§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Heffer
I beg to move Amendment No. 669, in page 24, line 26, leave out subsection (2).
The Clause and this subsection take us back to the concept of an unfair industrial practice. We are here dealing with a breach of a collective agreement which is legally enforceable and which has been accepted as such by both parties. In itself, the Clause is sufficient reason for the trade unions not to agree to an enforceable collective agreement. Why should they? For them to do would mean they could immediately be caught by subsection (2).
It is provided:…it shall be an unfair industrial practice for any party to the agreement not to take all such steps as are reasonably practicable for the purposes of. …What is the exact meaning of "reasonably practicable"? Has a union official taken all reasonably practicable steps if he has made a speech? Will it be reasonably practicable for a union to have sent a circular to all its members?
In the event of the workers going on unofficial strike in breach of the agreement, will it be regarded as reasonably practicable only if the trade union official acts as a picket in reverse and stands at the door of the factory, plant, mine, or building site and puts his arm across the door and stops the workers from corning out? Does it mean that he would have to use a water cannon to drive them back? Does not that show how silly this proposal is?
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Would not the hon. Member agree that whatever else they might mean the words mean that the officials could not get away with doing nothing?
§ Mr. Heffer
That is the whole point; there must be a precise interpretation.
I have suggested a number of alternative interpretations. One lawyer might say that merely making a speech at a mass meeting of workers to say that the union's national executive advised them not to go on strike would be reasonably 1398 practicable. Another might say that that was not enough, that more should have been dome. It might be said that while a trade union official did not have to go to the length of using water cannon to drive the workers back, he should do more than make a speech on a building site to urge workers not to break a collective agreement.
The words might mean that the union would have to threaten to expel members. The Government speak of responsible trade unionism, but there may be fissures in a union precisely because of the operation of the Clause. Is that what the Secretary of State wants? That could be the result of this policy.
§ Mr. Orme
My hon. Friend has mentioned "responsibility". He will remember that we spent five hours discussing what that word meant and got a great deal of ridicule from the right hon. Gentleman for nit-picking. These two words will take much more definition. At the end of the day, however, their meaning will be decided not by the trade unions and the employers in negotiation, but by a High Court judge in an industrial court.
§ Mr. Heffer
Of course, that is the whole point. It will be decided in the last analysis by a High Court judge. Why should a High Court judge decide it? Why should a trade union official have his policies determined not by his membership but by a High Court judge? That is what is being proposed. I mentioned the idea of internal discipline. Perhaps workers could be brought before a disciplinary committee. I do not know whether any hon. Gentleman has any idea of how a disciplinary committee works in a trade union. I will tell them.
The member who is charged has the right to bring before that committee all of his witnesses and in these circumstances I can see the trade union official picking out a few members and saying "Right, these chaps must be brought before a disciplinary committee so that we can say that we have taken all reasonably practicable steps. "The workers involved say "All right, we will bring our witnesses." If it is a building site with 2,000 workers they bring them all to the committee. If hon. Members do not think that has happened I can assure 1399 them that it has. It is this sort of thing that will lead to internal fissures, internal dissent within the union, and ultimately could lead to the position when workers break away, under another part of the Bill, and decide to opt for other organisations.
Hon. Gentlemen have not thought this out. It has been said throughout that the lawyers will have a field day. They will certainly have a field day when they have a case of this kind before them, with the sort of discussion that will take place around the words "reasonably practicable" for the purposes of subsections (a), (b) and (c). What do these subsections say? Subsection (a) says:of preventing persons acting or purporting to act on behalf of that party from taking any action in breach of the collective agreement or of that part of the agreement, as the case may be;Not only "preventing persons acting" but "purporting to act". The story gets worse as we go along. It becomes incredible.
§ Mr. Heffer
Indeed. It is cloud-cuckoo-land. I have never heard anything like it. Then subsection (b) says:where the party in question is an organisation, of preventing members of the organisation from taking any such action …Subsection (c) says:…that the action is not continued and that further action as mentioned in those paragraphs does not occur.Not only have they to stop the action continuing, they have to ensure that it does not happen again. It is absolutely incredible. I honestly feel that hon. Gentlemen have not read their document. We have read it carefully and the more it is read the more absurd it becomes.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
The hon. Gentleman has just said that union officials, or whoever is concerned, have to make sure that no disruptive action takes place. It does not say that, it says that they have to give every indication—presumably—[Laughter.] The sense of the thing is that they must be able to give an indication that they have done their best to make sure that this action did not take place with their authority. Assuming that there is a legally binding contract, 1400 is the hon. Gentleman saying that trade union officials should not do their best to make sure that it is not broken?
