§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD ROCHESTER
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for having introduced this Motion in a way which enables us to debate the general principles underlying the White Paper, rather than having at this stage to vote for or against the whole package of the Government's proposals. My reason for taking part in this discussion is that for the past twenty years or so I have been involved with the management of people in large-scale manufacturing industries, and during that time I have had firsthand experience of negotiating with trade unions and, more recently, of training management and others in the general field of industrial relations.
The backcloth against which this debate is taking place could hardly, I suggest, be more gloomy. In the ordinary way, I should not have dreamed of beginning by referring to a particular dispute, but it seems to me that to-day it would be quite unrealistic not to make some mention of the Ford strike, only the latest and perhaps the most depress- 720 ing in the series at present bringing so much damage to our country. I want to be most careful about what I say, for there is always danger in commenting on disputes affecting firms other than one's own where one cannot possibly have access to all the relevant facts. Indeed, I do not propose to comment on the merits of the case except to say this: that if there is one thing above all others in my experience which is indispensable to the way in which we traditionally have carried out our negotations in British industry, it is that, once entered into, agreements should be honoured in their observance.
In these matters there is often room for more than one opinion, and there is much that is complex and uncertain. But of one thing I am in no doubt at all. If the edifice of our industrial relations is not built on this essential foundation of trust and confidence between us, it will collapse beneath us in ruins and anarchy. In saying this my head is anywhere but in the clouds, and as I know well from personal experience, there are always exceptions to the general rule. But, as I see it, on this fundamental point what happened at Fords was that a group of union representatives, whatever position they may have taken up individually, together arrived at an agreement with the management. It may be that the agreement should never have been reached. It may be that the company were unwise to seek to enforce the agreement at law. It may also be, as Mr. Justice Lane observed in his recent judgment, that the agreement remained in the realm of undertakings binding only in honour. But we then have to ask ourselves whether honour is of such little consequence in industrial relations that it can be ignored. I do not believe that it can.
What happened in this case was that the leadership of the two largest and most powerful unions in the country, in response to unofficial action, promptly called an official strike, one of the unions repudiating in the process its own negotiator. Incidentally, I should like to pay tribute to that negotiator for what he then did in resigning from his union. I think this was a brave and an honourable action to take.
I want to make it quite plain that my remarks are not directed against trade unions generally, for some of them—for 721 example, the union led by the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath—I have the highest possible respect; but of others I think we are now entitled to ask what are their overall objectives. Are they to promote the interests of their members as a whole and, therefore, of the nation at large; or are they, by taking advantage of the bargaining power wielded in particular places, to put short-term sectional interests before the long-term benefit of all? We hear a good deal to-day about the freedom of people to strike, but in the great liberal traditions of this country there are some things which, in the last resort, are even more important. One is the liberty of the subject to work, and another is our basic national integrity and wellbeing.
In recent years we have had in your Lordships' House a number of debates on industrial relations, and in them I have never yet advocated the use of legislation as the controlling factor. But if there is one kind of conduct that the British people will not indefinitely tolerate, it is that of the bully. We have seen too much bullying lately, and it is evident that an increasing number of people—including trade unionists—are not prepared to put up with it much longer. They can hardly be blamed for feeling that, if there is no other way in which it can be brought under control, there will in time have to be legislation. I am sorry about that, for I still believe that the question of whether, to what extent, and at what time the law should be introduced into our industrial relations is a highly complex one. And even when, on balance, the conclusion is reached that a particular piece of legislation should be enacted I think that such legislation can at best provide only a partial solution.
We can pass laws which effectively restrict the ability of people to withdraw their labour. What we cannot do by legislation is to ensure that during the time people are at work they are adequately motivated to give of their best. There is a word much in vogue today. "participation", which, if only we could give it practical and agreed expression, would I am sure go a long way towards solving our problems. The trouble is that changes in the law can, at best, help only marginally in bringing it about. I am sorry that the White Paper, 722 although it has some admirable sentiments to express about the importance of participation in industry, has not more to say about ways in which the aspiration can be given practical effect. I also regret that while the White Paper acknowledges the need—so well brought out in the Report of the Royal Commission—to reform our collective bargaining and consultative procedures so as to bring formal systems more into line with informal realities, again it has so little to say about ways in which this can actually be done. I remain convinced that the key to success in these fields of participation and the reform of collective bargaining—not to mention other benefits in improved productivity, increased exports and better balance-of-payments figures—lies in productivity bargaining.
In the case of the agreement between the company for which I work and the trade unions (and it is, of course, of the essence of these arrangements that they are undertaken jointly with the unions) the basic objects of the exercise are that each person shall be employed to the full extent of his time and capabilities, and that he shall enjoy the status, remuneration, and security which are consistent with his contribution to the exercise. The way in which we are setting about this is no longer on the basis of the old-style negotiation in which management alone first planned what should be done and then, depending on what was agreed, struck a bargain with the unions as to the price to be paid. Instead we are taking the work which has to be done in each plant and inviting the men themselves to join in determining how and by whom it can best be done. Payment for the jobs which result is made on the basis of a scale agreed earlier between the company and the unions, and varies according to the knowledge, skill and responsibility involved in the particular work. In this way, for the first time men are having a real say in the work they are to do, and indirectly in the pay they receive. At the same time we are reviewing our consultative arrangements to see how far we can, together with the men's representatives, evolve an improved system of consultation and negotiation under which, at plant level, the same people, shop stewards, can consider with management any matter at all which affects employees or the company's operational efficiency.
723 My Lords, I suggest that it is only on the shop floor, in practical ways such as these, that employees generally; to quote the White Paper:can participate in influencing the direction of change".There are no short cuts to this desirable end, and it would be surprising if there were, for we are here dealing with people; and if basic changes of attitude are to be brought about in people it is not to be expected that they will come otherwise than slowly and painfully, through hard work, long-term education and training, and, above all, good leadership. In this, as in all else, the initiative lies with management; but responsible trade union leadership can help enormously in what, if ii is to be successful, must be a joint endeavour to increase industrial efficiency and human satisfaction.
§ 4.18 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LINCOLN
My Lords, I must begin by apologising for the fact that I shall not be able to stay to the end of this important debate. I hope that the debate on the White Paper in your Lordships' House and in the debates in months to come, may as far as possible be a little detached from our present industrial disputes, and still more from the necessity of the present time for ever increased productivity. The emphasis which must, of necessity, be laid on increasing productivity throughout the whole range of our industry can very easily lead us to overlook some of the factors in the industrial situation upon which, in the end, productivity is dependent. We are concerned, and must be concerned, with more efficient technological processes and upon economic rationalisation, but in doing so we must not overlook the vital factor in any resulting process which, in the end, is the man or woman who must operate the new scheme. We must remember that one immediate result of our present processes in industry is that an ever-increasing minority of men and women are able either to exercise satisfying skill or to take decisions which are far-reaching or important in the whole process.
Because many of the things for which the trade union movement fought in the early days have now to some extent been achieved in terms of financial reward, hours and conditions of work, one 724 must not overlook the fact that for a growing majority of men and women in industry the conditions of work are boring and frustrating. Several years ago I was shown on the same day two separate processes of steelmaking in Sheffield. One, the old process, involved the close working together of a group of men; it was dirty, tiring and exhausting. The other was a new automation process in which men simply watched dials. The manager who showed me round said that, although the new process meant that the men took home more money and went home clean, the men were bored and as a result got into mischief, sometimes with tremendous damage to plant. But this boredom goes much deeper than that. I believe that it is part of the dignity of our birthright to exercise a skill, and that men through their skills achieve dignity, stature and wisdom. If skill disappears, as seems to be inevitable in the interests of national productivity, and more and more men have no such satisfaction, then we shall have to take the consequences.
When working out technological processes and new rationalisation of industry we often allow experts to work out a complete scheme for us, and it is only after a scheme has been agreed upon by the experts that we consider how men and women fit into the new operations. Again and again as a result it is precisely at that moment that trouble occurs. We need to recognise that this sense of frustration in daily work can often be unconscious; it can often show itself in ways out of all proportion to the immediate cause. For example, the reason for a "wildcat" strike often goes much deeper than the immediate and apparent cause, and very often the cause is out of all proportion to the issue at stake. This is one factor which at the moment we must take into account as we look forward increasingly to a rationalisation of our whole industrial life.
There are other causes. It would seem inevitable that in the achievement of greater productivity there must be a larger grouping of our industrial plant. It must result in larger organisations wherein it is more difficult to achieve good and personal relations. When an industrial unit is in its early days and is small, good human relations can be taken for granted. I remember a Suffolk farmer who on a 725 Monday morning would come into the yard, no doubt in a bad temper, and say to his men, "Why don't you go home and none of you never come back no more!" That was a lock-out, but it did not result in industrial action because the men knew the old man and so the relationships could easily be restored. As an industrial unit grows so one has to take much more care about human relationships.
I believe that in this country there are many industrial enterprises with a remarkable record for good relationships, particularly while undertakings remain within a local context. The difficulty arises when, for necessary reasons, a particular undertaking has to pass into a much larger grouping, possibly on a national scale. This is the moment when the old assumptions no longer hold good. I can think of a particular engineering works with a fine record, not only of productivity but of good relations within the industry, which during the last two years has twice been taken over, each time becoming part of some larger concern. The workers have read in the local newspapers about the financial compensation given to directors; they have also read of the threats of redundancy which are likely to ensue from such takeover bids. In those circumstances should we be surprised that loyalty, which has often been a real factor in our industrial life, is replaced by deep fear? One knows that fear will listen to many strange counsels.
If in this process of rationalisation it could be recognised that the worker himself has a right to take part in and, through his representatives, to understand the larger plans which may be necessary, I believe that this would greatly change the attitudes of the ordinary worker. In the end, no matter how efficient the process, the attitude of the ordinary worker will affect productivity. It is unlikely that all the fears and anxieties can be overcome unless real steps are taken to see that, in the larger development, the men know what is happening. They at least should know that their leaders have been consulted, and they should be helped to understand that something which they are told is in the national interest may, in the long run, be in their own personal interest.
There are other factors to be considered. Clearly, the present relationships 726 within the trade unions are a cause of industrial frustration. It has to be recognised that the life of our society has grown and developed in such a way that many of our institutions are no Longer able to fit real needs. Anyone who has any close knowledge of the trade union movement on the local level will know of the apathy on the part of the ordinary member of the trade union, and sometimes of the despair of the local trade union official in knowing what is going to happen. I have taken part in discussions with trade union leaders as to whether or not they were justified in following directives from the centre as to strike action or some other industrial action. The very existence of the shop steward bears out the great gulf between the ordinary worker and the trade unions at the centre. A great tribute ought to be paid to the great majority of shop stewards, when one remembers that their work is voluntary and is often a thankless task: but in many cases—I should think in most cases—they do a greet deal to improve industrial relations.
I welcome, as I believe do other Members of your Lordships' House, the setting up of the Industrial Relations Board, in the belief that the time has come when right outside industry itself—whether on the side of management or on the side of the trade unions—a body is needed to spend its whole time restoring, renewing and reshaping relationships within industry. I am a little more hesitant about legislation which might result in penal action. I am hesitant because of the present situation among the workers of this country, with disillusionment among many of them, and with apprehensions and fears which undermine much of their security.
I think it is true that, in the long run, democracy has come about through centres of power within the nation being made to submit to the law of contract and to the law of the greater interest of the community. Whether it be King or Church or Barons, all have had to submit their power to the rule of law. I believe that in the 19th century much industrial legislation was doing the same thine. What was then spoken of as the sacred rights of property had to submit to the higher good of people. If the stage has been reached when organised labour represents a concentration of power, then 727 that, too, must be brought under the rule of law, in the interest of the community at large as well as in the interest of sections within that organisation. Whether the time for that has been reached is a matter which Parliament will have to decide. But I believe priority must be given to setting up such bodies as will strengthen and improve the relationships within our industrial life, so that those who take part can feel that within their working life they have meaning and purpose.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ LORD WRIGHT OF ASHTON UNDER LYNE
My Lords, after forty years as a full-time official in the trade union movement, the White Paper seemed to me rather sad and sombre reading, not so much because of what it proposed but because it appeared to me to be a manifestation of the failure of the great trade union movement to adapt itself to change. But it is not alone in this failure. It is sad, too, to read about penal causes which are likely to inhibit workers or their trade unions who believe their cause to be just. There are many examples throughout history which demonstrate clearly that workers are prepared to suffer severely for what they believe to be a just cause.
One hundred years ago the workers of Lancashire literally starved rather than use raw cotton from the slave-owning South, when had they agreed to do so they could have alleviated their misery and their children could have eaten again. But they believed that theirs was a just cause and, being a just cause, they were quite prepared to suffer for it, as indeed they did. We must remember, too, that sanctions of the kind suggested in the White Paper did not solve the problems in the Kent coalfields during the last war, nor did they solve the power engineers' strike in Eire about two years ago, when about 2,000 power engineers of the equivalent of the Electricity Board came out on strike against legal sanctions. The Government of Eire discovered that it was quite impossible to put 2,000 engineers in gaol, so they selected some 20 or so and gave them the alternative of a fine or prison. They all elected to go to prison and, lo and behold!, within a few weeks the Electricity Board itself paid the fines for them so that they could come out and start generating elec- 728 tricity again—a most Gilbertian situation. What I am trying to demonstrate is that once workers and their unions are convinced that there is grave injustice, all the sanctions and penalties in the world, short of shooting them, will be of no avail.
I am not particularly concerned about the attachment of wages to collect fines. That seems to me a much more rational way of ensuring payment, if fines are to be imposed, and I believe it is a system which is likely to be universally adopted within the next few years. To argue about the attachment of wages to collect fines is very much like arguing about what sort of rope should be used to hang certain criminals. It is quite irrelevant. The question should be: Do we hang them, or not? We get hot under the collar about attachment of wages, but the real question is: Should there be legal sanctions and fines? There is no point in talking about the attachment of wages, which is quite irrelevant.
All the evidence I can find demonstrates that workers will show their abhorrence of being fined and, as they cannot choose between paying a fine and going to prison and thus becoming martyrs, I believe that they will strike and will persuade their friends to strike, because that will be the only course open to them by which they can strongly demonstrate their displeasure. Perhaps I ought to point out that, despite what I say, many trade unions believe in the effectiveness of fines, and their own rule books provide not only for fines but for sanctions in default of their payment. So it might be argued that this course is necessary in the interests of the group generally. I admit it might equally be argued that some of the other suggestions in the White Paper are also necessary, in the interests of the greater group. I do not particularly like the idea of the cooling-off period because—
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but I think this is important. Before he discusses the cooling-off period, can he tell us whether he is proposing that the trade union itself should levy fines for the kind of action for which fines would be levied in the courts?
§ LORD WRIGHT OF ASHTON UNDER LYNE
No, my Lords, I am not.
729 I was talking about the cooling-off period. I do not particularly like this idea, because the White Paper suggests that what has euphemistically been termed the status quo ante will have to be carried on. This means that an employer guilty of some misdemeanour would be able to continue his gross injustice far longer than he ought to do.
I have told your Lordships of quite a lot of things in which I do not believe, but I do believe that ways must be found to curb wild-cat strikes; and it surprises me indeed to learn of experienced trade union officials fighting to preserve the right of their own members to engage in unofficial, wild-cat strikes. Perhaps it is easier for some unions whose communications are notoriously bad to permit things to work in that way. But ten men putting out of work ten thousand is a state of affairs that surely no rational man can justify when there exist trade unions and joint rules to deal with such situations. That is what the trade unions are for; and if they will not face up to their own responsibilities in such matters then it seems as if, some day, legislation will become inevitable.
But, my Lords, do not let us make the mistake of magnifying all the faults of the trade union movement but of turning a blind eye to the vagaries of employers. Too often the attitude of management positively courts unofficial strikes. Procrastination in examining complaints, the cursory dismissal of justified approaches, blatant injustices and very often a complete lack of understanding of the issues involved are quite common attitudes in industry to-day. Elton Mayo, the well-known sociologist, said some forty years ago:Lack of adequate communications is the outstanding defect facing civilisation today.".If one substitutes the word "industry" for "civilisation", the meaning becomes more clear. It does not seem to me that managements have learnt very much over the last forty years. It does not seem to me that they pay enough attention to this problem of communication; and there is little doubt that a lack of adequate communication has been responsible for more unofficial strikes in industry than any other single cause. I believe that if managements were to give closer attention to the formulation of a sound system of communications within their 730 own organisation, unofficial strikes would slowly die.
Some of us—indeed, all of us, I am quite sure—must at some time or other have wondered how it was that in a particular industry some undertakings were strike-prone, and obviously so, while others were not. I have certainly come across that sort of thing; and the employers of a strike-prone factory always believe that, unfortunately, they employ all the recalcitrants while the other people who have no strikes are lucky in employing all the reasonable people. It does not work like that at all. If you go into any factory you will find a cross-section of good, bad and indifferent. It is not a matter of luck, my Lords: it is a matter of adequate management. It is a matter of building up a communications system so that all the workers are clearly aware at all times of what is happening; and while to know all is not necessarily to forgive all, at least the more they know the more they are prepared to forgive. I believe that history shows that a sick organisation is apt to throw up sick leaders on both sides, and, generally speaking, an industrial undertaking gets the leaders it deserves, whether in management or in the trade unions. Very often management needs to cure its own malaise and not only desire something better but deserve it.
I believe, my Lords, that the best promise lies in the potential of the Commission on Industrial Relations. It is to be hoped that they will be able to lead, for I am persuaded that the trade unions must be led from inside and from without and that it would be a mistake to try to bludgeon them into submission. The Commission have the right kind of people, and I believe that if they are ready to get down to the grass-roots level and not bemuse themselves with dilettante discussion, they may well be able to achieve notable advances very quickly indeed. I said earlier that, for me, the White Paper made sad and sombre reading—again, not so much for what it proposes but because, in my judgment, it never need have been composed at all. May I quote what E said to the Trades Union Congress last year? I said:It would be a sad state of affairs if the trade union movement, which owes so little 731 of its strength and success to the law and so much to self-government and self-reliance, became so set in its ways that it could not modernise its practices and procedures voluntarily.If the movement be fragmented and opportunist in its approach to the issues that concern us all, then we shall have to reckon with attempts by Governments to do it for us. No doubt we should then achieve unity in protest and opposition, but the wiser course, surely, is so to order our affairs that such a fight, and the risk of losing it, is not allowed to come upon us.I find no reason to change my mind, but, nevertheless, I hope that the Government will again examine the whole scene and try to find ways to deal with a most difficult situation with the help and consent of the trade unions and the Commission. If it can be done in this way it will be much better than wielding the big stick, which undoubtedly will make for generations of acute bitterness. But if the Government were so to encourage the trade unions and the Commission on Industrial Relations to talk together—and there is evidence already (your Lordships may have read it in the Press) that the Trades Union Congress is moving very closely together and meeting with the C.B.I. on these very issues—some good might result. I think that the composition of the C.I.R. is such that if they could be brought in between the trade unions and the C.B.I. there are great possibilities that our problems could reasonably be solved without the imposition of legal sanctions, which I fear are not likely to succeed. But if, after that, there is still no disposition on the part of the unions to face the issue of unofficial strikes—and, after all, it is unofficial strikes that are the guts of the matter, not the ordinary strikes which normally occur with union backing—and if the Commission on Industrial Relations proved impotent (as I should hope it would not), then legislation on the lines of the White Paper may in some modified form be necessary.
But I am anxious that the trade unions, who surely must now be realising their responsibilities and the need for movement, should get talking with the C.I.R. before any legislation is introduced that will cause the acute bitterness that I am sure most of us can see coming, even if they feel they can face it and deal with it when it comes upon them. I feel this way about it not because I am against 732 everything in the White Paper—there are many things in the White Paper which are quite admirable and useful—but because I believe that much of it will merely give rise to this acute bitterness. I hope—personally, I hope against hope—that the trade unions will, by their own foresight, make legislation unnecessary.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I feel it a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Ashton under Lyne, because we all hold him in very high regard indeed; and possibly because we are both textile men I hold him in perhaps even higher regard. I believe that on these occasions this House is very fortunate in having men like the noble Lords, Lord Wright, Lord Cooper, Lord Douglass, Lord Carron and Lord Williamson to give us the benefit of their help and advice from their very distinguished experience. If the noble Lord, Lord Wright, finds anything that I am going to say annoying to him, I hope that he will treat it as one more manifestation of the truth that just a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. I cannot claim the up-to-date knowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, clearly has in these matters.
My Lords, it is against the very sombre background of disappointing trade figures and the deplorable Ford strike that this debate is being held. Once again the economic dawn seems to be receding. One thing of which we must remind ourselves is that our present national economic difficulties are not due to events outside our own control. If we do not triumph over them it will be because of self-inflicted wounds. I think our main national fault in the face of the present difficulties confronting us is a strange kind of rather insidious lethargy and a too ready contentment with a second-rate performance. Twenty years ago, I think we had good reason to believe that we had much to teach the rest of the world in industrial relations. I am not sure that that is as true to-day. The main trouble, I am sure, is not bitterness, not class warfare or anything like that; it is apathy and inertia and lack of interest.
We are apt to comfort ourselves sometimes that in the international league table, measured by days' work lost, our performance is relatively not too bad. 733 But, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, pointed out, that takes little account of the terrible indirect effects of stoppages to-day. What I think infuriates the ordinary citizen about the modern industrial dispute is that it seems that in the long term it is the nation and the public that suffer and pay. That clearly means that we cannot any longer regard industrial disputes as purely private matters. The problem is not confined to disputes in industrial factories; it goes wider than purely industrial relations; and I would suggest that really it is a problem of human relations, in big and mechanised organisations. I think that certainly one lesson is that the bigger and more mechanised the organisation, the more difficult this problem of human relations becomes. I agree with what the right reverend Prelate mentioned about boredom. It is one of the hardest problems to-clay in modern mechanised big-scale industry to make sure that the actual jobs are made as interesting as possible.
My own limited experience in industry has been that there is no substitute for personal relations. No book of rules, no procedures, no formula', are effective unless the personal influences and leadership are right and mutual respect is there. If I am critical of the unions in anything I say, I hope that noble Lords will know me better than to believe that I consider all employers perfect. Far from it! Many are unwise and misguided; so I want to share the blame from the beginning, including myself as an employer.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, introduced this subject to us with his usual courtesy and lucidity. Indeed, this White Paper and our debate is most relevant to our current problems. While many of the proposals in the White Paper are very sensible and well worth trying, I ought to confess that by and large I prefer the rather bolder plans outlined in the Conservative pamphlet, Fair Deal at Work.
One thing that must be accepted without question is that the trade unions stand in urgent need of reform. Successive Governments since the war have urged and begged the trade unions to set their own house in order but this, it seems to me, they have not yet succeeded in doing. The Trades Union Congress 734 has been well intentioned, but it does not seem to have the power or influence to get things done. In particular, I should have thought it unquestionable that some of the privileges and immunities deliberately granted by Parliament to the trade unions in the days when they were terribly weak in relation to the employers are clearly rather absurd to-clay.
My Lords, the particular malaise from which we are suffering to-day, as think the noble Lord, Lord Wright, pointed out is the unofficial strike and "go-slow", mostly in breach of an agreement or of an agreed procedure; and it is these that inflict the really appalling losses, directly and indirectly, on the nation. If we can only cure that particular disease then I think our performance would be quite enormously improved and we should be able to hold our heads up again. First and foremost, I should have thought that improvement ought to concentrate on removing the anomaly which has been dealt with at length in the White Paper: the anomaly that contracts in which the trade unions are involved are not normally legally enforceable. My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn dealt with that in what I thought was a very convincing way indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, seemed to imply that if they were made enforceable, fewer would be made and many would be impracticable to enforce. I am not a lawyer, but I am not 4really impressed with either of those arguments. It seems to me contrary to sense that an agreement which can be ignored by one party if convenient can be an agreement really worth the trouble of making.
The noble Lord, Lord Wright, I thought, seemed to imply that if a group of workers were convinced of the justice of their cause—which I think is nearly always the case—if they felt really strongly about it, they would flout the law. I doubt that. I think that in general we are a law-abiding country. When we come into conflict with the law, many of us feel certain that our case is just. But that does not prevent us from accepting the law as it stands—even if we do so with many grouses.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount? I hope I did not give him the impression 735 that agreements should not be honoured. The burden of my argument was that if he comes to read Mr. Justice Geoffrey Lane's remarks about the Ford agreement he will see that certain types or agreement are not of a kind that are enforceable. One of the words used is that some of it may be pious aspiration. It is really a question of practicability in this matter.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I entirely accept the point the noble Lord has made. There will be some kinds of agreement which do not lend themselves to enforcement; and I accept that. The point I am making is that I believe in practice there are many that do, though naturally they will be framed in the light of that position. So, on the whole, I think that I prefer the rather more forthright proposal of the Tory pamphlet to which I have referred.
My Lords, coming to the specific proposals (I shall be very brief because there are so many ether speakers) I see the point of the industrial board proposed, but again I think I prefer the Tory version of the industrial courts. The proposal to set up a Commission on Industrial Relations is, I think, an interesting experiment. Such a Commission may be useful if it succeeds in earning the confidence of both sides of industry. My only doubt is that to-day Commissions seem to be regarded as a panacea for every trouble. It a man from Mars arrived here, I think he would conclude that Commissions are our main agency of government in this country. They are by no means all effective, but I am sure we all wish Mr. Woodcock and his colleagues the very best of luck in the task they have undertaken.
About the secret ballot, I would only say that I know the argument, derived from very experienced people, that a secret ballot may often be an unhelpful influence in averting a stoppage. I am not wholly convinced about that, and in the meantime, while open to conviction, I remain a secret balloter. The conciliation pause seems to have helped in the United States, and I should have thought that in serious cases it was well worth a trial here.
I should like to say a word about arbitration, because I think it is a process too 736 little used in this country at present. Over recent years there has been, or there seems to me to have been, a tendency to confuse arbitration with conciliation, though the two things are quite different. I feel that the more both parties to a dispute can be induced to accent in advance arbitration which will be binding on both of them, the better. Incidentally, though I am very "rusty" on my Classics, I believe that the ancient Greeks had a system of arbitration in which the arbitrators were allowed only to choose between the two cases put up to them: they were not allowed to propose a compromise. My classical studies inform me that the result was that both contestants put up the most reasonable and moderate case they could. I think that might be something worth thinking about. Certainly I believe that if the contestants could be persuaded that, in the absence of agreement, the decision of an independent arbitrator was the fairest practicable settlement, it would be an enormous advantage. I hasten to say that I am not advocating compulsory arbitration in general.
Clearly, in respect of restrictive labour practices there is no field for legal action, except perhaps in a minority of cases where the practice is in contradiction to a specific agreement entered into. But the reason for restrictive practices must be mainly fear. Unemployment is certainly no cure for that fear. In fact, the only remedy is to convince people that there is no reason for fear; and to do that, of course, takes time.
My Lords, what about the 100 per cent. union shop? Subject to reasonable safeguards for the individual, and the proviso that no existing employee should be discharged for refusing to join, and provided that the scheme is freely accepted by both sides, I should have thought it acceptable in principle. I am quite sure that it is right to impose on employers the duty of union recognition if a substantial proportion of their employees so desire.
The Donovan Report made the interesting suggestion that the trend towards company and factory agreements should be encouraged, and I believe that to be right. While the dictum that centralisation is the last refuge of administrative incompetence" is probably an exaggeration. 737 I believe that over-centralisation has great drawbacks and is a discouragement to local initiative and responsibility. Two things must be accepted if we are to turn towards local agreements, which I should welcome. The first is that local settlements involve continuous patience and painstaking work on the part of both parties. The second is that the results are bound to be the reverse of uniformity; and if we go for local agreements then uniformity from the national angle must not be expected. Nevertheless, I believe that this trend is sound, because most people find it easier to accept loyalties and to fulfil obligations to people they know than to impersonal organisations. The smaller the group, the stronger the sense of comradeship can be. I think that was one of the lessons of the war. Bigness breeds remoteness. You may or may not like people you know, but you are unlikely to misunderstand them; and misunderstandings, tragically, are the most frequent source of friction. If the trend goes that way, I think the code of practice suggested in the Tory pamphlet would be extremely valuable.
I wish to conclude by mentioning three things which I think that employers, unilaterally, could do to help. I mention them because I am more familiar with the employers' side than with the other. The first is to raise the status of the hourly-paid employees, whenever the opportunity offers, more nearly to that of the staff. I know one very large company which is working out a plan, with full approval of the Prices and Incomes Board, that aims at eventually eliminating any discrimination in status. The second thing is to consult and inform employees as fully as they can on matters directly affecting them. Nothing is worse, I think, than the idea that employees in a company should learn for the first time from the radio or the newspapers that their company is to be taken over by another. I know the difficulties, but it is always possible to do something. I remember that it was said about my noble and gallant friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein when he commanded the Eighth Army, that he would rather run the risk of the enemy learning of his plans than the otherwise certainty that his own troops would not know what he was trying to do.
738 The third thing—as I think noble Lords will agree—is that employers must not delegate to subordinate staff, even experienced personnel managers, all responsibility for industrial relations. More than half the battle consists of taking trouble, and to be seen to be taking trouble. My experience is that if you do that the people you are dealing with are almost always ready to come and meet you. It is important that the men at the top of a business, however big, should show their personal interest in these human matters. I will tell your Lordships a story (it will be very brief) of someone who asked a member of the works council of a company I know whether the directors ever went through the accounts with the works council. This member said, "Yes; Sir John goes through the accounts with us once a year." He was then asked whether he found that interesting. He said, "We don't understand a single word that he says from beginning to end. But don't you tell Sir John, 'cos he likes doing it, and he has nothing to hide." Whether the chairman felt that he had achieved his objective, I do not know. But the point is that the exercise was regarded as being well-intentioned and the works council member hoped that his feelings would not be hurt.
