HC Deb 27 January 1978 vol 942 cc1818-917

Order for Second Reading read.

11.6 a.m.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I direct the attention of the House to the contents of the Bill, and go through them in some detail, I should like to begin by adding one or two words to what was said from both sides of the House during the debate last Friday on the Second Reading of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) relating to the general role of the law in industrial relations and the balance between sorting out those relations by way of statute and sorting them out by way of negotiation, conciliation and arbitration between reasonable people.

I said last Friday, and do so again—I think that this will carry pretty general assent—that, broadly speaking, the less law there is in industrial relations the better. Many hon. Members may find it paradoxical that having said that I am now seeking to introduce a further Bill on the subject. However, there are very good and strong reasons for it. The first is that, even if we did not have any law specifically on industrial relations, even if there had never been any trade union Acts such as the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act or the Employment Protection Act, it has to be borne in mind that the whole burden of our legal system is the protection of property.

The whole of our legal system is geared to protecting the interests of capital without any requirement to look at the interests of labour, so that protective legislation has been needed on the other side if only to correct that inbuilt bias of the non-industrial relations law—if I may put it that way—against the worker. We have only to look at the Companies Acts, which lay very important obligations on the boards of companies to look after the interests of their shareholders but contain no obligations whatever to look after the interests of their workers or even to behave decently towards their workers. Indeed, workers are not even mentioned in the Companies Acts.

Of course, it would be better if we could do without laws. It would be better if we did not need an Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act or a Factories Act or a Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, and in practice, in the case of the overwhelming majority of employers and the overwhelming majority of industrial establishments, we do not need them. The right things are done not because the law is there but because they are the right things.

The overwhelming majority of British employers do not need the law to tell them that they must not put the lives and limbs of their workers at risk by running unfenced machinery or their lives and health at risk through the emission of noxious gases or their skins at risk by the depositing of lead or their lungs at risk through limestone or asbestos dust. But we still must have the law, because the great majority is a little less than 100 per cent.

That is the first reason why there has to be a place for measures of the sort which I am introducing today.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that there are hundreds of thousands of home workers who take work home from factories and who are not affected by legislation of any kind?

Mr. Mikardo

Yes, that is so, and it is a matter to which I have no doubt the House should direct its attention at some time. However, it is not within the scope of this Bill.

There is a second reason for the introduction of Bills of this kind. It is that, if we have legislation, we had better get it right and that, if we have a law which turns out not to be as we had expected and, therefore, not quite right, there is only one way of putting it right under our constitution and that is to have another law to put it right.

The Employment Protection Act 1975 was introduced for two purposes. The first was to clear up the debris left by the hostilities engendered by the Industrial Relations Act 1971. The second was to improve the individual and collective rights of workers to the extent neces sary to bring them up to the level of workers in other countries.

The Employment Protection Act is a long and complicated piece of legislation. Like many other pieces of legislation, it has proved in practice to have some loopholes and some flaws in it. Some of those loopholes and flaws arise from differing interpretations of what the Act means and especially from the differing judicial interpretations of collective rights. Some of those loopholes and flaws are due to the obstructive and unreasonable attitudes of some individuals and groups.

Laws on industrial relations, as on many other subjects, but especially in this sensitive area, always depend for their effective operation, first, on their being generally accepted and, secondly, on reasonable relations between reasonable people.

The 1971 Act was brought into disrepute by one or two eccentric litigants like Mr. Goad and one or two obstructive companies like Con-Mech and, likewise, some unreasonable actions circumvented and prevented the fulfilment of the original intentions of the Employment Protection Act. This short Bill is intended to stop up two gaps before they become large enough to cause a lot of trouble.

Intervening in our debate last week, the Leader of the Liberal Party said that what we wanted was a broad look at the whole area before we did anything about it. I agree with that. There is a great need for a broad look at the whole area. However, while we are examining the foundations of the building, we had better repair the hole in the roof, otherwise the rain will get in and may wash away the building.

The Bill is specific and is aimed precisely at trying to stop up those two gaps. It is in all conscience a non-contentious Bill in that it will help both sides of industry to keep the peace, which surely is what good industrial relations are about.

As in the case of the other Acts that I have mentioned, the greater part of British industry does not need this Bill. It is designed to deal with a small number—we hope a decreasing number—of very hard cases. I believe that the Bill will reduce the number of those hard cases, because it is designed to make employers and trade unions think very carefully about the consequences of their actions before they take those actions. The best laws are not those which punish wrongdoers. They are the laws which deter people from doing wrong. No one will be happier than I if, in practice, no cases crop up which demand the implementation of this Bill to deal with them.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will concede, though, that the definition in this context of what is meant by "wrong" leaves room for a great deal of argument between us.

Mr. Mikardo

Perhaps I ought not to have given way. It is a good practice to give way to any hon. Member who is making a point on behalf of his constituents and the nation in general. I do not feel any great obligation to interrupt my speech in the interests of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), who is the spokesman and lackey of the National Association for Freedom for the few.

I now deal in some detail with Clause 1 of my Bill. As the House knows, the Trades Union Congress has been administering its own system for minimising inter-union disputes since 1924, when it enunciated its main principles, as it called them, at the Hull Congress. The 1939 Bridlington proposals were a clarification of the 1924 principles. With some strengthening amendments, the Bridlington principles have stood since 1939 and, as everybody involved in industry knows, including those hon. Members who worked in industry before coming here, they have gone a long way towards eliminating the "Who does what?" strikes which caused so much trouble in the 1950s and 1960s.

These Bridlington principles do not seek to impose recognition requirements or procedure agreements. The principles are voluntary, and they merely look at the appropriate union to which workers should belong. What is more, those principles work. The system is based on an arbitration committee set up by the TUC, which makes an award. But the important feature of the procedure is that the stage of setting up a disputes committee is reached only after meetings held under TUC auspices between the national officials of the unions concerned, and that is how most of the disputes are settled.

The number of cases referred to the TUC under the Bridlington principles is remarkably constant at between 50 and 100 every year, and a very high proportion of those cases are settled at the consultation level without their ever having to go to a disputes committee. That procedure is a splendid example of the dictum that the best discipline is self-discipline.

With only one exception, the general secretaries of trade unions have always accepted the verdict of a disputes committee, even when it has gone against them. It is true that there is one general secretary who has squealed because the umpire gave him out and who has called for the dismissal of the umpire. But, happily, in industrial relations, as in cricket, that is a rather exceptional attitude which none of us would condone.

Under Section 11 of the Employment Protection Act, ACAS has a duty to examine cases which are referred to it on the subject of union recognition. It makes inquiries, it may conduct ballots or attitude surveys, and it may then recommend recognition or not, as the case may be. A large number of the references to ACAS under Section 11 have been settled without a report and in only 40 per cent. of the cases has full recognition been awarded.

Although the TUC machinery and the ACAS Section 11 machinery deal with matters that do not always coincide, it is obvious that on occasions there may be a clash between them. However, I remind the House that no trade union is compelled to affiliate to the TUC. But when a union does affiliate, it pledges itself to accept the rules and guidance of the TUC. That is one of the conditions of being accepted into membership.

Those rules include this pasage, which I quote from the TUC "Disputes Principles and Procedures": Unions should continue to follow the TUC disputes principles and procedures. An affiliated union should not therefore invoke the Act's procedure on recognition without consultation and agreement with any other affiliated union with an interest in the matter. Where there is disagreement between affiliated unions about a claim for recognition the matter should be referred to the TUC disputes procedure. That passage disposes totally of Mr. John Lyons's contention that the Bridlington procedure deals only with recruitment and not with recognition, because that passage clearly is all about recognition.

It is clear from past events that most of the problems that arise between unions can be resolved in this way, but there have been one or two occasions on which a TUC affiliate has disregarded the TUC's advice and proceeded unilaterally with an ACAS claim. That puts ACAS in an unnecessarily difficult and embarrassing position. Recently the matter has become more serious and is threatening to disrupt the whole of the Bridlington disputes principles. There may be a few hon. Gentlemen around, including one or two Opposition Members, who would welcome the internal disruption of the TUC machinery. But nobody else would—certainly not employers and managements who value the role of the Bridlington in preventing, or at least in greatly reducing, inter-union demarcation disputes.

Clause 1 of the Bill merely allows the TUC mechanisms to continue. In other words, it allows ACAS to award recognition, but also allows the TUC to deal with the union concerned under its own rules—rules which the union accepted when it affiliated.

Although it is limited, this amendment of the Employment Protection Act is most important in the total industrial relations scene. It does not give TUC awards any force in law but allows for the continuation of a mechanism which has been accepted by TUC affiliates, which has substituted rational argument for industrial action in a large number of cases, and which on that account has been welcomed by progressive trade unionists and progressive managements alike.

Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)

Is the hon. Gentleman not being a trifle disingenuous? Would he not admit that the effect of this clause, if the Bill becomes law, would be to prevent a TUC affiliated union from invoking Section 11 and the other provisions that spring from the Employment Protection Act—an Act passed by the Labour Government at the behest of the TUC for the proper settlement of industrial disputes?

Mr. Mikardo

For the reasons I have already given, I must tell the hon. Gen tleman that the answer to his question is a simple "No".

Mr. Lawson

That is not true.

Mr. Mikardo

We shall see. We have plenty of debating time left, and the Bill will be discussed in Committee as well as on the Floor. We shall see who is right.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have gone into this matter very closely and am satisfied that it does not limit the right to go to ACAS. What it does is to require a union as well to carry out the obligations that it undertook when it affiliated to the TUC.

Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)

Let us try to clear up this point. The hon. Gentleman says that his Bill does not obstruct a union from going to ACAS. On the other hand, it enables the Bridlington rules to be applied to an affiliated union. Does he accept that the Bridlington rules are just guidance, do not bind any two unions to that agreement, and have no power other than as guidance in respect of individual unions as members of the TUC?

Mr. Mikardo

That is precisely what I said. The provision has no statutory force and is a voluntary understanding. That makes it more rather than less valuable.

Since some hon. Gentlemen have been challenging the Bridlington procedure, may I remind the House that during the long debates on the Employment Protection Bill it was made clear by hon. Members on both sides of the House that they did not envisage—and did not want—that the Act would in any way interfere with the operation of the Bridlington agreements? Hon. Members on both sides of the House did not seek to denigrate the effect of the Bridlington procedure during those debates, and there were no suggestions such as now appear to be erupting. That was the clear intention of Parliament—namely, that the Act should not affect the operation of the Bridlington system. The purpose of Clause 1 of the Bill is to do no more than to implement the clear intention of Parliament and to put it beyond challenge. That is all it is seeking to do.

I should like to make one other point in this connection. It will be noted that the phrase "Trades Union Congress" and the word "Bridlington" do not appear in the Bill. Clause 1 does not refer in terms to the Bridlington agreement, but refers to any agreement between independent trade unions". I have taken that view, because there are many such agreements outside of, and in addition to, the Bridlington procedure. Nearly all those agreements are bilateral between two unions which agree on areas of demarcation between them and also agree that any differences between them are to be settled by agreement or, failing that, by conciliation or, failing that, by arbitration.

I have had first-hand experience of cases in which the existence of such a bilateral agreement between two unions has prevented a dispute and a consequent strike—which would not have been welcome to the members of the union and certainly not to the management of the company concerned.

I wish now to deal with Clauses 2 and 3. I apologise for the fact that I may appear to be a little arid in explaining this part of the Bill but this is a more complex area of the law. It was not at all easy to draft these clauses, and I would not go to the stake as saying that they were absolutely right even now. We may have to examine them closely in Committee.

It is clear from the Grunwick dispute that the Employment Protection Act can work as Parliament intended only if all the parties concerned in a dispute act reasonably. Mr. Ward acted most unreasonably, yet, as both he and his advisers were quick to declare, he remained within the law. If that is so, if a law enables one party to frustrate the declared will of Parliament and the accepted conventions, which in this case are normal industrial relations practice, such a law is clearly deficient.

Parliament has a long history of changing legislation after loopholes have appeared. We have that in all areas of legislation, and most of all the changes made in successive Finance Bills. That is done at the behest of the Inland Revenue to plug loopholes that have appeared in the taxation system. This part of the Bill is on a par with those almost annual amendments and improvements of the law.

In our law there is effectively no right to strike or to take any industrial action short of a strike. If a dismissal follows such action, it is deemed to be fair. Unfairness arises only if there is discrimination by an employer against one or more of those taking the action but not all of them, in the form of non-re-engagement or re-engagement in an inferior position leading to what is called constructive dismissal.

Under the present law, trade union recognition has never been easily won. Employers have resisted it bitterly throughout the world, but not least in Great Britain. Our industrial relations history is littered with the stories of blacklists that have led to the debris of broken and starved men and women, infant malnutrition and fierce resentments that take a long time to heal. However, it was these battles that created the trade union ethos and tradition. Even given that background, there are still some sectors of the work force that do not have that ethos, notably among women and in the white-collar and immigrant areas of the work force. Collective action comes very hard in these areas. It is taken only after considerable provocation and threats. Hints of dismissal in recognition circumstances are potent weapons in the hands of employers when they are dealing with such vulnerable groups of employees.

It is the mark of a totalitarian regime to ban genuine trade union organisations and to outlaw strikes. In our country the way that employers and their representatives have chosen is different: it is to make organisation as difficult as possible. The present situation in some small companies bears that out completely. Section 1 (2) of the Employment Protection Act gives ACAS the duty to promote the improvement of industrial relations and in particular to encourage the extension of collective bargaining. ACAS was set up on the premise that there was a more logical method of settling collective bargaining problems than industrial action. That was a premise first promulgated by the trade union movement.

The fact that ACAS has helped so much to resolve differences without disruption to unions, management and the nation at large is a clear vindication of the service. Some have said—I dare say that it will be said today—that ACAS is biased in favour of trade unions, but that does not stand up to examination. Of the 250 agreed settlements under Section 11 references, only 51 per cent. have resulted in any form of recognition and only 40 per cent. in full recognition. That is hardly a sign of overwhelming partisanship. Up to July 1977, 253 cases had been settled in one way or another. That means 253 fewer industrial disputes and perhaps a couple of hundred fewer strikes than would otherwise have been the case. That is worth something, is it not?

As our law seeks the extension of collective bargaining, it is wrong that a few employers should be in a position to sack employees for availing themselves of that which the law tells them to avail themselves of, and Clauses 2 and 3 seek to remedy that situation. They do not prevent dismissal on account of a strike or other industrial action, or a lockout. They merely seek to give some protection to individuals who try to organise trade union representation if they apply to ACAS for conciliation and arbitration. Few if any democracies in the world would object to giving workers such a limited right.

From what I am about to say hon. Members will recognise the point that I made earlier, that this is a complicated area of legislation. Clause 3(1) acts as a sort of longstop to paragraph (7) of Schedule 1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974, as amended by Schedule 16, Part III, paragraph (13) of the Employment Protection Act. It gives jurisdiction to the tribunal where now the tribunal does not have jurisdiction—that is to say, when the whole of a striking force has been dismissed together during an industrial dispute called for the purposes of recognition.

I emphasise that the Bill operates only within limited areas and under certain conditions that have been fulfilled. First, it has no effect where the employer already recognises unions, which is the position in the overwhelming majority of organisations within British industry. Secondly, it has no effect where the union has not been able to satisfy ACAS. That is the position in about half the references that have been made to it.

There is one problem in this area, especially for smaller employers. I do not think that the House should shirk it, and I do not want to shirk it. I refer to the possible hardship to a small employer who has engaged replacement labour while his people are on strike, who is faced with an obligation to reengage or to compensate. It is a real problem from which we must not run away.

On the other hand, we have to consider that there is a danger of hardship on both sides. As is so often the position in many other walks of life, we have to choose the lesser of two hardships. Both parties may get into a dispute over recognition, and both take a risk. The employer takes the risk that if he engages replacement labour he may face some difficult consequences arising from that action. The employee takes two risks. He takes the risk that ACAS may not support him, in which event he loses out altogether. If it offers him no support, he loses all the wages that he has not received while on strike and has no chance of reinstatement. Secondly, even if ACAS finds for him and he wins, there is no back-dating beyond the date of the ACAS report. Even if he has been proved to be right, he still will have lost a great deal of money in wages.

I have said that this is a complex area of the law, and I accept that it may be that the Bill is by no means perfect. It may be that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be proposing in Committee what they consider to be improvements to the Bill. I assure the House that I shall warmly welcome, and carefully consider, any constructive amendments put forward in Committee.

I make one last point, again to expand on a point touched on lightly during the debate a week ago. I want to say of this Bill, as I said of that of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, that the attitude of Conservative Members to it will be a good test of their bona fides in the claim that their party and their party leaders are making to try to establish good relations with the trade unions if they are elected to Government in the future.

The leaders of the Conservative Party keep telling the country "Don't worry. You can have a Conservative Government without any danger of industrial disruption, because we shall get on just as well with the trade unions as any other party does". Hon. Members must understand that trade unionists are not simpletons. They cannot be deceived by honeyed words which are immediately followed by actions directly contrary to those honeyed words.

Everyone who votes against the Bill today and is a candidate in the next election, and in that candidature claims that a Conservative Government would get on well with the trade unions, will be asked by every trade union branch in his constituency "How can you say that, when on 27th January 1978 you seized avidly on an opportunity to give a black eye to the TUC and the trade union movement?" It will not only be trade union branches that will ask that question, because members of the general public will take the point just as well.

Those Conservative Members who really care about good industrial relations—I know that there are quite a number, especially those who have worked as managers in industry—should support the Bill. Those who do not will be, and will be seen to be, in direct line of descent from that nineteenth century Tory MP who opposed the introduction of Poor Law legislation with the clarion call "Better a brutal and starving nation than men with thoughts above their station". I hope that there are at least a few twentieth century Tory Members who this afternoon will behave in a manner a bit more civilised than that.

11.43 a.m.

Mr. Esmond Bulmer (Kidderminster)

I think that I can speak for all my right hon. and hon. Friends in saying that we care about good industrial relations but that we dispute that the Bill in its present form will improve industrial relations.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) returned to the attack that he made this time last week when he accused us of being two-faced if we did not support a Bill that in his view was so obviously in favour of trade unions. We felt that that Bill was one-sided, the same charge as the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Park) levelled against my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) when he sought to introduce a Bill in the very words used by the Prime Minister.

There is clearly room for disagreement between the parties on what is in the best interests of industrial relations, but we would all accept the view of the Secretary of State for Employment and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) that the search for consensus must go on and that we should introduce legislation which is supported by both sides of the House.

The hon. Gentleman quoted a nineteenth century Tory who would find little support on this side of the House. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was the Conservation Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1871 and the Employers and Workmen Act of the same date that established for the trade unions a specially privileged position and that those laws provided a settlement for a generation. It was not until Taff Vale and the Osborne judgment that serious changes had to be sought.

