HL Deb 09 August 1972 vol 334 cc1185-209

7.0 p.m.

EARL JELLICOE rose to move, That the Emergency (No. 2) Regulations 1972, laid before the House on Thursday last, shall continue in force subject to the provisions of Section 2(4) of the Emergency Powers Act 1920. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. In opening this debate I should like to concentrate on the measures which the Government may have to take to deal with the emergency confronting us at the present time.

I do not think your Lordships will wish me to traverse the history of the dispute which led to this national dock strike with which we are now faced. But I am quite certain that you will share my hope that the very great efforts which are being deployed to reach a negotiated settlement under the aegis of the Aldington-Jones Committee and on the basis of the recommendations contained in their report will be successful. The Committee have not spared themselves. They have had numerous meetings and, as your Lordships know, they met late last night and again to-day. It is too early to say whether their efforts will lead to an early settlement, but of two things I am confident. The first is that your Lordships will all share my admiration for the strenuous efforts which this power- ful Committee have been making. I am sure, too, that it will be the general view of your Lordships that we should say nothing in this debate that would in any way render the task of the Committee more difficult.

I now propose to outline briefly to the House the purpose of the Emergency Regulations which came into force last Friday. The Proclamation of a State of Emergency was made on Thursday, August 3, and on the same day the Emergency (No. 2) Regulations 1972 were made and laid before Parliament. They came into operation the following day. To declare a State of Emergency and to take the emergency powers which go with it are grave actions, and Parliament should always question such actions seriously.

My Lords, this is the fourth occasion in two years on which a Proclamation has been necessary, though I would remind your Lordships that, happily, on two out of the three previous occasions virtually no use was in fact made of the powers. The electricity consumption orders during the coal strike were the only example of the extensive use of powers under Emergency Regulations. Again I should like to stress that it is our hope that on this occasion, too, it will not be necessary to make extensive use of the very wide-ranging powers contained in the Regulations. Indeed, as I shall mention later, the only power under the Emergency Regulations which the Government have as yet exercised is that to establish the Port Emergency Committees. Nevertheless, I am sure there will be general recognition that the Government have a duty to protect the essentials of life of the whole community. Likewise, it has always been recognised that a national dock strike can quickly present a threat to essential supplies and that in these circumstances it is right for the Government of the day to arm themselves with emergency powers as a contingency measure.

Having said that, and before turning to the Proclamation and the Regulations themselves, I should like, very briefly, to outline to the House the position as T understand it to be at present—not the position regarding the dispute but the position regarding the threat to essential supplies. In the first place, I must make it clear that there is no immediate shortage of food for human consumption. While there may be certain pockets of local shortage, it is generally true to say that only a few imported items, such as fruits, are in short supply in the shops. Nevertheless, it is clear that were the strike to continue for any considerable length of time without remedial action we should begin to experience increasing shortages over a much wider range of foods.

The chief immediate area of concern is the increasing shortage of animal feedingstuffs. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has the position here under particularly careful review. He is indeed at this very moment discussing these matters with representatives of the trade interests concerned, and a variety of ways are being urgently sought to prevent what would be the totally unnecessary, and indeed sad, slaughter of poultry and pigs on our farms. It is of course our hope that the strike will end shortly, and in that event things in this area will quickly come back to normal. But we must provide for the worst on a contingency basis, and in this specific and important area of animal feedingstuffs time is beginning to run short. Then I should point out, without going into details, that there are special difficulties which some of our remoter communities are experiencing. I have in mind particularly some of the smaller islands off the West Coast of Scotland, and Orkney and the Shetlands. Here again I can assure your Lordships that the position in these islands is under close review and is receiving attention.

My Lords, that is the background to the Proclamation and the making of the Regulations. Subject to Parliamentary approval, these Regulations will continue in operation for as long as the State of Emergency continues, which is for a period of one calendar month from the date of the Proclamation. If the emergency extended beyond that period a further Proclamation could he made. In that event, fresh Regulations would be required and would within seven days require the approval of Parliament; and both Houses would have to be recalled for that purpose. Your Lordships will perhaps remember that we are proposing to come back, rather abnormally, this year on Monday, September 11. That is our present programme. Should the unfortunate necessity arise of having to continue the State of Emergency and to make fresh regulations, it would. I fear, be necessary for this House to be recalled during the week preceding the date now fixed.

These Regulations are, with one exception of substance to which I will refer in a moment, substantially the same as those used in previous emergencies. Again I would emphasise that in seeking these powers we wish to ensure that they are available immediately when the need for their use arises. This means that there will be no use of these powers beyond what is necessary to ensure the essentials of life to the community. Similarly, the Government intend to end the State of Emergency and the Regulations as soon as it is feasible to do so. As I have mentioned, little use has so far been made of the Regulations. Port Emergency Committees in the major ports have been set up under paragraph 4 of Regulation 3. Initially the Committees will report about the state of the ports, and later, under the direction of the Secretary of State, they could take necessary action to control traffic in those ports.