This is a very important debate on a subject that affects the nation's very heartbeat. We have as a nation a reputation for common sense, tolerance and decent conduct. The lesson we have to relearn is an old one: that if each presses his own short-term advantage, regardless of the effect on his fellow citizens, the nation cannot flourish and society withers. That is, after all, a lesson that every parent teaches his children in regard to the family. If we can relearn that fundamental truth, we shall once more set an example to the world in sensible and responsible living. Emerson once wrote:The English see more clearly on a cloudy day.Perhaps we have had things a little too easy lately. I trust that, amid the uncertainties and perplexities that are temporarily confusing our judgment today we shall re-earn that tribute which Emerson paid to us; regain our own self-respect and earn anew the respect and admiration of the world.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, the White Paper tells us that after further consultations the Government will introduce an Industrial Relations Bill, embodying the proposals which are set out in the White Paper. I have prepared my short speech on the basis of three questions that seem to me to arise. First, is an Industrial Relations Bill necessary? Secondly, are the proposals that the Government offer us worth our support? Thirdly, are further consultations a good idea? As I try to answer these questions I would make for myself the same plea as the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, has made on his own behalf; that is to say, I hope that my friends in the trade unions (and I think I still have some) are not thinking that I have become in any way anti-trade union. When I left Germany I was given, by the equivalent of the head of the T.U.C., a small present, which was inscribed, "A friend to the trade unions". I think that I have been and still am a friend of the unions.
My first question is: do we need an Industrial Relations Bill? It is plain that the country is in a mess. We cannot pay our debts. The currency and our whole economy are in peril. The chief reason for this is that our industry is not sufficiently competitive. Also, it is troubled by far too frequent stoppages. Figures can be produced to prove almost everything, and the White Paper reproduces figures that were given in the Donovan Report. But both documents are good enough to advise us that the figures are really not worth a blow—and that, of course, is so. The most damaging and difficult strikes I had to deal with when I was head of the British Transport Commission were the strikes that never came off. Peace was bought at a price which the industry could not afford and the country could not afford. Meanwhile, millions of pounds worth of business was lost. That business has not yet been recovered—at any rate, not entirely—and this is a major factor in the run-down of the industry.
I have said that our industry in this country is not sufficiently competitive. Which is the most prosperous country in Europe to-day? Is it us? No. Is it France? No. I think that your Lordships will agree with me that it is 740 Germany. But the Germans lost the war, did they not? What was the cause of the economic miracle that occurred there? The credit for that has been widely given to a fellow called Erhard—and certainly he is entitled to some of it. But the main people entitled to the credit for the economic miracle in Germany are the men who were the leaders of the German trade unions in those days. They were wise men; they were strong men, and they had courage. They had the courage to tell their members that the one way out of the country's troubles, and of their own, was work. Some of the credit, I think, might also go to a small band of our own people who worked with those German trade unionists and persuaded them to adopt a pattern for their industrial relations and their union set-up which has stood Germany in very good stead and which we to-day have much cause to envy.
Germany is not the only country with whom we are not sufficiently competitive. In America, for example—and here I have some knowledge of what I am talking about—productivity puts us to shame. The root cause of it is the attitude of the American workman as compared with the British—and when I say "workman" I mean from the president or chairman down to the fellow who sweeps up the floor—the whole lot of them. I should like to tell you a short story, for the truth of which I can absolutely vouch. An American company, not a very small one, decided recently that it needed to build new offices for its headquarters management. Quite a lot of money was spent, and an announcement was made that the new office would be opened and brought into use on the forthcoming Monday. A deputation from the men formed up to the management. They asked whether the opening could be hurried up a little and take place on the Saturday before. "You see", they added, "the fellows want to bring their wives and girls to see these fine offices our company has built for itself." Can any noble Lord quote a largish company in this country where a similar request is likely to be made? I find it difficult to do so. The whole attitude is different.
This question of attitude was discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, whose speech I very much appreciated, and by the right reverend 741 Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. Whether the attitude can be changed by legislation is a difficult question to answer, but this much is certain: many people have tried to make a change and have failed, and I think that now we have to look to the Government to do something about it. That is why I unhesitatingly answer my first question, "Is an Industrial Relations Bill necessary?" by saying, "Yes, it is."
My second question (although we are not asked to-day to vote on anything) is: are the Government proposals deserving of our support? The C.B.I. say, "No; the proposals are taking a nutcracker to crack a cannon ball." I personally think that is a very unreasonable remark. Do the C.B.I. really expect any Government, and especially a Labour Government, to crack this cannon ball at the first blow?—even if it is a good idea to talk about "cracking a cannon ball". I find it rather difficult to make out exactly what the T.U.C. say, but the impression that I have had—not from the speech of the noble Lord who has just spoken, which was an admirable and very persuasive speech—is that the T.U.C. would like to see things stay exactly as they are. My opinion is that if things stay as they are the country will be ruined, and the working man will be the worst sufferer.
Are the proposals perfect? That is a different matter; and the answer to the question is almost certainly "No". Even could say some things in criticism of the proposals. I have never been a believer—though I was interested to hear the noble Viscount say that he is—in the secret ballot as a means of avoiding an irresponsible strike. I think the way to avoid an irresponsible strike is to do something to ensure that you have wise, strong and responsible men at the head of the trade unions and management. In my view, the trouble is that an element has crept into the movement in this country in recent years which is not wise and responsible: in fact, it is very wrong-intentioned. That is why this demand has arisen to make agreements legally enforceable. In the past, when the general secretary gave his word and said: "On behalf of the union I agree to this", everybody knew that that was that. I never heard anybody asking for a law that would enforce Ernie Bevin's word 742 when he had given it: I should think not.
I am a little doubtful about the "cooling-off" period. It has done good service in America, but it has been on the Statute Book there for a long time. It is rather difficult to enforce. However, the Government are at least taking some steps. They are not saying that this is a final solution, and it certainly is not a final solution. Whatever criticisms I may have, I think that, in the end. I answer my second question, "Should these proposals receive our support?" by saying, "Yes". I think they are quite courageous proposals by a Labour Government and a Labour Prime Minister and are deserving of our support.
My final question is: Are further consultations a good thing? In my humble opinion, they are a complete waste of time. Does the Minister really suppose that she can charm some of the men, whom we all know, into willingly surrendering some of that tyrannical power which they yield at present? It is a waste of breath. My advice to the Governrnent—and with this I conclude—is: You have made your proposals; get on with it, and ignore the "belly-achers".
§ 5.25 p.m.
LORD GEDDES OF EPSOM
My Lords, I rise to support the White Paper, but that does not mean that I shall necessarily be able to support all the clauses that may be in the Bill which we are promised. Therefore I do not propose to go through the White Paper and generalise upon it. I do not believe, for example, that it is a "Trade Union Charter". As a matter of fact, when I read it through (I hope I may be forgiven for saying this) I came to the conclusion that it was attempting not only to wash the dog but to paint the inside and outside of the kennel at the same time. In other words, I believe the White Paper says many things that ought to be said, and ought to have been said before. I believe, also, however, that it says some unnecessary things, and suggests that some unnecessary things should be done.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I refer to the fact that I started as a trade union negotiator 46 years ago, and perhaps, therefore, I can claim some experience in industrial relations; but, 743 as I have said, I do not propose to generalise. I propose to concentrate on what I believe to be the major issue in the whole of this controversy and discussion. I believe that, were it not for the increase in recent years in the number of strikes, and particularly the number of unofficial strikes, the White Paper not only would have been unnecessary but in fact would not have been presented to your Lordships.
I think we are apt to underestimate the remarkable changes which have taken place in industrial relations in the last 25 years. In the past, a strike was undertaken only by desperate, not dangerous, men; men who were prepared to suffer privation themselves and to face hardship for their wives and families. To-day, it seems to me, if you go on strike you certainly do not suffer privation, and the amount of hardship is minimal. Furthermore, I believe that strikes are now sometimes caused and promoted by very dangerous men.
However, the most remarkable change that has taken place is the part that strikes now play in industrial negotiations. In my day a strike was called, if called at all, only because, as a result of the negotiations, no reasonable result, and often no result at all, came. If you wanted to pursue the point that you believed it was right to pursue, you had no alternative but to force the employer into a position of at least coming to some compromise. After all, in industrial relations compromise is the essence of success, and without it, it seems to me that you cannot succeed for any length of time. Nowadays, it seems that strikes have become part of the negotiations to achieve a reasonable result. And this is not surprising, my Lords, because when professional men earning £5,000 a year and more go on strike, the ordinary working man believes it is the right thing to do. This, again, is a change which should not be underestimated when we are discussing this matter.
In the past, unofficial strikes were often a revolt against union leadership, except in those cases where they were caused by the ego of some local despot, as indeed they are sometimes now. But nowadays it is difficult to tell what is unofficial and what is official. It is difficult to know—I can assert this—whether the unofficial 744 strike is in fact part of the negotiations, part of bringing duress during the negotiations. Let no one deny this, because, if necessary, I can quote instances where, although it may be supposition, the supposition was extremely well-founded. If this goes on, if we are going to use the strike weapon as part of our negotiations, it will eventually, in my view, completely destroy the consultative machine, and it most certainly will bedevil industrial relations.
Therefore, I agree with my noble friend Lord Wright. if the unions themselves will not take action against unofficial strikes (and they could if they would), if they will not deal with recalcitrant members, as they do when they think it is necessary—if they will not do these things in the light of the present position in which we find ourselves, then the unions surely cannot complain if some body. in this case the Government, who feel that the situation has gone too far, decide to take action which they believe will be effective. Because I submit that this is no longer a matter of domestic policy of the unions or a matter to be settled between the unions themselves, although in my submission it is a matter which could be settled by them if they would. Since they will not, it becomes a question of national survival and therefore it becomes a national issue which only the Government can deal with. Whether the Government will do all the things that ought to be done, or will do some things which ought not to be done, is quite beside the point. The simple issue is that the White Paper is trying to do something which in my submission must be done.
There is, in my view, another very important change which has taken place in the trade union movement and which affects, and will continue to affect, industrial relations. It may very well bring a very difficult position into industrial relations in the future. I refer to the shift in political power in the trade union movement from the Right to the Left. I am not suggesting—because it would be utterly ridiculous and utterly untrue to suggest it—that the Trades Union Congress General Council is composed of Communists. What I am saying is that there can be no doubt in the minds of those of us who know that, when it comes to the annual Congress, the vote which will be controlled by the extreme 745 Left of Congress is going to be formidable indeed. We know it. This is, I submit, a change that must be somehow or other met in making our view. This is a swing of the pendulum from Right to Left.
But I believe it is something much more than that. I believe that the avowed intention of the Communists to take over the trade union movement is succeeding, if it has not already succeeded. This I believe is something that we must not either forget or underestimate. In the past the Trades Union Congress, despite its differences with the Labour Party, was absolutely loyal to the Party. And, for that matter, the Trades Union Congress always claimed, and rightly claimed, that, no matter what political Party was in power, it was prepared to co-operate with the Government if in its view the Government were doing right, and to oppose them if in its view the Government were doing wrong. There was a trust not only by Government in the trade union movement but by the people in the trade union movement, which is gradually being dissipated to-day.
I do not know, and I suppose this is fustian, but the men who ran the trade union movement—and this applies to many of them who run it to-day—could be called patriots. They believed that they supported the Government of the day, not because they were, in the Left-wing words, "capitalist lackeys" but because they believed that the good of the country in the long run, in the long term, was for the good of their members. It seems to me to-day that we cannot be so certain that that is true.
The other important difficulty we are facing (it has been referred to: it was referred to by the right reverend Prelate and by the noble Viscount, Lord Amory) is apathy. Of course there is apathy. There is not only apathy in the trade union movement; there is apathy throughout the whole of the country. We are apathetic. We no longer have, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said, any desire on the part of anybody to get out of the difficulties that we are in. Why? In my view, it is because of the unholy alliance between the Tories, between the Press, between the extreme Left-wing and between the broadcasting authorities continually and deliberately, 746 as a matter of political policy, to denigrate this Government, and particularly to denigrate and ridicule their economic policies. This may be fair politics. The noble Lord who leads the Opposition, for whom I have a great regard, said on one occasion, "It is the duty of the Opposition to oppose." Is it the duty of the Opposition to oppose the national interest?
And what is happening? What is happening is this. This continued stream of abuse against the Government to-day is giving an absolute alibi to every worker and almost everybody in this country, from management to the man on the shop floor, so that he feels that it is not his responsibility if anything goes wrong; he cannot do anything about it; it is the Government who are at fault. He feels, "It is not up to me to do anything. It is the Government who are at fault." How can you expect anything else but apathy? How can you expect to get any enthusiasm behind the efforts to get out of the difficulties we are in if everybody is told, day in, day out, on television, through broadcasting and the Press, that nothing is being done right? That contention is nonsense. Everything may not be right, but to say that nothing is right is nonsense. But what can be expected when the people of this country are told, "Don't worry. This is not your fault. You have nothing to do. This is all the Government's fault. Just let the thing drift on"? Of course there is apathy. Until such time as we can get rd of this idea that we can get into a more prosperous situation without effort, until we realise that it requires the baking of the nation, we shall not succeed.
And it is riot only the fault of the trade unions. It is not only the number of strikes which is the cause of this. I believe that strikes are a symptom, not the cause, of bad industrial relations. I am certainly not condemning all strikes. I was responsible for one, a small one it is true, a successful one it is true, forty years ago, when it was difficult to go on strike, so I am not against all strikes. As a matter of fact, I believe that the recent strike in the Post Office was justified. It was constitutional; a ballot was taken. It was constitutional; it was necessary; it was successful. So I am not against all strikes. What I am against is the anarchy which exists in the trade 747 union movement through the unofficial strike. The White Paper says that some unofficial strikes can be justified. I deny this. I reject it completely. If in any organisation the machinery of industrial relations is so bad that an unofficial strike can be justified, then the thing to do is to alter that machine, to change the machine as quickly as one can in order to see that the unofficial strike cannot be justified. I want to see order and trust restored to the trade union movement. That is why I support the White Paper: because I believe it will be a move in that direction. Until that is done, I repeat that prosperity will be denied us.
My Lords, I finish with this comment. At a recent private conference a lecturer, who I am assured was speaking with unimpeachable authority, quoted this case. He said his firm had produced a product which they tried to sell in Europe. They went to Europe, they presented their product, their potential buyers said that they liked the idea and it seemed to be good, but they would not accept it until it had been thoroughly tested. The firm tested it for a year and at the end of that time they informed the potential buyers that they had done so and told them it was a good product. The firm in this country sent its representative with an order book under his arm in order to collect the orders which it seemed inevitably would follow. I repeat, I have no reason to doubt the integrity of the person who told me this story. The representative was told by the firm in Europe, "We think this is a good product; we should like to buy it, but I am afraid we cannot give you an order. You see, we cannot afford to order anything of this type unless we can be absolutely certain of delivery. We cannot be certain of that at all. We think Britain has a disease in this connection and we are sorry, but we cannot give you an order". My Lords, if that does not justify the White Paper nothing does.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, so far this has been an extremely memorable debate and one which has been of particular interest because of some of the fine speeches which have been made in the course of it. If I may, I should like to single out particularly the speech made 748 by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes of Epsom, apart from one passage to which I feel I must refer (and I hope he will not mind) in which he strayed from the bounds of the trade union world to a Party political attack.
The noble Lord, Lord Wright, made a speech of particular interest, as did my noble friend Lord Amory. I cannot claim to speak on this subject with any of the background knowledge that they possess, but none the less I hope your Lordships will bear with me when I deal with one particular topic, and with that topic alone. Before doing so, may I also say that in my view the House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for his clear and lucid exposition of the contents of the White Paper, as it should be to my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn for his detailed review of it.
The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, in the time that he devoted to a Party political attack, seemed to blame all the troubles in the industrial field on an unholy conspiracy between, I think it was, the B.B.C., the Tory Party and everyone else, who denigrate the Government; and that part of his speech proceeded upon the assumption that Government policies were in the national interest. That is a questionable proposition. Of course that kind of defence is a very good alibi for this Government, but the truth of the matter is that this Government have ceased to possess the confidence of the country, and the sooner we get a Government who do command the confidence of the electorate, the sooner will our chances of recovery come. But I did not intend to speak about that. For that part of my speech the responsibility lies on the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and on him alone.
What I want to talk about tonight is a problem that was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn. It is a problem which emerges even more clearly from the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. All of us who knew Ernest Bevin knew that if he had given his word one need not have the slightest doubt about that word being honoured. In those days, when dealing with a man like Ernest Bevin, there was no need to 749 worry whether an agreement was or was not legally binding. His word was enough. I was interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, how the situation to-day had deteriorated, and I think that is evident for all of us to see.
I hope that what I am about to say will not lead any Member of your Lordships' House to think that I am in any sense an enemy of the trade unions. I do not regard myself as such. Trade unions are here; they have played, and they will continue to play, a very useful part in our affairs, but what is wanted now is surely a modernisation and a reform of the law relating to them. I think that most lawyers—and I hope I can include the Lord Advocate in this—whatever their political outlook, would agree that one branch of our law which urgently requires revision is that relating to trade unions. So much of it has developed piecemeal, and as a result of the passage of Acts to reverse decisions of the courts on particular points. A recent instance of that was the Act passed in, I believe, 1965 to reverse the decision in Rookes v. Barnard. What we should have, surely, is a comprehensive Act stating clearly the rights, duties and immunities of trade unions, and I should be very surprised indeed if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, with his enthusiasm for law reform and for codification of the law, did not share these views, though I recognise that we might disagree in certain respects as to the content of the legislation.
While putting forward my plea for that reform, I recognise that it is not enough. I also recognise that we cannot improve industrial relations just by passing Acts of Parliament, but none the less surely an Act of Parliament, although not directly leading to an improvement in those relations, can act as the basis for an improvement. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, asked whether we could change an attitude by legislation. I do not think that is possible directly, but if we get the framework right that may indirectly lead to a considerable change of attitude.
I welcomed the appointment of the Royal Commission presided over by my noble and learned friend Lord Donovan, and if I may I should like to say how interesting it was to read the Report, and 750 how valuable and informative I found it. In paragraph 224 it states:Collective bargaining is recognised as the best way of conducting industrial relations".If that be right, is it not in the highest degree anomalous that the bargain reached, it may be after months of negotiation and discussion, should not be legally binding but binding only in honour on those who signed it—and, I would add, on those on whose behalf it was signed? We heard the noble Lord, Lord Wright, say that ways must be found to curb wild-cat strikes. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, refer to the present position with regard to those strikes and as to how they could be used as an element in the negotiations. Most of these strikes are, are they not, ill breach of some agreement, and in clear breach. It no longer suffices, I would say, to rely solely on the honour of those who sign the agreements and on the honour of those whom they represent.
I was, I must confess, surprised to see it stated in paragraph 470 of the Royal Commission's Report that collective agreements are not legally binding agreements. That is a very general statement, and I should have thought that that could not have been said accurately without the closest examination of all collective agreements and consideration of the circumstances in which they were made. Some may be so vague and imprecise that mere perusal of them would lead one to the conclusion that the parties did not enter into a binding agreement. But surely, on the other hand, there may be others so precise and so detailed, and reached after such long negotiations, that it would be difficult to conclude, from reading them and from consideration of the circumstances, that they were not intended by the parties who signed them to be legally binding contracts.
It is quite true, as the Commission state, that:Without both parties intending to be legally bound there can be no contract in the legal sense.But one judges a person's intentions by his conduct and I repeat, if months of negotiation lead to the conclusion of a detailed and precise agreement, I would have thought there was a strong inference that it was intended by the parties to be legally binding. 751There is in fact nothing in the law to prevent employers or their associations and trade unions from giving legal force to their agreements.My Lords, that is not my statement: it is to be found in paragraph 470 of the Donovan Report.
I recognise, however, that it may well be that the belief is widespread that Section 4 of the Act of 1871 deprives any such agreement of legal validity. That, as the Donovan Commission make clear, is not the case. That section prevents the direct enforcement of agreements between one trade union and another, and so long as employers' associations are treated as trade unions it applies to agreements with such associations. But it does not apply, and has never applied, to agreements between a company and trade unions representing its employees and (and I would stress this) a clear distinction is to be drawn between an agreement which is legally binding and its enforceability. Frequently in the course of this debate I have heard references to making agreements legally enforceable. That is quite a different question from making agreements which are legally binding, as well as binding in honour, and I shall perhaps have to refer, when I come later to enforceability, to the distinction.
In that pamphlet to which reference has already been made, Fair Deal at Work, there appears this statement:Section 4 of the Trade Union Act should be repealed. This would put collective agreements on a par with any other type of contract—no more, no less.I must confess, my Lords, that I am very doubtful indeed about the wisdom of repealing the whole of Section 4. But if the inference to be drawn from that recommendation is that if that section is repealed collective bargains will automatically become legally binding unless the contrary is expressly stated, then I beg to dissent entirely from that proposition. That would not be the case, and such an agreement would not be legally binding "unless the parties specifically agreed that it should be."
I welcome the proposal in the White Paper, In Place of Strife, that Section 4 should be amended so as to put agreements between employers' associations and the unions in the same position as agreements between employers and trades unions to which the section does not 752 apply. But I am inclined to think that neither the White Paper we are discussing nor Fair Deal at Work really gets down to the root of this problem with regard to agreements being binding legally. How can you get a change of attitude by the parties to such an agreement? Unless they both intend to make a legally binding agreement there can be, as the Donovan Commission point out, no contract in the legal sense. Employers could refuse to enter into an agreement unless it was agreed that it would be legally binding. But if they did so insist would there be any agreements? I wonder.
I repeat, that it is in my view quite ridiculous that such agreements, affecting as they do the rights and interests of a great many people—indeed, affecting out whole economy—should be binding in honour only, and that there should be no sanction for their dishonour at any time. Surely it is nonsense that if the negotiations with Fords lead to a settlement, as everyone hopes they will, that settlement could be repudiated and broken next week or next month with impunity.
Could any change of the law help to prevent that? I am inclined to think that it could. I think it should be enacted that an agreement between employers or employers' associations, on the one hand. and the unions, on the other—agreements, as I say, so often reached after prolonged and difficult negotiations—should be presumed to be legally binding unless the contrary was shown. The onus—and I hope it would be a fairly heavy onus—would then rest on the party which sought to contend that the agreement it had signed was not legally binding. That party would have to establish that fact. It would then be for employers and unions to make the position clear at the commencement of the negotiations. It would be for them, in the negotiations, to make it clear whether or not they intended to be legally bound by an agreement if an agreement was ultimately reached. Once one side said, "We do not intend to be legally bound by this", the other side would know where they stood; and if, because of that, an agreement was not concluded, one would know perfectly well where the blame lay. And one would know also, I suggest, that not much faith ought to be placed on such an agreement. I am not thinking of one of those vague 753 agreements which, clearly, do not lead anyone to think it was meant to be a legal contract. But in the case of a precise and detailed agreement, if one party says, "I am not prepared to be bound by this in law", then I think the other party to the negotiation might well conclude that that agreement was not so very likely to be honoured in practice.
Also might it not be to the advantage of trade union members—I throw this out because I think it is a relevant factor—if an agreement was binding, for then employers would know that during the period of the agreement any concessions they made would not be used as stepping stones for further demands? That might well mean that employers would be willing to make further advances, or give greater concessions at that stage, than they are now prepared to do, knowing, as past experience has shown, that if they give way on Point I that will be used as a stepping stone for a further demand which may come within a quite short period of time. I do not know what further steps the law could take to making such agreements legally binding, but I feel that something must be done speedily to stop agreements binding only in honour being repudiated almost before the ink on them is dry, and even more quickly than the provision in the agreement about the reform of this House for the payment of your Lordships was repudiated by the Prime Minister.
But it is not enough just to make a legally binding agreement. There are two other important questions which have to be considered: first, on whom should such an agreement be binding; and secondly, what remedies should there be for its breach. I think it is really unarguable that it should be binding on those on whose behalf it is made—if made by an employers' association, on the employers who are members of the association; if made by a trade union, on the members of the union. After all, they obtain the benefits of the agreement, and if they break it, in my opinion they, and their union, should be held responsible for the breach. I recognise that this may involve the use of more discipline by the unions over their members, but I beg to doubt whether that would be an entirely bad thing.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, will the noble and learned Viscount allow me to interrupt? I am extremely interested in this theory of absolutely legally binding agreements, and one can appreciate the point that the noble and learned Viscount is making. But there is the experience, for instance, in America, where you have legally enforceable and binding agreements. if the noble and learned Viscount will turn to page 38 of In Place of Strife he will see that in accordance with the tables there set out, the number of industrial disputes that take place in America in regard to these legally binding agreements far exceed those which take place here, even counting unofficial strikes.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord into that argument, because my view is—I still hold it, and I do not know that one gains much from a comparison of statistics—that unless we can make these agreements which have been entered into with such difficulty "stick" for a particular period, we are not likely to bring back order into our industrial relations or to remove the present chaos. That is my argument. The noble Lord may disagree with it. At the moment I am dealing with the question of making an agreement legally binding, because I believe that to do so would be one step in the right direction. I do not mean that we should enact a law saying that any agreement entered into is bound to be a legal contract. But I believe that if you can bring about the situation that agreements entered into are recognised as legally binding upon the parties, the chances of those agreements being broken will in fact be reduced.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, if the noble and learned Viscount will allow me to interrupt, this is a most intereqing point. He has, I am sure, appreciated that our courts have always regarded the rules of a trade union like the memorandum of a limited company—that it cannot lawfully do that which is outside its rules. It may be an extraordinary thing, as a trade union spends its time making agreements, that I have never seen any trade union rules (and I have seen most of them, I think) which give any authority to the trade union to make an agreement binding on its members; and there is no decision of 755 any English court in which a trade union has ever been entitled to do that. I appreciate that the noble and learned Viscount may take the view that they ought to be able to do so, but I would suggest for his consideration that this would be a severe limitation on the right of the individual, all other individuals being entitled to say: "If I choose not to allow somebody to make a contract for me, I am entitled to take that view".
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
Well, my Lords, I appreciate that I am putting forward proposals for change, and I had hoped that, at least to some extent, I would have the support of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for reform of the law in relation to trade unions. I take it that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor does not dissent from the proposition in the Donovan Report, that there is nothing in law to prevent employers, or their association, or a trade union, from giving legal force to the agreement. And then the question arises: if the trade union enters into such an agreement of a legal character, should it be binding only on the trade union or should it be binding also on the members who compose that trade union? I recognise that this is a change of the law, but if you belong to a club you are bound by the rules of the club; if you authorise, directly or indirectly, a trade union to make agreements on your behalf and you are a beneficiary, then it does not seem to me that there is anything so novel or astonishing in saying that you also ought to be bound by those agreements.
I may be wrong, but I do not think the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was here when I sought to draw a distinction between making agreements binding and making them enforceable. I have merely said at the moment that I think that those agreements ought to be binding on the parties to them, and on those who are represented by those parties. But the next question is: if you have a legally binding agreement or contract, what remedies should there be for its breach? I do not think it will do merely to provide that employers or employers' associations can sue, because as the Royal Commission point out once a strike is over employers are not likely to have recourse to the courts, and I 756 should not like to encourage them to do so. But I would not deprive them of the right to do so if they thought fit, and I think that they certainly should be entitled to seek an injunction to prevent a strike in breach of a binding agreement.
I cannot think it would be right to give an employers' association the right to sue on an agreement made by one of its members with a union, though of course if the agreement were made by the association it could sue. For the reason given in the Report of the Royal Commission—namely, the unlikelihood of employers taking action—I do not think that their having the right to do so would prove to be an effective sanction against a breach of a binding agreement; nor do I believe that the possibility of obtaining an award of damages up to a certain limit would be an effective sanction. Even if there were a statutory limit on the amount of damages recoverable, strict proof of the loss suffered on account of the breach may be most difficult and costly, and I do not think that any employers would wish to undertake this. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said in introducing this Motion that there were very great difficulties with regard to making (I think he referred to it) contracts legally enforceable. I agree that there are considerable difficulties, but, like my noble friend Lord Amory, I do not consider them to be insuperable.
Might not a possible solution lie in another direction? We all pay tribute to the rule of law and to good order, and what we are seeking to do, I think, is to find a way of restoring good order in this particular field, a field in which the State has a great interest in seeing that agreements of this kind, freely entered into, are observed. Could not the Commission on Industrial Relations be given some responsibility for securing the observance of such agreements registered with them? Could they not be given the right, and the duty, to sue for a penalty should it be established that there has been a breach of such an agreement? If that responsibility were placed on them, then there would be, it seems to me, an adequate deterrent against the breach of such agreements.
My Lords, I have devoted my speech to this topic because I believe that, of all the important questions raised in this debate to-day, this is fundamentally the 757 most important. It is no use going on with negotiations and making agreements if they can be torn up like scraps of paper, and with complete immunity. I have said, and l repeat, that in my view this is the most important question, and it is one that in the interests of our country should be tackled, and tackled without delay.
I do not propose to speak in any detail on any other parts of the White Paper—it would take far too long. If a Bill is introduced I may have opportunities then. There are many parts of the White Paper that I welcome; some that I deplore. I can see no ground at the present time for extending the immunity of trade unions to protect them for inducing breaches of commercial contracts in the course of trade disputes, and I remain to be convinced that it is in the national interest that the taxpayers' money should be used for financing trade unions, I will not comment any further; I have spoken long enough—indeed, I fear a little longer than I intended.
My Lords, I welcome the publication of this White Paper, for it shows that the Government recognise the existence of the problem; but I am inclined to doubt whether the White Paper itself contains all the right answers. I think few will dispute that the matter is urgent. If agreements are made which are legally binding, then I hope and believe that that will lead to fewer unofficial strikes and fewer unconstitutional strikes in breach of those agreements.
