejection is the present situation, in which not only is there conflict between what are called the general public and the trade unions but there is now no generally accepted public standard for judging the claims of one group against those of another.
There is no merit in introducing a Bill that is rejected by what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) called a whole estate of the realm, which, if ever it has to be tried, will do nothing but show that it is a powerless instrument. By attempting to try it once, all that will be revealed is that the law, having no power to enforce its will upon so many who reject its authority, will be brought into disrepute 1056 and that will do nothing to solve the real problems which face the nation at present.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I trust that my speech tonight will be a little more helpful to all sides of the House than when I last spoke from this Box. It looks as though it will be, and 1 hope that that continues throughout the next half hour.
This has been a very wide-ranging debate. It is impossible for me to cover all the various points which have been raised by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. I am not alone in this because the Secretary of State seemed to know very little about his own Bill. I am sure that we shall hear much more about the details of the Bill from the Solicitor-General, who is the Bill's chief architect. That is only to be expected when we are dealing with a Bill of this kind, containing 150 Clauses and eight Schedules, and bringing a new concept of law into industrial relations.
No practical individual with even a remote interest or connection with industrial relations would dream of bringing in a Bill of this kind. This week the Under-Secretary of State has had to deal with some industrial relations problems, and he must know that a Bill of this kind is completely irrelevant when we are considering the sort of issues which face us today.
We have heard five maiden speakers, three from the benches opposite and two from this side of the House. The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) said that he was a regional employers' representative. He has represented employers on international committees and undoubtedly he has a great deal of experience of the employers' side. We shall welcome further contributions from the hon. Gentleman, and we look forward to hearing him explain the employers' point of view as he sees it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mr. Parry) began his excellent speech with a reference to Bessie Braddock. I pay tribute to Bessie Braddock and her work on behalf of her constituents and the trade union movement generally. Bessie remained a trade unionist throughout her life. She was the daughter of a trade union organiser. Her death is a great loss to this House 1057 and to Liverpool. It is also a tremendous loss to the trade union movement.
My hon. Friend went on to say that we want more negotiation and not litigation, I agree with him. That sums up the issue as we on this side see it.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Coombs) made a passionate and interesting speech, as did his hon. Friend the Member for Helper (Mr. Stewart-Smith). Perhaps at this juncture I might make one observation on speeches of a non-controversial nature. On the last occasion that I appeared at this Box, I said that I welcomed non-controversial speeches. If we are to get away from the tradition that maiden speeches should be non-controversial, it may be that we shall have to go further and make it known that hon. Members making maiden speeches must expect to be interrupted. This could have happened during the speeches of the hon. Members for Yardley and Belper.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. McCartney) spoke of his wide experience in trade union negotiations and said that he was especially concerned with safety at work. He made an important point about the ratio of industrial accidents to strikes in this country.
They were all excellent maiden speeches. 1 hope that we shall hear many more from my hon. Friends and from hon. Gentlemen opposite in the future.
Moving the Second Reading, the Secretary of State said that the Government were introducing a set of rules, and he made the point that we had not had rules in industrial relations in the past. There is no question but that the British people are law-abiding. They like rules. They like to have a set of rules to guide their actions. But they dislike it when rules are weighted against fairness, and that is precisely what is happening.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the essence of the Bill is that it is fair—fair to employers, fair to the trade unions, fair to everybody. Hon. Members opposite agree with him, but let us look at some of the rules contained in the Bill. They are employers' rules. They will make life much more difficult for the trade union movement. I agree that the Bill will not put the trade unions out of existence, and we are not saying that 1058 it will. What we are saying is that if the Bill becomes law, it will cripple the trade union movement. It will make life more difficult for the trade unions. It will be more difficult for them to operate. Instead of strengthening the trade union movement, as the right hon. Gentleman says he wants to do, the Bill will have the opposite effect.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we are moving into uncharted waters, along a route that has not been experienced before. But then we have been told by hon. Members opposite that it has been experienced before. We are told that such legislation operates everywhere in the world except in Britain. Obviously, therefore, the route is not so uncharted. These are not unknown waters. We therefore have to look at what happens in some of these other countries.