Given the similarity which these Regulations bear to those to which your Lordships have become only too accustomed. I shall restrict my remarks to drawing attention to the only change of substance. Regulation 25 is in fact new and is designed to facilitate rapid recourse to alternative sources of drugs and medicines where the normal channels are impeded. It is not expected that this power will need to be used in the present emergency, although it was thought right, based on experience in the previous emergency, to add it to the standard body of regulations. The powers to waive provision of the Medicines Act 1968 are held by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services in respect of most drugs and medicines, other than those used primarily for the treatment of animal diseases. In the latter case the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has the power to waive the application of the relevant parts of the Act.

Regulations 32 to 40 repeat the provisions of earlier Regulations, mainly with regard to offences and penalties, and I would remind your Lordships that in accordance with the proviso to Regulation 38(1) nothing in the Regulations makes it an offence to take part in peaceful picketing—I stress the word "peaceful".

There have been suggestions that the Government should take immediate steps to introduce price control of food under Regulation 23. These suggestions will be examined, but I am far from persuaded that it would be right to do so now. Should it be so decided at some future date, there would of course be considerable problems of an administrative nature connected with any possible scheme. I believe that at present trade is doing its best to hold down prices, but when imported foodstuffs, for example bananas, are in very short supply or are not available they inevitably acquire a scarcity value which no system of distribution or price control could possibly obviate, though I doubt whether a temporary shortage of bananas would serious endanger the life of the community.

I hope the fact that I have introduced these Regulations to your Lordships in a comparatively brief speech will not in any way be taken that either I or the Government view this situation other than gravely. I have kept my remarks brief because I am anxious not to say anything at this delicate stage which might in any way prejudice the chances of that early settlement which we all desire to see.

I will, in conclusion, dwell on three points. I wish, first, to refer to the difficulty which has arisen and the concern that has been expressed over the payment of supplementary benefit to the families of dockers who volunteered during the strike—I am glad that they have done so—to move essential supplies and who have apparently chosen to donate any wages they receive to some charitable purpose. I am glad to be able to inform your Lordships that following a meeting between the trade union and employers' side and the Chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission this afternoon, the following statement was agreed: It was agreed at a meeting on 9th August between the representative of the dockers and a representative of the port employers and the Chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission that in the event of any voluntary task being undertaken by the dock workers during a strike, no payment of wages shall be made to any person involved in the task performed, but the employer would be able at his discretion to make a lump sum payment to charity in consideration of the work done. In such circumstances Supplementary Benefit would be payable in accordance with the normal provisions.

Secondly, there is the position over the possible use of troops. I can assure your Lordships that troops would be used only in the last resort, when all other efforts to move supplies which are essential—I stress the word "essential"—to the life of the community by other means have failed.

Thirdly, I should like to emphasise that these Regulations are in no way directed against the dockers or their unions. They are not a means of bringing Government pressure on the parties in dispute. In seeking these powers the Government are acting, as any Government must act in the discharge of their duty to the nation, to secure the maintenance of the essentials to life. Whatever we may feel about the origins of this dispute and whatever our judgments may be on the various aspects of our industrial relations, I am confident that this action—the taking of these necessary powers—commands the support not only of your Lordships but of the nation generally. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Emergency (No. 2) Regulations 1972, laid before the House on Thursday last, shall continue in force subject to the provisions of Section 2(4) of the Emergency Powers Act 1920.—(Earl Jellicoe.)

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, for the clear and adequate way in which he has explained the Motion. I wish to make it clear at the start that we on these Benches do not propose to divide the House or oppose the Motion. We recognise that a situation of this kind exists and that the Government must have the necessary powers to protect the life of the nation.

I was glad to hear the noble Earl say that the Government would use these powers to the minimum extent necessary—I am not quoting his words, but that was the purport of what he said—and I want to underline how important that is. He went on to say that these powers were not intended in any way to bring pressure to bear on the unions—that is, that they were not intended to be used for the purpose of strike breaking—and I am sure that that is the intention of the Government. Nevertheless, this Government, like every other Government faced with this situation, are in the dilemma that the withdrawal of pressure on the consumer technically withdraws some of the pressure on the employer. Inevitably, therefore, the carrying out of their proper function of protecting the life of the nation entails their giving a certain amount of assistance to the employer as against the employee. It is a dilemma but it is somewhat inevitable. All that one can say is that one is grateful for the clear undertaking to use the powers to the minimum extent possible.

I share the hone that the noble Earl expressed that the emergency and the strike will come to an end as soon as possible. I congratulate the Committee to which he referred. He called it the Aldington-Jones Committee but I prefer to call it the Jones-Aldington Committee.


