HC Deb 14 February 1979 vol 962 cc1138-57
The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

As the House is aware, the Government have been holding discussions with the general council of the TUC to find a better way of conducting industrial relations and to reach a common approach that will secure our economic objectives. The Government and the general council have today agreed a joint statement which sets out the outcome of these discussions. The statement will be placed in the Vote Office.

The statement reports that the TUC is on its own authority separately issuing guidance to its affiliated unions on the conduct of industrial relations covering three areas—first, negotiating procedures for avoiding disputes; secondly, the conduct of industrial disputes where they arise; and, thirdly, trade union organisation and the closed shop.

Hon. Members will find that the documents issued by the TUC on these matters are appended to the joint statement. They lay down comprehensive standards of trade union responsibility and commend the value of conciliation and arbitration.

They say that strike action should be used only as a last resort; that agreements once entered into should be observed by both union members and management; that when a strike does take place there is a vital necessity to maintain supplies and services essential to the health and safety of the community.

They contain detailed advice on the identification and union control of pickets. The third guide acknowledges that aspects of the closed shop have caused concern and that there is a need for agreements to provide for conscientious objectors and certain other categories of workers.

The Government welcome the publication of this authoritative advice by the general council of the TUC, which its affiliated organisations are asked to accept as a basis for their conduct of industrial relations. General observance of this guidance would make for a substantial improvement in our industrial relations.

The joint statement itself is concerned to find a better way of reaching a consensus on the economic path. We jointly recognise the anxiety about employment prospects, the need for training so that workers will possess the skills to match the new technological developments, the need for greater industrial accountability and democracy and the fundamental importance of increasing productivity.

We agree that industrial regeneration cannot rely on market forces alone and that action is needed by industry, the Government and the trade unions. The document emphasises the need for a close working understanding between the Government and the Trades Union Congress and that the proper handling of this relationship imposes on the TUC the need to accept that its expanding role carries with it wider responsibilities.

We are agreed that the British people must achieve living standards in line with those in the rest of Europe, and that prices can best be kept down by increasing productivity and output and re-equipping our manufacturing industry.

We have agreed on an important objective about the future level of inflation. It is that within three years we must reduce our annual rate of inflation to 5 per cent. or less. We are agreed that the concept of a "going rate" with successive groups escalating the rate by building on the basis of earlier settlements is an obstacle to reducing inflation.

The statement points to advantages that may be secured from the synchronisation of pay bargaining in certain areas, but it recognises the difficulties of introducing this quickly.

We are agreed that each year before Easter there should be a national assessment by the Government and both sides of industry of our economic prospects.

On the question of workers in the public services, both sides have agreed to examine means by which workers in the public services could establish arrangements for negotiating their pay and conditions which would make it unnecessary for them to resort to industrial action. And we agree as a matter of urgency to identify the groups that might be covered by such agreements.

We have also agreed on urgent consultations into the problems of relativities and comparability in pay matters, which are, of course, directly related to the problem of low pay and differentials, and on the continuing arrangements to deal with them.

These objectives have been agreed between us as a guide for action now and in the future, and the joint statement asks trade unions to have regard to all of these objectives from now on.

This is an important beginning, but it will, of course, be necessary for all sections of the community to be involved in this search for a better way. I note that the CBI yesterday published a series of recommendations that overlap some of the matters that I have referred to, and the Government will be ready to have discussions with it to try to secure as much agreement as possible. I appreciate that joint discussions already take place between the TUC and the CBI, and I would welcome their extension.

Our approach is based on the Government's conviction that the most effective and lasting way of improving the conduct of industrial relations is to secure the consent of the trade unions and their members in the manner in which it is embodied in this joint statement.

It is only too easy to propose apparently simple legal answers to these complex issues. They do not exist.

The value of this joint statement is that by discussion, by consultation and, above all, by consent it brings the full authority of the general council of the TUC to bear, alongside the Government, in working out a constructive approach to our economic and industrial future.

