HC Deb 07 February 1979 vol 962 cc403-11

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to protect the rights of workers by regulating picketing and the closed shop. Yesterday the House granted leave to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) to introduce a Bill of which I was a sponsor to clarify the law on picketing. This proposed Bill goes further. It seeks to amend the existing law, which is far from clear, to protect the rights of workers against what a growing number of trade unionists consider to be the twin evils of unreasonable picketing and the closed shop.

I deal first with picketing. Section 15 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 makes no reference to the number of pickets who may attend for the purpose of persuading peacefully a person to abstain from working. Yet in the consultation paper on picketing issued last November by the Department of Employment these words appear: The police can face problems of maintaining law and order at the scene of picketing, particularly in the rare cases"— I wish to add that they are not now so rare— of mass picketing, where crowds can often be difficult to control. The document continues: The general public have an interest in not having the highway or footpaths obstructed, in not having the nuisance of crowds outside their premises or homes and in the avoidance of violence or other breaches of the peace. I agree with the Secretary of State that it is the sheer numbers of pickets that can, and do, intimidate those who wish to work. We must allow peaceful communication and persuasion, but we must not allow intimidation to replace peaceful persuasion.

This proposed Bill would limit the number of pickets in any one place. I suggest 10 at each factory entrance or plant. However, the exact number is a matter which can be dealt with in Committee.

The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976 changed the law so as to give immunity to almost all secondary picketing—that is, immunity from civil action even when secondary picketing induces a breach of contract between parties neither of whom is involved in the industrial dispute. The 1976 Act, which was presented to Parliament under the dubious dual paternity of the Lord President and the Attorney-General, removed the previous vital limitation that immunity from legal action applied only to inducing a breach of contract of employment. The Government have extended the legal immunity to those inducing breaches of any contract, including commercial contracts.

When the 1976 Act was going through the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) warned that it would open the way to a vast extension of blacking and blockading. Workers who have been in no way involved in a dispute, including those in my constituency, have been flung out of work. We are now reaping a fearful harvest of the failure to heed the warnings given from these Benches three years ago. The case for reverting to the pre-1976 law is overwhelming.

Another change in the law introduced by the present Government has had a powerful effect in strengthening the hands of the secondary picket. The threat that anyone who goes through a picket line may have his union card withdrawn is often enough to stop a lorry going through. Where there is a closed shop, the loss of a union card will mean the loss of a man's livelihood. By encouraging and legalising the closed shop, the Larbour Party has done more to make secondary picketing effective than any change in the law of picketing.

That brings me to the closed shop. The founding fathers of the trade union movement, and indeed the founding fathers of the Labour Party, would be appalled to know that nowadays workers are being conscripted into the unions as a precondition of employment instead of joining willingly. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are frogmarched".] The unions should be able to sustain their membership on a voluntary basis and not under coercion.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirling-shire)

What about the lawyers?

Mr. Gow

I am coming to the lawyers. The legal profession is often criticised as a closed shop. The House knows that I am a solicitor. My trade union is the Law Society. On 1 January 1979 there were 32,000 solicitors in practice, of whom 25,500 only were members of the Law Society. Thus there are 6,500 solicitors, more than 20 per cent. of the total, who are not members of the trade union. The closed shop is being extended all the time.

With each new closed shop agreement we move nearer to a closed-shop Britain. It is not union bashing to make that assertion. It is the plain truth. In other EEC countries and in the United States the closed shop is either unlawful or damages are available for those who suffer its consequences. We must never argue that we will abandon justice for the minority because the majority is too powerful. Too many liberties have been eroded or are under attack today for the Tory Party to pass by on the other side when a man has been robbed of his employment and stripped of his right to work.

The Prime Minister told the House yesterday that he is at present engaged in discussions with the TUC about the closed shop. I wish I could believe that a code of practice would work or would be permitted to work by the trade unions. The trade unions will never agree to a proper or effective code of practice since they have acquired their increased power largely because of the closed shop.

