HL Deb 16 July 1974 vol 353 cc1025-63

Second Reading debate resumed.

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start, if I may, with a short personal statement. I think your Lordships would expect that on a Bill of this consequence and importance the speech from the Opposition would be made at the very least by a member of the Shadow Cabinet. Of course, it was planned that my noble and learned friend Lord Hail-sham of Saint Marylebone, who is leading the Opposition on the Bill, would make the opening speech. However, I think the usual channels—as we call them—would confirm that there were some changes of date and my noble and learned friend is in Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on a long-standing Sitting which he felt it would be quite improper for him to cancel. The noble Lord the Leader of the House kindly made available his opening speech to my noble and learned friend, and I personally hope, and I am sure he does, that he will be able to get here in time for the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Feather and Lord Houghton of Sowerby, to which we all look forward so much.

My noble and learned friend gave me a splendid speech which he very kindly—as we would expect of him—said that I could read out. I was looking forward to this, but I discovered about half-way through that I had neither the personal verve and bounce nor the legal knowledge to carry it off, so your Lordships will have to put up with, "a poor thing but mine own." I know how irritating it is when one comes to consult Sherlock Holmes to have to sit through Dr. Watson and I must crave some slight indulgence.

My Lords, we are here to consider giving a Second Reading to a Bill which is very honestly named. It is a Trade Union Bill. It forms part—and I acknowledge with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that it is a part only—of the Government's attempt to solve the single most intractable domestic problem since the war; that is to say labour relations in the United Kingdom. We are considering this afternoon the very essence of the social compact. On this compact, frail as it may be, rests the hope not simply of this Government but of all our chances to weather the worst inflation in living memory.

The phrase "social compact" is only one of many one could use my Lords for the pursuit of workable agreements between the community as a whole, represented by whichever Government might happen to be in power, and the labour organisations of this country. Such a pursuit of workable agreements is not peculiar to the present Labour Government. It occupied hours and days, weeks and months of the last Conservative Government. New notions and several old ones of how to make these workable agreements now occupy the collective minds of the Liberal Party. This subject is, I think, on all our minds. It is intensely serious; it is the domestic issue of our time.

My Lords, were it not for the seriousness of the issue, I believe that the climate in which we are discussing the Bill would tempt one to be mildly facetious—and I assure your Lordships that I shall try to resist the temptation. But we really are in a situation of black comedy. Here before us on this Table is a Bill the immediate and declared purpose of which is to repeal the Industrial Relations Act. It means to go back not merely to square one—to the situation before 1971—but beyond square one. It means to go back beyond the Industrial Relations Bill introduced by the last Labour Government; it means to go back beyond In Place of Strife; beyond that Government's Royal Commission and beyond the Donovan Report. We are told, privately if not publicly, that this may in some ways be regrettable but that it is necessary. It is the price, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, called it, of willing co-operation. It is an acknowledgment of the principle of real politik.

Very well, then, we are paying the price; we are putting the money (in this case the Bill) on the Table. The Bill has gone through all immediate stages in another place, though not, it must be said, without the slightly black comic episode of the Tied Vote and the Minister's Dinner. Yet, my Lords, what do we find? What is the climate in which this necessary sacrifice is being made? The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has helped to describe it. We can barely consider the Bill itself in amended form as it came to us from another place. One needs a suitcase or two to carry about the mimeographed sheets, which we have in lieu of Hansard, on the proceedings of Standing Committees and Report stages in another place. We are lucky, I think, to have them at all, and they are a great credit to those who have the nightmare task of making them available. My Lords, I sometimes feel that we in Parliament are too protected. Perhaps it serves to concentrate our minds when industrial action by members of the National Graphical Association affects the supply of papers to Parliament. Another dispute has affected the supply of the Prime Minister to television and I imagine he does not know whether to be pleased or sorry.

My Lords, we are all rightly proud of our Health Service. When I lived in America—as I did for five years—it was considered a model, a living compensation for the loss by this country of a leading role on the world's stage. With all its faults it was a living tribute to the memory of the great Socialist statesman who designed it. It is now in danger of being torn apart and of course the persons left unaccommodated in the middle will be the patients. The democratic business of counting votes at local government elections has been interfered with, and a more crippling possibility of industrial action, occurring this time on the energy front, had to be bought off—cynically, if effectively—with private funds.

