§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND TEMAIR
My Lords, although it is only recently that I sat first in Parliament, in your Lordships' House, I have for a great many years taken advantage of the right of a younger son to stand at the Bar, and I am therefore familiar with the proceedings of the House. I know that one who addresses your Lordships for the first time can count on sympathy and understanding, and I am grateful that I speak with knowledge of that fact.
In dealing with this important question which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, has introduced, I hope that I shall not be thought guilty of egotism if my remarks are confined almost entirely to my own experience, because I have had 755 experience in industry over 60 years. When I left school, I entered a shipbuilding yard and became a member of the trade union responsible for the craft in which I was employed, and that has left a memory with me which has been most helpful to me throughout my career. I shall mention two incidents which struck me straight away. The first was when one of my mates said to me, "D'ye ken, Dudley, it's bad when you're idle—"that is, unemployed—"and the kids start roaring for grub." Your Lordships can imagine that that is a thought which has remained with me always. The state of affairs then, was that there was no National Assistance, no unemployment benefit; nor the various measures which soon after that, with the approval of both trade unions and employers' associations, led to what is often referred to as the Welfare State.
The noble Lord, Lord Champion, mentioned the difficulties which arise, particularly in the shipbuilding industry, about lines of demarcation. It is often thought that that is something which has occurred only quite recently, and people are often surprised when I am able to tell them that with my trade union card, which I still keep, I also have a little booklet setting out lines of demarcation. It is dated 1898, so it is not very new. There are a large number of rules—in fact, I have a similar booklet containing the rules of golf, and there are even more rules of demarcation than there are of golf. However, I continued in the yard, and then passed on to the other works where I was also working on the shop floor. I hope that no-one will think, "Well, these are the recollections of an old man, but what importance have they to-day?" My Lords, they have had enormous importance to me, because when I was responsible for administrative work in industry I knew what to expect, and I was also able, when I became Chairman, to keep in very close touch with all the employees of the companies.
I would again refer to something which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said. He spoke about family concerns where there was a spirit of loyalty and pride in what had gone before, but I must say, after recent legislation, I have felt that that sort of thing was discouraged. How 756 ever, the point I wish to make is this. In manufacturing industry, there are a very large number of firms who have been in existence for a number of years, and have a number of employees with long service—men who are proud of that service, and who are determined to do everything necessary in the interests of their company. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, that is not the sort of thing that is mentioned in the newspapers. But if there is a strike, however unofficial, prompted by strangers who are not influenced by the sort of attiture I am talking about, that is well publicised in the newspapers, on the wireless and in everything else, and it goes abroad. At the same time it is said, "It is no use buying stuff in Great Britain. They say in their own papers that they are of no use; they are late and so on." My own experience in export work is that very often we quote a delivery date which we know we can keep, but we do not get the order because other concerns abroad say that they can do it better, more cheaply and sooner. I have frequently had experience of finding that the plant is delivered after the date on which we had promised to deliver it, and could have done it.
I should like to say something about this question of being in touch at all levels. The sort of firm which I am thinking of is one in which the shop stewards are not, as some people think, irresponsible and fractious people who are always making trouble. That may be so in certain cases, which I shall mention in a moment, but the vast majority of manufacturing industries in this country are working peacefully and efficiently. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, referred to certain stoppages which have caused a great deal of disturbance, but in the main they were not manufacturing industries but services. It is the case that in services, such as the railways, road, air and, to a lesser degree, sea, it is impossible for the conditions which I have described to exist, because the services are scattered over such a wide area. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, is not a person whom I suspect to be not fully aware of what happens on the railways, of course, and there we have people who are always conscientious and obliging; but they are scattered over a wide area. They cannot be in the same position as the members of a concentrated works, who meet every 757 day and know each other, are determined to be together, meet in their homes and all that sort of thing. There was one additional case to which the noble Earl referred, and that was of a company with very large undertakings spread about in different areas; and there, again, there is difficulty for them.
I was very much impressed with an article which appeared in The Times last week, on the subject of the policy of joint consultation in Sheffield. I should like to read one paragraph only of that two-column article, and it is as follows:Little is heard of joint consultation these days and it is sometimes assumed that it is no longer of significance, but there are many places of work where it has become an essential part of the texture of industrial life, helping to create mutual understanding between management and men and particularly important in times of technical change.That article referred to what is going on in Sheffield, where there are a number of works with great divisions. Some of them are very large, but they all know each other and work together. If I may mention the case of my own firm, we have there a very friendly spirit, like most firms in Sheffield, and it may be of interest if I say that each morning the chairman and the convener of the shop stewards' committee meet with the managing director, and they discuss whatever is necessary for the day's work. There are also these friendly relations that lead to very pleasant parties, and so on; and everybody knows each other. Those in administration and the directors have all passed through the preparatory stages of the work, and know what is happening.
I will end by referring to a conversation which I had a few days ago with a friend in another works where I have myself been for over fifty years. He was recently appointed foreman of a department in which he had worked since he was an apprentice. He told me that not long after he was appointed he had had a conversation with an outsider who said to him, "How do you manage, now that you have had to change sides?" His reply was, "I have not changed sides. We have only one side here. All I have done is to take on a different job on the same side, and we are all working for the same thing." I should like to end by saying that I have always hoped that, somehow, we might get rid of saying that 758 there are two sides to industry, with the assumption that each is trying to "do the other down". There may be cases of that; but my point is that the majority of the productive industry in this country is working on lines such as I have described from my own experience—and I have been to a great many works.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ LORD CITRINE
My Lords, my first words must be to congratulate the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, on his maiden speech. It gives me particular pleasure to do this because of the fact that we have been long acquainted in the practical working-out of the problems that arise in industry, and particularly in the realm of capital and labour. As your Lordships must have gathered, he is an eminently fair-minded man. He is a man of long practical experience, starting, as he has told us, with an apprenticeship in the shipbuilding industry. I welcome very much indeed his type, not merely as an individual of character, but as someone of experience in these problems that we are now grappling with in this country. I hope we shall hear from him many times in the future, and I shall welcome him always.
I should also like to congratulate those other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and in particular Lord Thomson of Fleet. His was an outspoken, courageous address. He said many things that a great many people feel but think it is indiscreet, and perhaps too provocative, to voice; and his contribution, much as I would dispute many of his major points, was one that must give us all food for thought. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to get through his speech he read it so rapidly that I could not get down all his points. Indeed, were I to attempt to reply adequately to those I heard I am afraid I should occupy the whole of the time of this debate.
However, I should just like to make this general observation. There is no country in the world that has a wider and more extensive experience, ranging over the pages of history in the evolution of our economic system, than the United Kingdom. Many countries have based their trade union movements upon what happens here; and, of course, others have modified theirs to suit the particular conditions arising in those countries.
759 In no part of the world is there anybody better informed on these subjects than the British employers and the British trade unions. They have regularly engaged in the work of the International Labour Organisation since its inception in 1921, or thereabouts; they have their own international organisations; and, in the nature of things, they exchange experiences in the course of those discussions. As Members of this House may know, I was myself, for eighteen years, the President of the International Federation of Trade Unions. We are therefore not people who are ignorant as to what is happening elsewhere; but what we have to think over is how far what is happening elsewhere is applicable to British conditions and the traditions which govern the daily thoughts of everybody in this country.
Now as I understand it, and probably without any intention to be in the least supercritical, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, made, in effect, an indictment of the trade unions, of the employers, and even of the public in their attitude of mind. The workers were criticised, presumably on the ground of not giving of their best—something that in many industries is palpably true but which, as a general indictment, is perhaps overstating the case. In passing, I would just say this. It is one thing to make a speech in the House of Lords, as I well know; it is another thing to give evidence before a Royal Commission. If I might presume to advise the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, he has an ample opportunity, lying at his elbow now, to make his statements in the presence of experienced people who will be able to examine very closely the proposals that he has made this afternoon. That is not put as a challenge, but merely a friendly invitation from one who, like the noble Lord, is desirous of finding out the best methods by which our industrial relations could be helped.
But I think it would be wrong for me to allow to pass without observation some of the specific points to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, gave voice to-day. He spoke of the national spirit in the U.S.A. and Canada. I have been in the United States at least twelve times, and I dealt with their trade union officials and many of their leading 760 industrialists in the late war. Frankly, I did not notice any substantial difference between the approach of the average worker to his job there and that in this country. It is true that the Americans were brought up in industry, first, under what was, in effect, a despotism, against which the American Federation of Labor and other organisations fought for many years until, under the New Deal legislation of President Roosevelt, they were given for the first time advantages which had been secured in this country by free and voluntary negotiation and discussions between employers and work-people. That, I think, should be remembered.
The noble Lord mentioned specific points about how, as it were, American and Canadian experience may help in the realm of preventing strikes, and referred particularly to the "cooling-off" period of, I think it is (but I would not be sure), sixty days which is required to lapse before a major dispute can take place. What effect has it had? In the post-war period we had in the United States the greatest steel strike that had ever occurred in the history of the industry in any country. It was the longest, and, I may suggest, in some places it was the most bitterly fought of strikes. That is one instance. I have read in the newspapers over recent years of newspaper strikes in the United States which have stopped the presses completely for periods so that mimeographed copies had to be distributed to such people as were fortunate enough to get them.
At the present time there is a shipping strike in the United States, as I read in The Times of July 17. What they say is:The shipping strike on the east and Gulf coasts which began a month ago now involves 111 vessels, which are still idle at their piers. No fewer than 184 sailings have been cancelled.It continues, later:Total losses to the industry from the strike so far are estimated at over 5 million dollars …I mention that in passing. I also read, less than a week ago, about a series of strikes in Canada, some actually in operation and some threatened. I think that altogether about five or six separate strikes were covered by this one cutting from The Times. That is quite unchallengeable. So I think it is necessary for 761 us to keep in mind that strikes are not peculiar to Great Britain; they occur in every advanced industrial country that operates in a democratic way.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, instanced Australia. I was a little puzzled about his reasons for speaking of Australia, a country which relies almost entirely (because of its history) upon a system of compulsory arbitration imposed by the Federal Government and also by the individual States. I do not know whether it is realised that under that legislation, in substance, the trade unions in Australia are incorporated and can sue members in the open courts for arrears of contributions—something completely unknown here and a system which would he completely foreign to the desires of the average worker. There are many things in Australian legislation and in their methods of approach to the problem which I think are highly commendable. But it is not a very long time since I read an article by Mr. Holt, who was then the Minister of Labour, in which he said that people outside Australia look upon Australia as a strike-ridden country. He disputes that and he gave various figures to refute it.
But, much as we have been troubled by dockers and port workers in this country, Australians have been troubled far more by the water-front strikes over the last 25 years. This is despite the fact that strikes are, in substance, made illegal. So I think we must keep things in some sort of proportion. When I was in Australia—and I have been there twice within the last seven or eight years—I made careful inquiries into these matters, naturally, from my trade union interests, and I found that the working days lost in Australia, measured by their working population and compared with ours, are just about the same as those lost in the post-war period here. So it cannot be claimed that the Australian system has prevented strikes. It may have prevented a strike here and there; but as a generality I do not think that could be claimed.
It has also been suggested that secret ballots should precede a strike. I hope I am not misquoting; I had difficulty in getting all the points down as clearly as I would have wished. That idea has been thought of many times here. In 1927, when a Conservative Government was 762 preparing the groundwork for the 1927 Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act, that matter was very fully canvassed; and it was rejected by the Conservative Party because of the complications, not only in administration but in the consequences which would ensue from such a strike. If a strike had been decided after a secret ballot, then, by common logic, that strike could not be stopped except by secret ballot; and there arises the question of who is to take the ballot and of its constituency. This would present enormous administrative problems and the Conservatives rejected the idea, not because of any influence from the trade unions—I was at that time the Secretary of the Trades Union Congress.
