§ 3.3 p.m.
§ LORD THOMSON OF FLEET rose to call attention to the grave national consequences of industrial disputes resulting in work stoppages; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said; My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name. Those who give serious consideration to the chaotic state of our national economy must be as concerned as I am for the future of this nation. When we express confidence in our progress, we are, I believe, just whistling to keep up our courage. Unless we can completely change the national attitude to work, unless we can impress on our people just how grave is our national situation, and thereby bring about a great change in the way we conduct our lives, it is my conviction that in a world always progressing, where people are enjoying an ever-increasing standard of living, we shall find it increasingly difficult even to maintain our present position.
§ As your Lordships know, I have spent most of my life in Canada and the United States of America. I know from many years' practical experience how life is carried on there and in other progressive nations, and I say to you with all the sincerity at my command that in those countries there is a national purpose in life which is lacking here. Generally speaking, how business is conducted completely governs the standard of living and the general economic situation of the nation. Business in this country is not efficient by the standards of other advanced nations—I should say "most business", because there are efficient British companies. But they are the exception and not the rule. In business and commerce, we are a nation of amateurs.
§ In other advanced countries, business is highly professional; management is com 726 pletely dedicated to success. It completely dominates the lives of the executives, who are open-minded and always seeking better ways, improved methods, better production, lower costs. Labour, while it bargains militantly, almost without exception lives up to its contracts. When agreement is reached the people work diligently and do their utmost to justify their wages.
§ Here, management is too often not professional, not efficient, and reluctant to be stirred out of a peaceful quiet existence. It is not anxious to change; because change means new problems, new risks and new worries. In this country things do not change quickly and it is not difficult for slothful management, in an entrenched position, pretty well to maintain profits without all the problems which arise from the necessity of changing to more efficient production, selling in new markets, promoting the business by new marketing techniques and the multitude of other activities necessary to make a business increasingly more efficient and more profitable.
§ Then what about labour? What about our production? Figures are available from anyone who has given the matter any particular analysis. In industry after industry it can be proven that it takes two or three men to equal the output of one man in the United States and Canada. Often work is inefficiently organised and directed. But the British workman himself must take the blame for much of this inefficiency—late arrival at work, tea breaks, too often any excuse to stop work, and, above all, industrial disputes and resulting work stoppages.
§ I say from personal observation, and with sincere conviction, that the attitude of many British workers is that of almost complete indifference to their work, to their rate of production, and often to the quality as well. Work seems to be something that a man has to do to get his pay packet. He has little regard for—indeed, I think he does not even realise—the responsibility he has for the national interest which is vitally affected by the rate and quality of his production. I realise what a Herculean task it is to change this amateur attitude to business of management and labour. But it must be done.
§ Too often I am told that this has built up through years of habit and 727 custom; that it will take a long time to change, and that successive steps will require many years. In my opinion, we do not have a long time. Real progress must be made quickly. The time has come when there must be no more work stoppages, official or unofficial. I believe that this must be the decision of the Government of the day in the national interest—and with, I hope, the concurrence, and not the opposition, of both labour and management. This hope may seem far-fetched, but surely it is evident that in a labour dispute not resolved, resulting in a strike or lock-out, neither side wins: both lose—one worse than the other—but it is the nation that loses heavily and the innocent public who suffer. Labour/management disputes are the only part of our lives that are not governed by the rule of law. No one could claim that justice triumphs in a labour dispute: such disputes are not settled on a basis of right and wrong, but only that the strongest wins. Surely this is the law of the jungle. What would our society be like if all our disputes, now settled by the rule of law, were decided by a similar trial of strength?
§ But the problem extends far beyond that. These work stoppages gravely affect and restrict our exports and endanger our national solvency. That concerns all of us—not just those who are parties to the dispute. There is the further fact that no work stoppage can take place without serious injury and inconvenience to large sections of the public. The lives of innocent people are disrupted; collectively, they suffer great financial losses. Illness, and even death, may result; and these people, the public, have no voice in the matter at all. They are just innocent bystanders. Is this right? I say, No. Labour/management disputes must be settled in some manner that will protect the rights of the public and also the national interest. Other countries, Sweden and Australia certainly, have devised methods of dealing with labour matters in ways short of strikes and lock-outs. Surely it is not beyond the power of Government in this country to do the same.
§ What is so sacred about labour matters that they should not be subject to the 728 rule of law such as applies to every other aspect of our lives? I am told that labour will not accept any restrictions on its present ways of conducting its affairs. This is nonsence. Laws exist to protect all people as well as the national interest. If such are needed regarding labour—management relations then they should be enacted. It is a cardinal principle of our democratic society that every person is entitled to be protected from the action of others who threaten or disturb his peace or cause him loss.
