§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill seeks to amend the recognition proposals or provisions in the Employment Protection Act 1975 in order to deal with the problems that have arisen for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service—ACAS—in carrying out its duties in inquiring into recognition disputes. In particular, it seeks to deal with the challenge to the work of ACAS which has been posed by the recent decision of the House of Lords in the Grunwick dispute.
Clause 1, the most important provision, attempts to deal with the problem of the non co-operation of employers. In the majority of over 1,000 cases so far referred to ACAS, the employers have co-operated voluntarily with ACAS in its inquiries and in efforts to ascertain the opinions of workers involved in disputes. But in a few cases employers have been obstructive.
In the Grunwick dispute, the employer managed to have the ACAS report declared invalid, because ACAS had failed to obtain the opinions of a significant majority of the workers involved in the dispute. Therefore, it is essential to amend the Act so that such behaviour will not pay dividends for employers in the future.
Clause 2 therefore provides that it shall be the duty of ACAS to ascertain the opinions of workers involved in a dispute, but that such inquiry shall extend only to what is "reasonably practicable". I quote those two words because they were the words in dispute in the case that went to the Law Lords. Lord Widgery, in the High Court, at an earlier stage in the Grunwick dispute, apparently thought that ACAS had in fact carried out all the duties that were "reasonably practicable", but that decision was reversed when the case went to the Lords.
Taken together, the provisions in Clause 2 are designed to reduce the scope for an employer unreasonably to refuse 827 to co-operate or to delay his co-operation with ACAS and to reduce to the minimum his chances of mounting a successful court action against an inquiry or report which has been prepared in a case where ACAS has taken all reasonable steps to ascertain the opinions of the employees but has been frustrated by the employer.
There are three main provisions in this short Bill. The second deals with the type of organisations which have to be consulted by ACAS.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
The hon. Member will no doubt be aware that the provision will affect not only what have been described as rogue employers but rogue workers. No doubt the hon. Member is also aware that in the case of Grunwick 99.5 per cent. of those who have remained at work have expressed the view that they do not wish their names and addresses to be made available to this service. I suppose that the hon. Member is aware that the Bill will affect the rights of workers as well as of employers.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter and also the interest of the self-styled National Association for Freedom. I intend to deal at a later stage with the case of Grunwick and with the points that the hon. Member has raised.
The Bill seeks to define much more clearly the type of organisations which have to be consulted by ACAS. On occasions ACAS has faced problems from staff associations and other organisations which purport to represent various sections of workers. The Bill therefore seeks to define much more clearly that ACAS should discuss these matters only with bona fide trade unions.
The Bill refers to:anybody concerned with the interests of workersUnder the original legislation this could include not only "sweetheart" unions, actually set up and financed by management after a case has been referred by a bona fide trade union to ACAS, but even a works sports council, a works council, or any organisation set up within a particular industry. My Bill attempts to define much more clearly the bodies that are concerned with the interests of 828 workers. It stipulates that ACAS shall deal with independent trade unions, which are those that have received a certificate of independence from ACAS, although they may not be affiliated to the TUC.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
Does the hon. Member accept that some of us who feel that the Grunwick case demonstrated the need to strengthen the legal powers of ACAS none the less feel that that must be done as part of an overall review of industrial relations and that the part of the Bill that the hon. Member is now dealing with is highly controversial and objectionable? Does he realise that he is spoiling an overall case by including such a measure in his Bill when this should be part of a general review?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's point of view. ACAS has faced many difficulties. Often when a case has been instituted by an independent trade union, another organisation, created after the reference was made, has appeared and has claimed the right to be consulted as a body representing a substantial proportion of workers, or a body concerned with the interests of workers.
If the right hon. Gentleman has read the court case involving the Legal and General staff association he will be aware of the difficulties that have confronted ACAS when another organisation has appeared at a later stage asking to be consulted. In many cases this sort of action is encouraged by the management in an attempt to frustrate the efforts of ACAS. It is therefore essential for the law to be amended to make it clear that a body concerned with the interests of workers is an independent trade union which has received a certificate of independence from ACAS.
Not all the unions of that type are what we would necessarily regard as independent unions. There is much criticism of ACAS by certain unions over the type of bodies to which it grants certificates. But if the certificates are granted to bodies, only those bodies should be consulted by ACAS.
The next main provision comes in Clause 2(4) and (5), which seeks to resolve the problems that have arisen from the various methods of determining 829 opinions, such as ballots and questionnaires. There is some dubiety in law about what is a ballot or a questionnaire, and the Bill therefore attempts more clearly to define the matter.
That is a summary of the contents of the Bill. I now wish to explain the need for it and to outline the difficulties that have confronted ACAS in trying to implement Section 12 of the Employment Protection Act.
A classic example of the sort of thing I have in mind is the dispute at the Grunwick laboratories. Other similar cases have occurred, one being at Sanderson Fork Lift Trucks, Skegness. I believe that a firm in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) is another example.
I shall not deal in great detail with the situation that confronted ACAS at Grunwick. The dispute has been well ventilated in the House. I raised the matter on an Adjournment debate, and many of my hon. Friends have spoken on the issue. I must, however, outline the sequence of events to establish the need for the Bill.
The dispute began on 23rd August 1976, when workers walked out over what they regarded as the victimisation of one of their colleagues. At the end of the week 140 workers were on strike. They then joined the union APEX, which sought to be recognised by the company and asked whether it could negotiate on behalf of its members. The company refused to meet the trade union officials, in spite of many approaches, and as a consequence on 31st August the matter was referred to ACAS, which was asked to resolve the dispute through conciliation.
APEX tried on a number of occasions to meet the firm and the management in the hope of reaching a solution by conciliation. On 2nd September the firm wrote to all its employees who were on strike, sending them dismissal notices. As a consequence, it claimed subsequently that those people were no longer employed by it and should not be regarded as part of the work force for the purpose of a ballot. ACAS then endeavoured to approach the firm on numerous occa- 830 sions in order to ascertain the opinions of the workers in the factory.
I hope that it will be appropriate here to read an extract from the ACAS report in which ACAS sets out its difficulties in trying to approach the firm:The company informed us early in November that it was taking legal advice and would wish to consult with its advisers before making decisions. The Service of course acknowledged the right of the company to seek advice, and further recognised that such consultations would inevitably take time.The company then raised the question as to whether the proposals of the Service to ascertain the opinions of workers constituted a ballot"—this is referred to in my Bill—under Section 14(1) of the Act. We replied that it was not our intention to conduct a formal ballot, and we considered our proposals did not constitute such a ballot.The company raised two main objections to the proposed survey of workers opinion. In the first place it objected to the inclusion of the strikers in our survey. The company claimed that as these workers had been dismissed, prior to the date on which the recognition issue was referred, they were no longer employees of the company, and could not qualify as 'workers to whom the issue relates' within the meaning of the Act. In our view the strikers were clearly to be regarded as workers to whom the recognition issue relates.The report continues:The company also objected to any mention of APEX in the questions or on the questionnaire itself. In particular the company objected to the question 'Do you want the Association of Professional Executive Clerical and Computer Staff (APEX) to negotiate with your employer about your pay and conditions of employment? We made it clear that we regarded this question as central to ascertaining the opinions of workers.The report goes on in great detail about the attempts made to secure meetings with the management, the exchange of letters, numerous telephone calls, and so on. The dates are given in the report.
The matter dragged on until the early days of the new year ACAS concludes in its report that it had no alternative but to ascertain the opinions of those workers who coud be contacted, and, in the main, these were people who were on strike. Indeed, all those who were questioned were on strike, and their unanimous opinion was that they wanted APEX to represent them. On the basis of that report, having taken every possible step to ascertain the opinions of workers but having been obstructed by the management, 831 ACAS submitted its report recommending that the union should be recognised.
As a consequence of that the management took legal action and as we known, the matter went to the courts. Lord Widgery, the Lord Chief Justice, in the High Court gave judgement in favour of ACAS and the union. He said that in his opinion ACAS had taken all steps that were "reasonably practicable" to ascertain the views of the workers, and he thought that the report should be accepted.
The matter then went to the Law Lords, who produced an opinion contrary to that of Lord Widgery. The Law Lords said that in their opinion ACAS had not taken all the steps that were reasonable and practicable in ascertaining the views of the workers. It is difficult to know what other steps ACAS could have taken.
I have this morning received a letter from the Confederation of British Industry which says:We appreciate the reasons behind your proposals to modify ACAS's duty to ascertain the opinions of the workers to whom a recognition issue relates, but we share the view of the House of Lords that ACAS could have done a lot more than it did in the Grunwick reference to canvass the opinions of the work-force as a whole".What further steps could ACAS have taken? Does the CBI expect ACAS to batter down the doors of the factory to be able to enter to ascertain the views of the workers? Does the CBI expect ACAS to raid the offices of Grunwick to obtain a list of the names and addresses of the people concerned? ACAS could not have taken any further steps than it did within the law to ascertain the views of the workers.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I hope that this intervention is not going to develop into a debate. I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter, and, therefore, I give way to him.
§ Mr. Gorst
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman again, but I know that he would wish to be fair about the facts. When the matter was considered in the High Court, ACAS did not go into the witness box, as it had a right to decline to do, but the consequence was that the part played by ACAS in the 832 whole affair was never subject to cross-examination. Had it been, I assure the hon. Gentleman that another side to the question would have appeared. It would have been possible for it to have been seen that ACAS was somewhat precipitate in breaking off its inquiries. Had it carried on to the end to try to find agreement on the questionnaire, none of the problems to which the hon. Gentleman is referring would have arisen.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I imagine, as I am sure would any other commonsense person, that if ACAS had appeared in court it would have done so in support of its own report, which was in favour of the union. Instead of assisting the hon. Gentleman's side, ACAS would have assisted the side of the unions.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Mr. Ward did not put forward the point that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has raised. It was because of that that ACAS did not put forward any evidence. That appears in the judgment.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his intervention. It has been asserted on many occasions, and by the hon. Gentleman, that the workers at Grunwick do not wish to join a union. If that is the case, and if ACAS is allowed to ascertain the opinions of the workers, the management at Grunwick and Mr. Ward have nothing to worry about. Had the overwhelming majority of workers not wanted to join the union, the ACAS report would have been very different from what it was.
Despite the fact that Mr. Ward has-bought the allegiance of many workers still employed at his factory by substantial wage increases—increases of 15 per cent. by this law-abiding citizen, when a 10 per cent. ceiling was fixed by the Government—he is afraid that if, even at this stage, a secret ballot were held many workers still at the factory would opt to join the union. If Mr. Ward is confident that the workers do not want to join a union the difficulty could be resolved by allowing ACAS, an impartial body—not a Government agency—composed of employer and trade union representatives, and others, to test the views of workers.
The procedures have been gone through, and we are now in the position 833 of having to amend the Act to include the words "reasonably practicable". According to the Law Lords, it was the absence of those words that led them to reject the case made by ACAS. The Law Lords want those words in the legislation, they will have them there if the Bill is passed, and we hope that that will resolve the problem.
This long procedure and delay in resolving this issue has caused a great deal of acrimony and unease in the trade union movement, which has always been suspicious of the judiciary in these matters. It has resented the view of management because it was under the fond impression that free trade unionism had been established since the Combination Act 1825. Despite many attacks on the trade union movement subsequent to the passing of that Act it has always believed in the right of people to join a trade union, not to get the sack for joining a trade union, and to be able freely to negotiate, through their union, with employers.
I was interested to read an article which appeared in the Observer of 18th December by Robert Taylor, who wrote:Suspicion and dislike of the courts, the judges and the common law tradition have infected generations of trade unionists. Time and again over the past century Parliament has intervened to reverse the anti-union judgments of courts that have threatened the very existence of free union unionism."—as, of course, this judgment does.
He went on to say:When Winston Churchill was Liberal Home Secretary, he onced remarked:'It is not good for trade unions that they should be brought into contact with the courts, and it is not good for the courts. Where class issues are involved, it is impossible to pretend that the courts command the same degree of general confidence.Even the language of the law is antagonistic to industrial relations. Terms such as "right" and "wrong" make little sense in messy, industrial conflicts. As Professor John Griffiths argues in his book "The Politics of the Judiciary", strikes can be solved only by compromise and by the exercise of economic and political strength, not by the application of legal principles or guidelines.'Lord Scarman, who presided at an inquiry set up by this House, said:English law, if it is to work, requires of the parties to an industrial dispute a modicum of self-restraint in the pursuit of their rights. Men must act reasonably within the law. The 834 British tradition of compromise is implicit in the modern English law governing industrial relations.Parliament passed the Employment Protection Act under the impression that it was dealing with reasonable employers. It did not imagine for one moment that there would be obstruction on behalf of a tiny section of employers. Of all the references that have been made to ACAS, almost 300 have been settled without the necessity for ACAS to make a report. These are cases involving recognition. Of the remaining cases, about 70 per cent. have ended in a recommendation by ACAS that a union should be recognised. With the exception of a handful of cases employers have agreed without trouble to accept the recommendation of ACAS and have implemented the recommendations. In about 30 per cent. of cases ACAS has not issued a report and as a consequence the trade unions that have made the application have not been recognised, presumably on the ground that a union's low membership in an industry or factory does not warrant recognition. The overwhelming majority of employers have accepted the recommendations made by ACAS.
I am attempting to correct the law to bring it back to what Parliament regarded as being the law before the courts sunk their teeth into it. If it were possible, it would be interesting to draw up a balance sheet of the cost of the Grunwick dispute, not only in terms of the legal costs, including the costs of the firm in question, but the cost to the self-styled National Association for Freedom, the cost to the union in strike pay, the cost to ACAS, the cost to the Government in setting up the Scarman inquiry, and the cost of the police exercise, when on some days 700 police officers were required to officiate. That number of police officers was required on days when mass picketing was taking place outside the firm, when trade unionists were expressing their anger and frustration that 170 years after trade unions were legally recognised a firm was sacking employees for demanding the right to join a trade union and for that union to be recognised. It is difficult to estimate the cost, but it might be in the region of £1 million.
The costs that have been incurred do not include the deterioration in industrial relations as a result of this exercise. On 835 a bitterly cold morning such as this, and on every morning for the past 18 months, a small group of APEX members is standing outside the Grunwick factory gates demonstrating for the right to join a trade union and for that union to be recognised. In the main, the members of the group are immigrant workers who have learnt the bitter lesson of having to fight for trade union recognition. They are workers who came out on strike originally because many of them were being paid £25 for a 35-hour week and £28 for a 40-hour week. They had to put up their hand every time they wished to go to the lavatory.
§ Mr. Fletcher
They were told that they had to work overtime at a moment's notice or face the possibility of the sack if they refused. They were not allowed to have their holidays when their children were at home in the summer. They had to take their holidays in the winter. Exasperated by these conditions, they went out on strike. They joined a union to try to fight for better conditions. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) says that what I am stating is rubbish. I hope that he will accept that I research my speeches before making them. I can bring him documentary proof, including wage sheets, that show that these rates and conditions applied. I can prove my case if the hon. Gentleman wishes to see the evidence.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The so-called National Association for Freedom in which the hon. Gentleman is interested is denying individuals the freedon to join a trade union. It is hiding behind the law, which has searched with a magnifying glass for imperfections in the Employment Protection Act to protect employers such as Mr. Ward.
We always expected that the courts would adopt an anti-trade union attitude That is not unusual. When reading the report of the proceedings in the House of Lords we find the Law Lords making speeches about "hordes of trade unionists picketing at the gates" and—I think that this is the phrase—"cutting the jugular vein of Mr. Ward and Grunwick". There 836 was prejudice right from the start in determining who were the "goodies" and who were the "baddies". Even before the judgment it was decided that in this case the trade unionists were the "baddies."
I am trying to tighten up the law. I feel certain that everyone of good will will join me in that exercise. This is not a matter of exclusive concern to Labour Members. Many Opposition Members will agree, on reflection, that there is substance in the argument that we are putting forward. There has been a division of interest between some Opposition Members. I refer especially to the fact that when the ACAS report was published the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) obviously thought that it should have been implemented by the management. In a public statement issued on 30th March 1977 he said:A Report on the Grunwick Dispute by the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service has now been published. The ACAS Council, including both employers and trade unionists, have recommended that the management should recognise APEX for cellective bargaining purposes. I hope that the Report will be accepted, that picketing and blacking will end, and that there will be a full restoration of normal working. All concerned should remember that it was the will of Parliament that the advice issued by ACAS should be heeded".All that my Bill is doing is endorsing that statement. I could point a finger at those on the Opposition Benches who have disregarded the helpful advice given by the Shadow Minister of Employment. All that we are endeavouring to do in the Bill is implement the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft. We are asking that the will of Parliament should prevail. We are asking that the present Act should be amended so that it may be brought into line with that which Parliament intended when the measure was put on the statute book.
The Bill has the blessing of the Department of Employment and the backing of the trade union movement. Most of the leading unions have written in support of the Bill. The trade union movement regards it as an important Bill. It is a modest measure, but it seeks to rectify an anomaly which has resulted in the Grunwick dispute, mass demonstrations, and anger and frustration on the part of millions of trade unionists who are appalled 837 at what has gone on at Grunwick, as it has been backed by the National Association for Freedom.
I commend the Bill to the House. It is a modest but necessary measure, and I hope that it will be supported.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must inform the House that already over 20 hon. Members have signified to me that they hope to catch my eye. The Bill will run all day, quite clearly, but some of those hon. Members may not be called unless there is moderation in the length of speeches.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)
For the past nine years, I have been an employee relations adviser for a large multinational, multi-union and multi-plant company in the engineering industry. The company is a member of the Engineering Employers Federation and is wholly unionised. The trade unions with which the company deals read like a roll call of the TUC.
Prior to my election as the Member for Carlton in 1966, I was full-time personnel manager of a multi-plant company in the telecommunications industry which was wholly non-union and had been so for 30 years before I was appointed. I can claim, therefore, to know something of both the advantages and the disadvantages of working in the industrial relations sphere with trade unions and without trade unions. Success in either case, I have found, depends a great deal on the quality of management. Indeed, in my experience, the presence or absence of unions in a consultative and negotiating process is less important—I am not saying that it is not important—than the establishment of adequate procedures to be followed by management and representatives of the work force which have the confidence of the employees whether or not they belong to a union.
The Bill removes responsibility from ACAS to take account of the wishes of employees about recognition issues if those employees do not happen to be members of a certified, independent trade union. It gives ACAS the right in certain circumstances to impose its will against the wishes of the employees. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I will explain what I am talking about in a moment. 838 It gives ACAS the right to impose its will against the wishes of the employees, against the wishes of management, against the established pattern of industrial relations in the industry and, of course, if it wishes, of the biggest and most vociferous of the unions involved.
This is not a new idea, as might be supposed, because ACAS has already been assuming some of those rights before the introduction of the Bill, without legal backing. In most cases it has managed to get away with its judgments, because managements by and large opt for the quiet life. When it has been challenged, on rare occasions—we have heard of one case today—the rule of law has been reasserted. It has not always been challenged, although it has produced some curiously contradictory reports and some less than soundly based logic.
