§ 2.43 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS rose to call attention to the Government's proposals on industrial relations; and to move for Papers. The 344 noble Earl said: My Lords, we on these Benches have put down this Motion to-day to call attention to Her Majesty's Government's proposals on industrial relations, for two reasons: first, to afford the House an early opportunity of discussing the Consultative Document before the Industrial Relations Bill is finalised; and secondly, to enable us from these Benches to plead that the Government's proposals should not be regarded by the unions as a cause for an all-out battle which will merely conceal the very real problems which bedevil British industrial relations.
§ We are honoured that the Lord Chancellor is to sum up on behalf of the Government. I do not know whether this signifies that the Government are frightened of the outcome of this debate, that we might on a vote actually call for Papers, or whether industrial relations really are going to be taken over by the legal profession, a matter on which some people have expressed concern. However, we are most honoured that the Lord Chancellor should be summing up for us.
§ These proposals are a long way from the "union bashing" which many of the electorate thought they were supporting by voting Conservative on June 18. Some of these proposals do not commend themselves to Liberals or to Radicals, but I think that probably the time has come when some type of legal framework is needed in which industrial relations can develop. In our view, some parts of the proposed legislation are quite clearly unworkable. Certainly any idea of sending thousands of workers through the courts and levying fines on them is quite ludicrous. I do not believe that it could ever come to that. Any widespread litigation against unions or workers will result only in embitterment of relations and a field day for the lawyers.
§ On the other hand, the proposals dealing with the rights of individual workers are surely welcome and worth while. We on these Benches have for many years been concerned that employees should be allowed to refuse to join a trade union on grounds of conscience. Mr. Emlyn Hooson, Member of Parliament, argued this case during the passage of the Trade Disputes Bill 1965, when a Liberal Amendment designed to exclude strikes over the enforcement of the closed shop was lost by 14 votes; and I initiated a 345 debate on this particular matter in the 1945–50 Parliament under the Labour Government. Similarly, the proposal to reduce from 26 to 13 weeks the period of employment after which a week's notice is required follows precisely the terms of Mr. Richard Wainwright's Private Member's Bill which he introduced in the last Parliament.
§ We are also very much in favour of companies disclosing much more information to their employees. This surely must be right, although presumably it will have to be dealt with in relation to the rights of shareholders to have similar information. On the other hand, I am surprised that the Government have not taken the opportunity to insert a provision that employees should be able to contract in, rather than having to contract out of paying the political levy.
§ Whether or not the proposals for dealing with unofficial strikes, the cooling-off period and the enforcement of collective agreements, will be effective, time alone will tell. On this I certainly have some reservations. But I do not think that we can take what I understand to be the Labour Party view, that nothing at all needs to be done from a legislative point of view about creating a framework in which industrial relations ought to be developed. I believe that the time has come when trade unions should be accountable to some institution or organisation. I believe that some means must be found to bring home to the union officials the responsibility that they have, not just to their members but for their members. Similarly, I think that members of trade unions ought to take a new look at their responsibility for union officials, and to see that their pay and conditions of service are of a much higher standard than has prevailed hitherto.
§ I do not believe that industry can continue efficiently unless both sides can ensure that agreements entered into are effectively honoured. Therefore, the registration of unions and the scrutiny of union rules is something which ought to be supported. The proposal to try to build up the case law of what constitutes unfair or fair industrial action is something which might well improve general practice in the long run. The right of appeal by a member against union decisions must surely be right and proper.346
§ But it is in the field of the legal enforcement of collective agreements that I have grave doubts about the possibility of this working out, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, is going to speak to-day in this debate, when I hope that we shall hear something about the attitude of the motor industry to this aspect of the proposals. The fact that such agreements are not at the moment legally binding contracts is, I understand, simply because neither side wishes them to be so. The Trade Union Act of 1871, which the Government propose to change, does not in fact prevent the employer or a union from giving an agreement die full effect of a legal contract. It is in this area that I think the Government are going to run into real trouble.
§ I do not feel, as some members of the Conservative Party apparently do, that this proposed measure will transform industrial relations overnight. I think it may make some contribution over a very long period. It may help in some way to provide clearer guidelines on procedures, responsibility and behaviour, rather as the Race Relations Act is doing at the present time. But in our view, industrial relations can never really be made harmonious until we get at the root causes of frustration and dissatisfaction at work. My fear is that people may think that by passing a measure such as this they have only to sit back and await results. That is far from the truth.
§ If we are to tackle industrial relations at their roots we have to do a great deal more than introduce this sort of proposed legislation. There are, in our view, a number of measures which ought to be taken. First among these is to get rid of national wage agreements in favour of bargains struck at plant level. We keep on emphasising, from all sides of the House, the need for increased productivity and greater efficiency, but we continue to bargain at centres which are totally remote from where the action actually is and where you can actually measure merit and achievement. I cannot believe that the sewage workers of Lambeth, Hereford or Swansea deserve precisely the same wage, because the conditions must surely vary in some degree from place to place.
§ Secondly, we still have poor communications in industry as a whole. Some parts of industry are much better than 347 others, but this lack of communications leads to misunderstanding and to frustration. I believe the time has come when we should set up, by Statute, works councils for companies of any size on which all sections of the firm or undertaking are represented so that they can know what is going on. I am very sorry that much of Donovan's good sense has been ignored in the Consultative Document. I believe that that Report hit on a fundamental reason for our poor industrial relations. It drew attention to the totally unsatisfactory position of the shop steward, and proposed that there should be constitutionally recognised committees to perform many of the functions now carried out by unofficial shop stewards' "combine committees".
§ It said that the process of union govvernment should be altered to accommodate shop stewards and work groups more adequately than they are at the present time. It emphasised, too, that union branch organisation ought to be based on factories and branch meetings ought to be held at places of work. This followed quite naturally the Commission's plea for fewer unions, more mergers, and agreements on rights of representation. They stressed the need for factory bargaining and the revision of rules concerning shop stewards in such matters as elections, term of office, jurisdiction, relation to other union officials, and place in the union organisation. This is far more important, in our view, than anything in the Consultative Document.
§ Donovan also pointed out the need for more full-time union officials of higher calibre. How often do disputes drag on because you cannot get hold of the local official at the time that he is really wanted! It is the structure and organisation of wage bargaining which needs to be put right, not merely the fringe problems associated with it. Why should there not be, for instance, some experiments within the nationalised industries to see whether we cannot get better communications going and establish works councils which will improve the relations within the industries themselves? I do not believe that nearly enough thought has been given to the part that profit-sharing schemes can play in bringing about industrial harmony. Where employees have a share in the profits, they 348 have a disincentive to strike. They also have an incentive to get rid of the small dissident groups who are trigger-happy in starting work stoppages which reduce profits.
§ I have been very impressed with the different attitude to work in the installations I have visited in France, compared with the attitude in similar installations in this country. France has profit-sharing by Statute. I do not suggest at all that we should follow their scheme, or anybody's scheme, slavishly, but there is a strong case—and I have made this point before—for setting a team to work to examine the practice of other countries and the schemes operating there, so that we could extend this principle either by Statute or by incentive. Many things are happening in the Continent of Europe from which I believe we can draw very important lessons. To those who raise the old bogey of what happens if there are no profits, I merely say that with profit-sharing the rule rather than the exception, the best workers gravitate to the more profitable businesses, and I believe that in the long run this is a good thing.
§ Similarly, I believe we should try to produce—and this is much more difficult—an efficiency or cost-saving related scheme for workers in the Civil Service and the nationalised industries. This would require a great deal of deep thought, but I do not see why, in the long term, we should not come up with something that will work. It will not be easy, but if we could get some incentive scheme in that way, I believe it might have an electric effect on efficiency within the Civil Service and the nationalised industries. The truth is that we are doing too much to try to contain the problems, without getting down to the things which really cause bad industrial relations. This is a field in which I believe there must be a great deal more thinking in depth than there has been up to now.
§ On the Consultative Document itself, I only want to ask the following points, and mostly for clarification. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor may be able to answer the first two. Can the Government tell us how the present unofficial strike in the coalfields would be handled under the terms of the Consultative Document? What new procedures would be involved? 349 What could we hope to expect from the Consultative Document procedure that we are not getting at the present moment? Could the noble and learned Lord say what difference would be made, under the proposed rules, from the present situation, so far as the National Union of Municipal Workers is concerned, in their strike which is going on at the present time? If we could get an authoritative opinion on this matter, I believe it would be much easier to understand what we might expect to get from the proposals which the Government have put before us in the form of the Consultative Document.
§ Can the Government tell us more about the proposed code of industrial relations practice? If it is merely an extension of the intentions set out in the Document, it could turn out to be just a series of platitudes, and that would be a very great pity; but it could be something much more powerful if it took the form and style of a works constitution law, similar to the sort of thing they have in Germany. If it were like the German one, would there not be a case for making the code directly enforceable? That would make sense if it were accompanied, as I have suggested, by constitutional bargaining procedures in the factory and the establishment, by Statute, of a works council for firms of any reasonable size. We believe that this would alter the unofficial dispute situation quite dramatically and make a positive contribution to good industrial relations. Apart from anything else, people would really know where they stood on the major matters.
§ Finally, my Lords, one has to recognise that strikes, and particularly unofficial strikes, arise largely out of the inflationary situation that has developed in this country. This is not peculiar to the United Kingdom—far from it—but it is the old vicious circle of higher prices, higher wages, higher prices; or, higher wages, higher prices, higher wages, whichever you like. That is why we view with regret the announcement yesterday of the abolition of the Prices and Incomes Board which, even if it did not control prices and wages, was able to expose unfair increases in prices and to produce important studies in comparability, so that one knew where the fairness and the equity lay between dif- 350 ferent professions and different jobs. The fact is that the Consultative Document deals with only a small aspect of this vast field of industrial relations: pay, prices and inflation are part of the story, too, and I believe that we ought to see this Document in that perspective. I hope it will not become a battle-ground which will sour and embitter industrial relations. We in Parliament, in both Houses, have a long way to go before we solve this very important problem, and we cannot afford to waste time in useless wrangles and arguments. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, I have been an active researcher into employment problems for thirty years and I have formed personal views on their solution. Thus it is that though I speak to-day from the Opposition Front Bench, by courtesy of my colleagues, the views I express are my own. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that the Government's proposals are not "union bashing"; in fact, I respect the Minister of Employment, and I accept that his proposals are a sincere attempt at solutions, but I think he ought to be warned that he will not continue to receive that respect, unless he can somehow contrive to inhibit his Prime Minister from statements like the following. He has made the same statement on two occasions and said:Wildly excessive wage demands were deliberately encouraged by the last Administration for its own political purposes.That seems to me to be the height of irresponsibility, and an exceedingly dangerous comment to make in the present problematic situation.
Some of the proposals in the Consultative Document are sound in themselves, but seem to me to be very puny weapons with which to attack problems of the order which we are facing to-day. Other proposals are bound, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has said, to create more divisions in our society and to increase hostility and strife, and this form of cure may well be worse than the disease itself. But I shall not go into detailed criticism of the proposals in the Consultative Document, for I contend that this Government, and their predecessors since the war, have made faulty analyses of the total situation; and the action, or indeed the lack 351 of action, which was based on those misleading analyses has led us into some very grave problems indeed to-day. My speech, therefore, outlines a fresh analysis and attempts some concrete proposals for change based on that analysis.
In the Sunday Times for July 12 there was reported a comparative study carried out by the Readers' Digest in the United Kingdom and in the Common Market countries. This showed that in Britain to-day less than 5 per cent. of the working population are employers, and less than 5 per cent. are truly self-employed; in other words, they indicate that over 90 per cent. of our working population to-day are employees. The expanding organisations which now employ the bulk of our population comprise, in effect, an intermediate zone in our society lying between our citizens as citizens and Government itself.
The nature of these employment organisations has received what is, in my submission, a quite inadequate degree of study, with the result that there is a uniform failure, not only in Britain but in all industrial nations, to arrange for their healthy management. We are, in effect, pressing most of the population into ill-comprehended institutions, thus creating an intermediate zone in society, full of the tensions of millions of people all struggling for their rightful place in the economic scheme of things. Unless ignorance about employment organisations is surmounted, then I submit that in due course—and maybe sooner than we expect—this intermediate employment zone will tear itself apart. Already the social and psychological tensions bred in employment are bleeding over into our social life and are beginning to destroy values which we have collectively built up over the centuries.
To suggest that there is uniform failure to manage employment organisations in a healthy and efficient manner is, I agree, a bold criticism. But I submit that any series of institutions which produce in-increasing human unreason and un-happiness on the scale which we observe to-day cannot readily escape that criticism. People in general are reasonable, but employment so often calls forth unreason; people have concern for each other, but employment tends to call forth meanness; people are fair, but employment 352 produces greed; people are lawful, but employment stimulates the use of power; people need work which equates with their personal capacity and want to carry it out effectively, but employment so often calls forth boredom and lead-swinging. The sad fact is that we are all becoming so familiar with the chronic symptoms in the form of wage inflation, strikes, inefficiency and unhappiness, that we regard it as the inevitable norm of employment and seem to have lost hope of putting matters right.
The approach of every Government to these matters, for as far back as I can remember, has been a series of failures. We have been trying a range of recipes for our employment ills, each of which has been concerned with different percentages of the same ingredients. We have tried to curb wages or to free them; to increase taxation or not to do so; to allow credit to ride or to freeze it; to reduce consumption or to allow it to rise; to increase or decrease the supply of money, and so on. Decisions have to be made about these macro-economic matters, but to assume that manipulation of these factors will bring solutions to the problems of wage inflation, strikes, inefficiency and dissatisfaction at work is to abdicate from tackling the real problems. Labour is not a commodity. Its price no longer responds to shortage or surplus, like goods or services. The proof lies before us to-day, for in many industries, such as the docks, where there is a surplus of labour, wages are rising as fast as in any other industry. Power has become the determining factor.
When Government moves closer to the problem, its actions are, I submit, equally unrealistic, because it has never firmly grasped the fact that wage inflation and the use of power bargaining derive from feelings of unfairness about pay in one occupation as compared with another. It is these feelings that are the root of the matter. Thus, to solve the problems of wage inflation we must tackle the problems of unjust wage differentials, as well as the size of the national wage bill. They are separate problems.
The efforts of science have to date largely been concerned with the task of describing—and I emphasise the word "describing"—our physical environment. They have succeeded by the construction of agreed concepts, means of 353 measurement and hypotheses. By this approach science has rid us of many false perceptions which used to clutter our minds about nature, and provided us with accurate mental models of the physical environment within which we exist so that we can discuss such matters within a setting of reason. This is precisely what we have as yet not done to our sociological environment and to the many types of institution used in the intermediate employment zone of society. We are beset by false thinking which is breeding the troubles to which I have referred. I will give some examples of this.
In the past, Governments have backed piecework payment schemes—and as I understand the noble Lord, Lord Byers, he is now suggesting one for the Civil Service—failing to take account of the many disciplined researches which have shown that among any group of skilled ratefixers the minimum variation in the evaluation of the same work will be of the order of plus or minus 40 per cent. Such schemes have worsened the inequity in wage differentials and have led to widespread minor corruption on the factory floor. Governments have supported the notion of collective power bargaining over wages because of their acceptance of the idea that labour is a commodity: the two are closely linked together. We are now reaping the fruits of that piece of false thinking.
Tacit support has been given to the use of a technique known as job evaluation; the Fulton Report backed its use in the Civil Service. I shall not describe it, but I can assure your Lordships that it is simply arbitrary judgment masquerading as measurement because it happens to be statable in arithmetical form. Its use will achieve nothing.
Productivity bargaining has been the latest approach to the establishment of wage levels. It has failed because there is no current method of measuring a mixed output; and, even if there were, there is no method of measuring the contribution made by labour, as opposed to the contribution from capital investment and change of technique. So there is no means of knowing whether or not the deal that has been made has been honoured. It has become a means of swapping restrictive practices for more pay. There was never within this process 354 of productivity bargaining any hope that it would bring about more equitable differential payments.
In a company employing 1,000 people there are 999 manager/subordinate relationships. Everybody in employment wants to know with clarity and certainty who is his manager and what is the extent of his authority, but there is no currently accepted definition of the term "manager". I will not burden your Lordships with such a definition but one is available which nobody could seriously question. The fact is, however, that there are nearly three quarters of a million people occupying first-rank supervisory roles in Britain who ought to be endowed with both managerial authority and accountability but who, to varying extents, lack both. That is part of our trouble on the shop floor.
The acceptance of a single definition of the term "manager" would expose the need for organisations to state in writing their policy about conditions of work, so that they might train their managers how to interpret those policies reasonably. It would have the effect of causing organisations to select their managers much more carefully and to give them appropriate authority. We should thus begin to get first-line management on to an objective basis, and I can assure your Lordships, from personal experience, that the result, in terms of efficiency, of peace at work and contentment, would be profound.
My next example concerns participation in policy-making. Employment hierarchies are always accompanied by three power groups: first, the ownership system and its representatives, the board of directors. Management cannot introduce change unless that group tolerates the change. Secondly, there is the amorphous customer system. Management will not introduce change unless they are reasonably sure that it will be tolerated by their customers. Thirdly, there is the employee representative group. Management cannot introduce change unless that group finds it tolerable. Thus managers' authority to introduce change is based on the sanction of all of those three power groups. Employment organisations need, but lack, explicitly defined institutions under the terms of which no change which is felt to be important is employment by management without the 355 unanimous vote of representatives of all grades of employees within an organisation and of the chief executives. I know of such an institution which has been in successful operation for 25 years in a large and successful industrial company. In that company strikes take place across the council table instead of by stoppage of work. Unwelcome change can be prevented or modified by force of argument or by a single representative or the chief executive simply withholding his approving vote. Strikes are thus rendered unnecessary.
The need for unanimous vote to sanction change may at first sight seem impracticable, but it is simply an explicit recognition of the real situation which exists in every employing organisation. Changes which are not felt to be tolerable result in strikes, and strikes are not settled until each and every strata of employee concerned with the change, and management, are agreed on some modification of the original proposal. Such an organisation can agree the policies governing conditions of employment which it is the duty of managers to implement. Thus employees' representatives can really participate in policy formation through such an institution, and the authority of managers can be greatly enhanced because they are implementing agreed, instead of arbitrary, policies.
But that is not enough. Managerial judgment on how to implement agreed policies will not be sanctioned by employees unless there is a clear and explicit right of appeal by successive stages up to the chief executive whenever an individual feels that there is injustice in the implementing of agreed policies. People as citizens treasure the right to contest the decisions of the Executive. This House is a constant and vigorous defender of that right. Yet in industry it largely does not exist. The result is that felt personal grievances which, in relation to the sum total of the affairs of the organisation are trivial, receive, almost willy-nilly, massive support from the representatives of the employees. The result is a strike over incidents which could easily have been settled in the formal setting of an internal appeal-hearing within the company.
356 It is the duty of every employee to do his work as effectively as he can. I maintain that he wants to do so. Everybody wants to do so. Everybody wants everyone else to do so. It is impossible to proceed on any other assumption unless one postulates a very sick society, and that I do not accept. But for people to follow their natural inclinations their duties must be balanced by five inalienable rights. These, I submit, are as follows: the right to a job which reasonably employs one's faculties; the right of access to a full-scale manager; the right of appeal against that manager's decision; the right via one's elected representative, to take a full part in the making of policy; and the right to differentially equitable payment. The last of these rights is much the most difficult to arrange, as we know to-day.
I end my contribution to this debate by putting before your Lordships a proposal for change without which I do not believe we can solve the problem of unfair wage differentials and all the conflict and economic hazards which flow from their continued existence. Our Legislature to-day is based entirely on geographical constituencies. There are within it no direct representatives of occupational groups, and yet those groups increasingly possess the power to disrupt our society. The employment zone of our society has no representatives in Parliament. The major source of conflict in that zone is wage differentials. Governments have the constitutional authority to intervene in the battle with legislation; but they have not the power to uphold that legislation. I had no confidence in the intentions or ability of the last Government to tackle the problem of wage differentials; nor have I any more confidence in the present Government to do so. Neither seem to regard the problem of wage differentials as worthy of priority attention; yet it is in fact the nub of the troubles in which we at present find ourselves.