Another point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, was about the output of the American worker. It is common property that the American worker has three times the horsepower at his elbow that the British worker has, and if there is any criticism at all, if there is any fault, that fault must lie not at the door of the trade unionist or of the average worker, but against the general organisation of our industries—and I must say that I share the noble Lord's feelings on this point to a great extent; and I have given voice in this House on several occasions regarding what I consider to be the difficulties of British industrial organisation. Do not let us forget that great advantage of horsepower when we come to an industry which, with all due deference to the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, I long regarded, perhaps because of its nature, as one of the worst-organised in the whole country—the shipbuilding industry.
What happened during the War? The United States were building ships, so we were told, in four days. I visited Baltimore and several other places where ships were built to see how it was being done. Of course, it was obvious. Much of the work was being prefabricated in places, some of them, a thousand miles away from the shipyard. And if you took the total man-hours involved on the job, the output of the British worker, if my memory serves me aright, was about two-and-a-half times as high as that of the Americans working in shipbuilding. So I am encouraged to believe that if the British worker were put up against the American, or any other, he will not fall 763 by the way; he will do his job as expeditiously, and perhaps with a higher measure of skill, than most workers who would be our competitors.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, echoed a sentiment or feeling that there must be no more stoppages. The thought has occurred time and time again to me in my trade union life to see how such stoppages could be averted and what was the mechanism available to do it. To be candid, I am of the opinion that no such mechanism exists, nor is it likely to exist, for a considerable time to come. The real remedy lies in the sense of discipline, in the sense of responsibility, of the average man and woman who form the trade union membership and also of their opposite numbers—and this is a very important point—in the ranks of the employers. We have not completely got rid of our autocracy in industry, even to-day. Most men of the type of the noble Marquess, if they were, might I say, numerous in industry, would themselves be able to resolve these problems without the sort of apparatus which becomes necessary in large-scale business in modern society.
I was not very clear in my mind whether the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, when he spoke about there not being any more stoppages, was referring to both unofficial strikes and official strikes. The noble Lord nods his head. All I can say is that this presents a problem that could easily be the subject of a separate discussion. I do not know how it can be done. There are some people naïve enough to believe that it could be done by law. It sounds attractive, but no country has yet succeeded in doing it by law.
I do not think that the average British workman is likely to tolerate legislative interference to a greater degree than his colleagues elsewhere, and the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, knows perfectly well that the employers are just as bitterly hostile to the idea of excessive Government intervention in any phase of collective negotiation—and I see that the noble Marquess nods his head. I did not hear him indicate his assent, but I know that he is in agreement with me on that point. I repeat that in this country we know our business in industrial affairs. Although we are 764 passing through an abnormal period, a period of disturbance, of irresponsibility and inflation beyond anything we knew in pre-war days, it will all come right; and we shall go on with our collective bargaining, as free from legislative interference as we have been able to be in the past.
The example of Germany has been quoted. I am not going to take my ideas of democracy from Germany. There have been too many experiences in the course of my lifetime of Germany being susceptible to a form of dictatorship and authority which would be foreign to the concept of people of this country. Sweden was given as another instance, which seemed to me to be just contrary to the view that this problem could be settled by legislation, or even largely settled in that way. If there is one thing about which Swedish employers and trade unions agree, it is that there shall be the minimum interference by the Government. I should say, speaking again from memory, that there is less such legislation in that country than in practically any other European country.
They do their business by direct negotiation, and they succeeded, after a disastrous lock-out many years ago, in getting a form of organisation, of close contact by reasonable men on both sides, which has resulted in a commendable absence of strikes. I gathered that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, considered this system was no longer tenable in this country. I think he actually used those words. If that is so, all I can say is that it presents a black outlook for us. I believe that the people of this country, no matter to what Party or occupation they may belong, or what may be their circumstances, instinctively resent the imposition of unnecessary authority. They always have done and they always will. In a previous debate in which I spoke I was told that what I was saying amounted to threats. I tried at that time to illustrate the difference between threats and warnings. I have not at any time in my life been accustomed to using threats. When I see difficulties looming up, and problems which I think may cause major disturbances, I try to warn people and that is the spirit in which I am speaking to-day.
765 We must, of course, all deplore the numerous strikes which have taken place, and the disregarding of the agreements formed between trade unions and employers which were the rule before the war. At that time there were three-year and, in some cases, five-year agreements. Breaches of these agreements have been official, in the sense that unions have put in wage applications as if those agreements did not exist. No one likes the idea of inconveniencing the public. A hostile public is no asset to the trade union movement—just the reverse; but it is not the intention of strikers to antagonise the public. Any antagonism and inconvenience which arise are a consequence, and trade unions are in the unfortunate position of being unable, in the normal process of things, to achieve their objectives without causing inconvenience.
I think that we have to keep things in perspective. I repeat that all democratic countries suffer from industrial disputes. There have been very few official strikes in Britain during the post-war period. It is the unofficial, short, sharp strikes in breach of agreement which have caused most of the trouble. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, has already given figures in respect of the loss of working days in recent years. I know that is not the whole test, but it is part of the test. I have looked back a little further. At the beginning of this century, in 1900, the number of working days lost was 3 million. Then the working population was much smaller than it is to-day and trade unionism was very much less developed. We might, naturally, have expected to find that there was an increase in the number of strikes and in the loss of working days as the years have gone by, and the working population has increased. In the first decade of this century the average amount of time lost in working days was 3½ million. In 1912 the figure was 40 million in the one year. In 1919 it was 34 million; in 1921 it was 85 million. In 1926, with the National Strike, the figure was 162 million. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, said that in 1964 the estimated loss in working days was, I think, 2¼ million, so do let us keep these things in some sort of perspective.
I am particularly troubled about the technique which has developed of, not a 766 normal strike, but working to rule. That is not a strike and certainly cannot be so defined under any law that we have, but it is possible to cause more trouble in that way than by a straightforward and open strike. This leads to the question, who makes the rules? It is not the work-people, so far as I know. One of the gaps in British industrial relations results from on absence of consultation with work-people before the rules are made which they are expected to observe. If the rules are so unfitted to guide the operations of a normal day that when they are applied by the workmen business is disorganised, there is something wrong with the rules. I hope that working rules, and that sort of thing, can be a matter of general agreement, wherever that is feasible, but I have not seen any tendency towards that happening.
The refusal to work overtime is regarded as working to rule, but I entirely dispute that. I say that a reasonable amount of overtime has been implicit in collective bargaining ever since trade unions and employers hammered out their agreements together. There are particular industries, like engineering and—I hope that the noble Marquess will support me—the shipbuilding industry, where there is a limit on the amount of overtime which can be worked in the agreed rules between the employers and the trade unions. That is practically non-existent elsewhere so that workpeople can say, "We are not going to work any overtime at all". Without some overtime, the normal operations of British business are not possible. In recent years, the average amount of overtime per employee worked has been about five hours a week. I hope that in trade union agreements with employers that fact will be recognised and provision made for overtime. In a recent set of negotiations which seemed to be leading to a strike, the whole of the inconvenience rested on a refusal to work overtime.
I have spoken long enough, but I feel very strongly on these subjects. I do not want a mistake to be made, because we have several times been on the eve of securing the most cordial relations between central employer bodies and trade unions and have come nearer to achieving this than ever before in our existence. A new organisation has been 767 formed, the British Industries Confederation, possessed of potentialities for close and co-operative working with the trade union movement. I should be very sorry, indeed, if anything occurred to frustrate and make impossible that close relationship. This is not a time for hasty measures, but for mature consideration by the Royal Commission, as my noble friend Lord Champion has said, to deal with this most intricate subject.
So far as my information goes, in a preliminary survey, the Commission have set out 330 questions, and all of them important questions. I hope that that Royal Commission will be able to get down to things without becoming too academic. The T.U.C. and the existing B.E.C. have been examining particular disputes. Is it not the common-sense thing to wait for their reports before we start making condemnations of this party or that party? The general public seldom learn the real causes of a dispute until long after.
I am going to close by asking your Lordships not to run away with the impression that legislation will provide an effective solution to the problems which can arise and will continue to arise in British industry.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I just point out that in Holland, which I am sure the noble Lord will agree is a very democratic country, there can be no strike by law in a public utility without the employees giving prolonged notice? I understood the noble Lord to say that we cannot prevent lightning strikes by legislation. There is a democratic country that has prevented them in the public services.
§ LORD CITRINE
My Lords, that is perfectly right. I think the noble Viscount's question goes right to the heart of things. But law is one thing and the operation of law is another. In this country, we have a law regarding public utilities, too. Persons who give notice to cease work in breach of contract can be prosecuted on indictment. One case occurred some years ago in the gas industry. They prosecuted people on indictment. What happened? The dispute was settled and after that the indictments came before the court. There 768 were strong speeches from counsel—I think that one was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross, but I am not sure about that—but, in the end, proceedings were withdrawn. The employers knew perfectly well that to have their men left under a threat of indictment was not conducive to good relations. In Holland, they have at least three central trade union federations, one of which is based on a religious structure and attached to the Catholic Church. But, if my recollection is right, there have been such strikes in Holland and in its neighbour, Belgium, there have actually been purely political strikes.
§ 5.14 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will allow a few words from these Benches (not quite so thickly populated as they were yesterday) on this extraordinarily important subject, raised in a bracing, almost daring, speech by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet. When I put my name down to speak, naturally I could not anticipate that I should be sandwiched between two such authorities as the noble Lords, Lord Citrine and Lord Williamson, who I understand is now to follow me, and I hope that my words may be regarded as a little light relief during, as it were, the tea interval.
Although, in the nature of the case, people like myself do not come into such close and immediate contact with industrial problems as do many of your Lordships, yet we are not without some contacts of value to us and what we say on these subjects, whatever may be its importance or lack of importance, is not entirely based on that general observation of affairs that is common to us all. We do try to make some intelligent use of the contacts we have, and I may say that before speaking to-day I have taken the opportunity to have some prolonged discussions with those experienced in trade union work and also with some of those actually on strike at the present time.
Before I continue, may I be allowed to add my tribute of congratulation and praise to the noble Marquess for his maiden speech? I never know whether the word "maiden" is a suitable adjective for a young man making his first speech in your Lordships' House or for 769 a mature man. It seems to me to be singularly unfitted to either of them. However that may be, we must be grateful that the noble Marquess has exchanged his seat on the Steps of the Throne for a seat in the Chamber and has exchanged silence for speech, a speech as cogent and interesting as that to which we have just listened.
I share the views of several of those who have spoken who have tried to keep this matter in some sort of proportion. I do not think that we help the case by making things out to be worse than they are. It is helpful to remember that all the days lost by strikes are less than 10 per cent. of the days lost by illness. That helps us to see the scale of the problem, so far as the actual quantity of lost time is concerned. But, of course, that is not all the story because the loss of time caused by strikes may well indicate a deep-seated malaise, a bad state of relations, that affects the whole of industry, whether strikes are on or not. Whereas the incidence of illness is sporadic and falls haphazard over the whole realm of industry, a strike breaks out in some particular industry, maybe at a nodal point, and can hold up the whole of production, or delay exports, because it may have broken out in a port or, as we know only too well at the present time, it may inconvenience thousands of our population because it affects a public service.
