HC Deb 04 December 1973 vol 865 cc1092-224
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) to move the motion, I want to say this to the House. Certain inquiries and representations have been made to me about the scope of this debate. I do not in general believe in ruling upon hypothetical situations, but on this occasion however it might be helpful if I try to give some guidance.

Any Act of Parliament which the courts have to operate can be criticised as strongly as hon. or right hon. Members desire. It can be argued that a judge has made a mistake, that he was wrong, and the reasons for those contentions can be given, within certain limits.

I wonder whether I might read to the House what Lord Atkin, one of the great judges of this century, said some years ago on this subject. He said : But whether the authority and position of an individual judge, or the due administration of justice is concerned, no wrong is committed by any member of the public who exercises the ordinary right of criticising, in good faith, in private or public, the public act done in the seat of justice. The path of criticism is a public way, the wrong headed are permitted to err therein : provided that members of the public abstain from imputing improper motives to those taking part in the administration of justice, and are genuinely exercising a right of criticism, and not acting in malice or attemptng to impair the administration of justice, they are immune. Justice is not a cloistered virtue : she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men. That is very much the attitude of mind with which the Chair will approach this debate. Reflections on the judge's character or motives cannot be made except on a motion. No charge of a personal nature can be raised except on a motion. Any suggestion that a judge should be dismissed can be made only on a motion. As for today's debate, the only motion that can be debated is that in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and his hon. and right hon. Friends.

3.42 p.m.

Mr. Reg Prentice (East Ham, North)

I beg to move, That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government for the increasing damage being done to industrial relations and to the legitimate activities of trades unions by the Industrial Relations Act 1971 and the machinery for its enforcement which, following upon earlier instances of industrial disruption and harm to the economy, has now resulted in the sequestration and seizure of union funds subscribed for political purposes and a regrettable involvement of the National Industrial Relations Court in matters of political controversy ; and therefore calls for the total repeal of the Act. I begin by thanking you, Mr. Speaker, for the statement that you have made to the House. Any criticism I have to make of the judge will, I think, fall within the definition of "respectable, even though outspoken." That gives us a wide range for debate.

I would also like to welcome, and here I think I speak for the whole House, the new Secretary of State to this debate. He may find that debates on this subject get a bit rough and he may have a fairly early experience of such roughness. We all have a great deal of personal good will for him as he steps from one bed of nails to the other. I would add a personal note. He and I last faced one another on this subject in the months preceding the 1964 General Election when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and I was the assistant spokesman from the Labour benches on Ministry of Labour matters.

Then we managed to achieve what I could describe as a cheerful enmity. I would like to recapture that once again, but I say at once that it will be more difficult this time. It will be more difficult because of the different rôle which the Government see for the Department of Employment compared with the traditional rôle of the Ministry of Labour which still, by and large, held good under the Government in office until 1964.

In those days we had differences, there were criticisms and we divided on party lines on many matters affecting that Ministry, but, broadly speaking, in those days the Ministry was considered to be helpful to industrial relations throughout the community. It was helpful to both sides of industry in respect of industrial disputes and other matters. This is in stark contrast with the situation of the past three years. The right hon. Gentleman now inherits a Department that has had to operate according to entirely different rules. There have been three years of deliberate confrontation engineered by the Government, in which the Industrial Relations Act is the centre-piece.

The right hon. Gentleman has many friends and admirers in this House. I count myself as one of them. As such I say to him "For Heavens sake make it your first task to face your Cabinet colleagues with the urgent need for a change of course in industrial relations policy and especially with the need for the repeal, or at least the drastic amendment and modification, of the Industrial Relations Act."

The motion reiterates the demand made from these benches on many occasions. Some of the arguments which I hope to use, and those which my hon. Friends will be using, have been used before. But there is a new dimension to this debate and a new urgency about our demand for the repeal of the Act because of the recent events referred to in the motion, when we use the words : has now resulted in the sequestration and seizure of union funds subscribed for political purposes and a regrettable involvement of the National Industrial Relations Court in matters of political controversy". I beg hon. Member opposite, not only Ministers but all who take part in the debate, to face up to the serious nature of the issues posed by the motion. I hope, although it may be a forlorn hope, that they will not try to duck out of that argument by pretending that the debate is about something else. This debate is not about whether the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers is right or wrong in its policy of refusing to recognise the Industrial Relations Court. In my view, it is wrong : in the view of some of my hon. Friends, it is right. There is a division of opinion on this which touches only marginally the central issue before the House.

Neither is this a debate on Motion No. 49, signed by a large number of my hon. Friends, calling for the dismissal of Sir John Donaldson. That is not for debate, although it may be referred to. Some of the material will overlap. I and many of my hon. Friends would not sign that motion for a number of reasons. We would not support it. We unanimously support the motion I have moved, and it is on that motion that we expect more constructive argument and more cogent replies from the Government than we have had in any of the series of debates on the Industrial Relations Act.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his deployment of the case, tell us what the evidence is that the moneys belonged to the political fund of this union, and will he tell us whether it is suggested that the sequestrators knew of this fact, and, if so, what is the evidence for that? Will he also tell us, if there was to be an act of sequestration, if it was not to come from the trade union's political fund, what other fund of the trade union it should have come from?

Mr. Prentice

With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I will not follow him and try to answer those questions. Many points will emerge in the case I wish to make. I have a speech of some length prepared and I do not want to make it too long because other hon. Members wish to take part. The right hon. and learned Gentleman can try to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and address the House if he wishes. I am trying to suggest to him—and if he is not in the mood to take my advice he does not have to—that there are serious issues raised by this motion to which he and his hon. Friends must address their minds instead of trying to muddy the waters by raising side issues.

I put it to the House that the seizure of £100,000 from the political fund—and, of course, it was from the political fund ; it is not for me or anyone else to produce evidence to that effect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—was an outrageous development for two reasons.

The first and less serious—although still very serious—is that if a fine is imposed, for whatever reason, on an organisation with a large number of members, it is equitable that the fine should fall upon all the members and not simply upon some of them. What happened in this instance was a gross departure from all normal standards of equity. If the Attorney-General is to address the House later, I hope he will deal with this particularly.

The political levy is paid by some and not all of the members of the AUEW. It is a paid levy from which members can contract out, and from which many do contract out, without any loss of other rights or status as members of the AUEW. The political fund cannot by law be replenished from the general funds. I put it to the House that it is indefensible for a fine levied upon a union as a whole to be levied on the political fund raised by some of the members on a voluntary basis.

The second and more serious point is that this whole episode breaches a constitutional convention of great importance—that the machinery of the State, and particularly the machinery of the courts, should not be used in order to tip the balance of political advantage between the political parties in this country. That, of course, is what has happened. The effect of this development is a serious weakening of the funds of the Labour Party. The court has acted in such a way as to strengthen the Conservative Party in relation to the Labour Party. Again, I ask hon. Members opposite to face up to that simple fact.

After all, £100,000 is a large sum of money. In practical terms, it has been taken away from the Labour Party—not taken from the union for any of its normal purposes as a union. It was money held in trust for political purposes which would have been used for the benefit of the Labour Party. The sum amounts to approximately one-fifth of the total affiliation fees paid by unions to the Labour Party in the last financial year. It amounts to approximately one-quarter of the sum that the Labour Party might have been expected to raise as a General Election fund for the purposes of the next election. So it is a serious and substantial sum.

In addition, it falls on us, and we are in the nature of things a party which is less prosperous than the Conservative Party. The Conservatives have more money than we do ; they get much larger sums from the rich backers of the Conservative Party than we ever get from our trade union friends. They get funds contributed by firms which originate from money spent across the shop counter by customers who have no right to contract out from that part of the price of the goods which eventually finds its way into Conservative Party funds. A party in that position should be ashamed of a situation in which this development has arisen.

Mr. David James (Dorset, North)

Would the right hon. Gentleman regard my constituency as fairly typical? With 10,000 paid-up members, we have no industrial subscriptions worth more than £10 ; all our money comes from private individuals.

Mr. Prentice

I have no idea—I am not terribly interested—whether or not the hon. Member's constituency is typical. When one adds up all the funds, national and local, of both parties, the Conservative Party is incomparably the richer party, with incomparably more support from vested interests in industry and commerce than we receive from the trade unions. Even if it were the other way around, the principle of my argument would not be altered, but it reinforces my argument.

I do not say that what happened was deliberate. It is not part of my case that Ministers or the court intended this to happen, but it happened as one of a chain of consequences of the Industrial Relations Act and its administration by the court. It is something which should give them reason for feeling ashamed.

If the Secretary of State and the Attorney-General were to accept nothing else in our motion and our arguments this afternoon, they should at least, in common decency, have another look at Section 154 of the Act with a view to some amendment which would extend the protection of earmarked funds against being used for damages to protection of those funds from being used to pay fines for contempt.

The House is bound to consider the part played by the court itself in these events. I dislike—

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Before my right hon. Friend moves from this point about the £75,000 and the political fund, I accept entirely his argument that it is a vindictive move to take this money from the political fund, but would he not also agree, irrespective of whether the money came from the political fund or from the general fund of the union, that this is a vindictive act because it is an attempt to weaken the union, at whatever level such an amount is taken from the union's funds?

Mr. Prentice

The way that I have been putting the argument—I think I prefer my own formulation to that of my hon. Friend—is that the Industrial Relations Act has very serious consequences on industrial relations and many other matters, and that what we are now witnessing is a further consequence—an unforeseen consequence but nevertheless a consequence—of the fact that the Act is on the statute book and that the other events flowed from it.

I was going on to say—

Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)


Mr. Prentice

I think I should get on. I intend to make a number of controversial comments in this debate and to tread on quite a number of toes on that side and occasionally on some on this side. I beg hon. Members not to interrupt me, because many others want to speak.

I was going on to say, for the third time, that the House is bound to consider the part played by the court itself in these events. I dislike criticising either Sir John Donaldson or any of his colleagues on the bench. I have always regarded the Government as our proper target in these matters, and so far as I am concerned they are still the main target in this debate. Indeed, it has been my view over the last 18 months that what is basically wrong is not the character and conduct of the president of the court but the existence of the court itself.

Any High Court judge presiding over that court and trying to interpret this wretched Act will inevitably become involved in judgments which become the subjects of political controversy and in conduct which brings the reputation of the law itself into disrepute. That is the inevitable nature of the job, rather than of the man who is doing it.

However, having said that, there are two criticisms which must go on the record in relation to these events. They are mild criticisms and do not add up, in my view, to a case demanding a motion for his dismissal. But they are criticisms that I feel bound to make.

First, the court took an unusual course in deciding that the sequestration should be under its own control and not that of the other party to the dispute. I am advised that normally the administration of a sequestration order is in the hands of the other party and that this is a very unusual, almost unique, procedure.

In his judgment, Sir John Donaldson gave two reasons for following this unusual procedure. First of all, he said, since an industrial dispute was involved and bearing in mind that the two sides had to work together in the period ahead, he did not want them to be at arms' length from each other over the collection of money. He thought it was better that it should be done by another technique. I am paraphrasing, but, I hope, accurately.

Second, he said, the public interest was more closely involved in industrial relations matters than in normal civil litigation and therefore he felt that he had to take a personal responsibility for the sequestration. Therefore, he gave instructions to the commissioners whom he had appointed to seize £100,000 of the union's funds.

The point that I make in criticism of Sir John Donaldson is that he should have included in those instructions a specific instruction not to touch money that belonged to any earmarked or protected funds. He should have told the commissioners to avoid the political fund and also the staff pension fund, which it would have been equally improper to take for this purpose.

It is not sufficient for him to say, as he said in his speech in Glasgow the other night, that he had no knowledge of any political fund or of where it was invested. Having taken this responsibility, he had a duty to be aware of the danger of this course of action, to safeguard against it and to anticipate it by giving instructions to the commissioners along the lines I have mentioned.

My second criticism is that it was improper of Sir John Donaldson to make a speech in Glasgow on 26th November to explain and defend his action. A simple principle is involved. If a judge feels that he needs to correct what he considers to be false impressions arising from one of his judgments, the place for him to correct those impressions is in open court. The parties to the action can then be invited to make representations to him if they choose to do so.

Sir John could have acted as other judges have acted in the past, and made clear the reasons for some previous action, if he thought that necessary in a manner which would have been subject to the ordinary processes of law. There is no appeal against an after-dinner speech. I suggest that to make an after-dinner speech of that nature was wrong and a bad precedent. We must all hope that other judges will not follow Sir John Donaldson's example.

I have sympathy with the argument that judges should not be criticised publicly, because they have no right of reply. That is one of the reasons which led me to decide not to sign the early day motion to which reference has been made. I believe that argument is weakened, however, by the kind of public speech made by Sir John Donaldson on 26th November.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that had the AUEW appeared in court in the first place it is possible that the fine would not have been imposed? Is it not totally illogical for him to suggest that Sir John should have made his speech to the two parties in court?

Mr. Prentice

I said earlier that my personal view is that the AUEW should appear in court. That is not the subject of the debate. I hope that the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) will take part in the debate. In the meantime, I put it to her that there is a chain of events leading to the sequestration of £100,000. It is not right for anyone to look at one link in the chain and say that that is entirely to blame. The chain begins essentially with the Act. One event in the chain was the action of the judge, which I consider to be inappropriate and unsatisfactory for the reasons which I have given. The hon. Member for Lancaster can argue, if she wishes; that the AUEW should appear in court. In another context I have made that argument myself. As I have said, that is not the subject of the debate.

The Con-Mech dispute is still not settled after all the heavy-handed manoeuvres of the last few weeks, after all the focusing of national publicity on a tiny factory with a handful of employees. It is a dispute which in the old days would hardly have rated mention in the local newspapers. Here we have in a nutshell our complaint against the Act. It causes many problems and difficulties, it causes enormous damage, and it still cannot solve a problem which should have been sorted out locally and in a much smoother fashion.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is impossible for the AUEW to purge its contempt of the court once the men have gone back to work? If my right hon. Friend remembers the contempt arose from the refusal of the AUEW to order men back to work. Once they have gone back to work the AUEW cannot purge the contempt which was created. Is my right hon. Friend aware that before the money was sequestrated the court got in touch with the Government and discussed the matter with them?

Mr. Prentice

I have concentrated my remarks on what is wrong with the Government, what is wrong with the Act and, to some extent, what is wrong with the court. I do not want to start to discuss what the AUEW can or cannot do. I may be tempted to say what is wrong with the AUEW. I would rather my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) did not tempt me down that path. We take a different view of such matters. That is known publicly. We should not take the time of the House on that matter. That is why I will not be led down that path by my hon. Friend or Conservative hon. Members.

I shall reiterate briefly the general argument that the Labour Party has against the retention of the Industrial Relations Act. I can do so with brevity because we have ploughed over these furrows many times in the past. First, the Act has played a major part in the chaotic state of industrial relations in the past three years. The Act has made a reality out of the myth—it was a myth for many years—that the British working people were particularly strike prone.

By all the international comparisons which have been made by the ILO and other organisations, it is plain that Britain has had a low strike record for a long time. If we take the 10 years from 1962 to 1971 inclusive, we were about halfway in the league table. We were higher in the league table than we need have been because of the increase in strikes towards the end of that period. In 1972, which was the first year of the Industrial Relations Act, Britain lost about 24 million days in industrial disputes. That was the highest total for any year since the General Strike of 1926. It was the highest total of any industrial country in the world in proportion to its population. That was a direct result of the confrontation policy of the Government both in terms of the Act and in terms of related policy.

The second general point is that whenever the Act has been used in any major dispute it has made things worse rather than better. During the railway dispute of last year the manoeuvres of the Government and the court to produce a cooling-off period and a compulsory ballot delayed for two months the settlement of the dispute. It was eventually settled in June on terms available to the parties in April.

The docks strike of last year was totally unnecessary. It arose from action in the Industrial Relations Court at the very moment when the Jones-Aldington Committee had practically concluded its work on settling the main issues in dispute between the two sides. I challenge Conservative hon. Members to tell me of any instance when the two parties in dispute have found the Act to be of help.

Conservative hon. Members will probably say that the provisions for unfair dismissal are a help. Of course they are. That is why they were in the Labour Party's 1970 legislation. That is why they were lifted from the legislation. Those provisions should remain. When the Labour Party talks about repealing the Act it is speaking about not that part of it but the rest of it. Everybody knows that, although some Conservative hon. Members try to pretend otherwise.

As a result of the dangers arising from the Act—for example, the railway situation and the docks situation—and because it has been seen to be so damaging, it appears that the Government now dare not use it. It seems that they have not dared to use it for some time in relation to any of the industrial problems which face Britain. Earlier this year we have seen the gasworkers' dispute and the hospital workers' dispute. The Government did not go for a ballot or a cooling-off period. In the miners' dispute, the electricity workers' dispute and other disputes now going on they are not going for a ballot or a cooling-off period—or are they? I challenge Conservative hon. Members to try to make a case for the relevance of the Act in the context of the real problems facing industrial relations in Britain.

The employers' organisations take the same view. In fact, every sane and rational employer stays out of the court. The Act which was supposed to bring in a new and better era of industrial relations is so dangerous and so explosive that neither the employers nor the Government who invented it are prepared to make use of its provisions.

My fourth point is that as long as the Act is on the statute book someone somewhere will be stupid enough to use it. That person may be a disgruntled individual such as Mr. Goad or a stupid employer such as the manager of Con-Mech. When they do so we have to go once again through the whole sequence of a tiny legal issue being blown up into a national crisis and causing disproportionate damage to industrial relations without even the original issue being solved.

My fifth point arises from a recent decision of the National Industrial Relations Court which merited more discussion than it has had. I refer to the court's decision on 20th November to award damages to General Aviation Services, those damages being payable by the Transport and General Workers Union arising out of the loss of General Aviation Services' business at Heathrow Airport. If the Con-Mech sequestration reminds us of the Osborne judgment, this decision takes us back to the Taff Vale case, and it follows the extraordinary decision of the House of Lords in the Heaton case last year. We are lucky not to have had more cases of this kind in the interval.

What is the doctrine of that decision which was applied recently in the GAS case? It is that any loss incurred by an employer or by another party as a result of the actions of shop stewards is the liability of the union concerned even though the union concerned had not endorsed or approved of that local action, and presumably even in cases where at national level the union concerned was unaware of the action. The concept enshrined in these decisions is that a union is a kind of army with the general secretary as a field marshal who can give orders to all those acting throughout the country—in the case of the Transport and General Workers Union, a vast union covering dozens of different industries all over the country—and that somehow the union at the centre has to be responsible for all those actions.

If that kind of decision is repeated and we get a rash of similar decisions we can expect the eventual break-up of effective trade union organisation. I ask the new Secretary of State to look especially at the GAS decision and to seek advice on what the consequences of it would be for the structure and the future of trade unionism, and he should ask himself whether he wants to go down that road.

My sixth and final point is that in this debate we should consider the effect of the Industrial Relations Act on our respect for the law. I do not wish to trespass on the matter raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), on which, you, Mr. Speaker, have promised a ruling tomorrow. I do not think that I am trespassing on it if I say that, having read the Lord Chancellor's remarks, I think that he is entitled to ask for the maximum respect for the law, and in general terms I support him to the hilt. However, he and his Cabinet colleagues have to ask themselves, what contribution this Government have made to respect for the law in the past three years. I put it to the House that the most damaging blow to our respect for the law was the passage of the Industrial Relations Act. If the law is to be respected it must not be an ass. This law has been proved to be an ass over and over again and at ever-increasing frequency. The Lord Chancellor and his Cabinet colleagues who introduced this proposal have to face their responsibility for what they have done to damage respect for the law.

Whatever else one may think of the episode last summer when five dockers' shop stewards went to gaol, no one can claim—or can they?—that it was anything else than bad for respect for the law that they went to gaol for contempt of court, that a few days later they came out of gaol without purging their contempt, and that they went straight back on the picket line and proceeded with the very actions for which they had been committed in the first place. I do not intend to discuss the merits of their actions or the industrial aspects of them, but an Act which is so manifestly absurd as to have those effects will diminish respect for the law.

I began by suggesting to the new Secretary of State that he ought to argue with his colleagues for a change of course, and especially for the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act. In the event—I am afraid, the likely event—that this does not happen, let me repeat the pledge that has been given many times from this Dispatch Box in the past year or two. It is that in the very early months of a Parliament with a Labour majority the Act will be repealed.

Let me repeat what I said recently in the debate on the Gracious Speech. The repeal should not be seen in isolation. This is not a negative act of policy. In the Bill that we bring forward to repeal the Act, which we have in an advanced form of drafting, we shall make provision for the establishment of a new conciliation and arbitration service appointed by the Government but thereafter independent from day-to-day political interference, available to give help at national or local level in the solution of disputes. That Bill will be followed by other Bills concerned with the protection of the worker and our measures to provide for an advance towards an industrial democracy.

Our concept is that the urgent repeal of the Industrial Relations Act should be seen as the first step to the development of more constructive and co-operative relationships in industry in place of the senseless confrontation into which we have been plunged by the divisive policies of the Conservative Government.

4.15 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) for his very kind welcoming remarks. He is right to say that together many years ago we debated similar Acts which I believe have gained considerable acceptance in the industrial affairs of our country. I have in mind the Industrial Training Act, the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act and the Contracts of Employment Act. There were differences on all of them, but over the years they have been seen to have made their contribution.

I understand that the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) is to wind up the debate. Nothing that he says about me in my new rôle will take away from my gratitude to him for what he said and did and the help that he gave me in my old rôle. But I quite understand that we are in a different place today.

I have no doubt about the gravity of the task which faces me. We are embarking upon a straight party political confrontation. That in itself is fair enough. Sometimes this House serves the nation well by bringing out and arguing all the conflicting views. But there are other occasions when a united House of Commons stands up for the interests of the nation as a whole. Sometimes in the past Ministers of all parties holding my appointment have received that backing, and often it has been in the interests of the nation as a whole that they should. But that is not for today. Today we are debating basically the Industrial Relations Act, on particular aspects of which the right hon. Gentleman laid great stress.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me for some cogent replies, and it is right that I should put before the House as I understand them the issues which divide the Government and the Opposition in what is undoubtedly a key area of social policy.

This debate also gives us the opportunity to remember and to reiterate the principles upon which the Act is founded and to test anew whether it can be held that these principles are wrongly based or that the law itself has no place in providing a surer basis for the conduct of industrial relations in the interests of the community as a whole, including trade unions and their members. Above all the debate gives us an opportunity to look at the facts about this Act and perhaps to demolish some of the myths.

I think that it is commonly agreed throughout the House that this Government came to office at a time when there was a widespread demand in the country for an effective reform of industrial relations. There were widely evident situations in many industries where the energies of both managements and trade union leaders were being dissipated unnecessarily in almost ceaseless conflict, with the community often the shuttlecock, not only in the short term, but in the longer term, because of the self-inflicted economic damage.

The Opposition, when in Government, had made no different analysis of the situation—this must be accepted by Opposition Members—until they were dissuaded from taking action by pressures from within the trade union movement. They had seen no other alternative before that but to try to establish a rudimentary framework of law. There was clearly a desire on their part to provide for a greater certainty in the conduct of industrial releations in the interest of the community as a whole.

When the Government came into power, the need, as we saw it in a growingly complex and inter-related industrial society, was to provide for a surer framework of conduct strengthened by a clearer concept of mutual and inter-dependent freedom and obligation of a kind already established in many other countries.

It must be right in the context of the debate again to set out clearly what the Act does, and some of the things which it has achieved. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the motion calls for the total repeal of the Act. That is the motion which we are debating, and it must be looked at in that context.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Nothing less will do.

Mr. Whitelaw

The right hon. Gentleman says that nothing less will do. But his right hon. Friend not only says that the Act would be repealed but adds that the Opposition, if in Government, would take certain other action. We must look at the matter in that context.

Mr. Fernyhough

Is the right hon. Gentleman inferring—since he is defending the Industrial Relations Act in so dedicated a way—that, bearing in mind events of the past two years, the Government would, if they were starting again, introduce precisely the same kind of Act?

Mr. Whitelaw

Before the right hon. Gentleman assails me on that point he had better listen to what I am about to say. I had said that I would tell the House what the Act does. I also propose to claim what the Act has achieved. It is important to look at the whole case as it stands.

First, let us look at what the Act does. It gives a clear recognition in law to the system of collective bargaining—no one can doubt that—as the surest means yet devised for individuals to come together to seek jointly to regulate with employers the terms and conditions of their relationship to common advantage. From this premise the Act opens further the way for trade unions to recruit and organise more extensively and represent their members' interests effectively. The Act also establishes new rights for individuals and extends other rights—for example, the right of fair treatment within a union, or on seeking to join it, and protection against unfair dismissal, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

The Act also seeks, on the voluntary agreement of the parties, to establish a greater certainty in the agreements which they reach together. It provides processes whereby some of the most bitter problems can be resolved by rational and peaceable means without the need for conflict. If Members of the Opposition think that that is not so, what about the recognition issues, the establishment of procedural arrangements and the protections against unfair dismissal? Are the Opposition saying that these things have not been achieved? They have been achieved.