§ Mr. Heffer
There are two parts to what the hon. Gentleman says. What he says has absolutely no relation to the Clause. I read the wording of the Clause. I did not say what I thought was in the Clause: I read the Clause. Obviously the hon. Gentleman had not read the Clause until one of his hon. Friends went out of his way to thrust a copy of it in his hand while he was on his feet.
The hon. Gentleman also wondered whether I was saying that the trade union officials should not use their powers of persuasion to keep a collective agreement. I never said anything of the sort. Trade union officials are doing that every day. If the hon. Gentleman does not know that, then he knows nothing about the trade union movement. On probably every building site, when workers take unofficial action, a trade union official explains to them that they are acting contrary to the agreement and to the trade union rules. That happens all the time, and, therefore, it is totally unnecessary to follow it up by saying that if a trade union official does not do it then his organisation, not him personally, can be caught by the provisions about unfair industrial practices.
The Government are trying to put trade union officials in a super-human position. They are almost making them God. God would not be very successful in solving some unofficial disputes for the simple reason that they arise from very poor procedure agreements because the agreements machinery is not good enough. The Donovan Report emphasises time and again that the answer to unofficial strikes is not to have things like unfair industrial practices based on the enforceability of agreements; the need is to have better procedure agreements machinery.
If right hon. and hon. Members opposite were genuinely concerned about solving the problems in industry, they would be concerning themselves with precisely the sort of proposals which the Donovan Report made about unofficial disputes. But they are not. Earlier today, we were told that the unions were not being asked to act as policemen and that there were no disciplinary measures in the Bill. What 1401 are these but disciplinary measures and urging the trade unions to be policemen? This has to be spelt out in detail.
§ [Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ If for some unfortunate reason a trade union official cannot prove that he has taken every reasonably practicable step, an award will be made against the trade union. Hon. Members opposite are right in saying that nothing would happen to a full-time trade union official. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the shop steward?"] He is left in the open. What was meant strictly was a full-time paid union official.
§ Mr. Heffer
No, but I think that that is the intention, unless right hon. and hon. Members opposite are prepared to apply it also to shop stewards. If that is the case, shop stewards do not have much to worry about in a personal sense; but I very much doubt that that is what the Government have in mind.
Whether it is a shop steward or a full-time official, however, suppose that it is proved that he has not taken all reasonably practicable steps. What will happen to him? He will not be fined, but the trade union can be fined-at least, it will be ordered to pay compensation up to £100,000, if its membership is 100,000 or more. What happens if the union says, "We are not paying?"
What will happen, perhaps, is what happened in Australia when a union official refused to pay. It was discovered that it was not the first occasion that the unions had refused to pay the so-called compensation or fine in Australia. It had happened many times. On that occasion, however, the Government decided to move, and the trade union official was put in gaol. Next day, there was a general strike in the locality. All the trade unionists went on strike. Is that what the Government want? Is that what is behind the Clause? The whole thing is an absurdity.
§ Mr. Orme
Will my hon. Friend note the interesting sequel to the Australian story that, in the end, virtually the whole of Australia was brought out on dispute? 1402 Is my hon. Friend aware that, in Australia, no case has been taken by the employers and the Government to the industrial court since that case nearly two years ago?
§ Mr. Heffer
If I was not aware, I am sure that my hon. Friend was only too keen to bring me up to date on the situation, and I am pleased that he has done so. My view is that if these provisions come into operation, it will happen here. But it would happen only once. It would not happen twice.
§ Mr. R. Carr
If I may put the hon. Member at rest from his fevered imagination, I ask him to look at Clause 90(5), where he will see that we make special provision to ensure that a trade union official is not imprisoned in the sort of circumstances he is envisaging.
§ Mr. Heffer
I will continue with the point, because I knew that that was what the Minister would say. I had pointed out that the Government were making great play of the fact that no trade union official would go to gaol. Then, however, I asked what would happen if a union refused to pay the compensation. How does the Minister propose to deal with that situation?