I propose that Parliament should agree to the establishment of a Council for the Regulation of Differential Entitlements of all Employed Persons. When I use the word "entitlements", I refer to wages, salaries, hours of work, pensions and other things of value like that. I summarise its composition as follows. Every occupational professional group 357 would form an occupational constituency and elect representatives to that council—and I stress "every" type of occupation. Its prime function would be to make recommendations to the House of Commons concerning the adjustment of differential entitlement of specific occupations. These recommendations would be arrived at by only a 95 per cent. majority vote of the Council—virtually a unanimous vote.
It was Lord Keynes who pointed out that when one group receives increased wages all others who do not have relatively suffered a decrease. Thus, in present circumstances, if a wage award seeks to adjust a differential wage pattern so that pay is more consistent with the level of work, then it immediately sets off power bargaining by other occupations; and when this succeeds the effect of the original wage adjustment is negatived and the status quo is restored. Thus is wage strife perpetuated. But unanimous recommendations for adjustment of differential entitlement mean that those who do not get an increase agree that others should. There is no other way of changing the differential wage pattern. Either all occupations must agree changes in the pattern, or power will force reversion to the differential status quo. That is the process which now threatens us. I must add, in parenthesis, that a means of measuring different levels of work now exists.
The Council's recommendations would not be to the Government for possible amendment, but to the House of Commons for acceptance or rejection. This, I believe, would be essential in order that the Council should be seen by all to be the adjudicating forum on differential wages. With such a Council attending to the differential pattern of wages, Government itself would, I believe, be able for the first time to exercise control over the total national wage bill in accordance with total economic criteria. Successive Governments have not been able to do this because of the absence of separate mechanisms for dealing with differential wages. The use of the near-unanimous voting procedure by the Council will inhibit large occupations with many representatives ganging up to deprive smaller occupations of equitable differential adjustments to their pay. Your Lordships will not believe at first sight 358 that unanimous voting will work, but I have had 25 years' experience of it in industry. What it achieves is the equation of power, because every representative and the chief executive has the right of veto; and when power is made equal it is neutralised, and those deprived of its use are driven to the use of reason.
I close my contribution with answers to some possible objections to my proposal for a Council for regulating wage differentials. To those in this House whose career is or has been associated with trade unions, I put the question: Do you object in principle to the idea of employees' representatives collectively recommending the differential pay of one occupation as against another? To those whose career has been or is in the role of employer, I address the question: Do you object in principle to the idea of giving up your ever more ephemeral authority to resist wage demands from ever more powerful bodies of representatives and allowing them to work out these problems in the way I have suggested? To those who believe that the Council's recommendations, when accepted by Parliament, would be unenforceable, I say this: British citizens have a deep respect for the law only if they are directly represented on the body which formulates it. The employment zone is not so represented at present.
Given that the pattern of differential pay of all occupational groups were regulated by this new Council and accepted by Parliament, then a new atmosphere could be created. In this new atmosphere, I believe that our society would accept the morality of bringing sanctions against minority groups who attempted illegally to use their power to override the decisions of Parliament. It is not moral to use such sanctions without all the changes which I propose. It is not moral to do so to-day, at least, in the eyes of society. That is why successive Governments have been unable to cope with the problem in the past.
My Lords, let me be clear. I am not advocating regulation of the pay of individuals. That would be intolerable. I am advocating a new institution, based on democratic election, which would be accountable to Government for recommending changes to the differential wage pattern of the employment zone. Unless far-reaching change is introduced 359 soon, then every single occupation will be forced to resort to power bargaining to protect its position. Such bargaining is the destroyer of fair differential pay. We must have some institution which can effectively deal with pay differentials. We need it now. My Lords, every developed country increasingly faces these problems. Why should we not exhibit our own political maturity by giving a lead to others, as we have done in the past?
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD DRUMALBYN)
My Lords, I should like first of all to thank the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for having given your Lordships the opportunity to discuss this very important subject, and for having given the Government the opportunity to explain, in some measure at any rate, the inevitably complicated proposals in the document which we call the Consultative Document. The noble Lord was good enough to give me notice of what he was going to say, and I should like to tell him that we very greatly welcome the appeal that he made at the start of his speech not to treat the document as "a cause of strife"; and he finished up his speech in the same vein. This is an appeal that I should like to make to noble Lords in all parts of the House.
The noble Lord expressed support for the proposals in the Document (and if I may, I shall refer to it throughout as "the Document") dealing first with the rights of the individual; secondly, with more information for employees; thirdly, with the registration of unions and the scrutiny of their rules; and, fourthly, with the right of appeal of individual members against breach of those rules. Then, fifthly, he placed great emphasis on agreements at plant level, as of course did the Donovan Commission. I am sure that this is right, and I am sure that this is the intention of the Document, also.
Perhaps here I might just say to the noble Lord that there is no question of passing a Bill and sitting back, thinking that nothing more needs to be done. If there is one thing that is absolutely clear, it is that the Bill, when it goes through, will be a beginning. It will be a beginning of the improvement of communica- 360 tions and the improvement of industrial relations. It will give the pointers in that direction. It really is not true, if I may say so, that the good sense expressed in the Donovan Commission's Report has been ignored. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Donovan, personally did not accept the idea that collective agreements should be made legally binding, and he said so in the debate that we had on the Labour Parly's White Paper, In Place of Strife. But most of the remedies that he suggested are matters for the code and not for the Bill, although a great deal of what he suggested will also be in the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brown, has come like a whirlwind into your Lordships' House to-day. I think he has blown a very fresh wind, if I may say so, through this Chamber; and I hope it is a wind that will continue to circulate here. I hope that his ideas will be most carefully considered, for we all know the very great experience that he has in these matters and the lead that he has given to experiments in these fields, which he has recorded in books as well as speaking about them in this House. But perhaps I may be excused from following him in any detail because, as he said, he was not really dealing with the subject of this debate. He was putting forward completely alternative solutions, so to speak, whereas the purpose of the debate is to call attention to the Government's proposals.
The noble Lord said that some of these proposals are bound to create dissension. With respect, I do not think that we ought to assume that in advance. This Consultative Document has been put forward for examination by all concerned. We have the opportunity to-day of examining it; and that examination will continue up and down the country. But I hope that when I sit down—and my task is the modest one of having to set out the proposals in some perspective; obviously I cannot go into great detail on them—your Lordships in all parts of the House will at least agree that Her Majesty's Government have attempted to be fair.
My Lords, there are two aspects of industrial relations. First, there are the day-to-day relations at work, whether on the shop floor or elsewhere; and, 361 secondly, there are the more formal proceedings at various levels. These interact. Getting the first right where they are wrong stems largely from the second. I think it was Burke who said:Good order is the foundation of all good things.Industrial relations must depend on good will, mutual respect, mutual trust, compromise and mutual consideration. But differences are bound to arise at all levels, and so there must be recognised procedures for settling them. That trust depends not only on mutual personal respect; not only on confidence and the willingness of those who negotiate on behalf of their colleagues, whether on the management or the employee side, to keep their word: it depends also on their ability to do so. That means rules clearly defining responsibilities.
Such rules must have two main purposes. First, they govern substantive negotiations. If the accepted rules enable each side to enter into these with greater confidence about the durability of the resulting agreement, the result is more constructive and fruitful negotiations; more discussion of the problems that are really worrying the ordinary employees, and an agreement which is less of a defensive truce and more of a considered attempt to solve these problems. To achieve this will require changes of attitude on the part of employers, as well as on the part of unions. We cannot expect unions to accept greater obligations in entering into agreements—and in particular obligations which may define circumstances in which the whole agreement may be reopened—unless the employers, in their turn, are prepared to plan ahead; to keep the unions they recognise fully informed about developments; to give greater security of employment and to enter into discussions with the unions well before major changes. The Government's proposals are designed to encourage developments in these directions.
The second main purpose of the rules is to guarantee to both sides a prompt and fair settlement of grievances when they occur. A good grievance procedure, and one that everyone knows will be observed, can do a great deal to avoid wildcat strikes. We all know that no amount of rules can prevent men from stopping work in a fit of momentary exasperation. What is needed is fire-fighting machinery for 362 immediate dowsing of tempers; and the resumption of good sense and calm consideration of the issues, in the knowledge that there are fair and adequate means of settling them. If all the calm consideration under the procedures fails to remove the differences, then the right to strike must remain. A person's right of free association—which means the right to choose whether or not to associate—and the right to withdraw his labour are fundamental. Yet the right to withdraw one's labour in combination can have such serious results for others, and for the nation, that it should be exercised only as a last resort.
My Lords, the record of strikes in recent months in this country, to put it mildly, gives cause for concern. The number of days lost through strikes in the first nine months of this year—7,401,000—was higher than in any full year since 1957, and the number of strikes beginning in the period—3,196—was higher in nine months than in any full year, including 1957. Until the last few months we were wont to take some comfort from a comparison of days lost in strikes in other countries. In any case, such comfort as could be derived from the comparison was at best tepid, because it is not the number of days lost that matters nearly so much as the disruption and the demoralisation caused by the constant threat of sudden strike action. The major reason, in the Government's view, is that, unlike other countries, we lack a code of industrial behaviour. We have no clear definition of rights and obligations, and our institutions are inadequate to give the necessary assurance that in the end the grievances will be remedied, rights will be vindicated and obligations respected without resort to what the Germans call "industrial warfare."
It is astonishing that the country which was the home of the first Industrial Revolution still has no comprehensive law on industrial relations. The Conservative Party has made clear for the past five years its firm intention to put this right, and now that the Party is in power it has put forward, in the Consultative Document which we are to-day discussing, its proposals for so doing. The Government are sincere in their willingness to listen. The proposals, as your Lordships know, are based on the document, Fair Deal at Work, modified to take 363 account of the recommendations of the Donovan Commision, and also the last Government's White Paper, In Place of Strife, and of all the thought and discussion that have been devoted to the subject since the General Election. The original proposals have been modified, and can be modified still further if the Government are convinced that they should be, provided always that what the Secretary of State has called "the eight pillars" are not undermined. Their purpose is to set the tone for a real change of attitude, and a real improvement in the conduct of industrial relations. Neither of these changes can be brought about quickly; but at least a start can be made. I shall not read the eight pillars because I shall be dealing with all of them in my speech.
The general philosophy is that industrial relations are primarily a matter for the parties involved, but that Government and Parliament have an essential role to play because industrial relations affect the whole nation. It is not intended, to quote the words so often used, to "bring the law into industrial relations", in the sense that the law will invariably, or even frequently, be invoked by one side or the other. The Government believe that their role should essentially remain one of advice and conciliation, but that where the national interest is involved they have a duty, and should have the power, to initiate action to safeguard that interest. They also believe that Parliament should provide a framework within which individuals and associations alike should have the maximum freedom within the law to order their own affairs. In the long run, industrial relations must, in the main, be regulated either by voluntary action or by compulsory.
As I went into the Department of Employment the other day a pamphlet was thrust into my hands, it was entitled, "Hands Off the Trade Unions". The demonstrators, very few in number, apparently belonged to the Communist Party. I could not help wondering what freedom the trade unions would have if we had a Communist Government in this country. In contrast, we believe in the Tightness and efficacy of voluntary action, and I am sure that that belief is shared in all parts of your Lordships' House. 364 My Lords, we want trade unions to be free and strong, stronger than they are now. We shall preserve the essential immunities necessary for them to do their jobs. These immunities confer great power, and within a free community it is only right that the power of associations should be accompanied by obligations, not merely to their members but to the nation also.
It follows that only those associations, whether of employers or employees, which conform to certain conditions should enjoy those immunities. Surely, it will be generally agreed and accepted that voluntary action in a civilised community should conform to certain rules. Behaviour should be regulated by a recognised code of conduct. Accordingly, it is the intention of the Government to establish a code of industrial relations practice, in consultation with both sides of industry, as a guide to all concerned. The code will not be enforceable at law, but no doubt when matters do come before the courts the courts will take into account, as they always do, the behaviour of the parties in the action; and the question whether that behaviour was in accordance or in conflict with the code will be considered relevant. And, of course, the code will incorporate what is regarded as responsible and reasonable practice on both sides of industry.
Where the law is invoked there is no intention that there should be criminal proceedings. There will be no fines, no imprisonment, except, as under any litigation, for wilful defiance of the authority of the courts, or where someone wilfully and maliciously breaks a contract of service, knowing that by so doing he will be endangering human life, causing serious bodily injury or exposing valuable property to destruction or serious injury. The legislation will establish and define rights and obligations of individuals and associations which can be asserted by civil action if need be.
My Lords, I turn now to a brief summary of the proposals in the Consultative Document, which are necessarily complex. It will be for those who follow me in the debate to analyse them and to consider how they are likely to work out in particular situations. Let me deal first with the rights, immunities and liabilities of employees and trade unions. 365 First, a worker will have an unqualified right to join, or not to join, a trade union. There will be a right of action against both employers and unions who seek to discriminate against an individual who exercises this right. Secondly, there will be statutory safeguards against unfair dismissals. Dismissals are a major cause of strikes and the new procedure should go a long way towards removing the causes of these strikes. Next, long-term employees will be entitled to longer periods of notice. Complaints of infringement of these individual rights will be referred initially to a conciliation service of the Department of Employment which will seek a voluntary settlement. Should conciliation fail, the complainant will have his legal remedy.
Trade unions will continue to enjoy immunity from actions for inducing breach of contracts of employment in industrial disputes, provided that they are registered with the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers' Associations, who will take over the existing function of the Registrar of Friendly Societies in relation to unions and employers' associations. As recommended by the Donovan Commission, employers' associations will be separately registered and will cease to be covered by the definition of "trade unions". There will be automatic transfer of registered trade unions when the Act comes into force—that is, those who are entitled to recognition as trade unions under the new legislation. The rules of a registered trade union and employers' associations will have to be consistent with basic principles concerning the rights of members, which will be set down in the Bill, and a reasonable period to bring them into line will be allowed.
The matters which the rules of the trade unions, or of employers' associations, will have to cover are outlined in the Annex to the Consultative Document. For example, they will have to provide acceptable procedures for dealing with disciplinary matters, for the equal rights of members to hold office, for election procedure and ballots, for admission to membership, and for clear identification of the authority with power to instruct members to take industrial action. This last is particularly important, since a person who induces or threatens to induce strike action without authority will not be covered by trade union immunity. 366 Federations or other joint organisations of trade unions or employers' associations can also register, provided all the component unions or associations are registered. There will be a right of appeal against decisions of the Registrar as to registration, rules or cancellation of registration.
Registered trade unions and employers' associations will retain their immunity from actions in tort arising out of acts done in contemplation or furtherance of an industrial dispute, but not in respect of other acts. The Consultative Document creates a new class of actions to which immunity does not extend. These are described as "unfair industrial actions". I have a list of 16 actions on the part of employers and 13 actions on the part of trade unions to individuals which are actions which would be unfair. Perhaps I may mention three. First, there is the organising of or a threat to organise a strike to induce an employer to discriminate against an individual who is employed or is seeking employment, on the ground that he is, or is not, a member of a registered trade union; secondly, inducing an employer to dismiss someone unfairly; and thirdly, inducing industrial action to persuade anyone not to enter into or perform a commercial contract, unless that person is himself interested in the original industrial dispute. Then there is the general picking up item which is any other threat of industrial action, if the industrial action would itself be unfair.
There would be no limit on the amount of compensation that could be awarded against an employer, an employer's association or an unregistered trade union, but there would be a limit in the case of a registered trade union. It will be the responsibility of the Registrar to ensure not only that trade union rules conform to the standards laid down in legislation, but also that the trade unions observe their rules and administer their affairs properly. He will be enabled to promote a settlement in cases of alleged breaches of trade union rules made by members of the union and to investigate irregularities on his own initiative. If his efforts to promote a settlement fail, then he or the complainant may refer the case to the National Industrial Relations Commission or to an Industrial Tribunal for adjudication.
367 That brings me to adjudication. Adjudication in general will be entrusted to the National Industrial Relations Commission and the Industrial Tribunals. The Industrial Tribunals will in general deal with issues involving individuals, while the Commission (perhaps I should call it the N.I.R.C.) will deal with collective issues. In all cases the N.I.R.C. will allow both parties an opportunity to be heard before reaching a decision. There will thus be no ex parte injunctions. I know that this has been a sensitive point and that criticisms have been made on it.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD HAILSHAM OF ST. MARYLEBONE)
I am reluctant to interrupt my noble friend, but he inadvertently called it a "Commission". The N.I.R.C. is a court. It is important to have it right.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I am obliged. There will be a right of appeal to the Court of Appeal, or in Scotland the Court of Session, on points of law. The jurisdiction of the courts is set out in paragraph 21 of the Consultative Document. Both courts will be specialised bodies, sitting under a legally qualified chairman. Their other members will be experienced in the industrial relations field. Their procedure will be informal, and access to them easy. The Government do not expect them to be used as a simple way out of industrial relations difficulties; they are intended as a means of last recourse after negotiation and conciliation have failed. Both courts will be able to refer cases back to conciliation agencies. This illustrates the Government's intention that as many cases as possible should be settled by conciliation.
I turn now to the Commission on Industrial Relations. This will become a statutory body. Its primary responsibility will continue to be to assist employers and unions voluntarily to improve their institutions and procedures in the industrial relations field as at present. But it will be given new responsibilities in regard to bargaining arrangements, the selective improvement of procedure agreements and the conduct of ballots for an agency shop. It will have power to hold inquiries, examine witnesses on oath, and require the attendance of witnesses and the production of 368 information and documents. Without proper procedure agreements, collective bargaining risks frustration. The last Government arranged that companies employing more than 5,000 workers, together with nationalised industries and 46 of the largest local authorities, should be invited to submit their procedure agreements and arrangements to what was then the Department of Employment and Productivity. The response has been very satisfactory. Before the adequacy and effectiveness of such agreements can be assessed in some cases undertakings may have to be visited. Progress is therefore steady but not swift. The Document envisages that, should the voluntary arrangements prove inadequate, the Secretary of State may make regulations requiring employers of specified classes to inform the Department of Employment of their own procedure agreements and arrangements at plant and company level, and of any national or industry-wide procedure agreements or arrangements that they observe.
In addition, either an employer or a registered trade union will be entitled to apply to the N.I.R.C. for a review of their procedures or for the establishment of procedures, if none exists, with a view to improving industrial relations where they are unsatisfactory. The N.I.R.C. will refer the application to the C.I.R. if it is satisfied that there is a case. If the C.I.R. thought that action was needed, it would try to persuade the parties to adopt suitable remedies voluntarily, and, failing this, would itself recommend suitable procedures. On the request of either union or employers, these recommendations could be made legally enforceable by the N.I.R.C. after a hearing.
These arrangements illustrate three points: first, the fact that the new courts will not be asked to do things they are not equipped to do. It will be the C.I.R. that conducts the inquiry, advises the parties and, if necessary, recommends the procedures and any other remedies; secondly, the need for procedure agreements to be clear and unambiguous, and thirdly, the desirability of their being legally binding. And it is not only procedure agreements to which this applies. In the Government's view, all collective agreements should be presumed to be legally binding, like any other contract made in the course of trade and business, 369 unless it is expressly stated in the agreement that they are not intended to be.
It is commonly said that collective agreements have not usually been made in a form that lends itself to enforcement, that they often cover obligations which are not of a nature to be legally enforced and that in any event the employer would not want to refer a breach to the courts. All that may well be true at present. But there is no question of existing agreements being automatically made legally binding on the passing of the Bill or the making of an order under it, when it becomes law. It is only collective agreements made thereafter that will be legally binding, unless the contrary is expressed. It would be a matter for negotiation between the two sides whether or not an agreement should be legally binding, taking into account the subject matter and nature of the agreement. The change should mean that agreements will be more carefully and clearly expressed, so that misunderstandings will be less likely to arise than at present. It will certainly remove many causes of suspicion and uncertainty. Undoubtedly there are many agreements which are strictly observed by both sides already and where it will not make any difference if future agreements are legally binding. But there are other agreements on which the two sides put different interpretations. If such agreements made in the future are legally binding, there will be a way of settling them by reference to the N.I.R.C. if discussion and conciliation have failed to resolve the differences. The mere fact that nobody likes to go to court, even an industrial relations court, should make the differences that much easier to resolve without litigation or strikes.
Two of the most fertile breeding-grounds for trouble are inter-union rivalry, on the one hand, and on the other the reluctance of some employers to accord trade unions recognition and bargaining rights. A stable bargaining structure ranks in importance with procedure agreements.
