§ Question again proposed.11.34 am
§ Mr. Foot
I should like to return to the topic with which I was dealing when I was so rudely interrupted by at least one Government botch, if not two Government botches, although I suppose that on the second count we must give the Government the benefit of the doubt, even though there are some difficulties there.
I said that I wanted to refer to the Wapping dispute. I say that all the more in the light of the reply, or the non-reply, that the Under-Secretary gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North East (Mr. Leighton) on Monday night. To all of the questions that were put to him by my hon. Friend about the Government's view on any of these matters and what they would do about them, the Minister gave no reply. He turned aside to other aspects of the matter.
This is a most serious dispute. It is serious for those individuals who have been sacked. From 5,000 to 6,000 people have lost their jobs without compensation, redundancy, or even any dole at the moment. It is a serious crisis for them. If this kind of industrial operation were to be repeated or tolerated by the Government of the day, the consequences for British industrial relations would be very serious indeed.
I have been interested in the printing trade for many years. Indeed, if I have any interest to declare in the matter, it is that I have been a member of the National Union of Journalists for 50 years or so. The NUJ has a deep interest in this dispute because its members have been profoundly divided by what has occurred. I shall try to keep my language as temperate as possible, because I am seeking, on behalf of those who have been so gravely injured—the members of SOGAT '82, the NUJ and others — a solution to the problem and I want the Government's assistance in achieving that aim.
To illustrate what happened, I shall quote from an article that was printed in The Times a week or so after the move to Wapping. This article was written by Mr. Longley, the religious affairs correspondent of The Times. I do not know whether the fact that he was writing as the newly appointed father of the NUJ chapel of The Times, the previous father of the chapel having refused to go to 599 Wapping, had anything to do with it. I think that we can understand his views and those of other journalists, either at The Times, The Sunday Times, or elsewhere. Let me quote a few of the things that were said in the article about what happened to the journalists. They can be multiplied much more when applied to the others who were involved in the dispute, including the printers.
Mr. Longley said:At The Times we keep our agreements. Collectively, we form ourselves into a chapel, and collectively, through the chapel, we negotiate new ones. At least, that was what we thought we did. It is the disturbance of that belief, and the emotional shock it caused, that has taken us through the ordeal of the past 12 days…The chapel has new officers. We are keeping to the agreement we made under duress.He said that some of The Times journalists refused to accept the new agreement that was forced upon them. A few paragraphs later he describes the discussions that took place among The Times journalists on this matter and says:But the management demanded we move, and it had the law on its side. An eminent QC was briefed and consulted by this chapel, and in measured terms, with chapter and verse, he counselled us that our contracts required us to accept a new place of work, and new working methods. Our management may have had a moral obligation to seek a deal with us first, and even a legal obligation under the grievance procedure in each individual contract of employment, but it took leading counsel no time at all to find in our house agreement the familiar phrase: 'This agreement is binding in honour only'.Some of us believe that in trade union affairs agreements made in honour are the very ones that should be honoured most. A few paragraphs later Mr. Longley said:While our eyes were on the word 'honour' in our house agreement, the management's eyes were no less on the word 'only', in that fragile phrase `binding in honour only'…We felt it bound; we felt it bound management. We still feel that.In other words, the journalists who are now producing The Times at Wapping feel that they were subjected to duress, that their agreement was flagrantly broken by the management, and that the management should still be carrying out that agreement. If that is the view that is held by eminent journalists on The Times there ought to be concern among decent-minded people throughout the country.
Moreover, one has to consider the terms under which Mr. Murdoch's ownership of The Times was established. It is also mentioned by Mr. Longley in his article. He says:
Finally, there must be questions about the constitution of The Times itself. Guarantees were given at the time of the acquisition of the paper by the present proprietor about the protection of its authority, quality, and editorial freedom. These principles are in fact intact at Wapping. But it is not easy to reconcile them with the threat to dismiss us all if we would not move.I agree it is not easy to reconcile those points. It is even more difficult to reconcile that approach in terms of those printers, journalists and other trade union members who did not have the chance to move even if they were prepared to do so. They were told that they would be sacked. They had taken a ballot and had followed religiously the Government's prescriptions on how to approach a dispute, but they then found themselves in their present situation.
I think it is a matter of honour for anyone who reads the words of The Times correspondent to accept that Mr. Murdoch has acted dishonourably—those are the only words, in fact the kindest words, which can be applied to Mr. Murdoch.
When anyone examines the background to this dispute—I know it has a lengthy background—it is clear that from the beginning, especially from late 1984, the main unions concerned, SOGAT '82, the NGA, the NUJ and 600 other unions have been prepared to negotiate. They asked for that right from the beginning. The negotiations took place on false pretences because at the very moment when Mr. Murdoch and his managers said they were negotiating about one aspect of the matter they were in fact negotiating on an entirely different conspiratorial affair. I cannot believe that any decent Government, or any Minister at the Department of Employment would think that that is a tolerable state of affairs. The Minister for Employment commented on Mr. Murdoch's behaviour and that gave some hope that the Government would assist in this dispute. However, the Government have proceeded to retreat from that position.
The reply of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East the other night was hopeless. I do not mean the reply was hopeless but it was hopeless for the future of British industrial relations. If Mr. Murdoch gets away with this, other employers —there may be others in this country as outrageous and barbaric as Mr. Murdoch — may seek to follow his practice. If that happens, industrial relations in Britain will be an absolute shambles—and a most unfair shambles.
The worst unfairness will not fall upon the people with highest salaries. It will fall, and is falling, on several thousands of people who lost their jobs some three or four weeks ago. They have no prospects of anything being done for them. The unions are trying to solve the problem and they are doing their best. However, their funds have been sequestrated and they are threatened with further sequestrations in highly dangerous circumstances.
I urge the Government, in the interests of decent people in the country, in the interests of decent treatment for individuals and their families and in the interests of decent industrial relations, to take responsibility for the matter. The Government must not wash their hands. They must seek ways to proceed. I believe that any Government who studied the events that led to this dispute would come to the conclusion that the unions were prepared to negotiate. They are still prepared to do so. The Government do not listen. Are they prepared to let the dispute grind on to lead to further injustices, further outrages on individual families and further injury to an industry and profession in which I take some pride? I certainly do not take any pride in the way in which divisions have been forced on so many journalists in this matter. I can understand those who refuse to go to The Times, but I can understand those who went. Some reconciliation must be sought, and any decent Government would recognise that.
I hope that, when the Minister comes to reply, he will say that he will go back and talk to his Ministerrs about this and see whether they can get proper negotiations in progress, negotiations which would seek to restore the jobs of many of those who have been sacked. The negotiations should also seek a solution on the proper use of new technology. It is false to say that this dispute arises from the refusal of the unions to engage in the use of new technology. Those who have listened to the leaders of Sogat '82 and the NGA know that that charge is a false one. They are seeking, and have always sought, intelligent negotiations. They thought they were near to that and anyone who reads the documents can see that. ACAS could read those documents and I urge the Minister to employ the services of ACAS.
In some disputes it is essential for the Department of Employment to undertake its old responsibilities. Some of 601 those responsibilities, quite properly, have been transferred to ACAS. ACAS has the expert skill to deal with some of these disputes. However, other disputes can only be dealt with by the Minister himself. I urge the Minister, with all the power I can, to take a humane and sensible view of our industrial relations.
I would like to say one word about another aspect of the question. The Minister intervened in the debate and taunted my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North with the charge that we have not got plans that would work for sustaining people in employment. In the Government's first three or four years we attacked them for the huge unemployment they were causing and tolerating. They turned that aside and stated that one must look at the employment figures. The Government said that is more sensible. I do not deride that all together.
The Department of Employment, which I commend, went ahead with the White Paper "Employment: The Challenge for the Nation". I think one part of a page of the White Paper was placed there inadvertently. When I read it I thought it had come straight from Central Office. However, I know that there are still some expert statisticians left at the Department of Employment—a place I have the highest respect for—who ensured that the chart was put on page 7. I commend it to everyone who has studied the document—it is no doubt burned on the Under-Secretary's heart.
The chart on page 7 showed the number of people in employment in Britain over a considerable number of years. It showed the period of highest employment in Britain. Which was it? 1979–80—the very period when "Labour wasn't working." That was the period when more people were employed than ever before, certainly more than have been employed since. Therefore, when Saatchi and Saatchi plastered the hoardings—at a high cost to the Conservatives—they should have made the point that in that period of Labour Government the employment of our people was at a higher peak than ever before.
We had to deal with all the problems that the Government now face—the democratic factors involved, the problems of oil prices, international crises—all these problems. We dealt with all those problems and far from that Labour Government being incapable of dealing with the problems, this Tory Government's own chart shows how well we coped.
The contrast between the two Governments is very simple. In the last year or two of that Labour Government —much misused and abused by Conservative Members and not least the Chairman of the Conservative party—we had the highest number of people employed—
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
I should have liked to congratulate the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) on his motion, but I am disappointed with its terms. Indeed, I cannot agree with a word of it. I am also disappointed at the attitude of Opposition Members. Why do they only look back? They have 602 nothing to look forward to, but the British people, under the present Government, have a great deal to look forward to.
Why have we heard only about Wapping? Why have we heard nothing about Eddie Shah and the Today newspaper? Why has not one Opposition Member congratulated Eddie Shah on producing the newspaper with such high productivity? The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) spoke about so many people who were, as he thought, employed under the last Labour Government. What were they doing, bearing in mind that 6,000 people were producing a newspaper that can be produced by 600? Is that what the right hon. Gentleman calls employment? Such overmanning is the cause of the country's difficulties. Our unemployment is the legacy of years of such nonsense.
§ Mr. Thurnham
Trying to solve the problems of the long-term unemployed is an important matter, but we shall do it only by having an economy that pays and works efficiently. Every line of the motion harks back to the dreadful old days when the country could not afford anything. That is why we got into such a poor predicament.
I can see why the motion was not tabled until so late last night—the hon. Gentleman must be ashamed of it. Every line of it is rubbish. It calls attention to a supposed diminution in employment rights. There has been no diminution. People have been freed from the domination of the trade unions. The Opposition say that they will repeal legislation which has been widely welcomed and which returns trade unions to their members. Why? People have been allowed to get on and work.
Why do we have to assume that everybody must be provided with a job? Why do we have so much less self-employment than other countries? For example, there are twice as many self-employed people in West Germany as there are here. The number of the self-employed has increased substantially under the present Government. Why is self-employment not even mentioned in the motion? The Opposition assume that everybody must be given a job by some all-powerful being.
§ Mr. Thurnham
Under this Government, opportunities have increased for the unemployed. The wider opportunities training programme is showing excellent returns for the cost by providing extra employment opportunities. Why do Opposition Members not accept the challenge of the pick-up programme? Why do trade unionists not ask for extra training rather than extra pay? If we were to listen to the arguments advanced by Opposition Members, we would think that everything was coming to an end, but average weekly earnings now tell a different story. We have been given a catalogue of how dreadful employment legislation is, so how is it that weekly pay in manufacturing industry has risen to £155 — an increase of 8.25 per cent. on last year? If everything is so dreadful, how can such increases, which are substantially above the rate of inflation, come through?
603 Why can we not look ahead? Why do we not look forward to the fruits that can flow from increased productivity, rather than moan about doing away with industries that carried far more people than they ever needed? I refer to productivity in the steel industry and the coal industry. What of the figures that we heard last night? All of a sudden, the Kent coalfield has turned around and produced twice as much per man shift. Is that not the type of employment and productivity for which we should aim?
Every line of the motion is rubbish. The House should not condemn the Government's policies. It should condemn the Labour Government's policies. I am not surprised that Lord Wilson of Rievaulx resigned in midterm. I imagine that he could see all that was coming under his policies. The whole House has condemned the results of those dreadful policies. The country was suffering long before 1979.
The motion refers to burdens on women. Why are so many more married women now in work?
§ Mr. Prescott
Because their husbands have been put out of work by the Government. Look at some of the figures.