In the United States, where the Taft-Hartley Act operates, there are more strikes than there are in this country and now voices are being raised saying that, because that Act has not solved the problem, they must go further and bring in yet more law to deal with the trade unions and, if necessary, to make strikes illegal for all time.
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North)
Is it not a fact that in the United States, under the 1935 Act, only within the last three or four days the 60-day cooling-off period has resulted in a nation-wide railways strike being dealt with in 24 hours?
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman must get things right. The 1935 Act was the Wagner Act. The 60-day cooling off period was brought in by the Taft-Hartley Act, and now there is a proposal for an extension of that legislation in the United States.
The right hon. Gentleman told the House that the Government may not have got the balance right. To me, that sounds very ominous because, if they have not got the balance right now, then, after a period when the Bill has been seen not to work, when we still have strikes and industrial problems, the howling dervishes on the back benches opposite will say, "The balance is not right; we have to go further and bring in more laws." No doubt they will suggest that the 60-day cooling-off period should be extended to six months. After that, why not extend it 1059 to one year? And eventually extend it so that there are no strikes at all?
That is what some hon. Gentlemen opposite have in mind. That is what is at the back of their minds—not only to cripple the trade unions but to put the free trade union movement out of existence altogether. I am not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman wants that. In fact, he does not. The right hon. Gentleman genuinely believes that his proposals will make some sort of contribution towards industrial peace in this country. But he is wrong. He is absolutely wrong, and he will be proved wrong as the years go by.
What happened in the United States with the Taft-Hartley Act was this. In 1947, 32 per cent. of workers eligible to belong to trade unions were organised. The percentage has gone down to 26 per cent. as a result of the operation of the Taft-Hartley Act. And yet we are told that it will strengthen trade unions, that it will have the effect of making them larger and so on. Of course, that is not the position, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.
§ Mr. Heffer
In a few moments. We have heard today from the right hon. Gentleman that there are no criminal sanctions in these proposals. Well, in general, that is true. There are one or two minor points which could eventually be considered criminal sanctions, but, in general, the point which is made by the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct: there are no criminal sanctions. But is it not quibbling with the actual situation and with the facts? Suppose a trade union or an individual has to pay what is called compensation, which, in reality, means a fine, and refuses to pay the compensation or the fine.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman says it is not a fine. Call a spade a spade. It is a fine. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] If that man refuses to pay it—or the damages—
§ Mr. Heffer
Let the hon. Member consider it different, but if the shop steward or trade union official refuses to pay and is in contempt of court and—which is the point made by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), who said he did not agree with it—languishing a prisoner in Walton Prison in Liverpool, then he, the chap languishing behind the prison bars, will not give a damn whether he got there by a civil action or by a criminal action. He will not be interested in the legal niceties of how he got behind the bars. What he will know is that he is there.
§ Mr. Heffer
The position is quite clear. Once that happens there will be a position in which there will be more industrial anarchy, less industrial peace, than we have had in the past.
§ Mr. Hooson
Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate that non-payment of compensation is not contempt of court, and is it not much more important to get an answer to the question posed by his right hon. Friend earlier, whether, in fact, contempt proceedings will be used either to extract a fine from or inflict imprisonment upon an official?
§ Mr. Heffer
The point is that ultimately the worker will find himself in prison. That is the point I am making, and he will not be very happy whether he gets into prison through a criminal action or a civil action.
§ Mr. Heffer
It happens today. That is absolutely true, but we are talking about trade unionists and industrial relations, and if the hon. Gentlemen want that to happen, of course this is a recipe for anarchy, to which my right hon. Friend referred.
§ Mr. Heffer
I cannot continually give way. I have a speech to make and I should like to make it in my own way without too many interruptions.