Mrs. Thatcher

Before putting three specific questions to the Prime Minister, may I ask whether he is aware that in view of the fate of previous agreements between Labour Governments and the Trades Union Congress—for example, the "solemn and binding" undertaking of 10 years ago, and the social contract under this Government which was sold to the British public as the boldest experiment in civilised government that Britain has ever seen"— we are bound to approach this document and the Prime Minister's statement with a healthy scepticism?

Many of the aspirations we can endorse, but we see a gap between the aspirations and the policies that are necessary to bring about those objectives.

Further, we know that the Prime Minister has had a great opportunity to make a national approach to these matters, in view of the widespread concern of our people and a number of offers that have been made to the Prime Minister. We believe that this statement and this document represent a missed opportunity.

I turn to the three specific questions. First, on the economic aspects of the statement, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the aim of achieving a 5 per cent. rate of inflation or less within three years. What difference will that aim make to his conduct of the present wage round, or to the TUC's conduct of it?

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the tactics that he is adopting in the public sector at present, of X per cent.—for example 9 per cent. to public sector employees, accompanied by a promise of deferred comparability into the future—is consistent with the image that he is trying to create of a 5 per cent. figure in three years' time? The Prime Minister cannot have it both ways. He cannot aim for 5 per cent. in three years' time yet be deferring increases into next year or the year after.

Secondly, with particular reference to the industrial relations section of the statement and of the TUC document which accompanies it—

Hon. Members

Speech, speech.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must hear the Leader of the Opposition putting her questions. It is a common thing in this House when hon. Members disagree with questions for them still to listen to them. The right hon. Lady is entitled to put her question.

Mrs. Thatcher

Of course, we welcome the extension of secret ballots and "no strike" clauses, but I want particularly to question the Prime Minister under the second head about codes of practice on the closed shop. Is he aware that we believe that codes of practice are no longer enough to deal with this vital subject? They have an important place as a supplement to law, but they are not a substitute for it.

Is the Prime Minister aware that it was a Government of which he was a member which used the law to take away from individual members of trade unions the right to compensation for the loss of a job in the event of the imposition of a closed shop? That right was taken away by the law. It cannot be restored by a code of practice. It can be restored only by the law.

The right hon. Gentleman took away by law the right of an individual member of a trade union to appeal to a court of law if he was excluded?—

Mr. Russell Kerr

Too long.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House listened in silence to a long statement from the Prime Minister. It must now hear the questions arising from that statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

He took away the right—

Mr. Flannery

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mrs. Thatcher

They are a frightened lot.

Mr. Flannery

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. I calculate that we have now had nine questions and five statements from the right hon. Lady. That seems to me to be far too long.

Mr. Speaker

Order. In the course of questions this afternoon, one hon. Member asked four supplementary questions in one. By long tradition, when a statement is made—

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

You said it was a long statement.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Cormack

Name him.

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members must not interrupt me when I am trying to make a statement. By long tradition in this House, when a statement has been made it is not regarded in the same way as if a private notice question had been asked. [Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members must not shout when I am standing, because it is unparliamentary to do so.

Mrs. Thatcher

The right hon. Gentleman took away by law the right of an individual member of a union to appeal to a court of law. He cannot restore that by codes of practice. Will he introduce law to put right matters that he has put wrong in his own legislation?

Coming to the question of picketing, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that what the great majority of our people want is that picketing should be limited to the premises where the dispute between workers and employers occurs, and to people who are in dispute? This document does not limit it in that way at all but gives Government authority to picketing, not only at the premises of workers in dispute but at the r remises of suppliers and the premises of customers. It goes even further and says that "in exceptional circumstances" action in addition to that may be taken. This is to give Government authority to some of the malpractices that we saw in the lorry drivers' strike. Will not the Prime Minister introduce legislation to put these matters right, in accordance with widespread public opinion?


Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot hear the Leader of the Opposition.

Mrs. Thatcher

Finally, is the Prime Minister aware that unless he is prepared to back up these codes of practice by introducing legislation—for which he will have widespread support—and by introducing the necessary economic measures, his statement and this document are nothing but a boneless wonder?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady asked me, a long time ago, about the fate of previous agreements. I refer her to the advice and guidance issued by the TUC after a previous bout of industrial dispute that we had—what became known as the "who does what" dispute—which disfigured our industrial relations in the 1950s and early 1960s. No one ever refers to that now. Indeed, younger Members of the House have probably forgotten about it.