The Act sets modest, but important, limitations on the use of industrial power by management or unions in limited circumstances when attempts to resolve an issue by force could be accounted manifestly unfair or unnecessary. As the gateway to the use of all the provisions of the Act and its full protection, the only requirement on trade unions was to register. There is no compulsion on registration. Trade unions have the democratic right to decide whether or not to register.

But the questions to be asked are whether unions now affiliated to the TUC were wise in deciding not to register and whether they best served their own, and their members' interests, by adopting so negative a posture. The requirement of registration cannot be held to be onerous. All that is asked is that in voluntarily framing their own rules they should ensure, as responsible bodies, that members and potential members are treated in accord with principles of natural justice—that is, that the rules should guard against arbitrary or unreasonable treatment of individuals seeking membership and of individuals in membership. There is also the requirement that the rules should be framed to show clearly where decisions as to the possible use of their great strength rested. What can be wrong in all that? Nothing at all.

I turn to what the Act has achieved. It is very important, as the right hon. Member for East Ham, North said, that we should face up to the other side of the ledger and see what the Act has achieved. The right hon. Gentleman selectively produced a number of matters in which he believed the Act had not helped. I am equally entitled to produce some areas in which I believe the Act has had successes. Fifteen thousand individuals have sought redress for unfair dismissal and complainants have obtained remedies in about 40 per cent. of completed cases. My predecessor recently announced that we now propose, subject to consultations, to reduce the qualifying period for this protection from 104 weeks to 52.

The Code of Practice, as well as the Act's provisions, have forced management to rethink policies and practices and have, in many cases, brought about significant improvements in industrial relations. The Industrial Relations Court, which has been criticised, has had considerable success, mostly unpublicised, in resolving difficult disputes. Of more than 100 complaints of unfair industrial practice, about 50 cases have been settled, or withdrawn, after conciliation. In some of these cases recognition is being obtained without industrial action. I would have thought that these were considerable achievements.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

Would the right hon. Gentleman indicate on which side of the balance sheet he places the 24 million days lost due to strike action in 1972?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am putting on one side of the balance sheet some of those facts which many people like to ignore when talking about the total repeal of the Act. They ignore—conveniently from their point of view—many of the factors which have done much good for industrial relations.

Mr. Heffer

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that throughout the passage of the Industrial Relations Act the Opposition never at any time argued against the provisions relating to unfair dismissal? On the contrary, we argued that those provisions should be strengthened, and we pointed out that one of the basic weaknesses in the Act's provisions on unfair dismissal was that they included nothing that would bring about the reinstatement of workers. Yet this was one of the fundamental issues of unfair dismissal. We have never said at any time that we were not in favour of the provisions about unfair dismissal. While we say that the Act should be repealed, we have always argued that it should be replaced, particularly in relation to unfair dismissal.

Mr. Whitelaw

I will answer that simply by pointing out that the motion calls for the total repeal of the Act. If the Opposition call for total repeal, we are entitled to point out some of the good features of the Act which would be destroyed by repeal. That is a perfectly proper position to hold.

It can also be argued that the effect of the Act has been to do a considerable amount of good on many issues which have never been brought to court—for example, cases in which employers have settled when otherwise they would not have done. That is something which will receive the approval of both tides of the House.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

Before he finishes will the right hon. Gentleman tell us which parts of the Act are open to negotiation by the Government? Which parts do they agree are defective and ought to be repaired?

Mr. Whitelaw

I will make my speech in my own way. I would not be fair to the House or to myself if I did not say that it is right that I should hear the views of the House. The Opposition have chosen a Supply Day on which to debate the Industrial Relations Act, and it is right that, on the second day I have held my new job, I should listen to the arguments—I hope they will be constructive—about the future of the Act. I am certainly prepared to listen to the arguments. That is any answer to the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon).

I turn now to the industrial court. No doubt some hon. Members in the debate will seek to cloud some of the central issues by endeavouring to show that the court, in some way of its own motion, has acted to the detriment of industrial relations generally and of trade unions as institutions in particular. It must be said at once to the right hon. Member for East Ham, North that the Government properly and rightly accept responsibility for the Act and are ready to receive and rebut criticisms of it. The court does no more and no less than administer the Act passed by this House. The proper target for attack is the Government, who steered the Act through the House and stand by it.

I do not believe that in this situation there is any justification for the Opposition attacking the court. To suggest that the court has a purpose of its own is both a contitutional and an actual nonsense. To seek to assail it, as some do, is a dangerous exercise. The right target—and the right hon. Gentleman said so—is Her Majesty's Government. That is the target—not the court.

The right hon. Gentleman then spoke about the Con-Mech case. No doubt much more will be said about it during the debate and about the action of the court. It is therefore right to recall exactly what did happen.

The AUEW not only neglected to represent its members' interests but also deliberately chose not to obey the court's order to end industrial action. The union being in contempt, the court had no alternative but to impose a fine.

It was a clear situation in law. No assets of any institution or any individual can be protected. What protection, can it be sensibly argued, should be provided by the law for the material assets of an institution which acts in defiance of the courts? To argue otherwise surely compounds the nonsense. This situation is not a consequence of the Act. It is common to any act of contempt against any ; court.

No doubt it will be suggested that in some way there was a deliberate decision to sequestrate part of the union's political funds. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will deal with that aspect in more detail, but if that argument is put forward then it is surely a contrived argument to obscure the union's responsibility for its own actions. Everyone in life is responsible for his own actions.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain, while he is on the Con-Mech case, why Sir John Donaldson has changed the rules of sequestration so that he is now solely responsible in future for the obtaining of all moneys in this regard? Why has Sir John Donaldson changed the rules?

Mr. Whitelaw

I understand that Sir John says it is in the public interest that it should be done by the court. My right hon. and learned Friend will reply to that point. I think it is proper that he should.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

It is not good enough to say that the Attorney-General will reply to the point. The right hon. Gentleman should have information about these matters before he makes condemnatory statements.

Mr. Whitelaw

I believe that I made a perfectly fair statement of the position—that people are responsible for their own actions—and I stand by it.

I now turn to the Opposition's view of why the Act should be repealed.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)


Mr. Whitelaw

I have given way many times. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman and then no more.

Mr. McNamara

The right hon. Gentleman has quietly slipped away from Con-Mech. Can he tell us how he will solve the dispute there?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have not quietly slipped away from the Con-Mech case. I have quietly slipped on to the next point of my speech. I think that I should in all senses now return to the central point of the motion. There is something of a smokescreen about the motion in calling for total repeal of the Act. We all know that the motion was put down for other purposes. But that is what it says.

The right hon. Member for East Ham, North has not put forward any detailed proposals. He talked about draft proposals being in an advanced state. It is right to say that we should consider those proposals when they come out, but he cannot expect us to comment on proposals which we have not seen. I am entitled to say to the Opposition, "Let us at least see your proposals." But as yet we have not seen them, and until the Opposition show them to us, we cannot comment on them. What the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech does not spell out a policy on industrial relations which would replace an Act totally repealed. It was rather surprising that the right hon. Gentleman should have returned to the old formula of saying that the Opposition have proposals in draft which they hope to bring forward soon. I can only reply that we must consider them when they are made.

However, it seems clear already that the Opposition are proposing greater institutional rights and are very ready to erode the rights of the individual in relation to them. Above all, it must be said that there is no sign that the Opposition contemplate any restraint whatever on the exercise of industrial power, whatever the objective, against whomsoever it might be directed, including trade union members, whether taken by democratic decision or within the rules of a union or not, whether reflecting members' wishes or not, and whatever the consequences to the community as a whole. This is the charge that the Opposition will have to answer, and it is one on which the country will again give a very decided verdict.

Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)


Mr. Whitelaw

I have given way a great deal and am now going to finish my speech.

Mr. McBride

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Whitelaw

Very well. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, and then no more.

Mr. McBride

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. If the right hon. Gentleman says that rules have to be changed by democratic means or within the rules of a union, he makes by inference a distinction invidious to the unions. He infers that they are not democratic, and as a member of the most democratic trade union in the world I resent that.

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not think I made any such imputation. If I did, I withdraw it, but I do not consider that I did anything of the kind.

I wish to make clear the Government's position. We remain as decided as we were on the passage of the Act that this country badly needs a sure framework for the conduct of industrial relations. I do not believe it is doubted throughout the House that we need a better balance, not in terms of power but in the measured rights and responsibilities between the individual and his employer and union, between the powers which a union and an employer jointly can command and the obligations which the community as a whole can require. We continue to believe that the law has a rôle in industrial relations, as it has in a wide sweep of human activities, to provide a fair and acceptable framework of conduct. We remain convinced that the basic principles of the framework established by the Industrial Relations Act are right and necessary.

We are ready, in the light of experience of operation of the Act, to contemplate any sensible amendment. We never held that it would be possible, given our history, the acuteness of the problems and the complexity of industrial relations, to frame legislation necessarily correct in every particular.

Mr. Prentice

Is the Secretary of State saying that the Government will study amendments put forward by others, or is he reiterating what was said by his predecessor, that the Government despite all the experience of the past eighteen months, have no proposals to amend the Act?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have said that we are prepared, in the light of experience, to consider any sensible amendment. H we have some of our own, we shall bring them forward to the House.

Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)

Where are they?

Mr. Whitelaw

If I am asked by the Opposition, "Where are they?", I am entitled to say to them, "Where are the Opposition's proposals?" The right hon. Member for East Ham, North made it clear again this afternoon that the Opposition's proposals are still at a draft stage and we have not yet heard what they would do. We are told that their proposals are in the vaguest form. The Opposition know this to be true.

Mr. George Grant (Morpeth)

The right hon. Gentleman keeps talking about the place of the law within the industrial relations framework. Do the Government realise one basic principle—namely, that one can drive a horse to water but cannot make it drink it?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. George Grant) and his right hon. and hon. Friends must appreciate that just before the 1970 General Election it was common ground among both Conservative and Labour Members that there was need for action on the law of industrial relations—action very much in the same form as that which was laid down in the original legislation. That was then the position. There are many right hon. and hon. Members who know that was the position then. There are others who did not take that view then, and do not take that view today. Their position is consistent. But those who change their minds are not consistent. We should at least face that hard fact, because it is true.

I believe that we in this country have to accept the simple fact that the vast majority of people expect a greater recognition in the trade union movement that they are of society and not apart from it ; that they are ready to contemplate a wider responsibility than they have done so far—to themselves, their members and the community. I do not doubt that the country will continue to support this view. I do not doubt that the trade union movement will eventually shoulder that responsibility. On that basis, and with that principle before us, I ask the House decisively to reject what I believe to be a bogus and smokescreen motion.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

I join with other hon. Members in saying how glad we are to see the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Employment back in the House. However, I do not know whether he is glad to be here in his new capacity, but at least we can say that he brings a fresh mind to bear on this subject.

I intend to get down to issues so that he can address his mind to the subject of this debate. The right hon. Gentleman said that every union was free to register. But it is just because the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers chose not to register that it landed itself in trouble and was mulcted of heavy damages. So much for freedom.

We must also bear in mind that this matter has evoked a great deal of indignation. I appreciate that it would not be in order to debate the other motion, but I should point out that 184 hon. Members have signed that motion on a matter which is seriously felt.

I want to turn to another part of the case. Sir John Donaldson, the President of the Industrial Relations Court, made a speech at the dinner of the Institute of Chartered Accountants on 26th November in Glasgow. It should be noted that he made that speech at a dinner, on a subject which may have been the subject of appeal, and a subject which was due to be debated in this House. The Guardian reported that Sir John Donaldson … did not understand the complaint—being made by some AUEW MPs—that the money was from the union's political funds and should not have been taken. Had that been allowed to stand there is no doubt we would have had an issue of privilege before Mr. Speaker, because it is not for a High Court judge to reflect on the behaviour or actions of Members of Parliament. But I noticed that in the official hand-out there was no reference to "AUEW MPs" but to "some members of the union". Therefore, we must take it on its merits.

The Secretary of State for Employment speaks against a considerable background of experience. I watched with interest on television the profile on the right hon. Gentleman, as a result of which we came to know the right hon. Gentleman a little better. He responds according to his roots and is the sort of man who learns from his experience. I am the sort of man who has learned from my experience as a result of 55 years' membership of the AUEW. I have stood with my colleagues in the union in good times and bad, and I have a feeling of solidarity with them. Although it may be completely academic to say that my union should have gone to the court—although this is not contained in the motion—I can understand the steps and the train of thought that led them to their present situation.

It is worth remembering that the union represented people long before there was a franchise in this country. This was the union that first gave a Member of Parliament a salary—I refer to John Burns. It should be realised that from the time of the great Reform Bill to the foundations of the Labour Party the trade unions were the defenders of the poor. And they were more than that, for they defended the voteless proletariat and the peasantry. Whenever political fortunes turn against its members, they turn back to their old defences. After all, the strike weapon is still legal in this country. So it is with the miners. With this Government in power the only method of protest is to strike.

The Trades Union Congress laid down the law. It said that unions were free to register or not to register. My union, with most of the other big industrial unions, decided not to register. The TUC said that unions could go to the court if they wished. Some did. It was not said that they had to go to the court.

It is no use the president of the court arguing that he was not concerned with sequestration and that this was the responsibility of his underlings. No Minister could argue in the House that he was not responsible for his civil servants. Everyone, including the president of the court, must be responsible for the consequences of his own acts.

The president of the court has gone to a great deal of trouble to tell us how the court works. He described how the court sequestrates money and said that the powers of the court are not exercised by a single judge but by a bench of three consisting of a judge and two industrial members. Did he consult them about the sequestration? They are supposed to know something about industrial relations. He said that the court decided to appoint four eminent chartered accountants as sequestrators and instructed them to take possession of £100,000 of the union's assets.

Sir John Donaldson is not unused to controversy. He could easily have ensured that the fine was taken from the general funds of the union. Earlier the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) asked a question which I will now answer. He asked how we knew that the fine was taken out of the political fund. It is a separate fund and the cheque was made out to Hebburn UDC, so it was known. That is the simple answer. If Sir John Donaldson or Master Seaton were here they could not argue against the fact that that was the last investment that the union had made and that it was the easiest one to pick up.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for jumping in where his right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) feared to tread. With respect, that is not the answer to the question that I put. The question was : did the sequestrators know that it was part of the political fund? All they knew was that it was money out on loan at call to a local authority. The fact that the cheque was drawn to the local authority on the political fund does not of itself show that the sequestrators had that knowledge.

Mr. Pannell

My answer is that they had a flat duty to find out. They might have impounded the union's superannuation fund and put the benefits of aged members at risk.

Mr. McBride rose

Mr. Pannell

I will not give way to my hon. Friend. I have quite enough to do. I am sure that he will be able to make his speech later.

The sequestrators could have found out where the money came from. We cannot accept an infallible, remote judge at the top taking no notice of the consequences of his action.

The reference to Con-Mech is worth recalling. The Department of Employment no longer conciliates. The great general secretaries of the trade unions now have no place to go. They have been pitchforked into the court. But with this adverse judgment and fine of £100,000, does anybody imagine that the unions will stay silent? When the Act was passed did anybody imagine that, as great constitutionalists, we would go back to our constituency Labour Parties, stay quiet, and not raise a bleep until the General Election? The majority of pictures around this place portray those who have revolted against the authority of this House. People do not take these things sitting down. They rise and go on strike.

What happened after this judgment was delivered? Quite freely, 1 million members of my union came out on strike. That was an unnecessary strike in the circumstances, but they rose, as men rose in the past, because that was their only form of protest.

I respect democracy in this place, but I suggest that the Conservatives, who were returned by about 47 per cent. of the electorate, should bear in mind the consequences of their own acts. Industrial relations matters go deep and almost into the past. Now, because of their blundering, they have impounded £100,000 of the Labour Party's money. Knowing the record of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and recalling the old days of the political levy, I imagine there is some smug satisfaction about that.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover)

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the ordinary member of his union should be prejudiced more because the money was sequestrated from the political fund than if it had come from the general fund?

Mr. Pannell

The answer was given by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice). The general fund is contributed to by all members of the union. If any punishment is to be inflicted it should be inflicted on the whole of the union. The political fund is made up of contributions by members who have opted to pay into it. Therefore, if the punishment is inflicted on the political fund, not all members of the trade union are equally punished. That is the injustice of it.

The offending firm, Con-Mech, was found to be in the wrong by the CIR. The Secretary of State did not mention that. I think that in common fairness he should have done so. The court has taken no action to bring the parties together. Judges often bring parties together. It would have been easy for the court to say, "We will adjourn this case. The parties had better get together." But it blithely went ahead and slapped a fine of £100,000 on the union, almost peremptorily. The union merely wanted to meet the management.

Con-Mech consists of 30 to 35 men with an arrogant boss who thinks that he can run his own show completely. I met such situations in the old days. I met people who refused workers the basic trade union right to be represented, so I pulled them out. There was no difficulty. That was the rule. It was justice. It may have been rough justice, but it was justice. In this case we do not get justice. The matter goes on and the parties are not brought together. Sir John Donaldson could have brought them together. Week after week we read about cases in which a judge says, "I think the parties had better meet", and he defers the matter.

Sir John Donaldson did not do that. The fine goes on the union and the arrogant contempt of the court by Con-Mech is allowed. There was far more contempt of court by the boss of Con-Mech than ever there was by my union. My union's funds have been dealt with in many courts. But we considered that this court was a political court from the beginning and that a protest was to be made in the most exemplary terms.

A case could be made that we could have avoided this if we had attended the court and been represented. Had we done so I believe that we should have won the case. But the Government had better tell that to the Transport and General Workers' Union, which went to court and got fined £100,000. I cannot say too much about that. However, in passing, it does not strike me as being a just judgment.

With regard to the court's decision, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State will remember that when we were discussing the guillotine motion I said that the Bill ought to have been five Bills and that every Bill deserved a protracted parliamentary sitting. Something that was never envisaged on either side of the House was the mischief that the court would do. We had long debates on other aspects of the Bill, but that was not one upon which we fastened. The industrial court suffered from the guillotine. The House did not discuss it at the time. In effect, even taking into account the House of Lords, in which things are more leisurely, the clause establishing the court was Clause 195, which was discussed in Committee on 27th May 1971, when amendments were moved by my noble Friend Lord Diamond. The discussion lasted for just under three hours in that place, where the wicked rest and the weary cease their suffering.

The schedule which concerned the court was discussed in the House of Lords on 8th June 1971 for about 70 minutes. There is not a great deal of industrial experience in the House of Lords—any more than there was in the intervention of a few minutes ago. Yet the court appears in a whole series of sections. It appears in Sections 4, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 30, 31, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 42 to 45 and 46 to 50. It hardly entered into discussion. Words had no significance beyond their meaning in the Bill. That is what we had here and the court, which has done more mischief than anything else, was not discussed.

I could continue to make a long speech about the mischief that the Act has done, about how it has literally promoted strikes and has lent itself to all sorts of doubtful artifices. When the Official Solicitor had to come in concerning the five dockers, we knew that this was a time of great danger to the country if there was a dock strike. But that was not settled on any legal basis. It was settled on a contemptible political stratagem to save the Government's face. We live in a world of charade and pretence. The motion was signed by 180 Members. I notice that those who have led off against them are the lawyers. This place needs fewer lawyers and more engineers. They are the weft and woof of this sort of place. The Government reckon without the real people in this country.

This does not seem to be a realistic Act. I can only hope that when the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State comes again to the House he will have refreshed himself in London, having got away from the bogs of old Ireland. I only hope that his successor, when trying to form with all the goodwill in the world the Council of Ireland, is rather better briefed than the right hon. Gentleman was this afternoon.

5.4 p.m.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

I start by associating myself warmly and sincerely with the good wishes expressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the assumption of his important office, particularly so because I have followed his political career with affection and admiration since he started upon it all those years ago in the Department in which I was then serving. As Leslie Hore-Belisha remarked in a note which he was kind enough to send to me in somewhat similar circumstances, whether that be found to be a a matter for encouragement or otherwise is quite another question.

The motion is a compendium of criticism—criticism of the Act and of the court and its methods of enforcement. I propose to restrict my observations to that latter aspect. In that context, to see whether there is substance in the criticisms contained in the motion, we have to find the answers to three questions.

The first question is, was the order of the court a lawful order within its jurisdiction and duty to decide? The second question is, if it were so, was it disobeyed by a party under a legal duty to obey? The third question is, were the steps taken to correct and contain such disobedience lawful steps? If the answers to those questions are all "Yes". as I shall submit they are, there can be no legitimate criticism of the action of the court. That does not mean that there will be no criticism. I meant that there will be no justifiable criticism. After all, it is no surprise if unsuccessful litigants express dissatisfaction with the operation and even the institution of courts. I gather that the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) disagrees. He is much too intelligent to try to present his observations from a sedentary position and in an incoherent way. If he can resist the temptation to rise I shall be grateful ; but if he insists, I shall give way.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

I did not want to delay the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I expect from him, as he showed during the long debates on the Act, the kind of contribution which does not start by making life too easy for himself. The shoddy accusation that what is involved here is merely the disappointment of unsuccessful litigants is not up to his usual standards.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is only one of my ancillary points. I have a great armoury of irresistible points. Indeed, I am a little disappointed. I like to have a weak case, because that is what calls forth the ingenuity of the advocate. Here I have a strong case, as will appear if hon. Members opposite will have the patience to listen to the analysis of the relevant questions which I have propounded.

Mr. McBride

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I should like to continue. However, the hon. Gentleman is an old friend, in everything except a parliamentary sense.

Mr. McBride

I was interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks about disappointed litigants. He knows that I respect his view on the law and he knows that in law this political fund of my trade union is protected by two measures which are part of the statute law of this country. He cannot deny that.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

The hon. Gentleman is probably referring to Section 3 of the Trade Union Act 1913, as frequently amended. I shall come to that point presently, but I should be serving the House better if I followed the pattern of my argument, which I have presented on the three questions. I want to take them in order.

As to the first question, there is no suggestion that the court, either in the Con-Mech case or in any of its predecessors, Heaton or the others, was not dealing with a matter which it had a duty in law to decide. The fact that one party chooses not to appear is unfortunate and unhelpful to the due processes of the law, but it is irrelevant to the question of the duty of the court.

The second question can be dealt with equally shortly. The union not only admits disobedience of the order of the court but proclaims it and exults in it.

That brings us to the question whether the steps taken to correct it were lawful, and that needs a little more explanation. The Industrial Court is constituted as a Superior Court of Record under paragraph 13 of the Third Schedule of the Act, and that gives it the power to fine. Then under paragraph 27 we see, In relation to … the enforcement of its orders, and all other matters incidental to its jurisdiction under this Act, the Industrial Court shall have the like powers, rights, privileges and authority—(a) in England and Wales, as the High Court". Those powers include the powers of sequestration, and sequestration as a method of execution has its origins deep in the roots of English legal history. It is one of the basic forms of execution set out in detail in Order 46 of the rules of the Supreme Court. Other forms of execution there may be which deserve the terms "exceptional" or "esoteric", but not, I submit, this one. There are others to which no doubt the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) will address himself in his new-found enthusiasm for these matters. There are, for example, venditioni exponas, distringas nuper vicecomitem and capias ad satisfaciendum. Those might be considered esoteric and unusual, but the writ of sequestration is basic. It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) fairly said, that normally its operation is at the initiation of the parties. But again, as he said, Sir John Donaldson gave in his judgment the reasons why in this case the court had to do this.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that this is a fairly common form of execution, and indeed it is. But what was unusual in this case was that the court issued out the writ. In doing so, did it not transgress what was a fundamental precept of the Government in presenting the Bill—namely, that it was a civil court which would not exact penalties but would simply issue orders and see that they were enforced at the behest of the parties? If Con-Mech was not issuing out the writ itself and the court was issuing it, was it not thereby inflicting a fine, which the Government said they never intended should happen?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

The hon. Gentleman is going back to les travaux préparatoires, but we have to interpret the law as Parliament enacted it. I had already made the point—and the right hon. Gentleman already made it—that this was not the normal initiation of a writ of sequestration. The reasons for that are dealt with in Sir John's judgment already referred to—that the public nature of the issues in this court and the matters with which it deals means that if the court did not initiate the writ there might be no remedy when the court was held in contempt, and no court can exist on a basis such as that.