Then we are about to bring to an end a wages policy which contained anomalies and unfairness and which, allied to a price raising Budget, proved in its later stages to be inflationary. Yet with all its difficulties we can, in respect of this policy, use the word "contained" in another sense as well. It contained, in the sense of keeping within reasonable bounds, a wages explosion of the kind that followed the Wilberforce settlement. That explosion helped to generate the squabble over relativities which we are now continuing to suffer. It contained people's sense of injustice by outlining some kind of orderly queue for wage rises. It won far more widespread acceptance on both sides of industry than I think the present Government choose to remember. In return for the ending of this policy, and in return for the Bill before the House, we are facing a Wilber-force-obliterating wages explosion on the one flank, and a situation of almost permanent industrial friction on the other. With middle class groups of workers increasingly aware that the battle goes to the strong, we are beginning to institutionalise industrial friction and we are doing so far more effectively than the hated Industrial Relations Act was able to do.

My Lords, I earnestly hope that the House will have noticed that I am using the pronoun, "we". I believe that the situation is much too serious to launch into a diatribe against the Government. I do not directly blame the Government for what is happening, though, of course, I do blame them for this particular Bill as it stands before us at present. I hope that your Lordships, many of whom on all sides of the House have very great experience in industrial relations, will, if you give the Bill a Second Reading, seek to improve it later on.

If we are looking for blame, we must blame inflation. We should, therefore accord encouragement or condemnation to whatever Government or whatever set of policies proportionately succeeds or fails in fighting inflation. It is an old tune, but unfortunately we are still forced to dance to it. My criticism of the Government is that they are tying their own hands or, to continue the metaphore, their own feet. To deal with inflation, or at least to deal with it without suffering a hideous slump and hideous unemployment, one must, it seems to me, arm oneself with two weapons. The first is the imposition of some kind of queue for wage increases. The second is some set of procedures for dealing with wage disputes. These are really two edges of the same sword. Because we are dealing this afternoon with the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act, I shall not say anything further about the queue for wage increases, but we cannot, I suggest, ignore the inter-dependence of the two.

It looks perilously at the moment as if the end of the social compact is going to be a licensed, indeed a statutory, imposition of the old free-for-all. I believe that there will be a fearsome backlash if this turns out to be the case; a discovery of militant muscle within labour groupings which we now think of as "weak". Then would we have not only the inflationary effects to deal with—terrible as these would be—but also furious social resentment poisoning our whole society. It would not be directed at property developers: those gentlemen have suffered a bloody nose recently, and without any help from the Government. Indeed, I understand the Government are desperately trying to nurse the property sector as a whole into better health. It would not be directed towards the rich whose supposed stranglehold on our economy may be a chimera, but whose sufferings on the stock market are certainly felt in the flesh. It would not even be directed towards the Government. The Government are not particularly popular anyway, and do not at present, I dare suggest, raise any great expectations in the electorate.

This social resentment would, in my view, be directed at the great trades unions themselves. They would be seen, like some of your Lordships' ancestors of many hundreds of years ago, to have over-reached themselves. They would be seen to be not content with their bargaining power which we all acknowledge, and rightly acknowledge; they would be seen to be not content with the great decision-making experiment which was offered—and I may say offered to the dismay of some of his supporters—by my right honourable friend the then Prime Minister; they would be seen to be not content with the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act which failed surely through boycott, rather than through a single inherent injustice; they would be seen to be not content with a pay policy designed to protect their interests, and particularly to protect the interests of the lower paid; and they would be seen to be not prepared for scrutiny by, or appeal to, the wider dictates of individual and community.