The law no longer recognises conscientious objection, except on the narow basis of religious belief, as a ground for exemption from trade union membership. That law should be changed along the lines of the recently concluded agreement between the GLC and its 15,000 manual workers. That agreement provides that an employee shall be exempted from the obligation regarding trade union membership if he or she genuinely objects on grounds of religious belief or personal conviction to being a member of any trade union whatsoever. The GLC has set a pattern that should be backed up by the protection of Parliament and the law.

It is clear that the Government have decided to make no change either in the law of picketing or about the closed shop. That is hardly surprising given the attitude of the Prime Minister. On page 254 of the autobiography of his noble Friend Lord Wigg, the former Paymaster General, he described the Prime Minister's attitude to the paymasters of the Labour Party. He wrote: I remember Callaghan describing to me way back in the '40s his own recipe for political success—wait till the trade unions decide their line and then follow them. The present Government have neither the courage nor the resolution to introduce these long overdue reforms. It is time that they made way for my right hon. Friends who have that courage.

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Nelson and Colne)


Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Member rising to oppose?

Mr. Hoyle

I am indeed, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) is always giving the game away. He always opposes anything to do with good industrial relations. The present game of the Opposition is to play on the politics of ignorance. They are using scaremongering tactics. This follows their previous appeals on the massive social security frauds and the flood of immigrants. It is now the widespread lawlessness of pickets or the inequities of the closed shop. It is the usual pattern. They are pursuing the politics of mischief-making. They are not interested in good industrial relations or the fact that there are talks between the Government and the TUC and that there is a new concordat on the way. I shall allow them to smile, but nevertheless it is coming. There will be a code of conduct on picketing, but they choose to believe that there is not going to be one because they see party political advantage in doing so. But one opinion poll does not mean that they will win the general election. They might be crowing too soon.

The Opposition are trying to take away the liberties of ordinary people which have existed since 1906. These are liberties that have allowed people in a trade dispute peacefully to persuade others not to work. That is the liberty of the ordinary people that they are trying to take away. It is union bashing of the crudest sort. I am amazed that they never learn their lesson. We shall have successive Ten-Minute Bills devoted to picketing and asking that the proposed law be introduced, despite the fact that the Tory Industrial Relations Act 1971 showed that the law had no place in good industrial relations. They are returning to it because they believe that it is electorally popular and probable that they will get away with it and panic the people of this country. But it will not lead to industrial peace.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

What about the Bill?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I gather that these are the hon. Gentleman's reasons for opposing the Bill.

Mr. Hoyle

The hon. Gentleman neglected to say that the closed shop is welcomed also by management. A survey of managements in which closed shop operated showed that 75 per cent. saw advantages in it. It leads to better industrial relations and order in the conduct of industial relations.

Conservatives are always talking about the odd exceptions in which people lose their livelihoods. They neglect to tell us that those who lose their livelihood have the right of appeal to the courts, which they always portray as the upholders of justice. What are they complaining about? Also, people who lose their livelihood have a right of appeal to the TUC—to an independent court with a professor of law as the chairman. I do not understand what all the fuss is about. Of course, it is just part of the campaign that the Opposition are building up.

We can all hear the Tories' boots on the cobblestones as they march along, because we all know what they want. They want to weaken the trade union movement in this country. They have not even caught up with current events. They are still talking about secondary picketing, yet in the hospital dispute it is all primary picketing. I have no doubt that we shall have a spate of Bills soon on primary picketing. It is very strange that we never hear a word about picketing when it is ineffective. We have not heard a word from the Tories about Garners' steak houses where workers get disgraceful wages, and where they have been out for 12 months.

I hope that the House will reject this ill-conceived and mischievous Bill.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a custom in this House that when we make speeches we declare our interests. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) holds an extremely important position in a very large trade union. I am not complaining about that, but is it not right that he should declare his interest?

