HC Deb 17 November 1981 vol 13 cc153-4
11. Mr. Stokes

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the present arrangements for dealing with picketing during a strike.

13. Mr. John Carlisle

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied that the code of practice in the formation of picket lines is being observed.

Mr. Waddington

The code of practice makes it clear that pickets are not immune from the provisions of the criminal law. If pickets act in a violent or disorderly manner, or by sheer numbers seek to stop people going to work, those responsible may be committing criminal offences. They may also lose any immunity that they may have under the civil law. In general the code is being observed, but I deplore the recent cases where it has not been observed.

Mr. Stokes

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Is he aware that considerable alarm was caused by the huge number of pickets outside some of the BL works during the strike, which intimidated and alarmed many people, both employees and those living nearby? Does he accept that the present arrangements are not working?

Mr. Waddington

Disorderly picketing of the sort that has occurred at some of the BL plants is a matter for the criminal law. The law has never protected pickets who use threatening behaviour, act in a disorderly manner or obstruct the highway to prevent ordinary people from exercising their right to go to work. The enforcement of the criminal law is a matter for the police.

Mr. John Carlisle

Following the trouble at British Leyland, is my hon. and learned Friend aware that intimidation took place during the recent one-day strike at Vauxhalls at Luton and that some of my constituents who attempted to cross the picket line were subjected to threats to tear up their union cards? Surely it is time to bring under the control of legislation the thugs who completely ignore the code of practice and for my hon. and learned Friend to bring the appropriate legislation before the House.

Mr. Waddington

The code of practice gives guidance, but it does not impose rules or regulations. This is primarily an issue for the criminal law. The police are responsible for the enforcement of that law. Throughout the past year the code has, in general, been observed. On certain occasions during the Civil Service strike picket leaders handed to pickets copies of the code of practice so that they would know how to behave.

Mr. Eastham

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman comment on the continuous vilification that we hear from Conservative Members in their attacks on strikers? Does he recognise that we are aware of bandit employers in some cities? Is he aware that one such employer in Manchester used low-flying helicopters and thereby put life and property in grave danger? Surely it is time to introduce a code of practice for some employers.

Mr. Waddington

If a man decides to use a helicopter rather than a horse and cart to move his own goods he is entitled to do so, providing that he does not break the law of the land. The hon. Gentleman would be better employed in helping the police to discover those responsible for causing £500,000-worth of damage by looting within the works.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the Government should do all that they can to encourage moderation in wage claims? Will he acknowledge that one way to do so would be to legislate to make it easier for employees to break strikes? Will he therefore give consideration to the closed shop?

Mr. Waddington

Once again, my hon. Friend is tempting me. He will have to await my right hon. Friend's statement.

Mr. John Evans

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that during the passage of the 1980 legislation the Government were warned by the Opposition that the code would not work in emotional situations such as those that arose at BL? How is he proposing that the police should enforce that legislation? Alternatively, is he proposing further legislation in that direction?

Mr. Waddington

I thought that I had explained in words of one syllable that what went wrong at certain BL plants was that a number of people defied the law of the land and committed criminal offences. They committed offences that were contrary to the law of the land before the enactment of the 1980 legislation and, that remains the law of the land today.