Mr. Fernyhough

They probably never knew about it.

The Prime Minister

Probably they never knew about it. The advice issued then by the TUC, as has been the case on so many occasions, was accepted by the unions and this aspect of our industrial relations troubles has been removed. [Interruption.] I am used to being interrupted. I do not mind. The right hon. Lady should not be so dismissive of the activities of the Trades Union Congress, with which, if she ever came to power, she would have to work. It is an important and responsible element in our community. I sometimes wish that she would drop her nagging and recognise this.

The right hon. Lady is on a fair point if she describes what is contained in this agreement as a series of objectives on which a lot of work has still to be done. That is where we must start from now. As to its impact on the present pay round, it is clear that the higher the level of settlements in this pay round, the more difficult it will be to get inflation down to 5 per cent. within a three-year period. I accepted the advice that I have heard expressed in a number of quarters that perhaps we should not fix a target for one year and that perhaps a three-year attempt upon this national disease would be better. It is better to try to approach it in this way and I am glad that the general council accepts this. I believe that the CBI will do so, too.

As to the impact on current negotiations of this agreement, I am sure that the right hon. Lady will understand if I do not comment—[Interruption.] With respect to hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches, it is better if the House of Commons does not comment now. The negotiations are going on. Public statements made during the course of negotiations are not likely to encourage results. It is for that reason only that I prefer not to enter into answers on these matters.

Turning to the code of practice, I know the right hon. Lady's obsession, over the past month, with the law. It is not an obsession that has been shared by all of the Opposition, certainly not by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), who, only a little over a month ago, was assuring us—this would have been the path of greater wisdom if the Conservative Party had adhered to it, because the recent bout of hysteria will die down—that his attitude was that the practice of the Conservative Party should be to embrace rather than to defeat union power. That was a very wise sentiment, if I may say so. There was nothing that I heard this afternoon that would encourage me to believe that that is the policy of the Opposition.

Dealing with picketing, I believe that the House will want to read what is contained in the statement. I do not believe that the right hon. Lady has put a fair interpretation on what is said here. It says: Unions should in general, and save in exceptional circumstances, confine picketing— That is the operative phrase. It sets out certain exceptions.

Mr. Cormack

Read on.

The Prime Minister

I am ready to read on: to premises of the parties to the dispute or the premises of suppliers and customers of those parties. That is what it should be confined to. If the right hon. Lady or the Shadow Foreign Secretary really believe that the law was successful in these matters, they are saying that they have shorter memories than I know them to have. There are problems in all of these areas, problems of getting the consent and acquiesence of the men concerned. What I am saying, what I have consistently said and shall continue to say—and it is here that I believe the right hon. Lady is profoundly wrong—is that we cannot introduce a law, a rigid inflexible law, into a system for governing this code of practice. That is why it is far better to work with the organised representatives, to get their consent and the acquiescence of all those who will be involved.

Mr. David Steel

If the Prime Minister is serious—as I assume he is—in that part of the statement in which he refers to the British people achieving living standards in line with those in the rest of Europe, may I ask why he is not prepared to look at very different political and industrial structures among our European neighbours which have enabled that success to be achieved? Will he accept that while this area of agreement between the TUC and the Government is to be welcomed, as far as it goes—as is the policy of the CBI, announced yesterday—as a further contribution to the discussion, it is no substitute for agreement in this House on the twin and related issues of pay policy and industrial relations? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that we cannot go on subcontracting our re- sponsibilites to create a permanent framework for these matters which will survive more than a few months and which will be more than an agreement with one party in government?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his modified welcome for what I had to say. He is not correct if he has assumed that we were not ready to look at different structures. I have always been impressed by two aspects of the German structure. The first is the attempt to get a national consensus and analysis of the situation—which is contained in this document. The other aspect—I have not had so much support from certain hon. Members on this—is the extension of industrial democracy as it is practised in Germany. The right hon. Gentleman would not be correct to say that we are not willing to draw the best from everywhere. For all its faults, the British trade union movement is just that it has its origins here. I do not believe that we can graft on other experiences without a great deal of consideration. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that.