§ There is no place in this or any other civilised country for unofficial strikes, go-slows, sit-down strikes, or any other action by groups of wilful men acting against the orders of their official leaders in repudiation of an existing contract. Witness the irresponsible anarchy that prevails on sections of our railways. Hundreds of thousands of innocent members of the public are put to grave inconvenience, and worse. Both they and their employers suffer great financial loss. There is loss of hours of work, and of leisure time at home with their families, and all this through action beyond their control. Make no mistake about it, my Lords, this seriously affects production and gravely damages our exports, not only from loss of production but from the damage to our national image. How can we expect other nations to come to our financial rescue in times of stress? How seriously will prospective foreign buyers accept our promises of delivery on their export orders when we demonstrate that we are so inefficient as a nation and our labour has so little regard for the national interest?
§ I will not waste your time naming other similar unofficial stoppages over the years. Figures may well be quoted to the effect that in some other countries the number of days lost through strikes is more serious than in ours, but this tells only part of the story. Deliberate slow-downs, go-slows, restrictive production, all have the effect of reducing output, and it is all very largely to no purpose. It is possible to have ways of settling labour disputes short of work stoppages, but I do not think that this will happen through voluntary arrangement; it requires the force of law. I believe, and I strongly advocate, that legislation should be enacted prohibiting unofficial strikes, go-slows, work-to-rule and all other various 729 and devious devices which have the effect of interrupting and limiting production. When a contract is entered into by management on behalf of its company, and a union on behalf of its members, it must be scrupulously observed. Unions must be responsible for the conduct of their members. To this effect I believe that legislation should provide penalties which the union must impose on members who act contrary to their contract obligations.
§ Workmen choose their own union; they elect their own officers; they approve a new labour contract. They should not be permitted to repudiate a contract entered into on their behalf so properly and democratically. I believe that legislation controlling these irresponsible actions against their own unions and their agreed contracts would be approved by every sector of the public—labour, possibly, excepted. But I believe that if a secret vote could be taken a very large proportion of workers would agree that it is right and proper and in the interests of the great majority of work-people.
Let me read a despatch we received recently from Bonn, West Germany:
Wildcat strikes like other kinds of labour disputes are virtually unknown in West Germany though not specifically outlawed. In practice, union/employer agreements give employers the right to dismiss without notice a worker who strikes without the permission of the union, which excludes the re-employment of 'trouble-makers'. In the only recent case of this kind a South German stove manufacturer sacked his 700 employees who had taken part in a wildcat strike and re-employed fewer than 600 after long negotiations with the unions. West German trade unions have become more careful in calling strikes since the Metal Workers' Union—the largest in West Germany—was sentenced by the High Court to pay the employers nearly £15 million damages for a strike which paralysed the industry some years ago. The money was never paid as the employers waived payment in consideration of concessions in other respects by the union.
§ My Lords, I have already said that in my view ways and means must be found to settle all labour/management disputes without strikes or lock-outs. I am, of course, aware that the Government have named a Royal Commission on trade unions and employers. I am sure that its Report will be productive of many changes for the better, but this report is two or three years away and 730 much can be done before that. There is no area of our national life to-day where the public interest is more neglected, almost ignored, than in the matter of industrial disputes. Work stoppages resulting from industrial disputes come about almost entirely without any consideration for those vitally affected—the public.
§ Is it reasonable that two sectors of our society, labour and management, should arrange matters between them, when the decisions arrived at gravely affect millions of people, without those people being represented? Surely this is wrong, completely wrong. I believe that there is one major innovation which could be originated immediately and which should have the support of both management and labour. I suggest that legislation should be enacted similar to the Taft-Hartley Law in the United States. This, I think, calls for a forty-day cooling-off period before a strike can take place. I suggest that when this delaying period starts the Minister of Labour should appoint and brief a competent person, preferably a lawyer or a judge, to attend all further meetings of the two interested parties. His brief should simply be to defend the public interest. He would have no power of decision, and he could only affect the outcome of the negotiations from the negotiators knowing that he was acting for the public. He would continually remind the negotiators of what was the public interest and what would be the consequences to the public if a settlement could not be reached. In effect, he would be an Ombudsman.
§ I believe that the presence of such a man, representing and acting entirely for the general public, would have a very restraining influence. I believe that both sides in a negotiation would at all times be very conscious of his presence. They would always have in mind that if the negotiations failed, he would be required to make a complete report, placing the blame for an unreasonable stand. This report would be made to the Minister of Labour, who, in turn, would be obliged to make it public. I believe that both sides of industry should accept this proposal. It is fair to them both.