Sometimes the parties need help in deciding who should represent the workers in bargaining. It should be open to any of the parties—the employer, any registered trade union or a substantial proportion of the workers—to apply to the N.I.R.C. to refer the bargaining structure or a claim for recognition to the 370 C.I.R. for examination. Again there is reference to the C.I.R. Indeed, the Secretary of State should also be able to apply.
The C.I.R. would be required to define the "bargaining unit" in terms of the employers to be covered, and recommend to the N.I.R.C. a registered union or joint negotiating panel of registered unions as the sole "bargaining agent". Either the recommended "bargaining agent" or the employer could then apply to the N.I.R.C. to have the C.I.R.'s recommendations made enforceable. The N.I.R.C. would order a secret ballot of the employees concerned, and if a majority were in favour would make them enforceable. Thereafter the employer would be legally bound to negotiate with the bargaining agent.
Finally, the Government wish to take wider powers to deal with national emergencies. At present, the public interest may be protected only by the proclamation of a State of Emergency and, ultimately, by the use of troops. But that course is not open where the economy alone is seriously endangered. Under the proposed legislation the Secretary of State will be able to apply to the N.I.R.C. for two kinds of order—he will not make the order himself. The first, where industrial action which would deprive the community of the essentials of life or seriously endanger the national health, security or economy is threatened, is an order against specific organisations or individuals restraining them from calling industrial action for a period of up to 60 days. The second, where there is reason to believe that the industrial action proposed does not have the support of the majority of workers concerned, is an order for a secret ballot. Anyone who led a strike or threatened one in the intervening period in breach of either sort of order would be guilty of contempt of court. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, raised a question on the present strikes in the coalfields, which he said he would ask my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to answer at the end of the debate, and I shall leave that question to my noble and learned friend.
Your Lordships would probably like me to give you some impression of how these proposals will affect the position of individual workers in regard to strikes. The general principle is that workers should be free to withdraw their labour, 371 subject only to the requirements of their individual contracts of employment. As at present, an employee who goes on strike in breach of his contract of employment can be sued by the employer for breach of contract, but very seldom is. Employees who go on strike in breach of their contracts, however, and their leaders, will continue to be protected from criminal or civil actions for conspiracy; the possibility that an agreement between employees to do so might be actionable as a tort will be removed, as recommended by the Donovan Commission. The Government also propose to keep the existing protection, in industrial disputes, against actions for interfering with the trade, business or employment of some other person, or with some other person's right to dispose of his capital or his labour.
At present, the law also provides protection, in an industrial dispute, against actions for inducing employees to break their contracts of employment, or threatening to do so. The Government propose to limit this protection to registered trade unions and to officials acting on their behalf. This means, first, that an unofficial strike leader will be liable to be sued in the N.I.R.C. if he calls employees out on strike in breach of their contracts, but not if he calls them out on strike without any breach of their contracts. Secondly, it means that a shop steward will be liable to be sued in the same way as an unofficial strike leader if he calls employees out on strike in breach of their contracts without getting the union's authority, but not if he first gets that authority. Thirdly, it means that the ordinary employee who strikes in breach of contract but takes no responsibility for leading the strike will not be liable to be sued for inducement: the employer will not be able to apply to the N.I.R.C. for a restraining order against the ordinary employee, but he can against the strike leader. I hope that that answers the point which the noble Lord, Lord Byers raised.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, it still means that the criminal element is imported through the contempt of court procedure. Presumably, if the C.I.R., which is a court, makes an order and is not obeyed, then contempt of court comes in.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I am not a lawyer, and I do not know whether or not that is true. I should prefer to leave that point also to my noble and learned friend.
Where strike action for some types of reason—for example, to procure a dismissal, or to put pressure on an employer to discriminate against an employee because of his membership or non-membership of a trade union—would involve an unfair industrial action, it is not intended that workers should be liable to pay compensation merely for going on strike for that reason. Only those who organised or led the strike would be liable. The N.I.R.C. will be able to make an order prohibiting the calling or inducing of a strike for up to 60 days, under the proposal on national emergencies; and while a ballot was held, under the proposal on Strike Ballots. Breach of the order would be contempt of court. Again, the order would apply to the strike leader, but not to the person who merely went on strike. I felt it right to make this clear because it very substantially answers what the noble Lord said.
Finally, the question remains: will the Government's proposed legislation, taken as a whole, work, and how long will it take to work? My Lords, the Government are not prescribing an instant cure for the country's industrial relations problems. Our aim is long-term, fundamental reform, through the creation of modern institutions and services for industrial relations. Their use should ensure that the strike becomes a weapon of last resort rather than, as too often it is to-day, a first resort. Nor is it intended to encourage litigation as anything but a last resort—to do so would serve only to divert energy from the much more important tasks of increasing the national wealth and well-being. Legislation is both a complement to long-term improvement in human relationships, and a framework for it. Moreover, the Government are convinced that without these essential measures the voluntary system of industrial relations, which they value as highly as do both sides of industry, cannot survive. Neither the law nor the code by itself can provide all the answers: they cannot of themselves change attitudes. But they can, in the long run, exercise a profound influence 373 on behaviour. Above all, they can encourage greater trust between management and unions, and greater confidence in their common endeavour, to the benefit of themselves and of our long-suffering nation.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ LORD STOKES
My Lords, when the Government's proposals for reforming industrial relations were published it seemed to me that many managers, particularly those who had been pressing most strongly for legislation, retired into their shells and left it to such bodies as the C.B.I. to give public expression to the employers' viewpoint. That is why I welcome so much this debate this afternoon. I ask your Lordships' indulgence to speak on this matter in which I have a personal interest as a chief executive of one of our largest companies, and one, incidentally, which has inherited a substantial number of industrial relations problems. When I explain to your Lordships that our own group of companies alone have some 70 factories, all with different wage structures, different customs and practices, many of which go back over fifty years, you will see the magnitude of the problem that one company alone in this country faces, quite apart from the whole of our industry.
First of all, I think we have to be very careful not to lay all the blame on the trade unions for the situation that we are in to-day, as in my view this would be grossly unfair. We are all in some measure to blame. Successive Governments are at fault for having too long taken the view that industrial relations problems could, in keeping with the tradition, be left to the good sense of both sides, particularly in recent years when good sense has become noticeably rather scarce. Employers in many instances are equally to blame for having accorded industrial relations far too low a priority in their order of business, this being reflected by the absence in many instances of adequate overall personnel and industrial relations policies and a tendency to leave too much to employers' associations. The employers' associations themselves, possibly due to the inertia of their members, have clung too much to the maintenance of the institutional status quo and were not ready to see soon enough the need for change which has been accelerating rapidly in recent years. The trade 374 unions equally have failed to accommodate themselves to change, with the result that unofficial elements, operating all too frequently outside disputes procedures and union rules, have filled the vacuum. In many instances these unofficial elements have been motivated by ideological issues rather than by economic motivations for the benefit of their colleagues.
These deficiencies and others were fully demonstrated in the report of Lord Donovan and his colleagues on the Royal Commission which investigated the trade unions and employers' associations. Your Lordships will recall that this Commission, with some reservations, advocated the voluntary approach to the reform of industrial relations, and I am quite certain that most employers, in common with trade union leaders, would infinitely prefer that approach if there were enough time at our disposal. Unfortunately we are not in that position. However much some people may try to qualify or excuse the man-hours we are losing through strikes, and however much some people may try to justify the present scramble for higher wages, there is little doubt that from an industrial point of view this country is rapidly bleeding to death from self-inflicted wounds, and will continue to do so unless we act with a greater sense of urgency than we have heretofore. I am not without sympathy, nor, I am sure, is anyone in this House, for the lower-paid sections of the community, but there is little doubt that unless there is some wage stability and uninterrupted continuity of production in those industries which account for our exports and balance of payments, we shall lose our markets overseas for our vital industrial exports, and we shall lose them for good.
In no area in this country to-day is speed more essential than in the reforming of our industrial relations system, and it is my hope and belief that the introduction of further laws of the kind under discussion may accelerate that process. I do not propose to comment on those of the Government's proposals which seek to regulate relationships between the trade unions and their members. In judging the likely impact of the proposals on joint relationships between employers and trade unions we must, I feel, ask ourselves a number of questions. First, will the proposals lead to a greater degree of clarity 375 in the status, responsibilities and obligations of the negotiating parties? Second, will the proposals lead to a quicker reform of our collective bargaining processes, to a greater sense of responsibility in negotiation and to a greater adherence to agreements once they have been negotiated? Third, will the proposals persuade those who now act outside agreed procedures and constitutional authority to conform in future? Fourth, will the proposals lead to an elimination of inter-union organisational disputes which sometimes affect employers seriously but in which they are all too often powerless to intervene? Fifth, will the proposals lead to a new style of management, to a new philosophy or to a new professionalism in the general handling of industrial relations, including job evaluation and other techniques referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Brown? Sixth, can the law, of itself, do anything to assist in the restructuring of wage payment systems or the renegotiation of other outdated workshop arrangements?
In my view, the first four of my six questions can be answered by, "Yes, not immediately, but perhaps eventually, the Government's proposals will help". What the proposals will not of themselves do is to bring about those changes in management attitude that may be necessary and without which workshop attitudes themselves cannot be altered. As to changes in such matters as payment systems, disputes procedures and all the other day-to-day issues of industrial relations, I see these continuing to be handled and eventually settled, as in the past, on an exclusively voluntary basis.
The unions too must change their attitudes. It is right that men should argue with passion on matters about which they feel passionately, but it really is not good enough in the context of these proposals to invoke the ghost of the Tolpuddle Martyrs or Taff Vale. It seems to me that any union which pursues a claim through the agreed disputes procedure and then strictly applies its rules in order to press the claim further by means of strike action has little to fear—and in other respects much to gain—from the proposals. Nobody in his right mind should object to procedural processes being strictly followed by all parties concerned, and surely no one can tolerate our means of national wealth 376 being dissipated owing to factories, and even whole industries, being shut down due to the precipitate action of a small minority who either have not complied, or else refuse to comply, with the directives from their responsible union officials. It is an impossible situation to-day in industry in which every minor dispute becomes negotiated under the threat of, or indeed in many instances after, a walk out of the employees concerned, and in many instances before the issue has even been registered at the lowest level.
Speed is essential in dealing with any industrial relations issue, but instant decision is no more a panacea to our shop floor problems than is instant Government to the country, and discipline must be introduced to allow quick, but sensible, consideration of the issues as and when they arise. I have said before in your Lordships' House that very much remains to be done in the field of communications, and big improvements are being made in this direction. It is, however, very hard work indeed, and it must also be remembered that communications themselves can be really effective only where there is a formalised framework of orderly negotiations to which they can refer.
I should like to conclude, if I may, with just a few words about the implications of employers suing unions for compensation or seeking the other forms of relief that are now contemplated. I am quite certain that most employers will find it wholly offensive if they ever have to have recourse to the law in the forms that are envisaged; and I am equally certain that, except perhaps for a lunatic fringe, employers, if they ever do invoke the law, will do so only with the utmost discrimination. If we are to have a legislative framework for our industrial relations system it is my sincere hope that, as members of a reasonably law-abiding community, employers and trade unions will quickly adjust themselves to a new situation in such a way that neither party feels it necessary to have recourse at law against the other. One thing is certain: if legal action becomes commonplace both the employer concerned and his workpeople will have failed in their joint responsibility of providing the right environment and atmosphere in which good industrial relations can flourish.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ LORD BALOGH
My Lords, it is a very daunting task to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, on industrial relations. I find myself greatly in agreement with him on many points, as well as with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and my noble friend Lord Brown. I shall not follow them however, because I firmly believe that the basic problem really transcends the document we are meant to discuss. I would say to my noble friend Lord Brown that I do not believe that industrial difficulties can be solved within the firm. Nor do I believe that the problem of wage differentials can be solved objectively. A wage differential is fair when it is felt to be fair, and not otherwise. It is a general psychological problem within society, and the problem of prices and social policies in general cannot be separated from it. It is therefore, I fear, no good for the Government to make a plea against strife when they are provoking it. It is only when the wider context is examined that we can come to any conclusion about the proposals, and not on the basis of their strict interpretation into which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, was forced—difficulties which I understand well.
What is this wider framework in which we have to discuss this problem? The Prime Minister not only twice accused Labour, as Lord Brown mentioned, of having fomented inflation for Party political purposes, but also twice said that he would be willing to brave a general strike, thus implying that the unions contemplated such an action. This is surely not a very fair way of presenting the issue. He knows that both accusations are, to say the least, lacking in foundation—in the United States a different word has been used.
We were promised during the Election that a new style of Government was about to be inaugurated. Now we know what that new style of Government is: make a statement first, think afterwards, seek the facts still later, and put off implementation indefinitely. What we are witnessing here is not a return to Tory politics, and not even a return to Adam Smith. They were eclectic, pragmatic and sensible. What we are witnessing is a revival of Whigism and Herbert Spencer. We have not had so 378 dogmatically enrapt a Prime Minister since Asquith.
During the Election we were promised direct action to lower prices, stabilisation of the public sector prices directly, and also of wages, and a breakout from constriction in the jolly way of Maudung. What we have got is a renewed inflation, the worst we have had since the war, with the Government accepting double-figure wage settlements and advancing the increase in top Civil Service salaries, which also go far into double figures, by six months. We have a "Budget" which is definitely inflationary in a treble sense: it releases purchasing power in the wrong places; it gives largesse to the better-off. and it directly raises prices. It is in this context that we have to discuss this new Consultative Document.
I note that the noble Lord, Lord Byers (who I fear is not here at the moment; I am sorry), contented himself with calling attention to the Government's proposals. I think that even in the refined and myotic parlance of your Lordships' House more emphatic words are necessary. But then, of course, the Liberal Party's proposals of collective bargaining are, if possible, even worse than those of the Tories, for by encouraging wage settlements on the shop floor they encourage leap-frogging in a redoubled way. I seem to discover in the formulation of the noble Lord's Motion a well-deserved reticence.
The overwhelming problem before us in this field is the problem of inflation. I do not wish to minimise the problem of individual and collective rights and duties which is also involved. They are important—and the hardships which sometimes arise have been very grievous, and possibly some of these measures are quite necessary. But surely these facts really wither away into insignificance when we discuss this problem in view of the inflationary situation which has overtaken us. The Government's policy is absolutely inexplicable except on the hypothesis that free competition, or some semblance of it, will provide a balancing force in the economic system, provided that a sound fiscal and monetary policy is presumed. They have tried to provide a framework in which these forces of competition can work. This is a complete parallel to their treatment of prices, where they hope to do exactly the same 379 through the Monopolies Commission and, of course, by abolishing the Prices and Incomes Board—in both fields.
The American example for over seventy years shows a total ignorance of economic principles and economic facts on the basis of which these proposals have been framed. In the United States of America precisely this legislative framework has been provided—both on prices and on wages. And what happened? Strikes have been greater than ever. They are having the biggest strike in world history now in General Motors affecting something like one-fifth of American production and causing what they call a recession and what we would call a catastrophe —5½ per cent. unemployment. We shall have an opportunity, I think, within the next fortnight to debate this question in the wider context it really merits. Therefore, I do not wish to prolong this intervention. But I should like to put down a marker. It is not in this way, not by legal regulation, not by accusing each other of bad faith, that we shall retain our international competitiveness. It is by a new social contract animated by a social spirit, and not the sort of spirit which came out so loudly from Mr. Barber's statement in another place, that we can cure our malaise and put Britain back on to the way to prosperity.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLAKENHAM
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow him very closely. I should not like to engage in a discussion on the dangers of inflation, about which I agree with him and on which I think he knows more than I do, but I would join all the previous speakers in this debate in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for allowing us to have this early opportunity of discussing the proposals in the document before us. I was also glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Byers, agree that something must be done to bring industrial relations up to date. I was interested in some of the theories that he put forward about how this was to be done, but they do not seem to me to produce the very large-scale solution that I think he had in mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Brown, made a most interesting speech and I hope that the Government will listen to his sugges- 380 tion of a council for regulating wage differentials. In the old days, in the Ministry of Labour we had something similar in the wages councils, and I am sure there is something in the idea he has put forward this afternoon.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I look back for a moment to some of the causes of the troubles in which we find ourselves. If I may, I should like to take your Lordships back to the years 1960 to 1963, when I was at the Ministry of Labour. When I first went there industrial relations were not happy, but I found that among both employers and trade unions there was a growing recognition that there were faults on both sides and that something must be done to rectify a situation which, in the opinion of both sides of industry, was doing great damage to the nation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, because I have always felt that in these matters it was for the employers to take the lead. This has always been right. One only has to look at individual firms, such as I.C.I. or Unilever (one could name many more), or industries like oil refining, boot and shoe manufacture, or even, in those days, the great steel industry where, thanks to the fact that enlightened management was working closely with the trade unions, strikes had been unheard of for years.
In those early days I had a number of discussions with the leaders of both sides of industry, and I was satisfied that, so far as the unions were concerned, the T.U.C. was prepared to play its part in taking a look at its new role in the 1960s. This was confirmed by a resolution passed by the T.U.C. at their Congress in October. 1962, calling on its General Council to examine and report on—and I quote:the possibility of reorganising the structure of both the T.U.C. and the British trade union movement with a view to making it better fitted to meet modem industrial conditions.Mr. George Woodcock, who was then the General Secretary of the T.U.C., speaking of the resolution, said:It is at least time that we examined British trade unionism to see how far we are failing to bring ourselves into conformity with the times.And he went on:There could be one of two things done with a motion of this kind. It could be smothered, or it could be the beginning of a tremendous undertaking. I believe it will be the beginning of a tremendous undertaking".381 Tragically, my Lords, the report was smothered. Nothing emerged, and the reforms which Mr. Woodcock (for whom I have the highest personal regard) and many other enlightened trade union leaders of the time would have liked to pursue in fact never saw the light of day.
The then Government have since been subjected to a considerable amount of criticism for having failed to insist on bringing in measures to modernise the trade union movement. At the time I was firmly convinced that, so long as the trade unions were voluntarily prepared to do this on their own, it was much better that they should do so. I still believe that this would have been right although unfortunately, as I have said, nothing came of this voluntary undertaking. In fact I made clear my own position, and that of Her Majesty's Government, when discussing the problem of unofficial strikes in the House of Commons on February 14, 1963. I then said—if I may quote a short passage:The most satisfactory way of dealing with all this"—unofficial strikes—is for the unions to put their house in order. By an assertion of responsibility and leadership, the unions should see that agreements which they conclude are honoured. As the House knows, the T.U.C. decided last autumn to review the structure and purpose of the trade union movement. In my submission, that review must be carried out quickly and must lead to reforms. If it fails, then the situation will be serious and we must ask ourselves whether we can afford to let things go on as at present. My view is that we cannot."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 14/2/63, col. 1509.]My Lords, that was in February, 1963, and I agree that unfortunately there is no time to allow for these great problems in industrial relations to be solved on a purely voluntary basis.
So far as the employers were concerned, the picture was a somewhat brighter one. The Confederation of British Industry was formed in 1965 and was an amalgamation of the Federation of British Industries, the British Employers' Confederation and the National Association of British Manufacturers. So that after many years of sometimes rather divided counsels the majority of the employers in this country were able to speak with one voice. In addition, I think the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, would agree about the importance of the 382 two official management training colleges which were set up at the Universities of London and Manchester and have done a great deal to improve the quality of middle management.
During those years from 1961 to 1963 it was interesting to see that, perhaps as a result of efforts in bringing together the chief trouble-making industries, largely the motor car industry, the shipbuilding and the building industry, and getting them round the table, industrial trouble, in terms of days lost, which my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn quoted earlier, in 1963 reached a figure of 1¾ million, which was the lowest figure since 1951. Unfortunately, as again my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn has said, this figure of 1¾ million days lost through industrial strikes has since then risen very considerably. Last year we lost 6¾ million days; and, as the noble Lord has said, in the first nine months of this year we have lost 7¼ million days, so that, obviously and unfortunately, the figure is bound to reach well over 8 million days lost by the end of the year. I think I am right in saying that these are the worst figures since the war.
My Lords, no Government could sit idle and watch this grave erosion of the productive capacity of the nation. Mr. Wilson's Administration endeavoured to face up to the situation, thanks largely, I think, to the courage and clear-minded-ness of the former Minister of Labour, Mrs. Barbara Castle, but the Cabinet and the Parliamentary Labour Party were divided. They could not swallow two of the main proposals put forward by their own Minister responsible for labour relations. The first was that unions involved in a recognition strike could, if the Minister judged it necessary, be brought before a newly formed industrial board empowered to levy fines on those brought before it. And the second major proposal that I think caused the withdrawal of the Government programme was that the Minister should be given the power to impose a 28-day pause on both sides in any industrial dispute which the Minister deemed to be damaging to the national interest.