There is no attempt to subcontract our responsibilities. If there were a public discussion, every year, of a national analysis of the economic scenarios which could emerge, it would be for the benefit of us all. In that move Parliament clearly has its proper part to play.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call hon. Members to ask their questions, may I make an appeal to the House?

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

All too long.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman not well? He continues all the time to interrupt. I make an appeal to the House. If hon. Members will confine themselves to a question rather than to argument, I shall be able to call many more of their colleagues in the time that we shall have before we move on.

Mr. Mellish

Will my right hon. Friend take it that the vast majority of the people of this country will recognise that the trauma of January, and certainly of part of this month, would not have occurred if we had had this concordat and agreement last September? Moreover, will he accept that the vast majority of the people will welcome his statement today, which I believe to be what the nation has been crying out for—an understanding between the Government of the day and the unions? Further, will my right hon. Friend understand that it is to be expected that the Conservative Opposition will sneer and jeer at this and show their contempt for the trade union movement, and that his statement today, if it succeeds, will mean for them the end of so much of their carping criticism, upon which they rely in their hope to take office next time?

The Prime Minister

I think it important that we should try to get our economic and industrial relations right. This is a matter that concerns our national fate, quite irrespective of the fortunes of any party, although, naturally, I hope that my party has at least the greater part of wisdom in this matter. As regards the Conservative Party, I say only that I regard it as a little odd that the party that is always trying to exclude the law from every avenue it can—trying to encourage self-discipline and trying to encourage self-regulation—should now be the party that spurns any attempt at self-regulation and self-discipline and says that we must enforce the law.

Sir David Renton

As for the law, is not the real problem the fact that we have given the trade unions immense power—far greater than that possessed by any other section of the community—but have not made them answerable to this House or to anybody for the way in which they use it, or, indeed, for the way in which their members may abuse it? Why, therefore, does the Prime Minister not accept my right hon. Friend's offer to join in a parliamentary effort to deal with the worst abuses now?

The Prime Minister

I have already answered that question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was in the House when we had the debates over the original Industrial Relations Act. Surely his memory is not so short that he has forgotten the consequences and the failures of that. If he has, let me remind him of what the former director-general of the CBI said about it. He said that that Act, which attempted to import the law, had sullied every aspect of industrial relations. Those were his words, not mine. Why return to one's old vomit? Let us try a new way.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend take it that we on the Government Benches will find it very strange if any right hon. or hon. Member cannot accept this document? It is unexceptionable. In fact, it expresses the views of the Labour Party and the trade unions over many years, and it should therefore be welcomed by every Member of the House. But is my right hon. Friend aware that the one failure in the document is in regard to dealing with the immediate situation, and could he indicate that, although we have a long-term project, the Government will put pressure on the Tory councils that are refusing to agree to an increase above the 81 per cent. which the Government have offered to settle the immediate disputes now?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend says that there is much of the traditional views of the Labour Party and the Government in this document. That is true. But it also carries our thinking several stages further and forward, and this also has been necessary, I believe, in the light of what has been our experience during the 1970s. I hope that we have all learnt from the 1970s. Certainly, I hope that I have learnt from that experience, and I am not ashamed to say so. I believe that what is contained in this document gives us the basis. There is a lot of work yet to be done on it—it is only a beginning—but it gives us a basis for making a fresh start, and I hope that the whole House —or, if not the whole House, the country—will welcome this new initiative.

As for the current negotiations, for the reasons that I gave earlier I cannot comment on the matters which are now, literally at this moment, I believe, in negotiation between local authorities and the trade unions. With respect, I think it far better that it should be left to them in existing circumstances.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Does the Prime Minister realise that this collection of pious aspirations is now not really enough to take care of the present situation? Since there have been instances, whatever the good faith of the TUC, of the advice of trade union leaders and shop stewards being ignored by strikers, how can the right hon. Gentleman have any guarantee or depend on the TUC to deliver? What reason has he for believing that this latest version of "Peace in our time" will avoid future confrontation any more than anything we had to last time did?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, being practically dubious about it, and I understand that. After all, if this were the Sermon on the Mount he would be entitled to say exactly the same about it, except that, perhaps the Old Testament language is rather more imaginative and colourful than this. [HON. MEMBERS: "New Testament."] I beg pardon—yes, the New Testament. But, of course, the right hon. Gentleman is quite right; I do not expect that heaven on earth will dawn tomorrow.