I should like to assume that for a very long time to come the present system, in its broad outline, will continue and I should like to make a few observations as to how that system could perhaps be improved. I do not want your Lordships to think that all I am going to suggest is a little more Christian spirit or general good will, for I have lived long enough to know that industrial disputes, like politics, are mostly about power. The noble Lord who spoke from the Dispatch Box, whose speech I so deeply appreciated, said that most disputes were about pay. That may be so, so far as the stated reason is concerned, but I strongly suspect that many of these disputes, whether large or small, are really disputes about power, about where power is to lie in this great field of industry.
It worries me to some extent to see that there is hardly any section of our country that is not willing to use power, 770 for at any rate limited and sectional ends, if it thinks it to its advanage to do so. I include in that statement doctors, apparently now dentists, and also, I think, teachers; and we shall soon come to the point when those sections of the community that have not used these powers are very limited. Among them I think we can still count the nurses; I think we can still count the Judges; I am glad to say, especially now that I have another Bishop with me, that we can count the clergy; and there may be many others besides. But it seems to be generally part of our national mentality that, if you have power, you are entitled to use it. That is a point which we must consider seriously.
However, assuming that things go on more or less as at present, I have had it suggested strongly to me that one of the most valuable things that can be done is for shop stewards to be more regularly and more easily trained in their complicated duties. It seems to me that the general idea now is that an agreement is made, perhaps after a strike or after long negotiations, but once it has been made all the various exceptions to it, all the anomalies that may arise under it, become a highly complicated subject calling almost for a lawyer's training. One cannot expect the average shop steward to go through that; but I believe that it would be to everybody's interest if the shop stewards, who are so powerful, were given every possible opportunity by management and trade unions to be trained so that their decisions may at any rate be based on the widest possible knowledge
Another point I should like to stress is the importance of time in all these disputes. We talk a lot about "escalation" of the war in Vietnam and elsewhere. There is nowhere in which escalation is more important, it seems to me, than when a strike is about to break out. Once the dispute has arisen, it rapidly moves forward on to a broader front, and everything that can be done at an early moment in the dispute to stop the situation spreading is of the greatest value. It has been suggested that if there were a reconciliation panel, or something of that sort, appointed for every area, which could go at once, physically, to the spot where the dispute is breaking out this might often prevent a situation from 771 developing on to an ever-wider front. One of the things they might suggest, where there had been a failure to agree, would be that there should be an immediate change of personnel. It would be a splendid thing if it was accepted on all sides that, if one set of men had failed to agree, the same problem should be looked at by a totally new set of men from both sides, just in case new minds and personalities could see things in a new light.
Much has been said about the importance of communication; and with this I agree wholeheartedly. I think we should do well to break it down into rather simpler and plainer language. It seems to me that it is not only a question of explaining to men in industry important new technological processes. That is, of course, important, but the ordinary small change of human intercourse, between those who have to give orders and those who have to receive them, is also of the utmost importance. It would probably be most inappropriate in industry if communications between those in the chain of command were hedged about by the kind of long urbanities and civilities which we use in this House—they would not go down well with the ordinary working man. But they have their own way of distinguishing, as I believe, between what is a courteous order and what is a arrogant order; and there is nothing more important, perhaps, in the ordinary evolution of good relations than that everybody who has to give an order should be trained from the beginning as to how to give it in such a way that it does not turn the man who receives it into a machine, but enhances and retains the dignity of his personality. I believe that more strikes break out because of this sort of thing than we might imagine.
Having said those things about the present system, I should like to end by raising a more far-reaching question, and it may be one where I shall not be able to carry many of your Lordships with me. I am bound to say that it worries me deeply that, somehow or other—through failures, perhaps largely on the part of capital and management; through the necessary combination of men into the trade unions in order to secure reasonable conditions: whatever 772 may be the history of this process—we have now landed ourselves in a position where industry is what I call laminated; that is to say, it is divided horizontally instead of vertically. If, by some extraordinary turn of fortune's wheel, our social development had taken a different line, and if all those concerned with shipbuilding, for instance, felt more united together as shipbuilders than as anything else (and the same principle can be applied in every other industry in our land) we should, of course, have a totally different situation. But we cannot put back the clock; we have to live with the situation. But I sometimes wonder whether it would not be possible to inject something into our industrial life that might open up new possibilities.
In this connection, if your Lordships will allow me, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the book I hold in my hand. It is a book, which no doubt some of your Lordships will know, by a Mr. George Goyder, entitled The Responsible Company. Mr. George Goyder is that same Mr. George Goyder who only a week or two ago wrote to The Times pointing out that when Bishops spoke on social questions they are always wrong. I hope that on this occasion he will make an exception, and perhaps think that in this case I may be right. I believe that in this book he has opened up a line of thought that may be most valuable to us. His point (I apologise if this is familiar to most of your Lordships) is that in the modern world a company which legally is strictly responsible only to its shareholders is an anachronism; that a modern company, and particularly a large one, is something which has ramifications in so many directions that this old-fashioned way of describing the duties of a company is inappropriate; that nowadays a company has responsibilities, certainly to its shareholders and its workers, but also to those who use those services or buy the company's goods—the consumers—and to the community in general.
He has pointed out in this book that in America, and particularly in Germany, some companies have accepted this view and had their Articles of Association drawn up accordingly. He mentions particularly the Carl-Zeiss Foundation, a great optical instrument undertaking in Germany, which has written into the whole 773 foundation of the company that these various responsibilities and duties all have to be taken account of in the work of managing and conducting the company. I see no possible opportunity of so rewriting our law that existing companies ought all to be reconstructed on these lines. But I believe that if there could be some experiments in our country with companies which accepted this four-fold or manifold responsibility—accepted it formally and legally, as well as in practice, as many already do—there might be an opportunity for something new to grow up in our country which would gradually make archaic and out of date the kind of horizontal separation between management and workers.
The question would then arise, of course: What would be the view of trade unions of such a world? I believe that, once they had seen that the whole purpose of the company had been so enlarged as to make the terms of the old controversy no longer relevant, new functions would be found for them in the way of improving the relationships and the sharing of each of the various elements in industry in the whole enterprise. I throw in those last few words only to express my sense of dissatisfaction with any situation in which a permanent controversy, and almost battle, is accepted as part of the whole inbuilt structure of our industry, and as an expression of my hope that, some day, we may get even beyond the very best relationships that so far have been developed between trade unionists and employers.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ LORD WILLIAMSON
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Thomson of Fleet in submitting this Motion to the House, which provides an opportunity for all of us to consider these questions which are exercising and worrying the minds of us all. The noble Lord made many suggestions. He made, I think, a rather racy speech. I was not able to make notes and I shall be pleased to read it at leisure. But I think on balance the noble Lord's speech was unduly weighted against the trade unions. I would only say that it is freely admitted in employers' organisations that in our main industrial relations there is as much blame on the employers' side as there is on the workers'.
774 I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate was sandwiched between two trade unionists, but it did not prevent him from making a most interesting, informative, and thought-provoking speech. I think it goes to show that this question is a difficult and intricate one, and that there are not any textbook answers to it. I agree with the phrase used by my noble friend Lord Citrine: what sort of a democracy is it we want? I remember the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth saying that we shall not get anything like a perfect democracy unless we get the individuals forming our society acting with a sense of social consciousness—and that applies to industrial relations as much as it applies to anything else.
Noble Lords will notice that the Motion refers to "stoppages", and I am sorry about that. It is likely to convey to the lesser informed on these matters, or a substantial proportion of them, that strikes or go-slows are officially authorised by trade unions. Of course, such a conclusion would he quite wrong, and of recent stoppages in motorcar factories, docks, mines, railways and airports, I should say that the vast proportion would be unofficial action, in some cases condemned publicly by the unions concerned. So it is because of the unofficial and unconstitutional actions of sometimes comparatively small numbers of work people that the good name of the trade union movement is being besmirched. In this day and age of highly organised industry, it is the case that a few recalcitrant trade unionists (or non-unionists, if it comes to that) can decide to stay away unofficially and stop the whole works, and throw thousands out of employment. Therefore, this question of unofficial action becomes a much more important matter, and it brings it into the realm of Government and what is to be done about it to defend ordinary members of society against this sort of thing.
It would be intolerable if the whole trade union movement, comprising some 9 million work people, was to be restricted, and possibly subjected to penal conditions, because of the lunatic antics of a small minority. But there is a responsibility on unions to exercise discipline and control of those members who persist in unconstitutional action. While from time to time a few hundred men, or sometimes a few thousand, see fit to 775 take the law into their own hands, there are 9 million trade unionists, and 9 million non-trade unionists, who are getting on with the job and allowing their claims and complaints to be settled peacefully through the appropriate machinery. Every day and every week thousands of industrial settlements are taking place through the normal negotiating machinery, and there are still some industries and many firms in this country who have never had a major stoppage.
If your Lordships will allow me to quote the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, speaking in your Lordships' House on Thursday, May 6 [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 265 (No. 71), col. 1072] he said:From reading the newspapers one might think that the British workman was perpetually on strike. It is very difficult to understand where the production comes from, with obsolete plant and workmen who are always on strike—but neither of those contentions is in the least true. In fact, the percentage of work lost in this way by British workmen per annum is something like a quarter of the loss in the United States.I could add to that, and say that we in this country compare very favourably with any other democratic industrial country. I am not bringing this point before your Lordships by any means to condone strikes and other forms of impediment to production, but only to try to get the problem into perspective.
I recently said in your Lordships' House that strikes benefit no one, neither the workers concerned, the industry, nor the nation. Nevertheless, the right to strike is basic to our democratic way of life and should be safeguarded at all costs—the right of men to decide whether or not they will work for an employer on the terms offered or not. But, having said that, I say that the right to strike in a democratic society carries with it certain responsibilities and obligations: for instance, giving proper notice to an employer in accordance with the working agreement—normally seven days' notice on either side—and, secondly, so far as trade unionists are concerned, acting only within the provisions of union rules and abiding by the executive authority of the union. The right to strike does not give anyone the right to break his contract of employment, the right to flout working rules and agreements, or the right to defy the authority of the union and its constitutional decisions. I 776 believe that unofficial strikes, go-slows and so-called working-to-rule are bringing the right to strike into contempt and, worse, putting it in jeopardy. The Royal Commission will no doubt go into this question and all of us will look forward to getting its report in due time.
One of the troubles in some parts of industry in recent years is that lance—corporals have assumed the rôle of company commanders, and from time to time they usurp the authority of the union and incite men to take unofficial strike action. Some five years ago the Trades Union Congress appointed a committee of inquiry, of which I was chairman, which made certain recommendations to the 1960 Trades Union Congress, two of which I should like to bring to your Lordships' attention. One was that where strike action was taken or prolonged, contrary to general policy and specific advice, the unions should take some form of disciplinary action against the members concerned. Secondly, unions should be more vigilant and if, after a warning, a shop steward repeats actions which are contrary to rules and agreements, his credentials, which are his opportunities for doing good—or for doing harm—should be withdrawn. These recommendations were approved by the Trades Union Congress in 1960. Yet, my Lords, the sad fact is that some unions have failed to take the necessary action to discipline certain recalcitrant workshop representatives and, in consequence, some industries and shops are threatened with constant stoppages of production.