I come to the question of the property taken. The extent of the property that can be taken by sequestration is very wide indeed. It is described in Halsbury, which states : Under a writ of sequestration the contemnors property of every description may be taken, corporeal or incorporeal … including assets in land, whether freehold … or leasehold … and chattels … including money … and stocks … and whether the contemnors interest therein is legal or equitable. When the justification for the remedy is so clear and the scope so wide, what is said against it? It is said that the wrong property was taken, because it was taken from the political fund. But we have not been referred to any express statutory protection from sequestration of that fund assuming that it was taken from that fund, as we have been told it was. The right hon. Gentleman used the expression "earmarked and protected". With respect, I accept the epithet "earmarked"—it is an earmarked fund. The superannuation fund is earmarked and probably protected in that sense because it is possibly held in trust for that purpose.

But, as I understand it, the political fund is not protected, if one has regard to the statutory provisions to which the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) referred a moment ago. If one looks at Section 3 of the 1913 Act, as amended, one finds that the protection afforded there is basically protection by way of limitation, to ensure that funds are not used for political purposes beyond what they should be—not the other way round ; not, for example, protection against the sequestration of a political fund.

Indeed, logically, some might think that the political fund was a most natural source in respect of a contempt which was, at any rate in part, due to a politically motivated action. After all, if the sequestration was not levied against the political fund, it would have had to be levied against the general fund. I am assuming in favour of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, that they did not want it taken out of the pension fund ; that they did not want to put their election expenses ahead of the rights of the widows and orphans. I am giving them credit—

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham): rose—

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I am not refusing to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I am merely giving warning to all the other interrogators and searchers for knowledge, that I must have an eye on the clock.

Mr. Atkinson

It is the failure of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to put to the House the difference between the political fund and the normal ordinary funds of the union that makes me want to point out to him that the political fund is irreplaceable for all sorts of reasons, including the rules of the union and the conditions under which political funds are collected. Therefore, what this court has done is to sequestrate political funds which are irreplaceable, and to deny the Labour Party the £100,000 for use during the next General Election. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that that is a good thing, and that the courts ought to be used to inhibit those who are politically opposing himself, then let us understand clearly what he is saying.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

The hon. Gentleman, and any other hon. Gentlemen opposite, must not be under any misapprehension. I do not want to strike away any of the support which they have. I know that they need every bit of support they can dredge up from anywhere, if this House is to see them again after the next election. What I am asking is : if it had been the other way around—and I hope we are on common ground in thinking that the money should not have come out of the pension fund—and it had come out of the general fund, might there not have been an equivalent outcry, not from hon. Gentlemen opposite but from rank-and-file trade unionists ; for example, those who are not supporters of the Labour Party, because there are many engineers who are not. Some are Tories, some are Liberals and some have no politics at all.

Mr. Atkinson

You have not touched Tory money.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. I did not shout out when he was questioning me, so perhaps he will be courteous enough to reciprocate and not do so when I am addressing the House. Mr. Deputy Speaker will not be pleased with me, because my speech will obviously be longer than it would otherwise have been.

But there would have been criticism either way, from whichever fund it was taken. It would have been said, "This has come out of the general fund. Why did it not come out of the political fund?" What we do not know—and I have had no answer to my repeated questions—is whether it is said that the sequestrators knew whether the money on loan, on call, to the local authority came out of the general fund or the political fund. Perhaps when the hon. Gentleman replies at the end of the day he will at last clear up that point.

I submit that this motion on the answers to these questions is fundamentally misconceived. But I consider it to be less odious than Early Day Motion No. 49, in that it lacks the ill-natured and ill-founded personal allusions of that motion to which I have an amendment on the Order Paper, supported by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I do not know whether the improvement is due to considerations of prudence or, as I would hope, to a more rational realisation of the position of Sir John and the court. In any event I am glad that the printed motion has not persevered in these personal attacks.

Sir John, I am proud to say, is a friend of mine—

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

He is a good old Tory.

Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)

He is a good party member.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

He is, like myself, a Master of the Bench of the Middle Temple, as is the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North (Mr. William Wells), the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Sir A. Irvine), and the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), none of whom was present when the right hon. Member for East Ham, North addressed the House. Sir John is a friend of mine but a colder eye than that of friendship could not be blind to his qualities. He is a man of great ability and high integrity and a master of the judicial art. As such he brings to the difficult duties of presiding over the Industrial Court all that he has—and it is much indeed—of experience, judgment, fairness, receptivity and high judicial quality.

We are fortunate in the possession of such a judge and if he should feel the sting of unfair criticism I give him this message from this place—"Be of good cheer : those who by their intemperate criticisms seek to reflect upon you reflect only upon themselves". It is said that Sir John spoke in his own defence at a dinner. What a crime. He is the wicked animal of the French proverb, no doubt—when he is attacked he defends himself. Reflection has been made on his political background. Is it then to be a crime for a judge to have held political opinions when he was free to do so? Are we to demand as a condition of judicial appointment a certificate of apolitical immaculation like the certificates of virginity required in the marriage marts of some Oriental countries?

Mr. Peter Rees rose

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I cannot give way because of the time.

Any such requirement would be wholly at variance with past practice and pre sent reason. An interest and involvement in the problems of the country is no bad part of a judge's apprenticeship and is in no way inconsistent with his subsequent detachment when he attains judicial office. I shall give two examples if the House doubts me. Another personal friend of mine and Master of the Bench of the Middle Temple was the late Lord Donovan. I first knew Lord Donovan when he sat opposite me in this House as a Labour M.P. He was made a High Court judge by a Labour Lord Chancellor and he became an exceptionally fine one. Did I criticise his appointment or his conduct of his judicial office on the ground of his Socialist background? Did I say when the last Labour Government appointed him chairman of the Royal Commission which looked at the question of the trade unions that his political beliefs and participation disqualified him from the fair and honourable discharge of his duties?

Mr. Orme

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us, while recounting the record of Lord Donovan, when Lord Donovan, sitting as a High Court judge, ever went outside his court and referred to a case on which he had sat in judgment in that court.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I was not present at all of Lord Donovan's dinners.

I will give the House one further example. When Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas was appointed a judge, did I say that because in former years he and I faced each other night after night across these Dispatch Boxes during the passage of the Restrictive Trade Practices Act, that because he was a doughty and respected controversialist of the Labour Party, he was thereby constitutionally incapable of the legal impartiality of the judge? I would have been ashamed to entertain, let alone to utter, such unworthy and unwarranted sentiments.

Therefore I am entitled to say now, and I say it with all the energy and emphasis I can command, let there in the name—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) should occasionally sit quiet and listen. He might learn quite a lot—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. A great deal has to be said and listened to and a great many hon. Members wish to speak. I think we had better listen to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I say therefore with all the energy and emphasis that I can command, let there in the name of fairness and decency be an end to this personal vituperation.

May I end with some slightly more general comments? This debate raised matters of fundamental importance in regard to judges and Parliament alike in the maintenance of the fabric of the law. Dicey in his famous classification identified as the twin pillars of our constitution the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law. It has been one of the glories of our country's achievements that without the limitations of a written constitution we have maintained that structure inviolate. How has it been done? It has been done not least by realisation of the clear dichotomy between the processes of law making and the processes of law enforcement. In the first judges play no part ; in the second Parliament plays no part. Only by a preservation of that dichotomy and a self-denying ordinance of respect on the part of all concerned can the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law continue to co-exist.

An illustration of that principle is given by the Industrial Relations Act. The law-making processes were vigorous and protracted. They took place in this Chamber and hon. Members, including myself, participated freely in them—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and the hon. Member for Salford. West with particular distinction. While I dissented from their conclusions, I gloried in their presentation. In playing their full, vigorous and constructive part in the processes of law making they strengthened the fabric of our law and democracy alike and enriched our constitutional heritage.

Yet with the passing of this Act we entered another and different position. What we then debated became the law of the land. It was not, like the law of the Medes and the Persians, unchangeable. That is not our democratic way. In this country the book is never closed. It is always possible to amend and even to repeal, but only by the same constitutional process by which a law was made. But while it is the law it may not be defied. That is a central requisite of the rule of law.

In that sense the law is indivisible. We cannot practise selectivity. We cannot adopt or reject laws, because that way lies anarchy. One man's preference is another's rejection and soon the whole edifice of the law will crumble. Soon we should be descending to lawlessness, to that state described in the Book of Judges where each man did what was right in his own eyes. Contempt of a court charged with the duty of enforcement is a defiance of the law and no words can gloss that over—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Ham, North would do much better if he sometimes took the advice of some sensible lawyers. It might make his contributions here much more worthwhile.

Mr. Arthur Lewis rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not giving way.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

We will talk about it afterwards.

Mr. Lewis rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must sit down.

Mr. Lewis

Why do not the Government prosecute company directors who are breaking the law?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

If I can make myself audible, I want to conclude.

British people have always been consistent in placing a high premium on the rule of law. Nobody has been allowed to defy the law or to set himself above it however powerful or whatever the strength of the forces behind him. It was not allowed to the king himself, or to the great feudal barons, such as the Warwicks and the Norfolks ; and what was not yielded to them, cannot now be yielded to the latter-day barons of the trade unions. I am sad that it should be necessary to have to remind any element in this House of this elementary but fundamental proposition. I am sadder still to think that there should be any division regarding it.

If nearly 30 years of experience of this House did not convince me of the futility of such exhortation, I would even now, at this eleventh hour, invite the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion and to make a unanimous reaffirmation of the great principles of the rule of law for which this House has traditionally stood. However, if the motion is to be proceeded with, certainly the House should reject it for the thing that it is—a discredited device of a divided and dispirited Opposition.

5.32 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery): One could not disagree with the trite observations of the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D Walker-Smith) about the rule of law at the end of his speech, on the rule of law and Parliament, but he did not deal sufficiently with the supremacy of Parliament. As he reflected on his numerous friends on the High Court bench I could not help thinking that he might do well to advise them that when they give after dinner speeches they should stick to entertaining and not talk about their cases.

In the main body of his speech it seemed that the right hon. and learned Member went out of his way to prove that what the court had done was lawful, whereas he should have established that it had tried to be just. It could be argued that in the case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs the indictment, trial, verdict and sentence were lawful, but the verdict of history is that they were unjust.

The sovereignty of Parliament comes into these matters. We are entitled to consider what the court is doing, particularly when Parliament has set it up, and to ask whether in the ultimate what it is doing is just. That is what the debate, with all its undertones, is about.

No one disputes that all kinds of things are motivating people on both sides. Everyone knows that the union members feel strongly about the Act and will do anything they can to destroy it. They are not particularly concerned about the methods that they use to achieve that objective. The Government are out to maintain the Act whatever happens, and are equally unconcerned about the arguments against it. It is unfortunate that in the country as a whole the National Industrial Relations Court is known only by a few cases and for a few actions.

Although I agree entirely with the Minister, whom I welcome to his position today, in particular may I add that I thought that if anybody was in need of protection from unfair employment, it was the right hon. Gentleman, who was plunged at short notice into this highly controversial debate. But he did as well as anybody could in the circumstances—which is not to say that he did very well.

Three learned judges sit in the Industrial Relations Court. The vast majority of cases that they deal with do not hit the public eye. Many of those cases are worth while and rewarding. No hon. Member can doubt that in the Act, whatever criticisms there are of it, there is much good material. On Second Reading of the Bill I said that one section of the Bill had been oversold during the election, and was presented as a panacea to solve all our industrial problems. Its value had been grossly exaggerated, and it had been equally grossly attacked by the Opposition who would not hear anything said to its advantage. We are now reaping the benefit of all its bitterness.

We have put the judiciary in an impossible position. We have asked a court to be both judge and industrial conciliator. The duty of a judge is to decide a case between two warring parties. When those parties are unable to agree, the judge brings the guillotine down fairly and reaches his decision. A conciliator on the other hand fulfils a totally different function. He is concerned with suggesting concessions here and there, finding common ground, not to reach a decision but to reach a conciliated agreement. The more I reflect on it, the more I see that the position is absolutely impossible. No one in his right mind can take pleasure from the involvement in matters of political controversy of any court in the country.

There are three ways in which a court can enter into political controversy. The first way is for judges deliberately to involve themselves in political controversy. The second is that Parliament or politicians show that they are determined to involve a court in political controversy, whether the court wishes to be involved or not. The third is that a judge may find it virtually impossible, by reason of the duties he is required to carry out, to keep out of matters which are politically controversial. It is right to ask about those reasons for political involvement. Perhaps all of them apply in this context.

I shall deal first with the question of involvement of the judges. I do not know Sir John Donaldson. If I do it is only cursorily. We may have sat on the Bar Council together for a short time. But his position as president of the court has been very difficult. However, no one would deny that any High Court judge who makes a speech at a public dinner and discusses a case in which he is involved is acting unwisely. I shall not put it any stronger for this reason : when a judge undertakes duties in a court—a court set up specially by Parliament, in an atmosphere of great controversy—the least he can expect is the protection of those who put him in office.

They should speak up to defend him. When I heard on the news last night that the Lord Chancellor had made a speech I thought it was high time a speech had been made by him on this matter—but not in a political context. We who remember the Lord Chancellor in this House have a warm regard for him. He is a warm-hearted character, but everyone knows that he needed and needs only the slightest provocation to embark on a political crusade at the drop of a hat.

A judge, a president of a court, has been under constant attack. I do not remember any other judge in this country being under such an attack. Yet has the Lord Chancellor defended him? Has the Attorney-General defended him? Has the Prime Minister defended him? Has the Secretary of State for Employment defended him? Sir John Donaldson has been the butt of political attack since being appointed to office. If the Archangel Gabriel had been appointed in this atmosphere he would have come under the same attack.

Mr. John Mendelson

It would have been better to appoint the Archangel Gabriel.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

He never applied for the job.

Mr. Hooson

The knowledge of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) on these angelic matters is so much greater than mine that I bow to his better judgment.

This is a serious matter. However detached his office requires him to be, any judge who is under constant attack, without those who put him in that position springing to his defence to explain to the public his position and what is happening, would be less than human if he were not tempted in the end to spring to his own defence. That is what has happened here.

The Early Day Motion selected the wrong target. The motion before us has selected the right target. The responsibility lies firmly with the Government, not with Sir John Donaldson, who would have been less than human if he had not eventually reacted as he did, although I think that he was unwise to do it at a dinner for accountants.

We must also consider the attitude of the trade unions. The second matter I suggested we should consider is whether Parliament and politicians deliberately, whether the judge likes it or not, want to get the judiciary involved in the row. We must be fair. There are hon. Members on the Opposition side who have made no bones about it—and they made no bones about it in the days of the Labour Government when "In Place of Strife" was introduced : they thought the law had no application in industrial relations. They fought against "In Place of Strife "and then, with greater venom and power, against the Industrial Relations Bill. They were determined to get rid of it, come what may. There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the guillotine motion. The truth is that if there had been no guillotine the measure would have been talked out.

Mr. C. Pannell

Quite right, too.

Mr. Hooson

The right hon. Gentleman says that because he is approving my point that hon. Members felt so strongly about it that they were determined to go to any lengths to kill the Bill.

The truth is that certain trade union elements are prepared to go to any lengths, including attacking the court and getting the judge involved politically, to try to break the Act. Most of them are prepared to admit it, and I accept it as one of the facts of life. It is one of the factors the Government should bear in mind in considering whether it is right to continue with the Act at all in the present atmosphere, because that is where it leads us.

Mr. Fernyhough

The hon. and learned Gentleman heard the Secretary of State say this afternoon that if amendments were put forward they would of course be considered. Amendments were put forward—

Mr. Heffer

Hundreds of them.

Mr. Fernyhough

Scores of them, at least. We debated the Bill for days. It left the House after Third Reading in exactly the same form as when it had its Second Reading. That was an indication that at that stage the Government were completely indifferent to any suggestion for improving the Bill and avoiding industrial strife, no matter where the amendments came from.

Mr. Hooson

I entirely agree that the Bill went through the House in an atmosphere the like of which I have not known in my parliamentary experience.

Mr. Atkinson

It was on roller skates.

Mr. Hooson

Both sides were entirely unreasonable about it.

The point I wish to come to is that when a court becomes involved in political controversy, as the Industrial Relations Court is, there is a third possibility, that Parliament has virtually made its position impossible because the function of the court is partially political. We have had three years' experience of the court, and it is right now to reflect on that experience a little away from the heat of the battle which was felt in the House when the Act was passed.

Therefore, I suggest to the Secretary of State, who returns from Ireland with a tremendous reputation for conciliation, statesmanship and judgment, that it is not right that we continue in the kind of atmosphere we have had in industrial relations since the Act was passed. I repeat that 90 per cent. of the Act is perfectly good, sensible law. But that 90 per cent. is overridden and obscured by the 10 per cent. which is a source of bitter political controversy, and which remains. It has poisoned relationships in industry. It continues a pattern of centralised industrial conflict.

There is a huge deficiency, as I forecast in my Second Reading speech on the Bill, in the means of enforcement. It is a very difficult matter to enforce.

The time has come for a complete review of the Bill. If it could take place in a different kind of atmosphere, if we could say that the Bill might be repealed and re-enacted with the 90 per cent. of good provisions but without the 10 per cent. which have left the law of the industrial jungle still as the law of the jungle, there might be a basic change in such provision.

My party has put forward its own proposals for changing the industrial relationship in this country by different kinds of laws altogether—the provisions for worker directors, for works councils, for much more local bargaining and so on.

There are some people in the country and the House who are determined to ensure that the law does not apply to industrial relations at all. For that view I have no sympathy and scant respect.

Mr. McBride

Will the Liberals vote for the repeal of the Act?

Mr. Hooson

Yes, although we think it would be right to re-enact a great deal of it. On the great controversial issues, we have come to the conclusion that it would be right to repeal it. [interruption.] On Second Reading we voted for the Bill. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has one great distinction. He never likes to listen to anyone but himself.

Mr. Heffer

I do. I have listened to the hon. and learned Gentleman's arguments.

Mr. Hooson

The hon. Gentleman will remember that I said that we would vote for the Bill on Third Reading if our basic amendments were accepted. They were not, and we voted against it.

I have come to the conclusion that an industrial relations court in any event should not be a separate and special court but should be another branch of the High Court. It should be an ordinary division of the High Court, and the judges should be left to judge. They should not be regarded as, or requested to be, conciliators in industrial relations.

Therefore, for reasons very different from those of some Labour Members, I intend with my party to vote for the motion.

5.48 p.m.

Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)

I join right hon. and hon. Members in welcoming the return of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and particularly his return to the Department of Employment, which he knows well and where he is well known.

My right hon. Friend arrived back with an advantage and a disadvantage. His disadvantage is that after his admirable work in Ireland his stock is so high in the land that he will find it very hard to live up to his own reputation. His advantage is that in his last post he won the trust of both sides of the House and of people all over the country to an extent rarely achieved by a Minister. Over the coming difficult months that trust may well be his biggest asset.

As sometimes happens in the House, we are today having a valuable debate hung on the peg of a very poor motion. I shall argue shortly that this is an opportune occasion to discuss constructively the Industrial Relations Act and possible amendments to it, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has just done.

First, I will deal with the other parts of the motion. The motion is the expression, watered down for respectability, of the Left-wing theme that the citizen is justified in defying or rejecting any law that he does not like. I heard Hugh Scanlon say on television that his union was a law-abiding union, but he added that his members reject a law that will destroy the union. On other occasions he has said that the Act is impotent and is ignored by industry. I dare say that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) would say that Mr. Scanlon and his friends were merely conscientious objectors, and probably Mr. Hain would say the same.

Mr. John Mendelson

The hon. Gentleman has quoted one trade union leader who is at work at this time—Mr. Scanlon—as saying that the members of his union are perfectly law abiding. That the union is law abiding is borne out by the long history of the organisation. If the hon. Gentleman came to Sheffield I could take him to a humble place where one of the predecessors of the union, the scissors-grinders, in 1804, after the anti-combination laws had been passed in 1799, were as law abiding as they had been in 1797, but broke the law because they thought it monstrous that the anti-combination laws should be the law of the land.

Sir P. Bryan

I should enjoy a trip to Sheffield and I am sure that it would be interesting, but that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about what Mr. Scanlon said on television, and I am claiming that in relation to this Act the union is not a law-abiding union. To the rest of the community the members of the AUEW do not seem to be law abiding. They seem to be a group which is presuming a privileged position. If any other person or organisation is alleged to have broken the law they expect to attend the court to put their case. If they fail to do so they expect to take the consequences without looking round for sympathy. These trade unionists decline to attend and then they blame the judge for the consequences.

The motion says that the Act has resulted in the sequestration of particular union funds, but nothing of the sort has occurred. It is the failure of union officials to act like normal law-abiding citizens and attend the court that has resulted in this entirely predictable consequence. The union knows perfectly well that had it stated its case the fine would almost certainly have been less, and quite certainly it could have been paid from whatever fund the union wanted it to be paid. Yet the public are asked to be sorry for the way in which this powerful union has been treated. I have yet to find anyone who is.

Clearly, the Shadow Cabinet as a whole does not want to be hooked on the proposition that the AUEW should be supported in defying the law so it serves up a castrated edition of Motion No. 49. The motion on the Order Paper has been moved by the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) who is known to have the normal respect for the law, but he was patently embarrassed by knowing that there were 130 people behind him who were at odds with his view, and even more embarrassed when he knew that the Opposition are to be represented in the wind-up by the chief instigator of Motion No. 49, the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who directly attacks the judge and demands his dismissal.

That is dangerous ground—and the Shadow Cabinet knows it—for a party that presumes to be the alternative Government. The right hon. Member for East Ham, North has done his best—rather an embarrassed best—to steer his party through and out of this minefield. I shall be surprised if the hon. Member for Salford, West does not push him back into it before 10 o'clock tonight.

Fortunately, the motion does not limit our debate to the grievances of the union, so I will turn to the passage dealing with industrial relations and the Industrial Relations Act. An outsider hearing some of our debates in the Chamber could be forgiven for concluding that the two major parties have not an idea or concern in common. But both parties have some common experience. Both parties claim to believe in free collective bargaining. Both parties found that free collective bargaining did not meet the economic situation at some period in their administration. Both favoured a voluntary incomes policy and both were driven to a statutory incomes policy.

In industrial relations legislation both parties also have some experience in common. Time was when both parties asserted that major industrial relations legislation was unnecessary. Nevertheless, within the last five years, both parties had legislated or attempted to legislate. It therefore seems certain that, whoever wins the next election, legislation will persist either in the form of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act or new labour legislation under another name, and the right hon. Member for East Ham, North has confirmed that this will be so.

After the election, legislation can take place in a different, more constructive, less emotional, less political atmosphere than that which we endured during the passing of the present Act, especially if constructive non-political thought can be given to it now. I acknowledge that no trade union leader could at this moment come and discuss amendments to the Industrial Relations Act with the Secretary of State. With an election in sight, this would be construed as an assumption of Conservative victory. Anyway, as the motion confirms once again, the trade unions have such a blanket curse on the whole Act that they dare not do anything to suggest toleration of even those parts of the Act which benefit their members, such as the provisions for unfair dismissal. I do not, therefore, suggest that direct talks between the Secretary of State and trade union leaders now are possible or could be profitable.

Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)

Has not the Prime Minister stated that if the TUC puts forward amendments the Government would be prepared to consider them now? Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what is the CBI view of the Industrial Relations Act?

Sir P. Bryan

I cannot speak for the CBI, but successive Ministers have always said that they are willing to hear suggestions from the TUC. This is not a propitious time to go into details of the amendments, for the reasons I have given. However, I believe that this is the time for the new Secretary of State to commission a suitable group, including, I hope, trade unionists, to study objectively how the Act has worked in practice as opposed to how we on each side of the House claim that it has worked. That would be of great value to the next administration, not merely in saving time with up-to-date information but in showing the public that there is some genuine common ground between both sides of the House and that there is some hope and real desire on the part of the House to improve industrial relations rather than to use industrial relations as an excuse for a continuing political wrangle, which is what our proceedings must often look like to an outsider.

There is much to study. As a start we need to know more about the functioning of the court. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery has truthfully said that we do not know what it really does. Even we, as Members of Parliament, glean most of our knowledge from newspaper accounts of its more sensational findings, impositions and the sayings of the judge. It is assumed that most of the court's time is spent dealing with cases of alleged unfair industrial practice and so on. In fact these are a small part of its case-load. The court handles many cases under the various collective bargaining provisions, some of which end up in a reference to the CIR. It handles hundreds of appeals from tribunals refusing redundancy payments.

I would like to know how the original idea of the court, that it would be far less formal and more industrially based, is working in practice. Despite the lack of trade union representation I have heard no suggestion of a lack of industrial knowledge. On the other hand, the informality is less evident. If a party appeals from the NIRC to the Court of Appeal it is obliged to employ counsel, with all the costs involved, especially if it loses its appeal.