§ Mr. Thurnham
The hon. Member for St. Helens, North talked about wages councils. They are a classic case of an obsolete requirement which could only be called for by a retrospective party. Most of the workers in the industries concerned are on part-time work. Is not the family credit scheme the way in which to provide an adequate income, and much better than burdening employers to the extent that they can no longer offer a job?
The motion speaks of a reduction of internationally agreed standards, but productivity has risen far faster in Britain than it has in any of our competitor countries. There has been talk about fiddling the figures. The people who are fiddling the figures are those who are drawing benefit but are not available for work. Many have been shown to be fiddling the figures. When, in the latest pilot schemes, people have been asked to come in for an interview, a considerable proportion stop drawing benefit, to the extent that the welcome counselling schemes have been paid for by the reduction in benefits drawn. That is where the fiddling is.
§ Mr. Thurnham
Exactly. Why can the Opposition not talk about that fiddling? The motion draws attention to international standards, but unemployment figures must now be calculated internationally. Why should we leave the self-employed and the armed forces out of the calculation so that the Opposition can go about saying that one in seven people are unemployed, although that is not the correct figure?
Every line of the motion can be shown to be utter rubbish.
§ Mr. Thurnham
The sole motivation for tabling the motion is the realisation that truth has at last caught up with large sections of the union world, especially at Wapping. It has been tabled as a last cry of a stranded whale which thinks that the sea will wash up far enough to take him back out to sea.
604 We have had a somewhat truncated debate and very good news of privatisation. The motion talks of poverty and strife being created. The standard of living of people in work is far higher than it was under Labour, and it is only by increasing productivity as a whole that we can do anything about the unemployed. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forrnan) talked about the need for measures to help the long-tem unemployed and referred to the Employment Select Committee's report. I am pleased to see that Committee's Chairman, the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) present. I was a member of that Committee and advocated taking measures to help the long-term unemployed, especially the increasing number of people who have been unemployed for three or more years. All who want such measures implemented must accept, however, that they have to be paid for. They can be paid for only by a thriving and growing economy.
I am disappointed in the motion and hope that Opposition Members will pay strict and close attention to my hon. Friend the Minister when he replies.
§ Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)
I want to talk about the dispute at Wapping as a Member sponsored by the National Graphical Association and as one who takes an interest in the printing industry, as does my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans).
The last occasion on which we had a debate on the printing industry in Fleet street was at about this time last year but in the early hours of the morning. That debate attracted rather fewer hon. Members than today's. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North on enabling us to debate this important issue.
§ Mr. O'Neill
If the hon. Gentlman were to stop interrupting other Members' speeches, he might have time to make one of his own.
We are concerned about the 6,000 people who have lost their jobs at Wapping. Many of us are interested in the printing industry. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), raised that issue in an Adjournment debate from the standpoint of a SOGAT '82 member. I approach the matter from the standpoint of the National Graphical Association. The dispute was created by management. Management sought to impose conditions that no self-respecting trade unionist could possibly accept.
It might be useful if I recount the background to the dispute. In 1980 construction started at Wapping. In 1983 the first faltering steps towards discussions on the possibility of the transfer of production of The Sun and the News of the World to Wapping were taken. The management said that it wanted substantial cuts in the number of people to be employed there. At that time the unions felt that those demands were unreasonable. They saw that move primarily as a means of buying time so that other matters could take place.
It is fair to say that the individual who was placed in charge of the negotiations, Mr. Bill O'Neill—I hasten to add that he is no relation to me, though perhaps he is on his mother's side—had responsibilities in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. That elusive individual was not present for discussions until December 605 1984, when it was implied that negotiations would be suspended pending the employment of Mr. Christopher Pole-Carew as an adviser.
That is rather like inviting the Russian social democratic party—as it was before the revolution—to cease its activities pending the promotion of Rasputin to a more responsible position in the Tsarist hierarchy. Mr. Pole-Carew does not enjoy the confidence of the print unions, and he has had a somewhat chequered career in that area. His appointment is an example of the lack of good will on the part of News International.
In March 1985, Mr. Murdoch announced that there would be a new evening paper in London and that that would be launched in 12 months. In the intervening period there were virtually no discussions. It was only at the insistence of Brenda Dean, the general secretary of SOGAT '82, that discussions were arranged in December 1985. At that time the unions wanted a timetable for negotiations relating to the publication of the London Post. If progress could be achieved on the publication of the London Post, the unions wanted the talks to be extended to the production of the News of the World and The Sun at Wapping.
I am being deliberate in stating these facts, because one of the myths that has been created by Tory Members and others is that somehow there has been an inordinate delay in the negotiations and that that has been the fault of the unions. As I have said, in the period between 1980 and September 1985, most of the delays were the responsibility of the management in its appointment of controversial individuals with responsibilities elsewhere which were considered to be more important than meeting British trade unions.
One would have assumed that the negotiations over the London Post would have covered wages, conditions and staffing levels. Those are normally the fundamentals of any trade union discussion about production and new plant. Instead, the management laid down four non-negotiable conditions: that all agreements be legally binding on both the union and the individual; that no industrial action should take place in any circumstances; that there should be no closed-shop; and, finally, that there should be a complete, total and unfettered right of management to manage.
None of those conditions would be acceptable individually. As a group, they mean the end of trade unionism as we know it in Great Britain and as we know it throughout the Western world. I am sure that if Mrs. Aquino, in the Philippines, wanted to establish free trade unions in that country, the regulations and legislation that she would have to dismantle would be similar to the proposals that Mr. Murdoch put to the print unions in September 1985.
The National Union of Journalists, the NGA, SOGAT '82 and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers rejected those proposals out of hand. They were not, however, rejected on the basis that nothing should be put in their place. Significant advances from the point of view of Fleet street management were offered. They offered the indexation of wages and they sought the right of members to transfer should work be moved to Wapping. They also sought the right of union recognition in traditional areas in the printing process.
606 That, in turn, was rejected out of hand by News International, and a trade union ballot followed. That resulted in overwhelming majorities to back the unions' position although that position had slightly altered by that time. The unions now agreed to concede certain points. They conceded that there would be no unofficial industrial action and that official action would be taken only after a secret ballot. For those who study industrial relations in the British press, probably the most critical of the offers that were made was that there would be binding arbitration capable of being unilaterally triggered by either side.
An offer of that nature is unparalleled. Equally, the degree of support that was achieved for that in secret ballots was also unparalleled. SOGAT and the AUEW voted in favour, by majorities of 5:1 and the NGA by a majority of 7:1. Armed with the mandate of the membership, the trade union officials were in a position to deliver the goods in a way that management could not previously have expected. They went further than claiming that they would do that at Wapping. At that time, as I have already said, the unions were discussing only the possibility of producing a new evening paper at Wapping and the possibility thereafter of News International producing The Sun at Wapping. The conditions were now to be extended to Bouverie street and Grays Inn road where The Times and the Sunday Timeswere being produced.
Those offers were spurned. Mr. Murdoch's reaction was simple and straightforward. He reiterated his previous demands and added that not only did he want his previous demands met, but he wanted cuts in the Bouverie street and Grays Inn road plants to reduce a work-force of 6,000 to between 700 and 800, and those 700 or 800 workers would be engaged on conditions which would be of his dictating. There would be wage cuts as well as redundancies. Those people who would be subject to redundancies would get the national minimum rate of one week's pay for every year served, whereas the normal practice in the printing industry is for redundancies to be on the basis of one month's pay for every year served.
On 24 January 1986, following a secret ballot and the failure to reach agreement between management and unions, a strike was finally called, the work-force was promptly sacked, and 6,000 people have been out of work since.
At the same time, current legislation has enabled the Murdoch management to establish what have come to be known as buffer companies. In effect, they are shell companies, but they have acted as buffers between the management and the work force and allowed the management to seek to outlaw secondary action. That process started in March 1985.
According to a detailed article that appeared in the Financial Times of 20 February, two companies were incorporated on 7 March 1985. These were Worthystock and Sparkcrown. The headquarters of the companies was given as 66 Lincoln's Inn fields, the address of News International's solicitors, Farrer and Company. By 7 May, Mr. G. W. Richards of Farrer and Company resigned as the director of both companies to be replaced by Bruce Matthews and Peter Stehenberger, who are directors of News International. Mr. Bruce Matthews is an Australian citizen and Mr. Stehenberger is a Swiss citizen.
On 11 June, Worthystock and Sparkcrown changed their names to News International Distribution and News International Supply Company, respectively, the latter's objects being described as
607the supplier of goods and services of whatsoever nature to proprietors, printers and publishers of newspapers, books, magazines and journals.That process was continued when a firm called Tyrolese was established with two directors, Mr. G. W. Richards and Mr. J. Gordon. That was the same Mr. Richards. As before, by 2 September they had resigned and made way for Stehenberger and Matthews. Later, in September, the company changed its name to News International Advertising, with the object of providing advertising services to proprietors, printers and publishers, and so on.
That was the arrangement that was carried on throughout 1985. Shell companies were established in anticipation of industrial action and to frustrate any secondary action which might be taken under the law.
On 20 December a letter went from Mr. Richards, of Farrer and Company, to Mr. Matthews which had the explicit aim of securing the removal of the maximum numbers of the work forces of The Sun, the News of the World, The Sunday Times and The Times from their places of employment. The purpose was to remove those employees at the cheapest price and to secure the largest possible number of those individuals at the earliest opportunity thereafter as and when required. That was happening throughout the time when the unions were supposed to be engaged in meaningful negotiations with the management.
We know now what the management's motives were. News International was not seeking to introduce new technology. It is now well established and broadly agreed that the technology employed at Wapping is of an almost obsolete type in some areas. I was talking to some of the men at Wapping last night. They told me about the equipment which they believed to be in the plant. They believe that some of it is older than the equipment that they operated in Bouverie street and Gray's Inn road.
The fact is that Murdoch has sought drastically to decrease his costs. It is not his purpose to provide money for future investment in Britain. He is not seeking to provide further employment in Britain. That cannot be said of someone who is intent on reducing a labour force of 6,000 to between 2,000 and 3,000. No one knows how many are employed at Wapping. I stood outside the plant and watched buses going in that were carrying only two or three people. They were going in at speed, and I accept that they might have been carrying some who were lying on the floor—an exercise which is entirely unnecessary. The picketing at Wapping is peaceful. It is well organised and disciplined. It is carried out by men of the highest integrity. They are the essence of all that is best in British trade unionism.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth
I wonder what the trade unionists of the highest integrity to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred would think about a letter that Coventry city council sent to Lanchester polytechnic in Coventry, instructing it that no newspapers produced by News International were to be taken on the premises of the polytechnic? Can self-respecting trade unionists accept that in furtherance of an industrial dispute it is proper and acceptable that an academic institution should be denied the opportunity to take what newspapers it will, should be denied freedom of information and should be denied the free exchange of ideas?
§ Mr. O'Neill
Individuals have the freedom to choose. If a local authority wants to express solidarity with workers who are involved in a struggle, that is its privilege. 'The hon. Gentleman may buy South African grapes or Chilean wine; that is for him to decide. It seems that when trade unionists exercise similar decisions, it is a different matter.
Mr. Murdoch's actions have been concerned not with the introduction of new technology; They have been directed to an attempt to cut costs and to transfer massive profits out of the United Kingdom to finance his activities in the United States. There is something wrong with our corporate arrangements and company law when foreigners can come to Britain, acquire newspapers and export the profits, created by British working people, at the expense of workers' jobs. It would appear that they can export profits while undermining the working conditions of employees throughout an industry, leaving the British taxpayer with the bill for social security payments.
§ Mr. O'Neill
No, I shall not give way. I have nearly finished. I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to participate in the second debate on the Order Paper and I would not want to prevent him from making that speech.