My Lords, it was merely a question of alphabetical order.


My Lords, I think the Jones-Aldington sequence has gained a certain amount of currency in the Press and elsewhere. Be that as it may, we are talking about the same Committee in the same way and that is the important thing. We are both very conscious of the great efforts that have been made by this Committee and the way in which it was got together. The same applies to the thinking behind inviting people like Jack Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, along with the other members of the Committee, to carry out this function. We congratulate the Committee on the work it has done. We hope, without saying anything which might make life more difficult for them, that both employers and employees will realise the great responsibility which both sides have in making some contribution, and if necessary some sacrifice, in the interests of the nation, and we are all aware that there are arguments to be made and points to be considered on both sides.

I immediately respond to the appeal of the noble Earl not to say anything further about the circumstances of the strike which might only exacerbate the situation. I do not propose to detain your Lordships for long. It would however be appropriate for me to comment on some of the background circumstances to which one must have regard because this is, as the noble Earl said, the fourth occasion—it seems extraordinary, but it is the fourth occasion—in two short years when we are having Emergency Regulations put before us.

I need say little about the powers themselves because, with one exception, we know them well; we almost know them by heart. One does not want to drift into a situation in which there will be a fifth and sixth occasion, bearing in mind that future occasions could be more severe than the present one or the three previous ones. I am bound therefore, in support of what the noble Earl said, to say something by way of an appeal for new thinking. I urge him to urge all his colleagues to appreciate the wisdom of saying nothing that exacerbates feelings at this time. If the noble Earl were to ask me to give examples, I could give two. For instance, on the radio at one o'clock to-day his right honourable friend the Leader of the other place spoke of some action on the part of the dockers. I do not know what the action was, whether his right honourable friend's remarks were right or whether he sincerely felt what he said. Nevertheless he said that certain action of the dockers was "quite disgraceful". I therefore request the noble Earl to give my compliments to his right honourable friend and to ask him to bear in mind on future occasions—because we hope that this strike will be over shortly—to reserve comments like that until after the strike is over and not make them at what the noble Earl himself described as this delicate stage of negotiations. That is one example that occurs to me to justify my making this request to the noble Earl.

The second one which occurs to me is a matter to which he has just referred and to which I was going to refer in a very similar way, namely, the problem of "Have you got wages when you have foregone them?" Have you got resources when you have foregone them?". The noble Earl has been good enough to say that he was glad, and we are glad, that this work was voluntarily undertaken, and obviously in the circumstances those undertaking the work could not accept payment because they were acting individually and all the others on strike were not going to get payment. Equally obviously the employer should not get the benefit of that voluntary act on the part of his employees. So, in those circumstances, there is the device which is exactly the same as the device which the Government enacted in the Industrial Relations Act for those not wanting to join a union but who should not have the benefit of the results of union negotiation without making any payment—the device of making a payment to charity. And may I say that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for honouring us with his presence on this occasion also.

Now, my Lords, my experience is in the tax field, and all your Lordships who are interested in that field know very well that a man asked to provide a certain service can say, " Yes, I am willing to provide the service but I do not want payment for it. You can give it to XYZ charity." We all know that that can be done in one of two ways. In one way the man providing the service pays tax on what is deemed to be his income. In the other way the man providing the service pays no tax because he is deemed not to have had any income. But exactly the same thing happens: he provides the service and the payment is made to the charity. Why am I saying this? I am saying it to show what a marginal situation this is. I am delighted that negotiations have now taken place so that what was done in, if I may say so, a somewhat "ham-handed" fashion from this point of view, not realising its consequences, is now being done in a much more sensible way.

The point I am making is that I do not think it was in the best interests of settling this dispute that immediately this difficulty arose—a very real difficulty, especially if your Lordships would be good enough to look at it in the light of those dockers who had volunteered their services—what happened? The Under-Secretary of the Department concerned spoke on the wireless justifying fully the action of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, which was unnecessary, and, worse, making it appear that the Government and the Supplementary Benefits Commission were in some way or other connected and that this was part of Government policy. I do not say that he said so, but I say that he made it appear so to any docker listening in to that explanation or looking at it on television. That was unfortunate, and I am very glad indeed that the situation has developed in the way in which the noble Earl has explained.

I finish with an appeal to the Government to take stock of the situation. I have already referred to the fact, as the noble Earl himself did, that this is the fourth occasion in two years that we have had an Emergency Proclamation arising out of industrial relations difficulties. The "days lost through strikes" figures recently published, coupled with that, show that we are in the worst industrial relations situation since the war. To be as non-controversial as I can be, this Government is presiding over a situation on industrial relations which is worse than that which faced even any previous Conservative Government since the war. Surely, therefore, I am entitled to ask the Government to take stock of the situation and to have regard to some of the circumstances which might have formed part of the background.