When the Labour Party started working through the Liberal Party, when trade unions were further identified with them, it became less easy for us to act on behalf of trade unions in the way that we had before. Certainly when many trade unions became much more overtly political in the late 1960s it put considerable pressure upon us. But I think that it is true that throughout the twentieth century Conservative Prime Ministers have got on well with individual trade union leaders and with the TUC.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

Name them.

Mr. Bulmer

Chamberlain and Sir Walter Citrine are two examples. Could one have a franker relationship than those two had? I believe that Ted Heath, too—I should have said my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—has been grossly maligned over the relationship which he enjoyed with individual union leaders, with reasonable trade unionists who put their trade union interests before that of an alien creed.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Nelson and Colne)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Bulmer) right in referring to an hon. Member by name?

Mr. Deputy Speaker(Sir Myer Galpern)

I am sure it was an error. It is out of order.

Mr. Bulmer

I corrected myself, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We know that after the miners' strike the price of a renewed incomes policy extracted from the Labour Government by the TUC was a free hand in employment law. There followed in quick succession the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, which retained the considerable benefits for trade unionists in our Industrial Relations Act, and the Employment Protection Act, which provided a whole new raft of rights for employees.

But the TUC went beyond that. In its pensions claims and claims concerning boards of directors, it showed that it wished to change the balance radically. This has caused a reaction on our side which has made it more difficult to be objective about some of the things it is requesting.

The part of the Bullock Report that sticks in my mind and the minds of many of my hon. Friends is the concept of the second-class citizen, the concept that the person who is not a member of a trade union has no right to be consulted, a principle extended in the Bill of the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) and in this Bill in that Bridlington provides no basis for consultation with individual employees to ascertain their views. They are to be ignored.

We also dislike the principle in the Bill that Bridlington is outside the law—there is no appeal against it—in the same way as we dislike the position of the individual employee who feels that he has been unfairly excluded from a trade union or dismissed. He, too, has no appeal against the TUC procedure.

Mr. Mikardo

In all kindness, may I say that the hon. Gentleman is profoundly mistaken in what he has just said? There is nothing in the Bill that creates any disadvantage for a worker who is not a member of a trade union.

Mr. Bulmer

I shall expand on this when I come a little later to points that worry many of us on the Conservative Benches.

We on the Conservative Benches believe that the balance between the trade unions and the rest of society is wrong in important respects. The House knows only too well what happened to "In Place of Strife" and the Industrial Relations Act. Many people are worried about the freedom of the individual in the closed shop, the balance between groups of workers who are not organised in independent trade unions and those who are and the balance between employers and trade unions in the sort of situation to which the conduct of SLADE has given rise.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said that, if we do not support the Bill, we are against trade unions. I hope that he will remember that Conservative Governments have done many things for trade unions, but we are also concerned about other elements in our society and we feel that we have a responsibility to take them into account as well.

It may be that there is a degree of schizophrenia among many employers towards trade unions. They want strong and responsible trade unions and they want the minimum number of bargaining points. The hon. Member may claim that his Bill goes some way towards them in this respect, but there is no doubt that employers generally wish to see a balance struck which is not the balance that exists at present.

Employers wish to have the right to refer inter-union disputes to ACAS. They want proper guidelines on recognition procedures that cover the number of people in a company who are claiming recognition and minimum figures before that recognition is granted. They would also like a code of practice. They are antagonised by dual standards, the hostility of some union leaders to private enterprise and the social contract which has made it difficult for them to run their companies as they think they should be run.

My hon. Friends and I would find it very much easier to support trade unions in the round if we could be confident that the rule books of individual unions were up to date and relevant, that individuals in closed shops were better protected, and if the membership of the TUC General Council reflected, even in some small degree, the will of the huge number of trade unionists who vote Conservative.

There are a number of questions that I should like to ask about Clause 1. Assuming the Bill goes through, what would happen if a TUC affiliated union disregarded a TUC disputes committee award on membership and was expelled? I know that it is unlikely that that would happen, but would ACAS then be obliged to consider a reference of recognition by the expelled union? What would that do for the impartiality of the TUC members on ACAS?

Many of us have reservations about Bridlington. I refer hon. Members to the case of the "Fox and Goose". It took nine months to get that dispute to the TUC disputes committee and when the judgment came it was resisted on the shop floor. What sanctions does the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow think should be applied? Perhaps he, above all, is the appropriate person to find the punishment to fit the crime.

What constitutes an agreement, the effect of which is to restrict references of recognition disputes to ACAS? Does the agreement have to state that a union shall not refer a recognition issue to ACAS? Where a union has already acquired a number of members in a company, is it sufficient under Clause 1 to say that the union shall cease recruitment in that company?

We feel that the procedures set out in the Bill are not in the interests of employees and that they could radically reduce the freedom of choice of employees to be represented by the organisation of their choice. I remind hon. Members of Article 8 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides that the covenant undertakes to ensure the right of everyone to form trade unions and to join the trade union of his choice, subject only to the rules of the organisation". The Government have signed that covenant.

Mr. Mikardo

Where in the Bill does the hon. Gentleman find a clause that restricts the right of an individual to join a union of his choice?

Mr. Bulmer

What would happen if—

Mr. Canavan

Answer the question.

Mr. Bulmer

If the hon. Gentleman will give me time, I shall attempt to do just that.

A problem would arise when an employee felt that a union was not representing him satisfactorily. If he wished to resign from the unsatisfactory union and join another that he thought would better represent his interests, he could find himself in difficulty because he would fall foul of Clause 1 and there would be little point in resigning from the unsatisfactory union.

Let me finish with Clause 1 by putting the questions that Mr. Lyons, from his personal experience, feels remain to be answered. He says: The issues we have raised with the TUC are: is it right that a Disputes Committee is able to make any Award it thinks of, irrespective of whether it is well based factually, or whether it is within the TUC's own Bridlington Principles? Is it credible that the TUC appears to have absolutely no machinery for reviewing such Awards where major disputes or grievances arise? It is right that the TUC should in such circumstances try and pressurise (wrongly) a small union into compliance with such an Award when it is unable and unwilling to bring similar pressures to bear on much larger unions? These are questions which should be answered.

I am unhappy with Clause 1 for the reasons that I have given and also because the Bridlington agreement takes no notice of the industrial relations needs of a company. Only the union's standpoint can be considered, and this does not measure up to the Section 12 recommendations of the Act.

Many white-collar workers would be compelled to join large general unions where they would be swamped by manual workers whose interests are by no means theirs and the principle of trade union procedures being above the law, already established in unfair dismissal or exclusion cases, would be extended.

I do not dispute that there is a need to look hard at our procedures for recognition. We can expect inter-union disputes to continue at the rate at which they have been running and perhaps even to increase. There is no doubt that technology, because it makes some unions out of date, puts pressure on them. There is no doubt that the politics of some union leaders create the need, in the minds of some employees, for those employees to be represented by staff associations or other bodies that are not so overtly political. Because of the greater power of trade unions, many managers feel that it is necessary for them to organise themselves. They may feel that the closed shop takes no account of their professional codes of conduct.

I also wish to resist Clause 2. In a sense it makes strikes more attractive. It is an additional pressure on an employer in a situation where he may have a legimimate reason for dragging his feet. We explored the most obvious example last week—the case where a majority of workers want to be represented by another union and they find that it takes two years to get a certificate of independence. The employer knows that if he recognises the small group of people on strike, that will make industrial relations much more difficult in future.

The House should not give a Second Reading to the Bill. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow was right to point out that recognition is now a legal minefield, but I do not believe that he has gone the right way about defusing it.

12 noon

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

Last Friday I voted for the Bill that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher). I am anxious to vote for this Bill, subject to an assurance that the first part of it will be either removed or at least modified at a later stage. I declare an interest since I am a member of the Electrical Power Engineers Association, which is now incorporated in our wider federation, the Engineers and Managers Association. I am an official of that union and member of the national executive. It has been affiliated to the TUC for nearly 40 years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) will understand the spirit in which I say that it is a pity that he made a slighting reference to John Lyons, the general secretary of my union, who acts under the supervision of the national executive council. That NEC of my union gave £500 to support APEX in connection with the Grunwick dispute at a time when it had not become fashionable to do so. The good trade union faith of the general secretary of my union should not, therefore, be called into question.

I regard the setting up of ACAS as one of the most constructive developments in the long history of trade union legislation in this country. Last Friday's Bill was intended to strengthen ACAS in useful respects. Its intention was to strengthen the new service that had been given statutory force by the 1975 Act. For that reason I am concerned about the implications of Clause 1 of today's Bill. I agree generally with the rest of my hon. Friend's Bill.

The difficulty with Clause 1 is that it appears not to strengthen the authority and scope of ACAS but to weaken and limit it. Clause 1 seeks to amend the 1975 Act by adding an extra restriction to the right of access to ACAS. Under the relevant section of the main Act general access to ACAS is made available with some exceptions. I shall not go into these exceptions, but they seem generally sensible. For instance, the restrictions apply when an industrial tribunal is already involved or when a conciliation officer has taken action.

If these restrictions were extended, there would be a further limitation of the arbitration and conciliation principles. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow regards those principles as desirable, yet Clause 1 of his Bill adds another exception to the right of access to ACAS.

It would be tolerable if the change was to be relatively minor or introduced to remedy a technical difficulty in the original legislation. But the change proposed by Clause 1 is not minor, nor is it technical. The proposed limitation would affect the existing legal rights of any trade union that has had the good sense to affiliate to the Trades Union Congress. The curious effect of this, which has already been mentioned, would be that unions outside the TUC fold would still be able to go to ACAS to ask for recognition of their representative capacity. I suppose that employers would still be able sometimes to ask for recognition of their representative capacity; TUC unions would be restricted.

I have taken the precaution of reading what the Secretary of State for Employment, who is now on the Front Bench, had to say about the duties and responsibilities of ACAS when he moved the Second Reading of the 1975 Bill. I shall not quote his exact words; hon. Members can look them up for themselves. My right hon. Friend said that ACAS would be charged with the duty of promoting and improving industrial relations. He said that it would have the duty of encouraging collective bargaining and, where necessary, would concern itself with the reform of collective bargaining. That is an interesting phrase. He also said that it would be a body to which a union could ultimately go to obtain right of recognition if this could not be resolved by negotiation or conciliation. Those words are important in the context of this Bill.

I want to be fair and just to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow. I know that he feels that his proposed restriction will assist the trade union movement as a whole, even if it handicaps individual unions. Be that as it may, it is a proposal which requires the closest consultation with individual unions. It requires much thought and discussion generally before it becomes law. Indeed, I doubt whether a Private Member's Bill is the best instrument for making such a change.

My union is concerned about the proposed restriction. I imagine that many other unions in the TUC will take the same view when the facts become more widely known. I have had discussions with my hon. Friends connected with staff unions. Some had not realised the serious implications of the clause. Much may turn on the interpretation of the word "restrict". That is a Committee point which I shall not develop but I am sure that the lawyers will enjoy themselves. If this wording restricted the right at all times of TUC unions to go to ACAS, several undesirable results would ensue. I shall deal with them in a moment.

My union has taken the advice of lawyers. Like all good progressive unions, we are well advised legally. Of course, lawyers would not be in business if they agreed with each other. As far as we are concerned, I received a message this morning and we are advised that if these words are taken in conjunction with the Bridlington rules, the clause would impose an absolute bar on the TUC unions from gaining access to ACAS. That is a legal opinion which my union has obtained. Other hon. Members may have that opinion checked.

I refered to the undesirable results that would ensue if this clause became law. First, non-TUC unions would have an advantage and freedom of manoeuvre in recognition issues that would be denied TUC unions. Secondly, employers would have an advantage in dealing with TUC unions. Thirdly, most serious of all, I think, there would undoubtedly be more recourse to the courts if unions felt in these circumstances that they were not getting natural justice.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow will be entirely with me if I say that as far as possible—it cannot always be done; citizens have a right to go to the courts—one should try to limit the need for recourse to the courts. I mention this matter because I know well enough that my hon. Friend is proposing this change as a way of strengthening the Bridlington procedures of the TUC. To use his words, he is anxious "to plug a gap". He feels that the Bridlington principles and practices for TUC disputes are valuable and should not be undermined by the setting up even of a statutory institution of which he approves. That seems to me to be a fair interpretation of his view.

There is here a real dilemma. But, though I see the dilemma, I do not think that it will necessarily be overcome by an expedient of this kind. The truth is that once we establish an official body such as ACAS, backed by statute, it tends inevitably to overwhelm unofficial and voluntary bodies however useful they may have been. It is rather like—if I may draw a parallel with nature—the sun on its rising making the setting moon seem dim.

I said earlier that my union is much concerned to preserve the statutory right of all unions to have access to ACAS. True, in the executive of my union our minds have been concentrated recently on the issue because we have several present recognition disputes with other affiliated unions organising engineering, technical and supervisory staff in industry, and at least one such dispute with a non-affiliated union.

I do not propose to go into the rights and wrongs of these differences today. It would be inappropriate to do so. The EMA's point of view has been fairly set out by Mr. John Lyons, the general secretary, in recent contributions to Labour Weekly and The Times—Hon. Members will note the careful order of priorities that I have selected.

There is, of course, nothing new—I think that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Bulmer) made this point—about such disputes and arguments on demarcation or recognition. They have gone on over the whole history of trade unions and organised collective bargaining in this country.

I also agree with the hon. Member for Kidderminster that there will be many such arguments and disputes in future as engineering and technical staffs, in particular, in private industry move towards organised trade unionism, as is largely already the case in nationalised industry and the public service. I do not think that there is an employee at the lowest or highest level, however we describe it, in the nationalised electricity supply industry, which I know very well, who is not organised in one way or another. For myself, I think that it is a good development.

For that reason, I feel strongly that the unfettered right of all unions to go to ACAS should be preserved. But, of course, if unions in dispute, being TUC members, can settle their differences internally through the Bridlington procedures, that is all to the good. No one will challenge that. My union has over a very long period—not just recently—used and will continue to use these procedures as a first step towards an agreement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, who is a great traditionalist, referred to the antiquity of some of those procedures. He said that the beginnings of those procedures were in 1923, and the Bridlington agreement came in 1939. I am sure that he is right. But it is not necessarily a sound argument about procedures to say that they are very old. Sometimes when they are very old they need looking at again and improving.

I tend in all these matters to be an innovator rather than a traditionalist. It seems to me that, if these procedures are in future to convince the parties that justice has been done, they may need to be brought up to date and reformed in several directions, and I am not the only one in the trade union movement who takes that view. If these procedures are to be used in future as a substitute for statutory procedures, as the Bill proposes, the House will have to examine them in some detail, I suggest.

I have been a member of a union affiliated to the TUC all my working life. I have been a delegate to Congress. I have been a president of the National Federation of Professional Workers, which has always worked closely with the TUC. If I am asked how these procedures need reforming, I shall give one or two answers.

First, I think that the procedures need to be operated more nearly according to judicial rules. They cannot take the place of the courts of law, but, at least, the procedure for the submission of evidence, and so on, could be codified in a way that is not done at the moment.

There is among the smaller unions more than a suspicion that the present rulings tend to favour the big battalions. That was well brought out last year at Congress with the "Fox and Goose" case, the Birmingham pub dispute, which has been referred to already. In my view, the procedures need reforming also in this respect. They came into being to a great extent in the very early days to deal with poaching, which is regarded by the trade union movement as a very reprehensible practice, and they are not too well designed now to cope with modern sphere of influence disputes.

Third, I think that procedures need to be speeded up. If men or women enter a union and pay the subscription, they should not be kept waiting for months or even years for a ruling on whether they will remain in that union. I could refer here to the present Hawker Siddeley dispute which has for well over a year now been before the disputes committee of the TUC, but there is still no decision, I understand.

Therefore, although the question which Clause 1 raises looks deceptively simple, it is in fact an extremely complex matter. It is, perhaps, a pity that it is there at all. I say that not because I think that the matter should not be raised, but I doubt that there has been enough preparation for it to be raised. There has certainly been no consultation with individual unions.

I am also doubtful—my union has made inquiries at Congress House on this point—about how far the General Council of the TUC has gone into the matter. In the latest list of General Council decisions there is no reference to it at all.

As the House would have expected, I have spoken to my hon. Friend outside in the corridors on this matter. As ever, he is the most reasonable of men. He said to me "I think that you have got it wrong and your general secretary has got it wrong. It is not the intention of my Clause 1 to deny"—I hope I am quoting him correctly—" the ultimate right of a TUC affiliated union to go to ACAS". But, as I have said, the legal opinion that the EMA has taken does not necessarily uphold that somewhat optimistic view.

I hope that my hon. Friend and his sponsors can deal with the points that I have made, constructively and reasonably I trust. Perhaps my right hon. Friend or the Minister of State will be saying something on behalf of the Department of Employment. I am sure that the Department, with all of the expert staff it has, has had a close look at Clause 1. I want an assurance that, if I am right in my doubts, the matters which cause the doubts will be removed.

12.20 p.m.

Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)

The House has listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) and has been impressed by the moderation of his argument and the strength of what he had to say. I should like to debate with him one or two of the points he has raised.

I begin by saying a word about ACAS, an issue which arose in our debate last Friday and which was dealt with in some detail. It was sought to give the impression that we were opposed to ACAS. I have put it on record time and again that although we have certain reservations about certain decisions which ACAS has made, and possibly those reservations will continue, we believe that ACAS is a service which must continue, which has an important part to play in the governing of industrial relations in society. We wish to see ACAS succeed.

One of the problems for ACAS—and I have talked this over with Mr. Mortimer —is that while 95 per cent. of its work meets with a great deal of acceptance on both sides of industry, the controversy arises on recognition issues. Sometimes I think that ACAS wishes that it had nothing to do with recognition disputes. It is these which cause so much trouble. However, these provisions are written into the law and ACAS has to make the best decisions it can. In time we shall probably want to look at the recognition issue again and at the role of ACAS. I would not want to give the impression that, because we do not like some of the decisions reached by ACAS and some of the matters it has to take into consideration in reaching those decisions, we wish to discontinue the operation of the service. Heaven forbid that we should have to rely on ad hoc committees such as the Wilberforce Committee to try to govern the future of industrial relations.

The hon. Member for Bristol. North-East said that Clause 1 would have the effect of allowing unions outside the TUC to go to ACAS. If he reads the clause carefully he will see that it would prevent TUC affiliated unions from taking a case to ACAS. The hon. Member went on to say that the clause would enable an employer to go to ACAS. However, employers do not have that right in a recognition dispute. That is something which we think is wrong. We believe that employers should have the right to take a recognition dispute to ACAS.

If the lawyers advising the hon. Member are correct, the effect of Clause 1 would be that TUC affiliated unions brought before the TUC disputes committee in an inter-union dispute would no longer have access to the Section 11 procedure established under the Employment Protection Act. There is some doubt about this, but I believe that that is the intention of the clause. I cannot think what other intention it can have. There is doubt among lawyers whether that intention is brought about by the clause as drafted. In the phrase to any agreement between independent trade unions the word "agreement" does not conform to what Bridlington says. Bridlington is not an agreement; it is a code, an instruction. There is some legal doubt whether the clause will have the effect we think it is meant to have.

