§ Mr. Speaker
Before calling the Secretary of State to move the Motion, I should inform the House that I have selected the Amendment standing in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Robert Carr)
I beg to move,That the Code of Industrial Relations Practice, a draft of which was laid before this House on 19th January, be approved.Before coming to the substance and exposition and argument, it would be for the convenience of the House if I said something quickly about the timetable. Subject to the approval of both Houses, I hope to bring the Code into force on the 28th of this month, because I believe that the sooner it is in operation the better.
The House will recall that the Consultative Document on this Code was published in June, 1971. I think that I can fairly say that it has aroused widespread attention and interest, and that this interest was not just a thing of the moment but was maintained. In fact, by the end of 1971 we had distributed more than 370,000 copies of the Consultative Document and had received over 200 sets of comments at headquarters from national, industrial and commercial organisations, professional bodies and individuals, and the regional offices of my Department received many more comments from local organisations throughout the country. Many of these comments were in great detail. They had, clearly, been based on a most thorough paragraph by paragraph study of the document. Therefore, I should like to thank all the individuals and organisations who responded to my invitation to comment and consult about this document.
The Consultative Document was also the subject of discussion at scores of meetings and seminars up and down the country organised by individual employers, by employers' associations, by institutions of various kinds, and also in some cases, I hope and believe, by trade unions. So we have had a ferment of activity and discussion about this matter since last June.
461 In addition, the Consultative Document was debated both in this House and in another place before I had to bring the views together and produce the version which I am bringing before the House for approval today. The House will therefore appreciate that I had the benefit of a large volume and very wide cross-section of comment on which to base this final version. As I have said before, I very much regret that the T.U.C. and its main constituent unions did not see fit to join in this consultation. Nevertheless, I think that through the debates in this House and in other ways there has been a good opportunity for me to take account of trade union views as much as of other views on this subject.
The T.U.C. has recently produced its guide for negotiators, a document which I very much welcome. Anyone reading that document, our original Consultative Document and now the final Code can see that, despite the lack of formal consultation, we have evidently not altogether failed to take notice of each other at various stages. Indeed, I think that there is a reasonably satisfactory measure of common ground between the T.U.C.'s document and this final version. I hope that that will continue and increase.
It is a matter of regret that the Opposition have not felt able to allow this Code to go through without the objection expressed in their Amendment. I believe that the Code contains not only proposals which, if widely practised, would lead to a much better state of industrial and human relations but proposals setting forth for general practice and adoption many things which trade unions collectively and trade unionists individually have wanted and fought for, and in many cases succeeded in getting but in some cases not, for many years.
The Code is in no way tied to the procedures and machineries within the Industrial Relations Act to which the Opposition object, rightly or wrongly. The importance of the link of this Code to the Act is that in future when there is any review of an industrial dispute—forget the new procedures; think only of the old ones, committees of inquiry, the various conciliation processes, and so on—there will he a national reference standard to which all such inquiries and conciliations shall refer. I should have thought that that was something which 462 the Opposition would have been able to welcome, or at least not to reject out of hand in the way the Amendment seeks to do.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the best thing to have done was to have entered into discussions with the Trades Union Council before there was any question of an Industrial Relations Bill? It would then have been possible to work out an agreement between the trade unions, the Government and undoubtedly the employers' associations for a code of practice to which the trade unions would never have objected. The right hon. Gentleman is now saying that the Code should not be considered in conjunction with the Act; but it has to be so considered because the Act lays down quite clearly that the procedures will be used in the courts.
§ Mr. Carr
Of course I appreciate that. I did not say that the Code should not be taken in conjunction with the Act. I said that the Code, in the sense that it is backed by the Act, is not associated with the particular procedures and proceedings in the Act to which the Opposition object. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman considers that it is still worth while to try to maintain or to resurrect the canard that I was not prepared to consult the T.U.C. If the hon. Gentleman is honest with himself, he must know that it was entirely the other way round.
We were elected as a Government on precise commitments of principle, just as on a number of occasions the Labour Party was elected with precise commitments on principle; for example, to nationalise industries. When hon. Gentlemen opposite were in office they were not prepared to consult about the basic principles of the proposals on which they were elected. They were prepared to consult on the details of the implementation of those proposals. All that I ever made clear to the T.U.C. was that I could not bring into question the basic principles on which we were elected, the basic pillars of the Act. Everybody knows that the structure of the Act, which is created round the pillars, is of immense importance. I invited consultation about that. I made it clear that I would welcome such consultation, but that was rejected by the T.U.C. I do not want to resurrect 463 that issue; it is now history. But I cannot allow it to be said that the lack of consultation on the Act was the fault of the Government.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
The right hon. Gentleman says that the Conservative Party was elected on the specific promise that it would introduce this Measure. Would he accept that the Conservative Party gave no indication to the nation that it was going to interfere with free collective bargaining in the way that the Government have interfered with it since the election? That is an important matter in industrial relations, and their interference has completely altered the situation at the time of the General Election.
§ Mr. Carr
I am astonished to hear the hon. Gentleman say that. We pledged that we would have nothing to do with a statutory incomes policy, that we would throw overboard the statutory, detailed intervention in which hon. Gentlemen opposite indulged when they were the Government. We pledged that we would return to free collective bargaining, and that is what we have done. Collective bargaining is now free and uninterfered with in a way in which it had not been since there was last a Tory Government, in 1964. In whomsoever's mouth it lies to accuse the Government of interfering too much in collective bargaining, it certainly does not lie in the mouth of any member of the Labour Party, in the House or outside it, to do so.
§ Mr. Carr
No. I want to get on with my speech about the Code of Practice, which is what we are here to discuss.
We have had a large volume and a wide cross-section of comment on the Consultative Document. I am glad to say that the main message was a general welcome for the purpose and content of the document, and an endorsement for the basic structure of the Code. There were, however, many ideas put forward for changes of emphasis, and also of substance in important respects. Many of those have been acted upon, and they now appear in the final version for which I am asking approval today.
464 I said at the beginning when the Consultative Document was published, and I repeated it a number of times during the consultative period, that I wanted, and would be glad, to take account of comments on it, and I assure the House that those opinions have been studied most carefully. I hope and believe that that shows up in the final draft before the House. I hope, too, that the differences between the earlier and the final documents have given some real faith to the value and reality of consultation, because that is the truth, and it wants saying.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
The qualification in the document about managerial responsibility says in paragraph 41:Where practicable, management should provide occupational pension and sick pay schemes.Was the qualification inserted because the Government thought it should be there, or was it in response to a request by the C.B.I., for example?
§ Mr. Carr
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my speech I shall deal with that and a number of other points.
What I thought I could most usefully do for the House was to draw attention to the main changes, but not all the changes, which have resulted from the consultation which has been taking place on the original Consultaive Document.
First, let me deal with the basic structure of the Code as we now have it. The only major structural change is the new introductory chapter. It deals with the point made in the foreword to the Consulative Document. In particular it states the two main themes which underlie the Code:(i) the vital rôle of collective bargaining carried out in a reasonable and constructive manner between employers and strong representative trade unions;(ii) the importance of good human relations between employers and employees in every establishment, based on trust and confidence.I quote those because it is important to realise that the Code is based on two themes: the collective conduct of industrial relations, and the underlying personal basis of it, because in the end the collective institutions are there to serve the interests of individual men and women. It is therefore important to lay 465 down both the collective and the personal aspects as being the underlying themes of the Code.
Apart from the introductory chapter, the only other significant structural change is the bringing together in one chapter what were previously, in the Consultative Document, two chapters on the grievance and disputes procedures. Those procedures are closely linked, and the change to bring them together makes for clearer presentation and is generally more satisfactory all round.
Let me now say something about the style of the document. We felt from the beginning that it was essential that it should be written in plain English which everyone could understand, as opposed to legalistic phraseology. When we drafted the Consultative Document we had that in mind, and I think that it was on the whole approved on that account by those who commented upon it. Nevertheless, I remember the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), in particular, saying that it included certain clichés and little sermons. I hope that in the final version at least some of those have been removed and replaced. One can always question editing ad infinitum with advantage, but I believe that we now have a document which is much leaner in its wording and structure, much clearer and more incisive, and that this, too, is a real advance on the original Consultative Document. That has been our intention, and if we have not succeeded to perfection, I believe and hope that we have succeeded to some extent.
I now turn from structures and style to the substance of the changes which have been made in various areas of the proposals. I would first like to deal with those which come under the general heading of the joint responsibility for industrial relations and the avoidance of paternalism. Under this heading, there was criticism of the Consultative Document from the beginning—in particular. that there was failure to recognise fully the legitimate interests of unions in personnel policy, their responsibility for maintaining good industrial relations or the extent to which aspects of personnel policy should be discussed with the unions and determined through collective bargains. The criticism related also to, for example, the need for grievance and disciplinary procedures to be jointly agreed.
466 As I assured the House when we discussed the Consultative Document on 18th October, these failures were unintentional. Having heard the criticisms and the points made, I accepted that there was some validity in them. So we have tried in this final version to correct this failure. We do this at the beginning in the fifth paragraph of the introduction, where we state:Good industrial relations are a joint responsibility.That is the basic statement. In other places throughout the text—for example, in relation to employment policies, payment systems in dealing with redundancy, safety and health, consultation and communication and various other ways—we have also specifically stressed the joint nature of responsibility.
I therefore hope that the House will feel that we have in that respect gone a very long way to meet the needs and the criticisms, which, on reflection, I believed had some validity, even though the errors, as I think they were, in the Consultative Document were entirely unintended in the first place.
As for the flexibility of the Code's application, the Code, as stated in the Consultative Document and as I made clear in the debate on that document, needs to deal with all sorts and sizes of establishment, all forms of work and all sectors of the economy. This is, of course, what poses one of the very biggest problems in drafting it in nice, clear, precise, lean terms. Nevertheless, flexibility is necessary because the Code has to cover all forms of employment.
The Consultative Document was criticised on the ground that it was not flexible enough to cater for all needs in this way. It was suggested that some of these detailed provisions were inappropriate or unnecessary—for example, for small firms—that the Code should recognise that different enterprises of all sizes are at different stages of development, that not all can be expected to implement the whole of the Code straight away or at the same moment, or that the standards laid clown in the Code must not be so rigid as to preclude innovation, experiment and the adoption of more advanced practices, all of which are, of course, immensely important.
467 I felt that there was some substance in these points, and so the revised version tries to meet them, first of all in the "Application and Use" paragraph of the introduction. But I must maintain the position that the Code has to be universal in its application if it is to be effective. We have to say, and do say firmly in the introduction, that any adaptations or simplifications to meet the needs particularly of small establishments should be consistent with the general intention of the Code.
Also, we have tried to meet the point about flexibility at various points in the text in relation to specific proposals; for example, manpower planning, consultative arrangements and grievance, dispute and disciplinary procedures. Here again, we have made a genuine effort to meet the point about the need for flexibility without taking away, I hope, the essential force of example and standard which the Code must set universally throughout employment.
I come now to the point which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) mentioned—the question of the Code's recommendations regarding pensions and sick pay. I should like to deal at the same time with the recommendations about the equalisation of conditions and status between different grades of workers—what we used to call the blue-collar/white-collar differential, words which, I think mistakenly, appeared in the draft Consultative Document but do not appear in the final Code.
I received expressions of particular concern from the C.B.I. and from employers generally about the great potential cost of these recommendations that occupational pension and sick pay schemes should be provided as a general rule, and the cost also of the proposal that status and conditions should be unified. Also, some queried whether I was right in thinking that there was any casual link between this sort of provision and good industrial and human relations. Let me say straight away that I remain convinced that these proposals are good practice, that they do pay the right dividends in good industrial and personal relations and that I was not prepared to sacrifice recommending them in the Code in any way.
468 Thus, paragraphs 41 and 42 of the revised Code retain the full substance of my original proposals, and both are now subject not only to the qualification "where practicable", which appears everywhere, to take into account the need for flexibility but also the qualification that when improvements of this kind are to be introduced their cost should be taken into account as part of the total labour cost. I believe that this is right and a necessary statement of an inescapable fact.
Although opinions may differ about how much money is available at any given time for distribution to add to the labour costs of any enterprise, there must at any given time be a limit to it. There have to be difficult judgments of priority about whether one allocates part of the resources available to straight pay increases or to fringe benefits and the things which we are talking about here. This is an inescapable fact of life, and it is right to state it in the Code. When they come to negotiate about these things, both sides must face the fact that one can only have a quart out of a quart pot; it is for them in their negotiations to decide how that quart is to be distributed among the different possible purposes to which it could be applied.
The consultative arrangements are dealt with in paragraphs 65 to 70, which have been completely re-written compared to the Consultative Document. As to the comments that I have received, the proposals in this section—particularly the proposal that all establishments over 250 should have a consultative committee—were felt to be too inflexible. I was told from many quarters that such proposals did not take into account the varied methods of consultation already working satisfactorily throughout many parts of employment, and also that they would not give the necessary scope, let alone encouragement, to new methods of consultation, such as the development of briefing groups. It was drawn to my attention that what some people had thought to be rigid talk about consultative committees had created a fear in trade union circles that we might be seeking to promote consultative committees in opposition to trade unions.
That was certainly not the intention, and here again I believe that there has been substance in the comments I have 469 received. Hence the re-writing of this section of the Code, and I hope that the new form meets all the criticisms.
It continues to recognise that arrangements for consultation should meet the needs of establishments and not follow a rigid pattern. But it also continues to lay down that there must be systematic arrangements—that, whatever they are, they must be systematic—when one is dealing with an establishment of more than 250 people.
This figure of 250 is arbitrary. Any other could have been chosen. It can always be altered if it proves to be wrong. We have made the point that one should have consultation in smaller establishments. This appears in paragraph 56, which clearly lays down that all establishments, whatever their size, should go in for consultation. While sticking to the idea that wherever the figure of 250 is exceeded there should be a systematic system of consultation, we have met the criticisms by being flexible, by referring to the appointment of representatives and so on.
§ Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)
I refer my right hon. Friend to paragraph 67, which relates to joint consultative committees and says:The arrangements should not be used to bypass or discourage trade unions.My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are many works councils in existence, with representatives from the shop floor elected by the shop floor, though not in all cases are those representatives on the works councils the actual trade union representatives. I hope that this sentence will not discourage that particular practice.
§ Mr. Carr
It is not meant to do so. The whole object is not to impose a particular pattern in any particular place. Although hon. Gentlemen opposite find this difficult to believe, the whole object is not to interfere where things are working satisfactorily. We therefore do not want to force change where people are happy with what they already have, and that is why we have a greater degree of flexibility.
Where there is in existence the sort of works councils to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) referred and where they are 470 working well, it would be ridiculous—it would be worse than ridiculous; it would be positively harmful—for the Code to force change where unions, employees and managers are happy with the arrangements which, in their view, are working well.
§ Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)
The right hon. Gentleman speaks of existing arrangements. One, perhaps the main, criticism of consultation generally in industry is that far too many managements look upon it as a means of drawing people together to tell them what has been decided by management. This is not consultation. I shall be happy to learn if the Secretary of State means what he says in this document about real consultation taking place, which means drawing people together at an early stage, before decisions are made.
§ Mr. Carr
That is certainly what I meant. If we could force people to behave as we would always like them to behave, we would be very clever indeed, but it is beyond our powers to do that. Certainly consultation which is not meaningful can do more harm than good. Indeed, it is better not to have any consultation than to have dishonest consultation. It must be real if it is to be worth while. We are stressing the importance of the need for real consultation and are saying that there should be flexibility in the way it is adapted to particular circumstances.
This conveniently brings me to one of the most difficult questions with which we had to deal, and that is the one which goes under the name of status quo. Before people get excited about this they should realise—particularly hon. Members, and perhaps especially those who, like myself, have lived most of our lives in contact with the engineering industry—that over a wide sector of industry people do not know what one is talking about when one refers to the status quo.
In fact, in its acute form—acute in the sense of the degree of detailed importance that is attached to it—the status quo is not of such widespread concern as one might imagine from the amount one hears of it in the engineering industry; yet it goes to the very root of the matter and also to the very root of this whole question of consultation.
471 The burden of the comments that I received was very mixed, controversial and conflicting. There was no common thread. The more I studied the comments and thought about them the more I realised that one of the difficulties about the status quo concept lay in generalising about it. Indeed, with respect to the engineering industry, this is one of the difficulties it gets into.
The particular form of status quo which is desirable is, I believe, highly peculiar and selective in relation to the particular establishment in which it must be applied, and this becomes difficult when one tries to draw up a status quo agreement which must deal with a vast area of undertakings in which the types of production, methods of working and so on are very different.
I therefore came to the conclusion that I could not generalise about the status quo as such and that all I could do in the Code was firmly to lay down the basic principle that the achievement of change is a joint concern of management and employees, that it should be carried out in a way which pays regard to the joint nature of that concern and that major changes should not be made without prior discussion with employees or their representatives. That is, I believe, the basic principle which wants asserting.
The definition of what constitutes major changes—the level at which they should be discussed and about which there should be consultation—must be special to the nature of almost each undertaking and is therefore properly and really only adequately defined in detail at individual undertaking and perhaps sometimes at individual plant, level.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
What the right hon. Gentleman has been saying on this subject is unexceptionable. The point about the whole status quo argument in engineering is that the employers say that they have the right to change existing customs and practices and that the unions can afterwards take the issue through the constitution. What the right hon. Gentleman has been saying is right, and his is the precise argument that the unions have been putting to the employers. who have refused to accept the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation and the whole basis of the York Memorandum, which in engineering has gone.
§ Mr. Carr
The right hon. Gentleman might have more status to represent the engineering unions than I have to speak for the Engineering Employers Federation, which right I have none. What we are doing in this Code—I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is saying that we should do this—is to say that if we establish the basic principle which I have laid down and to which I have referred, each individual industry and undertaking can, based on that principle, create agreements which are suitable to its particular needs.
I come to the question of arbitration, a point which is particularly dealt with in paragraph 129. The comments that we received contained criticisms of the proposal in the Consultative Document that disputes procedures should include arbitration as a final stage. It was argued that this would act as a disincentive to meaningful bargaining at earlier stages. I accept this as being a valid point, for if one knows that at the end of the day one must go to arbitration there is bound to be a great temptation not to negotiate responsibly and seriously but to leave it to the arbitrator at the end. We have tried to meet this criticism in paragraph 129 by confining the use of arbitration to circumstances in which both parties agree that it should be used. I still, however, stress the value of arbitration. It is valuable. We should tend to use it more rather than less and, particularly, we should use it in cases of disputes of rights.
We have lost something in British industrial relations by our failure to differentiate as much as some other countries between the two main types of dispute: a dispute of interest, which really is a matter for collective bargaining, and which is difficult to put to arbitration as a general principle—although where parties want it I would support it—and the other type of dispute, the dispute as of right as to the meaning of an agreement. Where there is dispute as to the meaning, surely in a modern society it would be much to our advantage if both parties were to agree to go to an independent arbitrator, either a single arbitrator or some board, such as the Arbitration Board which exists under the new name for the old Industrial Court, because this seems to be a more effective and civilised way of settling disputes about what parties really mean when they come to 473 no agreement. Therefore, I commend particularly the use of arbitration in disputes of right.
§ Mr. Skinner
is the Secretary of State aware that there has been a lot of talk about the use of arbitration in the miners' dispute, and that there is an apparent unwillingness on the part of the miners' union leadership, with which I fully concur, to go to arbitration on the present offer? May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that during the overtime ban—indeed, in the first fortnight of the overtime ban—in North Derbyshire, under another form of arbitration whereby the areas had certain autonomy, the National Coal Board in North Derbyshire broke three separate agreements, not once but more than a score of times, at nearly every pit in North Derbyshire, and that the general secretary of the North Derbyshire area requested the use of the arbitration machinery in order to attempt to get the £250,000 which had been lost to the miners as a result of the breaking of these three agreements? The Coal Board refused to arbitrate. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman why.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is inclined to be rather long in his interventions.
§ Mr. Skinner
I am just concluding, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point is very important when considering the general aspects of arbitration within the miners' dispute generally. The Coal Board refused to arbitrate because it was the union's turn to select the arbitrator.
§ Mr. Carr
I would be wrong to go into the merits of not only the coal mining dispute as a whole but also no doubt a very important but inner subsidiary part of it, about which I certainly would not pretend to he informed in detail. But I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree that, whatever may be the rights or wrongs of the matter, if the Coal Board and the union were to follow the recommendations of this Code we should all be better off.
On the main issue of arbitration, the basic claim, I think that the hon. Member would at least agree that he has never heard from me any blame for miners not 474 using this. I have expressed disappointment, perhaps, that they have not done so, but in not using it they are acting within the terms of their agreement, because the arbitration agreed within the coal industry is agreed to be set up by both sides but the agreement also lays down that it is not compulsory on either side. Therefore, however ill advised I think they may have been, and however disappointed I am at their attitude, I certainly fully accept that the N.U.M. has an absolute right under the agreement to elect not to make use of the arbitration machinery. That is why I have said much less about it in this case than I have done in the past, when I felt that the parties had definitely agreed to use arbitration and were refusing to do so.
Finally, I refer to the question of disclosure of information, dealt with in paragraphs 96–98 of the Code. I stress again, as I had to with the Consultative Document, that this is only provisional and only a brief outline, because this subject is under examination by the C.I.R. It was sent to the C.I.R. by my predecessor.