Employment rights of British workers are being undermined with every hour that the Wapping dispute continues. The idea that people should be working in the conditions that prevail at Wapping is intolerable. Anyone who visits Wapping will understand that the term "fortress" is not exaggerated. Last night I heard stories of what is supposed to be going on in the place. Wretched people are working in intolerable conditions. They are intimidated by a ruthless management. Ordinary honest people are being exploited. They are frightened because they know that there are no other jobs to which they can go.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North talked about the unemployment figures. The combination of inadequate company legislation and penal and spiteful anti-trade union legislation has led to massive unemployment and deterioration of the rights of working people. For those reasons, I commend the motion to the House.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
I wish to take the attention of the House from the detail that we have heard about Wapping from Opposition Members to issues of a more international flavour in considering a problem that faces so many countries. Unemployment is not a phenomenon confined to the United Kingdom. Regrettably, it is one that is common to Europe. I say "Europe" advisedly, because I wish to draw some comparisons between the experience of Europe as against that in the United States and that in the far east.
It is instructive to consider the unemployment rates of a number of countries in the industrialised world. There are some valid, interesting and instructive conclusions to be drawn from the figures. In Spain, for example, the unemployment rate has recently increased to 22 per cent.
§ Mr. Prescott
That is the only country where unemployment has increased, apart from the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Forth
That is in Socialist Spain. In Ireland, a country with a coalition Govcrninent with a Labour party content, the unemployment rate is 18 per cent. In 609 Belgium, a country with a coalition Government, it is 16 per cent. In the Netherlands, it is 15 per cent. In Italy, which has a coalition Government, it is 14 per cent. Regrettably, in the United Kingdom, the unemployment rate is 13 per cent. In France, with a Socialist Government, the unemployment rate is 10 per cent. and increasing. In the Federal Republic of Germany, which has a coalition Government, the unemployment rate is 10 per cent. and increasing.
§ Mr. Forth
We all know that unemployment in Greece is about 5 per cent. That is the official figure. My faith in Greek statistics is probably much less than the hon. Gentleman's faith in them. We cannot necessarily look to the political nature, or, therefore, the economic policies of different countries and draw a straight-line conclusion.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
Did the hon. Gentleman, in his tour of Europe also look at the social democratic countries of Scandinavia, Austria and Norway? Norway, because of its oil supplies, has an unemployment rate of less than 2 per cent. The figures in Sweden and in Austria are similar. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will mention those facts as well.
§ Mr. Forth
I shall draw attention also to the experience in the United States in the context of its political system, political control, economy and experience of trade unionism. I believe that it is genuinely instructive for the House to consider international comparisons to avoid being drawn into false conclusions about our unemployment and the solutions that are sometimes offered by the Opposition parties. Perhaps I should more accurately refer to the Opposition party because, although the Labour party is well represented, I have searched the Opposition Benches in vain to see any representation by the other political parties. We can all draw the obvious political conclusion about the concern, or lack of concern, of the alliance for this vitally important problem.
Let us consider the solutions that can be sought in terms of politics. We are often told—perhaps we would have been told today if any alliance Member had bothered to turn up—that coalitions are the answer to the problem. We are sometimes told that one of our great difficulties is the fact that we have had a two-party system for too long and that, if only we could introduce a more balanced system of Government, with a coalition and centrist policies, that would be the answer. The figures I have cited amply demonstrate that many countries with coalition Governments of various kinds have failed to solve their unemployment problems. The unemployment problems are shared with other countries of different political hues. It would appear that we must, therefore, look elsewhere for the answer.
610 We may be told that the answer lies in Socialist policies. It is instructive to consider the recent history of France. We well remember the euphoria in 1981 when the French elected a Socialist Government. We were told that that was the answer to their problems. We remember Mitterrand and his Government putting into effect precisely the same sort of policies that are advocated by the Opposition. We were offered nationalisation, price control and an expansion of the public sector — the entire panoply of policies that are new being trawled out yet again by the Labour party and which were put into effect in Socialist France as recently as 1981.
The inevitable happened. All the events about which we warn our people happened in France. Inflation increased and the balance of payments was adversely affected. Eventually, the Socialist Government saw the light and had to adopt policies that most Conservative Members would describe as Thatcherite. They were the sort of policies that we are pursuing and recommending.
Partly as a result of that, the recent French experience has been favourable. The inflation rate is decreasing and the balance of payments position is improving. There, in the most classic sense, is an example of a country close to us geographically and similar size and structure which demonstrates that the answer to the unemployment problem, which we all share, does not lie in Socialist policies.
Let us compare Europe as a whole with the United States. They are of similar size and population, but their experience in terms of employment is different. In the past 15 or 20 years, 20 million jobs have been created in the United States but no net new jobs have been created in the EEC. Why? Since the last war, most European countries have pursued policies that have broadly involved ever greater control, state intervention and burdens on employers, whether they are financial, regulatory or of any other kind. Yet, the approach in the United States has been totally different. It has involved a much freer attitude towards the business community, mobility of labour and, to pick up the point made by the hon. Member for St. Helen's, North (Mr. Evans), a much lower rate of trade union membership. Labour Members talk about trade union membership as though it were something to be valued, but the experience in the United States is somewhat different. In the United States, people realise that excessively high trade union membership and activity are counter-productive in terms of jobs and employment. It cannot be a coincidence that in the United States employers find that, where the incidence of trade union membership is relatively low, they have prosperity and success. That is the opposite of our experience in the EEC and in Europe generally.
In the United Kingdom, IBM is an excellent example of this. Time and time again, it has a balloted its labour force on whether it wants to have a trade union and time and time again the labour force has voted against it. Why? The answer is that the employer is a successful one. It treats its employees well. The employees realise that they are getting better treatment and conditions without trade union involvement than they would if they had it.
The conclusions to be drawn from all this are blindingly obvious. The approach taken in Europe as a whole, in the United Kingdom and in many other countries since the war has discouraged the growth of employment. I was privileged to serve in the European Parliament between 1979 and 1984. It was obvious to me that the repeated 611 attempts by the Brussels bureaucracy to devise ever more ways of regulating industry and the private sector were counter-productive. I believe that the Government have now identified the answer — reduce the number of restrictions and regulations on employers.
§ Mr. Forth
Unemployment has been a phenomenon of the post-war era. Every Government in Britain since 1945 inherited higher rates of inflation and unemployment than their predecessor. We were involved in an inexorable process through that period. I am suggesting that at long last we have realised that excessive regulation by Government was contributing to the ever higher rate of unemployment. I welcome the move by the Government, having identified that, to take a series of policy steps to redress the balance and reverse the process from which we have suffered since 1945.
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that he has identified another reason, from the policies being pursued in north America, why the motion before the House is totally misguided. The hon. Member for St. Helens, North is suggesting the usual tired old formula we have been offered so many times before and which has failed so many times before. As I have tried to suggest, it can be demonstrated, by comparison with other countries in Europe and the United States, that that formula will not work.
That is why I hope that the House will resist the motion and why I welcome the approach that the Government are taking to employment. I believe that the policies we are now pursuing give genuine hope for the future. They do not give in to the temptation to use what has failed in the past, and I believe ever more firmly that people know and understand that. When the people are offered another chance to choose at the next election, their choice will be the same and will be as wise as the choice on the previous occasion.
Mr. Eric S. Helfer (Liverpool, Walton)
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire, (Mr. Forth) was being extremely selective in discussing what happens in Europe. He did not discuss the position in Sweden, and he also ignored a number of other countries. The reason for the unemployment that has developed in western Europe, north America and elsewhere, where there is free enterprise and a competitive capitalist system, is to be found in the very nature of that system. As long as it continues, there will always be unemployment booms and slumps at varying levels.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) for giving us the opportunity to say a few words on this subject. The industrial relations legislation that has been brought in by dribs and drabs over the years since the Government came to office is the most anti-trade union and reactionary in the whole of Europe. 612 We are told that the position in some European countries is worse than it is here but unemployment has increased more rapidly in the United Kingdom than it has in any other part of Europe. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North.
There is a myth, and it has been mentioned again today by Conservative Members, that the trade unions got out of balance and that the power of the trade unions was too great. The argument is not new. It was first developed in a Conservative party lawyers' pamphlet entitled "A Giant's Strength". It was argued a lifetime ago. Incidentally, that pamphlet echoed the view of people in the United States of America, who, after the war, introduced the Taft Hartley Acts which restricted the powers and rights of the trade unions in the United States. Ever since the Taft Hartley Acts, Conservative politicians in the United States have followed that practice and used that argument. It is not true, it was not true then, and it has not been true since. The trade unions never had a great balance of power tipped in their favour. They were never more powerful than any bunch of employers.
The point about trade unionism is that workers arrived at the conclusion early on that in this type of society they had to join together to defend themselves, and to argue collectively to try to reach agreement with their employers. If they tried to do it alone, they ended up in a disaster. Conservative Members want each individual worker to go it alone.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman is an honest Tory and says yes. He is saying openly what all Conservative Members think. That is their basic attitude towards the working-class and trade unionists. They do not want us to have rights, powers, or collectivism, but want us to act individually. When we do that, we are sunk. We have rights and powers only when we work together. Even in. 1906 British workers managed to convince a Liberal Government that something should be done to give them rights, which until then they did not have.
This Government have gone further than any other Government with anti-trade union legislation. The 1906 Act dealt with how unions' moneys could be used. It is an old argument to say that unions are above the law. The unions were never above the law. Immunities merely gave workers a certain measure of protection. Unions were never above the law. That protection has now been taken from workers and trade unions by this Government's legislation.
The Labour party has said that it will repeal the legislation, and we shall do so. We must therefore consider the sort of legislation that we shall put in its place. That is important, because we cannot merely get shot of Tory legislation and leave a big gap. We must give our people rights and protection.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) was Secretary of State for Employment, he did a marvellous job. We are grateful to him for steering legislation through the House to get rid of the Industrial Relations Act 1971 when we were on a knife-edge. He also introduced legislation to restore rights to our people. We must do something similar.
When we introduce such legislation, I hope that it will not diminish the right of any worker to take industrial action. I am thinking, in particular, of workers who go on 613 unofficial strike. The position cannot always be nice and tidy, with a group of factory workers suddenly finding their shop steward sacked and holding an official ballot. In my day in the shipyards, workers answered that by walking out of the gate until the shop steward was restored, because they had elected him. If workers did not like the shop steward, they could remove him whenever they wished.
§ Mr. Heffer
I shall not give way. I do not wish to make a long speech. I hope that when we introduce legislation we shall not even think in those terms.
I am, and always have been, in favour of ballots in the trade union movement. My union on Merseyside used to elect a Communist as district secretary every year—the great Leo McGree. If we did not like Leo, we did not have to vote for him. The district committee, of which I was proud to be a member, and which we used to call the management committee, was elected every year. I agree with that, but we can go a little too far in thinking that ballots must be held in all cases.
I thought that we had given the executives of unions, who should be elected, the power at any given moment to call out their memberships to deal with any matters. I hope that we shall restore that right. There has been much talk about ballots, but I do not remember a ballot when we went to war over the Falklands. I remember the group of people who were, regrettably, elected to Government taking a decision and sending our troops to fight in the Falklands. Constitutionally, they were right to do so. If we can do it in time of war, we must give union leaders the power to do the same thing, in certain circumstances.
As to the internal affairs of trade unions, the Government are acting rather like the Jaruzelski Government in Poland. They have the cheek to say that they support Solidarity, yet they interfere with our unions, in some ways more than the Polish Government have done with their unions. That is not acceptable. If my union wishes to ballot each of its members to elect its general secretary, that is a matter for it. We used to say that members had to attend branch meetings four times a year —we called them star nights—and members who did not attend were fined. Votes were always taken at those branch meetings which meant that any member could look through the lists to see how many people had voted for Bill Brown and how many for Fred Jones. It was the best check that we could have had, because all the votes were recorded, and we could see how many branch members voted for whom. I hope that those rights will be restored to trade unions.