Mr. Palmer

I am aware of that legal point. By implication, however, Bridlington might be held to be an agreement.

Mr. Prior

It could be. For the purpose of this debate we ought to accept that whether, by implication, it is an agreement or whether the wording is wrong, the objective of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) is to restrict the right of a TUC affiliated union to take a case to ACAS while it is before the TUC disputes committee. We had better proceed on that basis.

On the whole Bridlington has worked well. No one on the Conservative Benches would claim that if unions can agree peacefully and satisfactorily among themselves about how to conduct their recruiting they should be interfered with. But we cannot have a situation—and this is now beginning to be of great importance—once we start to write these things into statute, as the House has done with recognition under the Employment Protection Act, in which a union says "We want to do it our way and we want the law to do it only when it suits our convenience". If we have the law we must allow it to work. We cannot always seek to contract out of the law when it suits our convenience to do so.

That is one of the fundamental points that we have to get right. If the hon. Member was saying that we should not have the law, that we should get rid of some of these recognition clauses and have Bridlington as a substitute, he is right to say that we would need to look at Bridlington and perhaps update it in some way. I have seen some of the decisions of Bridlington and the way in which the TUC disputes committee is now working. It does not make such sense in 1978, irrespective of what sense it may have made in earlier years.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow is never more dangerous than when he is being as conciliatory and quiet as he was in his speech. That is when I become suspicious, especially when he is praising me. Then I know that we are in dead trouble. I thought that he was unnecessarily offensive about John Lyons. He said that everything had been going well until one trade union leader squealed because the umpire gave hint out. I thought that that was an unfair reference to Mr. Lyons. Anyone who has seen and read what he and his union have been subjected to in the last year or so would know that the umpire took an unconscionably long time to reach a decision and reached a decision on what seem to us to be rather curious grounds.

I want to quote, because it is important that one or two of these things should be put on record. In his article in The Times yesterday, Mr. Lyons said: …we have run into a number of Institutional difficulties over recognition issues—not, incidentally, because we have not had the necessary membership, but because we have. An example which is relevant to Mr. Mikardo's Bill is that we have found it is perfectly possible for one union to block an-other's recruitment by the simple expedient of making a Bridlington complaint (no grounds have to be given for a complaint to be lodged) and then failing to use the procedure which will enable it to be heard. AUEW (Tass) has used this approach on the EMA in several cases. We have countered it, when we found the TUC unwilling to act, by lodging recognition claims with Acas. In one case, so far, this did eventually bring Tass to state their complaint to a Disputes Committee—13 months after they had lodged it. (The explanation is that in an agreed bargaining unit of 46 engineers Tass only had one member while 43 had joined the EMA.) That is a monstrous position and one that I cannot possibly support. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) will, if he is called to speak, deal at some length with a case that affects his own constituency—GEC Reactor Equipment Limited, Whetstone—but I think that Mr. Lyons made out his case from that one extract that I have quoted. I should like to give another quotation from what he wrote: In all of these instances EMA has a substantial majority of the members, while no other union has a recognition agreement for the employees concerned. Whether we have just suffered from a series of bad or even unlucky decisions, as can sometimes happen with the best of organisations, or whether there is some other explanation, is not yet clear. But whatever the explanation any union which had had our experiences would look to Parliament not to hand over their present statutory rights to any other body. I am not arguing against the Bridlington principles. They serve a valuable purpose, and undoubtedly have a de facto bearing on recognition disputes in some cases. That is accepted, as are the principles as a whole, voluntarily by all affiliated unions. What is objectionable is the proposal—and in a Private Member's Bill at that—that legally these should be put in the place of the procedures available in the Employment Protection Act. I hope that hon. Members opposite will consider this matter very carefully indeed.

I do not believe that it is in the interests of this House or of good industrial relations that we should make a very specific change in the law of recognition. The hon. Member for Bristol, North East said that he was more concerned about Clause 1 than about Clauses 2, 3 and 4. I do not happen to like particularly Clauses 2, 3 and 4, but I think that they are just livable with and have nothing like the basic principle involved in Clause 1, although again I think that, in the case of the principle underlying Clauses 2, 3 and 4, if we are to have, as we now have on the statue book, a statutory procedure for resolving recognition issues, that should make strike action very much the last resort rather than the first resort. We should always bear that in mind. I think that in many cases that is the principle that is being followed.

We have objections to the Bill, just as we have objections to the Employment Protection Bill, given a Second Reading last Friday. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow wanted to know my views on the Employment Protection Bill, and I said that I would give them to the House this week. I want to try to state them a bit more in the philosophy of how one tries to deal with the problems of industrial relations. In the past few years, we have had a mass of legislation to do with industrial relations. We have had two Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts, the Employment Proection Act, and a number of other measures.

Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)

When setting out what he says is the philosophy in terms of trade unions, is the right hon. Gentleman stating the view of the Conservative Party or his own personal view? This is very important in view of the article by a leading member of the Conservative Party in the journal of the National Association for Freedom.

Mr. Prior

I do not know who wrote that article. I must confess, perhaps unguardedly, that I do not ever read that publication, so I do not have to comment on the article. But I am speaking at the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Conservative Party, and this is Conservative Party policy. I would like hon. Members to understand that, the House to understand it, and the country to understand it. This is the policy of the Conservative Party. I do not expect all the members of the Conservative Party to agree with it just as, thank Heaven, they do not agree very much with the policies that the hon. Gentleman puts forward.

Mr. Hoyle


Mr. Prior

I do not have to worry about the Tribune Group. Its members are not my concern. They are the concern of the Prime Minister. Certainly the Conservative Party is a great deal more united on these issues than the Labour Party is united on any issue.

The result of the legislation of the last few years is that we now have a very considerable body of industrial relations law, much of which was, in effect, drafted by the unions. This is in very sharp contrast to what was being said in this House during the passage of the Industrial Relations Act 1971, and to what was being said in the House when "In Place of Strife" seemed likely to be introduced in a Bill. Generally, there has been a dramatic change in the attitude which all parties concerned with industrial relations have adopted in recent years.

One of the points I make at this stage is that, because I believe that the legislation of the past few years has swung the balance far more in favour of the unions, we shall find that, just as with the 1971 Act the view, perhaps wrongly, was that it was a measure which aided employment, there will develop now an intransigence amongst employers at the legislation with which they are faced, and that, as fast as this House comes up with Private Members' Bills or other measures to block up a loophole which hon. Members think has developed in recognition or other parts of the legislation, there will be more effort to find ways round. I fear always that employers, particularly small employers, will get themselves into a sort of siege men tality. There are already signs of this happening, not among major employers but among small employers.

Our approach to all this has been wholly responsible. Of course there are certain parts of these Acts that I do not like and we believe that there should be amendments to them. Some parts of the Employment Protection Act are positively damaging. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when talking about the effect of the Employment Protection Act on small businesses, tends to take a very different point of view from some other members of his Government and of the Cabinet.

We believe that neither unions nor management wish for another great upheaval in our industrial relations law. So we have said that when we return to office we shall not undertake sweeping changes in the law. We shall certainly want to consider certain limited amendments which we believe to be essential, but again, before doing so, we shall wish to review the situation very carefully and we shall consult all parties.

This is another point that must be borne in mind about the two Employment Protection Bills that we have had this week and last week. There has been the very minimum of consultation. There has been no consultation with the management side of industry. There has been very little consultation with the trade union side.

Mr. Mikardo

As regards the management side, as soon as I drew a place in the Ballot, I notified the Confederation of British Industry of the nature of the Bill I would seek to introduce. I sent the Confederation a copy of the Bill as soon as it was available and said that I was at the Confederation's disposal to talk to it about the Bill any time it wished. I did not even have an acknowledgement.

Mr. Prior

I do not call that consultation. I call that informing the CBI of what the hon. Gentleman was intending to do. Consultation should take place before a Bill is drafted, not after a Bill is drafted and printed. That is what is mean by "consultation". There has not been proper consultation over this matter. It is clear that this Bill is not an even-handed Bill in any way. There is plenty wrong with the sections of the Act relating to recognition which this Bill will not deal with in any way.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman had a lot to say last Friday, but I will give way.

Mr. Flannery

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether there was consultation between the Tory Government and the Trades Union Congress before the Industrial Relations Bill?

Mr. Prior

There was a mass of consultation. Perhaps one of the mistakes that we made in the end was to say that there were five main pillars of the Bill on which we had decided what our policy would be. We should have consulted more fully about that. Looking back on the matter, many of us think that, had we had further consultations at that time, we might have avoided many of the pitfalls that we fell into as a result of putting that legislation through. One tries to learn a little from experience. I only wish that that precept applied in other parts of the House, too, but that is what one hopes to do.

Mr. Flannery

The right hon. Gentleman should look behind him.

Mr. Prior

I am very happy to look behind me at any time. If I do so, I am faced with a much more agreeable sight than I am when looking in front of me.

So our approach will be one of conciliation and co-operation, and we believe that the hallmark of a successful industrial relations policy is even-handedness achieved through full consultation. The simple truth is that coercion simply will not work in this modern day and age. This applies just as much to coercion of management as it does to coercion of trade unions. I believe, too, that it is no longer compatible with the tolerance that characterises our reform of democracy.

So we need to construct an environment in which management, unions and all workers are seeking to improve their own industrial relations to the advantage of themselves, their company and the country. If we are to enjoy good industrial relations in a free society, the weapons we must employ—this applies to the Government, management and unions alike—must be education, persuasion, debate and trust.

Above all, the Government and the unions must avoid any resort to the law simply to promote or protect particular narrow interests. The function of the law is not to further sectional interests. The rôle of the law is to uphold and guarantee the basic rights and freedoms that apply throughout society. Many of these have had to be fought for over the years, and all of us recognise the role of the unions in this process.

It is fair to say that for many years industrial relations law was biased against the unions, although there are many examples where the unions have used the law and have needed the law to seek to protect their legitimate interests. Some years ago, in another place, Lord George-Brown commented on the fact that, without the protection of the law, the position of the unions would have been much worse than perhaps it was.

When one bears in mind the essential constitutional rôle of the law, it is then that one questions the motives which underlie the two Bills we have had in the past two weeks. For perfectly understandable reasons, the unions have been very reluctant to see the law get involved in industrial relations and their experience with the courts has not always been very happy.

I do not think that the unions can have the law when they want it and say that they can have exemptions from the law when that suits their case. The upshot of all this is that we now find ourselves in a paradoxical position. On the one hand, the unions still have a real fear of involvement with the law. On the other hand, they have come to appreciate the very real value of the law as a means of extending their immunities and increasing their privileges. The Bill is motivated by precisely those ends.

So, instead of the unions' traditional resistance to the law, we are now witnessing a new process, and it is one that has potentially disturbing consequences if it continues in its present form. The reason is that the process remains unbalanced. While there is now a determined effort by the unions to use the law to gain a privileged place in society, there remains a real resistance on the part of the unions to accepting the obligations and responsibilities that may be placed upon them in return.

I come to my attitude to Lord Scarman's Report. I will not get involved in the question of the law on recognition, but after that report was published several union leaders said to me that it was no good just relying on the rule of law alone. They argued that it was necessary to understand and appreciate the spirit of the law.

I think that the spirit of the law is as important as the rule of law in nearly every respect. But the spirit of the law operates in two ways. I felt this very strongly over the Grunwick dispute. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) knows only too well, I felt that Mr. Ward was greatly mistaken in not accepting Lord Scarman's advice. At the same time, I said to trade union leaders "If you want the spirit of the law to operate in this case, as Lord Scarman has recommended, you must be jolly certain to operate the spirit of the law in other respects." I quoted, for example, some of the activities of Alan Law in the West Midlands. Such activities are far removed from the spirit of the law. There are a number of other instances, too. The power of extremists, whether they be on the unions' side or, in the eyes of the unions, on the employers' side, is very much resented by the public as a whole and causes great bitterness among a large number of trade union officials.

I do not believe that the vast majority of union members want that process to continue. They want the law to operate in an even-handed way. They do not want obligations and responsibilities to be placed on one section of society and not to be honoured by another section of society.

Many union members are perturbed about the excesses of the closed shop, and the reaction of public opinion to the unions. The unions are not at all popular. If we are to have a proper union movement, the unions must carry public support with them. I fear that in some respects they are beginning to lose public support.

I think that the time has come when, in return for the immunities and privileges that the unions seek under the law, they must accept certain obligations and responsibilities. That must be seen to be happening. I do not know any trade union leader, let alone the rank and file, who has a good word to say for the activities of SLADE in trying to dragoon people into its organisation in the last 18 months to two years. I have not heard any trade union leader stand up for what has been happening. Yet I have not heard any Labour Member, with the possible exception of the Minister of State, breathe one word of criticism.

I am constantly asked by Labour Members to give my views on Grunwick, Mr. Ward and other cases. If we are to have industrial relations conducted on a proper basis, we must accept that there is a need for even-handedness and for Labour Members to stand up and be counted at times against the activities of certain trade unions. Until we get that state of affairs, we shall not make much progress.

Therefore, when the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow suggests that our attitude to the Bill will decide our credentials, our bona fides, at the next election on whether we intend to work with the unions, I think that he is grossly under-estimating both the trade union movement and its leaders and the vast majority of people in this country who are neither. They do not expect me or anyone else to take a view which is always on the side of or always against the unions. They expect us to look at the whole matter of industrial relations in a reasonable, dispassionate and pragmatic light. That is certainly what the Conservative Party has sought to do over the last three or four years.

There have been a number of battles within the Conservative Party on this matter. We shall naturally go on having a number of discordant voices on the subject of the closed shop. But, my goodness, is anyone suggesting that there are no discordant voices within the unions themselves and within society as a whole about the closed shop? The Conservative Party is far more representative of the views of the nation on the closed shop than the Labour Party, which seems to accept it as a matter of fact without any argument at all.

When have we heard Labour Members criticise the activities of British Rail and the fact that 40 people out of 185,000 lost their jobs without compensation because they did not belong to a union? It would have been nice to hear one or two Labour Members say, with the same strength and conviction as we heard from the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East today, that British Rail and the railway unions should not have got themselves into the position of being forced to sack 40 people out of 185,000 without compensation and to assert that it was fair dismissal. I do not believe that the Labour Party will carry conviction whilst it is seen to be acting in such a one-sided way.

The Conservative Party is not trying to take sides. We realise the desperate state of industrial relations. We recognise that in the last few years this country has not achieved the success and prosperity that other countries have managed to achieve. We blame not just the unions for that situation. We recognise the part that Governments and management have had to play as well. However, we believe that if the House is to introduce industrial relations legislation and amendments to it, the changes to the law should be evenhanded.

This Bill and the Employment Protection Bill, which was given a Second Reading last Friday, are not even-handed. They merely tinker with the problem. In many respects they may make it worse not only for management but for new unions or unions which now represent an increasing number of white-collar workers. The white-collar sections and management unions do not feel that they will get the representation that they ought to have by being attached to manual unions. That is another reason why Mr. Lyons is so worried about this measure. I beg Labour Members to recognise the very deep emotions that tinkering with the Act in this way will arouse among management and people in the EMA, which Mr. Lyons represents.

These are the reasons why the Conservative Party is opposing this Bill and opposed the Employment Protection Bill last Friday. It would be a very prejudiced observer of the industrial relations scene who did not recognise that the Conservative Party is at the moment more in tune with the true feelings of industrial democracy and relations than is the Labour Party.

12.59 p.m.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

We have already heard quite a lot from the Conservative Party about good industrial relations. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) had that very much in mind in the production of this Bill.

It is necessary to clarify what is meant by "good industrial relations". Last Friday my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) pointed out that for the Conservative Party good industrial relations arise, exist and are perpetuated in the main when the trade unions are quiescent, are not involved in struggle with their employers, and are capable of being controlled by employers without any major disputes or confrontation. This raises yet again the nature of society in Britain.

Can relationships between both sides of industry be conducted without the sort of conflict that produces, on the one hand, the situation at Grunwick and, on the other, the situation in the motor car industry? In my opinion, certain employers wish to create the view generally that their organisations are in some way unitary—that workers, management and shareholders have a common goal, common interest and common behaviour pattern—when quite clearly all the evidence year in and year out shows that, in fact, there is a plurality of interests.

Within industry, whether textiles or manufacturing—where people are in-involved together—different interests are likely to be involved. One group may be pursuing its activities in the expectancy of gaining benefits of one sort or another. Within manufacturing industry generally, land, machinery and labour are brought together to produce goods that are sold to the consumer. The worker involved in producing those goods produces a surplus value which the employer utilises either in investment in his industry or in improving his own personal position and habits.

It is against that sort of background that we have to be realistic about industrial relations. Employers utilise their power in a situation of conflict in order to prevent the other people involved from pursuing their interests. When workers come out on strike, follow restrictive practices or are involved in some form of dispute with their employer, they are quite clearly protecting their economic interests. When the employer seeks to prevent that sort of activity, and seeks to apply conditions and restrictions upon the trade union, he, too, is acting in his economic interests.

Clearly, the Grunwick situation—the activities of George Ward and those associated with him—was nakedly in defence of what they considered to be their economic interests. It is against that sort of background that a rather naive comment was made earlier by the hon. Member for Kidderminster—the Member for Cider—(Mr. Bulmer) with regard to the problem of union recognition. He talked about the non-trade unionists as if there is a part of the Bill which introduces some new legislation covering the non-unionist. In fact, the Bill is not about the non-unionist. It is about certain situations that have arisen from the implementation of the Employment Protection Act and some of the holes that have been found in that Act.

Since it has already been raised, it is worth mentioning the problem about the relationship between the trade unionist and the non-unionist. As an active trade unionist, I am certainly not seeking to introduce or support some measure that would reduce the rights in law of the non-unionist. But it is necessary to understand the attitudes throughout industry which exist among trade unionists with regard to the non-unionist. Non-unionists who oppose joining trade unions—

Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has rightly pointed out that the Bill has nothing to do with non-trade unionists. How can it be in order for him, therefore, to go into a long disquisition about the r ôle of the non-trade unionist?

Mr. Gorst

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that when considering the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) you will also bear in mind that anything which increases the rights and powers of trade unionists must affect the rights of non-union workers because it changes the balance of power between them. I hope that you will not accept my hon. Friend's point of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

This is a Second Reading debate. It is in order for hon. Members to put certain views about what is in the Bill, on the one hand, and what they think ought to be in the Bill, on the other, provided they keep reasonably within the context of the matter under discussion.

Mr. Thorne

I thank you for those words, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I remind hon. Members opposite that their own Front Bench spokesman spent a large amount of time talking about the non-unionist. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) seems to be reopening certain aspects of the debate about the problem of non-unionists. I understand why he gets confused with regard to this matter.