I agree with the Industrial Society that no individual or organisation should be permitted to take a case to the court or to an industrial tribunal until domestic procedures have been exhausted and conciliation by an independent body or voluntary reference to the CIR has taken place. I have always been a believer in registration, but I would not go to the stake for it. The very word is now so emotionally charged that the Registrar is totally, and I would have thought permanently, unacceptable to the unions. The vindictiveness with which the TUC has treated the Seamen's Union and Equity, despite the justification of their case, proves my point if proof is needed.

Instead of registration, unions and other organisations could have their accounts audited and their electoral methods scrutinised by some independent body. This would confer tax advantages as formerly enjoyed under the Friendly Societies Act. The CIR, which has been neglected by the unions but which I believe still retains their respect, could be given a bigger rôle especially with issues concerning recognition and independence. Clearly the whole question of the closed shop would have to be re-opened. I consider that the post-entry shop should be made legal, with safeguards.

The Code of Practice has proved its value, especially in forcing companies to review their present practices. In the more co-operative atmosphere I am anticipating after the election I think that trade unions should take part in its amendment. It could be given much greater strength and a more important rôle in the whole industrial relations set-up.

Finally, the provisions against unfair dismissal, used and useful though they have been, could be improved. I am glad that the qualifying period has been reduced. It should be reduced again as soon as possible.

Finally, the working group should study to what extent the objectives of the Industrial Relations Act are being achieved. At the least, this would highlight what those objectives really are.

The net result of all our debates is that many people think that the Act was designed either to get at the unions or to solve industrial disputes or both. Indeed nearly all of the arguments from the Labour benches are on these two points. The primary object of the Act is to do something towards producing conditions under which those at work can themselves more easily settle and live with the day-to-day problems of their working lives.

6.5 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

The hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) was Minister of State at the Department of Employment when the Industrial Relations Act began its passage through the House and it is refreshing to hear him say that there ought to be some changes to it. This is a wide motion and it is possible to drag all sorts of things into it. I intend to speak on one point, dealt with in the motion, namely the : involvement of the National Industrial Relations Court in matters of political controversy". We have heard much from learned hon. Members with regard to what the law is but not so much about how the law should be interpreted, with wisdom and common sense. That is what has been lacking so far. The court was set up at a time when this House was in the throes of a terrible turmoil—about three years ago, after the General Election. Strikes were taking place and it was virtually impossible to have a proper debate about what was happening because the Government, very unwisely, took the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House.

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)


Mr. Ashton

I will not give way, because many hon. Members wish to speak and interventions prolong the debate.

Mr. Mitchell

The Committee stage was taken on the Floor of the House at the request of the Opposition.

Mr. Ashton

It may have been. The Opposition connived at it, but it was a major policy mistake. Industrial relations is one of those subjects on which everyone thinks he is an expert when in reality very few people are. There was never any debate on the court. We debated for weeks questions of ballots and cooling-off periods, but we never got round actually to discussing how the court should be set up. Consequently, the Government were able to learn very little—as Governments can do—from the Opposition from the usual line-by-line discussion of an item.

We understand—the Attorney-General can confirm this—that the position of president of the court was offered to six people, all of whom turned it down. Perhaps the Attorney-General will confirm it. If I am wrong I shall readily withdraw. The rumour went round that six different judges turned the job down before Sir John Donaldson accepted it.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) has mentioned some of Sir John's background. He mentioned his qualifications, but he did not mention some of the other background. He did not say that Sir John Donaldson had been President of the Tory University Students' Association—like the Prime Minister, two years earlier. He did not say that he was President of the Inns of Court Conservative Association, that he had helped publish a book, together with other Conservative lawyers, dealing with the unions and entitled "A Giant's Strength", or that he sat as a councillor on the Croydon Borough Council for the Independent Ratepayers' Association—

Mr. Speaker: Order. This is exactly what I spoke about. This can only be construed as the imputation of political motive. This is what I definitely said would not be allowed.

Mr. Ashton

I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker. With respect, I was replying to the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East, who talked at length about the judge and his qualifications. I do not wish in any way to be disrespectful or to say anything malicious. I sought merely to restore the balance in respect of Sir John's background.

I have been looking at the records in the Library dealing with the president of the court. As long ago as 9th June 1972 Sir John Donaldson said that the Press was free to comment responsibly on the National Industrial Relations Court. The Times said then : The press is free to comment responsibly … without the risk of being in contempt of court … Sir John's assurance came after a reply in the Commons by Sir Peter Rawlinson, QC, Attorney-General". You, Mr. Speaker, ruled that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), when replying to the debate from the Labour Front Bench, could not refer to the president of the court as "a national disaster." That had to be withdrawn, and it was said that his decisions were a national disaster.

There were complaints, not by the House but by members of the legal profession. There was a complaint of intervention by the judge, recorded in The Times of 12th October, when Mr. Peter Pain, QC, complained of persistent interventions by the president while hearing a union case. The report says that Mr. Pain: told Sir John that his interventions made it very difficult for him to get his cross-examination over on behalf of the Transport and General Workers' Union. It had 'put the defence in an impossible position'. Mr. Pain said that the president had shown : considerable impatience with questions he had put. He said that the impatience must have been apparent to the president's fellow judges. Mr. Pain also said that certain "back-chat" at one point had "completely smashed" the effect of his questions. Mr. Pain said : I do not like saying this in open court, but it seems that I ought because of the atmosphere I felt was being built up. So there is criticism of the court and its operations, not just in the House but outside, among other legal people, and there is consequent dissatisfaction.

One of our difficulties as trade unionists is the continual gagging we have had to face over the last three years. First, trade unionists, with their sound experience and common sense, were gagged by the Government's timetable. Then we had to put down a motion on the Order Paper. I shall not refer to it except to say that we had to use those terms, demanding dismissal, because no other motion would have been in order ; it could not have been done in any other way. Some of us had to seek legal advice in the House. We have spent many hours with law books up to our necks. One of the things that became apparent to us was that the lawyers have a better trade union than we do. It has been in existence much longer and in fact is more like the Mafia than a trade union.

Whenever we have tried to take action or to comment on these matters, we have been given the finest advice possible by the officials of the House, but every other sort of legal gentleman has said, "For God's sake no not get me involved." This is ridiculous. The time has come to examine the workings of the court. Learned people should cease being astonished that trade unionists should answer back. It might seem defiance and contempt of the law, but trade unionist MPs and union people outside have the right to question the official established bodies. It may be their right to say that they disagree with them, but if they disagree, they must be prepared to stand the consequences.

Industrial relations were summed up best two or three years ago in a short statement by Mr. Vic Feather, when he said that industrial relations were like marital relations. The boss and the worker will have a fight sometimes, and a strike may result, but that does not mean that there will be a divorce. It means that sooner or later they will shake hands and get on with the job. But once we bring in the Government, we are bringing in the mother-in-law, interfering, laying down rules and regulations and making things worse.

Now, we have not just the mother-in-law but the brother-in-law as well. As will as a third party, we now have a fourth party ; even the Government have to take a back seat while the fourth party does what it thinks is just and legal—no one denies that the court's actions are legal—but what in many cases is very unwise and shows a complete ignorance of the way in which trade unions function and what their purpose is.

I declare my interest—the AUEW is my union. Fifty per cent. of the salary of my full-time agent in Bassetlaw is paid for by that union. I do not get a penny. This means that if the court were to empty the kitty of the AUEW my agent would get the sack. It would not make any difference to my being elected, but we should not be able to pay him.

The union also pays part of our election expenses. In the debates on the Industrial Relations Bill, the Solicitor-General and the then Minister of State, Department of Employment, consistently and wisely resisted Conservative amendments to stop the political levy being paid. They knew that if that happened, when we were in power we would stop the Conservative Party funds in the same way. There was an understanding between the two sides, even under the guillotine, that political money should not be touched. When in Government we might provide for publication of the sources of Conservative Central Office funds, just as the sources of Labour Party funds are known, but we never tried to stop them.

It is easy for anyone to get a copy of a union balance sheet. I am willing to give a copy of my union's balance sheet to any Conservative Member. It sets out receipts and shows how many members pay the political levy, varying over the country according to job or factory. It shows where the money is invested and what it is used for. It has to be done in that way to meet the requirements of the Registrar-General.

If the court does not know that, its knowledge is sadly lacking. Those who set up the court should ask themselves how the present situation came about, how sequestrators, acting on the court's instructions, just as civil servants act on the instructions of the Minister, did not know that they were taking 25 per cent. of the Labour Party's General Election funds—a major slice of our income. Something is wrong if they did not know.

The Opposition have not pushed for a debate on Early Day Motion No. 49. There has been no great outcry in our party that we are not debating it. We realise the consequences. It is a very serious thing to table a motion calling for dismissal of a High Court judge and has been done only rarely in the last century. In 1843, Lord Abinger was criticised for sending some Chartists to the Knutsford House of Correction and the action was questioned in the House. Those men were put on the treadmills and exhibited on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, instead of just on Wednesdays, for the amusement of lords and ladies. The Press then had more freedom, and one newspaper called Lord Abinger … a valuable tool of the Tory Government, to whom no dirty work comes amiss. That was an apt comment.

There have been allegations of a "department of dirty tricks" having been set up in America. I am not saying that that has happened in this country, but, by negligence of the court or negligence of the Government, a similar sort of action came into being. If that action had not been criticised, if trade union MPs had not kicked up a fuss and put down a motion, the court, in its benign ignorance, might have gone on to take every penny of every political fund of every union, and virtually bankrupted the Labour Party. So action had to be taken and this debate is the result, because of the reluctance of some legal people to push things to their ultimate conclusion.

It should not be said that it is not necessary to talk about these things. It has never been more necessary. When a third of the members of the AUEW—350,000 people—sacrifice a day's pay to make a point of political principle, that is no mean feat. The sacrifice of £8, or whatever it is, to protest requires great self-sacrifice by working people. It is no good scoffing that only a third of the membership protested.

The Government have acted the part of Frankenstein and created a monster which no one can now control. Three years ago, the Prime Minister used to jeer at the Leader of the Opposition that he ran away and chickened out of the confrontation with the unions, that he did not have the guts to see it through. We do not hear those jibes now, because if the Conservative Party was honest it would admit that the time has come for a long look at the Act. But a long look does not mean merely publishing a White Paper or setting up a study group or allowing civil servants and others to give their views. There is only one way in which the matter can now be analysed, namely, by a Select Committee. Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Jones would recognise such a Committee. Mr. Feather who has now retired, would probably have attended. It would be recognised by Len Murray. The employers and the legal profession would attend. Examination and cross-questioning could take place. The Committee could accept evidence and present a report of the workings of the Act.

If such a Committee presented its report it should not be supposed that a political row would not follow. It might be said that this or that was wrong in somebody's after-dinner speech. Sir John's after-dinner speech was certainly not wise. It was foolish but not illegal. The only way in which we can solve the problem is by both sides realising the need for the problem to be set out. We need the lawyers to give the matter their consideration.

Let us be honest. We have in the trade unions today—we have always had them—a tiny minority who are against the present set-up. They are probably no more than a tenth of 1 per cent. For such people it is manna from heaven when a Government sets up an Act such as the Industrial Relations Act and judges take certain decisions. I have to defend Parliament when I meet such people. There are not many of them, but when I occasionally meet them I have to defend our system. I have to say that it is relevant, that it fulfils a need and that it is essential. I have to take that stand whenever these matters are debated and it is said that Parliament is irrelevant and that it is time we rid ourselves of it.

The minority to which I have referred suggest, "It is time we got rid of Parliament. Blow it up. Let us act like Guy Fawkes." When measures such as the Industrial Relations Act appear they are just the sort of thing for which these people are looking.

People in the trade unions who do not pay political levies choose not to do so not because they are Conservatives but because they are Communists. It never seems to dawn on Conservative hon. Members that it is manna from heaven for them to be presented with an Act such as the Industrial Relations Act. They can then say, "It is a waste of time paying the political levy. The judge will pinch the lot. You may as well keep in your pocket your subscription money or make a subscription to the Communist Party. You are in the wrong party. The Labour Party is a waste of time. You will get clobbered by all the parties." That is what is said by anarchists and others.

That attitude can be stopped only when the House, the Government and the lawyers admit that they have been wrong. Now is the time for all of them to admit that they have made mistakes and that they have been wrong. We shall never get industrial peace until that comes about. Let us take the advice of Mr. Vic Feather, who said that industrial relations are like a marriage between husband and wife. That is what it is all about. There will be rows on the shop floor but sooner or later the men and the bosses will meet each other in the market place and they will agree to work together. That is what we should be debating.

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I make an appeal to the House? I know that there are about a dozen right hon. and hon. Members who very much want to take part in the debate. If hon. Members who catch my eye will speak for a quarter of an hour or just a little less I shall be able to get them all in.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)

I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his new position. I am not sure that he will find it any easier to reach agreement on the matters with which he will be dealing here than he did in Northern Ireland. Along with all hon. Members, I have watched with admiration my right hon. Friend's success in that direction.

As I listened to the Opposition Front Bench spokesman—the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice)—I recognised that he was not very happy with the task which he had, or with the disunited ranks behind him. I suppose that today's debate was necessary as a sign of his virility in meeting the problems within his own party. I shall not make it harder for him by praising him in any way. In any event, he made a series of weak points with great emphasis.

The right hon. Member for East Ham, North referred first to the Con-Mech dispute and the fact that £75,000 has been taken from the union's political fund. He accepted that that was unforeseen. Nevertheless, he felt that it was wrong that the union's political fund should have been at risk. The union was fined basically for a non-appearance in the court. Am I right in saying that it was a political decision by the union not to appear in court? If so, it seems not unreasonable that the political fund of the union should be at risk.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the union's political fund should not have been seized. He said that it was a fund which was earmarked for a particular purpose. Are we to understand that the other funds are not earmarked for important purposes? Does the union not have other reserves for a whole series of good industrial reasons, which it requires to enable it to carry out its proper trade union activities?

The right hon. Gentleman then told us that what is wrong is the presence of the court and not the presence or character of the judge. That point was taken up by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). It was at the special request of the trade unions that the National Industrial Relations Court was made a separate court and not part of the ordinary legal mumbo-jumbo—with respect to my legal friends—of the ordinary courts—

Mr. McNamara

Not at the request.

Mr. Mitchell

—with the red judge and all the rest of it. It was deliberately designed to be much easier for trade unionists or individuals to appear in the Court—

Mr. McNamara

Not at the request.

Mr. Mitchell

—with a far greater degree of informality than there would be in an ordinary section of the High Court.

Mr. McNamara

Not at the request. I refer to the statement of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) that the National Industrial Relations Court was set up at the special request of the trade unions.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has made a sedentary interruption which all of us have heard three times. Please let us get on.

Mr. Mitchell

The third point which was made by the right hon. Member for East Ham, North was that the number of stoppages illustrated the ill-effect of the Act. Is that true? I have looked up the number of stoppages and have found that the figures do not bear out the right hon. Gentleman's argument. In 1970 there were 3,906 stoppages. In 1971 the figure was 2,228. In 1972 it was 2,407. In the first nine months of this year there have been 2,090. That is a considerable drop from the 3,906 of 1970. The suggestion that the Act has increased the number of stoppages is not borne out by the facts. Indeed, it can be claimed that the number of stoppages is reduced and that that is an effect of the Act, bearing in mind the large number of small stoppages which normally take place over dismissal. There are normally many brief strikes over unfair dismissals. There is now a procedure for settling such disputes peacefully. Therefore, people are not driven to striking to get their fair dues. That is an indication of how the Act has led to a decline in the number of stoppages.

Labour hon. Members will no doubt draw attention to the number of days lost. It is true that the number has increased. In 1970 there were 10,908,000 working days lost. In 1971 the figure was 13,497,000 and in 1972 it was 23,812,000. This year the figures have fallen dramatically. In the first nine months the number of days lost was 5,462,000.

The dramatic increase in 1971 was almost all accounted for by political strikes against the introduction of the Industrial Relations Bill. The figures in 1972 were very much accounted for by the Government's policy of standing up to the unions and resisting inflationary wage demands. If the Opposition feel that that is wrong, they must say so. However, they cannot at one and the same time claim that it is the fault of the Industrial Relations Act that the number of working days lost has gone up when they recognise that it is the political activities of themselves and their associated trade unions in fighting the Bill which sent the figures up, coupled with the Government's action in trying to stop inflation by resisting inflationary wage demands.

I turn from that non sequitur in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to his next point, which was that the GAS dispute at London Airport had resulted in the Transport and General Workers' Union being asked to make up the losses which the firm suffered. The right hon. Gentleman suggested we compared the T & GWU with an army and its general secretary with a field marshal ordering his troops all round the country. But that is not the key point. The question is whether the officials of the union did their best to restrain the shop stewards at London Airport. The suggestion that the union is a vast organisation which cannot know what is going on everywhere has no relationship to—

Mr. McNamara

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker This case is sub judice.

Mr. Mitchell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am merely commenting on the remarks today of the right hon. Member for East Ham, North. Can that be sub judice?

Mr. Speaker

About what case?

Mr. Mitchell

The GAS case at London Airport.

Mr. Speaker

If a case is sub judice, an hon. Member must not refer to it.

Mr. Atkinson

It has gone to appeal.

Mr. Mitchell

If it was not in order to comment on it, I shall say no more about it. I sought merely to comment on the remarks of the right hon. Member for East Ham, North, who, I am delighted to see, has rejoined us.

I turn to the right hon. Gentleman's next point. He condemned confrontation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows, I am sure, that there is one very simple way of ensuring that the number of strikes and the number of working days lost fall away to practically nothing. It is an easy solution—give in to every wage demand, however inflationary and unreasonable. However, that is not a solution which will commend itself to the majority of the people. It is interesting to note that when the Labour Party was in power the overwhelming number of price increases in the shops were the direct result of wage inflation and the failure to confront. That has to be contrasted with the past 12 months, during which the overwhelming cause of price increases in the shops has been the increase in commodity prices outside this country. In other words, the cause of the first price increases was one within the control of the country. The other was outside the control of any Government.

The right hon. Gentleman attacked confrontation and suggested that the Government should not indulge in seeking to prevent inflationary wage settlements. In that, the right hon. Gentleman reveals all too clearly that the consequences of the Labour Party's policies are to mount on top of world inflation the disastrous and damaging effect of internal wage inflation.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman promised to repeal the Industrial Relations Act. I think that he confirmed the view of many people that one of the reasons why industrial relations are going through a very difficult phase is that so many people in trade unions feel that the Act is a temporary measure and that, come the next General Election, it will disappear. Feeling that, they believe that all that they have to do is to refuse to work it and to destroy its credibility. So I have a strong suspicion that not until the Act has been confirmed by a further General Election and the recognition by the trade unions that they have to deal with another five years of Conservative Government will there be any moves to live with it and work with it. Only then shall we be able to move on to amend it.

Having said that, I move on to discuss the amendments which I should like to see made to the Act.

Industrial relations are human relations. They are the way that men and management get on together. We are concerned with raising the standards of conduct by unions and employers, shop stewards and managements. Our desire is the orderly making and keeping of collective bargains, and that change is bound to be a long, slow process. But that is no reason why we should not start on it as soon as possible.

I ask the House to look at the provisions relating to registration, dismissed contemptuously by one hon. Member opposite as "the dog licence". I do not think that the terms relating to the registration of trade unions are onerous. As an ex-member of the Transport and General Workers' Union, it looks to me as if many of them have been lifted straight out of the rule book of that union. I cannot see why they should cause too much disturbance to the Opposition. Nevertheless, in an effort to secure changes which will mean a more ready acceptance of the Act by the trade unions, the registration clauses might be removed from the Act and made part of the code which does not have the force of law except in certain rare circumstances.

Then we ought to reconsider the situation on the closed shop. There may be a case for saying that, in itself, the closed shop is not such a disaster, providing that there is a right of appeal for the man wrongly treated within the closed shop. Here is an area for negotiation between the trade unions and the Government in which we might seek to find changed circumstances to make the Act more acceptable. I believe that there are circumstances which in due course could lead to an acceptance of the Act involving changes by the Government and an undertaking by the unions to work the Act.

I come finally to the Opposition motion. In my view it is a pity that the Government have not sought to amend it. It talks of the increasing damage being done to industrial relations and to the legitimate activities of trades unions. I suggest that this is self-inflicted damage and that it results from the political activities of the trade unions. The motion goes on to talk about earlier instances of industrial disruption and harm to the economy". I should like to see that phrase amended by the addition of the words by a militant politically motivated minority. It is a case of mind over matter. They do not mind, and the public do not matter!

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps I may clear up the sub judice point. The Chair cannot be expected to know the exact position of every case which is referred to in a debate. I understand that in this case a decision has been made but that an appeal has not been entered. Therefore, it was quite appropriate for the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) to refer to it.

6.39 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

Earlier in the debate my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) gave the House a little history of the engineers. I recall that in his "Life of Gladstone", Philip Magnus told how, on 10th May 1864, the then leaders of the ASE, the forerunner of the present engineering union, met Gladstone to discuss the possibilities of investing in Government securities. They so impressed Mr. Gladstone that the following day he made his memorable statement that working men deserve the vote.

There are few certainties in politics. However, I can promise the Prime Minister that he will not receive any deputations from the leaders of the present engineers seeking to invest their money with him. We have reached the sad state of affairs in which agents of the Government are scouring the country, confiscating funds which the leaders of the present engineering union have invested. I see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) has re-entered the Chamber. It was from Hebburn, in his constituency, that £100,000 was taken. The small urban district council at Hebburn will now have to borrow money at a rate 5 or 6 per cent. higher than that at which it borrowed the money from the AUEW. Who will pay the difference? Is it to be charged up to Sir John Donaldson? Surely the ratepayers of the constituency will not have to pay what would be a pretty substantial sum as a sort of fine because of the judgment of Sir John Donaldson? This is a point of importance.

The lawyers have had a field day. They told us how wrong it was for anyone even to seek to defy the law. I shall not go into the finer points of it, but when I heard about the speech by the Lord Chancellor—a speech which has received 10 times more publicity than today's debate will receive—I began to wonder just where were we going. The Lord Chancellor said that : for the first time in very many years the rule of law is threatened and is threatened openly. I think this country is facing moral and constitutional issues of the gravest order. What utter piffle that is. What did the Lord Chancellor have in mind when he spoke about it being a long time since this terrible issue had confronted the British people? Had he, as a member of the Tory Party, in mind that it is the only political party which has ever threatened civil war in this country during this century against the constitutionally elected Government of the day. Was that what he had in mind when he spoke about a long time ago? The threat to which I refer happened within my lifetime and his.

Those of us who have put our names to a well-considered Early Day Motion are now indicated as people in the same category as Carson, Bonar Law and F. E. Smith—"Galloper" Smith—the leaders of the Tory Party of years ago. We object to this slur on our characters. We have carefully examined the only constitutional way in which a judge could be removed from office. That Early Day Motion was the beginning of what we hoped would be the setting up of a Select Committee of both Houses which would pass a motion which could result in the judge being removed from office. That would be the only constitutional way to remove the judge. The public may think that when monarchs were deprived of the divine right of kings this right was given to judges. It is an absurd situation.

I hope that a man vested with the great powers of the Lord Chancellor will not use those powers to cast a slur on a large number of hon. Members of this House.

I shall take the coincidence a little further. Following the attempted civil war in Northern Ireland the Tories in this House moved a motion of censure upon the Liberal Government four days after the ship the "Mountjoy", arrived in Larne. One of the members of the Liberal Government at that time was Winston Churchill, and he described the motion of censure as being like a vote of censure by the criminal classes upon the police. I think he had something there.

We are now facing a situation in which we are being indicted merely because we have tried to represent the view of millions of people in this country about the Industrial Relations Act. We have tried to show—and I do not think that it is now in dispute—that the entire trade union movement utterly detests the Act. I also claim that the organised employers are treating the Act with contempt—I do not use the word "contempt" in its legal sense. No employer who is a member of the CBI will touch the act with a barge pole. The Government themselves are treating the Act with more contempt than anyone else. In every dispute where the Government could have invoked the Act they have refused to do so. They have gone to the stage where, rather than invoking the Act, they will bring in a state of emergency. There cannot be much more contempt than that.

The Government did not inherit this Act. It is their own Act. Each time we ask questions about the Act we get the stock reply from the Prime Minister that the Government are willing to consider amendments from the TUC. What kind of childish politics is he playing? Once the TUC begin to suggest amendments the Government will say that this proves that the TUC accepts the Act in principle and merely wishes to amend parts of it.

The trade unions detest the Act, organised employers will not use it, and the Government treat it with contempt. Who is keeping the Act on the statute book? Is the Act being retained for use by 19th century zombies or by a few get rich-quick people who want to cash in on it? It is for the Government—not for us—to say on whose behalf the Act is being kept on the statute book.