Mr. Wilson, despite many brave words, capitulated at the very last minute. The proposals were abandoned, and instead the T.U.C., under the so-called "Croydon rules", formulated at their special 383 Congress in June, 1969, were given the responsibility of intervening in unofficial strikes. Unfortunately, despite the gallant efforts of Mr. Victor Feather, the strike figures, as we have seen, have risen alarmingly in the last twelve months. It could not be otherwise. We have to-day to face up to the blunt truth that the General Council of the T.U.C., and indeed, unfortunately, the leaders of many of our unions, have lost control of the shop floor.
So to-day the new Government, empowered by the mandate which the electorate gave them last June, have produced their new proposals to modernise the industrial relations field. I should like your Lordships to be quite clear that, so far as I am concerned, I would not for one moment support these proposals if I thought them to be unjust or against the true interests of the trade union movement. I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Brown, when opening for the Opposition, made it quite clear that in his opinion these proposals were not, as has been suggested outside, "union bashing". They certainly are not. I believe that these proposals will strengthen the trade unions and not weaken them. I would ask your Lordships; why should the trade union movement, which to-day is one of the great estates of the realm, seek to be above the law in the contracts made by its members? I see no reason for this. We are living in 1970, not 1870; and surely power without responsibility is anathema in a modern democracy.
My right honourable friend the present Secretary of State for Employment has outlined in the Document, I think with admirable clarity, his main objects in dealing with our industrial relations problems. The Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn has said, will establish what in the public interest are the basic rights and, at the same time, the matching obligations of employers and trade unions. It will lay down rules about what are fair and what are unfair practices in the conduct of industrial relations. It will provide a new structure and new institutions for encouraging stable and effective collective bargaining, and for resolving industrial conflict without—and this is very important—Government interference. At the same time, it will pro- 384 vide (and this has been gravely lacking) new machinery for protecting the public interest in circumstances which threaten the nation. Throughout the whole document, I think, runs the constant theme of trying to obtain what is fair and trying to condemn what is unfair, so far as employers, trade unions, individual workers and the public as a whole are concerned. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, whom I warmly congratulate on the presentation of these proposals, believes them to be fair and reasonable. I also believe them to be so, and I therefore commend them to your Lordships' generous consideration and approval.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords, your Lordships will appreciate that I speak as a Cross-Bencher, as a member of the jury and not as an expert. Listening to this entrancing debate this afternoon, I have been struck by the fact that at the moment it seems to be all against the employees and not against the employers, except for a few remarks made by my noble friend Lord Stokes. We have to consider quite a lot against the employers as well in this matter. There is an operation called a takeover bid. I am speaking as an outsider. I had a very long friendship with a family who ran a large store in the City of London; they ran it for generations, and I knew three generations of them very well. We both engaged in the same sort of sport, and we met often. A gentleman who was an expert on takeover bids discovered something that the other people did not know: he found that they were very good employers; they knew all their employees. When it came to the terrible depression which we had at the beginning of the 'thirties they had to reduce their staff, people who had been with them for years, and they felt very sorry about it indeed.
They had another store in London, and in this other store, when the troubles came over them, they salted away money every year. Thus they accumulated a large sum in this other store in the same company, so that if there should be another depression they could pay their old employees and look after them while the money lasted. This astute gentleman, 385 from wherever he came, discovered it through his spies. He was able to outbid anybody else and took the firm over, because he knew he could get the money out of the reserves. He had taken over many firms. Only one concern managed to fight against him and win. Some of the firms he took over were obviously obsolete, and by taking them over he improved them and made them more efficient, but the store I am mentioning has deteriorated considerably, to my personal knowledge, because it has lost the old drive, the old employer-employee relationship. It has gone down very badly. That is a pity for Britain, because it is quite an important store. I could mention other takeover bids, but I do not intend to.
May I tell your Lordships of a great friend of mine, engaged in the manufacturing industry, who travels about a good deal. He is a member of a businessmen's club in a town which as this business is going on now I will not mention, but it is a town like Sheffield or Manchester. He takes a great interest in manufacturing. Manufacturers are inclined to have a drink or two at the bar when they meet together, and in the course of a conversation he said "I have never seen a handkerchief factory"—I am using the word "handkerchief" as a disguise. His own product is of a different type. One man said, "We took one over in the last takeover bid. I will send you down to see it. I do not know where it is, but my secretary knows and she will get you a car. Run down and have a look at it." He went and saw this handkerchief factory. The tooling in the factory was extremely good; the material came in at one end and went out of the other as the finished product. There was nothing to do; even the packaging was automatic. But the place was in a deplorable state. The floor was dirty; there was obviously no management at all in the place. The staff looked disheartened; they just did their "press button" jobs. They seemed to have no interest, no enthusiasm. When my friend went out into the yard it was full of junk and rubbish which had not been cleared away. This small firm had previously been a most efficient family firm, with strong relationships between the staff and the owners. Those are just two examples I wish to give of a takeover bid.
386 When it comes to the question of strikes, about which everybody has been talking all the afternoon, if your Lordships will excuse my saying so, I am reminded a little of the Psalms—one says something quite brilliantly in one line, and says the same thing quite brilliantly in the next line. I should like to talk, again as the man in the litter-filled streets of to-day, about the General Strike of 1926, because I took part in it—no, I was not on strike; I drove cars. On the first day of the strike I went down to the Horse Guards Parade and volunteered to drive cars for any purpose that was needed. A number of my friends did the same. The whole thing was disorganised. As you can imagine, this is Britain I am talking about. Some civil servants were lurking about. I met a friend who had been to school with me. He was higher up on the list of volunteers, and he was asked to take the British Gazette, of which there were some rather smudged and dirty copies, down to the East End. When it came to my turn, I was given a list. It was generally scored out. I had the job of taking some civil servants back to their homes. One lived, we will say, at Putney, one at Hampstead, and generally there was to be a great deal of driving. There was no system.
I went down to the Horse Guards Parade to wait, meeting many friends there. This chap who had gone down to Whitechapel returned. He said: "It is terrible down there; they are all killing each other". He said, "They surrounded the car; they have nearly pushed it over. I thought I was going to be killed, and I have come back". I said: "You did not deliver the papers", and he said, "No, I would have been killed". I said, "You take my assignment and I will deliver the papers". So I took the papers out of his car. A chap came up to me—he was a volunteer, an ex-naval officer who had come down to do anything useful—and said, "Can I come with you?" I said, "Yes, of course you can". He said, "Wait till I get my hat". As he was wearing a hat I could not think why he said that. Anyway, he went into the Whitehall Palace, came out with a leg of a chair and joined me. I made no comment why he had got a leg of a chair.
We drove down the Mile End Road, and were at once surrounded by people 387 before we could get to the newsagents. These people wanted to buy the British Gazette and sell it at a profit. As we had no price restrictions then or instructions on what to do if anybody wanted to buy it, I auctioned the paper in quires and the crowd rushed off with them because they were selling them at a huge profit. That was all the trouble there was. That night somebody got some sense and decided that the faster cars were to go the longer distances and that the slower cars were to do the shorter journeys. So I drove down to Bristol that night. I even went up as far as Newcastle. I also went to Liverpool. My shortest trip, which I made towards the end of the strike, was to Dover.
I got a very good picture of the Strike. I talked to lots of people. I saw no trouble anywhere. It struck me for the first time what a wonderful people the British people are. This idea returned to me quite vividly in the bombing of London. They can take it. The conditions the people were put to were terrible in that Strike. They had no transport; there was nothing. In that way it was much worse then than it would be to-day; but it is much worse to-day, as we know, in other ways. The Strike came to an end, and that was that; but I have never forgotten it. I have never forgotten the depression that followed it. I have never forgotten seeing those plumeless chimneys, those streets in all the mining towns throughout the country with men sitting down on their heels. At that time I staged a revue. I played in most of these places, and everywhere I went there were men sitting on their heels without any hope of getting employment.
As we know, the picture changed. I have to put this rather carefully because I am speaking to all sorts of different people in your Lordships' House and I am just thinking how I should put it. The official unions have advanced in thought a great deal since those days. They have learned a lot. I think I should put it in this way, in a story which may not even be true, of the small boy who went to a public school. On about his third day there the master found that the boy had written a word in what I think is now called his dictionary, although it used not to be so called. The master sent the boy up to the headmaster, who said to 388 I him, "Why did you write this word in your dictionary?" The boy said, "I am trying to learn a new word. It is one I have never heard before." The head- master asked, "Do you not know what it means?", and the boy said, "No, I do not know". So the boy was sent off. When it came to the time for him to receive his leaving book on leaving his public school, the headmaster, whom the I boy had never seen again until that time, said, "Oh yes, do you know what that word means now—that four-letter word you wrote in the book at the lower end of the alphabet?" "Yes", the boy said. The headmaster replied "Thank heaven we have managed to teach you something."
That is the attitude of the trade unions during the years which followed the General Strike. They have learned a great deal. They are responsible people; they know what they are doing. We all know what the trouble is—that is, the unofficial strike. We all know that the trade unions cannot control the unofficial strike, and I think we all know that about 0.2 per cent. of the population of this country—and this applies to most other countries—are causing a great deal of unnecessary trouble. We know that. As a democracy I am not sure that it is right that 0.2 per cent. of our enormous population should inconvenience people, for no particular reason, in the way that they do.
If I remember correctly, the end of the General Strike in 1926 came about because one member of, I think, a Conservative Government at that time had the good sense to ask the law what was the legal position in regard to the General Strike. I rather think that it was Sir John Simon. He said quite clearly, "It is illegal to strike against the State, to bring a disturbance against the State." That was clear. We are shortly to have a long and involved debate about the measures to be taken, and I would suggest to your Lordships—though not for a moment do I think that my advice will be followed—that the legal profession should be asked, first, if all this is necessary and whether the unions could not be left just as they are. We should ask somebody—the judges know; they maintain the law—whether the unofficial strike is legal or not. If it is not legal, that is the end of the problem.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I should like to join in the sentiments of appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for initiating this debate to-day. He has not lost much time in taking the initiative. It is only a month since the Consultative Document was issued, the House sat only last week, and here we are, in such a short time, discussing this important matter of industrial relations. I have no doubt that your Lordships will welcome this debate to-day for an obvious and special reason, namely, that it provides an opportunity for ventilating opinion—and we have had that up to now, and I believe it will continue—on a very important matter: the Government's proposed legislation on the question of industrial relations.
While the noble Lord, Lord Byers, was speaking, he took my mind back, because in some respects he was critical of all Parties but his own. He took me back to the heyday of Liberalism, when Campbell Bannerman won a resounding victory at the polls in 1906. Two years afterwards I commenced work. My wages were 1¾d. per hour for a 9-hour day and a journey of eight miles. That does not matter so much; but what I should like to point out is that in that heyday of Liberalism the only industrial relations there were were bad ones. This question is really of recent birth, and among all sections in the community, the trade union world and the employers, it has assumed a very important aspect indeed. Personally, I welcome that. The great need to-day is not to do anything precipitate that will sour industrial relations, but to do all that we can to sweeten them.
Most of the speeches from your Lordships to-day have been on the proposals. I intend to say very little about them, because I have had the Document for only about a fortnight, and I have it in mind that to-day's debate is merely a curtain raiser. It is a preliminary, though a very important preliminary, to the longer and more detailed discussions that will take place when the Government's Bill comes before Parliament. I am sure that none of your Lordships would doubt the controversial nature of these proposals, and the deep, emotive feelings that will be aroused if the Government persist in their proposals in the Bill as they 390 are set out in the Consultative Document itself.
My Lords, do not forget that what we are dealing with in this particular sphere is not numbers on a card but men (and now women as well, because there are so many in the industrial field) who have feelings and who have rights. For what it is worth, I should like to state my reactions to the proposals as laid out in the Document, which may, or may not, be different when the Bill comes before us. I have had a fairly long experience in the industrial world, dealing with problems at branch and at pit level, trying to understand the feelings and the emotions of people in industry; and, rightly or wrongly, I have come to the conclusion that I do not believe that the proposals in the Document, if implemented, will improve industrial relations. On the contrary, a deterioration is likely to take place. I feel that co-operation between organised labour and the employers for improving the quality of industrial relations, which is so necessary, is likely to decrease. If the Government persist in going forward, it is only the future that will test the soundness of my own reactions and the opinion that I have on these proposals.
What is outlined here as in the mind of the Government in their approach to industrial relations? This is called a "Consultative Document", but I hope to show, before I sit down, that it is not. It is a document, yes; but by no stretch of the imagination, on the evidence that I have been able to accumulate, can I regard it as a consultative document. May I read paragraph 2 of the Document?:This Document sets out the principles on which the Government proposes that the Bill should be based, and the main provisions which it proposes to include. It is intended"—and, as I take it, this is the only purpose of this Document—to serve as a basis for consultations with the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry;".It is on this aspect that I wish to make comments, and I hope to show that it is not what it states it is; that is, a Consultative Document.
What is the evidence for an assertion of that kind? The Minister responsible 391 for its publication, Mr. Carr, is reported to have said:However good a case may be made against the main principles, there is no departure. Take it or leave it. I don't want to listen to any case that can be put up against the proposals in the Document.I suggest if that is a fair and reasonable statement to make on what the Minister has said—
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, would the noble Lord give the source of that statement, because it is very important?
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, it is in a report that has been published by the Trades Union Congress, and I will let the noble Lord look at it if he wishes. On the basis of that statement by the Minister I should like to say, first of all, that it is a pretty high-handed attitude to adopt. I should be the last person in the world, I hope, to be guilty of extravagant language, or in any way to misrepresent the Minister, Mr. Carr.
I now want to quote what the Minister has said, both in public and in private to the T.U.C., about these proposals. On October 7, two days after the Document was issued, he said at Blackpool:The main principles of the projected Industrial Relations Bill outlined in the Document are firm. There is no going back on the central principles. We still want and we welcome constructive comments about details, whatever they are.One week later, when the Finance and General Purposes Committee of the Trades Union Congress met the Minister, there had been a slight change: there was a little chink in the armour—not in attitude; only in phraseology. When the Minister met the T.U.C., the "main principles" had become "pillars". He told them that the shape might be changed, but that the principles would stand whatever anybody thought of them, and they were not negotiable. I call them the eight commandments which are non-negotiable.
In the light of those ministerial statements, why call it a Consultative Document? In my submission, there is a misplaced adjective, and it is merely a document. It is not even a White Paper. I remember going to the Printed Paper Office last week, and asking for the White Paper on Industrial Relations. The people in the Office said, "We do not 392 have a White Paper, but we have a Consultative Document". I said, "I am sure that must be it. That is what I want." Whatever the intention claimed in paragraph 2, I cannot see how this can by any stretch of the imagination be called a Consultative Document. Mr. Victor Feather, the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, is reported as saying, "It is called a Consultative Document, but it is not". The Government, in my view, have adopted a very pontifical attitude, and the Trades Union Congress, who are the victims of this snub, are of the same opinion. The T.U.C. have told the Government that these proposals will not help to improve the voluntary system of industrial relations and will impede the progress already being made by the unions, the employers and the Trades Union Congress. That is the assessment by the Trades Union Congress of the effects of these proposals. The T.U.C. have not used extravagant language; they have only expressed their view of the future. And remember, my Lords, that they, as well as the employers and the Government, are involved in this subject.
Let us remember also that the T.U.C. have long and wide experience in this field. The child which we call industrial relations is only in its infancy. I see the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, sitting opposite and he, along with the late Ernest Bevin and the late George Tomlinson when they were at the Ministry of Labour during the war, did much to deliver this industrial relations child, in co-operation with the T.U.C. and the employers. I do not know what the late Ernest Bevin would think of the proposals in this document to-day.
We cannot "shove off" the T.U.C. as an unimportant body. They represent 10 million organised workers, not only manual workers but many in the professions, and the lives and work of those people will be affected by the proposals in the document that we are discussing. To ignore and dismiss so arrogantly, as the Government have done, the advice which the T.U.C. could offer is foolish, and possibly dangerous. What the T.U.C. have done is to utter a warning about what the future may be in this delicate field of industrial relations, in the unhappy event that these proposals are 393 implemented and become the law of the land. I do not think anyone would expect the T.U.C. to make that kind of prediction for fun, or because they have been treated shabbily in recent weeks, or even because we have a Tory Government. The T.U.C. would take a much wider, more objective and more dispassionate view than that, because they are a responsible body of people who are anxious to help in the progressive improvement of industrial relations.
I think that the attitude of the Government in recent weeks, in denying consultation with the T.U.C. or the employers, is a mistake of the first order. The Government's attitude strikes me in this way. The Government must think that these non-negotiable proposals, these eight commandments, have emanated from an omniscient mind and, because of that, are immutable and cannot be changed. During the last 30 or 40 years, Governments, of whatever Party, of whatever colour (and the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, paid this tribute as well) have sought the T.U.C.'s advice on industrial matters, and have been given it. Of course that advice has not always been accepted, but that is understandable. But what one cannot understand is a refusal to listen; the T.U.C.'s being told, "Irrespective of the case you may have, it is no use". My Lords, I regard this as a serious body blow, and one which could be damaging so far as co-operation between the Government and the T.U.C. is concerned.
I should like to take the opportunity of saying this to Mr. Carr, the Minister, and to the Government: "Your refusal to listen to the case against the proposals in the document, whether the case be accepted or not, is a matter for your judgment; but to close the door, and publicly pronounce and privately intimate to the T.U.C. that the main principles in the document are not negotiable is an attitude which in the future you may have cause to regret." I am told—in fact, I have heard trade union leaders say this—that Mr. Carr is a mild-mannered man, amenable to suggestions, and that he is not unwilling to discuss problems. All I can say is that if that is a correct description—and I accept it immediately—then one of two things has happened. Either he has taken leave of his senses or the pressures have been too 394 strong for him to resist—and I suspect that the latter is the case.
My Lords, the case against the proposals will not go by default. There are two avenues open, and they will be used to the full. First, there is Parliament. Here, the proposals will, I am sure, be vigorously contested. Secondly, there is still a platform outside, and the T.U.C. will take full advantage of presenting the case against the proposals in the document—a privilege which they have been denied by the Minister.
One could go on for quite a time, but I feel that perhaps I have trespassed too long on your Lordships' time. The case that I have been trying to make is that the initial mistake which the Government have made in this field is to slam the door, so far as consultation on the proposals is concerned, in the face of the Trades Union Congress. The T.U.C. want to be helpful; they want to give their advice. They are as anxious as anybody that industrial relations should become better and sweeter; and they have a contribution to make. I hope—and this is my earnest plea—that even at this late hour, when we are perhaps on the eve of receiving the Bill into Parliament, the Minister and the Government will change their minds on this question of consultation and will say to the Trades Union Congress and to the employers, "Let us hear the case, if any"—and they have one—" which you have to make against the proposals in the document". I think that that would be a much better start to the long-drawn-out discussions which will take place in this House and outside; and I am also sure that such advice as they would receive would be of value.
§ LORD MCCORQUODALE OF NEWTON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, was good enough to refer to me, and to talk about my old chief, Ernest Bevin, and he asked what Mr. Bevin would have thought of these proposals. All I would say is that throughout his career Mr. Bevin never ceased emphasising the supreme importance of the fact that agreements entered into between employers and representatives of the employees should be scrupulously honoured at all times.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I think that is perfectly true, and I subscribe to what the noble Lord 395 has just said. What I meant when I asked, "What would the late Mr. Bevin have thought?" was in regard to these proposals, not in regard to agreements made between employers and employees. I subscribe entirely to what the noble Lord has said regarding Mr. Bevin.
§ 5.17 p.m.
My Lords, I have listened with very great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, has said. I think he will find that I have quite a degree of sympathy with what he said on the question of consultation, but I shall come to that a little later on.
In considering what contribution I might make to this debate, there came to me four basic thoughts which I recognised I must keep very much in front of me all the time if I were not to say something that would be dangerous. The first point was that industrial relations presents a problem which is second to none in importance among the many problems with which this country has to deal to-day. I do not think that that can be possibly overstated. The second was that it is a problem not of machines nor of economics, but of human beings. It is a problem of men and women, and of how, with all their widely differing attitudes, outlooks and ambitions, they may best pull together. The third point was that to-day, regrettably—and I am offering no criticism, because I think this is very much a case of, "Judge not, that ye be not judged"—the subject has become charged with a degree of emotion, in many ways understandable but which does not make an objective approach any the easier. The fourth was that nothing I say must be allowed to stoke up the fires of emotion. It is therefore, I hope, with a proper sense of responsibility that I try to add something to this debate.