Surely in this situation organised labour would be rounded on by individuals and by the wider community. One would argue that since the Government had failed, that two Governments of different political persuasions had failed, and since Parliament had failed, militancy must be met with militancy and might with might. Back we would all go in spirit to the reign of Stephen and Matilda, to battlefields littered this time with the corpses of our industry and of our currency. I have argued so far that the collective principle is not restricted to the great labour organisations. But, more positively, what can the collective "we" of Government, Parliament and people now do in the face of the present fratricidal strife in the work place? Can we at least avoid its getting worse? In my view, the important thing is for all sides to admit mistakes and to make sacrifices.

I am not thinking of coalition which, by itself, does not solve anything. On this side of the House we have sacrificed the Industrial Relations Act. We will not only not reintroduce it in Government, but we will, here and now, in Opposition seek to try to amend this Bill so that both sides of industry can live with it and make it work. It is not our business to-day, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, to fight old battles or to go over old ground. Nevertheless, having privately given two cheers for the Industrial Relations Act (I withheld the third cheer until the unions co-operated with it and that did not happen), I cannot now forebear to shed one tear at its passing. I have never been able to understand why it was considered quite so abrasive, so stiff-necked, so divisive, so inflexible, so arrogant, so Selsdon—if that word word means anything—indeed, so Tory.

It did have the merit of comprehensiveness. A difficulty of the present Bill, as the noble Lord told us, is that essential strategies for good labour relations are jam to-morrow and will occur in another Bill. For to-day we have the stale bread of protections and immunities to chew on. Sir Michael Clapham has said that the 1971 Act, equalised the responsibilities of the two sides of industry and he has contrasted this with extension of immunities beyond those which obtained in 1971. Your Lordships will know what I mean when I say that Mr. Campbell Adamson is not exactly the most beloved figure of the Tory Party, but nevertheless, in a letter to The Times on June 11, he had this to say of the present Bill: If the Bill is passed as at present drafted unions, their officials and shop stewards will be free in law to strike or indulge in other industrial action, or to 'black', blockade or boycott, or threaten to do so, whenever they like, officially or unofficially, constitutionally or in breach of procedure, in respect of a trade dispute anywhere in Great Britain or in the rest of the world. … it will be lawful to use the picket line for the purpose of establishing boycotts for blockades whether against an employer in dispute or against employers, companies, public corporations or any other bodies which have nothing to do with the dispute in question. These seem to me to be the kind of anxieties that the Government should acknowledge. They might also improve the atmosphere by admitting the closeness of the last Labour Government's proposed legislation, Donovan-based legislation, to our legislation. Only Mr. Christopher Mayhew has had the courage to do that in Parliament—and we all know what became of him. Admitting that would, I suggest, clear the air a little. I acknowledge that we have a lot to admit, too. The single most penetrating remark that I have read about the Industrial Relations Act was made when it was still in Bill form, and it came from the then Mr. Douglas Houghton who now I am delighted to see as a Member of your Lordships' House. He said: This Bill reads like a guide to good order and discipline in a grammar school. It was drafted in the solitude of the inner temple and many of the provisions will not withstand the mighty roars of disapproval from mass meetings. I believe with the noble Lord that we perhaps got our sums right where checks and balances, safeguards and responsibilities were concerned, but we got our psychology, and by inference our timing, wrong. May I say to the noble Lord how wise I believe those words to be. My own political motto, for what it is worth, is borrowed from a road sign in current use. It is," Do not enter box unless your exit is clear". Perhaps we neglected that principle.

Assuming, then, that it does clear the air to admit mistakes and make sacrifices and concessions, what could the great labour organisations do to promote a better atmosphere? The best thing, I believe, would be for them to come to terms with their own power. Perhaps they could resist slipping quite so easily into the rhetoric, first of persecution and then of retaliation, against wholly imaginary enemies. I have often noticed that noble Lords opposite who are members of trade unions raise their eyes to Heaven in exasperation of Tory, Liberal or Cross-Bench obtuseness when it comes to discussing individual rights within labour organisations. "Of course we believe in individual rights", their expressions seem to say. "What Party of the Left could not champion the underdog?" Again—I am putting words into their mouths—they seem to say, "All of you cannot get it into your heads that trade unionism is just what it says. Without the closest collusion and co-operation, there is division, retreat and exploitation."

