HC Deb 02 February 1971 vol 810 cc1623-30

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Harold Walker

I beg to move, Amendment No. 684, in page 27, line 31, leave out from 'provisions' to end of subsection.

The Chairman

It will be for the convenience of the Committee to take also Amendment No. 685, in page 27, line 40, leave out from 'effect' to end of subsection and insert 'to the Secretary of State'.

Mr. Walker

The Amendment follows logically from our earlier Amendments and from our presentation of the rôle of the C.I.R. in relation to defective or non-existent procedures. We have set out our case cogently and clearly for the rejection of the concept of legally enforceable collective agreements. We have also demonstrated to the Committee how damaging it is to the rôle and standing of the C.I.R. to require it actively to engage in the legal apparatus which the Government are setting up. We therefore now reject the obligation which is being imposed on the C.I.R. to promote, albeit in exceptional cases, legally enforceable collective agreements.

The right hon. Gentleman said in earlier debates that subsection (3) adequately met the point of our Amendment No. 676, which said that the C.I.R. should obtain implementation of reform by voluntary agreement. I have examined the right hon. Gentleman's claim, and he has a most curious idea of what constitutes a voluntary agreement. The subsection says that the Commission shall seek to promote agreements— so formulated as to be capable of having effect as a legally enforceable contract. Surely, a voluntary, free unrestricted agreement, to which the Government have so frequently paid lip service, means that the parties unaided, without coercive Governmental or extra-governmental pressure, should determine whether the agreement should be legally enforceable.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Under the common law, even if a case is pending, if both sides voluntarily agree to a settlement the judge will automatically agree that there is no need to proceed. Is my hon. Friend suggesting the same thing here?

Mr. Walker

Yes. If the right hon. Gentleman means that above all he wants people on both sides of industry voluntarily of their own will to enter into agreements, what is the purpose of the provisions in the Bill to coerce them into agreements?

I do not want to conclude without refering to the intemperate, if not hysterical, outburst of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) when he worked himself into a lather about what he saw as the destructive rôle of my right hon. Friend, my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and myself. If in our earlier debates I spoke with some vigour and in a rough manner, I think the Committee will accept that this is characteristic of me—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order. Sir Robert, may I ask you to request the Serjeant at Arms to get those hon. Gentlemen who are holding an unofficial meeting of strike-breakers at the end of the Chamber to conduct their proceedings outside the Chamber, because I want to listen to my hon. Friend?

The Chairman

Order. I hope that hon. Members will keep as quiet as possible.

Mr. Walker

I was referring to the intemperate remarks of the hon. Members for Yarmouth. After a difficult period in which my right hon. Friend the Mem- ber for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) tried to establish achievements of which she and I are justly proud, I am entitled to speak with some vigour when the Conservative Government seek to destroy those achievements. When the hon. Gentleman accuses people of being destructive, let me say to him: "Physician heal thyself". Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are the people who are being destructive and we are entitled to protest against their actions. We are the defenders of order and the status quo and are entitled to express ourselves vigorously about what we believe in.

I believed then, and believe now, that the C.I.R. as established by my right hon. Friend, with its rôle outlined in our White Paper, is a powerful force for good in industrial relations, and I suggest that our proposed reforms and procedures are the right way to proceed. It is because I am so concerned about industrial relations, as someone who has been involved from both inside and outside Parliament for the whole of my adult life, that I am entitled to express concern about the state of industrial relations. I am concerned about the people whose lives will be regulated by these provisions and I am concerned about the national interest. When the Government do things that run counter to all the good we have done, we are compelled to protest with all the vigour of which we are capable, and we shall continue to protest.

Mr. R. Carr

These two Amendments follow precisely on the earlier Amendments and the objections are on the same lines. The Committee might find it helpful to read subsections (3) and (4) together. It is true that in subsection (3) the Commission is directed to promote and assist discussions between the parties to the reference with a view to obtaining their agreement in a form which would be suitable for legal enforcement.

One advantage of an agreement that is suitable for legal enforcement, even if it is never made legally binding, is that it should be precise and clear. Precision and clarity are sometimes lacking in some agreements in industry today and they are good things in themselves.

Subsection (4) says If, at any time after the Commission have made a determination under subsection (1) of this section, the Commission are satisfied that the purposes for which the reference was made have been or will be adequately fulfilled without continuing the proceedings on that reference, the Commission shall make a report to that effect.… In other words, we are telling the Commission that, if it is encouraging the parties to the point at which they are able to make a voluntary agreement without further assistance, it should discharge the reference and leave the parties to agree in the normal, voluntary way.

Taking the two subsections together, plus the others, it remains true that we reserve for the most exceptional case the possibility of imposing legal enforcement, and we are giving the maximum encouragement—indeed, the maximum requirernent—for efforts to be made to achieve settlements by voluntary means.

I ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.

Mr. McNamara

The right hon. Gentleman must be clear about two matters. The first is that we are against the imposition of legally enforceable contracts as such. The second is that we are against the imposition of legally enforceable contracts, even as a last resort, in the national interest or in the case of an emergency.

I find it hard to imagine how the two can go together and last for the sort of procedural time that the right hon. Gentleman referred to in our last debate. In industry, any national emergency lasting 18 months would be far easier to solve by bringing in Scamp or someone like him.

The right hon. Gentleman said that, if the Commission succeeded in bringing the parties together and they appeared to be coming to some sort of agreement acceptable to the Commission, it could hen apply to the industrial court to have the reference discharged. However, the only type of agreement that we are considering is a written one. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is saying that a written agreement will be arrived at either by compelling the parties under the direction of the Commission or, as he prefers to call it, by the encouragement of the Commission, or an agreement will be imposed by compelling the Industrial Court to enforce it. Which- ever way the right hon. Gentleman goes about the procedures that he proposes, a written legally binding agreement will be imposed through the action either of the Commission or of the court.

That is the sole purpose of the Clause, and we are against it. For that reason, we support the Amendment, which proposes the deletion of all reference to the legally enforceable character of the contract.

Our second Amendment is equally important. It has long been our contention that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to foist on to the Industrial Court the responsibility for making policy decisions which should be his. As we have seen in the electricity power workers' dispute, the right hon. Gentleman is afraid to make up his mind and show his hand. The responsibility for making policy decisions is the Government's, and the right hon. Gentleman is trying to foist it on to outside bodies.

We want to make the Secretary of State accept the responsibility which is properly his. He should be the guardian of good industrial relations. He should try to act in this capacity, rather than as a person who claims that he is not intervening and then applies all sorts of pressures from the outside.

We say that if, in fact——

It being Twelve o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant to Order [25th January].

Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.