§ Mr. Harold Walker
I beg to move Amendment No. 873, in page 83, line 37, leave out:'not being a place where he resides'.We come now to a Clause which, I think, signals the introduction of a significant change in the law concerning picketing. The words which we seek to have deleted make unlawful a concept which has been legal for certainly the whole of this century. This is a major, far-reaching and inexplicable change which the Government are seeking to introduce. Therefore, the onus for explaining it—we have not so far had one word of explanation—rests with the Government. It is for them to justify this change and 481 to tell us what new circumstances have arisen which require it.
Picketing has undergone changes in practice in recent years which are contrary to the direction implied in the proposed change in the law. I am prepared to acknowledge that in one or two exceptional instances picketing has been practised with perhaps an excess of robustness. But generally picketing has been practised with perhaps an excess of robustness in recent years than when the 1906 Act laid down what has now been the foundation of the law concerning peaceful picketing for more than half a century.
It is for the Solicitor-General to explain what new circumstances have arisen to justify this deliberate change in the law, which is not inconsistent with the general approach of the Bill, which is designed to weaken the strength of organised workers and to blunt the edge of the only weapon which they have in industrial relations—the strike weapon. It is a change, moreover, which defies—indeed, reverses—the express and deliberate will of Parliament exemplified in the Trades Disputes Act, 1906, which specifically included provisions which the Solicitor-General is now seeking to wipe out after a lengthy and exhaustive assessment of the practice in circumstances in which picketing was conducted with more vigour than today.
Furthermore, it is a change in the law which, despite all that the Solicitor-General, the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and their roving band of propagandists up and down the country have been proclaiming—
§ Mr. Walker
My hon. Friend describes them as "peripatetic prophets". I am not sure that "prophets" is appropriate. Perhaps "pharisees" would be more relevant. They have made a great virtue of arguing that their proposals are consistent with, not to say based upon, the Royal Commission's recommendations. But time and again we have pointed out that the contrary is the case. In the light of earlier discussions today when we were accused of confusing the public and trade unionists, it strikes me as an extraordinary charge in view of the difficulty which the Solicitor-General has had in reconciling 482 so many of his proposals with the Royal Commission's recommendations.
We find here yet another defiance of the views of the Royal Commission. Paragraph 877 of the Report states:The majority of members consider that the Commission has had no evidence of abuse of the right to picket sufficient to justify such a restriction.It is important to point out here that the restriction referred to is precisely that which the Solicitor-General has put in the Bill, and which we seek to reject. The Commission sat for three years and had evidence submitted to it from a great range of organisations and from literally scores of individuals, all of whom are deeply involved in the day-to-day practice of industrial relations. None of them could find any evidence on which to base what the hon. and learned Gentleman has put in. It seems that he has found out what the Royal Commission could not discover. We shall look forward to seeing how he has triumphed over the labours of the Commission.
But, in order to be fair to the hon. and learned Gentleman, it should be said that four members out of the 12 came to a contrary view, and felt that picketing should not be allowed at a person's home when that place was not also his place of work. It is interesting to read their reasons for coming to that conclusion. They said:They consider that in such cases it is quite unnecessary: information can be peaceably communicated or sought by post.In the context of the current industrial relations situation those words have a rather ironic ring about them, to put it at its most moderate. I could not help wondering, when I understood that the reason for the Secretary of State's absence was that he was having discussions with the General Secretary of the Union of Postal Workers, if those discussions should bear fruit, as we all hope they will, and the General Secretary feels it necessary to communicate to his members the agreement reached so that the members might form some view of the agreement, just what would have happened had this Bill been an Act of Parliament. The answer is that such an action would, under the Solicitor-General's proposal, be an offence.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
The hon. Gentleman said, quite rightly, that four 483 members of the Royal Commission dissented from the majority view. One of them was Lord Donovan himself.