The question of 100 per cent. trade unionism is one of the most important 1061 issues in the Bill. The Bill makes it clear that the closed shop will be void, but that is not supported by all the employers' organisations. Many employers' organisations, including the C.B.I., have made representation to the right hon. Gentleman that they are not in favour of the elimination of the closed shop.
I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen understand what a trade unionist feels. Hon. Gentleman talk about the liberty of the individual. I passionately believe in the liberty of the individual, and so does the Labour Party, but hon. Gentlemen opposite are getting away from the point that the majority of trade unionists also have the right to exercise what they consider to be their liberty—
§ Mr. Heffer
No, the liberty to say that if a worker on the shop floor or elsewhere refuses to make any contribution towards better wages and conditions—
§ Mr. Heffer
—the liberty to say that they will not work with that individual. They do not say that he should be sacked. We believe in 100 per cent. trade union organisation. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not understand this. They have not had to fight on the shop floor for decent wages and conditions. Few of them have known what it is like to work in a shipyard, in a coal mine or on a building site and actually to be faced with the realities of industrial life. If they had had to fight for decent wages and conditions, they would understand the issues involved in the Bill. It is like the deaf talking to the deaf. Hon. Gentlemen have no understanding of the trade union point of view and it is difficult for us to get it across to them.
One hon. Gentleman said that he did not even want the agency shop, and that if the Government were real Conservatives, they would not stop at abolishing the closed shop, they would not have the agency shop either. Let us see how the proposals about the agency shop could operate in the building industry. With whom in the building industry will an agency shop be made? Will it be with a major employer covering the whole 1062 country, with a regional employer or at site level? That is not spelt out in the Bill. It will most likely be at site level and might operate in this way. About 10 to 20 men may go on to a building site and the employer may suggest that they should have a ballot on whether there should be an agency shop. Before that construction site has grown up, there may be a ballot with 49 per cent. in favour of the agency shop, 29 per cent. against and the rest not voting. For two years those building operatives will be denied the right of trade union organisation on that site. Do hon. Members believe that there are not some unscrupulous employers in the building industry who will stoop to those lengths?
Let us look at the realities of how one deals with the enforceability of contracts. My view is that there will be very few agreements which will not contain clauses saying that they are not enforceable, because the trade unions will not otherwise accept them. That industry should operate without proper agreements is not conducive to good industrial relations in the future. If we have enforceable agreements, how shall we deal with real human experiences? [Interruption.] I know what I am talking about. Let me give one or two examples of what happens on the shop floor. Let me tell you something of my experience on a building site.
§ Mr. Heffer
Let me tell hon. Gentlemen what happened on one building site on a bitterly cold morning—[Interruption.]—you have never worked on a building site.
§ Mr. Heffer
I thought, Mr. Speaker, for one moment that I was talking to building trade operatives. They, of course, understand the word "you". On this particular site on a bitterly cold morning—[Laughter.]—this is no laughing matter because this could happen under the Bill—the workers were so cold that they set up a number of fires. The foreman came out in a temper and tipped them all over. The lads immediately stopped work. If there had been an enforceable contract, those men would then have been in immediate trouble 1063 because they would have been breaking the agreement.
Let me give another example. I remember a number of workers in a blacksmith's shop in which the extractor machinery was not working properly. For months those workers said to that employer, "Get that extractor machinery operating to clear the fumes". One elderly worker was so affected by the fumes that he collapsed and the men stopped work. Under the provisions of this Bill with an enforceable agreement, those workers would have been breaking the agreement. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite say that that is not the position, but it is. That is why this Bill is totally irrelevant to the problems we have to deal with.