We must get rid of this class legislation, which benefits employers to the detriment of the ordinary working class. Workers' rights must be restored and the class legislation swept away. I say to my hon. Friends that in doing so —I have heard arguments about a Bill of Rights, but I do not know exactly what that means—we must restore all the rights of the workers and give them extra rights that they have not had until now. The balance has never been tipped in favour of the workers, but always in favour of the employers. This must end.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)
We owe the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) a debt of gratitude for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject, and I regret the somewhat acrimonious and politically partisan flavour of the debate so far. All of us who have taken the trouble to be here regard unemployment as a great evil. It is a great evil that people, through no fault of their own, should be trapped in unemployment, and it behoves us to foreswear, as far as possible, mutual recrimination. We must analyse and consider carefully and fairly the nature of the problem, and try to understand its causes and see what remedies there may be.
Some major causes of unemployment are beyond the scope of this or any Government to control. One is demographic—the shifting balance of our population. The interacting effects of high mortality in the second world war and the baby boom of the 1960s mean that, during the 1980s, many more people are joining the labour force than are retiring from it. It is an objective, statistical fact that it would be necessary to create an extra 1 million jobs during this decade if we were to stand still in terms of registered unemployment. That factor deserves to be more widely appreciated.
A second major cause of contemporary unemployment has been the recession of 1979–1981 — the deepest, severest recession in world trade for 50 years. The causes of that recession—the oil price shock of 1979 and the worldwide withdrawal of Governments from budgetary and monetary excess—were again far beyond the scope and power of any United Kingdom Government to control. The painfully slow process of recovery from that recession has also been beyond the powers of the Government of our country to affect. Continuing high interest rates, currency instability, protectionism and the debt crisis are all reasons why the recovery from that deep recession has been agonisingly slow. A trading country such as ours, which exports some 30 per cent. of all that it produces, is inevitably highly exposed to world economic conditions and it is absurd to pretend that there is any way in which those enormous forces could have been sidetracked and this country sheltered from them.
A third major international cause of unemployment is the impact of new technology. By a cruel coincidence, while those other causes of unemployment have been operating we have been in a period of profoundly important technological change. The pyschological effect is clear for all to see. It induces deep pessimism and people frequently predict that there will never again be full employment, although there is really no reason to suppose that that will be so. In past periods of major technological change people have been similarly pessimistic. No doubt it was the fashionable orthodoxy of the day when the wheel was invented, and one can well imagine how people whose job it was to carry loads and haul weights would have feared very much for their future.
Fears of that kind are better documented during the Industrial Revolution, in the steam age when the impact of that new technology displaced people from old forms of work very rapidly and painfully. It was a natural human reaction on the part of the Luddites to destroy the new machinery on the assumption that there would otherwise no longer be any employment for them. Equally well documented, however, is the effect of that technological 615 change and the enormous growth in wealth throughout the 19th century in creating new job opportunities of a nature and pattern impossible to anticipate. The same will undoubtedly be true of the current information technology revolution.
The tragedy is that, for a period, new technology tends to destroy old jobs faster than it creates new ones. Unhappily, we are living through such a period. The job of political leaders and Governments in such a period is to explain what is happening, to take what steps they can to help those displaced in the process of change, and to remove the obstacles to change so as to shorten the period of adaptation.
Having drawn attention to three international causes of contemporary unemployment, it is right to consider some uniquely British circumstances and the way in which, through misguided policy in the past, we have saddled ourselves with a worse problem than we need have faced.
A distinctive feature of the British economy has been that many of our industries as well as our public services have been overmanned. By the end of the 1970s, overmanning was ubiquitous—not least in Fleet street, where it was a byword. We accommodated ourselves to that by allowing unit costs to rise and hoping that inflation and devaluation would somehow take care of the process. But in the end it did not work. We allowed this to happen very much because of the Socialist, corporatist ethos of the 1960s and 1970s, when big business and big Government were the vogue. Big business and big Government are a natural habitat for trade unionism. Sadly, too many trade union leaders attached less importance to assisting profitability and the creation of wealth in the interests of their members and society as a whole than to ensuring that the number of members in their own unions increased. In that way, too many connived in overmanning. That was unsustainable when the recession came and much of the overmanning was shaken out. It was a painful process. It need not have been so severe if we had not allowed the original overmanning to set in. The British people appreciate the reality. No one enjoys the experience. It is brutal and painful to go through such a rapid change, but the need for it is not doubted.
The second domestically generated cause of unemployment is the inflation that we allowed to establish itself in our economy. Every successive economic cycle since the war has been marked by new peaks of inflation followed by new peaks of unemployment. It is no coincidence that inflation, which doubled during the period of the last Labour Government, preceded doubling of unemployment.
Inflation destroys jobs in a variety of ways. Inflation saps the profitability of companies and undermines the capacity and confidence of people to invest. Inflation provokes aggression in pay bargaining because, naturally, pay bargainers want to recoup for their members the real value of earnings lost through inflation. That competitive aggression in pay bargaining means that the devil takes the hindmost, the weakest lose out and unemployment is increased.
Inflation leads to higher interest rates. In all those ways inflation destroys jobs. The Government are right to put the defeat of inflation at the top of their list of economic policies because it makes a direct contribution to remedying a major underlying cause of unemployment. There is no worthwhile trade-off to be had. We might once have been able to say that a little more inflation would be 616 justified in the interests of a little less unemployment. We can no longer say that. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) told the Labour party conference in 1976 that important truth. He was wise and brave to do so at that time.
A further British domestic cause of unemployment is the excessive amount of public expenditure and the associated high levels of taxation that have been allowed to develop over a long period. The Earl of Stockton is fond of criticising the Government for the severity of their policies, but when Harold Macmillan left office as Prime Minister public expenditure represented about 33 per cent. of GNP. By the time that the Conservative Government took office in 1979 public expenditure was into the 40 per cent. area. Unhappily, it has remained at that level. Public expenditure at that level entails high interest rates and a whole haemorrhage, through high taxation, of profits from the wealth-creating sector of the economy and that leads directly to higher unemployment.
The Government have been right to make their first priorities restraining of public expenditure and lower borrowing. But they still must bring down the excessively high levels of taxation from which the economy suffers.
Some good starts have been made. The Government have introduced reforms to corporation tax. Obviously, it was sensible in our present circumstances to remove the bias in the corporate taxation system in favour of using machines and discriminating against the use of people. Small businesses in particular have low rates of corporation tax as a result of this Government's reform. That is a useful and important start to the process.
The same is true of the abolition of the national insurance surcharge, which the Labour party was driven to introduce when it was in power because of its excessive public expenditure. That was a tax on jobs. Indeed, national insurance is a payroll tax which is inappropriate during endemic high unemployment. I am glad that the Government have made a start on introducing a more rational pattern into the national insurance system. Perhaps we can go further in that direction.
I am glad that the Government are proposing to reform business rates. If we move to centralised decisions on the level of business rates, that will remove some of the worst excesses imposed by the high-spending, extravagant and irresponsible Labour-controlled local authorities.
However, I fear that rates will still be the heaviest single impost on businesses and that they will ignore the profitability of individual companies and remain a textbook case of taxation without representation. I hope that we shall be able to go further in reforming local government finance. The indiscriminate havoc that high rates wreak on businesses and., therefore, on employment: reinforces the strong case for tight control of public expenditure, particularly in local government.
The Government have embarked on a useful reform of capital taxation. The more that can be done to reduce capital transfer tax and capital gains tax, the more we shall be able to encourage wider share ownership, a more constructive, co-operative approach to industrial relations than our tradition adversarial pattern has allowed, more venture capital and more help to small businesses, which represent the best possibility for creating new jobs in our economy.
I know that the Government are also seeking reform of VAT. Decisions have to be taken on a European basis and 617 I am glad to have been assured that the Government are urgently seeking to lift the threshold at which companies have to pay VAT. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment, who is to reply to the debate, may be able to bring me up to date, but I know that in 1981 about 93 per cent. of VAT was paid by companies with a turnover above £100,000, yet 75 per cent. of companies have a lower turnover than that. Nevertheless, all those companies had to make VAT returns even though, after that whole laborious process, the net return to the Exchequer was minimal. I hope that we shall succeed in lifting the threshold at which VAT is payable from the current level of, I think, about £20,000 to perhaps £120,000. That would lift a tiresome and bureaucratic burden from small businesses which have to suffer considerable compliance costs.
Progress on income tax has not been as rapid as many of us wished, but the imperative was to reduce borrowing. Even so, the Government have reduced the basic rate from 33 per cent. to 30 per cent. and have increased the threshold at which individuals start to pay tax by about 20 per cent. in real terms. The more that we can keep tight control of public expenditure and allow the growth that is taking place in the economy to express itself in the private sector, the greater will be the possibility of bringing down income tax, with all the dynamic and stimulating effects that that will have on our economy and its propensity to create jobs.
The Government are moving in the right direction in all those ways, but I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has also been involved in lifting the burden of bureaucratic harassment that the legacy of successive Governments has imposed on our businesses. The major asset, particularly of a small business, is the energy of the boss. If he has to spend his energy in form-filling and bureaucratic compliance, he will have less energy and less time and scope to run his business to create wealth so that he personally can take on more people and also contribute to the general prosperity of society and help to regain our overall capacity to employ people.
The Government have made important inroads into the apparatus of bureaucracy. Price controls, income controls, dividend controls, exchange controls and hire purchase controls have all gone, yet there are still far too many statutes, statutory orders, EC directives, local government directives, quangos and judicial tribunals making demands on businesses. Many statutory bodies are charged with responsibilities involving, for example, health and safety at work, that we must all accept in a mature and decent society, but a great deal of superfluous bureaucracy and regulatory activity remains.
I was delighted when the Government produced the White Paper "Lifting the Burden" in July last year. It is an extensive, detailed, nitty-gritty document which sets out a full agenda of useful reforms. I hope that the Government will press on with them so that we shall have a less claustrophobic atmosphere in which people can do business. All of that will be helpful.
There is yet another area where reform is needed and where reform is taking place but which needs to be pressed further. That is reform of the labour market. "The labour market" is a chill, economist's term but it describes very important human and economic realities. There has been much criticism by the Opposition during this debate of the 618 reforms of the industrial relations legislation that have been introduced by the Government since 1979. However, the cumulative effect of that legislation is enormously beneficial, not least because it strengthens the rights of individual trade unionists.
Its benefits are manifest in terms of industrial peace. During the last 12 months there have been fewer industrial disputes in this country than in any other year during the last 50 years. That must be a result in large part of the legislative reforms that have been introduced. It may be that we need to go further. I see no reason why freely negotiated collective pay bargains should not be enforceable at civil law, and the Government may judge it to be appropriate at a future date to introduce a change of that kind.
The reform of trade union legislation, combined with the reform of wages councils that were having very important effects upon the terms and conditions of work of about 3 million employees, is directly beneficial to employment. It was a crazy and destructive policy for wages councils to set minimum levels of pay that made it absolutely certain that the opportunities for employment, particularly of young people, were greatly diminished. Therefore I welcome the reforms that have been introduced.
I welcome also the encouragement that the Government's policies have given to labour mobility, the improved deal for early leavers in terms of pension benefits and the Government's support for personal, portable pensions. They are of great importance in achieving a more flexible, adaptable and mobile economy. That should go hand in hand with the necessary reform of the Rent Acts. It is very stupid if legislation has the practical effect of it not being in the interests of private enterprise to offer privately rented accommodation to those who may need to move from one area to another to find a job, who are willing to do so but who are prevented from moving because they cannot find a roof over their heads when they get there.
The education and training reforms that are taking place are all relevant to our need to produce a more skilled and adaptable labour force. This will be of long-term benefit to the prospects of employment.
There are no easy, quick solutions. Unemployment is a very complex problem. Those who care about unemployment ought to be willing to make an honest analysis of it and to consider fresh solutions. They ought not to object to a Government who challenge vested interests and who are prepared to reconsider the old othodoxies.
