HC Deb 20 June 1973 vol 858 cc690-4

3.52 p.m.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to ensure reasonable conditions and rights for all workers; to provide for reasonable communication of information, ability of workers to express views and review performance and prospects, annual accounts to state labour turnover and reasons, reasonable consultation on mergers or takeovers, elimination of unreasonable distinctions between white and blue collar workers, minimum holidays and holiday pay rates, leaves of absence for family reasons and childbirth, better earnings for normal working hours and discouragement of unnecessary overtime, fair rewards for suggestions and inventions, and prevention of discrimination in pensions on termination of employment; and for purposes generally connected therewith. This measure follows a Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) introduced last month to establish works councils throughout industry and precedes one for which my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) hopes to obtain a First Reading next week to establish guaranteed minimum earnings throughout industry.

It is generally accepted that there is a running debate, certainly in politics, about how the power and wealth of industry should be shared. Although the solutions will differ radically, the Bill which I am seeking to introduce is brought in against a background of public concern and discussion. It seeks to establish certain basic rights which, in our view, give practical expression to the changed status of employees in industry. It is also introduced at a time when other countries have experimented successfully with new techniques in industrial relations which I suggest we in this country should not be too proud to examine.

From the days of the earliest Factories Act, right up to the present time, it has been the responsibility of Parliament and the Government of the day to set minimum standards in industry in human and certainly industrial relations. I hope that if the House is prepared to give the Bill its First Reading it will be possible to publish a Bill that will set out in greater detail the specific matters and reforms that we seek.

First, reasonable communication relating either to the prospects of a firm or individual prospects and the livelihood of those who are employed within it will not become an entrenched right until the Companies Acts are amended so that employees become full members of the company. Their right to information, their right to vote, not least their right to vote for or against the appointment of directors at the annual meeting on the same basis as the shareholders in a company, will give long overdue recognition to the fact that the rôle of labour is as vital as the rôle of capital in a company.

On the question of the security of employment, my noble Friend Baroness Seear hopes to introduce shortly in another place an Unfair Dismissal Bill which will deal with the statutory procedures which we suggest in the event of mergers, takeovers and redundancies, but suffice it to say that we should at least consider the spirit of the draft European Company Statute providing for a two-tier system at management level. If workers were represented at supervisory level, and if works councils were established throughout industry, I suggest that there would be at least some protection against the arbitrary effects of mergers, takeovers and unfair dismissals.

If we are, in effect, changing the structure of company law in this country, I suggest that the prelude to it—[Interruption.]

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

Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) must not make comments from a sedentary position, still less must he carry on a conversation with hon. Members on the other side of the House.

Mr. Thorpe

I suggest that if we are to amend our company laws, the first prelude must be to change attitudes, and the first thing that we are seeking is to eliminate the unreasonable distinction between white and blue collar workers. We all know that there is what, in a different context, is known as the petty apartheid of special lifts, special lava- tories and special menus for managerial and clerical staff as opposed to blue collar workers.

I know of a factory being built in this country for an American firm the completion date of which was delayed by three months because the British management was insistent that it must have separate lavatories from those of its workers. Fortunately, the Americans prevailed and they are all now under one roof.

It is not merely the petty aspects of apartheid that give rise to trouble. There is, for example, the fact that occupational pensions schemes are usually exclusive to executives. The terms of employment and the requirements for compensation are calculated in terms of months for white collar workers but in terms of "weeks not months" for blue collar workers.

If minimum holidays, which prevail in many other countries in Europe, are coupled to a guaranteed minimum wage, it will mean that for a normal five-day week a man will have an adequate take-home pay without having to work excessive overtime which in turn may prejudice employment opportunities of others. If we can bring in the provisions which the Bill seeks to introduce we shall begin to establish some basic rights in this country, many of which are long overdue.

The first Industrial Revolution in this country decided what we should produce and it changed the emphasis from the field to the factory. The second industrial revolution should determine the conditions in which we produce what we produce, and if we can first create human relations, which are essentially a matter for individuals, and if we then can guarantee basic rights and encourage genuine partnership, I believe that on a basis of shared rewards and shared responsibility we can provide for this country opportunities and rewards greater than those achieved in the past and certainly dreamed of in the future. It is in that spirit that I ask leave to introduce the Bill.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

It is with great diffidence that I rise to oppose the request of the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) for leave to bring in this Bill.

The long title of the Bill is so long that this measure has no prospect whatever of becoming law. The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to bring in the Bill merely in order to get it printed, to get it published and to give it news value. I believe that the Liberal Party, which is here in force for the first time this Session, is trying its traditional method of trouble stirring.

If a trade union member with trade union experience had sought to bring in the Bill, one might have listened to the preamble with rather greater respect. But, as it is, it is a load of mixed-up mumbo-jumbo, purely seeking personal publicity for the Liberal Party. It has no prospect whatever of becoming law. There is only one Friday left for Private Members' Bills, and it would have to get through all its stages on the nod, which is virtually inconceivable.

I believe that the eyewash and the codswallop for which the Liberal Party is becoming steadily more famous should be cut down to size, and it is primarily for that reason that I oppose the introduction of the Bill.

Second, the Bill—[Interruption.] I am only say that I wish that the right hon. Gentleman—

It appearing on the report of the Division that forty Members were not present, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared

Mr. Thorpe


Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

What about all these interruptions?

Mr. Wells

If the right hon. Gentleman would have the goodness to listen in the silence in which he was heard, it might be better.

The fact remains that this tactic of the Liberal Party, of stirring up dissatisfaction in many sectors of the community without posing any real solutions, is one of the greatest evils of our time. This is an example of stirring without any solution being offered. The trade union movement has solutions and the Prime Minister and his Government have solutions. The little team of six merely have eyewash—

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)


Mr. Wells

Where are the other two?

I ask the House not to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motion for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at the commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 18, Noes 7.

Division No. 167.] AYES [4.4 p.m.
Biggs-Davison, John Montgomery, Fergus Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Fell, Anthony Proudfoot, Wilfred
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Redmond, Robert
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Shelton, William (Clapham) TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Knox, David Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Mr. David Steel and Mr. John Pardoe.
Longden, Sir Gilbert Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Meyer, Sir Anthony Tope, Graham
Bell, Ronald Pounder, Rafton
Holt, Miss Mary Scott-Hopkins, James TELLERS FOR THE NOES
McMaster, Stanley Soref, Harold Mr. Peter Rost and
Nabarro, Sir Gerald Stanbrook Ivor Mr. John Wells.

that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.