Before I was interrupted, I was drawing the attention of the House to the fact that non-unionists who oppose joining trade unions often see in their own offices and factories trade unionists involved in struggles with their employers about wages, hours, holidays and conditions. Sometimes they see those trade unionists risking their employment prospects or facing the action of an employer like Mr. George Ward by being sacked because they were involved in trade union activities.

In some offices where white-collar workers want to introduce trade unionism it is not unknown for the employer to decide that there is not a great deal of point in considering a senior design draughtsman for further promotion because he has embraced union opinion such as TASS. Yet, in spite of the fact that the non-unionist witnesses that sort of struggle, and at the end of the day sees that struggle resolved by some sort of compromise which often results in an improvement in wages, hours, holidays and so on, does the non-unionist say "I was not in favour of joining the trade union. I did not participate in the struggle for improved conditions. Therefore, I do not wish to seek any benefit from that struggle. I wish to opt out of the improvements provided by trade unionists"? Of course not.

That is why there is a continuous suspicion and resentment—sometimes stronger than that—among trade unionists about the easy rider in industry who, with the blessing of the Conservative Party, seeks not only to ignore the struggle from which he benefits but wants the additional protection of laws of some form which will ensure that no one will ever possibly threaten him in any way about his activities as a non-trade unionist.

It is sometimes suggested that an employer would have done voluntarily what the trade union movement sought to do if only he had been given time. The non-unionist sometimes argues that way. That is not my experience of living in a capitalist society. It is not the reality experienced by most workers. Can any hon. Member tell me of a case where an employer has put before his workers voluntarily a new set of conditions involving, wages, hours and holidays and said "There you are, brothers. I think it is time I rewarded you for your diligence and faithful service over many years. Here is a new contract which you ought to welcome"? Of course not. The very notion of it is quite absurd.

Last week, an Opposition Member suggested that I was living in the nineteenth century.

Mr. Gorst

The hon. Member has just made an extremely interesting comment. It is within my recollection that he and his hon. Friends said constantly that Mr. Ward bribed his work force by increasing their wages and improving their holiday arrangements. Government supporters cannot have it both ways. Either it was a bribe or it was not. What is the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) saying now?

Mr. Thorne

Again the hon. Member for Hendon, North has illustrated just how confused he is. He is not really posing a question to me. He is saying that Government supporters claim that, following pressure from the trade union, George Ward sought to bribe certain of his employees to remain loyal to him. Of course he did. Throughout industry, time and again employers seek to divide workers on one basis or another in order to rule within their organisations. The Conservative Party did it throughout the world in our colonies. Its motto was "Divide and rule". That is the only basis upon which Conservatives prospered then and prosper now.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

In this specific case, is it not the fact that the inquiry set up by the Government to look into the matter came to the conclusion, based on the evidence that it heard, that appalling conditions existed at Grunwick before the dispute arose—that there had been poor wages—

Mr. Gorst


Mr. Skinner

—and then wages were paid which, if inspected closely, were in excess of the £6 pay policy at the time?

Mr. Gorst


Mr. Thorne

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has raised an important issue. However, he came into the Chamber shortly after the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) made an interesting confession and he may, as a result, be unaware of it. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft acknowledged that the Scarman Report ought to have been accepted. That was a very interesting confession. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman did not persuade the hon. Member for Hendon, North and others who thought differently to try to take some of the heat out of a very difficult situation.

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft made much of this problem of the trade unions waiting to use the law and then wanting to opt out of the law when it suited their convenience. That struck me as being hypocritical in the extreme. If the opposition parties, both Tory and Liberal, have been consistent in anything over the past 200 years, it has been in introducing legislation seeking to prevent trade unions from carrying on their activities. The struggle by the trade unions against such legislation has been conducted not in conditions where both sides had equal power but where one side—the owners of factories and land and the controllers of industry—had the right to shut down their factories and to sack their employees if they met difficulties.

Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)

The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) brackets together the Conservative and Liberal Parties. Will he remind the House which party and which Government passed the Trade Disputes Act which, quite rightly, gave the trade unions immense legal status?

Mr. Thorne

The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) has a point. If we look at history, we find that the Liberal Party has pursued an extremely tortuous path, not only in industrial relations but in many other matters. At one stage, the Liberal Party has been for something. At another stage, it has been completely opposed to it. At present, which is what we are interested in in this debate, we have to listen to what the Leader of the Liberal Party has said on the subject. Unless the hon. Member for Colne Valley is saying something different, the Liberal Party—assuming that it manages to organise itself—will be in the "No" Lobby against this Bill. We are under no illusion about where the Liberals stand.

Mr. Skinner

Challenge him.

Mr. Thorne

Yes. Perhaps the hon. Member for Colne Valley will say where he stands.

Mr. Richard Wainwright

I hope to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in this debate.

Mr. Skinner

How will the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) vote?

Mr. Thorne

We had better leave that where it stands.

I was discussing the position of the trade unions vis-à-vis the law. I remember a little book which was written by Clive Jenkins and Jim Mortimer entitled "The laws the trade unions ought to want". It was argued at the time that its authors were getting into dangerous waters, and to some degree that was true. I believe that the TUC should settle its disputes about recognition, recruitment, organisation and matters of that description within its own ranks by its own committees and by a coming together of the organisations in the TUC. No doubt there are things wrong with the trade union movement in Britain today. Few Government supporters would seek to argue the contrary. But I suggest that it is the job of the trade union movement itself to put those matters right.

The Industrial Relations Act brought the law into industrial disputes. As I said just now, many laws have been introduced, mainly by the Conservative Party, to restrict the activities of trade unions. However, having passed a law seeking to protect working people—the Employment Protection Act 1975—and having found that it contains certain flaws, it is our responsibility to attempt to put matters right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said earlier, the opposition parties will be judged on the basis of whether their actions sought to improve the implementation of that Act or the opposite. It seems to me that we have had the answer.

In defence of its own economic interests and its desire to ensure that the trade union movement has not the power which some of the media say that it has from time to time, the Conservative Party seeks to maintain the status quo. However, I have confidence that the majority of people will see that the Tory and Liberal Parties stand where they have always stood. In view of that, I am certain that the electors will have no hesitation in supporting my party in any future General Election.

1.20 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)

I intervene in this debate primarily as a constituency Member. It is the first time since I have been a Member of this House that I have intervened, other than in Adjournment debates late at night, as a constituency Member on behalf of a constituency interest affecting a group of constituents. It may come as a surprise to Labour Members, but not to my Conservative colleagues, that the constituents on whose behalf I speak are trade unionists who have appealed to me for assistance in a difficult matter.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) built up to the presentation of this Bill in a curious way. Perhaps before I deal with that hon. Gentleman, I should at least mention the contribution of the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne). However, I do not propose to take up his stereotyped platitudes on the class war, which have nothing whatever to do with the Bill.

Mr. Thorne

I ask the hon. Gentleman to give way in order to apologise. I have decided to go for lunch, because I am sure that he will have nothing of any consequence to say.

Mr. Lawson

I should not have given way, and I shall give way no more throughout the rest of my remarks.

The build-up of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow was curious. He is the arch confidence trickster and is trying to pull a confidence trick today.

Mr. Flannery

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to refer to another hon. Member as an arch confidence trickster?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) must withdraw that remark. He is imputing unavowed motives to an hon. Member and it is also an unparliamentary expression.

Mr. Lawson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not imputing any unworthy motives. I am trying to suggest—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is imputing unavowed motives and he should withdraw that expression. It is unparliamentary.

Mr. Lawson

I shall withdraw that expression, if you wish me to do so, and say that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow was attempting to confuse the House, and Labour Members in particular.

Mr. Flannery


Mr. Lawson

I have already done so. It appears that Labour Members are deaf as well as suffering from certain other disabilities.

Mr. Flannery

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has the hon. Gentleman withdrawn the expression which he used?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

He has withdrawn it.

Mr. Lawson

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that I shall be allowed to continue, because this is taking time away from other hon. Members who wish to intervene in the debate.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow has constructed a Bill the two parts of which have nothing to do with each other. Clause 2 and 3 are window dressing. They are concerned with relations between employers and employees. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said, there is nothing profoundly objectionable in what is intended in those clauses, even though the way the clauses may implement these matters may leave something to be desired. They are also designed to increase the powers of ACAS. I believe that ACAS is a good thing and I should like to see it built upon and extended. The question is how it should be extended.

Clause 1, however, has nothing to do with that matter at all. That clause seeks to reduce the powers of ACAS and is exclusively concerned with relations between trade unions. The employers have nothing to do with that. It is Clause 1 that is objectionable, and it is to that provision that I shall address myself exclusively this afternoon.

When I said that I make this speech as a constituency Member, I should explain that it has already been said that the inter-union dispute which has led to Clause 1 being put in the Bill relates to a dispute between the Engineers and Managers Association and the TUC concerning trade union recognition. This dispute has arisen at GEC Reactor Equipment Limited, at Whetstone, in my constituency, near Leicester.

The company to which I refer is an important one and among the leading companies in the nuclear power industry. In particular, it is the only centre of PWR technology in this country. It has already been dealt a savage blow earlier this week by the decision of the Secretary of State for Energy not to order the PWR, which was nothing less than a deliberate attempt to sabotage the nuclear power programme and the nuclear power industry of this country. Therefore, I hope that the company will not be dealt a further blow by the passage of this Bill. This Bill would make industrial relations—and those relations are of the first importance to this company—very much worse if its provisions were to be implemented.

There is, however, a wider consideration that is of importance. This is not simply a constituency matter. I think that it is important to explain the dispute in detail, because there are many people who have not worked on the matter as closely as I have. I have been involved in this matter for a long time. I have volumes of correspondence and files going back to 1976. I have been in close correspondence with the trade unions concerned, with the management and with ACAS. Since I may be a little critical of ACAS in some of my comments, let me point out that whenever I have contacted Mr. Jim Mortimer, the Chairman of ACAS, he has been extremely prompt and courteous in replying to my letters and requests for facts and information.

I have been deeply involved in this matter since 1976. I have done so entirely without making a public statement. I share the general belief that in a dispute industrial relations are more likely to be improved, not by the making of public statements but by working quietly behind the scenes to reach a solution. The only reason I am now speaking publicly on this matter is that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow has made this a public issue by bringing this Bill before the House.

This is a matter of wider importance to British industry. What is at issue here is the only great area of potential expansion of trade unionism in this country and it relates to the upper stratum of white-collar workers, the qualified engineers, higher grade technicians and managers.

The question is whether key people are to be organised into trade unions and, if so, which unions will organise them. That is the only real growth area of trade unionism and the question who is to organise them, and indeed whether they should be organised, has not been decided and is of considerable importance. There are inevitable conflicts between the various unions. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow is an ex-president of one of the unions, ASTMS, and another is a union which has been referred to on a number of occasions, the Engineers and Managers Association, formerly known as the Electrical Power Engineers Association, of which Mr. John Lyons, much maligned by the hon. Gentleman, is general secretary.

This TUC affiliated union, which has considerable standing, has made great strides in recent years. In the past two years, since it decided to branch out beyond the electricity supply industry, its membership has increased—not by coercion, but because people want to belong to it—from about 34,000 to 45,000. That increase has occurred wholly outside the electricity supply industry, and it has a pretty full membership within the industry.

Another wider issue relates to whether individual workers should be able to join the union of their choice. That matter is very much in issue, and I shall explain why in a moment. I find it strange that the Leader of the House and various other Ministers go on and on about the right to join a union of one's choice and then, when legislation is put before the House, it is made harder for ordinary workers to join the union of their choice. There is a great irony, too, in this case. The original dispute that led to the dispute between the EMA and the TUC was between the EMA and TASS. It is that sort of dispute between TUC affiliated unions that the Bill is intended to restrict from being decided by ACAS.

What would be the effect if that course of events were to take place? It would not be that these qualified professional engineers, these highly skilled men, would join TASS. Right at the beginning, 200 of the 300 engineers involved signed a petition that stated that in no circumstances would they join TASS. The result of their not being permitted to join the EMA, which would have been the effect of the Bridlington judgment had it been left to Bridlington, is that they would either have decided not to be trade unionists at all or would have decided to become members of the United Kingdom Association of Power Engineers, which, being a non-TUC affiliated union, would not be affected by the clause.

From the point of view of Labour Members, it seems strange that they should be trying to drive these men away from the TUC and into joining either a non-TUC affiliated union or into not being trade union members. However, that is the clear effect of the clause, which is the guts, the heart and the crux of the Bill.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

The case is interesting and important, as the hon. Gentleman is rightly telling us. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that nothing he has said so far—it appears that he has been quite accurate in his description of events—violates in any way the principle that people should be able to choose to which trade union they belong? Nor does it seem—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me—that anything that exists now, institutionally or in legal principle, precludes people from joining a non-affiliated trade union if they wish to do so. It seems, however surprising this may be to the hon. Gentleman, that that is a good situation. The principle of free choice is clearly preserved. ACAS may have made a lousy decision—I think that it did—but the principle of freedom of choice has not been violated.

Mr. Lawson

When the hon. Gentleman says that ACAS may have made a lousy decision, I think he means that the TUC and the Bridlington procedure may have resulted in a lousy decision.

Mr. Litterick

That is exactly what I meant.

Mr. Lawson

I shall try to demonstrate to the hon. Gentleman why I think that freedom of choice is clearly infringed by the clause. It is an important matter, and it is probably better if I go through the case in some detail and in sequence. The only way in which the House will be able to judge the likely consequence of the Bill if it is passed, and of this clause in particular, is if it is made aware of precisely what has happened in the specific case to which I refer, which has led to the clause. I believe that the House will then realise that a dangerous course is being proposed that could have a much wider application in many other cases.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow—I must be careful how I refer to him although he is not known as the most hypersensitive of hon. Members—said that there is nothing in the Bill that will restrict the right of TUC affiliated unions to apply for a recognition dispute between unions to be decided by ACAS under Section 11 and subsequent procedures. I see the junior Minister, the Minister of State for Employment nodding in agreement. It seems that he agrees that that is the position. I submit that it is not. In fact, the Bill will prevent any TUC affiliated union from having recourse to ACAS without the permission of the TUC. If that is not so, there is no point in having the clause in the Bill. In fact, the TUC would not give that permission and, therefore, the union would be faced with the choice of accepting that position or becoming non-affiliated.

Precisely that situation arose in a case in my constituency in the Nuclear Power Company. It is very much a nuclear power constituency. In the Nuclear Power Company there was a similar dispute over similar employees between ASTMS and TASS. The dispute went to Bridlington and the verdict, again, went in favour of TASS, much to the fury of the great majority of the workers who preferred ASTMS. It was explained to them quite clearly that unless ASTMS were to agree to the ruling it would be expelled from the TUC.

Therefore, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow must concede one of two things—either a rapid diminution of the membership of the TUC as one union after another is expelled for going to ACAS, or trade unions accepting that they are precluded, in effect, from applying to ACAS. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman seeks a rapid increase in the number of trade unions resigning from the TUC so as to preserve their unfettered freedom to go to ACAS, so the only purpose can be—in fact, he admitted it—to preclude unions from going to ACAS. He clearly admitted that. He said that Mr. John Lyons had squealed because he did not accept the umpire's verdict. He is saying that unions must accept the Bridlington umpire's verdict whatever it may be. He is saying that whatever the circumstances a union must accept its verdict. It clearly follows that a union will not make a reference to ACAS in those circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Bridlington rules should be put above the law in an inter-union recognition dispute. That means that they are to be put above Parliament. It means that the hon. Gentleman is saying that the whole issue should be above Parliament.

There is an important point that has not yet been mentioned in the debate—namely, that if ACAS acts in a manner that amounts to maladministration we can, as a result of an order which was made a few months ago, refer the matter to the Ombudsman on behalf of our constituents. That we can do under the ACAS procedure. That is an important freedom for individual trade unionists. If ever there is maladministration on the part of the TUC—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) pointed out that it was a bad decision—there is no recourse to the Ombudsman. In that way, too, the Bill is removing a protection, since the TUC cannot by its very nature, because it is not a Government body, come within the Ombudsman's purview.

Mr. Litterick

The TUC has no right to deny anyone, and no possibility of denying, a statutory right. This House is sovereign, and any right conferred by it is guaranteed until such time as it withdraws it.

Mr. Lawson

The hon. Gentleman is on to a very good point. The trouble is that he has not read the Bill. The statutory right is contained in Section 118 of the Employment Protection Act. The purpose of Clause 1 is to oblige the trade unions which are parties to the Bridlington agreement—in other words, members of the TUC—to opt out of Section 118, to opt out of the law.

In order to explain the nature of this case, I should like to read from some of the letters I have received from trade unionists. I was involved a little while before I received the letters, which were stimulated by the reaction to the Bridlington judgment. Nevertheless, they came at an early stage. One writer said: I write to you on the subject of Trade Unionism with regard to the Professional Engineer. I am an employee of GEC-Reactor Equipment Limited, Whetstone, Leicester. Over the last two to there years there has been a growing awareness within the ranks of the Professional Engineers that their true worth to society is being reflected by neither their salaries nor their status. To help redress this situation and in compliance with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers' recommended unions for the Chartered Engineer' I became a member of the Electrical Power Engineers' Association (EPEA). This action was not taken in isolation and a GEC-REL EPEA section was quickly built up whose membership exceeds the combined membership of TASS and UKAPE at GEC-REL. TASS has been operating at the GEC-REL site for a number of years but is not recognised by Management for my class of employment and has a poor recruitment and effectiveness record. Further, my wishes were to join a TUC allied union of reasonable political complexion which had been endorsed by my Professional Institution. He went on to complain about the Bridlington judgment, and added: If this decision is upheld on appeal"— in fact, there is no appeal against a Bridlington judgment— then it will either force the EPEA Whetstone section to be disbanded or the EPEA to be thrown out of the TUC". That is correct, and this is where the question of a worker's belonging to a union of his choice is central to the Bill.

Here is another letter explaining more vividly than I can, by paraphrasing, what is happening at Whetstone, what the dispute is about, and what the Bill is about: I am writing to you as a constituent, and qualified engineer who has recognised the increasing need over the past twelve months or so for appropriate trades union representation and has been severely hampered in my steps towards meeting this need. The need has been emphasised not only by the decreasing status and relative earnings of the professional engineer, but also by the vital requirement for matters relating to one's employment to be in line with procedures established and proven between unions, industry and the Government. Discussion amongst engineers has shown that the majority hold the same views. This majority had nonetheless remained outside any form of union organisation until recently". Then the writer describes the steps by which many of them became members of the EPEA, now the EMA, until they now have 40 per cent. of the engineers in these categories. He complains about the Bridlington judgment, which he could not understand, and rightly says: The membership regard this ruling as totally perverse. It is neither in line with the evidence presented to the committee nor with the Bridlington principles. In no circumstances would the majority of our members join TASS. It is very important for Labour Members to realise that. He continues: But even if we wished it, we find that the advice given by the CEI with considerable knowledge and experience of the needs of the professional engineer, is in conflict with an ill-founded and summarily arrived at decision of the TUC nor does the ruling enable us to make use of the Employment Protection Measures set up by the Government". Ironically, they can at present make use of the employment protection measures set up by the Government, but if the Bill goes through they will not be able to do so. He concludes: Above all, we believe we should have the freedom to join the union of our choice when to do so is quite clearly not in conflict with the activities of other unions, and can only ultimately contribute to industrial harmony. The right union representation will prove a key factor if the country's engineers are to give maximum support in their vital role in our economic and social progress. I have many other letters from trade unionists, qualified engineers, at Whetstone, to the same effect, but I do not propose to read them out. I hope that hon. Members will take it on trust that I have those letters.