Before coming to anything specific in the Document—and I want to refer to certain specific aspects of the Document later on—I should like to make a few general but I think relevant points. Industrial relations, my Lords, is not just a matter of trade unions or of employers' associations. It concerns management at all levels; it concerns the employees of a plant at all levels, and their families; 396 it concerns, though perhaps less directly, Government. The Document we are debating is of course primarily directed to trade unions and employers' associations, and, though most important, has therefore limited objectives. The Document does not, as I see it, deal with issues: it deals rather with safeguards and procedures to be adopted when issues arise. It does not (nor does it attempt to) discuss or tackle the wider and more fundamental circumstances or troubles which underlie the unrest which can ultimately result in strike action.
These other circumstances—and other noble Lords have referred to some of them; and one much referred to is the effect of inflation—go far beyond the scope of this Document and indeed beyond the responsibilities of any one Secretary of State or any one Department. To say that is in no way to condemn the Document. Indeed, there may well be some who feel that for a single Document this goes too far and tries to do too much. All I want to do is to try to place this Document in its proper place and importance.
I have had some experience of employer organisations and have seen how important is a liberal outlook to new circumstances and new requirements. Yet how difficult it can be to bring about essential change!—whether the difficulties are due to personality clashes, personal ambition, fear of losing control or the question of finance. Reference has already been made to the formation a few years ago of the Confederation of British Industry, the result of a merger by three other bodies. This did not happen overnight; the concept had been in existence for years and years, but because of the various difficulties that I have mentioned it took a very long time to bring about. If my remarks seem unduly directed to trade unions—and many noble Lords have a lifelong first-hand experience of them, which I clearly do not have—I readily accept that what I say in connection with trade unions has a very direct counter application to employers' associations. I readily accept in either case that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
My Lords, we in this country were the pioneers of trade unionism. Other countries have benefited from our experience and have even sought our advice; and 397 while we have undoubtedly continued to advance (and are still advancing, thanks to the personal efforts of such men as Mr. Feather) it is never so easy for an old-established institution to wipe the slate sufficiently clean to take the fullest advantage of the best in present experience. I say that not to be critical in any way. I believe that this applies throughout life. I believe that we owe a great debt of gratitude to many of the trade unions and their leaders for their efforts in peace and in war. I would also say that although on paper our present-day arrangements may sometimes seem to have lost the lead compared with the arrangements in other countries, I am not at all sure that in the realities of practice we may not still be ahead.
Unfortunately, we have a curious national characteristic, very much played upon by the Press, of blazing abroad our shortcomings and concealing our good points. In the context of industrial relations, the Press, radio and television certainly seem to highlight the strikes with seldom a word for the far greater volume of harmonious fruitful discussion, agreement and mutual co-operation which goes on all the time between the trade unions and the employers. This national shortcoming puts the matter into a totally wrong perspective and the effect on our customers and competitors, particularly those overseas, must be most damaging to our prosperity—and quite needlessly so.
That does not mean to say that we can afford to be complacent. There is certainly no room for complacency because the fact remains that there is a significant upward trend in the frequency of strikes (and particularly unofficial strikes) and in this rapidly changing world surely something more is called for and is expected by the country whether or not it can strictly be said that the Government have a so-called mandate. Reference has been made this afternoon to the Labour Government's bold attempt with an important measure. They were defeated not by the Opposition but, as it were, from within; and it is far from clear what progress has been achieved within the T.U.C. despite what I know to be the very hard work of Mr. Victor Feather himself.
It is against this general background that I look at the Document. Let me 398 say at once that I welcome it as a real and promising start. It is a start; but, as I have already said, it deals with only part of the whole problem and I shall have certain reservations to make. I should like here to refer to the question of consultation about which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, spoke at such length. It seems to me to be regrettable that in a matter of such complexity and such national importance, a matter which in some respects should be entirely above Party considerations, there should be so little opportunity for preliminary objective discussion. The Document as it now stands has yet to be translated into a Bill. There may well be room for different interpretations of certain clauses where the intention and likely consequences may not be entirely clear. Prior discussion on these points could only be helpful in allaying fear and suspicion and could well make improvements and so produce the very best possible results.
Your Lordships will probably have seen a most interesting article that appeared in The Times on Monday of this week. An eminent American there compared this Document with the American practice. I must say that I have some sympathy with him when he said in conclusion:The document will surely fail if its many important provisions are debated in generalities".—implying that there is a very great need for detailed consultation and discussion.
The introduction to the Document I regard as in some ways most impressive, including as it does a number of very important paragraphs leading up to the need for collective effort on the part of Government, management, trade unions and workers. May I read from paragraph 3 a few lines which to my mind are of tremendous importance?Poor industrial relations … restrict people's opportunities of finding satisfaction in their work, and create avoidable conflicts and hostilities in the workplace and in society as a whole. They dissipate the energies of management and unions alike, which are needed for more constructive purposes.Turning to paragraph 4, I am very glad indeed to see that the primary responsibility for remedies for poor industrial relations is placed fairly and squarely where I (and, I believe, Lord Stokes also) 399 think it should be placed—on management. Perhaps we sometimes forget this. I think it would be unfair for me to suggest that management has tried to evade it, but unless this responsibility is constantly in mind, and constantly in the mind of very top management, there is a danger of distorting the whole balance. Of course, the trade unions also have a great responsibility; the Government have a responsibility, and it is on the Government's responsibility that I should like to say a word. There may be different views as to the extent to which it is right for the Government to withdraw somewhat from this field, as they clearly intend to do. As I see it, the Government's role, as in other economic spheres, should be to create the right climate within which the normal process of industrial negotiation can operate; or, if I may take another analogy, to build the right kind of infrastructure upon which the normal process of industrial negotiation can operate.
My Lords, I have been very glad to hear throughout the debate that there seems to be general agreement on both sides of the House that this document is not an instrument for trade union "bashing". If I thought that was really the intention, or indeed likely to be the consequence, I should regard it with the utmost suspicion. It would be entirely wrong; it would be utter folly. Trade unions are an indispensible part of the industrial world. That may sound like a platitude, but as an employer I wish to repeat it and to emphasis it. I have many friends and acquaintances in the trade unions—indeed, I am glad to see some of my friends sitting opposite to me now; friends with whom I have worked for a great number of years on different aspects and for whom I have acquired a real degree of friendship. Therefore, my Lords, I try to put myself in their shoes and to ask myself what is it that they particularly fear, setting aside the question of consultation about which I have already had a word.
As I see it, the key to the Government's proposals seems to lie with the Registrar. Is it that the trade unions do not like their internal organisation arrangements pried upon or interfered with from outside, as they might be, by the Registrar? Is it that they do not believe that the proposals will work? Or perhaps it is a bit 400 of both. My Lords, I must admit to having some sympathy on both these counts. None of us running his own business likes to be interfered with by an outsider, particularly if we naturally feel that we know better than the outsider. But in respect of most old-established institutions (and I imagine that trade unions are no exception to this) it is often easier for an outsider, bringing a fresh and, I hope, completely impartial viewpoint to bear, to see the wood for the trees; and, given some authority, to lend a hand.
I am sure that noble Lords on both sides of the House will appreciate the point I am trying to make. Many noble Lords must have sat on courts of inquiry dealing with matters other than those of their own professions, and they will have found that it was possible sometimes for them to bring to bear on another profession or industry a point of view which those constantly immersed in it from day to day had not entirely seen, or had not seen in the same way. It is in that light that I see the role of the Registrar, acting, of course, along with the courts and with the Commission.
That brings me to the second question: how practical are the proposals? It may look logical and natural to expect an agreement, which has been carefully argued and solemnly undertaken, to be legally binding; but if it is, how successful is enforcement going to be? How many agreements will in fact include—and I am now quoting a few words from paragraph 114:… express written provision to the contrary …"?I suspect, my Lords, that quite a few agreements will include those words. It is here that I feel there is a gap in the proposed arrangements. It seems to me that too much emphasis is being placed on the legal aspect too early. In the last resort, as an utter long-stop, particularly in difficult cases, availability of legal enforcement may be right, but I should hope that resort to it would seldom, if ever, be needed; and it is at that early stage that I think something more is necessary.
The suggestion I should like to make deals with Clause 119. It is that not only should an employer or a recognised registered trade union have the right to make a reference to the Commission through 401 the court for a revision of existing procedures, but also the Registrar himself. It may be asked why I make that suggestion, and again I would quote from paragraph 119, where it says:If the N.I.R.C. were satisfied, on the evidence brought before it and in accordance with specified criteria, that the development or maintenance of orderly industrial relations in the undertaking concerned had been seriously impeded by recourse to industrial action in breach of the procedure agreement, or in the absence of any effective agreement, it would refer the matter for investigation by the C.I.R.My Lords, it seems to me that that procedure would take a very long time indeed, and by the time it had all been gone through it would be too late. On the other hand, if the Registrar could apply, if he were given authority to make a reference under this paragraph, then he would be given the right or status, as an independent, impartial and increasingly experienced person, to use all his powers of persuasion to help and to strengthen the hands of the trade unions; particularly in those cases where the review and improving of procedures was proving particularly difficult and frustrating. I believe a very great deal could be achieved in that way, particularly in the context of trying to prevent unofficial action. I find it difficult to see how unofficial action can be approached except through or by the unions themselves and they must be as much concerned about it as anyone else, if not more. Therefore anything that the Registrar could do, given the additional status which I suggest, would help and support the unions to that end; and that, surely, must be all to the good. This may seem quite a small amendment, but I believe that it could have very important results.
I turn now for a moment to the Code of Industrial Relations Practice. This seems to me extremely timely in offering great possibilities, but I regret that it will not be ready for inclusion in the Bill. Clearly, it will need to be most carefully drawn up and I suppose that it why its preparation will have to follow the Bill. I hope, however, that there may be incorporated in the Bill some guidelines, perhaps going a little further than the guidelines already indicated in paragraph 13. Above all, when the Code has been approved by Parliament it will need to be given the maximum publicity, because I hope that it would first be accepted and then be- 402 come an accepted code or philosophy on this subject throughout the country.
I should also like to say a brief word about the closed shop. The whole philosophy underlying the Document is the freedom of the individual, though I am sure that we should all agree that the corollary of greater individual freedom is that it should be matched with greater individual responsibility. However, be that as it may, the concept of freedom of the individual makes, at any rate in theory, the closed shop appear rather an anachronism. But is its abolition practical? Here I refer to the Donovan Report. Your Lordships will remember that in that Report we were given a great deal of valuable and informative material on the whole closed shop system. We learned that it already exists to a greater extent than many may have realised before. But, in the event, Donovan came down against abolition of the closed shop, though clearly favouring a review and probably a tightening up of some of the procedures.
As I read the present Document, it does not propose to abolish the "post-entry" closed shop, but it does seem to be definitely against the so-called "pre-entry" closed shop, which of course is much the smaller aspect of closed shop as it exists to-day. Whether even this abolition of the "pre-entry" closed shop would be completely practical is obviously a matter of opinion, but I am clear myself on one point—that is, provided a man has the right skills and the right experience or is prepared to acquire them (and here I have in mind also applicants for apprenticeships), and provided an employer has the wish to employ him, individual membership of the appropriate union should be open to him without obstacle. And an employer must surely have some say in the control of recruitment and be free to say whom he does or does not wish to employ. This point is also discussed at considerable length in the Donovan Report.
There are one or two other points I should like to mention briefly. There is the availability of essential company information to trade unions. As an employer, I readily accept that this is highly essential if discussions are to be really on all fours. There is the revision of trade union procedures and accounts. I hope that this will include some 403 standardisation of the way in which their accounts are presented annually. And, of course, there is the fact that everything in the Document must apply as appropriate equally to employers' association as to trade unions.
I would end by asking the general question as to whether I am right in thinking that the rights of the individual worker are in no way diminished, rather, indeed, in some respects extended, always provided he does not promote or lead an unofficial strike on behalf of an unrecognised body, and, secondly, that the rights of the unions are not diminished, provided they are accepted by the Registrar for registration, with or without some amendments to their procedures. Again, in some respects I believe the rights of the unions to be strengthened. If this is broadly the position, if the answers to these two questions are "Yes", how fundamental are the grounds for the resentment and fear of which one gets the impression? Where is the need for the critical nationwide publicity we have been promised?
This brings me back to the hope that some way may be found, without materially delaying the passage of the Bill, for much more preliminary discussions, really useful discussions, between the main parties concerned, in an objective and unemotional atmosphere of goodwill, so that in this vital matter we may get the best answer for the wellbeing of all engaged in industry and so of the country itself. Finally, I would say that Mr. Carr has taken upon or has had thrust upon his shoulders a task of immense burden and difficulty. He deserves our support.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I should like to give a warm welcome to the Government's proposals on industrial relations. I think that the Consultative Document gets the balance just about right. It is a most welcome and necessary first step in the right direction. Obviously, we cannot prevent strikes, any more than we can prevent personal quarrels, by legislation, but the use of the strike weapon really must be canalised and we must prevent troublemakers from exploiting it unreasonably. I hope that just as we no longer fight duels with our 404 rivals, so the institution of the National Industrial Relations Court and the Industrial Tribunals, and particularly the concept that some types of industrial action should be regarded as unfair and treated accordingly, will in the course of time produce a much more orderly atmosphere. Goodness knows! we need it.
The appointment of a separate Registrar for trade unions is much overdue and the new protection proposed for workers' rights in Section V of the Document is also most welcome. I think it is only reasonable that the immunities granted to trade unions under our very generous legislation should only apply to registered organisations. In this connection, I think that the definition of immunities of other combinations of workers in paragraphs 107 to 111, Section VIf, is to a layman rather obscure and I would recommend the Government to make the position much clearer when the Bill is drafted. I think that it might be better now to be a little more severe, if necessary, rather than allow further ambiguity which would give rise to more disputes.
I also want to welcome the proposals in Section VII on collective bargaining, particularly the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Byers and Lord Drumalbyn, about the importance of collective agreements at plant level. I believe that that is very important. I would also urge the importance of one other point. I think that industrial agreements ought to be valid for a particular period. At present, strikes often occur within a few weeks of an agreement having been concluded, not because it has already been broken but because some group or other want to change it. If an agreement has a stated period of validity, such as one year, as is the case in some countries overseas, then I think it would have better chances of sticking throughout the period of its validity. The constant renegotiations now involved are exasperating to everyone on both sides of industry and undermine our industrial efficiency.
The recommendations in Section VIIg about bargaining units are an ingenious way of making the best of a bad job. Let us face it. What we ought to aim at over the years is to have one union or very few unions for each industry, 405 which is more or less the situation in Sweden and Germany. An employer cannot have relations of really close understanding with twenty or thirty unions. It is physically impossible. Nor can a coterie of small unions easily tackle large problems. This question bites both ways. The branch secretaries represent too few people; they cannot be adequately paid, and so the work of the unions, which is most important, also suffers. Like the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I should also like to see works councils as they exist, for instance, in Germany. However, I recognise that we must leave these problems, and of course many others, for future treatment. They obviously cannot all be dealt with at once. Nevertheless, my Lords, I think that these proposals in the Consultative Document, taken as a whole, will greatly reduce our present industrial chaos, and will strengthen the bargaining organisations on both sides of industry. This new reason for hope we must unreservedly welcome.
I am greatly disappointed that the Labour Party and the T.U.C. have not hitherto given this Consultative Document more favourable consideration. I entirely share the hope of the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, that they will think further about this in the weeks ahead, because I do not believe that this question ought to be treated as a Party matter.] honestly believe that there is a great deal of good in this Document from which the trade unions will benefit. I could understand their attitude, as I understand it to-day, if they seemed to have anything else worthwhile to offer. But, so far as I can see, that is not the case. Speaking strictly from these Cross-Benches and entirely without Party bias, I have been dreadfully shocked and disappointed that the Labour Party were not able to deal effectively with these issues of industrial relations while they were in office. I think that Mr. Wilson, as Prime Minister, did the best that he could in the circumstances.
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? If he is dealing out strictures, will he comment on the words used twice by the Prime Minister which I have quoted, to the effect that wildly excessive wage demands were deliberately encouraged by the last Administration for their own 406 political advantage? Does he expect the Labour Administration to approach even in a reasonable frame of mind a document produced by a Party led by a Prime Minister who repeats such remarks?
§ LORD HANKEY
I want everybody to be reasonable in this matter, and I am really appealing to both sides. I feel that if this question could receive completely impartial consideration on both sides, there is here a kernel of proposals which could usefully lead us forward. I am full of admiration for the courage and imagination of Mrs. Castle. I believe that her White Paper In Place of Strife would have given a useful impulse at that time and set our country on a better course. It has certainly influenced the Consultative Document. I think it was difficult for the Labour Party to deal with this question in the 12 months before an Election. The long delay in getting a Report from the Donovan Commission (the Commission did a great deal of work, but they met only 128 times over three years) involved this question coming up to the Cabinet at a time when an Election was getting rather near. I think that made it extremely hard.
The fact that this was going to happen was pretty obvious for ages before. I took this matter up with a member of the Government in the summer of 1967, and his attitude was, in effect—I do not quote him—"Do not touch the question, my dear fellow." I realised how delicate it was, but it could not be left to itself. Only four months later we had those disastrous strikes in the docks, and the pound slipped. Of course, the fact that the pound slipped was not solely due to the strikes; but the strikes, closing two of our main ports for, I think, five and nearly eight weeks were a material occasion for making the pound slip, because foreigners thought that we must be crazy: and foreigners will again think that we are crazy. I can understand that the T.U.C. believe in the voluntary system and when the White Paper In Place of Strife was more or less dropped, they promised to do their best. But just look at the mess in the docks, in spite of some local improvements, in coal mining, in the motor vehicle industry, in shipbuilding; and look at the mess in our streets.
The country, as a whole, is really fed up. Management is fed up because they 407 are frustrated at every turn and cannot manage. The trade unions are fed up because any dissident group of workers can with complete impunity tear up the agreements that they have made for them. The branch secretaries, who have my full sympathy, faced by innumerable recalcitrant and often irresponsible groups, are in an impossible position; and so are the general secretaries—though I respect the fact that they still want to be allowed time to do better. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, that all of them want to see better times. The ordinary workers are fed up, too. Cost inflation is pushing up prices because of constant strikes and wage increases; and the Government's own attempts to control demand by fiscal and other measures have pushed up prices, and have in effect stoked the cost inflation. Agreements take ages to make and are constantly torpedoed. So what can the workers do except strike? And, of course, they make matters worse if productivity is not regarded. I do not think that they like it, and their wives certainly do not.
The great British public is fed up. Clambering over piles of rotting, rat-infested rubbish would be a scandal in Central Africa. And we know quite well that our public authorities are paying out huge sums in returned income tax and supplementary benefit to help finance this colossal waste of resources, to say nothing of mounting unemployment, which is a disaster.
We are in a spiral which we can break only by rapidly improving our system of industrial efficiency and by taking suitable financial and monetary measures. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Stokes, that the present situation cannot go on without this country falling very much further behind our competitors. Already we have fallen into thirteenth place in the O.E.C.D. in gross national product per head. Why should Norway, Denmark, Germany, France or the Netherlands all have a higher gross national product per head than we have? The answer is quite clear. They work, whereas our permissive society allows any disgruntled group of men to break their contracts and put a whole integrated industry like shipbuilding or motor vehicles into chaos. So we lose our markets and our share of world trade. 408 Make no mistake about it, my Lords, we are going down. Our workers and the rest of us are going to suffer much more. This cannot go on. If our political position allows our relative position to slip much further, we may well reach a position of no return where we cannot easily modernise ourselves. I think that our political system itself might then be at risk.
To sum up, I welcome these proposals, because I am convinced that they will over the years restore order in industrial relations. I believe that within a year after the legislation becomes effective the trade unions will be immeasurably strengthened and made more responsible, and they will be able to make collective bargains that will be adhered to, provided of course that the Government control inflation. Eventually, management will be more able to manage. I hope that the trade unions will then be able to cooperate in getting up-to-date machines and processes adopted and bringing our productivity up to that of other nations. There is no other way in which we can expect our standard of living to keep pace with that of other countries. I foresee that when we have joined Europe the trade unions will be much more conscious of this than they are now.
