HC Deb 16 January 1979 vol 960 cc1514-23

4.9 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it an offence both to pay, and to receive, wages paid out to workers in the newspaper industry who are retired or deceased; and for connected purposes. Right hon. and hon. Members may not know what ghost workers are. I assure the House that they are not the millions of workers who are laid off by our current industrial disputes and who are currently on what might conveniently be called a "no-day week "—which is preferable, no doubt, to a three-day week. Ghost workers "is not in any way meant to refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister when he was sunning himself in Guadeloupe.

Ghost workers are persons employed in the newspaper industry who do not exist. They have either retired or are dead, but mostly they are fictitious people with fictitious names whose only function in the industry is to receive a pay packet. They are given such names as Sir Max Aitken, "Dukey" Hussey, Sir Gordon Richards of Tattenham Corner and even, I believe, Mickey Mouse of Sunset Boulevard. I am told that the unions are actively studying the resignation honours list of the right hon. Member for Huy-ton (Sir H. Wilson) to see what other names they may conjure up for ghost workers.

I think it is fair to say that the practice has arisen over the years because management has opted out of the control of labour in the newspaper industry, particularly in the printing of the Sunday newspapers. The unions have contracted to provide sufficient people for the printing on a Saturday evening. The number of people who are engaged in such work is not known to the management. That is determined by the fathers of the chapels, who apply for as many people's wages as they feel like applying for on that occasion. The result is that management does not know how many people it employs.

At a recent investigation by the Inland Revenue into the printing of one Sunday newspaper it was discovered that 55 people who were on the payroll were not actually present that night. In a recent television programme, the managing director of The Times, Mr. Duke Hussey, said that he went round the printing shop one night and counted the number of people at work, and it bore no resemblance to the number of pay packets which he saw made up at the end of the night's work.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

It is the same in here.

Mr. Ridley

As a result of an investigation following a productivity deal, in one Sunday newspaper packets were made up to represent the bonus due to all the workers. At the end of the morning when the wages had been collected, 55 pay packets remained upon the table unclaimed. The funny thing about that was that 33 of them were for people bearing the name of Smith and 22 were for people bearing the name of Brown. But none of them was collected because the true wages had already been taken.

The practice is, therefore, that large numbers of people are putting in for wages and management connives at paying the wages out. It is advantageous to management because it means that the high wages paid in the printing industry, do not have to rank for pension purposes, which would provide an excessive burden on the balance sheets of the accounts.

The unions agree to have the work done and decide how many ghost workers shall be in attendance that evening. It is suitable for them because it gets round the famous pay policy and the 5 per cent. limit and it gets them off tax to a large extent. I am told that ghost workers have not been in the habit of paying income tax at all. I do not mind if linotype operators receive between £14,000 and £17,000 a year. I have no objection to high wages. However, I do mind that they do not pay the proper rates of income tax upon such income.

The Inland Revenue knows all about this. In an article in The Sunday Times in November of last year it was estimated that about £1 million of revenue was being denied to the Exchequer by ghost workers. Indeed, the industry tells me that about 100,000 names are used to receive wages in any one year within the printing industry. But we know perfectly well that there are only 2,000 or 3,000 people actually engaged in these trades. There- tore, the extent of this practice is pretty widespread. It is not dissimilar, of course, to the lump in the building industry. However, there, contractors engage labour-only sub-contractors who put in competitive bids for doing the bricklaying or plastering and there is competition in that management can choose the labour-only contractor who does the work at the best price. In this case, due to the operation of the closed shop, there is no such competition and the cost to the employers is within the control of the unions.

It is strange that the Government, as soon as they were elected, pursued the self-employed in the building industry by means of the 714 certificate to stop up this tax loophole. But when it comes to something to do with official trade unions the Government are remarkably slow to move. They have known about this for some time. Although they will pursue the self-employed rigorously when they are engaged in tax evasion, they have told the Inland Revenue to hold back on TUC affiliated unions of this sort. I believe that the Inland Revenue has failed to chase up this matter, and this proposed Bill is designed to provide an alternative way of stopping it by making it illegal.