Since the Royal Commission were appointed the period of gestation has been long; there is no sign of its termination. I think it most unlikely that we shall get a Bill of this magnitude this Session, but there should be no delay in legislation. For, my Lords, it is far, far more urgent than reform of your Lordships' House; and instead of spending weeks, and it may be months, on a Bill to do that—if the Bill reaches this House—Parliament should devote its time to legislating on this problem so closely affecting industrial relations and the economy of the country. I fear that once again this Government have got their priorities wrong.
§ 6.15 p.m.
My Lords, I hope the noble and learned Viscount will excuse me if I do not follow him into the realms of legal argument that he has put forward to-night. The Government White Paper In Place of Strife deals with industrial relations in industry and proposes future legislation for the trade unions. The question I ask is, "Will this replace strife?". The provisions to put the Commission on Industrial Relations on a statutory basis will be included in the new Industrial Relations Bill which the Government intend to present to Parliament in the next Session, although further consultations with industry will be necessary.
The White Paper therefore proposes ten main objectives. I will not deal with them all, but I will deal with a few. These ten objectives are formidable changes. The White Paper follows the Donovan Report which examined, over three years, the industrial relations problems facing the country. To me the White Paper seems like a package deal: you have to take the good with the bad, even if the bad damages the good. The introduction of penal clauses has already caused consternation in the T.U.C., and nearly all the unions are against it. I agree with the first five points in the ten objectives. The right to get information and the right to belong to a trade union are long overdue, and I believe it is a step in the right direction to give grants or loans to amalgamate small unions into one big unit, so long as it is not done by compulsion by the State.
The C.I.R. is another good innovation. The people the Minister has chosen have had a lifetime in industrial relations. They are very knowledgeable on these matters and understand the emotions of men on the shop floor, in the mines and in industry generally. But it would be a mistake to think that they can solve all the problems in industrial relations in a short time. After all, it took the Donovan Committee three years to take all the evidence and give their Report. It will be a much longer job to get the trade unions, from the factory floor to national level, to accept the inevitable changes that will arise in the present pattern of industrial relations.
If the C.I.R.'s aim is to find ways of improving industrial relations and 759 strengthening voluntary collective bargaining, then it carries my best wishes. Further, in addition to the development of the T.U.C.'s own activities in these directions the C.I.R. could well have a useful part to play in bringing persuasion to bear on the unions involved and in influencing employers' recognition policies. On the question of inter-union disputes, I have always felt that the T.U.C. Disputes Committee, or the T.U.C. itself, should be given full power by the affiliated unions and that a decision by them should be final and binding on the unions involved. In the event of the T.U.C. being unable to settle an inter-union dispute, or if the unions involved do not accept the C.I.R. recommendation, I cannot see that an order by the Secretary of State, with financial penalties on the unions, will make for good industrial relations. In my opinion, it is likely to work the other way. It should be remembered—and this has been my experience over all the years of my life—that whenever one brings the weight of the law on what may be regarded as erring trade unionists or unions, one brings about an agitation to end that law and bad relations ensue.
I regard as completely misguided and unacceptable the proposal to take discretionary powers to conduct a ballot on threatened strike action which, in the Minister's opinion, threatens economic damage, and to back these powers with the threat of financial penalties. Here the Government have disregarded the considered view of the Royal Commission, which pointed out that there is little evidence for the view that workpeople are less likely to vote for strike action than their leaders. The experience of most of us is that to remove from the leaders the right to exercise any responsibility is likely to militate strongly against confidence in the leadership, thus ensuring that unofficial action would be encouraged, and not reduced. In my own union we have a ballot, and it is covered by our rules. It is easy for us, since we take a ballot at the pit in 24 hours. Our national ballot can be over in 14 days. Therefore, it is not such a handicap to us in the mining industry. But how long would it take the Seamen's Union to take a ballot of its men when they are scattered over the seven seas? It 760 would take months. Furthermore, those at sea cannot strike until they come ashore, since they are governed by the Merchant Shipping Act. It would not be easy for the Transport and General Workers' Union and the engineering unions to take a ballot for their men are in thousands of different places all over the country. It is not so easy to do as it is at pits on a national scale.
When negotiations have been going on for months it is necessary for the trade union leaders to have this power as a negotiating factor when they are "Up against it". For the Minister to take this power will weaken the trade union leaders in negotiating wages and conditions; it will not help them. The resentment by the T.U.C. against this proposal will be worse if the Minister decides the terms of the question to be incorporated on the ballot paper and to determine the appropriate majority of two-thirds in some cases. Another serious objection to compulsory ballots is that the timing of the ballot will clearly be crucial. The result would depend on this, especially when one remembers that between the time of the Minister's decision and the taking of the ballot all the organs of propaganda would be bent on defeating the leaders of the union in achieving their result and would thereby reduce the authority of the leaders who are negotiating for the men. Furthermore, if an Act giving statutory power to a Minister to call for a ballot is enshrined in the law, then employers will be more adamant in refusing concessions so as to push the Minister into having a ballot.
The power asked for on this matter is to be used if the Secretary of State believes that the strike would involve a threat to the economy or the public interest. I have never yet known a strike, particularly in the industrial field, which did not affect the economy or the public interest. The withdrawal of labour is the final sanction which a trade union can use, and it is aimed at bringing pressure on the employer and on the economy to get grievances redressed. Once this power is whittled away or reduced, trade unions will be at the mercy of the employers. Once this power of the trade unions is reduced or hamstrung by legal sanctions, the strength of the trade unions, whose job it is to protect their members and get for them the maximum wages they can, will be much handicapped. I share the 761 view of the Royal Commission that the causes of unconstitutional strikes should be removed, and also their view that the most constructive way of achieving this lies in reforming the institutions of whose defects they are a symptom. But this suggested power by the Secretary of State will hinder rather than help such a reform.
The Government will also have the utmost difficulty to define in any Statute precisely what strikes will be unconstitutional, or to define in what circumstances their consequences are likely to be serious. These issues would have to be defined by the Minister concerned—and it may not be a Labour Minister. Why in this day and age should a Minister be given unfettered discretion to invoke powers to fine workpeople and trade unions solely on the grounds that in his or her opinion the results of a strike are likely to be serious using such criteria as he or she may think appropriate? The power that is sought in the White Paper makes industrial relations and trade unions a prisoner of the ups and downs of Party politics. I see no reason why a Minister should be given the absolute right to determine which disputes will qualify for legal intervention.
A trade union exists to fight for its members by all the weapons at its disposal, and the strike weapon is its greatest and final weapon. To tie it up in the manner suggested will be to weaken its bargaining power. We do not want trade unions that give a goose at Christmas, or a watch on retirement and a wreath when you die. We want trade unions to use their powers sensibly, but to remain a fighting machine to redress grievances and to improve the wages and conditions of workpeople in the industrial field. Legal sanctions will reduce their powers to achieve their historic mission.
I now wish to deal with the cooling-off period. The White Paper suggests a conciliation pause of 28 days in unconstitutional strikes and strikes where adequate joint discussions have not taken place. What is meant by "adequate"? Is it one month, two months, or eleven months, as was the period with the engineers last year? What is the interpretation of the word "adequate" by the Minister who will have powers in this regard? I know this suggestion has 762 many attractions and is implemented in America under the Taft-Hartley Act, where the time period is 90 days; but the fact is that Britain loses far fewer days in strikes than America. Australia has penal legislation on strikes, a cooling-off period and a compulsory court. Will this sort of procedure work? Say that a trade union has been negotiating for six months without getting a settlement—and national negotiations often take that long—and then decides to strike, and the Minister says that there must be a 28 days' cooling-off period at the status quo position. In circumstances like that, regardless of fines, a national leader will not be able to hold his members in many cases, and unconstitutional strikes will arise in the industries afected. I can see a. situation where the cooling-off period can be hotted-up and industrial relations worsened, not made better. I ask the Minister to give some serious thought to this subject.
I regard the attachment of wages as one of the most dangerous of the reforms suggested. What the Government are saying is that because men withdraw their labour they will be fined and their wages will be attached to meet the fines. In some cases their national trade unions can also be fined. But you cannot build good industrial relations, nor can you get co-operation from the workers, if each week when they get their pay there is a deduction of a fine from their wages by the very people with whom they have been in dispute. Great resentment will be caused by this and the feelings created will take years to eliminate.
Nobody likes unofficial strikes. In many cases they are emotional and arise from frustration through not getting grievances redressed, or because new conditions are imposed without consultation with the workers affected. Fines will not stop this and attachment of wages will create a new and worse situation. I have seen the result of attachment of men's wages after unofficial strikes. I have been in court ten times in my life and have had my wages attached. When we made the pit idle we were sued for breach of contract under the Master and Servant Act. When we got our county court summonses as a trade union, we always decided that all the men would attend the court. The pit was idle and we went to court with bands and banners. The 763 county court judge used to take three of us as test cases, and in the end awarded damages of 30s. for each day of the strike, and made an order to attach our wages at the rate of 2s. 6d. per week, which was a lot of money in the 'twenties and 'thirties.
But this did not mean the end. In the weeks that followed, when the men got their pay notes and saw the deduction of their wages, every little grievance again made the pit idle. Such was men's resentment against attachment. A few weeks after attending the court the employers always sent for us as local officials. In some cases the employers told us to get the men back to work and said they would forget the fines and the attachment, or they would take £100 in a lump, sum in settlement. We sometimes used to settle in that way.
The attachment of men's wages under the Master and Servant Act never stopped unofficial strikes in my lifetime. In fact, employers never use the Master and Servant Act in disputes to-day because they know of the bad relations it causes. It would be an experience for many people who think that this penalty is the answer, if they had to meet 2,000 men incensed by something that affects their work and tell them to get back to work. Some of us have had to do it and we have been told in unparliamentary language what we could do. In situations like that, attachment of wages for fines will in no way solve unofficial strikes. We have to eliminate the causes of unofficial strikes, and I place my confidence in the work of the C.I.R. rather than in the penal sanctions which the Minister suggests in this White Paper. There is deep opposition in the trade union movement to the attachment of wages, and it is from the trade union movement that the basis of the Labour Party's support comes. To enforce the proposed measure would be to shake the base of our Party to its very foundations, and any chance of our return at the next Election would be ruined.
It was the Labour Party in Australia who put the Arbitration Court into existence, fining the head unions and strikers £5 a day and distraining on their household goods when the fines were not paid. The trade union movement in Australia was shackled. What has been the result of that Labour legislation in Australia? 764 The Liberals gained power and operated the legislation as I have indicated, and Labour has never since got back to power because it is Labour legislation that is blamed by the trade unions. We should remember that there is a moral here for us on the Labour Benches. With all the good intentions of the present Minister, if the Tory Party get back to power they will operate the Act, if that is what it is, and will justifiably say that it is a Labour Party Act. But they will administer it not in the same way as a Labour Minister might administer it, but viciously. Their past history in regard to us, as trade unionists, makes me terribly worried in this context.
I say to my own Front Bench that ever since trade unions were formed we have faced legal restrictions. There were the Combination Acts, which were the beginning; then we had the gaol sentences for conspiracy in 1872, and then the Taff Vale decision which allowed companies to sue for damages after a strike by the railwaymen's union. It was that decision that brought into existence the Labour Party. It is an irony that this process which brought about the position where some of us got seats in the House of Commons, was part of the fight of the trade unions against attempts to curb them by law. We had the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927, which resulted in a great agitation for its repeal, but it took us till 1945 to get it off the Statute Book. I called that the Blacklegs' Charter. Then we had Order 1305 which banned strikes. After strikes and demonstrations we, as a Labour Party, dropped it in 1951. That Order was used against dockers, gasworkers and some engineers.
My fear now in regard to these penalty clauses is that we are using the law, a centuries' old game, to curb the worker fighting for his rights, and to this cannot agree. I may be told that negotiations are to take place with the T.U.C. and the employers before the Bill is presented to us. But we all know that the trade unions are opposed to the penalty clause and strike ballot powers of the Minister. I hope she heeds the advice of those who have spent their lives in the trade union movement.
Can we be told what happens to a striker if he refuses to pay his fine by not going to work, or continues to strike? 765 The White Paper says that there will be no imprisonment. How will you get your fines? Shall we get the argument that if the workers get into prison it will not be for striking, but because of failure to pay a civil debt that is imposed on strikers through fines? Evidence is now available, on page 422 of the Payne Report, that out of a sample of 1,000 maintenance defaulters taken over the country 34 per cent. went to prison. How will you enforce these payments in the light of this example from the Payne Report? And this attachment of wages was to keep men out of prison! Or will the people who default on paying these fines have the county court bailiff taking their household goods to meet the fines imposed? We must have some clarification about this. If any of these things happen it will be repugnant to all trade unionists.
My Lords, my position is clear. We are asked to-night to take note of the White Paper, but if the Bill, when it is presented to us, includes the penalty clauses I will vote against it for the reasons I have stated. I believe the Government are heading for real trouble with the trade unions. They are going in the direction of destroying the very basis of the Labour Movement, which may mean there will not be a Labour Government in the foreseeable future. Why do they pursue this calamitous approach to the future of trade unionism? Why do they destroy all the good in the White Paper by the sanctions they intend to impose? The dangers of the White Paper can and should be removed. We want the negotiating structure overhauled and we want more say in industry. There are many concrete proposals on which the unions and the Government should be able to concentrate and where they could show rapid progress. But you will not get a united move forward if you persist in these proposals, which will do untold harm. Co. operation will not be forthcoming, but strenuous opposition will.
We know that not much notice is taken of what we say as Back-Benchers in the Lords, but I am certain that the path the Government are treading to-day in this White Paper, if they make it law, will be taken serious note of by the trade union electors in the next Election—and it will not be for the benefit of us as a Party. I ask the Government not to have 766 a head-on clash with the trade union movement. To do so will ensure the return of the Tory Party to power, which I have no desire to see again.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CALDECOTE
My Lords, I am glad the noble Lord the Leader of the House has framed his Motion in the way he has done, for in these difficult issues it is better to concentrate our efforts on points of agreement rather than on points of disagreement. I believe that in the first part of this White Paper there is a great deal of sound analysis of the problems with which few of us would disagree. If there is disagreement, it will centre mainly not on the diagnosis but on the treatment proposed. There has been so much expert discussion on the details of the treatment—on the new statutory bodies, on their powers and on the problems or the merits of legal sanctions—that I do not propose to pursue those aspects, but rather shall try to emphasise some of the basic issues which seem to me to be in danger of being forgotten.
Towards the end of paragraph 9 of the White Paper it says:The need for State intervention and involvement, in association with both sides of industry, is now admitted by almost everyone. The question that remains is, what form should it take at the present time?The answer to that question is of fundamental importance. One answer is given at the beginning of paragraph 10—and I quote:The answer to this question is to be found in an analysis of the present state of industrial relations in Britain".I doubt whether that answer goes nearly deep enough. It seems to me to be analogous to a doctor, in the case of a patient suffering from a nervous breakdown, concentrating solely on the man's physical condition instead of looking at the pressures of life which caused his nervous breakdown.
Industrial relations are, fundamentally, relations between people, and so they involve all the good and the bad points of human nature. To be successful, industrial relations must be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and respect, of understanding and good will, 767 and, so far as is practicable, with a common purpose. In fact, industrial relations are a matter principally for industry, and not principally for the Government. But Government intervention and legal sanctions are required, perhaps, to deal with important background issues, such as the abuse of power, and with ensuring that the legal framework, such as the tax laws and the like, are not inconsistent with the establishment of good relations.
My Lords, it is an unfortunate fact of human nature that reputations and confidence are destroyed far more quickly and far more easily than they are created; and we are still suffering to-day from the memories of the bad relations in the 1920s and the 1930s, and even earlier, sometimes engendered by muddled thinking and too often by the abuse of power and intolerance. That leads, to-day, to a still widespread attitude, unfortunately, of "we" and "they" in industry, and to a resulting lack of mutual respect and confidence. The prime task, I believe, is the establishment in industry of that confidence: to create it where it is lacking and to strengthen it where it exists. While I fully appreciate the need for the community to be protected by legislation against the abuse of power wherever it arises—in management, in the unions or in government itself—I see grave dangers in putting the cart of Commissions and legislation before the horse of confidence and a common objective.
I recently read a story in a little monthly paper, called, The Waterfront and Industrial Pioneer, which I commend to your Lordships for its balanced views on industrial relations. This story is, as it were, third-hand, so I cannot vouch for its truth. But it is said that the chairman of a stevedoring company was walking through the docks when he sighted a docker who had a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and who paid no attention whatever to him. He spoke to the docker and said. "Do you know who I am?" The docker put the cigarette more firmly in the corner of his mouth and cried up to his chum in the crane above, "Hey, Bill! There's a chap down here who doesn't know who he is ". Unfortunately, my Lords, that Chairman's attitude is still too common in industry. It serves only to accentuate 768 the divisions in industry and the remoteness of the decision-makers from the majority who are affected by them. The feeling of remoteness of management from the shop floor is, I believe, one of the major confidence-reducing influences in industry.
There is no doubt that the size of an organisation is an important factor in this feeling; and another is a lack of cohesion or common purpose. To-day, as we all know, large organisations are, for many well known reasons, necessary, but I firmly believe that they should be no bigger than is required for efficient operation. Though size certainly produces difficulties, as the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, has said, size in itself is not an insuperable obstacle to the establishment of confidence as a basis for good industrial relations. I believe that we have a good example in the Coal Board, where the noble Lord, Lord Robens, in very difficult conditions of a falling demand, has developed, through personal contact and a wise knowledge of the people and the problems involved, a mutual respect and confidence.
Where confidence and mutual respect exist, good industrial relations follow, but there is no doubt that they are more difficult to achieve in large organisations. I am concerned at the growth of the so-called conglomerate companies, where management is trying to deal with very widely diverse activities and where the company is often dominated by one man, or at best a few, all too clearly remote from the work, the problems and the aspirations of those who create the real wealth of the company. On a recent visit to the United States I noted a growing concern there at the increase of these conglomerate companies, and I have no doubt that we must beware here, if only from the aspect of good industrial relations.
Another essential condition for creating sensible industrial relations is good communications—not by a company magazine or by notices on a company notice board, although they have a place, but through personal contact and the encouragement of mutual understanding throughout an organisation. It is time, too, I believe, for the shareholders' position to be put in proper perspective in relation to the others involved in a business. Shareholders provide money 769 at risk for the purchase of the assets which are needed to run the company. As such they are entitled to require the business to be well managed to protect their investment and to provide an income commensurate with their risk and enterprise. Equally important are those who devote their skill and energies and often a large part of their lives to the company. They have equal claim to protection and reward consistent with their contribution.
That does not mean that either shareholders or employees have any right to complete or permanent security. In a competitive world we cannot afford that. Indeed, too often a somewhat sloppy attitude is adopted when problems arise affecting either shareholders or employees to the detriment of the community as a whole. If industry is to operate competitively, it is no more practicable to protect the shareholders' interest when things go wrong than to prevent the closure of a factory when that is required for efficient working. The prime requirement for both shareholders and employees is that they should be given true information, should be kept in the picture and should be treated fairly and honestly. Unfortunately, the interests of shareholders and employees are sometimes divergent. I would not accept what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, seemed to imply: that a conflict is always inevitable. There is certainly much to be said in favour of bringing the interests closer together wherever this is possible and for it to be clear to all that the interests of both are fully considered in any decision.
In one important way, unfortunately, current tax law makes this very difficult, in that any kind of bonus related to the prosperity of a company, even if it is used for investment in the shares of that company or of another company, is taxable. This is not the case in other countries and certainly not in the U.S.A. I would urge that some careful study should be given to this problem with the objective of removing these obstacles towards a closer identity of interests of all those who work in industry. For similar reasons I believe that further, unbiased consideration needs to be given to the appointment of directors to represent the employees' interests as well as those of the shareholders. I know that 770 this is a somewhat contentious issue. It is probably not necessary in the smaller companies where communications are relatively easy; but it is clear to me that it is needed for the better representation of employees' views in many of the large companies and certainly when large-scale mergers are contemplated. At present, it appears to me that excessive emphasis is given to shareholders' interests on these occasions.
My Lords, all these points have as their objective the creation of confidence and mutual respect throughout an industrial organisation. Overriding them all is the paramount importance of establishing and retaining a reputation for fair and honest dealing in the whole conduct of business, whether in good times or in bad. No short-term considerations of expediency should be allowed to upset that principle. Some noble Lords perhaps will say that the views I put forward are idealistic and impracticable or, at best, applicable only to small companies. From my own experience I would not accept that. I would regard that view as a counsel of despair. Finally, I would emphasise once again that although a right legislative framework is important, ultimately good relations will depend on confidence and on observing that old, well-tried principle of, "Do as you would be done by". This, I believe, and not the legal issue, is the nub of the problem. It is essentially the responsibility of industry itself.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ LORD MILFORD
My Lords, I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, telling him why I wanted to take part in this debate and explaining that I lived in Gloucestershire, in a very industrial area, and that in many parts of the country there is wide discussion in trade union branches, in the factories and in the whole Labour movement on this White Paper. The Gloucestershire Trades Council have now passed a strong resolution rejecting In Place of Strife in forceful terms, and they are asking the whole area to help them mount a campaign against it. I do not mean to make a propaganda speech; but I have been a worker and an employer, a member of a trade union and a delegate to a trades council. I am here to speak in this debate to put forward some of the main 771 objections of these trade unionists from the shop floor around Gloucester.
This White Paper is very cleverly introduced. At the beginning there are some critical remarks about employers and their practices; there is talk about the positive role of the trade unions in a democracy and about the importance of extending it. But under the sugar comes the bitter pill. The very title, say trade unionists, is unrealistic in present society, and it shows how totally divorced is the Ministry of Employment and Productivity from working-class thought. Strife will always exist in the employer-employee relationship under our present economic system, and it seems that the fundamental aim of this White Paper is to keep the present system in being, to perpetuate it. Because of this, we shall never get rid of strife however much we penalise and legislate.
There is great resentment against much of the proposed Government interference. The preamble to the White Paper says:… trade unions have come to accept, and in many ways positively to welcome, Government involvement …This is simply not true. Of course, laws which prevent children from working in mines, and so on, were welcomed; but not the laws limiting the right to strike or financially penalising the trades unionist.
§ LORD COOPER OF STOCKTON HEATH
My Lords, would the noble Lord agree with me that the trade unionists do welcome Government intervention when it means attempting to maintain full employment, equal pay for women, and so on?
§ LORD MILFORD
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord on those issues.
Last year the T.U.C. voted by 7–1 against such interference. The Labour Party Conference also, after years of debate, decided against State interference in collective bargaining. Our local delegates at these national conferences are furious because they were there and cast their votes in these majorities. I think it is time that some of us remembered that trade unionists have fought and suffered, and so founded the Labour Party itself in order to prevent the State from interfering with their right to com- 772 bine and to use that combination to threaten and to withdraw labour.
I want to take three of the main points that have come out of our discussion. First, registration; second, the 28 days cooling off period, and third, the question of balance. Of course the feeling against financial penalising is widespread. The Government Front Bench know it. Indeed, is it not a fact that the Ford strike has been fundamentally over the agreement containing a penalising clause? On this question of registration, I know from past experience that there is a deep suspicion of any Government interference. It is expected that they will modify agreements to ensure the maximum integration into the resented incomes policy, to halt wage drift. There is a suspicion that this is only the first step, the thin end of the wedge, to taking away from trades unionists the right to decide for themselves their rules and conducts.
The White Paper also specifically provides that the role and functions of shop stewards, unlike that of any other trade union officials, shall be subject to State I supervision. The cooling-off period is seen as favouring the employers, saying that during the 28 days the employers should hold to the status quo. It is seen as giving the employers the initiative when they already hold the balance of economic powers. Anyone who has taken part in a dispute knows that success depends on such things as timing; the importance of the workload at that moment; the moment of maximum unity; the impetus created by an employer's arrogance. It is often pointed out in discussion that a similar law was introduced in America during one of the most reactionary periods of that country's history, and trade unionists are surprised that it should be a Labour Government who are introducing here the Taft-Hartley Act. Everyone knows that in a bitter, sudden, personal quarrel, if people interfere and keep those taking part forcibly apart, they may keep a sort of peace for a time; but rancour may build up; feelings may boil beneath the surface, and the next time the quarrel will burst out more violently than ever. In other words, often it would have been safer to have had a short sharp bout and get it over.
773 On the question of strike ballots, my Lords, again this proposal is seen as depriving the workers of one of their chief weapons in a dispute, that of timing. On the question of the Government's supervising the question on the ballot paper, there is resentment at the Government's mistrust of trade unions' ability to formulate their own questions. It is seen as an insult to the integrity of the trade union leadership. Cannot the elected leadership decide what action is in the interest of its whole membership? Local trade unions have also raised the point that perhaps on smaller issues it would not be worth while going through all the machinery of a ballot; that each time this happened resentment would build up until in the end there could be a real "bust-up".
Another picture is owed to the shop steward movement, the reverse of that given in the capitalist Press, television and radio. Shop stewards, taking up issues quickly on the shop floor, and facing management with the workers' impatience and resentment, act as a safety valve, often preventing bigger confrontations. Another point which I think is very strong in the minds of trade unionists is that a ballot is a long, cumbersome business. and they know from past experience that during the time it is taking place the Press, television, radio—and even the speeches of Ministers—will be loaded against them. Everything will be done in the establishment communications machinery to influence the ballot. There has never been an impartial picture of the shop stewards and strike leaders. And, incidentally, my Lords, I think that some of the attacks made by politicians, who should know better, against workers and shop stewards who are involved in a strike and who are against this White Paper, are completely unworthy.
There are many other clauses, including intervention by the State to enforce trade union recognition, appeal boards, grants of aid, trade union amalgamations, some of which could be beneficial to workers. But, overall, the White Paper is designed to amalgamate the functions of the State to prevent trades union advance; to limit the power of workers to determine their conditions and to perpetuate the present division of wealth. 774 It is not in the nature of the Slate to produce laws which act against the interests of the class that controls society. If a law becomes too helpful to the employees, it will quickly be changed. That is why leading capitalist economists agree with the Sunday Times which, in its issue of January 19, said:The Conservatives are wise, therefore, to give this White Paper, which owes so much to their prompting, their general support, for it lays down the foundation on which they can build.My Lords, that is why the majority of trade unionists are against, and will fight this White Paper.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLASS OF CLEVELAND
My Lords, I enter this debate with some experience. I am probably the only trade union leader who can claim that his union has not had an official strike for fifty years, and I was for forty years its chief executive officer. During that period we had no official strike. Occasionally unofficial strikes occurred, and these were dealt with so effectively by the executive council that in addition to not having an official strike for that long period, our place in the wages table was pretty near the top. The White Paper is an endeavour to give everybody a chance to get to that position.
I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Milford, who concentrated on the penalties contained in the White Paper, that out of the 22 million gainfully employed workers in this country only 8 million are in the trades union movement. Now the other 14 million are not only going to get a chance to be organised but will be encouraged to be organised; to express their opinion; to have the lines of communication which have been talked about so much. If this White Paper did nothing else but give those 14 million an opportunity to become articulate, it would have succeeded in doing something which no other legislation has ever achieved in this country—and there has been a good deal of legislation to help trade unionists, as well as to deal with some of the sins of commission which have been mentioned from time to time this evening.
My Lords, I can claim to have some international experience, and when I hear some of the stories of what happens abroad I can smile because I know some 775 of the troubles. For seven years I was President of the International Metal Workers Federation which covered all the Western countries other than the Communist countries. I am tempted to answer some of the arguments I have heard put forward this afternoon, but I wish to avoid doing so. I wish to convey to the House the impressions I had when I read the White Paper, apart from the arguments to which I have listened to-day. Let me try to do that as quietly as possible.
My Lords, probably the first priority of all trades unionists is security. The fear of unemployment lies at the root of most discontent. While the basic reasons for this fear may vary—it may be depression in trade or technological change—the fear remains constant. The consequences of the fear may change from the sheer hunger that we had years ago, and the threadbare clothing talked about by my noble friend Lord Blyton, to the ability to keep up payments on the television to-day and, what is more appropriate at the present time, keeping up the payments on one's house. These are the basic fears that lie behind the trade unionists' thinking to-day, and they are extremely important. It is from this source that there comes that disloyalty inside the trade union movement which often overcomes the wisdom of the movement.
In paragraph 94, under the heading of "A Conciliation Pause", the White Paper states:An essential part, therefore, of the efforts to get the strikers to return to work would be to require management to withdraw the offending action till adequate discussion had taken place.The status quo would therefore be preserved while the machinery of negotiation operated. Take the instance where a foreman says to a man, "Get out", and he is immediately discharged. This happens every day—I know, because I sit on an arbitration court dealing with these cases. Under the White Paper proposals the manager cannot say that, because he will have to take 28 days to prove that he is right in sacking the man. He has to justify the sacking and show that the man is not the victim of his emotional tantrums at the time. If this Bill does nothing but bring a 28 days' cooling off period into operation—I am not afraid of words in 776 this regard—it will achieve something for the working man of this country that no other legislation, no other effort at any time, has achieved.
If it comes to a question of a strike, where we are dealing with a number of men, and after meeting across the table there is no agreement and the only possibility is going out and telling the men that agreement cannot be reached and they should down tools, and the law says that we must have a 28 days' pause, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Even if it is a major problem, is an immediate strike necessary? I am sure that there is no major problem that cannot wait for 28 days, if there can be a retrospective claim at the end of the 28 days. Is there anything wrong with that? Everybody is concentrating on the penalties in the White Paper, without any thought to the structure which it intends to bring in and which is going to be of benefit to the working man.