Let us take, for example, the two ACAS reports Nos. 67 and 68 of 1977. Report No. 67 appeared last September and concerned a case of trade union recognition under Section 12 of the Employment Protection Act 1975 at Selfridges of London. The situation was that the normal pattern of collective bargaining involved recognition of USDAW, but certain employees at Selfridges wanted to be represented by ASTMS. The normal pattern of collective bargaining, both in the industry and in the associated companies, involved recognition of USDAW. Against that normal pattern of collective bargaining in the retail industry, ACAS found for ASTMS and found for the employees because it was the wish of the employees.
I do not criticise that judgment in isolation. It may well have been a good precedent to set. But, if it was, it is a pity that that precedent was not followed the next day when Report 68 came out on the case of W. H. Allen of Bedford and the United Kingdom Association of Professional Engineers.
§ Mr. Holland
Before my hon. Friend shouts "Hear, hear" too often, I would assure him that I am not going into the pros and cons of the individual case.
§ Mr. Skeet
UKAPE is able to put forward in its ballot a majority vote, which ACAS should have accepted, whereas 839 the opposing union, TASS, was able to get only a small percentage of votes. Would not my hon. Friend recommend that, where a majority vote is secured for a separate group, it should be accepted by ACAS?
§ Mr. Holland
The point made by my hon. Friend is not one in which I shall get involved at the moment, because I want to deal with that point in my own way and for my own purposes.
What I am trying to point out now are the inconsistencies which have occurred on two successive days in September in ACAS reports and in this particular report on W. H. Allen. The normal pattern of collective bargaining involves recognition of the AUEW because the firm of W. H. Allen is a member of the Engineering Employers Federation. But certain employees wanted to be represented by UKAPE. In the case of Selfridges the wishes of the employees were paramount in spite of their being against the normal pattern of collective bargaining in the industry. In this case ACAS found in favour of the normal pattern of collective bargaining.
I am not getting involved in these two judgments. I am not concerned with the rights and wrongs of an individual judgment in isolation, but it seems to me that if the first one was right the second one cannot be right and vice versa. So we have a QUANGO which cannot even follow its own precedents from one day to the next. It might be described by some people as being irresponsible. If it is, Clause 1 of the Bill sets out to encourage it in that kind of irresponsibility. Clause 1 says that ACAS need not consult any body concerned with the interests of workers unless the body is a certified trade union.
In many companies there are employee associations. They have been spoken of disparagingly already, but that is a matter of opinion. There are many associations with properly elected representatives who are very familiar with the views of members and could give a very accurate picture of the wishes of the employees. But, under the Bill, they need not be consulted. In many companies, too, in which there are no trade unions recognised for cellective bargaining purposes, in which there might not be any trade unionists employed, the employees elect represent- 840 tatives to works councils and staff councils. I do not disparage these because the elected representatives on those bodies are often well clued-up as to the views of employees and can give valuable advice to ACAS. Under the Bill, they need not be consulted either.
Surely the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) is not saying that ACAS is afraid of knowing what the employees think before it imposes its will on them. An impartial body would want to consult the people most affected by its decisions. But the Bill removes the need for ACAS to do so in many cases.
At the beginning of Clause 2, the requirement under the 1975 Act for ACAS to ascertain the opinions of workers is further diluted by the phraseso far as reasonably practicable".I would say that it is not only qualified but diluted by that phrase. It is a phrase so wide in its legal interpretation as to provide ACAS with an almost unlimited excuse for not consulting workers at all if it thinks that they might not support its preconceived conclusions.
Clause 2 also enables ACAS to proceed without considering any representation from employees wishing to be represented by an uncertificated trade union. There is no magic about a certified independent union. What is important is that those who negotiate on behalf of employees should have the confidence of those for whom they bargain.
There have been plenty of examples in the Press of employees losing their confidence in their trade union representatives and overturning their decisions. Equally—and I accept this—we have had examples of trade union representatives being well supported by their members. But it really is more a matter of the maintenance of confidence and qualities of leadership than of whether a body is or is not a certified independent trade union.
I see from Clause 3 that Ulster is to be saved from this piece of legislative nonsense. For my part, I should like to see the final line of the Bill amended to read "This Act does not extend to Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom", but by implication that would mean that I did not care what happened to the Shetland Islands, although perhaps 841 that is because I do not know the Shetlands too well.
I believe that there is already too much power being imposed on the citizens of this country by unelected, unrepresentative bodies appointed by Ministers to fulfil functions that are properly the domain of the judiciary. The Bill gives additional rights without a proportionate increase in responsibility to one such body. For that reason, if for no other, I believe that it must be opposed.
§ 11.51 a.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) on introducing the Bill and on his excellent speech.
We do not expect the Tories to support the Bill, because their support for a worker's right to belong to a trade union has been always dubious. When they were in charge of industrial relations affairs, they were far more preoccupied with giving the statutory right not to belong to a trade union, and from that basic philosophic approach sprang all the dangers and difficulties of their industrial relations legislation, which they have now admitted was so deplorable that even they have abandoned it.
I find the attitude of the Liberal Party, as expressed by its Leader again this morning, quite astonishing. [Hon. Members: "Where are the Liberals?"] One intervention and they disappear. But I found that intervention totally astonishing, because the whole purpose of this part of the Employment Protection Act is to find a peaceful alternative for settling disputes and so to avoid strikes. It is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Donovan Report and, as such, I should have thought that the Liberals would have welcomed it. Is not a peaceful alternative to strikes part of Liberal Party policy? If it is, ought not the Liberals to be supporting today a Bill designed to remedy defects in the Act which prevent that peaceful alternative from happening?
The role of ACAS was always visualised by the trade union movement as one way, and a very important way, of helping this country to avoid the curse of strikes. I know from my days at the Department of Employment that a sub- 842 stantial number of strikes were over recognition, over the attempt to force the simple right to belong to a trade union and to make that basic democratic right meaningful.
I think that one of the most remarkable developments in the attitude of the British trade union movement has been the way in which it has campaigned for the building up of this conciliation and arbitration service to help to reduce industrial unrest. I should have thought that all Opposition Members would have been anxious to support it and to strengthen it. In fact, however, the procedure for dealing with recognition disputes has, in the event, turned out to be so ringed around with difficulties that unions which turn to ACAS to give them a peaceful way out of their recognition dispute are becoming disillusioned. If we do not do something about that disillusionment, I am afraid that industrial unrest will spread and strikes will increase. Is that an outcome that any one of us wants?
In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend referred to a defect in part of the Act which had been highlighted by the Grunwick dispute, and no doubt others of my hon. Friends will return to that matter. However, Grunwick may have been the most dramatic recent example of recognition strife, but it is by no means the only one. There are mini-Grunwicks taking place all over the country which never dramatically reach the light of day.
I have had one recent example in my constituency, the case of the firm of Motoradio, which I raised in an Adjournment debate in the House, where, thanks to the deficiencies of the 1975 Act, the employer was able to thwart the desire of the majority of his employees to belong to a union—the clear majority. I hope that the House will bear with me while I give a brief history, because it brings us to the heart of our argument.
In April 1976, 32 out of 50 production workers of Motoradio, Blackburn, joined the National Union of General and Municipal Workers in protest against the poor wages and bad working conditions that they had to endure. As the firm would not reply to the union's letters, the union called in ACAS, which started the conciliation process laid down in the Act. As a result of ACAS intervention, the 843 works director agreed to draw up a recognition agreement, which was signed on 13th August.
However, when the union, naturally and inevitably, followed this up with a wage claim designed to bring the wages of the women workers in Motoradio into line with those paid by other firms in the constituency, such as Mullard and the rest, the chairman of the company, Mr. Barber, promptly tore up the recognition agreement in the face of ACAS and the union officials. So, once again, ACAS was brought in to conciliate and to find a peaceful enforcement of the majority of the workers' right to belong to a union.
But we then came up against what I believe to be one of the Act's major deficiencies. Delay is always on the employer's side. It was on his side in Grunwick, and it was on his side in Motoradio. Any employer has only to play for time, as Mr. Barber did. He can then split his workers in such a way that the issue is confused and embittered almost beyond solution.
That is what Mr. Barber, the chairman, did. He did it so successfully that, by early November, six months after the attempt at recognition was first launched, he was still evading all the efforts of ACAS to contact him. So ACAS advised the union to make a formal application under Section 11, which it immediately did.
A few days earlier, however—let it be remembered that six months had elapsed since, underpaid and exploited, they had joined the union—these women, frustrated at not being able to approach their union over a dispute with management regarding a supervisor, and feeling that their attempts at union recognition were getting nowhere, walked out on strike.
Following the union's formal application under Section 11, ACAS tried to launch its inquiry. Once again, the chairman resumed his brilliant evasive action. At one stage, he told ACAS "There is no need for an inquiry. I am fed up with this, and I shall sell the company". He did not. He never intended to. On another occasion, he said that he was awfully sorry but he would not be available for a meeting because he was going on a winter cruise.
During all this time, a handful of dogged and determined women, in some 844 of the bitterest weather of the winter, were standing outside the firm's premises in the most exposed part of my constituency. Mr. Barber was too busy to see ACAS, he said, because he was going on a winter cruise. In fact, so severe were the conditions in which the women were picketing that on 6th January, nearly two months later, the union was obliged to call the pickets off.
Meanwhile, the situation at Grunwick had been repeated at Motoradio. The firm had taken on fresh workers, and, of course, it had sought to undermine the union by hastily bringing its wages into line with those in the neighbourhood. Moreover, inside the factory it had conducted heavy propaganda against union membership.
When at last, in January, nine months after the union had first sought a peaceful settlement of the dispute, ACAS conducted its statutory inquiry, most of the original union members had been dispersed and the new workers—this is Grunwick all over again—were understandably nervous lest, if the union were recognised, they would lose their jobs because those who had been on strike would claim their jobs back.
Nevertheless, the response of the employees inside the factory to the ACAS inquiry was, in all the circumstances, remarkable. Asked if they wanted a union to negotiate their terms and conditions, 24 said "Yes", 16 said "No" and 11 nervously said that they did not know. But, of course, only a handful by this time said that they wanted the NUGMW to represent them, because, as I have explained, the firm had by then succeeded in creating two competing work forces. Mr. Barber's anti-union tactics had worked.
I tell that story because, in my view, it shows that amendment of the 1975 Act is imperative. I welcome my hon. Friend's Bill as an important step. However, I must tell him that I do not believe that it goes far enough to cover all the devices and manoeuvres of which antiunion employers—there are thousands of them—are capable. Other mini-Grunwicks are cropping up in my constituency. I hope, therefore, that in Committee my hon. Friend will close some of the gaps.
It is not enough for ACAS to consult all the workers involved in the recognition dispute, whether they be inside or 845 outside the factory, important though that is. Above all, it must conduct its conciliation processes and its inquiries speedily, so that there is no need for any member of the work force to be outside the factory on strike. That is the purpose of the Act.
Employers must not be allowed to abuse the conciliation period and play ducks and drakes with ACAS, as Mr. Barber did at Motoradio. I believe that the Bill should so amend Section 12(3) of the Act as to provide that the conciliation period should not exceed four weeks. People of good will can settle their differences in that period if conciliation is ever to work at all. Nor should the employer be able to spin out the inquiry procedure by frivolous excuses, such as going on a winter cruise. Here, again, a period of four weeks should be adequate.
If that speed of action is adopted, we may hope that these disputes can be settled by democratic means without any workers being forced out on strike. Therefore, in warmly supporting my hon. Friend's Bill, I appeal to all those who genuinely believe in the worker's right to join a union to add their support too.
I must tell the House of one astonishing fact. After all these months of delay, frustration and bitterness among the workers in Motoradio, when ACAS came to try to contact the 36 ex-employees whose names and addresses were available to ascertain their desires about belonging to a union, although some had gone to other jobs, some had left the constituency and some had become totally frustrated, 10 of them replied and all 10 said that they were in favour of collective bargaining by the National Union of General and Municipal Workers. Those workers had gone through the trial by ordeal which hon. Members on the Opposition Benches are prepared to seen them undergo, and still they stood firm.
If we believe in any kind of industrial democracy, we must find ways of enabling workers' wishes to join a union to be peacefully and speedily expressed and fulfilled. That is why I support the Bill.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the end of his speech, the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) said—I think I quote him correctly—that his Bill had 846 the backing of the trade union movement and of some of the larger trade unions. That being so, would it not be appropriate for hon. Members on both sides, who have to register their interest in relation to trade unions on the Register of Members' Interests, to declare an interest before taking part in the debate?
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I, for one, shall certainly declare my interest in this debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am quite sure that every hon. Member will be willing to declare his interest on a Bill of this importance.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)
In view of those exchanges, perhaps I should say that I am a retired member of the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, which is one of the TUC-affiliated unions.
It is in some ways a pleasure to speak immediately after the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). I made my maiden speech on industrial relations. I suppose that her name goes down in history for many causes which she has espoused, but perhaps the one for which she is often best remembered is the one for which she herself would like to be least remembered, since she was the author of "In Place of Strife", which had within it proposals even for penal sanctions against trade unionists in certain circumstances.
§ Mrs. Castle
May I advise the hon. Gentleman and all those who speak in the debate not to try to draw that red herring across the trail but to go and read "In Place of Strife"? They will find that, for the first time in our history, it proposed to give workers a statutory right to belong to a trade union.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
It did. I remember it and I read it from time to time to recall many of the good proposals which it contained. But the statutory right to join a trade union was first enacted in this country, if I remember correctly, in Section 5 of the Industrial Relations Act 1971. If we are talking of the realities of the situation, that right was first established in a Conservative-controlled Parliament.
847 I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) on winning first place in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills. The congratulations which I am sure he receives from all hon. Members on attaining first place, are, on the Conservative side of the House, tempered by our sorrow at his misguided selection of this Bill. We oppose the Bill. We ask the House to deny it a Second Reading, but not in the way that the House sometimes proceeds on a Friday, by talking out a measure of this kind. I hope that the House will arrive at a conclusion on this matter by a vote so that we can clearly record our views upon the Bill. Obviously, from what I have said, I hope that the Second Reading will be defeated.
We oppose the Bill, not because the law on recognition is perfect or even satisfactory but because we believe that the Bill would make matters worse. The Bill will reduce the rights of individual workers. It would increase the power and privilege of some trade unions. It would jeopardise and perhaps undermine the independence of ACAS and damage its ability to conciliate and arbitrate impartially. The Bill would increase hostility and suspicion among small businesses and among the self-employed towards the Employment Protection Act, and, by eroding their confidence even further, would cost the country jobs. This is by no means and in no way the simple, uncontentious piece of legislation which its sponsors would have us believe.
This is not a debate about the rights and wrongs of the Grunwick dispute. Even if it were, special cases make bad law. To seek to change the law on the experience of that one dispute is wrong. I spoke of the existing law not being satisfactory. It has many defects. Some were exposed when we debated the Employment Protection Act in Committee and others have emerged as the result of our two years' experience of the recognition procedure. The hon. Member for Darlington concentrated on two recognition cases, the Legal and General case and the Grunwick case. As he said, over 1,000 references have been made and over 400 have been settled without a report. About 100 have been reported upon and some 500 cases are now at conciliation or at the stage of inquiry, or a draft report is now being sent round 848 to the parties. We should look at the totality of that experience.
Let me identify some of the defects which I think this total experience has shown. First, there was the contention made in Committee that the legislation was unfair and uneven in that it denied the employers access to Section 11 recognition procedures. This is a damaging defect. There are also defects involving the rights of individuals, who are not members of trade unions, which are not properly protected. The absence of clear criteria to be followed by ACAS in determining recognition claims is a difficulty. The apparent capriciousness of some ACAS decisions gives cause for concern.
By far the greatest defect of ACAS in our judgment is its biased terms of reference. Section 1(2) of the original Act, which we debated at great length in Committee, states:The service shall be charged with the general duty of promoting the improvement of industrial relations, and in particular of encouraging the extension of collective bargaining".Promoting the improvement of industrial relations is not always and at all times compatible with encouraging the extension of collective bargaining. I suspect that Ministers and some of their supporters see no conflict of any kind. Perhaps some influential members of the council of ACAS share their view and fail to recognise the reality, namely, that there is a conflict. It does not always arise, but on some occasions there is an incompatibility in these two duties laid on ACAS.
Let me quote two authorities. Eric Wigham, who, I think, is acknowledged as being a highly respected commentator on labour affairs, said this in an article in The Times on 6th December, speaking of ACAS:They are charged under the Act to promote the improvement of industrial relations and to encourage the extension of collective bargaining, but there are cases where the two objectives are mutually exclusive.I agree. Another authority, the Industrial Relations Review and Report, which is rightly acknowledged to speak with impartiality and authority, said:Under the Employment Protection Act, ACAS has two, not necesarily consistent, duties.It is because we see this conflict that we sought in Committee to alter the duties laid upon ACAS. We still believe that, 849 if Parliament is to change the law on recognition issues, perhaps the most important thing to do would be to change the law relating to the duty laid upon ACAS to make it clear that the furtherance and promotion of good industrial relations is not always achieved by an extension of collective bargaining.
§ Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
The hon. Member is being less than explicit. He could illustrate his argument more instructively by using specific cases. What he seems to be doing, by implication—it is common among Conservatives as it is among employers—is to confuse quiescence with good industrial relations.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
I do not think so. I have quoted two authorities which took the view that the two objectives laid upon ACAS are not always mutually consistent.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
Everyone may be out of step except the hon. Member.
I believe that good industrial relations are more important than an extension of collective bargaining. If I had to choose between the two, I would put my weight on the side of action to promote good industrial relations. Sometimes I think that an extension of collective bargaining will actually harm good industrial relations. I do not accept the comment made by the Chairman of ACAS, Mr. Jim Mortimer—perhaps in an "off" moment, because I have a high respect for him—in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, when he said thatthe preferable course is for ACAS to promote collective bargaining through its recognition reports".I do not believe that ACAS should be promoting collective bargaining through such reports. It should be promoting good industrial relations. That should be its first priority.
If we take the example referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland)—the United Kingdom Association of Professional Engineers in the W. H. Allen case—it will be seen that the case was obviously not decided by ACAS on the basis of extending collective bargaining. People were denied their claim for recognition even though 850 it was accepted that there was majority support among the group concerned and that they sought recognition so as to involve themselves in collective bargaining.
§ Mr. Skeet
Does my hon. Friend recall that in Report No. 68, concerning the case of W. H. Allen versus UKAPE, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service said:The wishes of the workers concerned are always an important factor for the Service to consider.It regards it as only an important factor. In that case, it chose to ignore the majority verdict.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
I agree that in that case the wishes of the majority were totally disregarded as against the views of the existing unions, of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, of the management and of the Engineering Employers Federation. That group of workers found themselves up against a formidable array of opposition, and despite the fact that they had the majority they were not accorded recognition. ACAS ruled in that instance that good industrial relations would be harmed if recognition were allowed. I shall comment on that case only briefly, because I understand that it is now before the High Court and, therefore, it might be wrong for me to argue it in more detail. But it shows a certain lack of consistency in the way in which ACAS has been behaving.