I agree that no-one should think that the present state of industrial relations can be rectified just by amending the law. A real improvement depends on decisions to be taken by millions of our countrymen. But it is high time to realise that no improvement can come about unless we do amend the law in some such way as is now proposed. We have a long, hard road ahead, but I believe that this Consultative Document sets us off in the right direction, and we must in no circumstances lose more time.
My Lords, this country has no resources that some other countries have not got in greater measure. What we have got is a large measure of practical genius and a remarkable capacity for co-operation. Neither can be effective in industry in present conditions. But unless we allow our countrymen's genius and our capacity for co-operation to operate, and unless we prevent them from being foiled and baffled by small groups of disgruntled men, then I believe there is almost no limit to the humiliation and poverty that may be in store for us. We 409 have all the genius necessary for success. We must now allow it to become effective. I hope the Government will lose no time in drafting the necessary legislation and bringing it into force.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF GRYFE
My Lords. I welcome the debate this afternoon if for no other purpose than it has established a right temper for discussing this particular problem. If there is one thing that causes great concern it is the fact that on one side the troubles of our country are attributed to a small group of disgruntled men, and on the other side to the employers waging class war. I believe that both assessments are wide of the mark. I welcomed Lord Byers's concern that some of the problems of the place of the individual in society and the dehumanising aspects of a modern mass-production society require further examination. It is interesting to see in our own country in these past few years a number of notable experiments in this field. I reject the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that the day of national agreements is past and that power belongs on the shop floor. We are in grave danger of weakening the trade union movement by accepting that kind of philosophy and encouraging a kind of anarchy.
I have had some experience in recent years in one of the great nationalised industries: I refer to British Railways—a very vulnerable industry in which the workers can exert just as much power as dockers in terms of crippling the economy. In British Railways in the past eight to ten years the number of employees has been reduced from 500,000 to to-day's figure of 262,000, without any major industrial disputes. This is a tribute to the good sense of the men concerned, the good personnel relations department of British Railways, and the sense of responsibility of the trade union leaders concerned in that particular industry. What have we established there? We have established guidelines for industrial relations. There is an acceptance of national agreements, there is an acceptance of procedures, and there is an acceptance on the part of the trade union leaders that if they reach an agreement by voluntary negotiation they have a responsibility for its implementation. I should like to pay tribute to this 410 particular industry with which I am personally familiar.
I am sure many noble Lords will have read the very interesting book by the noble Lord, Lord Robens, called Human Engineering which tells a similar story of improved relations in the coal industry. If I may say so on the subject of nationalised industries, there has been no reluctance to apply enlightened personnel policies in these industries. The steel industry is conducting the interesting experiment of worker-directors, so we should, when we are looking at this problem of industrial relations, pay tribute to these great sectors of the national economy where these successful experiments have been carried out.
Like my noble friend, Lord Hankey, we are all a little fed up, and as a consequence we are inclined to claim for this Document more than should be claimed for it. It will not solve the problem of strikes of municipal workers and the piled up rubbish; it will not solve some of the industrial disputes from which we have suffered in the past few years. All it claims to do is to establish some kind of climate, or to change the climate of industrial relations; to lay down certain guidelines which should be followed in order that industrial relations may be improved. I ask myself, as one who has been head of a large commercial organisation as well as a lifelong trade unionist, whether these proposals are acceptable or not.
I deplored the desertion of In Place of Strife, and consequently, to be honest, I find that I must support this Document, though perhaps not in its entirety. At least I feel encouraged by some attempt to lay down guidelines for conducting our industrial relations. It is an interesting paradox that it is the present Government who do not believe in State intervention, and it is the trade unionists and the Labour Party, on the whole, who clamour for a greater participation by the State in our national affairs. In this particular area it would appear that it is the trade unions who want disengagement by the State in industrial relations, and the Government who in turn wish Government intervention in this field. I am not concerned about Party loyalties in this regard. To me, as the noble Lord, Lord Robens, would say if he were in this House, it is a problem of human 411 engineering, a problem of getting people to work together for agreed ends. To that extent I feel that if we do not get trade union co-operation and if we do not get the necessary good will, this Document, when translated into a Bill and subsequently into an Act, could be a dead letter. So it is important at this stage that we should reassure the people who are vitally affected as to what exactly is at stake in these proposals.
As a democrat, I think it is right that in a democratic society we must regulate the use of power by sectional interests and at the same time safeguard certain basic freedoms. To that extent I welcome the repeated statements of the Prime Minister concerning control of monopolies and the prevention of the abuse of their power. It is right that in a democratic society we should be concerned about the use of power by sectional interests, be they trade unions, be they I.C.I. or be they great industrial monopolies.
As a trade unionist I can understand the concern and worry felt by the trade unions. They are living in a situation of increasing inflationary pressures. There is the danger, too, following recent statements that rents may go up. A trade unionist considers: How can I protect myself in this situation? There is the abolition of the Consumer Council, the abolition of the Prices and Incomes Board. He may have regarded them as protective instruments in their various ways. But he holds on to the rights of trade unions to withdraw labour as being the essential protective instrument which he has used for over a hundred years in order to improve his conditions. Consequently, the trade unionist questions whether any of his fundamental rights are to be impaired by the passing of this legislation. To that extent the Government, and all concerned with national survival, have a job to do, to educate and explain; and assurances must be clearly spelled out that the right of workers to strike is not impinged by this legislation.
Looking at the Document quite objectively I can see many reasons in it for trade union backing. I believe that the trade unions have an important place in our society and must be elevated to an even more important place in industrial relations. I believe that the trade unions themselves have to be worthy of these 412 responsibilities, and they in turn must rationalise their organisation. They must give their trade union officials better conditions and safeguard their position in such a way that they are free men and not captives.
Only recently I was speaking to a trade union official; he is a man who refuses to appear on television whenever there is an industrial dispute. He has many colleagues who are not so modest. It is no accident that this man was recently standing for a senior position in one of our largest trade unions and was not successful. In a sense he has paid the price for his responsibility. It is extremely difficult for trade union officials who have only a short tenure of office and who come up for re-election every three or five years. They have children to educate and domestic responsibilities, but they have a noisy, militant Left Wing behind them. Very often they feel they have not the freedom to speak objectively because of the pressures of the militant noises in their respective unions. These are human problems. I believe that the new type of trade union official should be a man who is trained in our business schools; who is able to analyse balance sheets; who is able to take advantage of the information that will be made available to him following these proposals, and who will be able to challenge management and ensure that inefficient management is not being propped up by workers being paid low wages. So I must insist that the problem is not one of small, dissident minorities. It is a problem in which management and unions have a heavy responsibility.
There is a changed situation in industrial relations. Ten years ago we had national agreements freely entered into in which the central executive of the trade unions and the employers accepted their responsibilities for implementing their agreements. This is no longer so. The old employer/employee relationship has gone, as businesses have become national and international. The decision-making seems to be remote from the workers. The workers themselves feel increasingly that they are cogs in some great machine and that decisions regarding their future, if they are in the motorcar industry, may be made in Detroit which may affect their daily bread in Linwood. So it is natural that there 413 should be frustrations on the part of workers who feel impotent in this situation. So we have to look at this problem of communications in industry and try to make the worker feel involved in the success of his particular enterprise.
A great deal has been written on the Fairfield experiment. I am not going to assess the economics of that experiment, but what a refreshing sight it was to see Ian Stewart going down to the Lyceum Cinema at Govan Cross and addressing 3,500 workers and telling them about the fate of the company! What a refreshing thing it was to see that when new orders were received, or changes in the fortunes of the company took place, the men did not read about it in the evening newspapers when they went home! It was conveyed to them first, because they were regarded as important in the industry. Therefore I feel there is a great deal of responsibility for management. I hope that training in the factory, training of junior employees, will not be concerned simply with the handling of tools. It should be trying to show young people in the factory and in the workshop that they are an important part of a large organisation. Balance sheets should be explained and company objectives should be explained.
So, my Lords, I feel that this could be a turning point. It could be a turning point if employers recognised the role of the workers in the new situation. Recently I was reading a book by a man whose bicentenary we celebrate next year. I refer to Robert Owen. Almost 200 years ago Robert Owen addressed his fellow employers and said, "If this due care as to the state of your inanimate machines can produce such beneficial results, what may not be expected if you devote equal attention to your vital machines—to men, who are far more wonderfully constructed?" I believe there is some wisdom in Robert Owen's approach of 200 years ago.
Having said this, I would say to my trade union friends that it would be a great and grievous mistake if, in the excitement of this great debate on this new proposal, the trade unions were to resurrect outworn class-war slogans, or even if they were to be urged to challenge the power of the State. There is a grave danger of this happening urged by irresponsible elements in the trade union 414 movement. I hope that, with understanding on both sides, we shall be able to reach some kind of system, some kind of code, that will enable us as human beings to work together for agreed objectives, accepting fairness and justice on both sides.
There are at least things in this paper which improve the status of the trade unions and of workers. There are proposals which bring pressure on inefficient management. The C.I.R. may intervene to avoid the dragging out of negotiations. The workers may demand a ballot to decide whether a factory should have 100 per cent. trade union membership. Ballots can be arranged to decide the bargaining agent—and how important that is in industries where there is a multiplicity of trade unions! The worker is protected against unfair dismissal. He has the right to more information. I hope that trade unionists will look at this matter again, and I hope, too, that the Government will make it easy for trade unionists to look at it again, by not being hidebound in their decisions, but opening up the possibilities of negotiation so that a new chapter in industrial relations may be entered into which will bring national wellbeing.
§ 6.20 p.m.
THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, with such experienced and talented speakers—11 of them before me—I feel like the 12th man in the sporting sense. After the wide-ranging speeches from noble Lords on the subject of this Motion I hope I may be forgiven if I still go in to bat. I must especially congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, on his remarkable, informative and objective speech. He spoke from a great depth of experience as a humanist, and it is a pleasure to follow him.
As many noble Lords know, the annual conference of the Institute of Directors will be held to-morrow and will be addressed by (among others) His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister and Mr. Victor Feather. Noble Lords may look upon this as a happy augury for the future of industrial relations in this country, if not for the future of the Government's impending Bill. The occasion will no doubt be memorable, but above all it will be salutary if the outcome of the conference is to persuade 415 boards of directors to pay more and closer attention to industrial relations. The Donovan Report criticised managements for their past handling of this subject. I believe it was fair criticism, that too many boards of directors still delegate the technical aspects of industrial relations to personnel officers, and that every board employing labour in any numbers should include at least one director with comprehensive knowledge and experience of the subject.
It should be self-evident that good industrial relations are essential to the success of any undertaking. Nor is there any other country whose prosperity depends so much on the effective use of manpower as our own. I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, on this point and also with the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, when he demonstrates, as he has in his recent pamphlet, Labour and Inflation, that industrial relations and the wage bargain lie at the heart of our economic difficulties since the war. They are made responsible for the tendency for costs to rise further in the United Kingdom than elsewhere. With a subject of such national importance and urgency, the Government must be right in their choice of legislative priorities, and should introduce their impending Industrial Relations Bill to Parliament as early as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Byers, in his Motion draws attention to the Government's proposals and to the Consultative Document, and your Lordships' debate has, I believe, reviewed the proposals and the Document against the background of industry's requirements, and examined their relevance to industry's current problems. Industry's greatest need, of course, is for a settled climate and a fair wind in industrial relations. At the moment we in this country are pitching and tossing in the teeth of a gale (noble Lords opposite will perhaps bear with the nautical simile, which is fashionable on these Benches), and hoping anxiously for better weather; though I doubt whether there is any noble Lord in this House who seriously believes that it will not be a long time before there is a marked improvement in industrial relations, or that it will not be a long haul to achieve that improvement.
416 I remember, when I was at Oxford in 1939, hearing a lecture by the then Warden of All Souls in which he made the point that it had taken years of teaching and propaganda, by Walter Bagehot and other socio-political and economic thinkers in the early part of the 19th century, to instil habits of industrial discipline in people's minds. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution working men and women turned up at, and left, their place of employment when they so had a mind. This seemed to them natural, and it took years to reshape their thinking.
Since those days industrial behaviour has been gradually moulded into the familiar pattern that we see to-day. But while the modern industrial system has evolved, there have been severe and deep conflicts, particularly in the field of industrial relations. There have been stresses, there have been hardships and people have suffered. All of this is familiar to your Lordships, and because of it there are deep-rooted prejudices and antipathies in industrial relations, which it will take a good many years to eradicate.
At the same time, during the period in which our modern industrial society was fashioned, there developed the trade unions. These great institutions, formed by workers in their own interests and to protect them from exploitation, were granted, by Gladstone, by Disraeli, by Campbell-Bannerman, and by Asquith, privileges, and immunities from the law, denied to your Lordships or to any other body of citizens, to any other group, association of individuals, or individual since Magna Carta. No, my Lords, they cannot, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, in any way be "shoved off" as unimportant bodies. This unique degree of protection may well have been necessary to the healthy growth of the unions at a time when they faced a great deal of hostility and opposition—at least so it seemed to the Government of the day; and having heard the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, I think they were clearly right. With the complete protection given to them by Statute, the unions flourished and prospered, to the point Where now, after the Monarchy, Parliament and Church, they are the greatest institution in the land, the new Second Estate.
417 Also, since 1906 there have been social changes which have transformed the relative strengths of the two sides of industry. The increasing integration of industry has placed employers more at the mercy of groups of militant employees. Since the last war Governments have adopted with success the policy of full employment. This has removed the main cause of hardship, but has also improved the bargaining position of labour vis-à-vis the employer. As with all great concentrations of power and privilege, there have been abuses and excesses, and it is natural that at some point in time, at some stage in the history of the unions, people and Government should think in terms of placing checks upon the power of the unions, particularly if it is felt that this can be done in such a way as not to detract from their usefulness and dignity.
Against this background, the Minister's proposals seem to me to be both relevant and sensible. In considering the legal framework, I see the central feature as being the informal and relaxed atmosphere of the courts, which will set the new standards of industrial behaviour and ensure that they are adhered to. As the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said, no one before the courts can be branded as a criminal, and I cannot see that attendance upon them need in any circumstances detract from the authority or standing of the officials who may be called upon to account for their actions. Nor are the standards anything but minimal and reasonable, and, above all, impartial.
My Lords, I agree with some noble Lords who have taken the view that the whole Document—with one exception, to which I shall refer later—is impartial. It will also, to my mind, reduce the causes of conflict in industrial relations. What is asked of the unions by the Government is that their rules should conform to certain principles, to which most union leaders could hardly object. Provided that the unions are registered, their immunities will be no less than they were. Here I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, that there is a strengthening of their position. But the real strengthening of the unions' position derives from the provisions for recognition and for the agency shop, which will give the unions something they 418 have never had before—the legally enforceable right to represent 100 per cent. of employees and to bargain on their behalf. In many situations where the unions are developing their membership, these provisions must help them to increase their recruitment and their resources. There are other benefits for the unions and for their members. The unfair dismissal clauses and provisions for longer notice are major contributions by way of improved rights to employees.
Such weaknesses and inconsistencies as there are in the Document mainly concern the employer. As Ministers know about them from representations already made, I shall refer to them only briefly. I would agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, about legal enforcement. There are weaknesses in the provisions for making collective agreements legally enforceable, provisions which make sense only if the unions are not going to press for an exclusion clause. Yet will they share the view that the present state of affairs is unsatisfactory? There are also technical difficulties about making industry procedures legally enforceable, as proposed in paragraph 144. Yet the great body of smaller companies in this country depend for their collective bargaining upon industry procedures. There are inconsistencies over the Secretary of State's powers to intervene. He can intervene in company agreements but has no right to do so in industry agreements, nor to initiate a reference in the case of unfair industrial action. Finally there is anxiety in industry about the provisions for disclosure of information by employers to trade unions, not in principle but as proposed in the document, which could lead to misunderstandings and to an undue weakening of the bargaining position of the employer vis-à-vis the union. These various matters are, I understand, being discussed by industry and by the Minister, who, I hope, will feel that he can deal with some of the more obvious weaknesses and inconsistencies.
Why cannot voices be heard from both sides of industry? Why will not the T.U.C. discuss the Document with the Government? If it is on the ground that the Government have not given them time, this must be nonsense. They have the whole background of the subject at their fingertips and must know exactly 419 their position on each paragraph of the document. If I thought that in considering the proposals we were faced with a situation whereby the rights of the individual were being threatened or infringed upon by Government action, I should be the first to support the unions in their stand against the Government's proposed legislation, but the reverse is true. And the stand of the T.U.C. in their entrenched positions can only be because they are determined to resist any attempt to limit their powers or to curtail their privileges. I pray that this may not be so, and that their leaders will feel that there are some concessions that their members can and should in justice make. It seems to me that it would be so much more sensible and statesmanlike, and so much more in their members' better interests, for the T.U.C. to co-operate and consult now, rather than leaving all the work of preparation to the D.E.A. and the C.B.I.
I believe that it is in the T.U.C.'s interests to go to the conference table, and I believe that they could be brought to the conference table. With this in mind, I must voice my one major criticism of the Government's proposals, which is the same as that voiced by the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale. Let me make my position clear. In most respects I support the Document. I congratulate the Minister on what I see as a constructive and statesmanlike approach to the problem of industrial relations, but in one respect he, and the Party which he represents in Government and which I support, have not, in my opinion, been sufficiently objective. I think we are allowing our judgment to be clouded by our passionate and fervent care for the rights of the individual when threatened by large and powerful institutions, whether it be the State or the trade unions. I refer, as did Lord Rochdale, to the closed shop. The democratic system in which we believe depends upon the expression of the will of the majority, not upon the impossible conception of 100 per cent. agreement. And if, in the sort of society in which we live—objective, we hope; unprejudiced, we hope; tolerant, we like to think—the majority of employees working together decide that they wish to be represented only by one union in collective bargaining, then, my Lords, please tell me what is wrong with that, and who should deny them?
420 I do not know what motivates us when we feel so strongly about the closed shop. Whatever the reason, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, that we are wrong. I believe that noble Lords on this side of the House should think again on this issue, and the Minister also. I like the agency shop proposal, and see no reason why the agency shop and the closed shop should not co-exist; agency shop if the votes are not enough, closed shop if they are; and, of course, the secret ballot. It seems to me that on the basis of acceptance by the Government of the closed shop, the agency shop becomes negotiable. Indeed, I should think that the Document and the legislation would become negotiable, with what great consequential benefits for the nation and for the economy!
Whatever view the Minister may take of my suggestion, I earnestly hope that he will not lose patience with the T.U.C. and will work towards joint consultation and negotiation. I would add that I foresee difficulties also if negotiations cannot take place in the climate of an expanding economy. It is my view that the country generally welcomed the cut in income tax last week, which was in line with Conservative pledges before the Election. The fiscal changes may lead to some deceleration of the wages band-waggon, and will certainly impress people with the present leadership's determination to reduce the level of Government expenditure. But, combined with continued monetary restraint, these measures will do little or nothing to stimulate investment and to reduce the level of unemployment. I assume that the restraints are maintained to combat inflation and to protect the balance of payments, but I am convinced that politically the proposed industrial relations legislation should be introduced against a background of expansion and declining unemployment. Economic policy should be directed from now on towards these ends and some risks taken with the total level of demand. So please, Prime Minister, set the spinnaker rather than trim the sails.
I believe that public opinion is at present behind the Government on these great and important issues, but conflicting pressures and persuasions are likely to be brought to bear upon the public in coming months. There are the militant branch officials of the unions, the 421 convenors and shop stewards, and the militant rank and file, who will certainly fight the Government's proposals on their own, with their own methods and without regard for any guidelines laid down by the General Council. They will cause protracted and widespread disruption to industrial production, especially in the automobile and automobile components industries.
As hardships are felt as a result of strikes, the public could lose faith in the Government and in the proposed legislation. To prevent that from happening, we on this side of the House, who sincerely believe that the legislation will in the long run work in the national interest, are entitled to ask Ministers to use all the media of mass communication and information at the Government's disposal to rally public opinion behind the Government. It would be naïve to think that Ministerial television broadcasts or other media for making the Government's views known to the people will influence the militants, but they may help to steady the ranks under fire. Moreover, it would be the height of arrogance and folly not to take every possible step to explain such important legislation fully and in the simplest possible terms to the people, who are entitled to know what the Government propose and what Parliament disposes.