Let me refer to what was said by the Donovan Commission. In paragraph 182 it laid down clearly how we ought to deal with the problems that industry is facing at present. It put forward six proposals.First, to develop, together with trade unions representative of their employees, comprehensive and authoritative collective bargaining machinery to deal at company and/or factory level with the terms and conditions of employment which are settled at these levels;second, to develop, together with unions representative of their employees, joint procedures for the rapid and equitable settlement of grievances in a manner consistent with the relevant collective agreements;third, to conclude with unions representative of their employees agreements regulating the position of shop stewards in matters such as: facilities for holding elections; numbers and constituencies…;fourth, to conclude agreements covering the handling of redundancy;fifth, to adopt effective rules and procedures governing disciplinary matters …;sixth, to ensure regular joint discussion of measures to promote safety at work.If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite had really been concerned about industrial relations and the speedy settlement of unofficial or official disputes, they would have adopted the proposals in the Donovan Report.
§ Mr. Page
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Clause 18(2)(b) explains the procedure which is available to employees when they have a grievance. It sets out the procedures which would be open to the individuals on the building site when the foreman, quite wrongly, kicks over those fires.
§ Mr. Heffer
If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen were really concerned about legislation dealing with grievance procedures, they could have adopted the Bill brought in by my right hon. Friend before 18th June. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why did not you?"] Hon. Gentlemen, particularly new Members, must understand that there was a Bill before the House—[An HON. MEMBER: " In Place of Strife?"] Not "In Place of Strife". There was a Bill supported by the entire Labour Party which would have improved industrial relations and was largely based upon the proposals in the Donovan Report.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite say that their proposals are based on the Donovan Report. If so, why were their proposals published before the Donovan Commission Report was published? Also, why is there a great similarity between the proposals in "Fair Deal at Work", in the Bill, and in the Conservative Lawyers' Association document of 1958, "A Giant Strength", which proves that their whole ideas are based upon political dogma built up since 1958 and not upon a real understanding of industrial relations? It is no accident that "A Giant Strength" was first produced by the Conservative Lawyers' Association. That is why the Bill will be a lawyers' paradise, as some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said.
I want to make it clear that we on this side of the House are opposed to the Bill because it is irrelevant and unworkable. We shall repeal it and in its place we shall bring in positive proposals which are acceptable to the trade union movement, to those who understand industrial relations, and to those employers who are now groaning about the Bill. We shall bring in positive proposals to replace the 1065 Bill which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are thrusting on the country.
We regard the Bill as an attack not only on the trade union movement, but basically on our civil rights which have been built up on the basis of a long and difficult struggle against the hard-faced Tories of the past. Hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to turn back the pages of history. I say to them that they may get away with the Bill on the basis of a majority in the House of Commons, but that shortly we shall be back in office, and when that happens we shall get rid of the Bill.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
I say to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that he may live to regret saying that he will repeal this legislation. I shall try to pick up some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman, but I should like to deal now with what he said about what happened in the previous Bill. The Donovan Commission recommended registration of trade unions and the right of appeal to an independent body for trade unionists. This was repeated in "In Place of Strife", but it was significantly missing when that Bill was published last year, and the point made by the hon. Gentleman is therefore irrelevant.
One of the advantages of winding up the interim stage of the debate on a Bill like this is that one is forced to listen to practically every speech. As everyone, on both sides of the House knows, this can be a very mixed pleasure, but I have no reservations whatsoever in congratulating the five maiden speakers today and in saying that those who were present listened to their contributions with great interest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) has had a long experience in industry, and he has done particularly valuable work in the industrial training sphere. He referred to the difficulties and various aspects of industrial relations abroad. I think that my hon. Friend is right to stress the need for better communications in industry and for ending the soulless neglect of some of the larger companies so that those who work for them feel that they belong.