What I am saying to the House—I dare say that the advice will be disregarded in certain areas—is that experience has shown that when members of the general council of the TUC agree among themselves on a series of proposals that should be put to their unions and ask those unions to accept them, that is the best and most likely way of ensuring success. That is what we are basing ourselves on.

Mr. Watkinson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that if frenzied legislation had been passed through the House on strike ballots or on picketing it would not have helped the present situation at all? Does he further accept that an agreement involving consent is a much better way forward? Further, will he explain the part of the agreement dealing with relationships between the public sector and the private sector? Does he agree that there is a linkage between these two sectors and does he accept that it may be necessary to institutionalise that linkage in some way, taking into account not only pay but terms and conditions of work?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that legislation at this time on such matters as picketing would not have improved the situation. Indeed, I understand that this is the first occasion when the TUC general council has pronounced on such matters as the scope, the discipline and the organisation of picketing, and this—I beg hon. Members opposite who are perhaps not very close to the trade union movement to believe it—will have a substantial effect. Surely, we all want it to have a substantial effect. I believe that this is the best way forward, rather than legislation.

As for the public and private sectors and the linkage that occurs, the statement is carefully drawn. However, it could lead to an institutionalisation, as I think my hon. Friend said, of arrangements that would make it more possible to determine and set pay in the public sector without some of the disturbances that we have been experiencing.

Mr. David Price

As an industrial manager, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he agrees that the basic contract when people go to work is a fair day's work for a fair day's pay? Does he accept that the nearer to the individual worker negotiations take place on what is a fair day's pay and what is a fair day's work, the more likely we are to achieve success, both socially and economically? Is he aware that in my opinion the missing element in his concordat with the TUC is the absence of a reference to trying to get bargaining units smaller and nearer to the shop floor? Does he accept that in industrial relations small is beautiful?

The Prime Minister

I know that the hon. Gentleman has experience in these matters. It is true that the document makes no reference to the bargaining unit. However, a number of trade unions are moving in that direction. We shall have the difficult job of trying to combine national negotiations that are conducted with national executives with settlements at company level. Those who are experienced and practised in industrial matters will have to work that out for themselves. On that score, I do not think that the Government can find a solution.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must tell the House that we canot debate the matter now. We have spent over half an hour on the Prime Minister's statement. I propose to take three more questions from each side of the House.

Mr. Ashton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Opposition Members took little interest in industrial relations until about six weeks ago? Will he add one or two extra pages to the report and list the number of times that the TUC has kept its promise in delivering such things as the £6 voluntary pay rise, followed the year after by the £4 increase and followed by the 10 per cent. increase? Will he list the number of times that the law has been invoked against unions in the past eight or nine years with disastrous results, such as when the law was used against the Shrewsbury pickets, when the AUEW was fined £75,000, when the five dockers were locked up and had to be released by the Official Solicitor, and the number of days lost in strikes when we had the Industrial Relations Act, all of which culminated in a three-day working week and lights going off throughout the country, which brought it almost to anarehy?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has undertaken my task for me. In a short and succinct statement he has put the classic case against the Opposition's present policy—I do not know how long it will last—on these matters. It will be far better for us to try this initiative and to see how it works. Whenever excesses have been committed, our fellow countrymen have recoiled. There is then a return to what we regard as the right way to handle our affairs and living as a community with each other.

Sir Raymond Gower

Although codes of practice and agreements can be helpful and valuable, why does the Prime Minister exclude so completely any legal framework when many countries that are far more successful than the United Kingdom have found some legal sanction and background necessary and valuable?

The Prime Minister

Because in the United Kingdom it has not worked.