Another aspect of ACAS that deserves comment is the disproportionate amount of time which is spent by senior figures within ACAS and by those serving on the council on recognition cases. I have heard different estimates, but I believe that only 4 or 5 per cent. of the time of the whole work force of ACAS is spent on recognition claims, and yet 50 per cent., and perhaps at some periods even 90 per cent., of the time of the council is being spent on these issues. Whatever one might believe about the importance of recognition, surely, in the broad sweep of industrial relations, among the things which are causing strife in industry, recognition is not the central factor. I am not denying its importance. I am saying that it is a strange situation when the Council of ACAS has to spend so long on recognition disputes.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)
The hon. Gentle-takes the view that the Council of ACAS spends a disproportionate amount of time—he suggested 90 per cent.—in looking at questions of recognition and recognition issues in particular cases. Does it not follow in logic that the attacks he is making on the impartiality of ACAS are also attacks on the impartiality of members of the council, including the independence of the representatives of the CBI on it?
§ Mr. Hayhoe
The right hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood me. I made no attack on the impartiality of ACAS. I do not believe that ACAS is perfect, but I pay tribute at once, as I have done on many occasions, to the way in which it behaves in the great bulk of its work. I think that its behaviour in conciliation and arbitration has drawn, rightly, support and trust from all parts of industry. I think it essential that we seek to maintain ACAS as an independent and impartial body, with its independence and impartiality widely recognised by all those who become involved.
But recognition has been an area in which there has been more criticism of partiality by ACAS than in any of the other areas in which it works. I believe that if this Bill became law it would make it more likely that attacks would be made on the partiality of ACAS, since the law itself would be partial in these circumstances and ACAS would be seen to be the agent of that law.
Indeed, how can access to ACAS be said to be impartial now when a trade union can take a case for recognition to ACAS but employers cannot? There is obviously an unevenness about it. This lack of employer access is another defect in the recognition procedure. I think that the CBI and many others would see this denial of access as a basic unfairness, and such views need to be looked at by the Government. In the light of experience, the arguments used by Ministers in Committee on the Employment Protection Bill three years ago, which were pretty thin then, look even thinner now.
Should not employees themselves have some right of access, perhaps under Section 13 or in some other way, to the recognition procedures? In the "Encyclo- 852 paedia of Labour Relations Law" there is comment thatApplication is not possible by dissatisfied workers or any trade union they may form or join which is not one to which the recommendation applies. A cosy trade union-employer relationship cannot then be disturbed.Surely, some Labour Members feel it right that there should be a possibility of employees having some access to the recognition process when they feel dissatisfied with the situation. One thinks in passing of the Pilkington dispute, which it might have been possible to resolve through the statutory recognition provisions. In fact, a damaging strike took place.
What about imposed relationships of the kind that SLADE goes in for when it does not even seek to recruit members, sometimes does not even trouble to go along and ask to see the individual workers concerned, but simply tells the boss "You have to ensure that everyone or at least the majority of the people you employ are members of SLADE or we will black all your work"? That is as far away from voluntary trade unionism as one can get. Many, many more people inside and outside trade unions, would give much higher priority to changes in the law about union recognition which would deal with the appalling blackmailing gangster-like tactics of SLADE than to the provisions included in this Bill.
Should we not also be looking at the criteria for recognition? For example, there is the question of the size of bargaining units. Some extraordinary recommendations have been made in the past. There was the report on the W. S. Atkins case, in which, although over 1,000 people—indeed, I think that the number was nearer 2,000—were involved in many locations, it was recommended that TASS should have recognition for a dozen employees in a single office. There was the case of the Avis office at Glasgow Airport. Recognition was recommended at that one office on the basis of about 20 employees, although there were 80 separate workplaces and pay and conditions were established centrally within the company. We need greater consideration of the size of the bargaining unit and other aspects of the criteria for recognition.
853 A strong case can be made in favour of clear criteria or for a more ordered and impartial method of surveying opinion and balloting the workers concerned. In the legal judgments so far, there is some confusion about when a ballot is not a ballot, and when a survey of opinion is a survey of opinion and not a ballot.
Having served on the Committee on the earlier Bill, I believe that the Committee felt it would often be right that the views of the workers involved should be taken and that that should be pretty well decisive—but not always, because it was accepted that there were circumstances in which merely a straight ballot decision would not necessarily give the best answer for good industrial relations.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that he is presuming that an employer has agreed to a ballot being taken. The problem is that the employer is refusing such a ballot to be taken.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
In the vast majority of cases—I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place when I referred to the number of cases we have so far—difficulties of that kind have not arisen. But I shall, of course, refer to the detailed cases which have been raised as the basis for the Bill.
First, the Bill seeks to overturn the judgment involving the Legal and General staff association case. Reference was made to the proceedings of the High Court on this matter. I should like to quote from those proceedings and from the judgment of Mr. Justice Browne-Wilkinson, who said:It is therefore clear that as a result of the statutory machinery an individual can have a substantial measure of control over his own working life compulsorily delegated to an agent, a trades union, which he has not selected and may even have his own contract of service varied without his consent. These are very large powers, every bit as large as powers of compulsory acquisition of property; and, in my judgment, the Court should seek to ensure that, just as in the case of compulsory purchase powers, the conditions for the exercise of the powers conferred by the 1975 Act are strictly observed. Parliament has decreed, in the interests of industrial relations as a whole, that these procedures for the compulsory acquisition of an individual's right to regulate his working life shall exist, but it is the Court's duty to ensure that the rights of the individual are not to be lost to him except 854 in strict accordance with the statutory procedure laid down.Parliament has been astute to ensure that an individual's rights are not affected without his views on the matter first being ascertained.That is very important indeed. What the Bill does is to take that right away. For that reason alone, it deserves to be voted down.
But let us also turn to what the Bill does with regard to the ACAS report on the Grunwick dispute. As the hon. Member for Darlington described the Bill, it seeks to remove what one could call the rock upon which ACAS foundered in trying to carry through its statutory duty.
I believe that the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn exaggerated the effects of this High Court judgment. If one recalls what Jim Mortimer, Chairman of ACAS, said, it was not as alarmist. He said:it will make it more difficult for ACAS to carry out its inquiries on trade union recognition among the small minority of firms who are not prepared to co-operate".He did not say that it would make it impossible but said that it would make it more difficult. I believe that there are other ways in which the necessary information could be found. Employers have refused to co-operate on other occasions, but ACAS has found ways of taking action and coming forward with reports which have been accepted.
I cite two examples from the early history of ACAS which both involved small firms, J. H. Hirst and Accurist Watches. Both those cases were ones where the employers refused co-operation but nevertheless ACAS proceeded. In those circumstances, it seems to me wrong that hon. Members should seek to leap in to change the law and to change it in a partial fashion as the hon. Gentleman has suggested. It would make it less effective in an overall sense if on the basis of the one Grunwick case the law were changed when I believe that there are other ways in which it is possible for these matters to be resolved.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)
The hon. Gentleman is really supporting the provisions of the Bill without realising it. He is saying that it is desirable that ACAS should get all the information it can and that it should be able to operate on the basis of all the 855 information that it gets. That is all that the Bill provides.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
I always distrust the hon. Gentleman when he is in his benign and peaceful mood. I suppose one is wise to do that. I do not believe for a moment that that is all that the Bill would do. I do, however, accept that perhaps some change in the recognition procedures may be needed. I made it clear from the start that I do not believe that the recognition procedures as presently constituted are perfect or even satisfactory. I have indicated a large number of ways in which I think it is necessary to begin to change these provisions so as to be more even-handed.
Unlike Labour Members, I have long believed that we need a framework of law to govern these matters, although I have never believed that the law can solve them entirely. What I find strange is seeing Labour Members who were so free in denouncing any involvement of the law in any circumstances some years ago now seeking legal remedies along with their friends, whether it be Mr. Scargill going to the courts to try to overturn a decision of his own union, or in other ways.
As the right hon. Member for Blackburn suggested, I believe it is sensible to seek ways for peacefully and speedily resolving disputes over recognition or over union membership. I think that it is right to seek to establish a fair and evenhanded set of procedures through which that can be done.
The Bill is not needed. I believe that it will do much damage. It was conceived in haste and should be killed off when we vote on it this afternoon. Perhaps some changes in the law will be needed, but even the case for changes in the law is not proven.
I again take a distinguished commentator, Justinian, who wrote an article in the Financial Times of 19th December. On the issues of ACAS being prevented from carrying out its duties by the activities of the management—I recommend hon. Members to read this long article—it gives a number of other courses of action which might have been followed and it ends up with this sensible quotation:All this goes to show that Grunwick was (and still is) a very unusual case and that, even given future problems with intransigent 856 employers, the present machinery for ACAS can cope, and that Parliament does not need to have another stab at legislating in this area of industrial relations.That is very good advice.
Lord Diplock's judgment in the Grunwick case has been referred to by the hon. Member for Darlington. It was a pity that, in my view, the hon. Gentleman both misrepresented their Lordships' views and also demonstrated his own bias and prejudice against the Law Lords in this case. I should like to quote—this is an important extract—from the judgment of Lord Diplock. He said:The truth was that the contest"—that is, the Grunwick dispute—had been seen by too many as a contest between two parties only—the union and Mr. Ward. But there was a silent and third party which had been much affected by it and were entitled to have their views considered—the workers inside the factory. The decision was taken without ascertaining their opinions as the Act said they should be. That requirement was an essential safeguard of their liberties. It was not fulfilled.I believe that ACAS—[HON. MEMBERS: "Tell us why."] I have already indicated that even within the existing law—
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a short debate. In an hour and 40 minutes, there have been only four speeches. We are forced to intervene to try to get in at all if speeches are to be as long as that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
The more interventions there are, the fewer speeches there will be.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
I was trying to draw my remarks to a close. I have indicated that there are other ways in which ACAS might have obtained the views of the workers concerned. In view of what Government supporters have been saying, I say let the people read the reports and let them look at the record. It is clear that this is so.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will support me in the belief that changes in the recognition procedures should only follow general consultation with all and not with only some of the parties involved. I welcome the comment made by the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), 857 who made much the same point in a question intervention earlier in the debate.
If changes are made, they should be fair and even-handed. They should reinforce the independence and impartiality of ACAS. They should strengthen the rights of individual workers. The Bill achieves none of those objectives. I hope that the House will vote it down decisively.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
I reject all the arguments of the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe). I regret very much the decision that the Opposition have taken about this Bill. I regret, too, that the hon. Member has had the unfortunate task of putting forward the Opposition's viewpoint. As the House knows, I have a certain amount of regard for the hon. Gentleman, and I have paid tribute to some of the ways in which in difficult periods he has sought to be a dove and not a hawk. I listened to him today with some sadness.
If I may draw an analogy with the weather conditions outside, the hon. Member spent the last few minutes of his speech skating on extremely thin ice. Initially he put forward five reasons why the Bill should be rejected: first, that it would make matters worse; secondly, that it did not take all trade unions into account; thirdly, that it would damage ACAS; fourthly, that it would increase suspicion amongst workers; fifthly, that it would cost the country jobs and increase unemployment. In his speech, the hon. Gentleman sustained none of those arguments.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher), as I am sure we all do. Perhaps I may at the same time pay tribute to him not just for what he has done today but on behalf of those of my constituents who work in or have been sacked from Grunwick. They owe him a debt of gratitude for all that he has done since August 1976.
This is an important Bill, although it is extremely brief. Its importance is out of all proportion to its size. Where the law fails to achieve its purpose there is an erosion in the whole structure of the law and in terms of respect for the law 858 by the ordinary man in the street. What has happened to the Employment Protection Act in this instance has been that kind of erosion.
The House may recall one of the famous speeches by the late Aneurin Bevan in 1951 when, in his inimitable way, he gave a colourful and graphic description of what happens in the Welsh mountains when a small trickle of erosion starts high on a hillside and finishes with a massive landslide. That speech in 1951 foretold what happened at Aberfan years later, when a small trickle ended in a disaster that shocked not only the nation but the whole world. It is to prevent such a trickle that this Bill comes before the House. It goes beyond the importance of Grunwick and beyond the importance even of industrial relations. It goes to the importance of our regard for the law and its impartiality—whether the law does what it seeks to do or whether it is possible by a number of stratagems and devices to make it appear to be on the side of only one class.
The Bill gives further strength to those on both sides of the House, including the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth and the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), who believe fundamentally that both sides of industry should move towards conciliation and arbitration and who abhor confrontation.
If a confrontation escalates, when deeply rooted traditions and beliefs are involved, after a series of battles there may be an uneasy peace. At Grunwick at the moment there is a lull in the war, but unless a peace treaty receives the assent of both sides, further battles are inevitable, because there has been no solution to a basic deep-rooted and fundamental problem.
This Bill may do very little for my constituents who work in or who were sacked from Grunwick, but it will ensure that in future no employer can use loopholes in the Employment Protection Act to deny union recognition on the basis that we have seen at Grunwick.
The drawback in the present situation is that those who feel that there is political advantage in adopting an anti-union attitude for political purposes can secure via the Grunwicks a massive platform for their views. In this connection, I accuse the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), whose views are well known and 859 who makes no attempt to hide them. He does not like trade union activity, and he welcomes any opportunity such as this to exploit the situation and to create anti-trade union feeling throughout the country.
From the history of Grunwick we can see the type of defiance of the purposes of the Employment Protection Act 1975 which the Bill will prevent. I have, in mind mainly the strategy referred to already by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and others. It is the way in which delaying tactics can frustrate completely the intentions of the original Act. Mr. Ward was able to do that by refusing ACAS representatives the right to enter the factory and by refusing to provide the names and addresses of his workers.
I remind the House of what happened during the three months which followed the strike. I refer now to the three months leading up to Christmas 1976. During this period, APEX had been made aware of various bribes being offered to the employees within the company premises by company management so that those employees would vote against having a union when the ballot eventually took place. The first offer was a 15 per cent. all round increase, which was to have been paid to all employees on Friday 19th November, and quite clearly the employees were told that that was conditional upon their voting against the union.
In the event, the 15 per cent. increase was not paid on that date. However, those employees earning the minimum rates of £25 for a 35-hour week and £28 for 40 hours were given a £6 general increase. On Friday 26th November, the 15 per cent. general increase which had been promised originally was paid and resulted in considerable sums of money being given to the employees. The union holds copies of wage slips with the name shown clearly in order to establish that this was one employee.
Many years ago when Lord Boyd-Orr was trying to do something for the Third world, lie said that if one were in the Indian sub-continent and were offered the choice of four bowls of rice or the four freedoms, there was no doubt which the hungry peasant would accept. Mr. Ward knew that philosophy, too. It was the delay that occurred between the time 860 of the event, and that at which ACAS could get to work—bringing in the whole process of arbitration, conciliation and sitting round the table—which meant that a peaceful settlement could be aborted. This Bill will prevent use of delaying obstruction.
I regret the fact that the Opposition have resorted to a procedural type of argument. The hon. Member for Brent-ford and Isleworth rested his case, as, regrettably, did the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party, on the procedural argument that it would be difficult to do one thing or the other without a comprehensive new Act, and if one sought to change the Act piecemeal one might make one group secure at the expense of the other.
§ Mr. Gorst
I resist the temptation to take up the misrepresentations contained in the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but I wish to ask him one question about his central argument. Is he aware that of the first three or four dozen references for recognition dealt with by ACAS up to last summer only two took less than six months, and that all the rest took nine months or more to consider? One of those two cases related to Grunwick. Surely the accusation that there was obstruction on the part of Mr. Ward cannot be sustained when we know that the negotiations with him were broken off after three months. It is therefore possible to say that ACAS was demonstrating what I would mildly call impatience.
§ Mr. Pavitt
I do not need the hon. Gentleman to teach me anything about the contents of the twelfth report of ACAS, in March 1977, or about the other side of the case. I have been involved, as has the hon. Gentleman on his side, up to the neck in this matter since it started. The hon. Gentleman's intervention only underlines the need for this Bill. It makes my speech for me better than I could put the argmuent myself. Therefore, on those grounds I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
It is that kind of approach to the legal niceties of this or that provision that bedevils the subject of good industrial relations. It relates to the difference between what words mean when lawyers get together—I say this with great respect to my hon. and learned Friend the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), to whom I 861 often refer as "Man Friday", because he is always here on Fridays—and what those words really mean in commonsense terms. Certainly when lawyers get together to talk about meanings of legislation, the ordinary worker in the factory is very much out of his depth. The corollary of this kind of approach by the Opposition would affect the way in which these matters are handled by courts of law. If somebody cannot redress a grievance in normal peaceful ways, he has only one alternative. He has to find other ways if he wishes that deeply felt grievance to be redressed.
I know that the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth has tried to damp down the fires of anti-trade unionism, within his own party, but if the Opposition want to see accord and understanding leading to the country's prosperity they should seek to work in greater harmony with the trade unions.
This debate has revealed that it is not the Opposition Front Bench that will take the decision—it is those on the Tory Back Benches who decide relations with trade unions. For that reason I hope that my hon. Friends will give massive support to the excellent effort of my Friend the Member for Darlington and his Bill.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
I have followed every stage, or nearly every stage, of the Grunwick dispute in the last 14 months. Since midday I have been making a spot check and have found that there has never been fewer than about half of the Labour Members present in this debate who were part of the picket line at the factory. Therefore, they know the situation extremely well, at least from one side.
I do not propose to address myself this afternoon to the details of the Grunwick dispute or to the detailed provisions of the Bill which the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) has put before us. I want to concern myself with the broad principles and implications that arise from the Bill.
Let me start with ACAS. That body is what it is today, with the powers and the procedures that it has today, entirely because of the will of Labour Members and their trade union allies.
§ Mr. Gorst
Very well, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to put the matter that way—with their majority in Parliament. But we are not discussing anything comparable with changing the Industrial Relations Act. This is not a question of Labour Members trying to reverse legislation which they strongly oppose. On the contrary, this is Labour Members, with Government co-operation, trying to change legislation which they insisted should be passed.
Before they change it, they may like to reflect why they wanted it passed in the form in which it now exists. It was not accidental, and, to do them justice, it was not thoughtless, either. They produced the situation that exists for one overwhelming reason—a reason that is as valid today as it was when they produced the legislation.
The reason is that the trade union movement does not wish its bargaining activities to be subject to any legal inquiries or to any power of enforcement. Furthermore, it is wholly and utterly opposed to any industrial relations legislation that would compel it to make contracts with employers enforceable at law. To put the matter in a nutshell, as Labour Members have so often told us, including the hon. Member for Darlington, the trade unions want the law to stay away from their activities.