This Government's approach is to dismantle the obstacles to employment. The Labour party is tied to the old interests—the trade unions and public bureaucracies. It is tied to the old notions of large-scale Government intervention and large-scale Government spending. The Labour party proposes to go further. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has a policy that is called "directed reflation". My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has provided a telling calculation of the cost of Labour pledges. He suggested—and it has not been repudiated —that if these pledges were to be implemented, value added tax would rise to about 41 per cent. That would plainly be absurd. The alliance simply wants to pull rabbits out of the hat and tinker with institutions. The Conservative approach is to liberate our economy, to work 619 with market forces, to remove distortions and to release private enterprise from fiscal and bureaucratic burdens. In 1979 and 1983 the British people welcomed this approach by the Conservative Government and I am certain that they will continue to endorse it.
§ 1.4 pm
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) made a speech which reflected most of the speeches from that side of the House. It had little to do with the facts of the case or the judgments and issues involved. The hon. Gentleman said that what we had to do was reduce taxation and insurance payments in order to assist employment. The Government have done all that and we find that industry has gained about £15 billion in profits. That money did not go into investment, training or jobs. It went abroad to be invested in property and other kinds of investment. After six years, the achievement for which the Government had hoped has not materialised.
The hon. Gentleman discussed the question of how many days were lost through disputes. However, he actually spoke about how many disputes there are, rather than about how many days are lost. It is true that the number of disputes has halved but we are still losing almost as many working days through strikes, because although there may be fewer strikes they are bigger and they last longer. They are also more expensive. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the miners' strike cost £6 billion. The hon. Gentleman should pay attention to those important facts when he is addressing the House on such matters.
I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) on his motion on employment rights. Conservative Members have said very little about employment rights. However, that is the subject of the motion and I want to use some of my time to deal with the reduction of those rights. My hon. Friend's excellent speech reflected his working experience and the length of time that he has spent in this House specialising in employment legislation. The House is richer for his speech. I want to follow up some of his contributions and deal with employment rights.
Very little has been said about employment rights. I was quite surprised when the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) said that he was not aware that there had been any reduction of employment rights. That convinces me that many Conservative Members do not know what they are voting for when they go through the Lobby. Since 1979 there has been a constant catalogue of reductions of rights, and it is important to put some of these on the record. It might even be useful to remind the Minister of such employment rights, because that is what the motion is about.
The motion is concerned with individual rights. The Government's great claim is that they are extending most of their legislation in the name of individual rights and individual freedom. Such rights have been guaranteed by international conventions which successive Governments have been prepared to observe within our legislation. I shall spell out precisely what this Government have done in regard to individual rights and freedom.
I must express my grave disappointment that the Minister for Employment is not here to defend the reductions in rights. I spend an awful lot of time trying to get Ministers, and indeed the Secretary of State, to appear 620 on television or to appear in the House to defend in open debate the measures that they follow. However, we have to learn from separate interviews—which they demand to do on their own—from articles or, indeed, as we have done, from the latest speech by the Minister for Employment, what Ministers consider to be important.
The speech of the Minister for Employment was made—a very convenient arena—at a Press gallery lunch. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaneau Gwent (Mr. Foot) referred to the Paymaster General's speech when he said that he considered that the remarks made at that lunch gave some hope that the Government would do something about the print dispute. The Minister said:Rupert Murdoch's personal public relations could do with a little improvement".Public relations? This man was geared up to sack 6,000 workers; indeed, not only to sack them, but to deny them their redundancy and pension rights. He carefully designed that. If this is simply a public relations exercise, it says a great deal about the liberal image of the Minister.
Later on the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:The Government will be watching the law on strikes with care…. We will watch to see whether unfair disciplinary action is taken against members who choose to work and keep their jobs".If the Minister is concerned about justice, he should study the statisical analysis of the industrial tribunals, which shows that about 40 times more people are sacked because they are members of trade unions than are sacked because they are not members of a trade union. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will concern himself with the injustices suffered by people who seek the human right to belong to a trade union. The right hon. and learned Gentleman came to the job with a liberal image, but he has been revealed to be as hard as anybody else about justice in industrial relations.
The motion is wide ranging and allows us to raise all the essential facets of industrial relations. We do not apologise for discussing the print dispute, the miners' dispute, or any other dispute. We do not duck the issue. We have a point to put. We believe that most of them are motivated and directly caused by the Government's legislation. That is why we shall repeal such legislation, lock, stock and barrel. I shall consider whether employment rights have been restricted and reduced, and the implications of disputes in the public mind, especially the miners' dispute or that involving News International.
I do not believe that anybody would argue that the right to work has been pursued since 1979. We can see that the Government's argument that reducing taxation will help to increase profits and lead to increased investment, increased employment, and lower inflation is patent nonsense, as we have been left with an extremely poor investment record compared with the rest of the European Community.
I have heard figures about unemployment. I should like to make it clear that the Labour Government inherited an unemployment rate of 1.2 million and that, when we left office, nearly 400,000 more people were in work although we had to contend with a population growth twice that experienced since 1979. We know that between 4.5 million and 5 million people are now available for work. The Government's labour force survey reveals that.
When we compare our economy with those of other OECD countries, we must go back at least one decade. High inflation and high unemployment have been features of most developed economies during the past few decades, 621 but the significant feature is that, under successive Governments, Britain's unemployment has always been at the average for the OECD. Since 1979, however, it has risen to about 2 per cent. above the average. The House of Commons Library has calculated that that increase is equivalent to about 1 million people out of work. The increase can be traced to the Government's policies. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) picked out just a few countries which happen to be above Britain in the list.
In 1979, 10 of the 24 OECD countries had lower unemployment than the United Kingdom. In 1985, however—the last year for which figures are available—18 countries had lower unemployment than the United Kingdom. It is generally recognised that unemployment here has been higher, and that it cannot be put down solely to the world recession or to what has happened in other countries. There might be an argument about overmanning, which Conservative Members have deployed, but it cannot be argued that what has happened in Britain has been experienced in the rest of the Community.
§ Mr. Prescott
I am afraid that I do not have time. It costs £20 billion to maintain such high unemployment. We believe that the Government have deliberately created unemployment in order to exercise a disciplinary sanction on the labour force. I have no doubt that mass unemployment is a deliberate part of Government policy. Their policies have created unemployment, and they knew that they would. I shall give some interesting evidence to support that view.
It is noticeable that the rest of the European countries are prepared to observe ILO convention 122. There is a new ILO convention which states that the Government will be prepared to pursue full employment as a matter of policy. Great Britain is the only European country which is not prepared to sign the convention and accept the commitment to provide full employment. That is a sign of the Government's priorities.
§ Mr. Prescott
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire says that that is nonsense. I just note that all the other countries believe that that is a decent standard, and we should try to achieve international objectives such as full employment and decent working conditions. Other countries believe that such matters should be the normal part of 'any developed and civilised society. Great Britain constantly sets its face against decent standards.
§ Mr. Prescott
I think that the hon. Gentleman has had his rights, and I want to show that he has denied rights to other people. I am not denying the hon. Gentleman much by denying him his right to intervene, but many workers have felt the lash of the hon. Gentleman's vote in the House in denying their rights. I shall spell out some of those rights to justify my point.
The Government have an unprecedented record in denouncing international conventions. Never in the history 622 of this country have we denounced international conventions on the scale that the Government have done. Never in the history of this country has there been such a rate of referral of cases to the European Courts of Human Rights. No other country has been taken to the Court of Human Rights so frequently since 1979. The Government are totally indifferent to the consequences of such referrals for civilised standards.
In the debate on the European Community earlier this week, when discussing treaty changes, the Government made it clear that they have a reservation about signing the new treaty. That information was given to me in a letter from the Foreign Office. Unfortunately I do not have time to quote the letter, but I shall show it to hon. Members if anyone is interested. That reservation is not about how much money we give to Europe or about the reductions in the power of Parliament. It is concerned with the working environment.
I shall quote just one passage from the letter dated 20 February from the Foreign Office:The lifting of our reserve does not mean that the government has changed its attitude to the directive on parental leave, voluntary part-time work or employee consultation.That means the Government have not changed their attitude to the Vredeling proposal that workers should have more information, consultation and representation. Those standards are accepted as normal in most of the more successful European economies, but are denied in this country. The one reservation that the Government had was on maintaining reasonable and decent standards for workers in industry.
I should like to discuss some of the conventions which the Government have denounced, thereby staining the character and civilised nature of this country. We have witnessed the Government not only denouncing of conventions, but setting their face against reducing the working week as a contribution to reducing unemployment levels. Britain is the only country that is setting its face against what clearly must be, if one believes in full employment, a contribution to reducing unemployment. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with that proposition. The Government clearly do not.
The Government denounced the 1982 ILO convention 94 which called for fair wages to be paid to people. The Government's argument then was that their action would lead to more jobs. If anyone believes that the repeal of the fair wages legislation in hospitals and privatisation schemes led to better conditions he has not examined what actually happened, and in particular what happened to the Barking women, who were on strike for 12 months. There have been lower wages, fewer holidays, and fewer people in work. That policy is evident throughout the negotiations normally covered by fair wages. The facts do not bear out the idea that that brings more jobs.
The 1983 ILO convention 95 is now being dealt with upstairs in Committee. Under this proposal we will allow employers to deduct, almost at will, all manner of things under the Truck Acts. Other nations keep these provisions, but we will remove them to allow the employer more rights to make deductions from a worker's wages and to remove further protection for the individual.
The 1985 ILO convention 26, which is before the House, has led the Government to denounce the convention's proposals on minimum wages and wage councils. Wage councils and Sunday openings are 623 concerned with reducing the amount of wages and the number of people employed in industries concerned, in which the wage level is about £50 a week. Apparently it is believed by some hon. Members that such wages are excessive and that we must introduce legislation so that they can be reduced. There are many hon. Members who spend more on a lunch than the sum they believe to be a fair wage. They wish to remove minimum wage provisions for those who are least able to defend themselves. By introducing such legislation the Government will not be hitting the wealthy. They are not covered by minimum wage regulations. They are doing very well in the City and they do not need the protection of such regulations. Instead, they will be hitting the low-paid and the nonunion organised, two-thirds of whom are women.
The Government's record of reducing the rights of women has been deplorable and unprecedented. The Government's proposals will have an adverse effect on two thirds of working women, who are already earning less than two thirds of the wages paid to male labour in the same areas of work. The Government have reduced maternity rights and have disadvantaged pregnant women. Their rights to go to arbitration and to appear before industrial tribunals have been restricted. For a time the Government resisted the concept of equal pay, equal value. Current legislation provides for the taxing of work place nurseries and there is discrimination against women in community programme work.
There has been a reduction of employment protection for women working at night. The right of women to work at night in the same way as men is put as a new right, but it has been done to extend the pool of cheap female labour. It is said constantly that the previous Labour Government reduced the number of wages councils. They did, but there were some essential differences. The Labour Government got rid of wages councils if they were convinced that there was proper collective bargaining at the place of work and reasonable wages. They asked ACAS to produce an independent report on the conditions in the industries concerned. That is rather different from getting rid of minimum terms and regulations applying to wages and premium hours, for example.
§ Mr. Prescott
That is the sort of rhetoric that we have come to expect from the Minister. The Government have embarked on a number of major reforms, and that is why they have had to denounce international conventions. They have had to do so because of the major changes that they wish to introduce. The changes will hit especially the low-paid, particularly women.
That brings me to the Government's attitude to collective bargaining and collective representation for trade unions. The breach of conventions to which I have referred extends to European legislation and the European Court of Human Rights. A notorious example is the breaching of the ILO convention on the freedom of association. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon told us that he is a director of an association that is concerned with freedoms. However, he voted in favour of what the Government chose to do to trade unions and trade unionists at GCHQ. Individuals who wanted to remain in trade unions and wished to retain that right were crushed by the legislation which the Government put on the statute book 624 with the support of the hon. Gentleman. They were denied the right to belong to a trade union. They were almost accused of being subversives and spies who were giving away information.