I know that some trade unionists think that they do not need a 28 days' period. If the management sacks one man, they can go on strike immediately and get him back, right or wrong. I wonder whether a man in that atmosphere of strong trade unionism will feel more content with that than with knowing that he has 28 days during which the manager will have to prove his case. Will a man not feel more confident with that than with just the ordinary brute strength of his own trade union? Let me go on to the non-organised workers. There are 14 million men who are not organised and who have never been encouraged to organise themselves. In their case it is easy for the manager to say, "Get out." But under this proposal, he will not be able to do that any longer. Is not that a protection, a security, that every man in this country is entitled to? Not one speaker to-day has mentioned the benefits to be got out of this proposal, but everyone has concentrated on the two penalties.
I now come to the question of agreements, which is of great importance to all concerned in industry. It is complained that people break properly negotiated agreements and for that reason there should be legislation. There is apparent weight in the argument because there is little use in coming to an agreement across the table unless at the end of the day it is going to be 777 honoured. I am rather timid about suggesting that there should be legislation on this point. The reason why relations in the steel industry were so successful over the years was that if there was a question about what an agreement meant, we agreed that it was the spirit of the agreement that mattered and we did not consult the book to see what had been written except as a guide. After we considered the wording, which is a lawyer's delight, we then examined the meaning to see what we intended. By adopting that procedure we avoided strikes.
I have seen agreements which have been considered—not broken but considered—by both sides amid interminable legal quibbles by lawyers (with all due respect to them; but it is their craft to argue over words) so that frankly in the end in the medley of words I lost their meaning, and so have the men and so often has the management. Noble Lords on the other side are going to suggest to us that introducing a legal atmosphere into trade union negotiation is going to solve the problem. It will create problems; make no mistake about that. Then it will not be a question of breaking agreements but of interpreting them, and many of the Communist trade unionists about which my noble friend Lord Geddes of Epsom spoke, who want to take advantage of that, will come in with all the skill in the world to argue about the wording of an agreement and say that the agreement has not been broken because it does not mean what the management says it means. Let us brush legislation out of this matter and get down to negotiation between employer and employee which means something. Let us have it written down in the simplest terms so that everybody can understand it; and if there is a doubt about it, let us ask both sides, "What did you intend to do?"
By the very nature of things, trade unions grow in size and then we have to ask: where does the centre of power lie? The answer is, briefly and simply, with the executive council: nowhere else. The executive council authorises people to negotiate for them, but, with delegated powers, negotiations can go awry and a good deal of care is needed in the method of negotiation. All the big unions in the different industries have their own methods of controlling their own negotiating 778 machines. This brings me to one of the weaknesses of our negotiation machinery, one which my noble friend Lord Carron has shown to be true of the engineering industry—that is, that our negotiations are apt to be on an ad hoc basis. The result is that you come up to negotiations which are pretty rushed, and the opportunity for contact between the negotiating committee and the executive council is somewhat remote. I ma trying to see how this obstacle—for obstacle I know it to be—can be removed. In my union, which was a medium-sized union of 100,000 members, we had four or five negotiating machines, but still with the executive council as the authority.
In the engineering industry a deal was negotiated over three years ago by my noble friend Lord Carron which I thought was setting an example. In the trade union movement the power of the executives has been acknowledged by the fact that there has now been instituted an annual meeting of executive councils (as distinct from the T.U.C.) which deals with general questions, because the meeting of the executive councils is concerned purely with economic affairs and mostly with wages. I am wondering whether we could not ask the Minister to have a word with the T.U.C., and to say: "Is it possible to get on the agenda the negotiating of major agreement; in all industries, and a discussion as to whether there should not be longer periods, say a year or two years, but at stated periods, so that inside the industry you can work up to the point where you can negotiate a package deal"—that is inevitable to-day—"and know what you are going to negotiate, and give time for the communications between the executive council and the negotiating body in a particular industry?" I have the feeling that this could remove a good deal of trouble. This might be done together with the proposed 28 days' delay, which I regard as the part of the White Paper that will remove a considerable amount of difficulty: because we all know that most of the strikes are unofficial strikes, caused by an emotional resentment at some particular time.
It seem to me that here we have two concrete proposals, one in the White Paper and one not in the White Paper, which should help to improve industrial relations without getting that dreaded 779 legislation and legal argument into industrial negotiations which I am sure, at the end of the day, can only create many more difficulties than they remove. But after we have negotiated and considered what sort of agreements we are to have with the T.U.C. executive council meetings, we come to the point where we use the pressures on the Government.
I see my noble friend (I think I may call him that) Lord Amory sitting opposite: he was Chancellor of the Exchequer when I was chairman of the Economic Committee of the T.U.C. If he had put his hands up, as he is doing now, when I was meeting him years ago I should have been a very happy man. I cannot say that we always agreed, but there are some economic matters which are capable of a common solution with a Conservative Chancellor and the trade union movement. We used pressures on the Government for all sorts of things. We asked them for legislation when we wanted to move industry from a congested part of the country to a part of the country where we had unemployment. Nobody objects to legislation that does this. We asked for legislation to help the unemployed; and we got some good benefits in unemployment payments. We asked for legislation when we had redundancy; and we had some good redundancy legislation.
All these people who are objecting to legislation in trade union affairs seem to forget that we are often asking the Government for legislation in trade union affairs. Some of these things could not be decided otherwise. You could not get an industry sent from a congested area to a depressed area unless you used some pressure and some legislation. And this is what has been done. The White Paper is moving in the right direction to deal with the problems that we have to-day. Why is it doing this? We had one strike (I may as well mention it) the Seamen's strike which almost brought this country to its knees. And, to our shame, let it be said that it was while we had a Labour Government. I mean no disrespect to the Conservative Government by that: what I mean is that it was a Government which we had sponsored, and which we drove into an economic situation which could well have destroyed it.
780 I am not going into the Ford strike, because I do not know how far that could be disastrous to the country. But I know that it could have an effect on the country. I am not trying at this stage to say who is right or who is wrong: that is not my job here. In another place, if I were asked to do that I might deal with it. If strikes of that character are to occur, all the legislation for benefits for working men in this country will be completely meaningless, because there will be no money to pay for them. If the White Paper tries to do anything, it should try to give the working man the justice he deserves without withdrawing the source from which he draws the sustenance to pay for the benefits he is getting. That is what is behind it.
Your Lordships may not think I am being very brief, but I am trying to be. Let me come to penalties. Attachment of wages, I believe, has been blown up into something that does not matter very much. My noble friend Lord Blyton mentioned experiences that he had thirty years ago; but they have no relevance to-day. The attachment of wages that we are talking about to-day has no relevance to the attachment of wages under that legislation. We have the C.I.R. which will examine, probe and deal with all the arguments in respect of any particular industrial dispute. They will have only one power; and that is to demand information. They will be the linesmen on a football field, watching the players and seeing that nobody puts the boot of anarchy into skilful negotiation.
In the centre of the field you will have a referee—the Industrial Board. The linesmen are not going to let very much past them, as you will see if you look at the personnel, from both sides of industry, and the experience they have. They will recognise a foul when they see it, and will put the flag up to the "ref," and say, "Foul". Then the Board, who will consist of employers and trade unionists, will inquire into it. Further examination will take place, and even then they may not have attachment of wages or fining. Maybe they will, but I have the feeling that if they do that the ordinary trade unionist knows how to get round it without very much trouble. I will not go into ways and 781 means, but if you do not have the ultimate of imprisonment he will get round that one. I am very doubtful whether attachment should be in the Bill, but if that were the only price I had to pay for all the benefits, I would pay it and laugh about it.
When it comes to the ballot we have a different kettle of fish. I have looked at this carefully, because the White Paper says that the ballots will be conducted as agreed, but according to trade union rules. My union decided that ballots should be conducted in the branch meeting room, and nowhere else. This is one of the ways in which we overcome any unscrupulous handling of votes. I do not know how we could have a ballot that would deal with a job like that effectively and get a vote that would count. Many unions have this problem. It might be argued that the ballot should be taken on the job. But that would break the union rules, and it could not be done. But suppose it were possible. When taking a ballot on the job you would be deciding to spend the union's money on strike pay. No regional people have the right to do that: that is the job of the executive council, who are elected to look after the money of the union. So a ballot could not be held on the job in that way.
There are many other objections that I will not go into, but I want to come to this point. The executive councils of unions were elected by ballot in the first place, and therefore they are the people who make decisions about whether or not there is to be a strike. Make no mistake about that! And if they decide there is going to be a strike it will need some pretty tough legislation to stop them. So it will be necessary to come back to the executives of the unions and to ask them what they are going to do. I could not answer this question at once. Every speaker in this Chamber this afternoon has told us what unions will not do. What we have been short of is somebody who is going to tell us what they should do. People say that the voluntary system will work. The plain fact is, my Lords, that it has not worked. This is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact. The voluntary system has broken down to the point where the economy of the country is endangered; and if this is so, then somebody must do something.
782 What I am pleased about is that this White Paper is merely a basis for discussion. We are asked only to "note" it. I think the debate we have had has helped us do a lot in noting the problems that we have, and because the matter has to be further considered I am prepared to leave it at that point. But I must leave it with this question to everybody who says that we want nothing but the voluntary system. As the voluntary system has broken down, what are you going to put in its place? If I get an answer to that question, I plump for the voluntary system. If I do not get an answer to that, who can say to me that anything in the country in the negotiating field is going to work? If you cannot say what is going to work, for Leaven's sake! do not try to tell us what will not work.
§ 7.32 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BLACKBURN
My Lords, I am glad of the opportunity of following so distinguished and successful a trade union leader as the noble Lord, Lord Douglass of Cleveland, and I thank him and congratulate him upon his speech. Despite the fact that I sit upon the Episcopal Bench, I speak also as a fully paid-up member of the Municipal and General Workers Union. The noble Lord, Lord Cooper, inspected my card over the tea table. Admittedly, when I applied for membership seven years ago he had some slight problem in deciding into what category it would be proper to place a Bishop. After great heart-searching and consultation, no doubt, with his council he decided that perhaps the category should be that of gas worker. So I am the impersonal embodiment of "Gas and gaiters".
My second concern with this White Paper is that I have the honour to bear the name of the place which the right honourable lady, the Minister at the Department of Employment and Productivity, who sponsored this White Paper, represents in another place. I have a great respect for her positive intentions, her courage and her pertinacity in producing and defending this document, which is greatly to be welcomed. It represents a swift response to the Donovan Report and addresses itself to an urgent situation with realism, imagination and knowledge. The third concern I have with it is that for the last 23 783 years I have occupied two industrial sees and have given considerable time, thought and effort to the welfare of those engaged in industry and the promotion of right relationships.
The Christian Church is deeply concerned with the quality of human life, both of men individually and of their society. Industry and the industrial organisation of society determines to a large extent the quality of human life, both of men and of society. Therefore, despite what some may think or say, the Church must be concerned in these matters, and not least in those of human relationships. Basically this is the concern of the White Paper. Although it is styled, A Policy for Industrial Relations, in effect it is concerned with the right relations between men and women engaged in industry at all levels and the relationship of their work to the general community. It may be a cliché to say, "People matter" but it remains fundamentally true in an age when the position of the individual is being threatened. Many of our industrial disputes have arisen through a failure to treat people fairly, whoever they may be, workers, trade union officials, bosses—and I would add what is sometimes neglected and forgotten, that the customer matters too. Any of your Lordships who commute on the Southern Railway will know what I mean by that.
In Place of Strife—what a splendid title! As fine a text as could be found, and I congratulate whoever thought of it. It provides the yardstick that should be brought to the consideration of its proposals. My mind is sad that so much of the opposition has concentrated on a very few of the issues and given scant justice to the overall proposals and intentions of this White Paper. I have learned long since that one's judgment in any matter is impaired and confused unless one can first get one's motives right. The motive of industry is to produce goods or provide a service for the community and in doing so to give employment to people to whom proper wages should be paid, good conditions of work provided, and a just price charged which allows for an appropriate margin of profit. That definition is probably inadequate but it provides a rough guideline and it could be summed up in one word: service—a service rendered, a ser- 784 vice received. And what do we find? On the whole, speaking by and large, a remarkably good service being rendered by those engaged in industry and commerce. Let us give praise where praise is due and stop decrying ourselves and our efforts and our goods, for this generates uncertainty and lack of confidence both at home and abroad.
Nevertheless, we are all aware that there are faults and failures and conflicts in our structures and systems which most urgently call for remedial action, and this is what the White Paper is concerned to provide. I need not remind your Lordships that over 4½ million working days were lost through stoppages in 1968. I am well aware that the position in other countries is even worse—for example, in the United States of America. But, whatever happens elsewhere, we cannot afford to tolerate this position without making greater efforts to remedy it. In some industries, I reiterate, there are disappointing productivity figures. Or there is strife which defies for varying periods of time all efforts at conciliation, largely through a breakdown in communications or through unsatisfactory methods of procedure, and sometimes through deliberate trouble-makers. Disruption arises from several causes: fear, greed, self-interest, unwieldy organisation, ill-defined procedures. Selfishness and greed are, alas! inherent in human nature, but fortunately in this country the majority are not motivated wholly by these sentiments. Men of good will and common sense still abound and, with wise leadership, their qualities can act as a counterforce to those disruptive elements which do exist.
Let me remind your Lordships that this is no new situation. The Prophets of the Old Testament had much to say about politicians, employers and workers as well as Prophets and priests who failed to do their duty. We need to hear something of the thunder of the Prophets again: "Thus saith the Lord".And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly…It is justice that is demanded, defined as the constant will or willingness to render to every man his due. This is our basic duty, to do justly. To love mercy: this is not a sentimental or emotional appeal. 785 Love is that heroic quality of the will which expresses itself in caring about people: a love that is prepared to suffer, and it is costly because it is always giving. By "mercy" the Bible does not mean what we mean by it to-day. I translate "mercy" as bringing help to the helpless, doing for people what they are not able to do for themselves; and this is what conciliation is all about.
To walk humbly. Your Lordships will know that true humility is no sign of weakness. It is only the great man who can be humble. Humility, which is the opposite of arrogance and the refusal to listen to others or to learn from others, is a quality in very short supply. And how often strikes and strife are prolonged by people who are afraid of losing face and insist on standing on their dignity. These qualities of justice, caring for people and flexibility are the keystones of human relations and industrial relations, and we shall only recover them as we seek to practise them. But the trouble is that we are bedevilled by fear. There is the fear in management with regard to strike action, and in particular of those unofficial strikes which account for no less than 95 per cent. of all the strikes, the vast majority of them being unconstitutional. And these unofficial strikes are responsible for three-quarters of the lost working days. It is to correct such a deplorable situation that the proposals contained in the White Paper are framed.
The most fundamental requirement of any political or economic system is that it shall supply some reasonable measure of security. Management is entitled to security of production as much as the workers themselves, but the fear of insecurity, as the noble Lord, Lord Douglass of Cleveland, has said, is very real to many workers, especially in Lancashire, who have not yet forgotten the horrors of unemployment in "the hungry 'thirties". They fear the result of automation as well as the mergers which are taking place, which will result in throwing too many of them out of their jobs or, to quote the White Paper:Too often employees have felt that major decisions directly concerning them were being taken at such a high level that the decision-makers were out of reach and unable to understand the human consequences of their actions. Decisions have been taken to close 786 down plants without consultation and with inadequate fore-warning to the employees.Such fears are engendered by the breakdown of adequate communication between employers and employees. A fuller sharing of information, as has been suggested, of plans and of hopes between those responsible for management and those whose livelihood depends upon them, would go a very long way towards the elimination of many of the fears that grow and fester and positively inhibit the creation of that trust which is so necessary.
There is fear—and we have had it expressed here among some of the trade unionists in your Lordships' House—of the proposals in the White Paper and fear that legal sanctions may be sought. But that is only when other methods of finding a solution in a dispute fail, and only then at the discretion of the Secretary of State, which I suppose is the point of contention. But I do not think that anybody would object so long as the present Secretary of State is in office. It seems to me that these proposals are surrounded by so many safeguards that the fear of their wrongful use is quite misplaced. Man is a self-centred creature. There must be the restraint of law so long as man has any selfishness in him. The restraint of law exists to Prevent the selfishness of A. from destroying the freedom of B., and I recall some words spoken by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in an Address to Her Majesty the Queen:The law remains the bedrock on which the liberties of your Majesty's subjects depend".Following this principle the proposals for ultimate legal sanctions are sound and reasonable. The positive intentions of the whole scheme, which is designed to provide a security which is essential, should not be invalidated by the fear of one aspect of it, concerning which one party says the legal proposals go too far and the other party that they do not go far enough. The White Paper proposes a solution.
My Lords, there is only one answer to fear as I am sure your Lordships know: it is faith, or perhaps it is easier to call it "trust". So many of our conflicts and so much of our strife arises from lack of trust. We suffer to-day from 787 suspicion and mistrust that are rooted in the past. But let us look to the future and seek to create a new spirit of trust upon which we can build more securely. This is what the White Paper seeks to do.
The proposed Commission on Industrial Relations offers to the trade unions many positive advantages which ought to be openly recognised. The emphasis on the recruitment and on the training of additional officers, the securing of more information to be sent all down the line, the simplifying of certain procedures, increased freedom for trade union activities, and the correction of faults in collective bargaining, with the improvement in its machinery: all these positive advantages are to be thoroughly welcomed.
Discussion has raged—indeed, it has raged here—around the cooling-off period, but surely any dangers are sufficiently safeguarded and its whole purpose is to secure further conciliation.Jaw, jaw is better than war, war",Sir Winston Churchill once said, and the community is entitled to safeguards against the dangers caused to the economy by wildcat unofficial strikes. But let it be emphasised that this cooling-off period to be used for "jaw, jaw" must be used for conciliation, and any ultimate pay award should be made retrospective.
The secret strike ballot has apparently stirred up a hornet's nest, and here again the proposals for a ballot are surrounded by adequate safeguards, as they should be. The fear of strike ballots appears to exist more often in the minds of trade union officials than their members. A poll, conducted by Research Services Limited, on behalf of the Daily Mirror and published by that paper on January 30, reveals overwhelming support for the strike curb proposals contained in the White Paper: 1,988 male members were questioned, and there was a majority of three to one in favour of secret ballots of union members before official strikes and in favour of compulsory cooling-off periods to postpone unofficial strikes. The ballot should be the exception rather than the rule—this is made perfectly clear in the White Paper—and be enforceable only when the Secretary of State believes that the proposed strike would involve a serious threat to the economy or public interest, and there is doubt whether it 788 commands the support of those concerned.
It is quite obvious that many strikes would not take place if there were quick and effective methods of resolving the matter in dispute. Reform of collective bargaining will remove many causes of strikes. Better procedure will resolve disputes before the impatience of those concerned leads to a strike. And in all these matters the C.I.R. can perform a very valuable service. Every effort should be made to ensure that conciliation is given every chance to work. In addition to the proposed developments in the conciliation work of the D.E.P., there is a case to be made for the extension of the most remarkable work undertaken by Sir Jack Scamp by the possible appointment of a tribunal consisting of three acceptable and experienced persons from management, from the trade unions and an independent chairman, who could be immediately available to be called in when a dispute arose. Speed of action and acceptance of the tribunal's findings would be essential to the success of such a proposal, which I hope may be considered.
The White Paper concludes on the point on which I will also conclude—a new opportunity. It is this which is presented to us, and I hope that the challenge of this new opportunity will be accepted. In place of strife, what? The elimination of fear, the development of trust, the insistence on justice for all, the promotion of right relationships and better and quicker procedures. We should be grateful for the increasing co-operation and good relationships that already exist in the majority of industrial concerns, so that bitterness is taken out of strife. But there are still areas in which the situation calls for urgent redress and remedy, such as I believe is outlined in this White Paper. But two things are necessary: first that we should get our motives right, which can be summed up in one word, "service"; secondly, that there is in us all a determined will to work together for the common good. Goodwill and common sense—that is what we need, based on those two factors of which I have already spoken, truth and justice: truth which is honesty, integrity; justice, the willingness to give every man his due. On those two principles trust can be built provided the proper structures are 789 available, the trust that will eliminate the fear which bedevils so many of our political, economic and personal relationships.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, I rise to support the White Paper, and in particular paragraph 18 which sets out the four main objectives: the reform of collective bargaining, the extension of the role and rights of trade unions, new aids to those who are involved in collective bargaining, and new safeguards for the community and individuals.
For ten years in another place I was the Member for a trade union city, and when I went there in 1949, some twenty years ago (the year before the pending General Election), the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union was Mr. Jack Jones. On his promotion to Midlands General Secretary in Birmingham—and we saw him go with much regret—his sucessor was Mr. Harry Urwin. Both taught me a lot and helped me a lot. In fact we waged many useful campaigns together, and I hope that they would consider me a good Member for the city. Probably both would think I was further to the Right than they were, but I believe that both recognised and realised my trust and confidence in the unions. We were on the same side, whoever was Right and whoever was Left. I noticed in the Press on Thursday last that Mr. Urwin said he did not "go much" for titles but believed in a policy of vigorous moderation; and I, too, should like to lay claim to that description. A lesson I did learn in Coventry—and learned painfully—was that one cannot reason with emotion. I learned that at considerable cost, but I did learn it.
During those ten years in another place I had one main regret—and it may seem a strange one. It was that I could not become a member of the trade union group and attend their meetings. Most of my friends were trade unionists, and I had the utmost regard and admiration and affection for them. This regard sprang, I think, from two factors. In the 'thirties I worked in the Rhondda Valley and saw there the full cancer of unemployment, and later my own experiences on the dole underlined any points not fully realised earlier. And then, secondly, in Coventry 790 I saw and understood, again at first hand, the loyalty and sympathy of trade unionists, one for the other.
Anyone with any knowledge of the motor industry knows that in the late 'fifties we had over-full employment in the Coventry car factories. Management did not want to lose skilled workers. Workers, accepting the apparently inevitable cycle of boom and slump in this industry, wanted to stay on for the better times that they felt were just around the corner. Eventually, and inevitably, management said that some men must be laid off. But the unions said, "No; we would rather all be paid less than that some should go". Such an attitude may not have been good for greater productivity, but it showed the comradeship and loyalty of the trade unionists one for the other. In the end, of course, some had to go. No one can tell me anything about unemployment, about mortgage problems, about hire-purchase debts. I had to deal with those in the late 'fifties among the trade unionists who were my constituents in Coventry South.
Because of my experience in the Rhondda and because of my experience as the Member for Coventry South, I did, and do, understand the feeling of "us" and "them". What I deeply regret is that it still remains. I want now to tell Jack Jones and Harry Urwin (if the House will allow me the familiarity) what decent ordinary people outside the trade union movement think about all this. I care what such people think, and I hope that the trade union movement cares, too. After all, it is no use having plain speaking if it is all from one side, and those who speak their minds are no less friends of the trade unions than those who remain silent.
I do not pretend to understand the law of industrial relations, and I believe that others, better trained, better qualified than I am, do not understand it either. But what I am convinced about, and what I hope legal eminences and laymen alike are equally convinced about, is that the law of industrial relations is in urgent need of enlightened reform. It is of course the dispute at Ford's which has highlighted all these matters for the general public, and it would not be realistic to omit reference to this dispute in today's debate, although nobody would wish to exacerbate the situation there. It 791 would be an understatement to say how relieved everyone is that—and I think I had better say "apparently"—we may be reaching a settlement there. I do not know what further news is on the tape, but when I came in a little time ago things looked better. But, equally, it would be an understatement to say that the mind of the general public will have been set at rest. They want to be assured about what now happens at Fords, what now happens elsewhere, and what happens in the future to industry; and it is the thoughts of the general public that I am trying to convey to-day.
About two weeks ago the public noted that Mr. Les Kealey, a senior official of the Transport and General Workers' Union and a member of the negotiating team at Fords, had resigned. It was stated that he had clashed with his union when he decided that he could not oppose a majority verdict seeking fresh talks with Fords. As he was not prepared to go against majority decisions of the negotiating committee his union removed him from that committee, whereupon Mr. Kealey resigned.
Without going into the rights or the wrongs of this particular dispute, the ordinary British public, and British public opinion, believe that majority decisions should carry the day. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Milford, is about to come into the Chamber, because when he spoke about his regret (I think I am right in this) that some of his friends had taken part in majority decisions, and that these had been invalidated, I thought I would say the same thing. I do not know that the noble Lord would agree with me about this, but he is now here and can, if he wishes, interrupt me: the ordinary British public expect that majority decisions should carry the day and that without such acceptance democracy will not get far. I, for one, in politics and industry alike, have become more than a little tired of articulate minorities claiming that true democracy demands the overthrow of majority decisions because the minority disagree. I had to live with that argument in another place for many years. In the Ford dispute we then had the statement by the minority of the negotiating committee that this so-called majority decision was really a case of the 792 tail wagging the dog. Why? Because when the Ford deal was accepted by a majority on the union side two unions, who between them represent almost half of the Ford labour force, did not vote in favour.
Now the only true deduction to be made from this reasoning is that unions on the union negotiating committee should not have one vote each, but should have votes varying according to the numbers of workers involved. This may well be right. But surely the unions should agree among themselves on the composition and voting rights of their own negotiating committee before discussions take place, and should accept the decisions reached. Otherwise what is the use of having a negotiating committee? So the public ask for two reasonable assurances: that majority decisions should stand, and that union negotiating committees should be so composed by unions that their decisions are accepted. Outsiders do not see these demands as being complicated, but see them as an obvious prerequisite to industrial bargaining.
A great deal of harm has been done to the image of the trade unions by this whole affair. Those of us who care about the image of the unions, wondered when somebody on that side would speak up. On March 8 Mr. Mark Young, chairman of the union negotiating committee, resigned, saying that he did not intend to get embroiled in what he considered discreditable conduct by the unions. He personally considered the agreement a very good one, and he went on to say:Any idea that some unions entertain that you can retain the attractive parts while withdrawing the parts you do not like is completely unrealistic. To demand further increases on the rates of pay already established in the agreement is an impossible ultimatum. Carried to its logical conclusion it can only mean a conflict between the Government and the unions.A day later on Sunday, March 9, Mr. Cannon, President of the Electrical and Plumbing Trades' Union, said that this was a bad day for the trade union movement, and that events over the past couple of weeks had,shaken confidence in the whole collective bargaining machinery and in our ability to keep to our word and our agreements.My Lords, it is not for me to pontificate as to whether or not this was a good 793 agreement. I am aware of the difference in the hourly rates paid elsewhere, particularly in the Midlands and at Fords—and Mr. Jack Jones would be conscious of this. But it is for me, or for anyone, to stress what outsiders think about these happenings. As my noble Leader said, and as a speaker on the other side also said, Mr. Justice Geoffrey Lane stated that in this country collective agreements arrived at by the process of collective bargaining between employers and trade unions are not, as such, enforceable in a court of law, and:without clear and express provisions making them amenable to legal action they remain in the realm of undertakings binding in honour only.What has shaken so many of us who believe in the trade unions, and what I think we must now say, is that at the moment the general public do not rate very highly the honour of the trade unions where the keeping of agreements is concerned. Only the unions can put this situation right, and I believe they will put it right only if enough people speak up. To those of my colleagues in another place who say that this White Paper should not be supported, and that matters should be left to the unions to deal with, I think there can be only one reply: we wish it were possible so to do. I am sure my right honourable friend the Secretary of State wishes it were, and I should like here to pay my tribute to all that she is trying to do.
I have mentioned two points—majority decisions and the authority of union negotiating committees. Now I should like to come to a third one: how well did the workers concerned know what this was all about? Each side made statements; the Press amplified some and ignored others. The atmosphere became worse and worse. Doubtless many of your Lordships say on television workers who said that convenors stressed the bad points about the employers and that employers stressed the bad points about the convenors. I recall one worker saying, "If only we could have it set down in black and white we could judge for ourselves". I think this was done by the Ford management on March 9 or 10. One of the biggest shortcomings today is the continued lack of real communication between union leaders and workers. I believe that this lack, or this 794 gap, offers a fertile vacuum for mischief-making. I hope that the unions, who always state that they believe in plain speaking, will accept that those of us who regretfully have spoken up to-day on this issue are certainly no less their friends than those who acquiesce.
There are two things I should like to see in the future. It seems to me wrong that public services should be disrupted by strike action, official or unofficial. I do not think that people, strikers or anyone else, should be deprived of, for example, gas, electricity, transport, telephone; in other words, of a service that has no alternative. The second thing I should like to see is contracts made legally binding, as the White Paper states at paragraph 46. I am sure many of your Lordships know that in Hereford, at the £28 million nickel rolling mill of Henry Wiggin, there is a legally binding contract between men and management. It is probably unique in Britain. Both sides clearly intended on signature that its provisions—which include a straightforward "no strike clause"—should bind them in law. Among the signatories is the Amalgamated Engineers and Foundry Workers. And so I should like to see contracts made legally binding, not by legislation but by the wish of contracting parties so that this was written into, eventually, all agreements. This means a change of climate which can be brought about only by the contracting parties concerned, by the good will of both.
In the latter part of this decade I have always seen the work to be done by trade unions as being even more momentous than that of Government or employers; quite simply because if trade unionists do not accept a transition to new thinking and new concepts, then any work by Government or employers will have little value. I believe so much in what trade unions stand for. I understand so well why they felt as they did in the past. I realise so well how difficult it is, because of this past, to change; and I could have wept over these past few weeks when people said to me, "The unions are prepared to wreck this country with their unreasonable demands". What defence had I? Orders cancelled; exports cancelled; worse still, markets lost. Like my friends in the trade union movement, I would fight to the end for what I believed in, 795 but I do not believe in what some of these same friends are doing to-day.