I do not think this is a very severe misrepresentation. I think the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, more or less acknowledged it. But, really, I contend that it will not do any longer. In a mass society, a plural society, a consumer society, we all suffer from inflation and inflationary wage claims. We cannot lessen the agony by placing already powerful groups in society even further above the responsibilities and obligations with which their weaker brethren are burdened. Responsible use of power means imposing limits on oneself, if one has the power. Promotion of one's own good is only in the short term possible against the grain of the general good. Labour in the Western world has won the battle against exploitation by the employer. Let it now refrain from exploiting, and so ruining, itself.

In conclusion, I honestly cannot believe that there could be a better beginning than for the T.U.C. and the Government to acknowledge the concern about the extension of certain immunities and the exclusion of others' rights, be they individual rights or the rights of smaller labour associations. The concern going around the world of journalism, for instance, has to be heard to be believed. If the new Leviathan could contain its appetite during the Committee stage of this Bill, and if it were acknowledged that radical and far-reaching provisions should not go into law on majorities of four, three, two, one or even zero in another place, what fresh air and what light then would flow into this arena! Your Lordships' House has a chance to make all of us see sense. It is a last chance, and may it not go by.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, it is, we are all agreed, a bad workman who always blames his tools, but I must throw myself on the mercy of your Lordships' House if some of my statements are less accurate than I would wish them to be, in that I, like everybody else, have struggled not entirely successfully with the hieroglyphics which have arrived in place of our usual beautifully produced Hansard. I should also like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House, if he is in the House, for his gallant attempt to send papers in advance. I can only say that my gratitude is slightly blunted by the fact that so far as I am concerned they never arrived!

We on these Benches are glad to see the Industrial Relations Act go. We are glad not because, as in some parts of this country, we believe that the Industrial Relations Act was bora out of Class Hatred by Malice, but because we think it attempted to do too many things—many of them the wrong things—and to do those things too fast. There were, and still are, parts of the Act which we supported and which were of good intent; but that is now behind us and I do not intend to spend time this afternoon conducting an obituary on an Act which has plainly to depart.

We are glad, too, that a new Act is to take its place. It would, I think, have been the very greatest mistake if those who urged that all that was needed were a few short lines extolling the Industrial Relations Act had had their way. If there is anyone to-day still so stuck in the 1890s that he believes that the problems of industrial relations are merely a simple matter of the battle between the bosses and the cloth caps that can be settled in a very simple fashion, then indeed his name is Rip Van Winkle. For the fact of the matter is that there is no more complex subject than that of industrial relations, and that the network of relationships between individual and union, between union and union, between union and employer, between employee and employer and between the union and the community make a most complex and difficult pattern.

At all levels, regardless of the sexes, there are rights to be asserted and rights to be protected. If there are these rights to be asserted and these rights to be protected in all these aspects of the whole field of industrial relations, then surely they require an adequate legislative base. Our criticism of the Bill is that, as it stands, it does not provide that adequate legislative base. The noble Lord the Leader of the House has told us that further Bills are to follow (as we were, of course, aware) and we are at a disadvantage in discussing this Bill in that we do not know what the content of that further legislation is to be. Our criticisms can only be made of the Bill as it stands, although we fully accept that some of them may prove to be irrelevant when we know what is intended and what is to follow. We would accept the need for legislation and we believe that this legislation must cover at least three main areas of industrial relations—the relations between the individual member and the unions, relationships within the place of work and the relations between the union and the community—and our examination of this proposed legislation must be in terms of the adequacy of the protection given in all these areas.

We remain opposed, despite the plausible speech made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, to the concept of the closed shop. Of course, the closed shop gets support not only from the trade union movement (though not, indeed, from the whole of the trade union movement) but also from many employers. There is no doubt that the closed shop often makes life easier for employers; but when one finds two groups as powerful as the trade unions and employers ganging up in support of a common policy, then indeed I think that libertarians must reach for their guns! The fact is that the pre-entry closed shop (and it is to that that I am referring at the moment) restricts the right of individual men and women to change their jobs as they wish; it restricts mobility of labour; and it restricts the employer's right to choose his own labour.