That incontrovertible fact shows what nonsense the Bill is. It seeks to impose upon employers a power of enforcement by law that trade unions themselves would strenuously resist. We do not even start from a position of neutrality. Already ACAS is strongly biased, by statute, in favour of the trade unions. Section 1(2) of the Employment Protection Act provides thatThe Service"—that is, ACAS—shall be charged with the general duty of … encouraging the extension of collective bargaining.The whole theory behind ACAS is that it should seek good industrial relations—an exemplary aim—but also that good industrial relations are synonymous with trade union recognition. But that concept is a highly debatable proposition. Therefore, the law already enshrines a partisan view. But that has not proved sufficient. Despite this handicap, employers still have a vestige of the powers 863 that they once exercised. The purpose of the Bill is to strip them even of that residual authority.
The objections to the Bill can be stated as follows: for a start, the Bill seeks to change the rules of a game that were devised not by this side of the House but by Labour Members. Next, it makes even more partisan a law that was already fashioned so that it would be biased in favour of the trade unions.
To cap it all, it is, in the highest degree, unwise. It is unwise even given the preconceptions of Labour Members. Why is it unwise, ill-advised and imprudent? First, because ACAS has never wanted the sort of legal powers that the Bill proposes. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) made that point. If it had those powers, it believes that they would destroy any lingering illusion that ACAS is, in any sense, impartially arbitrating or conciliating.
Secondly, supporters of the Bill are most unwise if they do not realise that this further legal abridgement of employers' rights must inevitably lead to a demand for the legal abridgement of trade union rights. All sensible Members know that ordinary people are bound to ask why, if all sorts of duties and obligations are to be laid on employers, at least some of those duties and obligations should not also be laid upon trade unions.
If employers, even against the wishes of their employees, are to be compelled to supply names to ACAS for a ballot to be taken and the employers are to be compelled to abide by the result if union recognition is recommended, why should it not also be the case that if union recognition is not recommended, the trade unions should be for ever forbidden to raise that issue in that establishment again? Surely this demonstrates the inherent bias in the Bill—"Heads I win, tails you lose".
The Conservative Party has offered Labour Members enforceable industrial relations law which would have affected both employers and trade unions, but the response we received was "We want no law. Industrial relations is not a proper matter for the courts". We accepted that reply with reluctance for the sake of industrial peace and for the good of the country.
864 Now Labour Members tell us that they do not want law for all or no law for all; they want stringent legal provisions binding on employers, together with no legal provisions binding on trade unions. Such a proposition is illogical even on the theoretical presumptions of Labour Members, and it is also monstrously unjust. If enacted, it surely could not survive for long.
In all this there is a gross disparity. There was disparity in the existing law, but the Bill seeks to make the position even worse. The hon. Member for Darlington is seeking to create a situation in which legal obligations fall on the employers, with no protection if he wins, while no legal obligations fall on trade unions, which are unrestrained even if they lose. This is not law; it is a farcical piece of partisan manipulation which will not seriously abridge common law rights and be the source of endless dispute and ill feeling but will inevitably arouse demands for compensating restrictions on trade unions—limitations of the very sort that Labour Members abhor.
I suggest that we should remember a good old English rule—that it is usually more sensible to abide by the decision of the referee. If one does not, and if one seeks to change the rules of the game half-way through, one is much more likely to create chaos than to produce a new and better order.
Of course, industrial relations is not a game. It is far too serious a matter to be treated with such levity, but if one wanted to find an analogy for what is proposed I would say that, on the one hand, the Bill seeks to upgrade the strength of a modest castle on the trade unions' side of the chess board to that of a queen, while, on the other side, downgrading the queen belonging to those on the employers' side of the board to the status of a mere pawn.
With those rules there would be no game. There would be gross inequality between the two contestants, and the result, as intended, would be a foregone conclusion—complete victory to the trade union chess player.
It is for that reason that I oppose this undisguised, piecemeal attempt to further trade union power—an attempt which, if successful, must be at the expense of non-union workers, to the disadvantage 865 of employers and, ultimately, to the injury of the economy of the nation as a whole.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)
An hon. Member on the Opposition side inquired earlier about interests in the debate. I freely declare my interest as a sponsored Member of ASTMS, which pays a small sum annually to my constituency party as well as part of my election expenses but pays nothing to me.
We are debating the Bill against the background of fairly recent statements by the Leader of the Opposition and members of her party in regard to Tory relationships with the trade unions. They appear to have a twofold approach. First, they say "Do not worry. The Conservatives are good friends of the trade unions." Their other theme seems to be "Do not worry. The Conservatives can handle the trade unions."
We saw an example of that only recently when the last Conservative Government brought in the Industrial Relations Act. We saw clearly in that Act how the Conservative Party would handle trade unions, and we have heard from the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) how he interprets the Act and experience in respect of the Act.
I suggest that, if we consider Grunwick and other incidents since then, we can see that the Conservative Party has learned nothing from its experiences in regard to the Industrial Relations Act. Indeed, I suggest that for the Tories there is nothing to learn and that this has been shown by the statements of the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe).
What we are debating arises from the class nature of the society in which we live. Opposition Members act in defence of their class interests—the interests of the employers. They operate in that way, as they have always done, because they recognise that, where capital seeks to purchase labour at the lowest possible price and labour seeks to survive in that conflict, the Conservatives represent the interests of capital. It must be acknowledged that hon. Members opposite are far more class-conscious about their responsibilities than are some of my hon. Friends.
866 Going back into history, there were the Combination Acts. Ironically, much of what we are debating today stems from the same ideological approach as the employers had in those days.
It is a pity that the present Government failed to take advantage of some of the advice they were given at the drafting stage of the Employment Protection Act. In fact my union, through my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) and others, sought to bring to their attention some of the problems that would arise from the weaknesses in that legislation. We had a majority at that time. Thin it may have been, but it was a majority. We certainly did not need a Lib-Lab pact. We heard in the voice of the Leader of the Liberal Party earlier today just how valuable that pact is when we are faced with the defence of our class interests against the defenders of their—the Tory and Liberal Parties'—class interests.
Against that background, certain questions arise. In what ways should we cooperate with ACAS? Should ACAS have power to reach certain conclusions about claims for trade union recognition within the conflict between capital and labour?
Some workers may take a positive attitude and fight for union recognition. We have seen at Grunwick and elsewhere the response of the employer to that position. Again acting in his class interests, he sent them down the road with their cards and money. That, as far as he was concerned, was the end of the matter.
However, other workers, not being positive in their approach but being in fear of unemployment—I understand that only too well—of insecurity, of the inflationary policies pursued by Governments which diminish their living standards and of the threat of poverty, may consider it to be in their narrow interests in a particular situation not to become involved with a trade union.
It is precisely in that atmosphere that our class enemies, represented on the Opposition Benches, seek to talk about better industrial relations. Better industrial relations have always meant for them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) rightly pointed out, when the workers are 867 quiescent and not struggling against the might of capital in our society.
It has always been the practice of the Opposition to seek to weaken the trade union movement by every means at their disposal—to weaken the growth and power of trade unions—so that they will not be in a position to challenge capitalist control of British industry. That, to a large degree, is what the debate is about.
The question for Labour Members is clear and simple. Are we to act in defence of the working class in solidarity with our trade union comrades in this continuous struggle, which has not passed away but is increasingly sharpening within our society, between capital and labour? In my view, Labour Members must not forget that our class interests are at stake. For that reason, we must ensure that the Bill becomes law.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) was on his usual class hatred soap-box and said nothing new or unexpected. I feel that his speech would have been more appropriate in 1900 than in 1978. However, he was unique in being the only Labour Member so far to declare his interest.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Conservative Party as speaking for employers. I should like him to know from whence the Conservative Party gets its funds. About 80 per cent. of its funds come from individuals, and the money is collected on doorsteps. The other 20 per cent. may come from organisations. That is in stark contrast to the Labour Party, which gets 90 per cent. or 95 per cent. of its cash from trade unions and the other 5 per cent. from doorsteps.
§ Mr. Page
There is no class hatred there. Fortunately, not all trade unionists are members of the Labour Party. Of course, the Labour Government are the creatures of the trade union movement. Trade unionists are now joining the Conservative Party in hordes. The Conservative trade union movement is the largest growth organisation in the political sphere in this country.
Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) is not present 868 in the Chamber. As one who drew first place in the Ballot last year, I am sorry that I cannot congratulate him on using his opportunity this year as well as I did last year. As opposed to the all-party support given to my Bill, I find this a most depressing occasion. This is not a class matter. The trade union movement has never been more unpopular amongst its own members and the general public than it is today.
§ Mr. Page
The growing membership could be explained by the ruthless introduction of the closed shop in, for example, British Rail, where, despite fine words about freedom and the right to join a trade union, men with 30 or 40 years' service were sacked out of hand without the opportunity of an appeal against unfair dismissal—
§ Mr. Litterick
With respect, the hon. Gentleman has chosen the wrong example. It is well known that trade union membership in the railways industry was well over 90 per cent. 20 years ago. In other words, the unions have and had no need for a closed shop. For the purpose of his argument the hon. Gentleman might have chosen a different industry.
§ Mr. Page
I hope that on another occasion we may explore the dark passages in the closed shop legislation. I do not think that this is the occasion to do that.
The trade union movement is using bullying tactics and the big stick. It has abused the closed shop procedures. The Minister of State, who must be in the running for the long service and good conduct medal for those who work in St. James's Square, has said that he disapproves of the racket at present being operated by the Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers, Engravers and Process Workers. There is a disgraceful example of prejudice enshrined in the health and safety legislation by which only members of unions affiliated to the 869 TUC can be considered as safety representatives.
To all this is to be added today's Bill, and that combines to present in the minds of ordinary people the impression that the unions want to adopt a tyrannical attitude and have the wish to become all powerful. This sentiment is probably held by a number of Labour Members. Some of them would acknowledge it, and I admire them for that. But that is not the general view of the Labour Party—a view which is so often presented in a "Sunny Jim" kind of way.
I wonder why the Bill has been presented and why Clause 1(3) has been included to provide that ACAS need not consult uncertificated bodies. This seems to be a return by the hon. Member for Darlington to the "less than vermin" concept.
The position of ACAS was discussed in a most interesting way by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe). It is a matter of embarrassment to me that ACAS is located in Page Street. The hon. Member for Darlington described ACAS as an impartial body, but it was worth listening carefully to what my hon. Friend said about impartiality. I believe that the members of the ACAS council try to act impartially in implementing terms of reference that are partial. It is therefore very difficult to suggest that ACAS is impartial.
Section 1 of the 1975 Act states that the service shall have the general duty of improving industrial relations. If only it had ended there we might have had a properly impartial service, but the Act continuesand in particular of encouraging the extension of collective bargainingThat is when the arrangements begin to become partial, because the extension of collective bargaining may or may not be desired by the majority of employers and employees.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Darlington is not here. He could tell us whether he had consulted the Minister in drafting the Bill. He said that "everyone of good will would want to join the exercise." I wonder which persons of good will he has consulted about joining the exercise. Was the Secretary of State 870 consulted? Does the Bill have his blessing? Did the hon. Member for Darlington seek the views of any of the employers' organisations or any organisations of work people which are not affiliated to the TUC? If he did not it is unworthy of him to ask for everyone of good will to join the exercise when they may have been given no opportunity to do so.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr. Page) should consult George Ward.
§ Mr. Page
I would very much hope that Mr. Ward had been consulted by the hon. Member for Darlington, because it would have done them both a lot of good to have a discussion. To ignore the views of those who do not support the Bill is a fatal approach.
I believe that the organisation of nonaffiliated bodies who represent work people—the Confederation of Employee Organisations—was not consulted. It should have been. Clause 1(3) underlines the new partiality that is being required of the impartial ACAS team by saying that the non-certificated bodies can be ignored. I would have thought that no men of good will would wish to support the Bill because there can be no justification for an impartial body ignoring bodies of workers merely because they are not certificated.
It is acutely unfair that bodies of work-people who may have applied for certification or may be in the process of having an appeal heard on an application for certification will not be consulted by ACAS.
The hon. Member for Darlington said in a rather sneering manner that ACAS had "had some trouble with bodies purporting to represent workers." That was so presumptious that it even stirred the knight in shining armour—the Leader of the Liberal Party—to spring to his feet and object. But it seems that with the Liberals, as usual, it is a matter of all noise and threat and then disappearance. The Leader of the Liberal Party gives me the impression of a kind of "green goddess" rushing to a fire, having very carefully left behind the key to the hydrant.
At the end of his speech the hon. Member for Darlington asked for support for 871 free trade unions and in support of that contention suggested that the free trade unions were those that were fighting for the right of workers to join trade unions. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent-ford and Isleworth pointed out that it was the Conservative Industrial Relations Act that provided, for the first time, the unfettered and absolute right to join or, with less full rights, not to join, a trade union.
If there is to be a free trade union movement, more thought should be given to those who do not wish to give the movement wholehearted and complete support and obeisance. If that were done Bills such as this would be unnecessary and the whole attitude of the people of this country towards the trade union movement would be improved.
I am glad that Conservative Members—and the Liberals if they are here—have been invited to vote against this obnoxious, fiddling Bill.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)
The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) suggested that in the course of preparing the Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) should have tried to discuss the matter with Mr. Ward.
§ Mr. Booth
I put it to the hon. Gentleman that, had my hon. Friend met a similar response to that which I experienced when I sought to discuss with Mr. Ward a matter affecting the Employment Protection Act, he might have found that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) was standing in his way and speaking as Mr. Ward's representative. If the matter is to be debated in the way suggested, it will be a welcome change of attitude on the part of that employer.
§ Mr. Gorst
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, whereas the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) made his acquaintance with Mr. Ward on the picket line, he—that is, the right hon. Gentleman—so far from having gone to Grunwick as he promised to do in correspondence with Mr. Ward, failed to do so.
§ Mr. Booth
I very much resent what has just been said, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to read that correspondence again rather more carefully. My undertaking to consider going to Grunwick was conditional upon something happening that has not happened. It was put in terms that suggested that I would go to Grunwick if there was some possibility that by attending there I could have forwarded a resolution of this most unfortunate dispute, but all my discussions with the hon. Gentleman who was speaking on behalf of the employer in that case gave me no reason to believe that by going to the firm I could have forwarded a resolution of the dispute.
That is one reason why I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington on using the rather special opportunity that is afforded to the hon. Member who is first in the Ballot to introduce the Bill, and I say to the House that the Government fully support the broad implications of this measure.
However, that is not to say that in Committee, where I hope the Bill will go as a result of the vote today, we shall not be expressing some views on whether the objectives of the Bill might be better forwarded in one way rather than another. We hope to join freely in that debate, as it is proper that representatives of the Department of Employment should, but our support for the broad objectives of the Bill is unqualified.
The Bill is directed at dealing with problems that have arisen from legal decisions on the recognition provisions of the Employment Protection Act. I reject the proposition which has been put in the House that these legal decisions and the problems they cause should not be considered by the House until it has time to review the whole of the working of the Act. That is a rather strange proposition, particularly coming from some people who want to condemn the Bill outright in any case. If they want to do that, why should they suggest that its provisions should be properly considered in a review of the Act?
I suggest that it is important that the House debates fully and as early as possible the problems flowing from these legal judgments, because if the House does not do so, and if the House does not come to a conclusion on them, it is 873 possible that the problem that we have seen at Grunwick, and at one or two other disputes, could grow. The sore could fester. The impression could gain currency that frustrating ACAS from carrying out the duty imposed upon it by this House is a means of preventing a recognition procedure which affords a statutory right to organised workers. It will be thought that that can be a means of seeking to prevent the resolution of a recognition dispute.
§ Mr. Skinner
I think my right hon. Friend will agree that since the whole business started at Grunwick there have been other outbreaks of a similar nature at Sandersons of Skegness, the fork lift truck operators, where there has been a lockout on similar lines to that at Grunwick, and at T and H at Langley Mill in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Fletcher), where the dispute has lasted for several months. In both instances, those concerned were members of trade unions before the incidents occurred.
§ Mr. Booth
I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. I cannot contend with certainty that every instance mentioned by my hon. Friend has flowed from the problems at Grunwick, but it is a useful indication of the danger that exists and that what happened in what we believed initially to be a single, isolated and peculiarly unrepresentative dispute can have widespread effects. Therefore, I hope that the House will realise the importance of fully debating this aspect of the recognition procedures of the Act.
As has been fairly and readily conceded by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe), the recognition provisions of the Act have led to a large number of peaceful, successful settlements of recognition claims. He said that more than 1,000 references had been made to ACAS during the course of two years, and even before a statutory duty was laid upon ACAS to tackle the matter such was the confidence in its judgment, skill and impartiality that employers and unions jointly referred matters to it. There is still nothing to prevent an employer, should he seek to do so, from going to ACAS and asking it to use its powers of conciliation, which it has 874 operated successfully in many cases, to sort out these problems.
§ Mr. Skeet
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that UKAPE went to ACAS but it made no recommendation. One would have thought that, when the majority came out in favour of a separate negotiation unit, ACAS would have accepted the importance of the democratic vote as expressed by the workers. Why did not ACAS reach a decision?
§ Mr. Booth
What the hon. Gentleman must appreciate is that ACAS had a duty laid upon it by this House to operate the Section 11 procedure. Had this House chosen to take the course that has been taken by legislative bodies in many other parts of the world, including Canada and the United States of America, and define a ballot procedure for the determination of recognition, his point would have been valid. The House chose instead to require a Minister to appoint independent persons representative of employers and workers to examine a whole number of factors. Therefore, the point made by the hon. Gentleman is not valid.
The House in its wisdom, knowing the complexities of British industrial relations, and knowing that there are factors other than the views of non-members that must be taken into account in the interests of good industrial relations, even if one forgets the point about collective bargaining, decided to adopt this procedure.
Therefore, I hold that, even with the qualification made by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth in response to my intervention, the way in which he and some of his hon. Friends are approaching the matter, while it might fall short of suggesting that ACAS has been partial in the discharge of its duties, goes a damned long way towards undermining its ability to command the trust and confidence of employers and unions. It is most unfortunate that some of those remarks were made.
§ Mr. Gorst
I wish to make just that allegation. Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall that Mr. Jack Jones is a council member of ACAS? Does he not recall that the T and GWU is an interested party in the Grunwick dispute? Does he not also recall that this new Companion of Honour made a Dimbleby 875 Speech in which he categorically attacked Mr. Ward and Grunwick? Is that impartiality?
§ Mr. Booth
If it is the hon. Gentleman's view that ACAS is a partial body and should not be regarded as impartial, he may say so. I am reminding him that in response to an intervention his Front Bench spokesman denied that that was his position.
