HC Deb 02 March 1972 vol 832 cc725-8
11. Mr. John Page

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will seek to amend the existing law concerning picketing; and if he will make a statement.

50. Mr. Tilney

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will now make a further statement on the operation of the law regarding picketing.

52. Mr. Hayhoe

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what consultation he has had with the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress about amending the law relating to picketing during industrial disputes.

55. Mr. Onslow

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals he now has to seek to amend the law on picketing.

58. Sir J. Rodgers

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will recommend the setting up of a Royal Commission or other form of inquiry to study and report on the law and practice relating to picketing.

Mr. R. Carr

As already stated by my hon. Friend the Minister of State on 22nd February, I intend to review the law on picketing in the light of recent events. I can assure the House that no changes will be proposed without consultations with the Trades Union Con- gress and the Confederation of British Industry.

Mr. Page

Is my right hon. Friend aware that very many people were shocked by the abuse of the law during the recent dispute and that they look to the Government to clarify the present position and see that in future the law is both enforceable and enforced?

Mr. Carr

We should all remember two things. First, the majority of picketing in the recent dispute was orderly, peaceful and legal, but there was a minority of cases that many of us saw, and some of us experienced a little, which are a cause for grave concern. That is why I believe the law should be reviewed as I shall now review it.

Mr. Onslow

When my right hon. Friend carries out that review, will he also consider the possibility of amending the law to provide that in future picketing shall be permitted only at a worker's normal place of work?

Mr. Carr

That is one of the points that will have to be properly considered.

Sir J. Rodgers

Quite apart from whether the law needs revision to prevent outbreaks of violence or needs strengthening to prevent the disruption of industries that have nothing to do with a trade dispute, does my right hon. Friend agree that the whole case for so-called peaceful picketing has disappeared? The original idea was to allow strikers to put their case to the public. Strike leaders and strikers themselves, now have access to television, radio and the national Press, and an urgent review is necessary to stop peaceful picketing, so-called, or picketing at all.

Mr. Carr

The basic purpose of picketing—to inform and persuade in a peaceful manner—is an essential extension of the basic right to strike. That must be affirmed. What gives great concern to many, including those who hold most dearly to the basic right of picketing, is that this freedom, like all other freedoms, can be put in jeopardy by gross abuse.

Mr. Ronald King Murray

Does the Secretary of State accept that in this sector above all others it is necessary to maintain a fair and reasonable balance between the conflicting rights and interests of the parties concerned?

Mr. Carr

Of course I do, and I hope that is quite clear from my last answer.

Mr. Ashton

Is the Secretary of State aware that over 200,000 miners took part in the picketing at well over 500 establishments for five weeks, on a 24-hour basis, and that fewer than 50 were charged with breaking the law or going beyond the bounds of propriety? Is it not an infinitesimal problem blown up out of all proportion by Government Members and the newspapers?

Mr. Carr

I am aware that the majority of picketing in that strike was peaceful, legal and orderly, but I am also aware of the other side. So, incidentally, was a member of the T.U.C. General Council, the General Secretary of N.A.C.O.D.S., who felt so strongly about it that he felt impelled to come and see me, and tell the public he was coming to see me, to express his concern about what was going on.

Mr. Heffer

I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government recognise that the picketing by the overwhelming majority of miners in the coal dispute was perfectly legal, peaceful and within the law. Is it not a fact that only last year we revised the whole question of picketing, in a minor way it is true? We discussed the whole question of picketing as part and parcel of the Industrial Relations Act. Is it not quite clear that if anyone genuinely steps outside the law as it stands, the law as it stands is perfectly able to deal with him?

Mr. Carr

I hardly think the law on picketing was a major part of last year's review, although I agree that it was part. A minor change was made, removing protection from picketing of people's homes, which we did not believe to be necessary in the modern world. The events of the last few weeks are a cause of public concern and we should be foolish, whatever our views may be, to pay no regard to that public concern. That is why I am sure I am right to review the situation.

Mr. Fell

While I absolutely accept that in the recent strike the majority of picketing was peaceful, must we not also accept that the law cannot be enforced unless it has the backing of the vast majority of the people? Is it not true that in the sort of picketing where that was seen to be so—

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

On television.

Mr. Fell

All right, on television; so people do watch television, fortunately or unfortunately—the sort of picketing where that was seen to be so, in places like Doncaster, the law should have been enforced?

Mr. Carr

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in saying that the law depends on the support of the majority One of the great needs here is that the real state of the law on this matter should be enunciated anew so that everybody knows it. However, we should realise that enforcement on the spot must be properly the responsibility of the police. None of us should under-estimate the difficulty that the police have. I had personal experience of this from a visit I made during the dispute, and I do not believe that it was possible in those circumstances for the police to enforce the law.

Mr. Harold Walker

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while a small number of pickets at Coal House, Doncaster, indulged in behaviour which I would not seek to defend, on the night of the incidents to which the right hon. Gentleman referred the Assistant Chief Constable of Doncaster, Mr. Glendinning, who was in charge of the police on that day, said on Yorkshire Television: The behaviour of the strike pickets today has been splendid. I have nothing but praise for them.

Mr. Carr

Yes, that may be true in the majority of cases most of the time, but we do no good to the cause of peaceful picketing in the proper sense of the freedom which ought to be enjoyed in this country if any of us seek in any way to excuse some of the incidents which took place which were a disgrace and an abuse of freedom.