In our view, it also gives an excessive power to the trade union movement—excessive in the power it wields in industry, and excessive also (though this they will argue is their own affair) in relation to the membership, which after all the trade union is there to serve. So far as the post-entry closed shop is concerned—what used to be called "100 per cent. trade unionism "—we are prepared, with certain reservations, to go along with that development, but we are not satisfied that the safeguards required in relation to 100 per cent. trade unionism are to be found in the Bill. It may be, having regard to what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said in his speech, that some of these safeguards are to follow in subsequent legislation.

The first point I wish to make is that we do not consider that 100 per cent. trade unionism should carry with it the requirement that the individual member should have to join a specified trade union. In the old days of acceptance of 100 per cent. trade unionism implied that an employee had to join a union, an independent union—and we mean an independent union; we do not mean anything that can possibly be described as a "company" union—but he had the right to choose which union he would join. Provided he was a member of a proper, independent trade union, that was acceptable. In our view, the right to choose the union, so described, is an essential right to be maintained both from the point of view of the individual, and from the point of view of the community.

We believe that if one specified trade union is in a position to command the membership, willingly or otherwise, of all the persons employed in that concern, then the power that goes to that union is in excess of what is safe or desirable for the community as a whole. We believe—and here I am encouraged by the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the House—that there must be more adequate safeguards than appear in the Bill for the right to join a union provided rational requirements are met, and for the right against expulsion. This brings me to our belief that it is right that there should be some external check on the rule book of the union. After all, the rule book comprises a contract between the individual union member and the union. This is not a contract of the same order as joining a local tennis club, particularly with the increased powers that it is now proposed to give to the unions. It is a matter of a man's livelihood that he should be able to be in a union and remain in that union. This is a matter of the greatest importance to individuals.

Of course, I accept that in the great majority of cases the individual will get a fair deal from the union. It is only in a small number of cases that there have been abuses of the power that the trade union wields over its membership. It is of the essence of the libertarian case that it does not matter if there is only one person who is unfairly treated, he is entitled to defence; he is entitled to a right in law to have his case properly and fairly dealt with in accordance with the rules of natural justice. There is no one in this House or in the trade union movement who does not believe that the rules of natural justice should be observed. But we cannot accept that—and I do not believe the trade unions believe this themselves—simply because it is a trade union and a trade union's rules there will never be any breach, any injustice, any need for the individual member to be defended against his union. All other human relationships require some framework of law to deal with the small minority of people who abuse their position.

We have laws to deal with domestic relations because a small minority, so I understand, of husbands or, indeed, wives abuse their position. We have laws dealing with all forms of commercial relationships. We have laws dealing with other important institutions, such as Churches. Why should it be assumed that there is no need to provide law to protect the small but important minority who can suffer from abuse? Why should it be assumed that trade union rules will never be contrary to natural justice? I can give an example: I understand on good authority that one trade union has in its rule book the rule that no member shall be allowed to leave except with the consent of the executive of the union. I am not a lawyer, but I would doubt whether it is really in accordance with natural justice that the executive of the union should be the body which is able to decide whether or not the member has permission to leave. In relations between the unions and the individual person, we believe safeguards are needed which, at present, are not in the Bill.

There is a question of relations inside the place of work. This is what is first thought of when people talk about industrial relations. I will refer only to two aspects: first, the code of practice. I am glad to say this has been saved from the Industrial Relations Act in another place. I believe that most of that which goes wrong inside the place of work is not so much due to malaise or bloody-minded-ness as to muddle and ignorance. Muddle and ignorance are the main devils in industrial relations. The code of practice is a considerable source of enlightenment to a large number of the smaller less well-informed employers who, in a murky kind of way and when they get round to it, want to do the right thing, but often they do not know what it is and they are badly in need of assistance.

In addition to the code of practice, I hope that the excellent work of the C.I.R. will be fully salvaged in the new set-up. I gather from what has gone on in another place that it is intended to transfer much of the work of the C.I.R. to the Conciliation and Arbitration Service which is to be set up under subsequent legislation. I hope that noble Lords will watch that, because that, by itself, is not an adequate safeguard that the work of the C.I.R. will in fact go on adequately.

