HC Deb 20 March 1979 vol 964 cc1439-45

Again considered in Committee.

Question again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

I do not think that we should allow this clause to pass without addressing ourselves to the principle raised. I am opposed to the principle of the clause, and I should like to see it removed. I have advised the Government of the course I intend to take.

I supported my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on Second Reading because there are items in clauses 1 to 4 of the Bill on which the Government have no option. However, I do not think that that stage has been reached in respect of the powers in clause 5. We have not yet reached the position where such powers are essential. Indeed, my right hon. Friend has already made it plain that he hopes that that time will not arise. Therefore, since I cannot support the principle of the clause, I feel that the Committee would be well advised to delete it.

I have always understood that in an industrial dispute it is important to do nothing to raise tensions and tempers. However, that is exactly what we are doing in clause 5. We are providing specific authority and powers, either to the Secretary of State for Scotland or to the courts, to circumvent the practical effects of this dispute. I can think of nothing that is more likely to increase tensions and tempers.

What we are proposing is, in a sense, worse. We are not saying that the powers will be exercised and that people will be appointed. We are putting the Secretary of State in the position of having the power to take that decision. I cannot imagine any power that I would less wish to have if I were Secretary of State.

We all know what will happen if we pass this clause. From tomorrow onwards, my right hon. Friend will face constant pressure demanding that he takes a policy decision under clause 5 and instructs judges that, since they now have the power, they should appoint people. My right hon. Friend will be in an invidious position. The moment he takes such a decision, he will further inflame the passions of those involved in the dispute.

There remains the interesting, and as yet unresolved, question of remuneration. In an earlier discussion I referred to the remuneration of"any person ". I understood the Opposition spokesman to say that"any person"to be appointed under clause 5 would be a volunteer, and, therefore, the matter of remuneration would not arise. I hear my right hon. Friend saying that that is nonsense. I could not concur with him more, because I have yet to find much voluntary labour on the part of anyone involved in the legal profession. I should be extremely surprised if we discovered it now. If I picked up my right hon. Friend's words correctly, he certainly imagines that remuneration will come into it. Indeed, he said quite specifically from the Dispatch Box that the decision on remuneration would be his and that it could not be taken by sheriffs or judges individually.

That begs the question"What will be the decision that my right hon. Friend will reach?"Does he really expect that he will be able to recruit solicitors to do the work on a fee or a paid basis for remuneration which is no more than the men were receiving before taking strike action in order to increase their remuneration? Indeed, if I know anything about solicitors' fees, they are unlikely to do this job at all without remuneration which exceeds the amount being demanded by those who are currently on strike. I cannot imagine anything which will inflame the dispute more than paying solicitors an income which is greater than that which the men were receiving before they went on strike.

The fact that the measure will inflame tempers and make it more difficult to resolve the strike is not central to my objection to the clause. I object to the clause because I think that it is an attack on the basic principle that working people have the right to withdraw their labour. That right to withdraw labour is an essential civil right. It is not only an essential civil right, but it has been an important power of working people by which they have won many gains throughout history.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) attacked me earlier for my view on this matter. If he were present, I would say to him that he was merely being consistent in his response to my anxiety about the clause, because when we debated the matter last week during the general, wide-ranging debate he made his position perfectly plain. His position was that the right to withdraw labour should be withdrawn from this particular category of work force. He believes that they should not have the right to strike. If he takes that view, naturally he will support clause 5 and resist the attempt of people such as myself to remove it from the Bill.

Sometimes when I listen to the hon. Gentleman—this goes for some of the other speakers on the Opposition Benches—I tend to believe that the dispute is purely between the court staff and the Government and that that is the extent of the union's membership and the negotiations for a settlement. The action in the courts is part of a much wider dispute and negotiation. I say to the hon. Member for Pentlands that if the Civil and Public Services Association had really wanted to whip up the public and inconvenience the public, without regard to the hardship that would be caused, there is one obvious course that it could take which it has hitherto refused to take, and that is to pull out the clerks who work for the DHSS. Within seven days that would have a massive impact on a large chunk of the population. The CPSA has been responsible, in my view, in the selective action that it has taken because it has not chosen to hit the most vulnerable section of the population.

There is a, way in which the public can have the inconvenience removed. It is not the case, as the hon. Member for Pentlands said, that the choice is between leaving the public to suffer or passing clause 5. There is another way, which is to obtain a fair and honourable settlement to the dispute, which is at present under negotiation between the Government and the Society of Civil and Public Servants. The answer is to resolve that dispute.

Here we come back to the fundamental danger of clause 5. What clause 5 does—it is inescapable that this is the purpose of the clause—is to alter the balance of power between the work force which has chosen to withdraw its labour and the Government who are inconvenienced by that withdrawal of labour. That is the whole purpose of clause 5. It alters the balance by giving the Government the right, power and ability to circumvent the inconvenience they are suffering because of that withdrawal of labour. In altering that balance it makes it more likely that the settlement which will subsequently be achieved is more favourable to the Government and less favourable to those involved in the dispute.

I understand that when one is the employer it is easy to persuade oneself that redressing the balance of power so that one can have the advantage appears progressive and responsible. I can understand that when one is in the position of an employer it is difficult to regard that measure as regressive.

I have great faith that my right hon. Friend would not abuse that power, and would use it sparingly, if he had to use it. But what we are doing tonight is to create a precedent. We are saying that if there is a dispute in which the right to bring in additional labour can be provided only by legislation, we will not hesitate to come to the House and demand that such legislation be put before it. We are creating that precedent.