I fully expect the Opposition to oppose the legislation, and] accept their right to do so, even though I would privately hold the forlorn hope that they would not see it as their obligation. But I also know that in this House your Lordships' main concern is, must be, and will always be, the welfare of the people. It may well be that to some of your Lordships the selflessness of others is suspect, a political smokescreen for selfishness. Be that as it may, the consensus of this House must emerge as the betterment of the lives of our people, and we will surely in the last resort gauge our actions by that standard.
It is to my mind a tragedy that there should be confrontation in industrial relations. The State suffers by it, the nation suffers by it, and the living standards of the people are held back by it. This frontier of our own making, across which labour and management confront each other, cuts like the East-West Wall across the whole field of industrial relations. This wall may be in men's minds, but it is as barbed and explosive as the Iron 422 Curtain. It seems to me, from the feel of this debate, that on this issue of industrial relations your Lordships will act senatorially. We should make it our task to destroy the barriers to concerted effort, and by so doing effectively to fulfil the purposes for which this House is by tradition suited.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ LORD BIRKETT
My Lords, if the noble Earl who preceded me was nervous about speaking twelfth, how would he feel had he been asked to speak thirteenth? I shall not therefore keep your Lordships long. But I should like to join with previous speakers in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for introducing this debate. I am very glad that the Motion came from the Liberal Benches, because it underlines almost the first thing he said, which was the need to avoid even the possibility of warfare in this matter, when so much has been published and so much said on television and in the Press advising us that warfare is about to start.
I confess to being, in a sense, slightly disappointed that the course of this debate has provided so little evidence either of warfare or of warmth. I started off by being a little sad that what the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, described as second to none in importance among the matters confronting this nation should be dealt with so coolly; and I thought that perhaps, even with your Lordships' reputation for what the Americans so graphically call "preserving your cool", just the tiniest spark might have lit the Chamber this afternoon. Then I reflected that I could find only two little sparks in the whole debate, and that they could scarcely be described as more than a scold.
The noble Lord, Lord Balogh, for instance, I noticed, took to task two of the Parties for their proposals on industrial reform. He took the Conservative Party to task, saying that it was in fact a Party which had proposed Whig proposals, and that it was more in league with Herbert Spencer than it might be with any of his other, more favoured economists. That is a judgment I am prepared to agree with, if it will please him. He then expressed his discontent with the Liberal proposals, and even accused poor Lord Byers of what I think he described as "well deserved reticence" 423 on the subject. I think that, had the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, been fair, he should perhaps have added the fact that the Labour Party failed to stand by their entirely sensible proposals. That would, I think, have rounded off rather better his summary of the attitudes of the Parties.
Then in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, I noticed some suggestions that the Government, having published a Document which they called "Consultative", had hinted privately—and indeed had said publicly—that they did not propose to hold any consultations and were not interested in anybody's comments. I can scarcely believe that any Government could publish a Consultative Document and then refuse to consult anybody. These were the only two moments, I thought, where anybody even looked like being cross. Yet I reflect that perhaps this is for the best, because essentially this is the time when our sense of fairness and our sense of common sense will be most needed.
I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in that there were two things I should have liked to see emphasised, or even mentioned, in this Document because they both seem to have much to do with common sense and much to do with fairness. The first is the question of profit-sharing, of shareholding by all those concerned in an enterprise. I work in an industry, or at least in an entertainment world, where the law of supply and demand applies not only in an extreme sense but in a perfectly outrageous sense, so that in some cases the only way of satisfying the demands of some elements of our profession is to give them a share in what might ultimately result in terms of profit. That is the only rational way of approaching the sort of demands which, unfortunately, they can make and get away with in terms of salary.
I have tried to apply that principle from time to time right through a working unit of people, and I have always found that it has provided enormous satisfaction. I suspect that the interest in the profit participation scheme is not that it will make everybody rich, or even that it will ensure that nobody is richer than anybody else; it is, quite simply, that it will ensure that nobody is rich at the expense of anybody else. That satisfaction, 424 even if it comes to not so much as a penny piece, is still a satisfaction and a guarantee to those working within a group.
The other point which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, mentioned, and of which I should like to see more mention in the Consultative Document, is the question of the contracting in or the contracting out of a political affiliation. In my view, the less political affiliation there is between the trade unions and any Party, and between employers' organisations and any Party, the better protected the interests of the country will be. The tendency in the country is always to divide everything down the middle with a line, and to place it to the right or to the left of that line. The fewer artificial distinctions and divisions of that sort there are, the better off I believe we shall be.
So, with the exception of agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that these two things might have been mentioned, and perhaps encouraged in this Document, I should like to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brown, when he said, if I took him aright, that employment often spoils the natural good will and the natural good reason of people who are working. I find this to be so—not, I think, on principle, but because six people can somehow work together easily but 6,000 people can work together only with the greatest difficulty. The 6,000 people are no less individual human beings than the six; but within the 6,000 there arises the question of communications, the question of persuasion; even the question that haunts us all, of the hidden persuasion.
That is why I welcome so much all the references made to information provided from management to workers about the nature of the company, about the state of the company, about proposals for the future. That is why I welcome so much the remarks that I heard from numerous quarters about the satisfaction in companies where consultation did exist, and where those at every level were informed and asked to contribute to the plans and the future of the company. Indeed, I think that this element of trying to make massive industrial relations as simple as ordinary human relationships is really at the centre of what this proposal is about.
For that reason, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that a code of 425 industrial practice is essential. I hope that nobody will think that in saying that I am betraying my background, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will forgive me if I say that if a code is essential the law will be useful. I make that distinction because I take clearly the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stokes; namely, that if the law is invoked too often the common sense and the fairness which he believes to be inherent in the industrial situation wall have failed. It is not that the law is not needed, nor that it is not to be regarded as the highest arbiter in the land: it is simply to be hoped that it will be very rarely invoked. With those comments, my Lords, I welcome the Consultative Document and express the hope that I may equally be able to welcome the Bill.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for initiating this debate. In the course of it we have had from my noble friend Lord Brown, and from others, highly individual contributions to the examination of this Document. It is a long Document and a complex one. I frankly confess that I found the former Government's White Paper, In Place of Strife, far easier to comprehend and to grasp than I have found the present Document. Much of it seems to be couched in language which is intended for the layman, but then we find ourselves up against a passage which is rather mysterious to the layman, and which we can only assume has some particular legal significance. But I think it would be difficult, from the tone of the speeches of some noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, to appreciate that there are some in this House, and very many outside it, who see this Consultative Document as in danger of leading us down quite the wrong road, of diverting our attention from some of the most urgent aspects of industrial relations, and of landing us in a situation which in the end, on balance, worsens industrial relations rather than improves them.
It is common ground, of course, that industrial relations in this country are unsatisfactory, and we are agreed that it is important to improve them and to bring our arrangements in many respects 426 up to date, not only for economic reasons but for social reasons as well. The Consultative Document says:Poor industrial relations are not to be equated simply with strikes.I welcome that statement most cordially, but I must confess that it seems to me belated recognition, from the Party opposite, who have, I think it is fair to say, at any rate publicly concentrated most of their attention in the past two or three years upon strikes and strike statistics.
I would suggest that better industrial relations, being much more fundamental than a reduction in the number of strikes, depend upon possibly four elements: one, better procedures; two, a better understanding of industrial problems by employers and employers' associations, for although there are some employers who set a very high standard in this respect, unhappily there are many employers in this country whose attitude and record in industrial relations is one of deplorable lack of understanding; three, better organised and better serviced trade unions; and four, and perhaps embracing the three preceding elements, the use of machinery in which everybody can have confidence to produce improvements. This question of machinery involves the Commission for Industrial Relations, the T.U.C., the progressive employers and employers' associations, and the various agencies of Government itself. I am bound to say that, in my view, to proceed along the lines set out in this Document is likely, so far from improving industrial relations, to prejudice the improvement of industrial relations and to prejudice the most effective operation of the agencies to which I have referred.
We have spoken much this afternoon of the law, and the new place which it is to have in industrial relations as a result of these proposals. There are some points in the Document which are not very clear. One point which is not very clear, at any rate to me, is that of the sanctions which are in fact to be at the disposal of the law. If I am wrong, I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, or the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will correct me. Am I right in thinking that, among other things, these proposals would mean that in a certain set of circumstances, an 427 individual who induced industrial action—and, by the way, we have not had a definition of what industrial action is—and who, for example, induced his fellow workers in a particular set of circumstances to withdraw their labour, might find that, as a result, the N.I.R.C. imposed upon him, or awarded against him, financial penalties? And am I right in thinking that if he did not, or would not, accept those financial penalties, or if he persisted in a course of action, in inducing a course of action, or seeking to induce it, which the N.I.R.C. have condemned, he might find himself liable to be sent to prison for contempt of court?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Lord has asked me a question, and I will proceed to answer it. If the noble Lord will read the Report of the Payne Committee he will find the answer is, "No", you cannot go to prison for not paying a judgment debt.
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
My Lords, if an individual persisted in a course of action which had been condemned by the N.I.R.C, would there be no issue of contempt of court?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, clearly if a person who is served with an injunction wilfully disobeys the injunction, there is a question of contempt of court.
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord take it from me that it is of the greatest importance that these matters should be clarified?—because they are very far from clear in the Consultative Document. They are certainly a substantial element in the thinking of people upon this matter, because for the invocation of the law to take place in this way—and there can be no doubt about it—is changing the atmosphere, and tradition, of industrial relations in this country. It is playing with words (if it is seriously meant that the law is to be brought in to ensure the performance of contracts of employment) to suggest that this can be a form of strengthening the voluntary system. I think it is of great importance that this matter should be looked at.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? 428 Is he not confusing the treatment of contracts, on the one hand, with the intervention of the Secretary of State in matters of national emergency, or strike ballots, on the other?
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
No, my Lords, I am not in any way confusing the two things. I am seeking to get a clarification of what the situation is if, in fact, somebody performs an act which is condemned by the N.I.R.C., or persists in a course of action which is condemned by the N.I.R.C. I think it would be very helpful all round if this could be clarified and the position set out to us in more detail.
I think I am right in saying that in his closing remarks the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, talked of the breakdown of the voluntary system, or the voluntary system being faced with breakdown. I think that that is putting it a little strongly. If I am misrepresenting the noble Lord, I shall be happy to give way.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I do not think I said that. I said that there was a danger that it could break down altogether, and one had to choose between a voluntary system and a compulsory system in the long run.
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
My Lords, I am bound to say that it seems to me, on the basis of the evidence so far offered to us, that we are a very long way from the breakdown of the voluntary system. We have had quoted to us—and they were referred to this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey—the usual industries which are always quoted: the docks; the coal-mining industry; the ship-building industry; the motor car industry. These are the industries which are always quoted as those in which there have been unconstitutional disputes. It would perhaps be better if attention could be concentrated more closely on the special circumstances which exist in those industries, rather than on drawing from them generalisations about the voluntary system—which, after all, covers a very wide range of industry—being in possible danger of breaking down.
I think, too, that the Document before us ignores the fact that the control of an individual's relationship in industry is 429 an important part of his freedom. We should, I believe, be seeking to aim at greater participation by the individual, and better understanding on his part of the problems of the industry in which he works and of its industrial relations. A system which is based on legal regulation, or which brings the law in as an ultimate sanction, is bound to militate against this, to introduce an element of inflexibility into negotiation and to put greater responsibility in the hands of the full-time official and the legal expert compared with the lay member of the union.
At the heart of the proposals is of course the N.I.R.C. As we know, it will not be an industrial court of the kind with which we have been familiar in the past. As I understand the Document, the N.I.R.C. will be headed by judges; it will be concerned with enforcing legal rights and obligations; and it will, I presume, create case law. It seems to me likely to create a paradise for lawyers. It will open the way to penalties, which, perhaps the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, will explain rather more fully than does the Consultative Document itself.
In such an atmosphere the influences which make for an improvement of industrial relations are likely to be weakened. For example, although there is intended to be scope for conciliation, it is hard to believe that officials of the D.E.P. will put themselves in the position of impeding persons from seeking legal remedies for unfair industrial actions. Emphasis, too, has been put by the Government and by the Minister at the D.E.P. upon the diminished need for Government interference. I should like to know—not necessarily on this occasion—how far it is the intention of the present Government to seek to develop the steps which were being taken in the Ministry of Technology, in particular, in the last year or so of the previous Administration, to develop much closer relationships with the trade unions and to seek to ensure that there was, on the part of permanent officials dealing with industrial matters in the sphere of the Ministry of Technology, an understanding of trade union attitudes and problems as complete as their understanding of employers' attitudes and problems.
430 There is little in this Document about the need for employers and employers' associations to secure a better understanding of industrial relations. Indeed, my fear is that the forthcoming Bill will tend to strengthen the position of the more backward employers, who will be tempted to take the course of doing what they conceive the law compels them to do, rather than seeking, as has hitherto been the case, to promote proposals which commend themselves to the common sense and the sense of justice of their employees. This infusion of a greater legal element into our industrial relations system will, I believe, vitiate to a considerable degree the work of the Commission on Industrial Relations; and already there has been some suggestion, at any rate, of this in some of the reports in the Press. It is hard to see—and this is a point which I believe has not been mentioned by any noble Lord—how these proposals can fail to weaken the influence of the T.U.C. itself. They seem to me to ignore the work of very considerable value which the T.U.C. has been doing since the Donovan Commission, and particularly in the last twelve months, in seeking to improve the relationships of unions with one another, to bring together more effectively unions within particular industries, and to improve the procedures by which those unions operate.
It would be valuable if we could have indicated to us where, in the system envisaged by the Consultative Document, there is room for the mediating influence of the T.U.C. It has been a valuable influence, and one which, I think, under the impetus which was given to it by the discussions with the former Government, held out possibilities of being more fruitful in the future. I think that the present Administration have consistently underestimated (and this came out in the debate this afternoon) the value of the undertakings given by the T.U.C. following their discussions on the White Paper with the previous Government. I believe it would be of great value if, instead of proceeding on the lines they now propose, the present Government were rather to seek to follow the lines which were begun at that time.
This leads naturally to the point which was particularly emphasised by my noble 431 friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield, who pointed out how the Government had made it clear that they were not prepared to listen to argument, except upon details of the proposals. I think few noble Lords have endorsed that attitude. It seems to me that in a matter as delicate as this, it was most unwise for a declaration of that sort to have been made. Considering the complexity and importance of this issue, it was hardly likely that the T.U.C. would easily be able to enter into negotiations and discussions when it was told that the minds of the Government and the Minister were closed upon the major provisions in the proposals now before us.
There are many items of detail in the Document to which I am tempted to refer. However, it seems likely that we shall have many opportunities of returning to this matter and dealing in considerable detail with some of the proposals contained in the Document, when and if they come before us in legislative form. There are many matters which are puzzling, there are many which have an effect, when one examines them in the light of detailed knowledge, which is quite different from the effect they appear to have on first reading. For example, there are the proposals about trade union membership, with the juxtaposed right of an individual to belong to an independent registered trade union, and the right of an individual to choose not to belong to a trade union.
It is hard to see how, on the basis of those two points, the proposals set out in the Document can really be reconciled with the arrangements which the T.U.C. have under the Bridlington rules, which are arrangements of great value in introducing order into trade union membership and trade union demarcation. There is much, too, that could be said on the issue of the closed shop. There are areas of employment where maintenance of a very close control over entry to them—and I have in mind some fields of the entertainment industry, as one example—is closely related to the maintenance of standards of employment, standards of wages and conditions. There are many points which need to be examined much more closely and which deserve much more criticism than they have so far received from your Lordships.
432 Then, my Lords, let us take the issue of unfair dismissal. There are many weaknesses in the proposals on unfair dismissal. If I understand the Document aright, the one which seems particularly unsatisfactory is the proposal that an employer has a right, if he wishes, to reject a recommendation of an Industrial Tribunal that a dismissed worker should be reinstated. It is very hard to believe that this does not mean, in fact, that if these proposals are carried, then in future an employer, provided he is prepared to pay the cost (which may not in all circumstances be very great), will be able effectively to dismiss individuals who have been in his employment and who have proved themselves obnoxious to him because of their trade union activities which, while perfectly proper and perfectly legal, may have been too energetic for his liking. As to registration and legal status, one can contrast these with what the Donovan Commission said about the relative lack of serious criticism which could be made of internal trade union arrangements and trade union democracy.
So, my Lords, one could go in very great detail—and it may well be that in due course we shall have to—through this Document; but before I conclude I must make a reference to the background of these proposals. This was touched upon by my noble friend Lord Balogh, and I want to make only a brief reference to it because, as he said, there will no doubt be an opportunity before very long to discuss these aspects of the background in greater detail. However, these proposals are inevitably seen by many trade unionists outside this House as a part of and as related to other proposals which are now before your Lordships. The announcement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the question of income tax and social charges seems to many of us to be deliberately setting the Government upon the path of accentuating social inequality. Increased social service charges and increased food prices are set against the expectation of a cut of sixpence in income tax. There seems to be a general consensus, even among some Conservative newspapers, that the "break-even" point for a family with two children is about £60 a week, and that the higher one's income is above that figure the better one does from the package, the lower one's income is below that figure, until 433 one gets to the family income supplement point, the more adversely one is affected.
A second major factor in the background is the evident desire of the Government to withdraw so far as they can from any attempt to interfere in the use that industry makes of its economic power. The I.R.C. is to go; the Prices and Incomes Board is to go; any attempt to place any limit on price rises or to investigate price rises is, so far as I can make out, to go; and even the Consumer Council is to go. The Government are in fact merely to "hold the ring", except that they seem disposed to depart from this neutral position, as has been made clear in the case of the strike of public employees, when they find that the use of their normal conciliation machinery might lead employers voluntarily to propose figures for wage increases higher than the Government regard as appropriate. Against such a background as this, it is not surprising that workers look to their trade unions to take action to protect living standards, and are very acutely conscious of the relationship between trade union rights and the standard of living which trade union members and their families enjoy.
My Lords, the present Document, I fear, is not likely to improve industrial relations, but to worsen them. I believe that the course of wisdom would be for the Government to think again. They have been prepared to think again on a number of issues. They recognise that from the Treasury Bench some issues look different from the way they looked from the Opposition Benches. I believe it would be the course of wisdom for the Government to think again about these industrial relations proposals, to withdraw their Document and to sit down with both sides of industry to address themselves to the practical problems of improving industrial relations.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in the interesting speech with which he introduced his Motion, speculated with some doubt as to why the Lord Chancellor should have been asked to reply. May I suggest one or two possible reasons? I pass by, of course, the suggestion that Lord Chancellors are habitually used by their colleagues as a kind of housemaid at the end of a debate to sweep up the 434 dust. Perish the thought, my Lords, that this should have been the case in this instance!
Could it be that the Lord Chancellor himself was interested in the subject of the debate, and thought that perhaps he might make a contribution to it, especially as the Document to which the Motion relates introduces a number of new legal conceptions and a series of new legal institutions? Could it be that the Government themselves attach great importance to these proposals, and wanted one of their few senior members in this House to reply to the debate? Could it be that the Government were anticipating something of an onslaught from the Benches opposite, and wanted a Minister with a certain amount of debating experience to defend their ranks? If the latter is the explanation, I can only say that we have been grotesquely disappointed.
Yet we had every reason for the apprehension. In the debate on the Queen's Speech the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said:… the Opposition will carry on with great vigour."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2/7/70, col. 24.]and his peroration in his speech in the main debate was:I can also promise"—the Government—a determined Opposition such as has not been encountered before in your Lordships' House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7/7/70, col. 52.]Well, well, my Lords! They gave the first bisk to the noble Lord, Lord Brown. We enjoyed that, if he will allow me to say so. But the noble Lord made it very clear that the astonishing proposal which formed the central part of his speech was entirely his own view; and from the small knowledge I have of the Labour Party and of the trade union movement, from the outside of both, I should say that the chances of their adopting it are about those of an icicle in hell. Indeed, it seemed to me as he proceeded to his third Chamber of Parliament, as I thought it to be, the functionally-elected Chamber which was to recommend wage differentials, that I had heard nothing like it—
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, it was not a third Chamber of Parliament—I should like to be accurate. The noble Lord was not listening as closely as he might have been. It was a Council.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I see; it was not a third Chamber of Parliament, it was a Council; but it was to be elected functionally. I thought, whether it was a Council or a third Chamber of Parliament, that I had heard nothing like it since Mussolini's corporate State. As it was to be 95 per cent. united before it did anything, I thought I had heard nothing like it—
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, has the noble and learned Lord not seen fit to read the Romaine Lecture by Sir Winston Churchill?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I said only that I had known nothing like it in practice since the Polish monarchy—or perhaps the Security Council, which is not notorious for coming to many decisions. The principle of a unilateral veto may be extremely attractive to the noble Lord, but I do not believe there is much political experience which gives support for thinking that it gets things done. And when I ask myself whether his proposals would do any good in demarcation disputes, for instance, or unofficial strikes when the 95 per cent. majority was not obtained but only an 85 per cent. majority, or unfair dismissal or recognition disputes (to mention only some of the frequent causes of strikes), or even a plain strike about wages when they do not have all they want, I can only say that I possess—and I expect the Labour Party will possess, because I saw no trace of this in In Place of Strife—a certain degree of scepticism about the noble Lord's proposals.