Earlier I referred to the gap between union leaders and workers. The general public are coming to believe that trade union leaders cannot deliver the goods; that militant shop stewards have the last word instead of being part of a democratic, industrial organisation. It is only the unions who can put this right. Neither legislation, nor Government, nor employers can do it. The one thing that can wreck the economic recovery of our country is what we are discussing to-day. We must hope, every one of us here and outside, that those with grievances, from whichever side they come, management and unions alike, will in future set those grievances in perspective and see them against the tragedy that threatens to engulf the whole nation.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, tonight at this late hour I shall confine myself entirely to the topic of the law. That is not because other aspects of this subject and of this White Paper do not interest me, or that I think that the legal aspect is the only or necessarily the most important part of the problem before us. It is simply because those who speak with great authority for the trade unions and for industry have made their expert and knowledgeable contributions, and I could not hope to rival their experience. I thought it best to confine myself to the subject of trade union law which has occupied me a good deal in the course of my life and in debates in both Houses.
I suppose it is almost exactly 23 years ago that I wrote a book on trade union law, and I think that those who were with me in the House of Commons—such as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson—did not get the view that I was not sympathetic to the aims and aspirations of trade unionists. I may say in passing that I was very much relieved, in glancing at my surviving copy of my little book, that on the second limb of Section 3 of the Trade Disputes Act 1906 I found that 23 years ago I said almost precisely what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, has said in his Report. He will not approve of everything I am going to say, but I am delighted that I agree with him entirely on that particular subject.
796 I think it is important to realise what great harm can be done if we get the law about trade unions wrong; that is to say, if we enact anything that is unwise, unjust or contrary to legal principle. May I give an example from the past. I believe that great harm has been done to our industrial relations and to the development of our law by the absolute immunity granted to trade unions against actions for tort by Section 4 of the 1906 Act. The interesting thing about that enactment in 1906 was that it was in complete defiance of the considered recommendation of the Royal Commission that had considered the matter.
In the year 1901 we had in swift succession the decisions of the House of Lords in the Taff Vale case and in the famous case of Quinn v. Leathem, which not unnaturally caused difficulty and controversy and seemed to demand examination and legislation. A very powerful Royal Commission sat, presided over by a great Judge, Lord Dunedin. Other members who signed this important report were Mr. Arthur Cohen, K.C., and Mr. Sidney Webb, one of the famous historians of trade unionism. My Lords, I am most anxious that in future we should not make similar mistakes, and may I remind you in a few sentences what the Royal Commission recommended about how to deal with the Taff Vale judgment.
I will quote a few sentences:It remains now to consider the question on the ground of justice and equity, and here the objections against disturbing the law as laid down in the Taff Vale case appear insurmountable. There is no rule of law so elementary, so universal or so indispensable as the rule that a wrongdoer should be made to redress his wrong. If trade unions were exempt from this liability they would be the only exception, and it would then be right that that exception should be removed. That vast and powerful institutions should be permanently licensed to apply the funds they possess to do wrong to others, and by that wrong inflict upon them damage, perhaps to the amount of many thousands of pounds, and yet not be liable for redress out of these funds would be a state of things opposed to the very idea of law and order and justice.The passage is too long to read the whole, but after saying that this did not mean that trade unions might not be the most admirable institutions, it ended with these sentences:Such a claim has indeed in former times been made by the spiritual as against the civil authority, and has been consistently disallowed. What was denied to religion ought 797 not, in our judgment, to be conceded to trade unionism.That was the recommendation of the Royal Commission.
In 1906 two Bills were introduced to give effect to the Royal Commission's recommendations. The Bill introduced by the Government followed the recommendation of the Royal Commission and did not reverse the Taff Vale judgment. Simultaneously a Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by the then young Labour Party. At the Second Reading of the Government Bill in the House of Commons the Attorney General made an emphatic speech saying why the Royal Commission was right and why it would be a monstrous thing to reverse the Taff Vale decision. Mr. Asquith, who at that time was Chancellor of the Exchequer, had expressed similar views a few years earlier when he held another office. Yet within 48 hours or so of the Attorney General's speech, the Government put down a series of Amendments abandoning everything which the Government had intended and adopting everything asked for by the Labour Party. Thus we got the absolute immunity against actions of tort, an immunity which has lasted to this day. I am delighted to see that both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, and his Commission and Her Majesty's Government in the White Paper propose to bring that state of affairs to an end and to limit the immunity given under Section 4 to actions in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute.
I wholly applaud that part of the Government's White Paper, as I applaud the recommendation of the Royal Commission. But I am very much puzzled by the failure of the Government to adopt another well-reasoned suggestion of the Royal Commission that would give registered trade unions corporate status. It is cogently argued in the report of the Royal Commission at pages 207 to 213. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, will later correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that that part of the recommendation of the Royal Commission was unanimous; I do not think that anybody differed from it. I have not seen any lawyers or others put up a reasoned argument against that proposal of the Royal Commission. Yet in the White 798 Paper not a single argument is put against this reasoned proposal by the Royal Commission. Paragraph 111 of the White Paper simply says:The Royal Commission recommended that trade unions should be given corporate status. The T.U.C. has represented that this would be undesirable, as it would have no significant advantages and would not be appropriate to unions' constitutional structure. The Government accepts these arguments and does not propose to implement the Royal Commission's recommendation.I have seldom seen a more frivolous dismissal of a considered recommendation by an eminent body of men—a recommendation against which so far no argument has been advanced. They say that the T.U.C. do not like it. But who was sitting on the Royal Commission and agreed with it? None other than the distinguished former Secretary of the T.U.C., Mr. George Woodcock. If the recommendation had such frightful disadvantages from the point of view of the trade unions, Mr. George Woodcock might have noticed it and explained it to his colleagues. I therefore find it extraordinary that this considered recommendation has been thrown aside in this way.
I now turn to a problem which has so much engaged us: what can we do about strikes? I have always thought, and indeed I have advised trade unionists who have asked my opinion, that the maintenance of the right to strike is essential. What is too often assumed, and quite wrongly assumed, is that a strike must involve of necessity a breach of contract. A strike is a concerted withdrawal of labour, but it need not be a breach of contract. The idea that the only effective withdrawal of labour must be a withdrawal in breach of contract is wholly untrue. What can we do, if we can do anything, to deal with this evil? The noble Lord, the Leader of the House, who introduced this Motion in an admirably clear and good-tempered speech, realised the seriousness of these strikes, as do the Royal Commission and indeed everybody else. I should like to consider separately under three heads what we can do by remedies against strikes which we wish to stop or to discourage. There are remedies against one of three sets of people. There might be action against the trade union itself, action against the workmen, or action against those who incited or promoted the strike.
799 Let me take those three cases separately. By far the most effective, of course, would be action against the trade union itself if that were possible in a proper case. That is why we have had so much discussion about the question of whether the contract is a lawful contract and is enforceable. I do not want to indulge in a great deal of talk about that, because I think I can probably say something with which everybody will be in agreement—and I am certain that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, will agree—that is, that it is perfectly possible to have an enforceable contract between a company and a trade union.
There is a good deal of misunderstanding about the effect of Section 4 of the Act of 1871. That section prevents certain classes of contract from being directly enforceable. Incidentally, it does not prevent an action for a declaration or an action for an injunction, even in those cases. But it prevents an enforceable contract between two trade unions, and an employers' organisation can well be a trade union. But the noble Lord the Leader of the House was absolutely right in saying that there was nothing in the case of the Ford agreement that was in any way hit by Section 4 of the 1871 Act. Before I consider what it is now proposed to do with Section 4, let me say that fact that an agreement is not of a class that under the section cannot be directly enforced does not mean that it must ipso facto be an enforceable agreement in the courts. It may be that by simply looking at it you can see quite clearly that it was not so intended.
I think there are two proposals which have been put forward about getting rid of the difficulty, such as it is, of Section 4. I think the Royal Commission, and, incidentally, the Conservative Party, both thought that the section might be repealed altogether. The Government prefer—and I am not saying that their reasons are necessarily wrong—to modify only subsection (4) of Section 4, by making it clear that if both parties so desire there can be an enforceable agreement between two trade unions. The effect of that would be that the trade union itself would be liable and might have to pay damages if it broke a contract intended to be enforceable. That might be the best form of agreement if both parties 800 desired such an agreement. I agree with a great deal of what my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne said, but I had some sympathy with the point put by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I doubt whether the mere fact of such an agreement being enforceable would enable a contract to be enforced against individual trade unionists.
I am now going to make a suggestion which I have not heard made hitherto, either in this debate or on any other occasion, but which I honestly believe may be a natural development in industrial relations. Anyhow, I hope that it may be considered. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, and his colleagues are very optimistic in thinking that the reform of collective bargaining which they advise will itself cause such an improvement in industrial relations that what we do about the law of enforcement will become much less important, and that that is a matter which can wait—I am paraphrasing now and not giving a precise quotation. I believe that to be much too optimistic. In fact, it was not until I read the Note of Reservation by Mr. Andrew Shonfield that I found the first mention in the Royal Commission's Report of what is such an alarming feature of the present situation—and it was alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry.
Let me make it quite clear that I am not associating myself with everything that Mr. Shonfield said in his positive recommendations. On a great many points I very much prefer what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan. But I thought Mr. Shonfield put accurately the awful risk—in fact, it is more than a risk, since it is now taking place—of there being a number of negotiators for trade unions who have no serious intention of being bound by an agreement from the earliest moment they see a chance of doing something better. I can say this with less hesitation, because remarks of a similar kind have been made, or implied, by a good trade unionist, Mr. George Brown; by the Prime Minister himself, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry. These things are well known and it is no good pretending that we do not know these facts of life. Let me say at once, so as not to be misunderstood, that I have been, I hope, a friend in this House 801 and in another place of trade unionists of the calibre of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and what I have described is exactly the opposite of everything which he has practised and which other noble Lords who have addressed us today have practised. But the noble Lord, Lord Geddes of Epsom, himself drew attention to some of the deterioration.
May I come to what I believe to be a possible part of the contents of such an agreement, which would deal with the point raised by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his intervention during the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne? Would it not be possible, if the company and the trade union wished an agreement to be enforceable—and I think some of them would—for the trade union to covenant that if the men struck in breach of what had been arranged the union would pay to the company a sum of money laid down in the agreement? I should have thought that when a trade union negotiated with a company it might be held, so to speak, to warrant that it had some sort of right to represent the men, and that it will be content itself to suffer loss if the men do not do what they have undertaken the men shall do.
Of course it may be said that such an agreement would not be made. But if we go on in the present way, in which an agreement is valueless to a company because it may be broken the next day, then I believe that we shall get a refusal by the companies to make an agreement at all. People sometimes say that if an agreement is enforceable the trade union will not agree to it, and if it is not enforceable the company may not. That is a subject for negotiation. If an agreement were good enough from the point of view of the trade union, I believe that such an agreement might sometimes be made.
My Lords, I come now to action against the men—and here I feel a slight grievance against the Royal Commission's Report, in many passages, and the White Paper which constantly make a point that the employers could sue the men to-day for breach of contract in the event of a strike but do not in fact do so. Of course not: because it would be a perfectly futile thing to do; not for the reasons given—that they do not want to put themselves on bad terms with their 802 men—but because of the measure of damages. If a man goes out on strike in breach of his contract, he loses his entitlement to wages and the employer need not pay those wages. So if an employer sued a workman for damages for breach of contract, he would have to show teat the value of the services he has lost was so much in excess of the wages he was paying. I dare say that he could get a nominal sum, but nothing could be more futile, it seems to me, than that form of action. I do not think it proves in the least that the employers would never sue if there were a useful form of action; for instance, if they had an effective remedy against a person who induced the men to break their contract—and this they could often do. In an appropriate case they could get an injunction; and they could often get damages of an amount which would in some cases make it worth their while to seek such damages, were it not for the defence generally provided by Section 3 of the 1906 Act.
My Lords, this leads me to my most substantial difference from the recommendations of the Royal Commission and the Government's White Paper. The advice given by the distinguished Royal Commission presided over by Lord Dunedin was that they recommended legislation:(3) To declare that to persuade to strike, i.e., to desist from working."—and note these words, my Lords—apart from procuring breach of contract, is not illegal.(4) To declare that an individual shall not be liable for doing any act not itself an actionable tort, only on the ground that it is an interference with another person's trade, business or employment.That is now the second limb of Section 3, but the first limb of Section 3 is precisely the opposite of what the Royal Commission had recommended.
My Lords, as I said in the debates in 1964 and 1965, I do not suppose any provision of trade union law has been quite so much condemned by lawyers. Professor Geldart, who was an authority on trade union law, considered it "one of the entirely unjustifiable provisions of the Act". I have ventured to quote on an earlier occasion, but I repeat to-night, the words of my friend Cyril Asquith, the late Lord Asquith of Bishopstone, in his book on trade union law:It is true that a 'lightning strike' in breach of contract is more effective than 803 one which allows existing contracts to run out. It is often possible to profit (temporarily at least) by violating solemn engagements or procuring their violation by others, but there seems no sufficient reason for legalising the practice, whether it is indulged in pursuance of a trade dispute or in any other connection.My Lords, my great quarrel with the recommendation of the Royal Commission, which has been followed by Her Majesty's Government, is that not merely are they doing nothing to diminish this unprincipled liberty to induce breaches of contract, but that they are proposing to add to it the liberty to induce breaches of contract of a commercial nature. I imagine that if it was thought desirable to starve the managing director of the company against which they were striking by inducing all his suppliers to cut off his supplies of food, that would be protected under the section as extended. My Lords, I beg the Government to give this matter further consideration. I believe that if they insist on this extension they will lose their main chance of getting agreement to their other reforms.
Why is this suggested by the Royal Commission? It is because otherwise it might be rather difficult for somebody trying to induce a breach of contract—he might be a trade union leader or it might be anybody else—to decide precisely what was legal and what was not legal; and that is true. There is set out, on a page with which I will not bother the House, a number of ways in which interference in effect with commercial contracts could be conducted sometimes without running into the mischief of the law; but, nevertheless, there are cases where that is and can be effectively prevented. I think it is madly irresponsible to say, in the interests of clarity, that anybody can induce a breach of contract without having to think twice about it. That is not to make the law better but to make the law much worse.
My Lords, the majority of the Royal Commission included another recommendation, that the section extended in the way they proposed should only protect registered trade unions and their agents. The Government accept the extension which I have condemned, but reject the limitation. Their reasons for rejecting the limitation are set out in paragraph 88 of the White Paper. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, is such a 804 kindly man that I dare say he will not say what he really thinks of paragraph 88 of the White Paper. I now gather that he is going to, which delights me. I have never seen a more ridiculous set of reasons for rejecting what Lord Donovan has proposed by way of limitation. It is said:The implementation of this recommendation would mean that unofficial strike leaders could be sued by employers for inducing strikers to break their contracts. The Government does not believe that this would improve matters.The majority of the Royal Commission thought it would.First, the great majority of employers would probably not be prepared to sue unofficial strike leaders.The great majority might not, but others might, and the strike leaders might not know. Then they say:Second, unions could declare strikes by their members to be official unless they decided otherwise, thus bringing the leaders of such strikes once more under the protection of section 3 as amended …That would transform the situation in other ways. It would make them liable, among other things, for strike pay which they may not want. Then it goes on:…if any employers did take legal action the strike leaders would have no defence even if their unofficial strike was justified.Remember, my Lords, the strike induced is a strike involving breach of contract. Generally, breach of contract can be avoided altogether merely by waiting a week. I will leave the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, to deal, as I hope he will, with that paragraph in the White Paper.
My Lords, the final point I wish to make, and I think it is of some importance, is about the closed shop and dismissals. It is dealt with in paragraph 118 of the White Paper. I am not going into the extremely difficult question of the closed shop. That is a very difficult matter. I regret rather that in its treatment in the Royal Commission Report it was not even thought necessary to refer to Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which seems to me to have some bearing on the matter. I am not condemning the closed shop in every case, but I ask noble Lords to look at paragraph 118 of the White Paper dealing with that matter. Suppose a man in a closed shop falls out 805 with his union and is compelled to leave his employment. However much the employers may regret that, however unwilling they may be to get rid of him, yet if they did get rid of him who do you think would have to pay compensation for his dismissal?—the employer. That is justified, if it could be justified, by paragraph 564 of the Royal Commission Report. It says:As things now stand, however, dismissal of a non-unionist is more likely to result from pressure on the shop-floor by workmates who refuse to work, or to go on working, with a non-unionist. If a claim arises, we envisage that the labour tribunal will take into account the dismissed worker's reason for refusing to join a union, and whether he has in some way provoked the action of his fellow-workers, but we do not rule out the possibility of compensation being awarded against the employer. It might be argued that this is unjust,"—By Jove, it can!—since it is the union, not the employers, which stands to gain from an insistence on an employee's being in the union. But the decision to dismiss is the employer's taken ultimately because he considers it to the advantage of his business.Well, my Lords, he may be yielding to the blackmail that otherwise his business may be closed. Let us remember that by the Trade Disputes Act 1965 we have reversed the decision of the courts in Rookes v. Barnard; so that now, by the action of Parliament itself, it is possible for men to decide that they do not wish to work with a particular worker or to readmit him to their trade union and, by threatening to close the business altogether, they may compel the employer to dismiss him. Then, say the Royal Commission, the employer pays him damages. This strikes—
§ LORD TANGLEY
My Lords, the noble Lord will remember that there were no fewer than five dissensions from that view including the Chairman and myself.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I am most delighted to hear it. I have been working very hard reading all these documents over the weekend. They are fairly long. I sometimes think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, may think that judicial business in this House is simplicity itself compared with the proceedings under this Royal Commission. I am sorry if I have delayed the House 806 for too long but these matters teem to me to be worthy of consideration.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ LORD HILL OF WIVENHOE
My Lords, I can assure the House that I shall not speak for very long. I can see that if someone does not sharpen the discussion, there will be from the long list of speakers many who will not get home to-night. Much of what has been said I should have said if I had spoken earlier; but, looking at In Place of Strife, while I can probably agree with the bulk of it, I should never agree to the penalty clauses. I do not think I could agree to them if I lived until I was 90. Having been a trade union official all my life, I realise that things are not as easy as one tries to depict them in a White Paper. One can look at the international league table on strikes. I have examined it over the years. I remember that one year we were third from the bottom. This was marvellous. We have never been in the top half of the chart, and now we are seventh from the bottom.
Sometimes I wonder why we are creating all this fuss, having regard to the fact that the loss per man per ''ear is 1.6 man-hours. In 1921, the year in which I finished my apprenticeship, there were 85 million man-hours lost in strikes and lockouts, with only half the working population that we have to-day. In actual fact, 40 times more time was lost in strikes and lockouts then than to-day. In 1922, there were 20 million working days lost in strikes and lockouts. This is ten times greater than the total to-day. But we must look at all the circumstances. The amount of time lost through accidents at work is also ten times greater than the amount lost through strikes; and if you take into account sickness, a hundred times more time is lost through sickness than through strikes.
Of course, the T.U.C. has tried to play its part. It cannot always achieve all that it wants; but we have tried to reduce some of these losses from year to year. Time after time we have made representations to various Governments trying to persuade them to increase the number of factory inspectors, so that there would be fewer accidents at work, so that working conditions would be better, so that less sickness would arise from work. But we have not achieved our objective. I do 807 not think the situation is as bad as some would have us believe. We shall always have the newspapers, the Press of this country, denigrating the trade union movement. That will always be—we know that—because they are not owned by our people. But I say this. As a past member of the T.U.C. General Council, I say that the British trade union movement is the finest in the world. This is the only country in the Western World that has a single trade union movement. If you go abroad you will find that there are two, three or four trade union movements in the Western World countries. They are split by politics and religion. That is not so in this country.
To say that the T.U.C. has done nothing over the last few years is not to tell the truth. The T.U.C. has done more over the last ten years, in trying to get amalgamation between the unions, in trying to avoid strikes, than ever it did before. It has more power than ever before and is using it. But Rome was not built in a day. You cannot persecute people for 50, 60 or 70 years and then suddenly expect to cuddle them. This will not work. There are plenty of bad employers knocking around now. I was on the Ford negotiating machine for many years, and there was more trouble at Ford's, and at the other American firms in this country, than we had with all the British employers put together. What is the good of our shouting about this? The Ford strike has happened at a bad time, but I cannot say that a loss of 1.6 working hours per man a year is a really bad figure.
My Lords, let me remind those who wrote the article that if they look at the matter a little more thoroughly they will find that British workers work more days per year than the workers of any other country in the world. I wonder whether they know that, or whether they know that in this country the workers have only six statutory holidays. In Sweden they have eleven, and in Italy they have fifteen. Why malign our trade union movement for 1.6 hours per year? You have to look at this matter in the correct perspective. I shall oppose with all the power I have any attempt to put in a penal code. That has not succeeded in other countries, and it will not succeed in this country.
808 My Lords, I said that I was going to be brief and I shall be, but let me say this: if you insist on fining the workers that go out on strike, they will not go out any more. They will do what Cabinet Ministers and top executives do; they will send in their resignations. They will ask for their books and their back pay and they will clear out. You will not be able to touch them because that is their perfect right. The workers can be organised in a way which can defeat even legislation. Do not let us be so stupid as to think that workers will not do a thing unless you force them to do it. I belonged to an organisation, the members of which, I am sure, would have done that. I say to the Government that it would be wise to withdraw these penal clauses from the White Paper, because you can rest assured that the British trade union movement will never accept them.
§ 9.2 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND TEMAIR
My Lords, I rise with a feeling that I have been given an instruction. When he opened this debate the noble Lord the Leader of the House mentioned my name as one who had had a great deal of experience about which I might speak. I hope that I shall do so in the way he expected. It is true that it is getting on for 70 years since I first became an apprentice in a shipyard. I joined the trade union and worked, I hope, to rule but I was stopped on one occasion by a shop steward for exceeding the time laid down for caulking a deck. It was a time when there was no other way in which a person could earn money if he was out of a job. I remember that a friend of mine, a colleague, said to me, "Aye, Dudley, when you're idle its bad when the kids start roaring for grub." That was the situation in those days. Certainly it became better later on, and it was, I suppose, the start of what we are trying to get at to-day; that is, a happy collaboration.
I went from that firm to another works and continued what I was doing, and things were a bit better from that point of view. The firm was a family firm which created a state of happy collaboration. Later on I went to other places, but always I experienced happy relations. To my mind that is something which cannot be created by a law. People must be happy together, because they appreciate that happiness. The works, where I re- 809 mained for a very long time and eventually became the chairman, had been in existence for a great many years. Most of the men there had been employed at the works for a long time, and their fathers had worked there before them. We used to be given little talismen to wear when we had been there for any length of time. I am wearing one now, indicating 50 years' service. It was easy—well, I will not say easy, but the effect was that we did not have trouble. There were expeditions at certain times and special meetings, and so on, for those who had served for 25 years and onwards. The firm was always busy and did a lot of export work. As time went on it got larger.
I went on to other firms where there was also that sort of feeling. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House said, I had a lot of experience. When I retired I was very fortunate, in that I could become a Member of this House. One thing that delighted me was that I found in your Lordships' House—there have been others since—prominent members of the Trades Union Congress, who had been a tremendous help. They came to our works and had talks with the apprentices. They gave prizes and encouraged the apprentices to feel that they had a proper future before them. I think that is more difficult to-day in certain cases. I am thinking specially of works which are looked upon as small, where there are, say, fewer than 10,000 employees.
In an organisation of that sort, to keep things happy the great thing is to get the wives into it, too. In the firm to which I am referring the shop stewards used to give parties and all the wives came to them. Some people think of shop stewards as ruffians of a sort. I can assure those people that they are quite wrong in that. We had an arrangement that in the morning, before work was started generally, the chairman and the convenor of the shop stewards' committee used to come to the managing director to discuss the day's work. When we issued the directors' report and accounts for the year a copy was made for every person employed in the company. It was not handed out from the office it was posted to each man's home, so that the "old woman" could see it, too. And we had very happy parties.
810 I need not go on describing things of this sort, but I am confident that they occur in many companies, particularly if they are not too large and have a reputation of which everyone employed is proud. We hear a great deal about our industrial troubles, particularly at the present moment, but I want to emphasise that a great many firms are not affected. That is not generally realised and nothing is said about it. When things are bad, it is published very fully and is on the wireless and television, and it goes abroad; but when firms are doing well and things are happy, nothing is said about it. So, almost deliberately, the wrong impression is given to foreigners. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory. referred to this same point.
We should let other people know that we are a great country and that the vast majority of people are good and sensible; and though there are many reports in the Press and on television of wicked doings, these are the doings of a small part of the population. We should always be proud of our country and do our best to carry on happily together.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, first of all, I think that it is only right that I should declare an interest in the subject matter that is before your Lordships to-day. I assure you that it is not a financial one. But having been up to three years ago a member of the miners' union for nearly sixty years., I am sure it will occasion no surprise when I say that I have a deep and abiding interest in the trade union movement, and particularly in this subject of industrial relations.
May I say on this topic that I think that the mining industry is an example to the rest of the industries in the country. I remember the days when we used to refer to it as "the cockpit of the economic struggle." It is not that to-day. We have one union, negotiating for all the workers in the industry; and the system of consultation from the pits, the areas and the divisions right up to headquarters at Hobart House, while it does not give satisfaction to everybody, nevertheless provides machinery which, it my view, has been a success and is an example to the industrial life of the country.
In my lifetime, and much further back in time than that—indeed, really from 811 the inception of the trade union movement—there have been many ups and downs, with sacrifice and struggle from the beginning. The same qualities have been demonstrated by thousands of men and women to maintain its existence and to gain it a recognised place in our economic and social life. No one would dispute that this has now been accomplished. The fact that we are debating it, as we are to-day, is perhaps the best and most classic indication that the trade union movement is now looked upon as being of some importance, and has gained its rightful place in our social and economic life.
When so much of the debate is about the trade union movement and its part in industrial relations in our modern society, I cannot let the occasion pass without a tribute to the many who have done so much to give status, standing and prestige to the trade union movement in this country. It is true that throughout its life there have been penalties and pressures, legal and economic; and if my reading of the history of the trade union movement is correct, these things have characterised it throughout its history. Certainly—and I say this with some feeling—the men and women of my generation find it difficult to forget what the trade union movement has had to endure to survive. It is with thoughts such as these, and of the immediate and long-term future, that I approach the White Paper that is before us to-day.
The proposals before us are the result of the Donovan Commission's Report. What a vast amount of work they put into taking and sifting evidence, and trying to draw the blueprint of what the pattern should be in our industrial relations of the future! While I have some reservations (and if I have time I will go into some of them), nevertheless, the philosophy and the thinking behind the White Paper indicate to me that the intentions are very good indeed, and I look upon the proposals as a bold attempt to improve industrial relations in our country.
I read with great interest the debate in another place on these proposals, and particularly was I interested in one part of the speech by the spokesman for the official Opposition, Mr. Carr. The same 812 idea was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, this afternoon, and I want to make one or two comments about it. First of all, I must confess that on reading Mr. Carr's speech, and also listening to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, this afternoon, it put me in a very reflective mood. My first reaction was this: "Ah! How easy it is to be wise after the event." What the speaker in another place had in mind, and also the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, this afternoon, were the legal duties of employers to recognise and negotiate with the trade unions. This is dealt with in paragraphs 56 to 59 of the White Paper. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in effect said this afternoon, and also Mr. Carr in another place. When there is a doubt about it—when there is more than one union, or maybe no union at all, as is the case in our modern industrial system—the wish of the majority of employees should be determined by secret ballot conducted by an independent authority; and the point was made, not in these words by the noble Lord, but certainly by the official spokesman for the Conservative Party in another place, that industrial democracy begins here. I do not challenge that at all; but I would remind the noble Lords opposite that under paragraph 56 of this White Paper a secret ballot can be taken at the end of the day after evidence from management and unions that the problem has not been resolved by the C.I.R.
However, be that as it may, my immediate reaction was this. Is this conversion to this view now—the right to recognition and to negotiate—really genuine and for how long has this been Conservative Party thinking? I would remind your Lordships—I know it is going back a long time, but forty years in the life of a nation is no more than that—that, had that been the position in 1927 under the Baldwin Government and again in 1937 under the Chamberlain Government, quite a lot of heartache, bitterness and even imprisonment would have been avoided in the British coalfields, and especially in Nottinghamshire. Your Lordships may be curious—certainly I hope you are—as to what I have in mind. I have desired for a long time to have this on the record. This debate to-day seems to be the appropriate occasion. 813 The question of a secret ballot to determine the issue referred to in paragraphs 57 and 58 is not the brainchild of the Conservative Party as laid down in Fair Deal at Work. It is really forty years too late—or they are—because it was actually acted upon in 1927 and again in 1937 by the T.U.C.
What I have in mind was briefly mentioned by the First Secretary in another place. What I am referring to is the emergence of the Spencer Union. This is now history. There is a long story to this, so long that time forbids me to go into it fully. Therefore, I will confine myself to one point, which is this. In the years that I have mentioned two ballots were taken by the T.U.C. in the Nottinghamshire coalfields on the very issue to which I am referring.
At that time there was no Commission for Industrial Relations; there was no legal authority at all to give expression to the wishes of the employees. The employers in Nottinghamshire at that time, believe me, my Lords, were as hard-hearted as Pharaoh. My noble friend Lord Citrine, if he were here, would recall how the 1927 ballot was organised and carried out by the T.U.C. He was Secretary of the T.U.C. at the time. I am sure that some of my noble friends will remember this extremely well as members of the General Council. A second ballot was held in 1937 by his successor, Sir Vincent Tewson. There were many difficulties in the way and it must have cost quite a lot of money. This is the point that I want to make. On both occasions there was an overwhelming majority repudiating the Spencer union as the negotiating body in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, but at that time no one took any notice. The weapon relied upon by the employers and by the then Government of the day was not majority decision by the employees but economic pressure.