§ Mr. R. Carr
Let us remember that the maximum compensation, for the largest union, is a fraction of what such a union would commonly expect to pay in strike pay in a week. So let us get the maximum fine in perspective. I do not believe that a union in this country would refuse to meet a court order. [Interruption.] If it did, the courts have methods by restraint of goods and funds of obtaining satisfaction.
§ Mr. Heffer
The right hon. Gentleman has not really answered the point I am making. He has merely said that there are ways and means, but he is not prepared to give me a direct answer about what would happen. I tell the right hon. Gentleman this, that the first time a trade union official's goods are restrained, or a trade union's premises are, perhaps, taken over—or whatever fever-imagined thing it is the right hon. Gentleman has in mind happens—as soon as that is done, we shall have one of the biggest industrial crises on our hands we have ever had in this country.
§ Mr. Heffer
I will answer when that rabble over there give me a chance. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman this, that under the law as it stands at the present moment no trade union which has ever had any action taken against it has refused to comply. That is perfectly true. What the right hon. Gentleman is doing now is to introduce an entirely new concept, a concept which the trade union movement does not want. It is not that trade unions wish to be outside the law, but they do not wish to have a special law imposed upon them because they are prepared to take action to fight for better wages and conditions, and it is a special law which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are trying to impose by this Bill. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I have answered the point. I have no intention of responding every time there is a baying from some of the wolves on that side of the Committee. I am going to conclude my remarks—
§ Mr. Carr
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the potential penalty he is talking about here could arise only if a trade union broke a legally enforceable agreement into which it had voluntarily entered? Is he, therefore, really saying that if a trade union breaks a legally binding agreement, which it itself has admitted to be such, it should be exempt from all penalties?
§ Mr. Heffer
What the right hon Gentleman seems to forget is that trade unions have different strengths. Some trade unions will be in a very powerful position, and when they meet the employers the first point on the agenda, before they discuss wages and conditions, will be, "Whatever we agree as the agreement, this will not be legally enforceable." Unless that is provided in the first place, there will be no agreement. 1404 But there are some trade unions who are not in exactly that position—
§ Mr. Heffer
Exactly. The farm workers, who may have to fight hard to get an improvement in their wages and conditions; then, at the very end of the discussions, the question arises whether it should be legally enforceable. What, then, do the farm workers do, after, perhaps, getting an increase in their wages, perhaps only a minor increase, but still an advance, and a little better conditions? Do they then say, "On this issue we will call all our members out on strike"? That is not realistic, and hon. Gentleman know it. If they had not realised it yet, I now tell them that that is precisely the answer. Of course, hon. Gentlemen opposite will not accept anything from us as being logical, except the more intelligent ones among them. I am very pleased that it is not all hon. Gentlement opposite who bay like wolves. It is just a minority who in any case would not accept anything that came from this side, no matter how logical and intelligent.
The Secretary of State says that the unions can pay compensation. What the Bill proposes, to stop them from paying compensation, is that they should sue their members, that they should expel them, threaten them with expulsion, bring them before disciplinary committees, take all forms of action, and having done that perhaps they will be saved from paying compensation. The trade union movement will not accept this. If the Clause, particularly subsection (2), goes through, all that hon. Members opposite are building up for themselves is a great deal of industrial trouble and they will be very sorry that this provision ever came before Parliament.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred at the end of his speech to logic. I and many of my colleagues see nothing logical about an existing law which permits a trade union to make a two-year agreement today and come out on strike next week to alter it.
We have reached the point in the Bill at which the parties to an agreement must use their best endeavours to see 1405 that it is kept. We have dealt with the binding agreement, to get away from the point where an agreement can be made today and broken next week. We have sought, by the principle of the binding agreement, to improve the content of the agreement and reduce the misunderstandings and uncertainties about it and improve communication on its content. We come now to keeping the agreement once it has been made.
In this all that we seek to do is to raise the standards of the minority—a small minority—to those which are accepted by the great majority of good trade unions. I do not believe that any hon. Member opposite seeks, and certainly few trade union officials or leaders seek, to condone the making of agreements and the breaking of them. We are talking specifically about agreements and not about something which has been imposed.