In order to understand the Bill it is necessary to go through the history of the dispute. It is a complicated dispute. The hon. Member for Selly Oak is aware of it, but many other hon. Members are not, so it is necessary to put it on record. For the EMA-EPEA, it began in July 1976, when, at the request of the professional and managerial staff at GCE Reactor Equipment the EMA sent officials to attend a meeting to explain to the engineers the advantage of membership of that union for staff employed in the company in the category concerned. As a result of that meeting the EMA rapidly recruited more than 100 of the 300 staff at that level into membership.

It was following the news of that success that TASS sought to have a meeting urgently with the EPEA at national level, under the Bridlington procedures. The meeting was held. No agreement could be reached. TASS's membership was very small, even though it had been there for years.

Because the unions could not agree at that meeting in September 1976, the matter was referred in March 1977 to a disputes committee under Mr. Alan Fisher of NUPE, under the Bridlington rules.

Mr. Ron Thomas

Will the hon. Gentleman make clear to the House once again that TASS already had membership there and tell us whether it had any negotiating rights for its members?

Mr. Lawson

TASS had no negotiating rights of any kind except for a limited number of draughtsmen, who were covered by a procedural agreement between the CSEU and the Engineering Employers' Federation. The recognition claim by the EMA, the former EPEA, specifically excluded the draughtsman and others, a small number of them, who were covered by the procedural agreements. So there was no conflict.

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. What is important here is that this was not a question of poaching. It was a question of recognition and, indeed, membership, where there had been little union membership hitherto, as was made clear in the letters that I have read out, and no official negotiating, no recognition for any union at all among these engineers.

Mr. Ron Thomas


Mr. Lawson

I shall give the whole history. This dispute between TASS and the EPEA, or EMA, was concerned with staff in what are known as categories 3 and 4 at GEC REL. The category 1 people, manual workers, had nothing to do with the dispute, nor did those in category 2, the clerical and technical workers. They were right outside it. Also, some staff—the drawing office and allied staff who were in category 3—were specifically excluded by the EMA. No attempt was made to recruit them because they were already covered by the procedural agreement between the Engineering Employers' Federation and the CSEU.

Within category 3 at that time, outside the TASS procedural grade, which is a small one, there were about 273 employees—engineers and managers—and there were another 33 within category 4, making a total of 306. Of those 306, more than 100 had joined EMA, fewer than 50 were members of TASS and there had been no recognition accorded to TASS by the management.

The TUC disputes committee ruled against the EMA and in favour of the TASS complaint. The hon. Member for Selly Oak has rightly said that that was totally perverse and wrong. It was done on the basis of principle 5 of the Bridlington principles. That principle states clearly that it is concerned with preventing unions trying to get membership where there is another union that is recognised and has a majority of members. In this case, the other union neither had a majority of members, nor was it recognised. Principle 5 could not have applied.

It is interesting to note what the Donovan Commission, which looked into the trade unions, said about this loophole. The report says: For example, if no union can claim a majority of membership and a recognition agreement, the Bridlington principles will not indicate which of two contesting unions should have priority. That was the case at GEC Reactor Equipment at Whetstone.

The only caveat by which the TUC judgment could possibly have applied principle 5 on the grounds on which the award was made to TASS—and the engineers concerned will take no notice of it anyway since they are individuals with their own minds and are determined not to join TASS—is the provision that if a union has exceptional difficulties in recruiting members, the stringent conditions about the need for a majority and recognition need not apply.

It was claimed by TASS that there were exceptional difficulties because UKAPE was operating in the firm. But the EMA also had to contend with that, and it found no difficulty in recruiting members, despite the presence of UKAPE. In no time at all, the EMA had more members than UKAPE and TASS put together. The idea that there were exceptional difficulties that prevented TASS recruiting members is a nonsense. The engineers did not join TASS because they did not think that it was a union that could properly represent their interests and, in addition, some of them did not like its political colour, either.

The result of the judgment, which was totally contrary to the Bridlington principles, was that the EMA was told to cease recruiting among category 3 and 4 staff. The EMA was told to instruct its members to leave that union and to join TASS and the EMA was instructed to cease recruiting and to drop any claim for recognition. Of course, it was not prepared to do that. It would have been a betrayal of its members if it had done so. The instruction would have had no effect anyway because the engineers were determined not to join TASS.

There was nothing else for the EMA to do but to put in a Section 11 reference to ACAS under the legislation that hon. Members opposite put through the House not long ago. The EMA again made clear that the application did not cover the staff already covered by the TASS procedural agreement.

On 27th April, the EMA wrote to ACAS asking it to hurry up its considerations of the matter. I regret to say that, at every stage, ACAS has pursued a policy of delay. I suspect that this is because of pressure put on it by the TUC, which has made no secret of the fact that it did not like a union appealing to ACAS against the judgment of the TUCs Bridlington committee. The EMA suggested that the matter could be speeded up by considering it alongside the UKAPE reference for recognition, which had also been submitted at that time.

An astonishing fact emerged. Under Section 11 and the sections that go with it, if a union—in this case UKAPE—applies for recognition, other unions that may be interested parties have to be quoted as such so that when the questionnaires are distributed, the employees have the chance to indicate a preference for other unions.

The EMA was clearly an interested party and was originally included as an interested party by ACAS, but as soon as the Bridlington judgment went against the union, it was summarily excluded from being listed as an interested party, even though it clearly was. Its name was removed from the draft questionnaire and ACAS went ahead on the basis that the EMA no longer existed. That had to be put right.

Again, the questionnaire also originally included category 2 staff who were not the subject of any claim. That was a curious provision which had to be taken out, thereby causing further delay.

Following that, ACAS tried to delay the matter by saying that it could not investigate the reference until the TUCs complaint that the Bridlington rules had not been complied with had been settled. The EMA pointed out that the TUC procedure had been exhausted, that nothing further could be done under the Bridlington agreement—Mr. Len Murray denied this, but it was true: there is no appeal against a Bridlington judgment within the TUC rules—and that the award of the disputes committee could not be enforced because, under Section 118, the union was entitled to make its application to ACAS and that was superior to the informal rules of the TUC. That is what the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow is seeking to change.

The only way that the EMA could persuade ACAS to get a move on was by sending a solicitors letter threatening legal action if ACAS did not speed up its consideration of the matter. Eventually ACAS did act and in June 1977 a draft questionnaire was agreed, of which I have a copy. It appeared that everything was ready to go ahead.

A further attempt at conciliation was then made under the auspices of the TUC General Council. There was a short suspension, but no agreement was reached. Still ACAS did not go ahead, and the union was forced to take out a writ against the TUC to prevent it acting on the Bridlington award until the matter had been determined under the Employment Protection Act. That was the only protection for the union and the workers.

There were still further delays and ACAS said that it could not proceed with the matter because the writ taken out against the TUC made the case sub judice. A further letter was sent by the EMA to warn ACAS of the legal difficulties that the service would be in if it did not proceed with the settlement of the dispute as it was bound to do under the law. That is the purpose of ACAS and I am sure that we all approve of it trying to settle these difficult inter-union disputes, particularly in the white-collar area to which I am referring.

On 24th November ACAS wrote to the EMA solicitors seeking an undertaking from the EMA—and this is an astonishing thing—that the EMA should accept the validity of that part of the disputes committee award which ordered them to cease recruitment as a precondition to ACAS going ahead with the inquiry. In other words, ACAS was asking the union to concede a matter upon which ACAS was meant to judge. The union would gladly have accepted an impartial ACAS ruling, and the union tried to be as conciliatory as it could. It wrote, without prejudice, a letter to ACAS saying that if ACAS went ahead and carried out the Section 11 reference the union would have no need to go ahead with legal action against the TUC.

This is a long story but the delay is far worse for my constituents working at GEC Reactor Equipment at Whetstone who do not know where they stand than is the delay for hon. Members who have to listen to me telling this story.

Despite this olive branch, ACAS insisted that it could not go ahead. The union could do nothing but take out a writ for an injunction against ACAS obliging it to take action as it is legally bound to do under Sections 11 and 12 of the Act.

That is where the position is at the moment. I believe it is a totally unsatisfactory state of affairs, but it is one which is on the point of being resolved. It is on the point of being resolved because I believe that when this case comes to court it will be found that ACAS does have to go ahead with this reference. Despite all the delay, I have no doubt that it will then be found clearly that the overwhelming majority of the employees concerned want to be organised by the EMA and that there is no significant support whatsoever for TASS. Indeed, the curious thing is that the only real argument that TASS used, and used consistently throughout, was that the Engineering Employers' Federation is in favour of TASS because this is one of the unions with which there are joint EEF-CSEU agreements, whereas the Engineering Employers' Federation does not want the EMA because it is outside the magic circle.

It is an astonishing thing that Labour Members have as their only allies the Engineering Employers' Federation which is peculiarly myopic on this point. But in any event, the Engineering Employers' Federation is irrelevant in this context. The only bodies that are relevant are the unions concerned and the employers. The Engineering Employers' Federation is not the employer, and it would be a grave mistake if any hon. Members on either side of the House took it for granted that the view of the employers at Whetstone was the same as that of the Engineering Employers' Federation—even though they may be members of that federation.

So, what of the rôle of the various bodies in this tangled tale? ACAS has been very reluctant to intervene in this at all because it is embarrassed by the possible conflict between the correct decision that it would have to make and the incorrect one taken under the Bridlington rules. The Bridlington rules in fact have little to do with this sort of case. They are concerned with poaching; a totally different context. ACAS was very embarrassed. The TUC was putting enormous pressure on it and it stalled and stalled. It was only brought to do its statutory duty by legal action and the Bill seeks to remove that duty from it. Yet this is the only way in which there is to be justice for the trade unionists, for the engineers and for my constituents at Whetstone.

The TUC has put the pressure on. It is worth stopping to analyse what one means by the TUC because I am afraid that in recent years the TUC has changed. There has been a greater and greater tendency for the big unions to dominate it at the expense of the small unions. That is not justice. It is not even democracy, because the two or three biggest unions' total membership is less than half of the TUC membership as a whole. Even if that were not so it is certainly ont justice. It was because TASS is a section of one of the big unions that decisions went in its favour.

Throughout the smaller unions there is growing resentment at the way in which TUC decisions are being bent by the big unions. This has become common and the general secretary of the TUC has gone along with this. It was interesting that we had the sudden and strongly symbolic incident at the last TUC conference when, for a few moments, the Transport and General Workers Union was expelled from the TUC. That was clear evidence of the growing resentment in the smaller unions at the way in which the big, unions have been railroading them.

That is a further reason why the matter cannot be left to the TUC. If this is done there is no way of getting justice for the smaller unions. The Engineering Employers' Federation is somewhat myopic over this issue but it has no relevance. It is an irony that its preferences should emerge as the only argument which TASS could put before the Bridlington inquiry.

The employers have enjoyed good industrial relations and they are concerned that that should continue. But good industrial relations will not continue unless this dispute is resolved satisfactorily. This dispute can be resolved satisfactorily only through ACAS. Other disputes of this kind will grow up and they will be able to be resolved satisfactorily only through the machinery which has been set up by law, the main element of which is the ACAS procedure for dealing with recognition disputes.

The Bill which the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow is asking the House to endorse is a recipe for increasing industrial conflict, increasing injustice for the small unions and increasing disillusionment amongst highly skilled workers, technicians and managers who have had such a raw deal in recent years as a result of taxation and incomes policy. They are the people upon whom the future of this country greatly depends. I ask the House to reject the Bill.

2.8 p.m.

Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)

I declare an interest as a member of ASTMS. I am a sponsored Member of Parliament for that union which makes a contribution to my constituency party, although I do not receive any money from it whatsover.

I wish to make one or two comments about the long, but in many ways necessary, speech of the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). He asked how many people had read Section 118 of the Act. Listening to him, I wondered whether he had read it. Section 118 of the Employment Protection Act states: Except as provided by subsection (2) below, any provision in an agreement (whether a contract of employment or not) shall be void in so far as it purports—

  1. (a) to exclude or limit the operation of any provision of this Act; or
  2. (b) to preclude .. "
and so forth.

If we then insert paragraph (e) as proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), I do not see how the hon. Gentleman arrives at his interpretation. As I see it, it is simply saying that the Bridlington rules are not null and void. That is what it will mean if paragraph (e) is added to in Section 118 (2) of the 1975 Act—that the Bridlington provisions shall not be void in so far as they may limit the operation of ACAS.

The Bridlington principle—I have always thought that it was a major principle accepted by many hon. Members on both sides of the House—is that when there is an industrial dispute of any kind it is far better for the parties themselves to try to settle it, because they must work with the results of it, than to have it imposed upon them by some outside body.

Mr. Lawson

I think that the hon. Member is completely mistaken. First, the passage that his hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) seeks to insert does not apply to Section 118 (1). It goes at the end of Section 118 (2), which deals with matters to which subsection (1) does not apply.

There is no question, of course, of Bridlington being ruled out of court. Certainly, unions would hope to have justice under the Bridlington rules. The question is whether they have the right to apply to ACAS if they are TUC affiliated unions and wish to remain so. At present they do. This proposal would prevent them from exercising and having that right.

Mr. Thomas

I shall come in a moment to the hon. Gentleman's point of grammar and the question of expulsion from the TUC. At present, in terms of Section 118, there is no reference in subsection (2) to the Bridlington agreement as such. So to all intents and purposes, if I were a Perry Mason, I should insist that it was null and void.

Mr. Lawson


Mr. Thomas

Yes, because Section 118 (1) says: Except as provided by subsection (2) below"— and Bridlington is not provided by subsection (2) below, is it?— any provision in an agreement (whether a contract of employment or not) shall be void in so far as it purports … to exclude or limit the operation of ACAS.

Mr. Lawson

There is nothing in Section 118 as it now stands which says that the Bridlington agreement is null and void. Of course, it is not null and void. It does not have statutory force, but that is because the trade unions concerned do not wish it to have statutory force. It is not that kind of an agreement. But there is nothing in Section 118 which says that the Bridlington agreement is null and void.

Mr. Thomas

I am saying that if one wants to argue in the kind of legal way in which the hon. Gentleman is arguing, one can say that, because it is not listed as an exception under subsection (2), then—putting it in a positive sense—adding paragraph (e) to subsection (2) does not lead to the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

I shall now look at some of the other points made by the hon. Gentleman. It is all very well for Opposition Members to talk about the right of an indidivual to join the trade union of his choice—to join any trade union. They say that, I believe, only because they want to weaken the trade union movement. They are talking a nonsense.

If I were to walk into the British Aircraft Corporation factory or Rolls-Royce factory and say "I want to join the National Union of Seamen" what would the employer make of that? The Opposition keep telling us that we have too many trade unions. Now they are saying that a person ought to be allowed to join the trade union of his choice.

If workers go along to their branch and a democratic decision is arrived at and they do not like it, they can pick up their cards and go and join another union. They do not just join another union to hold a card. They join another union because they want different negotiating rights. This is where the hon. Member is confused about his poaching nonsense, and so on. I shall come back to that.

Again, we get this schizophrenia from the Liberals. I am not saying that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) will make the same point, but I remember, on the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill, taking up this point with his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). The hon. Gentleman replied that working people ought to have the right to join the trade union of their choice. As I reminded him, I thought that it was understood that it was Liberal policy to have one union for each industry. "Yes," he said, "there are too many trade unions, and there ought to be one for each industry." He could not see any dichotomy or contradiction in that.

Hon. Members opposite keep telling us that West Germany is a wonderful place, partly because it has one trade union for each industry, or some such.

Mr. Lawson

If the hon. Member believes in having one trade union for each industry, how does he contrive to be a member of TASS, which covers many industries, and how does the promoter of the Bill contrive to be a member of ASTMS, which also is in many industries? We are talking about the British trade union movement, not the German trade union movement.

Mr. Thomas

I have not said that I believe in one trade union for each industry. I do not know whether that is Liberal Party policy. I am sure that the hon. Member for Colne Valley will let us know later whether it is Liberal Party policy to have one trade union for each industry. But time and again we are told that there are too many trade unions. Opposition Members say "Look at Ford, in which there are 22 trade unions with 22 sets of negotiating rights". At the same time, they say that people should have the right to join the trade union of their choice. So for 28,000 workers at Dagenham there ought to be 28,000 trade unions, one for each of them. I wonder how they would like that?

Mr. Litterick

They would love it.

Mr. Ron Thomas

They would love it, I suppose. At the same time as the claim that people should have this right to join the trade union of their choice it is said that there should be the right not to belong to a trade union. The Conservative Party keeps telling us about that—the non-trade unionists, and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston. South (Mr. Thorne) took up this point. I do not want to pursue the argument about free riders. I want to look at it in a different way.

The hon. Member for Blaby spoke about the Engineering Employers' Federation. I have no brief for it or for any other employer, but I know that certain employers and employers' associations have over the years painstakingly built up all kids of procedures for avoiding disputes, for consultation, and all the rest of it. The idea that people shall have the right to join a trade union or not to join a trade union undermines the whole of these procedures.

Let us imagine that all the workers at Dagenham took the advice of some Opposition Members and packed up the trade unions. That place would collapse within five minutes, because there are tens and perhaps hundreds of shop stewards and staff representatives who are doing the job of management and keeping that place going.

What would the company do if it did not have trade unions? Would it hold mass meetings on football grounds occasionally with its 28,000 workers to tell them what it proposed to do? Would the company have the workers in one by one in order to negotiate their pay claim? The Opposition know that they are talking nonsense and they want this small group of non-union members, some of them representing employers, simply to undermine the trade union organisation. It is no good pretending that a firm of any size could survive today without these procedures—I am talking from the point of view of employers and not the trade union side—and without the representative system of the shop stewards' organisation.

I know of plenty of places in which shop stewards discipline the workers. The foreman goes to the shop steward and says that he is having a bit of trouble with Fred Jones and asks the shop steward to have a word with him. The shop steward does it. Time after time employers can call in about a dozen shop stewards or staff representatives representing 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 workers. The employers can tell the stewards what their plans are, knowing that they will go back to the workers and eventually return with their views. That is how matters are settled.

What would happen if half of the work force was not in a trade union? Would management call the men in one by one to explain the situation? Of course not. What some employers want, what the Tories want, is a 99.5 per cent. closed shop. They still want the few outside to undermine the situation. If it was suggested that we should try to persuade millions of trade unionists to leave the unions the employers' arms would go up in horror. The trade unions are an essential part of the industrial scene.

Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)

Would the hon. Gentleman like to pursue that point a little further? He says that the Conservatives favour 99.5 per cent. union membership. Suppose that there were .5 per cent. of the labour force left outside. Why does that undermine the union position? Suppose that we favour reducing the total number of unions. No one suggests that that would happen overnight. Suppose that in the process we allowed some of the small unions to grow so that people had a choice and there was not a log jam. Why does that upset the union movement? Why cannot the trade unions operate in a more organised way?

Mr. Flannery

Who are "we"?

Mr. Thomas

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is quite right to ask that. I was talking about employers in the main, and those who represent them on the Tory Benches. It has to be accepted that if there were a small number of people receiving all of the benefits which arose from the sacrifices made by the rest of the work force there would be bound to be an erosion effect. People cannot be blamed for asking themselves why they should pay to belong to a trade union when they can get the benefits in any event. They may well ask why they should put themselves in such a position that may be denied promotion. Who are the workers who are promoted? There is always a suspicion that they are those in the little group outside the unions. Others become worried that they will not be promoted. They worry that if they threaten any kind of industrial action it will be marked down on their record.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) asked why we should not allow dozens of unions to proliferate. I have attempted to answer that point. It is argued by all sides, certainly by the employers, that to have effective collective bargaining it is necessary to have as few unions as possible in an establishment. That point has to be squared with the suggestion that people should be allowed to join the trade union of their choice.

The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson)—I am sorry that he is not present—spoke of the Bridlington agreement and painted a picture of the TUC standing by with an executioner's axe saying to members "If you do not accept the results of the disputes procedure you will be expelled from the TUC." What a nonsense that is. It is nothing like that. These are trade union members who are seeking to get the parties together to settle a dispute. The hon. Member went on to say that that section of the Bridlington agreement referred only to poaching of other members.

But poaching members, or getting new members, is a first step. Matters do not end when a man joins a trade union. A union recruits so that it can gain negotiating rights. That is the next step, and that is where the problem arises. The hon. Member told us that TASS had already got members in the establishment he referred to. He did not tell us whether the negotiations which TASS had with its draughtsmen were in any way linked—this is often the case—with the terms and conditions of engineers in other parts of the establishment. I have a feeling that we were given only half of the picture.

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) is, I understand, a member of a trade union and I take it that, like my hon. Friends, he attends branch meetings as often as he can. He will know that when there is a membersip application certain questions are asked. The union has to be satisfied that the applicant is not a member of another union or, if he is a member of another union, whether that union has negotiating rights in the plant.

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Gentleman would have to be addressed as "Brother Prior".

Mr. Thomas

Sometimes, because the application forms are not made out as well as they should be, a union has to say that it will accept the person subject to Bridlington clearance. I do not know what the figures are on this, but I know that my union, ASTMS, which, I suppose, is recruiting more rapidly than any other union in the area mentioned by the hon. Member for Blaby, has on countless occasions had to say that it could take a person subject to Bridlington clearance.

ASTMS has on many occasions had to go to the disputes committee of the TUC. We have accepted the decisions of the committee because we know that it is made up of fellow trade unionists trying to sort matters out without bringing in the law.

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft said that there were divisions in the Tory Party on industrial relations. How right he is. Judging from what he has said there is a big division—him versus the rest. It is no good the right hon. Member standing up at the Dispatch Box and saying that he represents the views of the Tory Party while in that most reactionary of magazines, Free Nation, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) makes a violent attack on trade union general secretaries. Not only is this a violent and vicious attack but it shows utter ignorance of the trade union movement on the part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Trade union general secretaries do not run trade unions. The elected national executives run the unions. They tell the general secretaries what to do. There might be an argument about how often those general secretaries ought to be elected, but Tory Members should not fall into the trap of imagining that Jack Jones runs the Transport and General Workers Union. When the national executive of Jack Jones's union said "We are sick to death of pay policies of one kind or another and we will not have the 12-month rule", Jack Jones, like a good democrat, accepted that. I have criticised Jack Jones many times, but he accepted that.

There is a great division in the Tory Party. It is partly due to ignorance. No doubt the right hon. Member for Lowestoft goes along to his trade union branch and picks up one or two things now and again to use when he speaks here. That is fair enough. But basically the Tory Party represents those employers who are still, in the 19th century sense, opposed to effective trade unionism.

Mr. Skinner

My view is a little different. The reason why Brother Prior joined that union—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order".]—Why the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Flannery

Right honourable Brother.

Mr. Skinner

—joined that union was to give strength to the image of the Tory Party. He thought that he could woo the unions. But he is just like the rest of them in the Tory Party, including the guru from Leeds, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). He is being used as a cat's paw to woo trade unionists. If the Tories managed to secure an election victory, there is no doubt that the voice of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft would be lost. He would be the same as the rest, and they would all be attacking trade unions with the same ferocity as they did before.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. If the hon. Gentleman desires to make a speech, he should seek to catch the eye of the Chair.

Mr. Skinner

It seemed an appropriate moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Thomas

I do not think that there is disagreement between my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and me—

Mr. Prior

I hate to intervene in internecine warfare in the Labour Party, but it gives me a good deal of pleasure to find that my views on the trade unions are paid so much attention to by the Labour Party.

Mr. Skinner

Just a masquerade.

Mr. Thomas

I think that my hon. Friend misunderstood me. I was saying that there was clearly a division among hon. Members opposite when the right hon. Member for Lowestoft was speaking. I have been told many times by shop stewards that it is not what management says that matters but what it does. I keep that dictum before me all the time. When the right hon. Gentleman said that there were divisions in the Tory Party all the heads behind him nodded, and when he suggested that what he was saying represented Conservative Party policy they looked solemn. I know that the right hon. Gentleman could not look behind him too quickly because otherwise some of the knives in his back would have fallen out, but had he done so he would have seen what I saw.

One claim by the right hon. Gentleman must be answered. He said that legisla tion had swung too far in favour of the unions. He asked when they were going to show a sense of obligation and responsibility. I do not know how anyone can have the cheek to say that. I take it that he means the union leadership. What have the union leaders done since 1975? They supported stages 1 and 2 of the pay policy. They have persuaded or cajoled, whatever one might call it—my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover would use stronger words—

Mr. Skinner

I have.

Mr. Thomas

They have persuaded or cajoled working people to accept wage increases which bore no reflection of the increase in prices. Indeed, in stage 2 the average increase in earnings was only half of the increase in prices. The working people have accepted a cut in their standard of living because they were asked to do so by the unions.

I think that the union leaders acted wrongly, because it is their job, and their legitimate job and the reason for their existence, to negotiate the best terms and conditions of employment that they can for the working people they represent. It is not their job to get mixed up in a Treasury orthodox pay policy. To suggest that the union leaders have not accepted obligations and shown responsibility is a nonsense.

A great deal has been said about industrial relations law. There is no doubt that, when we have had such legislation, employers and the courts have interpreted it quite differently from what Parliament intended. That applied as well to the 1906 legislation of the Liberal Government. We need not argue about the Liberals' motive in introducing that measure. I suspect that they hoped that by it they could get the votes of the so-called artisans and working class who were then members of unions. I think that it was their last hope. But the unions decided otherwise and set up the Labour Party. But no one should lightly dismiss the 1906 legislation.

But time and again, from the Taff Vale judgment, the Osborn judgment, and right through to the Rookes v. Barnard case, the courts have shown clearly their class nature. It is not just that they are there largely as the custodians of property. They are essentially representative of the ruling class. Time and again, when the Government, whether Liberal or Labour, have shown sympathy to the unions, and have introduced legislation accordingly, it has not been long before employers like George Ward have raised their heads.

George Ward is the kind of employer that everyone thought was extinct, like the dinosaur. Such employers raise their heads with the support of many hon. Members opposite to challenge legislation like the Employment Protection Act. We here all thought that that Act had a certain meaning, but apparently it did not according to certain employers and courts. George Ward is probably proud of his reputation as being probably the most reactionary employer this century. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), who has put his case, is also proud of it.

There is nothing unusual about Parliament trying to exert its will in face of reaction by employers and the courts to its legislation. I expect that we shall have to go on doing it, because the courts will not change. They are class-based and completely ignorant. I wonder how many of the judges who have taken industrial relations cases have ever worked on the shop floor, or in a mine, or on the docks. I suspect that not one of them has. They all show their ignorance of such situations.

Mr. Skinner

A few Social Democrats get put on the courts for show.

Mr. Thomas

I emphasise that it must not be thought that all of us or all members of unions are always happy with particular pieces of legislation. There are all sorts of motives for introducing legislation. I am not only referring to the Industrial Relations Act, which was an obvious case but am including measures like the Contracts of Employment Act and the Redundancy Payments Act.

All those measures can be looked at from different points of view. I have discussed them with many shop stewards who are utterly opposed to the Redundancy Payments Act, for example, because they say that it was brought in simply to try to reduce the militancy in redundancy situations. The result is that, while the shop stewards are trying to fight redundancy, there are workers who, understandably in the capitalist system, want to grab the redundancy pay and go. Thus, the Redundancy Payments Act undermines what would otherwise be militant action against redundancy, and I regret that very much. That is also true to some extent of the Employment Protection Act.

I turn now to Clauses 2 and 3, which are important. I have always thought it completely unacceptable that if a group of workers goes on strike, provided the employer sacks the lot that is all right. He gets into trouble only if he differentiates and takes somebody back or offers to re-engage somebody. I have always thought that that was objectionable.

The Bill does not go as far as I should like it to go. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow has said that what he is asking for in Clauses 2 and 3 will apply only in a non-recognition dispute and only when ACAS finds in favour of those who went on strike in such a dispute. That worries me. I have the strong feeling that one of the matters that would guide ACAS in such a situation is the number that went on strike. If there were 500 who could have gone on strike but only 50 had had the courage to do so, ACAS might well decide not to recommend recognition and the 50 who had gone on strike could be sacked. That was what happened in the case of Grunwick.

I take it that any person striking in the situation visualised would be sacked. The Bill is tightly drawn. I realise that my hon. Friend is trying to block a certain loophole, and he realises that he must do it in a particular way. The fact that an employer can sack a large number of employees and can find himself in trouble if he sacks only one or two must be dealt with.

If a small number of workers decide to strike in an effort to get recognition and if ACAS decides, because the number who have struck is only a small proportion of the total number, not to recommend that they be granted union recognition, I am concerned about the fact that the workers can be sacked by an employer such as George Ward.

I have never been able to understand why there has always been an insistence that if a group of workers wants to join a union and wants the union of their choice to negotiate on their behalf the House of Commons gets bogged down in the matter and says that there must be a ballot, that there must be a majority, and so on. In any society which calls itself democratic, if workers—no matter what the proportion is of the total workforce—decide that they want to join a trade union and want that trade union to negotiate for them, that should be accepted by hon. Members and the House should not get bogged down in the details.

I support the Bill. I shall be interested to learn what the attitude of the Liberal Party will be to the Bill. The hon. Member for Colne Valley said that he will tell us. He called in aid earlier what the Liberals did under Lloyd George. There have been many changes in the Liberal Party since the days of that wily Welsh wizard. In a few moments the hon. Gentleman will no doubt tell us whether the members of the Liberal Party also, like their Tory friends, support employers and free riders and will therefore vote against the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Before I call the next speaker, i wish to call the attention of the House to the fact that the speeches of five Back Benchers have occupied 150 minutes. A considerable number of hon. Members still desire to speak. It is in the interests of the House that this fact be borne in mind.

2.44 p.m.

Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)

The comprehensive description given to us a few minutes ago by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) of an important inter-union dispute in his constituency disproved entirely the mischievous suggestion by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) that the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill is a matter of trade union united versus the House.

I am sorry that in the closing remarks of his otherwise interesting speech the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) seemed to be taking the same line, namely, that it was the unions versus the employers, as though in fact we were still in the year 1906. As the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) said, when admirably expounding the Bill, the debate is not about that at all. It is about a highly technical matter of recognition law. The House has well spent its time on a further consideration of the very intricate and complex question, which all parties find perplexing, of the role of the law in industrial relations.

I did not accept the simile invoked by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow in aid of amending the Act by a Private Member's Bill. He referred, correctly, to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party last week at this time of day when my right hon. Friend said that we on this side did not believe that the matter could be dealt with piecemeal and that there must be a more comprehensive amendment of the Act. That was perfectly correct.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow then said that in respect of the Industrial Relations Act—a very recent Act—water is already pouring through the roof. He went on to argue that in that circumstance it was inappropriate to start messing about with the foundations of the building.

That is not the attitude adopted by us on this Bench. We have no wish to interfere with the foundations of the employment protection law. We certainly have no wish to diminish the growing stature of ACAS. We say that it is not a question of one hole in the roof. It is a question of several holes in the roof of the Act and that it would be very unfortunate to start trying to legislate for each hole piecemeal.

Nor are we urging any enormous delay. If the Government care to come forward, now that they have breathing space as a result of having applied the guillotine to the European Assembly Elections Bill, with some comprehensive reform of the Employment Protection Act, such proposals will receive every consideration from Liberal Members.

This interesting debate has demonstrated that the drafting of this Bill is far too uncertain for it to be safe for the Bill to proceed. Argument advanced, even at this early stage, has shown clearly opposing interpretations of these short clauses. As has already been pointed out, nobody can expect a Private Member, however well versed in the procedures of the House and however experienced in his own specialties, to carry out all the consultations that are necessary over a wider field in a matter such as this.

Another difficulty, about which I hope that hon. Members opposite will be understanding, is that it would be tragic if inadvertently—I know that it is not intended—a measure such as this were to interrupt the growth in the stature of ACAS. It will be within the recollection of the Minister's Department that I, like many other Members of the House, have recently had to do what I could—I was very glad to do this—to commend ACAS to a large number of people who were engaged in a bitter industrial dispute in Huddersfield. When the assistance of ACAS was invoked, a large number of mischievous allegations were made on both sides as to its competence and integrity for such a rôle.

It would be very unfortunate if inadvertently ACAS were reduced to the status of a subsidiary referee or umpire from the status that it at present possesses.

Mr. Mikardo

The hon. Gentleman is restating a proposition which has been stated from the other side of the House during this debate, namely that this Bill would, if enacted, reduce the power and limit the effectiveness of ACAS. I put it to the hon. Gentleman with all the respect that he knows that I have for him that the best judge of that is ACAS. It is keen on the provisions in the Bill.

Mr. Wainwright

I am interested to hear that. I confess that I have not consulted ACAS about that matter. If ACAS is taking that view, I think that it is being somewhat unwise about its own future. To dig this hole in the stature of ACAS at this stage would be most unfortunate.

I think that it would have been better if, before the presentation of this interesting Bill, the TUC had at least offered or foreshadowed some bringing up to date of the Bridlington code. It has been demonstrated to my satisfaction that the provisions in the Bridlington code in their present form are not a satisfactory alternative to a statute. There is no appeal under the Bridlington arrangements. Therefore, there is no effective equivalent to the Ombudsman procedure that we have with ACAS.

In view of these uncertainties and the inappropriateness of Private Members' legislation in such a complicated area, I shall recommend my hon. Friends not to support the Second Reading of the Bill.

2.51 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)

Before briefly setting out the Government's view on the Bill, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) on both his good fortune in drawing No. 2 in the Ballot and his wise choice of subject. I also pay tribute to the persuasive way in which he introduced the Bill.

As has been recognised in the debate, this is the second of two Bills to be introduced which seek to amend the Employment Protection Act in the light of problems which have arisen with regard to recognition disputes, most notably, but not only, at Grunwick. The Government extend a warm welcome to the Bill.

I understand the point made in the debate today, and indeed last Friday, that a number of weaknesses are now appearing in the Employment Protection Act, that, therefore, there should be a wide review and that piecemeal legislation should be deferred until such a review has taken place.

The Government are not against a wide review. Concern has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about this matter. With such a wide-ranging and complex measure breaking so much new ground as did the Employment Protection Act, no one could believe that it would be flawless at the outset. But, if we are to have a wide-ranging review, it cannot be done in a short time. Given the range of the Act, its complexity and the need for the fullest consultation to make sure that we get the revision right, it will take time. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow pointed out, there are holes which need plugging quickly, and the Bill seeks to deal with one of them.

Before turning to what is perhaps the most controversial part of the Bill, should like to refer particularly, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas), to Clauses 2, 3 and 4. I believe that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said that they were "livable with." Notwithstanding the fact that no great hostility has been shown by the Opposition to these clauses—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's words reflect acceptance by the Opposition of these provisions—we should not entirely ignore their importance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Gren and Bow said that there was a problem with the law on unfair dismissal as it has been applied in recent recognition disputes. The Government take the view that the unfair dismissal provisions of the Employment Protection Act should not bear on situations which involve lockouts, strikes and other forms of industrial action, except where there is victimisation of some of the individuals concerned. That view is reflected in current legislation and in general we still hold to it.

The Grunwick dispute has shown that an employer can exploit the protection that the law affords from claims of unfair dismissal in these circumstances to get rid of a group of workers who, as in the Grunwick dispute, may be pressing for recognition.

In most instances where contracts are terminated during an industrial dispute, the broken employment is resumed. The report of Lord Scarman's court of inquiry into the Grunwick dispute drew attention to that aspect and criticised the company for its actions. The court was led to ask why should not the dismissed employees at Grunwick have had a chance to have their cases at least considered by a tribunal. That is a good question. At present, there is no easy answer.

The law provides that the workers whom ACAS is required to consult in its inquiries into a recognition reference include those on strike, even if dismissed. That was confirmed by the House of Lords. Thus, where a recommendation for recognition is made by ACAS—and, I hope, accepted by the employer—many of those who supported a cause, later found to be justified, remain outside the factory gates with no chance of securing re-employment.

We need to discourage employers from taking this kind of radical action against employees in such circumstances and to encourage a peaceful settlement if such action has been taken. The Bill gives us a useful opportunity to reconsider the law on that aspect.

Before turning to what the debate has shown to be the much more contentious issue of the recognition provisions of the Bridlington code, I should make it clear that, as the House would expect, there was much in the speech made by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft with which I strongly disagreed. At the same time, at the risk of incurring wrath of some of my hon. Friends and particularly getting a blast from my hon. Friend for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who is not in his place at the moment, I concede that the right hon. Gentleman also made remarks with which I agreed.

I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman stress the importance of "conciliation" and "consultation". What he said about the need to have regard to those matters echoed my own feelings. I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman emphasised the importance of rejecting coercion. I agree, but I would include coercion by employers.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's declaration of support for ACAS, echoing, as it did, the tribute paid to its impartiality by the Opposition Front Bench spokesman last week. I am bound to say that on one or two other matters the right hon. Member for Lowestoft cannot claim that his party is united. While I welcome and recognise what he has said about ACAS, I do not think that he can fairly claim to be speaking for all of his party.