§ Mr. Carr
The hon. Gentleman says, "A long time ago". But the fact that my predecessor felt that the reference was needed, and the fact of the length of time that the C.I.R. is taking in bringing forth its report, is evidence of the complexity and very difficult nature of the issues involved. I hope to have this report—as I understand from the C.I.R.—in the spring of this year; perhaps not until late spring, but I should have it by then. I felt sure that it was not sensible to do more than put an outline into the Code until the C.I.R. had reported. But when the report is available more discussions will take place on the basis of another draft consultative document, and we shall produce a final code to take the place of this one as soon as possible.
I have explained to the House the main changes that have been made. I believe that the effect of this Code is already to be seen. It has aroused a great deal of interest, a much greater degree of interest and activity than I had dared to hone for. There has been a ferment of activity. This has been shown 475 in the demand for the Consultative Document, the numberless meetings and conferences up and down the country to which I have referred, and by the fact that the T.U.C. has issued its guide. In all these ways the Code is having its effect.
I cannot help putting this question to the House and the country: would all that is going on now have gone on but for the Code and but for the Act? This is really the basic philosophy behind what we have been doing—the belief that when one has a very old established system, as our industrial relations system is, where for the last 20 years people have looked at it and recognised the need for changes, one reaches the point where the system is incapable of change from within unless and until some pressure is applied to it from without. I have no doubt that the Act and perhaps particularly the Code have generated this degree of activity, this ferment of thinking. For management, they have raised the consideration of industrial and human relations right up to board level, which was the main point made by the Donovan Commission report. I believe that we have achieved this.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman not to overgild the lily, because in doing so he does a disservice to the enormous amount of work done either through technical colleges, such as the Birmingham technical colleges, or by firms of industrial consultants. We had a conference on every point.
§ Mr. Carr
I accept that. I would not wish to gild the lily. The hon. Gentleman obviously wants me not to derogate from what was taking place beforehand anyhow. That is true. I am not saying that there was not some progress. Of course there was progress. But the degree of activity and interest and the level it has taken have been put into a new orbit as a result of the Code and the Act which lies behind it.
The Code will not be perfect. I am sure that it is not perfect and that we shall want to change and add to it as we learn from experience. Flexible means are provided for doing just that. But I am sure also that if the practices outlined in the Code become widely adopted and typical of the average standards and not just the best standards throughout British 476 employment, industrial and human relations in Britain will not only be more peaceful but will be more satisfying and interesting and the whole country will be more prosperous. I ask the House to approve the Code.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (East Ham, North)
I beg to move to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House declines to approve a code of industrial relations practice which forms an integral part of the Industrial Relations Act, 1971.I hope that the House will permit me at least one moment of nostalgia. It is about 7½ years since I spoke on industrial relations from this Box in debates in which the Secretary of State sometimes took part. The stock joke on these occasions is for the speaker to say, "As I was saying when I was interrupted …" It does not apply in this case, because in those days there was a great deal of common ground in the debates. We had differences of opinion and there were clashes between the two sides, but there was a great deal of common ground both in the House and between both sides of industry about the way in which industrial relations should be handled. The tragedy now is that every debate we have on the right hon. Gentleman's Department is a partisan debate and little scope is left for moderation. Moderation has been dismissed not by us but by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, though not in the speeches the right hon. Gentleman makes. He made a low-key, quiet, moderate speech today, as though he were simply discussing a code of practice completely divorced from the surrounding circumstances.
A parallel has often been drawn between the Code and the rôle of the Highway Code in relation to traffic problems, but a new Highway Code could not be produced without reference to the conditions of the highway, and it is not possible to produce an industrial relations code without reference to the legislation with which it is linked or to the general state of industrial relations resulting from the Government's policies.
May I make it absolutely clear that we on this side are not opposed to the concept of a code of practice. There 477 is a great deal of the contents of the Code with which we agree, but not all. I shall come to some criticisms shortly, and my hon. Friends will make many criticisms later. But many of the objectives of the Code and many of the statements in it command our assent. If it had been introduced early in the life of this Government, divorced from the legislation passed last year, we might well have thought fit to make detailed criticisms but not to divide the House against it. But it is impossible to separate it from the Act.
If the right hon. Gentleman had accepted the T.U.C.'s invitation to discuss industrial relations matters when the Government took office, there could have been a different outcome. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was right in what he said in his intervention. I listened to the Secretary of State's defence, and I have heard him make it before. But the fact is that if the Government had been prepared then to sit down with the T.U.C., the C.B.I. and everyone else concerned in an attempt to implement the Donovon Report, which was produced after the Conservative Party produced "Fair Deal at Work", and to work out such a code of practice, the whole atmosphere of our industrial scene would have been very different. But the Act has been pushed through, and the Code is the child of the Act. The Code was referred to in the Bill, but was not then committed to paper. The Industrial Relations Court and the Industrial Tribunals are required under the Act to have regard to the provisions of the Code, and courts of inquiry, it is suggested, will have regard to its provisions.
The language of the Act has affected the language of the Code. The Code's whole status with the working population is overlaid by the Act with which it is connected and by the bitter arguments that surrounded the passage of the Act. It is overlaid also by the divisive economic and social policies of the Government, and by the fact of a million unemployed. We discuss unemployment very largely in terms of the unemployed and their families, but sometimes we should also have regard to the fear and insecurity among people at work as to whether it will soon be their turn to be unemployed.
478 In that situation extra mistrust enters into all discussions in industry about manpower problems, possible redundancies and all the rest. It is in that atmosphere that the promotion of a new code of practice is extremely difficult. Its credibility, when it comes from the Government, is bound to be in doubt. Similarly, the credibility of the exercise is affected by the Government's abdication from the traditional rôle of peacemaker in industry. I do not imagine that the Code will be discussed in any great detail in the miners' lodges today, when it comes from a Government leaning heavily on the employers' side in the present dispute. The prospect of the Government's being able to give any kind of lead to industry in such a code is bound to be affected by their total policy.
§ Mr. R. Carr
The right hon. Gentleman should be aware that the conciliation services of my Department have been used rather more often since June, 1970, than they were before, and just as frequently at the request of unions. Was not he a member of a Government that leaned so heavily on the employers' side that it ordered all conciliators and arbitrators to abide by the criteria and guidelines of the statutory incomes policy, laid down by a Government of which he was a member? How can he talk about our leaning on the employers' side?
§ Mr. Prentice
There is a great deal to be said for a prices and incomes policy that has criteria applying fairly to the whole community. The Labour Government deserve every credit for trying to move towards such a result. Although it was not a complete success, neither was it a complete failure, and we have moved as far along the road as any Government of any industrialised country have managed to do.
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
Will my right hon. Friend remind the Secretary of State, when the right hon. Gentleman boasts about his conciliation machinery, that there has been a strike for 17 weeks at Inghams at Clay Cross? I have invited the right hon. Gentleman's Department to conciliate in it and he has steadfastly refused at all times, saying that the time is not opportune.
§ Mr. Prentice
Many such examples could be quoted. In the postal dispute last year and the miners' dispute this year the right hon. Gentleman's masterly inactivity has clearly been meant to have the effect of leaning on the side of the employers. That is recognised by everyone who studies the situation.
The right hon. Gentleman is inviting the House to fly away with him on a sort of magic carpet to a never-never land in which we could consider the Code in isolation from all the basic facts of the situation. To some extent we could join him on that journey, because it is worth while to discuss the kind of industrial relations code we should have if the circumstances permitted it to be promoted by the Government with any degree of credibility. Looked at in that context, the document is still very unsatisfactory. There have been a number of changes since the original draft. The right hon. Gentleman has met some of the points made by some of my hon. Friends in the debate in October and has gone some way to link the wording of his Code with the wording of the T.U.C. document, "Good Industrial Relations". Indeed, he practically claimed part-authorship of the T.U.C. document at the end of his speech, which is a confounded cheek in all the circumstances. What the T.U.C. did in producing the document was what it has been doing to the best of its ability since the Donovan Report was published, which is to try to improve industrial relations in accordance with the general recommendations of Donovan, despite the Government's attempt to sabotage its efforts. "Good Industrial Relations" is in that tradition, a document that expresses the aspirations of trade unionists but also stresses their responsibilities and the responsibilities of all sides in industry. I believe it contains, broadly speaking, the kind of proposals that we should be seeing in a Government code.
I want to make four main criticisms of the Government's Code of Practice. There are many more criticisms to be made, and no doubt these will be deployed by my right hon. and hon. Friends. My intention, however, is to concentrate on the main points at which the Code of Practice diverges from the T.U.C. document.
480 First, the T.U.C. document begins with a clear expression of view that there should be an extension of collective bargaining in industry. It expresses that view in most eloquent language, calling for the extension of collective bargaining in two senses—firstly, that it should be extended into firms and industries where it is not practised at present, and secondly, that where it is practised more and more subjects should come within its scope, that more and more decisions affecting working people should be the subject of collective bargaining processes.
The Government's Code of Practice does nothing of the kind. In the introduction, there is a reference to collective bargaining as playing a vital rôle, and in paragraph 71 and onwards there is some definition and delineation of collective bargaining. But at no point does the document say to industry that there should be an extension of collective bargaining and of the processes of bringing the workers, through their representatives, more and more into the decision-making processes. Yet surely this should be the main feature of a code of practice for industry.
My second main criticism is that the Government Code of Practice should clearly state that management should encourage trade union membership. In this respect, the Code seems to be a weaker document than the Consultative Document, which we debated last October. That version said that management should… encourage employees to join a recognised union and to play an active part in its work.In the Code, however, we are told that management should "welcome" membership of a recognised trade union and that if a union is not recognised for negotiating purposes it should respect the right of employees to join a registered union. But this is muffled language compared with the clear statement in the Consultative Document that management should encourage employees to join a union and be active in it.
I believe this to be an example of the Department, in drafting the Code, finding it difficult to reconcile two things. On the one hand, the Code is claimed to be 481 a common sense guide to day-to-day industrial relations at places of work, and, on the other hand, it has to play its part as an integral part of the Industrial Relations Act, particularly in relation to Section 5 of the Act. This is, I assume, where the legal advice available to the right hon. Gentleman may have been to the effect that open encouragement to join a union, as stated in the first version, might fall foul of Section 5. It illustrates the basic dilemma of trying to produce a good working document on industrial relations while imposing an Act of Parliament designed to weaken the trade union movement.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make the point to the employers that the time has come when they have to accept as a fact of life that most trade unions will not register under the Act and that people will have to get on with industrial relations despite the fact that registration will not take place. I hope that the common sense of the T.U.C. in these matters will be referred to the message in the Code of Practice.
Thirdly, large parts of the Code make no reference to participation by unions in decision making. The right hon. Gentleman said that in some parts he had written in the concept of trade union participation where it was not in the original draft. I concede that at once. But in the vitally important sections on the planning and use of manpower—recruitment, selection, training, and so on—there is no reference to participation by the unions in decision making. Even on the important question of redundancy, paragraph 44 seems to be totally inadequate. It says:Responsibility for deciding the size of the work force rests with management. But before taking the final decision to make any substantial reduction, management should consult employees or their representatives, unless exceptional circumstances make this impossible.If ever a paragraph was hedged about with "if" and "buts", it is that one. In contrast, the T.U.C. document calls for involvement of the unions with management at every level in manpower planning and related matters—recruitment, training, redundancy payments, and so forth—and all this is seen as part of the long-term planning process.
It is a matter of urgency that management should be encouraged to involve 482 unions more and more in manpower policy. It is a matter of urgency not simply from the point of view of the rights of the workers, although I am putting that first and foremost, but from the point of view of the whole functioning of industry, particularly at a time when technological change is becoming more rapid and the growth of structural unemployment is presenting problems of very great dimensions.
The very fact that we have recently seen a number of situations where the workers have refused to accept redundancy notices and have organised "sit-ins" at their places of work, resisting the automatic right of management to declare them redundant, illustrates the need and the legitimate demand of the workers through their representatives to be consulted at all stages in this process. But situations should not have to reach a crisis point. These questions should be a matter of full joint consultation right through all the stages and not just in a period of threatened redundancy.
§ Mr. R. Carr
The right hon. Gentleman is making a fair statement on this point. I do not want any misunderstanding. I think perhaps he has not taken in the point that in the section on employment policy and in other sections there are a few general paragraphs which apply throughout that and the other sections. Paragraph 25, which is in the section on employment policies, says:Management should initiate and accept primary responsibility for these policies. But they should be developed in consultation or negotiation, as appropriate, with employee representatives.If it was not clear before that this was meant to apply to the whole of the rest, I make it clear now.
§ Mr. Prentice
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that this applies to the sections on recruitment, training and the rest?
§ Mr. Prentice
If so, it has been misunderstood not only by me but by many who have commented on the Code in the unions and elsewhere. They have not recognised it as so; I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that a person will look at a section which affects him and his particular problem, rather than at the whole document. It would 483 surely be much better, therefore, if such a provision were written into each section, stipulating that the unions should be consulted.
The fourth main difference between the Government document and the T.U.C. document is the failure of the Code of Practice to include the concept of the status quo. I found the right hon. Gentleman's remarks today rather disappointing. In the debate on 18th October he seemed to be sympathetic toward the idea. True, he told the House he had received representations for and against, but it led some of us to think that he might be more positive in his approach.
He has referred to paragraph 52 which says:Major changes in working arrangements should not be made by management without prior discussion with employees or their representatives.He should go on to say something to the effect that if there is a difference between managements and the workers' representatives which cannot be resolved at once, the practise or agreement which existed prior to the proposal should continue to operate until either a settlement is reached or the agreed procedures have been exhausted. That is the argument in the engineering industry. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that it was a rather esoteric argument but it is something which should be of general application.
We are asking that management in general should recognise that their management prerogative should be limited, to the extent that if they make a proposal for change which is resisted then it ought not to be implemented until the agreed procedures have been exhausted or until some compromise has been negotiated between the parties. If that were put into practice it would strengthen the procedures for settling grievances and disputes. It would lead to both parties respecting what was finally agreed and place renewed emphasis on the need for them to do so.
It would involve a partial abdication of the management prerogative. This could have been in the document. From what the Minister said in October I think he was contemplating the possibilities of putting ibis or something like it into the 484 document, but he appears to have retreated from that because of the pressure to which he has been subjected, presumably from the C.B.I. and elsewhere. In doing so he has neglected the chance to do something in the interests of the constructive development of industrial relations, something which might have avoided disputes, because this is an area in which disputes often do break out.
I have made a number of criticisms, but I said at the beginning of my speech that I did not deny that the Code also contained some useful and constructive points. If some of them are in the language of clichés I do not believe that to be a matter for criticism. This is an area of activity in which inevitably some general truths have been recognised over the years, and they need to be restated in such a document.
Two things are of particular value if they are implemented. First is the emphasis in the Code that management at top level should give as much attention to industrial relations as to other aspects of company affairs. That needs to be said loud and clear and it is a doctrine that must operate in industry if we are to solve the problems there. Top management should give more attention to industrial relations than to the other aspects, because the most important asset of any firm is the human capital it has and the welfare and development of that human capital in the working situation. There are far too many chairmen of big companies who will tell you from across their desks what they do about their sales policy or the financial structure of their companies, but if they are asked about their joint consultation policies they press a button and someone several grades down the management structure comes in to explain it.
The document says some good things about the rôle of shop stewards. These things overlap with what the T.U.C. has said in its document, indeed parts have been lifted direct from the document. The paragraph at the end saying that no disciplinary action should be taken against a shop steward before a full-time trade union official has been consulted has been lifted direct from the document, and that is most welcome.
I am bound to return to the incompatibility of the Code with the Industrial 485 Relations Act. If there are good parts of the Code, and there are, then the prospects of their being implemented are in inverse ratio to the prospect of the Industrial Relations Act being implemented. A considerable question mark hangs over the whole industrial relations scene—whether the Act will be widely used, whether in its practical effects on the work place it will be an event or a nonevent. This is something that we will have to discover. I hope that sensible employers will ignore it. I have had conversations with some people in management who have told me that they will ignore it and carry on as though it were not there.
I was fascinated to hear the Under-Secretary, winding up the debate on Monday, saying that he thought that resort to the procedures of the Act would be sparing. It seemed a curious statement to make about the major item in the legislative programme last Session. My fear is that whereas a lot of the more rational employers will not implement the Act quite a lot of the sillier ones will. I am not afraid of the employer with good industrial relations but of the employer with bad industrial relations already who will make his industrial relations worse by having recourse to the Act—the pompous little man who wants to tell them in the local Conservative Club how he stood up to the unions and who is prepared to see his position worsened by doing so.
If the Act is not widely used it will still have done a lot of harm. It has done harm in the sense that opportunity has been lost over the last 18 months to get on with the constructive job of implementing the Donovan Report and carrying through the long-overdue reforms, from employer, unions and Government alike, which will improve industrial relations. If the Act is used extensively much greater harm will follow. If the Secretary of State takes his Code of Practice seriously and if he wants industrial relations to develop along the lines of some of the worthy objectives he has put to the House, then his only hope is to back-pedal on the Act and encourage employers to back-pedal on it; to do all that he can to see that it remains in cold storage until it is repealed by the next Labour Government.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this stage because I have an urgent appointment in a television studio with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) as I have told you and I should not like to be accused of discourtesy if I leave soon after I conclude my speech. I begin with two welcomes, first to the new format of the new Code of Practice as presented and secondly a welcome to the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice). I remember him so well on many Friday mornings discussing these topics and, although he is bound to say something sour at the beginning of his speech and something angry at the end of it, I am sure that there will always he a large number of constructive points in the middle which we on this side appreciate. We always listen to the right hon. Gentleman with real interest knowing of his knowledge on this subject.
§ Mr. Prentice
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that we are angry because we want to be constructive and we cannot be with this Government in office?
§ Mr. Page
There is no doubt that this Code of Practice has been the result of extensive consultation since the earlier Consultative Document was introduced. I should like to congratulate the Government on the way they are producing these consultative documents, having genuine consultation and then producing a refined and workable response in the end. I should like to give personal acknowledgment to the consultation, because in my speech on 18th October last I made eight suggestions, and I am happy to say, though it may not do much good to the reputation of the Code of Practice on the other side of the House, that seven and a half of them have been adopted and incorporated in the new Code of Practice—and, I may add in answer to the hon. Member opposite, they were not planted, they were home grown. It is obviously a matter of sorrow that the T.U.C. did not genuinely consult. Having seen the T.U.C. leaflet, I think there is no doubt that the usual channels were still at work.
I should like to make a few specific remarks, a couple of criticisms, about the 487 Code itself. First of all, in the Introduction we have it—and this is where the right hon. Gentleman's speech really does ring true—that the first theme underlying the Code isthe vital rôle of collective bargainingand, distinct from the right hon. Gentleman, I believe that this Code, if followed, will take us a long way along the road to better collective bargaining. The Code stresses as the second of its main themesthe importance of good human relationsand I believe that if this Code were followed in general by those engaged in industry as a whole many of the troubles and difficulties which now beset industry would disappear. The criticism made of the previous draft was that it was, perhaps, paternalistic. There has been a change in the draft, and there is much more stress on joint responsibility than there was before.
Next I should like to deal with paragraphs 1 and 10. These are the two first paragraphs under the headings of "Management" and "Trade Unions" respectively. Here one is relieved to see that it says under "Management":The principal aim of management is to conduct the business of the undertaking successfully.No undertaking is any good to industrial relations unless it is a success. Paragraph 10, under the heading "Trade Unions" says:The principal aim of trade unions is to promote their members' interests".Absolutely right. It goes on:
They can do this only if the undertakings in which their members are employed prosper.Again, absolute good sense.
It was good to hear my right hon. Friend in his speech saying that he realises that this Code has to be applied to large firms and small firms so that there will have to be flexibility; but, nevertheless, the principles can be applied to large and small firms alike.
Then we come to another strange remark by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, North when he was criticising paragraphs 4 and 5 saying that the Code has been watered down from the original draft as it related to the employers' duty to encourage people to join registered trade unions. 488 I really cannot see how that can be so when paragraph 4 says:Where trade unions are recognised for negotiating purposes management should … make clear to employees that it welcomes their membership of an appropriate recognised union …Again, the following paragraph 5 speaks of effective consultation and communication where trade unions are not recognised.
This is my criticism. It is noticeable that there is no mention whatever in the Code of the contra right of individuals not to join trade unions. I hope that this does not mean that the Government are slipping back from what was a basic principle of the Act.
§ Mr. Page
The hon. Gentleman says that this is in the Act. I agree that it is in the Act, but there are things here which do not tie up with the Act—just as there are a few things called rice pudding which do not have all the rice in. Some of the rice, referring to the non-necessity of joining a trade union, seems to have been left out of this pudding. I am very fond of rice pudding, so I speak with some authority on this subject.
Now we turn to paragraphs 41, 42 and 43, and again I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on taking up a point I made, and which, obviously, was made by many other representations, that fringe benefits, sick pay schemes and pension schemes, should be considered in the whole package of pay and labour costs.
I should like to put a question to my hon. Friend who is to wind up the debate, and it is on the matter of disclosure and the footnote on page 22 of the Code of Practice. Could my hon. Friend tell us how the new disclosure proposals will actually be presented to the House and to the country? Will there be another debate? Will they be issued by being laid on the Table or in the Library? How shall we actually receive the information about disclosure? From my own point of view I would reiterate what I said in the previous debate, that it would be muddling to include too much detail about disclosure in this simple document. I see no reason why it should not be treated altogether separately as an 489 appendix, because it does not apply, except in specific circumstances, to a very large number of those engaged in industry.