In my trade union membership I go back to the time when I was a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union. I remember Ernest Bevin, one of my heroes. [Interruption.]But O! for the touch of a vanish'd hand, And the sound of a voice that is still!When Ernest Bevin drove a bargain, he drove a damned tough bargain. But when somebody had an agreement with Ernest Bevin, he could be certain that his word was his bond, that his union would keep it and that he would see it did. I regret so bitterly that that is not the situation today.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Rose
If the hon. Gentleman looks at subsection (3) he will see reference to Clause 39, a Clause which imports the astonishing concept of non-agreements which are enforceable as agreements. What he does not understand is that we do not object to trade union officials doing their job. We object to the assumption that they should do their job by expelling, fining or suspending their members. This was contained in the evidence given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman on behalf of the Conservative and Unionist Inns of Court Society.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am glad I stunned the hon. Gentleman to his feet on this issue, but we are not discussing Clause 39 and if I were to proceed to do so I would be out of order. We are discussing the 1406 Clause that is now before the Committee. I am making the case that it used to be the tradition in the trade union movement that it took substantial steps to secure the agreement and support of its members to what had been entered into as an agreement.
I remember as a young member of the Transport and General Workers' Union attending a summer school at which the docks section of that union lammed into an audience of members of the union, in a hard-hitting manner and with a force of language that would have astonished many members of the public, for not honouring agreements made by the union on their behalf. This was a clear case of the union showing that it had a conscience and believed the best endeavours should be used to secure compliance with an agreement—
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) says that agreements are broken every day. The crucial question is: where do the unions stand? Do they condone the situation and just sit on the fence, or do they get off the fence and actively campaign to honour an agreement into which their members have entered? There are often unofficial strikes which are part of a recognised method of negotiation. There are many cases where officials may say publicly that they do not agree with unofficial action, but privately and in reality they are in support of it.
§ Mr. Loughlin
If any Member of this Committee makes statements of that kind, he ought, in fairness to the trade union movement, to substantiate it by evidence. If he does not, he has no right to make such statements.
§ Mr. Mitchell
It is perhaps a fair charge that is laid against me and I must consider it carefully because I do not wish to mislead the Committee. I am quoting from the Committee stage of the Trade Disputes Bill, and the words of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr.Hamling), who is a member of the Labour Party, a member of the Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union and a member of the National Union of Teachers. His words were:Would the hon. Member not agree that, in many cases, an unofficial strike is a recognised method of negotiation, and that, secondly, 1407 also in many cases, although the officials may say publicly that they do not agree with the unofficial action, privately and in reality, they approve of it heartily."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A. 25th March, 1965; col. 135.]
§ Mr. Orme
This will not do. At the beginning of his speech the hon. Gentleman said that he would give examples of where a union one week made an agreement for two years and broke it a week later. Tell us which unions. Give us the examples. The hon. Gentleman knows, as does everyone in the Committee, that thousands of agreements are honoured day by day and year by year. The hon. Gentleman must give us the examples. He might wish to quote the doctors recently, but let us have more trade union examples.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I was asked first to justify the case I have made, and I have done that. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h!"] Secondly, I am asked to give chapter and verse for a number of cases where trade unions have not used their best endeavours to secure compliance with agreements. Ninety-five per cent. of strikes in this country are unofficial.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Ninety-five per cent. of strikes are unofficial and unconstitutional. The examples are so multitudinous that one can pick almost any dispute one likes and find that it falls into the category which I have described.
The hon. Member for Salford, West has said that day by day and month by month many thousands of agreements are honoured. That was where I started my remarks. I said that the Bill seeks to raise the standard in the case of the minority to the best standard entrenched in the behaviour of the majority. That is what the Bill seeks to do throughout. I support every work of the Bill in this context. It is the right way to set about it.
§ Mr. John D. Grant (Islington, East)
I break slightly with convention, for I shall quote not from the Donovan Report, "In Place of Strife" or "Fair Deal at Work" but from a report of an industrial journalist who visited the United States just after publication of the Donovan Report. This is what he wrote at the conclusion of his visit: 1408They have just bought off strikes by 55,000 seamen and 21,000 non-medical hospital workers in this city.That was new York.And a one-day walkout by 840 local railroad track workers has ended by order of the Teamsters Union hierarchy. I arrived here via: Detroit, where the local newspapers have been closed by a strike for nine months and the building industry is idle. San Francisco, where the teamsters have stopped the airport buses. Pittsburgh, where a big local hotel has just reopened after a months-long staff strike and where, most serious of all, talks are under way to try and avert a nationwide steel strike at the end of the month. All this may be small consolation to Britain. —But it helps to put our problems in some perspective in relation to a world which is all too ready to brand us strike happy while turning a blind eye to the facts and figures.That was written in 1966. Modesty prevents me naming the author. This article has not been publicly revealed before, because it was not printed at the time. I will not go into the reasons.
