HC Deb 10 April 1972 vol 834 cc847-9
31. Mr. Barnes

asked the Attorney-General how many complaints of unfair industrial practice under Section 101 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1971 have so far been heard by the National Industrial Relations Court.

The Attorney-General

Up to 7th April, 1972, five such complaints were received by the court. Of these two were withdrawn, and the remaining three had not been finally determined.

Mr. Barnes

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, following a dispute at the Kaymet Company in London on 9th March, the company made a complaint against four of its employees and the court served notice on those four employees at 4 p.m. for a hearing at 4.30 p.m. the same day? Though this case was subsequently resolved, may I ask whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman agrees that it is contrary to the fair hearings that people expect in British courts that the men in this case should have had virtually no time to prepare their cases and to obtain legal representation?

The Attorney-General

I have not the details of the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, I will certainly make inquiries. I agree that it is very important that appropriate and proper time should be given to enable people to meet or to answer complaints or to attend the court.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the sooner this court is recognised as merely another branch of our legal system the better, and that the sooner the Press stop talking about it as a political court the better it will be for the law of the land?

The Attorney-General

I must make it clear that it is the law of the land, that this is one of the courts of the land, and that it is the duty of all to obey the orders of this court as of any other court.

Mr. Heffer

Is it not clear that the operation of the Act must be becoming a great embarrassment to the Government, particularly in view of the situation now developing in Liverpool where the dockers are carrying out what in their view is a traditional trade union activity? Is it not advisable for the Government to advise employers not to rush into the use of this Act where the result can be large-scale industrial action which could have been avoided by the normal industrial practice? Do not the Government recognise that they have got themselves into a very dangerous and difficult situation as a result of bringing in this Act?

The Attorney-General

I am not prepared to comment upon cases which are sub judice. I repeat, however, that where it is a matter for the court and for the law the law must be enforced.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Does the Attorney-General accept that there is now a tendency for employers to take along to the court petty industrial squabbles which should be settled either on the factory floor or through the normal processes of industrial relations? Does he realise that this growing practice by employers can only worsen industrial relations in this country?

The Attorney-General

Having regard to the figures which I have already given about the complaints which have been made, of which there are only five, what the hon. Gentleman said is not justified.