We all know on what a marginal vote this decision to strike was taken. We all know the numbers who abstained. We can all interpret that in our own way. It would not be the first time that I have divided the House as a matter of protest on the way the Government is behaving rather than on the content of the particular proposal which is being discussed, and that is a well understood procedure. It is the only way in which those who feel that they are not being fairly treated can register their sense of injustice. One can therefore interpret the decision that was taken by the dockers' representatives at that meeting. I do not suppose any one of us here doubts but that the recent gaoling of five dockers was not completely absent from the minds of every one of those representatives; or the £55,000 fine; or other hostile acts—-as the unions see them—stemming from the Industrial Relations Act. There can be no doubt about that.

Equally, there is no doubt about the present situation under that Act. At the last count there were 10 million members affiliated to the Trades Union Congress. Of those, 9½ million out of the total of 10 million at the last count have come off the register. They have taken steps to opt out of the Industrial Relations Act and to bear the penalties. When one is thinking about how people react to a fine of £55,000, I would ask your Lordships to think of the real fine of between £3 million and £4 million a year which' the Government are imposing at this minute on all those unions. As the noble Earl sits there he and his Government—I still feel bitter about this and regard it as a complete abuse of power—are fining all the unions, including that union led by Mr. Jack Jones, who is at the moment the much applauded and responsible individual who, together with Lord Aldington, is million because they prefer not to sign a piece of paper which says "Register unless" or "Register or else".

That is the present situation, and I appeal to the Government, therefore, to realise that there are many members of trade unions—and he should not have called them "trade unions" in his speech; he was guilty of an inaccuracy, as they are not trade unions, according to the Government. There are many members of organisations of workers. Mr. Jack Jones, upon whom we are all relying so much, is not a "trade union leader"; he is an employee of an "organisation of registered workers", not entitled to call themselves a trade union under this Act. That is the present situation, and so I am appealing to the Government to take stock of the situation and to be willing to go and sit round a table with the unions, with the idea of both sides making some contribution in respect of the Industrial Relations Act. It is obviously asking for too much to ask the Government to repeal the Act yet. It is not asking for too much to ask the Government to take stock of the present situation, and on the occasion of this, the fourth imposition of Emergency Regulations, to see whether certain aspects of the Industrial Relations Act have not contributed to the present situation and will not be likely to contribute to even worsening situations in future. And I have indicated one that stands very high in my order of priorities.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, it is my intention to speak only briefly. This is not an occasion for Party controversy. In the circumstances, no alternative was left to the Government than to ask for emergency powers. It has been done before; regretfully, it may happen again. What I am concerned with is the nature of this dispute; what was the cause of it. It may be argued that it is something to do with industrial relations and the Industrial Relations Tribunal, or something of the sort. Quite frankly, I do not think anything of the kind. I have myself had considerable experience with dock labour in the past; I was associated with them because of my connection with the seamen and I understand the nature of their difficulties. I can recall the casual labour of the past, the deplorably low rates of pay, the long hours of work and the regular unemployment. I thought we had departed permanently from that deplorable situation.

What is the dispute about? It is essentially a demarcation dispute. In the past, when we had demarcation disputes as between one section of workers and another as to who should do this or that, the matter was dealt with by the demarcation committee or the economic committee of the Trades Union Congress General Council. I can recall many years ago when I was chairman of the Glasgow Trades Council, which at the time was the most influential trade union body in the whole of Scotland. We had frequent demarcation disputes among the railway unions and various other unions, and we had a demarcation committee which determined who was in the right and which side was in the wrong. That is what the trouble is about.

But there is another reason for this dispute. Some time ago I ventured to put a Question in your Lordships' House. I did not get, and did not expect, a full and satisfactory answer. It was on the question of redundancy and what is to be done about it. This is part of the trouble. There is a great deal of unemployment in the transport industry. The dock labourers are insecure; that we know. If they see their jobs being taken away from them because of containerisation, naturally they resent it. We have to face that fact. I happen to know something about containerization, because it is closely associated with the shipping industry. Containerisation has come to stay; there is no mistake about that. We have got to understand it and adapt ourselves to this new situation. And if the Government have made a mistake, it is not the first time that a mistake has occurred; nor is this Government the first Government to have made a mistake. These matters have been discussed in the past—for example, the question of redundancy. What has been done about it? It just exists. There is, of course, unemployment benefit or supplementary allowances and the like. That is not enough. We must face the fact that whether it is because of automation or rationalisation, mechanisation or whathave-you, redundancy exists.