I have particularly in mind the intemperate attack made on more than one occasion by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland). The hon. Gentleman has usually shown a lot of understanding on this matter, but he has left us in no doubt whatever about his strength of feeling with regard to ACAS and its impartiality. I have not the slightest doubt that the hon. Gentleman was also speaking for some of his hon. Friends who have also raised questions about the impartiality of ACAS.

Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)

I was speaking for no one but myself. I explained earlier that I was expressing my own view which had not been discussed with any of my hon. Friends.

The other point is that I am not trying to get rid of a body to perform such functions. I should like to see changes in the terms of reference of ACAS as well as some changes in its structure. That is not to say that I disagree with having a conciliation body. Of course I want to see a strong conciliation body.

Mr. Walker

Even so, the hon. Gentleman in addition questioned the membership of ACAS. However, I shall not pursue that because I want to turn to several other matters. I read into the remarks of the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) that he shares the view of his hon. Friend about ACAS.

Mr. Lawson

What I was saying was that my hon. Friend made a perfectly fair comment that not every single member of the council of ACAS may be perfect. That might even be true of the Cabinet.

Mr. Walker

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has confirmed what I believe to be his attitude, that he is one of those who does not share the views of his own Front Bench about ACAS.

Mr. Prior

That is ridiculous.

Mr. Walker

I do not want to bring into the discussion the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the closed shop. I believe that I have some understanding of the right hon. Gentleman's position. He is in no doubt about our position regarding the closed shop. But his attitude is in sharp contrast to that of many hon. Members of his party, particularly the hon. Member for Blaby who went to great pains to stress the importance of a worker having the right and the freedom—the two are rather different concepts—to join a union of his own choice. That echoed the remarks made earlier by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Bulmer).

Those remarks are totally irreconcilable with the acceptance of a closed shop irrespective of what qualifications there may be. But I do not want to pursue that matter. I just want to point out that the righ hon. Member for Lowestoft cannot invoke the universal support of hon. Friends on the Back Benches.

Mr. Prior

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. It would be a terrible thing if everyone behind me agreed with every word I said. Such a situation would be regarded as intolerable by the country as a whole. Is the Minister really saying that no one on his side of the House has ever had a disagreement? The Cabinet could not even vote together on the guillotine, let alone anything else.

Mr. Walker

I thought I was making a fair point. After all, it was the right hon. Gentleman who implied that his party was united in its attitude to these matters. I merely felt it right to point out that that is manifestly far from true.

I want to reply to some of the points that have been made during the debate. But I shall not take 50 minutes, which the hon. Member for Blaby did in order to deal with a single case which is sub judice. That matter is the subject of possible legal proceedings and neither I nor ACAS can comment on it.

I want to turn to Clause 1, which has been the most controversial part of the Bill. As I understand the proposal in the Bill, its aim is to make sure that independent trade unions may legitimately make and maintain agreements among themselves, which have the effect of restricting recognition issues to ACAS under the Provisions of the Employment Protection Act.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said, what is primarily at issue is the TUC's longstanding and well-established machinery for settling disputes between unions in accordance with the Bridlington principles. Although Bridlington is concerned primarily with questions of union jurisdiction, that inevitably has a bearing on recognition issues, as is recognised in an additional passage on the use of the Employment Protection Act recognition procedures agreed by a recent Congress.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) questioned whether the Bridlington principles were sufficiently brought up to date. It ought to be drawn to his attention that they have been updated to match the provisions of the Employment Protection Act. I am not at all sure what the TUC might do in that regard. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will acknowledge the rôle which Bridlington has played over the years in helping to settle inter-union disputes. In the course of the passage of the Employment Protection Bill, we made it clear that we did not expect—nor did we intend—that the new statutory procedures for recognition that we were introducing should interfere with the established Bridlington machinery. I recall that at the time similar views were expressed by the Opposition.

As its annual reports point out, ACAS has sought to refer recognition references involving disputes between unions affiliated to the TUC back to the established TUC machinery. This has not worked out satisfactorily in practice. There have been one or two cases which have shown that the statutory procedures do not run altogether satisfactorily alongside the Bridlington machinery in the way that we had hoped.

As the law stands, the TUC cannot, in accordance with its rules, make or enforce a decision that an affiliate should not make or pursue a recognition reference to ACAS which is the natural corollary to a decision that the affiliate should not recruit in a given area. This, inevitably, will provide a standing encouragement to side step or disregard the Bridlington principles and procedures and to use ACAS as a court of appeal against Bridlington. That is most undesirable.

Essentially, disputes between unions are matters best settled by the union movement itself and—I thought that this was an area of common ground—that disputes between unions should be settled under the procedures and machinery of the trade union movement.

Mr. Bulmer

The right hon. Member will remember the case which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) quoted of the cynical misuse of the Bridlington procedures which had been taken advantage of by the AEUW and TASS. Can he explain how, under the terms of this Bill, unions involved in such a dispute will not prefer ACAS to Bridlington?

Mr. Walker

It is my understanding that nothing in the Bill will prevent any union with the kind of grievance that the hon. Member for Kidderminster alluded to—the stymie-ing efforts of one union preventing another union seeking recognition—going to ACAS through the Section 11 procedures.

Another misunderstanding voiced several times in the debate is that there is no appeal against a decision of the disputes committee of the TUC. That is equally fallacious. Obviously, the disputes committee has to report to the General Council, and its decision has to be enforced by the General Council. Secondly, there is an ultimate appeal to Congress itself. Those hon. Members who referred to the "Fox and Goose" case should not overlook the fact that, notwithstanding the hiccups along the road, it was eventually resolved by the disputes committee and that the beer is flowing.

Over the many years that the Bridlington principles have been in existence, they have been a useful means of resolving disputes between unions because the TUC has been able to say at the point where a decision has been made "You do this, or accept the consequences." The effect of the Employment Protection Act, inadvertently, in the way that ACAS has been used, has removed the "or else" so that the TUC has no way of making acceptable rules stick. This Bill restores the position to where the TUC can say "Our rules will stick because we will have sanctions to enforce within the rules of the club"—but only within the rules of the club. It is open to a union which is not prepared to accept the advice of the disputes committee to take the alternative route through ACAS. I hope that there is no more misunderstanding about that. However, if there is, it can always be clarified in Standing Committee.

Mr. Prior

This is a very important point. I do not see the point of Clause 1. At present two unions can take a dispute to Bridlington, and if it is settled there, that is the end of the matter. That is probably the best way of proceeding. But, as I understood the situation, the purpose of Clause 1 is to restrict the right of a union to take a case to ACAS. The Minister is now saying that it is not the purpose of Clause 1 to restrict or to stop a union taking a case to ACAS. I do not see what the clause can do which is not already happening.

Mr. Walker

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has followed the debate. I listened most attentively to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow. I thought that I was echoing his remarks in making it clear that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a union which considers that it has grounds for making an application under Section 11 going ahead. Up to now it has been assumed that if it takes action in defiance of the disputes committee, it might attract sanctions imposed by the disputes committee. The TUC may be exposing itself to legal action by applying the recognised procedures under Section 11 if it seeks to apply its rules and disciplinary procedures and sanctions. Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to restore that position and to enable the TUC disputes machinery to be made effective. That is the basic effect of the clause.

If it is suggested that Clause 1 will have a different effect, perhaps that aspect can best be examined and, if necessary, modified in Committee. However, I do not think there is any misunderstanding about my hon. Friend's aim in his Bill. Indeed, I am sure that my hon. Friend would be the first to challenge me if I were to give a wrong interpretation of the Bill's object.

Mr. Prior

It is important for the House to get this right. What the Minister is saying is that, as the Act now stands, the TUC has no sanctions when unions have gone to Bridlington and, having been dissatisfied with the decision reached by the disputes committee, go on to ACAS. If this clause is passed, the TUC will have the freedom or the right to take any action it likes against a union that goes to ACAS, including presumably the right to fine, expel or do what it likes to that union. If that is the case, it would be unacceptable to the Opposition.

Mr. Walker

We have had some further clarification of this matter between the two sides, but the right hon. Gentleman is perhaps putting the TUC's position somewhat crudely. I prefer to put the matter the other way round. I am saying that the TUC will be deprived of taking effective action because it may be exposed to legal action if it attempts to intervene. It is to remove the likelihood of legal action and to restore to the TUC some of the previous actions which it could take to make its decisions effective that Clause 1 has been devised.

Mr. Palmer

Surely my hon. Friend the Minister has been describing the situation as it now stands. The legal advice which my union—a very respectable union which has long been affiliated to the TUC —has been given is that this clause as at present worded will exclude unions affiliated to the TUC from resorting to ACAS.

Mr. Mikardo

It does not. My hon. Friend is wrong.

Mr. Walker

I am glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow saying in the background that that statement is wrong. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent that union or any union affiliated to the TUC which considers that it has grounds for invoking Section 11 from going ahead and lodging the matter with ACAS. If it does so contrary to the disputes committee of the TUC, it may expose itself to some disciplinary action by the TUC. The union that goes to ACAS in those circumstances does so in the full knowledge that it may attract some sanctions from the TUC.

I should add that if a union is affiliated to the TUC, it is a party to the TUC's disputes principles and procedures, and that is already clearly set out. At present the TUC can do nothing more than make a pious declaration of principle. That is because the TUC is exposed to legal action in a way that we never expected or intended when we put the Employment Protection Bill before the House. As I have said, it is clear from our discussions on the relevant passages that none of us intended to put the TUC in that position. That is because we recognised the value of the TUC's disputes principles and procedures and the way in which they have been applied.

Mr. Lawson


Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)


Mr. Walker

There are other hon. Members who wish to speak. Mr. Deputy Speaker has reminded us of that and asked us to be brief. I am setting out the Government's view. I realise that that may be unacceptable to Conservative Members. If they are saying that the words in the Bill do not bear the construction and interpretation that I have applied to them, that is an issue that may be resolved in later proceedings.

Mr. Lawson

Is it not the case that if a union goes to ACAS and ACAS upholds the Bridlington verdict, the TUC can certainly impose the sanction? All that the Minister is afraid of are those cases where ACAS does not uphold the Bridlington verdict. In those cases there must be a presumption that the verdict was mistaken. Or has he no faith in ACAS?

Mr. Walker

These are matters that have been the subject of an understanding. I thought that I had explained my position in my earlier remarks, but the hon. Gentleman is asking me to go over it again. I suggest, with respect, that he is being obtuse or, as some of my hon. Friends would say, a little bit thick. In the light of the anxiety of other hon. Members who wish to speak, I conclude by saying that I have set out what I understand to be the provisions of the Bill and what I expect to be its effect. I believe that it will be a desirable change. it is a change that the Government support and one, too, that the TUC supports.

The TUC's position has been questioned, and to make it clear beyond doubt I shall quote from the letter that it wrote to my right hon. Friend. It writes that the employment policy and organisation committee accept that there is scope for amendments which aim to restore to the ability of ACAS to carry out inquiries effectively and make other improvements to the recognition provisions and they consider that both Bills —that is the one that we are discussing and the one that came before the House last week— would be useful in the present situation. We share that view. The Government support the Bill. If it turns out that on a close scrutiny in Committee the words that have been chosen do not support the interpretation that I have placed upon them, that is a matter that we can sort out in Commitee.

I hope that the House will support the Bill, give it a Second Reading and give us the opportunity to resolve the difficult matter of interpretation in Committee.

3.18 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)

I shall bear in mind that other hon. Members wish to speak, and I shall try to keep my remarks as brief as possible.

All lovers of paradox must take some amusement from hearing members of the Tribune Group arguing so avidly on successive Friday afternoons for the exercise of the law in industrial relations. It seems that matters have come full circle. We had "In Place of Strife" from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). We then had the Industrial Relations Act. Day after day in Committee the right hon. Lady denounced that measure with a hysteria almost in direct proportion to the similarity of our proposals to her proposals. We are now back to the Left wing of the Labour Party introducing the law but, alas, not introducing it constructively.

I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) arguing so eloquently for consensus and agreement in industrial relations. Industrial relations law has suffered as much as almost any other sphere of activity from our system of adversary politics.

I do not particularly care for the present system of election to this House. I should like to see it reformed so that it reffects the political spectrum of the country, but, as we have it, we have a duty to ensure that we try to minimise the effect of adversary politics on such matters as industrial relations law, industrial support policies and housing, which have been severely damaged over the past 20 years by our system.

There are several defects in this short Bill. I repeat the plea that instead of dealing with these matters piecemeal we should undertake a wholesale review. The sort of discussion that has taken place in the past five minutes between Labour Members, and the Minister's obvious confusion about what the clauses actually achieve, are an argument for sending the Bill back and incorporating it in a wholesale review of this part of the working of the Act. I am glad to hear that the Minister is in principle in favour of that being done eventually. It will be easier for the review to be constructive and do good work if we do not tinker with the legislation in the meantime.

The drafting of the Bill again brings home how unsatisfactory is the system of cross-referencing in legislation. Everyone else is blameworthy in this regard. year after year. Here one goes back to the original Acts. It is perhaps all right for us, with a comprehensive Library at the end of the Corridor, but it is a great burden to employers, particularly small employers, and trade union officials to have to understand this complex cross-referencing. I should like the House to examine this matter in the future.

I of course believe in a framework of law operating even-handedly and fairly in industrial relations. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft was interrupted on the question of consultation, or lack of it, on our Industrial Relations Bill when it was introduced in 1971. I know very well that, certainly in the course of the drafting up to "Fair Deal at Work" there were extensive consultations with trade unions and trade unionists about the drafting. It was not the choice of my noble Friend Lord Carr or anyone else concerned with the introduction of that measure that when the Bill was produced there was no consultation. It was the direct refusal of the TUC and its member unions to continue to consult that led to a lack of consultation. Then the blind, senseless perversion of the parliamentary process that followed during the Committee stage, which meant that it did not have proper consideration during the introductory period or in Committee, led to some of the mistakes in that legislation.

There is one other point about this sort of legislation in particular that cannot be made often enough. When we legislate on industrial relations, good industrial relations, industrial democracy and associated matters, the legislation should affect all workers, not only those who happen to belong to trade unions or to trade unions affiliated to the TUC. The Bill again makes the division between those in different categories.

There is a confusion, as there has been since ACAS began, between the terms "good industrial relations" and "the extension of collective bargaining". I should like to change ACAS's terms of reference to clear up the confusion. Anybody who has had any connection—as I have, through constituency cases—with the activities of SLADE over the past two years must know very well that there are big contradictions between those two phrases from time to time.

Perhaps it is true that the provision about unfair dismissal of people taking industrial action is not as contentious as the other part of the Bill, but it fundamentally changes the approach of the original Act, which was to prevent victimisation, to prevent shop stewards being victimised in the course of a dispute by a malevolent employer. This provision totally changes the position. We should carefully consider in Committee the extent to which that change should be incorporated in our law. We have always taken the view in our industrial relations law that a person who strikes is breaking his contract. Normally there is no victimisation and no sacking, but the contract has been broken and it is open to the employer to take action as long as he does it fairly. We should consider this point carefully in Committee.

Bearing in mind our reputation and our strike record in the past year, it is ironic that we should be discussing a Bill which will make striking more respectable and acceptable. In the week in which production of the best car in this country has been halted by a dispute over the colour of overalls in a factory, it is, to say the least, ironic that we should be considering an extension of the right to strike. I do not believe that international opinion will look kindly or understandingly on our efforts in this regard.

Mr. Mikardo

It would be right not to do so if the Bill gave an encouragement to strike, but the hon. Gentleman is in a fantasy world. I do not know what the colour of overalls has to do with this matter, but there is no mention in the Bill of industrial action except in relation to recognition disputes. There is nothing about overall disputes. The Bill does not increase or decrease the respectability of strikes. It merely provides protection for workers in some circumstances.

Mr. Scott

The rest of the House will have understood my point, even if the hon. Gentleman has not. It is part of the overall picture of industrial relations in this country which is lamentable.

I was astonished to hear from the Minister that the TUC supports the Bill. We all know that the only industrial relations legislation that has been introduced since February 1974 has been that which the TUC has advocated. That is why we have lost the flavour of evenhandedness in our industrial relations law.

I am at one with the hon. Members who have acknowledged the importance of Bridlington. I do not want anything done that would make those procedures more difficult. If the Bridlington procedures were acceptable and if no small union ever felt that it had been hard done by in a Bridlington decision, none of this would matter.

All we are saying is that ACAS—the pearl of the Government's industrial relations legislation—will effectively be denied the right to settle disputes that occur after the Bridlington procedures have been exhausted. I do not believe that position to be tenable or sustainable.

Mr. Hoyle

The hon. Gentleman said that if Bridlington were acceptable to small unions he would support the Bill. In the famous case involving the "Fox and Goose" public house, the Disputes Committee made an award and an appeal was made by a small union to the TUC. For a short period the strongest union in the TUC was suspended. Beer is now flowing again at the "Fox and Goose". Does this not show that there is a democratic way of settling disputes?

Mr. Scott

In 99 cases out of 100, it may be satisfactory—even though it is a cumbersome and slow-moving way of resolving issues of recognition and recruitment inside the trade union movement. However, that is not an excuse for putting pressure on unions, big and small, or taking away from them access to ACAS if they felt that they have been hard done by in a Bridlington decision and it does not excuse the slowness, deliberate or otherwise, of those involved in the running of the Bridlington machinery.

The law on industrial relations in this country has a delicate balance. It has already been tilted too far in one direction. It is about the trade union movement as a whole, individual trade unions and employers and it is about individuals and other organisations. It should not be continually tampered with in the way that we are now experiencing.

I believe that the Bill will undermine ACAS. I was surprised when the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) said that ACAS had indicated its strong support for the Bill. Perhaps he will tell us how it did that. I know that there are members of the council of ACAS who are utterly opposed to the Bill. Can the hon. Member tell us how he came to that conclusion?

Mr. Prior

I have been checking on this statement since the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) intervened in a speech from the Liberal Bench when he said that ACAS was keen on the provisions of this Bill. Both Bills were mentioned at this month's council meeting. It was decided that it was not for ACAS to comment but to leave it to the CBI and the TUC. ACAS has expressed no view on this at all.

Mr. Scott

Perhaps the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow would like to withdraw his remarks.

Mr. Mikardo

On the contrary, I was given the clearest indication by responsible officers of ACAS on the objects of the Bill at a very early stage. They satisfied me that they were happy with what we were doing in this section of the Bill. Of course, it may well be that the council does not want to make any official pronouncement. I know what I know. Fat from withdrawing, I am reinforced in what I say. It was not nice of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) to suggest that I was telling a deliberate lie.

Mr. Scott

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow has modified his previous claim. I am not saying that he deliberately wanted to mislead the House. Had he left unamended his original claim and it remained unchallenged in the record, it would have been assumed that the governing body of ACAS had given its agreement to the Bill. That some officer said that the principles were broadly acceptable to him is a quite different matter.