Finally, I believe that this Code of Practice we have before us today is unamendable, but I should like to put to my hon. Friend a specific matter which I believe is amendable. I notice that on the cover it is said that the price of this document from the Stationery Office is 15p. Shortened versions of the Industrial Relations Act, in their various forms, are provided free from my hon. Friend's Department, and I am surprised that this document has got to be paid for. I would suggest that, if there is some money left in the printing fund, further copies of the shortened versions of the Act should be left and a large number of the copies of the Code of Practice should be provided free. I do not think there is any need for them to be quite so glossy as this edition, if it is expensive, but let them be freely available, and let us hope that every new recruit joining a business, and taking on his first job, will get a copy of this document and be given an opportunity of studying it.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)
I join in the general consensus of satisfaction with the revised Code. It is written in better and more precise English than was the first draft, it will at least be intelligible to those for whom it is intended and, if it is understood and taken to heart by many employers, some advantage will be gained from it. I am glad, as was the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), that the phraseology is less paternalistic than it was in the consultative draft, about which there was a touch of Dale Carnegie—it might have been sub-titled, "How to Win your Employees' Friendship and Keep them Subservient".
The trade union movement has declined to indulge in consultations with 490 the Government upon the Code for the simple reason that it is part and parcel of the Industrial Relations Act upon which the Government were not prepared to enter into meaningful consultations with the trade union movement. We must return to that, because that is where it first started—no proper consultation with the T.U.C. before the Bill was presented to the House. Had there been such consultation we should now be in a much happier position. For one thing, we should not be having to record more days lost in industrial disputes last year than in any year since 1926. What a record the Government have!
It is a thousand pities that the Government did not discuss the draft Code of Industrial Practice with the trade union movement. Had they done so, they might have found it unnecessary to introduce the Industrial Relations Act.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Will not the hon. Gentleman admit that last year the number of strikes was half the number in the year before? Is this not a good indication that strikes occur in a very few industries and that the problems overall are being reduced?
§ Mr. Johnson
That is not a very good intervention. The record of the Government in industrial relations is absolutely deplorable, and it is getting worse all the time.
The National Federation of Professional Workers, of which I am the Honorary National Treasurer, made a detailed study of the draft Code, particularly of those aspects of interest to the white-collar worker. There are 1.1 million white-collar workers affiliated to the N.F.P.W. but, like the T.U.C., the N.F.P.W. did not enter into consultation with the Department on the Code for the reason I have explained.
There was one issue upon which some of the unions felt very strongly and about which they sent a letter of protest to the Secretary of State. The earlier draft, in paragraph 17A, laid down that an employee who belonged to a profession with a recognised code of conduct had an obligation to comply with it and should not be compelled to act contrary to it. The Federation pointed out that a salaried professional employee did not have the same relationship with his employer as a 491 person in the same profession in private practice had with his client. His salary was determined either directly or indirectly by the collective negotiating machinery available in the industry, and he had the same need of protection by his trade union as other employees. This meant that the trade union movement could not allow him to be encouraged or permitted to evade responsibilities to his fellow employees and their union organisation.
I am happy to say that paragraph 22 of the new Code accepts that the professional employee who belongs to a trade union should respect the obligations which he has voluntarily taken on by joining the union, and that paragraphs 21 to 23 put the position of professional employees in the context which we in the National Federation thought oppropriate:
Paragraph 2 states:Managers at the highest level should give, and show that they give, just as much attention to industrial relations as to such functions as finance, marketing, production or administration.I entirely agree with that approach. For far too long industrial relations have been the "poor relations" in industry and have not received the attention they deserve. Organisations should make every effort to ensure that the right people are appointed to deal with industrial relations.
Paragraph 7 states:All managers should receive training in the industrial relations implications of their jobs.This is absolutely essential, and I am surprised that the Department has not considered setting up a training section to implement this part of the Code. In years gone by the Ministry of Labour ran training within industry courses for supervisors. These were valuable courses which taught the art of supervision and getting the best out of the people being supervised. Such courses are necessary also at the top level of management. Rather than haphazardly suggesting training for top managerial staff, the Department should set up a systematic form of training for managers.
I know that Government spokesmen will express the hope that employers will comply with the intention of giving more training. But, as with so many useful 492 proposals within the Code, we are left with a statement that the employer "should" do this, that or the other, with no question of him being under an obligation to do so. We need something with more teeth.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
At the beginning of his speech the hon. Gentleman objected to the Code because it was related to the Industrial Relations Act. He is now complaining that the Code is not mandatory. Because the Code is related to the Act there is in certain situations a relationship between the disciplines of the Act and the Code, so I do not know what he is complaining about.
§ Mr. Johnson
I am complaining, as I have been from the word "go", that had the trade union movement had the opportunity of discussing the Code 15 months ago there need not have been the terrible upheaval of the Bill going through the House and its effect upon industry, and we should have had a much better atmosphere generally in industry. I do not consider—and nor does the trade union movement—that the Industrial Relations Act is relevant to the present situation.
I have referred to matters in which the revised Code is an improvement on the previous draft. I ask the Secretary of State to give further consideration to the following points. Paragraph 77 in reference to bargaining units points out the need to take into account the distinct interest of employees who form a minority group and to balance these against the need to avoid unduly small bargaining units. That is not in itself an unreasonable caveat, but why not let it rest at that? Why is there still the quite unecessary definition of the words "minority group" by the addition in parenthesis of the words "including professional employees". This smacks of an open invitation to professional employees to opt out of the bargaining unit for their place of employment and, by implication, to opt out of any bona fide union in favour of some sort of staff association or nothing at all. It may not be the intention of the Secretary of State that the phrase should be used in that way, but that is how it is going to be interpreted. I suggest to him that it would be worth while, and would not detract 493 at all from the real sense of this paragraph, to delete those three offending and unnecessary words.
May I make a further suggestion on the section dealing with the recognition of trade unions. I am aware that it is difficult to define in statutory terms what is or is not a bona fide trade union, but may I put forward some suggestions which have been approved by the non-manual workers' section of the T.U.C. and also by the T.U.C. Congress. These suggestions are as follows—and I hope that the Minister will take them into account since they are meant to he constructive and helpful. First, that there should be an individual subscription-paying membership. Second, that subscriptions should be sufficient to create funds to enable one or more executive officers to be financially independent of management. Third, that members should be able to express opinions and cast votes without managerial influence or interference. Fourth, that the preparation and revision of rules should he the sole prerogative of the members. Fifth, that the rules should specify the procedure to be adopted, for example in the method of taking a ballot and proportion of votes required. to permit or reject affiliation to any outside body such as the T.U.C. or the N.F.P.W. Sixth, that the rules should not debar strike action other than in the case of employments where such action is debarred by statute. These are offered as constructive suggestions to the Secretary of State to be helpful to the Code, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take them into consideration.
I should also like to ask that paragraph 52 be left as it stands, because the same principle could be introduced in the section dealing with the grievance and disputes procedure. In this connection preferably I would suggest as an additional sub-paragraph in paragraph 127 that there should be introduced words to the effect that implementation of any changes introduced by management which have not been discussed with the unions concerned shall be suspended until all stages of the procedure have been completed and agreement reached or a failure to agree formally reported.
Finally, I return to paragraphs 96 to 98 on disclosure of information. I apologise for going backwards, but this was the 494 order of the earlier draft. Paragraph 96 says:Collective bargaining can be conducted responsibly only if management and unions have adequate information on the matters being negotiated".The Act requires appropriate information to be made available by management, including the information supplied to shareholders in annual reports. There is here the possibility of an excuse for delaying relevant and necessary information until the annual report goes out. I suggest it would be worth while to add here a few words to make any such interpretation impossible. It is obvious that, if the information is to have any value at all, it must be timely.
So much for the Code, and I hope the Secretary of State will be prepared to consider some of the suggestions I have put forward.
Alas, even an improved Code, however useful it may prove to be in future, will for the present be regarded by the trade unions as unacceptable in so far as it is part of the machinery of the utterly objectionable Industrial Relations Act. That legislation is now in force, but I would go so far as to suggest that it is still possible for the Secretary of State to make a declaration that all action under its terms will be suspended to permit the Code of Industrial Practice to have at least a trial run without the threat of legal enforcement and sanction behind it.
A start could be made with registration, which is one of the most objectionable features of the Act. A clear statement that all bona fide trade unions would be treated alike in all respects, whether registered or not, would go a long way. An undertaking that there would be no interference with union rules except in consultation and agreement with the union concerned would be evidence of the Government applying the same sort of principles as are set out in the Code.
The Code essentially purports to be an attempt to improve industrial relations. If that really is the Government's aim, they have at hand the opportunity of achieving it at a stroke, if I may use the phrase. As Parliament adopts the Code, let it at the same time accept the necessity to repeal the Act. If the Government would repeal the Industrial Relations Act and start again with the Code, then there 495 could be a new era in industrial relations. But, because it is an adjunct to the Act, we shall go into the Lobby in support of our Amendment and against the Government.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
In contrast to the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson), I believe that this Code will be a great step forward. I hope the House will be patient with me if I seek to elaborate on this theme. Whether the next step forward will be to a base on rocks and stones, or on quicksands will depend not only on industry and the trade union movement but on the House of Commons itself—including hon. Members opposite.
For about a decade responsible managers and responsible trade unionists have at various levels come together in an attempt to provide an ideal guide for those who wish to set the correct relationship between management and trade unions. Some ten years ago in an interview room in this House I was involved in an exercise of this type which included procedure agreements. From this experience I accept that this is a difficult subject and for a longer period of years than a decade there have been managers who have wished to adopt the correct structure of relationship not only within an industrial company basis, but much wider—within an industry.
The Code is involved and lengthy and it will take time for it to be understood and to percolate to every nook and cranny on the shop floor. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has implemented his promise when the Consultative Document was presented to the House on the whole question of consultation. As he stated, the draft Code has been examined by 200 organisations and my right hon. Friend has had virtually 200 submissions put to him. The two organisations with which I have been associated recognise that this consultation has taken place and they welcome the step forward in the publication of this Code of Practice. The two organisations to which I refer are the Confederation of British Industries and the Industrial Society. The latter has been very much involved in this matter.
§ Mr. Osborn
Over the years, I have done much. If I were to outline my own personal involvement both in the company with which I am associated and outside it, probably I should keep the House for another half-hour.
§ Mr. Osborn
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter. He and I have met in a factory in his constituency which has been involved in many of the difficulties to which reference has been made today. However, as this involves a personal issue, perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I had better discuss it outside the Chamber rather than during this debate.
I come back to my point about the shop floor. There are many young and sensitive people on the shop floor who want to know what their relationship is with their trade union rather than with their employer. This Code is to be welcomed on that account.
One of its most important features in the introduction to the Code of Practice is its emphasis on the vital rôle of collective bargaining. I accept that the phrase "collective bargaining" is part of the jargon of the trade union movement, but I should have preferred to see the word "negotiation" used instead. However, it is a phrase with which we are all familiar, and I suppose that it is necessary for it to stay.
The Code then stresses the importance of good human relations between employers and employees at every establishment based on trust and confidence. The emphasis on this is very important.
Page 2 of the Code goes on to say:Good industrial relations are a joint responsibility. They need the continuing cooperation of all concerned—managements, trade unions, employers' associations and individual employees …".The reiteration of the fact that this is a joint responsibility underlines much which has been said in the Act.
497 Reference has been made to the T.U.C. booklet entitled "Good Industrial Relations". I refer only to paragraphs 2, 3, 4 and 5. One reads:The private sector is concerned with profit making … Work people, on the other hand, have different interests … It is inevitable that their interests should run counter to those of their employers.When I read that, I thought how true this may well be. But in publishing a document of that type, it is a pity that those words should appear on the first page—as they emphasise differences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) pointed out, paragraphs 1 and 10 of the Code provide an interesting contrast.
Having said that good industrial relations require the co-operation of all concerned, I accept what paragraph 2 of the Code says, namely,One of management's major objectives should therefore be to develop effective industrial policies which command the confidence of employees …".The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) referred to this.
The functions of finance, marketing and administration have been overemphasised in the last decade. In my view, higher production, mechanisation and the application of technological advances within the limits of knowledge then available were relevant in the 1950's. During the 1960s, competition from outside this country as well as direct pressure from the Government following the change of Government in 1964 highlighted the expertise of finance, marketing, production and administration. I agree with hon. Members opposite that, in the latter part of the 1960's, consideration for those on the shop floor unfortunately took a turn for the worse. I believe that it is one of the causes of the difficulties that we face today. For that reason, I welcome the statement that industrial relations must be given as great a standing as the other disciplines and interests which are important in managing a business. This is a reality which managements should readily note and accept.
I turn to page 14 of the document——
§ Mr. Osborn
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have an opportunity to make his own speech later. If he allows me to continue my speech, I shall achieve my objective, which is to sit down in 10 minutes. Hon. Members on both sides wish to speak.
Page 14 of the Code deals with communication and consultation. I welcome paragraphs 52 and 53, and I draw attention to paragraph 55, which refers to… personal contact between each manager and his immediate work group or individual employees and between managers and employee representatives.It stresses:The most important method of communication is by word of mouth …".That refers to the new responsibility—namely the operation of briefing groups—which has to be put on line management, and which for too many years has gone by default. Just now, I referred to the Industrial Society. Tomorrow at 11.15 p.m., Mr. John Garnet is to appear on television to discuss the rôle of the briefing group.
Too often during the 1950's, those who were trained as managers knew the technology of the industry with which they were concerned but had no knowledge of the way to manage or supervise those working under them. This was a failure of our management training in industry and elsewhere in the 1950's. I welcome the fact that this has now been recognised.
In the past, too often a managing director had his meeting with the shop convenor or the shop stewards and short-circuited not only his departmental managers but the charge-hands and supervisors. I welcome the emphasis placed upon the need for management to be trained to brief and to communicate with those who are responsible to them in the working group. That is a welcome addition to the Code of Practice, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept my commendation of this.
§ Mr. Sandelson
The hon. Gentleman has misled the House, though I am sure inadvertently. A few moments ago, he criticised the T.U.C. for the contents of the first page of its document "Good Industrial Relations"——
§ Mr. Sandelson
I do not want to mention paragraph 5. I restrict my remarks to the paragraphs referred to by the hon. Gentleman himself. The hon. Gentleman referred to paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 and saw fit to criticise the T.U.C. for saying that it was inevitable that the interests of workers should run counter to those of employers. The hon. Gentleman implied that that was a most unfortunate approach on the part of the T.U.C. If he had read a little further on in the same paragraph, he might have been more helpful to the House. There, the T.U.C. points out that there are, equally, divergencies of interests between workers in industry and not just a difference of interests between workers and employers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will comment on that.
§ Mr. Osborn
I think that I shall content myself with accepting the hon. Gentleman's comment. If I do anything else, I shall be drawn into a lengthy explanation. I am aware, of course, of paragraphs 2 and 3, concerned with the responsibilities of management, and I agree that I might have added a reference to paragraph 5 of the introduction to the T.U.C. document. However, that has nothing to do with what I am saying now. If the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) cares to make a speech on this point, I shall be pleased to listen to him.
I make two brief observations. The first relates to paragraphs 66 and 67 of the Code, which deal with the need for consultation between management and employees or their representatives about operational and other day-to-day matters, and the statement in paragraph 67 that:The arrangements should not be used to by-pass or discourage trade unions.Although I spoke about briefing groups, the trade unions must be allowed to operate under the Code of Practice and to provide the feed-back as an essential part of the machinery of consultation.
I will move on to the next point, the challenge to management, which comes under "Management Responsibilities". I refer particularly to paragraph 4(iii),make clear to employees that it welcomes their membership of an appropriate recognised union".The right hon. Member for East Ham, North expressed the hope that management would take on the responsibility of encouraging new employees to join a 500 trade union. The wording very nearly goes that far. That is a concept which I endorse. I particularly hope that, as many trade unions are not registering, management will continue the responsibility that it has accepted in the past of encouraging new employees to join a trade union. I think that hon. Gentlemen opposite would accept that.
I turn now to page 6, paragraph 13(iii), which refers to the responsibility of trade unions toencourage their members to attend union meetings".If management is to encourage new employees to join trade unions, I would hope that the trade unions themselves, and others, would encourage their members to attend meetings. I think that hon. Gentlemen opposite will accept that at the moment to too great an extent there is an apathetic and unwilling membership of the trade union movement. This must be avoided at all costs. There have been one or two——
§ Mr. Loughlin
I accept that the hon. Gentleman has great concern about the trade unions. Does he not think it a little presumptuous to try to tell the trade unions what they should do about encouraging their members to attend meetings, which they already do, without himself perhaps encouraging some employers to attend meetings of their associations?
§ Mr. Osborn
Let us express the hope that employers will attend their association meetings, as well as trade union members attend their own.
§ Mr. Osborn
I know many trade unionists and particularly branch secretaries—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does, too—who genuinely complain that only too frequently their union meetings are not well attended.
The hon. Gentleman said that it was not for me to do this. I hope that he will agree that to ask managers to encourage new employees to join a trade union, it is reasonable to add the rider and to take part in the activities of the trade union—but I am welcoming the fact that this is in the Code.
I welcome the fact that on page 24, paragraph 108, there is reference to 501 facilities for conducting elections, and the encouragement of voting in them. It is important that the trade unions should grasp the nettle and conduct themselves in a manner which will appeal to the majority of their members.
I come to the point which I had intended to raise at the beginning of my contribution: that there are many on the shop floor—I have met such people on many occasions, but usually informally away from the factory—who are and have been apprehensive about their relationships with their own unions. Many workers are forced, because of the power of the union and perhaps collective pressures, to agree to take action which they would prefer not to do. If trade unions are properly organised, if shop stewards are properly elected and if there are proper procedures, the trade union movement as an activity will surely attract new members without the compulsion of the closed shop, and on merit. The Code of Practice will go a long way to achieving this end.
There will be the problem of the closed shop and the fact that a number of unions have not registered. At this time, more than any other, it is desirable that employees coming into an industry should of their own volition want to join a trade union. The hon. Gentleman laughs. Surely he is not laughing at this point of view because it is expressed on this side of the House, which is reiterated by many in management, and which the Code itself rightly stresses.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) made a reasoned speech until lie began talking about members of trade unions being apprehensive about the activities of their unions. I have been closely associated with the trade union movement both in an official capacity and as an ordinary member. Frankly, I have never come across trade unionists who are apprehensive about the activities of their unions. I recall many occasions on which my members have told me that they were apprehensive because I was not 502 active enough. I suggest that for the hon. Gentleman to peddle that kind of line in a serious debate on these issues brings it down to a pretty low level.
Strangely enough, some of the problems which we have had with employers have been their unwillingness to join their appropriate unions. Indeed, I have been a recruiting sergeant for the Engineering Employers' Federation on more occasions than I have had reason to chastise my own members for lack of activity inside the trade union movement itself.
I turn to what the Secretary of State said at the beginning of the debate. He said—I hope I am being fair in my paraphrase—that we have a very old industrial system, that industrial relations go back a long way, that they need a shakeout, if that is the right expression, and that the Government have done just that. He then went on to tell us that the Government were pledged to return to free collective bargaining and to get rid of the statutory incomes policy and that they have also done those two things.
I see some of my hon. Friends from the National Union of Mineworkers here today. What is their trouble about? If the Government have returned to a system of free collective bargaining, is it a coincidence that we find that, whether they be post office workers, coalminers, or others in the public sector, they cannot hope to get anything above 7.9 per cent. or whatever it is? The right hon. Gentleman may be able to get away with that kind of statement in the country, but to ask hon. Members to believe that the Government have returned to a system of free collective bargaining, which has no application whatever throughout the whole of the public sector, is sheer hypocrisy.
I am not here to argue that we should be in a "free collective bargaining system". Many hon. Members—probably on both sides of the House—would no doubt agree that collective bargaining did not suddenly reach its apex some years ago and that it could not possibly develop further from the point when Whitley or some other institution was used. I have always taken the view that collective bargaining, like other industrial processes, is in the course of evolution. It would be wrong for any of us simply to stand pat on a given formula 503 for collective bargaining and to say at that stage that there was no point in trying to find anything better.
We tried to do that with our incomes policy. The Government have got themselves into the hopeless jam in which we see them because of the hypocrisy about which I have complained. At least we got the consent of this House to what we were doing. Behind the House's back the Government have instituted a pernicious system based on the victimisation of certain workers who cannot get away from their clutches, while not exercising any kind of jurisdiction over people in the private sector. Long before the Government came to power the now Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Employment himself told the country that they supported free collective bargaining, but they always wailed at the results of free collective bargaining when they thought that they were higher than they should be.
The reason for our opposition to the Code is to be found in the Government's hypocrisy in these matters, and in the fact that 95 per cent. of the provisions of the Code are there because the Government, of their charity, are pleased to give us what we won for ourselves donkeys years ago. We do not like the idea of the Government telling us what they are conceding to us. If I had the time, I could go through this document paragraph by paragraph and tell the House of the fights that I have had over the years to get the things which the Government now say they are giving us. No Government can take these things away from us. The Government ought not to parade in this kind of glossy document the fact that, according to them, they are conceding things which we do not wish them to concede to us, because we won them for ourselves many years ago.