If I may supplement what my noble friend Lord Diamond has said in his very thoughtful speech, the Government have to consider the situation and find some way out of the difficulty, otherwise, we are going to have a frequency of disputes which this nation can no longer afford. There is another thing. I wonder—I may be quite wrong in what I am about to say—whether the Aldington/ Jones Report was not prematurely announced. It was suggested that the Report would prevent a national dock strike. That was stated in your Lordships' House; I cannot be exact about the terms. It was stated in the other place, in the Press, in almost every newspaper; the Aldington/Jones Report would make it unnecessary to have a dockers' strike.

We have a dockers' strike, and leaving aside all other reasons and arguments associated with the situation, we have a strike now because some dock employers refuse to agree, as I understand it, that only registered dockers should be associated with containerisation. They may have very good reasons for this. It may mean extra costs. It may mean the employment of dock labour which is more expensive and transport labour of what might be described as inferior quality. I do not use the word "inferior" in a derogatory sense; probably it is because of differentials in wages rates. Is it impossible for the Government to find some way out of that difficulty?

Here I want to ask a question. Would it not have been wiser on the part of the Government to intervene? From the very beginning of this dispute there has been no evidence of Government inter- vention except the present emergency powers. What has been going on behind the scenes? Has the Minister for Trade and Employment, or any other Minister associated with problems of this character, sought to intervene? There is no evidence of this. I should have thought that intervention should have taken place at a very early date. We have experience of this. I can recall the deplorable seamen's strike that took place during the period of office of the Wilson Government, when Mr. Gunter was Minister of Labour. It lasted several weeks. On that occasion I appealed to Mr. Gunter at the outset to intervene, and I was told that traditionally the Minister of Labour never intervened but always waited until approached. It was only when the Shipping Federation, on the one hand, led by Mr. Ford Geddes, and the National Union of Seamen, led by Mr. Hogarth, approached some Members of Parliament, including myself, that we were able to press for an inquiry. The inquiry did not take place until five or six weeks after the dispute had originated. That is all wrong.

I think there is general agreement that the Government had to act as they have done and take emergency powers. The Government must act; but a Government must also govern, and must be seen to be governing. They cannot afford to ignore what is brewing in an industry. They know what is going on they have their ears to the ground, and information is available to them. They ought to intervene at the earliest possible moment to prevent a dispute, even if it is regarded as premature action, because once a dispute begins it is a much more difficult thing to stop it.

I have one further question. Can the noble Earl the Leader of the House say whether the Government are seized of what is happening now in the discussions of the Aldington-Jones Committee in their association with the employers? What is going on? What is the actual obstacle? I have ventured to express an opinion about it, but I may be wrong and in that event I hope to be corrected. What is the real trouble? Is it a matter of finance? Can the Government act? Is it something other than that where the Government have the facility and will to take some action? We ought to know, because the sooner this dispute is brought to an end, the better.

Nobody is more pleased than I am to hear that there are ample food supplies, but there is much more than that at stake. There is the effect on our economy, and Heaven knows our economy will not stand much of this sort of thing. I therefore hope that the Government may find an opportunity to do something perhaps through the medium of the Trades Union Congress General Council. I do not notice that Mr. Vic Feather is doing anything about this. Recently it was decided following meetings between representatives of the C.B.I. and the T.U.C., to form a body which is intended to seek conciliatory action, to promote conciliation, arbitration or something of that sort. There ought to be action of some kind. I repeat that the sooner this dispute is brought to an end, the better. There ought, I agree, to be no acrimony if it can possibly be avoided. We cannot afford disputes of this character much longer. Although I understand why the dispute has taken place, and the background to it, we have to face the fact that if we go on having disputes of this character then the future of this country—well, no one can say what is going to happen.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, for outlining these Regulations and emergency powers. I agree entirely with the statement that nothing should be said that might prejudice the chances of a settlement. I am glad to read the reports in the evening newspapers, and on the Table, to the effect that progress is being made by the Jones-Aldington Committee. I hope this is so. I gather that the outlook is more hopeful. On the strength of these reports, I think questions about the situation that has arisen should be related to a time-scale of a week or less, and I very much hope I am proven to be right in that respect.

Nevertheless, my Lords, there are certain commodities, as the noble Earl has pointed out, and certain areas of the country where there is some degree of urgency. Perhaps in replying the noble Earl will tell us a little more as to how serious is the shortage of animal feeding-stuffs. I have read an account of the statement made by Mr. Prior, the Minister of Agriculture, and I gather there is some system of rationing in operation. Presumably this is a voluntary form of rationing by agreement with the wholesalers and the farmers. I should like to know how it is working. Again, there is the problem, to which the noble Earl has referred, of getting essential supplies through to the Orkneys, the Shetlands and the other islands.