Mr. Hoyle

There is nothing secret about that. If the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) cares to look at the Register of Members' Interests, he will find my position stated there. I have never hesitated to state my interest. In fact, I am very proud of my position.

Mr. Wiggin

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You rebuked me earlier, Mr. Speaker, and I apologise for speaking from a sedentary position. But it is the convention that points or order should not be raised during Question Time or Ten-Minute Bills. Recently you have made it your practice, with the support of the whole House, to indicate that questions should be related to the questions tabled. In the same way, surely speeches on Ten-Minute Bills should be related to the Bills before the House. It was for that reason. that I raised the matter from a sedentary position.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There is no need for excitement. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) was here to listen to the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). If he was, he will know that I allowed a great deal of latitude. I think that we should now move on to the Division and let the House make up its mind.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I appeal to the House as someone who has been rebuked by yourself on many occasions. When an hon. Member is rebuked, he should accept it and not argue.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the avoidance of doubt, would you make it clear, following what was said by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) in extenuation of his failing to declare his interest, that the fact that an interest is registered in the Register of Members' Interests in no way takes away the responsibility of an hon. Member to declare that interest?

Mr. Speaker

The right hon and learned Gentleman is quite correct. To record an interest in the register is not sufficient, but I am in no way rebuking anyone on this matter. I am sure that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was merely casting his bread on the waters.

Mr. Hoyle

I am never afraid of declaring my interest, but if it is right for this side of the House to do so, it is right that Conservative Members should do so, too. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) should have declared that he is the director of a company.

Question put, pursuant to Sanding Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 179, Noes 178.