§ My Lords, this whole matter of labour—management relations is so complex and far-reaching that it would be quite 731 impossible to deal with it on a comprehensive basis in the limited time available. I believe that the old concept of letting labour and management settle their own problems without interference is no longer tenable. I believe that definite steps must be taken, through legislation, to bring this whole situation more into line with present-day conditions. I hope that the Government will have the necessary courage to take these measures, distasteful to some as they may be. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.18 p.m.
My Lords, I know that the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, both for introducing this topic to us this afternoon and for the refreshing way in which he has done so. In his very impressive maiden speech last November the noble Lord said that he would always be short, clear and concise. This afternoon he has certainly attained that admirable trinity of virtues. Even more important, what he had to say has been not only penetrating and, if I may say so, at times provocative, but also authoritative.
For my part I shall at least try to be short. This is partly because I find myself this afternoon trespassing on rather unfamiliar territory. It is also because, as is no great secret, the Party to which I belong—Mr. Heath's dynamic one hundred-minus policy groups—is at present engaged on a deep and thorough reappraisal of its policies, not least on this vital front of industrial relations.
One thing is only too clear—it is quite clear from what the noble Lord said—that there is something rotten in the state of our national industrial relations. We have been led to believe that everything in this particular garden would be rosy under a Labour Administration. Was is not the noble and learned Lord, the present Lord Chancellor, who told us, a couple of days before the General Election, that we could truly say (I think his words were these): "If you want more strikes, vote Conservative". I think I can truly say that those who took the advice of the noble and learned Lord in this matter have been deceived, as I feel some passengers at London Airport over the Whitsun holidays, and some commuters on the Southern Region of British Rail, may appreciate only too well.
732 In the first five months of 1963, the industrial records show that 490,000 working days were lost through industrial disputes. Last year the position for the same period was worse—1,211,000 working days lost; and this year it is still worse—1,627,000 lost days.
I am sure that all of us appreciate what we as a country lose by these strikes in lost national assets and, indeed, in frayed national nerves. On March 11 of this year a strike of 300 maintenance men at the B.M.C. works was ended. It was that increasing rarity, an official strike. But I wonder whether, in a rational society, that justified the consequent laying-off of some 34,000 workers and the loss of some £10 million in production. Of course, it is arguable. But I do not think it is arguable that it was sensible that the great port of Liverpool should have been paralysed a month or so ago and 117 ships rendered idle because of an unofficial strike, caused by a dispute over extra pay for one gang loading clay. I would imagine that when we read of these things, of the misery caused to air travellers and to train commuters by i what has happened recently at London Airport and by what is happening now on Southern Region, we must feel some sense of responsibility, because we have not as yet been able to order things more sensibly in our industrial society in 1965.
Do I blame the Government for this sorry picture? On one count, yes. I recognise that strikes, especially unofficial strikes, stem from a whole variety of causes. I think that most of the recent disputes have had wages at the centre, and there is no doubt that the strike leaders, mostly acting, of course, without the authority of the unions, have had their cases enormously assisted by the upsurge in the cost of living under the present Government. Between October and May the index of industrial prices rose by 4.2 per cent., which would produce an annual rate of 7.2 per cent. if that rise continued. That compares with an average of about 2½ per cent. per year under the last six years of Conservative administration.
That is one count. More generally, I, for my part, am perfectly prepared to suspend judgment until we see, one way or the other, whether the Government are really determined to tackle the 733 problem of putting our industrial relations on a modern basis and whether they have the will, and the guts, to take the necessary action. I hope, above all, that they will not attempt to play down the seriousness of the position. We may be told this afternoon—we have been told this recently—that so far as industrial disputes are concerned we do not stand too badly in the international league table. I hope we shall not be told that. An article by Professor Roberts of the London School of Economics in to-day's Daily Telegraph puts a very necessary gloss on any such claim, and, if they have not already read it, I commend it to noble Lords opposite who may not read that liberal and progressive paper.
But with regard to the whole of this matter we must remember two things. In the first place, it is only too obvious that as a nation we are now operating on an only too narrow margin of solvency. The Americans can afford to have more strikes than we have. We cannot afford the strikes we do have. Secondly, if our criteria in these matters of industrial relations are national efficiency and international competitiveness, I think that the most important yardstick must be, not perhaps our place in the league table of strikes, but our place in the league table of restrictive practices. Here, although it is obviously extremely difficult to quantify the actual position, I suspect that we stand only too high in the league table. Perhaps the worst symptom of this disease of restrictive practices is that of over-manning, which spreads through so much of our economy. This, as much as anything else, accounts for the fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, reminded us in his maiden speech, that our productivity compares with America's in the ratio of one to three.