Reference has already been made to the difficulties with which the dockers are faced, in particular the Glasgow dockers. Certainly I heard that they were willing to assist to get supplies through to the Orkneys and Shetlands. I welcome the statement made to-day by the noble Earl. At the same time I am aware that the Government are not directly responsible for what the Supplementary Benefits Commission decides and I will not attempt to embark on the extremely complex tax position which has been outlined to noble Lords. I think there are still one or two practical points that the noble Earl could deal with in his reply. I understand that petrol is being taken to the Orkneys and Shetlands and the other islands by plane; it is the only way at present. That is rather a dangerous operation. Could noble Lords have some information about it? A somewhat similar point: are supplies getting through to the offshore oil rigs? There again the situation, I am told, could become serious. It would be helpful if we could learn the latest position.

My Lords, are perishable goods—an inevitable casualty of a conflict of this nature—still piling up at ports? As to price control, I am inclined to agree with the noble Earl that there are many difficulties about its introduction, and I doubt whether, in the circumstances that exist at present, it could be effective without some form of rationing. These are some of the immediate problems, and I sincerely hope it will be a matter only of days and not of weeks before the dispute is settled.

I have a few comments to offer on the wider aspect, but I do not approach it in quite the same way as my noble friend Lord Diamond does, although our aims are the same; namely, that there should be better relations in industry. I hope that when this settlement is reached—I say "when", not "if"—it will provide an opportunity to create a new climate, a climate in which there will be a chance to consider calmly what has gone wrong in the last two years—for undoubtedly something has gone wrong in the last two years. I suggest that one of the unfortunate characteristics of the last 18 months is that we have had many bold statements from the Government about the need for maintaining the rule of law in industry, but all too often, it seems to me, the Government's actions have had the effect of undermining the position of the moderates and of playing into the hand of extremists. I readily acknowledge that that was not the intention or the desire of the Government; but that is how things have tended to work out.

There is another trend that I regret; and here I must disagree with my noble friend Lord Diamond, because I do not think this should be regarded as unmentionable: I regret the growth of violence in the course of picketing. While I appreciate the strength of feeling of those engaged in a dispute, especially when it coincides with fear of permanent loss of employment in the future, one must deplore the violent action that has occasionally taken place. It is in my view entirely out of keeping with the best traditions of the trade union movement. I should like to see all political Parties and the leaders of the trade unions, if I may call them such, united, and openly united, on this point, that physical violence, whether against the police or against other workers, is quite contrary to our democratic traditions. If I were to stop there I should be intellectually dishonest, because I recognise that the unity on this point of peaceful picketing which is so important cannot be achieved in the atmosphere of confrontation and distrust which has been prevalent, certainly in the last 18 months, and for which the Government must bear some considerable measure of responsibility. I do not expect the noble Earl to get up and say that he agrees with me, but I hope that he accepts the sincerity of my views on that point. In conclusion, I agree that these emergency powers are necessary, and I only hope that they will be short-lived.

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, while I share the sentiment that nothing should be said here which could exacerbate the situation, it seems to me that too much can be swept under the carpet if certain facts are not related. It seems to me that we are debating a matter which can be characterised only by use of the most evil cliché the English language: that about chickens coming home to roost. We have warned the Government with a monotony which was too boring for words—at any rate, hearing myself speak—but in vain, that confrontation and abrasiveness would not produce the results which we all desired and that something else had to be done; that the general pressures on the economy, as was stated in the Conservative manifesto, would not produce the harmony and equilibrium which we all desired.

Unlike some of my noble, right honourable and honourable friends, I do not believe that the fount of all evil is the Industrial Relations Act. We had very great problems before that. It is the profound change which has overtaken the social and economic system which has produced these difficulties, and the refusal—and, by no means, by this Government alone, though this Government were preeminent in refusing—to deal with these problems in a reasonable fashion. It has been said here, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, that this is a form of demarcation dispute. I beg to disagree. It is a demarcation dispute, but it is a demarcation dispute with a difference. It is the concentration of power in both trade unions and the Employers' Federation, together with the fuller employment which we have enjoyed since the war, which have produced this terrible problem, and I do not believe that any of the Governments since the war have been either capable of analysing the fresh problems or of devising methods to deal with them. It is because we have tried to combat the problem of inflation and the problem of the relationship between employer and employee by completely anachronistic methods that we have landed in the situation which we are in.

No doubt the problem of the docks and containerisation is an important and very difficult one. People are afraid for their livelihood and they are pressing for security which they cannot get. But they are pressing for security because, after all, unemployment has increased in this country from roughly 150,000 to 180,000 to over a million, and after a drop it is again rising towards a million. That the problem can be solved in the framework of an expanding economy has been shown in Rotterdam. Rotterdam has also had this containerisation problem but the dockers of Rotterdam, and of Antwerp, are not a different kind of people. They are very similar to our people and on occasion have been far more violent than our people.

