HC Deb 05 November 1974 vol 880 cc861-4
3. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on his intentions regarding the law on picketing.

10. Mr. Stanley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will be seeking to amend the law on picketing.

27. Mr. Churchill

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what plans the Government have for amending the law on picketing.

Mr. Foot

Discussions on this matter are still continuing.

Mr. Blaker

Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to put forward legislation which will enable pickets to compel people to stop on the Queen's highway?

Mr. William Hamilton


Mr. Blaker

If he does that, is he aware that it will be met with strenuous opposition?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman may recall that he had some discussions on this question when the previous legislation was going through the House. We said then that the matter would be dealt with in our Employment Protection Bill when it came forward. There will be ample time for the House to debate our proposals when that happens.

Mr. Ashton

What is the use of bringing in new picketing laws when the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875, on which the Shrewsbury pickets were convicted, still exists? Is it not outrageous that ancient laws like this can be used against trade unionists going about their legitimate business?

Mr. Foot

I know that there is strong feeling about the application of the 1875 Act, but that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Stanley

As the Secretary of State in his statement of 22nd March said that he would be considering introducing regulations governing the exercise of the right of peaceful picketing, may I ask whether he is considering making regulations prescribing the maximum number of people who can picket at one place at one time?

Mr. Foot

That is an aspect that we shall consider, as we promised, when we have the discussions. It is a matter that needs careful consideration. That is what we said and that is what we are giving to it. When the matter is brought to the House, the House w ill be able to judge and vote upon it.

Mr. Flannery

Will my right hon. Friend convey to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that this afternoon there is a strike and planned march by workpeople on behalf of the Shrewsbury pickets, and that such action is likely to snowball throughout the country in the near future until we have a situation similar to that which occurred with the five dockers in Pentonville? Will my right hon. Friend exert whatever pressure he can to see that these unjust sentences are not simply mitigated but that a free pardon is given to the men, whom many people believe to be innocent?

Mr. Foot

As I said in reply to a previous supplementary question, that is a matter for the Home Secretary. I am sure he will take into account all representations that are made to him.

Mr. Churchill

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an undertaking that any legislation he may have in mind on this subject will in no way infringe the right of the individual employee and the individual trade unionist to attend his place of work free of the fear of intimidation?

Mr. Foot

I would not answer the question in the form in which the hon. Gentleman puts it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—because I think it would be misleading. We are very much concerned with protecting civil liberties in this matter, and I only wish that some Opposition Members showed equal concern.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Whatever changes are made in the law, will the right hon. Gentleman be astute to see that the basic principle of our picketing law, as recently reaffirmed in the Broome case, is maintained—namely, that a picket may invite a person to stop for the purposes of peaceful persuasion but may not stop or detain him against his will?

Mr. Foot

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has put that question to me before—that does not make the question any worse—and I have replied to him before that Government supporters cannot accept that the wisest legislative provisions are always those that may be the outcome of judicial decisions, because that is not what our history seems to sustain. Therefore, we shall consider that judgment along with the other matters when we are seeking to establish the right of peaceful picketing. The law has remained virtually unchanged since 1906, apart from some judicial glosses put upon it, and we think it perfectly proper that adequate discussion should take place to see how the law should be brought up to date.

Mr. Molloy

Does my right hon. Friend accept that since the war there has been a considerable amount of picketing and that the few cases of disruption have been highlighted out of all proportion? Do not pickets have their rights and should not those outside the ranks of trade unionism who try to exacerbate the situation be taken into consideration when legislation is drawn up to defend the right of picketing, which is a civil liberty?

Mr. Foot

I repeat that we are concerned to protect the civil liberty of peaceful picketing.

Mr. Hayhoe

Will the Secretary of State be a little more forthcoming and say whether he will support the Home Secretary in resisting Left-wing demands for either pardons or early parole for the Shrewsbury pickets who have been convicted?

Mr. Foot

I have already dealt with that question in my previous replies. On picketing, which is the subject of the Question, if it puts his mind at rest I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that I am engaged in amicable discussions with the Home Secretary on the subject.

Mr. Blaker

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.