To turn back to strikes, which are themselves only too often a by-product of restrictive practices, I would straight away acknowledge that the cure lies just as much with management as it does with labour. My eyes were caught some years ago by a statement by the late Sir Frederic Hooper, in which he said:During my forty years in business, I can recall no experience of labour unrest which could not ultimately be traced back to a failure of communication on the part of management.I myself have not had forty years' experience of business, but, broadly speak- 734 ing, from my own experience, I would endorse that statement. We all know, for example, that in some shipyards a new tool or a new technique can be introduced without any great trouble, while in others its introduction, or even the threat of its introduction, leads immediately to strikes. The difference is usually the difference in the quality of management and the ability of that management to communicate with its labour force. It may be harsh to say so, but it would appear to me that at least part of the breakdown on the Southern Region may be due to a breakdown in communication between management and labour. The negotiations between the two sides seem to have dragged on unconscionably long without being resolved.
There are many striking exceptions to the criticism which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, made of management in this country and which to some extent I have reflected. Take, for example, the successful results of the four-year agreement by the Esso Company two years ago. Their labour force was substantially reduced, overtime was eliminated and a great many uneconomic working practices cut out. These were one side of the coin. The other was the package of generous redundancy payments, help in finding new jobs and a substantial increase in basic wages. That shows what modern, realistic and well-communicated management policies can achieve, and it is the sort of thing which is being increasingly achieved in this country. Here, if I may say so, I think that in his strictures on contemporary management the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, probably for the sake of emphasis, went farther than I would go. I would rather say that it is very patchy; that the bad patches are much too bad, and there are too many indifferent patches. In any event, the advance which is being achieved is being achieved not fast enough and not far enough. As a nation, we still have an awful lot to hoist in on management efficiency before we can claim that we have a mid-21st century economy.
However, it is on the other side, the responsibility of the trade unions, that I suspect our discussion to-day is likely to be mainly focused. Here, again, I hold that it is largely a question of leadership and communication. I recognise 735 that there will be many noble Lords speaking in this debate with far greater experience of this aspect than I have. But I would remind your Lordships that over 90 per cent. of Britain's strikes take place without the authority, and usually without even the tacit approval, of a trade union. It is a staggering figure. Clearly, if there were better communications in the trade union movement, and stronger exercise of authority from the top, we should have fewer quite unnecessary strikes.
Many of the failings of the trade unions are due to their structure and organisation, much of which is hopelessly fragmented and quite archaic.Is it not time for the whole trade union structure to be overhauled, modernised and simplified?Those are not my words: they are the words of Mr. Maurice Edelman, the Labour Member of Parliament for Coventry, North, in to-day's Daily Express.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Earl, I would point out that Mr. Maurice Edelman is not a trade unionist.
Mr. Maurice Edelman may not be a trade unionist, but I think he is perfectly right in this matter, and I hope that the trade union movement in this country will recognise that he is right.
How is this change to come about? Back in 1962 the Trades Union Congress declared its intention of reviewing these matters and seeing what could be done to improve things. Yet only too little has happened. At the 1964 Trades Union Congress, the General Secretary said that he still had hopes that more discussions would be fruitful. But he emphasised that he was more sober than some of his colleagues in his estimate of the time it would take to get things moving. Mr. George Woodcock is a very shrewd and realistic man. But the question which must be asked is whether this country can afford to wait indefinitely for voluntary action on the part of the unions to modernise their aims, their structure and their methods. Believing, as I do, very strongly indeed in the voluntary principle, and in the extra incentive which comes from voluntary decision, nevertheless, in default of other 736 evidence, I consider that the answer to that question will soon, in default of progress, have to be, No.
Parliament has the same right and responsibility to ensure that trade unions, and, for that matter, employers' associations, operate in the national interest as it has with other friendly societies, and, indeed, with limited companies; and Parliament must also ensure that these powerful organisations operate with a due regard for the rights of individuals and minority groups. It is in this context that we on this side of the House welcome the Government's decision to establish the Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Donovan. I shall be glad, incidentally, to have any information which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, can give about the Royal Commission's programme of work. When is it likely to report? Will it possibly make an Interim Report? And, by the way, when may we expect to receive the Report, now, I think, overdue, of another important Committee, that under Lord Devlin?