Therefore, I must press on my noble friend Lord Diamond that the Government should reconsider their basic policies and their basic attitudes to life. It is no good hoping that the confrontation of the market forces, which are now monopoly forces, will produce any sort of desired result. I welcome the pacific tone of the noble Earl the Leader of the House. It was in line with the civilised approach which he always adopts when he is not prevented from doing so. But I must say that I only wish his colleagues would follow him, and that he would lead not only this House, with the distinction he does, but also the Government into new and better ways.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies may I ask him one or two short questions? I understand that it is touch and go whether serious action will have to be taken by his right honourable friend in another place about animal feedstuffs. Can the noble Earl say why it is that these are in rather short supply? I think I read that there are 2½ weeks' supply. Is it not possible for this industry to carry bigger stocks? After all, this is the fourth emergency we have had, but we are talking about having to ration animal feedstuffs in 2½ weeks' time. Can the noble Earl say exactly what is the present position?

Also, did the noble Earl say that an agreement has been arrived at to pay the dockers a special sum for handling certain cargoes and that that will not count as wages but will be paid to some charity? Also, will supplementary benefit still be paid to dependants of the dockers? I think the public has responded to the Government's appeal not to try to stock up from the shops, because there appears to be no evidence of any run on tinned foodstuffs and so on. But may I ask the noble Earl whether there is any indication that the large suppliers and wholesalers of food are carrying out voluntary rationing at the present time, and whether that is likely to affect the shops in the foreseeable future if no settlement is arrived at? It seems to me that the stocks which we carry of both animal and human supplies are not enough, and I hope that the Government will give careful consideration in the future to seeing whether, for security reasons alone, these stocks can be increased.

7.58 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank noble Lords for the very studiously moderate way in which they have received these Regulations. I should like to say straight away that I find myself very much in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said about some of the underlying problems here. At this moment, when I think there are impatient noble Lords from Rochdale and Rossendale waiting to enter in the wings, I wish to reply fairly briefly. But I must say that I was at one with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who knows this industry and the shipping industry exceedingly well, that we are faced—and have been faced these past years—with a revolution in the techniques of cargo handling. We have not been alone in this. This is a matter which has affected all the great maritime countries, and of course it poses very great social and industrial problems for those countries.

Perhaps I may give a personal reflection here, that in this area of acclimatising ourselves to an inevitable change of this sort I do not think that we as a country have perhaps always been as flexible and responsive as we might have been. But in this particular area we can take some comfort from the fact that, as a result of these and other changes, we have seen a very dramatic run-down in the dock labour force in recent years. It fell from 60,000 in 1967—only five years ago—to just over 40,000 to-day. When we take account of the fact that not one of those men left the dock industry except of his own volition, and also take note of the fact that this reduction was carried out amicably and peacefully, we should take some comfort in hoping that the further and inevitable contraction of the industry which lies at one of the roots of the present difficulties can be achieved humanely and satisfactorily, given a minimum of good will and understanding all round; and I hope very much that the work which the Jones-Aldington Committee have been putting in here will be, both in the short term and again in the longer term, of very real value.

My Lords, that said, I should like very briefly to deal with some of the specific points which have been put to me. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, and the noble Lord, Lord Granville of Eye, both asked me about the position regarding animal feedingstuffs. My understanding is that it is true that the position here is causing serious concern. Modern methods of livestock production call for very high protein concentrates and result in a considerable dependence upon imported constituents; and the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Granville, was not lost upon me in this respect. I think this is something to which attention should perhaps be paid. The position here has of course been aggravated by a delay of about three weeks in the harvest of barley crops, although some barley is now becoming available. It is difficult to be precise about the present position, as this is a fragmented industry. It is not easy to get the precise information; and, of course, the situation can change almost from day to day. For example, if we were to get a run of even two or three days of good weather this could have a material impact upon the harvest, and therefore upon this general situation.

But, my Lords, with fresh supplies largely cut off, local difficulties were bound to arise even while there was no absolute shortage nationally. But compounders, merchants and farmers are cooperating, and co-operating very well, in efforts to share out available supplies; and I can confirm that the situation is not yet critical. For example, there are no confirmed reports of premature slaughterings of pigs or poultry as a result of lack of feedingstuffs. Nevertheless, my Lords, I would not wish to disguise the potential seriousness of the situation here and the fact that time is running out. That is why we are watching the situation from day to day. Indeed, that is why my right honourable friend, as I mentioned in my introductory remarks, is in fact at the present time meeting with representatives of the trade. If it does become necessary to use the emergency powers to ensure a continued flow of supplies, we shall not hesitate to do so, but it is my ardent hope that this will not prove necessary and that other ways can be found to get round the difficulties. So much for the animal feedingstuffs position.