1066 The hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mr. Parry) follows a highly popular and well-liked Member, as the hon. Member for Walton said, and if, in his career here, he endears himself to the House as much as his predecessor did, he will do very well indeed. The hon. Gentleman spoke with great sincerity. He would not expect me to agree with one word of the political philosophy that he propounded but, none the less, we listened to his contribution with great interest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Coombs) described himself as the 111th virgin in this Parliament. I think that he spoke up for his honour with remarkable skill and maturity. He made some telling and useful points. He brought up the question of possible C.I.R. regional supervisory boards, which is an interesting suggestion, and one that we shall look at. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to raise it again in Committee, although I see possible objections to it, in as much as it would proliferate the number of people who would be employed as a result.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire. East (Mr. McCartney) also follows a popular Member in Mr. Cyril Bence. Everybody in the House who knew him liked him. The hon. Gentleman spoke from 25 years of negotiating experience, and he did very well. He was slightly controversial, and I am sure that he will not mind my saying that so provoking was his speech that I wanted to interrupt him a number of times, which at least means that I listened to him.
There was also the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith), It sounds strange in this House to talk about an hon. Member of the Conservative Party being the Member for Belper, but my hon. Friend follows a famous Parliamentarian, whom we sometimes miss in this House. We are glad to have my hon. Friend here, and one thing that can be said about him is that in due course he will probably be as controversial as was the right hon. Gentleman who was the former Member for that constituency for so many years. My hon. Friend made some telling points about the closed shop. He took us to task about the agency shop, and I shall in due course be making one or two comments about that.
1067 I should like to deal now with how the Bill looks after two days of rigorous debate, the first day being the one that we had on the Consultative Document, and with one day to go and an arduous Committee stage ahead of us. Despite the protests of the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), two things have been established—one, that this legislation for the first time provides a genuine legal framework, and the other that this is what is frightening some people. And I believe that it frightens those who oppose it on other grounds than mere doctrinal, blind belief.
But one is forced to ask, on this question, why should the rule of law worry anyone, provided that it is fair and just and is seen as a background to what the Government are trying to achieve? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Yardley said, in his very good maiden speech, the fact that the law is there will be sufficient for the vast majority of people. The framework will be there and people will respond to it.
But above everything else—I am glad that several hon. Members, particularly on this side, have stressed this—I am very glad that hon. Members are so keen to see that we are proposing a voluntary basis for the nation's industrial relations. We know that, in the end, this legislation can only work from good will. No Government, even with a mandate as convincing as ours, can govern without consent in a democracy, and I believe that when this Bill is law it will have that consent—just as it has the consent of the public at large at present.
With great respect to the hon. Member for Walton, he is misleading the House and the country when he talks about fines and hints at imprisonment and implies criminal sanctions. This is a civil Bill with civil law and there will be no one sent to prison—
§ Mr. Rose
The hon. Member must know—we have had this out before at the Dispatch Box—that the ultimate way 1068 of enforcing these provisions must be by gaol. Whether this is criminal, civil or quasi-criminal—and the authorities differ—the ultimate end for a person caught under these provisions must be prison; otherwise, there is no way of enforcing it.
§ Mr. Smith
No more than at the moment. At present, it is possible for a trade unionist to go to prison. It is possible for the hon. Member or for me, for quite trivial offences, if we commit contempt of court, finally to end up in prison. But this is a power which is used less and less in this modern day and age. As my right hon. Friend has said so convincingly before, if a man is intent on going to prison in this country, finally perhaps he will go.
I am willing to bargain with the hon. Gentleman that the number of cases which will arise under the Bill will be very few and far between, if any at all. As those of us know who have studied the Bill, its framework is civil law and there will not be fines: there will be compensation awarded through the courts in cases where people contravene. It does not do any good for the hon. Gentleman to make out that there are criminal sanctions in this case.
The purpose of our legislation is certainly not, and never has been—to use that crude phrase—to "bash the unions". But at the same time nor is it a provision to pay lip-service to the unions, as the Labour Party's Bill did. If one examines that Bill, one finds that it would, to a large extent, have given trade unions the chance to have a privileged place in our society, with many advantages and few obligations. This Bill has the objective of treating all sides fairly, treating the unions fairly, treating the employers fairly and, perhaps above all, treating the public fairly.