The heart and core of the work of the C.I.R. has been to study and devise improved procedural systems. This may sound rather dull to your Lordships, but it is the absence of good procedural systems in large areas of industry which leads to the confusion, disputes and misunderstandings from which industry and, by connection, the community as a whole, suffer. That painstaking work of investigation, that informed and experienced work of building up better procedures inside industry, is something which was not done before the C.I.R. came into being. If it goes to the C.A.S., it is important to see that machinery exists so that cases in a sufficient number get to that service. When it was first set up it looked as if it was not going to get sufficient cases but, as the months went on, that situation improved and it was able to do the job that it was established to do. However, unless the flow of work, the references which went to the C.I.R. and the machinery is going to exist to ensure that they are going to come in sufficient numbers, then the C.I.R. might be put into the C.A.S., but the good people working there now will not stay. Unless there is adequate and proper work to do they will leave and use their abilities elsewhere, and quite rightly so.

Just to say that the work will be transferred to the C.A.S. is insufficient. The work is different from conciliation and arbitration; it is constructive work of a different order and it needs special provision to see that full advantage is taken of an extremely important new development set up by the previous Labour Government (as I think they are apt to for-pet) based on a recommendation of the Donovan Report. I greatly respect that Report, though I sometimes wonder whether we ought to quote it as if it was Holy Writ, as it has sometimes been referred to this afternoon. A second aspect of the work of the C.I.R. which I regard as of the greatest importance is the publications which it produces which educate the general public in the field of industrial relations in a way which the general public badly needs to be educated.

Then we have the third area: the question of the relation between the union and the community at large. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Feather, who is going to speak after me, will say, as I have often heard him say in the past, "The trade union movement speak for the community, because after all they have 10,000 members, and 10,000 members have 10,000 wives, and 10,000 wives have 10,000 children and that makes 30 million"—I beg your Lordships' pardon for speaking of thousands when I meant millions—"does it not?" But, my Lords, do not be deceived by that attractive argument. A trade union rightly and properly, when it conducts its affairs, is thinking about the interest of its members as producers. Its members put its officials into business to do just that, and when a trade union goes into negotiation I defy any trade unionist to say that the thought uppermost in its mind is: "What will be the effect of this settlement on the community at large?" The thought uppermost in its mind, quite rightly and properly, is: "What will the effect of this settlement be on my members?" —and one cannot have two top priorities. So if the noble Lord, Lord Feather, has the intention of saying that, may I respectfully suggest that he removes it from his speech.

The relation between the union and the community, as we all know, is one of the greatest importance. There is a minor and a major aspect in relation to this Bill with which I wish briefly to deal. The minor aspect—not that I regard it as unimportant, but minor in relation to the second point I wish to make—is the power that is given in this Bill, the licence to conduct commercial boycotts, to extend the immunity of strikers to strikes connected with the suppliers of people who are direct parties to the strike. When this happens the disruption spreads far wider and the people affected by the strike are people who can in no way influence the effect of that strike, or who are not in any sense parties to it. In my view, that is an extension of the immunity allowed in the trade dispute, which is both unnecessary and undesirable.

The final point I want to make in considering the relation of the union and the community has to do with the rule of law and the position of non-industrial disputes. I was delighted in reading the debate in the other place—delighted but not in the least surprised—to find that the Secretary of State and other speakers from the Government Benches asserted again and again: "Of course, the trade union is subject to law. Of course, there is no question, as some critics of the trade unions have tried to say, that the trade union is in any shape or form above the law." No responsible trade unionist I know would support the idea that the trade union is not subject to the rule of law. Of course, my Lords, there is a very small group of people who see the strike weapon and the trade union movement as part of a wider effort, based on a class analysis of the troubles of this country, to destroy the Parliamentary democracy and the democratic society in which we live. But this is not, I am certain, the view of the great mass of trade unionists, who see trade unions as a free and powerful entity inside a democratic State and who therefore fully accept, as the Secretary of State himself asserted, that of I course unions are subject to the rule of law. May I say that if the Secretary of I State had not said that, then I believe that that great Liberal, his father, would have risen from his grave to put him right.