The article goes on to deal with legally binding agreements. It points out that in the United States, which is regarded as the land of the legally enforceable agreement, although law suits are sometimes brought, they practically never reach trial.It takes so long to get through the cluttered courts that the issue is settled meanwhile and the action is dropped to avoid further damage to industrial relations. This is an invariable pattern. Even State laws of the kind restricting government employees are ignored with impunity.In Ohio, public employees are automatically sacked if they strike. But the fast growing State, County and Municipal Employees Union backed 34 strikes in Ohio last year and only once failed to win agreements which included reinstatement of the strikers.Almost everyone in government, management and unions regard legal restraints as virtually unworkable—a view taken by the Donovan Commission.It was all summed up by Mr. Robert Moore, who bosses the Federal Mediation Service. He said:'It is not to do with the law. It is the attitude. People here really believe that once an agreement is signed it is binding.'This is an attitude we sorely need to adopt in British industry today. But we need too the kind of comprehensive agreements which are as commonplace in America as they are rare at home.Do the Government think that they will change workers' attitudes, which they seek to do in the Bill, simply by providing another crutch for managements to lean on? I believe that the Secretary of 1409 State and, perhaps more especially, the Solicitor-General, have made entirely the wrong diagnosis. We do not want a crutch to cure what I regard largely as industrial growing pains, which are inevitable with change—I will prove that point subsequently—we need the kind of medicine which the Donovan Commission recommended and which the Government have largely thrown away.
I should like to illustrate my point by referring to the New York teachers. There was a rash of strikes in New York by the teachers. A law was passed to prevent the teachers striking, but that resulted in more strikes, not fewer. The law was then toughened by the introduction of cash penalties and gaol for the strikers, so there were even more strikes.
I suppose that the action of the teachers' leaders in that instance would certainly have been regarded by the right hon. Gentleman as unfair industrial practice, which is the subject of the Clause. The union leaders, who, it would be fair to assume, did not take reasonably practicable steps to stop this trouble, became martyrs. There is no mistake that they certainly got out of it jobs for life. But none of this helped towards a settlement, it did not help to produce better productivity or higher wages, and it certainly did not help the kids in the New York schools.
The Secretary of State recently gave what many hon. Members felt was a curious definition of industrial democracy. It is certainly not the law which prevents unofficial strikes in the United States of America; it is a system which has a good deal more to do with industrial democracy. There is no doubt that in America union members are much more involved in the decision-taking process—voting on collective agreements clause by clause. Communications in the major industries are, I think, better than in this country both between management and union and between union and workers—incidentally, they do not suffer from shop floor guillotines—and there were encouraging signs of this kind of thing beginning to happen and an appreciable improvement taking place in this country.
Many industries were working to that end, and the T.U.C. was encouraging 1410 them. There was a great deal of worth-while reform on an industry-by-industry basis in line with the Donovan recommendations, and it seems to me that so much of this—in fact, practically all of it—has gone on ice because of the Government's legislative proposals. One of the real tragedies of the whole situation is that genuine progress in industrial relations reform has been stifled —one might even say sabotaged—as a result of the Bill. The scene has become embittered throughout, and one has only to look at the Commission on Industrial Relations which, after all, was a body destined to play a major rôle in the voluntary reform of industrial relations—
Order. I think that the hon. Member is straying rather wide of the Amendment to delete the subsection. Many hon. Members would like to address the Committee before Twelve o'clock, and I think, therefore, that the hon. Member should come to the terms of the Amendment exactly.
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. As he did not rise immediately I sat down, I took it that he had concluded his speech. If he has not done so, he may continue.
§ Mr. Grant
If I have strayed slightly wide of the Amendment, it is probably because, although I have attempted to speak on a couple of occasions, I have complied with the request of the Whips and the Front Bench to speed up the proceedings, so perhaps I could crave a little licence now.
Voluntarism is not a single principle, but is something that has many constituent parts. I am convinced that in the area of collective bargaining and procedure agreements the courts have no worthwhile part to play, and that they do not have the flexibility to deal with the ever-changing situation within industry, and it is an ever-changing situation, almost on a day-to-day basis. Nor do I believe that sensible employers who value their good relations with their work-people, and would wish to see them 1411 restored as quickly as possible, even in times of dispute, would risk resorting to law.