It is tragic that the social standards which have been built up over the last twenty years are being threatened by indiscipline and selfishness which, if continued, will mean, as sure as night follows day, a diminution in the standard of living. The Prime Minister's recent forceful statement is to he welcomed, and I believe what he said has the full support of the nation. The survival and economic prosperity of the nation transcends all other considerations and must be paramount. It is, I believe, within this conception that individuals and organisations must operate, and it is the responsibility of Government, in the last resort, to see that this is carried out.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD ROCHESTER
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, 777 Lord Thomson of Fleet, for having introduced this debate, and I say that also on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches. My own qualification to speak is, quite simply, that for a good many years now I have been engaged in large-scale industry in trying to prevent and, if necessary, to help in settling these disputes of which we are talking before they result in stoppages of work.
If he will forgive me, I do not wish to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, on his main theme this afternoon, although I am bound to say—and he himself acknowledged this—that this is a complex subject. However, I find myself more in agreement with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, because legislation of the immediate, comprehensive and highly restrictive kind which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, appeared to be advocating would not seem to me to be helpful in the present climate.
From my experience, I would suggest to your Lordships just a few ways in which to tackle this problem constructively. First, in trying to keep within bounds the natural aspirations of men constantly to improve their standard of living. It is not sufficient—and this I suggest we have seen in the last few months—to subscribe to general declarations of intent, to plead for restraint in applications for wage increases, or to appeal for greater productivity. Exhortation may have its place in the pulpit and on the political platform, but from my observation it cuts precious little ice on the factory floor. What is needed—and here I find myself very much in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe—in the general interests of the economy and of the community, is that bargains should be struck between management and men in which improvements in pay and conditions of employment are exchanged for reduced manning scales and the general elimination of restrictive practices. They must be realistic bargains, of course, and it is important particularly to see that reductions in manning are accompanied by adequate safeguards against redundancy and, where redundancy is unavoidable, by generous compensation for loss of employment.
In seeking to improve employment conditions, I have in mind especially the need gradually to do away with distinc- 778 tions between clerical staff, on the one hand, and manual workers, on the other. These are based on social and economic conditions which are no longer relevant and it is high time they were done away with. It is sometimes said that this attempt to eliminate distinctions by giving more security to manual workers and by exercising less control over them is fruitless because the workers cannot be trusted. But why should anyone be expected to exhibit a sense of responsibility if he is not treated as a responsible person? I believe that the capacity to accept responsibility and to direct behaviour towards organisational objectives is latent in all of us and there is no reason to suppose that the British workman is an exception.
In conditions of full employment in an affluent, educated society the task of management in industry to-day is no longer merely to control; it is to create the conditions in which men will recognise and seek to develop for themselves this capacity of which I speak. It involves an attitude of mind on the part of management which calls for wisdom, humility and courage in permitting men to feel that they have a part to play in the enterprise. It is not necessary to dwell this afternoon on the mechanisms required for this purpose. I had not intended to make any reference to Party points, but the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester referred to a particular book by Mr. George Goyder, and I think I should say that the main theme of this book has been thought about a good deal within the Liberal Party. I myself find this a complex question and would not wish to draw any conclusion this evening, but I would emphasise that it has been considered to a great extent. However, like everything else within this field, I think that, if at all possible, this matter is best left to industry itself to sort out in the first instance.
Secondly, I suggest that there is an educational job to be done (and on this point I was so glad of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester had to say) in seeing that not only shop stewards but also management and supervision are told about the policies of the firm, and the reasons for those policies, and particularly about agreements concerning negotiating procedure, wages and working conditions that have been 779 entered into between the company concerned and the trade unions. In my view, too—and I speak in this matter from some practical experience—education of this kind should take place during normal working hours and at the expense of the company concerned.
In the case of shop stewards, courses are perhaps best organised jointly by management and trade unions, if only to avoid any suspicion that, in helping to sponsor them, management is simply trying to put across its own propaganda. By the same token, speakers can be drawn from both management and union representatives, and discussions should similiarly be open to both. After all, if a firm's policies and the agreement made between that firm and the trade unions are sound, they should bear examination in this way. In my experience the informal atmosphere of the classroom contributes to friendlier relations, promotes more confidence and is often more productive generally than that at the negotiation table itself. It helps, too, to bring about a situation in which, when a dispute does arise, it is more likely to be resolved because the parties to it have learned to know, away from the heat of the particular argument, at least some of the relevant facts; the importance of following constitutional procedure; that there may be some reason for the other fellow's point of view and that he, too, is an ordinary mortal.
I should like, finally, to talk for a moment about trade unions. I hope that, from what I have so far said, it will be plain that trade unions do command my sympathy; indeed, I believe in them enough to feel that if there were not such organisations some other combination of men would need to be found to help to keep management up to its job. But today the enormous power of the unions is matched by an equally great responsibility urgently and voluntarily to streamline their structure, to improve communications with their members, and to do everything possible to see that the agreements they enter into are, in fact, honoured. I was very glad to hear the forthright words on this point spoken just now with the courage we should expect of him, by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson.
I do not minimise the difficulties of trade union leaders in this matter, for 780 I know very well how in the last resort they depend for their office and their livelihood on those who have elected them. I have already indicated one or two ways in which they are entitled to look to management for support—indeed, for a lead. But there are some things which only they can do. I sincerely hope that they will do these things, without waiting for the Report of the Royal Commission, and before public opinion hardens to the unhappy point, in a democracy like ours (I do not underestimate the difficulties, and I am not advocating this), where legislation is invoked to do them for them. I say this in no threatening way, but as a friend who has worked closely with trade unions for many years.
There are petty tyrannies in the branches, as we know very well; there is interference in individual liberties; there are undisciplined and irresponsible strikes, in defiance of authority and in breach of agreement, as many of your Lordships have already said this afternoon. These all have one characteristic in common: that they seek to place the interest of a particular section above that of the community at large. And they must end, for, in the last resort, there are greater interests than those of any group—the liberty of the subject and the welfare of the nation as a whole.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, I have not the same close and continuous experience of handling industrial problems as the noble Lord who has just spoken from the Liberal Benches. Therefore, if he will excuse me I shall not attempt to follow him on the points he has made. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, has paved the way to one or two things I mean to say very quickly, but I do not think I should have been brave enough to take part in this debate at all if it had not been that, a long time ago, in 1918, I worked in the Ministry of Labour and spent part of my time in a section which dealt with trade boards and joint industrial councils. There I had the privilege of working under two men, Bertram Wilson and Heath. They are probably now only names to most people, but they were two practical idealists, and their contribution to the cause of industrial organisation and 781 peace is very much greater than anybody to-day realises.
Their ideal, as I understand it, was that in each industry there should be a joint council consisting of responsible representatives of each side, employers and employed, authorised to represent the views of each side, and of such standing that, when agreement was reached in the council, and those concerned left the conference table, there was a reasonable prospect that when they went back to their employers' associations or unions the agreement they had reached would be made binding in the employers' office and on the factory floor.
As my noble friend Lord Aberdeen and Temair said just now—and here may I congratulate him very much on what he said?—that ideal has been reached, in a great many industries, notably not only the shipbuilding industry which he mentioned, but the iron and steel industry, in which he spent a long and honourable time. Of course one can say that to stage a "wildcat" strike in a blast furnace would be a highly dangerous proceeding, and perhaps that is one of the reasons they happen so seldom. But we have not reached that same happy state of affairs in a number of industries, and if there is one reason more than another why that has not happened, it has been the growth of the theory and practice of the unofficial strike. I will give an actual example of this, without mentioning names—though I think that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, knows what is coming.
Last year a firm with which I am connected (and here I must declare an interest) decided to exhibit their wares on a stand at one of two exhibitions in West London. Here I ought to tell you that the exhibitors are not parties to the actual contract with the people who put up the stands. There is an arrangement, which sounds to me as near to a restrictive practice as one can imagine, by which the exhibitors are compelled to use the firms which are approved by those who own the exhibition halls. But never mind about that at the moment. Just before the exhibition started a dispute arose between skilled and unskilled labour. I know what it was, but I am 782 not going to waste your Lordships' time by telling you about it.
The result of that dispute was that, although the exhibition started on the Monday, it was Wednesday evening before the stands were completed. So those firms who were exhibiting, and doing their best to get customers, not to speak of export business, had to endure their stands' being, half the time of the exhibition, in disorder. It is only fair to say that the Joint Council of that particular industry declared the whole thing illegal. That was all they could do. I am sorry to say that it reminded me of a rhyme in a children's book—Then how the pussycats did mew,What more, poor pussies, could they do?But the exhibitors were made fools of in the eyes of those who had come from home and overseas to visit the exhibition. There was nothing they could do about it, except to say, as well they might, that in a country which aimed to be well run, no private people should be made to suffer in a public nonsense of that kind. There is the story, short I hope, but none too sweet.
Now what is the moral of it? I have told this story because I think that, in its way, it is quite a collector's piece on a small scale, not to be connected with any of the go-slows and things which are happening now, and because it exhibits all the bad features of a state of affairs in which unofficial strikes exist, whether they are tolerated or whether they are not. As the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said, the headquarters of the unions are all, at least nominally, setting their faces against such things. But I could quote cases, again within my own experience, in which the unions concerned have thought they could have it both ways—"Let the unofficial strike run, and if it shows signs of taking good ways, cash in on it".
That brings me to the real point, and the only one I want to go on to make; namely, that the existence of an unofficial strike, wherever it takes place, presupposes to my mind the existence of an alternative organisation for leadership—an organisation alternative to the unions who are supposed to be responsible for the leadership of those men concerned. There must be an alternative organisation, otherwise the unofficial strike could 783 not be organised; and no amount of the double-talk and jargon which so often surrounds these things (though not, I hasten to say, in this debate) can obscure what I believe to be an undoubted fact. I cannot see how it can happen otherwise.
As I have said, I do not pretend to a close knowledge, these days, of trade union affairs, but having thought a good deal, for quite a long time, about questions of leadership, I have come firmly to the conclusion that those who aspire to leadership should make up their minds that they will never be leaders unless they aim to be leaders first, last and all the time, and therefore should aim to do away with any rivals to their leadership, so long as they want to exercise it. That, I think, is fundamental. "It must be so", as my noble and gallant friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein used to say in the days when he lectured on the military art. So, if our friends in the trade unions really want to lead, they must be determined to lead, and must allow nobody else to lead at any time. If it turns out that they want the protection of more legislation, by all means let them have it. I personally doubt whether legislation or laws are the answer, because this is a human problem which I believe should properly be dealt with in human ways. But there it is.
The rules of leadership, as I understand them, apply impartially in every walk of life. Everything I have said applies equally to employers' associations and to everybody else in this world. In my view, there can be no real progress until this matter is tackled by the people who are supposed to lead the workers. It will be a hard pull because several times various unions we can think of have been nearly unhorsed, and it is not going to be at all an easy matter for some people to climb back firmly into the saddle and grasp the reins. But if they do, they can count on wide encouragement and support from a circle far wider than the normal circles in which these things happen. My Lords, that is all I have to say, except for one comment. I wonder whether those in the trade union Congress House ever had any time to study military history, because if they did they would discover that the great Duke of Marlborough, before he was able to complete his plans to win the 784 Battle of Blenheim, had to put an end to the arrangement by which the allied armies were commanded by different commanders on alternate days.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, like others, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, for raising this debate to-day. At this late hour I do not want to comment on all that he said, but simply to put up one particular point that he made. He referred to the poor image that this country was achieving overseas on account of strikes and so on. We have heard to-day some details of the actual situation. Those of us in this House who did not know before know now that comparatively our record is not a bad one. I have some experience of going repeatedly to France and the United States, and I can assure your Lordships that in those countries there are many people who believe that we are a strike-ridden nation, despite the fact that both those countries have a considerably worse record than we ourselves have.