Mr. Urwin

In view of the churlishness with which the Leader of the Opposition received my right hon. Friend's statement, does he agree that she would have been better advised to take a little time to pay tribute to the trade union movement for the enormous contribution that it has made to the reduction of inflation over the past three years? In the ensuing tripartite discussions that my right hon. Friend will be undertaking with the CBI and the TUC, will he keep at the forefront of the agenda the importance of the introduction of a form of industrial democracy, which of itself could make a major contribution to conquering the ills from which the country is presently suffering?

The Prime Minister

It is proper for me to say that the TUC has kept its undertakings on many matters. The House should not attempt to deny that. Unfortunately, for reasons that I shall not go into and on which there are various ascriptions of responsibility, we did not have such an agreement with the TUC earlier this year. As has already been said, that lack of agreement was responsible for some of the troubles that we have gone through. However, I hope that we can make a new start and find a better way. My right hon. Friend will note that the extension of industrial democracy and accountability is covered in my statement. He will also find that that is in the joint document that is being issued.

Mr. Crouch

Will the Prime Minister let us know what he understands a concordat to mean? Does he agree that it is an agreement between two parties to observe a certain course of action? If he accepts that definition, is he satisfied that a concordat can be achieved within the trade unions between the leaders and their members?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman chooses his own word to describe the document. It is not my word. It may be a word that he has culled from the press. On the whole, we prefer to choose our own titles and not those that are thrust upon us by the hon. Gentleman or the press. I have never used the word "concordat". I am not sure that I understand it.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do.

The Prime Minister

I am sure that the Shadow Leader of the House is able to give me a very good definition. No doubt he will do so if I give him half a chance.

Mr. St. John-Stevasrose—

The Prime Minister

No, the right hon. Lady will not like it.

The trade unions are voluntary organisations in the degree of control that they exercise over their members. That which has happened over the past 18 months has been to some extent an eruption of basic feeling from the rank and file at workshop level that the leaders have not been able to control. There is a dilemma. At one and the same time the unions are accused of being too powerful and too weak. Both those assertions may be true. I have found in the past—I know that the hon. Gentleman tries to make a fair approach to these matters—that if the general council sets its hand to something it can usually, by means of persuasion and the authority that it carries, secure general agreement. I am not saying that there will be agreement in every instance and in every way. However, I am certain that the document marks a great step forward for us.

Mr. George Grant

I appreciate the statement made by my right hon. Friend. I think that it is progress. As a life-long trade union member I understand the difficulties that arise after three or four years of restraint. It is my opinion that the present wave of strikes—

Hon. Members

Ask a question.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman may find a way of expressing his opinion through his question, but it must be put as a question.

Mr. Grant

I shall do that quickly, as I always do. The present wave of strikes is not against the Government and not against employers—

Hon. Members


Mr. Grant

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the present wave of strikes is not against the Government and not against employers but against the trade union membership? Everybody is seeking a larger slice of the cake, and while the squabbling takes place the size of the cake is getting smaller. In my right hon. Friend's discussions with the trade union movement, has he suggested that the way forward is not legislation but for the trade union movement, through the TUC, to have the blessing of individual unions to have arbitrary powers in discussing our present difficulties and making decisions?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has longer and more practical experience than most hon. Members have of working in the mining industry and I welcome any contribution that he wishes to make in the House. He also speaks with the knowledge and practical experience of those who have sent him here. I agree with him that whenever there has been a period of wage restraint there have always been difficulties afterwards. He is right in saying that the basic problem now is that everybody is seeking, first, to find how to get a bigger share of the cake and, second, how to increase the size of the cake.

The miners of this country, by their actions over the last 12 months and by their present actions in negotiation, have shown that they are not attempting to force a confrontation with the Government, or, indeed, with the Coal Board. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to use his influence with them to see that they get a fair share of the cake but that they do not push their claim beyond the limits that the industry will bear.

Mr. Higgins

After the experience of the Ford dispute, is it not hopelessly inadequate for the statement to do no more than say that contracts should be observed? Should we not at least give an opportunity for those on each side of industry who want to make contracts which are enforceable in the courts to do so?

Since the agreement does nothing whatever to prevent picketing that is carried out by individuals who are not members of trade unions and who have nothing to do with a particular industrial dispute, should we not at any rate legislate to make that illegal?