Despite all that has been said by this side of the Committee, the Government are persisting with these irrelevant Clauses in an extremely irrelevant Bill. They will not stop strikes in the short terms or in the long term, but will simply serve to inflame further an already inflamed situation.
§ Mr. R. Carr
I shall not detain the Committee for more than a few moments, but I think that it might be helpful if at this stage I make a few comments on the Amendment.
The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. John D. Grant) should remember that in 1966, about which some industrial journalist made some comment, the position was very different from what it is today. Last year there were nearly three times as many unofficial and unconstitutional strikes as there were in 1966, and I think that the escalation of the problem during that time is something which the Committee and the country must take into account.
§ Mr. Carr
It was published in April, 1968, but I agree that it was based on a previous proposal. We felt, and I have made no secret of this, either inside or outside Parliament, that there was no doubt that in the early 'sixties there began an escalation in the trend of the number of unofficial, unconstitutional strikes of such severity that, in our view, different measures were needed from those which we had felt were right during the 'fifties.
In his speech on the Second Reading of this Measure, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister drew attention to this and explained that he had changed his mind, that what he had felt was appropriate in the 'fifties at one level of strike activity was different from what he had felt was necessary 10 years later when the level of strike activity had changed enormously and was still on an upward trend.
Circumstances change. They also change what is necessary to deal with a 1412 problem. We are, therefore, really dealing with a clear problem that has escalated all through the 'sixties and particularly in the last two or three years. If that were not so the Labour Government would never have proposed the measures which they proposed. They would not have done that had they not realised that something was happening in industry which could not be allowed to go on without some action being taken.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The right hon. Gentleman says that his policy is occasioned by the fact that there has been an escalation of particular kinds of strikes in the last few years. In the event of a de-escalation, would he voluntarily repeal this legislation?
§ Mr. Carr
I am sure that if we were to do so we would then get a re-escalation.
With respect, I urge the Committee to come down to earth, away from the heights of imagination to which it was elevated by the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr.Heffer). Perhaps I should remind hon. Members that this question of enforceability and potential sanctions in relation to actions for breaking binding agreements applies as much to managements as to unions. It is interesting to note that in other countries where there are comparable laws, while the number of cases brought to the courts for breach of collective contracts is very small, of that small number more are brought by unions against employers than are brought by employers against unions.
Thus, experience in other countries is that, in so far as the process of law is used in respect of legally binding agreements, it is found to be used more by unions to protect themselves than by employers. [Interruption.] In other words, experience in other countries—I cannot be certain that we will follow it, but it is so universal that it is likely that we shall—is that, in so far as the law is used in this sphere, it is a union-protecting rather than an employer-protecting device.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
Would the right hon. Gentleman care to say whether in those other countries an agreement is legally binding on a presumption in law such as he is proposing for this country?
§ Mr. Carr
These are highly technical matters, and the position, of course, varies from one country to another. However, by and large it is true to say that both parties in other industrial countries enter into collective agreements believing, I suggest rightly, that they are contracts which are legally binding on each and believing that if they are broken there is a legal remedy should they wish to take advantage of it. To the extent that either party takes advantage of it in other countries, there is a greater tendency for unions to use this protection than employers, and this is a factor which the Committee should bear in mind.
Having set the scene in that way, I must bring the Committee back to what we are talking about under this Clause. [HON. MEMBERS: "We know."] It would be difficult to understand that from the passion shown by the hon. Member for Walton. We are here talking about agreements which have been recognised by both parties as being legally binding contracts.
§ Mr. Heffer
We must clear this point up. We are not talking only about agreements which have been accepted by both sides. We are talking also about an imposed agreement under Clause 39, where an order has been put into effect.
§ Mr. Carr
I take the point, so may I regard my remarks for the moment as being addressed only to Clause 34 (1) and (2)? I shall deal with subsection (3) separately in a moment. As regards subsections (1) and (2), we are dealing only with agreements which have been recognised voluntarily by both parties as being legally binding on each of them.
§ Mr. Carr
I am sure it is, but I must be allowed to get on. I remind the Committee that we are talking here about agreements which both employer and union have agreed to be legally binding on both of them, and all we are saying in this Clause is that it would be an unfair industrial practice if either the employer or the union failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to see that they honoured the agreement which they themselves freely entered into and said should be legally binding on them. That is what we are saying here, and I believe that it is fair and reasonable.