I want to say that I believe that the section of our society which is particularly responsible for the creation of that misapprehension is our Press. I am sometimes quite worried to note that achievements in British industry take a small place in the columns of our Press, but failure in the form of strikes and so forth takes quite a big place. Perhaps this is because achievement is much more frequent than failure and therefore is not news. I do not wish to be facetious about this matter, but if the Press of this country would do more to put this matter in proportion our image overseas would improve; and I join with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, in believing that this unnecessarily low image is an extremely serious matter for our export industries.
May I move on to make my real contribution this afternoon, by making a comment which may sound derogatory—I hope it will not be—to some others who have spoken. I really do not believe that we shall approach a solution to this problem of industrial disputes by treating it in terms of communication—that almost bromide word which is discussed at every conference of managers and trade unionists throughout the country, and has been so discussed for years—or, in terms of leadership, that estimable quality which 785 we find in some men but which we cannot inculcate, and which we cannot even define. This is not the correct approach to what is in fact an extremely serious sociological problem.
I was interested in the comments of the right reverend Prelate, because he was the only person in the debate who drew attention to the problem of power. I would add to that problem the power of differential wages. These are the key points to the problems with which we are concerned. When people draw attention to the fact that the public may get fed up with those who strike, I am reminded of the thought that the public who object to being held at London Airport may contain those who will run the next strike next week, somewhere else. Indeed, strikes to-day are becoming so widespread, and so widely spread throughout the community, that we are all involved in them. It is not a matter of one class of society causing all the trouble. It is a sociological phenomenon of Western society. I do not think that it can be dealt with except by applying to the problem that penetrating type of mental discipline of the sort we have employed in exploring our physical environment over the years in which science has aided us. It is no good thinking that the problem can be solved by a few cursory discussions on a superficial level, for it cannot be solved that way.
My claim to speak in this rather highfalutin' manner is simply this. For twenty years I have been chief executive of an engineering company which now employs 5,000 people. Fortunately, in 1949 when Government funds were available to do research into the problem of organisation we went into collaboration with a group of sociologists, and that research continues to this day. I think that it is the longest piece of sociological research into organisation that has ever taken place. It has resulted in the publication of some eight books which have been published in a very large range of languages. It is the outcome of this research which stimulates me to stand on my feet to-day and point to the serious nature of the disciplined research which will have to be done if we are to achieve a solution in these matters.
In the rest of what I have to say, I want to mention two examples of the sort of approach which I believe is re- 786 quired. They are mere examples, indeed trivial examples, because I must make them short. The first example is not from industry, but from constitutional history. Bagehot in 1880–1890 studied Parliament, and in his book The English Constitution he draws attention to the wide difference between what the British Constitution was assumed to be and what in fact it actually was. In that famous book, using his brilliant English, he summed it up by saying that it was held that the great virtue of the British Constitution was the entire separation of the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive. After a great deal of explanation, he came to the conclusion that the singular virtue of the British Constitution is the almost complete fusion of the Legislature and the Executive in the Cabinet. Here is a dramatic example of all those who thought about the British Constitution, not being able to look at it objectively and going on writing about it in an inaccurate manner.
Nothing is so true of industry as our inability to see what the real institutions in use are. The example I want to choose is about strikes. Some years ago British Overseas Airways Corporation had a strike which they stated cost them £250,000. They were so anxious about this strike that they caused an inquiry to be conducted into it and they published the results. The strike had concerned a change in the disposition and the work of supervisors, and yet the strikers were the craftsmen and operators in BOAC. In the report that was published these pregnant words were used:This is a strike which should never have taken place.One of the reasons for a strike is the failure on the part of representatives of the men to convey to those men adequately a proper idea of the plans of management. It is a common fallacy that it is the duty of shop stewards, or even of trade union officials, to convey to the rank and file the details of the policies and plans which management propose to pursue. This common fallacy arises from a lack of ability to analyse the real nature of the situation. This is where I am perhaps going to get a little "longhaired". We have to recognise that there are at least two rôle systems in every company. There are a series of rôles into which people contract to do work. 787 This system of rôles covers everybody employed in the company from chief executive down to the lowest manual worker. There is another system of rôles which people take up, and this consists of what one might call elector or constituent rôles and representatives who are elected. This is a completely different series of rôles.
Confusion about these two rôle systems leads to the confusion which results in management, after thinking out detailed changes, quite consistently relying upon representatives informing the rank and file. So these representatives—representatives who are responsible to those who elect them, and not to management, and whose communications can in no way be checked by management, and whose function it is to explore every change to see whether there is anything in it which might adversely affect the interests of those who elect them—are given the task of conveying an objective account of these plans to the rank and file. If they are asked questions about these plans, they are quite unable to answer them. I hope nobody will think that I am delivering an attack upon representatives, for I am not. Yet if management were to adopt the practice of addressing themselves directly to the rank and file over some vital change which might cause anxiety, these representatives would, in my experience, be the first to object on the grounds that it was interfering with the process of negotiation.
But, of course, it does not so interfere with the process of negotiation. Management can talk to 10,000 people, and if they were to attempt to negotiate with that number they could not do so. What is required is an assurance that they will not interrupt the process of negotiation, but it is their function to convey details of their plans to that rank and file and to answer appropriate questions. If British managers are asked to take on that rôle of elucidating their plans in this way they will normally refuse to do so for similar reasons to those given by representatives. Yet it is my experience that, when this is done, sometimes strikes can be inhibited before they start. This comment is based on an analysis of two rôle systems and an observation by sociologists of what really exists. We have given a name to this process and it is contraction, because the manager is contracting the 788 lines of communication between himself and the shop floor. This is my simple example—one out of a hundred which I could give your Lordships if I had time.
I will just say this before I sit down, and I am going to use the name of the firm because I do not think they will object. We all know that up till about two years ago the Ford Motor Company in this country endured a series of the most painful and prolonged strikes. It may have escaped your Lordships' notice that for the last eighteen months we have heard nothing of strikes at the Ford Motor Company. I think I know something about the reasons for this, because that company conducted a penetrating analysis of the rôle of foremen in their company, and a substantial team of people drew up an explicit statement of the authority and responsibility of those foremen, as well as explicit statements of the policies which that company felt it proper to follow in the regulation of work in their workshops. It was the first time that these explicit and readable statements had been available to everybody. I think that this simple analysis of the situation, and the making explicit of matters which had not been explicit before, has indeed made a very great contribution to the change which has come about for that company. This is only touching a corner of a vast subject. I hope that I may have stimulated interest in a much more penetrating analysis of this subject at a much higher level of abstraction.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, for putting this Motion on the Order Paper. I shall read his speech in Hansard to-morrow with the greatest possible interest, because I think it is very good to study the criticisms of one's activities, and I think it is very good for us all to know what they think of us on the other side of the Atlantic. But the only point in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, to which I want to refer to-night is the use of the word "amateur". I think I can deal with that in congratulating the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, on 789 his maiden speech—because, quite clearly, he is not an amateur. He started, as so many of us in industry have done, in a boiler suit on the shop floor; and that, I may say, applies to a great deal, in fact to nearly all, of management to-day.
This debate has been intensely interesting to me, and the speeches uniformly good, and I can only hope that this debate will be widely read in British industry to-morrow, because, unfortunately, we do not have 308 noble Lords here to-day to hear this very important debate. I find myself in sympathy with much that has fallen from every noble Lord who has spoken. I think the only shade of disagreement I have is with the noble Lord, Lord Brown, because although I share his distaste for the word "communications", I still think, without going into a long explanation, that leadership and communications are vital to industry to-day.
I am not going to pursue the many points raised by other noble Lords, because they have all said so much better than I could have done the things which I wanted to say. But I hope that, in what I am going to say very shortly, I shall be able to enlist your Lordships' interest and support. The membership of this House covers so many fields of activity in our national life, that we must all have many opportunities to help in this all-important cause of improving industrial relations. Naturally, this objective is very close to my heart, because I speak as Chairman of the Council of the Industrial Welfare Society, which, under its constitution, exists for the betterment of human relations at work, education and training in industry; better personnel and welfare services, and better community relations—which I think covers the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester.
The Society, which some of your Lordships may not know about, was founded many years ago just after World War I by Robert Hyde, and directed itself mainly to improving the physical attributes of welfare—canteens, lavatories, washplaces and so forth. But now its work is in a much wider field. Its name is slightly out of date, and we are, in fact, hoping to change the name at an extraordinary general meeting next week. 790 Our Council is strongly representative of industry and the trade unions, and our membership contains many names which are well known in British industry. We could do with much more support. We receive no Government grants, and we pay our way out of the subscriptions of our members and by charging minimum fees for our services, in the way of courses, lectures in company training, and so forth. We even provide services, training and so on for certain Departments of Her Majesty's Government. We hope that in due course the Society's representatives will be called to give evidence before the Royal Commission.
I am very glad to say that we are finding an increasing demand for our services, not only at home, but also from the Commonwealth, and this I find particularly pleasing and satisfactory. We have had a group of young men from Tanzania this summer, for whom we arranged special courses. I must not take up your Lordships' time by giving details of all our work, but suffice it to say that it covers a very wide cross-section of industry, from the largest to the smallest firms, and we provide courses, lectures, seminars and the like for every level of management; for trades unions; for shop stewards; for cooks—in fact for everybody in any way concerned in industry. I can speak from personal experience, because when I was active in industry I sent many of the people for whom I was responsible to these courses. I made a particular point of interviewing each and every one, man or woman, whatever their position, when they came back from their courses, and in every case the benefit they received was quite outstanding.
From our Society's reports and experience it is possible to build up a picture of industry's most pressing need for advice and assistance in this matter of industrial relations. The picture which presents itself to me is that the first priority is the need to improve and strengthen the leadership, at all levels, both in industries and in trade unions. This impression, which I get from my work at the Industrial Welfare Society, merely confirms my own experience as a factory director, because until recently, when I retired from active work, I was a factory director and responsible for ten factories in different parts of the country, employing 10,000 people. That is not a 791 very large number by our standards today, but I can assure your Lordships it was quite large enough for one factory director.
That brings me to the next point I want to make, which is that one of the problems of the age is size: and the larger the concern, whether it be an industrial concern, a nationalised concern, a trade union or what-have-you, the more difficult is this problem of leadership. Perhaps I may briefly illustrate this by my own experience. When I took on the job of factory director I made a vow to visit every factory—not every day, because they were all over the country, but every month—and to go right round every factory once a month. I did this until the end, but I must confess that by then it was getting rather too much, because we had been expanding very quickly and I was not getting any younger.
However, this is a problem common to all big organisations. They bring in, and they have to bring in—it is almost a status symbol now—the personnel department, the personnel director, the personnel manager and so forth. My Lords, these are necessary and absolutely vital, particularly in a big concern, but in my opinion they conceal one hidden danger. It is very easy for the line manager or director to say, "Ah; that is the personnel department's job", instead of going down on the floor and sorting it out himself. There is a tendency, or there may be a tendency, to shelve responsibility on to the personnel department, or some member of it. I used to tell my managers, "We now have a personnel department. It has all the records, it has all the basic information you need; but if I find you using the personnel manager or personnel director to do your work, you are out, because as a manager you should understand how to manage personnel; it is part of your job".