It is interesting to note that ghost workers are the product of a very high tax society, coupled with pay policies, hitherto rigorously enforced, and with the encouragement of the closed shop. These are the three elements in the ghost workers scandal which make it possible.

Under the present Socialist Government, if one lifts any industrial stone a whole lot of nasty creatures start running about. They do not like the limelight. The last purpose of this proposed Bill is to put as much limelight upon them as is possible.

The Labour Government are in full retreat. People will not tolerate the privilege and abuse which Labour Governments have brought to this country. There is one similarity between Napoleon and the present Prime Minister: although Napoleon had to undertake a retreat from Moscow, the present Government are going to retreat to Moscow.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon) rose

Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman seeking to oppose the motion?

Mr. Moonman

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I believe this proposed Bill to be both mischievous and frivolous. I would not delay the House by asking hon. Members to reject the Bill on those grounds alone. However, I believe that the Bill must be judged on its attempt to influence industrial relations in a particular industry, namely, the newspaper industry.

Further, I would suggest that what we have heard from the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) reveals an attempt to demean the existing practices and work arrangements within that industry. In fact, between management and trade unions the vast majority of practices have worked well and efficiently for a very long period. The Bill does not help towards reaching an understanding of the problems and complexities of the newspaper industry. I believe that it would damage the industry.

The gravamen of the hon. Member's case is to describe practices which are not substantiated and which, if they were, would be a matter for criminal procedures. But then he adds a further element of exaggeration, and the whole thing is carried off, not very well, with breathtaking impertinence.

I believe that the substance of industrial relations within the newspaper industry, of which I have many years of operational experience as a member of the National Graphical Association—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—is about three things. Those hon. Members who have just woken up to that fact have obviously not attended the three or four key debates in which I have spoken and declared my interest on every occasion. It is nice to welcome visitors.

Perhaps I may mention the three reasons—not the bogus reasons that we have heard from the hon. Member—why there are problems in the newspaper industry. They certainly do not require legislation to put them right. The first reason is the type of production. We are talking about an industry which must take its decisions within the course of four or five hours in the evening. They are decisions which are taken against a whole background of meeting transport requirements and deadlines and of machines, and these decisions are often arrived at with no precedent and as a result of on-the-spot decisions between the two sides.

The second reason why there are problems within the industry is the poor communications within newspapers themselves. That is certainly not a trade union responsibility.

The third reason is the fear of new technology. It is no good anyone, particularly if he has an ignorance of the industry, arguing that these matters are not important. The fact of new technology and what it can mean to an old and traditional craft is of great significance to the men, who understandably feel that the job for which they have trained and to which they have been apprenticed, over a period of time, will now no longer apply. That is the sort of issue that must be taken into account.

But there is another dimension to the problem, which exacerbates industrial relations and which was overlooked by the hon. Member. That, of course, arises when there are high fluctuations of demand—in other words, of requirements of newspapers —not on an annual, a quarterly or even a monthly basis, but when the differences in the number of pages are decided within the course of six or seven days. That means, therefore, that they must have a very large number of casual workers.

If there is a centre to the problem, it is the fact that about 4,600 men are required—and management understands that—to fulfil these additional roles on a Saturday night. There is no way in which this can be forecast, because it depends on the amount of advertising that is acquired in the course of the previous week. That is a basic management situation. There is nothing that can be done about it.

Indeed, the Royal Commission on the industry pointed out the problems of the casual staff. Let us consider what it means to be a casual staff member. Such staff are, first of all, in an insecure position. They are not contracted to work on a regular basis. They have to sign on at call offices, and they bear their own travelling expenses for doing so. In fact, they may get no work at the end of it. The standby casuals on Fleet Street can be in a still worse position. They may have to wait until 10 o'clock in the evening before they know whether they will be on tap that night. Again, if there is no work, they get no pay. During the ACAS inquiry associated with the Royal Commission, it was pointed out by a number of the men concerned, who were interviewed, that they were wasting their lives in the call waiting for a decision whether work would be available for them that evening.

Of course there are problems in the industry and the system. But it is mischievous to suggest that because of isolated experience this is a frequent or general pattern in the industry.