We do not object to the principle of some of the things in the Code. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) said, it is the Code's connection with the Industrial Relations Act that we deplore. I do not know why there should be any dubiety about that connection because the Code says on page 3: 504The Code complements the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act.It cannot be put much more clearly than that. We cannot possibly accept any provisions which are based upon that Act, particularly as we have won all these rights for ourselves. In statutory form we are being told that these rights are being conceded to us by a medium which we detest, namely, the Industrial Relations Act which nobody would dream of accepting. In those circumstances the Government cannot expect the Opposition to agree with the Code.
When the Secretary of State was dealing with paragraph 52 of the Code I interrupted him to say that the status quo arrangement was contained in the York Memorandum of 1922 which was forced upon the engineering unions when they had been beaten to their knees in a lockout which had left them without any funds to defend themselves. The York Memorandum meant that trade unions were expected—indeed, almost compelled—to honour agreements which were made, but if employers decided that practices and agreements which had existed for many years should be changed they could change them, and if the unions objected they had to go through the procedures laid down in the constitution of the York Memorandum.
§ Mr. Lee
It could take even longer than that.
If the Government intended doing the things which they said they would do, we were entitled to expect that kind of infamous conduct by the employers to be prohibited, but the Code does nothing of the sort. It says in paragraph 91:Procedural provisions should lay down the constitution of any joint negotiating body or specify the parties to the procedure. They should also cover …(ii) arrangements for negotiating terms and conditions of employment and the circumstances in which either party can give notice of their wish to renegotiate them …".That provision is not worth the paper it is written on. As long as the status quo situation obtains, that provision is sheer, unadulterated nonsense, and I challenge the Minister to try to square the two things.
505 It is an affront to expect us to accept what the right hon. Gentleman says—that he is sorry, but the status quo arrangement has been in existence in engineering for so long that nothing can be done about it. I know that the C.B.I. would not like it to be altered, and certainly the Engineering Employers' Federation would be apoplectic if it were changed, yet the Government insert in paragraph 91 the words which I have quoted.
My right hon. Friend said that in many factories where proper negotiating arrangements existed both employers and the trade unions would ignore the provisions of the Act and of this Code. Having told the House about the York Memorandum, perhaps I may now tell the House of my experience at a factory employing 30,000 people, where I had the honour to be the chairman of the works committee. I did not know it then, but I realise now that we had the best internal negotiating arrangements anywhere in the world.
One reason for that state of affairs was that the employers agreed that they would never attempt to enforce the provisions of the York Memorandum. In other words, the status quo arrangement never applied and it was possible for us to get round a table and negotiate our arrangements in the knowledge that they would be honoured by both sides, that there would never be an attempt by the employers to change those conditions behind our backs and tell us to go to York if we did not like what they had done. The shop stewards at that factory felt confident about arrangements made with the local management. My experience is that good working conditions are to be found in factories where there has been established that kind of confidence between the two sides at the factory.
We reached the stage—and I should like to see this happen throughout British industry, though some of my hon. Friends may be shocked to hear me say so—where we would not even allow a full-time union official in the factory. We took the view that the further the dispute was taken from the place where it began, the less chance there was of a satisfactory settlement. I shall not tell the House what happened when full-time officials did come in. I merely say that they were not invited 506 to return. I suggest to the Government that they must not try to bring in the kind of nonsense that is in this Code.
One cannot do anything with the Industrial Relations Act which is behind the Code. If that Act is going to do the things that we heard about last year, what is happening in the miners' strike? There has been mention already of the number of days lost in disputes since this Government came in. Large parts of that Act are now in effect. What has gone wrong? Why is it not waving the magic wand which we were led to expect? The truth is that at best it is ineffective and at worst it is a positive menace.
I am not opposed to arbitration as a last resort, but there is a great danger that, if the use of arbitration gets out of perspective, the whole bargaining strategy of both sides in a discussion will be conducted simply with an eye to the arbitration. This emphasises the need for a proper industrial relationship. I want to see it modernised. I had to undertake some of the horse-dealing nonsense to achieve my objects, but I was ashamed of it. I have said before that I might have a dispute over a 50-ton casting and another over an instrument that could not be seen with the naked eye. I would bargain the one off against the other to get a settlement on both. What kind of science is that? Some of us were told to bow down to the sacred cow of free collective bargaining, but there is a lot to be done in changing it.
I do not want to go too far in what I have said about incomes policy. I have always complained that, because we introduced an incomes policy at the time of an economic crisis, it became the creature of the crisis. Lord George-Brown had to introduce it because of the crisis. I can think of nothing worse. That is nothing to do with incomes policy. Incomes policy is a way of getting a fair and proper distribution of what industry can pay.
I think of the miner, of the terribly low rates that he is getting. The criteria of an incomes policy should be things like danger, dirt and responsibility. Under those conditions, the miner would be the top of the league again. I have heard Lawrence Daly say that he was in favour of incomes policy. Will Paynter and the leaders of the miners have understood this problem.
507 It is a pity that the departure of an incomes policy, which will come before any Government can exercise planning in this country, should have had to take place against a background which inevitably meant that it was a restrictive instrument. I hope that the advice which some of us have given will be heard in industry. We hope that the Act itself and the Code which springs from it will be ignored.
We believe that we have sufficient experience in the trade union movement and of employers' associations to perfect the institutions through which we negotiate so that they will accept the need for vast improvements in the workshops, wherever they do not have satisfactory negotiating arrangements, and that, through that method, they can reach a far better understanding in industry.
Hon. Members opposite are always talking about losses of days in industry. We used to hear this when we were sitting on that side of the House. It almost seems that they think that workmen enjoy forfeiting their wages by having to strike for decent conditions. I have never met anyone in that category. My next door neighbour is a single man in the pits. He has not drawn a halfpenny in the last month. Do hon. Members think that he is enjoying it? They are living in a false world which does not exist and can be cured only by getting the confidence of the people in industry, by giving a greater degree of confidence and honour to shop stewards, instead of their being vilified in the Tory Press. I have lived with them and worked with them and I cannot think of a more responsible body of people, as a body, anywhere in Britain than the shop stewards I know.
Surely, for this kind of thing, which is the concomitant in this field of the I.R.A., the Industrial Relations Act is the wrong way. It has put us back 20 years. I hope that people realise that only by getting back to a Labour Government, who can deal fairly and squarely with these issues, can we get rid of these problems.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Trew (Dartford)
I have listened with great interest to the right hon. Members for Newton (Mr. Lee), who gave us examples from his wide experi- 508 ence of industrial relations which had worked well with the willing consent of both sides. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing in the Industrial Relations Act or in this Code of Practice which should prevent such good arrangements in future. But, as well as good examples, there are many bad ones. It is my belief, although the right hon. Gentleman clearly disagrees with me, that the Act and the Code will, as the years go by, provide a framework in which industrial relations can get progressively better.
I want to say something about the paragraphs in the Code which apply to professional employees. I must declare an interest, because I am one of the 300,000 chartered engineers whose working lives may at some time be affected by these paragraphs.
The Government have already gone a long way towards meeting the special needs of professional employees, not only in the agency shop and bargaining unit provisions of the Act itself but also in the Code of Practice, in paragraphs 21, 22, 23 and 77. I can fully understand the Government's reluctance to give too much in the way of privileges to any particular category of employee. I would not claim that professional employees have any monopoly of a sense of obligation, loyalty or regard for the public interest. These sentiments are widespread throughout industry, perhaps more so in British industry than in that of any other country.
But there is one respect, I believe, in which professional employees are in a special position. They owe their professional status, and therefore in many cases their livelihood, to adherence to a code of professional practice. To contravene that code is to run the risk of forfeiting their professional status and quite likely their livelihood.
This code of professional practice, depending on the institution, often has the force behind it of an Order in Council, and, implicitly and often explicitly, it refers to the public interest. I have here, for instance, the rules for professional conduct of my own institution, the Institution of Civil Engineers. Paragraph I says:A member, in his responsibility to his employer and to the profession, shall have regard to the public interest.509 The Council of Engineering Institutions, which is the umbrella institution for all the chartered engineering institutions, has adopted virtually the same wording.
The Industrial Relations Code of Practice rightly specifies examples of actions which are contrary to the public interest. Paragraph 22 defines them as actions which would endangerIt is right that all these actions should be specified.
- "(i) public health or safety;
- (ii) the health of an individual needing medical or other treatment;
- (iii)the well-being of an individual needing care through the personal social services."
However, there is another class of action to which the Code should have referred, namely action endangering valuable property. I am thinking of machinery, equipment or installations which might suffer permanent and very expensive damage during a prolonged dispute through failure to maintain them or to take certain action. It is a defect that paragraph 22 makes no reference to action which might endanger valuable property.
Another respect in which the Code is defective is that it departs from paragraph A17 of the Consultative Document, which makes specific reference to the duties of the employer—An employee who belongs to a profession with a recognised code of conduct has an obligation to comply with that code. He should not be called upon by his employer or by any trade union of which he is a member to take any action which would be contrary to it.The Code has omitted that reference to the duty of the employer. It is a pity, because there are circumstances in which a professional employee may be under pressure from an employer to take action which is contrary to his professional code of conduct. A great deal of engineering design goes into trying to balance economy with safety and health requirements. I think, for instance, of the factor of safety in a building, where for reasons of cost a designer might be under pressure to cut the safety factor. On a construction site an engineer might be under pressure to skimp on safety arrangements because of pressure on either cost or time.
One would hope that any professional employee in such a situation would have sufficient integrity of character to resist 510 such pressure, even to the point of courting dismissal. One would expect him to do that, but one would also expect him to have the moral support of the Code.
Section 2(2) of the Industrial Relations Act provides:In preparing that code the Secretary of State shall have regard to—(a) the need for those who manage undertakings to accept primary responsibility for the promotion of good industrial relations …".It is inconsistent with that subsection to omit from the Code any reference to the duty of employers. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will tell us why this reference to the employer was omitted.
I believe that the Government have done a great deal to recognise the special problems and position of professional employees. It is now up to them within the framework provided by the Government to organise themselves and to look after their own interests. I hope that my right hon. Friend, when in due course he takes another look at the Code in terms of Section 2(3), will bear these two important points closely in mind.
§ 6.34 p.m.
Mr. Emlyn boson (Montgomery)
The Secretary of State for Employment congratulated himself on the fact that there was a sharpening up, as it were, of the language of the now published Code as opposed to the Consultative Document. To a certain degree the right hon. Gentleman was right; there has been sharpening up to a degree, although the Code is still a string of truisms. In paragraph 96 this distilled wisdom appears:Collective bargaining can be conducted responsibly only if management and unions have adequate information on the matters being negotiated.Such language is unexceptional, but it begs the question as to what rôle the Code is to fulfil in our industrial relations.
I have expressed the view many times that, whereas the Act and the Code can, and should be allowed to, make a contribution to improving industrial relations, neither of them gets down to the root of the trouble in industry. Although the power of employees' representatives in negotiations has now firmly passed to the shop floor and has probably been there a good time, there is in most cases in the industrial set-up no effective constitution-making machinery at shop floor level.
511 In fact, we are still in danger of anarchy in shop floor negotiations, despite the passing of the Industrial Relations Act. It is the stated objective of a large number of shop stewards, for a variety of reasons, to fight against the establishment of formal contractual arrangements for effective consultation and negotiation at plant level.
As we review the Code today, I want to reiterate the view of my party that there is a desperate need in British industry for a works constitution law similar to that which exists in Germany. The key point in our industrial relations today is the need for the legislature to appreciate what is its function in industrial relations. The right hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee) referred to the Labour Party's essay into industrial relations. That came at a time of financial crisis. It was tied up with a prices and incomes policy which had the effect of petrifying wages. Only a percentage increase was allowed, so there was no hope of redressing inequitable relationships. The right hon. Gentleman said that the interference was at the wrong time, and I think that he implied that it was made in the wrong way.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that during the whole course of that experiment there was no period in which incomes were not rising faster than prices?
§ Mr. Hooson
The right hon. Gentleman fails to see the point. He referred to the miners. If they were already on a low rate and were allowed only a 4 per cent. increase, they could never readjust their scale in relation to earnings in other industries under such a policy.
That is the wrong way for a Government or a legislature to intervene. The great task of the legislature is to establish constitutionally based works councils representative of all employees and with clearly established rights and obligations. Equally necessary would be the constitutional requirement for effective reporting back by employees' representatives to their members.
It is not a code which is necessary to achieve this. This Code is unexceptionable. How anybody can vote against the Code passes my understanding, because it is a matter of common sense. There 512 is hardly anything one can disagree with in the Code.
The real question is—how effective will it be? Will it make a significant contribution to good industrial relations? The real criticism of the Code is its obvious inadequacy. It is full of pious truisms which will not have very much effect on good industrial relations. The Code will no doubt be referred to from time to time. The Act provides that an industrial court shall be aware of the requirements of the Code.
I should have liked the legislature to go much further, because we need to create a much more acceptable atmosphere in industrial relations. That is obviously a matter to which all parties will subscribe. To a very limited degree a code makes a contribution to this. I cannot imagine that there will be many people on either side of industry who, on reading the Code, will say, "I disagree with that", or "I disagree with this"; but that is a far cry from saying that they will accept, not the pious sentiment which is behind the statement, but the necessary constitutional machinery to put that pious resolution into effect, and that is what is missing now.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
The hon. and learned Gentleman heard the opening speech made from the Opposition Front Bench by the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) in which he complained that because the Code was tied to the Act, there would be pressure for its fulfilment, and he declared that his hon. Friends objected to its being tied in that way. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman ignoring that argument entirely and saying that it has no basis?
§ Mr. Hooson
I was not impressed by the argument when I heard it. I have always taken the view that the Labour Party made far too much fuss about the Industrial Relations Act, anyway.
§ Mr. Hooson
I do not operate in any shop.
I took the view all along that the Industrial Relations Act would make only a modest contribution to industrial relations. I now take the view that the Code will make an even more modest contribution than the Act. All the fuss made 513 about this by the Labour Party does not bear examination.
It is right to emphasise the rôle of management, but it is odd to find it stated in paragraph 1 of the CodeThe principal aim of management is to conduct the business of the undertaking successfully.What else could it have as its aim? It is astounding that it should have been thought necessary to state such matters in a code of this kind.
People will in theory subscribe to what is in the Code, but in practice they are likely to do nothing about it because we do not have the correctly constituted machinery at the works level to do it. It is clear that power has moved in the trade union movement to the shop stewards. Whereas the strategy behind the Act and, to a degree, behind the Code, is, as it were, designed to reduce the power of the shop stewards, we should instead be recognising the power which they have and be providing means to enable them to exercise it constitutionally and responsibly.
The Government are right to emphasise the key rôle of management in industrial relations, and what is said in the key section of the Code about consultation and communications is vitally important, though the Government have not provided the means of achieving proper consultation and communication.
One of the greatest ills in British industry today lies in the fact that people do not feel that they belong or have a right to participate. Far too much power is exercised by shop stewards, many of whom are not responsible to those who look to them for representation. In some instances—in far too many but not in all—the shop steward has gained that office because he is keen to do the job. On the other hand, he may have a political motivation. But the responsibility of the shop steward to the people on the shop floor is often not as good as it should be.
§ Mr. Sillars
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman, being a lawyer, give evidence to support that theory?
§ Mr. Hooson
Certainly. Over the years I have appeared in many cases both for and against unions. During the consultations that take place on such matters, 514 one gleans a great deal of inside information which is perhaps not repeated on political platforms.
It is clear that managements and unions are too far apart in British industry. One of the great problems today centres around this question of communication between management and employees as well as between different grades of management, a matter which invites criticism in many managerial set-ups.
Likewise, one can criticise the lack of communication between trade unions at the top and between trade union officials and shop stewards. There is a general lack of communication, and one wonders what contribution this Code will make to improving matters. It may make a modest one, but it will not begin to get to the root of the problem.
I do not want to criticise the Code line by line, but it is regrettable that the requirements for a move in the direction of eliminating the difference in conditions of service between manual and non-manual workers have been watered down in the present verision of the Code compared with the version produced in June, 1971.
We suppose that this has been done at the request of employers, who fear the expense—undoubtedly it will be expensive to implement—but the intention to implement must be clear and decisive if we are to make progress in this connection.
There has been a great deal of discussion about the relevance of legislation to the subject of industrial relations. There has been hesitation, some of it from the best motives, about introducing the law into employer-employee relationships. This was a feature of many of our earlier debates. We share this reserve, but it is clear that some legal action was necessary if industrial relations were to be improved.
The kind of legislation which is required is not primarily or only that which finds ways of punishing offenders but also that which provides a framework of law within which necessary negotiations and the resolution of points of difference can be carried out. If men are to be reasonable, they need the assured support of the law and not merely the fear of penalties for infringing it.
515 I therefore emphasise that as a contribution to the improvement of industrial relations and as a way of materially assisting men of good will on both sides of British industry to improve the prospects for the country and for those whom they represent, I find the Act and the Code inadequate.
If it is regarded as a necessary beginning, then that is as far as one can go. However, even at this late stage the Government would be wise to seek to present not a Code but legislation embodying substantial proposals for a works constitutional law in this country.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)
I have no intention of making an aggressive speech and I have one criticism of the Code to offer the Minister.
As I listened to the ritual peroration of the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) predicting that a future Labour Government would repeal the Industrial Relations Act, I could not help wondering whether he had read or heard the speech made on Second Reading in another place by Lord Donovan in which the noble Lord offered his advice to the Labour Party and forecast that the Industrial Relations Act never would be repealed.
I am sure as a matter of historical fact that he was right. I doubt whether any hon. Member is able to point to any major piece of legislation—by "major" I mean any Measure above 50 to 60 Clauses—which has been repealed in toto.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
It is extraordinary to hear the hon. Gentleman estimate the importance of a Measure by its length. He must be aware that one of the most important pieces of legislation in this sphere was the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, while another, almost as important, was the Trade Union Act, 1871. Both were among many statutes repealed at a stroke by the Industrial Relations Act, 1971.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I am pleased that I defined "major" in the terms I did, and I stick to that definition. It is inevitable that a piece of legislation of that size will contain a great many elements, how- 516 ever controversial the basic element may be, which all hon. Members wish to retain. I have often said that both sides of the House, when they are in Opposition, make a mistake when threatening to repeal major pieces of legislation. A similar mistake was made on our side in the past and it has been made by the Opposition today. If I were a gambling man, which I am not, I would offer to make a substantial bet with the right hon. Member for East Ham, North, or any hon. Member on the other side of the House, that this Act never will be repealed.
What Lord Donovan very wisely suggested was that the Labour Party should concentrate in the long term upon considering amendments to the Act with a view to its ultimate improvement. I am sure that it is open to improvement and that one day it will be amended. It would be helpful if the Opposition would accustom themselves to living with this piece of legislation, which is now on the Statute Book, and realising that it contains some merits from their point of view. I hope that they will eventually develop the same attitude—some of them have already developed it—towards the Code of Practice which we are discussing.
Under the procedures of the House, it is not open to us to amend the Code. I am glad, therefore, the Government gave us two bites at this one and undertook amendments in the light of the earlier debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made a very conscientious effort to take account of the suggestions, comments and criticisms which were made in the earlier debate. He said that he was not claiming that the result was perfect.
I have a criticism of it which I hope may be taken into account in a further revision, although that obviously cannot take place tonight. My right hon. Friend has not removed from the draft Code one underlying weakness which recurs at various points in the original legislation and to which I drew attention on Second Reading. This weakness is the fallacy of supposing that trade unions and employers' organisations are essentially bodies of a similar nature between which a symmetrical relationship can be established and to which broadly similar provisions can be applied. That is not so. The fundamental difference is that 517 whereas a trade union is an organisation of individuals, an employers' organisation is an association of corporate bodies. I shall not elaborate again the wider consequences of that difference, to which I drew attention on Second Reading. I confine myself to the consequences which I see arising in the context of the present draft Code.
The assumption that trade unions and employers' organisations are essentially similar bodies can be seen most clearly by a comparison of paragraph 11 and paragraph 16 of the draft Code, and more particularly by a comparison of paragraph 14 and paragraph 17. Paragraph 14 states:Members of a trade union should be prepared to provide their union with the authority and resources needed to carry out its functions.Paragraph 17 lays the same requirement on members of an employers' organisation with the addition of the word "information". I do not understand why that difference occurs in those two paragraphs, and why employers should provide their organisations with information and members of trade unions need not provide their trade union organisations with information. It is a puzzling distinction. But it is not significant in relation to my main point.
My main point lies in the word "authority". "Authority" implies a power to decide—not only a power to decide on matters about which all members of the organisation are agreed but also on matters about which some members may disagree. How is that authority to come into existence? In the case of trade unions, there is no difficulty, because the Act provides in detail for the means by which trade unions are to he enabled to speak authoritatively for their members. I mention only a few points. I know that not all hon. Members opposite will accept my interpretation of the Act and its consequences, but if necessary I am prepared to argue about it.
The Act is almost certain to ensure a substantial numerical increase in trade union membership throughout the country. It will also increase the capacity of trade unions to ensure that their members respect agreements negotiated on their behalf, and it will decrease the attractiveness to individual workers of 518 seceding from membership or refusing to join, because they will have to pay the equivalent of a subscription in any case.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I should prefer not to be seduced into an argument on that point—merely in the interests of saving time. However, there is no difficulty in answering the point. The Industrial Relations Act is not designed to remedy specific situations—with a few exceptions—that have already arisen. It is designed to change the climate of negotiation throughout industry, and it will undoubtedly take time to achieve that result.