Burke once talked about liberty being the basis of law and law being based on morality, but there is no morality left in an Act of this kind. The Government will not use the main provisions of the Act and they are keeping the Act on the Statute Book not for morality but out of pique, spite and viciousness in order to take money from the trade unions concerned. This is no basis for keeping the Act on the statute book. It is not for us to tell the Government how they should amend the Act. It is for them to show why they are keeping it on the statute book despite the fact that no one, including themselves, wants to use it.

6.47 p.m.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

I join with hon. Members from both sides who have extended a welcome and good wishes to my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State. The right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), in opening the debate, said that he thought that seizure of political funds of the AUEW was outrageous, indefensible and a breach of constitutional convention. I should like to remind the House—I hope that the House will think it worth while that I should do so—in the briefest way possible of the undisputed facts involved. There are disputed facts, but I am concerned with the undisputed facts.

On 27th September this year the National Industrial Relations Court was composed of a bench of three. The president was Sir John Donaldson, a judge of the High Court, and there were two industrial members of the court—Mr. Arkell and Mr. Kenrick. The court, with that composition, ordered that the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers should stop unlawful industrial action at Con-Mech, in Woking. It is equally undisputed that the union decided not to obey the order but to ignore it. The result was that on 10th October the same court, composed of a bench of three, was faced with a deliberate act of defiance, by the union, of the court's order. The court had to make up its mind what to do about that. The court decided unanimously to order the sequestrian of £100,000—that is the seizure of that sum of money.

Mr. C. Pannell

The hon. and learned Gentleman used the word "unanimously'' There was no unanimity. The court itself does or does not do something. There is no unanimity issue, because the president of the court supervenes.

Mr. Gardner

With respect, that is not right. The court is composed of a bench of three. Each member of the court has the right, if he wishes to exercise it, to state a dissenting judgment. There was none in this case.

The writ of sequestration was for £100,000 from the assets of the union. The court appointed four commissioners of sequestration. They were accountants. These four had the duty to take possession of assets, up to the value of £100,000, from the union's funds. By the terms of the writ of sequestration from which they derived their authority the commissioners were left to make up their own minds, according to their own discretion, how and from what sources that £100,000 should come.

The commissioners discovered that the union had lent more than £100,000 to the Hebburn Urban District Council. They discovered it by going through the files of correspondence which were held by the union's stockbrokers, and there was nothing in any of the letters in those files which indicated in any way that that £100,000 had been allocated by the union for a political fund.

Mr. Pannell

They should have found out.

Mr. Gardner

There was no duty on the commissioners to find out. There was a duty on the commissioners to take possession of £100,000. They took possession of that £100,000 from the council. After the clerk of the council had handed over the money, no attempt was made to suggest that it had been allocated for political purposes. In fact, as we know, seven members of the council were members of the union—

Mr. Fernyhough

One was a Tory.

Mr. Gardner

So be it. Seven members of the council were members of the union and a telegram was sent from the council to the president of the court. In that telegram there was no reference to any allocation of these funds to party political purposes. In fact, the telegram claimed that the £100,000 belonged to the citizens of Hebburn, and no claim was made then or later, either by the council or by the union, that the money had been allocated for a particular purpose.

Mr. Pannell

The cheque was endorsed to the political account. The hon. and learned Gentleman is making this case for Sir John Donaldson. He is reading a brief.

Mr. Gardner

I do not accept that. In my submission there was no document and there is no document showing that the funds were allocated for political purposes. Documents were not signed by the union. They were not forwarded by the council. No oral representations were made by either the union or the council to the effect that these funds were allocated for political purposes, and neither the president of the court nor the four commissioners of sequestration who had been appointed by the court knew or could have known that these funds were intended—so it was said—for political purposes.

The complaint that the money was allocated for political purposes and that because it was so allocated it should not have been made the subject of sequestration or seizure is something which is not altogether difficult to understand, but I think it would be right to make clear—and I hope that the Opposition will make clear—whether it is being said that if this case had concerned other funds, such as the general purpose fund to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) referred, there would have been no complaint if they had been sequestrated? Is the only complaint the fact that political funds were sequestrated?

I bring to the attention of the House what may be known to both sides but which should be rehearsed in the debate. On 2nd November, a letter was sent from the solicitors who were instructed by the four commissioners of sequestration—one copy to the council and another to the union. It was later released to the Press, so that the public could understand exactly what was going on. The letter made plain that the discretion as to the manner in which the sequestrators could get hold of the £100,000 was to be left entirely to them. It was also made clear to both the council and to the union that neither the court nor the commissioners had any knowledge that the funds, so it was said, had been allocated for political purposes.

If either the council or the union had any reason to challenge any of the steps taken by the four commissioners, they knew the name and the address of the solicitors who were acting on behalf of the commissioners and they could have started proceedings. They could have replied to that letter of 2nd November. There was no reply to it. No proceedings were started.

What has happened—and I hope I do not put this too emotionally, or too strongly—is a campaign to attack the court and the president of the court. In the result, the president of the court made a speech to chartered accountants at a dinner in Glasgow. He has been criticised.

Mr. C. Pannell

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman defend it?

Mr. Gardner

I go some way with the view taken by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) that on occasion it may be unwise for a judge to involve himself in after-dinner speeches, but unless we are going to condemn Her Majesty's judges to the rôle of dumb, intellectual eunuchs the moment they leave their courts, it is difficult to see what possible harm he did or what possible rule the judge in this case transgressed in merely stating the admitted facts of the case.

If a union, by the very magnitude of its membership and influence, and its ability to enlist those who represent its interests in this House to support it, decides to defy a court which tries to administer a law that it does not like, one is bound to ask, where is this likely to end? Are litigants to be encouraged or allowed to raise their fingers in contempt of any court that rejects their claim?

The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said in a speech last week that we should watch out for politicians who pretend to be judges. I suggest that he would have spoken more appropriately if he had told the country that we had better watch out for those politicians and unions who defy the law for their own ends.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)

I shall not dwell on the speech made by the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), but clearly he knows nothing about trade unions.

Mr. Gardner

That is quite wrong.

Mr. McBride

Equally certain is that the brief from which he spoke was not founded on fact. It has been proved beyond any shadow of doubt in this debate that the Industrial Relations Act is not the deed of title to democracy and is certainly not the recipe for good industrial relations. Indeed, the Act has exacerbated industrial relations beyond belief. The operation of the Act has brought about a tragic state of affairs, since good industrial relations are an intangible but priceless asset to the economy of the nation. No large employer, no personnel director looks on the Industrial Relations Act with any degree of friendliness—and indeed the great majority of employers exclude the measure entirely from their discussions and any agreements effected with trade unions. I applaud their view.

It is inescapable that the hotch-potch importation of segments of American law which form the basis of the Industrial Relations Act have proved to be a signal and costly failure, as they were in the land in which they were legally spawned. The awful disposition of political funds of the AUEW—my trade union, to whom my loyalty runs wide and deep—is clearly defined in Section 3 of the Trade Union Act 1913. This is reinforced by Section 154 of the Industrial Relations Act.

We have a situation in which the very Act itself is breached by a learned judge who has ignored the legal diktat that ignorance of the law is no excuse. The learned judge said that he did not know whether the sequestration of assets involved real or personal estate. It must be said that the sequestrators—the four members appointed—do not require to have any qualifications whatever. They do not require to know the law of the land. This is what is laid down, and what a sorry state of affairs it amounts to.

The disposition of the ordinary funds in trade unions is equally well known. The legal position of a union as a collector of a political levy is defined and set out in the last part of Section 3(5) of the Trade Union Act 1913. Thus, the nature and legal disposition of the two funds raised by the AUEW are clearly defined. According to the terms of the Trade Union Act the funds collected as political levies cannot be disposed of except for political purposes ; they are protected by law. I do not know the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench very well. I have not seem him many times before. He may be a Law Officer.

Mr. Heffer

He is the Solicitor-General.

Mr. McBride

Then he will know that the purpose of past legislation was to protect union funds from legal attach-ability. This prevents any court from seeking to take any such action. The political funds of the AUEW are undoubtedly protected by the two pieces of statute law which I have cited. This was not denied by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), for whom I have a profound respect. As a distinguished Queen's Counsel, he did not deny it.

The moneys concerned are not collected for the day-to-day operational activities of my trade union. Therefore, I regard this action by the court as a blatant attack on the Labour Party. If any Conservative denies that, let him get up and say so.

The motion which was moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) justifiably condemns the Tory Government and the damage done by the Industrial Relations Act as laying a terrible financial burden on unions. The new Secretary of State for Employment was right to say, earlier in the debate, that it is the Government we should attack. I remind him that the political honeymoon in the transitional period between the two jobs will probably take as long as does the journey from Ireland to Westminster. If it is said that a political court should not be involved, the Government should not have created this Act. The Government were warned about this, time and again.

Sir John Donaldson made a cardinal error in delivering his speech in Glasgow on 26th November. Not only has it caused people to denigrate his court but, by inference, in terms of the involvement of the court in political controversy, it has tended to denigrate the whole judiciary. Sir John Donaldson should not have acted in that way ; he was foolish to do so.

I believe that the protection of the political funds of my union is covered by the words in Section 154(4) of the Industrial Relations Act 1971, to the effect that under the rules of the organisation property which is or has been comprised in that fund is precluded from being used for financing strikes, lock-outs or other industrial action. Therefore, I believe that the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde did not know what he was talking about.

Another important aspect involves the abrogation of a contract between a willing lender and a willing borrower. My union and Hebburn UDC freely and legally concluded an agreement which was ignored in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde, despite the inescapable proof produced showing that the money came from funds to be devoted entirely to political purposes. How often in this House and elsewhere have I heard Tories talk about the sanctity of contract. But in this case the sanctity of contract was not held up before us. An ignorant sequestrator and an equally ignorant judge did not observe the proper section of the law relating to this state of affairs. It is a blatant attack on the Labour Party, because, as one of my hon. Friends said, this would help considerably in propagating the intents, objectives, policies and programmes of the party that I am proud to represent in this House.

The Tories have created the necessity for trade unions to register. At the election they decided to do something about them. Surely the lawyers must agree that no Bill is so perfect that it does not require amendment. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, of their own free will, voted against every amendment that we sought to make to the Industrial Relations Bill. They cannot run away from that charge. It is on record.

If it was a cardinal error to attempt to shackle free collective bargaining with the rigidity of law, why has no attempt been made to bring to book the rogue employer, Con-Mech? Nothing has been said about that firm by the defenders of political faith. Why is absolution freely granted to this firm and swingeing fines imposed on my trade union? There is a sense of precision and logic in law, but of imprecision and logic there. That is the inherent weakness of the Act. Even one so politically dense as the Prime Minister must be aware, if only dimly, of the incalculable cost to the British nation of the harsh legal rigidity and repressive nature of the Industrial Relations Act.

We in the trade union movement have a great belief in and respect for the law, but the Lord Chancellor, in his accusation last night—in a phrase to which he has the sole prescriptive right—went stark staring bonkers.

The objectives must be for the Government to restore free collective bargaining. No legal commandment or instruction will effect a bargain so soundly as one that is negotiated freely across the table, one man to another.

Let us keep the judiciary entirely free from politics. We believe that with the repeal of the Act we can restore industrial relations to a sound basis in order that this intangible, priceless component of British industry can help the Labour Party, when it comes to power, to restore our nation to economic greatness. We did it before. What we did before we can do again.

7.13 p.m.

Mr. Charles Simeons (Luton)

I trust that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) will understand if I do not follow his argument but go on to the general theme behind the motion which calls for repeal of the Industrial Relations Act. I appreciate that a number of Opposition Members would like this to happen, and wish that it should not be replaced, but before coming to a conclusion I suggest there is merit in considering the law relating to behaviour in other areas.

The law has been found necessary for comments that we make and write about each other. The law intervenes in our behaviour towards one another. The law upholds respect for other people's possessions. The law comes into joining people together in marriage and during separation. If it is necessary for the law to be brought into these domestic spheres, surely in our behaviour at work, which is the only sphere not covered, there must be some protection, as there is in the home. True, in the home the behaviour of the individual is involved, whereas at work we have collective responsibility, but most of us know that when groups of people collect together, whether in this House or at a football match, they often behave slightly differently from the way that they behave when they are alone.

I should be the first to accept that the law does not make us like each other. It will not make bad managements good and it will not stop people intent on industrial anarchy refraining from that action. That is because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) suggested, all these are matters of human relations.

An hon. Member mentioned the number of strikes and days lost, but he did not refer to the nature of those strikes. There is one great difference between industrial relations in this country and in other countries. For example, in the United States people know when strikes are going to take place. They can budget and adjust their production for them. This ritual dance is understood, and the unions and management go hell for leather at each other trying to get the best bargain. But here, so often no one knows when a strike is to take place. Not only does it affect a firm considerably when it has taken place but it has a devastating impact upon many people employed in other industries.

One need look no further than the motor car industry. I am not suggesting that all disruptions have been lightning strikes. Some have been genuine clashes between management and unions. However, production of 400,000 motor cars has been lost to date this year and, in terms of wages lost, the effects have been quite catastrophic for the families involved.

It is difficult to understand why people in industry do not wish to have their agreements binding by law when, as individuals, they are only too prepared to have such agreements. People are willing to have binding agreements for mortgages and for hire purchase. What is more, they intend to stick by them.

Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip-Northwood)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I suggest, in particular to Opposition Members and in general to trades unionists, that it is a great pity that the National Industrial Relations Court is not adorned and arrayed as a court of law. Trades unionists in this country have always accepted the rule of law and the judgments of British courts. But a judge and counsel should be properly adorned in wig and gown even in a court dealing with industrial relations. It is a great mistake that Sir John Donaldson has been allowed to sit on a kind of semi-conventional oasis. Let it be the law of England or nothing else.

Mr. Simeons

It is worth while comparing some of the anomalies that take place in industry. It is my belief that the British managements of United States-owned firms have far better industrial relations than do American managements of American-owned firms over here. Small firms with fewer than 300 employees have far better industrial industrial relations than do large firms. It is a question of good communications. Looking at separate factories within large companies—I have two in my constituency—it is interesting to see that whilst in Luton there is little confrontation and few strikes at the Vauxhall works, at Ellesmere Port it is a rare occasion to find the factory working continuously. I suspect that there are reasons for that. They are not to be found in relationships between management and workers, but in the area of Ellesmere Port the people have been used to being unemployed and there is a fear that this will happen again. Therefore, they are receptive to those who wish to create industrial strife.

Often, however, there is a problem of attitudes. I should be the first to point out the shortcomings of some managements. On 1st May I was quite surprised when large numbers of trade unionists approached me asking me to get in touch with those factories in Luton which had decided to shut. The majority did not shut, and about 90 per cent. of their workers went to work. But two factories did shut, and consequently there was no possibility for the silent majority to show their will.

Some unions are at fault. Instead of fulfilling their rôle of bettering conditions, the workers involved find themselves bound up in disputes from which they suffer great losses of wages. Most of them are bewildered. To a great extent the remedy is in the hands of the silent majority—provided that the management does not choose to lock them out on the one occasion when the silent majority can show its will. The Act is a basis for hearing disputes and ventilating them. I believe that the Act is right in those sections dealing with unfair dismissal, that contracts of unemployment should be clear and that union affairs should be seen to be up to a standard. But perhaps the greatest virtue is the code that goes with the Act. If it did nothing else, it forced employers to examine their procedures and make certain that they were conforming to the code, because otherwise, when the question of unfair dismissal arose, they would be seen to be at fault and would probably suffer as a result. It is not surprising, therefore, that the unions should be considered in the same way. I am sure that many unions also conform with the code, though many did not need to do so because their procedures were excellent anyway.

I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke in having doubts about the loss of the closed shop. In the motor industry particularly there is great virtue in management dealing with as few unions as possible—unions which are able to speak for everyone. Had the loss of the closed shop come about it would have made life much more difficult.

Registration is a complex question. I find it very difficult, other than in an emotive sense, perhaps, to understand why anyone should resist standards, or being registered. We see young doctors, young dentists, young accountants and young lawyers flocking to have their standards recognised. Indeed, anyone who wishes to set up a company clamours to have this recognition and to have its standards accepted, so that it can be registered. The suggestion that the Industrial Relations Act was the result of bad industrial relations misses the point that it is no more nor less than one could say about the divorce legislation having been the cause of unhappy marriages. To say that the Act is a failure because most hourly-paid people do not become involved totally overlooks the fact that they need not be involved. They go about their daily work quite happily. One can draw a parallel and say that the divorce legislation is a failure because so few take advantage of it. We do not want people to take advantage of the Industrial Relations Act, because we hope that they can get on without it. But it should remain as a long stop.

For the individual, industrial relations generally are good. Basically, the individual wants continuous employment. At the same time, he wants his rights upheld. Sadly, there are some who do not seek this and do not always work in the interests of other union members. We have seen, as the motion shows, that there have been political occasions when the seizure of funds was not necessary. I find it very difficult to believe that the definition of this particular fund was other than an accident of book-keeping. If any of us appears in court and is fined, the magistrate or judge does not say to us, "Is that your holiday money that I shall be taking, or the children's Christmas money?" He fines us. If we believe that he is being unfair or taking money the loss of which will make life impossible, it is for us to say so. If we do not, we go on our way and he assumes that all is well. I see no reason why trade unions should be treated differently from their individual members or from anyone else in regard to appearances in court.

Whatever the argument may be, I believe that some law is necessary to regulate the way that we behave at work so long as laws are still necessary to regulate our behaviour towards each other. Those who claim otherwise are really saying that when we act collectively we are better behaved than when we act individually towards each other.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

The debate has raised a certain amount of emotion. As a result, it has produced some outstanding speeches, particularly those from my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee). Each of them expressed the sincere revulsion that they felt as trade unionists about both the Act and the way in which it has been applied.

Nevertheless, the debate is a tragedy brought about in some measure by both sides. It is a tragedy mainly brought about by the Government. For that reason, I wholeheartedly subscribe to the motion. The Government must learn, as they apparently have not, that law is no sacred white elephant. We live in a society which has to be based upon a respect for law. As a lawyer, I know full well that law is not necessarily equated with justice. But equally, I do not believe that in a civilised society we can have justice without law. There would be only anarchy, in which the strong would rule the weak. I do not want to see our society become like that.

Therefore, I subscribe to the view that we ought to do all in our power to try to encourage respect for the law and to abide by the law. But that means that we as legislators must be sensitive to the will of the people for whom we are legislating. It is not enough to say that we come to power with a majority won at a General Election and that that gives us a mandate to do whatever we wish to do despite the ingrained resistance sincerely felt by many people who may represent a majority of those to whom the law is intended to apply.

For just that reason, when the Labour Party was in Government it was not able to legislate for spot checks in relation to road safety. The vast majority of motorists who would have been affected by that felt deeply that it would be going too far. Therefore, even though we had the democratic right as the majority party in the House to pass such legislation, we felt that it was wrong to do so.

The present Government came to power with their mandate to produce the Industrial Relations Act. There was, I fear, a misunderstanding about the kind of people with whom they had to deal. I was cured of that a long time ago. I remember a Labour Party meeting at which I sought to try to explain why the stipendiary magistrate of Leeds had fined a political agitator, who was not even a member of the Labour Party, for standing outside Leeds town hall, gathering a crowd and refusing to move when a policeman asked him to move on. I tried to explain to the impassioned audience of 300 members of the Labour Party the legal reason for that. They did not want to listen to the legal reason. It offended so fundamentally against everything that they believed about free speech that they wanted to put aside any kind of legal objection.

The same thing is true of the Industrial Relations Act. I give the Government the credit for believing sincerely that if the Act had worked effectively it would have improved industrial relations. But the Act never had a chance of acceptance. It was so deeply offensive to the kind of people to whom it was to be applied that one could not have expected them to accept it.

Therefore, it was a mistake to have it and it is a mistake to keep it on the statute book. Everybody, including the Government, recognises that it is unworkable in present circumstances. The Government do not try to operate it and nor do the employers. The only people who want to operate it are one or two lunatics such as Con-Mech, who seek to use the courts for their purposes.

What I find a tragedy from this side of the House is that this whole issue had to be ventilated by means of the Early Day Motion, couched as it was. I do not blame my hon. Friends. They were advised, and rightly advised, that the only way of criticising a judge in this House was by that kind of motion. But I think that it is deeply to be regretted. In my view, it is right that judges should be criticised from time to time. It is right that they should be brought up against the kind of criticism with which politicians are faced on occasion when their judgments are markedly out of line with popular feeling at any given moment. There ought to be some method whereby they could explain their judgment, and that method ought to be a formal one—perhaps a statement in court, if need be. Therefore, I am not so sensitive about criticism of judges as some people.

But I think it is wrong to encourage the view that if one dislikes a law intensely, as clearly my hon. Friends and members of the trade unions do in this case, one should be able to break the law ; that one should be able to criticise a judge when he inflicts punishment for breaking the law ; and that, if he then responds in a way that is perhaps unusual, one should be able to move that he be dismissed. I understand why that happened and I sympathise with the feelings that caused it to happen. But this adds to the growing feeling in the country, which worries me immensely and which makes democracy unworkable, that in the final analysis it is left to the individual to decide which law he will accept and which law he will not accept.

Of course there is an honoured tradition in our country, which should continue. When a man feels deeply that to accept a law goes against everything he believes in, when a law offends his basic principles, when a law offends his conscience, then we have no monopoly of John Hampdens from the Civil War. Of course he must say that, in those circumstances, he will not obey the law. But if he—

Mr. Heffer rose

Mr. Lyon

I am trying to keep my speech short. But if a man offends in this way, then he must take the consequences. In the final analysis, that is what all the law breakers who established our freedoms were prepared to do.

In this case, there is room for criticism of the judge and of the court. It is true that High Court judges are sometimes appointed from former practising politicians of all three parties, but it was perhaps a little insensitive to appoint to this particularly sensitive court a judge who had been a practising Conservative politician. I do not suggest for one moment that that has affected his judgment—

The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

The hon. Gentleman has said that the judge was a practising Conservative politician, but that is not so. He was at one time a member of the Federation of Conservative Students, but he was not a practising Conservative politician.

Mr. Lyon

It is fair to say that he was a councillor, calling himself a ratepayers' councillor. But anybody who believes that he was not a practising Conservative politician is more removed from reality than I thought. I do not suggest for one moment that his antecedents have played any part in his judgments in this court, but they lay him open to that kind of charge, and for that very reason it was insensitive of the Government to put him in that situation.

Secondly, instead of allowing Con-Mech to ask for a writ of sequestration to enforce the judgment, he himself, as the court, issued out the writ of sequestration. In so doing, he moved outside the perspective of a civil court and acted as if he were a criminal court, himself seeking to penalise the wrongdoer. If he had left it to Con-Mech, it may be that in the situation that obtained in that particular industrial dispute Con-Mech would not have moved and then the whole issue would not have arisen.

There is another factor, too. If Con-Mech had moved for a writ of sequestration, then the firm would have been coming to the court with dirty hands, because it has been condemned by the CIR as the main reason why this dispute has arisen, and it has refused to accept the CIR judgment and to apply union recognition in this area. In those circumstances, the firm would have had dirty hands and the court could have said that in those circumstances it was not right to enforce a writ of sequestration. Therefore, I take the view that there is some room for criticism there.

Whether there is room for criticism of the judge for going outside the court and speaking at a private dinner is, perhaps, a little debatable. Clearly, in these rather heated circumstances, he felt that he needed to explain what had happened. But it would have been better—and here I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson)— had he done so in court. He could have easily done so. He could have easily reinstated the case before the court and issued a formal statement, setting out the kind of reply that he gave to the accountants in Glasgow, and it would not have caused such offence.

But, in the final analysis, this judge acted in relation to this dispute as he was intended to act by the Government. He made on order, which was inevitable when the defendants refused to appear before the court, the order was not accepted by the union and it was therefore in breach. Then, their being in breach he was bound, if the complainant moved for a writ, to issue out a writ of sequestration and therefore to use union funds.

I do not think there is much justification for the complaint that this money came out of the political fund. It is true that that, again, was an insensitive act. It would have been far better if the judge, or the sequestrators, had made sure that the funds which they were to use came from the general fund. But the Act itself states that in punishment for contempt, as distinct from compensation for damages, a fund of this nature can be attached, and there is nothing in the 1913 Act which makes it impossible so to attach. So that, even though it was an insensitive act, the sequestrators were legally entitled to take the political fund, and the judge was entitled to take it even had he known, which he probably did not.

But in those circumstances one still asks : was it a wise thing to do, knowing full well that the upshot of this chapter of events would be that his court had pursued a policy of political victimisation, not only of the union but of the Labour Party? I think that the judge lacked a certain amount of sensitivity, and that it would have been better had he proceeded differently. But, in the final analysis, he is put in this position because the Government insist upon having this Act on the Statute Book, and the only way of getting out of this situation, where decent men such as my right hon. Friends the Members for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee) and Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who have a constitutional respect for the law deeply ingrained in their bones, are now being forced into a situation where they can countenance law breaking, is to take this Act off the statute book. It is that kind of tragedy that is forced upon us by this inept and futile Act, and it is about time that it went.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

I start by echoing the good wishes expressed by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I wish him well both on personal grounds and for the practical reason that if he is successful in these matters he will achieve something which I believe that most hon. Members on both sides of the House want, namely, an improvement in industrial relations.