Division No. 72] AYES [4.04 p.m.
Adley, Robert Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Page, John (Harrow West)
Arnold, Tom Haselhurst, Alan Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Hastings, Stephen Page, Richard (Workington)
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Parkinson, Cecil
Baker, Kenneth Hawkins, Paul Pattie, Geoffrey
Banks, Robert Hayhoe, Barney Penhaligon, David
Berry, Hon Anthony Heseltine, Michael Percival, Ian
Biffen, John Hodgson, Robin Price, David (Eastleigh)
Blaker, Peter Holland, Philip Prior, Rt Hon James
Body, Richard Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Rathbone, Tim
Boscawen, Hon Robert Howell, David (Guildford) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Ridsdale, Julian
Britten, Leon Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Rifkind, Malcolm
Brooke, Hon Peter Hutchison, Michael Clark Roberts, (Michael (Cardiff NW)
Brotherton, Michael Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick James, David Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Buck, Antony Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Bulmer, Esmond Jessel, Toby Sainsbury, Tim
Burden, F. A. Jones, Arthur (Daventry) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Jopling, Michael Scott-Hopkins, James
Carlisle, Mark Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Kimball, Marcus Shelton, William (Streatham)
Clark, William (Croydon S) King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Sims, Roger
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) King, Tom (Bridgwater) Skeet, T. H. H.
Cope, John Kitson, Sir Timothy Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Cormack, Patrick Knight, Mrs Jill Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Costain, A. P. Lamont, Norman Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Critchley, Julian Latham, Michael (Melton) Sproat, lain
Crouch, David Lawson, Nigel Stainton, Keith
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Le Merchant, Spencer Stanbrook, Ivor
Drayson, Burnaby Lester, Jim (Beeston) Stanley, John
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Steel, Rt Hon David
Dunlop, John Lloyd, Ian Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Durant, Tony Luce, Richard Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Macfarlane, Neil Stokes, John
Elliott, Sir William MacGregor, John Stradling Thomas, J.
Eyre, Reginald MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Tapsell, Peter
Fairbalrn, Nicholas McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Fairgrieve, Russell Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Temple-Morris, Peter
Farr, John Marten, Neil Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Fisher, Sir Nigel Mates, Michael Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Mather, Carol Townsend, Cyril D.
Fookes, Miss Janet Mawby, Ray Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Forman, Nigel Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Viggers, Peter
Fox, Marcus Mayhew, Patrick Wakeham, John
Freud, Clement Meyer, Sir Anthony Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Wall, Patrick
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Walters, Dennis
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Moate, Roger Warren, Kenneth
Glyn, Dr Alan Monro, Hector Weatherill, Bernard
Goodhart, Philip Montgomery, Fergus Wells, John
Goodhew, Victor Moore. John (Croydon C) Whitney, Raymond
Grey, Hamish More, Jasper (Ludlow) Wiggin, Jerry
Grieve, Percy Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Winterton, Nicholes
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Grist, Ian Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Younger, Hon George
Grylls, Michael Mudd, David
Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell) Nelson, Anthony TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Newton, Tony Mr. Nicholas Ridley and
Hannam, John Onslow, Cranley Mr. Ian Gow.
Armstrong, Ernest Ginsburg, David Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Gould, Bryan Newens, Stanley
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Graham, Ted Orbach, Maurice
Bates, Alf Grant, George (Morpeth) Ovenden, John
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Grant, John (Islington C) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Grocott, Bruce Palmer, Arthur
Bidwell, Sydney Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Park, George
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Hardy, Peter Parker, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Parry, Robert
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hart, Rt Hon Judith Pavitt, Lourie
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Heffer, Eric S. Pendry, Tom
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Home Robertson, John Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Buchan, Norman Howell, Rt Hen Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Radice, Giles
Buchanan, Richard Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Richardson, Miss Jo
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Campbell, Ian Hughes, Roy (Newport) Roderick, Caerwyn
Canavan, Dennis Hunter, Adam Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cant, R. B. Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Rowlands, Ted
Carmichael, Neil Janner, Greville Sedgemore, Brian
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sever, John
Cartwright, John Jeger, Mrs Lena Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Clemitson, Ivor Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) John, Brynmor Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Cohen, Stanley Johnson, James (Hull West) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Coleman, Donald Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Silverman, Julius
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Skinner, Dennis
Concannon, Rt Hon John Jones, Dan (Burnley) Snape, Peter
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Judd, Frank Spriggs, Leslie
Corbett, Robin Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Stallard, A. W.
Cowans, Harry Kelly, Richard Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Kerr, Russel Stoddart, David
Craigen, Jim(Maryhill) Kilroy-silk, Robert Strang, Gavin
Cronin. John Lamborn, Harry Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Lamond, James Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cryer, Bob Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Tierney, Sydney
Davidson, Arthur Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Tinn, James
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Tomlinson, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil Litterick, Tom Urwin, T. W.
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lofthouse, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Deakins, Eric Luard, Evan Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lyon, Alexander (York) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund McDonald, Dr Oonagh Ward, Michael
Dempsey, James McElhone, Frank Watkins, David
Dormand, J. D. MacFarquhar, Roderick Watkinson, John
Dunn, James A. McGuire, Michael (Ince) Weetch, Ken
Eadie, Alex MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor White, Frank R. (Bury)
Edge, Geoff Maclennan, Robert White, James (Pollok)
Ellis, John (Brig & Scun) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Whitehead, Phillip
Ennals, Rt Hon David Madden, Max Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Marks, Kenneth Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Evans, John (Newton) Mason, Rt Hon Roy Wise, Mrs Audrey
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mikardo, Ian Woodall, Alec
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Woof Robert
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Young, David (Bolton E)
Flannery, Martin Molloy, William
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Forrester, John Morris, Rt Hon Charles R. Mr. Stan Thorne and
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Morton, George Mr. Ron Thomas.
George, Bruce Moyle, Rt Hon Ronald

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ian Gow, Mr. Nicholas Ridley, Mr. Patrick Mayhew, Mr. John Cope, Mr. John Biggs-Davison, Mr. Ivor Stanbrook, Mr. Norman Tebbit, Mr. Geoffrey Pattie, Mr. Graham Page, Mr. Antony Buck, Mr. Iain Sproat and Mr. Neil Marten.