Of course, there may be differences on the Opposition Benches. It may be that some Opposition Members regard ACAS as partial while others regard it as impartial. Whether it is said by Conservative Members that ACAS is not impartial, as appears to be the view of the hon. Member for Hendon, North, or whether one takes the view taken by the Opposition Front Bench spokesman that ACAS is impartial but is working with loaded terms of reference and producing capricious decisions, I suggest that neither of those views does much to forward the interests of good industrial relations or bring about the peaceful resolution of recognition disputes that are referred to ACAS.
It is now clear that ACAS has a central position in the recognition procedure. It is clear that we cannot properly consider any Bill to amend the procedure without considering it in relation to the rôle of ACAS.
It will be recognised that ACAS is a tripartite body. It has a tripartite constitution for its council and it brings to bear the experience of both sides of industry as well as independents. Therefore, I consider it strange that the hon. Member for Hendon, North singles out the views of one member of the council and suggests that that makes the whole body impartial. That is far from the true position. Surely, it is right and proper that the council should have representatives upon it of both sides of industry. All the recognition references on which ACAS has reported have been agreed by the council. It behoves the House to think more carefully before making that sort of criticism of ACAS and its way of operating these procedures.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
I do not think that there is any dispute that most of us wish ACAS to be both independent and impartial. It is recognised that it cannot do its concilia- 876 tion work unless that is the position. Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he, as Secretary of State, supports a Bill that will increase the recruiting by ACAS of trade union membership—recruitment that is obviously biased—he and his right hon. and hon. Friends will be making it more difficult for ACAS to be impartial and to carry out its conciliation work?
§ Mr. Booth
It is my view that the Bill does nothing to cause ACAS to engage in trade union recruitment. On the contrary, on my reading of the Bill its purpose is to enable ACAS to carry out the duty that the House has laid upon it of determining a recognition procedure in a way that will ensure that ACAS will attempt properly to sound the opinions of all employees who are affected by a recognition reference.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) should remember that possibly the main reason for our debating the Bill is that an employer chose to frustrate the efforts of ACAS to sound the opinions of employees. If that had not happened, if all employers, as the majority have done when faced with a recognition reference, had said to ACAS "Of course we shall assist you in carrying out your duty laid upon you by the House of Parliament to test the opinions of all those affected by the reference", we should not have the Bill before us. It is before the House only because ACAS has been frustrated in trying to carry out its duty.
Given the characteristics of the Employment Protection Act, aimed at giving ACAS the maximum discretion in how it should conduct its inquiries into recognition cases, subject only to the requirement that where a recognition issue cannot be settled by agreement ACAS must obtain the opinions of the workers, our approach is to say that that procedure should be continued. Section 12(1) of the Act gives ACAS the duty to makesuch inquiries as it thinks fit.That cannot be achieved in the face of certain recalcitrant employers, as has been demonstrated by the Grunwick experience.
§ Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)
How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile his proper desire that ACAS should have 877 the right to consult all employees, with which I think everyone in the House agrees, with the section of the Bill which states:On a reference under section 11 above the Service need not consult any body concerned with the interests of workers which, at the time the reference is made, is not certified under section 8 as an independent trade union"?It seems that that is a nasty little piece of legislation which, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, should not be in the Bill.
§ Mr. Booth
It appears that the right hon. Gentleman is inadvertently confusing two parts of the Bill. I hold to the view that if ACAS is not able to settle a recognition reference by agreement it should be under a duty to obtain, in so far as it can, orso far as reasonably practicable",to use the words of the Bill, the views of all workers affected by the reference. As I understand it, that is the view of the ACAS Council members. They have not suggested to me that they want that duty removed from them. They welcome the imposition of that duty. However, that is a different matter from the issue of consulting organisations.
The Houses of Parliament have properly drawn a distinction in the reference of recognition procedures between independent and non-independent organisations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington explained in introducing the Bill, the erection of bodies as a means of frustrating determination by ACAS by means of a questionnaire or ballot is one of the problems that has arisen. If ACAS is not able to settle by agreement a recognition reference in any establishment so affected, whether involving "sweetheart" unions, staff associations, independent unions or non-independent unions, that makes no difference to the general duty.
If ACAS is not able to settle the issue by agreement, it is under a duty to seek to ascertain the opinions of all who are affected by the reference. The only difference that the Bill will make to that duty is to introduce the qualification, if it is a qualification, that it shall do itso far as reasonably practicable".I suggest that the issue would not have arisen if it had not been that an employer 878 had sought to frustrate ACAS in obtaining the opinions of workers.
§ Mr. Gorst
How will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the situation that has arisen in which virtually 100 per cent. of those who are at work at the Grunwick factory have signed a petition saying that they do not wish in any circumstances to have their names and addresses given to ACAS? Will he try to get off the hook by saying that it is not a genuine petition? If he is taking that line, I assure him that he is on a dangerous course in ignoring the legitimate views of the Grunwick workers.
§ Mr. Booth
I am not trying to get off any hooks. I do not ignore the possibility that in many more cases other than the Grunwick dispute some employees may have objections to their names and addresses being given by employers to another organisation. That is one of the details of the Bill that should be properly examined. However, I contend that, if the hon. Gentleman is raising a serious objection on that ground, he must give an explanation so as to get himself off the hook. He has to give an explanation of how he believes that it is possible for ACAS, through the process of consulting an emoloyer—I understand that he wants the employer to be consulted—to ensure that it has access to employees for the purpose of sounding their opinion.
If Opposition Members attach so much importance to ACAS ascertaining the opinions of workers affected by a reference—and I certainly attach importance to that—it is for them to join me in saying that the House should properly examine how the legislation should make provision for the situation in which the employer is frustrating ACAS in trying to obtain these opinions.
It should also be remembered that when we were debating the Employment Protection Bill in Standing Committee no Opposition Member protested that the freedom of workers might be endangered by an employer handing over names and addresses. If employers wanted to do this, the Opposition were quite happy that they should. If the concern of the House was for protecting the rights of the individual, it should be a right irrespective of the views of the employer 879 and not only in cases in which the employer is standing as a barrier. Grunwick is an important case to which the Bill attaches.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has referred to other cases which have arisen in relation to the provisions of the Bill, including the Legal and General case. But I believe that the main objective of the Bill is to deal with practical problems that have been posed by cases and by legal decisions. What the Bill aims to do, in the main, is very largely to restore the discretion of ACAS to conduct its inquiries in a way in which the House intended it to do so. In no way does it intend to take away from ACAS an obligation to sound the opinions of workers where a settlement of a recognition question cannot be reached by agreement. That is why I think it is unfortunate that there has been an implied attack on the impartiality, the objectivity or the ability of ACAS, given its present terms of reference, to carry out its useful function and one which improves industrial relations.
The Government are keeping a very close watch on the whole of the working of employment protection legislation so that we might identify any further amendments that might be necessary. Amendments to the recognition provisions are urgently needed to stop the few bad employers from exploiting loopholes opened up by the legal decisions.
But for this Bill, there is a great danger that, through lack of parliamentary time, consideration by the House would have to wait and that the situation might become very much worse. That is why, on behalf of the Government, I welcome the early opportunity that the Bill affords to discuss this very important issue and to remedy a very serious problem.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
This is a Bill to restore certain rights to trade unions, as has been claimed by a number of speakers on the Government Benches. Despite the Short Title of the Bill, it has as much connection with employment protection as a Vietnamese re-education camp has with schooling.
It is merely the latest and the most inept in a series of measures to shift the balance of industrial power to certain specially privileged and influential trade 880 unionists. Rather like a cynical Whig Administration of the eighteenth century hustling measures through Parliament to permit politically or socially congenial landlords to close common land and extinguish the rights of individual grazers, so the present Government unashamedly use the power of the State to buttress an already powerful minority against the unorganised majority.
§ Sir A. Meyer
The landlords of the eighteenth century looked on the institutions of their day to uphold their privileges as confidently as the trade unions look to the Government today to uphold theirs. They look with confidence, as did the eighteenth century landlords, because they are the paymasters.
Just as the eighteenth century landlords argued that economic progress required that the law uphold their interests, so the trade unions argue that industrial harmony requires that they be placed above—or outside—the law. The Bill is a measure to coerce the George Wards and other less notorious small employers of non-union or non-TUC-affiliated union labour to recognise and negotiate with TUC-affiliated unions, who claim to represent their works whether or not the workers wish so to be represented.
It is the particular purpose of the Bill to remove from the said workers any right to object to being represented by a union to which they do not wish to belong.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Will the hon. Gentleman quote that part of the text of the Bill that does what he has just said it does?
§ Sir A. Meyer
The part of the Bill to which I am referring is that which removes any obligation on ACAS to consult any body that it not a recognised trade union.
§ Sir A. Meyer
It is true that not all Conservative Members gave undeserved 881 support to the attitude taken by Mr. George Ward. That was not because we had any doubts about the rightness of the stand that he was taking on behalf of his workers. We may have questioned the tactical wisdom of the course that he pursued, but we did not question his moral right.
We did question the advisability of adopting the combative attitude that Mr. Ward adopted. Many of us in the Conservative Party believe that industrial relations conflict is so damaging to both sides and to the national interest that it ought to be avoided, if not at all costs, at least at all costs short of the extinction of basic human rights. Many of us on the Opposition side accept without enthusiasm the necessity to make far-reaching concessions to something that we know in our hearts to be wrong.
§ Sir A. Meyer
What I was suggesting was that he was not giving ACAS facilities to ascertain the views of those workers who were still at work. That was my view then, and I hold it now.
The failure of successive Governments to contain trade union power has allowed, indeed, it has incited unions to extend that power to the point where it can no longer effectively be contained by the power of the State. The Conservative Party believes that if parliamentary democracy is to survive the Government—elected by all the people—must demon-state that they are stronger than any union or combination of unions.
But—here we come to the big "but" —it is now too late for democratic government to assert its authority at a stroke. Confrontation may not be wrong, but it is certainly futile. Good industrial relations, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves today, require recognition of the effect of overweening trade union power, whatever democratic misgivings one may have.
Acceptance of the existence of, the activity of, and, more especially, the 882 terms of reference of ACAS—the Opposition, I think, generally accept ACAS and support its activities—involves giving industrial harmony higher priority than democratic principles. For ACAS, be it not forgotten, is a nominated body. It is a body nominated by the Secretary of State, and it is doing the job that elected Government ought to be doing—the job of upholding the national interest in disputes between two private parties. Therefore, we have voluntarily conceded to a nominated body the task which democratically elected Government ought to be doing. We have done that with our eyes open. Let us not kid ourselves what it is that we have done.
It is one thing to recognise the fact o[...] trade union power in the interests of industrial harmony; it is quite another deliberately to increase that power, as the Bill sets out to do.
This Bill, in its admittedly very small and modest way, seeks to give more power to the already powerful and to diminish still further the right of recalcitrant individuals or independent-minded small firms. It should be opposed by all those who can dissociate themselves—it is not so easy to do so—from the very intense emotions aroused by the whole Grunwick episode. It should be opposed by all those who, for example—and there were many on the Government side of the House—intensely disliked the Dock Work Regulation Bill because of the surrender that it constituted, not to the trade union movement but to one section of a particular trade union.
The Bill should be opposed by all those who, whatever their sympathy with the firemen's pay claim, were glad that the firemen's strike did not succeed in compelling the Government to abandon their attempt to counter inflation. It should be opposed by all those who, at the time, sincerely supported the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) in her attempt to legislate the provisions of "In Place of Strife".
Finally, the Bill should be opposed by those numerous Labour Members who, during the long battle over the Industrial Relations Act, came to hon. Friends of mine, in the Tea Room, the Smoking Room and elsewhere, saying "We cannot say a good word for this Bill in public, but for God's sake hold on to it. This is the last chance that there is of 883 asserting the authority of this place". There may not be many hon. Members who would like to admit publicly that that was their attitude, but I hope that there will be a few this afternoon who will have the courage of their convictions to come into the Lobby with us, and with any Liberal Members who may get back from Blackpool, in order to oppose this squalid Bill.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
I should like, first, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) on using his luck in the Ballot in order to put right a decision which, in my view, would to a very considerable extent have made the provisions of the Employment Protection Act 1975 unworkable.
There has been strong criticism of ACAS by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst). There have been vague, contradictory remarks to the same effect by the hon. Member for Brent-ford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe). In view of that, I should like to quote something from the judgment of Lord Denning, the Master of the Rolls, despite the fact that the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal by Grunwick and granted the declaration claimed.
The policy of the Act proceeds on this principle. Lord Denning saidthat good industrial relations are to be built upon the twin pillars of collective bargaining and trade union recognition. The policy of the Act is to strengthen that principle—and those two pillars—by setting up the service called ACAS.Then he added these words, which I commend to the hon. Member for Hendon, North:ACAS is something like a court;not a court of law, but a tribunal. It is a judicial body. It has representatives on it of employers, trade unions and others. It is independent of the Government.Those words set out the framework of ACAS. Whatever criticism may be made, sometimes in a stupid fashion, by Opposition Members, those words show how important it is that its work should not be frustrated.
I have studied the judgments very carefully. There are three main points dealt with in the judgments of the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. The first one, decided by all the judges— 884 except, perhaps, by the Master of the Rolls—was that the word "workers" included the men on strike as they were available for reinstatement and wished to be reinstated and were, therefore, workers to whom the issue related.
The second point was the problem of whether the inquiries made by ACAS constituted a formal ballot. The judges held, despite the claim by ACAS to the contrary, that they did constitute a formal ballot. I am glad to say that the Bill, by Clause 2, removes any doubt and deals effectively with that question.
The third point, the main point upon which the judgments rested, was the failure of ACAS to ascertain the views of those working for Grunwick to the questionnaire. This was undoubtedly due to the refusal of Mr. Ward to permit the questionnaire to be put to those workers. It was sought to get over that difficulty by suggesting that the wordsso far as reasonably practicableshould be read into the Act on this point. The Lord Chief Justice accepted that view. The Court of Appeal and the House of Lords held that the word "shall" was mandatory and that these words could not be read into the statute.
That point is now met, I hope satisfactorily, by the insertion in Clause 2(2) of the wordsso far as reasonably practicable.ACAS said:We had no information as to the names and addresses nor any other suitable means of access to the remaining workers still working in the company, and so their opinions could not be ascertained.ACAS accused Mr. Ward of causing obstruction and delay. The Lord Chief Justice accepted the view that ACAS was entitled to break off negotiations in view of Mr. Ward's conduct. The other judges were of a different opinion. They held that the view of those still working for Grunwick had to be obtained despite the conduct of Mr. Ward. It was suggested that ACAS could have advertised in local newspapers, could have had handbills distributed to the workers or could have met them when they left their employment. One might think that those are rather cumbersome methods.
The Bill now meets this difficulty, not only by the insertion of the wordsso far as reasonably practicable885 but by Clause 2(3) (1B)—the provision of a request to the employer to supply particulars within six weeks and that his failure to supply such particulars shall not be held to be a failure on the part of ACAS to carry out its duties under Clause 1(1).
On this point, perhaps I may refer to an interjection that I made when the hon. Member for Hendon, North suggested that ACAS could have called evidence. I should like to read to him a quotation from the judgment of Lord Justice Browne in the Court of Appeal. He said:If a decision is to be challenged on this ground, the challenge must be properly pleaded and proved. In this case, no such challenge was pleaded or argued. If it had been, ACAS would have called evidence.'That disposes entirely of the hon. Member's argument.
The Bill seems to me to get rid of the defect in the Act of 1975, which was the ground of decision by the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. In my view, the general criticisms made are entirely beside the point. The House of Lords made a certain decision, as did the Court of Appeal. In his judgment, Lord Justice Browne suggested that the proper way to deal with the matter was for Parliament to amend the Act to remove the difficulty. That is precisely what the Bill is designed to do.
I wish now, however, to refer to some possible snags in the Bill as drafted—
§ Mr. Weitzman
I am sorry. I promised Mr. Speaker that I should keep my speech short, and I cannot give way.
The matters which I have just referred to as possible snags may well be dealt with in Committee, but they seem to me to be of such importance that they should be stressed at this stage.
In the proposed new subsection (1B), there is a provision that particulars shall be supplied by the employer, but there is no statement of what is meant by "particulars". Presumably, it means such things as names and addresses, length of service and matters of that kind. There should be a careful definition so as to leave no loophole for the employer.
886 Again, in the new subsection (1B) there are the words "still not available". The word "available" opens the door to allegations that, for example, ACAS could stand outside the gates, stop the workers and obtain information in some way. It must be remembered that Grunwick put forward that very argument. But it would impose an intolerable burden on ACAS.
That difficulty might be cured by the substitution of some such words asand any of these particulars are within the period specified in the notice not known to the Service ".The same point arises with regard to the words in lines 19 and 20:but which it was not able to ascertain without those particulars".That difficulty might be cured by some such words asbut which it might have ascertained had those particulars been available to it".I stress those points because these words might remove much of the good which the proposed subsection (1B) is intended to do. I suggest either that they be removed or that in substitution for them we might insert some such words asbut which it was not reasonably practicable for the Service to ascertain without those particulars.It is important that no possible loophole be left of which advantage might be taken by a recalcitrant employer.
I hope that the Bill will have a rapid passage to the statute book. It is vital in order that the important work which the Service does shall not be frustrated by obstruction or lack of co-operation on the part of employers such as Grunwick.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) will forgive me if I do not take up his line of argument to any great extent in a speech which I intend to be short. However, I must take up one matter.
I understood from the speech of the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher), moving the Second Reading, that the justification and need for the Bill is that Grunwick stopped ACAS from finding out the particulars of the workers remaining in employment, and 887 therefore ACAS could not carry out its statutory obligation to ascertain the opinions of all the workers affected.
If that be the sole justification for the Bill, I invite the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington to consider whether there is need for any provisions save the new subsection (1B) proposed in Clause 2, which provides that, where such a situation has arisen, ACAS shall not be held to have failed in its duty.
It is the remaining provisions of the Bill—the earlier provisions—which cause me and, I believe, all my right hon and hon. Friends the gravest misgivings and which would lead me in any event to vote against the Second Reading. The earlier provisions go far wider than the single provision in the new subsection (1B), which is all that is needed to meet the deficiency, the lacuna, or whatever one calls it, which is presented as being the sole justification for the Bill, namely, the situation arising when an employer tells ACAS "No, I shall not give you the names and addresses."
The new subsection (1B) would deal with that, and that would be an end of the matter. The objection is to the other provisions, which, in effect—I paraphrase them—say to ACAS "You need not trouble to consult any body which is not a certificated trade union and you need not trouble to acquaint yourself in your inquiries with the question whether any worker wants to be represented for collective bargaining purposes by any body which is not an independent trade union".
Those are the dangerous features of the Bill, and I have heard no word of argument to suggest that they are needed if the sole purpose is to meet the deficiency in the Act that is put forward as justifying its amendment.
I agree with a great deal said by the Secretary of State for Employment both today and when he was Minister of State at the time of the Standing Committee, on which I served. In all his speeches he attached the greatest importance to the independence of ACAS, and so, I believe, do we all.