The Prime Minister

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has not yet had time to read the code, but he will find that it places picketing under the control of the union that is in dispute, and therefore there is no need for the law to be introduced in this controversial area.

Mr. Prior

Is the Prime Minister aware that his statement this afternoon is disappointing, inasmuch as it does nothing to restore the balance in collective bargaining that is so necessary? Is he further aware that when he says that the law has not a part to play he is underestimating the laws that the Labour Government have passed in the last four years, which have done so much to make that balance less equal than it was before? Is he aware that there is an overwhelming desire in the country and in the House for a limited change in the law, which would have an effect on picketing—such as my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) has pointed out— and on the closed shop? Even the Prime Minister, in the past few days, has admitted that it is unfair as it operates at the moment. There is also a need for secret ballots, which could do much to ensure that trade union representation was more democratic than it is at the moment.

To say in 1979, after the experience of the last 10 years, that the only way in which we can proceed is along the lines of the statement this afternoon is a counsel of despair that we on the Opposition Benches cannot accept.

The Prime Minister

But I am not the only one who says it in 1979. The right hon. Gentleman was saying it on 8 January 1979. Indeed, there has been no more sudden conversion since that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. At least I got that biblical quotation right, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman's new-found zeal is being prosecuted in a very bad cause, and I fear that he really knows it.

When the right hon. Gentleman studies the code he will find that there is a strong recommendation from the general council to unions that they should adopt secret ballots. I will not attempt to describe the wording that is used. I think that that is an extension that the right hon. Gentleman, at least until 8 January, would have welcomed. He would not have thought that the law should be introduced to enforce a recommendation of that sort.

It is not my view—and I have never expressed it as such—that the law has no part to play. After all, the law plays a very considerable part in industrial relations. What I have said—experience has shown it to be true, and I stand by it—is that the law has failed in certain of the issues that the Opposition are now putting forward. That is why we want to try the new way.

With regard to restoring the balance in collective bargaining, the weight has shifted to some extent certainly since the war, but that is best dealt with by restraint. The hero of the Conservative Party, Harold Macmillan, said that it can best be achieved by everyone not pushing his weight to the extreme limit. That is a far better way of doing it—Harold Macmillan was far wiser—than trying to impose the law.

Mr. Gow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that during the Prime Minister's statement he told the House that a copy of it, and of the documents annexed to it, had been placed by him in the Vote Office. At 4.2 p.m. some hon. Members were trying to obtain copies of the statement and of the documents annexed to it. At that time the deliverer of the Vote—I am talking of the position at 4.2 p.m., which was well after the Prime Minister had sat down—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It has been indicated to me that the document is now in the Vote Office. That might solve the problem of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), at least for the time being.

Mr. English

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said earlier that you would call three more Members from each side. As a Member of the Opposition Front Bench rose, you called four speakers from the Opposition Benches. Could we not have one more speaker from the Labour Benches? If so, may I ask my question?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Those hon. Members who are in the Chamber regularly on such occasions—as I believe the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) usually is—will know that when I have said, on many occasions, that I will take three more speakers from each side, that exempts the Front Bench, as I always call a speaker from the Front Bench to put a concluding question. I have said that before and I hope that I shall not have to say it again.

Mr. Brotherton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that some minutes ago my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) asked the Prime Minister to give his definition of "concordat". I wonder whether it would be of assistance to the House if I were to tell the House that—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That would require a concordat on the part of the House, and the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) has no such concordat.

Mr. Rooker

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. I am not seeking to challenge you, but we have heard from the Prime Minister today one of the most important statements that he has made since achieving his present office. The Order Paper today places no time limits whatever on the House. After 10 p.m. we shall be on exempted business. If you, in your wisdom, Mr. Speaker, were to allow a few more minutes for questions arising from my right hon. Friend's statement, the time would not be taken from that allocated to any other business of the House. I know that my right hon. Friend will not wish to run away from Opposition questions. I also know that Labour Members wish to press him particularly on the issue of low pay, on which no questions have been asked so far.

Mr. Speaker

When there are questions following a major statement, it is always difficult to decide when to call it a day. However, I exercise my judgment to the best of my ability.