One of the features of today's debate has been that the tone has been rather less bitter than that of many of the debates we have had on the subject. A good deal of it has been given to searching—or perhaps at this stage it is only groping—for some common ground rather than a desire to be at loggerheads over everything. I, for one, appreciated those parts of the speech of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) which were on those lines. He was good enough to point out some of the arguments on both sides rather than concentrate on one side, and I am anxious to make a similar contribution.

I have to start with a point that may be a little controversial, however, for I do think it was most useful for my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) to give us so much detail of what has happened. The judge, as we knew, had nothing to do with deciding which funds were seized in pursuance of sequestration. If what my hon. and learned Friend says is right, neither did the commissioners know that those funds were allocated for political purposes.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said that the unions must be entitled to comment on what goes on in the courts. Of course they must, just as much as anyone else. However, I hope that the hon. Member will accept the corollary of that, which is that they, just as much as anybody else, must base their comments on facts. If it is the fact that not only the judge had nothing to do with the seizure of those funds in pursuance of sequestration but neither did the commissioners of sequestration have any reason to believe they were political funds, then to say as did the hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne), that this was a blatant attack on the Labour Party is flying in the fact of facts.

Certainly we should criticise a decision if we disagree with it, but let us criticise it according to the facts.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

The hon. and learned Member is taking his hon. Friend's interpretation as representing the absolute and correct facts—

Mr. Percival


Mr. Orme

That is what the hon. and learned Member is asking the House to assume. The only way we shall really get the facts of this matter is through a Select Committee which can examine independently.

Mr. Percival

That is one way but I do not for a moment accept that it is the only way. A Select Committee would be taking a steam hammer to crack a nut. We must be able to get at the facts more easily and more speedily than that.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde has given a detailed account of what he says the facts are. If he is wrong the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) must say what information was available to the commissioners when they seized the funds. All the information available at present is that they had no reason to know it was a political fund. If those are the facts, the criticism is wholly unjustified. There is a tendency now to say : "My mind is made up, do not confuse me with the facts." We must not fall into that error. We must look at the facts and make up our minds upon them.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw says that everyone thinks he is an expert in industrial relations. I do not and I do not know any lawyers who do, except those who have been intimately concerned in industrial relations. I do, however, know quite a lot about the law relating to industrial relations, and enough about it to know that it is quite a different subject from industrial relations themselves. Every lawyer I know who has interested himself in the subject—and I know many who have—has drawn that distinction very clearly.

May I now say briefly what I consider to be the place of the law in industrial relations? Of course, the law cannot produce good industrial relations. Good industrial relations depend upon man's behaviour to man—the behaviour of management to labour, labour to management and both of them to the public at large. Of course, the law cannot produce good industrial relations, but it is equally silly to say that there is no place for the law in industrial relations. If there were no special industrial relations law the first people to howl would be the trade unions, and I should understand that, because most of the law relating to trade unions has been to give them the protection which enabled them to go about their lawful and accepted business of combining to defend the interests of their members. That is perfectly proper. So, to say that the law has no place in industrial relations is as silly as saying that it can produce good industrial relations.

What then is the place of the law? I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Simeons) said. In principle, it has the same place in industrial relations as it has in any other part of our lives. If we are not to revert to the jungle we must have laws which say what can and cannot be done and we must have courts which are there as an instrument of last resort for people who cannot decide their legal rights between themselves. These two things are quite indispensable if we are to have a civilised society and not a jungle existence.

These are the rôles which the law plays in society. The law is the servant of all and the master of none. The lawyers do not make the law, the laws do not make the law, and the courts do not make the law. We have a common law, and the rest of the law is made by Parliament. The courts are there to administer the laws. But if the laws and courts are to be good servants they must be obeyed by all. That is what is meant by the rule of law. That is a phrase we bandy about in this House, and we understand what it means. Some people outside may wonder what on earth we are talking about. They may sometimes think we are talking about lawyers ruling the world, but they could not be more wrong. The rule of law is a short phrase we use to describe "obedience to the law by everybody"— lawyers, trade unionists, parliamentarians, and so on.

Once we get down to the elementary propositions everyone would surely then agree that industrial relations is the last field in which we can afford to say we do not need any of these guidelines and assistance, we do not need these servants but we will struggle through on our own. That is so foolish. It is equally foolish to talk about throwing out the Act lock, stock and barrel. I cannot believe that is what anybody wants. The right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) shakes his head. I must keep within my time, which means I cannot expand the points I am making. But does he really want to throw out all the provisions of this Act and go back to the jungle of laws relating to the protection of trade unionists in their lawful activities which we had before this Act? Does he want to go back to Section 3 of the 1906 Act? He must want to go back to some kind of protection. If he were saying that this law should be scrapped and that trade unionists will stand in the civil courts alongside every other man and answer for their interference with contractual relations just as any other man, that I could understand. Many people would go along with it, and say, "You can have that tomorow." But it is not what the hon. Gentleman wants—and I can see that it is reasonable for him not to be prepared to go entirely back like that.

At the moment many of us think that the protection given to trade unionists in their lawful activities is considerably wider under this Act than the protection given by Section 3 of the 1906 Act, particularly in the sensitive area of sympathetic action. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite really want to lose that and go back to the less effective jungle of Section 3 of the 1906 Act? I do not think that that can be what they want.

Do they want to get rid of the provisions for unfair dismissal which have proved useful to so many people? Do they want to get rid of the new provisions as to "recognition"? Whether the unions register or not, steps are open to them to obtain recognition which they never had before. If they would just go that bit further and register they could have decisions of the CIR enforced. That is why the AUEW is losing out all round on the Con-Mech dispute. If it had registered—what is the price of registration?—much friction could have been avoided. And it costs nothing to register. But it seems that loss of face is what people are worrying about. Surely that is a minor consideration.

The price of registration is having one's rule book looked at. If it is a good rule book, why worry about someone looking at it? If the AUEW registered it would cost it nothing but give it much in the Con-Mech situation. Not only could it take advantage of that part of the Act of which members of Con-Mech have taken advantage, but, having obtained the decision it did, the union could have taken further steps to take advantage of that decision

Does the hon. Member for Salford, West—and his hon. Friends—want to lose on that? I cannot believe that they do because these are benefits available to the trade union movement. What then, is it that they want? Is it, as some union leaders have indicated, that in some areas, especially, perhaps the area of unfair industrial practices which has caused most of the trouble, they would prefer disputes to be dealt with in the High Court and, if summoned to appear in the High Court, they would do so and plead their case? If that is what they want—some have indicated that it is what they want—is not this the time to say so? If they do, they might find that they have more support for their view than they thought. For instance, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has indicated a view about that.

I end with a plea. If I am right in judging that a little of the bitterness has gone out of the situation and that we are now, albeit haltingly, groping for common ground, I hope that we may put bitterness to one side and make every attempt to seek common ground. It does not seem much to ask. If we disagree, let us disagree on questions of fact and principle, not through bitterness.

Is not this the time when, on all sides of the House, we should be putting into the pool our ideas about how the Act can be changed, abandoning this foolish talk of scrapping the whole lot, which does not make any sense. We should seek, with all the force and good will that we can summon, to find larger and larger areas of common ground. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State today repeated that he is willing to consider all suggestions for amending the Act. I beg all hon. Members opposite to take up that offer.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)

During recent weeks the House has witnessed remarkably unseemly postures by the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer last week performed feats to which perhaps even Mr. Uri Geller would not aspire. The right hon. Member did not bend metal but he certainly bent the facts when he blamed the incompetence of the Government over the economy and industrial relations in a period of four years on what was, at that time, four nights without overtime by the miners.

The Prime Minister's contortions are not merely verbal. He crawled on his knees to lick the oil from the boots of the sheikhs while simultaneously kicking the miners in the teeth. That puts him in a class of his own. His contortion is to suggest that the fault does not lie with the Government. But the former Secretary of State for Employment was responsible for the Industrial Relations Act. Perhaps even more responsible was the former Solicitor-General, who had so much to do with its drafting. It is the direct result of their activities in 1971 that we now face the present situation. The former Solicitor-General is now the chief window-dresser for the Government's bankrupt stock. We know his record with regard to the consumer.

Today Sir John Donaldson has come under attack. It is right to recall that he is no more than a paid servant of an institution and a code of law which, from the start, was doomed. It was doomed to exacerbate tensions and heighten bitterness in industrial relations. The hon. and learned Member for South-port (Mr. Percival) is wrong because the bitterness is as strong today as it ever was.

The late Nye Bevan had something apposite to say about the organ grinders and monkeys, and that is the attitude I take. As Parliament is supreme, it is up to Parliament to right a wrong. If a wrong has been done, as I believe it has, that can be put right by the House.

Let the Government not say that they were not warned about the situation. I remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker) and I repeated over and over again from the Opposition Front Bench warnings of the sort of things that would come to pass if the Bill became law. I remember the first time that I addressed the House on the subject, when I said that the heartland of the case against the Bill was that The existing agencies are to be placed within the context of the National Industrial Relations Court. … It is the injection of this legalism into the hitherto voluntary framework of industrial relations … that is perhaps the most objectionable feature of this irrelevant and irresponsible assembly of trans-Atlantic abstractions".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January 1971 ; Vol. 809, c. 934–35.] That was a reference to Taft-Hartley and Lindrum-Griffin.

The bitterness injected by the Bill was already becoming evident. Since then we have had some curious spectacles. We have seen the NIRC being over-ruled by the Court of Appeal, and the Court of Appeal then being over-ruled by the House of Lords on what was basically an issue whether trade union officials are agents of their members or whether they are policemen expected to keep their members in line. The Transport and General Workers' Union, which, unlike the AUEW, did go before the NIRC, suffered as a result to the tune of £55,000. In addition, perhaps to the advantage of my profession, it must have incurred hefty legal costs as well. We had the farcical spectacle of the Official Solicitor in another case being summoned to get the courts off the hook on which the Government had impaled them. It was the fault of the Government. We saw men going to gaol although we were told time and time again during those debates that that would not happen because of the Act.

We were told, ironically, that it would strengthen trade unions and negotiations. In fact, it has led to fragmentation, to spurious breakaway bodies which seek to compete on a terrain where the unscrupulous have a registered advantage as against genuine trade unions.

Many thousands of pounds are now being spent on footling and futile litigation. Recently in another place there was a hearing lasting about three weeks caused by a breakaway body in the Post Office. There is another case in the pipeline that is likely to last just as long.

That is why even people such as Lord Robens rejected what he termed the icy, iron precision of the law. He said that flexibility and pragmatism could not be reflected in a court, however informally constituted. Incidentally, one hon. Member seems to think that if only Sir John Donaldson would wear a wig and gown all would be saved. That was irrelevant.

Somehow the Government seek to turn the criticism from the Frankenstein's monster they deliberately created three years ago on to those whom they sought to enmesh in the tangled web of the Industrial Relations Court. Having apparently protected trade union funds by Section 154, under which they are not to be used in furtherance of a trade dispute, they then permitted the courts to use the law of contempt to vitiate that very protection, so that the unions are no longer protected when the law of contempt is invoked against them. If Hugh Scanlon is in breach of the letter of the law, the NIRC has acted contrary to the spirit of the law, unless—and this may well be the case—the spirit was always intended to allow for just that sort of punitive and vindictive action against lawfully constituted bodies which were not prepared to act out a rôle for which they were never formed.

The NIRC—has—nobody suggests that it intended this—sequestrated funds that were not so much those of the AUEW as of the Labour Party. Whether or not that was the intent, it is the result, and the Government should do something about it.

There is no breach of law in refusing to register or refusing to attend a civil hearing if one is prepared to accept the consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), for whom I have a great deal of respect on a wide range of issues, has been somewhat ill advised to suggest that trade unions are breaking the law when in fact they are asserting a right under the law—the right not to register and not to attend a court. There is nothing wrong in that. It is not breaking the law.

The consequences of that action are accepted.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made that point in his speech, when he said that there was no compulsion on trade unions to register.

Mr. Rose

Of course there is no compulsion. But unfortunately when one fails to go to the court the lack of compulsion is then diluted with a fine of £100,000.

Mr. Dudley Smith

What are the disadvantages of registering?

Mr. Rose

There are many. The hon. Gentleman knows them full well, because he introduced them in the legislation. I could give a whole list for the next 10 or 20 minutes, but it would be tedious.

My point is that a union is not breaking the law by not registering, though it cannot have the agency shop and loses the protection of sections that would otherwise give some protection. It is a measure of the feeling of the trade union movement that it is willing to forgo those so-called privileges because of the unions' feeling about the Act.

During the passage of the Act I said of the creation of the NIRC that it challenged the sovereignty of Parliament, that judges would assume responsibility for the interpretation of some very imprecise definitions, that the court would have the remarkable task of interpreting 140 pages of legal mumbo-jumbo. The only difference today is that there are many more than 140 pages. Their number has expanded much faster than the economy, almost as fast as the rise in prices. We forecast then all that has happened since. I did not sign the motion, but the passionate feeling of my hon. Friends who did sign the motion in the name of my hon. Friend for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) are a result of the fact that, as I said then, so much of the legislation to be enforced by the NIRC is unenforceable that it will severely damage the prestige and reputation … that our courts of law have".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January 1971 ; Vol. 809, c. 940.] The irreparable harm we then forecast has been done. Sinister things are happening. The Registrar has been registering spurious unions with curious credentials. I am told that the county courts are enforcing judgment debts against funds that are protected under Section 154 of the Act, on the basis of actions in respect of a judgment debt. If that is true, it is an attempt to avoid the protection of the section and it must eventually be reversed on appeal.

There are times when I believe that the unions should go to the NIRC, expose its fallacies and put the Government in the dock. The results of the railway-men's ballot and the miners' ballot have exposed that piece of nonsense.

In a free society, unions have the right, even if they are ill advised, to be as bloody minded as the Government have provoked them into being. They are victims of a doctrinaire and arid imposition of a legal straitjacket that is subject to one interpretation after another, and a marked tendency, which is worrying many of my hon. Friends, to make a new law ad hoc as the need arises.

The result of the use of a wrong instrument to deal with human relations in industry is the Government's singular failure to cut down the number of days lost in strikes. Instead, they have taken it to record proportions, beyond anything we have known since the year of the General Strike. They have brought about a confrontation at a time when the nation can least afford it. Sometimes I wonder whether that is not precisely what they intended.

I only wish the Government would stand by their allies abroad in the fuel crisis, just as they stand by the decisions of the NIRC ; that they showed the same unyielding resistance to blackmail elsewhere as they do in respect of those who risk their lives every day in this country by going down the pits, risking silicosis and other hazards, destroying their health in the pursuit of coal. The Government are willing to stand up to like men to them, but not to blackmail from abroad. A prescription for the Government might be a month at the coal face.

Mr. Fernyhough

I am sure my hon Friend does not wish to convey the impression that the miners are trying to blackmail the country.

Mr. Rose

Of course not. My right hon. Friend has misunderstood me. I said that the Government were willing to yield to blackmail from abroad and yet were not willing to pay the miners what they deserve for doing a hazardous job, one in which they daily risk their health and their lives. I should have thought that my right hon. Friend would not mistake my meaning.

The courts are unsuitable because they decide between claims. They do not conciliate. They do not arrive at compromises. It is interesting that the fine inflicted on the AUEW coincided with phase 3 of a disastrous and manifestly unfair economic policy that has hit at wages but not at prices, profits, fees or speculation. In this context the Act is a prescription for chaos. In its leader on 23rd October The Guardian asked : Can there be any doubt that this dispute concerning the refusal of a small firm in Woking to give trade union recognition affecting 35 employers is potentially the most divisive event since the case of the imprisoned dockers? Some of my hon. Friends have been provoked into attacking the judge of the court and they have been counterattacked by the head of the judiciary. This raises the constitutional issue whether law officers should be associated with politics. Many people are puzzled and learned judges are at loggerheads as a result of the Act that has been thrust upon them. They are in the position of accountants who are asked suddenly to become sociologists. The result has been not to reduce by a single day the time lost in strikes.

The real fact of the matter, as the New Statesman underlined in an editorial on 9th November, is that the Government have produced one of the most disastrous and unmanageable pieces of legislation to reach the statute book in half a century. That legislation has poisoned the political and industrial atmosphere throughout the lifetime of this Parliament.

It is time for the Government to admit that they made a catastrophic blunder which they can do by abolishing the NIRC—the central pillar of an edifice that is already half in ruins. The tragedy is that the debris from that edifice threatens to block the mines, railways and factory floors, and the fault lies fairly and squarely on the Conservative Government.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)

After listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), which could have been made with better effect some years ago—

Mr. Rose

It was.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

That was my diagnosis—I find that it confirms my main disagreement with the motion that the villain of the piece today is still the Industrial Relations Act. That possibly was a sustainable case from the point of view of the Opposition when the Act was originally introduced, but once the Government adopted their new position of being ready to negotiate on every part of the Act, it could no longer be cast in the rôle of the villain of the piece. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite call for the repeal of the Act holus bolus, but everyone knows that there would still be trouble with industrial relations even if the Act were repealed tomorrow.

We have made a great mistake in trying to align the motivation in British industry with the motivation in American industry. For example, the trade unions in America are sold on the proceeds of the capitalist system, whereas ours are not. That is a root of conflict between management and men, whatever may be the legal system, and it will continue until we really sort out what we want to make out of this twentieth century and its opportunities.

Moreover, any Government must reckon on finding groups of politically motivated men in the establishment of most industries, and they will not necessarily be won to the concept of a steady, sane, rational development of their industry backed by a nice framework of law where everyone knows where they are. They are revolutionary, and unless the Government strike them as being more revolutionary and effective than them they are not likely to be impressed or to deviate from their programme.

I was not surprised by the public and sustained reaction to the Industrial Relations Act. I thought that some of it was justified by the original attitude of the Government and their unwillingness to negotiate, but it is not justified now and it was not all justified by the law then.

The first strike that took place in my constituency after the passing of the Act was possible only because of the passing of the Act. Until then unions could not get recognition. Hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches are concerned about their law-abiding friends being forced to break the law, because it is such a bad law as they think, but many of my constituents who are not members of the big battalions of the trade unions wonder whether it is the law which has driven them to this predicament or the build-up against it.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) spoke of the benefits which have come to his constituents from the Act. He does not represent a similar constituency to mine. In my constituency, in which there is a strong trade union movement, the position after the passing of the Act is the same as it was before. No one has taken steps to prosecute any of my constituents who in their thousands have been acting in contravention of the law.

I am sure that the Treasury Bench know why. It is because the large employers—ICI, the National Coal Board and the heavy electrical engineering industry—have decided, together with the large trade unions, that they will contract out. Neither the employers nor the unions are invoking the law. Therefore the Government are embarrassed because only the smaller industrialists and smaller unions are using the court.

It was to my constituency that the sequestrators went. It was from a council in my constituency that the £100,000 was taken. The AUEW has millions of pounds, a substantial part of which is invested, but out of all those investments it was decided to take the £100,000 to pay the fine from a Labour-controlled council on which there are seven AUEW members. Although one of the seven was elected as a Tory he joined in the unanimous vote of the council against the money being handed over.

Why was Hebburn Council chosen? Is it because it is such a strong Labour council? Is it because seven of its members are members of the union which was fined? Is it because it has done one of the best slum clearance jobs in the country? Is it because it has done a marvellous job with revitalisation and with improvements to the environment?

Hebburn Council is being fined. It borrowed this money at a substantially lower rate of interest than it has had to pay for replacement money. Why should the 25,000 people in Hebburn who have done no wrong, broken no law, be the victims of this Act?

When I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what he would do to compensate the council and ratepayers for the additional expenditure that was involved—because of the necessity to borrow money at a rate higher than that at which it had borrowed the money which has been filched from it—he said that it was only his job to sanction loans. Hebburn Council believes that it has a moral obligation to repay the union. It is seeking legal advice as to how that can be done. Will the Secretary of State for the Environment allow it to raise a loan to meet what it believes to be a moral obligation?

It says that it borrowed this money from the AUEW and wants to repay it. Why should it not be allowed to do so if it has a better sense of morality than the Treasury? One of the interesting features of this debate has been the way that everyone pretends that the Act is working well. People say that it has done marvels and worked wonders. Yet at the same time the Government say, "If you have amendments we are willing to listen to them". If it is working well, if it has done its job, why should there be any need to amend it?

If the Government think that, why do they not re-read the debates that took place during the passage of the Act?

If they were to re-read some of the amendments we moved and were then willing to adopt them we might get rid of some of our troubles. We have troubles and will continue to have them as long as the trade unions feel that they are being made to be scapegoats. It is a very funny thing. Everyone knows about the scandals of property and land speculators, of the banking and financial world which are revealed every day. The Government are like Nelson, only they have two blind eyes. They cannot see anything that happens in banking, property or in commerce. They can see only the wickedness of the very people upon whom the foundations of our society depend.

At present 1 per cent. of the working population of the country—the miners—is engaging in what some would term, having regard to their contracts, an unfair industrial practice. The Government will not and dare not do anything about it. If they had any sense they would say to all these people who are infuriated over the unfairness in our society, "We will deal with the things which you demand should be dealt with on the basis that you will likewise play the game."

Until the Government are prepared to deal with the matters I have mentioned, firmly and resolutely, are ready to shackle and cripple such undertakings in the same way as they seek to cripple, hamstring and shackle the trade unions, there is no hope. The Secretary of State has made a great name for himself as a consequence of what he has attempted in the past 18 months in Ulster. There he came to recognise the realities of the situation. He realised that all of the troubles in Ulster were not due to a few wicked Irish people, but that there were elements on both sides who needed their heads knocking together.

He made a platform. He brought both sides together and made it possible, by shifting his ground and taking a line completely different from his original approach, for progress to be made. I want him to do with industrial relations what he has done for Northern Ireland. I want him to try to bring some common sense into this Act. If he does that he will have done something which will make possible a fairer society and will give us hope that the "One Nation" and "A Better Tomorrow" of which the Tories talked during the election could become a reality not in this Government's lifetime but in the lifetime of the next Government.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)

There are many good reasons why we should reject this motion, not least because it is Early Day Motion No. 49, pre-Christmas wrapped in transparently clear polythene. Many of my learned Friends have mentioned this and no doubt the Attorney-General will have more to say. I say no more about it. It is the real reason for the choice of this debate. I want to address my remarks to the Act. Despite what the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) said, there is no doubt that this Act has worked in a number of ways.

First, there are a few thousand good reasons for its success, personified in people who have appeared before industrial tribunals and had their cases fairly tried and in some instances have been compensated by their employers for unfair dismissal.

Many unions have gained recognition under the Act. Many more employers have put their houses in order as a result of the Act, or possibly more particularly because of the working of the Code of Practice. This has been a measure of what they should be doing. It was based on good industrial relations practice which has happened and still happens, thank God, in so many industries, companies and factories. But those who were not practising what the code suggested have set their minds to it and have gradually given more attention to industrial relations. The code, as an appendix to the Act, has therefore also been successful.

Some unions have used the Act to very good effect, through the back door, perhaps, using individual members to fight the case of the unions. This will continue to happen because those unions have realised the benefits of the Act, but because they do not wish to go against TUC policy, they have had to find ways around the provisions in order to get the benefits that the Act allows them. One of the original criticisms of the Act was that trade union membership would suffer. But if the agency shop provisions have worked there can be no doubt that union membership must benefit. Those provisions are there to be used.

It would be equally right to admit that the Act has not worked as well as the Government expected. It would be fair to argue that they expected opposition in the early days but expected that good sense would prevail. Unfortunately, this has not happened. The reason that it has not worked as well as one might have hoped is that it has become an enormous political football, the hide of which has been nearly kicked off.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) admitted that the number of days lost through strikes increased sharply in 1971 and 1972, but drew attention to the fact that this was largely the result of strikes for political reasons. That is what one means by a political football. Legislation of this sort and the whole area of industrial relations are too vital, too important, to be debated in a prejudiced political atmosphere such as prevails today.

In the light of experience—those who were on the Front Bench at the time would be the first to admit that experience was bound to influence some points of detail in the Act—and in the light of opposition by some sectors of organised labour, there must be amendments. To list a few, there must be definite amendments to the registration provisions, to the emergency powers of the Secretary of State. It is wrong to require the Secretary of State to make out a case to the court, because, in emergency situations, politics is the most important criterion. The Secretary of State should be given powers to act without reference. The reason for this provision was to give legal backing to such acts, but that was probably wrong.