All of us on the Conservative Benches—I imagine that this is the view of all hon. Members—agree on the importance of there being an independent mediating 888 body. We know to our sad loss—some would say to our shame—of the deplorable relations that prevail far too widely in our factories, and we know from experience the value of a mediating body.
We had such a mediating body in the old days of the Ministry of Labour, before ACAS was set up. The defect there, of course, was that it was the Ministry of Labour, and if a Government interest was involved it was less easy to suppose or to be sure that the mediator would be independent. Therefore, ACAS has been set up. All of us applauded that, but the very need to set it up in substitution for the old Ministry of Labour conciliation machinery demonstrates the need for independence. It is no good having a mediating authority unless everyone involved is or can be confident that it is patently independent.
When we were dealing with the Employment Protection Bill in Committee, we took care to ensure that ACAS should inform itself of the opinions of all the workers involved. It was never said that that should be decisive of the whole issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent-ford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) reaffirmed that today. We do not believe that it should be decisive, but, of course, it must carry the greatest weight.
I remind the House that the amendment in Standing Committee to change the word "may" to "shall", with reference to the obligation which the Bill was imposing upon ACAS to inform itself of workers' opinions, was not an Opposition amendment; it was moved by the right hon. Gentleman himself. That was a measure of the importance that the Government rightly attached to ACAS informing itself.
When we hear the usual vilification of the judges,which, sadly, seems to have to accompany any speech on industrial relations from Government Back Benchers. I think it fair to bear in mind that the judges have the duty of interpreting the law that we in this place make. We all know that under the rules that govern the construction of statutes the judges are not entitled to look back to the debates in the House or in Committee to see what was said. Perhaps it would be helpful if they were able to do that, as a guide to the meaning that Parliament intended words to carry, but they are not in fact allowed to do so.
889 The interesting fact in this case is that the courts, both the House of Lords and the Court of Appeal, got it right, as it were, because they said that Parliament would not have used the word "shall" if it had not intended it to be mandatory. Indeed, we know that that is exactly why the right hon. Gentleman moved his amendment. He said—I paraphrase his words for the sake of time, but I have looked them up in the Official Report—"We attach very great importance to these inquiries".
If that be so, what is likely to be the result of the Bill telling ACAS that there are certain classes of workers whom it need not consult, and there are certain bodies about whose opinions it need not trouble to inform itself? What will be the effect upon those who—we all agree that this is vital—should have complete confidence in the independence of ACAS?
It is a regrettable fact that emotions run high when there is an industrial dispute, and everybody is suspicious of everybody else. That is the way of the world. Therefore, if we are to have this Service providing independent and impartial mediation, advice and conciliation, is it not vital that everybody should be satisfied at least that there are no first-class and second-class workers in the ACAS books—no first-class workers whose opinions must be consulted and no second-class workers whose opinions may be consulted if there is time, or whatever it may be? I would have thought that that was absolutely vital. It is this provision that I regard as a fundamental defect.
I do not think that it will be possible for employers—and not only employers but groups of workers who for one reason or another may not wish to be represented by trade unions—to be confident that the consideration given to a recognition issue by ACAS will be wholly impartial and independent. For that reason I beg Labour Members to consider whether they ought to support a Bill with this provision central to it when it is not necessary to meet the purpose of the Bill as described by the hon. Member for Darlington.
What is the purpose of having this provision in the Bill? The argument against it gets stronger when we bear in mind that there is a slight tingeing of 890 the ACAS approach to these difficult problems in Section 1 of the main Act, which lays down, as one of the duties of ACAS, the encouragement of collective bargaining. I agree with everything said about the undesirability of that provision being written into the Act. We tried to keep it out, but did not succeed. It is there. All the more reason for there being no further tingeing or addition to grounds for suspicion that the consideration by ACAS will not be wholly impartial.
It is sad that this Bill should have missed the opportunities that exist to amend the law relating to ACAS. We could have made ACAS a very much better instrument for good industrial relations had the opportunity been taken, for example, to remove the duty to encourage free collective bargaining. I believe that many in ACAS would have liked that. Similarly, there was a marvellous opportunity for a Bill to remove the provision which limits the right to raise a recognition issue with ACAS to trade unions. Why should workers who will be affected by a recognition issue or dispute not have the right to say "We are in a frightful mess. Our very livelihoods are at stake because of the action taken by SLADE". Perhaps SLADE and the NGA are fighting each other. Why cannot these people say to ACAS "Look what is happening. Can't you help? Can't you advise or conciliate? "Why should employers not have the same right as trade unions?
Local newspapers in our constituencies have been obliged to turn away the work of independent designers who have not thought it right to join SLADE, for example, and who are being blackmailed by one trade union in pursuit of a vendetta against another. In those circumstances, why should the employer not have the same right as a trade union? That right is not included in the Bill.
I am sorry to say that this is a Bill of lost opportunities. A much more accurate and descriptive Title for the Bill would be "Employment Protection Racket Bill." That is what it would legitimise.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)
The hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) 891 reminded the House of that which we all know very well, namely, that it is the function of the courts to interpret the law. It is the function of Parliament, when it discovers that the courts have said that a law does not mean what Parliament thought it did, to amend that law so that it means what Parliament originally intended it to mean. I do not know why the hon. and learned Gentleman should be so surprised that an hon. Member drawing a place in the Ballot should use the opportunity thus provided to put an important piece of legislation into the state in which it was originally meant to be.
In all the years that I have been in this House I cannot recall a single Session of Parliament in which there was not at least one measure going through amending a previous Act, or more than one Act, precisely because the original Act did not fulfil the intentions of Parliament. Every Finance Bill does that. Each time we have a Finance Bill someone finds a way of fiddling his way out of some obligation, so we need an amending clause in the next. Finance Bill to close the gap.
What my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) has done—I join those who have paid warm tribute to him, not only for his initiative but for his splendid speech—is to seek to close a gap. We have an example of this problem at the moment. We passed a measure called the Domestic Violence Act. What we thought was our intention was called into question. So far, two courts have given two diametrically opposed views on what is the intention of the Act and we are now awaiting a third and, one hopes, a definitive view from their Lordships' House on the subject.
However much we try, and we try hard, to enact legislation that is unambiguous and not subject to challenge—legislation whose purpose will be fulfilled—we are but mortal men. We cannot foresee every contingency. As a result, we are instructed by the courts and we have to think about the matter again. My hon. Friend has given us the opportunity to do that. Whatever we may think about the speeches that have been made—we all agree with some and disagree with others —this has been an extremely interesting and informative debate. There have been many significant speeches. The most significant is that which has not been made. 892 I refer to the speech of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). I know he will realise that it is totally without offence when I describe him in this matter as the dog that did not bark in the night. That was the significant piece of evidence.
§ Mr. Mikardo
In that case I am absolutely delighted and I look forward to the sound and content of the barking. I have a great admiration—I say this with total and deep sincerity—for the way in which, since the right hon. Member acquired the portfolio of employment, he has made himself knowledgeable and understanding of the many sophisticated problems involved in industrial relations and has escaped from the claptrap slogans of the primitives who sit behind him—the trade union bashers. The right hon. Gentleman has learnt the delicacies of the art of industrial relations. He will know that some of the things said by his hon. Friends today have been absolutely horrendous. He will not be a bit pleased about that.
When he barks, before 4 o'clock, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will remind us that it was he who, in the Committee proceedings on the Employment Protection Bill, advanced the idea, put forward again today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), of imposing a time limit upon the activities of ACAS. That went further than this Bill, and was strong talk. Had I been on that Committee I should have been inclined to go along with the right hon. Gentleman, as I supported the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn. It is clear that the right hon. Gentleman has a good instinctive understanding of industrial relations. The deep divisions between his concept of industrial relations and that of those sitting behind him have come out sharply in this debate.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) paid tribute, though not without reservation, to ACAS. That was in sharp contrast to the rather vituperous diatribe against it by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland). Again, both the hon. Member for Brent-ford and Isleworth and the hon. and 893 learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells said, and I agree, that the majority view of the workers in the sort of situation that we are talking about should carry great weight but should not be the sole determinant. I am sure that everyone who knows anything about the matter will agree that that is right—except, of course, for the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), who said the opposite.
I am sorry that it is necessary to bring in this Bill and the Bill that we are to have later but to which I would be out of order to refer now. All my experience of industrial relations, over some decades, has led me to the view, shared by others, that in industrial relations the less law we have the better. The best way to conduct industrial relations is by consent rather than by confrontation—by conciliation and arbitration rather than by trials of strength, whether those trials of strength take place on the shop floor or in the courts.
Unfortunately, one can go along that road of avoiding getting tied down by legislation and doing things by consent only so far as the people involved are reasonable people and are men of good will, as the overwhelming majority of employers and union officials are. Unhappily, nearly all legislation is about recalcitrant minorities. Burglars are a small minority in the community but we have a lot of legislation about them.
So, although the experience is, as the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth said, that ACAS has done many things and has handled 1,000 cases by consent because it was dealing with reasonable chaps on both sides, that situation is not universal, and we have to have amending legislation. However much one wants to involve the law less and less in industrial relations, that is one reason why it is necessary to amend the Act.
When I took second place in the Ballot after my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, it was the first time that I had won anything in a raffle since 1929, when I won a live piglet for a penny. When I found that I had second place in the Ballot, I got a research group to look up all the cases that have arisen out of the fact that the Act has not functioned in the way in which we mani- 894 festly expected it would when we passed it.
The researchers produced a list. I was horrified by its length. It is still small in relation to the 1,000 cases of which the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth talked, but it is remarkable. It is a list of different types of unexpected applications of the Act. There is not merely Grunwick—that great publicised case. As the hon. Gentleman said, this is not a debate about Grunwick, or it should not be. There are other Grunwick-type situations around the country. A number of different things have arisen because the Act does not work as we thought it would.
The hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells asked why the Bill was not confined to one aspect. If I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington correctly, he is trying to do a little more, because, so often, when one wants to amend and improve the operation of an Act one finds one or two other glaring instances in addition to the one that decided one upon that course in the first place. Indeed, I think that we could put a great deal more into this Bill, but we all know that there is a limit to the size and complexity of a Bill that can be got through the Private Member's Bill procedure.
§ Mr. Mayhew
But the Bill goes very much further than just putting right a little defect that the experience of the last two years has thrown up. It says that ACAS need not concern itself with consulting bodies of people who are not members of unions. Similarly, it need not bother to ascertain whether any workers want to be represented by anything other than a trade union.
§ Mr. Mikardo
The hon. and learned Gentleman has misheard or misunderstood me. That is what I was trying to say. He has quoted two more examples of the way in which the operation of the law has proved to be defective. My hon. Friend picked them up on the way.
The real problem about the major element in the Bill is that of the employer who is deliberately obstructive. We ought not to talk about this in theory. One hon. Member justified—I do not know how—the delays at Grunwick by saying "that is OK—there were worse delays in other cases". The first thing 895 that one learns about industrial relations is that in a situation of conflict or potential conflict it is not, as the Bible says, the soft answer that turneth away wrath; it is the quick answer. It is the continuation of a period of uncertainty that exacerbates a situation and that gets people on both sides of an argument to harden their attitudes, thereby creating a situation in which a conciliated or arbitrated and negotiated solution becomes more and more unlikely.
Surely, any hon. Member anywhere in the House who understands that fact should welcome the intention of the Bill, even if he does not go along with every word of it, in order to secure that this period of uncertainty should be reduced as far as possible, because that is in the highest interests of both sides of the argument.
I put a serious question to right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. If during the course of the proceedings on the original measure we could have foreseen what would take place, can anyone doubt that we would have amended it to cover the point? If that is so, how can anyone resist our amending the Bill, however belatedly, ex post facto?
There are many things that need to be changed. If my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington is trying to change two or three of them he deserves the plaudits of the House on that count.
I cannot go along with the Utopian naivety of the Leader of the Liberal Party—it is one of his most lovable characteristics—when he says "Do nothing until you can do everything". Even when he knows that there is something wrong he says "Do not put it right until we have a great review of the whole doo-da". That is a typical sitting-on-the-fence attitude. [HON. MEMBERS: "Liberal Members are not sitting today."] They are not sitting on the fence today. The contribution of the Liberals to this debate has been one intervention that lasted 18 seconds and total absence from the rest of the proceedings. It is Blackpool that has caused that.
I want to make one last point. Some Conservative Members will not agree with what I am about to say, but I am not saying it to score points. I am saying it out of sincerity. I hope that they will 896 think about it and take it on board before they start to shout this disagreement. I have also forgiven the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth for his preposterous and most objectionable suggestion that there are times when I am not benign and peaceful.
It is obvious that Conservative Members will vote against the Second Reading today. I put it to them that outside this House that will raise a huge query mark about the bona fides of all that they have ever said about industrial relations, as well as the bona fides of their contention that, given a Conservative Government, no one need worry that they will get on just as well with the trade unions as a Labour Government or anyone else.
There have been bitter attacks made on ACAS, notably by the hon. Member for Carlton, who treated ACAS as though it were merely a mouthpiece and a tool of the unions, whereas representatives of employers as well as unions and independent representatives serve on the council of ACAS. If I were an employer representative on the council I would be very angry indeed at the hon. Member for Carlton, because he said that ACAS was not doing its job, that it was being led by the nose, that it was being made a monkey of, and that its members were mugs. It was suggested that we could not prevent ACAS from being used as a tool of the unions.
If I were an employer representative on the council of ACAS I would ask the hon. Gentleman "What makes you bighead think that you know a lot more about this than I do?" That attack on ACAS will not be readily forgotten by all those who believe in the functions of conciliation and arbitration.
I exempt the right hon. Member for Lowestoft, because he is a sensible fellow. He would not want to get rid of ACAS. He may want to improve the way it works, as I do, because I do not think that it is perfect. I believe that it is slow-moving. Instead, I want to ask those Conservative Members sitting behind the right hon. Gentleman who clearly want to get rid of ACAS what they will put in place of an Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Will they put in its place a mandatory conflict and confrontation organisation? What contribution do they think that will make 897 to reducing industrial tension and getting rid of industrial disputes?
I must come back to the point, which I am sure the right hon. Member for Lowestoft fully understands. It has been claimed by the Leader of the Opposition that people need not worry about the fact that under a Conservative Government there may be a lot of industrial trouble. She has said "Do not worry, because there is no reason why we should not get on with the trade unions just as well as anyone else".
But the right hon. Member for Lowestoft will have to carry the cross of union bashing speeches like the one we heard from the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer). It will be a heavy cross for him to carry.
The fact is that the trade union movement broadly supports this Bill, although I do not claim that it goes along with every dot and comma. Conservative Members will vote against it today, yet as candidates in a General Election they will tell their constituents that they support trade unionism and that a Conservative Government will get on with the trade unions as well as anyone else. In those circumstances they will be asked "Why, on 20th January, did you try and give a black eye to the trade unions" That is what they are doing, and they will not be able to talk their way out of it.
The trouble with Conservative Members is that they find it difficult to match the deed to the word. They speak honeyed words to the trade union movement, yet oppose the desires of the trade unions in every practical way and at every conceivable opportunity. They are doing so today.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I do not believe in giving housing room to squatters.
By their vote today Conservative Members will expose the two-faced attitude 898 that they have towards the trade union movement. I repeat that they will be asked some very searching questions when as candidates at the next election, they talk about the trade union movement.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). I noted one of his observations which was "the less law, the better". He might start here by doing away with this particular piece of legislation, which is totally unsuitable.
Most of the debate has been concerned with Clause 2 (3)(1B), which facilitates ACAS with regard to a notice in aid of a ballot. The inequity of this legislation, in my view, relates to Clause 2(3)(1A), which has the effect of disfranchising non-certificated bodies. They are entirely disregarded. I cannot believe that the trade union movement desires that to be done.
How interesting it is that most of the debate has concentrated on the other provisions of the Bill. In a more sober moment, perhaps, I might be prepared to concede them, but when I come back to the provision which disfranchises a whole lot of workers who at present have the right to put a case to ACAS but who will not be able to do so under the Bill I find it totally unacceptable.
§ Mr. Skeet
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not read the Bill. I am referring to the new subsections (1A) and (2A). Perhaps I should read them for the hon. Gentleman's benefit. The proposed new subsection (1A) reads:Subsection (1) above shall not be construed as requiring the Service"—that is, ACAS—to ascertain whether any worker wishes to be represented for the purposes of collective bargaining by any body which is not at the time the reference is made certified under section 8 above as an independent trade union.
§ Mr. Mikardo
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not the same as he said it was. He said that no worker who was a member of one of these bodies could make representations to ACAS. Of course they can. ACAS may take them into account. It is not obliged to; that is all.
§ Mr. Skeet
I wonder where is that great English right for them to say "We have the right to go to ACAS on a matter which is our concern." They will be inhibited by the Bill if it is passed by the House, and I hope that the House will have the common sense not to proceed with it.
I take up one other matter mentioned by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow and by an earlier speaker about the anti-union attitude of the courts. There is a great deal of sensitivity about this, and it is unfortunate that this should be so. The courts are quite rightly there to interpret the law. But, where Parliament confirms wide-ranging powers, it is the duty of the judiciary to ensure that there is no misuse of those powers. From the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927 to the present day, including 1946, when the molestation clauses were repealed, it has been the duty of the courts to see, above all, that justice is done for the individual. It is the individual as against the monolithic trade union who must sometimes be considered. I should have thought that this was important.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)
Is the hon. Gentleman asking us to believe that, from Taff Vale onwards, the numerous judgments that we have had from the courts have been reached in some spirit of objectivity and impartiality?
§ Mr. Skeet
I am saying that the courts are there primarily to adminster the legislation passed by this House and to see that justice is done. Where enormous powers are conferred, they must administer them liberally to ensure that the rights of the individual are safeguarded. If the House does not like this, it can bring about revising legislation at any time, which has been done.
But we are seeking to confiscate the rights of additional workers under the proposed new subsection (1A). I have the feeling—and I think that it is right to assume—that those who are the authors of the Employment Protection Act 1975 were keen to further the powers of the trade unions regardless, in some instances, of the workers themselves. I say that in a constructive light, because I want to refer to the observations in 900 the Financial Times of 15th December 1977 about reshaping the Act.
I regret very much that the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) does not recognise ACAS in this shape. I say in parenthesis that I support ACAS, but I should like to see some revision of it in the way that I have in mind.
The Financial Times had this to say:It will be seen that the necessary re-shaping of ACAS has to do with a tilting of the balance in favour of workers' rights as against trade unions' prerogatives. This means promoting collective bargaining, even in small companies, where the workers want it—but protecting workers from predatory trade unions on a membership drive when they do not want it.There are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who will accede to the argument which I put forward, and I move straight away to the matter which I wish to raise in this debate.
UKAPE claimed recognition relating its case to all professional engineers and also professional staff in techincal posts at W. H. Allen, Bedford. TASS, which negotiates on behalf of certain technical staff, has only 15 members within the area claimed by UKAPE. It nevertheless lays claim to negotiating rights for the broader technical group, regardless of salary scales and professional qualifications, althought it has barely secured a foothold in the corner of the professional group in question.