§ Mr. Walker
I hope the hon. Gentleman is not seeking to elevate Lord Donovan into something more than I understood him to be—primus inter pares. If it is suggested that Lord Donovan's views should be held to be paramount, the Government should rewrite the Bill. Hon. Members opposite like to select pieces from the Report when it suits them, but do not hesitate to ignore completely the views of Lord Donovan when the contrary is the case.
§ Mr. Michael Grylls (Chertsey)
Instead of being selective himself, would the hon. Gentleman read the next two sentences in that quotation?
§ Mr. Walker
If hon. Members opposite want to keep throwing clay ducks in the air, I am willing to keep potting away with either barrel. Paragraph 876 reads:The liberty to picket a person's home involves the risk of threats to his family which are quite unjustifiable, and may cause much distress.The important point is that that sentence speaks of the risk involved, but so far as I am aware, nowhere in the Report or in the evidence submitted—and I have probably gone through the evidence as thoroughly as any hon. Member here—is there anything to tell us that people have in recent years been exposed to that kind of situation.
The Solicitor-General may cite an example, but I cannot think of any example. I can think of examples of robust picketing in areas other than a person's home, but that is not what the Solicitor-General is tilting at. It is not in that area of the law relating to picketing that the Solicitor-General proposes to bring about changes. It is that part of the law that Parliament deliberately wrote into the 1906 Act, at a time when picketing was conducted in a much more violent fashion than anything we have seen in recent years and when Parliament, having carefully considered the practice, deliberately removed the restrictions in this area of the law on picketing that had been written into the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act, 1875.
484 The Government are not only reversing the decision of Parliament taken in 1906, but they are making the position of the law more restrictive—not only more restrictive than it was pre-1906 but even more restrictive than it was pre-1875. We are driven to the conclusion that this provision, like so many other features of the Bill, is designed deliberately to diminish the power of the worker and his organisations and to blunt—to put it at its best—the only weapons available to workers. This makes a mockery of the Government's declared intention that the Bill is designed to strengthen the unions. This is yet another onerous restriction against the unions which we shall vote against, unless we can be given a justification for this dramatic and far-reaching change in the law.
§ Mr. Percival
Such huffing and puffing does nothing to enhance the future of the cause which the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) seeks to advocate. The hon. Gentleman used two phrases that stuck in my mind. One was that the inclusion of the wordsnot being a place where he resideswas designed to weaken trade unions. The hon. Gentleman concluded by saying that this provision was designed to diminish the power of the workers.
Heavens above, does the great trade union movement need to be able to besiege a man in his own home? Are not there some moments when a man can live his own life free, not only of interference from the Government, but free also of interference from his own union if he does not want it? This question should be seen in its true proportions.
Under the Clause a union is free to picket in all the ways in which it has picketed in the pastat or near—The only place where a union cannot picket is at
- (a) a place where a person works…
- (b) any other place where a person happens to be".a place where he resides".I beg the Committee to come down to earth and realise that some things may be legitimate for a man's protection and that it is nonsense in this context to describe this as a Measure designed to weaken trade unions.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) discussed paragraph 876 of the Donovan Report, in which Lord Donovan, Lord Robens and two others—that is, a third of the members of the Commission—thought that the picketing of people's homes should not be allowed. The hon. Gentleman made a meal of the business of information being communicated peaceably. Nothing in the Bill would stop a person leaving a letter or speaking to someone in his home, but "picketing" has a continuing atmosphere. I should have thought that, if a picket could get to someone's home, so could a fellow worker with a message. So that part of his argument falls.
The hon. Gentleman also said that there had been no change of circumstances in recent years. I should have thought that hon. Members would agree that there has been a change of circumstance in the amount of increasing violence which is generally evident in the life of our country. That is another reason why the Amendment should be opposed.
In paragraph 876, the Commission said:No doubt such threats are a breach of the law, but the victims are unlikely in most cases to bring proceedings.