The trade union is placed in a new position by the Act in relation to its members, but nothing of that kind is applied to employers' organisations in relation to their members. The Act is virtually silent on this relationship. Therefore, to apply virtually identical provisions in the Code to the two cases seems to be ridiculous. For example, although the Act gives trade unions in the last resort a power to expel dissident members and gives the same power to employers' organisations, whereas it is a very formidable sanction in the case of trade unions, for employers' organisations it is futile, because a member of an employers' organisation who dissents from its policies, or from agreements into which the organisation has entered on his behalf, will resign from the organisation in any case long before it can get around to expelling him. Moreover, by resigning, he will suffer nothing. He cannot even be compelled to pay the equivalent of a subscription, as can a dissident worker. He will thus become an archetypal free rider of the kind which, in the case of trade unions, the Act rightly seeks to eliminate. In these circumstances, the employer will get all the benefits with none of the responsibilities of membership of his organisation.
The upshot is bound to be that in any really controversial case—and it is only 519 in controversial cases that the Code will be significant—the situations of the trade union and of the employers' organisation will be quite different. The trade union will be in a position to deliver the goods and the employers' organisation will not. This could well lead to acrimony and legitimate complaints by trade unions that they are put at a disadvantage.
§ Mr. John Page
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that there should be a kind of anti-free rider payment to employers' associations or a kind of closed shop arrangement?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I am not making any such suggestion. I am drawing attention to the fact that in the Code there is a disparity between the position of trade unions and the position of employers' organisations. We cannot amend the Code. My conclusion is that because of the disparity there is liable to be acrimony and a feeling on the part of the trade unions that they are put at a disadvantage, which cannot help to make the Code effective in practice.
I regret not having been present at that previous debate to make these points, but I defined on Second Reading over a year ago the principles of the points I intended to make. I very much hope that in preparing a future version of the Code my right hon. Friend will give attention to that matter and that in the long run the Act will be amended to remove the underlying fallacy of assuming that a trade union and an employers' organisation are two bodies of an identical kind.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
The remarks of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) about whether the next Labour Government will repeal the Industrial Relations Act showed a lack of understanding of just how important the trade union and labour movement regard that Act as being. The Labour Party has already made a commitment to the trade union movement that one of its priorities in Government will be to repeal the Act.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
If I have misconstrued the feeling on the matter, it is an error I share with Lord Donovan, 520 because he made precisely the point I made when he spoke in the Second Reading debate in another place.
§ Mr. Sillars
Irrespective of the quality, value and worth of a person, if he lies outside the realms of the trade union and labour movement he cannot understand how our heart ticks and our mind works. I can remove Conservative Members' expectations on this. The Labour movement will elect a Labour Government, which will repeal the Act.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The hon. Gentleman is a very attractive new hon. Member, and I want to help him. He should not be led astray by what some of his leaders sometimes say. They said that they would get out of the Nassau Agreement and all sorts of other important things. The hon. Gentleman should not take for granted that they will do any more than to amend the Act in a minor way.
§ Mr. Sillars
I am talking about what the rank-and-file members of the Labour movement are saying, and when the next Labour Government are elected that will be more important than any other statement. The Labour Party's manifesto for the next election is already being written, and on page 1 there is a reference to the repeal of the Act. No future Labour Government will be able to survive without its repeal.
§ Mr. Sillars
No. Very few people who are terribly naive arrive in this Chamber.
I want to refer to the speech of the spokesman for the Liberal Party, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who is no longer here. I find it very difficult to debate with the representatives of the Liberal Party. It is like debating with a shadow. They never appear in the same spot twice and they are rarely here for any length of time. I envy the ability of members of the minority party to walk in and out almost with the implied right to speak in a debate. Anyone who speaks, certainly in a debate on a major issue like the one before us, should do other hon. Members the courtesy of at least staying some time before he speaks and for some time after.
521 My reading of politics over a period of time, admittedly from a biased standpoint, makes it clear that the Liberal Party's fall came with the rise of the Labour movement, which stole its industrial base. I do not think that the Liberal Party is ever likely to rise again, because the industrial workers will never follow the claptrap we heard from the hon. and learned Gentleman. The Labour movement is not impressed with his constitutional methods of overcoming some of the problems arising from the power factors in British industry.
I shall vote against the Code, for good reasons, though there are a number of things in it with which we can all agree. For example, paragraph 51 tells us about communications:Communication and consultation are essential in all establishments.No one disagrees with that, but the document is full of statements that are mere platitudes. I am reminded of a slogan printed on the factory wall by an employer I knew:A fair day's work for a fair day's pay.That was a mere platitude. It begged the question of what was a fair day's wage and what was a fair day's work—and it was in one of the lowest-paid establishments in the town in which I lived. The document reminds me very much of the mental attitude that led to the printing of that slogan.
We come to the crunch of the Code, the question of whose side of the industrial fence it comes down on, when we see that it qualifies very heavily, and just as often as necessary, any invasion of managerial prerogative. The problem in industrial relations is the division of power and influence. I always make up my mind on a document or group by asking, "Whose side is this on—the side of working people seeking to expand their influence or of the employer seeking to contain the expansion of working people's aspirations?"
Paragraphs 40–46 deal with the status and security of employees—[Interruption.] Does someone want to interrupt, or am I interrupting a private conversation? Paragraph 41 says:Where practicable, management should provide occupational pension and sick pay schemes.522 My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) will recall our debates in the last Session when the Tory Government took away the entitlement to sickness and injury benefit for the first three days, essentially from the manual workers. The Government might have differentiated in paragraph 41 between the manual and white collar workers, because the manual workers are most affected by the removal of the three waiting days. It would have cost the Government nothing, even if they did not want to commit themselves entirely in relation to white collar workers, to fill a gap that has arisen in the financial lives of a number of manual workers. That is one of the tests. Whose side does it come down on? It comes down on the side of the empoyers.
Paragraph 42, which deals with the position of staff workers as opposed to production workers, is hedged around to such an extent that it is hardly worth reading. No one will find that it gives any point of reference in argument with management. The most important clue to the Government's thinking or lack of it lies in paragraph 44, which begins with the statement:Responsibility for deciding the size of the work force rests with management.One wonders whether the Government are aware of the realities of life in 1972. Do not they realise that it is no longer acceptable to working people to give management that prerogative? We are now living in the time of the U.C.S., Plessey and Fisher-Bendix sit-ins and work-ins. Working people are no longer prepared to give managements the right to fire them.
Since the 1930s, there has been tremendous progress in the thinking among the working class of our country. In the 1930s, my father accepted as perfectly natural the fact that he could collect his pay packet from the L.M.S. Railway on Friday and find in it a note telling him to report to Cricklewood in London on the following Monday. If he did not, he lost his job. But he thought that a natural process in the life of the working class. There has been a lot of education since then inside the trade union and Labour movement, and pressures on working people have increased over the years. They have tasted a degree of affluence which they did not have before. 523 They have demands which they did not have before. They have come to the point of insisting that they have a right to work because they realise that, without the basic right to work, they have no rights worth speaking of. There is no point in arguing that they have the right to free education, for example, if the head of the house and the breadwinner does not have the right to work in order to supplement at home the benefit which the child is getting at school.
§ Mr. Winterton
The hon. Gentleman implies that there is a deep rift between all management and employers and the working people. Is not he prepared to admit that many people who are senior managers today, or are owners of companies and big employers, were working people themselves? There is not this big gap. I am most concerned at the tone of his speech.
§ Mr. Sillars
I have heard that one before. The next one is that all investment is on behalf of widows and orphans. I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's thinking. My experience does not tell me that what he says is so. Certainly, many of the managers gained some experience on the workshop floor but with the pre-knowledge that they were destined for the highest positions in the company.
§ Mr. Sillars
I do not want to give way again, although I am usually ready to do so. I want to continue, because other hon. Members are waiting to speak and I do not want to be too controversial this evening. The Government must understand that we are demanding the right to work, that we are not departing from it and that we strongly object to paragraph 44.
The Introduction to the Code contains the main themes underlying it, as the Government say. It refers to workers wanting freedom and security. It is difficult to get freedom and security in days of 1 million unemployed. The introduction refers to… the vital role of collective bargaining carried out in a reasonable and constructive manner …and also to… the importance of good human relations …".524 The Government must understand that they do not live in a vacuum any more than industry does. Industry lives in the climate created by the Government. At the moment, there is a national coal strike, which I know something about, since I come from a coal-mining constituency. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) is intimately involved in it as a miners' M.P.
It is ironic that this Code must have been at the printers when the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers finally clashed on the miners' pay deal. The printer must have been printing the words… reasonable and constructive manner …at a time when Mr. Derek Ezra was threatening the miners that he would withdraw the board's offer in its entirety if they went on strike.
§ Mr. Sillars
Yes. The Government will have to understand that one of the tragedies of the strike is the destruction of the good industrial relations which had been so painstakingly built up since nationalisation. It will be a long time before the relations between the miners and the board are at the point they were in, let us say, November or December, 1971. That is one of the casualties of the strike which the union officials regret very much indeed, as I do.
§ Mr. Sillars
The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but unfortunately it is a fact.
The Code mentions good human relations. The Government have to understand that they, like industry, do not live in a vacuum. The mining community was well aware of the Government's election promise, which I recall for those hon. Members opposite who have conveniently forgotten it, although the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) 525 did not actually fight his election on that manifesto. The Conservative Party Manifesto in 1970 said that the problem of inflation was that of wages chasing prices. Once in office, however, the Government proceeded to give the doctors an enormous wage increase, not only to the general practitioners but also to the rich consultants in part-time private practice.
The miners have since then seen savage price increases. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to preach about the C.B.I.'s 5 per cent. limit on price increases this year. We have to ask ourselves whether it was not the case that the C.B.I. encouraged prices to let rip between 1970 and mid-1971. In addition to all this, the Housing Finance Bill, for England and Wales, and the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill are now before Standing Committees of the House. The miners fully understand that the 7.9 per cent. offer, set beside all the price increases and the prospective increases in rents, means an effective cut in their standard of living.
§ Mr. Sillars
It is no good the Parliamentary Private Secretary shaking his head. It means an effective cut in the standard of living. We are not conducting a seminar at the university Against this background, the Code talks about good human relationships. The Code is supposed to relate to reality. The miners' strike is a reality. What led to it is a reality. The miners' attitude is a reality. The Government's attitude is a reality.
I make one test of any document which comes before this House. Is it on the side of the working people or on the side of the people represented by the Tory Party? The Code of Practice is against the workers and I am on their side against it.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) who represents the left wing of the Scottish Labour Party. He objected forcefully to the Coal Board having withdrawn its offer when the strike took place. It had to. It did not know, the hon. Member does not know, nobody knows, how 526 much damage will be done to the mining industry by the continuation of the strike and the damage which is being done to mining machinery and the coal faces by the short-sighted decision of some sections which refuse to provide proper maintenance——
§ Mr. Mitchell
I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire said that the introduction of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Bill would bring a real cut in the standard of living of the coal miners. He and his hon. Friends have said that the coal miners are not among the highest paid in the industrial community. They are, therefore, the very people who will benefit most from having the much more substantial rebates available under the Bill.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman did not give way to me, I will not give way to him.
I turn from the frivolities introduced by the hon. Gentleman to the purpose of our debate. I join with my colleagues in the welcome they have given to the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) and the position that he has occupied in the debate. He is, as many of us know, as constructive as his hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) in these matters.
This Code is designed, as is the Act, to raise the standards of behaviour and practice on both sides of industry to the level of the best. The right hon. Member was a little unkind in his strictures of the Under-Secretary when he referred to him as having spoken about recourse to the Act being sparing. He knows, and has heard the Government state on many occasions, that it is their hope that there will be sparing recourse to the functions of the Act but that the fact that it is on the Statute Book will influence people's behaviour and that is the key to raising standards of conduct on both sides of 527 industry to ensure that we get better industrial relations.
§ Mr. Tom King
Have not the Opposition missed the point, which is that this document is really a far greater potential power in influencing the everyday behaviour in every factory and that the Act is merely a fall-back provision if a situation goes well beyond the document.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am grateful for that intervention. I was keeping that for my peroration. The Opposition Amendment does not disapprove the contents of the Code although the hon. Member who represents the left wing of the Scottish Labour Party disapproves of the contents. The Amendment condemns it only for being part of the Industrial Relations Act. What is being said is that the Opposition agree with what is best practised in terms of good industrial relations so long as there is no pressure on the trades unions to adhere to it. I do not find that a very convincing stance for the Opposition. The Opposition Front Bench—I noted the words of the right hon. Gentleman—said it was impossible to separate the Code from the Act. The main reason why this is impossible is because this is the one vehicle for enforcement of the Code to ensure that it will be taken into account by both sides in industry. If it is, as is admitted, a guide to good industrial relations, I should have thought that pressure to ensure the guide was made use of would be wholly desirable.
I want to compare the Consultative Document with the Code and then come to some of the points made a little earlier by the hon. Member for Derby, North-East (Mr. Swain) from a sedentary position, and by the representative of the Liberal Party. The Code as published is shorter, and we are delighted to see that. It also contains rather fewer clichés than the original document. I am reminded of the Hollywood producer who said, "I'm getting tired of all these old clichés. Go away and write me some new ones". We have had a number of the clichés removed.
Secondly, the Code lays stress on the responsibility being a joint responsibility for good industrial relations, resting with both sides of industry. This is immensely important and it is a message which ought to go out to all involved with industrial 528 relations. There can be profound disagreements about the contents of contracts between employer and employee, there can be profound disagreements and conflict about the contents of the bargain, but there ought not to be disagreements about how that bargain is to be made, the methods for reaching the bargain, the procedure by which the bargain is arrived at, or the consultation and responsibility involved, because this is of mutual interest to both sides.
Because of that everyone should be seeking to push forward means by which these sorts of things can be discussed and agreed with the minimum of conflict so that we concentrate the difference where it really belongs which is on the financial and similar aspects of the bargain.
The published Code compared with the Consultative Document lays much greater stress on flexibility, which I welcome. With the diversity of industry there are, and should be, different practices provided two conditions are fulfilled. First, there should be the same broad intention of the practice of the firm or union concerned, as is set out in the Code, and secondly the variation must be successful. If it is not, it is right and proper that those who introduced that variation should find themselves out in the cold if there is any inquiry into the consequences and subsequent breakdown of industrial relations.
I turn now to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). I am sorry that having delivered his pearls of wisdom or unwisdom he promptly left us to digest them without the benefit of his further comments. He complained that the Code says that the purpose of business is that it should be run successfully. He said that this sort of thing was nonsensical or so obvious that it was totally unnecessary to include it. Some of the miners who have been allowing the pit face equipment to be destroyed certainly need to be reminded about this. He went on to say that power in industrial relations has moved to the shop floor. The hon. Member for Derby, North-East has interrupted me, and he interrupted earlier when one of my colleagues was speaking. He asked why there were more official strikes last year than for many years past. This ties in with what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery 529 referred to as power having moved to the workshop floor, because what has happened in the last year since the present Government came into office which has caused there to be more official strikes than unofficial strikes has been quite simply that the trade union leadership in a number of cases has become more militant. It has become more militant because it has been trying to recapture the acknowledged leadership of the militants on the workshop floor and of the shop stewards and of the activists within the trade union movement whose leadership it lost when the Labour Party was in office and the trade union leaders, the T.U.C. and many Labour Members of Parliament co-operated with that Government in holding down wages, a policy which never had the support of the militants on the workshop floor.
§ Mr. Swain
The hon. Member illustrates the militancy of the trade union movement. Can he say to what extent the rank and file of the Tory Party, including Members on the back benches on his side of the House, have become more right wing because of the extreme right-wing leadership they are getting from the Government?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having at least made his interjection this time from an upright position, but when one is discussing a code of industrial practice and the Opposition Amendment refers only to the Opposition's objection to the Code because it is tied to the Industrial Relations Act, although intrinsically the Code itself is not something they object to particularly strongly, for the hon. Member to make that remark seems to me particularly inappropriate.
I do not want to detain the House for long, but there is a question I should like to ask and there are a couple of points I should like to make. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether, in paragraph 66 of the Code, the term "establishment" means "site"? Because where there is a multi-site firm with several small sites, each with below 250 people, or where the total pay roll of a company is about 250, it would be desirable that we should know what "stablishment" in this context is. Is "establishment" a firm or is it a site? I, certainly, am not quite clear, and I am 530 sure there are others in the same predicament.
I turn to paragraph 129 which refers to the use of arbitration. We in this country have a very curious tradition in relation to arbitration. It is the exact opposite of what happens in the United States. I think it is worth looking at the two ways in which arbitration is used, to see what they lead one to conclude.
In the United States it is the general practice to have a pretty big row about the content of the contract before it is made. They have, as hon. Members on the other side have pointed out on many occasions, more working days lost in industry than we in this country have, but those working days lost come at the end of a contract. The contract probably lasts for three years, and then there is the heck of a big row and perhaps a bigger and better strike than we have—an official strike: I give that to hon. Members opposite. At the conclusion of that strike there are three years of virtual industrial peace, three years during which the terms of the contract are largely adhered to, three years virtually free of strikes. At the termination of that period there is another strike. That does very much less damage to industrial production than the constantly recurring strikes which we have in this country and which are unofficial and unconstitutional and cannot be foreseen before they occur. In the American system what happens is that the company works overtime before the contract comes to an end, and wholesalers stock up with products. So the total effect of the strike is minimal in terms of production, whereas in our country there is a continual deterioration and loss of production throughout the period when the contract runs.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
The hon. Gentleman is perpetuating a myth which ought to be knocked on the head. The myth is that there is a higher loss of man days and production due to strikes. None the less there is a lower frequency of strikes, with high productivity, in our experience here. The hon. Member ought to look at the difference of definition between the American definition and ours of what is a strike. The frequency of strikes in the United States is much higher than ours. I would advise the hon. Member to look 531 at the statistical analysis made by Professor Herbert Turner, Montague Burton Professor of Industrial Relations in Cambridge University, in his well-known publication "Is Britain Strike Prone?".
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Doncaster for that intervention because it allows me to restate the position in relation to United States practice. I do not take it from the writings of a learned professor from some other country, but from statistics published in the United States. In the central statistical analysis which they produce in New York it is shown that the number of strikes which occur during the course of a contract results in the loss of only 12 per cent. of the working days, that is to say that 88 per cent. of the strikes occur at the end of a contract and 12 per cent. during the contract. Of that 12 per cent. which occur during the contract most are not wild-cat strikes which cannot be foreseen as they are in this country. They are strikes about matters which were not covered by the contract—what are known in the United States as strikeable issues—work practices, things of that sort which could not be covered in detail in the contract. Therefore the hon. Gentleman is incorrect in the assumption which he has drawn from the learned document to which he referred. The fact is that over there they concentrate into the period after termination of the contract, before the next contract starts, the period of dispute, and the damage which this does to industrial production is a great deal less than the damage which is done by our continually recurring strikes in this country.
What I am trying to point out is that they use arbitration to settle disputes about interpretation of an agreement. When disputes occur during the time the agreement is running, they are using, as this document suggests should be done, the arbitration machinery to decide the interpretation where there is an issue between employer and union of what has been agreed in the contract.
Curiously, in this country we do the reverse. We tend to have strikes about interpretation of the contract and to have arbitration about the contents of the contract. That seems to me to be a far less satisfactory method, because neither party is fully satisfied with the bargain 532 which is made, because they both have to give in in terms of arbitration, both have to accept something which neither thinks is right and proper and appropriate, and then a strike is resorted to, during the run of a contract, over its interpretation. Therefore, I welcome paragraph 129, which sets our clearly that the Industrial Arbitration Board or other independent arbitrators are particularly suitable for settling disputes of right. I wish it had been possible to go further and say that they are particularly unsuitable for settling disputes as to interest.
That brings me to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) who referred to the National Coal Board having allegedly refused to go to arbitration because the National Union of Mineworkers was due to select the arbitrator. This stresses the importance of a pre-dispute decision upon an agreed arbitrator or panel of arbitrators, and I am sorry that this point has not been covered in the Code. Perhaps for one fleeting and exceptional moment the hon. Member for Bolsover will find himself in agreement with me.
The Code is the best booklet on good industrial practice to be published for many years and is a great deal better than most books on the subject. I congratulate the Government on it. It lays stress on where responsibilities lie, consultation, joint conciliation, communication, establishing grievance and disputes procedures, all of which will help to improve industrial relations. I deeply regret that the Opposition have been so shortsighted as to seek to divide on a matter of which there should be universal approval.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
The Secretary of State for Employment said that the Government had not been interfering in free collective bargaining. There have been many such incidents in the last 12 months, stretching back to the Government's gross interference with the power workers, when a couple of people from the Treasury, whose names escape me, were sent along to report on the Government's position in that dispute. Since then, while the Secretary of State for Employment, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister have gone on record as saying that they are 533 not interfering in free collective bargaining, the whole country knows, especially the trade unions affected, that the Government have indeed been interfering.