The other thing which I learnt from walking round these factories—an experience which I enjoyed (I wish I were doing it now, because they are air-conditioned, which this Chamber is not; I have sat here a very long time and the conditions are not good, though I understand that tests are being carried out)—was that the men and women who work in our 792 factories—and I do not mean only the factories with which I was concerned—no matter in what capacity, whether it be management, trade unions or floor workers, are, quite simply, the best people in the world. I regarded them all with the greatest affection and friendship, and I still keep in touch with them. But these people cannot be "pushed about". As one noble Lord (I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Citrine) said, they are not susceptible to exhortation, but they can be led. But they must be led by people who are prepared to learn, to try to understand and sympathise with their point of view, and to get to know it well. Once the leaders have that, they can lead the people to anything.
My Lords, these people have their quirks. We have all heard of the tea-break (though the noble Lord, Lord Champion, and I have not had a tea-break this afternoon)—
§ LORD AMPTHILL
—of the "awkward squads" and the "black sheep". I have met them all. But, despite all these snags and difficulties, I know beyond doubt that these people are the best in the world and can be led to terrific heights. So many of your Lordships have proved yourself as leaders in so many different spheres that it would be presumptuous of me, speaking from these Back Benches, and with comparatively limited experience, to attempt to set out the attributes of leadership as I understand them. Moreover, I do not want to take up more of the time of the House than I need, and I am therefore not going to attempt this presumptuous thing.
I will make only two comments on it. First, I would emphasise that leadership is required at all levels, from the chairman and managing director down to the most junior chargehand, chargewoman and the most junior official in the trade union—and nobody can get out of that. Secondly, the only lesson on this that I was ever given when I was young was when I joined the Navy as a small cadet. We were taught then that our first responsibility was for the men who might be placed in our charge. The lessons that I learnt then are summed up in one sentence, and have been in the forefront of my mind ever since—and I have used them in industry 793 frequently. The sentence was, "The men must have their dinner hour". That, to me, summed up all that is meant by "consideration".
Early in my speech I spoke briefly of the work of the Industrial Welfare Society—a name soon to be changed—but I do not want your Lordships to think that our society, though naturally, my particular "baby", is the only one working in this field. There are other organisations, some sponsored by companies, some sponsored by trade unions, which do similar work. All are doing good work, and they are all helping towards the same aim—to improve industrial relations.
Before I sit down, I must refer to the Marlow Declaration, which, rather to my surprise, has not been mentioned in this debate to-night. For myself, I think that too little notice was taken of it and too little publicity given to it, but it was drawn up by eighteen men who met at Marlow between November, 1961, and February, 1963. These eighteen distinguished men were drawn from the churches, the boardrooms, the trade unions and the teaching profession. I will not read out their names, but they are here.
They signed a declaration, known as the Marlow Declaration, which was a carefully considered statement of their aims and principles on matters relating to social and industrial relations. This is, in my opinion, a very important document, and the right reverend Prelate will be interested to know that it is signed by the most reverend Primate, among others. It is too long to read, and it does not render itself very readily to being summarised. But it is a perfectly clear statement of the problems which beset industry to-day, so many of which have been mentioned during our debate tonight. With your Lordships' permission, I shall read the last paragraph. It says:We recognise that merely to identify governing principles is insufficient. They must be constantly tested and developed by experience. This will need the full support of all men of faith and understanding. We look to the Churches, the trades unions, employers and teachers to be in the van of a new movement. Unquestionably the ultimate answer must lie in the hearts and minds of British men and women. If they wish it to be so, they can confirm by action now that they are a people richly endowed by a thousand years of 794 unifying experience, and are capable of justifying the aspirations of their forefathers and the respect of those to come".My Lords, I think that all of us here will believe beyond doubt that, given proper leadership, our people can do just that.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I think there are three points on which your Lordships are of one mind this afternoon. The first is that we are immensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, for introducing this debate, for bringing this subject before us and for making the sort of forthright speech which we have grown to expect him to make. Secondly, I am sure that all your Lordships would wish to congratulate the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, on his splendid maiden speech; and I am particularly happy, as an old friend of his, to add my personal congratulations. Thirdly, I think we are all agreed that the premise on which the noble Lord's Motion is based is correct; that, indeed, industrial disputes, leading all too often to work stoppages, have done very grave damage indeed to the economy of the country, to our prosperity and even, perhaps, to our solvency.
I should like, if I may, to echo what the noble Marquess said—and I think this was said also by the noble Lord, Lord Brown—that the ill effects of these happenings have been unfortunately exaggerated and made worse by the Press. I can well understand that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, who has an influence in these circles, may say that the seriousness of the position must be brought home to the people of this country. He himself did this most ably in his speech this afternoon. But, of course, if you bring the seriousness home to the people of this country through the medium of the Press, this is read abroad and can create, I am convinced, an opinion which is really unjustified. I am sure that orders have been lost—one noble Lord referred to this—not as a result of anyone's experience of our failure to deliver the good, but as a result merely of the reports appearing in the Press that we always fail to deliver the goods. I believe that the Press has a great responsibility in this matter to try, difficult though it must be, to present a balanced picture of the situation.
795 If I may, I will refer to the docks industry, in which I must of course declare my interest. The docks industry has a very bad name and this has been spread all over the world. Yet I took the trouble to have taken out for me some figures relating to the stoppages of work in recent years. These figures apply to the docks of London, which are fairly large and fairly typical and which have, perhaps, an especially bad name. This is an industry in which there are frequent causes for disputes because there is an extraordinary variation in the work being undertaken: there are rushes of work, slack periods, and great variety in the nature of the work. These conditions very easily give rise to disputes—perfectly genuine and understandable disputes—about additional rates of pay, and so on.
During 1964 there were 822 references in the London Docks to the local joint area committees (those are the joint committees, of which the noble Lord has spoken, and which he says should exist) which come and examine the problem on the spot. Of those 822 references, all except nine were settled on the spot. Nine of those references had to be referred to one higher committee, and there all were settled except for one. One dispute went to the National Joint Council. So your Lordships will see that the machinery for settling disputes does exist and does work. During the same period the number of unofficial stoppages was, curiously enough, the same as the number of disputes referred to the second committee—nine in the year. But nobody who reads what is printed in the daily Press would imagine that the figures would come out anything like this.
In trying to put this matter in perspective, I find this difficulty. It was natural that much should be made of the number of man-hours lost in strikes; and we were glad to hear that in this country our experience is not as bad as that of some others. But, if I may say so, having suffered the losses through strikes that we have, it is no comfort to know that other people have been worse hit. There is another point that I think ought to be borne in mind. It is that the number of man-hours, or man-days, lost is really no measure of the problem; because, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, or the noble Lord, Lord Champion, pointed 796 out, these figures, which vary from year to year, are greatly affected by a long and difficult dispute in a large industry. In fact, I would suggest to your Lordships that the damage done is not proportionate to the number of man-hours or day-hours lost. One long and bitter strike, such as, let us say, that in the South Wales steel industry earlier this year, does rather less harm to the economy than is done by a number of short, wild-cat strikes which disrupt the even flow of business. So I think we should not be led into complacency by being told that our position in the "league table" is not too unsatisfactory.
I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, that the right to strike is not in question and should not be challenged. But I think we can look forward to the time when industrial disputes will be settled without recourse to strikes, just as we can look forward to the time, in the international sphere, when disputes can be settled without recourse to war. I think the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, was rather pessimistic about this. I hope and believe that in his younger days he was more starry-eyed and that he may have believed, as I believe, that if we all work in the right direction we shall reach the stage in the end—by agreement and not by legislation—where all disputes will be settled without resorting to strike action.
One thing I have noticed very much in recent years is that whereas in the early days the strike was a weapon of last resort and only taken up when all efforts to find a solution had failed, today, far too often, the strike or withdrawal of labour or stoppage of work is used as a first weapon. One must pause and wonder why that is so. I suppose it can be said that in the early days the employment of the strike weapon imposed such a grievous burden on the striker and his family that it was, indeed, a weapon that could be used only if all else failed. In those days the man and his family lived much nearer the bread line, the trade unions had not accumulated sufficient funds to enable them to finance strikes and it was a desperate affair—as can be learned from reading of these things in bygone days. But now the position is different; and I cannot help feeling that somehow, because the burden does not fall so 797 heavily on the striker as before, a degree of irresponsibility has spread, and all too often stoppages of work, or, at any rate, overtime bans, are introduced without any discussions whatever—sometimes without even the management knowing what the dispute is about. I can assure your Lordships that these things happen often.
I could give your Lordships some examples but I think it would be unwise to do so as the hour is late. In any case to do so might destroy the hope that I have of putting these matters in perspective.
We rejoice in the better economic conditions which make striking much less of a penance than it was in the old days; but that fact puts on the trade unions and their members a greater burden of responsibility in deciding what action they should take. There is one feature which seems to me to have developed since the early days. One of the burdens which the striker used to face was the probability—almost the certainty in the case of the ringleader—that he would lose his job, and he might find it very difficult to obtain employment elsewhere. We all welcome the fact that, as the trade unions grew stronger, they were able to protect their members in cases where a strike had been fought on established and authorised lines.
So far have we gone now that it seems to me that reinstatement in employment after a strike has almost ceased to be a term of settlement and instead has come to be regarded as just as much a right as the right to strike. I do not think that is so, and I sometimes wonder (I wondered again this afternoon, when listening particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, deliver his forthright condemnation of unofficial strikes) whether the trade unions would use their great influence in the case of unofficial strikes to support employers in getting rid of men who consistently break agreements and persuade other men to follow them and to exhibit a form of loyalty which we must all admire but which so often leads them into the wrong path.
It is quite clear that with this change in time the balance of power has shifted. As I have said, that places a great burden of responsibility on the trade unions. There is, I think, a further shift in the case of the large service industries. I 798 speak here not only of the nationalised industries like the railways and the electricity supply industry, but also of the docks. If we look at the earlier development of our industrial system, we see that the two ultimate weapons were the strike on the part of the work-people and the lock-out or the closing of the works on the side of management. Eventually a manager might say, "I am sorry; I cannot meet your demands. If these are the only terms on which you will work, I shall have to close down." Everyone knows, the work-people and the trade unions know, that that weapon has been removed in the case of the great national service industries. It is inconceivable that the railways would close down or that the electricity supply industry would close down—or the docks, for that matter.
So, my Lords, what are we to do about this? I was a little disturbed at the opinion expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, that because a Royal Commission had been appointed there was nothing to do but wait for it to report. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, it may be some time ahead before a Report is received, and time is not on our side. In any case, if anything can be done to improve the industrial atmosphere surely it ought to be done without waiting to hear what a Royal Commission will advise.
I like the idea of introducing a cooling-off period—again without legislation but with, I hope, agreement between the two parties. I do not think the long cooling-off period of 60 days provided by the American legislation would be desirable. We know that too often disputes have festered because there was a certain laggardness on the part of management in getting down to a settlement, but I think that a cooling-off period would be a very desirable thing. Another thing which I think desirable would be that before a dispute was allowed to develop into a stoppage of work or a strike—call it what you will—a clear statement of the issue in dispute should be produced. Very often a stoppage arises and half of the men involved do not know what it is about. As I have said before, sometimes even management does not know. If those who advocated a stoppage had to apply to themselves the discipline of writing down what the dispute was 799 about, and if they spent perhaps a week in doing so, tempers would cool and many opportunities to solve the problem might arise.
It could have been said in the old days that this would be unreasonable, because work-people were not sufficiently educated to be able to express themselves in that formal way. But, my Lords, I think you will agree that although that may have been true fifty years ago, it is certainly not true to-day. With the assistance of their union officers, work-people are perfectly capable of setting down what a dispute is about. I believe that if they did so, we might find that some disputes would solve themselves.