I should certainly want to add to the Act proposals on employee participation. They exist to a limited extent in the code, in the recommendations about consultative committees, but probably the code is not the vehicle for a further move down this road. It is an enormous subject, and I hope that in due course we shall have a chance to debate it.

Mr. Heffer

The hon. Gentleman did not vote for the amendments that we put down at the time on every issue that he has raised.

Mr. Butler

I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is referring to employee participation or to some of my earlier remarks.

Mr. Heffer

I moved the amendment.

Mr. Butler

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the code he will see the broad area to which I refer. I am saying that we must go further down that road. If the hon. Gentleman is talking about registration provisions, he should think back to what I said at the beginning of my speech, namely, that not only in the light of experience but in the light of the opposition from certain sectors of the working community, it is necessary to rethink. That is a reasonable thing to do.

Comparatively few organisations have put forward their suggestions for amendment. Some of them may have been premature. The Industrial Society, which was quoted earlier, is an organisation to which we should listen. However, I should not expect my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to listen just to one group of people. My advice would be that the door should be opened to all representations. Until those who are most qualified to comment have made their recommendations, there should be no change. I refer specifically to the trade union movement. The door must be open to it to make its recommendations. Until it does and until it feels able to do so in an atmosphere which is not so politically hot as it is now, I ask my right hon. Friend to take no action.

I am totally opposed to the repeal of the Act. At the end of the day I believe that the Act, amended as necessary, will be welcomed by the Government, by the Opposition and by the people. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) compared industrial relations to marital relations. He said that husband and wife can have an argument, make it up and carry on together. That was a poor analogy. Industrial relations are more similar to the relations between neighbours. Such relations must be carried out, and are generally carried out, in a non-legal atmosphere. There is tolerance, give and take, and a willingness to live together. When those relations become strained, when one neighbour takes a totally unfair action against the other, the law can be called in.

The Industrial Relations Act provides a framework of law within which industrial relations can function. They can function in a non-legal atmosphere. I believe that all reasonable people accept the need for that framework as they accept the law in their everyday life. Therefore, the Act must remain on the statute book.

8.39 p.m.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) finished his speech with an analogy and a reference to the law. He will forgive me if I do not make a further analogy. In the remaining time I shall concentrate on what the Secretary of State said and on what the Attorney-General might wish to say later. I do not wish to be discourteous to the hon. Member for Bosworth, to whom I listened with great care.

The Secretary of State began his speech with a review of the past. I found considerable fault within that review. I am not the only hon. Member who felt that way.

We were reasonably gentle with the Secretary of State today. After all, it was his maiden innings in his new post. But he will know that he has a task before him in which he will be well advised to discard a great deal of the tired history which he gave us today. We all want the right hon. Gentleman to succeed in his task. Party differences apart, there is no right hon. or hon. Member on the Opposition benches who does not wish the Secretary of State to succeed, because most of us take the old-fashioned view of Ministers of Labour. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) referred to the time when a Minister of Labour was in a special position among the members of his Cabinet, in that he was the chief conciliator in the State. What has been wrong over the past few years is that Ministers of Labour, under whatever name or title, have moved away from this useful tradition.

I say that the right hon. Gentleman should discard all this faulty history and start afresh. For example he told us, and through us the country and the trade union movement, that there was common ground on the need to introduce legislation of this kind after his Government were elected in 1970. That is not so. The country had been preoccupied for many years with what were called territorial disputes—in other words, disagreements among members of different trade unions about who should do which job. By the time that the present Government were framing their legislation we had passed through that period successfully. In recent years, disputes of that kind have become a matter of history. The situation was put right by the trade union movement, which saw to the solution of the difficulty through individual unions, the General Council of the TUC and, not least, its immediate past General Secretary, Mr. Victor Feather.

The Secretary of State has been given a great deal of faulty history by his Department. He must unlearn it and have a real look at the situation. He will find that the legislation framed by his Government after they were elected in 1970 was historically unnecessary and merely followed a commitment which his party had given its members at a number of Tory Party Conferences. On our television screens in recent years we have all seen people at those conferences going to the rostrum to attack the trade union movement—[Interruption.] I notice the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) laughing. It is quite probable that he took part in some of those tirades. If he did not, he has probably had to sit through a number of them waiting to speak in other debates.

Nothing was more dangerous and futile than the inflammable propaganda against the trade union movement which the Tories worked up before the 1970 election. Thus, they became the prisoners of their own propaganda when they began framing their legislation.

Their other fault was in sending one of their Ministers to the United States of America. It was his proud boast that he toured 13 States studying the Taft-Hartley legislation. He came back thinking that it was the last word in industrial relations legislation. It was the tirades at the Tory Party Conferences and the Government's desire to imitate the Taft-Hartley legislation which produced the Industrial Relations Bill, and it was recognised immediately to be likely to result in nothing but trouble.

I come now to my second correction to what the Secretary of State had to tell us. He said that those of us who demanded the total repeal of the Act showed thereby that we did not want to put anything in its place. When he has learned a little more about his new job he will realise that that is poppycock. We were voicing nothing more than the responsible statement of the General Council of the TUC, which said that it wished to see the Act repealed but at the same time it wanted new legislation introduced to provide the advantages and protections to trade unionists and working people that we have desired for many years. It will not merely be re-enacting what the present legislation contains. It will be improved legislation, including the right to reinstatement, which a Labour Government would put on the statute book at the same moment as they would repeal the present Act.

I turn now to the third statement made by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping)


Mr. Mendelson

There is no time for me to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have made no reference to him. Many other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate and I do not wish to prevent at least one other hon. Member from doing so.

The Secretary of State committed himself to saying that it was up to my right hon. Friend and not the Government to propose amendments. What an abdication of the duty of government, and what a ridiculous statement for a man who is a senior member of the Cabinet and has just been appointed to a new job. The Attorney-General knows the position. The Government have now agreed, by implication, that there are grave faults in the legislation. Industrialists throughout the country will not use the legislation, and responsible employers do not want to go anywhere near it.

The fact that so many employers have taken this view is clear evidence that the Act ought to be abolished or seriously amended, but the Government are not bringing forward any amendments—not even in response to the request of my right hon. Friend. They are adopting the diplomatic position that someone else should produce amendments. That is a load of nonsense. If the Government are convinced—and it is obvious that they are—that there are grave faults in major parts of the legislation, they should produce a set of amendments with which they should approach the TUC General Council, and ask for serious negotiations. The Government have not done this.

There is something else that the Government have never done. One night this week there was a late night television programme—a sort of run-up to this debate—featuring a flash-back to the original discussion about the Act. In the programme a member of the University of Birmingham was showing the influence of television on social life. Among the people in the programme was Mr. Victor Feather. In reply to a question by a professor from the London School of Economics, Mr. Feather said that when the Government were framing their legislation the TUC had never been consulted on the principles of the Act. That was the statement by the immediate past General Secretary of the TUC.

We have never been able to get the Prime Minister to agree to this simple fact, nor did we get the right hon. Gentleman to agree to it. He may genuinely not have known. I imply no irony or satire in saying that. But the Attorney-General must have known that the trade unions were never consulted on the principles of the Act. Therefore, the legislation was faulty from the start.

I turn now to the argument about the majesty of the law. It is generally accepted that there is not a more law-abiding section of the British public than the members of the trade union movement. It is generally known that, as they form so large a part of the nation, carrying forward all the year round the work of the nation, most of them never listen to agitators. Most of them are concerned with their skill and work. That is no less true of the engineers.

Mr. David Waddington (Nelson and Colne)


Mr. Mendelson

I have no time to give way. The trade union movement has always adopted the same tradition as the rest of the nation, namely, that in framing legislation we must take due regard of fairness and reasonableness. That is why all the talk about the majesty of the law is so much propaganda and poppycock, not least in the mouth of the Tory orator who is now Lord Chancellor.

The rest of the nation has always recognised that when legislation is framed it must be fair and reasonable. The legal and constitutional history of our people is full of striking examples in which people have said not only that they will try, by debate and criticism, to get legislation overturned, but that they are not going to be a party to a piece of legislation by working it themselves.

Here I take issue with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North, who, I thought, made a striking and excellent speech, particularly strong in its middle passage. It is true that the majority of the trade union movement decided not to ask its affiliated unions not to appear in front of this court. It is true that they passed no decision that everybody should appear in front of it. There is no issue on that between my right hon. Friend and myself. But what he under-valued, and what should be put on record, at least from this side of the House, is that when the engineers decided not to work this legislation they were acting in the long, honourable tradition of many people in this country over the years who have said, "We are taking no part in this", and were in no way acting illegally in making that decision.

Mr. Waddington

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mendelson

No. While the general attitude of the trade union movement in attacking this legislation was always clear, for my part I believe that history will say that it was indeed the work of the trade unions and the attitude of the AUEW which showed up the absurdity of this law.

During long periods of British history—including when Lord Eldon was Lord Chancellor ; this may not be a bad day on which to refer to him—periods of which now every after-dinner speaker is particularly proud, it has been necessary to show that a law was absurd and oppressive by not taking part in its working at all at any stage at any time.

I am not a member of the AUEW, but I believe that it will be proved right. I believe that it has acted honourably on behalf of not only the whole trade union movement but all those who care for liberty in this land. That is why all this talk about the majesty of the law and law-breaking is completely faulty. Earlier, in an intervention, I tried to show that in years gone by the scissors-grinders in Sheffield did break the anti-combination laws, but I did not wish to indicate that there is a parallel in the present issue. The AUEW is not breaking the law ; the scissors-grinders did, and they have an honourable place in the history of the trade union movement.

Today, the law is not being broken. The Opposition motion has been much criticised. When my right hon. Friends put it down I was proud to add my signature. It will be regarded as an important part of the history of this period, when that history is written. Nor is it an attack on the majesty of the law. The Lord Chancellor forgot about the law when he was making his attack on those who signed the motion. He made a political attack on them and was abusing the majesty of his office in doing so. He acted like a party politician and not as the senior officer of the judiciary.

Hon. Members opposite should have been able to study the face of the Secretary of State when one of my hon. Friends said today that the Lord Chancellor was likely to fly into a tirade at the drop of a hat. That is known in other circles. It is known that the Lord Chancellor himself felt criticised because he made the appointment of Sir John Donaldson.

Here we come to an interesting point. People say that one must not at any time move towards critique of a judge as a person. How silly that is, and how much against the traditions of the history of freedom in this country. Time and again one has not been able to divorce the administration of a court from the person of the judge involved, and while we may not be able to ask for dismissal of a judge unless by a substantive motion, critique of a person administering a court has always been regarded as right, and part of our tradition.

We come to the person of the judge. I say to the Government and in particular to the Lord Chancellor, who made the appointment, that when one appoints a judge for a new, highly sensitive court which is bound to bring the judge into question and into almost weekly conflict on matters which a large section of the population regard as oppressive legislation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

The hon. Member should be rather careful. This matter is sub judice. Up to the moment we are within the rules of order, but we are coming perilously close to the edge of them.

Mr. Mendelson

I shall do my best to stay within the confines of order, as I have done hitherto, according to your statement, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

When the Lord Chancellor appointed a man to that position he had to consider the administration of justice—this has nothing to do with the majesty of the court—which is properly our business. Would it not have been much better to have picked for this sensitive appointment not a former Tory political candidate but someone far removed from such conflict? I ask that as a question of wisdom.

In the making of this appointment we have had the extraordinary spectacle of the same judge making a speech outside his court—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I fear that the hon. Member is now out of order.

Mr. Mendelson

In that case I will not pursue this any further.

I tell the Government, that the way in which someone in this high office conducts himself is part of the case we have to examine, and the Attorney-General must not merely skate over these things without giving us precisely related statements on the political implications of the legislation as well as the pure letter of the law.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well, as do the Government, that it has been the tendency of this Government, and of the Prime Minister in particular, to engage in various policies, to enact a code and then to face the trade unions and say to them, "If you do not accept what we have said in this code you are breaking the law".

The Prime Minister is trying it with the miners. We had almost to coerce him the other day, on a Thursday afternoon, into an admission that the miners had not broken any law whatsoever in refusing to work overtime. It is the repeated technique of this Government, led by the Prime Minister, knowing that the British people are law abiding, to use this kind of propaganda, to confuse what is legitimate activity of an organised working class group with breaking the law, to try to make it appear that everybody opposing the will of the Prime Minister is thereby opposing the whole law-making process if he adopts towards legislation attitudes not acceptable to the Government. This has been a growing tendency.

If they think that that propaganda will work with the people of this country the Government have another think coming. They are gravely mistaken. People are seeing through what they are doing. This is not the first period in British industrial history when Tory Governments have tried to create the impression that the law is what they say it is when they have framed legislation and administered it in a way deliberately directed against the industrial working class—when they allowed an immense increase in the cost of living and said that people could not have wage increases because the law said they could not. None of this will wash.

This is an historic debate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North, who initiated it, has done a service to both industry and the country. The country knows that this legislation is futile, useless and hostile to the best interests of industrial relations. The sooner it is swept away the better it will be for everybody.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Penis-tone (Mr. John Mendelson) said, this has been a historic debate. Before the debate began it was thought that the Government would be on the attack, with the Opposition on the defensive. But the rôles have been reversed. I believe that the case we have made out in this debate has been proved.

It is an interesting fact that although the Conservatives allowed not a single amendment to be made to the Industrial Relations Bill in 1971, today in one speech after another they have spoken constantly about amendments. They do not go into detail as to what exactly those amendments should be, but nevertheless they talk about them. They are on the defensive in terms of the Act.

The speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, appeared in this morning's issue of The Times under the heading, "Rule of Law Threatened". I want to examine who is threatening the law. The National Industrial Relations Court, Lord Hailsham, and the President of NIRC have more to answer for than anybody on this side of the House or the trade union movement.

It is worth remembering what were some of the main arguments when this legislation was introduced. The guilty men are not present this evening to answer for their past misdemeanors. The right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary, who as Secretary of State for Employment took this legislation through the House, took as his main theme the fact that it was aimed at dealing with wildcat strikers. This was nothing to do with normal trade union relations, or with good trade union leaders or good employers, but was to deal with the wildcat strikers. There was, we were told, a certain section of the community which had to be controlled. Therefore, we had to have the Bill, with all its paraphernalia, imposed on the country—and imposed in the teeth of bitter opposition both inside and outside the House.

The legislation created a new type of court which for the first time in a generation divided the community. That is the sort of setting in which we are dealing with this Act. When Conservatives ask, "Are the trade unions opposed to the law" and "Do they want to be above the law?", the truth is that trade unions have always observed the law. They have gone to the courts and have operated under the British court system as it has always existed. Indeed, the trade unions have taken their internal differences to the courts. The only time I have appeared in a court related to the hearing of a trade union case when I gave evidence on behalf of a member of my union who was then in contest with the executive council of the union. We all accepted the judgment of that High Court.

But we are not dealing with that type of High Court matter in our motion. The legislation with which we are now dealing is not the normal sort of legislation that one would expect trade unions to encounter. This is legislation which enters directly into the sector of free collective bargaining, and this is something which the Government tried to impose upon the trade union movement. They have failed in that legislation and we have had phases 1, 2 and 3, again backed by the might of the law. That in itself does not resolve anything.

Has this Act done anything to improve industrial relations? What about the electricity workers and the railwaymen? In the case of the railwaymen, the Government thought it right to conduct a ballot, but they have decided that they do not want a ballot of the miners. Therefore, they bend the law to suit themselves. It is not an impartial law. It is a law that is manipulated and manoeuvred.

I should like to mention here the Transport and General Workers' Union and Heaton's Transport. Let us consider how the courts have been used. The Secretary of State told us how the courts are being used. One way is by small groups of men forming breakaway unions and trying to break the organised strength of the trades unions—not least the Union of Post Office Workers.

Much has been said today about the AUEW and Con-Mech. I think something should be said about that matter in more detail. Hon. Members know, because reference has been made to it, that Motion No. 49 on the Order Paper deals with a different aspect of that matter. We are not discussing that tonight, but that motion will remain on the Order Paper until we get justice.

In the AUEW /Con-Mech situation we are talking about a union facing a fine of £75,000 and sequestration of £100,000. What is it all about? It is about 31 men who want to join a trade union in 1973. It concerns a bad employer, backed by a previous Member of this House, now a noble Lord in another place—apparently we did not teach him enough about industrial relations when he was here—and 31 people wanting to join a trade union. They banded together and formed a branch of that union. The management's action was to sack not only the shop stewards who were elected but the men themselves. When the AUEW tried to negotiate and meet the management it met all kinds of difficulties. The union wanted to resolve the matter. Indeed, Hugh Scanlon, both on television and in the Press, said that the Executive Council of the AUEW wanted to resolve the matter. But no, Con-Mech went to the National Industrial Relations Court.

Mr. Ashton

For damages.

Mr. Orme

For damages, as my hon. Friend said. That decision has not yet been resolved. The union was fined £75,000 for trying to organise workers in 1973. Is that the type of justice that we should ask trade unionists to accept? Is that the type of justice that trade unionists will accept?

The National Industrial Relations Court and its actions, particularly flowing from the Heaton's and Con-Mech cases, is creating a separate identity and is beginning to operate its own rules within our legal system. That is very dangerous indeed. We on this side uphold the law. We want the law to be paramount in our society. But that law must not be bent when it suits certain people to bend it. In my opinion, the law has been bent.

A great deal has been said about sequestration and where the new rules came from. In the Con-Mech judgment Sir John Donaldson said : The use of these powers"— that is, sequestration— in the High Court almost always occurs in the context of a private dispute between two litigants who hope and intend never to cross each other's paths again.… All this is quite different in the field of industrial relations.… We have therefore considered whether there may not be jurisdiction for the court to issue the writs of its own motion upon being satisfied that the contempt of court is proved.… In our judgment the public interest requires in industrial relations cases such as the present that the court itself take the responsibility for issuing the writs of sequestration to the commissioners and that the complainants shall not be involved. The form of order will reflect this conclusion. That goes for every case coming out of the NIRC. I have talked to lawyers about this issue. They feel that it is a matter of grave concern that the normal law that appertains in the normal High Court is not applicable in this court. In consequence we take the strongest exception to it.

Many odd things have happened in this case. I have with me the correspondence of Clifford-Turner and Company when it arranged to pick up this money. Incidentally, I do not think that anyone will ever have seen so-called British justice act with the speed that it acted in this court. To try to get £10 out of anyone through the High Court would normally take 12 months. This court got £100,000 in a week. We have the curious matter of the clerk at Hebburn in telephone conversations—this was not done by letter—talking as follows : It was agreed that a cheque would be available for collection by a representative of the Commissioners on the 18th October, 1973. The cheque would be dated the 22nd October. The company said : We asked that the cheque be dated earlier than 22nd October, 1973 and in the event it was dated the 19th October. It was duly collected at approximately 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 18th October, 1973 by a representative of the Commissioners. There was no room for manœuvre there. The clerk to the council did not even inform the local authority, his own elected representatives, that he would hand over this money. What about the carrying out of the law in that regard?

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)

That is a different law. It is Tory law.

Mr. Orme

When we see how this took place—the correspondence is extremely iluminating—let us not forget what has happened to Hebburn. The council borrowed money at 8¼ per cent. If it wants to get money now on the open market, that could cost it 14 per cent. This has damaged the local authority. The clerk has now had to leave his job. That is the sort of trail that has been left by the Act.

Is all this because 31 people wanted to hold a card of the AEUW? They did not want to strike or to take industrial action, but wanted simply to hold a card in their hands. When considering this sort of measure and the size of the fine, we must realise that this was a deliberate decision, as it was in the Heaton case, of the president of the court to assert his authority over the trade unions and to bring them to heel. That is what the £100,000 fine is about. That is what the trade unions are facing at present.

When Sir John Donaldson decides to come down into the market place and to argue his case, he must take what is coming to him. I believe that he has acted wrongly. He has made a major miscalculation in this particular case. If he is not satisfied or if he feels that his court should not be criticised, he should either give up the job or take the appropriate action within his court to answer the case and deal in detail with the AUEW case, and not go to Glasgow to make an after-dinner speech.

Many other things have happened in this court. For instance, there has been a change in the rules of evidence. No lawyer on the Government side of the House has mentioned that today. But by Schedule 3 paragraph 18(5) the rules of evidence have been waived. In the Heaton case a statement of a general secretary of a trade union which was reported in the Press was used in the court as evidence without any qualification or any examination as to its validity. When the case finally reached the House of Lords, the Lords quoted what the general secretary had said as if he had been in the court and given evidence himself.

Then there is another gentleman attached to this court at whom we ought to look—a gentleman by the name of Master Seaton. He was in charge of the sequestration and instructed Clifford-Turner to raise the money. But Master Seaton happens to be the secretary of the court, so he is in a direct line with the president of the court. When Sir John Donaldson went outside the court and said, "I gave no instructions that the money must be taken from the political fund of the AUEW", he also did not give instructions that it must not be taken from the political fund of the AUEW—and that is the crucial point.

I ask the Attorney General, what other High Court acts in the manner of this court? What other High Court allows its president to have negotiations with the Engineering Employers' Federation? What other High Court allows someone like Master Seaton to brief the Press and to seek out judgments of selected Press men?

I do not ask these questions without considered judgment, or without the knowledge that this has taken place. These things are happening in the name of British justice, and they must be exposed. They have been used to support the court—and, in the main, the newspapers are backing the court. In consequence, the trade union movement is not able to get over its point of view and its case. The evidence speaks for itself.

I want to deal for a moment with the political fund of the AUEW. During this debate we have heard a lot about the 1913 Act. We all accept that in cases of contempt no funds are protected, and that any funds are liable if the court so decides. But although any of that political fund money may, if necessary, be put to general use, the 1913 Act prevents a transfer from the general fund into the political fund. This is where the decision directly impinges upon the Labour Party, which is the party supported by those AUEW members who pay the political levy. They do that freely and openly, and it is an absolute disgrace that this outrage has been perpetrated on the British Labour Party.

People may argue about whether the AUEW should have attended the court. There is no clear evidence that if the union had gone to the court it would have had a better judgment. I ask hon. Members to look at what happened to the Transport and General Workers' Union. In one case, the union went to the court and was fined £100,000; and, in the other case, the union did not go to the court but was still fined £100,000. How are trade unionists to assess what has happened? How are people who normally respect the law, who are the backbone of our society—the trade union movement, which is the democratic base upon which the working class in this country operate—to assess the situation? [Laughter.] Let hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh. They do not understand the situation.

On top of all this, the CIR report completely vindicated the union. It said that it was right and that it should be the sole organising body. My union contacted the employers immediately after that decision, but they have still not accepted that the trade union movement should be recognised. This is the key issue.

Was the Government's intention to allow the Con-Mechs, the anti-trade union employers to exist, to allow the Mr. Goads to exploit the situation? Was it to allow the Heatons to operate or to help the GAS company? These employers are in the twilight of industrial relations. They come out from under stones and they are opposed to good industrial relations. They are poisoning industrial relations—and I advise the Conservatives not to laugh at this because the trade union movement is in no laughing mood.

Many major firms have actually gone to the court and used it. Vauxhalls had a dispute and could have taken it there but they did not. The same goes for the National Coal Board. Nevertheless the Government have allowed the Act to remain on the statute book and they have enabled these people to creep out from under the stones and poison our industrial life. It is an absolute disgrace and it should be ended.

Mr. Adam Butler rose

Mr. Orme

I cannot give way. I pose the question who is breaking the law? Who bent the law in regard to the five dockers who should never have been released on the contempt charge? Why do not the Government use the Act to deal with the miners? What about the change in the law that has brought the Taff Vale judgment back to bear on the trade union movement which will create havoc with compensation for any industrial dispute that takes place? These are the questions we are asking and which have to be answered by the Government, and I believe that we are right to pose them tonight.

Mr. Adam Butler

The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) was referring a few moments ago to the position of the 31 men. Will he agree that before the Industrial Relations Act they had no right to recognition? Under the Act they have the right, as the CIR has established.

Mr. Orme

The straight answer to the question is that before the Act this dispute would have been settled in a couple of days. It would not even have made a paragraph in the local paper.

I charge the Government that they have created a separate court, which is operating outside the normal confines of the High Court, which was introduced into a divided House and a divided country, and which is putting trade unionists in an impossible position. Everyone says that the AUEW is breaking the law, but the union is not attending the court, which is its right, just as trade unions have the right not to register. Nevertheless it is putting the trade unions in an invidious position.

These are difficult times for industrial relations, as I think everyone recognises. Neither the Industrial Relations Act nor the statutory incomes policy will resolve the situation at the moment. It needs far more than that. It needs an indication from this Government that there will be social justice in this country, that there will be a redistribution of wealth and that the people who create it will get their just reward. We can do without the property speculators but by God we cannot do without the miners. That is the issue. If we try to dragoon the people who produce the wealth we shall be in a great deal of trouble.