In the present mining dispute, in the discussions that took place between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Chairman of the Coal Board, Mr. Derek Ezra, in answer to questions by some of my friends in the N.U.M., said that he had been told what was the Government's position on a wages norm. There is plenty of evidence to show that the Government have been interfering in wage negotiations, particularly in the public sector. In a few weeks' time we shall have the power workers' dispute, which will show this up again, and then the N.U.T. and the National Association of Schoolmasters will make it clear once more that the Secretary of State for Employment and the Government are attempting to influence the outcome of so-called free collective bargaining, and have succeeded in doing so to some extent.
In replying to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) talked about the rent rebate scheme. I know that it is somewhat divorced from this debate, but it has been discussed and I must therefore put on record the evidence on this matter which I have.
If a low-paid surface worker in the mining industry—a man for whom these rebates were designed—with a gross income of £18 per week, before stoppages of about £3, had accepted the £2 offer of the Coal Board, he would have had to pay a 10s. increase in rent and another 17p for each £1 because the increase would have brought him in excess of the needs allowance.
While this may not have a great deal to do with the debate, indirectly it has a lot to do with wage negotiations. For a man who is on the threshold of means-tested benefits—rent, family income supplement, free school meals—an increase of £2 means that he escapes from the threshold. He will receive no benefit from the increase because he will thereby lose means-tested benefits and will be taxed in a broad sense——
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Does the hon. Gentleman realise the danger of the argument which he is putting? If he is say- 534 ing that benefits should always be taken into account in wage settlements—which should be concerned with the economic state of the industry and the level of wages—he is saying that we should stop giving social benefits. If he is saying that a social benefit which is given to help the most unfortunate people interferes with the honest, straightforward, economic settlement of wages, he is stopping the use of the heart in trying to help those who are badly treated.
§ Mr. Skinner
Those remarks exemplify the difference between the two sides of the House. Wage settlements for the lower-income groups need to be on such a level as to bring the workers above all these means-tested benefits. I abhor all means-tested benefits, but they should be designed for those who are at the very lowest level. With the 44 means-tested benefits and the new rent rebate system, many more people at the lower end of the income bracket are being brought into benefit. An increase over and above that which has been offered in the mining dispute would take many people out of the benefits threshold and result in less money being allocated to them by the State.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
Does not the hon. Gentleman equally think that if benefits are confined only to the very lowest paid, there will be a point at which people are at one moment, on one wage level, totally in benefit and at the next step totally out of benefit? The argument of disincentive which the hon. Gentleman is applying would be far greater in that case and, therefore, it makes sense for the Government to phase out benefits at different levels of income so that there is not a sudden and dramatic disincentive, as there would be if benefits were given only to the very lowest paid.
§ Mr. Skinner
I am making the point that because there are so many means-tested benefits and because many of them can apply to one individual, the net effect is that, unless the man receives a substantial wage increase over and above the so-called Government norm—which apparently does not exist—then he cannot carry himself out of the threshold. If he carries himself only marginally outside the threshold, he is no better off.
To come back to the rent issue, this will add another burden to the means-tested benefits which already apply.
§ Mr. Skinner
We have those already. We have had more bankruptcies in the last financial year under this Government than in any of the previous six years of Labour Government, notwithstanding the fact that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) and his colleagues went on record complaining about the level of bankruptcies when Labour was in power.
I come to the second point raised by the hon. Member for Basingstoke, namely that of safety. He trotted out the usual glib phrases about the miners not being involved in carrying out the safety work necessary underground at present. If he knew how miners work and who is responsible for safety, he would not trot out these phrases. The plain fact is that wherever the National Coal Board has made it clear that it is necessary for men to go underground to see that a pit is secure in respect of, say, spontaneous combustion or various other matters of that kind, the N.U.M. has provided safety cover so far as it has been able to do so. There are 40,000 other people in the mining industry who in the main are responsible for safety, unlike the 280,000 members of the N.U.M. It is true that some of those responsible for safety in the deputies' union are to some extent withdrawing their members. Perhaps that might accelerate the end of the strike.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
Would my hon. Friend also comment on some of the photographs which have appeared in the national daily Press, because I know that he, like myself, has been a safety officer representing the N.U.M. in coal mines? From his experience of the coal mining industry—experience which hon. Members opposite do not possess—has he come to the conclusion, as I have, that managements who allow their pits to get into the state depicted in those photographs should be sacked?
§ Mr. Skinner
One photograph in a pit in my area was taken before the strike commenced, and we have plenty of evidence to prove that. This is one reason that we shall see no more of those photographs appearing in the national dailies this week. We remember the occasion on which the photograph was taken. There 536 were N.U.M. members present and production was being undertaken. When I looked at the photographs in The Guardian and various other newspapers, I remembered the kind of conditions in which I worked over a period of 21 years. I remember some three days after the General Election working down Glapwell Colliery near a face that was not dissimilar from that shown on the photographs displayed in the national Press. I do not remember the management, Derek Ezra, or anybody else rushing off such stills to The Guardian asking for them to be displayed on the front page because Dennis Skinner and thousands of others in Derbyshire were having to work in such conditions. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Swain
On a point of order. I wonder whether the Chair would call the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) to speak, since he seems to be making so many comments during my hon. Friend's speech? Does my hon. Friend agree that no pictures were printed of some of the places which were being worked in Derbyshire with an incline of one in two-and-a-half, where the thickest part of the seam was 22 inches and where men worked 7½ hours a day in wet conditions? I wonder whether Derek Ezra, whom I described last week as the highest-paid apprentice in the mining industry, would like to spend two or three weeks in such a mine?
§ Mr. Winterton
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your advice as to the relevance of the present discussion that is taking place?
§ Mr. Skinner
I must point out, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that at the beginning of my speech—and I am still at the beginning—I was answering various points raised in the debate. I commenced by answering one of the important points made by the Secretary of State in his opening remarks, and I went on to other points made by the hon. Member for Basingstoke, which was coupled with another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire. I think it is important in this place that people who are disciplined, like myself, should attempt to answer the points made in 537 debate and should not merely make prepared speeches which do not add to the general decorum of Parliament.
I will now seek to answer the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, Norh-East (Mr. Swain), who worked in the pits even longer than I did.
§ Mr. Skinner
My hon. Friend referred to a 22-inch seam and the fact that it was on a steep incline. May I refer to the fact that it was no doubt seams of that kind which led to my hon. Friend receiving a disablement pension for pneumoconiosis. Is my hon. Friend aware that photographs could not be taken of a 22-inch seam in a coal face because the dust would be so intense that a photograph could not be taken? This would not be because miners have withdrawn their so-called safety men but because those are the natural conditions in which so many thousands of miners have to work, many taking home less than £15 per week.
I come to the question of the Code of Practice in a more general way, but nevertheless still attuned, as it must be, to the mining industry. We have had a code of practice in the mining industry for many years. It is somewhat remarkable that some of the phrases contained in the Government's Code of Practice, particularly those contained in paragraph 65 on consultation, seem to have been culled from the code of practice we have operated in the mining industry for many years, namely the National Consultative Agreement. That agreement has existed since nationalisation in 1947 and to some extent it applied during the war years when we had the Essential Works Order.
My point is that the code of practice in the mining industry means very little and to some extent, like the Government's Code of Practice, is an irrelevance. I do not say that about the Industrial Relations Act. I have other things to say about that and I have said them on occasions. Industrial relations in the industry are not decided by a code of practice. Our code of practice did not matter at all until about 1955. The men had their consultative meetings at pit level, area level and national level and they held various safety meetings which arose out of the consultative agreement. 538 But nobody referred to the booklet. I think it can be said that nobody possessed one, though there were many lying around in Hobart House and in the various National Coal Board headquarters.
When men and management sat round a table co-operating, as they did in those years, providing cheap coal for the nation—coal which, if it had been sold in the open market, would have brought in £2,000 million to the Coal Board—they ignored the actual words in that code. They were more concerned with providing, not jobs, because there were plenty of jobs at that time, but as much productive capacity as they could. Therefore the code of practice was meaningless. The situation at that time was one of co-operation and collaboration—in my view, too much. I believe that this Code of Practice will be regarded in much the same way.
However, the mining code of practice changed somewhat once we had an abundance of coal stocks. In 1957 and the years thereafter, we had 40 million tons of coal on the ground, and the management suddenly discovered the existence of the consultative document. Management representatives began going to consultative meetings and interpreting some of the agreements in that document in a more forceful way. The situation had changed. The negotiating position of the National Union of Mineworkers had changed. The union's bargaining posititon was frustrated by the stocks of coal that had been accumulated. In the circumstances, the management was in a position to begin to apply the words and to interpret them as it saw fit.
We are in the position that we see today because of the co-operation and collaboration that the miners gave for many years. It resulted in the gradual deterioration of wages. It was the period of Robens. It was the period when he was kidding along the miners and saying, "Jam tomorrow, lads." It was the period when we were going to the national arbitration tribunal, similar to that referred to in this Code. We had to go to the tribunal because a provision to that effect was written into our code until 1961. It was the period when we were coming back, as we did on one occasion, with 10d. a day.
That was our old friend Lord Alf. At that time he was kidding the miners to 539 Co-operate and collaborate. It resulted in a cut in the real standard of living of miners. I do not mean necessarily a cut for those at the helm, like Robens, and certainly not for those in the higher echelons of management, an increasing number of whom came along when pit closures were taking place and miners were being thrown on the scrap heap in thousands. I am not referring to the period of the Labour Government. I am referring to years before that when the Tory Government threw miners on to the scrap heap without a single penny of redundancy pay, as happened to my own father in 1963. During that period we saw a gradual deterioration in wages. We had Lord Robens promising jam tomorrow. At the same time we had industrial relations referred to, as it is at countless points in this Code of Practice, as becoming" an adjunct of managements".
The National Coal Board had the whip hand. They had more professionals in the higher echelons of management. There were fewer miners for them to supervise. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East has been heard to remark, there will soon be as many sheriffs in the mining industry as there are cowboys.
All this has resulted in the conflict that we have today, and it is tied up with the so-called code of practice which existed in the mining industry at the time. Such a code of practice applies in different ways depending on the strength of the working people in any industry at any given time. The same will apply to this Code of Practice.
However, the mining dispute has been caused by other factors over and above the situation that I have described. It has become apparent, certainly in the last 16 months, that this Government have been engaged in a blatant, premeditated attempt to undermine the bargaining power of mineworkers by importing coal at the rate of 5 million tons a year. The ban on coal imports was lifted on 3rd December, 1970, with a view to undermining the bargaining position of the miners. The present dispute is the result of the collaboration and co-operation which took place in past years, now with added Government interference.
540 I want now to refer to the breaking of agreements which has occurred, certainly in my own area and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). When miners, carrying out their consultative document, implemented an overtime ban on 1st November, 1971, almost every Monday at many Derbyshire pits the National Coal Board sent back thousands of miners and refused to pay them. By doing that, the N.C.B. was breaking the Essential Works Order Agreement, the National Power Loading Agreement set up in 1966, and the recently established agreement of 1971, namely the Third Day Wages Structure Agreement.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
If the present Act had been in operation then, the union could have taken the Coal Board to the Industrial Court for breaking those agreements.
§ Mr. Skinner
If the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) had allowed me to continue, I was about to explain that we have an arbitration system at area level, notwithstanding that at national level. The Coal Board having deprived Derbyshire miners of £250,000 by breaking these three agreements, the area general secretary of the Derbyshire area decided to implement the area arbitration procedure. However, arbitration for an area is decided by one of a panel of arbitrators. The National Coal Board and the union selects an arbitrator in turn. Unfortunately, it so happened that it was the turn of the Derbyshire area of the union to select the arbitrator. Because of that and because the Coal Board thought that he might be favourable to the miners—indeed, he could hardly have been anything else since the Board had broken three agreements—arbitration was refused. So let us have no more nonsense about the miners refusing arbitration at national level.
Notwithstanding the code of practice, the consultative document, the consultative meetings and safety meetings, and notwithstanding all the written words, the net effect has been the present dispute. The Government, allied with the Coal Board, have decided to take on the miners. No code of practice will bring the miners back to the negotiating table. 541 That can be done only if the Prime Minister decides to stop flexing his muscles against the miners to prove that he is a man. Only in that way can we get to the negotiating table and a reasonable settlement.
We are in the 25th day of a strike, and we are here discussing the Government's Code of Practice. I suggest that the Secretary of State for Employment might have been better employed today, instead of coming to this House and presenting this flimsy, irrelevant document, in going to the executive meeting in Euston Road this morning and then on to Hobart House to see Derek Ezra and to tell him the price of butter. He did not seem to know the other night when he was asked by David Frost, who, incidentally, is no friend of mine. I can tell Derek Ezra that the price of butter has gone up 43 per cent. in the past year under this Government. My wife has a piece of paper behind the clock giving details of the price increases. She put it there when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition suggested to housewives that they put a piece of paper behind their clocks. My wife did——
§ Mr. Skinner
She gets it from the Co-op and pays about 7s. 6d. a pound—[Interruption.] I suggest that the hon. Member for Peterborough does his own conversion into decimal currency if he wishes. I prefer the old system——
§ Mr. Skinner
I know a number of hon. Members opposite do. Let the Secretary of State go along to Derek Ezra and tell him to take advantage of the training scheme and to get down that pit for six months when the conflict is over—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Skinner
Let the right hon. Gentleman get along to Derek Ezra and tell him that it is a rotten, lousy job. Almost everybody in the country will accept that, but he could not accept it on television.
What is more important, the right hon. Gentleman should tell him that there is £200 million worth of equipment down the pits. Notwithstanding all this talk about safety, the plain fact is that if all the miners in the country went down the pits and took part in safety measures, they could do nothing about that hydraulic equipment. That can be done only by moving the coal from the face, by producing the coal, by ripping off another strip, and by moving the hydraulics forward. It can be done only in that fashion. The right hon. Gentleman would be better disposed doing that today than bringing the Code of Practice to the House.
Already £60 million has been lost through this strike—and we are talking about a Code of Practice. Another week adds another £10 million. That discounts any loss on the £200 million worth of equipment. It also discounts the power cuts which are likely to take place in the next few days. There is only one week's supply at the Battersea Power Station just down the road. I suppose that could apply to many other power stations up and down the country. Yet, here we are discussing this Code of Practice and allowing the matter to drift.
The majority of people in this country have made it abundantly clear by their voices, by the Press, by the media generally and, indeed, by the Opinion Polls if anyone takes any notice of them, that they believe the miners should get a great deal more than the £2 which they have been offered. That is what the Government should be doing.
I hope that I have not detained the House too long on this matter. In the absence of any statement from the Minister this week on this conflict, it was necessary to ally the struggle which is taking place outside with this debate. This is not the most important place in the world. We only react to events. I call upon the Secretary of State for Employment, and perhaps some of his colleagues on the Treasury Bench, to have a discussion about this matter 543 tonight. Notwithstanding that they might get a vote in favour of the Code of Practice, perhaps in their jubilation they might concede something. I suggest that they should get along to Euston Road and see Lawrence Daly and Joe Gormley, that they should see Derek Ezra, tell him to shake himself, tell him that there is some money in the kitty for a capital reconstruction of the Coal Board's finances, and that they should take account of that £2,000 million which was lost as a result of providing cheap coal to industry when a much better price could have been obtained on the open market.
I suggest that, taking all these matters into account and the collaboration and co-operation which took place during those years—too much in my opinion—the right hon. Gentleman should end the dispute by giving the miners a decent, honourable settlement.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
I will not follow too far the speech by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). It was a very good speech—according to his point of view, of course.
§ Mr. Lewis
I think that I have heard everything now. When I heard the hon. Member for Bolsover talk about maintaining the decorum of the House, I thought that he must have been reading the Code of Practice before making his speech.
I would say only one thing about the miners' position. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be a good idea if the leaders of the N.U.M. got together with Derek Ezra round the table. I think that my right hon. Friend would accept that it would be a good thing if they would do just that. If they are not prepared to do it by themselves, then let Vic Feather of the T.U.C. get them round the table. This is what the country wants and expects. People do not take any pleasure from the fact that the miners are still on strike. They believe that the strike should be settled, precisely as the hon. Gentleman said, by getting round the table.
§ Mr. Loughlin
The hon. Gentleman must try not to delude the general public. The fact is that the Coal Board cannot negotiate further with the N.U.M. because the Government have clearly indicated that an increase cannot be granted in the public sector.
§ Mr. Lewis
If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to take it from me, I can only say that that is not correct. There is nothing to prevent the Coal Board and the N.U.M. getting round the table and discussing what settlement may be possible.
I want to get back to what we are really debating, having been drawn into other waters—reservoirs or otherwise—by the hon. Member for Bolsover.
This Code of Practice is the result of the Industrial Relations Act, 1971. It has been prepared after my right hon. Friend has taken account of views from many places. One advantage is that at any rate, the Code is in plain English. We might recommend it to Ministers when they draw up Bills or to chairmen of Boards when they put out company reports. It is a concise document. It provides a code which represents the best that is available, so it must be of advantage. There must be many in management who have not appreciated the best practice in industrial relations until seeing this document. It is to their advantage to read and to seek to apply it. For anyone to think that it is a cure for all our ills would be nonsense. It is not. Furthermore, many parts will be accepted and implemented; other will not.
I have no doubt that if the Industrial Relations Court has to look at the Code when cases come before it, it will not be on the basis that the parties have fully followed the Code, but on the basis that they have done their best to carry out some features in an endeavour to promote good industrial relations within the company concerned.
There is a general disposition on the part of the British from time to time to indicate to outsiders that we have bad industrial relations. Our strike record is frequently quoted as an indication of those bad industrial relations. However, broadly, we have very good industrial relations. We have had strikes, but many companies in this country are strike-free from one year to another. 545 Managements and unions get together to the mutual benefit of the companies and the workpeople, so that the companies are profitable and the workpeople earn good wages.
During the last few months our export figures have gone up and up. Despite the strike situation, we have more consumer goods on the market and we are exporting more than we have ever done in our history. It is important that we should recognise that we do not always criticise ourselves to the extent that we encourage outsiders to take a wrong view of our industrial situation.
The Code is a mixture of old and new. Those who have been involved in industrial relations for many years know that there is much in it going back to the days of the Essential Work Orders. It may surprise the hon. Member for Bolsover to know that I was involved in industrial relations at that time. In those days we were implementing something which was quite new. Ernie Bevin laid clown that particular code. It was legally enforceable in those days, and much of what was done then and carried on during the war and after formed the basis of the advance that was experienced in the fifties and 'sixties. In many ways companies have failed to carry out the proposals of the Essential Work Order. If they had been fully implemented throughout industry we probably would not have needed this Code today.
There are two new things in the Code which have not been mentioned today on which I should like to comment. The first is that there is now in the Code something positive about race relations. That provision should be of interest to Mr. Mark Bonham-Carter, the Chairman of the Community Relations Board, who recently said that the Government should do something to improve race relations in both housing and employment. We are not here concerned with housing, but the Code does say that there should be not merely an attempt to avoid discrimination, but that there should be a positive policy to promote equal opportunities in employment for all races. Because the Code contains that provision it will be possible to deal with any suggestions that a company has not provided equal opportunity of employment for all races.
546 The second new thing in the Code is the provision about informing employees of changes that may be about to take place by order of the management. The Code imposes upon management the obligation to inform right down the line. That is a valuable provision, and I believe that it will become a growing part of management's function in industry to make sure that when it makes decisions—in fact in advance of the decisions being made; while they are being discussed—there is consultation with the trade unions right down to the shop floor level.
There is missing from the Code one thing which I believe could well be considered for the future. Large undertakings should have industrial relations directors. I agree that that is not possible in a small firm, but it should be possible with the larger organisations. Instead of there being just managers and personnel managers, there ought to be industrial relations directors, because it is important that in the boardroom as much attention should be paid to industrial relations as to finance, sales, and anything else.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
I agree with my hon. Friend, and there is a strong implication in the Code that as much attention should be paid to industrial relations as to other vital functions such as marketing and finance.
§ Mr. Lewis
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that statement, and I am glad that the point has been taken.
For the first time the Code lays down the obligations of supervisors. This is perhaps the most important level of management in industry. The supervisor level in firms has received inadequate attention and training over the years. There have been insufficient opportunities for promotion to this grade. It is this level of management which provides the link between the top management and the trade union shop stewards, and it is vital that the best material is employed there.
§ Mr. Lewis
I do not know whether that is relevant to what I was saying about supervisors, but the need for good communications between management and unions is as necessary in the coal industry as in any other.
There is some ambivalence in paragraph 30; under the headingplanning and Use of Manpower",because it says:avoid unnecessary fluctuations in manpower.At a time of change in industry I do not think that it is possible to avoid fluctuations in manpower. Indeed, the proposals introduced for retraining show that my right hon. Friend recognises that.
I now want to deal with what I regard as the most important part of this document, the part dealing with communications, collective bargaining and employee representation at the place of work. Those three matters are inter-connected. Communication and consultation at the works itself is of vital importance. The need for that to occur is laid out in simple terms in the Code, yet it is surprising how often over the years directors and managers have failed to appreciate the need for communication. The same is, of course, true of the trade unions themselves. Communications from the management to the trade unions must be followed by that information being handed down by the shop stewards to the people on the shop floor. It is they who must be told what the management is asking them to do.