It is interesting to consider the Government's different approaches to confidential and security information and the breaching of it. We know what they did to Miss Tisdall and Mr. Ponting, and we know also that when the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) did the same thing openly; not a word was uttered about prosecuting him. The right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the prosecution of civil servants who had released information. In one instance, the courts found that there had not been a breach of security.
Civil servants have been denied basic rights, and women's rights have been restricted, to say the least. If anyone hopes that our courts will defend rights of freedom, any reading of a House of Lords judgment that took up this issue will find that the right has been given to the Government to determine what is a matter of security, and then to crush the rights of those who work in the areas where these matters arise, even if there is no evidence to justify their determination.
That judgment is an important factor in regard to the rights of those who were faced not only with the sack and pressure, but with bribes. They were bribes in the sense that the Government believe that one can purchase anything if the price is right. Many brave trade unionists refused all those financial inducements and resisted those pressures. They are still fighting for the right to join a trade union. A Labour Government will, without hesitation, return that right to the people involved in that struggle for trade union and civil rights.
It is no wonder, with the Government taking this action on industrial relations, that many employers adopt a similar attitude. It is no wonder that MacGregor was imported to take those actions in the mining industry, at a major cost to us. Ten months after the strike there is still no fair assessment of whether a pit should close. as we were told constantly in the past there would be. About 500 miners still do not have their jobs back, even though the industrial tribunals and courts have found them innocent of the charges laid by the NCB. No one rushes in to ensure that their rights are protected and justice observed in a state industry.
The Government were indifferent to what was to happen. According to The Guardian of 28 February, MacGregor has entitled one of the chapters of his new book, "How we made Scargill start the strike". We know that MacGregor's methods were similar to those that Murdoch claims for the strike that he started. The Guardian article of 28 February refers to the panic at No. 10 and how Mr. MacGregor was summoned and told by the Prime Minister:The fate of this government is in your hands.If that had been said to the trade unions, every Conservative Member would have said that Britain was being run by the trade unions. If it is a manager or a boss, and the Prime Minister whines that the future of Britain is in the hands of MacGregor, we hear not one protest about the Government's responsibilities and rights.
§ Mr. Heffer
Does that not underline the Government's nonsense during the miners' strike, when they said that they were neutral and that they were not fighting the 625 miners, but were standing apart from the battle? Is it not proof that, from the word go, the Government were against the miners and did their best to crush them?
§ Mr. Prescott
There is no doubt about that. MacGregor certainly believes it. We shall have to wait to hear whether the Government deny that case. MacGregor was certainly party to that action. He has made that clear. Small employers are being encouraged in the same way. The Silentnight dispute is still going on.
§ Mr. Prescott
It is a small dispute and a small employer compared with the scale of the miners' strike and the NCB, but a great justice issue is involved. No one cares to hear the concern of the employees or to help when that employer smashes his point of view on the employees at Silentnight.
I have written to the Minister for Employment about another multinational in Lincoln — the brake maker, Clayton Dewandre. That United States multinational company has moved in. It wants a new contract and wants to reduce the labour force. It want to pay lower wages and to negotiate away many workers' rights. This is what is called a "give back" deal. Give back everything to the employer, and he offers the possibility that one in two employees will get a job.
The same is true of BP shipping. We have got rid of our BP fleets and given the company over to a management enterprise body which has negotiated a new contract. This contract is made under Swiss law, and our people have to accept the terms and conditions laid down under that law. They have to give away the rights which they are guaranteed in our legislation and indeed by the ILO convention.
Murdoch's actions are perhaps the most offensive of all. Many hon. Members have referred to the News International dispute. Murdoch has been spilling the beans in The Guardian, which refers to the interview that he gave to the New York Times. The Guardian states:Mr. Murdoch disclosed that long-term meticulous planning went into his Wapping set-up to ensure that in the case of a strike he could fully exploit the Thatcher Government's trade union laws.That is painfully clear. There cannot be any doubt about it. That is precisely the accusation that we make against Murdoch and News International. He planned the dispute, set up the fortress factory, surrounded it with barbed wire, and introduced fleets of lorries, posses of lawyers, courts and injunctions to make the best use of the legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) made clear precisely how that policy had been pursued. He even mentioned how much money Murdoch was to gain from the actions. He said that £80 million would be saved on the redundancy payments out of that agreement. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent made clear, that issue has exposed a number of important matters to which we have to address our minds in any future industrial relations issues.
This dispute has exposed such things as the refusal to negotiate. Murdoch would not have been able to refuse to negotiate in America, but apparently he can do so here. It has exposed the fact that ballots of the workers, even if they agree with the dispute, carry no influence whatsoever. It has exposed the use of a breach of contract, 626 which has been central to our industrial relations law, to deny the basic rights and provide for the sequestration of trade union funds.
The judge dealing with the sequestration said:The purpose of the court was to uphold the rule of law and not become immersed in the complexities of industrial relations.He went on to say that he was not concerned with the merits of the dispute. Somebody should be concerned with the merits of the dispute. The House should be concerned and should support call for ACAS intervention.
If we have legislation which shifts the balance to the employer, which is what this legislation does, and has little to do with justice or collective bargaining, it is about time that the legislation was reviewed. The secondary picketing rights and the secondary action rights which the Minister referred to on Monday have already been used in courts and been thrown out by them. They have no meaning whatsoever. Therefore Murdoch was able to set up new companies and avoid even what limited rights were put into the Government's legislation.
It is clear that the legislation was designed solely to assist the employer, and many unscrupulous employers are using it to that effect. That is why we have more use of sequestration and more use of the courts. That is not in the legislation, but it comes out of the use of the courts in a way that employers have never made use of them before. That is a major development in creating greater confrontation and less legislation. We believe that the Government's legislation is designed to increase that confrontation. Our job is to achieve the very opposite—co-operation.
Let me make it clear, as I have before, but it is sometimes misunderstood, that we will get rid of the trade union legislation introduced by this Government. We say that, not with any embarrassment or as an ideological necessity, but because we recognise the need to bring cooperation back into this country and to obtain the cooperation necessary to get the economy moving again. In case anybody thinks that that is a peculiarly Socialist view, I should point out that most of the countries which have better economic records than ourselves, higher levels of employment, and higher levels of inflation because of higher levels of investment, have achieved that with legislation which at least guarantees the rights which this Government have stripped away, such as the right to information, consultation and representation.
All those are positive rights which the Labour movement is now discussing in the review of that legislation. I believe that a positive framework of legislation can be found for that. Ireland, which has a similar legislative base to our own has similar complaints and is now reviewing and changing the legislation in a fundamental way which may differ from our approach. The Labour movement has started its discussions, and by the end of the year the form of our legislation will be clear. The electorate will not be in any doubt that we shall have a different form of industrial democracy to extend democratic rights of individuals at their place of work which are presently denied by the Government. That will be underpinned by trade union legislation to achieve that end.
It is deplorable that a Japanese company such as Nissan can buy time on television in this country to tell Britain that its workers in Japan work with the management, that they sit down in the same canteen and wear similar overalls. It says that by these means it gets greater 627 productivity, co-operation with the trade unions and better investment. What a comment on the state of industrial relations in Britain that that is put forward as a good example to follow. It may be a good example. We want co-operation. I am not saying that we want the same as that, but the Labour movement has started putting together its alternatives ready to be placed before the electorate.
The workers have a major contribution to make in getting our economy together. They should have democratic rights at their place of work which are not taken away from them when the gates close behind them. We shall put those rights in a framework which will begin to achieve what we know we can achieve — getting people back to work while guaranteeing them justice and democratic rights in the name of democracy, which the trade union movement has been more to the fore of bringing about than have the Government.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. David Trippier)
I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) on initiating this debate. Labour Members have frequently referred to employment rights. I, too, am extremely concerned about employment rights, and the rights of those who do not have jobs. I am concerned about the rights of employers to employ people without being cluttered with a whole raft of unnecessary regulations. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the protection of the rights of those who have a job. I am concerned about the encouragement of enterprise and the creation of genuine jobs. I am anxious to develop a whole range of policies designed to improve the flexibility of the labour market and to equip individuals for the jobs that are becoming available.
I am sure that I do not need to remind the hon. Gentleman or the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) of the winter of discontent in 1979, which led to the fall of the Labour Government. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) conveniently forgot about that. Throughout the country there is no doubt about what led to the demise of the Labour Government. It was on every television set and in every national newspaper.
I did not forget that. At the time I told my people that they were taking a stupid step in taking on the trade union movement by making an unnecessary 5 per cent. calculation about wages. If the hon. Gentleman had been in the House for as long as I have, he would know that I said that from the Government side at that time.
§ Mr. Trippier
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, and if he says that he said that, I am sure that he did. My point was not about the 5 per cent. limit but about the flying pickets. Trade unions benefited from the legislation introduced by the Labour Administration, legislation for which the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) was partially responsible. It was wholly unacceptable, and led to the demise of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member.
Obviously, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East wishes to forget that, and the hon. Member for St. Helens, North did not even refer to it. One of the most damning indictments of the effects of the industrial relations that were perpetuated by the Labour Government 628 came from a committee set up by the former Labour Prime Minister, now Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. The Wilson committee commissioned a firm of consultants to conduct a survey into constraints on investments facing companies. High-ranking representatives in many medium-sized companies were interviewed and the report states that the researchers werefrankly surprised at the strength of feeling that was heldon employment legislation by many companies. The main concern was that companies experienced increasing difficulties in adjusting the size of the work force to fluctuations in market conditions. The report continued:The great majority of companies surveyed were therefore extremely cautious in taking on labour and we were left in no doubt that this adversely affected investment decisions, including in some cases, the choice between the United Kingdom and some overseas countries.As one company finance director put it:Labour used to be a variable cost, it is now becoming a fixed overhead and so I need to be much more sure of an investment proposal's viability before I will sanction it.That is an important point, but no Labour Member has said a word about the effect on employers of the bureaucratic legislation that the Labour Government introduced.
The survey took the opinion of those who employ the people to whom Opposition Members refer. It tickles me to death to listen to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East because he merely continually puts the case for trade unions and trade unionists, as if jobs are manufactured from thin air. Who employs those people? The hon. Gentleman will have to face facts. If he continues to preach the propaganda that we have heard today—that he will repeal every part of the legislation that we have introduced since 1979—it may please his hon. Friends, but it will frighten to death the employers whom we are trying to encourage to increase their work forces.
When we decided to remove the bureaucracy mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) and Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), we set out as one of our main tasks the repeal of the Employment Protection Act 1975 to loosen the straitjacket of regulation. We look several steps to relieve that burden, the most important of which was the qualifying period for unfair dismissal. It was increased from six months to one year generally, and later to two years in firms of 20 or fewer employees. But because we and the Wilson committee had listened to what employers wanted to establish a fairer balance, although we wished to protect the rights of individuals, we wished to introduce a balance so that employers would be encouraged to employ people.
That point was absent from the speech of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. 'When he was Secretary of State for Employment I have no doubt that he approached the problems of trade unions and industrial relations in as responsible a way as he could. He passionately believed that he was doing the right thing, but the legislation for which he and his right hon. Friends were responsible encouraged employers not wily to shed labour but, in many cases, to be terrified of taking on just one more person.
§ Mr. Trippier
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman referred to that document. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire talked about the increase in employment, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East. It is significant that since 1983—it takes some time for a new Government to deregulate legislation that was wrongly put on the statute book—until the present day, there was an increase in employment far greater than that in any other member state of the EC. The right hon. Gentleman cannot deny that.
All that I am saying is that we need a fairer balance—a balance which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East did not try to strike in his speech.
§ Mr. Trippier
I shall deal with Wapping, for the second time this week, and I shall return to the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent.
The Government are trying to strike a balance. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East must accept that if he continues between now and the election to peddle the story that he peddled today, many people will be so frightened that they will look abroad, as they did during the life of the previous Labour Government. He must start thinking carefully about obtaining the right balance between trade union rights and employers' rights. Employers will provide jobs in the future. He cannot expect the Government, national or local, to provide all our employment. The vast bulk of jobs are in the private sector, and the hon. Gentleman forgets that 96 per cent. of firms in the private sector are small — employing between one and 200 people.