My Lords, I am speaking now from experience. The point was reached when the inevitable explosion happened, and in sheer desperation the men in the mining village of Harworth in North Nottinghamshire, fed up with the situation, cried out, "This is enough". And no one except the organised trade union movement took the slightest notice. For six months the struggle went on, creating 814 enmity, the break up of family relationships, bitterness—and how many fines were imposed and how many people were imprisoned it would be difficult for me to say.
The point I wish to make, arising out of that brief history, is that had there been an authority like the C.I.R. it would be reasonable to say that the trouble to which I have referred would have been averted. I welcome the proposal in this White Paper to establish the C.I.R. Its duties are outlined in paragraphs 33 to 37. These duties follow the recommendation of the majority Report of the Donovan Commission. Of course there was a minority of one, Mr. Shonfield, and the Observer on Sunday made an observation—and I am paraphrasing now—that it would be wise to follow Mr. Shonfield's advice in giving the C.I.R. more teeth than it is proposed to give it in the White Paper. I look at it in this way: to give judicial authority and the power of imposition of legal sanctions to the Commission, which has been rejected by the Government, I think at this stage is right. They will be able to probe and prod, and the fact that collective agreements will have to be registered with the Commission will give it a considerable amount of leverage. The Government look to the Commission to be a disseminator of good practice and a focus for reform by good example.
The Commission have already started their work, and all I wish to say—and I am sure that noble Lords on both sides of the House will join with me in this—is that I wish a speedy recovery to good health of the Chairman of the Commission, Mr. George Woodcock. He is sailing on a new, uncharted route. There will be difficulties. There will be uncooperative and, in some cases, recalcitrant employers so far as trade union recognition and the right to negotiate are concerned. The question of multi-unionism will also be one of the things they will have to investigate. It is a piece of machinery—I think the Observer referred to it on Sunday as a "piece of social engineering". However, I look forward to its success. It will not perform miracles overnight but if, by this process, industrial relations can be improved and sweetened it will be more than justification for the institution of the C.I.R.
815 May I now turn for a few moments to the proposals in paragraph 62 of the White Paper; namely, the creation of the new Industrial Board, which it is suggested will have power to impose financial penalties, these penalties to be recoverablein the appropriate county court by attachment of earnings and other civil remedies for the collection of debts …I should like to make my position absolutely and abundantly clear. This proposal in the White Paper I oppose, and for three reasons: first, on the basis of experience I do not think it will work; secondly, a law that cannot be really enforced is not very good; and thirdly, I believe that the later stage would be worse than the first. Again, the Observer of last Sunday said this:If the Government take power to fine unofficial strikers in certain circumstances it would not bring wildcat strikes to an end.And, of course, the recent classic example is the case in the Kent coalfield in 1941. I will not go into it because it is very well described by Sir Harold Emmerson in Appendix 6 of the Donovan Report.
Paragraph 8 of his written evidence says this:The Court was advised not to enforce the unpaid fines.The imprisoned men were released, and now the matter is hardly mentioned, and it is almost completely forgotten; but in discussing these penal sanctions I think we should bear in mind the experience in the Kent coalfield. On this matter may I just quote from paragraph 486 of the Donovan Report:The evidence which we have received from Sir Harold Emmerson… shows the fruitlessness of the use of penal sanctions for the purpose of enforcing industrial peace.In conclusion, may I ask my noble friend, Lord Hughes, this question. On the assumption—I do not put it any higher than that—that the penal clauses with attachment are implemented (I hope they are not), first, to whom will the money go? Secondly, what is meant in paragraph 62 by "and other civil remedies for the collection of debts"? Will these people have the bailiffs of the county court coming round to their houses and distraining upon their furniture and goods? Thirdly, we are told there will be no liability to imprisonment for people in default of payment. But what does 816 this really mean? Could imprisonment take place for contempt by defying a court order? I hope we can hear something about this. I hope the Government, particularly on this issue, will think again.
In this connection I would quote the words of a well known trade union leader, the secretary of one of our biggest unions in membership to-day:If fines are to be extracted from workers by attachment of earnings a most intense resentment would be caused, for it would mean that workers were having money deducted by the very people with whom they had been in dispute. This would lead to further disputes including demands that the employers make up the wage packets to the full amount. A worker who was having fines deducted would be legally required to declare this if he went to a new employer, and the dangers of operating a legal blacklist in this way must be obvious.In conclusion on this particular point, whilst welcoming almost the whole of the proposals in the White Paper, I hope that between now and the introduction of the Bill the Government will think again and bring forward a much better remedy.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ LORD WILLIAMSON
My Lords, at this late stage of the debate, and there being some seven or eight other noble Lords who wish to take part, I intend to be brief. But there are one or two aspects of this problem which have not been put during the debate and which I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice. First of all, I am sure that there is an erroneous impression which has been created, not only in this country but abroad, that British industrial relations are in chaos and that widespread reform is necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. British industrial relations are as good as they are anywhere in the world; in fact a great deal better than they are in most countries. The system of joint industrial relationships which has been built up over the years, covering industry and services, is the envy of the world. I personally have met with other trade union leaders, delegations from all over the world including the United States, which have come here to study our system of industrial councils, wages councils and other forms of joint machinery.
There are some sixty joint industrial councils and a large number of wages councils. Wages councils are legally enforced on those industries which are not sufficiently organised to have a voluntary 817 negotiating body; and they are so busy and efficient that we never hear about them. Nobody hears about something like 100 industries all going along happily. It is only the "strike happy" sections of industry which get the publicity. The classic example of this is, of course, what has been going on recently, and particularly the Girling strike of 10 people nearly dislocating the jobs of something like 10,000 people.
I was referring to our splendid system of industrial relations in most of our industries. Many of these industries have never had a serious strike in their history, and others cannot remember when they had a serious strike. But there is a grave danger that if the small sections of industrial recalcitrants who from time to time indulge in lightning unofficial strikes are seen to be cashing in on it, then it is elementary that others will assume, and rightly so, that this is the way to get things. The sort of anarchy we have recently witnessed can be highly contagious, and it could be quite dangerous if it is shown to be paying dividends. The trade union movement is not without its private enterprises who have no compunction whatever in taking whatever opportunity may present itself to grab what they can without regard to others who often have a better claim. Clearly, this is unfair and it is not in the national interest that it should continue.
What proportion of the trade union movement is resorting to the practice of the unofficial strike? There are some 25 million people in this country who are gainfully employed, and if we accept that about 5 million of them are self-employed or otherwise professional people not in the field that we would regard as ordinary trade unionism, I calculate that about 20 million people are earning their living in one way or another. All of those 20 million people have grievances. I have never met anyone who believes that he is getting the right salary; who does not believe that he ought to be getting more. Think of the unrest among civil servants, doctors, teachers, solicitors and other professional classes, not to mention Members of Parliament. They all think that they ought to be getting higher salaries. The same applies, of course, to a number of unions within the T.U.C. But fortunately they do not start striking for it, and it is a good thing they do not. They use the machinery which 818 is provided, and by compromise, or in one way or another, they have concessions and they carry on doing their work. I calculate that out of the total of something like 20 million there are not more than 300,000 to 500,000 who are indulging in unconstitutional strike action.
Public attention is being focused on the activities of shop stewards; and here again shop stewards are being disparaged because of the actions of a small minority. I have the report by me (I will not weary your Lordships with it) about shop stewards in industry. I would just mention two points. When shop stewards were asked the question, "Do you believe in co-operation with the management in maintaining discipline?", 143 replied, "Yes", and only 11, "No". Then, in answer to the question, "Do you agree with cautioning a trade union member when the shop steward finds him doing something wrong?", 106 replied "Yes", and only 25 "No". This inquiry showed that the vast majority of shop stewards have a full sense of responsibility and that, contrary to views often expressed, most shop stewards are prepared at all times to co-operate in maintaining discipline. My own experience of shop stewards in my own union—and we have here to-day my noble friend Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath, who followed me as General Secretary—was that they were capable, efficient, well informed and competent, and were performing their responsibilities with credit to themselves and to the union.
I think my noble friend Lord Hill also mentioned in his speech the comfort that some people find in referring to the number of days lost in this country, and contrasting it with what happens in the United States or Australia. I have only one simple observation to make about this: that the steel strike in the United States had very little effect on the United States' economy because the United States is able to take an industrial dislocation in its stride. But if a similar strike took place here we should lose orders; we should lose customers—and customers are much harder to win than they are to lose. Therefore we should beware of this dangerous complacency.
The last point that I would mention to your Lordships is this. I have great admiration for the right honourable lady the Minister of State for Employment 819 and Productivity. She is brave, courageous; and she is doing a valiant job in this situation. But I was rather depressed to read an official report of a speech made by the right honourable lady in which she said:We go further and point out that many unofficial strikes are justified because men in the situation in which they find themselves on the shop floor can find no other way to remedy a legitimate grievance.My Lords, no unofficial strike is justified. And many of these unofficial strikes, lightning strikes, sit-downs, and go-slows, take place in the factory or firm where there is ample negotiating machinery to take charge wherever these grievances exist. Therefore I am pleased that the Prime Minister, in his speech at Huyton, Lancashire, on March 14, made it perfectly clear where the Government stood on this question.
I will close with this thought. We have built up in this country one of the highest standards of living in the world. Our social conditions and our health scheme, I think, are not equalled anywhere else in the world. This is what is at stake. I say to my fellow trade unionists that these things must be maintained and safeguarded, and if possible improved. But this will not happen if production is constantly obstructed. We must learn to come to grips with this matter or, as night follows day, we shall learn the hard way.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, last Wednesday I was turning into Park Lane, rather late for an appointment, when I saw a demonstration of workers from Electric and Musical Industries. They were carrying banners (this is perhaps the only country in the world where one would see such a thing) imprinted with the words: "E.M.I. Workers will not Honour Agreements". There you have your anarchy. From the point of view of a bystander on the pavement, the unions could not have made worse propaganda for themselves. I agree that it is not the official union line, but because the unions cannot control unofficial strikes the general public are getting fed up with the situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, made a great point of the fact that there 820 were some 25 million people working in this country, with the implication that the number of unofficial strikes was very small. But I would point out that, of those 25 million people, only between 8½ million and 9 million belong to trade unions. If men do not belong to a trade union they do not strike—in fact it is quite unknown to strike. They strike only if they belong to a trade union. We can make what laws we like in this country, but if the human relationships are not right then laws will do no good.
My experience has been gained in small firms. After the war I started a factory engaged upon light industry. My previous experience of labour was in agriculture; but in agriculture the workers are all just like a big family, and it is not quite the same situation as that which one faces in industry. It is a fact that in small firms with, say, 100 employees one never gets strikes. The reason is that the boss knows all his people: he knows them by their names, he knows their family histories, and there are therefore good human relationships. I agree that one cannot have that same sort of relationship in vast corporations which employ 10,000, 20,000 or 50,000 people.
Top management ought to pay tar more attention to the man on the floor, rather than leave it to personnel representatives. If only they would do so, there would be much better human relationships in industry. My experience of some people who serve upon boards of large concerns is that they know nothing at all about the men who work in their factories. There is an extraordinary attitude in this country, and I wonder if it is something peculiar in the British character. I used to go to the United States a great deal, and I have travelled all over the world. One does not find among the average employee abroad this attitude towards management. In America, if a working man sees a rich man drive past in a car, he does not shake his fist and say, "I am going to drag him down"; he says. "I am going to be like him." We have an extraordinary attitude in this country: a great many people want to drag such a man down. We must get away from that attitude, because it is the road to disaster.
821 For a long time the unions used to pump propaganda into the workers of this country, such as "Go slow", and "Beat the boss!" The unions do not do it now, but that attitude does not die in a few years and in the case of some people may take a generation. I should like all responsible trade union leaders—and the majority of them are highly responsible—to go on a great propaganda drive to explain to the people of this country that if they destroy the employer and drive investment away, as they are doing, they will destroy themselves, and of course the country.
We have heard many times this evening about ensuring that agreements freely made between unions and management are honoured, and this is the great problem. Such agreements are honoured in Germany, in America, in Sweden and in most other countries. Several lawyers speaking in this debate have gone into very involved arguments about the difficulty of having agreements between managements and unions which are legally binding, but it should not be beyond the bounds of the legal profession in this country, together with the unions and employers and the Government, so to frame the law that such agreements are binding. I quite agree that it is sometimes very difficult to make them enforceable, since it depends what is in the agreement. But there are too many difficulties being put in the way of this. The White Paper has made some very good recommendations but it has come a bit late. Also, as my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said, we really want to have this Industrial Relations Bill this Session because time is slipping by. I heard only the other day of two big firms who had intended building two plants in this country, but who are now going to build them abroad. That trend will continue unless we put our house in order. So we cannot afford to wait. I hope that the Government will make an effort to bring in legislation this Session.
There is something which I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to tell us when he winds up. He is not here, but he presumably will be to wind up. The White Paper says that collective bargaining will be voluntary. Of course collective bargaining is voluntary, but the point is, how can it be voluntary under 822 this White Paper if we still have the statutory incomes policy? One cannot have voluntary collective bargaining if we have a statutory incomes policy; it is a contradiction in terms. I should like the noble Lord who is to wind up to explain that to me. Because if we are to keep the statutory incomes policy, any agreement freely arrived at will be subject to Whitehall veto. It is a contradiction in terms, as I say. Personally, I was for the wages freeze, the statutory incomes policy, as a stop-gap, but you cannot make it permanent. You can have a wages freeze permanently only if you back it up with a gun. You cannot have it made permanent in practice solely by law: it is just "not on".
My Lords, an author whose book was reviewed the other day wrote to The Times. May I just quote from his letter for a moment, because I rather think that he must have been "cribbing" some of my speeches here six, seven or eight years ago. He is Dr. Einzig, a professor of economics, and he said:The British worker only believes that he has rights and no duties towards the community.I do not necessarily agree with this, but I am just quoting this professor of economics—and if you have a professor of economics you have to take some note of what he says.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Why?
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
He says a lot of rude things, but I will not read them out because they are rather insulting to British labour. However, he does say here, which is not insulting:The British worker's attitude has deteriorated because he has been pampered and spoilt by Governments, politicians, trade unions and employers since the war.My Lords, there is a bit of truth in that; it is not entirely incorrect.
Collective bargaining has been discussed quite a lot in the debate, but for myself I prefer my Party's approach towards it, towards agreements between management and trade unions. As the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, pointed out, as it is dealt with in the White Paper it means nothing at all, because if the parties make an agreement and they are both then free to break it they will break it. The Conservative 823 approach is far better, I think—that is, to make freely-negotiated agreements legally binding automatically unless the parties agree to exclude some or all of the provisions. I cannot see that there is anything so appallingly henious in that, but apparently noble Lords opposite appear to think that there is. If we do not try to make agreements legally binding we shall be back in square one. I. should also have thought that to try to make agreements legally binding—and I agree that we shall not be able to make all of them enforceable—will strengthen the unions. This country's trouble, in the last twenty years anyway, has been that the unions cannot control their own people. Of all our strikes, 95 per cent. are unofficial. It is the highest figure in the world. Even in the last ten years the number of unofficial strikes has increased nearly four times. I should think that if you made agreements so far as possible legally binding, the trade union leaders would be only too pleased. You would then have the sanction of the law against your unofficial strikers. I cannot really see what is objectionable in that.
But, of course—and my noble and learned friend Lord Conesford mentioned this—there is a great deal of trouble about the question of penalties if an agreement is broken. Personally, I do not agree with the attachment of wage earners' earnings. No employer—and this has already been said—ever sues his employee. It is just not "on". You cannot fine a wage earner. It would be quite impossible in practice; it would be far too complicated. But I think the union should be held responsible. If they have an unofficial strike they should be subject to a penalty; but you cannot take it from the workmen.
The question is how one arrives at the amount of the penalty? In Germany, if a firm suffers damages they prove their damages and the union pays. But that is very difficult with a manufacturing company. If they have a strike, how do they prove how much profits they have lost? An army of accountants would be needed, and it would be extremely involved. It is quite a different matter if you are an importer and have say, a cargo of tomatoes, which because of the strike go bad. You know the value of your tomatoes and you know what damages to go for. But a further 824 danger is that this might break some unions financially. I do not think that any employer wants to break the unions.
My Lords, I should have thought that penalties could be imposed on a sliding scale; that, for instance, there could be a fixed penalty per man for every day the men were out. If there were 1,000 men out for 10 days the penalty could be, say, 5s. per day per man. It could be something like that. You would need to have a fixed penalty on a sliding scale. But I do not agree with the White Paper when it says that you can attach the wages of the employee. But with legally binding agreements and penalties, there is the danger that we may be making a busman's holiday for the lawyer. I do not want to do that. With due respect to the many eminent lawyers in this House, in my opinion the legal profession is not really the most efficient profession in the country—certainly not when it comes to a question of time. I can see that if we had a lot of broken agreements the industrial courts would be choked up and employers and unions would have to wait a long time to get results.
My Lords, I am trying to proceed as fast as I can, but I should like to say a word about the secret ballot. I agree that there are pros and cons about it. Some employers do not like it and obviously the unions do not. If you are a negotiator you do not like to feel that suddenly there may be a secret ballot and your case may be undermined. It is extraordinary that in this country, where since 1928 we have had universal suffrage for making the most important decision of choosing a Government, when it comes to other, not so important, affairs we say, "No you cannot have that". The trade union official or the employer, or whatever the organisation may be, makes a decision for the working man. The decision must be made by those above him Either we have industrial democracy or we do not, and I cannot understand that procedure. I agree that some bad decisions may be made in a secret ballot, but surely it is the only just method to adopt. If employers are to negotiate with unions, employees ought to have the right of a secret ballot to decide whether they want the employers to negotiate with a particular union. I appreciate that there are drawbacks from 825 the union point of view and also, in some ways, from the point of view of the Government and of employers but on the whole it is a fair thing to have a secret ballot. We are a democracy and we ought to abide by it.
The other matter I should like to mention—it is a favourite hobby horse of mine, but I shall try to be brief—is the question of the closed shop. To me that is something like a red rag to a bull. I think that the White Paper almost makes matters worse. It does not do away with the injustice of the closed shop. I do not object to a union shop in a factory, but it is quite iniquitous that employees who were working there before the union came should be forced to join. If I remember rightly, the White Paper says that no employer can prevent an employee from being a member of a union. That is fair enough, but it ought to be the other way round, too: a union should not be able to bully workers into joining. It ought to be free association both ways, and I cannot think why the White Paper has not said that.
826 On the whole, the idea of the C.I.R. is helpful, provided it has good leadership, but that applies to everything in life. If there is not good leadership, we have "had" it anyway, no matter what we do. I have had to deal with shop stewards and I know working people very well. Trade unionists have said to me that it is unfair for a man who is not a member of a union to work in a factory because he is getting all the benefits the union has got for the workers. That is a very silly argument. You might as well say that all the ratepayers in Westminster should not pay for the upkeep of St. James's Park because they do not all use the Park. They ought not to pay for something of which they do not get 100 per cent. use.
The real position is that employers and employees have to fight out these battles largely by themselves. It has to be voluntary, but it would be a great help to voluntary agreements to have the right law behind them. Trade union law is out of date. It would be much simpler to 827 repeal the Trade Disputes Act 1906 and we should not need all this, because unofficial strikes would then be a contravention of the law anyway. I will end by saying that the Government must take a stronger line in this matter—and they have been courageous in these proposals, though it is courage born of desperation. If they do not do something, the country is sunk, the workers are sunk and everybody is sunk. When the Government bring in this Bill they must make it stronger to curb unofficial strikes than they have suggested in the White Paper.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I am not going to follow up the rosy picture which the noble Viscount has just painted for your Lordships about the spoilt darling, the British worker—the spoilt darling of the employer, the trade union leader, the politician, and now, I suppose, the Government—except to say that the British worker is also part of the community and of the public: there is no cleavage between the British worker on one side and the public on the other.
I hesitated before I put my name down to speak in this debate, so moderately and ably moved by my noble friend the Leader of the House, knowing that there were many specialists in this field really qualified to speak. To be the 23rd speaker, and a non-expert speaker, is rather daunting, but this only makes it more necessary for me to maintain my usual practice of being the shortest speaker in this House. As one of the non-expert speakers, I do, however, have some knowledge of working conditions, having visited a great many factories and industrial plants. Without this experience, I could not begin to understand the stormy weather which the country has been going through as a result of the tensions between employers, employees and trade unions.
It seems to me that there are three main causes contributing to the problems of industrial relations, as many of the speakers in this House to-day have pointed out. One is the nature of the collective bargaining machinery. This to-day appears to me to be fragmented and antiquated, hardly matching up to the needs of the technological age of automation and computers in which we live. The second cause is often to be 828 found in the inadequacy of managerial attitudes towards labour. The third and not the least important cause stems from the conservatism of the trade unions themselves in the face of proposals for their internal reform. There is no doubt also that the class prejudice on both sides of industry that still exists as a result of our lingering segregated educational system aggravates all these problems.
What stands out in the White Paper, which is clear and well written (and here I must pay tribute to Lord Donovan and the Report of his Royal Commission), is that for the first time the Government are actively intervening to make collective bargaining more efficient; that is by making trade unions stronger and more effective. This is specified in the section dealing with the Commission on Industrial Relations which, incidentally, asks for the compulsory recognition of trade unions, as well as for their rationalisation. Of course, no amount of Government interference by exhortation can succeed without voluntary action on the part of the trade unions themselves.
There are other proposals, more controversial, like the conciliation pause, compulsory ballots and fines, all of which have been mentioned in the debate. But I do not think that these are the main proposals of the White Paper. In spite of the very persuasive arguments in the brilliant speech of my noble friend Lord Blyton I believe that he exaggerates the dangers of these proposals, which are played up by our opponents and by the Tory Press, and which distract attention from the real issues, just as they play up the dangers of unofficial strikes and insist on legal compulsion as the only remedy for these. Though I found the speech of my noble friend Lord Blyton very sympathetic in parts, I think that his arguments are rooted in the past.
As my noble friend Lord Geddes of Epsom pointed out, the unofficial strike is the symptom of bad industrial relations; it is not the primary or the only cause. There are many people to-day who, when there is no easy answer to a problem, invoke a legal compulsion and penalties as the panacea, the cure for all our industrial ills. The Conservatives ask that collective agreement should be legally enforceable regardless of what the employers and workers want. This is patently an unworkable 829 suggestion. I am not a lawyer but I judge a collective agreement to be a piece of private law-making which the particular industry legislates for itself. On this the White Paper speaks with resounding common sense. It says that if the parties want their agreement to be enforceable in the courts, then under the White Paper they will be able to write this into their agreement. If, on the other hand, they prefer informality, as is normally the custom to-day, then they will be able to keep away from the courts.
To submit reluctant parties to legal sanctions would be like forcing two incompatible people to marry while denying them the possibility of divorce. What is needed in industry, as in marriage guidance, is a deep concern with compatibility, with mutual respect and understanding, which leads to sensible compromise; not a forced legal relationship. Here I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote. This is not to say that there should be anarchy. On the contrary, what is needed are better drafted agreements where procedural provisions for settling disputes are observed by both sides. The proposal in the White Paper for fining those who take part in "wild-cat" strikes fills me with some misgiving. This suggestion seems to me impracticable. To turn again to my homely marriage analogy, it is difficult enough to keep track of a man when trying to make him keep up his maintenance payments for a child whose mother he has abandoned. I believe that a "wild-cat" striker could be just as elusive. What happens if a man changes his job or becomes self-employed? I believe that this question was pointed out in the Donovan Report itself.
I will not go into the Ford strike in any detail, but it seems to me that the voting by the joint negotiating body reminded one of the voting in the General Assembly of the United Nations. There each nation, however large or however small—let us take the United States or Guyana—has one vote. It seems to me that the Ford negotiating bodies, however large the union, or however small, each had one vote. This pattern of voting seems to me not to reflect the realities of power. I think that the real differences between the political Parties lie not in the assumption that the law has a vital part to play in our industrial life, but in what 830 kind of part it should play. The Conservative Party, and most of their followers, seems to think on lines of penalising workers, and I regard this as a negative role.
But this is not really where the law should intervene. It has a far more constructive role to play in guaranteeing basic rights for all workers, regardless of the strength or the weakness of unions in particular industries, or of whether the unions act effectively enough to win those rights. After all, the White Paper takes an important step towards a workers' charter. It is not a lawyers' banquet. This important step should be welcomed by all of us in the Labour Party and should not be obscured by the political smokescreen put up by our opponents. I do not wish to be partisan about this measure, but we have a responsibility to inform public opinion about the complexity of industrial relations. To blame all our economic difficulties on the unofficial strike is just to go "scapegoating". There is no lightning answer to the lightning or unofficial strike. Irresponsible leaders in industry foster irresponsible conduct among workers. Finally, my Lords, the White Paper gives us a great deal to act upon, to bring about the modernisation of industrial relations between management and labour so that they, and the community, get a fair deal all round.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ LORD COOPER OF STOCKTON HEATH
My Lords, I have listened carefully throughout the debate and I think I have missed only two speakers. I sympathise with the House, because, although the hour is late I think I have something worth while to say. The title of the White Paper, In Place of Strife, immediately raises a question in our minds. The answer is simple—either we shall have more of it, or less, and there is no need for us to theorise. There have been references to the Girling strike, the Vauxhall strike and the Ford strike. May I say in passing, without analysing it because of the lateness of the hour, that I think the Ford strike and the Ford situation is a symptom of all that is wrong in industrial relations in this country.
Quite apart from the real things we have before us, we have been fortunate enough to have had the Donovan Report 831 since June, 1968. The T.U.C. said of this Report:It is such an excellent reference book on industrial relations; for that alone the job was well worth doing".I, too, add my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Donovan, and to his Committee for this excellent analysis of industrial relations at the present time in this country. I am convinced (and I think it is interesting that I should say this) that the trade union situation and the management situation in this country is such that it requires an outside impelled force to change its state: it is not in a situation—rapidly, anyhow, and certainly not fast enough—to meet the changes required to change itself. I cannot go into all the problems involved in that situation.
I should like to say that, as one who has been in a trade union movement and who has been taught over forty years that the main objective is to improve the conditions of the work people you represent, to get them security, and so on, it really disturbs me that as a result of the concentration of British industry, of technological change, 10 men can throw 10,000 out of work. This is appalling, and in this situation I am not involved with the considerations as between trade union and employer; this is between trade union and trade union. I know that the greater part of the money I pay out in benefit is money paid to men who are not on strike but who have been thrown out of work because of the lightning strikes of other people and who are not entitled to go to the labour exchange because they are alleged to have an interest in the strike in which they are not taking part. Of course I am pleased to see a reference in the White Paper suggesting that something might be done about this.
At the end of the debate perhaps it is useful to consider the philosophy lying behind the proposals contained in the White Paper. The first is that conflicts of interest in industry are inevitable. I do not think we should exaggerate this, and say that strikes are inevitable, but there is a conflict of interest, and one that honourable men can face up to. To put it at its simplest, it is an argument about the sharing out of the cake and all the shares you get. So obviously there is a conflict of interest here; but that one can control.
832 The White Paper suggests that this conflict can be directed to positive ends. It then goes on to say that this can be done by management and unions but that Government intervention is necessary and can help considerably. I agree with this. The plea that we have heard to-day, that the Government should keep out, may have been all right in earlier days, but once you have the obligation proposed in the White Paper—the obligation on employers to recognise trade unions—it produces a completely new situation in industrial relations in this country, and things flow from this. Equally, if the purpose of the White Paper is to assist collective bargaining—and I am roughly quoting George Woodcock—it follows logically that you must strengthen the trade unions, because the trade unions are the instruments that the workers use in the process of collective bargaining. And, of course, the aim of the White Paper in relation to the conflict that is recognised is to contain the destructive expressions of industrial conflict.
I should like to say a very quick word about conflict and follow my predecessor in office in my union, my noble friend Lord Williamson. I think we have to get this clear: 1968 is 50 years after 1918, and quite a number of industries are having their 50th anniversary dinner in recognition of the adoption of the Whitley Report of 1918 and the setting up of National Joint Industrial Councils. There are industries in this country which have gone on for 50 years without any industrial difficulty. On the contrary, as the 50 years have developed, each succeeding year has established a better relationship between management and workpeople. But I am extremely worried about the situation, because the two industries that Donovan concentrated on, engineering and construction, represent a very large section of British industry. There are 3½ million engineering workers out of a manufacturing force of about 11 million. I was quite surprised myself when I tried to measure the relationship of engineering and construction to the whole labour force and found that the disputes in those two industries were out of proportion to the relationship to the total labour force. Nevertheless, that is a very substantial section and therefore a real cause for concern. In docks and 833 transport again there is a pretty bad relationship.
But take industries like the chemical industry, local government, public utilities, central Government, and a number of small industries such as those in glass, rubber, cement; they have really excellent records and, as Lord Williamson said, a situation where we can hold our head up with pride to the world. There are the two views—and I do not hesitate to say this, and I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Geddes of Epsom, when he pointed out certain dangers in British industry. One does not want to over-emphasise this point, but there are the views that believe that conflict can be contained, and there are the views that believe that conflict is a good thing in itself and should be encouraged and strengthened. And these are the views of people who do not have regard to the general situation and what is best for the country at large; they are people who are out to get their own narrow objectives and to promote them with all possible skill.
People who say that this is an exaggeration should think of this. I have in mind the Communist Party and its influence in the unions, and the Trotskyists and their influence. Every time we have meetings, such as the one at Croydon when we considered the Economic Review, you can see there the industrial representative of the Communist Party, who is very well known, outside, meeting the chaps he knows, putting them right, giving them briefs and so on. I do not want to exaggerate, but I do not hesitate to say this here, and any trade unionist leader who puts his head in the sand and ignores it is not very wise.