If any hon. Member wants to take up the time of the House by introducing legislation on this subject, it is totally irresponsible to suggest it in the manner we have heard this afternoon. What we

ought to be looking at is the question of establishing ways in which the industry itself can work out a system so that the labour requirements can more closely relate to the needs of the production. That is a serious matter. It is a matter at which the unions themselves are looking very seriously. I believe that progress will be made in that direction. To ridicule the industry and the existing practices between management and trade unions is sadly irresponsible.

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

The House divided: Ayes 219, Noes 177.

Division No. 311 AYES 14.45 p.m.
Adley, Robert Emery, Peter Jopling, Michael
Aitken, Jonathan Eyre, Reginald Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Kelth
Alison, Michael Fairgrieve, Russell Kaberry, Sir Donald
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Fell, Anthony Kershaw, Anthony
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Fisher, Sir Nigel Kilfedder, James
Atkinson, David (B' mouth. East) Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Kimball, Marcus
Awdry, Daniel Fookes, Miss Janet King, Evelyn (South Dorset)
Baker, Kenneth Forman, Nigel King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Banks, Robert Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Kitson, Sir Timothy
Beith, A. J. Fox, Marcus Knox, David
Bell, Ronald Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Lamont, Norman
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Freud, Clement Langford-Holt, Sir John
Benyon, W. Gardiner, George (Relgate) Lawrence, Ivan
Berry, Hon Anthony Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Lawson, Nigel
Biffen, John Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham) Le Marchant, Spencer
Blaker, Peter Glyn, Dr Alan Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Body, Richard Goodhart, Philip Lloyd, Ian
Boscawen, Hon Robert Goodhew, Victor Loveridge, John
Bottomley, Peter Goodlad, Alastair Luce, Richard
Boyson, Or Rhodes (Brent) Gorst, John McCrindle, Robert
Braine, Sir Bernard Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) McCusker, H.
Brittan, Leon Gray, Hamish Macfarlane, Nell
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Griffiths, Eldon MacGregor, John
Brooke, Hon Peter Grimond, Rt Hon J. MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)
Brotherton, Michael Grist, Ian Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Bryan, Sir Paul Grylls, Michael McNalr-Wllson, M. (Newbury)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell) McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Buck, Antony Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Madel, David
Budgen, Nick Hampson, Dr Keith Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Bulmer, Esmond Hannam, John Marten, Neil
Burden, F. A. Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Mates, Michael
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Harvle Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Mather, Carol
Carlisle, Mark Haselhurst, Alan Maude, Angus
Channon, Paul Hastings, Stephen Mawby, Ray
Churchill, W. S. Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Hawkins, Paul Mayhew, Patrick
Clark, William (Croydon S) Hayhoe, Barney Meyer, Sir Anthony
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Higgins, Terence L. Miscampbell, Norman
Clegg, Walter Holland, Philip Moate, Roger
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Hooson, Emlyn Monro, Hector
Cope, John Hordern, Peter Montgomery, Fergus
Cormack, Patrick Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Moore, John (Croydon C)
Costaln, A. P. Howell, David (Gulldford) More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Crouch, David Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Morgan, Geraint
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Hunt, David (Wirral) Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Morrison, Peter (Chester)
Drayson, Burnaby Hurd, Douglas Mudd, David
Dunlop, John Hutchison, Michael Clark Neave, Airey
Durant, Tony Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Nelson, Anthony
Dykes, Hugh James, David Neubert, Michael
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Nott, John
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Jessel, Toby Onslow, Cranley
Elliott, Sir William Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Oppenheim, Mrs Sally
Page, John (Harrow West) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Tebbit, Norman
Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Pardoe, Arthur Sainsbury, Tim Townsend, Cyril D.
Parkinson, Cecil Shelton. William (Streatham) van Slraubenzee, W. R.
Pattie, Geoffrey Shersby, Michael Walnwrlght, Richard (Colne V)
Penhaligon, David Silvester, Fred Wakeham, John
Percival, Ian Sims, Roger Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Peyton, Rt Hon John Sinclair, Sir George Wall, Patrick
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Walters, Dennis
Price, David (Eastleigh) Smith, Dudley (Warwick) Warren, Kenneth