§ Mr. Trippier
And the highest number of start-ups. The hon. Gentleman will have to get up a bit earlier to catch me out on this. The net increase in small firms is the highest in recorded history and the number of self-employed is the highest in 60 years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) pointed out.
We want to free those employers from red tape. I shall endeavour to explain to the Opposition how we have preserved the basic rights of employees. I make no apology for the Government's reform of the wages councils, of which the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East and for St. Helens, North made such great play. Contrary to the claim of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North, we are not discriminating against young people. We are discriminating in their favour by removing the wages council constraints so as to give people under the age of 21 the most important thing that we can give them—a foot on the first rung of the employment ladder.
§ Mr. Trippier
As for employees' rights, the hon. Gentleman gives the impression that we have scrapped the lot, but as he well knows, in the Wages Bill—now in Standing Committee—we are increasing the rights of the workers. We are abolishing the Truck Acts, which date from 1896 and are completely outdated and archaic, but we are building in new protections to limit the deductions made from employees and to ensure that they are told about their new rights in terms of the employer's ability to make deductions if necessary.
§ Mr. Trippier
It was in the Bill from the outset. We were not persuaded into it by the Opposition in any shape or form. It is absurd for the hon. Member for St. Helens, North to suggest that we have dismantled the system of employment rights that we inherited. We are modernising it to bring it up to date and into tune with the spirit of enterprise that we are endeavouring to foster.
The word "enterprise" was absent from every Opposition speech. The Opposition do not understand the meaning of the word. They do not understand small firms. They think that they understand co-operatives and are suprised to find a Minister who also favours co-opertives, but they do not understand small firms. Yet 96 per cent. of firms are small. They are the employers who will increase employment in this country. The very large firms are scarcely likely to increase their share of the employment market, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon made clear. As a result of advanced technology and improved productivity per man, they are more likely to shed employees than to take on more. We must therefore look to the 96 per cent. of small firms who have to consider the balance of choice in deciding whether to take on another employee.
Of course we are prepared to go some way to meet the points made by the Opposition by introducing new rights such as those being dealt with in the Standing Committee on the Wages Bill — and so we should. That is fair enough, but in introducing this new legislation we must constantly remember that we must strike a balance. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East never mentions the word "balance". He talks about co-operation but he never in any speech refers to the burdens which may be on the shoulders of business men and employers. [Interruption.] We shall be fascinated to hear exactly what the Opposition intend to do in the unlikely event of their ever returning to power. We have heard about every dot and comma of what the Leader of the Opposition has said. The Opposition do not know what they are saying and what the effect will be, but I am happy to let them go on saying it—indeed, I encourage it.
The past seven years have seen major changes in the British industrial relations scene. We have come so far that it might be difficult for the Opposition to remember how things were before our step-by-step legislation began. The time before was the age of the shop steward. It was an age when the moderate majority were manipulated by the militant few. The so-called heroes of that age were men like Red Robbo and Jack Dash, who were notorious for spending more time outside the gates than at work.
What has happened since? The names that make folk history now are Declan Hughes, the farmworker, who wanted to know why the Transport and General Workers union would not publish its election results by branch, and Medlock Bibby, who walked through a dockers' picket line in protest at an unconstitutional strike. We must not forget Silver Birch, who, with those other working miners, simply asked Arthur Scargill to keep to the union rules. There is not a shop steward among them. They are ordinary working men. The fact is that 99 per cent. of shop stewards today have never led a strike.
I went to some lengths to avoid mentioning personalities in the Wapping dispute during our debate on Monday. That did not please the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent or his hon. Friends, but I do not want to say anything to exacerbate the dispute. I take on board one comment by the right hon. Gentleman in relation to that 631 dispute. He said that ACAS could have a significant role. I understand what he says and am sympathetic. ACAS is following the dispute closely. The right hon. Gentleman will welcome that. It is willing to make itself available at any time. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues must not keep asking to become involved. They tried that, with the beer and sandwiches at No. 10, when they were in power.
§ Mr. Trippier
I am sorry, but I am running out of time. I must sit down so that other hon. Members can make their contribution. I have allowed several interventions.
§ Mr. Trippier
No. I am desperately anxious to reply to other hon. Members.
I have a considerable amount of time and some respect for the hon. Member for St. Helens, North. I must say to him, in the nicest possible way, and without embarrassing him—no doubt this will be struck from the record in his local paper so that it will not do him any harm—that before he thinks too much about turning the clock back, he should recognise that to go back to the 1970s and the flying pickets, the car park democracy and the worst strike record in Europe, would be disastrous. This Government's sights are set on the 1990s and beyond. We are fortunate to have a good starting point in that this is a period of the greatest industrial peace since the last war.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
One of the problems that Tory Ministers have had in the last two or three years is trying to be credible about their 1979 policies. My guess is that many people in the post-1979 period had the impression that it just might be possible, after that so-called winter of discontent—I describe it as something else—that the Tories had an answer. For about two or three years a lot of people bought that idea. The trouble is that after seven years people have come to the conclusion that the policies are not working. The Tories have had seven years to get the so-called new entrepreneurial society off the ground, to reduce the dole queues and to stop the bankruptcies, but none of it is coming right. That is the problem that they have to face between now and the next election.
In view of statements made in the past few weeks by MacGregor and other notable people, especially Murdoch, more and more people are concluding that the Government are hand in glove with the bosses and will do everything possible to hammer the trade unions, put more people out of work, have a dole queue of 3 million to 4 million as a reservoir of labour and depress the wages of those in work.
Reference has been made to the so-called winter of discontent. I cannot remember any NUPE flying pickets then. I remember flying pickets during the miners' strikes in 1972 and 1974, because I took part in them, but there were none anywhere in 1978. The Minister ought to get his facts right before he makes such nonsensical remarks.
I say to my hon. Friends who may have jobs in the next Labour Government that the real problem in 1978 was that the then Labour Government got enmeshed in an incomes policy. The result was that a lot of low-paid people said, "What's going off here—5 per cent. for us and 5 per cent. for those on £20,000 and £30,000 a year, with a few perks for them on the side? We are not buying that." I say 632 to my hon. Friends that next time they should not talk about workers' rights if they are prepared to have an incomes policy for people on low pay.
There will never be an incomes policy for chartered accountants or solicitors; they never have an incomes policy round their necks. Members of Parliament never have an incomes policy; they have catching-up exercises. All the top salaried people who got 46 per cent. rises under this Tory Government last year never have incomes policies. The posh papers say, "They have not had a rise for the three years." But who wants a rise for three years when they know that they will get a 50 per cent. rise at the end of those three years and will be carted about in a free car and have all the rest of the perks?
I hope that we will not have any more nonsense about an incomes policy, and I hope that the motion has no hidden references when it talks about co-operation. I hope that it is not suggested that trade unionists should have to co-operate with the Government in a 5, 6, 7 or 8 per cent. pay policy.
I wanted to get that on record before anybody accused me of giving in to a new co-operative Utopia. I do not believe that we can build that sort of co-operation in a capitalist society. We might get it when we have Socialists running the economy and when Socialists are running the banks and all the companies that are currently being sold to America. When we have companies in charge of the economy that are accountable to the state and the people, we can talk about doing something else, but not until then.
The march last Sunday vias about justice. The 10,000 people who marched in London were in some ways protesting about many of the things that have been said in this debate. People from Wapping joined the miners because they knew that they had had their rights ripped from them by Murdoch, in collaboration with the Government.
I do not think that there is any doubt that the conspiracy that has been revealed between MacGregor and the Government has been repealed at Wapping. Indeed, I am prepared to go on record. The enterprise zone in docklands was meant to provide new jobs. The Government said, "Let's set up an enterprise zone. We will put Bob Mellish, or someone like him, in charge and create jobs for the Wapping people." That was the idea, but Murdoch went down there and, instead of taking 5,000 jobs and adding a few more, which should be done in an enterprise zone, he reduced the 5,000 to 500 and brought the workers not from Wapping, but from Southampton and Bristol.
My guess is that when the enterprise zone was set up, this Tory Government were in collaboration with Murdoch. We may have to wait for a few years, but when Murdoch has fallen out with the Prime Minister, when she has had a diplomatic illness and left the scene and is making up the blue curtains at the £500,000 house in Dulwich, Murdoch may follow MacGregor's example and spill the beans.
On the march last Sunday I saw people who were casualties of the Tory Government. I saw people from GCHQ who were marching and who are still saying to the British nation, "We were deprived of the simple civil liberty of being able to belong to a trade union." This Government have rabbited on for years and years about the right to belong to a trade union, but, in the case of GCHQ, the Government say that there is no such right. Members of the Health and Safety Executive were also on that march. They said what many Opposition Members have 633 repeatedly said in the House: that one of the ways in which this Government are attacking the rights of workers is by cutting back on the Health and Safety Executive so that private employers do not have to pay their whack if, through negligence, people are killed in factories. Since this Government set up the youth training scheme, 14 kids have been killed.
There were other people on the march as well. There were miners from Scotland, like Bob Young who has been deprived of getting his job back, even though he did nothing wrong during the strike. There were others from Polmaise who went down that pit during the strike because the National Coal Board said that it was being flooded. Two or three Scots miners went down to protect the pit and to act as safety men. Because they did that they were sacked by this vicious NCB which is in league with the Government. People from every coalfield in Britain were on that march. They all tell the same story. They are among the 550 who have been sacked and victimised by the National Coal Board and the Government. They want the next Labour Government to ensure that their rights will be protected, even when there is an unofficial dispute.
The people on that march were joined by one of the newest recruits, Paul Whetton, the branch secretary of Bevercotes colliery in the Nottinghamshire coalfield. There are now NUM branches in every single village and pit in Nottinghamshire. Paul Whetton pinned up a notice on the colliery's notice board. That was always done in the past, but, because this is primarily the territory of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, he got the sack for pinning up that notice. Paul Whetton's treatment has to be compared with that of Mr. Foulstone, who took the miners to court. He has not been victimised. He, dollar thief, went to gaol, came out, and, unlike the 500 or so miners in Durham, Scotland, the north-east and the Midlands, got his job back. He is working for the National Coal Board.
The Minister, with his silly grin, does not care tuppence because he is not interested in justice. He never has been. He showed his true colours when he was mouthing against the Silentnight workers. Every hon. Member who was in the House that night and heard his vicious tones will remember what he said about the owner of the Silentnight factory, Mr. Tom Clarke, a friend of the Prime Minister — just like Mr. Abdul Shamji and all the rest of the crooks that this Tory Government have lined up ever since they got into power. They are not on the side of the workers. They are on the side of all those poeple in the City, and they always have been.
When Johnson Matthey went under, because it was an uneconomic unit of production, someone got on the phone to the Prime Minister and said, "It's uneconomic. Shut it." But the Chancellor of the Exchequer was there, and he said, "No, it's not a pit; it's a bank." So the right hon. Lady said, "Save it, then. It's one of us." That is why this Government do not care tuppence about hounding Peter Cameron Webb and Peter Dixon, who got away with £39 million from Lloyd's. They have not bothered to send the fraud squad across to America where they are living the life of Riley. No, they are more concerned about hammering the workers—miners, print workers, and the rest.
That is why at the next general election— starting with Fulham, which is not long away—this Government will be shown to have reached the end of their tether. 634 People are fed up with hearing all this noise about cutting taxes and creating an entrepreneurial society. When taxes have gone up by 5 per cent. and when all these liberties have been stripped away from working class people, the result of the next general election will show that people have seen through the injustice that permeates every single pore of every single member of the Cabinet.
I am pleased that we have had this debate. It has given us a chance to put on record what we feel about this Government's attack on working class people. I am confident that when the Government face the challenge of the next election, they will be defeated because of the way that they have treated ordinary working class people. The Government have treated them with contempt. At the same time, they have looked after their own class — the bosses, the bankers, the people at Lloyd's. Those people have got five or six different jobs, but there are 5 million people out of work who are desperate to find enough money to maintain their families. They will provide the verdict in the next election.