The other great difficulty for democracy, and for democracy in the unions, is the apathy of the majority of the work-people because they do not want to be worried. The average worker expects his trade union to get results for him with the minimum of inconvenience to himself. That is why they do not want to go out on strikes. The majority of workpeople will say, "Thank you very much", if you bring in some form of legislation which will enable them to be protected, instead of their being dragged out time and time again when they do not want to come out. I am sorry to say this in connection with Fords—and I do not want to exag- 834 gerate the point, because the evidence was not given to me; it was given to my national officer. But we had people who wanted to carry on working, and we had quite a few who have carried on working, on our advice. But some who wanted to go on working had acid thrown at them, cars turned over, cars scratched with knives. This is not very healthy for British industry. This is a great worry. This is done by a vociferous minority, who can be tackled, and who cannot sustain their position; but unfortunately, the average fellow will realise that he is in real danger only when this kind of element is getting on top.
The real prospects in British industry lie in many fields, but, as has been said—I know it is a cliché—in non more than better attitudes on the part of employers, positive attitudes by the employers towards each other, and better attitudes by the unions. But I repeat, I believe that there is a part for Government to play, and the Government can in the forms it is proposing to give assistance to create better attitudes in British industry.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, quoted what I think is the important paragraph in the White Paper, paragraph 18, which sets out the four objectives by which better industrial relationships may be achieved. These are most positive: the reform in collective bargains; the extension of the role and rights of trade unions; new aids to those involved in collective bargaining, and new safeguards for the community and individuals. Again, I will race through these and will not dwell on them, but on the reform of collective bargaining sufficient has been said for this great experiment, the Commission on Industrial Relations. I do not think the fact that there have been other Commissions need in any way prejudice this Commission. I do not envy them their job—it is a tough one; and it is, in the main, to oversee what negotiation procedures exist, and to see whether or not, by persuasion, they can encourage better procedural agreements and so on. This is their job. They cannot punish anybody; they have no statutory force. But this is a method that we always employ in the trade unions. You cannot force people to do things, but you can bring them along with you if you can persuade them; and this body 835 will have this interesting experiment and new departure.
To help the Commission, the registration of agreements proposed by Donovan and accepted in the White Paper, makes sense, because the purpose of registering agreements is first to impress upon management how important agreements are—and it has been admitted to-day that the initiative is with management. Donovan himself criticises management and trade unions, but management gets much the bigger "thump" from Donovan than the trade unions get; and both Donovan and the White Paper say that it must be the responsibility of boards of management, and governors and so on, to make sure that they have proper procedure agreements for negotiation. In passing, I can tell your Lordships again of firms with some 5,000 members who have already acted on this. But some are not so well organised. Just imagine a firm of more than 5,000 who have not got any organisation. How can you have an agreement without some kind of collective organisation, whether it is trade union or an association, or whatever it may be? Therefore, this is going to encourage organisation. It provides the trade union movement with a great opportunity for another lurch forward. The C.I.R. will look at the agreements to sec whether or not they are making a positive contribution to better collective bargaining.
Perhaps I may take the second objective very quickly. There are some most important provisions here, such as the right of an individual to belong to a trade union without employer interference. This is basic. This is a revolution in industrial relations. Then there is the right of trade unions to recognition. I must say that this right is the only cause of strikes in which I get involved, and I support it. These are not strikes about conditions of work. They arise where a union representative goes along and sees the people, and asks them: "Don't you think you ought to be in the union?" They say: "Yes", but the employer says: "We have managed without the trade union for 30 years. We are a happy family. Leave us alone". In such cases a strike is the only way you can force a person's hand after every possible conciliation has been 836 tried. I think I have two on at the moment, and I know that in one case I admired my officer because on reading his report I found that he had spent about nine months trying in one way or another to get this man to agree. We have a 100 per cent. organisation, but this man had the cheek to say, "I would like a chartered accountant's certification", and that is the way he stalled it. So again this is a sensible thing.
Then there is the new Industrial Board, and I will not dwell too long on that subject. I think we have to reserve judgment until we know more about it, but an interesting item is this proposed aid to collective bargaining by helping the trade unions. I am one of those who believe that trade unions should be rivals. My noble friend Lord Hill is here, and we had reserves of about £5 million when he retired, and it is about £10 million now. I say this with pride, because you cannot function effectively without viability. Many of the things mentioned here we have anticipated and we have already done. In our own research department we have about ten chaps; two years ago we had one. I do not know how a union of our size, with 800,000 members, managed without a decent research department. That is one example. We also have our own training school and are spending about £50,000 a year on training. That is not really enough. We could use more space for taking in more people. This is said to help mergers; to help to train officers and shop stewards, and research in the use of consultants. We train shop stewards, and we have a very interesting experiment of getting shop stewards and foremen face to face. It is a marvellous confrontation, and, believe me, in a couple of days they do not know whether they are foremen or shop stewards. It is a wonderful experiment and I think it is one of the best things we have done to cultivate understanding.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I am most interested in what the noble Lord has just said, and I should like to say that that is an excellent idea and I hope that it will be widely followed.
§ LORD COOPER OF STOCKTON HEATH
I thank the noble Viscount very much. Already certain training boards will reimburse the employer who sends the stewards to us, but only on 837 the basis—and again this is the outside judgment—of an agreed curriculum. In other words, we do not finalise the training we give to the shop stewards. We have our scheme, we submit it, and it has to be accepted by the training board. That is the difficulty. However, we do not mind our scheme going outside to someone else for his judgment as to whether we are giving a fair and objective training and turning out people that are worth while. Possibly in this field Government money may be acceptable, but on the other hand I would say for the record that trade unions have a very keen sense of independence born over the years. It is better for them to be healthy and stand on their own feet rather than have to be helped in this way. In fact, if I saw a trade union needing help in this way and I had any influence I would be trying to put it in a healthier financial state.
The fourth objective is where all the controversy arises—and that is quite proper. If you are going to make trade unions stronger then in my view you are equally obliged to create new safeguards for the community and the individual. As I say, this is where the controversy arises. Of course, the Ministry themselves can help by developing their own services, the manpower department and so on. And they propose tackling the whole question of strikes. I must make myself clear; I have gone along with the T.U.C.; this is how trade unionism works. I am a member of the General Council, and for the sake of unanimity I accepted the broad view within the T.U.C. But in this House I shall say what I think.
I cannot get too excited about a ballot in the case of official strikes. I do not think that it will be effective. My union balloted in the last threatened engineering strike about September or November last year. We had a majority of two to one against strike action, and in one part of the country the majority was four to one against. I presented this to my Executive and said, "There is the ballot showing two to one against. It is obvious what we should do." It had taken about ten days to conduct the ballot. To my amazement, the man from the district in which the vote was four to one against strike action said, "The ballot was not reliable because circumstances have changed during the 838 ten days. If there were a ballot to-day in my area, the result would be different." That is the real difficulty that one faces.
Negotiating, rough and ready though it may he, is an art. I have always said to people who have wanted to tie my hands: "If you want to do that, then send and errand boy: don't send me." There was a time when it was thought, "Never trust your trade union", they would say that a shop steward should go into the negotiating room with the union representative as a policeman. I would never accept this because I thought it was ridiculous. I think it is a little foolish to have a ballot to decide whether or not to go back. It can tie the hands of the negotiator and create rigidity. If one has a ballot at one stage and then the circumstances change, one has to face that situation. The principle is sound enough if it can be made to work, and especially if it is proposed only in circumstances where there is danger to the State.
I am rather worried about the conciliation pause because of the method proposed. It is suggested that if an unofficial strike takes place—and it may be of a serious nature—the Minister will issue an order. My union gave evidence on this matter to the Royal Commission, but it was not in fact accepted. I do not grumble about this because it was they who were sitting in judgment. But it is my view that conciliation ought to be compulsory before any strike action takes place. I should like to see rein posed something on the lines of Order 1305, which went out in 1950. I do not think that anybody could grumble about it. Order 1305 provided that if a dispute was apprehended, it should be reported to the Minister so that machinery could be set in motion in an attempt at conciliation. This is a good deal to ask, since it means a network of conciliatory machinery covering the whole country; but I feel that it would be a very good investment. It would not take from anyone the right to strike; it would only oblige people in the first instance to submit to conciliation.
I feel that where the law exists there must be sanctions. The civil sanction which has been so much discussed to-day was the outcome of pressure by the T.U.C. upon the Government to avoid punishment of a criminal nature. I do 839 not think that anyone has the right to set himself above the law. I cannot understand all this opposition to a sanction in an extreme case. If we had time we could work out how an individual could get himself into a position of having a fine imposed upon him. It would be only in a case of sheer desperation, when he had flouted every other method of settlement. I should not like to be the Minister who, having a strike on her hands, says, "Get back to work." The best method is to tackle the problem beforehand and get conciliation earlier.
In conclusion, my Lords, I should like to ask two or three questions. First, what does this White Paper mean for the country and the trade unions? The changes that may arise from the Government's proposals are new and can be very effective in improving industrial relations. They are a challenge to the trade unions, who must modernise, train officers and stewards, and ensure better and adequate communications, which at present are woefully lacking, partly because of indifference at the bottom. This is a great problem which requires attention. Some of us have already started on this road, but to be effective we must have the co-operation of management.
The country must overcome its present inherent economic weaknesses if the aspirations of our people to enjoy security and a decent standard of living are to be satisfied. No Government can allow any section of the community, however large, to prejudice these objectives. I believe that the present Government are tackling this problem courageously, and that the principles and aims set out in the White Paper deserve our most careful consideration.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I am sure you will agree that it is very difficult to follow the dynamic speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath. Nevertheless, I shall try. My reason for contributing to this debate is that I am still a card-holding member of a trade union, although I speak very much as an individual. There is no doubt that industrial legislation is long overdue, and the growing amount of unofficial disputes is both costly and damaging to the nation. But I was astounded to see that in the whole 40 pages of the White Paper 840 the word "human" appears only once. Surely the basis of industrial relations is human feeling, human achievement and human faith.
The White Paper gives an accurate picture of the industrial unrest today and, consecutively, the measures which the Government propose to take to put the matter right. But the reason for the growing amount of discord has been left out, and that is what I want principally to discuss now. There are many who are of the opinion that there is an increasing lack of authority among the working population to-day, but I attribute this largely to lack of confidence in management. Every man has his own shortcomings and the British working man has plenty. But if he is handled correctly he is still the best in the world.
To quote the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Wivenhoe, who spoke to me privately, and who has had a long and distinguished career in the trade union movement, the answer in settling disputes is first to find the cause. So many disputes could have been avoided if both sides had not gone at them like a bull at a gate, and had first put things into their right perspective. Any man will work under one whom he can respect. That man has to be honest, strict—in fact, stand no nonsense—but still have human feeling and understanding. This prototype must come from senior management right down to foreman and chargehand.
Up till now I have been only an operative and, like other operatives, will readily co-operate with those who know their job and what they are talking about. Under such a strong character any man will accept all reasonable commands, admonishments and even punishment. Even the so-called agitator will fade out and cease to exist. There are too many vacillating sycophants, ignorant, two-faced and unforthright, in the world to-day. It is the old story. If the man at the top is not fit, the rot will set in all the way down.
I was pleased to see paragraph 29 of the White Paper, where the Government urge employers where possible to remove out-dated distinctions between staff and other workers. It is true to say that a lot of unnecessary trouble is caused by these social differences. All sorts of unpleasantnesses and complexes creep in, like condescension on the part 841 of one and inferiority complexes on the part of the other, with inverted snobbery rearing its ugly head. Therefore, it is essential for industrial relations to break down these barriers at once. I am not suggesting over-fraternisation on the part of management, because the old saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt", still rings true. A very simple way of clearing the air is for everyone to share the same canteen—that may sound very mundane—and to take part in the same sporting activities. It is essential to make workers feel that they are part of the firm by having profit-sharing schemes, productivity bonuses and pension schemes; and also to tell the workers of the firm's progress and future plans. So often people's intelligence is insulted and underestimated. When people belong to a progressive firm they soon realise that to strike would be cutting their own throats.
To-day, I feel that there are three national bones of contention—and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I am slightly Party political here—which have caused dissatisfaction among the workers. The first has been the Government's policy on prices and incomes; and, secondly, the amount of direct taxation—that is to say, income tax. I am strongly of the opinion that this slows down a great amount of productivity and manpower. I feel that less tax would inspire men to work a good deal harder and longer, and would also stop men wishing to curtail others who want to have a crack at earning a lot of money for such things as buying a house or a car, for holidays, or even to invest and save. Thirdly—and I hope your Lordships will forgive me for being outspoken here; but, quite truthfully, it is very much a bone of contention among people of this country to-day—there are many people who are increasingly living off the State when they are quite capable of working. People are saying, "Why should we keep a lot of lazy devils?"—and they are right. I am all for helping people (and I am sure your Lordships are, too) who help themselves, but not those who do not. It is about time the Government began to separate the sheep from the goats.
As to the rest of the White Paper, my experience is very limited, but I should just like to mention one or two points. 842 About the trade union organisation, I should like to make a few comments and to pay a tribute to shop stewards—a tribute which the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, also paid. These men have an extremely difficult job, and on the whole they do a very good one. It cannot be very enviable for them to be a buffer between both sides. They have to give up a great deal of their own time, which can disrupt their family lives. Also, they work with a great deal of altruism. Their job is often thankless because, I am sorry to say, the majority of card-holding trade union members are there only for what they personally can get out of it, and for their protection; and, often, five minutes after a shop steward has pleaded on a miscreant's behalf he is stabbed in the back by that same man.
The question of closed shops is to my mind fairly straightforward. If a man is an employee of a firm whose wages and conditions are negotiated by a trade union, he should be obliged to pay his dues. After all, when you belong to a club and enjoy its amenities but do not pay the subscription or abide by the rules you are quickly shown the door. Alternatively, as mentioned in paragraph 118, if a man does not wish to belong on conscientious grounds, or, as several noble Lords have said, if he has had a personal grievance against his branch other than being in arrears, he should have to pay the equivalent amount to charity. That seems to me an excellent idea. Usually, the men who do not belong to or complain about the union are the men who have not paid, and it is their excuse and "get out". After all, we have been told this afternoon that out of 22 million people working there are only 8 million trade unionists, so there are a lot of places to which people can go which are non-union.
This brings me to the point of view of firms not wishing to have anything to do with unions. Personally, if I became an operative again I should wish to belong to a union again for a variety of reasons. Personally, I felt protected by the very good service I had from the branch to which I belonged. There are some good firms and some bad firms who do not wish to have a union, but, after all, it is still a free country. Therefore, I advocate that in that case it is right to hold a secret ballot, and if at least 50 843 per cent. of the workers want a union they should be allowed it.
My Lords, I hope I have been very brief, but there is one point which I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, although he is not here. His final point was about strikes being uncivilised, and he said that as time progresses they will diminish. I fail to see that this can ever be possible unless we become a nation of robots and work mechanically. We shall always, surely, have our differences while we hold our individuality. I should like to know what my noble friend expects to see in their place.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
My Lords, we have had a long and wide-ranging debate and there are only a few points that I should like to add to those already made. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, with whose views on industrial questions I found myself in a substantial measure of agreement. I have been preceded by several of my noble friends who spoke from a long, participating experience of the trade union movement, and by my noble friend Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath who, like myself, is still continuously, from day to day, involved in trade union activities.
The White Paper that we are discussing is firmly, and very wisely, based upon the British tradition of voluntary collective bargaining. As has been pointed out, it is directed to developing and strengthening that tradition. The ways in which it will affect that development are quite striking. The changes to be made in respect of union recognition; the assurance of negotiating rights; the proposals for a trade union development fund, and, above all, the proposals for the Commission on Industrial Relations (which, I think everybody will recognise is the heart of the White Paper) are all of tremendous significance. They are, necessarily, as has been repeatedly emphasised, to be seen as a part of the White Paper taken as a whole. Some of the provisions in the White Paper have attracted a great deal of comment and attention, as my noble friend Lady Gaitskell pointed out, very often to the disregard of the more vital parts which are directed to the constructive purpose of developing collective bargaining.
844 I hope that we shall not be too obsessed in this matter by the statistics of strikes, and in this connection I think that the comments made by my noble friend Lord Hill of Wivenhoe are very relevant. When we talk of unofficial strikes it is of great significance that, as the White Paper points out, they are to be found predominantly in four industries: in the motor car industry, in the docks, in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry and in coal mining. It is worth while reflecting on the conditions which may be common to those industries and which are perhaps particularly conducive to the atmosphere in which unofficial disputes take place. Certainly one feature of these industries is the proneness of the workers in them to insecurity of employment for one reason or another.
When I think of the condition of our industrial relations and the weaknesses of industrial relations, it is not primarily of strikes that I think. There are many industries which have for many years been strike-free. Some of them have good industrial relations; some of them, although strike-free, have very poor industrial relations. A measure of good industrial relations is to be found, I suggest not merely by looking at strike statistics but by reflecting on such factors as willingness to innovate and accept change; to make effective use of people and to avoid the sourness of lack of co-operation and lack of mutual respect which, unfortunately, exists over certain parts of our industry. I am not suggesting that these features are universal; but I am suggesting that they exist more widely than they should and that in the field of industrial relations they are quite as serious a problem as the problem of strikes—indeed, in my view more serious. Strikes, as my noble friend Lord Geddes of Epsom said earlier in the debate, can be seen as a symptom—and not the only symptom—of poor industrial relations. The significance of this point, I think, is that if we concentrate merely upon seeking to avoid strikes we may find that we have taken steps which do not in the end lead to any real amelioration of the industrial atmosphere.
It has been a welcome thing, I think, my Lords, that a number of speakers have paid tribute in this debate to the trade union movement. Since it is so 845 often the subject of adverse criticism, it is perhaps well worth while reminding ourselves of the immense contribution which the trade union movement has made, and is continually making, both to industry in this country and to the shape of our society. I was very happy to hear the tributes paid to shop stewards by the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, and by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot. It is true that there is a great deal of apathy in the trade union movement, and many who are prepared to rely on the efforts and leadership of others. But the trade union movement is a vast movement, and we should not forget that it includes a substantial minority of men and women—because of the size of the movement a very substantial in aggregate numbers, although perhaps relatively small as a proportion—who take a continuing and active part in the development of trade union policy and administration. They give to the movement a character and a value which it would not necessarily have if it copied, rather slavishly, the practices of some trade union movements in other countries.
My Lords, it is through the trade union movement, in the past and now, that hundreds of thousands of men and women who would not otherwise have had such an apprenticeship and such an opportunity have come into the wider life of the community. They have become members of local councils; they have come to Parliament and on to the magisterial bench, and into all kinds of public activity from the apprenticeship which they served, and by the lessons which they learned, in the trade union movement which was their starting point. Our community has been, and is being, immensely enriched by this participation.
It is for reasons like these that those of us who have a deep concern for, and a fairly wide knowledge of, the trade union movement value so intensely some of its characteristics, and above all value the voluntary basis of our collective bargaining in this country. As has been said, the roots of our industrial relations often run very deep into our social structure. At the same time, while those roots may run so deep the contribution which has been made by the industrial organisations on the workers' side has been very substantial indeed.
846 The task of Government in this field of industrial relations must be one of leadership. The amount which may be affected by legislation and by changes in the provisions of the law governing industrial disputes is in my view relatively limited. Nobody, I think, seriously contends that the framework of industrial relations should remain at the moment exactly as it has been in the past. But, equally, I believe that many of us fear the impression given that there is some simple panacea, such as making a collective agreement legally enforceable, by which all kinds of remarkable ameliorations may be effected in our industrial relations very quickly and painlessly. This, my Lords, is a great mistake. It is based on a great misconception of the difference between a normal contract and a collective agreement. In the case of a normal contract one may have two individuals, or two firms, supported and sustained by batteries of legal advisers, reaching a contract which is possibly the sole relationship between them. The relationship between an employer and an employee, which is the essence of a collective agreement, is a vastly different relationship. It is a relationship which continues over a long period of time, which enters into almost every part of the working life of the employee; and to try to regulate such a complex relationship as that solely by reference to legal provisions and legal enforcement is, in my view, to show a great misunderstanding of that relationship.
When noble Lords talked of curing unofficial strikes by imposing financial penalties upon the unions, I could hardly believe what I heard. Anybody who has had experience of trying to get people who take unofficial action back to work, and back to the process of negotiation, will know that in their eyes at that particular moment the standing of the union is not very high, and they may be quite impervious to the thought that the union is suffering financial penalties as a result of what they are doing. In such a situation we must be concerned not with legal obligations but, much more, with establishing a right human understanding, a right sense that what is in the agreement is basically sound and fair, and that it is in the interests of the workers to observe that agreement. I believe that the British workers, men and women, are more likely to be got 847 back to observing an agreement by argument firmly and fairly put than by threatening them with legal penalties.
That leads naturally to consideration of the items in the White Paper which have caused concern to some of my noble friends. It is of the essence of my argument that the provisions respecting ballots, for example, or the conciliation pause, will not be of good value if they are regarded as for automatic application without regard to the circumstances of cases. But nobody who looks at the White Paper and sees the terms in which the proposals are set out can possibly have the idea that these are envisaged as automatic arrangements for application irrespective of circumstances. It is manifest that the provisions are seen, not as for universal application, but as for use as a last resort in special circumstances where, after the operation of the ordinary machinery, and after every attempt to effect conciliation, it appears that some exceptional step will be necessary and helpful.
It is always possible, of course, that there may be misjudgments, that the powers may be incorrectly used in particular cases. But it is clear that the powers have to be kept in reserve for use only after all preliminary steps have been taken. It is equally clear that they will be powers which will be exercised with the closest scrutiny by Parliament, with that scrutiny which Ministers with powers of this kind will be subject to when an industrial dispute is taking place.
I come to the provision for the imposition of fines in certain circumstances. I think it is important again to examine precisely what the White Paper says and to bring out the fact that it is envisaged that these powers should be in the hands of an Industrial Board, which will include trade union representatives, and used even by that Board only in the most exceptional circumstances. If one really looks at the sort of circumstances in which the situation would arise, I think one can get the situation into perspective. There can be no doubt that any question of penalties for engaging in an industrial dispute is one which raises, for historical and social reasons, very many objections and suspicions. I am sure that my noble friend who is going to reply to the debate will have taken note of the opinions 848 that have been expressed, and will be able to assure us that these opinions, and the views which have been put forward by noble Lords on this side from such a wealth of experience, will be taken into careful consideration.
I conclude by saying that it has been pleasant to hear from noble Lords opposite so much upon this subject. I do not think that in the period when they were on this side of the House there was such an initiative taken in the field of industrial relations. This White Paper has indeed, in my view, to a large extent been made possible by the work of the Royal Commission under the noble Lord, Lord Donovan, which did so much to illuminate dark places, which cleared away so much confusion and which put industrial relations and their discussion on a plane of information on which it has never been before in this country.
Whether one agrees in every single respect with the recommendations made by the Royal Commission or not, it has made a most notable contribution to the whole examination of this subject. It has been followed by this White Paper. The White Paper may be subject to criticism, and there may be aspects here and there which should be re-examined, but, seen as a whole, I venture to suggest that this White Paper represents the greatest, most constructive and, I believe, probably the most fruitful initiative that has ever been taken in the field of industrial relations by any British Government.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ LORD DONOVAN
My Lords, I take the view that the Chairman of a Royal Commission should not become a protagonist for or against the recommendations in the Commission's Report. The Commission have investigated and advised: action or inaction must now be the right of those who bear executive responsibility. Nevertheless, I think one can, without becoming an advocate, briefly recall a number of considerations which led the Royal Commission to certain of its decisions which have a direct bearing on this White Paper.
We considered carefully whether collective bargains should be made into binding contracts whatever the wishes of the parties, and we rejected the idea. The reasons are set out at length in the Report and they have never been refuted, not even tonight by the noble and learned 849 Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, or the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. The objections are partly technical and partly practical. The technical objections are that these bargains are struck at a number of levels, from industry level down to the shop floor. The last named are almost always oral, and they are always fragmented; and no judge could get the clear and unambiguous account of the agreement which he must have if he is to enforce it. Yet to omit these bargains altogether from the scope of legal enforceability would be to leave a large hole in the system. As it is, plant bargaining in many instances is more important and more realistic than bargaining at industry level, and it is likely to become more so.
Even in written bargains, the identity of the parties is at times extremely difficult to ascertain. Take, for example, the collective bargain in Rookes v. Barnard. It was an agreementbetween the Employers' side of the Draughtsmens Planners and Tracers Panel, and the Employees' side of the same Panel.And it was signed by two secretaries. Now whom would you sue if you wanted to go to law on that? Some collective bargains are simply resolutions of joint industrial councils and similar bodies. And here again the identity of principals to the agreement and the imprecision of their language would make most of them void in law for uncertainty.
As regards the practical objections, one must distinguish between substantive collective bargains—that is, those that deal with terms and conditions of service—and procedure agreements, which deal with the means of resolving disputes. In the case of substantive agreements there is no need to make them into enforceable contracts because they are very seldom broken. Indeed, why should they be? They are almost always open-ended; that is to say, they are not fixed to run for any definite term. So when the time comes when the union think there should be a rise they do not need to break an existing agreement; they simply ask for a fresh one. A necessary concomitant of the proposal to make such agreements binding, therefore, would be to make them binding for some substantial term—say, about two years. This in an era of rising prices would present fresh difficulties, and I have not yet heard this essential ele- 850 ment in the proposal seriously or responsibly advocated.
Accordingly, to go on representing to the nation that a solution to our problems in the industrial field lies in making collective agreements legally enforceable, while at the same time ignoring all the attendant difficulties and the Lick of reason, is not merely misleading but has become tiresome. The latest version of it is that the contract shall not become binding if both sides expressly so declare. This is a distinction without a difference, for it would confer a unilateral right of compulsion on one side alone and does not even begin to deal with the difficulties which I have mentioned.
When one comes to procedure agreements the position is this. Again, unions themselves seldom break them, though recently there have been regrettable exceptions involving three unions organising at the one concern. But trade unionists in three or four particular industries repeatedly break them. At the moment, however, they are not bound by them because technically the union does not act as their agent in concluding them. This certainly could be altered by Act of Parliament. The difficulty lies not in enactment; the difficulty lies in enforcement.
The White Paper proposes the conciliation pause which involves as one of its features ordering unofficial strikers back to work for 28 days. We on the Royal Commission doubted, not the propriety of any such proposal, but its efficacy. How do you make, say, 7,000 dockers out on unofficial strikes on Merseyside, as happened in 1967, go back to work if they do not want to? The answer of the White Paper is, by fining them if they do not. But presumably the industrial board will inflict the fine only after hearing any defence put forward. A man may say, for example, "I was not on strike; I was sick"; or a man may say that the fine should be mitigated at least on the ground of employer provocation. There is at present operating in the London docks a statutory scheme having the same practical effect as the fining of unofficial strikers; and in the last few days we have seen it choked to death by a mass of appeals. But if fines are successfully imposed and they are to be deducted by the employers from pay, is the employer himself to be under any compulsion in this matter? If he is not, 851 and the number of strikers is not unduly large, there will be employers who may prefer to pay the fines themselves, particularly as it will be arguable that they are legitimate deductions against profits for the purposes of tax. If this happens on any scale where is the deterrent effect?
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, by inadvertence, that we on the Royal Commission put forward no short-term remedy. We did. A majority of the Commission put forward a proposal which would, in effect, deal with the ringleaders of unconstitutional strikes. At the moment such a person can say to fellow workers. "Come out on strike at once; don't bother about giving any notice". In other words, he may induce a breach of the contract of employment. This is an actionable tort, but in the context of a trade dispute, legal action is barred by Section 3 of the Trade Disputes Act 1906. The majority of us recommended that this immunity should henceforth be confined to trade unions and their officials. This recommendation is rejected. The grounds given in the White Paper are these: First, employers would not sue, any more than they will now; second, trade unions could have a rule that all strikes were official unless otherwise declared. Thus the immunity would continue to be enjoyed by the unofficial strike leader. And third, even if provoked the unofficial strike leader could not advance the defence of justification.
All these objections are invalid. It is true that employers do not sue now for breach of a contract of employment. But they do sue for inducing breaches of contract, which is a different legal wrong altogether. They do so for this reason: that in this class of case they can, at the same time as they issue their writ, get an injunction restraining continuance of the tort pending trial. And this is exactly what employers do today in the case of commercial contracts which are at present outside the scope of Section 3. There is no reluctance to do so at all. Recent cases are Stratford v. Lindley, the Emerald Construction case and the Torquay Hotels case. In all these cases inducements of breaches of commercial contracts were halted pending trial of the action. If the protection of Section 3 were withdrawn from unofficial elements they would find themselves in 852 the same situation if they induced fellow workers to come out on strike without notice. They could find themselves at once in unpleasant collision with the law.
The second objection, that unions could have a rule declaring all strikes official in advance, is hardly likely, for the reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, to commend itself to many unions, and in any event the law could, if need be, declare it void. The third reason, that the defence of justification would not be open to the person sued, is wrong. Justification has always been a defence to an action for inducing a breach of contract, though naturally one cannot predicate in advance what facts will amount to justification in any particular case.
Therefore I hope I may be forgiven for saying that the reasons for rejecting this majority proposal are mistaken. The point is a not unimportant one. We recommended that the protection of Section 3 should, where there was a trade dispute, be extended to inducing a breach of a commercial contract. This is the proposal which the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, so much dislikes. The reason for it is set out in extensor in the Report. In brief, it was this. There are five ways of inducing a breach of a commercial contract, three of them legal and two not; but we thought it wrong, in a complicated legal matter such as this, to ask that trade union leaders should, so to speak, walk a legal tightrope before they decided on what they ought to do.