UKAPE maintains that technical staff as a whole do not form an appropriate negotiating group due to diversity of training, qualifications and so forth. In the area staked out by UKAPE, the latter secured 79 per cent. of those who replied to the survey. TASS secured only 10 per cent. UKAPE also secured strong support within the wider technical field, namely, 35 per cent., compared with TASS's 35 per cent. In my judgment, by taking the democratic right of the workers concerned in this negotiating unit, the survey should have been decisive. However, ACAS decided not to decide the issue at all.
I have come to the conclusion that, although part of the purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the conduct of the service on a recalcitrant business or factory owner where cases can be decided accurately on all the details brought in, as in the W. H. Allen case, here TASS is 901 prepared to disregard the view of the majority and look at other matters. If the result of the survey had gone the other way and ACAS had not taken the judgment of the workers but had relied on other matters such as whether it was disruptive of industrial relations, whether it interfered with established bargaining procedures and whether it would lead to fragmentation, these issues could have decided the matter without any weight being put upon the democratic decision of the various workers who wanted a new union established.
I say this earnestly to the House because I believe that it is a very solemn point. ACAS has decided a number of cases. There is a case involving Short Brothers in Ireland as well, when UKAPE received the majority of the votes but was ignored. I am also rather concerned about the Stylex Motor Products case, where the shape of the negotiating groups approved by ACAS looks rather quixotic. The TGWU claimed a viable negotiating group which comprised four assembly workers, one machinist, one stapler and one machine operator, and its claim was accepted.
ACAS has a perfect right to say that it will take account of other factors. But let us see what are the other factors that it has in mind. The fragmentation of negotiating groups is regarded as undesirable by established unions and employers' associations, and I accept that. But the suitability of the unit requiring separate representation requires positive examination. There is clearly a need for separate arrangements for higher levels of employees of managerial and professional status, especially in view of the proved inadequacy of existing collective bargaining arrangements. For example, the claims of professional engineers could either be diluted or lost sight of in the variety of other issues that the broad range of technical employees might embrace. If this state of affairs was allowed to continue, it would result in a substantial section of workers remaining totally unrepresented or being forced to join a union with which they had no sympathy.
The other argument which has been put forward is that multiplication of bargaining units would seriously interfere with 902 established bargaining procedures. This comes from an understanding between the Engineering Employers Federation and five of the unions of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions with regard to certain criteria for recognition of non-procedural categories. Are the existing collective bargaining arrangements to remain unchanged for all time? Are they to be ossified? Is there to be neither development nor evolution?
I do not wish to take up too much time, and I shall come to my final point. It is further argued that the acceptance of multi-negotiating units could prove disruptive of good industrial relations. Surely this is irrelevant as a recognition issue, under Section 12, but for the sake of argument I am prepared to relate this matter to UKAPE.
Suppose that UKAPE employees at Allen's decided to strike to support their contention, fortified by 80 per cent. of those who cast their votes on the recognition issue. Would that not be disruptive of industrial relations in the local works at Bedford? What evidence is there that TASS and others would reject an ACAS recommendation that favoured UKAPE as a negotiating union? If the House is to say that the law must be changed to give additional recognition to an ACAS recommendation which is in favour of a trade union, is the union prepared to accept the verdict when it goes against it?
§ Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)
The hon. Gentleman ought to give way. My hon. Friend knows what he is talking about.
§ Mr. Skeet
He will have the opportunity to express his views when his own 903 Bill comes before the House. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman that he has a place on next Friday's list. We shall examine his Bill in due course.
Time is passing, and I must point out that it is extraordinary that this Bill should come before the House and that we should spend most of the afternoon in argument about how to facilitate the deployment of notices in ballots and finding out which workers are involved under Clause 2(3)(1A), which would seek to disfranchise many workers who wish to express their views. They would be completely disfranchised if they did not belong to a certified body.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I find some difficulty in commenting on the remarks of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) because it was difficult to discern where his argument was taking him. We all know that Section 1 of the Employment Protection Act aims at encouraging good industrial relations. However, the hon. Gentleman failed to understand that basic point. I am sure that when he reads his contribution in Hansard he will realise that it adds nothing to that purpose.
I wish to confine myself to one matter. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isle-worth (Mr. Hayhoe) argued that to change the law on one case would be bad law. I intervened in his speech to point out that this involved not one case but many cases.
I am dealing with a case in my role as parliamentary adviser to the Furniture Timber and Allied Trades Union which involves a firm called E and H Architectural Products Ltd., Langley Mill, a firm which has followed the Grunwick syndrome. That firm has been in the area for 18 years or so and for a considerable period of time my union has had close agreements and understandings. Indeed, the firm deducted employees' trade union contributions from pay. While the Grunwick dispute was taking place, there was a dispute at the factory over a rumour that some non-trade union members were being given special privileges in terms of overtime payments without the knowledge of other people on the staff.
There were about 30 people employed by the firm, and about 80 per cent. of 904 them were in the union. The trade union organiser was brought in because other allegations were also made, including claims that the firm was not paying great attention to the training of young people in the industry, that it had changed its view on this matter and that it had paid no attention to the fact that a boy working a machine was not being properly instructed.
The district organiser of the union went in merely to have discussions with the management to find out the truth of the problems and whether they could be resolved. For some extraordinary reason, the firm refused to discuss these matters with him and said that it had no intention of talking to him and that what was going on was the firm's business.
Naturally, the organiser did not take kindly to that, and he suggested that it would be in the interests of good industrial relations if the firm discussed these matters with him. If the allegations were untrue, he could stop all the nonsense; if they were true and the firm was giving privileges to non-trade unionists, it could explain why it was suddenly doing so when it had had an agreement with the union for several years.
The response was that the firm decided to abandon recognition of the union after all that time, and the district official was ordered out of the factory. As a result, 15 of the trade unionists decided that this was an unfair way to treat the official and they came out on strike in protest.
Subsequently, ACAS was asked to try to resolve the dispute. It had started over something silly and ACAS seemed the right body to resolve the matter. It came in during March of last year and spent a long time examining the situation and discussing it with everyone concerned. When it gave its view in August —the date is pertinent because that was the time of the Grunwick blow-up—it had general agreement between the union and the employer that the men's case was right. However, the day before the report was due to be signed and accepted by both sides, the firm decided that, because of the House of Lords decision in regard to non-trade unionists at the Grunwick factory not being consulted, it would refuse to accept the ACAS report.
I want to draw the attention of the House and the Secretary of State to the 905 fact that the men have been on strike for 28 weeks because of the refusal of the employer to accept the ACAS report. We have tried to put their case to the interim review tribunal, but it refused to consider it because of a change in the law. This arises from Schedule 1(7) to the Industrial Relations Act, which referred to theprincipal reason for workers being in dispute".The change comes in the Employment Protection Act, which refers merely to "workers being in dispute". As a result, the tribunal claims that it is not able to examine the case.
There is no way that we can now proceed. ACAS claimed that it could not move because of the decision in the Grunwick case. The interim review tribunal said that it could not move because the law held that it could not now hear the case. My union members could not claim either redundancy or any other form of benefit because it was claimed that they were on strike.
The Bill as drafted will not help to resolve that kind of situation. I wonder whether I could prevail upon my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) to take advice from the Department of Employment on whether any words can be formulated and inserted to redress that position. Perhaps the change in the law fromprincipal reason for … being in disputeto "being in dispute" can be clarified.
I have listened to the arguments by Opposition Members. However, I find difficulty in understanding their views. I have great respect for the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth. Both he and I have a measure of agreement of approach. But his view this morning was a little misplaced, because he was arguing that everything should go on as if nothing had happened.
I do not think that the Grunwick decision should form the edifice, as it were, upon which all else is built. Something must be done to put the situation right. I have referred to one firm in particular, but I have evidence of what is happening at other places. Some employers are taking the view that this is one way of frustrating what the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth and 906 I feel is an important part of industrial relations.
I hope that the House will support the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has made a clear attempt to limit himself to putting right what the House thought it had got right but which, in the fullness of time, has proved not to be right.
It would be a mistake to try to cover the wider areas referred to by the hon. Member for Bedford. If Opposition Members want to attach industry and the trade unions, they should do so in another debate. It is a mistake to attack this attempt to put right what we though was right. A great disservice will be done if the House does not support the Bill.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
We have all been right to stress the first sentence in the Long Title of the Employment Protection Act 1975:An Act to establish machinery for promoting the improvement of industrial relations".Section 1 provides:The Service"—ACAS—shall be charged with the general duty of promoting the improvement of industrial relations, and in particular of encouraging the extension of collective bargaining".The marrying of those two aims has proved difficult. I suggest that it has proved even more difficult since the original legislation was enacted, because incomes policies have cut across the extension of collective bargaining.
In Committee on the original Bill, the Opposition gave a broad general welcome to the creation of ACAS. We recognise the useful and constructive work that it has done since the Bill became law. We also recognise that it has more work to do. Considering the disputes that took place in 1977 and possible difficulties in 1978, anybody looking at our record will appreciate that we shall continue to give broad general support to the work of ACAS in conciliation and arbitration.
I think that we should remind ourselves of the Government's attitude last year to the possibility of amending the 1975 Act. On 26th May last year, the Minister of State was askedif he has reached any conclusions as to the need to amend the legislation relating to the certification of independent trade unions.907 In reply, the Minister said:After consultation with the TUC, the CBI and the ACAS we have decided not to introduce amending legislation, at least for the time being. The matter will, however, be kept under review as we gain more experience of the interaction of the certification arrangements and trade union recognition procedures ".—[Official Report, 26th May 1977: Vol. 932, c. 587]That was the answer in May, and we were naturally curious to know whether, before the Secretary of State leapt to give the Bill a broad welcome, there had been consultation with the CBI, the TUC and ACAS. If the Bill gets a Second Reading, we shall be pressing the Secretary of State hard on what consultation he has had with the bodies mentioned in that answer.
Clause 1(3) would remove the need for ACAS to consult those who were not members of a certified union or were members of an organisation which was not a certified union. We can see immediately that that proposal would collide with Section 12 of the original Act. That provides that, when looking into an inquiry and reporting on a recognition issue, ACAS must consult all the parties that it considers will be affected by the outcome of the reference.
Inevitably, that must mean that anyone working in an establishment, whether as a member of a certified union or not, is bound to be affected by the result of the recognition inquiry. Straight away, therefore, there is an entanglement of this Bill with the original Act. In Committee on the original Act, the Government expressed no anxiety over that section. People in a factory are bound to be affected if they are not consulted under the requirements of Section 12.
The case of Powley v. ACAS, on which a decision was given last year, has been mentioned. Labour Members say that in certain cases organisations have sprung up and have frustrated ACAS in its attempts to decide who shall be recognised. The law report in The Times of 20th May last year pointed out that the staff association in the Legal and General case had been formed in 1973 and had a substantial membership. A ballot of employees on the question of whether ASTMS should have full negotiating rights produced a 90 per cent. poll, 2,550 voting against and 1,976 voting for. In other words, the people 908 there certainly took their responsibility seriously and voted.
If the Bill becomes law, there will be the difficulty that the staff association's coexistence with the certified trade union could be damaged because the association would not be consulted since it would not be certified in a recognition dispute.
Another example of what could well occur is that a handful of people might be members of a certified union yet most of the people in the factory could be members of a staff association. Under Section 12 of the original Act, ACAS must consult people who would be affected by the recognition issue. In spite of the widespread support for the staff association, under the Bill ACAS would not have to consult it. Why risk damaging relations within a company in that way? It may or may not be regrettable that the staff association exists, but given that it does why damage the possibility of good relations between it and the certified trade union by bringing in the Bill? There is no need for that.
Let us consider the reasonably practicable argument used in Clause 2(2). Some of the anxieties of the trade unions have been based on the time that ACAS takes to produce a recognition report. In its industrial relations review of December 1976, ACAS refers to the case of W. Ball (Woodworkers) and it points out that a membership check during conciliation showed that 19 out of 28 employees were members of the union concerned. It adds:When the Service carried out its opinion survey at the inquiry stage a few months later, only 10 of the employees were union members.The report goes on to say:It is not known if the membership decline was due to lapsing labour turnover or some other reason.We may regret that ACAS sometimes takes time to settle these issues, but if one looks at its report covering the period from 1st February 1976 to the end of July 1977, during which time 853 references were made, one sees that 258 were settled without a report and that 246 were settled at the conciliation stage. Although it might be regrettable that ACAS does not move quickly enough, in many cases it can settle the matter before it goes to the report stage.
909 There might be an argument for increasing the number of personnel. We should remind ourselves that it is relatively early days for ACAS. It has not been in existence for very long, and the training of people and field officers takes time. Nevertheless, many of the cases have been settled peacefully.
On the question of "reasonably practicable", I think we want to be sure about how far the Bill, if it becomes law, will restrict ACAS in carrying out its work of a recognition inquiry. Will it advertise? Will it call mass meetings? Will it make sure that everybody involved at the workplace is consulted on this matter?
The hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) wanted clarification of the word "particulars" in Clause 2(3). He assumes that it means names and addresses. But if that provision becomes law there will have to be safeguards for employees who will want to be sure that only ACAS and the employer have access to their addresses. Is a period of six weeks long enough for an employer to supply the information under the proposed subsection (1B)? It could be held that during the summer months that would not be long enough for him to carry out this work.
I propose now to look at the issue of how ACAS's recommendations affect particular employees in a company. In some cases ACAS might get the records and addresses of employees from union records. It might be able to carry out a ballot or inquiry, and it might be able to make a recommendation for recognition and help to improve industrial relations in an organisation.
There might, however, be an occasion when one union in a factory where there are a number of unions refers a recognition issue to ACAS and the Service fails to ascertain the opinions of the employees who belong not to the referring union but to a different one. Those employees will want to know whether the referring union will represent them in the best manner, and it cannot necessarily be held that if the Bill becomes law company relations and inter-union relations in a company will be improved if ACAS has not had the widest amount of consultation.
910 All I say to the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) is that ACAS is in its early days, as is the Employment Protection Act. We have heard that the Government wish to consult the CBI and TUC before changing the Act. The trouble with the Bill is that it is one-sided and will make the job of ACAS more difficult.
Whatever Labour Members say about people in a factory who organise themselves outside a certified trade union, many of them do so; and if we want to improve industrial relations—which is the Long Title of the Act—we should not, by law, take action that will damage the relationship between a certified trade union and an association composed of people who, for whatever reason, good or bad, decide to remain out of a union.
Again and again, Labour Members pronounce their faith in improving industrial relations. The Bill will not do that. It will cause conflict within factories and organisations. The Bill is not necessary, it has not been properly thought out, as was said by the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, and it therefore deserves to be rejected.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield. Hillsborough)
Although this is a Private Member's Bill and we are discussing it quite late on a Friday afternoon, we are taking part in a vital debate. We all know that it is a debate about the right to join a trade union.
I have heard many Opposition Members seizing on the expression about men of good will. I have heard talk from Opposition Members about their recognition of ACAS and even their welcome to ACAS. We have heard about their acceptance of trade unions. The harsh reality is that they hate ACAS and are opposed to trade unions root and branch.
If ever I saw the need—recognised many years ago by the Labour Representation Committee—for a Labour Government to legislate for working people, it is today. If matters were left to the Conservative Party, we should be back in the days of good will between slave and slave master, between master and servant. These are the harsh realities.
Every inch of the way—[Interruption.]—it is significant that Opposition hon. 911 Members howl abuse at me. It is not surprising that they do so when I express the realities. The fact is that every inch of the way we have to fight for trade unions. Those on the Opposition Benches know that the reason for the Grunwick struggle was that a nasty little Gradgrind employer would not give honourable wages to his work people, many of whom were immigrants and knew little about trade unionism. The fact is that besides paying them low wages, they were treated in a disgraceful manner that no honourable person could tolerate.
§ Mr. Flannery
No, I shall not give way. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has intervened five times and made a speech during this small debate. This is a disgrace. The hon. Gentleman knows that while he sat in with George Ward I was outside doing my best at the gate to try to arrange some human dignity for the employees in the factory where he was giving guidance to the employer. That is the reality. The hon. Gentleman played a terrible rôle in the Grunwick struggle, and that will be written up eventually.
§ Mr. Flannery
I shall quote what the hon. Gentleman said earlier—or I shall almost quote him, and he can correct me if I am wrong, but at some other time. The hon. Gentleman implied that my colleagues and I have suggested that trade union relations are syonymous with trade union recognition. He went on to say that that is surely a debatable issue. I do not wish to provoke the hon. Gentleman, but trade union recognition is one of the features that make for good industrial relations, especially in cases where wages are pitiful and conditions unacceptable unless the workers or semi-slaves are crawlers to such an employer.
I am sure that most hon. Members want reasonable trade unions and a situation in which there is work taking place 912 instead of confrontation, where the workers feel reasonably satisfied and where the employer is conducting himself reasonably.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is quite obvious that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is not giving way.
§ Mr. Flannery
If ever there was a struggle that should never have taken place, it was the Grunwick struggle. If it were not for people such as the hon. Member for Hendon, North and George Ward, the struggle would not have taken place. It took place because employees were not allowed to join a trade union and because ACAS was not allowed to carry out its honourable intention of having a democratic ballot of those people.
Why was it that the employer did not want all the people inside and out to be balloted? The answer is clear. It is that they would have given a rebuff to that employer. The ballot would have made it clear that they wanted to be in unions. It is no good bribing them afterwards by increasing their wages and improving their conditions, when everybody knows that if it had not been for the fight of the people at the gate outside to obtain those conditions the people inside would never have had those conditions. Those are the realities. The hon. Member for Hendon, North and Mr. Ward know this, and I am glad that the hon. Member is listening to this.
There is no doubt why the management refused to co-operate with ACAS. It meant that there was no confrontation. If the management had co-operated with ACAS it would have meant a reasonable standard of living and human dignity for those people, so that they could hold their heads up. Opposition Members say that they believe in trade unions and in ACAS. If that is true, and they know full well that my hon. Friend's small Bill 913 is to remedy these things, let them have the courage to go into the Lobby with us and support what my hon. Friend is putting forward. That is the test of whether the Opposition really believe in trade unions.
The Law Lords, of course, did not come out on the side of working people. When they do, Big Ben will strike 13. Those are the realities—the verdicts of those noble Lords are never in the interests of working people and immigrants—
§ Mr. Mayhew
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to criticise judges or Law Lords on the ground that they did not come out on the side of one class or another?
§ Mr. Flannery
Everybody throughout Britain had an opinion recently about a certain judge. Surely it is only democracy that we are entitled to have an opinion about a particular judgment. That is the reality. If I am wrong, it can be proved to me at some time.
I conclude by saying that it gives me immense pleasure to see the ire of Tory Members provoked when I bait them about their anti-trade unionism.