The hon. Member for Walton said—I think he gave his case away when he said it—that this is what union officials are doing the whole time. It may be a bit of an exaggeration to say "the whole time", for if they were doing it the whole time a lot of our troubles would not be here, but I believe that this is what the majority of union officials are doing most of the time.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) said, what we are seeking to do here is to deal with the minority who are sometimes failing to live up to the general practice of the majority. We are doing no more and no less than that. I believe that this is a proposition which should commend itself to the Committee. I am sure that it commends itself not just to the majority of the country but to the great majority of working men and women on the shop floor and in offices, who are as tired as anybody else of the activities of the minority—I stress "minority"—of union representatives who do not spend their time using their best endeavours to see that the agreements which they entered into on behalf of their members are kept. We say that it should be regarded as an unfair practice not to do so.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I hesitate to interrupt, but I am one of the very few full-time union officials in the House. How will the Bill assist a union like mine, the Post Office 1415 Engineering Union, which has lost only one day in a national stoppage in 70 years because, unlike our American counterparts who have long and vindictive strikes, we can conclude a settlement knowing that it can be reopened one year later, and because of that we can recommend to our members acceptance of a settlement even when we may have doubts about it for the future? Can the right hon. Gentleman say—[H0N. MEMBERS: "Speech!"] This is a serious point, and the Secretary of State knows it. Can he explain how this provision will help officials like myself in strike-free industries to keep our members in work when we cannot get a satisfactory settlement, and any settlement reached will be legally enforceable?
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Carr
I refuse to believe that there is anything in the Bill or the Clause that would make it in any way more difficult for the hon. Gentleman as a full-time official of his union, or for his union or employer, to continue in the good practices we are talking about. They are, clearly, doing the sort of things we should like to see done throughout industry.
It is clear to anyone who has any knowledge of this subject, living with it and seeing what happens in other countries, that recourse to the machinery of the law will be exceptionally rare. Because it is rare does not mean that the statement of the law is without value, because most people have a look at what the rules are, and most people most of the time, provided that the rules seem fairly decent, reasonable and fair, make some attempt to keep them. That is the influence that we chiefly seek and that we believe will bring the chief benefit.
All we are saying in the Clause is that we expect management and unions to take all reasonably practicable steps to honour the agreements that they themselves had said are legally binding. It will be for the court to decide in any 1416 case that comes before it what reasonably practicable steps are in the circumstances of the case. The courts are well used to taking that sort of decision. It is the most imaginative nonsense to suggest that to satisfy the court that it has taken such steps a union will have to have gone in for wholesale dismissals of its membership, fines and so on. That is simply not the case. The courts are all day and every day making decisions about what is reasonable in particular circumstances, and that is what these special, sophisticated courts will be able to do in this case.
I promised to deal specially with subsection (3). I agree that in it we are dealing with contracts that are not, like those I have previously been talking about—
§ Mr. Carr
I am sorry. I will not. I have given way to the hon. Gentleman many times in recent days, and I must distribute my favours in this way a little more widely.
I accept that in subsection (3) we are dealing with a different and difficult sort of case, the substance of which we shall discuss on Clause 35 and the Clauses immediately following.
I beg the Committee to realise that before there is an imposed contract, if I may quite openly use those offensive words, the case will have been looked at by the C.I.R., which will have been charged with the special duty of seeking to obtain the voluntary agreement of the parties to the procedure agreement which was lacking in their case when the case first came to it. So, in our view, we shall be dealing here only with the very rare case where, after full investigation and persuasion by the C.I.R., the parties utterly refuse to make any reasonable agreement voluntarily, where there is a scandal of industrial relations which is an offence to the national interest, and where, in those rare circumstances, the court may have imposed a procedural agreement on the parties. Whore that has been imposed we believe, too, that it would be wrong to allow either party just to breach that agreement without any obligation or possibility of any liability. Here, too, in these rather rare cases we believe that it is right that it should be regarded in this 1417 country as an unfair practice for either management or unions to fail to take all reasonable steps to maintain a legally binding agreement.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has once again drawn attention to the alleged multiplication by three of strikes since 1966. In doing so, he has drawn attention to the deterioration in our industrial relations. If we examine the situation, it indicates not the need for legislation but rather that the deterioration has resulted directly from the introduction of the concept of penal sanctions in industrial relations. Because of that, because of the malaise, the anxiety, the sense of insecurity which has resulted from that concept, we have seen this enlargement in the number of strikes.