In Bristol recently a strike at the Rolls-Royce factory lasted for nine weeks and did a great deal of damage. The company is in enough trouble without having to deal with strikes. After a time the voices of the people at shop floor level were taken on whether the strike should continue. Between 80 per cent. and 90 per cent. of those on the shop floor wanted the strike to end, yet at a meeting of shop stewards there was only a very small majority in favour of ending it. Something is wrong there. Either the shop stewards do not know what is happening on the shop floor, because communications are bad or, and I hesitate to say this, they deliberately misrepresented the position, which I do not think they would do. Communications must be right between shop stewards and the people they represent, be it at a fac- 548 tory, or in an organisation like the National Coal Board which employs people in pits all over the country.
§ Mr. Heffer
But is not the hon. Gentleman aware that shop stewards make recommendations at meetings of workers which are either accepted or rejected? I have known their recommendations to be rejected—on one occasion when the shop steward recommended the workers not to take strike action. Shop stewards are not angels or something separate from the workers. They are elected to do a job and the matter has to go back to the workers for them to make up their minds. There is nothing wrong with that.
§ Mr. Lewis
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Certainly it has happened that shop stewards have suggested that men should go back and that this suggestion has been rejected. All I am asking is that the shop stewards should know what the men think. They should not be able to say that they should go back, for instance, if the feeling down below is that they should not. The views of the men on the shop floor, after some persuasion by the shop stewards, should be known.
Communication in this context is just as important as at management level. That is why the Code contains a clear indication of training for shop stewards. I hope that management will accept that there should be full training of this kind and that the shop stewards should be given the tools to do the job. Then, the relationships between management and unions will be the better and there will be less disruption.
As I said at the start, this Code is obviously not the panacea for all our ills, which are sometimes exaggerated. But, over the years, the Code will influence industry so that those who are not so well served in their industrial relations practice will come up to the best level of those who are.
I am amazed that the party opposite is voting against this Code tonight. I can only think that they are doing it because of the ghost of the Bill which is gone. They think that this is the last chance that they will have to vote against that Bill, which they hated and which is now an Act.
549 The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) said that they would repeal the Act, and this has been said many times by hon. Members opposite. But many parts of the Act are favourable to the party opposite. They will have to go through the whole process of repeal and then bring back the parts they like—and they will then face our opposition. In political terms, they had better think again.
The Act will be on the Statute Book for many years before hon. Members opposite come back into Government—even supposing, which is highly unlikely, that they won the next General Election. This Act will be there whether any of us likes it or not. This Code is linked to it and must help to remedy some of the fears of hon. Members opposite. One can only think that the Opposition are now voting against anything and everything.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
I hope that the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument. I must confess that I lost interest in the train of his thought when he said that we have very good industrial relations in this country. Of course we have had in the past, during the six years of Labour Government, when we lost only 4½ million days per year. Last year, under the Tory Government, we lost 13 million days and the previous year 11 million days. In the first four weeks of this year, we have lost 1 million days because of the miners' strike.
This is a record breaking Government: a record of 1 million unemployed, a record increase in food prices, and probably now a record number of industrial stoppages, all as a result of Tory rule. We have to consider this document in relation to the situation which we face.
It was a great pleasure for me to follow—he was the last hon. Member on this side to speak—my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsolver (Mr. Skinner), who speaks with great authority about coal mining. There is no better starting place from which to consider the Code than the mining industry. The Code is acceptable to the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board and has been for many years. Those bodies have a fine procedure 550 agreement providing for consultative committee at pit, divisional and national level. They have a communications system, redundancy agreements, and so on. This system of conciliation could have been modelled upon the Code.
Yet nearly 300,000 miners are on strike—not because they have not practised a code of conduct, but because the cost of food, for example, has risen by 13 per cent. in the last year and the miners have demanded higher wages, but they have been offered an increase of only 7.9 per cent. As the miners have slipped down the national wages table from almost the top to about seventeenth, they say that they want to be compensated not only for the increase in the cost of living which has taken place but also for the projected increase in the cost of living. House rents will rise by £1 in October. This is the real cause of the dispute, not that there was an absence of conciliation machinery.
As a former trade union official, I am familiar with conciliation machinery in the electricity supply industry. That machinery is a model of its kind and was drafted by Lord Citrine, former General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, who was then Chairman of the Electricity Council. In the electricity supply industry there are joint consultative committees at area, local and national level on which the unions are represented at all stages and to which they can take their grievances.
Even with this ideal machinery, the power workers are now discussing whether to take industrial action, possibly in a few days. They may decide to go slow or to take a form of industrial action because they, too, have had to face an increase in the cost of living due to Tory economic policies and because they are not being compensated for the increase. This is another industrial dispute in a situation in which the workers have ideal conciliation machinery, which in many cases is far better than the Code.
The Code has the blessing of the Government, the civil servants in the Department and the employers, but it does not have the blessing of the trade unions. The unions have refused to consult the Government on the Code. The unions have said that every union could incorporate these provisions in any procedure agreement. Many employers refuse to incorporate many of the Code's provisions into procedure agreements.
551 It has been pointed out that this is not a legally enforceable document. Many gates are left wide open so that employers can escape the provisions of the Code. Various paragraphs begin—"As far as practicable the employer shall do so-and-so", or "as far as consistent with operational efficiency the employer shall do so-and-so." It is easy for the engineering employers to say that it is not practicable or it is not consistent with operational efficiency for them to obey certain parts of the Code.
I am very familiar with the procedure agreement in the engineering industry—the so-called York Memorandum which sets out the procedure which the unions have to follow to settle disputes. First of all the employee must try to settle it with his departmental head. If that fails, a work conference is held at which the union meets the management. If there is failure to agree, a local conference is held between the local employers' association and union officials. If that fails, the matter goes to a national central conference, perhaps in London. Months elapse before all the procedures have been exhausted and a settlement of the dispute is arrived at.
When a union says, "We are pledged not to take strike action until we have exhausted the procedure," it surely has a right to say to, for example, the Engineering Employers' Federation that it, too, should not change the terms of employment without going through a similar procedure. There have been long negotiations between the engineering unions and the employers over revising the procedure agreement.
It seems, therefore, that many employers will escape through the open door to which I have referred by saying that something is either not practicable or not consistent with operational efficiency.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
The Act lays down that observance or non-observance of the Code can be taken into account by the industrial court when it considers the various issues that are before it. It is the attitude of either the employers or employees which will count, including the way in which they have observed or have not observed the Code.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am aware that the Code can be submitted to the industrial court and that if an employer is in breach of it, that fact can be taken into consideration by the court. But the unions are boycotting the court, so that it will be a one-sided affair. There are also the many loopholes to which I have referred; for example, an employer can say that the Code refers to the need for things to happen if they are practicable or consistent with operational efficiency. It will not be difficult for an employer to say, "I agree that the Code is good, but it is not practicable in my industry".
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that these qualifications must exist if the Code is to cover the whole of industrial life? What is apposite to one section of industry will not be apposite to another. Nevertheless, the general provisions are clear for those who are concerned with industrial relations.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Perhaps I can spell out in an elementary way what I mean by giving the Minister an example. The Code refers in paragraph 45 to the procedure to be adopted when dealing with redundancies. Certain matters are set out for ideal employers to operate. The paragraph refers to restrictions on recruitment, retirement and reductions in overtime. An employer might say, "I accept all that, but in this firm it is not practicable to end overtime. To do so would not be consistent with operational efficiency." There are all sorts of loopholes in the Code.
I would describe this document as a child's guide to what industrial relations should be. Trade union officials with many years experience of negotiating are treating this Code with much hilarity, particularly when they read at the very outset:Principal aim of management is to conduct the business of the undertaking successfully.The Department is trying to teach its grandmother to suck eggs by setting out in an elementary manner things which good industrialists accept, anyway, and which good trade unionists try to incorporate into agreements.
Even the items set out in paragraph 45 would not be acceptable to a trade union 553 official in a factory. They would certainly not be acceptable to me as a trade union official. I would want to have many other matters incorporated in a redundancy agreement, including length of notice, compensation, what is to happen to superannuation and so on.
This Code is much too simplistic. It is set out in language which might be suitable for an elementary class beginning to understand the nature of trade unionism, but it would be laughed at by shop stewards, who know that the document is propaganda attempting to suggest that the lion will lie down with the lamb, that there will be no conflict in industry and that the underlying motive of the Government is to tell us to love one another. This does not truly reflect the situation in industry today.
The trade unionist exists and is a member of his union to get the best possible terms and conditions of employment. Consequently, he has had many years of struggle against the employer, as the miners are struggling today, to get a decent existence. He knows that it is only the strength of his union organisation that will enable him to obtain a reasonable standard of existence. Consequently, we have to consider the Code in relation to the Industrial Relations Act, because it is an offshoot of the Act.
The Code can be used by the Commission on Industrial Relations and by courts of inquiry. It can be held as a document which can help to decide the guilt of individuals or of organisations. It can be used before a court in the same way as the Highway Code, which can be used in deciding, for instance, questions arising from a traffic accident, although it is a little different from the Highway Code. I cannot imagine the Highway Code saying, "As far as practicable, you should drive on the left side of the road", or, "As far as is consistent with operational efficiency, you should cross the road by a pedestrian crossing. "The Highway Code is a little more forthright than this woolly document, which begins sentences by saying, "Please yourselves, lads. If you would like to implement it, that is all right with us. But if you do not consider it practicable, or if it would affect your profits, do not bother, because the courts of inquiry will understand this when the document is brought to their attention."
554 That is why the trade union movement does not take the document seriously. We take seriously many of the things spelt out in the document, but we say that they can be obtained by negotiation and collective bargaining through a good procedure agreement. It is not necessary for the Government to enforce this by either propaganda or hidden threats, by saying that it can be used against people by committees of inquiry, industrial courts, and so on.
The trade union movement is not intimidated by the Act. It certainly will not be intimidated by this document. I reassure hon. Members opposite that when the Labour Party is returned to power, the trade union movement will see that not only the Act but also this document end up in the waste paper basket.
§ 8.48 p.m,
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I take one leaf out of the book of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and answer right at the beginning of my speech one or two of the points raised by hon. Members opposite.
First, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) commented on my change of position on the important issue of the Common Market. I made what I believe to be a justified change of opinion, and I issued a statement to the electorate of my constituency before the date of the election was announced. Obviously my election was fought, amongst other things, on the Common Market issue. I put it to the electorate, and I won the election, albeit somewhat narrowly. Perhaps I am one of the few hon. Members who can say that I fought an election on the Common Market issue and came here on a pro-Market ticket.
§ Mr. Winterton
Many of those who selected me thoroughly supported my change of position.
The coal industry has, rightly, featured in the debate. The present situation is a tragedy. I can only repeat what I said 555 in the debate on the dispute, that the sooner the parties in the industry get together, and the sooner the strike is ended, the better it will be for the miners, the National Coal Board and the country.
The future progress and prosperity of our country are matters of concern for every man, woman and child. Good industrial relations in the wider sense of the term are a vital ingredient in the achievement of satisfactory social progress and industrial prosperity. Whatever some hon. Members may say, the reform of industrial relations was demanded by the electorate. We made it an important priority policy in our General Election Manifesto, and one of the reasons why we achieved power in June, 1970, was our clear determination to carry through this much-needed and overdue reform. The Labour Party had an opportunity to do it when they were in office, but failed because of the opposition from certain militant unions, despite the fact that many of their Front Bench spokesmen had declared that a reform of industrial relations was essential to the future prosperity of the country, a matter that is entirely above party politics. Further, they said that it was essential to the continuance of their party's term of office.
§ Mr. McGuire
The hon. Gentleman will agree that the Tory Party's promise to introduce industrial relations legislation was on the premise that the Act would reduce, and quickly, the number of strikes experienced under the Labour Government. Will the hon. Gentleman now explain to his electorate why, although they have the Act, there has been a threefold increase in the number of strikes?
§ Mr. Winterton
The number of strikes was almost halved last year compared with the previous year. No one believed that the Act would solve our industrial problems overnight, but I am strongly of the opinion that in three or four years we shall see a marked improvement because of the Act, which the House had the courage to pass after many late night sittings. Perhaps I can consider myself fortunate in not having been here then, and therefore not having to take the wear and tear that was imposed on many Members.
556 The Act was the first comprehensive legislation of its kind in our history, and the Code is an integral and essential part of it. Its main objective is to spread the best possible standards of behaviour in British industry, to the advantage of employers, unions, management, employees and, ultimately, the country.
Many hon. Members will regret the resolution passed unanimously at the Labour Party Conference on 5th October last year. That resolution called for a declaration by the Parliamentary Labour Party that a future Labour Government would repeal the Act in their first Session.
I am not one of those on this side of the House who believe that the present Act, which is to incorporate the Code, is a cure or over-all panacea for all the industrial relations problems, in which personal human relationships, already reflected in speeches today, play a vital part, I am of opinion that, in the light of experience, the Act will from time to time have to be amended. I believe that to be a constructive and reasonable approach. But the Act as it stands is itself a constructive and reasonable basis from which to start to improve a vital limb of out national economic life. Without doubt it provides a proper and acceptable framework of law within which improved relationships between employers and management, men and unions can develop.
The ever-worsening industrial relations trend in the late 1960s—under, of course, a Labour Government—has been basically reversed under the present Government. Despite the gloom cast by hon. Members opposite, as I have pointed out, the number of strikes in 1971 was nearly half that of the previous year.
Communication in all walks of life is one of life's greatest disappointments. Whatever has gone before, this Code emphasises most strongly the importance of communication and consultation in all establishments, whatever their size. Surely this is vital, because we must promote and improve operational efficiency and personal understanding and foster the individual employee's interest and participation in his own company or firm. With the restructuring of industry, which has been a large feature of recent years and which will continue for many years to 557 come, and with the unfortunate but inevitable demise of a number of very large and traditional industries, resulting in redundancy and movement of labour, communication and consultation are of particular importance.
It is interesting to note that the Code emphasises:Major changes in working arrangements should not be made by management without prior discussion with employees or their representatives.On the subject of consultation in particular, the Code is clear—that individual plants which employ more than 250 persons should have suitable and systematic arrangements for employers' and employees' representatives to meet regularly, and perhaps this meets the point put my my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell). It stresses that management should take the initiative in establishing and maintaining proper consultative arrangements best suited to the company's circumstances, in co-operation with the employees' representatives and trade unions concerned, those arrangements in no way debarring or discouraging trade unions—rather the reverse. What exception can any hon. or right hon. Member take to this Code? Despite what has been said I do not need to remind the House that we are debating the Code of Practice allied to the Industrial Relations Act——
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to read his speech?
§ Mr. Winterton
I thank you for that kindness and generosity Mr. Speaker. The fact is that the Industrial Relations Act has been passed by a large majority of this House after long discussion. I hope that hon. Members opposite will accept a democratic decision which has substantial public backing and allow the Act over the next few years to prove how successful or otherwise it can be in achieving more harmonious and progressive industrial relations.
The Code places great responsibility on management to promote good industrial relations. It states that the prime responsibility for that promotion should lie with management. Industrial relations 558 in the widest sense must involve trade unions and employees, all those involved in a company. Where trade unions are recognised for negotiating purposes management should make it abundantly clear to its employees that it encourages membership of a recognised trade union and full participation in all its activities.
Dealing with trade union responsibility the Code stresses that they should take all reasonable steps to ensure that their officials, including shop stewards—who were referred to in glowing terms by an hon. Member opposite and with whom I would generally agree—and members of the unions should observe agreements knowingly entered into and should stick to and use agreed procedures. Within the Code of Practice I particularly welcome the encouragement given by the Government to occupational pension and sick pay schemes.
Both employee and employer are vital to industry. I hope that an increasing number of companies, large and small, will establish within their structures a profit-sharing scheme because in this way more people will have a real interest in the company——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have absolutely no control over the length of speeches but this is the time of night when speeches are usually rather short. I want to call two more hon. Members before I call the Front Bench speakers. I hope the hon. Member will bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Winterton
I will. This will be the last sentence I shall utter tonight. Let us forget the power factors which have arisen so frequently from the benches opposite and let us rather think of the human factors which are surely more important.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. John D. Grant (Islington, East)
It is no mere coincidence that the Code of Industrial Practice will come into operation on 28th February, the same day as that on which the rest of the Industrial Relations Act comes into force, with the exception of one or two matters. It means that from 28th February the package is virtually complete. The Code is an integral part of that package and it is for that reason that we condemn it—it is guilt by association. The Code imposes no legal obligation but on the 559 other hand we know that the N.I.R.C. and the industrial tribunals will take it into account when reaching decisions. That makes it part of the State apparatus which the unions find so objectionable.
The Secretary of State in the debate on the Code last October admitted that it was complementary to, and, as he put it, mutually supporting the Act, and he also said that the Code could stand on its own. I do not think he said "on its own two feet", but certainly he said "on its own". I should have thought that somewhat contradictory. Be that as it may, on its own the Code is largely unobjectionable. Perhaps it would be easier to slap the Minister's wrist—I certainly would not want to pull his hair—for what the Code omits rather than for what it contains.
The draft was attacked previously for being full of clichés and platitudes. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) was perhaps unduly kind in suggesting that it contained some restatement of principle. I thought it rather harsh to describe it in that way. I would have thought the final version had been well polished, but many of the same clichés still shine out undimmed by the passage of time. It is full of very tedious statements and, in the brief time in which I have to speak, I will give only one example, from the part about "Communication and Consultation". Paragraph 54 says:In its day-to-day conduct of business, management needs both to give information to employees and to receive information from them.Fancy starting a paragraph like that, If that is not a cliché, what is? What is the purpose of a statement like that in a document of this kind?
I suppose that, in a sense, that part of the Code overlaps the part on disclosure, which is quite useless in its present form, though we have a promise that it will be revised when the Industrial Relations Commission reports. It certainly will need revising, otherwise, to judge from the present wording of the Code, there must be some acute doubt of its value, because the provision about a company not being obliged to disclose information where its competitive interests are concerned will be used by some employers 560 to keep disclosure of information down to what will be a meaningless minimum. One certainly hopes that that will be revised considerably.
There are other omissions. My right hon. Friend mentioned the question of union participation in decision making. I should have liked to go on a little about that but I shall not do so in view of the time. But I would mention the status quo because, despite what the Secretary of State said, he has funked this issue in this document. He virtually admitted that in his remarks today. The document does not deal with that matter. At this very crucial time in the engineering industry, not only our biggest industry but our biggest export industry, I do not see how lie can ignore that. Last October he was saying in the debate at that time that lie wanted the final wording to include something about it, and he said tonight that it goes to the very root of the problem. I find it extraordinary that, with all the expertise within his Department and at his command, he cannot produce guidelines on the status quo which would be useful to both sides of industry. The document is inadequate in that respect and makes it legitimate to ask when the right hon. Gentleman will begin to tackle the problem.
He certainly caused some problems with the Act, even if one believes, as he does, that it will work. As the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said, it can work effectively only in the long term. I think it will work adversely, but, at any rate, it will be in the long term.
We also know that in recent months the Secretary of State has turned arbitration and conciliation into dirty words in the industrial vocabulary. I do not think anything in the Code as it is can rescue them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has already mentioned the miners' strike. The right hon. Gentleman has turned his back on that, and I am beginning to wonder whether he is waiting for somebody to die of cold before he acts. Yet in all this lengthy document he fails to deal with the status quo, which is an immediate and relevant question. This shows how the Government have their priorities wrong.
I have no time to squabble over the details of the document. Much of it is reasonable as far as it goes. The Secretary of State said that he wants the Code 561 to be as good and as effective as possible. He also said that, put into practice, it could bring about an enormous improvement in the general standards of industrial and human relations. That is a worthwhile aim which I share, but I object to the methods he has adopted.
Earlier, he presented a picture of the Code galvanising industry, putting forward a portrait of people buzzing all over the country with the Code in their pockets. He omitted to say that the T.U.C. had a programme of action, before the Industrial Relations Act and before the Code, which was virtually halted as a result of the Government's activities on industrial relations.
While the Government pursue economic, social and industrial relations policies which are regressive and repressive, while they continue to alienate the workpeople, they cannot expect them to grasp the Code which the Secretary of State has presented to the House as an olive branch. Whatever the shortcomings of British industry—and it certainly has shortcomings—it is the Government Front Bench which needs a code of practice.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I am glad to be allowed a few minutes in which to support the Code, not necessarily because I think it is perfect in every detail but because it has a great deal of strength as well as some weaknesses. I have sufficient confidence in my right hon. Friend to know that, if after experience the weaknesses perhaps stand out more than the strength, he will have the courage and the knowledge to come back to the House of Commons to amend the Code.
I am sorry that the Parliamentary Labour Party is unanimously opposed to the Code. In my part of the world, which does not necessarily support the Government, there are large numbers of trade unionists who welcome the Industrial Relations Act and the Code. It is a great mistake for the Parliamentary Labour Party members to talk as though they represented the views of all trade unionists. I say at once, with great pride, that I should not be in the House of Commons had I not had the support of a large number of trade unionists in 562 the General Election. I sometimes feel that the Parliamentary Labour Party knows far too little about the real views of trade unionists.
A meeting which I was addressing recently in my part of the world was attended by a large group of miners from Ashington, which, after all, is' not a Conservative area. The people there have good musical voices, and the miners sang some songs. After saying that their next song was intended as a tribute to me they sang, "There is nothing like a Dame".
There are very few members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who know Ashington as well as I do. I am certain that none of the miners who sang that song wanted me as their Member of Parliament, or indeed wanted my Government in power. But in my part of the world when we are not fighting tooth and nail, we can have very good industrial relations. I suspect that even those few miners present, and probably quite a number of others, would welcome the industrial relations legislation and the Code which we are discussing tonight.