In my view, the cornerstones of this legislation are to establish the correct approach at the outset, via the Registrar; the presumed enforceability of collective agreements; the greater all-round protection afforded to the individual trade unionist, with longer periods of notice, the opportunity of taking action against unfair dismissal; the right to join or not to join a union; and the establishment of courts and tribunals where grievances and disputes can be worked out, often 1069 with conciliation working before the rule of civil law comes into operation.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
The Minister has referred to workpeople having the right to refuse to join or, if they wish, to join a union. Will he write that right into the Bill in a way which will give non-unionists the right to opt out of the advantages brought about by trade unions?
§ Mr. Smith
There are no free riders in this Bill. We are not giving carte blanche to a man who does not wish to join a union just to gain all the advantages obtained by that union. We are facing the fact that a certain number of undesirable people may be prepared not to take on their responsibilities but be happy to have all the advantages which the union can win for them.
I agree that this is wrong and unfair and we are introducing a provision—apart from the genuine conscientious objector, and there will probably be only a very small number of them—whereby the man who genuinely does not wish to join a union will have to pay an equal contribution for the services that the union renders, as his bargaining agent, but he will not be subject to the union's discipline. I am sure that this simple provision will work well.
§ Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)
I, too, am concerned with this question of people who do not wish to belong to a union. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the way in which the laws in this respect work in America? There they are attempting to get away from this principle, particularly in the construction industry. In this industry, even in this country, the Government or any future Government will find it utterly impossible to impose the principles contained in the Bill.
§ Mr. Smith
I do not think we will. Indeed, by common consent, these proposals will work rather better than the hon. Gentleman thinks. [Interruption.] I am not aware of the latest moves in America. If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to stand by what he says about the situation there, I am prepared to believe him, because he is an honourable Gentleman.
There has been a crying need in this country for some time for the introduction of some sort of justice for many 1070 people who have been exploited by unions and wish to resign from them. I believe that this is a fundamental human right and that a man should be allowed to belong to a union, or not to belong to one if he does not wish to do so. At the same time, a particular individual must not be allowed to gain benefits which he would otherwise sacrifice by not paying his union subscriptions and allowing himself to be in a position from which he is benefiting by being on the backs of other workers.
This would be entirely wrong and I appreciate why the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) and others object to people who are known colloquially as free riders. As I say, there will be no free riders under this Bill. I wish to stress this. More and more we will find that those who opt out will be paying their dues. The Bill as framed, with the agency shop, will probably encourage many people to join unions when they might otherwise have decided to opt out.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
On this question of people being able to opt to join or not to join a union, may I ask the hon. Gentleman how the Government propose to deal with the situation of the union which wishes to impose certain minimum conditions? The hon. Gentleman says that union discipline will not apply to the free rider. How can an agency shop work in a situation in which a large number of those seeking work—I am thinking particularly of the acting profession—are engaged for three or four weeks, sometimes less? How will the agency shop, or a union, in this position be able to maintain its standards?
§ Mr. Smith
I am sure that this will work in the vast majority of cases, though I know the hon. Gentleman's particular interest in Equity. It may not apply in that one case and we will want to look into that. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will see that the position of Equity is debated in Committee, because I grant that there are special problems in that case. It is an unusual case. The hon. Gentleman will agree, however, that Equity is a comparatively small union taken in the context of trade unionism as a whole.
All through the Bill the accent is on conciliation, and in practically every instance there will be a duty to try to 1071 get the parties together to resolve their differences before legal proceedings start. My right hon. Friend's Department will expand its conciliation service with extra appointments for a new class of case in which individuals will be concerned for the first time. If one looks at this properly, one can for the first time probably welcome an extension of the Civil Service because of the very fact that the conciliation service is to be expanded.