§ 2.5 pm
§ Mr. Lewis Stevens (Nuneaton)
I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) on bringing to the House the many issues contained under the heading of his motion "Employment Rights". In many respects I do not agree with the motion but there are one or two important words. One such word is co-operation and the other is conciliation. If one goes round the country today, one will see co-operation between the trade unions and management in many factories. One can also see conciliation. There is direct involvement which could not have been foreseen a few years ago. It is there and it is working. It is wanted by the workers. Companies are flexible and are investing more and we are thus seeing the growth of change. It is this change and enterprise that the country was lacking for many years.
I do not wish to place the blame on the restrictive practices of the trade unions or on the management—it is a combined national disaster. We were too slow to realise how our competitors were changing. It is only recently, especially with Industry Year, that there is a recognition of the change which was needed in the industrial community. This was especially true of the trade unions. They had developed powers for all sorts of reasons which were too great to be harnessed properly. Therefore, although the majority of companies and trade unions worked well together there were some areas of difficulty. The major catastrophies which occurred in some of our major industries were due to the lack of control of some unions.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), when discussing the Wapping dispute, uttered the words "under duress". He said that the workers were under duress. My goodness! One need only look back to industry of the 1960s to realise how many negotiations with unions were under duress. The only economic thing for managements to do was to concede. We now have a different balance. My example may not be good but, for goodness sake, we must encourage what we are witnessing in our trade union movement and in industry.
Many ordinary trade union members—not just those who have long experience of organising their unions—are relieved that legislation has come in. They now know where they stand and, if they take action, how far it is likely to spread. There will be no return to 1974 and the 635 presence of flying pickets at certain disputes. One of the great fears of trade unions involved in disputes is how far the dispute will spread and what damage it will do. Past disputes often got totally out of hand. The legislation we have brought in will give trade union members a choice. They may decide what action should be taken.
It is no surprise that the political levy was not wanted by many trade unions, but the option is there and has been chosen by some trade unionists. Members of unions will have a choice. They will not be controlled by those remote from them. They can control the union themselves. We are witnessing a great improvement—a direct involvement and participation. Such participation has been achieved by Government measures such as privatisation and employers buying in as well as the co-operation between management and employees. Surely, Opposition Members should be looking to develop further that process of integration between employer and employee. We talk of Japan getting it right because the work force is involved, but the same is happening in other countries. We have been a bit slow.
The greatest danger to industrial relations is not the trade union movement or legislation but the rhetoric of Opposition Members. They are the greatest proponents of the supposedly easy way out. They argue that if people have all manner of rights thrown at them they can dictate what they want. Many other factors dictate what they can get. People realise that we need change and appreciate that the Government have provided training facilities and encouraged investment in new technologies, and increased budgets accordingly. People will also recognise the false promises of Opposition Members for what they are. Giving rights does not create jobs. The jobs are created by working together.
§ Mr. Stevens
I congratulate some parts of the trade union movement, which have taken it upon themselves to get involved with retraining. They are encouraging members, whether in or out of work, to increase their skills in new technologies, for example, or just to broaden their skills. The unions are doing that in co-operation with and backed by employers and the Government. I am sure that we shall use those skills, but Opposition Members merely attack such participation. They believe in restoring power to groups of people who are isolated from the day-to-day work. That policy failed before, and it will fail again. The balance is better now than it has been for years.
§ Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) on his success in the ballot and on his choice of wording in the motion. He and I know the sharp end of trade unionism as we were both shop stewards in the shipbuilding industry. For a long time we were chairman and vice-chairman of a shop stewards' committee, so we know a little about what we are talking about in regard to workers' rights and trade union rights.
Listening to the Minister, one wonders what is happening. When we consider what he said the Government have done to create jobs since 1979, we must 636 wonder what the 4 million unemployed think. People in my area believe that he will have to stop giving help as it seems to be getting them nowhere.
The motion speaks of anti-trade union policies. In that regard we have to go back to 1978, not 1979, when a committee under the chairmanship of the present Secretary of State for Transport, comprising top Tories, sat to decide how to deal with trade unions when a Conservative Government were elected. The report suggested hitting strikers financially, a national police force and getting non-union lorry drivers to get supplies across picket lines. Every part of that report was put into operation during the miners' strike.
Under section 6 of the Social Security Act 1980, for the first time since 1896, the dependants of strikers can be penalised if the breadwinner in the family decides to go on strike. Under that Tory legislation I would advise anyone who is working that, if they want to look after their families and get the full benefits under social security they should not go to work and ballot for a strike. They would be better off going to work and shooting the manager because by doing so, they would be sent to gaol and the state would look after a worker's dependants. However, if a worker goes to work, votes in a ballot and goes on strike, he will suffer a £16 deduction.
Apart from Tory legislation, the way in which public authorities have dealt with strikers has also caused problems. During the miners' strike the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food returned from Europe after discussing milk quotas. The National Farmers Union was not happy with the Government's position. At the same time there was a milk race at Aberystwyth. The farmers barricaded the roads with their Land Rovers and tractors but the policemen helped the cyclists to cross the barricades. Not one farmer was arrested and yet, just down the road, miners on picket lines were arrested for stepping off the pavement and on to the road.
The Prime Minister went to Swansea to address a Tory conference. Again there was a protest and demonstration about the milk quotas outside the venue and the Prime Minister was hit by an egg. No one was arrested for that, yet miners and miners' wives were arrested on the picket lines simply for shouting "scab". The Oppostion are, therefore, not solely concerned with Tory legislation. We are also concerned with the way that the public authorities deal with one set of workers as against another set.
My hon. Friends have mentioned the Employment. Act 1982. As you will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you and I served on the Committee on that Bill. Clauses 1 and 2 of that Bill were introduced by the former Secretary of State for Employment, the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). The right hon. Member spoke about neutering the trade unions through that legislation and the Prime Minister at that time spoke about the trade unions as the enemy within. That is why Government policy has motivated the present employment and trade union legislation.
Sections 1 and 2 of the Trade Union Act 1984 allocate £2 million for the free-riders, scabs and blacklegs and those who would not join a closed shop union. The then Secretary of State set that sum aside for those free-riders.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred to the miners' strike. During that strike the Minister came to the Dispatch Box and asked why the miners would not accept the findings of the independent review board. The Minister believed that all the miners' 637 problems would disappear if they would accept the recommendations. However, since the board was set up a situation has arisen in Northumberland where a recommendation that Bates colliery should be kept open has been overturned by the National Coal Board which has decided to close it. So much for the Minister suggesting that the mineworkers should accept the suggestions of the independent review board.
My hon. Friends have referred to the Wages Bill. We have heard a peculiar explanation from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State about that Bill and the waiving of the Truck Acts, for example, that defend workers' rights to have payments in cash or cheque. That right is to be denied. People under the age of 21 are being removed from the care of the wages council. Britain is the first of the 94 nations that are signatories to ILO convention 26 to deratify on that proposal. When the Wages Bill received the Royal Assent, youngsters will start work and be sacked when they are 21. They will be paid a pittance from the time they start work until they are paid off.
The Wages Bill also deals with redundancy payments. Certain firms are already fetching redundancies forward before the Bill reaches the statute book. In future any employer who employs more than 10 men will claim nothing from the central redundancy fund. They want to be able to claim from the central redundancy fund and so they are bringing forward redundancies.
The motion is about trade union rights and members of unions having the right to work and to be treated like human beings. Trade unionists do not want any special treatment. They do not want to be mollycoddled by employers. They want the right to work and to negotiate and they do not want those rights to be taken away from them by means of Government legislation.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North on introducing the motion and I congratulate also all my right hon. and hon. Friends who have participated in the debate, who have spoken with knowledge of working people.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
As someone who has had the privilege of listening to every minute of this albeit short debate, I am grateful for being called to participate in it, especially as the chance of the second motion on the Order Paper being reached this afternoon has now been extinguished.
I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) on his good luck in the ballot, on introducing the motion and on raising a most important issue that is concerned centrally with employment rights. The House cannot accept that employment rights should be seen in isolation, and the full terms of the motion underline that.
I wish to talk about employment responsibilities. I accept that the Government have such responsibilities, but so, too, do employers, trade unions and employees. The central and principal responsibility of the Government is to try to promote a framework which is conducive to encouraging maximum employment. It is also their duty to hold the ring between the rights and responsibilities of employers and those of employees. There is no doubt that the Government have a duty as well to hold the ring and 638 ensure that there is a fair balance between the rights of trade unions and employees and members of individual unions.
I contend that recent employment legislation has redressed the balance and set it where it should be. Before that happened, far too much overweening power was held by trade unions. It is not an exaggeration to talk about the Tamanny hall trade unionism of some union leaders.
§ Mr. Chapman
I have heard nothing from Opposition Members about the rights of the public in a trade union dispute. I do not deny that there should be a legislative framework of employees' rights, but the House must deal carefully with any legislation in that area, from whatever Government it comes. We have the rights of our constituents to uphold, and we have the rights of the public to uphold as well. When there is an industrial dispute on the railway line that passes through my constituency, for example, surely the consumer, the person using the public transport, has his rights. It is our responsibility to defend those rights. That is part of a wider process of consideration, and the issue should not be confined to the narrow employment rights of employees.
When I hear what I might have to accept is the knee-jerk reaction of Mr. Rupert Murdoch and what he has done at Wapping, I take account of what has been said on both sides of the House in justification and opprobrium of Mr. Murdoch. Against that background, I ask: what about the anarchic blackmailing practices of sections of the trade unions throughout the 1960s, the 1970s and the first part of the 1980s, which destroyed vast parts of the organ of the fourth estate of our realm? What about the rights of the readership? What about the rights of free speech and free information? That is at least a part of the discussion in which we should be involved.
There is no doubt that in recent years industrialised countries have gone through one of those cyclical changes in employment that come about rarely. The industrialised world has gone through the worst recession in 50 years. If I had to name one incident that triggered off that recession, it would be the tripling of oil prices in 1979 and 1980. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), to whom I listened with great care and attention, who has great experience in employment policy pointed out that in 1979 and 1980 the number of people employed was the highest ever. The right hon. Gentleman might therefore accept that reduced employment is directly attributable to the world recession.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) said that Britain was an exporting nation. That was not a platitude. As he pointed out, 30 per cent. of our output is exported. We cannot divorce ourselves from what is happening in the world. We have to fight for our section of the world market. We must be competitive. If we are not, our people will lose their jobs.
With all the traumas, dramas and difficulties we have experienced in the first six years of this decade, I believe that our best prospect in the remaining part of the decade and beyond depends upon the enviable trio we have at present — steady growth, low inflation and improved output.
The problem is fundamentally caused by the high level of unemployment, but there are also record numbers of people seeking employment. As my hon. Friend the 639 Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Fonnan) pointed out, in the past three years the number of people in employment has increased by 700,000. The reason is not only the baby boom in the 1960s, which has meant that more and more people are entering the job market, but social trends. An increasing number of women are not prepared, rightly, to stay working full-time at home. They are seeking jobs and making a great contribution to the economy. Many women are seeking part-time jobs.
It is all very well for parliamentarians to comment on what is right or wrong about Government policy, but we owe it to the people to be constructive and to make suggestions that will point the way ahead and encourage employment. The construction industry is still our greatest industry, whether measured in terms of manpower or of output. I dare to mention that industry because, generally speaking, it provides employment on a large scale and is labour intensive.
We know the amount of money that needs to he spent on the fabric of our nation. Hardly a speech goes by in any debate without mention of the need to spend more on our infrastructure. There is not the remotest possibility of all that necessary work being provided by public funds. If the Government increased the amount of public funds for capital investment in the nation's fabric, they would set off the old, dreary well worn path of increased inflation, which would ultimately lead to more and more having to be spent to achieve less and less. The key to success in the construction industry must be to attract more and more private investment.
§ It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.