However, if that is accepted, a very important matter is omitted from this Bill. The Bill defines "a trade dispute" and it defines the immunities that are given to trade unions in conduct of a trade dispute—and that is absolutely right. There has to be freedom to strike in a trade dispute. After all, it was my Party that in 1871, and again in 1906, affirmed and reaffirmed that absolutely crucial right. This Bill also says—and the Secretary of State in another place affirmed it—that those immunities do not extend to disputes which are not trade disputes, which are not industrial disputes: those immunities do not extend to strikes which are in effect political strikes. A political strike is in fact a challenge to the rule of law. The trade union movement and the Government cannot have it both ways. If they believe in the rule of law, if they accept that trade unions are subject to the rule of law, then it is not enough merely to say that political strikes do not carry exemptions that trade unions can claim in industrial strikes.

Political strikes lead to disruption; they lead to loss which somebody has to bear. Who should bear the cost, the inconvenience, that comes from the political strike? Is it not appropriate that, in support of the rule of law, it is necessary to say who is going to be responsible, who will meet the costs that arise from strikes of this order? I know it is open to the individual employer, if he is suffering the loss, to bring an action against individuals who have been in breach of contract in a strike of this kind. But we all know that that is not a reality. Employers do not, and in my view should not, bring actions against individual employees. In any case, they are men of straw in the technical sense, and what is the point of so doing? But responsibility must be pinned somewhere, and I ask the Government—and it would greatly strengthen this Bill and in my view greatly strengthen the Government in the eyes of the country if they came out against political strikes, which are a direct threat to the rule of law, the most serious threat which faces us at the time, far more serious than disruptions inside industry—to make quite clear that someone is to be held directly responsible when acts of that kind take place.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am conscious of course of the tradition that maiden speeches should be non-controversial. This puts me in some difficulty because industrial relations is, and has been, one of the controversial questions in this country in recent years. It is almost impossible for anyone to express an opinion without upsetting someone, somewhere. Therefore, I have to ask your Lordships, please, to give me a little bit of elbow room with this maiden speech so that I may speak, as I think this House would expect, from the basis of long experience and work in the trade union movement. But I will try to observe the traditional constraints of a maiden speech, despite the provocations in the previous two speeches—I am glad I have a script because otherwise I might wander off trailing the red-herring which the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, put out for me.

Let me say at the outset that I very much welcome this Bill. Its primary purpose is to repeal the Industrial Relations Act, 1971, which in its time represented an attempt, either gallant or ill-conceived according to one's view, to reform industrial relations. As your Lordships will know, I was among those who thought that the 1971 Act was ill-conceived, and I forecast repeatedly as the then General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress that it would cause many more difficulties than it would ever solve. This was because the Act was based on a crucial misunderstanding of the nature of industrial relations. This misunderstanding was the failure to recognise that, although the law played only a minor role in industrial relations prior to 1971, nevertheless there was in existence, despite the law's having only a minor role, a vigorous and well-developed system of rules, procedures and conventions. These had been established by custom and negotiation rather than by legislation, but they were, and are, very firmly entrenched, having developed over a period of many years.

We in the Trades Union Congress recognised that the arrangements in some industries and some companies were defective and in need of reform; and this was the view supported by Lord Donovan's Royal Commission. But we did not believe that it was either desirable or possible to set these arrangements aside or transform them overnight by legal means. This was the mistake which was made by the previous Government. Their legal rules clashed on some fundamental points with the customs of British industrial relations and I think, in the event, proved weaker than those customs. By way of example, I refer to the closed shop, post-entry and pre-entry which flourishes and covers about 5 million workers, despite the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act. The closed shop is a very strong tradition in some industries and trades, and the forces of tradition and loyalty in trade unions, as in many other British institutions, are very powerful indeed.

My Lords, it is no use saying that other countries have legalistic systems of industrial relations which seem to work and, therefore, the same thing should work in Britain. This does not follow. In most overseas countries the laws were enacted to allow the unions to become established in the first place—in fact, to protect them from employers. Both sides of industry then became used to settling differences through the law and, as has been illustrated by the operation of the Industrial Relations Act, this is simply not the British way. The most evident proof of this statement is that the vast majority of employers decided not to go anywhere near die National Industrial Relations court, and I am pleased that spokesmen of all the main political Parties, of the C.B.I. and of the trade union movement have agreed that the 1971 Act has failed.