Having said that, I must make it clear that the welcome which I have extended to the Royal Commission is subject to three conditions. My first is that I trust I am right in assuming that the Government really mean business. I cannot forget that in September last year a certain Mr. Harold Wilson declared that he saw no need for a Royal Commission which would "take Minutes and waste time". There was nothing in the Labour Party's Manifesto about it, or in the Queen's Speech. I hope the noble Lord who is going to reply can assure us, now that Mr. Harold Wilson is Prime Minister, that he has really changed his mind about the utility of a Royal Commission.
My second qualification is that I hope not only that the Royal Commission will cast its net wide and deep in its inquiries—I am sure that it will—but that the Government of the day, whatever their political complexion, will not shrink when it comes to implementing such of the Royal Commission's recommendations as are in the national interest. I, for one, regard trade unionism as an absolutely essential constituent of a healthy, modern industrial State, provided that trade unionism is itself healthy and modern. Likewise, I regard the right to withdraw labour as an absolutely essential right and liberty; but, of course, on 737 the condition that that right is exercised with a sense of responsibility for the interest of the general public.
On the foundation of those principles, I hope that the Royal Commission will examine all the ideas which have been mooted as to how our trade union movement can be rendered more dynamic and more modern and the action of some of its members more responsible. I hope that they will carefully examine, for example, the ideas which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, has ventilated this afternoon. They should certainly consider the idea mooted in the article by Professor Roberts, to which I have already alluded, thatthe time has come when the fiction that unions are outside the law should be brought to an endA way of achieving this, as Professor Roberts points out, is to make collective agreements into collective and legally enforceable contracts. I will not weary your Lordships with all the other possibilities; they are, of course, legion. My hope is that the noble Lord who is to reply will be able to assure us that the Government's approach to all this is both radical and determined.
My third and final qualification in welcoming the appointment of a Royal Commission is this. I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us that, just because this Royal Commission has been established, the Government do not feel that shorter-term interim action is not called for. We have lately seen far too much of totally irresponsible strike action. We have seen the convenience and the interests of the general public ignored and abused. I remember very well the words which the Minister of Labour himself used when he was caught at Whitsun at London Airport in the toils of one of these unnecessary disputes. He said:These strikers have the power to disrupt the lives of good people. Those good people may, ere long, say that they have had enough and that they are not going to be pushed around any longer; and they will have my support.Can the noble Lord, Lord Champion, tell us what lay behind those words? They represented pretty tough talk. Do they, in this interim period before the Royal Commission reports, foreshadow tough and early action?
I would only add this, in conclusion. We are now in the midst of a new Indus 738 trial Revolution—the Industrial Revolution of nuclear power, space travel, computers, automation and so on. But we have entered it with an industrial structure, for the most part (and this, I think, applies particularly to our trade union structure) born of, and still firmly anchored in, our earlier pre-Victorian Industrial Revolution. One symptom of the antiquity of that structure is the rash of old-fashioned unofficial strikes to which we are exposed. If we are to keep our heads above water in this modern world, let alone to make the sort of headway in it to which our native inventiveness entitles us, then we must adapt, and adapt pretty quickly. No one can guarantee that a process of change, perhaps especially in this vital field of industrial relations, is likely, at least in some ways, to be other than rather painful. But the alternative to that essential process of adjustment, accompanied perhaps by some pain, is the greater comfort, and the stagnation, of the backwater.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, has raised a question of serious public concern, and I am sure the whole House, as I am and as the Government are, will be grateful for his having done so. I must say that he made the sort of speech that I expected from him, one that comes from knowledge and a deep concern for the country's welfare. A certain amount of this ran through the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. Of course, he had to make a few Party cracks; he had to use the stuff that had been dug up by the Party Central Office. I do not blame him for this, but I must say that I think this is a matter upon which the Party approach is much better left out.
If we are to have the Party approach, if I and the Government are to be challenged to have the guts and ideas to tackle this problem, all I can say is Why was it not tackled in the last thirteen and a half years? They had the time. If they had the guts and the ideas, why did they not tackle it? In this connection one must remember that the highest figure of days lost as a result of strikes occurred in 1957, when there were 8½ million days lost. I do not want to continue in that vein. When I was speaking for the Opposition, either in this House or in another place, I never 739 approached this question of labour relations, and this problem which besets industry generally, from a Party angle. I am glad that, as his speech proceeded, the noble Earl began to depart from that and become sensible about the whole thing. Some of his points I shall, of course, have to answer in the course of my speech. I must admit that I would have preferred that the Motion had been expressed in more positive and broader terms, since sound industrial relations of course involve much more than the mere absence of strikes.