§ Mr. Murray
The hon. Gentleman has just made a very serious charge about increasing violence in the industrial field. Can he now substantiate this charge?
§ Mr. Harold Walker
Would the hon. Gentleman address his final remarks not to the point about violence—he and his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) have still to give examples of that—but to the fact that the Bill not merely restricts violence, which is already restricted by the law, but prevents anyone going to another's home… in contemplation or furtherance of an industrial dispute… for the purpose of peacefully obtaining… or peacefully communicating information…In other words, it is not just the violence but the peaceful action which is prevented.
§ Mr. Percival
As reference has been made to me, I wish to make it clear that I did not make violence a part of my argument. Without violence, it is an intrusion of privacy which should not be allowed, and I therefore cannot believe it necessary for this great movement to have this power.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)
The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) did not provide 487 one example or argument in favour of retaining this right. Why should the trade unions regard it as essential in 1971 to have the right to picket a man's home? While there is not much danger from the possibility of violent picketing, the privacy argument carries much weight, and even in terms of the simple communication of information, the language used in a picket line for communicating information may be acceptable on the shop floor, but might be frightening in the context of a man's home, which may be occupied by his wife and family. [Interruption.] It is not only the language that might be frightening to them. It is also the atmosphere in which it might be used. If hon. Gentlemen opposite claim that this would be an onerous restriction on trade unions in 1971, the burden of proof must rest very much on them to show why this power is necessary.
§ Mr. Orme
Although hon. Gentlemen opposite have indulged in emotive talk on this subject, they have not given one example of the type of provocation to which the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) referred. Donovan examined this matter in depth and firmly stated that the law did not need changing.
Hon. Gentleman opposite have asked us to give examples, and I will give an example of a court case which arose from picketing. I refer to the now famous Roberts Arundel dispute. In that case the people who had to make restitution to the pickets were the Stockport police. Compensation was paid by the police for violence carried out on certain strikers, who proved their case at common law and were awarded damages against the police. [Interruption.] It was at their place of work. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to talk generally about violence in our society. I am talking about violence arising out of an industrial dispute.
§ Mr. Heffer
For the record, in the Roberts Arundel dispute the men were beaten up at the police station.
§ Mr. Orme
In other words, they were taken into custody, and then the violence occurred.
There is little evidence of violence taking place during picketing. I agree 488 that sometimes tempers run high. Frequently employers act in a provocative way; for example, by declaring that the premises are open for employees who wish to come to work, by encouraging employees to work and by erecting provocative notices. We remember what happened recently at Pilkingtons, but there was no violence or picketing involving people's homes.
§ [Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ It cannot be right to put this provision into the Bill, in face of Donovan and in face of the evidence of the way that picketing actually takes place in this country. Work places can be so much spread about nowadays, with employment in so many different establishments, that all sorts of difficult conditions can arise. But we have seen, for example, how picketing has been done in the Post Office dispute recently, when workers expressed, as is their right, their fundamental disagreement with others who wanted to go into work.
§ Hon. Members opposite talk about a person's right to be free to do this, that and the other. Trade unionists also have rights, particularly when, as in the Post Office dispute, they are in an overwhelming majority. In fact, there has been no violence during this dispute.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
The Post Office workers—we saw it on television—were picketing girl telephonists who wanted to go back. That was men against women.
§ Mr. Orme
There is equality in our society, as is evidenced by the presence of some hon. Ladies on the hon. Gentleman's own side of the Committee tonight. My understanding is that women today are quite able to stand up for themselves. But the important fact is that there was no violence. That is what must be acknowledged.
History shows that there has been very little violence in this country. In other countries where there are rigid laws governing trade disputes, such as the United States and Australia, there is far more violence. The Solicitor-General's desire to alter the law as it now stands only shows that he does not understand the basic philosophy behind what trade 489 unionists do when picketing in an industrial dispute, and why they publicly exercise their right to display the fact that they are in dispute, encouraging other workers not to go into the place of employment.