I want to concern myself particularly with the Clause itself. It is a sinister Clause in an extremely sinister Bill. It is an informer's charter. The essence of the Clause is not, as the right hon. Gentleman kept on saying, that those involved should take every necessary precaution in order that unfair practices should not be carried out; the essence of the Clause is that those involved in carrying out the practices recommended by the Bill as a whole should take such action as "reasonably practicable" in order to prevent— persons acting or purporting to act on behalf of that party from taking any action in breach of the collective agreement or that part of the agreement, as the case may be".This is not just a question of individuals being responsible for their own behaviour, which is a concept in law that we all accept. This is a different concept. This says that unless one as an individual or a trade union official as an individual in the union takes certain action in order to secure as far as is "reasonably practicable" that some other person shall conform with the law, one shall be held guilty and responsible under the Bill.
That is not only an iniquitous recommendation but very novel in the law. I have said that this is an informer's charter. I am certain that in the factories it will quickly be called the "nark's charter". It will mean that every worker may he held responsible or at least accountable to his union for the behaviour of others; he will be called upon to be an informer on his colleagues.
1418 The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) claimed to be a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union and even invoked the name of Ernest Bevin. But I remind him that Bevin's great theme was loyalty—and loyalty is the basis of the trade union movement. I cannot imagine that any trade unionist would willingly lay information against his fellow workers in order that his officials may be held harmless under the Bill. The recommendation is not only socially iniquitous, not only legally impracticable, but, indeed, when we come to the term "reasonably practicable", it puts us in the deepest waters.
Surely the term "reasonably practicable" is a value judgment. Who is to decide, and by what criteria, when a thing is not "reasonably practicable"? Is it requested of the trade union official that he should set up some sort of kangaroo court to sit in legal judgment on the workers in that union to decide whether they are engaged in some sort of unfair practice? Those who intend, when the Bill becomes an Act, to engage in what is called an "unfair practice" will not do so openly. They will certainly consort together to discuss their own grievances, and they will try to get together to remedy grievances about which they are concerned. In that situation, a trade union official may well be required by Clause 34(2)(a) to act as a spy—and I am not mincing words—on his fellow workers, if he does not engage in that kind of espionage, he may well be held guilty of an offence under the Clause.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
If there is one hon. Member who professionally understands the meaning of words, it is the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). He must be a party to many contracts. Has he one contract to which he is a party by which he is not expected to take reasonable action to see that the terms to which he has agreed are fulfilled?
§ Mr. Edelman
I entirely agree with the hon. Member. In contracts which I or any other hon. Member have signed, one is responsible for one's own actions as an individual; but one is not responsible for anybody else, not even for people who may act within one's ambience. What the Clause proposes is completely novel—it is that those mentioned in the Clause 1419 should be responsible for their fellow workers.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that, although the Secretary of State has been making great play with his talk about the trade unions being inside the law, there has hardly been a tyranny in the history of mankind which has not been dependent on pimps and narks and informers and that most of them would have survived but for people who were prepared to break the law and challenge them?
§ Mr. Edelman
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he has reminded me that it is only under the tyrannies of the Communists and the Nazis that such legislation has existed in which people are not responsible for themselves but are responsible in a form of guilt by association for their fellow workers and their families and so on. Innocent though the right hon. Gentleman may make it out to be, the Clause is one of the most sinister of any Bill ever brought before the House.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was trying to put the trade unions outside the law. What is happening is not that the trade unions are now outside the law, not that the right hon. Gentleman wants to bring them within the law as it exists in the normal concept of jurisprudence, but that he is creating a completely new kind of law by which individuals are no longer responsible for themselves but may be found guilty because of the behaviour of others.
This is an entirely new concept, and it is an iniquitous and pernicious concept. The Clause is contrary to the rights of the individual. This is a matter which goes far beyond the concept of industrial relations. It touches the heart of human rights, the rights of every individual.
When the right hon. Gentleman wonders why the workers are incensed and angry and indignant about the Bill, he should realise that they are incensed and angry and indignant about this attack on their human rights. I hope that we shall vote against it and do everything in our power to ensure that a Bill of this sort which imposes on a trade union official or even—
§ It being Twelve o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant to the Order made on 25th January.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.