HC Deb 19 March 1974 vol 870 cc828-31
3. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he expects to introduce a Bill to repeal the Industrial Relations Act.

4. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he expects to announce his proposals for legislation to replace the Industrial Relations Act.

17. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will give his timetable for consultations with interested parties in respect of his plans to repeal the Industrial Relations Act and replace it with legislation in line with Government policies on industrial relations.

Mr. Foot

The date I have in mind, as I mentioned yesterday, is 1st May. But I did stress yesterday also that to achieve this will not be easy. Such consultations as are possible within this timetable will start soon.

Mr. Skinner

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the situation has changed slightly since he made that statement? In view of the disarray on the Opposition benches of, seemingly, all the parties, would it not be better to bring the date forward a little and take advantage of the new situation? Perhaps an ideal date for the removal of this ridiculous measure would be 1st April.

Mr. Foot

I am replying to my hon. Friend as seriously as he put the question to me—or as I hope he put it to me. It is impossible for us to consider an earlier date for introducing the Bill, partly for the reasons I indicated yesterday and partly for reasons that I have discussed fully with the TUC and others who are interested in bringing forward this measure. It is not easy to get a Bill that does the job effectively in a short time, but I assure my hon. Friend and everyone else concerned that we shall use every possible power that we have to bring this Bill forward as swiftly as we can.

Mr. Rost

When will the White Paper be published, and will it be debated in the House?

Mr. Foot

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman does not have a chance of a White Paper on the subject, because we want to proceed as fast as possible with the Bill. In my opinion, the best place to discuss legislation is as the legislation goes through the House of Commons itself. The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will have a full opportunity of discussing the measures that we bring forward.

Mr. Sillars

In his discussions with the CBI, will my right hon. Friend make clear that, irrespective of our minority position in the House, the principle of repeal is non-negotiable? Is he aware that, although the CBI and his predecessor might say something different publicly, the whole country looks forward to the day when this Act is wiped off the statute book?

Mr. Foot

I certainly agree with the latter part of what my hon. Friend says. As certainly I would say also that I am not entering into any negotiations with anybody about what is to be presented to the House, and certainly not with the CBI. What I have done as a matter of courtesy is to say to them that we intend to introduce the Bill as speedily as possible and to tell them that therefore the period for consultations is bound to be brief.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

With regard to the picketing provisions of the Act, will the right hon. Gentleman recall the principle, as reaffirmed by the highest judicial authority in the land in the recent case of Broome, that a picket may invite a person to stop for the purpose of peaceful persuasion but he may not stop or detain him against his will? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that that basic provision is maintained and safeguarded in any legislative proposals?

Mr. Foot

There is another Question about picketing, but I do not know whether I should take protection behind that shield. I certainly hope that we shall deal with the question of picketing in the Bill. I shall not give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the absolute assurance that he asks for, because we have to take into account several recent judgments, which raise important questions of civil liberties for the future. I hope that we shall be considering all these matters when we have the Bill. Of course, an important question such as an alteration in the law of picketing is a matter which should be settled in debate on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Ewing

As at the end of last night's debate only the Scottish and Welsh National Parties voted against the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act, does not my right hon. Friend consider that the silent consent of the Liberal and Tory Parties would ease his path in putting the new legislation through?

Mr. Foot

I do not want to go into those matters at all, because I am eager that on future occasions we should have their assistance. I cannot have much hope of the Liberal Party, but I have great hopes of the rest.

Mr. Whitelaw

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will make one thing clear, in view of what his hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) and others have said. It is that he is not seeking simply to repeal the Act but is to replace it by further legislation. Will he make that perfectly clear?

Mr. Foot

I make it perfectly clear that the first purpose of the measure that we shall introduce is to repeal the Industrial Relations Act. We shall accompany that purpose by other proposals necessary to make that repeal effective and beneficial for the future. If by appearing in this appeasing attitude we can win the Opposition on this subject as well, we shall be very happy.

Mr. Whitelaw

The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. What he is saying is that he intends to replace the present Act with another. Will he please say so?

Mr. Foot

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should wait and see the Act we propose. He will see exactly what we are proposing when it comes forward, and then he will see that what I have said is perfectly accurate.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Will the Minister, first take note that he can expect the support of the Liberals in the Lobby for the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act? Secondly, in the second Bill that he proposes to introduce to cover certain points in the Industrial Relations Act which are to be abolished as a consequence of the repeal, will he particularly cover the unfair dismissal procedure, which has benefited employees considerably?

Mr. Foot

I perfectly understand that. We are making good progress. Let us get the first Bill through first, and then we shall speed up the operation of the second as quickly as we can.