In many instances they are people of great courage who do this sort of thing. [Laughter.] One or two hon. Members laugh at that. In 1970, to take part in an industrial dispute, putting one's job in jeopardy, takes a great deal of courage.
§ Mr. Percival
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I am certainly not laughing at anything he says. I appreciate that a person may feel strongly on these matters and that it may require courage to picket around or near the place of work. That I understand. But I do not understand why it should be necessary to reserve the right to do it at a man's residence. The hon. Gentleman has not directed his argument to that.
§ Mr. Orme
I have directed my argument to that. I am showing that, if we start circumscribing the limits of where one may or may not picket, that in itself will be provocative, and the more so since hon. Members opposite have produced no evidence to show that picketing at homes has given rise to the sort of conduct towards wives and families which they allege takes place.
§ Mr. McNamara
Would my hon. Friend consider this situation? The employer invites to his home prospective strike-breakers, wines and dines them, puts them on a motor coach, and then drives them through a picket line at a furious speed and on board a ship. The home has been used as a centre to gather the men together and exhort them to break the strike. That is a clear example of a home being used for strikebreaking, and it happened in the Hull fishermen's strike last year. All the evidence is on the record.
§ Mr. Orme
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That underlines the danger of defining the methods of picketing. The action proposed in the Clause heightens the danger and does not lessen it. The present law fully protects people against unlawful picketing and violence. Nobody is excluded from it, and nobody justifies violence. Therefore, why should 490 the Solicitor-General want to change the law? Why should he want to circumscribe it? We can only be driven to the conclusion that this is fundamentally a narrowing of the lines of demarcation and that it opens the way to the basic attack on picketing itself which could take place later.
The Solicitor-General has a case to answer, because his hon. Friends have not answered it tonight.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
I was rather surprised at the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) should press the matter so hard. He said that there was very little violence in picketing. There is some violence in it sometimes. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) mentioned the Pilkington case, where there was some violence, and we have seen it from time to time. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Salford, West said it in his speech, and he can read it tomorrow. Whether he said it or not, it is true; it has happened. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Doncaster, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, would have been on the side of those who want to maintain the privacy of the home.
If I have any criticism of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General it is that he has widened picketing too far, because the Clause says that it can take place anywhere except at the home. It can take place in the supermarket, or when a man is shopping in the High Street, or going down town to a sporting event. Is the hon. Member for Doncaster saying that the great trade union movement wants to picket a home? That means that a congregation of working men outside the home might be provoked by the wife inside it, and there might be an argument that became so heated that the children were concerned about what was going on. Is that what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends want?
It should be pinned on Labour Members that time after time when, whatever differences we might have on the Bill, we are debating matters on which there should be agreement, they are on the side of the extremists and we are on the side of moderate opinion.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends must not misrepresent my speech as they are doing. 491 First, I made the general point that the climate of picketing had changed, not in such a way as to justify the proposed change in the law but in the very opposite direction. I then pointed out—and this was the theme of my speech—not that there was violent picketing of people's homes but that the Solicitor-General is preventing the peaceful communication of information, the peaceful persuasion not to work. That is the point. Hon. Members should address themselves to my example of the postman knocking at his mate's door to tell him that there was a meeting next day. That would be an offence under the Bill.
§ Mr. Sidney Bidwell (Southall)
I hope that we can take a serious look at what is proposed here and that we will not follow the intemperate attitude of the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. K. Lewis). One of the features of British industrial life compared with that of most other countries is that it is relatively a peaceful situation. Violence is rare and an oddity. The massive peaceful march on Sunday demonstrated this characteristic of British Trade unions.