I am sure that this malaise in industry can be cured only by a change of attitude and by the establishment of a feeling of confidence between the two parties. I recognise that the initiative in this matter must be taken by management, and I say that, despite the fact that change for the work-people has put them in a better position. It seems to me, because of historical reasons of which your Lordships will be aware, that the onus is on management to make the first move in seeking to establish an atmosphere of confidence. If that can be done, I hope that the trade unions and their members will be quick to seize any hand which is offered to them, and to carry this initiative forward to a fruitful conclusion.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, I feel that we owe our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, for initiating this debate. I should also like to congratulate the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, on his maiden speech. I was not able to hear his speech, but I have heard very good reports of it. I am going to be extremely nonpolitical and, in fact, look at this matter more from the Labour side than the Tory side. We are in a bad position at present in this country. We are falling behind the other countries of Europe in exports and productivity. At such a time I feel that it is useful to have a debate in this House where people speak from experience, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, and many others.
I have two points which I wish to make: one is a general and the other a 800 point of individual business. On the general point, I always hoped that a Labour Government would be better able to deal with this question than the former Conservative Government, because, obviously, work-people would have more faith in a Labour Government than in a Conservative Government which they might think would represent management and the employers. I welcome very much the initiative taken by Mr. George Brown. I think that, unfortunately, he has run up against a great many snags, many of them created by the Government and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I have made this point in your Lordships' House on several previous occasions, but I think it is worth making again. It applies equally to Mr. Selwyn Lloyd and Mr. Maudling as to Mr. Callaghan, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am quite certain that whereas in the 1850's and the middle of the last century it might have been possible to avoid inflation by imposing extra taxation in order to prevent people from having extra money to spend, when extra taxation is imposed in the 1960's (whether it be on beer or tobacco, or in the form of the 15 per cent. surcharge now reduced to 10 per cent., purchase tax or any form of indirect taxation) it puts up the cost of living. As it puts up the cost of living, the trade unions, rightly, want more wages for their members in order to pay for the extra taxation. When there is full employment it nearly always happens that claims for higher wages referred to employers or outside bodies are granted because the cost of living has gone up. I would appeal to the present Government, and to any Conservative Government which may be in office in future, not to put up taxation in such a way as to put up the cost of living, because then wages go up and they go up more than the amount of goods produced.
After having been for thirty years chairman of a company founded by my grandfather in 1848, I gave up that office at the end of last year. Until recently that business was a personal concern and we never had a strike during the whole of its existence, not even during the General Strike in 1926, when the workmen were called by their union to join the strike but decided that they would stay at work. At that time, they had to resign from their union, not by any dictation from 801 us but as a result of their own decision, but afterwards they returned to membership. We have had happy relations because the workmen knew what was happening. The local head of the firm had the workmen in the yard and explained to them what was happening. I must say that a relationship which until now has never resulted in a strike is a very satisfactory form of relationship.
Our company was the leading member in a merger, which I think was the largest in this country and which resulted in the consolidated company becoming twenty-second in size of all companies in Great Britain, with a capital of between £100 and £200 million. At the merger, I met with the chairmen of the other companies and we agreed that we wanted this merger to be a commonwealth of businesses, with as much self-government in the areas and separate businesses as could be maintained. I think that is extremely important. Even now, if anyone is discontented with conditions, he can go to the local head and does not have to come up to London to the top board, of which I have the honour to be a member. I think that a commonwealth of businesses, such as we have, is comparatively just as important as the British Commonwealth of Nations.
I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Brown, mention the Ford Motor Company. I know little about it, except that I drive one of their excellent cars, which I have had for a number of years. But I feel that something must be wrong where many strikes take place, and I am pleased that their record over the last eighteen months has been good, because we look to the Ford Company for a great number of car exports. I am glad that the relations between management and employees have improved.
We have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, about the London Docks and unofficial stoppages. There is no doubt that unofficial stoppages are difficult to stop, even for the officials of the trade unions concerned. I think that wild-cat strikes are doing our country a great deal of harm at the present time. That is all I wanted to say, except that I think that management, shareholders, owners and workpeople in all businesses should pull together so far as they can for the mutual good of their businesses and of the country as a whole.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, I am sure that all of us who have listened to the debate this afternoon appreciate the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, in opening the discussion, now some hours ago. He raised a number of provocative and stimulating questions and we are all deeply grateful to him. However, I cannot help feeling that the noble Lord must be a little disappointed because, possibly like myself, he has found that the debate has taken a different turn from that which he anticipated. No doubt he has observed that no other noble Lords have taken up, pursued and given support to his main point—namely, that he wishes to see legislation that will enable coercive action to be taken against all those who engage in unofficial strikes. That may be a poor paraphrase of his position, but unless the noble Lord contradicts me, I think your Lordships will accept that as a rough paraphrase of his main point.
Instead of pursuing that point, speakers on both sides of the House have demurred at the noble Lord's emphasis on that or have equally emphasised that this may be a dangerous procedure. That does not alter our appreciation of the noble Lord's initiative in drawing attention to an important matter, particularly so in view of the existence of the Royal Commission which is to investigate problems such as those put before the House this afternoon. May I remind your Lordships of the terms of reference of the Royal Commission? I quote them so that we may appreciate how comprehensive they are. They are, first, the rôle of trade unions and employers' associations in accelerating the social and economic advance of the nation; secondly, the relations between managements and employees; thirdly, the rôle of the trade unions and employers' associations in promoting the interests of their members and, fourthly, the law affecting the activities of trade unions and employers' associations.
I think that every speech we have heard to-day bears on one or other of the terms of reference which I have read out just now. Therefore, apart from any other value, this debate is of great importance to the Royal Commission and all those who sit upon it. I think there 803 has been a considerable measure of agreement among all those who have spoken to-day. There are some points of disagreement, about which I may have a word to say before I finish, but I will try to be as brief as possible, because I am conscious that my purpose at the end of a long and useful debate is to tidy up the office before we turn the key behind us and go home.
First of all, we are broadly agreed that industrial disputes seriously injure our economy, because they cause the total volume of production and wealth available to be less than it otherwise would be. I admit that this is almost a platitude, but it is as well to gather up our points of agreement. Secondly, we appreciate that the injury done to our economy by industrial disputes is not particular to the United Kingdom. That has been emphasised already, but it may be of benefit to your Lordships if I once again emphasise that out of some 26 countries I have listed before me we come about tenth in the number of days lost because of strikes during the course of a year. I give the figures for what they are worth. During the ten years, 1954 to 1963, while we lost an annual average of 297 days per thousand persons employed in mining, manufacture, construction and transport, the United States lost 1,048; Italy, 818; Canada, 606—I am sure that will be of particular interest to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet—Denmark, 508; Belgium, 501; Australia, 386; Ireland, 375; France, 329. So we have eight European or neo-European countries who suffer a greater loss than we do and, if we include India and Japan, we come even lower down in the list.
There are, of course, a number of countries whose loss per year is much lighter than ours,down,indeed,to Switzerland and the South African Republic, at 7.5. In mentioning these figures I am not doing so complacently. I am doing so simply in order that we may get, as many noble Lords have pleaded with us to do, some sense of proportion. We must have this sense of proportion, otherwise we are liable to engage in exaggerated and, I think, ultimately injurious statements. So I say there is no reason for complacency. We must exert every effort to seek to eliminate and drastically 804 reduce the causes of industrial disputes, whether due to the employers, the employees or management.
Another point of general agreement, I think, is this: that as we live in a democracy we have to take all the disadvantages, as well as the advantages, of that situation. We live in a democracy, and therefore we should seek remedies through encouraging enlightened voluntary effort rather than through State compulsion. It is interesting to observe that both employers and employees, or bygone representatives of employers and employees, unite in that respect.
There are certain possible disagreements, but before I come to these I think my task is to make some passing reference to the excellent speeches that we have heard this afternoon. The first observation must be to emphasise the congratulations that have been given to the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, on his maiden speech. These have been so eloquently expressed that I should be merely painting the lily if I were to say more than that I, too, thoroughly appreciated the statement and the manner of the statement. It was sagacious and wise, and drawn from great experience, and it was given as a tribute to our common thought. I therefore wholeheartedly express my appreciation of his maiden speech, and trust that we shall hear more from the noble Marquess in the days to come.
I noticed that in the course of his speech the noble Marquess emphasised that shop stewards are not the fractious people, always making trouble, that some people assumed them to do. I am glad the noble Marquess said that, because sometimes shop stewards have a reputation for being precisely what the noble Marquess says they are not. It is quite true that some shop stewards are less responsible than others, but I would say that the majority are responsible workers, and I am glad that the noble Marquess paid tribute to them.
We had an extremely impressive and informative speech from my noble friend Lord Citrine. If I may say so with due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, I wondered whether, before he prepared his speech, he had cared to consult my noble friend Lord Citrine or my noble friend Lord Williamson, both 805 of whom have had extensive experience in the trade union world, so that he might, perhaps, amplify his own reflections, and maybe modify his judgments. If the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, did not do so, then I am certain that he is to-day as grateful to the House, particularly for my noble friend Lord Citrine's contribution, as Lord Citrine and the rest of us are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet.
My noble friend Lord Citrine, drawing on a vast experience, with a reputation for being an extremely balanced man, right throughout his trade union career, gave as his decided opinion, quoting many examples from the countries he had visited, that circumstances were not quite so serious and grave as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, seemed to indicate. Not, again, that he denied the gravity of unofficial strikes. He, together with my noble friend Lord Williamson, again and again stated that these were deplorable in the extreme; and no doubt this will have an effect. But my noble friend Lord Citrine's great advantage to us to-day was that he drew on his experience, and corrected in some ways an impression left by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet—who no doubt has himself benefited thereby.
We had an interesting speech from the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Leicester, in which he again spoke of the need for the training of shop stewards. But, among many other observations, I was interested to hear the right reverend Prelate's reference to the book written by George Goyder. I have read that book, as I am sure others have. While I cannot possibly agree with all that Mr. George Goyder says in the book, certainly he makes his contribution; and out of such reflections as those of George Goyder quite a number of interesting experiments in human relations in industry are being made.
I know of one, in particular, whose initiator I have known for some fifty years or more, the Scott Bader Commonwealth, a concern run by the whole of the staff and employees, technical and otherwise, who have complete corporate responsibility. I do not know how the experiment will work out, but up to now it is showing signs of much success. It is a tribute to the fact that there is fresh thinking along new lines, designed to 806 encourage a new structure in industry, in which both management, on the one hand, and the subordinate strata of employees, on the other, manage together to share joint responsibility. I should have liked to say more about this fine venture, but time forbids.
I would say, again, in regard to my noble friend Lord Williamson, that we appreciated his speech as much as we did that of my noble friend Lord Citrine. In particular, I am glad that we made it perfectly clear that the Trades Union Congress is not a supra-authority, with autocratic powers over its various union members. Some people think that it is, and imagine that all the Trades Union Congress has to do is to issue its edicts from time to time, and that, given, perhaps, legislative power to implement those edicts, all is well. It is not so. Like the trade unions themselves, the Trades Union Congress is a voluntary body. Again I say that there are disadvantages in this; but there are advantages, as well.
Then there were the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Rochester, Lord Brown and Lord Ampthill, all of which were equally valuable contributions to our thought this afternoon. Finally, there were the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Brocket. I would say, in regard to the observation of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that it is quite true there has often been a, great deal of unfortunate publicity regarding misfortunes in the trade union world. If there is an unofficial strike, or if there is a go-slow activity (if that is not a paradox), it causes publicity. One does not blame the Press, because in the Press world bad news is good news, and good news is bad news in so far as it is hardly worth mentioning. But it is true that the great majority of disputes in the industrial world are settled quite peaceably. The machinery to which the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred does operate, and operates successfully. It is only in a minority of cases that it seems to fail. We should bear that in mind in trying to get the right perspective.