But the success of the Measure once it becomes law, and I want to stress this very strongly, will not be judged by the number of appearances which are entered before the N.I.R.C. or tribunals. Rather will it be the reverse. Once the new law comes into operation and has been operating for some years, I can see the court aspect fading more and more into the background as better practices develop and as there is greater harmony throughout industry.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
The strength of my hon. Friend's case so far is that he is apparently ready to look at the exceptions which may prove the rule. Is he prepared to look at the exceptional case put up by Equity?
§ Mr. Smith
We are prepared to look at any exceptional case, and we have never said anything else. Unfortunately, the T.U.C. refused to talk to my right hon. Friend, but we are still at this stage, and until the Bill goes through Committee, prepared to have consultations with anyone with a valid case to put before us, and we look forward to discussing the Equity case. In this Bill we are trying to be eminently fair to everyone who will be affected by it. We wish to take them into our confidence. We wish them to bring forward their cases, and we shall look at them.
Although legal questions are not for me I want to make one point on the legal angle. The right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn accused us of creating a lawyers' paradise, and I noticed that her hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) cheered at that point, although he is a lawyer.
The allegation is being made that we are making it expensive and difficult for the average working man of modest means to take industrial legal action. That is not true. The essence of these Industrial 1072 Courts and Industrial Tribunals will be their informality. Certainly they will be backed by the full status of the law and the N.I.R.C. will have the full status of the High Court, but deliberate efforts will be made to put people at their ease and to exclude anything of the Old Bailey atmosphere. I stress again that this is civil law, not criminal law.
§ Mr. Smith
That is a matter which will have to be considered—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I say quite frankly that I do not know the answer to that question, but I will find out and tell the hon. Member. It will certainly have to be considered.
As I was saying, deliberate efforts will be made to put people at their ease. Generally in civil cases the panoply of the law, even though there will not be the full criminal court procedure, can put people at a disadvantage, particularly if they are inexperienced and lonely individuals who have never been in court before. That is why the Industrial Courts will have full facilities for people coming before them to conduct their own cases or have it done for them by a trade unionist or a friend. Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
I was interested in the word "informality" within the new High Court, N.I.R.C. or whatever it is called. Can we have an assurance that the procedure will be as informal as the rest; that, for example, solicitors will be able to appear before it? Or will they be blocked by the barristers' closed shop? And will the barristers' closed shop, or agency shop or whatever it is by that time, itself be subject to destruction by the Bill?
§ Mr. Smith
I am not concerned with the barristers' closed shop. The right hon. Gentleman should address that question to the legal luminaries of the House.
The point I am trying to stress is that an individual can conduct his own case or have a trade unionist or a friend do it for him. The point is that he himself will not have to be well versed in the skills and arts of the barrister or even the solicitor, because he is not trying to wheedle a verdict out of a jury. He is trying to put his case, and he will be 1073 assisted by the chairman of the court, who will be a judge and who will become very well versed in assessing individual situations and assisting individual workers to put their cases.
§ Mr. Smith
Time is pressing, and I must get on. I have given way a number of times. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would accuse me of not giving way.
It cannot be stressed too often that the overwhelming advantage of these courts is that they will operate with complete impartiality in the best traditions of British justice. It will not be the Secretary of State of the day who will make the decisions or pull the strings.
§ Mrs. Castle
If that is so, can the hon. Gentleman tell us why the terms for the composition of the court in the Bill are different from those of the existing Industrial Court? Why have the words been changed from the requirement that its members shall be representatives of employers and employees to the requirement that they be people with knowledge of and experience in industrial relations, at the choice of the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State?
§ Mr. Smith
Because we think that that is a better definition. I know what the right hon. Lady is getting at. She is trying to imply that the Government are rigging the court and putting in their own appointees. Can she tell me how many judges were appointed in the time of her right hon. Friend, and who appointed them? [Interruption.] The judges will be appointed by the court.