The noble Lord's speech went much further than his Motion. I welcome that because so will mine. Sound industrial relations should provide a basis for efficiency, high productivity, and economic advance. Strikes are damaging to industry, wasteful of our national resources—and I hate them as much as any noble Lord, although my home background is that of a trade unionist. They may well be a symptom of a deep-seated malaise, something that cannot be got over in a few minutes.
Before I proceed further, I wish to submit some figures to your Lordships so that you may have some measure of the size of the problem we are discussing. I assure your Lordships that I shall not minimise it, or show complacency about it; neither does my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour. But it is important to know how the present compares with the past, and how this country's experience compares with that of other countries. Since the war, the days lost each year from stoppages of work have fluctuated considerably, and it cannot be said that there is any clear trend up or down. The highest figure was the one that I mentioned just now, 8½ million days lost in 1957, and the lowest was less than 1½ million days lost in 1950. Exceptionally high figures have usually been due to large national strikes. These are a very rare event these days, and I am very glad about that. During 1964 the days lost were about 2¼ million. A loss of 2½ million days—
§ LORD CHAMPION
I will just complete my sentence. As I said elsewhere, only a convict likes to be stopped in the middle of a sentence. In 1964 the days 740 lost were about 2¼ million. A loss of 2½ million days would be equivalent to less than one hour per year per worker, Now I will give way.
§ THE EARL OF DROGHEDA
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, but unfortunately I stood up just after he had completed the sentence. I was not quick enough. I wish to ask the noble Lord whether time lost through working-to-rule is included in any shape or form in the official figures.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, these are the actual figures of days lost through strikes, and have no relevance at all to the so-called working-to-rule or go-slow and the loss to the community as a result of action of that kind. I may have a word or two to say about this later on, but certainly the figures do not include anything which can be called either working-to-rule or going slow.
If we compare our position with that of other advanced industrial countries, we see that we are neither at the top nor at the bottom. But our record puts us nearer to the top than to the bottom. That is nothing to be proud of. We lose, for example, more time this way than the Netherlands and Germany pro rata, but less than France and Italy, and certainly less than Canada and the United States of America, despite the fact that the noble Lord claimed some big advantages for the last two countries, and Canada in particular. I think that the more serious problem which we have to face in this country is the continuing prevalence of limited local strikes, which during the last ten years have varied between 2,000 and 3,000 a year. The year 1964 showed some deterioration compared with 1963, and the record for 1965 so far shows some further increase—and I give this to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, who made some reference to it—although these figures are, of course, not likely to be above the level of some past years.
The great majority of these strikes are unofficial, and this is a problem which managements, unions and Government have to tackle. Here I agree with both the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. This is a matter for management; it is a matter for the trade unions and, in 741 so far as Government can make an effective intervention, it must make that intervention.
I think I must examine some of the circumstances which lead to strikes. I do not, of course, mean, and I will not imply, that unofficial strikes are justified, but we must try to find out the causes before we consider possible remedies. Most strikes are, of course, about pay in one form or another. Most people want to improve their standard of living, although it is obviously short-sighted to press for wage increases which merely result in price increases and, therefore, do not raise real wages. As the Government have made quite clear, the scope for the steady increase in our standard of living necessarily depends upon improving productivity. The negotiation of a so-called productivity deal involves a lot of hard thinking, and it is a task which must first be undertaken by management. It requires, if I may say so, a radical and professional approach, not only to wage-fixing itself, but also to the organisation of work; and it applies also to labour, and will necessitate a willingness to co-operate.
The Interim Report of the National Board of Prices and Incomes on Road Haulage makes this point. I suggest that, wherever possible, management should be thinking along these lines. Here I find myself in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. They must be thinking on these lines. As your Lordships will be well aware, strikes about pay often stem from dissatisfaction about pay relativities. This is a complex question, and it is the relativities which are closest to home, that is to say, between other groups in the same firm, which often lead to disputes. I suggest that there is a heavy responsibility on management to watch this situation in their own firms very closely.
While speaking of the responsibilities of management I wish to refer to two other aspects of industrial relations which, if not properly handled, can cause strikes. Here again I find myself in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. The first is communications. A strike may well occur because employees do not understand the reasons for the actions taken by the management. It may not be easy, particularly in a large under 742 taking, to ensure that the lines of communication to and from the workshop floor are entirely satisfactory all the time. The difference between the firms of to-day and the old family firm is that the contact between the employer and the employee becomes attenuated. It is lost. The position of the foreman in this line of communication calls, I suggest, for special attention and, if necessary, for training. It is of crucial importance that every effort should be made to achieve good communications and for management to take the workers into its confidence on all important questions which affect them. This will not always prevent trouble, but it certainly helps.