There is one other point I wish to raise. I have had an opportunity to consider the problems which face are professional engineers who themselves are very good trade unionists in my part of the country and who belong to the United Kingdom Association of Professional Engineers. These men are being very badly treated by their employers, Messrs. C. E. A. Parsons. I had representations from that body making certain comments on the Code which it would like to see altered. I discovered that it is impossible to amend the Code and that there were certain reasons why the recommendations of that body could not be accepted. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend in his reply could give reasons why those recommendations by that professional body of engineers were not accepted by the Government.
I hope that the Code of Practice will add to the value of the Industrial Relations Act and when the next General Election comes, which we shall win, I hope that there will be no opportunity for hon. Members opposite to carry out their threats to destroy the Industrial Relations Act.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
Let me at once set to rest the doubt which appears to reside in the mind of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) about the intentions of the next Labour Government two or three years hence, according to when his right hon. Friend decides to hold an election. It is an unequivocal commitment from these benches to repeal the Industrial Relations Act.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
The hon. Gentleman interrupted me after one sentence of my speech. May I ask whether what he has said refers to every single Section of the Act?
§ Mr. Walker
I am sure the House does not expect me to analyse what it took the House many hundreds of hours to consider last year. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), I wondered why we spent all those days and nights on that legislation, with all the tools for dealing with the situation which it was supposed to contain, when it has been so ineffective to deal with an emergency situation such as that which now faces the country. We are still waiting for the Secretary of State for Employment to say whether he will use his powers. If he wants to tell House his view, I shall be quite happy to give way to him.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) commented on the apathetic attendance of trade unionists. I thought that this was impertinent coming from that hon. Gentleman, who is an engineering employer and who at the time he made that statement was surrounded by seven of his hon. Friends. I thought it rather impertinent coming from him of all people, an engineering employer, and doubly impertinent from a Tory back-bencher who was surrounded by only seven of his hon. Friends, one of whom was a conscript in the P.P.S.s seat——
§ Mr. Walker
My hon. Friends had made it clear to me that they were not in the least interested in and would not give listening time to a debate on the Code of Practice. What is more, they were engaged in a very important and, I understand, packed meeting upstairs looking at yet another iniquitous example of this Government's legislative proposals, namely, the Bill on the Common Market.
I turn briefly to one or two of the points raised in the torrential outpourings of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who said, amongst other things, that the Industrial Relations Act was not politically motivated. He could not possibly have made any such suggestion had he been here when the House was debating that Measure and going through the Guillotines in Committee and on Report——
§ Mr. Walker
No. I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman should not make provocative comments if he is not prepared to listen to a reply to them, and he was not prepared to give way to me.
As I understood the hon. Member for Macclesfield, he said that the Act had already started to improve industrial relations. That statement is an extraordinary defiance of the facts. I asked the right hon. Gentleman's Department for the up-to-date figures in a Written Question which I tabled several days ago. I am still waiting for them. I understand that about 30 million working days have been lost since this Government came to office 19 months ago. That is far in excess of the total number of days lost throughout the whole period of the Labour Government. I understand also that 2½million of those days were lost as a direct consequence of the introduction of the Industrial Relations Bill, and 2½million working days is about the level that we had as a result of all industrial disputes in 1966, 1967 and 1968.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) made it clear that we intended to divide the House tonight because the Code of Practice was not merely an extension or projection of the Industrial Relations Act but was an integral part of it. Any doubt that there might have been about the validity of that statement was swept 565 away by assertions from the benches opposite that it was an integral part. The hon. Member for Macclesfield said it, as did the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis). We are discussing what is not merely an extension but an integral part of the Industrial Relations Act.
I turn now to the Code, and I hope that I do not displease my hon. Friends by acknowledging at the outset that the revised form of the Code is an improvement on the Consultative Document. It has been improved in tone and form, and some of the changes, especially some of the changes of substance, reflect arguments which were deployed from both sides of the House in our earlier debate. It was reassuring to know that on that occasion at least the Secretary of State not only listened but presumably considered our arguments sufficiently constructive and useful to respond to them.
I used the phrase "revised form" and not "final form" because, notwithstanding the fact that we shall support our Amendment in the Division Lobby, and notwithstanding the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee), I recognise that the Code will come into operation, and I hope that the Secretary of State will see it as an evolving guide rather than as a permanently fixed set of ground rules. The document itself says that industrial relations can never be static. I hope that that axiom means that the right hon. Gentleman will not only see the need for regular revision in response to changing circumstances but will also be prepared to respond to arguments which have been deployed today and will be deployed in the future.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) suggested that the Code had already been overtaken by events. In some respects, it seems that its authors have failed to recognise the significant changes which are taking place in the pattern of industrial relations and behaviour. We have the U.C.S., the Fisher-Bendix and the Plessey situations representing a new pattern in the wielding of industrial power. The Code completely fails to recognise and respond to this new pattern.
The hon. and learned Gentleman made the valid point that there has been a 566 shift of power within industry and within the structure of the trade union movement. Again, the Code, as the Act, seems to have misunderstood or failed to recognise it. I entirely share the hon. and learned Gentleman's view that, instead of trying, Canute-like, to push back the tide—an impossible task—the sensible thing is to recognise and respond to the change which is taking place and to say: "All right, power and responsibility should go hand in hand. If power has shifted, we must put responsibility where the power lies instead of having the two divorced". This means giving workers a greater say and responsibility—and by implication, irresponsibility—in areas where presumably they are exercising power today. However, there is no word about this in the Consultative Document.
Throughout the debate attention has been drawn time and again to where, even on the basis of past patterns, one would expect a rôle to be allocated to trade unions and their representatives, but the document denies it, let alone recognises the changing pattern which I have been describing.
It has always seemed extraordinary to me and to many others that ordinary working people in the democratic political process of this country can be given the opportunity to exercise their talents and responsibility—for example, in running great municipal corporations with turnovers of many millions of pounds per year, and do it with great competence and skill—but are denied the slightest opportunity of doing the same kind of thing in their everyday working lives. I refer to people who, for years, as shop stewards, workers' representatives and intelligent workers, have been denied the opportunity by employers and managements of exercising any significant rôle in decision-making in their industries, but have overnight been transformed into general secretaries and senior officials of great trade unions, which are today great businesses with turnovers of millions of pounds per year, looking after the affairs of a million or so members, investing enormous sums of money on their behalf, and doing all these things with great confidence. Yet they are deemed not to be capable of doing that within industry. This is the kind of thing which workers are recognising and 567 in response to which are demanding a changing rôle, but which the document fails to recognise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) made an important point which was often repeated in our first debate but which will bear repetition again. It was that had the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Code of Practice before starting to frame his Bill, which is now the Act, it might have rendered the Act completely unnecessary. We think that the Act is unnecessary anyhow. However, I think that he would certainly have found a more generous and sympathetic response from the trade union movement than is possible in the present atmosphere which he has poisoned by his Act.
I do not mean that the atmosphere is poisoned only by the Industrial Relations Act. As was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North, in what I thought was a well-argued and persuasive opening speech for the Opposition, industrial relations are not a neatly definable and insulated area of industrial and commercial activity quarantined from other changes in society. It is the general pattern of the Government's behaviour and decisions which has inflamed and incensed working people, and their anger and resentment became additional irritants in industrial disputes. The Government's policy has added fuel to the flames in every dispute.
One of my hon. Friends said that miners were not talking about the Code of Practice at their meetings. I come from a coal mining area and I meet miners involved in this dispute. I can tell the Minister that at their meetings and discussions they do not talk merely about the attitude of the Board and about the Government's norm. Part of their anger is a direct consequence of the Government's policy on such matters as school meals, school milk, council house rents, and so on. All those issues are debated at their meetings.
I must tell the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) that militancy is not a matter of personalities. I hope that I do not misrepresent the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford, because I appreciate his contributions to our debates, when I say that he seemed to echo what his hon. Friend the Member 568 for Basingstoke said, that it is the militants on the shop floor, the personalities, who are often responsible for strikes. He did not put it in quite that way, but I do not think I am unfairly paraphrasing his remarks. During a lifetime connected with industrial relations in one way or another, I have never met one of those dynamic, magnetic personalities who can bring thousands of people out on strike just like that.
§ Mr. Walker
There are exceptions which prove every rule, and if my hon. Friend wishes to insist that that exception proves my rule, I shall not argue with him.
My case—and it is a serious one—is that an industrial militant can operate only if there are conditions which enable him to exercise his militancy. He can put the spark to the gunpowder, but the gunpowder has to be there, and it is very often provided by maladroit management, by wrong decisions by management, and by wrong decisions by Governments, too.
References have been made to the fact that since our last debate on this subject the T.U.C. has published its own well-written and well-informed guide for industrial negotiators. It is the latest of a series of documents published by the T.U.C. on various aspects of industrial relations. I was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam gibing at the document for referring to the fact, which I should have thought was known to every hon. Member, that the private sector is concerned with profit-making. I should have thought that that was so obvious as to rate with the clichés in the Code which have been criticised. We are usually accused of regarding profit as a dirty word. That opinion seems now to have seeped through to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I want to draw attention to the T.U.C.'s document because in recent months hon. Gentlemen opposite have abused and reviled the T.U.C. in what I regard as an unprecedented manner. The fact is, however, that while all the abuse has been flowing from the benches opposite the T.U.C. has been beavering away behind the scenes to make its own significant, constructive contribution to improving 569 industrial relations. I can only hope—but I have not seen any evidence—that the C.B.I. is making similar efforts.
But it is not only in the back room that the T.U.C. has been working to diminish strikes. Time and again, Vic Feather and his team have intervened to resolve industrial disputes sometimes with success and sometimes without. At least he has tried. It was he who took the initiative in the present coal mining dispute while the Secretary of State sat on the sidelines wringing his hands. But not a word of credit has been accorded in the last few months to Mr. Feather and the T.U.C. from the right hon. Gentleman and the Government. All we have had is denigration of them.
§ Mr. Walker
The right hon. Gentleman says that is not true. I am prepared to give way to him now to hear him give credit to the efforts of Mr. Feather.
§ Mr. Walker
It is an old Parliamentary trick to be asked to quote offhand. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will produce them for him—[Interruption.] I am sure that it is not questioned by my hon. Friends, who regularly participate in these debates, unlike some hon. Members opposite who have just drifted in to cheer the right hon. Gentleman.
Time and again, the T.U.C. has been abused. If the right hon. Gentleman will study the Report of our proceedings tomorrow he will see that some of his hon. Friends said other than kind things about the T.U.C. while the right hon. Gentleman was absent from the debate.
§ Mr. Walker
The T.U.C. document runs parallel to the Government's Code and it has been said that there is evidence that the Government have learned a thing or two from the T.U.C. guide, all of which suggests that one can have a dialogue in ways other than sitting at a 570 table. I will come in a moment to the crucial differences between the two.
The Secretary of State said that paragraph 25 covers the question of a trade union's rôle in recruitment, selection and training policies. I accept his intention, but I must beg him to look again at this to see whether it is not possible, so as to place the matter beyond any doubt, to put in the next reprint, in each of those paragraphs, a recognition of the retie that the trade union representatives should have.
I accept what the Secretary of State said about the need to wait for the C.I.R. report on the disclosure of information, but, as he understood from an intervention, we are getting impatient now. We want the job done thoroughly, but it has been a long time.
I regret that the Secretary of State has not responded to my urging in our last debate to stiffen up the section dealing with working conditions. A great improvement would be an addition to require employees to use protective equipment and clothing, and management to provide it where necessary. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not assume that this is being done now, because that would be a long way from the truth.
The document should establish that, without mutual agreement, piece work rates in the engineering industry will continue to be a source of industrial friction and dispute and a likely cause of strikes. What the right hon. Gentleman has put in about joint negotiation is not enough. Out of equity, the unions insist that there must be mutual agreement.
There is, too, the question of the status quo. The right hon. Gentleman has taken some note of our representations but we shall continue to press this and we shall not accept the document as equitable until it is modified. There are fundamental differences in approach. We find on page 2 of the right hon. Gentleman's document the unexceptionable statement which has already been quoted in the debate:Good industrial relations are a joint responsibility.The T.U.C. document says in addition—and this is the difference not merely between the Government and the T.U.C. but between two sides of the House—that each side must recognise the other's 571 right to be present on equal and independent terms.
Time does not permit me to pursue the other points and doubts which I have about the Code. I cannot help contrasting the practical and conciliatory style of the Code with the legalistic, authoritarianism of the Act. We cannot avoid comparisons between the emollient speeches we get now from the Government Benches and the strident and abrasive style that prevailed in the immediate pre-election period, which smacked so strongly of union-bashing. The contrast seems to reflect two quite different philosophies.
Looking back over this long Parliamentary struggle on industrial relations and straining an ear for echoes from the past is rather like listening to two voices, each speaking with a different tongue We know better. The Dr. Jekyll who produced the Code is the Mr. Hyde who produced the Act, and it is the Mr. Hyde against whom we shall vote tonight.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Paul Bryan)
May I start by congratulating the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) on his new appointment and his return to this area of debate? We can definitely call it an elevation. We are pleased that he has joined us because we have a high regard for him and we look forward to our parliamentary association. Assuming he is the sort of person I think he is, I should have thought he had very little heart in the sort of speech he was detailed to make today. I do not believe that he relished his duty of leading the flock into the Lobby against this Code. It is a very uphill task for a self-respecting politician.
This Code has been well received by all responsible opinion, and I am talking now not just about the Press and the media but about informed opinion among people working in this area. It has been recognised that it is a practical, unique document—for the best reasons. It is an historic document because it will go down as a milestone in our industrial history.
§ Mr. Bryan
Where does it fit into the strategy of our employment policy? When my right hon. Friend took office in 1970 he had the objective of reviewing, improving and radically reforming industrial relations and manpower policy. The first stage was the Industrial Relations Act now coming into force. Then we had the Code of Practice, not dependent on the Act but complementary to it. A week or two ago we had the paper on the employment services, "People and Jobs". Hon. Members can easily see that this is complementary to the Code. Yesterday we presented our training paper which is again complementary to the Code. Shortly we will have the consultative document on the redundancy payments scheme and, again, this all fits in with the general picture. We are, therefore, well on the way to the most radical reform of manpower services that this country has ever seen.
The right hon. Member for East Ham, North deplored what he described as the change in climate since we last debated this subject and said that politics were today of quite a different sort compared with the days when we had so much common ground. In his view one could not separate the Code from the Act, and for that reason the Code would become ineffective. It was tarnished with the stain of the Act, he said.
When the right hon. Gentleman said that we were going off to a never-never land I could not help thinking that he was the one who was living in a never-never land. He is out of touch. I swear that it is true that the Code is being effective now. [Interruption.] Hundreds of firms have gone through the Consultative Document and have compared it with their own practice. This is exactly what we want them to do. We want them to think about their practices and improve them.
The right hon. Member for East Ham, North said the way in which we were intending to use the Act sparingly was terrible. The truth is that the more effective the Code becomes, the more sparing we will be—or, rather, industry will be—in the use of the Act. It will not he necessary if we have such an improvement in industrial relations.
It is clear that the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman takes has nothing 573 to do with the Code. His spurning of it will leave him out on a limb, because it will not be long before this Code becomes established in the industrial relations world and is regarded as the standard setter and reference book.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that a lead was necessary and that we were not giving one. But that is exactly what we are doing now. Have any other Government produced a document which has proved as influential as this one is proving? [Interruption.] Although the right hon. Gentleman talks about the traditional rôle of the Government as peacemaker, we are going beyond that normal rôle. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have done more by way of conciliation than our predecessors did, and this Code once again shows our leadership.
The right hon. Member for East Ham, North referred to the question of the responsibility of employers to encourage union membership and pointed out that a change in wording had been made. He wondered whether that had occurred simply for legal reasons, and the answer is "Yes".
The Consultative Document contained two references to the encouragement of trade union membership. Paragraphs A6c and D14 said that management should encourage employees to join recognised unions and play an active part—[Interruption.]—but a number of legal commentators questioned whether a specific injunction to employees was consistent with Section 5 of the Act.
It was argued that while that Section made it possible for an employer to encourage membership of a registered trade union without infringing the right not to belong, it did not provide similar cover for an employer encouraging membership of an unregistered union. This is, therefore, a change made for technical reasons and it has nothing to do with losing any strength that was meant to be in the document.
§ Mr. Prentice
Is the Minister unaware that what he has just said helps to make our case? He said that the Government wanted in the original draft of the Code to say that managers should encourage employees to join unions and be active in them, but that, because of what is said in Section 5 of the Act, something 574 much weaker and more ambiguous must now be said.
§ Mr. Bryan
Whether or not the right hon. Gentleman considers it to be weak is a matter for debate. It is fairly strongly put as it is now.
I come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) regarding the position of professional employees. This is a very difficult question, raising the conflict between professional employees and their obligation to the profession and that owed to the union or the employer. It has been very difficult to find criteria to meet this difficult situation. So we have arrived at paragraph 23, which states:Professional associations, employers and trade unions should co-operate in preventing and resolving any conflicts which may occur between obligations arising from membership of a profession and those which the professional employee owes to his employer and to his trade union if he belongs to one.We considered that paragraph A17 in the Consultative Document was too broad and that the Code in its present form strikes a reasonable balance between the need to protect the special obligations of professional employees and the need to ensure that collective bargaining arrangements which are working well are not damaged. If the paragraphs prove inadequate and if there is concrete evidence of serious problems affecting members of the legal or any other profession, which call for amendments of the Code, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be prepared to look sympathetically at any proposals which may be put to him.
The Code will be revised from time to time. This can be done relatively easily, but it would be sensible to see, first, how the present provisions work out in practice.
The right hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee), whose views on this subject I greatly respect as a rule, seemed disturbed. He said that we presumed in the Code to concede many things which he and his friends had won a long time ago. That is exactly the point. These rights have been won in various places. But that is not the general situation. It proves our point. The whole object of the Code is to bring up the general standard to the standards of the 575 best practice in the country. That is what we are aiming to do.
The right hon. Gentleman ended his speech by saying that when the Labour Party took office it would deal fairly with all these issues. This was exactly what it tried to do in 1970, and this split the party to such an extent that it was probably what lost it the General Election. That was not a very powerful argument.
The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) asked about courses for supervisors. The course to which ha was probably referring were organised by the industrial relations officers from the Department, usually with technical colleges. Most technical colleges are well able to put on such courses themselves. The Department still runs training-within-industry courses which are very much in demand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) asked about the charge we were making for the booklet. It has to be stoutly made because we expect it to be much used as a reference work. I do not think that it is expensive. My hon. Friend also asked whether there was a charge for the Highway Code. The answer is, "Yes". He also asked about the procedure with regard to disclosure. The procedure and timetable are that the publication of the C.I.R. report will be in the spring; a consultative document will be prepared in the light of the C.I.R. report; after a period of a few months for consultation, the Secretary of State will prepare a draft proposal; he will then lay his draft revision before both Houses; the draft will then be subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) made exactly the same speech as he made in the debate on the Consultative Document, though it was probably less effective than last time because, owing to his remarks, we did a certain amount of polishing up. What the hon. and learned Gentleman really wants, I think, is another Industrial Relations Bill.
Several Members raised the question of the effect of legislation, and in particular of the Code, on strikes. They 576 asked why the Code had not cured strikes. The question shows a complete misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the Code. As has been said a dozen times or more in the House, its whole objective is preventative and not curative. The most biased person would surely admit that if the standards laid down by the Code became the standards for all British industry we should have fewer strikes. The whole object is to improve the climate in which industrial relations are conducted.
Although my right hon. Friend answered it earlier extremely effectively, we were chided on the question of interfering with collective bargaining. I can only repeat once again that the Opposition are not in a position to make those accusations. When they introduced the statutory wages policy, they resorted to steps which this Government will certainly never take.
The last time we discussed the subject it was on a Motion to take note of the Consultative Document. The Opposition would not even listen then, and voted against the Motion. Since then, several things have occurred. First, the Code has proved a decisive success. Secondly, the trade unions have published their code, thus giving the opinion that a code is worth having and should be considered. The purpose of their code does not correspond exactly with that of our Code of Practice. The T.U.C. guide, which relates mainly to negotiating machinery and agreements, is designed primarily for trade unions, although it includes a short section on management and employers' associations. The Code of Practice covers the whole field of industrial relations, and is directed at management, unions, employers' associations and individual employees. But—and the Opposition appeared somewhat embarrassed when we told them this—there is a good deal of common ground between us in terms both of subject matter and policy. Both emphasise the importance of collective bargaining and the need to strengthen and develop it. Therefore, our objectives are pretty well the same.
Many Labour hon. Members have not been here all day. I do not blame them for that, but for that reason they may not know the ground on which they are being asked to vote. May I therefore 577 tell them what they are asked to vote against. They will be voting against a code of practice that starts with the words:The purpose of the Code is to give practical guidance for promoting good industrial relations.They will be voting against a code which on its opening page states two main themes underlying it, the vital rôle of collective bargaining and the importance
§ of good human relations. They will be voting against a code which is already achieving its objectives. The Opposition are alone in resenting its success, for that is all that a vote against the Code can mean.
§ Question put, That the Amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 271, Noes 311.581
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That the Code of Industrial Relations Practice, a draft of which was laid before this House on 19th January, be approved.