I want the Solicitor-General to direct his attention to the wording of Clause 121. In theory, it gives freedom to peaceful picketing, not only to persuade people not to go to work but also to persuade them to go to work. I ask him to consider the wording of subsection (1) and to tell us how one is peacefully to persuade someone to go to work without going to his home on occasion or without seeking him out if he is not in the betting shop or the pub. The Bill, in theory at any rate, is supposed to protect the rights of the employers as well as the workers. It is supposed to cut all ways. In certain circumstances, there may be a difference of opinion amongst the workers themselves; some may seek to persuade their fellows not to go to work while others may try to persuade them to do so. That is the theory of the Clause.
In normal circumstances, it is not desirable to go to people's homes for such purposes. The Committee should pay attention to the wording of the 1906 Act, which made it possible for peaceful picketing to go so far as visiting a person's home. There is no accurate definition of the word "picket". It is broadly described in the 1906 Act and is broadly 492 described in this Bill. The picture we have of a picket is a striker, usually furnished with an arm band to distinguish him from other workers—one sees pickets nowadays outside the major post offices and other centres where Post Office employees normally work—and seeking peacefully to persuade his fellow workers not to go to work.
But the 1906 Act—indeed, the legislation right back to the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1825—never said that a picket had to wear an arm band or that he in any way had to distinguish himself from any other member of the community. Obviously, many circumstances must arise where the lines of communication must be extended from the factory gate. The 1906 Act already provides that it must be done in a peaceful manner, that there must be no molestation and no violence. If there is violence, other proceedings can take place under the law. Now, one may take a picket to court and try to prove that he was in some way offending against the provisions of this Bill.
The Solicitor-General has this evening, as we quaintly say at this time of night, proved on other Clauses that he is more amenable and reasonable than I thought he was when we started discussing this massive Bill. He says that he wants to be fair and that he wants good trade unionism. This is the occasion when he can prove that he does. If we are to have properly and lawfully conducted strikes, which the hon. and learned Gentleman says that he wants in certain circumstances, when the trade union is registered and when it has gone through the whole gamut of the law and so on, if unions are to be strengthened by being able to strike without falling foul of the law, let him consider these proposals very carefully.
From time to time we have snippets in the Press about homes being visited when there is a strike and when certain undesirable things occur. But if these events were not rare, they would not make news and be reported in the newspapers. There is thus no need for the hon. and learned Gentleman to clutter up his courts, even more than they will be cluttered, with instances of people stepping over the line. In Tory lawyer debating circles it has long been an old wives' tale that such 493 things are not rare, but workers must have freedom to band together with colleagues and withdraw their labour when an employer is unreasonable.
We know that the picketing of homes has been a shuttlecock in the history of industrial relations, that sometimes it has been allowed and sometimes not. But one may have heard that one's brother is a blackleg in a strike and one may have been so horrified that one has gone peacefully to persuade him over a cup of coffee not to be a blackleg, and I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to address himself to that situation.
§ Mr. Gower
The debate has demonstrated that, far from being the progressive party which they profess to be, the Opposition are looking further and further back into history, and in the context of today most of their arguments are inapposite.
The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) said that the Government were wrong to specify the places at which picketing could properly take place. There is no attempt to do that. All we have done is make one narrow exception. We have said that picketing may take place anywhere except in a person's home, and that is not rigidly specifying the law.
When people lived in terraced houses or streets near to each other—
§ Mr. Tom King
I am most impressed by the housing conditions in Wales which I had not realised were so extensive. Would my hon. Friend agree that the main burden of hon. Members' arguments was that the Donovan Commission's Report made exhaustive studies about picketing? Could he tell me how exhaustive these were? I cannot find them in the Report. The Commission studied it but the Report appears to consist of a review of the previous law on the subject and a few reports submitted by individuals, including the T.U.C. and 494 the Society of Labour Lawyers. Surely the point—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Member will have heard the example I gave to my hon. Friend about a situation which occurred in 1970 when a home was used by strike breakers for a meeting and for them then to go forward to break a picket line. By pure chance the television cameras had also been invited and accompanied these strike breakers through the picket line. The only other place that could possibly have been used for picketing was in the Humber, around the actual place where the men's place of work was, or on the north-west coast of Iceland. How are we to deal with that situation?