I declare an interest as a member of ASTMS. It must be made clear that with the increase in white-collar workers there will be conflicts and areas of difficulty. By definition, the TUC is dominated by the big manual unions. It will be easier and lead to better relationships between the unions if, as these difficulties arise, it is clear that there is not just the possibility but an encouragement to use the services of ACAS to resolve these matters.

I hope that the Bill will be thrown out and that we can look on a broader basis at the amendments that are necessary to industrial relations legislation.

3.34 p.m.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

One usually assumes that a debate in this Chamber clarifies the issues at stake. It is assumed that a debate enables everyone to understand what they are being asked to vote about and that it enables the general public to understand what we are deciding on their behalf. This debate has gone a long way in the other direction. There has been a great deal of confusion centred around the purposes of Clause 1.

As I said last week, almost at the same time, it is appropriate to refer to Clause I of the Bill. Let us understand precisely what it means. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) wishes to correct me on the way I shall be very happy to give way to him.

Clause 1 says that access to ACAS by a trade union which is party to an agreement between independent trade unions might thereby be limited. That is what it says; it is conditioned. Clause 1 is not denying TUC affiliated unions the right of access to ACAS, but it is conditioning their right of access to ACAS.

The Bill, for example, would not affect the rights of certified but non-affiliated trade unions to go directly to ACAS. If, for instance, there were a recognition dispute between two certified but non-affiliated trade unions, they would have a perfect unqualified right to appeal to ACAS. Where there was a dispute over recognition rights between a TUC affiliated union and a non-TUC affiliated union, again the rights of both parties would not be in any way abridged. Both parties would have the right to appeal to ACAS for adjudication.

Mr. Thorne

Does my hon. Friend agree that it might improve the Bill somewhat if there were some restriction placed on certain certificated unions—which are described in the trade as "sweetheart unions"—and their involvement in such union recognition disputes?

Mr. Litterick

Indeed. But, as was pointed out earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow has drawn up the terms of his Bill in a very modest way. He has not sought to reform all the institutions of industrial relations in one go. His objectives are quite moderate—to correct one or two of the weaknesses which have emerged in the working of the Employment Protection Act.

Only where two TUC affiliated unions are involved in a dispute over recognition rights does the question of routing their dispute through Bridlington or going to ACAS via Bridlington arise. It arises only in those cases. We should bear in mind that we are talking about, on the one hand, 116 unions currently affiliated to the TUC and, on the other, about 64 or 65 "unions" not affiliated to the TUC. Those numbers should—I hope that they do—indicate to hon. Members opposite that no thunderous abridgement of anybody's rights is contemplated by my hon. Friend in Clause 1.

On the contrary, I think that my hon. Friend has designed Clause 1 in order to make more efficacious the operations of ACAS. If there is another institution which is in the same business as ACAS and that institution is a voluntary one—which is what the Bridlington procedure is—my hon. Friend has said that that voluntary institution should be seen as one which should have prior use.

I remind the House that for, as long as I can remember, we in this Chamber have adhered to the notion that voluntary institutions and procedures are to be preferred to anything imposed by the State. Opposition Members this afternoon have seemed to depart quite widely from that idea. No Opposition Member has gone any way towards clarifying his attitude in any explicit way.

Mr. Mikardo

There has been so much misunderstanding in the course of the debate about the suggestion that this Bill prevents affiliated unions going to ACAS that perhaps I may be allowed to clarify the point. Section 118 of the main Act says: Except as provided by subsection (2) below —to which we propose to add by way of Clause 1— any … agreement … shall be void in so far as it purports … to preclude any person from presenting a complaint to, or bringing any proceedings … to exclude or limit the operation of any provision of this Act". If the TUC procedures said that affiliated organisations shall not have recourse to ACAS, what Conservative Members have been saying would be right. They do not say that. They do not say that an affiliated union should not invoke the ACAS procedure on recognition. They say that an affiliated union should not invoke the Act's procedure on recognition without consultation and agreement with any other affiliated union with an interest in the matter. All that is said is that there should be consultation between the parties who are at odds before anyone goes to ACAS.

Mr. Litterick

I am sure that the House is grateful to my hon. Friend for his supplementary remarks.

I direct the attention of the House to Section 3 of the main Act which, it seems, invokes the principle on which Clause 1 of the Bill rests. It is not an unfamiliar section. Section 3 is that section which describes the authority of ACAS in the context of an industrial dispute to appoint, under subsection (a) one or more persons for the purpose of acting as conciliation officer or to refer disputes to the Central Arbitration Committee. The Act goes on, in subsection (2), to say: In exercising its functions under subsection (1) the Service shall consider the likelihood of the dispute being settled by conciliation and, where there exist appropriate agreed procedures for negotiation or the settlement of disputes, shall not refer a matter for settlement to arbitration under that subsection unless those procedures have been used and have failed to result in a settlement". In other words, the voluntary principle is asserted in Section 3. It is the principle asserted in Clause 1 of the Bill before us. In speaking against the Bill, Conservatives have all too often invoked rather thoughtless prejudices against trade unions.

In fairness we ought to pay most attention to the speech of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). He has made repeated assertions that he is not against trade unions but has rather spoiled that by some of his in-filling remarks, which are somewhat less calculated than the main body of his speech. For example, he said—I noted his words— "Legislation has swung the balance of power too far in favour of trade unions."

The House knows very well that the right hon. Gentleman is speaking in opposition and telling us solemnly, as the spokesman for the Conservative Party, that in his considered opinion legislation has swung the balance of power in industry too far in favour of the trade unions. There can be only one conclusion to draw from that statement, namely, that as and when he gets the opportunity he will swing the balance back in favour of employers. That is an inescapable conclusion.

It is no good the right hon. Member and the Leader of the Opposition complaining to the country at large that they are not against trade unions. He was at great pains to tell us at the opening of the debate that he was the spokesman on industrial relations for the Conservative Party. That statement that legislation has swung the balance of power too far in favour of the unions is a clear statement of intent to legislate in order to swing the balance back against the unions and in favour of employers. It was an unambiguous statement of intent and one which, with my help and, I hope, the help of others, will not go unnoticed outside the House.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that the unions are not popular. Thereby, he revealed a familiar delusion that the opinion of a handful of newspaper editors represents the opinion of the British people. That does not and probably cannot explain why it is, however, that union membership goes on rising inexorably. Last week, one of the Conservative cavemen on the furthest Back Benches attempted to suggest that this was because of the closed shop. But the Bill has been brought in by an hon. Member who is in the largest managerial union in Britain, one which shows almost the highest growth rate in membership. Interestingly enough, it is also a union which has very few closed shop agreements. Yet it shows this dynamic growth.

The fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow is a member of such a union surely gives the lie to the repeated assertion of failure to consult, particularly with management. I know that my hon. Friend is too modest to say so, but he could say quite legitimately that he is a representative manager. He has been for very many years. He has also been a member of his union for a very long time.

The difficulty with the Tories is that they wish to choose between those unions they regard as acceptable in their terms and genuine unions, just as they wish to make judgments between union officials and union officials. There are some union officias they believe to be responsible and others they regard as irresponsible. Such judgments are inevitably made in ideological terms.

In bringing forward the Bill as a member of a white-collar union—a managerial union—my hon. Friend dramatises in himself and the Bill the changing facts of industrial relations and union life which the Conservative Party is still, rather stupidly, unwilling to accept. They will not accept that the collective attitudes of working people defined, refined, developed and institutionalised in manual workers' unions over a very long time are becoming the common property of people who do not do manual work, and that it is not simply a matter of joining a house union any more. It cannot be.

Let us look at the rate at which the wreckage of the Industrial Relations Act is being transformed or scrapped. The lesson becomes clear in the January issue of the Department of Employment Gazette. In that issue, there is a list of unions previously certified as unions under the 1971 Act but which have now disappeared. The unions are as follows—the Association of Headmistresses, the Incorporated Association of Head Masters, the Managers and Overlookers Society, the National Association of Youth Hostel Wardens, the Scottish Union of Bakers and Allied Workers and the Shipbuilding and Allied Industries Management Association.

Those unions have disappeared by amalgamation during the short period of one month. They were organisations which were not recognised as trade unions before 1971, but overnight, as soon as the opportunity was created by that misconceived piece of legislation, they rushed in to get recognition and hoped that they would also get recognition rights. The fact that none of them had behaved after the manner of a trade union before was neither here nor there under the Act, but it was important to those working in the industries concerned. These organisations have been merged, according to this announcement, with genuine trade unions.

I have belonged to several trade unions. For example, I was once a member of the Association of Teachers in Technical Institutions. That organisation did not regard itself as a trade union. Its members thought that they were gentlemen and that, as such, they should not soil their hands with anything so demeaning as collective activity in an effort to better their rights, their wages, their fringe benefits, their conditions of work.

When the 1971 Act was passed, the ATTI sought immediate recognition as a trade union. By then other things had happened. The long-term inflation that we have now endured since 1940 was beginning to have effect on that union and on all other occupational groups. The ATTI discovered that it was not able to exert the necessary pressure on its employers which initially were the local authorities but which ultimately was the State. To the association's great distress, it found that most of its members were so hostile to the idea of collective activity that they were paralysed in their inaction and had to be given the short end of the stick time and again Finally, the worm turned and the association became a genuine trade union. It had what all trade unions must have—a ginger group. The association was transformed into a trade union and became affiliated to the TUC.

The same happened to the Association of University Teachers, to which I belonged at another stage of my career. Its members, too, were gentlemen who did not want to soil their hands by taking part in industrial relations or collective bargaining. They took the attitude that that was for the proletariat, the ignorant people who do not think rationally in the same way as professional intellectuals.

The members of the Association of University Teachers learned, too. Once they had had their arses kicked a couple of times by the State, it dawned on them that they were no longer regarded as gentlemen and as privileged people and that they had better start looking after themselves. The membership found that they did not have in their midst the necessary equipment to organise themselves for collective action.

The members of the Association of University Teachers have not changed as much as the members of the ATTI, but they are changing rapidly. Most hon. Members have seen evidence of this in the lobbies that the Association of University Teachers has arranged and in the numerous papers that have been sent to hon. Members. This association is beginning to act as a pressure group. It has hired a full-time general secretary who is a real professional trade union officer.

These changes which are occurring challenge the traditional views of Conservatives to trade unions and to collective bargaining. The Conservatives are now in great difficulty; they cannot now decide who are proletarians and who are not, who are workers and who are not. They cannot decide which organisations are trade unions and which are not. It does not seem to occur to the Conservatives that trade unions are what trade unionists want them to be and nothing else.

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft said that the trade unions ought to be grateful for the protection that the law has given them. Others have suggested that the unions are even privileged.

Historically, that was not the process of development. British trade unions needed protection from the law, initially, from the common law—a carry-over from an earlier age and unique to this country—and from the notorious Combination Acts which were enacted at the end of the eighteenth century. Trade unions needed protection from those two arms of the law, and it took them the best part of three-quarters of a century before any real advances were made in that respect. It is nonsense to suggest that trade unions should be grateful for the protection that the law has afforded them. The law placed them at risk in the first instance.

Clauses 2, 3 and 4 have received very little attention from hon. Members, apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East and the Minister of State.

The hon. Member for Blaby was at great pains to enact a case study over 50 minutes about a matter that is as yet unresolved. However, that did not seem to prevent him from making some pretty emphatic judgments on it.

In the context of Clauses 2, 3 and 4, I, too, will mention a dispute which certainly relates to a famous case. This may appeal to the Tory Party—the county party—because this dispute occurred deep in the heart of the English countryside. I refer to the stable lads' wages dispute. If Conservative Members will go to Newmarket and do a tour of the pubs and particularly the labour exchanges there, they will find dozens of former stable lads unemployed and, in a place such as Newmarket, virtually unemployable. Certainly they are unemployable in the racing industry, because of the deliberate use by employers of black lists.

Mr. Gorst

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill contains four clauses. Three-quarters of the Bill relates to reinstatement. There have been many speeches. There was one contentious speech from the Opposition Front Bench and one contentious and misleading speech from the Government Benches. Many Labour Members have raised the Grunwick dispute, in general, and my constituent, Mr. Ward, in particular.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order.

Mr. Gorst

I am seeking your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The question that I want to put to you—[interruption]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

What is the point of the order?

Mr. Gorst

The point of order that I want to put to you is this.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)


Mr. Gorst

Is there any way in which a Member, seeking to represent the interests of a constituent, can in some way, even if he has been in the Chamber for five hours—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have the Gentleman's point of order. It is entirely for the discretion of the Chair who catches Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye.

Mr. Gorst


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Mr. Litterick.

Mr. Gorst


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not waste the time of the House. Mr. Litterick.

Mr. Mikardo

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 235, Noes 210.

Division No 86] AYES [3.59 p.m.
Anderson, Donald Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mikardo, Ian
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Forrester, John Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Armstrong, Ernest Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Ashley, Jack Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Mitchell, Austin
Ashton, Joe Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Garrett, John (Norwich S) Molloy, William
Atkinson, Norman George, Bruce Moonman, Eric
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Ginsburg, David Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Bates, Aif Golding, John Moyle, Roland
Bean, R. E. Gould, Bryan Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Graham, Ted Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Bidwell, Sydney Grant, George (Morpeth) Newens, Stanley
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Grant, John (Islington C) Noble, Mike
Blenkinsop, Arthur Grocott, Bruce Oakes, Gordon
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Hamilton, James (Bothwell) O'Halloran, Michael
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Orbach, Maurice
Bradley, Tom Harper, Joseph Ovenden, John
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Hart, Rt Hon Judith Padley, Walter
Brown. Ronald (Hackney S) Hayman, Mrs Helene Park, George
Buchan, Norman Heffer, Eric S. Parker, John
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Hooley, Frank Parry, Robert
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Horam, John Pavitt, Laurie
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Pendry, Tom
Canavan, Dennis Huckfield, Les Perry, Ernest
Cant, R. B. Hughes, Mark (Durham) Prescott, John
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Carter, Ray Hughes, Roy (Newport) Price, William (Rugby)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hunter, Adam Radice, Giles
Cartwright, John Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Richardson, Miss Jo
Clemitson, Ivor Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Robinson, Geoffrey
Cohen, Stanley Janner, Greville Roderick, Caerwyn
Coleman, Donald Jeger, Mrs Lena Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Concannon, J. D. John, Brynmor Rooker, J. W.
Conlan, Bernard Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Rose, Paul B.
Cowans, Harry Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Rowlands, Ted
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Sandelson, Neville
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sedgemore, Brian
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Judd, Frank Sever, John
Cryer, Bob Kelley, Richard Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Kerr, Russell Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Dalyell, Tam Kilroy-Silk, Robert Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Davidson, Arthur Kinnock, Neil Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lamborn, Harry Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Skinner, Dennis
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Leadbitter, Ted Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lee, John Snape, Peter
Deakins, Eric Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Spearing, Nigel
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Spriggs, Leslie
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Litterick, Tom Stallard, A. W.
Dormand, J. D. Loyden, Eddie Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Luard, Evan Stoddart, David
Duffy, A. E. P. Lyon, Alexander (York) Stott, Roger
Dunn, James A, McCartney, Hugh Strang, Gavin
Dunnett, Jack McDonald, Dr Oonagh Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McElhone, Frank Surmmerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Eadie, Alex MacFarquhar, Roderick Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Edge, Geoff MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Maclennan, Robert Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Madden, Max Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
English, Michael Magee, Bryan Tierney, Sydney
Ennals, Rt Hon David Mahon, Simon Tinn, James
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Tomlinson, John
Evans, John (Newton) Marks, Kenneth Torney, Tom
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Tuck, Raphael
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Maynard, Miss Joan Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Meacher, Michael Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Ward, Michael Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Watkins, David Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford) Young, David (Bolton E)
Weetch, Ken Wilson. Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Weitzman, David Wilson William (Coventry SE) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Wellbeloved, James Wise, Mrs Audrey Mr. Martin Flannery and
Whitlock, William Woodall, Alec Mr. Stan Thorne.
Willey, Rt Hon Frederick Woof, Robert
Adley, Robert Hampson, Dr Keith Page, John (Harrow West)
Alison, Michael Haselhurst, Alan Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Arnold, Tom Hastings, Stephen Page, Richard (Workington)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Parkinson, Cecil
Atkinson, David (Bournemouth, East) Hayhoe, Barney Pattie, Geoffrey
Awdry, Daniel Heath, Rt Hon Edward Percival, Ian
Baker, Kenneth Heseltine, Michael Peyton, Rt Hon John
Beith, A. J. Hodgson, Robin Pink, R. Bonner
Bell, Ronald Hordern, Peter Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Prior, Rt Hon James
Berry, Hon Anthony Howell, David (Guildford) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Biggs-Davison, John Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Raison, Timothy
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hunt, David (Wirral) Rathbone, Tim
Bottomley, Peter Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Hurd, Douglas Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Boyson. Dr Rhodes (Brent) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Braine, Sir Bernard Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Brittan, Leon Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Rhodes, James R.
Brooke, Peter Jopling, Michael Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Bryan, Sir Paul Kaberry, Sir Donald Ridsdale, Julian
Buck, Antony Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Budgen, Nick Kershaw, Anthony Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Bulmer, Esmond Kimball, Marcus Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Burden, F. A. King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Carlisle, Mark Knox, David Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Lamont, Norman Sainsbury, Tim
Churchill W. S. Langford-Holt, Sir John Scott, Nicholas
Clark, William (Croydon S) Lawrence, Ivan Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lawson, Nigel Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Clegg, Walter Le Marchant, Spencer Shepherd, Colin
Cockroft, John Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shersby, Michael
Cope, John Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Silvester, Fred
Cormack, Patrick Loveridge, John Sims, Roger
Corrie, John Luce, Richard Sinclair, Sir George
Costain, A. p. McAdden, Sir Stephen Skeet, T. H. H.
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) Macfarlane, Neil Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Crouch, David MacGregor, John Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Speed, Keith
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Drayson, Burnaby McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Sproat, Iain
Durant, Tony Madel, David Stainton, Keith
Dykes, Hugh Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stanbrook, Ivor
Emery, Peter Mates, Michael Stanley, John
Eyre, Reginald Mather, Carol Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Maude, Angus Stokes, John
Fell, Anthony Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Stradling Thomas, J.
Finsberg, Geoffrey Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Tapsell, Peter
Fisher, Sir Nigel Mayhew, Patrick Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Meyer, Sir Anthony Tebbit, Norman
Fookes, Miss Janet Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Temple-Morris, Peter
Forman, Nigel Mills, Peter Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Fox, Marcus Moate, Roger Townsend, Cyril D.
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Montgomery, Fergus Trotter, Neville
Fry, Peter Moore, John (Croydon C) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Vaughan, Dr Gerald
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Viggers, Peter
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Wakeham, John
Glyn, Dr Alan Mudd, David Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Goodlad, Alastair Neave, Airey Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Nelson, Anthony Weatherill, Bernard
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Neubert, Michael Wells, John
Gray, Hamish Newton, Tony Winterton, Nicholas
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Normanton, Tom Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Grist, Ian Nott, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Grylls, Michael Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Mr. John Gorst and
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Osborn, John Mr. Phiilp Holland.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).