Having said that, perhaps I may, quite briefly, put the whole matter in a somewhat different context than it has been put by any noble Lords this afternoon. 807 I think we should appreciate that all the trade unions of this country, to a greater or less degree, feel that when we are discussing industrial disputes we should not try to isolate them from other forms of dispute in our society. They are very conscious of this. They want to know why there should be so much concern about industrial disputes, and not so much concern about professional disputes.
Take, for instance, the doctors. What are the doctors doing at the present time? Again, I am not criticising but only trying to explain, so far as I can, what may pass through the minds of the purely industrial workers. They observe, for instance, that the doctors, well organised in their trade union, though it may be called an association, are saying, in effect: "Here are our terms. Unless our terms regarding both remuneration and conditions are accepted, we will go on strike; we will withdraw from the National Health Service." Of course, they may be entitled to do so. It may be their means of trying to press home, under difficult conditions, their demands, and perhaps with some anticipation of success. If that be so, then the industrial worker thinks in exactly the same way. If the professional men, whether they be doctors, lawyers or teachers, take advantage of certain circumstances to try to press their claims, and accompany them with threats to withdraw their services unless their claims are conceded, we can understand that that sets an example to the industrial workers.
But it is not, as I see it, merely the professional workers. There are others, too. There are those who own property and land, who are represented, no doubt, by many of us in this House. The industrial worker says: "I have to live in a house. If it is a council house it is subsidised, but I may have to purchase a house over a long period of time, or I may have to rent a house at a very high rental." One reason why the rental may be high, or the mortgage may be heavy is because of the increased price of land. Then he realises that the landowner has been taking advantage of the needs of the country, and by the precious law of supply and demand is saying: "You want land— 808 here is our price. It is a high price; it is five and sometimes ten times more than it was ten years ago. That does not matter. The need is intense, and because we know you must have this land you will pay this price or go without."
I know that we are all involved in this process. All I am seeking to emphasise is that if you try to isolate the industrial worker, who has his labour to sell, from the landowner, who has his land to sell, then you are beginning to be provocative to the industrial worker who wants to know why there should be this discrimination. If it is right that the landowner or the property owner can say, in certain circumstances, "I will now put up my price and get everything I can", then the industrial worker says, "Why should I not do the same?" It is rather difficult to refute that argument.
The conclusion, which I do not necessarily accept, is a very searching one: what is the difference between the selling of labour, on the one hand, and the selling of land, on the other? If you are right to sell land at the highest price to take advantage of the urgent need of the community to get land, surely one can understand the industrial worker, who has only his labour to sell, saying, "I will pursue the same method". As I say, I do not necessarily agree with all this: I am merely saying, let us understand that we cannot isolate one from the other. If, therefore, we are going to satisfy all the industrial workers, we have to satisfy them over a wide field. They ask why, if restrictions are to be imposed on them, with legal penalties, this has not been imposed on the landowner and property owner, also with legal penalties. They remember in another place, and elsewhere, the constant assertion made by eminent statesmen that this should not be done because it would interfere with the free market. "Very well", the industrial worker says—again not necessarily rightly: I am stating this as how his mind operates— "we will do exactly the same thing".
Quite obviously, what is necessary is a far deeper sense of social responsibility in every quarter, so that, whether we be landowners or property owners, sellers of land or property, or the sellers of our 809 labour or our services, we may become increasingly conscious of our duty to the whole community. That, of course, may also lead to difficulties, because one of the factors which operates in the minds of minority sections is the feeling that, just because they are minorities, the good of the whole may overlook the justice of the few. This feeling, of course, is frequently found. It is one of the factors that has lead many people to hesitate about supporting Britain's joining the Common Market: will this country of ours be subordinate to the general whole, without due regard to our particular needs? That feeling, again, operates frequently among minorities in the industrial field. It sometimes operates to the disadvantage of their own trade unions.
May I say, in passing, we should appreciate that hostility to irregular, unofficial industrial action is at least as great among responsible trade union leaders as it is among any of their critics. They do not want this to happen. Nevertheless, it remains true that sometimes a local branch or a local section of workers, in the railway world or elsewhere, feel that their claims are being overlooked; that the long processes of negotiations are being dragged out; or that their union may be too cumbersome to pay attention as swiftly as it should, and therefore they are apt to say, "If we go on unofficial strike—it is irregular we know—at least that may speed up negotiations". And sometimes, one has to confess, it does. We have to recognise that these are some of the factors operating in the minds of industrial workers. There are many factors. Just as every one of us is impelled by multiple motives—one may dominate at one time and another at another, but they are all there, more or less—so it is in the behaviour of men who are trade unionists or employees.
There is just one other factor that I will mention, and then I will close. There are times, I am convinced, when, consciously or unconsciously, groups of workers have responded to what I call a purely ideological motive. They are not necessarily fully conscious of what is happening, but I am persuaded that there are some, in the minority of cases, who are led to respond to the ideological exploitation of a given difficult condition and circumstance. That is, I think, only a minor matter. Those other matters that I have mentioned are human factors. We 810 should appreciate them, and in appreciating them we should consider very carefully all the helpful proposals that have been made to-day, but, above all, realise that once we start to try to intimidate those who are irregular, we may make the position infinitely worse. We provoke a reaction of resentment, and the resentment then exploits a situation which gets out of hand and becomes ten times worse.
I some other countries this is easily solved. There are, so far as we can tell, no industrial disputes leading to strikes in the Soviet Union—nor, indeed, in the areas of other totalitarian States. There is one way by which we can solve the problem: by insisting that the State shall itself prevent any disputation from arising. We can choose that way if we please. If we do not choose that way, then we have to accept all the limitations of freedom, and the loss of its blessings. It is good that in the debate this afternoon, with its atmosphere of urbanity and human consideration, not one single noble Lord has said anything that is provocative or exacerbating, or has not evinced deep sensitive concern for workers as human beings. It may be therefore that from this debate there will be exuded an atmosphere elsewhere that will assist not only the Royal Commission, but, indeed, employees, management and employers themselves throughout this country, to find a means by which disputes can be solved rationally, and so not only assist their economy but encourage the well-being of our land.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ LORD THOMSON OF FLEET
My Lords, I think I should conclude this debate. I have a few remarks I should like to make. I thank all those who have taken part. I am sure that this has been an interesting debate. I think many facts and suggestions have been put forward, and I am hopeful that this will have an effect on public opinion; that it will crystallize public opinion in this respect. As I have been many times in the past, I know that I am a bit ahead of my time. My guess is that what I am saying now you will all be saying in a few years from now. I just like to do it quickly, and get it over with.
I am sorry in this debate for one thing particularly, and that is that every noble Lord who has spoken seems to be quite 811 happy about the situation in this country. Everything seems to be going fine. Nobody is disturbed. Believe me, you had better be disturbed, because we are in a desperate mess, and anyone who knows the facts will confirm that. Something has got to be done to remedy this situation. I do not withdraw one single remark that I have made about the situation in this country. Let me point out that most of the noble Lords who have spoken have had experience only of industry in this country, but I have had over 35 years' experience in Canada and the United States of America, and now nearly 12 years here. I can see the difference; I can speak with authority; and therefore I do not withdraw a single remark that I made with regard to what I believe to be the situation of the economy in this country.
Something must be done about these "wildcat" strikes, about the disinclination of both management and labour to recognise their national responsibility. I believe it is up to our Government to do it. I do not believe that we can get a voluntary agreement; we should have to spend a great part of our lives waiting for that to happen: and we cannot wait.
I should like to refer to one or two remarks made during the course of the debate. My good friend Lord Williamson made some very fair remarks. He agreed that the unions must accept some responsibility for these strikes, but he mentioned that he thought my remarks were directed against the trade unions. I can assure your Lordships that was not my intention. Another speaker—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Citrine—said that the employers do not want any interference in the present negotiations. I do not care a hoot whether they do or not. I am not speaking for the employers, but for the country. I have some interest here, and I am not concerned whether it is labour or management. I simply say that, in my opinion, these things or some substitute for them must be done. I am not adamant about these suggestions, or naive enough to think that they will be adopted and immediately put through by way of legislation—I hope noble Lords will accept that I am not that stupid. What I do say is that, if my suggestions are not acceptable, something must be done to 812 take their place, and it is up to the Government to do it. We have no right to drift along in this aimless way, just hoping that something will happen. It just is not going to happen.
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, may I just point out one thing? The debate has been about industrial disputes. You chose the words; you are making odious comparisons—
§ LORD BROWN
The noble Lord is making odious comparisons between the situation in this country and in the U.S.A. and Canada in regard to the economic position. If we are to debate the economic position in the future we shall find ourselves in some agreement with the noble Lord, but as the comparison between the United States and this country in terms of industrial disputes shows that this country is better, I really do not accept the noble Lord's criticism that we are complacent about the situation. The noble Lord said—
§ LORD THOMSON OF FLEET
The noble Lord may well be correct, and perhaps I am drifting from the Motion, but the subjects are tied in so closely that I feel that, in the interests of being logical, this might be excused.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, all referred to the fact that the newspapers exacerbate the situation by talking about the strikes. I should like to say my newspapers tell the truth, and if there are strikes, and things of this sort happen, we talk about them because people are entitled to know these things. I am sure that none of the noble Lords would suggest that we should suppress the news when it happens, or minimise the importance of it, or exaggerate the importance of an accomplishment. My own view is that one is expected to accomplish things in this world. I think we are all expected to do our job, and if we do it I do not think that is very good news, but when we fail to do it then that is news.
§ LORD SORENSEN
Very briefly, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, no doubt the noble Lord's newspapers do tell the 813 truth, though not necessarily the whole truth, in so far as the good news is concerned. The news of the peaceful, placid, tranquil operation of the trade unions is never put into print. That is the point I am getting at.
§ LORD THOMSON OF FLEET
I am sorry, I cannot agree with the noble Lord. I think we tell the truth. Of course, if it is a piece of information which has no particular value to the public there is no point in printing it, because if we printed that sort of thing nobody would want to buy the newspaper.
I do not want to prolong this debate unduly because it is getting pretty late; and I am getting hungry, too. But I am disappointed that no one except the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, has attempted to explain why labour—management problems are in a class almost by themselves. He brought in some other exceptions, but there is no lawful way of settling such a disagreement. It becomes a slogging match. If any two persons have an argument and it becomes a disagreement they have recourse to the courts; they have a recourse to a forced settlement which gives them both justice. The noble Lord has quoted one or two cases and has mentioned land, but I understand that the Government intend to do something about the land situation. Do they intend to do anything about the labour situation? The fact that there are some anomalies, and that these things are not being taken care of is surely no reason why something that is, in my opinion, so grossly wrong should be left alone. I suggest that this point should be given consideration.
There is one other remark that I want to make before I sit down. I personally very greatly appreciate the actions of George Brown. I believe that he has tried to do something that is very much in the interests of this country. He has my complete support in every respect, and I regret that employers are not cooperating with him. Of course a number of the trade unions also are not cooperating, but I regret that any employer should not co-operate. He deserves our support; he should have co-operation, and I think that employers who disregard the standard he sets up are doing a very great disservice to free enterprise and to the economy of this country. I 814 have very high praise for George Brown and for the courage he has displayed in doing these things. My Lords, I do not think there is anything further that I can usefully add, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.