The second question to which I wish to refer is discipline. A considerable proportion of strikes takes place because an individual worker has been dismissed or suspended. Let me make it quite plain that in any undertaking there must be discipline and that those who disregard it must expect to suffer. I believe, as I always felt in the Army, that there has to be discipline. I believe a measure of discipline is absolutely vital to the running of any considerable undertaking. But the point I wish to make is that this discipline will be more readily accepted by the great body of employees if its basis is understood and if, where possible, procedures are agreed upon which, in suitable cases, allow for a prior warning to those concerned and some opportunity of appeal to higher authority within the firm when it is alleged by the employee that the action of management is unjustified. Sometimes men strike in protest against a dismissal and the outcome is that the dismissed man is reinstated. This does not make good sense from the point of view of management. It cannot. The essential thing is that the employees should know where they stand when breaches of discipline take place.
I would say one other thing about the responsibilities of management. To-day, questions of industrial relations and personnel management are just as important for the efficient running of a large undertaking as are questions of production, finance and marketing. Many leading firms have recognised this fact and have to-day first-class personnel directors who play a part in the top management of the firm. But this is by no means universal, and other firms 743 should consider following the example set by the firms I have mentioned.
My Lords, I will now speak about the responsibilities of trade unions. There can be no doubt at all that this country needs strong and responsible trade unions. I hope noble Lords will not seek to argue that the troubles we are discussing would be less if in some way the power of the trade unions were to be curbed. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite. Unofficial and unconstitutional strikes presuppose that there is a need for greater strength and greater authority within the trade unions. If this is lacking then there is a need for self-examination—a self-examination to which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, spoke in the better moments of his speech. I think that many experienced trade union leaders would admit that their organisations are over-extended by the growing responsibilities which they have to bear. Some of the great trade unions are facing this problem squarely and making changes which would enable them to give their members the service which is required in our rapidly changing society. I would urge, on behalf of the Government, that more should be done in this direction.
The whole of my personal experience has convinced me that it is in the interests of trade union members that industrial negotiations should be carried out in an orderly way. The implication of this is that there must be sufficient trained and experienced men, full-time officials and shop stewards, to negotiate on the trade unionists' behalf, and moreover that agreements once entered into should not be lightly overturned by an irresponsible but vocal minority. This, I repeat, demands strong trade unions. I said a few moments ago that the lines of communication between the workshop floor and management must be satisfactory all the time. It is equally vital that the line of communication between the trade union headquarters and the engine shed, the shunting yard or the workshop floor should be in good working order. I know some of the difficulties of this, but if it is not really working well as between the trade union headquarters and the man on the shop floor or in the shunting yard, often one cannot get the acceptance of the idea because it has not properly been put over. The line of communication has failed.
744 The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, made, I thought, two positive suggestions. The first was that unofficial strikes should be made illegal and that heavy penalties should attach to those who are in breach of such industrial agreements—in breach of them by striking. Coming from such a quarter, of course, I would not dismiss that suggestion lightly, but I must point out, and we must face the facts of this matter, that its implementation would raise very difficult problems indeed. For example, in the case of an unofficial strike, how could one identify the effective leaders? And, if action is taken against them, either by legal or any other means, one would merely turn those unofficial leaders into martyrs and further aggravate the situation. Those of us who are in the trade union movement know how we love our martyrs! You have only got to call a man a martyr and we are all prepared to strike straight away. The last thing we must do is to turn people into martyrs by the sort of action it seems to me the noble Lord had in mind. But undoubtedly the idea merits careful consideration, and I would say it could not possibly be overlooked by the Royal Commission.
The noble Lord dealt with the drivers' go-slow. Although a railwayman, I am not going to defend their action. I can to some extent understand it. I know some of the difficulties in this field. I know how so often men who are carrying and bearing tremendous responsibilities find themselves getting less than their daughters, who are typists. But, as I say, I will not and must not enter into a defence of their action, because I believe that they should rely upon the men that they have elected to the head of their trade unions to settle their disputes. But I must say I would never agree that any free society should do anything which would diminish the right of a man to strike. This is essential to freedom, as I understand it.
His second suggestion seemed to me—I am not sure that I understood it correctly—to be rather along these lines: because it is the public who are harmed by disputes, representatives of the public should always be in at trade union negotiations. I must say that this to me, and I dare say to a lot of people, is superficially attractive, but I do not believe that it is a practicable suggestion 745 for all negotiations. Nevertheless, despite that, it is one of those things which must be considered by the Royal Commission.