I do not believe that it is in our interests to create that precedent. There may be a time when my right hon. Friend is not Secretary of State for Scotland and when that precedent may be valuable to those who serve in his place. It is important that we should save the Secretary of State from creating that precedent by taking clause 5 out of the Bill.

Mr. Millan

I was asked two questions. First, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked whether the clause, and, indeed, the Bill, could be thwarted by action taken by those who were in dispute. The clause itself provides for a remedy in the case of documents, where delays or dislocations may be caused by lack of access to documents. I believe that in that regard the clause will be effective.

I also believe that if, in the event, the whole of subsection (1) had to be brought into operation—of course, the part involving the judges themselves will come into operation immediately—practical ways could be found to get round the kind of difficulties that the right hon. Gentleman envisaged. But local situations vary quite considerably. Some courts are working normally, some are working almost normally and some are not working at all, except for emergency or very urgent proceedings. Therefore, one must look at the local situation. In those circumstances, it would be wrong for me to give an absolute guarantee that we would have no dislocation or difficulty.

My right hon. and learned Friend was asked a similar question about the situation when the strike was over and whether there would be continuation of action which might cause difficulties. I cannot guarantee that that would not happen, but it would be my intention that every effort should be made to deal with any practical problems that might arise.

I do not think that I shall satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) by anything I say with regard to the principle of clause 5. During the period of this dispute I have never said that there should be, as it were, a legal bar on people employed in the courts from striking. That would be a matter for consideration and does not come under this Bill. If at any time there were a question of negotiation about no-strike clauses in agreements—this is something that is adumbrated in the Government-TUC agreement, although the particular category of workers who might be covered are not outlined—one would have to look at the consequences of that. I believe that one would want to do so not in a legal framework but in a framework of negotiation between the unions concerned and their employers.

That is how I envisage it, and that is how the Government-TUC agreement envisages it. However, that goes into territory which is well beyond this Bill. At present there is no question, in terms of voluntary agreement, and certainly none in terms of legal provisions, of in any way diminishing the right to strike of anyone employed in a Scottish court.

The Government have certain wider responsibilities. I have a wider responsibility to see that, so far as I can possibly achieve it, the courts continue to function, because that is in the interests of every citizen in the land. That, therefore, must be my primary responsibility. There are circumstances in which that responsibility cannot be discharged to its fullest degree because the practicalities are against it. So far as I can discharge these responsibilities, I intend to see they are discharged. That is the purpose of this Bill. If clause 5 were eliminated from the Bill it would seriously weaken the Government's overall pursuit of their objectives.

10.15 p.m.

I have dealt to a considerable extent with the question of outside help. I hope that on Report we shall be able to insert an amendment which will more clearly express the obvious wish of the House. My wish is that it be seen that the responsibility for policy matters is mine and not that of the judiciary. I should welcome an amendment that allows that to be incorporated in the Bill in a more explicit way.

However, I believe that these powers may be necessary, though I hope they will not. If they were necessary, and if in my judgment I felt that they should be implemented, I should have no hesitation in saying that they should be. That is a matter for subsequent decision by me. It would be a considerable mistake if the Bill did not include those powers, even provisionally, for implementation by the Secretary of State if he decided that it

Division No. 102] AYES [10.17 p.m.
Armstrong, Ernest Ford, Ben Penhaligon, David
Ashton, Joe Forrester, John Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Rhodes James, R.
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Gourlay, Harry Rifkind, Malcolm
Bates, All Grimond, Rt Hon J. Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Boardman, H. Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hardy, Peter Rowlands, Ted
Bray, Dr Jeremy Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Sever, John
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hooley, Frank Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Horam, John Snape, Peter
Buchanan-Smith. Alick Hughes, Roy (Newport) Spriggs, Leslie
Campbell, Ian Hunter, Adam Sproat, lain
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Steel, Rt Hon David
Cohen, Stanley Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Coleman, Donald Johnson, James (Hull West) Stoddart, David
Conlan, Bernard Jones, Barry (East Flint) Stott, Roger
Corbett, Robin Jones, Dan (Burnley) Strang, Gavin
Cowans, Harry Lambie, David Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Lofthouse, Geoffrey Tinn, James
Crawshaw, Richard Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Urwin, Rt Hon T. W.
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) McCartney, Hugh Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) McElhone, Frank Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) McKay, Allen (Penistone) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil Maclennan, Robert Ward, Michael
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Weatherill, Bernard
Deakins, Eric Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce White, James (Pollok)
Dempsey, James Molloy, William Whitehead, Phillip
Dewar, Donald Monro, Hector Whitlock, William
Doig, Peter Moore, John (Croydon C) Whitney, Raymond
Dormand, J. D. Morris, Rt Hon Charles R. Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Woodall, Alec
Dunlop, John Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Young, David (Bolton E)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Newton, Tony Younger, Hon George
Fairbairn, Nicholas Noble, Mike
Fairgrieve, Russell O'Halloran, Michael TELLERS FOR THE. AYES:
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Paisley, Rev Ian Mr. Ted Graham and
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Park, George Mr. John Evans.
Allaun, Frank Lamond, James Skinner, Dennis
Bean, R. E. Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Litterick, Tom Torney, Tom
Bidwell, Sydney Loyden, Eddie Wise, Mrs Audrey
Cryer, Bob Maynard, Miss Joan
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Newens, Stanley TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Flannery, Martin Parry, Robert Mr. Robin F. Cook and
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Richardson, Miss Jo Mr. Robert Hughes.
Kerr, Russell Rodgers, George (Chorley)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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