Prior, Rt Hon James Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield) Weatherill, Bernard
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Speed, Keith Wells, John
Raison, Timothy Spence, John Whltelaw, Rt Hon William
Rathbone, Tim Sproat, lain Whitney, Raymond
Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Stainton, Keith Wiggin, Jerry
Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Stanley, John Winterton, Nicholas
Rhodes James, R. Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Ridsdale, Julian Stokes, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Rifkind, Malcolm Stradling, Thomas J. Mr. Nicholas Ridley and
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart) Mr. Ian Gow.
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Allaun, Frank Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Moonman, Eric
Archer, Rt Hon Peter George, Bruce Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Armstrong, Ernest Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.
Ashley, Jack Graham, Ted Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Ashton, Joe Grant, George (Morpeth) Morton, George
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Grant, John (Islington C) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Grocott, Bruce Newens, Stanley
Bagler, Gordon A. T. Hamilton, James (Bothwell) O'Halloran, Michael
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Orbach, Maurice
Bates, Alf Hardy, Peter Ovenden, John
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Park. George
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Hart, Rt Hon Judith Parker, John
Bidwell, Sydney Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Pavitt, Laurie
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Hayman, Mrs Helena Pendry, Tom
Blenkinsop, Arthur Heffer, Eric S. Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Hooley, Frank Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Richardson, Miss Jo
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Buchan, Norman Hunter, Adam Rooker, J. w.
Callaghan, Jim (Middloton & P) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Roper, John
Campbell, Ian Janner, Greville Sandelson, Neville
Canavan, Dennis Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sedgemore, Brain
Carmichael, Nell Jeger, Mrs Lena Shore,Rt Hon Peter
Cartwright, John Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Sllkin, Rt Hon S.C.(Dulwich)
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Johnson, James (Hull West) Sillars, James
Clemitson, Ivor Johnston, Walter (Derby S) Skinner, Dennis
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Spearing, Nigel
Cohen, Stanley Jones, Barry (East Flint) Springs, Leslfe
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Jones Dan (Burnley) Stallard, A. W.
Concannon, Rt Hon John Judd, Frank Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Corbett, Robin Kelley, Richard Stoddart, David
Cowans, Harry Kerr, Russell Stott, Roger
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Kinnock, Nell Summerskill, Hon Dr Shlrley
Cralgen, Jim (Maryhill) Lambie, David Swain, Thomas
Crowther Stan (Rotherham) Lamborn, Harry Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cryer, Bob Lamond, James Thomas Ron (Bristol NW)
Cunningham, Dr J (Whiteh) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Leadbitter, Ted Tierney, Sydney
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Tilley, John
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G
Dempsey, James Litterick, Tom Walker Terry (Kingswood)
Dormand, J. D. Lofthouse, Geoffrey Ward Michael
Duffy, A. E P. Loyden, Eddle Watklns, David
Edge, Geoff McCartney, Hugh Watkinson, John
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) McDonald, Dr Oonagh Wellbeloved, James
English, Michael McElhone, Frank White, Frank R (Bury)
Ennals, Rt Hon David McKay, Alan (Penlstone) White' James (Pollok)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Wigley, Dafydd
Evans, loan (Aberdare) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Faulds, Andrew McNamara, Kevin Williams, Alap Lee (Hornch'ch)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E, Madden, Max Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Mahon, Simon Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Flannery, Martin Mallalieu, J. P. W. Wise Mrs Audrey
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marks, Kenneth Woodall, Alec
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mason, Rt Hon Roy Young David (Bolton E)
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Maynard, Miss Joan TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Mikardo, Ian Mr. Ernest G. Perry and
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kllbride) Mr. Arnold Shaw

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Nicholas Ridley, Mr. Ian Gow, Mr. Andrew MacKay, Mr. Peter Rost, Mr. Neville Trotter, Mr. Robert Banks, Mr. Peter Blaker, Mr. Anthony Nelson, Mr. William Benyon and Mr. George Gardiner.


Mr. Nicholas Ridley accordingly presented a Bill to make it an offence both to pay, and to receive, wages paid out to workers in the newspaper industry who are retired or deceased; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 16th February and to be printed. [Bill 49.]