On the question of the Liberal Party —[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] —during the struggle at Grunwick members of the Liberal Party made it clear in a public statement that they felt that Mr. Ward and what was happening in that factory were totally wrong. They implied that they supported an amendment of the law. Yet in a statement today the Leader of the Liberal Party made it quite clear in what direction they would have voted if they had been here and had not had to go somewhere else. That is the reality of the Lib-Lab pact when a real conflict between the pro-trade unionists and the anti-trade unionists on the Opposition Benches takes place.
Therefore, I appeal not only to my hon. Friends but to Conservative Members. If the Opposition really believe in 914 trade unions, in order to win their way with the trade unionists—who ought to know what they are in for if ever the Tories are elected—they should join our Lobby. They will be very welcome, and they will have asserted that they really are honourable gentlemen.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)
We have just listened to a most extraordinary diatribe. It has certainly not assisted the House in discussing the Bill. We have been discussing the Bill all day.
§ Mr. Silvester
The hon. Gentleman should not say that when he has not been here all day and I have.
Because of the hour, I shall make only two brief points about the Bill. Labour Members, who are now so busy talking among themselves, are accusing Opposition Members of opposing the Bill because we have a rooted objection to the growth of trade unionism, because we have a hatred of ACAS, and all the other matters that have been thrown across the Floor of the House at us today. Throughout the life of ACAS, we have provided support for that body when we thought that it was behaving correctly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent-ford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) made it clear that he agreed that some modifications of the working of ACAS will be required. However, Labour Members know perfectly well, since they so often tell us of their trade union connections and the importance of the bargaining procedure, that any modifications that will be required to the Act and the working of ACAS will have to take into account the objections of all people affected by them—the objections of employers, of employees who are not in unions and of unions themselves. That process, which will be a very worthwhile action, will result in a kind of Bill that is very different from this Bill. I think that such an exercise would have great support from the Opposition.
On the other hand, we are now faced with a situation in which Labour Members are trying to cover only problems that have arisen in the operation of the 915 Employment Protection Act, which they do not like. At present we are faced with a Bill which—I simplify it for the sake of time—deals with recalcitrant employers and with employees, as in the case of Grunwick, who do not act in the manner that was expected when the Act was passed.
Further, as the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) made quite clear, the Bill is also acting against those bodies, such as staff associations, which refuse to conform to the normal pattern of trade unions but which are, nevertheless, consulted by ACAS. I suspect that in time we shall find ourselves also up against the differences between affiliated and non-affiliated unions, and the use of the Act by unions which are affiliated but which are seeking to side-step the Bridlington agreement.
When the Act was put on the statute book we had fine words about good industrial relations, but underneath this it was imagined that the Act could be used for the purpose of extending union membership in the form in which the leading unions required it. As the Act has operated, every time a development occurs that was not foreseen by those who took that view, along come the legislative workmen to brick up the gap. As long as the Act works in their way, people are happy. As soon as it does not conform to the wishes of the original sponsors of the Act, we have to make changes.
The fact is that the Act has to meet the way in which people choose to behave. They will not choose to behave in the way in which Labour Members always expect.
It was interesting that the Secretary of State spoke about loopholes in the Act. They are not loopholes. They are interpretations of an Act of this House by their Lordships acting in the normal way.
When hon. Members on the Government Benches take such offence at what the Law Lords do, they should remember that some people at least regard them as their protectors. I refer here not merely to people associated with Grunwick, which I know Labour Members would never accept.
I quote here from a letter to The Times of 9th December from the General 916 Secretary of the Confederation of Employer Organisations:Unions which are not affiliated to the Trades Union Congress do not expect fair treatment from ACAS—I would not go as far as that—They do expect, and have received, fair treatment from the courts. They can expect to end up in the High Court or the House of Lords whenever they tangle with ACAS on a recognition issue. Such an appeal is a necessary safeguard in any circumstances.I shall be brief, but I wish to put one more matter to the Minister. Plainly, the Bill is not essential at this moment. If there were a genuine belief that we should make changes across the board, including both the matters presented in this Bill and those in the one to be introduced next week by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), the whole range of problems in relation to ACAS and the Employment Protection Act could be looked at carefully and properly.
I refer here to what the Secretary of State himself said in October last year.I am asked to consider that Grunwick is not untypical and that a lot of employers are not going to co-operate. I think that is unlikely. But if I am wrong, if there are a large number of others who take Mr. Ward as their mentor and guide, we would have to consider giving additional powers.At no point in this debate has anyone shown that there are a large number of other such employers. No one has shown that there is an urgent need for the Bill. On the contrary, we have demonstrated that there is much concern that a growing number of people are having their rights eroded by the Act, and there is no compensating activity for other complaints about its operation.
In his support for the Bill, the Secretary of State is acting in a one-sided manner which will do lasting damage to the work of ACAS.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
The last two speeches from the Conservative Benches make it necessary to remind ourselves of what we are debating. The Employment Protection Act 1975 provided in Section 1:There shall be a body known as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service …The Service shall be charged with the general duty of promoting the improvement of 917 industrial relations, and in particular of encouraging the extension of collective bargaining and, where necessary, reform of collective bargaining machinery.This Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher), is calculated to enable ACAS to perform just that task, which the House entrusted to it in 1975. In no way is it an across-the-board, wide-ranging or sweeping reconstruction of that highly commendable legislative achievement in 1975, although some of the more hysterical hon. Members opposite seem to imagine that it is.
The Bill makes a detailed amendment of some of the mechanics of the operation of one of the institutions set up under the 1975 Act, and as such it is a classic example of its kind on which the Opposition should congratulate my hon. Friend instead of—as, alas, they so often do—indulging in their favourite hang-ups and fantasies about trade unions and working people.
The Opposition have demonstrated a wilful ignorance about the nature and work of ACAS. I have recently received letters from people who had evidently been prompted by Tory activists to imagine that ACAS was a sub-committee of the TUC. Unfortunately, these poor people believe it. It never occurred to them that the Tories might have prompted them to write those letters. They did not realise that ACAS was a tripartite body. There is a great deal of ignorance about it, But the ignorance of the Opposition is wilful. They do not want to know the truth.
The Opposition have used the debate —unfortunately, from their point of view, I believe—to air their antipathy towards trade unions. Contrary to what many of my hon. Friends have suggested, I have known for a long time that the Conservative Party is not opposed to trade unions. I hope that some of my hon. Friends will pay heed to what I have to say here. For at least three decades, I think, the Conservative Party has recognised that trade unions are a necessary institution in civil society. The Conservatives are not opposed to that idea, the idea that trade unions should exist and, in a sense, flourish. But in understanding the meaning of that—and those of us who know something about our country's 918 history know that the Conservatives were beaten into this position over decades of battle—we should remember that the late General Franco and the late Josef Stalin also approved of trade unions, on their own terms.
Franco liked to have the unions completely in his own image. Josef Stalin had to have a clear and unmistakable definition of a subjugated set of trade union institutions. They approved of trade unions, each in their own way recognising that working people sought autonomous institutions of their own. But, being authoritarians, they could not tolerate the idea that ordinary people should have institutions which they actually controlled. That spirit has been evident in many of the contributions from the Conservatives today.
The authoritarianism which appears to be endemic within the Conservative Party springs from a funny notion of what employers and workers are. The Tories have got themselves bogged down in a paradoxical situation. Much of the talk has been about those unfortunate staff associations which are so willing, they say, to represent their members' interests. We on the Labour Benches remember that the sudden development of house unions came only with the passage of the Conservatives' Industrial Relations Act. This development took place against a background of protests and criticisms by the Tories and the Tory Press to the effect that trade unions needed reforming and that one of the major weaknesses of British trade union life was that there were too many trade unions. With the passage of the Tory Industrial Relations Act, the number of trade unions has increased, literally, by several hundreds.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
The hon. Member talks of the Industrial Relations Act. Has he never heard of that famous White Paper "In Place of Strife", introduced by his right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle)? What happened to that, and why?
§ Mr. Litterick
Happily, I do not feel that I have any responsibility for that document. I believe in leaving the dead buried.
§ Mr. Litterick
The point I was making was that the Conservatives' Act brought about the sudden creation of hundreds of so-called trade unions—house unions which at no time had any intention of acting like trade unions but which nevertheless claimed the privileges and rights of trade unions to the exclusion of genuine trade unions. That was part of the country's inheritance from the last Conservative Government.
We have had a vast increase in the number of trade unions, many of them "phoney" unions. Some Tory Members are aware of this. Some of them know something of industry beyond the Stock Exchange. Most of them seem to know nothing about industry in that they do not understand how these unions came into existence. They do not understand that many of these unions are now in an embarrassing position in that they have to prove that they are trade unions or go out of business. They were deliberately set up as "phoney" unions to prevent the development of genuine trade unions.
The one area of the British economy in which the growth of trade unionism is, to say the least, dynamic is the white collar sector, incorporating within trade union institutions people who hitherto had never thought of joining. This is happening not because of pressure on them by the unions but because of the circumstances of their employment. To use a handy phrase, the white collar workers, including many managers, are being proletarianised. Their jobs are being dehumanised, and they are reacting as previous generations of workers doing different kinds of work did—they are organising themselves. They are setting up collective institutions which will represent their interests against the forces which are anti-human. It seems that at least most of the Conservative Party, much to the embarrassment of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), do not understand that, and it seems that the Conservatives will have to learn the hard way.
One of the more absurd claims by some Opposition Members is that we should in some way give employers the right to choose or significantly influence the union that their employees should join. I could tell a few horror stories about that, but, being charitable, I will tell one that concerns me.
920 For my pains, I was once personnel manager for a multinational company. During that time, it became apparent that its employees were actively thinking of getting themselves organised into a trade union. Meetings were taking place to discuss the possibility of forming a branch of that union. The management, being American, was about as paranoid in the matter as are so many hon. Members opposite. It sought to take some form of counter-action.
This being Britain, the management could not hire gangsters to beat up the people who were most active in the process of organising the union. So, believe it or not, it cast its net around for another union. Sad to say, it found one—an easy, soft union. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name it."] No. It invited the general secretary of that union to lunch and offered him 2,000 or 3,000 members, saying that it would sign them up and collect the dues as long as he agreed not to bother the firm again and as long as there were no shop stewards in the company's factories. To his eternal discredit, he agreed.
Meetings were set up, and the managers duly appeared on the platform saying what a great thing trade unionism was. A chap sat at the edge of the platform ready to sign the people up—that is, after the union signed up a majority of the work force in a very short time and thus effectively prevented a genuine union from organising them. I hasten to add that the union concerned was genuine in orthodox terms—it was affiliated to the TUC. However, I suspect, since this was in the Clyde Valley, that the situation in that firm has changed since then.
But I am making the point that it is relatively easy, if some kind of advantage is given to the employer, for him to prevent his workers from joining a genuine trade union, and that the sudden development of house unions has created innumerable opportunities in the present situation for employers to opt for a union which will not behave like a union rather than deal with a genuine union. I refuse to refer to the case which has been mentioned so often in the debate, because it is something of a red herring which distorts the sense of the debate.
We are proposing in the Bill to ensure that unorganised workers shall be afforded the benefits which the Employment Protection Act set out to give them, and that 921 through no devious use of courts, judges or other organisations will the British worker who finds himself in an exploited situation thereby find also that he cannot create for himself the necessary means by which he can protect his interests against the inevitable tendency of employers to seek to screw the last penny of profit out of every last worker.
That kind of operation might not be dehumanising if one were dealing with civilised management. But we know from our experience of life that we are not always dealing with civilised management or with honest management. Therefore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) said, we need to use the law against the minority of criminals, if one so describes them, who want to cut corners at the expense of human beings to make profits for themselves.
The generality of view in our society now is that trade unions should be permitted not simply to exist on sufference but should exist and flourish on behalf of the working people of this country. Without those institutions, and without the freedom of those institutions to act as autonomous agents of the working people, the interests of the working people will inevitably suffer.
The small-time, so-called independent, autonomous-minded employer is invariably the last to understand what changes have taken place in society. The small employer, far from being the hero of the last vestige of free enterprise, as he is so often portrayed, is sadly often the last vestige of nineteenth century obsessive proprietor slavery. I was trying to think of the right phrase, but I have failed. The small employer thinks like nineteenth century employers
§ and believes that he should run his enterprise in the same way as employers of the nineteenth century ran theirs. Big business today thinks differently. It recognises that it must somehow or other live with the trade unions. Small businesses will have to recognise that fact.
§ The Bill is calculated to make ACAS more effective and to make it carry out the mandate given to it by Parliament. The Bill will therefore advance industrial relations and facilitate the development of industrial relations and collective bargaining in the economy. Therefore, the House should support it.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)
If I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, next Friday, I shall hope to make the speech that I had intended to make today. I am at least gratified to think that a party which four years ago said that the law had such a small part to play in industrial relations should turn up in such strength on a Friday to vote for this miserable little Bill.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. Deputy Speaker withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 256, Noes 242.923
|Division No. 69]||AYES||[4.00 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Castle, Rt Hon Barbara|
|Allaun, Frank||Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Clemitson, Ivor|
|Anderson, Donald||Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Cohen, Stanley|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Coleman, Donald|
|Ashley, Jack||Bradley, Tom||Colquhoun, Ms Maureen|
|Ashton, Joe||Bray, Dr Jeremy||Concannon, Rt Hon John|
|Atkinson, Norman||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Conlan, Bernard|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Corbett, Robin|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Buchan, Norman||Cowans, Harry|
|Bates, Alf||Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)|
|Bean, R. E.||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Canavan, Dennis||Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Cant, R. B.||Cryer, Bob|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Carmichael, Neil||Cunningham, G. (Islington S)|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Carter, Ray||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Radice, Giles|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil||Judd, Frank||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Kaufman, Gerald||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Davies, Clinton (Hackney C)||Kelley, Richard||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Deakins, Eric||Kerr, Russell||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Kinnock, Neil||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lambie, David||Rooker, J. W.|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Lamborn, Harry||Rose, Paul B.|
|Dunn, James A.||Lamond, James||Rowlands, Ted|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Ryman, John|
|Eadie, Alex||Leadbitter, Ted||Sandelson, Neville|
|Edge, Geoff||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Sever, John|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Lipton, Marcus||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|English, Michael||Litterick, Tom||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Loyden, Eddie||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Luard, Evan||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Silver man, Julius|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||McCartney, Hugh||Skinner, Dennis|
|Faulds, Andrew||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||McElhone, Frank||Snape, Peter|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||McNamara, Kevin||Stallard, A. W.|
|Ford, Ben||Madden, Max||Stewart, Rt Hon M (Fulham)|
|Forrester, John||Magee, Bryan||Stoddart, David|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Marks, Kenneth||Strang, Gavin|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Swain, Thomas|
|George, Bruce||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Maynard, Miss Joan||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Golding, John||Meacher, Michael||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Gould, Bryan||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Graham, Ted||Mendelson, John||Tierney, Sydney|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Mikardo, Ian||Tinn, James|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Tomlinson, John|
|Grocott, Bruce||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Torney, Tom|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mitchell, Austin||Tuck, Raphael|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central File)||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Hardy, Peter||Molloy, William||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Moonman, Eric||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Moyle, Roland||Ward, Michael|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Watkins, David|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Watkinson, John|
|Henderson, Douglas||Newens, Stanley||Weetch, Ken|
|Hooley, Frank||Noble, Mike||Weitzman, David|
|Horam, John||Ogden, Eric||Wellbeloved, James|
|Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham Sm H)||O'Halloran, Michael||Whitlock, William|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Orbach, Maurice||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Huckfield, Les||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Ovenden, John||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Padley, Waiter||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Palmer, Arthur||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Park, George||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Parker, John||Woodall, Alee|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Parry, Robert||Woof, Robert|
|Janner, Greville||Pavitt, Laurie||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Jeger, Mrs Lena||Pendry, Tom||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Perry, Ernest|
|John, Brynmor||Phipps, Dr Colin||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Prescott, John||Mr. Martin Flannery and|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Mr. Stan Thorne.|
|Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Adley, Robert||Berry, Hon Anthony||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)|
|Alison, Michael||Biffen, John||Bryan, Sir Paul|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Biggs-Davison, John||Buck, Antony|
|Arnold, Tom||Blaker, Peter||Budgen, Nick|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Body, Richard||Bulmer, Esmond|
|Atkinson, David (Bournemouth, East)||Boscawen, Hon Robert||Burden, F. A.|
|Baker, Kenneth||Bottomley, Peter||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)|
|Banks, Robert||Braine, Sir Bernard||Carlisle, Mark|
|Bell, Ronald||Brittan, Leon||Chalker, Mrs Lynda|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Churchill, W. S.|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Brooke, Peter||Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Benyon, W.||Brotherton, Michael||Clark, William (Croydon S)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Cockroft, John||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||James, David||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Cope, John||Jessel, Toby||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Cormack, Patrick||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Raison, Timothy|
|Costain, A. P.||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Jopling, Michael||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Critchley, Julian||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Crouch, David||Kellett Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Kershaw, Anthony||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Kimball, Marcus||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rhodes James, R.|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Knight, Mrs Jill||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Durant, Tony||Knox, David||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lamont, Norman||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Lawrence, Ivan||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Emery, Peter||Lawson, Nigel||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Le Marchant, Spencer||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Farr, John||Loveridge, John||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Fell, Anthony||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||McCrindle, Robert||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Macfarlane, Neil||Scott, Nicholas|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||MacGregor, John||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Forman, Nigel||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Shepherd, Colin|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Shersby, Michael|
|Fox, Marcus||Marten, Neil||Sims, Roger|
|Fry, Peter||Mates, Michael||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||Mather, Carol||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Maude, Angus||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald||Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Speed, Keith|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Mayhew, Patrick||Spicer, Jim (W Corset)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Sproat, Iain|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gorst, John||Mills, Peter||Stanley, John|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Moate, Roger||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Grieve. Percy||Monro, Hector||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Montgomery, Fergus||Tapsell, Peter|
|Grist, Ian||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Grylls, Michael||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Morgan, Geraint||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Trotter, Neville|
|Hastings, Stephen||Neave, Airey||Vaughan, Dr Gerald|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Nelson, Anthony||Viggers, Peter|
|Hawkins, Paul||Neubert, Michael||Wakeham, John|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Newton, Tony||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Heath, Rt Hon Edward||Normanton, Tom||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Heseltine, Michael||Nott, John||Walters, Dennis|
|Hicks, Robert||Onslow, Cranley||Warren, Kenneth|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Hodgson, Robin||Osborn, John||Wells, John|
|Holland, Philip||Page, John (Harrow West)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Hordern, Peter||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Page, Richard (Workington)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Parkinson, Cecil||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Howell. Ralph (North Norfolk)||Pattie, Geoffrey||Younger, Hon George|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Percival, Ian|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Peyton, Rt Hon John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Pink, R. Bonner||Mr. Fred Silvester and|
|Hurd, Douglas||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Mr David Madel.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.926
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).