But if Section 3 is extended in this way, then an employer's source of materials can be cut off by inducing the supplier not to supply, and the outlet for his goods can be cut off by inducing the customer not to buy. The inducement could take the form of threatened strike against the supplier or the customer. Again, the majority of us proposed that this extension of immunity should be confined to trade unions and their officials because they could be made accountable for its abuse. But if unofficial elements and ephemeral combinations which are here to-day and gone to-morrow are to have the same licence then a prospect is opened up which I find alarming. Yet this is apparently what is contemplated, and I find it all the more alarming because it 853 is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Cooper, said, that there are those who have a vested interest not in industrial peace but in industrial unrest, and here we give them another opportunity for exploitation of a licence which they should never have.
As regards compulsory ballots in certain cases, we on the Commission saw no objection in principle. We did not favour the idea because, on the evidence, it did not seem likely to reduce official strikes; and in unofficial strikes it can of course play no part. But I see no reason why the idea should not be tried out. One question, however, will have to be answered. If a union thinks it knows better than the Minister what degree of support it has among its members for a strike and ignores the Minister's order for a ballot, will the ensuing strike be illegal, and will all the present immunities under the law be withdrawn? The White Paper does not say. Nor does it deal with the cognate question of alleged election malpractices. The House knows that the E.T.U. case lasted 42 days and cost the union £80,000. We felt that there ought to be some better method of settling the question whether such malpractices had occurred, and so we made detailed recommendations. But upon these the White Paper is completely silent. It may, nevertheless, of course be one of the matters that is still in mind.
I find myself regretting that the unanimous recommendation of the Commission, which included two members from the T.U.C., that trade unions should receive corporate status is not to be implemented. The T.U.C. were before us giving evidence for two whole days, and they had no complaint to make then about this proposal. Instead, the White Paper announces that all unions are to be registered. The Tag Vale judgment of 1901 laid down that for some purposes, though not for all, registered unions had corporate status, and this is still the law. So that registration will give all unions corporate status for some purposes and leave them without it for others, and the dividing line between those purposes will remain to be drawn or redrawn by the courts. This seems to me to be getting the worst of both worlds and extending an area of legal uncertainty where certainty ought to prevail.
854 Finally, may I say this? If I were a trade unionist I should welcome the proposals in the White Paper with open arms. The proposed extension of Section 3 to cover inducement of breach of commercial contracts is alone worth all, and more than all, of the proposals which cope with unofficial strikes. As regards these, I doubt, as I say, as did my colleagues, not their propriety but their effectiveness. Once a sanction is seen not to work against much numbers of men, then the last situation is worse than the first. Time alone, of course, will show which of these conflicting views is right, but in the meantime the Government are at least to be commended for the courage which underlies their own.
§ 11.37 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, we were already greatly in the debt of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, and now, after his speech, we are, I am sure you will all agree, even more so. This Motion of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has given us all a welcome and a timely chance to record our common conviction, common to us all, that despite all the wonders of modern science and technology and the great importance of production and economics, nothing has altered the fact that it is the men and women in industry and the relations between them that matter most.
In so far as this White Paper helps us to enhance the status of men and women working in industry, and protects and secures their position, we on this side welcome it. In so far as it foreshadows an overhaul of out-of-date legislation, we welcome it. In so far as it provides a firmer statutory framework for collective agreements and an independent and impartial Commission to help to fashion and to promote them, we welcome it. In so far as it gives employees further protection from the law in relation both to the trade unions and to their employers, we welcome it. In so far as it lays a statutory obligation on employers to recognise unions freely chosen by their employees, we welcome it from this side as much as any noble Lord from that side. In so far as it makes it possible to transform collective agreements into contracts, we welcome it. In so far as it curbs the impulsive, 855 the greedy, the aggressive and the irresponsible, and in so far as it supports and strengthens firm leadership, proper democracy, trust and honour, we all welcome it most heartily.
All this welcome would be still more heartfelt if we could see a real and urgent desire from Her Majesty's Government to legislate upon this White Paper with despatch, and to get from them in that connection a firm undertaking that they will not be re-enacting their current Prices and Incomes policy when at last it runs out at the end of this year. It would be helpful, I think, to have a view from the noble Lord, Lord Hughes—and I have given him notice of this—on this point at the end of the debate.
Having said what can be said, and it is a good deal, in favour of this scheme, there are numerous points which I should want to add by way of criticism, but at the end of a long debate I confine myself to only three points. The first will have to be on this question of collective agreements in order to try to get the position of my Party as clear as possible. After all, the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said that he regards collective agreements as constituting the main line of advance in these reforms. The question is: are they or are they not? Could they be, should they be, enforceable at law?
To the Donovan Report, which dealt with this extensively, we can now add the ruling of Mr. Justice Lane on March 6 in the Ford dispute. It appears from that ruling that the great majority of present current collective agreements are not legal contracts: (a) because it is generally assumed by the parties that they are not enforceable; (b) because in most particular cases the parties making them do not intend them to be; (c) because they are not framed in such a way that they could be; and (d) because the Trade Disputes Act 1871, Section 4(4), expressly prevents employers' trade associations—which are trade unions in law—from making agreements with other trade unions. This seems to me, if it is true, to mean in effect that at present almost the whole basis of British industry rests on foundations which, however appropriate they might be for family, domestic or social affairs, would be considered too fragile for a hire-purchase agreement or for renting a flat.
856 The wonder to me is that this system has survived so well. It is a great tribute to the honour and the integrity of the men on both sides who have operated it so far, and I should like to join with all the other noble Lords who have taken this opportunity of saluting them, particularly the shop stewards. I believe that Britain is the only country that has been able to do this, and but for the strain imposed on the system by the Government's current prices and incomes policy I believe it might have been continued. But at present, under this policy, the temptations on the aggressive, greedy, and irresponsible to take greedy, irresponsible action have proved too much. It has proved infectious, and the number and the scale of breaches of agreement by unconstitutional and/or unofficial action are now seriously impairing the freedom of our citizens to work, and I believe can no longer be tolerated and must be curbed.
There is common ground between both political Parties, and indeed among everyone so far as I know, that the law must be amended—and now I am referring to the Trade Disputes Act 1871, Section 4(4). That, as I understood it, would make it feasible for all future collective agreements—instead of only some—to be capable of being made enforceable in law. There is divergence between the two political Parties—and I apprehend also in industry—about how far future collective agreements should actually be made binding.
The right honourable lady the Minister at the Department of Employment and Productivity says in her White Paper that there are some who think that all collective agreements should be made legally binding. I believe that this is only an Aunt Sally put up for the sake of knocking it down. I know of no one who thinks this. The Royal Commission rejected it, and so do we. The issue is—and I think this has been rather exaggerated because it is not all that great—whether collective agreements are in future to be regarded as capable of transformation into legal contracts, except for those parts the parties agree to take out, or are collective agreements to be continued to be regarded as social, domestic and family affairs, except for parts which the parties agree should form legal contracts?
857 I should have thought that there was now considerable and growing support for a stabilising assurance of some firm contract henceforward to undergird the main structures, agreements and procedures that make up our industrial relations. This assurance is needed not least to make the whole laborious and painstaking effort of drawing up a proper agreement worth while. This form of contract will need to be combined with a freedom, flexibility and enthusiasm for dealing with other matters at workshop and plant level and with personal relationships on the shop floor day by day. Some of these last indeed partake of the nature of domestic and social affairs. But these last local day-to-day matters cannot be well handled unless the framework in which they are tackled is felt to be firm. This refers particularly to the procedure agreements.
Accordingly, we say let collective bargaining start and go on, on the assumption that one outcome is going to be something on which all parties can firmly rely for some time to come. Let them take care that it is precise, comprehensive, practical and likely to last. Let that be signed as a legal contract. Surely no one who has negotiated honourably up to that point in that way need have anything to fear. Those who have not will not want to sign, and we shall all know where we are.
But it is inconceivable, and we nowhere suggest otherwise, that everything that needs to go into a collective agreement can also form part of a legal contract. Therefore there should be some scope for every collective agreement always to contain elements over which the parties do not bind themselves in law, even though they express their current intentions and present agreements in writing. Is it not clear that the whole process of collective bargaining, on which the prosperity of industry depends, is going to be greatly refined and extended if these further informal negotiations can be undertaken against a background and in a framework that is firm, settled and binding for some time ahead?
I turn now to the question of industrial democracy which, as the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, has said, was the main plank of the Government's policy. Membership of a trade union is the form of 858 industrial democracy which, more than any other, provides employees with the machinery for exerting their influence and obtaining their fair share. We would agree with the Royal Commission Report which rejects the idea of workers' participation. In paragraph 1105 they reject the scheme which is put up in paragraph 49 of the White Paper. The democratic features in the system which depends on the trade unions are not in particularly good shape. If plant bargaining and collective bargaining at plant level is one of the democratic features, and if we are going to follow the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, and put our faith in it, then several reforms are going to be needed.
I put first the need to establish by secret ballot among each grade of employee and in each plant what union, if any, the employees want to represent them, and to decide what pattern of trade unionism they prefer to conduct their negotiations for them. I was much impressed and intrigued by paragraph 267 in Research Paper No. 10 in the Royal Commission Report relating to the pattern of trade unionism in our different industries. The paragraph deals with what pattern they require, who their shop stewards are to be, what relationships they want with national and district offices and officials, how much local independence they want, how much control and guidance from outsiders. I see every advantage, for employer and employee alike, in this democratic choice coming first and being exercised freely and locally.
It will be necessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath, has reminded us, to have a much more vigorous election campaign to overcome the apathy, and to have careful and impartial supervision of voting arrangements. But if this stage can be well managed, then a suitable response can be required of employers and given statutory force. Full recognition of whatever unions or 'patterns of unions are chosen, full facilities for union meetings at the place of work, and full access for shop stewards in genuine negotiations are steps which seem to me to be far more likely to lead to strong, reinvigorated, independent industrial democracy with firm roots in the place where it matters, than recognition imposed upon employers by 859 the C.I.R. and enforced by the Secretary of State. I must say, however, that an employer who accords recognition deserves better treatment from his employees than he sometimes gets. Your Lordships will remember that Barclays Bank were some way in advance of other clearing banks in according recognition to the N.U.B.E. The only reward that they got for their pains was that when the unions staged a one-day strike on January 30 against the Government's prices and incomes policy it was Barclays' branches which suffered most. This is not much of an inducement to an employer embracing trade unions for the first time.
I turn now to the status and value of trade unions. At present, as the White Paper reminds us in paragraph 53, trade unions are in decline. The numbers of people in unions, especially the large ones, are falling. The percentage of employees in trade unions is falling, too. The value that a trade unionist sets upon his union is about one-third of what it was before the war. That is in paragraph 174 of the Report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan. It is not the wish of us in this Party to see this process continued, for, as the White Paper says—and we agree—the best basis so far devised for involving employees fruitfully in their own industry is by collective bargaining through efficient and responsible unions. It is therefore our policy to do what we can to ensure that trade unions are responsible, efficient and strong, and we believe that if we can help towards that end they will not lack for resources of manpower or money or members.
We therefore welcome the proposals in the White Paper that serve to enhance the status and legal standing of trade unions, but, unlike Her Majesty's Government, we follow the proposals of the Royal Commission and the Society of Labour Lawyers, and would seek to confer corporate legal status on registered trade unions. I cannot think why the Government do not do likewise. While, on the other hand, we will ensure that unregistered ah hoc groups of employees retain their basic right to withdraw their labour without fear of legal liability, we, again following the Royal Commission, reserve all the other rights, privileges and 860 advantages to properly registered trade unions.
It is good to see in paragraph 109 of the White Paper that Her Majesty's Government recognise the need to tighten up the conditions under which trade unions may secure registration, though we would not go so far as to fine a union which failed to make the right rules for itself, as the Government would do according to paragraph 109. We again prefer the approach of the Royal Commission to get trade unions to comply with the proper conditions for registration; that is to say, making the protection afforded by the Trade Unions Act 1906, Section 3, available only to registered unions.
We think that it is in everyone's interests—of industry as a whole, of trade unions seeking increased membership and of potential individual members most of all—that trade unions should have to work out and set out all their rules clearly and in detail; and we would require something much more stringent than the proposals in the White Paper. Our hope and expectation is that these measures, when brought into force, will give fresh impetus and new life to the trade union movement as a whole. We far prefer the approach which encourages growth from within the trade union movement—from its roots in each plant, in each place, in each grade—to the Government-sponsored Trade Union Development Scheme set out in paragraphs 71 to 75 of the White Paper. With the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, I would ask noble Lords opposite: are they really so sure that they want to put so much power in the hands of a Minister when that Minister may well one day be a Conservative? I think it is much better that the strength of the unions should come from within the unions, and that the powers of interference that are to be exercised should be exercised by the courts.
There is no doubt that more money, more full-time officials and better organisation at the work place are all required in the unions to-day, but I cannot believe that employees themselves will not resspond so as to meet those requirements when the trade unions themselves, helped by these many much-needed changes in the law, begin to demonstrate, as the union of the noble Lord, Lord Cooper, 861 clearly is already beginning to demonstrate, that they are ready and trying to assume the responsibilities that industry and the country expects of them in the 1970s.
My Lords, there are some who say—and the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said it to-day—that the ills within our industry and our industrial relations are exaggerated, and that for every one of the Ford men, of the Girling men, of the Vickers men, of the dockers, of the Vauxhall men or of the bank employees there are thousands and thousands of others who are getting on with their jobs and who are already getting a fair deal at their work—and getting it without strife. Those who say this are right to remind us of it, but in the end what matters is what people feel, and what is happening to-day is already more than enough to make others feel that England cannot much longer be trusted as a trading partner and that England cannot be relied upon as a supplier. It is more than enough to make all who have her prosperity as a country at heart feel sick to death at the strife that spreads to-day so easily in our industrial relations. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, when he says that the duty of the Government, having set up this Royal Commission and having produced their White Paper, is now clear. It is to bring forward their first instalment of legislation based upon it with despatch, and to let us in Parliament get our teeth into it.
§ 11.59 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR SCOTLAND (LORD HUGHES)
My Lords, I think I shall be expressing the opinion of all those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and of the reasonably large attendance of noble Lords still present at what I think I can describe, even in the parlance of another place, as this late hour, when I say that this has been an excellent debate. In following my noble friend the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, began by congratulating my noble friend on the reasonable and constructive way in which he had put this White Paper before your Lordships' House. I think I should be correct in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, proceeded along similar lines. And if I may jump to the end of 862 the debate, I would also wish to say that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, apart from perhaps a reasonable amount of political coat-trailing in relation to the prices and incomes policy, adopted a similarly reasonable approach to our discussions.
My Lords, it is now I think technically correct to refer to the debate which started "yesterday", and I am sure that in these circumstances noble Lords will forgive me if I do not take time to deal adequately with all the many valuable points that have been raised. It is clear that noble Lords are extremely concerned about the state of industrial relations. But having said that, I would remind the House of what my noble friend Lord Williamson said: that we must not get this out of perspective; that we must not persuade ourselves—and in doing so seek to persuade other people—that industrial relations in this country are the worst in the world. It might be an exaggeration to claim that they are the best in the world; but they certainly are among the best. It does not do any service to ourselves or to our trade unions, or to our industrial capacity, if we over-exaggerate the situation which exists.
It is clear that almost every speaker, implicitly or explicity, has recognised the difficulties and the complexities of reforming industrial relations. There are no easy remedies. While we shall all, I think, accept that the law has a part to play, it seems to me that the conclusion to be drawn from much of the comment is that we should beware of expecting too much from legal changes. A great deal has been said about the desirability or otherwise of making collective agreements enforceable in the same way as other contracts. I think that most of us would agree on three things. First, we should not insist that collective agreements must be legally binding regardless of the wishes of the parties concerned. It would be a backward step to impose legal contracts on unwilling parties. To attempt to do this would inhibit the development of satisfactory and comprehensive collective agreements and also sharpen disagreements between unions and employers. Secondly, if contracts are to be enforced, if this is the wish of the parties, there must be greater clarity about the obligations undertaken and about the precise intentions of each side. 863 We are all very much aware, because of the events of the past two weeks, that few agreements at present are capable of being interpreted and enforced in the courts. Thirdly, it is the improvement and development of procedures that should be our major goal.
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, seemed to me to exaggerate the benefits which would flow from the legal enforceability of collective agreements. Nor are these agreements always the result of land and hard negotiations; often they are worked out very quickly, ad hoc, to deal with new items of work or some other immediate problem. The noble and learned Viscount suggested that the C.I.R. might secure the observance of agreements. I do not think that the C.I.R. can be expected to handle that particular chestnut in place of the employers. In any event, the C.I.R. could not proceed without evidence supplied by the employers to be used against employees. The C.I.R. is intended to be an adviser, not a policeman. I think it would be a distraction from the Commission's main job of securing improvements by analysis and persuasion if it were made responsible for enforcement.
My Lords, the Government have accepted the need for a thorough-going reform of the collective bargaining system so as to bring its structure into conformity with the realities of industrial life; to improve the procedures for negotiation, for settling disputes and for consultation between management and employees; to make collective agreements richer in content and to make employers' associations and trade unions more efficient in serving their members. In particular, I must stress the responsibility which lies with management, because it is they who are in a position to take the initiative; and of course it is often they who have most to gain from improvements in industrial relations. The manpower and productivity service of the Department of Employment and Productivity will play a valuable part in giving advice and encouragement.
This movement for reform, however, needs a leader and a pacemaker. This is the role of the new Commission on Industrial Relations which has just been set up under the Chairmanship of Mr. George Woodcock. The Secretary of 864 State for Employment and Productivity will refer to the new Commission for examination important questions concerning the functioning and development of the procedures of collective bargaining and of the institutions—employers and their associations and trade unions—which carry it out. It will also deal with problems of trade union recognition. The Commission will therefore play the central part in pushing forward reform in this vital area which has been allowed to fall into disorder, with such serious results to the economy. The Government are convinced that expert analysis of problems, followed by reasoning and the persuasion of those directly involved, is the only real way to get improvements.
It was no surprise to me that a number of noble Lords expressed reservations about what I suppose, in the current jargon, we must term the penalty clauses in the White Paper. I must make plain that the Government have deliberately avoided general remedies for dealing with strikes, such as removing the protection of the 1906 Act in relation to sympathetic strikes or making unconstitutional strikes illegal. None the less, the Government are anxious to see that voluntary procedures are strengthened and that important strikes are not embarked on without full account being taken of the wishes of individual union members. I emphasise that these powers are to be used sparingly. They are reserve powers, for use only where potentially damaging strikes might occur. Moreover, the power we propose will not prevent a strike. It will simply provide the opportunity for conciliation or for balloting, as the case may be, before the right to strike is exercised.
It is, my Lords, quite ridiculous to regard these provisions as undermining the powers of the trade unions. It is equally wrong to see them as the main solution to our industrial relations problems. A number of noble Lords have indicated their reservations about the proposal to give the Secretary of State discretion to require a ballot of members before an official strike. My noble friend Lord Shackleton has already explained that the purpose of the requirement is to ensure that the degree of support by the membership for a strike should be known before a decision is taken to embark on a major strike that could affect the 865 national economy. It has been suggested that the Government wish to restrict the right to strike or to delay the calling of a strike even when negotiations have broken down. The White Paper states quite categorically that the power of unions under their rules to decide whether or not to strike, or to end a strike, will remain unaltered. We recognise that a union may decide to call a strike even although the result of a ballot is against such action. The freedom of a union to take such a decision within its own rules would not be interfered with. The problem of the delay caused by holding a ballot can easily be overestimated. If a union knows in advance that it may well have to take a ballot of its members, it can clearly prepare for it in advance, as I am sure those unions do who are required by their own rules to hold a ballot.
It has also been suggested by some noble Lords that the requirement to consult the members will undermine the authority of the union leaders in their negotiations with the employers. I must say that I find this difficult to accept. Some of our trade unions, as has been stated during our debate, already have provisions for a compulsory strike ballot in their own rules and they are not noticeably weakened by it. Moreover, we recognise that a union leader who is free to decide under his union rules whether or not to hold a ballot must have valid reasons for not wanting to do so. That is why the White Paper refers to the holding of discussions with a union before the Secretary of State requires a ballot to be held. It is reasonable to expect that there would be occasions when a union leader could persuade the Secretary of State that his reasons for not holding a ballot are valid, as well as occasions when the Secretary of State remains convinced that a ballot would be desirable.
Doubts have been expressed about the practicability of the proposal. The Government are not suggesting in the White Paper that there should be a ballot before all strikes. They simply suggest that there are some occasions when it may be desirable to hold one. The Secretary of State will have to consider, in consultation with the unions and the T.U.C., what practical problems have to be overcome in a given case. There is nothing rigid 866 about the proposal. It is certainly not true to suggest that the corollary of a strike ballot is a ballot to call off a strike. The ballot simply provides a means for members to be consulted. It does not irrevocably commit the leaders of a union to a particular course of action. Similarly, the Secretary of State will have discretion whether to require a ballot or not, and need not do so if circumstances do not justify it.
The attachment of earnings is a matter upon which strong feelings have been expressed by my noble friends Lord Blyton, Lord Hill and, to some extent, Lord Taylor of Mansfield. There has been much misunderstanding of the proposal—perhaps it is because the White Paper is not clear enough on this aspect. For instance, there will be an upper limit for penalties on individuals and there have been no decisions yet on what the limit will be. Earnings will not be attached unless the man concerned refuses or unreasonably neglects to pay the penalty within a reasonable period. The Government understand the widespread suspicion of attachment, based on the fact that the employers against whom the strike has been conducted will be responsible for attaching earnings and on the misuse of attachment by employers in the past. They regard this suspicion as unjustified. Attachment will have to be carried out in exactly the way the county court prescribes, and there is no scope for any employer to abuse it. Employers are indeed likely to regard it as an unwelcome accounting chore rather than as a way of scoring off employees. The T.U.C. and most trade unions fully support attachment of earnings as the ultimate means of collecting other types of judgment debt. It is clearly preferable to the obvious alternatives of imprisonment and seizure of goods. Nevertheless, the detailed arrangements for the collection of Industrial Board penalties will be considered in the consultations now in progress between the Government and industry about the proposed legislation.
My noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield asked a number of questions about paragraph 62 of the White Paper. First, he asked to whom the money collected in penalties would go. This is one of the detailed points that has not yet been finally decided, but the simplest answer no doubt would be to treat them in the same way as ordinary fines. One thing 867 I wish to make clear. My noble friend may have had in his mind that they might go to the employer. They will not go to the employer. Secondly, he asked about the reference to "other civil remedies". I am advised that, at least in theory, this could include the seizure of goods by bailiffs. But the Government fully recognise how unpopular this would be if applied against individual strikers. Both that and imprisonment seem to me to be much more undesirable than the attachment of earnings, despite the protests which the proposals for attachment have given rise to. Thirdly, my noble friend asked whether there would be a danger of imprisonment for contempt. This is another detailed point which the Government will have to consider during the preparation of legislation and upon which they will be consulting both the T.U.C. and the C.B.I., and my noble friend's view will, I can assure him, be taken into account. In the meantime, I think he can take some comfort on this matter from the strongly expressed views of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State about imprisonment.
Several noble Lords have expressed the wish to remove the Prices and Incomes Act from the Statute Book so as to ensure, as they have stated, that industrial relations can develop unhampered by Government powers under this Act. These powers are said to undermine union leadership, to weaken collective bargaining, to stimulate militancy and to cause injustice. As noble Lords will know, these powers lapse at the end of this year. The Government are naturally considering how their prices and incomes policy can best be observed after 1969, and this must depend entirely on our economic situation at the time. I think it is common ground among most of us that we must have an effective economic policy. To argue that the abandonment of incomes policy would cure all our industrial relations ills is, I would suggest, a gross misreading of the situation.
On the subject of the incorporation of trade unions, the Donovan Report recomended in paragraphs 782 to 785 that trade unions should be incorporated, and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, has pointed out, this is one of 868 the recommendations which the Government have not accepted, stating in paragraph 111 of the White Paper that the T.U.C. has represented that this corporate status would be undesirable as it would have no significant advantages and would not be appropriate to unions' constitutional structure. We do not think that the comparison with a limited company is really apt. The process of registration and incorporation of a company is so closely linked as to be virtually inseparable. Whereas a company is created by a registration and incorporation, a trade union is in existence before registration can be applied for and effected. At present, registration is voluntary, but registered unions represent about 85 per cent. of trade union membership.
I do not wish to go into all the legal arguments which are presented in the brief before me and which would mean a lot more to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, than, I must confess quite frankly, they mean to me. I have read through paragraphs 782 to 785 of the Donovan Report and the impression these paragraphs have left on me is that although this was one of the unanimous recommendations of the Commission, the Commission were saying: "We do not think any great harm would be done if incorporation took place." I did not get the impression that this was one of the recommendations that any of them, including not only the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, but the other three Members of your Lordships' House who served on this Commission, would find themselves dying in the last ditch for. It is my impression, and it could be a wholly wrong one as I am not a lawyer, that the main argument in favour of compulsory incorporation appears to be one of legal tidiness.
I was most interested in some of the things which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, had to say at the beginning, or near the beginning, of this debate. The suggestions he made have their origin in the provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act in the U.S.A.; the use of the ballot to determine whether a union, and if so which one, should have bargaining rights, the outlawing of sympathetic strikes, and the power to order a 60-day cooling-off period. We must always be 869 careful not to adopt any practice just because it has been successful in another country. But, equally, it would be wrong to reject it for that reason only. Let me comment, without undue prejudice, on these three possibilities.
The Government do not rule out the use of a ballot of employees concerned as a means of determining whether a union ought to be recognised. Quite the contrary. We envisage that the C.I.R. will have power to conduct a recognition ballot, but we do not think that we should make this the only method of deciding whether a union should be recognised. We prefer to leave it open to the C.I.R. to take account of all the relevant facts in any situation referred for their advice. Moreover, I think it would be quite unrealistic to suppose that it will usually be possible or desirable for a single union to have exclusive bargaining rights in a factory. This development was possible in the United States only because unionisation had made relatively little progress up to the time of the Wagner Act, which made provision for exclusive bargaining rights in each plant or bargaining unit.
Then there is the question of sympathetic strikes, which the Conservative Party would take outside the protection of the 1906 Act. It is not surprising, perhaps, that trade unions regard this as little more than a transparent device to reduce their powers to secure their objectives by concerted action against employers. We must say frankly that we cannot accept that it would be either wise or just to take this course of action. As to the cooling-off period, the major difference between this and the conciliation pause suggested by the Government would seem to be that the Conservatives visualise using this in official and constitutional strikes, whereas in the Government's view there is already normally ample time for negotiation and careful consideration before such a strike is called. The fact is that often in the United States the cooling-off period tends to discourage serious attempts to reach agreement before the collective contract expires. What we really need, and what the Government propose, is the power to require unconstitutional strikers to return to work when they have downed 870 tools at a moment's notice with little or no attempt to use the machinery to discuss their grievance properly. In the United States the strike problem is an official strike problem; not so in Britain. Our remedy, therefore, must be different. It is designed for British conditions and not borrowed from American law.
I now venture, with trepidation, on a brief which I received from my friends along the way, to reply to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan. The noble Lord advanced some interesting arguments in support of the majority recommendation of the Royal Commission that it should be possible to sue unofficial strike leaders for inducement of breach of contract. As he pointed out, this recommendation is rejected in paragraph 88 of the White Paper, but he challenged the reasons there given for rejecting the recommendation. He said that there had been cases in recent years where employers had obtained injunctions against strike leaders for breach of contract—
§ LORD DONOVAN
My Lords, this is the misunderstanding which underlies paragraph 88. It is not for breaches of contract but for inducing others to break their contract, which is quite a different thing.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord will regard these words as being added to what I say I do not think it will alter what I wish to go on to say. So far as I am aware, all these cases have involved injunctions against union officials in official strikes. If in these circumstances an injunction can be obtained against a union official the union naturally calls off the strike, but in an unofficial strike, while there might be ringleaders against whom an injunction could be obtained if the recommendation of the Royal Commission was implemented, these are not in any position to call off the strike. The pressure for the strike may have come from these ringleaders, but, on the other hand, it may come from underneath. Indeed, if I have understood the matter correctly, this is what was shown by the research which was carried out for the Royal Commission. In this situation there is at least the danger that if we were to pick out the alleged ringleaders this could create allegations of victimisation and thus make the dispute worse.
871 The noble and learned Lord also asked whether, if the Secretary of State required a strike ballot and the vote went against a strike, this would make the subsequent strike illegal. The answer is, No; the executive would be free to call a strike, but would be likely to take account of the views of the members concerned.
I do not propose to refer now to any other individual point which has been raised, but I think it would be wrong if I were to close my reply without making particular reference to the many speeches which have been made by my noble friends with long and distingushed trade union experience, and those who still occupy high trade union positions. I do not mean to suggest that we necessarily place any less weight on contributions from other noble Lords when I say that I am quite certain that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be particularly interested to read all their reactions to the White Paper, and the general welcome they have given to the many constructive proposals contained in it. She will, I am sure, have regard to the reservations which they have expressed about some of the methods proposed in the White Paper. Perhaps I might couple with that comment the speech which we had from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, who gave strong support to certain actions which the Government propose in the White Paper, but gave perhaps equally strong criticism of some of the decisions which the Government have taken. I should like to assure him that I am quite certain that all his remarks, whether for or against Government policy, will be considered most carefully by my right honourable friend.
Once again your Lordships' House has given evidence of its ability to discuss, with knowledge and with prestige, a serious situation facing our country. I should like to close by expressing my appreciation to all who have taken part in this debate. You have most admirably followed what my noble friend Lord Shackleton asked in his Motion, that you "take note of" the White Paper.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.