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, did the noble and learned Lord not hear me dwell at some length on an appeal system for industry when he referred to the fact that I said nothing about unfair dismissals? I fear that the noble and learned Lord is having a jolly, theatrical, almost pantomime, time. But he might have listened to what was said before he began to pull to pieces proposals made in a very serious vein. I personally find his comments most objectionable.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I regret that the noble Lord should find them objectionable; but he must expect, when 436 he puts forward what appears to be a revolutionary set of proposals, that they will be examined in a critical spirit. He cannot find personally objectionable a certain degree of scepticism when one hears from the front Opposition Benches, albeit in a purely individual sense, proposals of this kind. Personally I remain unconvinced by them and I suspect that his colleagues do, too.
On the other hand, we were given a very eirenic speech, hardly coming up to Lord Shackleton's promises of determined and skilful Opposition, from the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith. I will come to him in a moment; but I would say this, in passing: if he finds so much difficulty in understanding the Consultative Document, and discovers so many points of interest which ought to be explained further and spelt out in detail, I would recommend him to get his trade union friends to consult with the Government instead of refusing to talk to them—because that is exactly what we want. If he will do that, all his difficulties will be smoothed away. But, my Lords, you see that I accept the challenge with which he ended in discussing the background of these proposals.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, to whom I also listened with a great deal of interest, and who supplied the wants of a great number of speakers on the Opposition Benches, said that we were to do nothing precipitate. Nothing precipitate! My Lords, has anything been less precipitate than the handling of this subject by Parliament? Thirteen years ago, when I was Chairman of the Conservative Party, after years of Conservative Government the principal complaint that was being made against us in this field was that we had not dealt with it. We did not deal with it. And I, as a senior Minister at that time, was as responsible as anybody for our omission. We did not deal with it precisely because we hoped that the trade unions would deal with it themselves and that the voluntary system would work. That is why we underwent the agony of that criticism.
But things did not stop there. We had a Labour Government for six years—not doing anything precipitate. They appointed a Royal Commission; and I remember the sneers in another place with which the Leader of that Party, then 437 the Prime Minister, attacked the Conservative Benches in that place and said, "You never did anything about it. We have appointed a Royal Commission." That was not very precipitate. The Royal Commission reported and issued a series of Reports under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donovan, and recommended that there should be legislation; and the Government of the day produced a White Paper, In Place of Strife; and then there was so much strife inside the Government of the day that they withdrew In Place of Strife and secured as an excuse for their doing so a solemn and binding undertaking from the T.U.C. General Council.
Then there was another General Election. And this was one of the major subordinate issues in that Election; because we had placed our policy, in all its essentials the same as the Consultative Document, into our Election programme. It was discussed very fully before the electorate. I am in no doubt that one, at any rate, of the subordinate reasons why we won the Election was that we had a constructive policy to propose and that the Government of which the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, was an ornament, had no constructive proposals at all. But when I heard the noble Lord say that one does not improve industrial relations by introducing law into that field—what an extraordinary thing for a member of that Government to say! Because the whole sanction behind In Place of Strife was a criminal sanction. There was no question of asking questions as to whether, in the face of a deliberate contempt of court, there might be a chance of committal; they had a direct criminal sanction. And instead of the cooling-off period being something which could only be achieved after a ritual of extreme precision before a court of law, it was the Secretary of State who straight away had to make an order for such a cooling-off period. Really, the noble Lord deceives himself if he thinks that our memories are quite as short as he supposes. I suppose that that was really why we had such a lack of determined and vigorous opposition on this occasion: they knew they were on very weak ground.
The really pathetic fact about this matter is the extraordinary schizophrenia inside the Party in opposition. Is it not rather odd that the law reformers oppo- 438 site have been so notably silent this afternoon—including the noble and learned Lord who preceded me on the Woolsack? They want law reform in every sphere except one. In this field alone law reform is not to be permitted to exercise its beneficial influence. They want law in all fields except industrial relations and at every moment of time except the present. Nor have we heard very much about the need for planning this afternoon from the Party in Opposition. We have not heard very much of the Tory "free-for-all" because although the Tory "free-for-all" is condemned in the market place, it is not merely tolerated but lauded as indispensable on the shop floor. And although planning is all right for the board room it becomes an intolerable tyranny if it is applied to trade unions. There is the schizophrenia.
Nor do we hear very much about compassion or the Tory philosophy of greed—except in a few concluding remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith. These tear-jerking exercises will be kept for our proposals to reduce taxation. For it is apparent—is it not?—that the whole implication underlying the resistance to what we now propose is that we are to stay where we are in all spheres except this. The law of the jungle is to be condemned, but in this sphere alone, greed, the philosophy of, "I'm all right Jack", is the one which is to be permitted to continue to prevail.
Yes, my Lords, let us talk about the background to these proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, in what I thought was a remarkably constructive speech, spoke of the gradual decline in our position among the advanced nations of the world, whether one regards productivity or whether one regards income per head as the criterion—the low, gradual sinking below Germany, France, perhaps Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the great countries of the Commonwealth. No one spoke from the Opposition Benches about the inflation to which we are being subjected at the present time. Nobody ventured a speculation as to the wage claims—except the noble Lord, Lord Brown, who ventured to attack the Leader of my Party for criticising the attitude of the previous Government in this respect. Yet what have we seen?
§ LORD BROWN:
My Lords, IS the noble and learned Lord prepared to stand up and defend the statement made by the Prime Minister? If he would do so, it would give me an opportunity to quote the Lord Chancellor, as well as the Prime Minister, in a deplorably irresponsible comment.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Lord is really getting very upset unduly. I was about to say what I was going to say about the Prime Minister. It has only been delayed a couple of minutes—and I was standing up. So what is the noble Lord complaining about? If the noble Lord had really reflected on what has happened, he would recall that the previous Administration said that, on the whole, wage settlements which exceeded 3 per cent. to 4 per cent.—I think that was the figure—were, in fact, inflationary. They have been running at about 10 per cent. or higher. This was not the first time it happened. It was no coincidence that it happened towards the end of 1964, just before and during the period of the run-up to the 1966 Election; and it started happening again, after the Government had been leaning against these settlements, in the run-up to the 1970 Election—so carefully planned and timed, as the Leader of the Labour Party was good enough to explain during the course of his Election broadcasts. How can the noble Lord, Lord Brown, complain of the remarks of the Leader of my Party in the face of such a recent experience as this?
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord supporting the Prime Minister in the statement that the last Government deliberately encouraged these wage demands? I just ask a simple question on that.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I complained that they had deliberately let the reins down on the horse and let the thing rip, because they knew very well that the policy which they had pursued up to that time, and which was a more responsible policy, was one which would lose them votes.
§ LORD BROWN
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is a distinguished lawyer and he is evading the question. He has answered my question, whether he was supporting the Prime Minister's state- 440 ment that the previous Government have deliberately encouraged these wage demands, by saying that the Government had "let the reins down" or something like that. He has not answered my question, he is evading it. His slapstick is wearing thin.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not know how slapstick can wear thin. The noble Lord must not mix his metaphors if he does not wish to be ridiculous. Now, my Lords, we are—and this is the point I had reached—discussing this particular Motion and not the Prime Minister's remarks. I think I have given the noble Lord very fair and very full treatment on his attack upon my right honourable friend. But the truth of the matter is that we have before us a set of proposals which in our view merit consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, claimed that this was not a Consultative Document, and in that he received, perhaps not wholehearted but at any rate modest support from his Leader, the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith. I wonder why the noble Lord said that. He did not think to mention that it is the Labour Party, or rather the trade unions, who are refusing to talk and not the Government. His complaint appeared to be that the Government proposed to stick by the essentials of their policy. He referred to the "eight commandments" as he called them. They were not commandments; they were pillars, as my right honourable friend said. Let us look at some of the things by which the Government wish to stick.
The right to belong or not to belong to a trade union: that was the first of the pillars. Is the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield (who did not see fit to tell us which he objected to), objecting to our sticking to that principle? Is he refusing to discuss, or justifying the refusal to discuss, the validity of that principle? If he is, he is going against the great mass of responsible opinion in this country, because that is a principle, I should have thought, which had overwhelming support from public opinion.
The unions' right to recognition: that was the second of the pillars. Does the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, complain that the Government, in this Consultative Document, are giving to the trade unions greater right of recognition 441 than they have ever given before? Is that the reason why he justifies the refusal to discuss? I suppose not. At any rate, we have offered much more than has ever been given before. The third pillar was the registration of trade unions and employers' associations. Is this the reason for refusing to discuss with the Government? But most of them are registered already; and all we are suggesting is that registration should carry with it a certain particularity about rules which is open to discussion; and that the Registrar should have separate files for employers' associations and for trade unions. Is that what they are refusing to discuss?
Number 4 pillar is the presumption that collective agreements are legally binding unless they say otherwise. Well, my Lords, is that a reason for refusing to discuss? I know that the Trades Union Congress do not want a presumption in favour of legal enforceability, but they know as well as I do that it is open to trade unions now to enter into legally enforceable bargains; and they know that under the proposals in the Consultative Document they could contract out if they pleased. I can see, of course, that my noble friend Lord Rochdale had something in his criticism that more will do so, probably, than we should wish. But what is there to justify the refusal to discuss about that when you can contract out of it if you please?
What is there, in any of the principles I have given so far, to justify Lord Taylor of Mansfield's reference to our slamming the door? Why do they refuse to discuss the fifth pillar, the procedure for the selective improvement of procedure agreements leading to legal enforceability if necessary? What is there about it which is so abominable? It may well be, of course, that trade unions would wish to enforce their agreements against the employers who broke them. Why should they not be the gainers from it? We cannot know unless they tell us, but these omnibus condemnations savour badly of a guilty conscience. If they have a good case against it, let them come forward with it. The noble Lord asked why we were not willing to listen to the case. I have been waiting the whole; afternoon to listen to this case. We are asked for clarification; we are told that we slammed the door when the door is wide open. We hear general condemna- 442 tions from the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, about the philosophy. But detailed criticism, constructive criticism—we have heard none. If they have a case let us hear what it is—even if the slapstick is wearing a little thin!
The sixth pillar is the provision for the reform of the bargaining structure. Well, Donovan was in favour of that; In Place of Strife was in favour of that. Why are we supposed to be imposing a diktat because we say that this is something which lies at the root of our proposals? Limitation of existing immunities—the majority of Donovan proposed it. Is the noble Lord really afraid of discussing the proposals of a Royal Commission, set up by a Labour Government, under a distinguished and impartial Judge who, in a former existence, was a member of the Labour Party in the House of Commons? Is this where he has taken himself to, and his trade union friends? Ultimate safeguards for the community—and now, my Lords, I have read them all—the eight pillars, the eight commandments, which the noble Lord found so objectionable that he said the T.U.C. were entitled to refuse to discuss them round the table with us.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I think the noble and learned Lord is mistaken. What I said was that it is the Government who are refusing to consult with the T.U.C. on these eight principles.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Lord is wholly misinformed. This is what we say is our policy. I agree that we are not going back on trade union recognition. Does he want us to? I agree that we insist that there should be some ultimate safeguards for the interests of the community. Does he complain of that? The House might have been led to believe, since he did not reveal one of the eight principles which Mr. Carr referred to in detail, that the things we are insisting on were utterly controversial or unreasonable. But the noble Lord has not yet answered which of these he finds unreasonable and why the T.U.C. should have refused to discuss them with us.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
But the T.U.C. have not refused. It is the Government who have refused to listen to the T.U.C.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am delighted to hear it, and I hereby revoke any measure of refusal that there might have been and only hope that they will be round to-morrow morning to discuss it.
I turn back to the question of the philosophy underlying this Document, since that was the only other general measure of attack. I must for this purpose refer to something that I said in the debate on the gracious Speech. About 150 years ago two great types of economic organisation were left unrecognised by the Common Law of England. One was the joint stock company and the other was the trade union. The joint stock company was outside the Common Law because the Common Law did not recognise the right to limit liability. If you traded, so said the judges of the time, you had to pay to the utmost of your ability. Limited liability was not to be permitted. The trade union was outside the Common Law basically because it was a conspiracy in restraint of trade.
Owing to the particular political philosophy of the time, successive Parliaments of the 19th and early 20th centuries smiled on the joint stock company, and by 1862 the forerunner of the present Companies Act was passed. It brought law into that field. It recognised the right of limited liability, a privilege and an immunity not enjoyed by other associations. It gave a corporate personality. It insisted on registration, provided that in order to secure the privilege of registration and immunity a minimum set of rules was adhered to. It even provided a model set, called Table A. It defined the rights of directors, shareholders, creditors and members of the public. It limited the sphere within which a given company could operate, defined by the Memorandum of Association. And the result was, as always happens when you bring in law where chaos was, that the joint stock company, the limited liability company, became a great instrument in the dynamic economic expansion for which it has become famous.
But what a different kind of treatment was meted out to the trade unions by the 19th and 20th century Parliaments! There is no Trade Union Act, like the Companies Act. If one looks at the leading work on trade union law, written by a very close relation of the 444 noble Lord, Lord Citrine, one sees that it is a jungle of anomalies. The noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, complained of certain points of obscurity in the Consultative Document. If he wants obscurities, he should go to this leading technical authority on trade union law and see what we are trying to clear up. That is the chaos which the noble Lord is asking us to maintain.
The truth is, my Lords, that successive Parliaments in successive Acts (and here I speak of the whole succession of Trade Union Acts from the Act of 1871 up to and including the last Statute of 1965 brought in by the last Government: an Act which we are going to repeal) did nothing more than reverse ad hoc previous decisions of the courts. Thus Parliament rendered obscurity more obscure and did nothing to introduce a clearly stated system of rights and obligations.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that this is only a part of what has to be done. We cannot handle the climate of industry solely by introducing legislation, or handle any contemporary disputes. May I say to the noble Lord, in passing, that I am not going to yield to the invitation which he held out and which was handed on, tied up with red tape, by my noble friend on the Front Bench, that I should tell him exactly how the Bill would have dealt with the miners' unofficial strikes or with the strikes of local authority workers? It would be only too easy to do so—but fatally foolish. One reason why I should not do so is that there is now no industrial code and no enforceable procedure agreement, so that the situation now is one which could not be translated into a set of circumstances in which these strikes took place under the new code.
We might have to ask whether some of these disputes include unfair industrial actions, in which case the Consultative Document will give the noble Lord the answer. We might have to ask whether some of them might not involve a national emergency at some stage, in which case the Consultative Document will again give him the answer. But wild horses will not drag from me a syllable further—even at the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, which I find so difficult to resist.
But, my Lords, this is only a part—indeed, a small part of the whole—of 445 what my noble friend Lord Dudley called the long haul which we have in front of us. But I do not think that we can do without it, because I do not believe in the law of the jungle either in the market place or on the shop floor. I believe in law. And what do I mean by law? The last Government, I am sorry to say, seem to have assumed that the only law with which they were familiar was the law of crime which ends in imprisonment or fine. That is not our view in the Government. The greater part of English law has nothing whatever to do with crime and does not end in prison. The law of husband and wife is not part of criminal law; nor is the law of landlord and tenant, of vendor and purchaser, of master and servant, of partnership, divorce, company law, income tax, contract and tort—none of these is a part of the criminal law. Though cases can occur when a deliberate attempt to flout the law may end in prison under the rules affecting contempt of court, this happens remarkably seldom.
I must tell the noble Lord who raised this question that even in this country we have some small experience of the truth of this. Judgments were given in the ordinary courts against the trade unions or against individuals in Rookes v. Barnard; they were given by way of injunction in Stratford v. Lindley; they were given in the Torquay Hotel case against the Transport and General Workers' Union, including Mr. Cousins. Did they go to prison? They did not. They obeyed the law. I rather suspect that if a reasonable and just law is passed in the field of civil obligation, not of crime, the responsible leaders of the trade union movement will abide by that just as they have in the past and, as I say, just as the vast majority of trade union leaders in other countries have done when similar laws have been passed. Because there is nothing in this Consultative Document which does not exist in other advanced countries and which has not worked with a considerable measure of success there, a circumstance which I commend to the Party in Opposition and the trade unions to reflect upon deeply.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, while not wishing to dispute that, may I ask something by way of clarification? It says in the Document that the N.I.R.C. would have power to enforce any of these orders. 446 How is it proposed that they should enforce them?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There are three types of order. One is an order for compensation, when in one way or another they would be enforced through fieri facias; there is a declaration which would not require direct enforcement; and there is an injunction which would be enforceable in the first place simply by service of the order on the two or three people to whom it was directed, but certainly not to masses of trade unionists as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, suggested in his speech. I think that if the noble Lord reads the Consultative Document with care he will find that this is made abundantly plain. If it has not been made abundantly plain in the Consultative Document, I hope I have made it abundantly clear now—though I stand subject to correction.
The law is therefore not something to be feared—this is a point that I would particularly emphasise in this context—it is, in fact, the very framework on which society is founded. Its most effective sanctions are very often its mildest sanctions. I agree with those noble Lords—I think the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, and my noble friend Lord Rochdale—who said that law is most valuable when it comes least before the courts. But its absence—and we are dealing with a situation in which it is absent in the field we are now discussing—always means chaos, disorder and even violence; and this is, if not the only cause, one of the contributory causes of the contemporary chaos in industrial relations.
As I have said, we do not put forward the introduction of our proposals as an instant cure to inflationary wage demands or strikes in support of them. I do not suppose that those will stop until it really comes home to people that if all the wage claims were met, that would be a recipe for national bankruptcy, and that strikes therefore not only do not pay in the long run, but cannot. But we do claim that our proposals will help to put an end to industrial anarchy; we believe that they will help to put an end to non-recognition disputes: we hope that they will help to put an end to demarcation disputes, to disputes over unjust dismissals, to wildcat and unconstitutional 447 strikes, to secondary strikes, to the Rookes v. Barnard situation, to strikes in support of a closed shop. We claim that our proposals may marginally assist in dealing with national emergencies and will protect the worker from unjust dismissal by his employer or unjust expulsion from his union by a caucus. In other words, we claim that our case has not been answered in the debate to-day. We have put forward these proposals as part of a scheme to handle what is undoubtedly an urgent situation with which the future economic life of the country is bound up.
I would beg noble Lords who have great influence in their own Party to take another look at the Consultative Document—and they have asked us to take another look. Let them take it back to their union friends, with whom again they have often exercised greater influence than I can hope to do. Let them ask their union friends to think again before refusing consultation with us. Let them point out some of the advantages in it, and let them say quite plainly that it is always better to talk before you attack in general terms policies which are designed by an effective Government, forming part of their Election programme, for the good of the country which we were elected to represent.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, IT only remains for me to thank noble Lords who have participated in what I think has been an extremely useful debate. It has given the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor an opportunity to enjoy himself. I must say that I thoroughly appreciated his tour de force: I would calculate it at about Force Eight; it is nice to see him in full sail. I quite appreciate that he is too old a hand and much too skilful to be drawn on the question that I put to him as to how these proposals would refer to the two current strikes. I was not very convinced by his answer, except from the debating point of view; and I of course would have given exactly the same answer had I been asked the question. But I think it would be helpful to the House if, before we come to legislation, we could have some practical example as to how these proposals might work.
448 I want to say only one more thing. I believe that the Lord Chancellor has made an important statement to-night in making it clear that the Government are willing to talk to the T.U.C. or to anybody else in this process of consultation. I hope that we shall have the opportunity of seeing as much discussion as possible.
To me the Consultative Document is merely a starting point. Without a starting point, my Lords, you do not make progress. I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.