What Lord Hailsham said last night was interesting, but in my opinion political action is now being impinged upon the legal system by the Government—not by us—and in consequence those of us who have upheld the law—and the trade unions are most interested in this point—have not always considered that the law is on their side and have felt that High Court judges were isolated and distant. But they have obeyed the law ; they have fought for changes in the law and they are great respecters of the law. But the law is now creating a situation which cannot continue.

Compliments have been paid to the Secretary of State. We recognise that his job in Northern Ireland was very difficult. We obviously still wish him success. We supported the manner in which he carried out his duties over there, particularly his rôle in connection with the Executive and the Council of Ireland. He had time to study those problems. I accept that he has not had time today, and recognise his difficulties in making his speech.

When the right hon. Gentleman examined the problem of Northern Ireland he realised that there was only one answer, to sweep away the past and to put something new in its place. If he wants to do any good in his new rôle in industrial relations, he must do the same here. That means getting rid of, or putting on ice, the Industrial Relations Act. If he does that he will feel the sigh of relief from the trade unions, because they do not welcome the present confrontation. They are being forced into it.

One of the right hon. Gentleman's last actions before returning from Ireland was to appoint two people to key positions—one as chairman of the committee concerned with human rights and the other as Parliamentary Commissioner. He appointed two trade unionists, one of them Mr. Vic Feather. He comes back here and finds the Government of which he is a member acting in exactly the opposite way, looking for a fight and a showdown with certain trade unions.

The Opposition say that there is no easy, simple, universal answer to the problem. The motion is supported unanimously by the Labour Party, and we shall vote for it. We are committed to repealing the Act. It is the first thing a Labour Government will do. I tell the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) that we shall have legislation ready to put in place of the Act, to allow a normal procedure to operate. We shall return once again to free trade unions and free collective bargaining in a free society. We will not tolerate the present legislation one minute longer than necessary.

If the Secretary of State does not take action over the law he will be in difficulty. We did not welcome tabling a censure motion on Sir John Donaldson, but we felt that we were right and that today's motion is right. Conflict has been created in our society by the Government through the Act and the court. We must get rid of the court and the Government and replace the Act by other legislation. If the Government do not take heed of that they will be responsible for the industrial problems that follow.

9.30 p.m.

The Attorney-General(Sir Peter Rawlinson)

No one can sit through a debate on such matters as we have been discussing, let alone take part in it, without appreciating the feeling and passion that arise.

We have had a contrast between the Opposition's opening speech, by the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), and the Opposition's closing speech, by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme). I have heard the hon. Gentleman many times. No one can listen to him without realising the passion he feels about these matters, which is acknowledged on both sides of the House, But the House will recognise that there was a difference in approach between the two speeches.

I do not think that anyone who took part in the debates when the Act was going through Parliament, or was present, will ever forget it. Many hon. Members have probably not forgotten their speeches, because some of those speeches were repeated today.

No one doubted the immense task which Parliament was giving to a new court in establishing the National Industrial Relations Court. It was accepted and understood that there would have to be a presiding judge and that other judges would have to be appointed.

I was glad that the right hon. Member for East Ham, North said that the attack should be directed at the Government. Of course it should. That is the courageous and straightforward way to attack in the matter. The proper target is the Minister and the Government, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment accepted as he stood there presenting a very good target this afternoon. It is intolerable if the opposition to Government policy is directed towards the judges. That is bad for Government, bad for Opposition and, above all, bad for Parliament.

The National Industrial Relations Court and its judges, not only because of the atmosphere in the debates but because of the very nature of the matters they had to decide, had a difficult task. They are entitled to be judged on the whole of the record since December 1971. Of course, they have been in the centre of several storms but, contrary to the impression of some, most of what the court has had to do has been the ordinary, prosaic, unexciting, un-news-worthy matter which is usually dealt with by courts or Parliament. Only in a few cases have storm centres occurred. Only when the court has been faced with confrontation has its work been the subject of publicity and headlines.

Despite that, the court has dealt with a vast amount of solid and effective work which, whether Labour Members like it or not, has affected many thousands of people who went to it. It has achieved a great deal, as much by settlement, agreement and conciliation as by judgment or order. None of that has been publicised, but if this law is to be critically examined by the House the whole operation of the court should be taken into account.

When it established the court Parliament made clear that its prime purpose was to bring about agreement between parties who came to it. Therefore, its success can be measured more by the cases it settled than by those it decided.

The hon. Gentleman criticised part of the procedures and methods which the court adopts as compared with various divisions of the High Court. But Parliament stated that it should regulate its own procedures. It was to exercise its jurisdiction so as to enable parties to use conciliation officers. It was to avoid formality and was not to be bound by the strict rules of evidence. Anyone was to be represented at it. The hours of sitting were to be fixed to suit the parties, for however long they desired, and there were to be adjournments, discussion and conciliation whenever required. That is why the court's procedures are totally different from the procedures in the various divisions of the High Court.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House of any other court in the history of these islands being established against the wishes of an Opposition?

The Attorney-General

I was not in the House when the Court of Star Chamber was established, or when the ordinary criminal courts were established. But the right hon. Gentleman knows that the NIRC was established to deal with industrial relations cases in an entirely different way from that of any other court in the land.

As I said, it is right that the areas in which the court has been operating should be examined and that we should see what it has achieved. More than 11,500 original applications have come to this tribunal under the Act. There have been 566 appeals to the court on points of law. These are areas about which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen do not care, but there are many people who do care about them. The appeals are concerned with unfair dismissal provisions. The right hon. Member for East Ham, North approved the new law on unfair dismissals, and presumably he will include similar provisions in his proposals when he unveils them, so that we can see what is his idea of an industrial relations law.

Nineteen applications for the approved closed shop have been dealt with by the National Industrial Relations Court. There have been 60 applications for recognition of sole bargaining agencies. Those applications have necessarily arisen, in the main, in the developing area of trades unionism because the unions concerned are often small. The hon. Member for Salford, West spoke almost contemptuously of the developing areas of trades unionism, but they should not be overlooked.

A year ago there was a recognition strike by the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs which threatened the Christmas holidays. The employers complained that there had been a strike without notice. The union complained of victimisation. As the employer was unwilling, the court asked the Secretary of State to intervene and industrial action ceased. The recommendation of the CIR was that the ASTMS should be recognised, and a recognition agreement was signed. That is one example of the work of the court. There have been many other cases in which the court has declined to interfere with established bargaining.

Then there are complaints of unfair industrial practices. I know that hon. Gentlemen are not anxious to hear this. [interruption.] There have been 115 cases of alleged unfair industrial practice. [Interruption.] The court—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Really, this is not tolerable. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who wound up for the Opposition, was heard in comparative silence. This is a place for debate, not for noisy interruptions.

The Attorney-General

I was dealing with cases of alleged unfair industrial practice. I cite the Royal Doulton case in which ATAMS was involved. It went on strike without notice. The GMWU refused to support it. There were pickets and 300 men were laid off. A complaint was made to the court but before the hearing of the case officers of the company and the union conferred on the court premises. They discussed and solved the problem. The men went back to work within two days after a strike which had lasted six weeks.

Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot have it both ways. The court has been effective and has done good work which is appreciated by the unions and the individuals who have appeared before it. Scores of unions have appeared before it. They obey the law and the orders of this court. Many have proved successful in proceedings before it.

Mr. Ashton

If the court is doing so well, why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not refer the miners' dispute to it?

The Attorney-General

That is not a matter for me. It would be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State if and when he felt it appropriate.

Mr. Ashton

Ask him. He is sitting beside you.

The Attorney-General

The hon. Member for Salford, West referred to the Transport and General Workers' Union. It appeared before the court in a case called Cory v. the TGWU. In that case the company claimed that its remedy lay in the High Court and not before the NIRC. The defendants, the TGWU said : that it would be very advantageous to have the matter dealt with by the Industrial Court where there is valuable machinery for conciliation. This was the Transport and General Workers' Union saying that it did not want that case dealt with by the High Court but wanted it transferred to the NIRC, where there was valuable conciliation machinery. That shows that the union believes that the court has a valuable system of concilation not enjoyed by other courts. It demonstrates that the union thought that the court's practice and procedure was preferable to that of the ordinary courts.

When the court came into existence it was faced with hostility on the part of the major unions. Within three months of its establishment the TUC decided that it should be left to individual unions to decide whether to defend their interests at the court when under attack.

Thereafter, all unions save the AUEW have done so. In May 1972, in the railway's dispute, the unions were represented. In the same month, during the docks dispute, the TGWU was represented. At the TUC conferences this year a motion calling for a total boycott of the court, moved by the AUEW and the Fire Brigades Union, was rejected. The Fire Brigades Union now attends the court and takes part in its hearings. The EUEW stands virtually alone in its attitude, even in matters of unfair dismissals. It does not even pay compensation awarded to its own workers by industrial tribunals for unfair dismissal from the union's employment.

The fact that it stands virtually alone is perhaps the reason for the trouble in the case of Con-Mech. I should like to confirm the version of the facts given by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner). It is worth dealing with these facts, one section of which was given by the hon. Member for Salford, West. He said that it was a small engineering firm with 67 employees. On 18th September, two employees began soliciting the others for membership of the union. On 19th September they demanded that the company recognise the AUEW as the sole bargaining agent. The company declined because it did not believe that that was the desire of the majority of its employees. This was followed by a lightning strike.

On 20th September—all this took place in 24 hours—the district secretary wrote saying that the union endorsed the action. Picketing was established and placards announced that it was an official AEWU strike. As a consequence, suppliers, haulage contractors, even postmen and milkmen, were turned back from the premises.

On 26th September, an application was made to the court to restrain this industrial action under Section 101 and one relating to recognition under Section 45. On Thursday 27th September, the court made an interim order restraining the industrial action, but it was specifically stated that it would not come into operation until Monday 1st October to permit the parties an opportunity to get together. But no notice was taken by the pickets, so on 9th October, a hearing on the disobedience of the interim order was held by the court. Again the union refused to appear. It was its deliberate policy to boycott the court.

Thus, on 10th October, there was an order as to the contempt of the order made on 27th September. That was defied by the union and the writs of sequestration were issued to the four commissioners. But the court did not levy the fine then, as it might have done ; it said that it would give further opportunity to the union to think again and to come to make representations if it were so minded. The court said that it was taking an exceptional course in delaying and that this was an opportunity for the union to think again.

But there was no action by the union, so writs of sequestration were issued to the four commissioners, from the chartered accountants, Messrs. Price, Waterhouse. There was a standard form requiring those officers to take in the property of the union up to £100,000. After that procedure, the court took no part in any consequential procedure.

Mr. Fernyhough

Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain to me, in view of the fact that the union has other investments, probably some in Government funds and some in private industry, why the commissioners decided to take £100,000 from a Labour-controlled council with seven AEWU members on it?

The Attorney-General

If the right hon. Gentleman will listen, I will go through the story of what happened.

On 10th October, the court considered who should take steps to enforce its order. It heard argument. It was clearly shown that the court had an inherent right in a civil action—not only in a criminal action, as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) thought—and in certain circumstances a duty, to issue writs to ensure that the orders were effectively enforced, that it was exercising jurisdiction in the public interest, and, as it thought and held in the industrial relations case, that the public interest called for it so to do.

The writ of attachment, the concept of which is found in the ordinary concept of contempt and the effect of which is the binding of the property of a party as a means of compelling obedience to the court order, operates against property only. It is in the form of a command in the same way as a writ of attachment to a sheriff to bring a person to the court.

The writ of sequestration goes to the commissioners to seize or get in the property until the party clears its contempt. Once the court issued the writ, which was the only method which the court could employ to enforce obedience to its order in face of defiance, the duty of the commissioners was to seize or take in the property of the defiant party to meet the provision for penalty for disobedience.

If the union had objected to the writ—the union, of course, knew of the writ—, it could have appealed. However, the AUEW did not do so. The consequences which flow fall on its head alone.

Mr. McBride

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about sequestration. It will be within his knowledge that powers of sequestration apply only to the property or the estate of the party in contempt. That being so, will he deny that two statutes—the Trade Union Act 1913 and the Industrial Relations Act 1971—provide complete protection to the political funds of my trade union, the AUEW, and that the fund was not attachable in law?

The Attorney-General

I do deny that. The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) is incorrect. I shall deal with the 1913 Act. If the union objected to the writ it could have appealed. Accordingly, the independent sequestrators or commissioners were obliged to exercise their duty. The court had no part to play once the writ had been issued. As the General Secretary of the AUEW had been informed the commissioners thereupon called for production to them of correspondence in possession of the union's stockbrokers. From the union's stockbroker's files and documents it was discovered that a sum in excess of £100,000 had been placed on deposit with Hebburn UDC. There was no reference in the union's chief accountant's letter that the money was from the political fund. The commissioners demanded and required the council to pay them £100,000. The commissioners had no knowledge or reason under the law to inquire as to the allocation of the use of the money deposited with Hebburn UDC.

Mr. Prentice

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has six or seven minutes left. He has given us a long and turgid account of facts which we already know. When will he begin to answer the debate and deal with the merits of the situation as he sees it, in which a seizure takes place of £100,000 which was held in trust for the Labour Party and which represents a completely improper intervention into the political life of the country by the machinery of the law?

The Attorney-General

The right hon. Member for East Ham, North was equally turgid in opening the debate. He knows perfectly well that under Section 154 of the Act, which he played some part in debating, there are procedures with regard to contempt. Funds are, of course, sacrosanct regarding compensation for damages, but not when a union is in contempt of court.

The facts have been distorted by many Labour Members to the disadvantage and unfairness of many people. In fact, there was no reason for the commissioners or the court to know what the funds were or what they were in respect of. At no time were the commissioners informed by the union that the Hebburn UDC money was part of the union's political fund. It was not so claimed in Hebburn's telegram to the court. There was no means of discovery, and the identification of the separate fund was entirely within and internal to the union's accounts. The court did not know and could not discover the allocation of such funds. It could have known with the co-operation of one person, and that one person was the general secretary. If he had wished, he could have informed the court and the sequestrators.

A letter was written on 2nd November setting out all the facts. It said that doubts had been expressed in the Press, and it offered to discuss the matter. No answer came from the union. If both sides in this case had acted like reasonable and sensible people, none of these difficulties would have arisen.

Every opportunity was given to the union to appear before the court. Why is it so contrary to the obligations of conscience and the policy of the engineering union when it is not contrary to the obligations of conscience of the Transport and General Workers' Union or of the UPW to appear before the court? The answer is that it is not a question of conscience. It is a question of power and of face. If that union had appeared before the court and used the court machinery, a peaceful solution could have been reached.

Mr. Rose

Now answer the debate.

The Attorney-General

When a dispute arises over representation, to most people it is only sensible and just for someone to inquire into and to assess what the employees want. But, in the meantime, the company is allowed to trade. In such circumstances what is wrong in going before a court and arguing the case, as many trade unions do?

If the members of the AEUW had appreciated what their officers were about and that they were failing as a matter of pride or principle to appear before the court, I do not think that they would have supported those officers.

No society can tolerate the defiance of the rule of Parliament. No society can tolerate a situation where a group of people say, "Do what you will. Make laws which touch others, but do not touch us." Many Acts of Parliament are bitterly opposed on moral, ethical, social or political grounds and are repugnant to many people. But no responsible body yet seriously challenges the right of Parliament to act and its duty to enforce. Parliament has interfered in the rights of people, whether they be in trades, whether they be in organisations of one kind or another, and whether it be in the expression of their views or the expression of principles with regard to such matters as race or religion. No organisation has ever defied the law. If this union continues on this course and sets itself above the law it will be challenging not the court, not the law, but Parliament.

The hon. Member for Salford, West revealed that it was the intention of the Opposition not to debate the motion on today's Order Paper because that motion disguised the real motive of the Opposition. Their real motive was to discuss their other motion, which this House must reject.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 278, Noes 298.

Division No. 16.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Abse, Leo Barnes, Michael Blenkinsop, Arthur
Albu, Austen Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Boardman, H. (Leigh)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Barnett, Joel (Haywood and Royton) Booth, Albert
Allen, Scholefield Beaney, Alan Boothroyd, Miss Betty
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Beith, A. J. Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur
Ashton, Joe Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)
Atkinson, Norman Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Bradley, Tom
Austick, David Bidwell, Sydney Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Bishop, E. S. Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Horam, John Oswald, Thomas
Buchan, Norman Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Padley, Walter
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Huckfield, Leslie Paget, R. T.
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Palmer, Arthur
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Cant, R. B. Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Pardoe, John
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Roy (Newport) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Hunter, Adam Pavitt, Laurie
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Janner, Greville Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jay. Rt. Hn. Douglas Pendry, Tom
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Jeger, Mrs. Lena Perry, Ernest G.
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Cohen, Stanley Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Prescott, John
Concannon, J. D. Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Price, William (Rugby)
Conlan, Bernard Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Probert, Arthur
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Radice, Giles
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Crawshaw, Richard Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Cronin, John Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W.Ham,S.) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Richard, Ivor
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S. W.) Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven) Judd, Frank Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Dalyell, Tam Kaufman, Gerald Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Brc'n&R'dnor)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Kelley, Richard Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Davidson, Arthur Kerr, Russell Roper, John
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Kinnock, Neil Rose, Paul B.
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Lambie, David Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lamborn, Harry Rowlands, Ted
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Lamond, James Sandelson, Neville
Deakins, Eric Latham, Arthur Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Lawson, George Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Delargy, Hugh Leadbitter, Ted Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Dempsey, James Leonard, Dick Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Doig, Peter Lestor, Miss Joan Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Dormand, J. D. Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Sillars, James
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Silverman, Julius
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lewis Ron (Carlisle) Skinner, Dennis
Driberg, Tom Lomas, Kenneth Small, William
Duffy, A. E. P. Loughlin, Charles Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Dunnett, Jack Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Eadie, Alex Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Spearing, Nigel
Edelman, Maurice Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Spriggs, Leslie
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) McBride, Neil Stallard, A. W.
Edwards, William (Merioneth) McCartney, Hugh Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Ellis, Tom MacDonald, Mrs. Margo Stewart, Rt, Hn. Michael (Fulham)
English, Michael McElhone, Frank Stoddart David (Swindon)
Evans, Fred McGuire, Michael Stonehouse Rt. Hn. John
Ewing, Harry Machin, George Stott Roger
Faulds, Andrew Mackenzie, Gregor Strang, Gavin
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Mackie, John Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) Mackintosh, John P. Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Maclennan, Robert Swain, Thomas
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McNamara, J. Kevin Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Foot, Michael Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Thorpe Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Ford, Ben Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Tinn James
Forrester, John Marks, Kenneth Tope Graham
Fraser, John (Norwood) Marquand, David Torney Tom
Freeson, Reginald Marsden, F. Tuck, Raphael
Galpern, Sir Myer Marshall, Dr. Edmund Urwin, T. W.
Garrett, W. E. Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Varley, Eric G
Gilbert, Dr. John Mayhew, Christopher Wainwright, Edwin
Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Meacher, Michael Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Golding, John Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Walker Harold (Doncaster)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Mendelson, John Wallace, George
Gourlay, Harry Mikardo, Ian Watkins, David
Grant, George (Morpeth) Millan, Bruce Weitzman, David
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Miller, Dr. M. S. Wellbeloved, James
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Milne, Edward Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Molloy, William Whitehead, Phillip
Hamling, William Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Whitlock William
Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Hardy, Peter Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Harper, Joseph Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon) Williams Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Hart Rt. Hn. Judith Murray, Ronald King Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Hattersley, Roy Ogden, Eric Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Hatton, F. O'Halloran, Michael Wilson William (Coventry, s.)
Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Oram, Bert Woof Robert
Heffer, Eric S. Orbach, Maurice TELLERS FOR THE AYES :
Hilton, W. S. Orme, Stanley Mr. Ernest Armstrong and
Hooson, Emlyn Mr. James A. Dunn.
Adley, Robert Fookes, Miss Janet McLaren, Martin
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Fortescue, Tim Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Foster, Sir John McMaster, Stanley
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Fowler, Norman Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Maurice (Farnham)
Astor, John Fox, Marcus McNair-Wilson, Michael
Atkins, Humphrey Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford &Stone) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Awdry, Daniel Fry, Peter Madel, David
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D. Maginnis, John E.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Gardner, Edward Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest
Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord Gibson-Watt, David Marten, Neil
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Mather, Carol
Batsford, Brian Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Maude, Angus
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Glyn, Dr. Alan Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
Bell, Ronald Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Mawby, Ray
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Goodhart, Philip Maxwell Hyslop, R. J.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Goodhew, Victor Meyer, Sir Anthony
Benyon, w. Gorst, John Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Gower, Raymond Miscampbell, Norman
Biffen, John Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W)
Biggs-Davison, John Green, Alan Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Blaker, Peter Grieve, Percy Moate, Roger
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Molyneaux, James
Body, Richard Grylls, Michael Money, Ernie
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Gummer, J. Selwyn Monks, Mrs. Connie
Bossom, Sir Clive Gurden, Harold Monro, Hector
Bowden, Andrew Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Montgomery, Fergus
Braine, Sir Bernard Hall, Sir John (Wycombe) More, Jasper
Bray, Ronald Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Brewis, John Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Morrison, Charles
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hannam, John (Exeter) Mudd, David
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Neave, Airey
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Harvie Anderson Miss Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Haselhurst, Alan Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Bryan, Sir Paul Hastings, Stephen Normanton, Tom
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Havers, Sir Michael Nott, John
Buck, Antony Hay, John Onslow, Cranley
Bullus Sir Eric Hayhoe, Barney Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Burden F. A. Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Heseltine, Michael Osborn, John
Campbell, Rt. Hn. G.(Moray & Nairn) Hicks, Robert Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Carlisle, Mark Higgins, Terence L. Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Hiley, Joseph Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Cary, Sir Robert Holland, Philip Parkinson, Cecil
Channon, Paul Holt, Miss Mary Peel, Sir John
Chapman, Sydney Hordern, Peter Percival, Ian
Chichester-Clark, R Hornby, Richard Peyton, Rt. Hn. John
Churchill, W. S. Hornsby-Smith. Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Pike, Miss Mervyn
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Pink, R. Bonner
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Howell, David (Guildford) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Cockeram, Eric Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Cooke, Robert Hunt, John Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.
Coombs Derek Iremonger, T. L. Proudfoot, Wilfred
Cooper, A. E. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Cordle, John James, David Quennell, Miss J. M.
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick Jenkin. Rt. Hn. Patrick (Woodford) Raison, Timothy
Cormack, Patrick Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Costain, A P. Jessel, Toby Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Critchley, Jullan Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Redmond, Robert
Crouch, David Jones Arthur (Northants, S.) Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Crowder, F. P. Jopling, Michael Rees, Peter (Dover)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Joseph Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Rees-Davies, W. R.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. Jack Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Rees-Rt. Hn. Sir David
Dean, Paul Kershaw, Anthony Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Kimball, Marcus Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Digby, Simon Wingfield King Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Ridsdale, Julian
Dixon, Piers King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas Kinsey, J. R. Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Drayson, Burnaby Kirk, Peter Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Kitson, Timothy Roderts Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Dykes, Hugh Knox, David Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John Lamont, Norman Rost, Peter
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Lane, David Royle, Anthony
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Langford-Holt, Sir John Russell, Sir Ronald
Le Marchant, Spencer St, John-Stevas, Norman
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'le-upon-Tyne, N.) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Sainsbury, Timothy
Emery, Peter Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'field) Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Eyre, Reginald Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Scott Nicholas
Farr, John Longden, Sir Gilbert Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh &Whitby)
Fell, Anthony Loveridge, John Shelton, William (Clapham)
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Luce, R. N. Shersby, Michael
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) McAdden, Sir Stephen Simeons, Charles
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) MacArthur, Ian Sinclair, Sir George
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh, N.) McCrindle, R. A. Skeet, T. H. H.
Smith, Dudley (W'wick &L'mington) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret Ward, Dame Irene
Soref Harold Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth) Warren, Kenneth
Speed, Keith Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.) Weatherill, Bernard
Spence, John Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Sproat, lain Tilney, Sir John White, Roger (Gravesend)
Stainton, Keith Trafford, Dr. Anthony Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Stanbrook, Ivor Trew, Peter Wiggin, Jerry
Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper) Tugendhat, Christopher Wilkinson, John
Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.) Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin Winterton, Nicholas
Stokes, John Vaughan, Dr. Gerard Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Sutcliffe, John van Straubenzee, W. R. Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Tapsell, Peter Vickers, Dame Joan Woodnutt, Mark
Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Waddington, David Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart) Walder, David (Clitheroe) Younger, Hn. George
Taylor, Frank (Moss Side) Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N. W.) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek TELLERS FOR THE NOES :
Tebbit, Norman Wall, Patrick Mr. Walter Clegg and
Temple, John M. Walters, Dennis Mr. Hamish Gray.

Question accordingly negatived.

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