I do not want to push off everything on to the Royal Commission; it was appointed by this Government, despite the words the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, read out as to what my right honourable friend Mr. Harold Wilson said at some time. We appointed this Royal Commission, and we expect it to do a useful and thorough job and to come forward with recommendations which, provided they are sensible recommendations, one would hope any Government (ours or that of the noble Earl, if by any chance his Party ever come back into Government) will implement without undue delay. I cannot tell him exactly when the Royal Commission will be getting to work. They have already asked for evidence. It is expected that they will start taking evidence by the autumn, but this is by no means certain, so I cannot give this as a fixed date. I am not quite sure, either, when the Devlin Committee will he reporting, but I sincerely hope their Report will not be too long delayed.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, has already referred to inter-union disputes. This is a matter of some difficulty. I think he knows a little about this as a result of his own industry; I can well imagine that he does. But I am not going into this too deeply, because certain things are taking place in this regard. This situation arises partly from trade union structure. Important mergers have taken place in recent years, for example in shipbuilding, and, as he will know, in printing; and more can be expected. The more mergers of this type we can see, the less likely I think we are to have a serious demarcation dispute. And, although there are not many such disputes, and the numbers of days lost do not amount to very many, naturally they immediately strike the public eye and are widely reported in the Press.
I have spoken of management and trade unions, and I now wish to refer to the men who are directly concerned in this Motion. I must remind your Lordships that the great majority of working people in this country do not strike from one year's end to another. The actions of those who do take part in unofficial strikes may, however, have serious results 746 which affect a great many people. In the first place, it is common for a strike by one group of workers to result in the laying-off in the same firm of a larger number of other workers. Also the future prospects of a firm, and indeed the industry in which they are engaged, may be adversely affected. Strikes not only raise costs and make industry less competitive; they also give an impression, in many cases an exaggerated impression, of unreliability as to delivery dates. When such strikes take place in public utility services, then obviously there is at the least serious inconvenience, and sometimes real hardship, to the general public, as is the case with the go-slow in progress at this time. I feel sure, however, that, except for a minority of men whose real objectives are political and not industrial, men who take part in unofficial strikes do not intend deliberately to cause hardship or damage to anybody. They are simply reacting to a situation, a situation which sometimes has not been fully explained to them.
I think there is little doubt that men sometimes stop work without having weighed up the likely profit or loss to themselves. Let us suppose that an unofficial strike over pay is followed by improvements. How long, they ought to ask themselves, will it be before this has offset the loss of wages during the strike? This is a question which is often asked too late, except—and this is my experience—possibly by the wives at home; they are the ones who tend to ask this simple question. These things do cause public opinion to turn, quite unfairly I am sure, against the trade union movement as a whole; they cannot possibly serve the best interests of the trade union members. I suggest that the answer to this problem, so far as trade union members are concerned, is, first and foremost, a better understanding at workshop level of what is going on in the firm and in the industry; and, if I may say so, a better understanding by employees of their own interests. This leads me once again to underline the responsibilities of management and trade unions. It is they who must show the way.
So far, I have not mentioned the responsibilities of Government in this whole field, because I am sure that it is right that we should put the main responsibilities on the people engaged in industry. They, and they alone, can solve the 747 problems, although they will look to the Government for help. My right honourable friend the Minister of Labour, through his National Joint Advisory Council, is seeking to promote the study of some of the urgent problems of industrial relations, studies which will, I hope, lead to action by employers and trade unions. In one respect the Government are taking legislative action. I refer to the Redundancy Payments Bill. I will not outline (I have so much material here, and I have been going on so long) all that I have in this connection of Government action, but I am absolutely sure the House will agree that the decision to set up a Royal Commission on the trade unions is of historic importance. Their task is great, and I hope that all those who bear responsibilities for industrial relations will submit evidence to the Commission on the wide range of matters which come within their terms of reference. In the meantime, if there is anything that my right honourable friend can do to solve some of the problems which exist, even before this Royal Commission reports, he will be only too happy to do it.
There has been a quiet, a gradual, reappraisal of some of these difficulties by industry itself and by some of the trade unions. I could mention a number of them. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, mentioned the Fawley agreement—a good example. There is the agreement concluded by John Brown and Company and the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights and Blacksmiths and Structural Workers—one of the important trade unions. There are others. These are notable events in the shipbuilding and other industries. I believe that it is to constructive developments of this kind that we should look for an improvement in industrial relations in the workshop, the shipyard and the factory. It is at this level that there are the greatest opportunities for progress to-day.