§ Mrs. Castle
We get rather tired of not having our questions answered by the opening speaker, being told that they will be answered by the Minister winding up, and then having nothing but dodging. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I was not talking about the judges but about the two panels, which in the Industrial Court consist of representatives of employers and of employees. Those panels are drawn up by the organisations concerned. Here we have an entirely new formula. There are two people chosen by the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor. Let us have some 1074 answers for a change. Why have right hon. and hon. Gentlemen gone away from the representative principle? Why are right hon. and hon. Members opposite rigging these courts?
§ Mr. Smith
We are not wriggling on this at all. We think that this definition is the best one, and that the court and the tribunals will be representative. I think that when they are appointed the fairness will be seen. The object, as with the other legislation, is to have properly constituted courts and tribunals which can do the work properly and successfully. If there is an objection to any individual, people who will be more acceptable can undoubtedly be introduced.
The right hon. Lady referred in her speech to the tragedy of the Bill. The only tragedies we have had in connection with industrial relations were the two non-Acts of the last Government, the one which was brought forward with great posturing by the Leader of the Opposition, who said that it would be the final stand on industrial relations, and then the volte-face of June, 1969, and that minuscule, emasculated Bill which was introduced but never saw the light of day and was not debated because of the General Election.
The right hon. Lady cannot kid the country, because she has forfeited her right to speak on this subject. She is utterly discredited on industrial relations legislation. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Smith
The right hon. Lady knows that better than anybody else. I sympathise with her, because I believe that she was taking the right line when she stood firm when the proposal was first introduced. But anything that hon. and right hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench say on this matter must always be seen in the light of their proposed legislation, from which they ran away.
§ Mr. Smith
The test of the Bill lies in three questions—Is it fair? Is it necessary? Is it workable? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I expect that there would 1075 be a cry of dissent from the Labour Party opposite—but the answer to all three questions is a resounding "Yes".
First, is the Bill necessary? I should have thought that, after the recital of all those depressing figures that we have had from my right hon. Friend in the previous debate and on other occasions about the number of strikes in this country, there could be no doubt in anybody's mind that the Bill was vitally necessary. Anyone other than hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that in this country industrial relations are in a chaotic mess and must be modernised and improved. They must be given a chance to work properly.
Is this legislation fair? Yes, it is. It is eminently fair, because it offers an enormous challenge to all those associated with it. It is a fair Bill. It is also a hard and tough Bill, but it is not a hard and tough Bill to the individual trade unionist who responds to his responsibilities. It is a hard and tough Bill to the wildcat strike leader and the Communist agitator. The Bill brings forward nothing but goodwill for the men who populate the trade unions in their thousands, who are responsible trade unionists and who will look to and respond to a lead.
The third of the most pertinent questions is: is the Bill workable? I believe that it is, because it establishes an interlocking framework of law which, once it begins to work, will be seen by those who are active in industry to be worth using. We do not expect miracles; we do not expect attitudes to change overnight, but we believe, even though the bad strike record will not be cured in a matter of months, that it will gradually begin to make its influence felt and that more and more trade unionists will appreciate it.
I believe that the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress have sadly misjudged this programme. The Bill will strengthen trade unions; it will not weaken them. It will give unparalled opportunities for increasing their membership—[Laughter.] Yes, it will, and it will provide them with a far greater influence than they have had before. The Bill gives 1076 a great deal to trade unionism. All it asks in return is one thing—the one thing that the public asks as well—responsibility.
We have to get away from the traditional, out-dated war that we have had, where one extreme says, "We must extort everything we can from the boss and what he represents", to the other extreme, which says, "You can't trust the workers because the majority of them are Communists." These extreme views are ruining and poisoning industrial relations. That situation can be overcome only by modern, sophisticated and professional unions, and enlightened and progressive employers.
The right hon. Lady was right to make great play, a few months ago, with the statement that power has passed to the shop floor. It has, but in many cases responsibility has not passed with it. We believe that our proposals will make it possible for responsibility to return to industry and will prevent this country from becoming increasingly vulnerable to the large number of strikes that take place.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.