Before I turn to the question of offshore oil rigs, I have just been handed a last-minute item, and I think it may be helpful to your Lordships' House if I read it; I have not yet read this myself, so it is as new to me as it is to noble Lords. I understand that, following his meeting this evening with representatives of the National Farmers' Union and the feed trade, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture is issuing this statement: There has been a slight improvement in some parts of the country due to home-produced grain coming forward, but there are difficulties with high energy cereals which are needed for intensive husbandry units. Because of co-operation in the trade and by farmers, available rations are being eked out and used to the best possible advantage. This means that we have managed to buy a few more days' relief, at least for the majority of farmers, and for the next few days I do not believe that it will be necessary for the Government to invoke its emergency powers to move animal feedingstuffs. But we are living from day to day, and that is how I must assess the position in reporting to my colleagues in the Cabinet ". I am afraid I cannot do better than my right honourable friend here.

May I now turn to two other specific questions which were put to me? The first was on the supply of petrol to some of the Scottish islands. I think there was a supply to some of the smaller islands, Barra and Coll, yesterday, and I have no doubt that this was handled carefully. But I should like to take note of the question of the noble Lord, Lord Wade; I would not wish to give him an inaccurate reply. On the question of supplies to the offshore oil rigs, it is my understanding that the oil companies, with whom we are of course in close contact, have reported that they are satisfied with the supply position. Essentials, like foodstuffs and the rest, can of course be supplied by helicopter, and this is the normal form of supply. But I would hope very much, my Lords, that the arrangements which have now been worked out on the question of supplementary benefit, which has been one of the causes of difficulties at Aberdeen, the main supply port for the Northern oil rigs, may lead to the resumption of the supply to the oil rigs t and indeed the same would certainly apply to Orkney and Shetland.

I think those were the specific questions which I was asked by the noble Lord. Lord Granville, and the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. On the question of supplementary benefit, to which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, referred, I do not think that I would wish to be drawn into what any colleague of mine may or may not have said. I should like to say that, in an area of a good deal of technical, fiscal difficulty, all the mysteries of which I must confess I have not myself penetrated, my understanding of the agreement which has been reached broadly confirms the understanding of the position by the noble Lord, Lord Granville.

Apart from a certain difference of philosophy about the Industrial Relations Act, I think SI should like to take issue with only one thing (and I shall do that in studiously moderate terms) which fell from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and that was his reference to a statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on "The World At One", I think it was. I did not hear the programme, but my understanding of it—and I speak subject to correction, not having heard the programme—is that my right honourable friend categorised as "disgraceful" (I think that was the term) the reports, it true, of some of the weapons which the police had removed from a number of potential pickets on Humberside to-day. I should only like to say that my right honourable friend, who is I think a moderate man, a man whom no one could accuse of habitually using immoderate language, was speaking in his capacity as Home Secretary and in the light of his responsibilities for the maintenance of law and order in this country. There are reports, which I have not seen confirmed (and I speak subject to that) but which I understand to be reliable, that some dockers set out to-day on Humberside allegedly to exercise their right peacefully to picket a place of employment—and no one queries that—armed with a bewildering range of weapons, some of which are described as "bill hooks" in to-night's evening papers. Other reports refer to dockers' hooks, hammers and, indeed, to tomahawks. All I can say is that if those reports are confirmed to be true, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade, that this type of conduct is quite contrary to all that we understand by the best traditions of the trade union movement. I should not wish to go further than that.


My Lords, may I simply correct one small point in what the noble Earl said? He said that he would like to take issue with me. There is no issue between us on what he said. There is no issue between us on our views of whether picketing should be peaceful or not. The only question is one of what is good sense and of deciding when to make a comment which may be perfectly justifiable—whether one makes it at a point in time when, according to the noble Earl, things are delicate or whether one waits a little.


My Lords, these are always matters of judgment. There are times when I think it best that one should call a spade a spade or a billhook a billhook. I accept that this is a difficult matter of judgment, but the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, will accept that the Home Secretary has a very special responsibility here, in view of his responsibilities towards the police and the maintenance of law and order.

I hope that I have answered the specific questions put to me. I think that at this late stage, when the local government reformers are beating at the doors of your Lordships' House, I shall not conclude my few remarks by a general discussion on the Industrial Relations Act or upon the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Balogh. I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, for directing towards me the only compliment that I have heard him bestow upon Her Majesty's Government, of which I took due note and am grateful. I conclude by reaffirming the gravity of the present position and by reaffirming Her Majesty's Government's decision to act with two due senses of responsibility. The first is a due sense of responsibility in order to ensure that none of the powers now being made available by Parliament to Her Majesty's Government is used save in the last resort and save when absolutely necessary. The second responsibility that we propose to discharge is our ultimate one towards the community as a whole. That responsibility we shall not shirk.