§ Mr. Gower
The point I was making is that people live under very disparate conditions. What is important is that people are much more mobile, there are many more opportunities for things to be carried out in various places. Far from imposing a rigid pattern, this provision leaves the maximum opportunity for picketing and says only that a man's home should be excluded.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
I could talk on this for a great deal longer than the few minutes we have left—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I must say that I expected a statement from the Leader of the House earlier—in view of the Prime Minister's statement that he would like to continue the discussion on the Bill—to the effect that the guillotine had been lifted. The Prime Minister would find great difficulty in this respect, because he has the most appalling Division record.
§ Mr. McNamara
In fairness to the Prime Minister, my hon. Friend would surely agree that this was a fait accompli with which he was faced when he returned from the Singapore Conference. It was decided when he was in foreign parts.
§ Mr. Sillars
That is one part of the right hon. Gentleman's memoirs to which 495 I will look forward. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."] If hon. Gentlemen opposite do not understand my accent, I cannot make any apology for that, because I have the greatest difficulty in understanding what the disc jockey for commercial radio says.
I listened carefully to hon. Members opposite talking about the importance of people having privacy in their own homes. One hon. Gentleman opposite almost brought tears to my eyes when he talked about the wife and children. He does not need to convince me of the problems when an outside agency invades the privacy of the home. As a local authority member and as a Member of Parliament, I have been involved in eviction from tied houses, so I do not need to be persuaded on the point. I should be the last to defend the invasion of the privacy of the home of anyone, whether he was on strike or a strike-breaker.
But I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would have some sympathy for the person involved in a strike, such as the postman who has to go back to the privacy of his home and meet his wife and children in almost a state of destitution. [Interruption.] It is no good hon. Members opposite pooh-poohing this question of destitution among postmen. They have put a lot of political cash on the hope that they will manage to starve the postmen out in the next 24 or 48 hours or even in the next seven days. They well know the position of postmen whose union did not have a strike fund before the strike started.
The reason that I am speaking is that I wish to answer the hon. Member fcr Paddington, South (Mr. Scott). I do not mind answering him, because he has taken part in almost all our discussions in Committee and he is entitled to a reply. He gave a good reason, from his point of view, for opposing our Amendment. He said that it lay with us to prove that it could be necessary for people peacefully to picket the home of an individual. I should like to quote one of the most recent outstanding examples north of the Border.
It concerns the B.S.R. dispute at East Kilbride. In the dispute there was an exceptional employer in just about every sense of the word. People interested in 496 Northern Ireland affairs know that better than anyone else. This employer decided to break the strike by recruiting blacklegs from a very wide area and by driving them through the picket lines in closed vans and closed buses at a fair rate of knots. Some of the people on picket duty were injured by motor vehicles. It was impossible for the people on strike peacefully to communicate a point of view to the people engaged in strike breaking.
There was violence at the work gates, but it was not caused by the strike breakers. It occurred because of the manner in which the strike breakers were being conveyed through the picket lines. The only place at which the strikers could put their point of view to the strike breakers was at the strike breakers' homes. That was the only place where they could persuade them that what they were doing was not in the interest of the working community of Lanarkshire and was not in their own personal interest. All those on strike knew that when they had won their battle, as they would, and the strike was settled, the strike breakers would be sacked by the employer.
§ Mr. Sillars
The atmosphere was not chosen by the strikers. It was dictated by the methods used to break through the picket lines. The hon. Gentleman should think of the situation of the work-people involved in the strike. The ability to picket those going to the work gate is an important psychological sanction, one of the few weapons we have in keeping essential unity during a strike. Removal of this sanction does not enhance the position of the worker on strike, and it may well be that this is the purpose of the Solicitor-General—
§ It being Twelve o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant of the Order of the House of 25th January.
§ Committee report Progress: to sit again this day.