My Lords, besides repealing the 1971 Act, with the exception of the useful provisions on unfair dismissal, this Bill will broadly restore the framework of law which existed prior to 1971, although in a modernised and relevant form. It will once more put the onus for improving industrial relations firmly on the parties in industry, without the law confusing the issues. In Britain there is no substitute for voluntary negotiations between employers and unions about the problems they jointly face. Contrary to the impression of many people (including, if I may say so without being controversial, Members of your Lordships' House), both in this country and abroad many sectors of British industry resolve their problems jointly and peacefully, without fuss or open conflict. Indeed, it is my belief, based on a wide knowledge of the position in many other countries, that the British system of industrial relations is one of the best in the world. A look at international strike figures shows that many countries lose more working days through strikes, in proportion to the size of their labour force, than does this country. And our system is considerably more democratic than many foreign systems, often giving workers and management at establishment level and works level considerable control over pay and working conditions. So please let us not fall into the all-too-familiar tendency of feeling rather ashamed of our industrial relations. I believe that the British at present have a fetish for self-criticism. This willingness critically to assess ourselves can be a strength, so long as it is not lopsided; otherwise it can lead to cynicism and despondency, and it has produced a situation where British prestige abroad has suffered.

As I have already said, we do not have a particularly high incidence of strikes, but in all the world we have the best publicised strikes. I often wish that the Press, radio and television would take a more balanced view of the situation and equally publicise the many constructive things which go on every day in British industry. The truth is that the vast majority of employers and workpeople in the United Kingdom are able to solve any differences of view which arise without conflict. Of course, I do not pretend that our industrial relations are perfect. All institutions involving human beings are far from perfect. Neither am I complacent about the present situation. I believe that there are necessary improvements which both management and unions need to make, jointly and individually, and we all know that the economic situation is making things difficult at present. But this should not be a matter for despair, rather for determination on the part of the nation to roll up its sleeves and get stuck into the job of making improvements; and it would be encouraging to hear and read about the many successes notched up by British companies and industries. When criticism is constantly lopsided or constantly of a nagging nature, there is a danger that working people will stop listening to even the sensible things that the critics may say.

My Lords, I regret, among other things, the recent decision of the other House on a detail. Their decision was not to refund the money that unions lost because unregistered unions were unable to claim tax exemption on investment income spent for provident purposes. I am being very careful in that description. The previous Government apparently believed, when the 1971 Act was being introduced, that unregistered unions would be able to claim tax exemption by forming separate provident societies. The Trades Union Council took expert legal advice on this course of action and found that it was impracticable. As a result, the unions' provident funds have lost about £10 million since 1971. These provident funds are used only to help the members who are sick, the injured, the pensioners and widows. I think it is necessary to say that these funds are not used in any way to finance strikes or other forms of industrial action. There has never been a tax rebate on unions' general funds or strike funds. The present Government are trying to right a wrong which has been done and, incidentally, to implement the stated intention of the previous Government. Many workpeople will believe that the denial of this money by the other House is a pretty grubby kind of action.

My Lords, the Bill will not of itself lead to improvements in industrial relations but, unlike the Industrial Relations Act 1971, it will not encourage small disputes involving a handful of workers and an often eccentric employer to be elevated to the status of major conflicts with the trade union movement nationally. I believe that the new Bill, together with the other measures proposed by the Government, will lead to a better climate in industry in which the problems which exist can be tackled realistically and effectively. What is needed are sustained efforts on a voluntary basis by unions, employers and Government to reach agreement on procedures through which disputes can be effectively and fairly resolved, on payments systems which are soundly based and free from anomalies, and on reasonable guarantees about security of employment. I expect the proposed Conciliation and Arbitration Service to play an important part in these spheres.

The unions are ready and willing to play their part in securing the attainment of these objectives. The T.U.C. has drawn up and published sound advice, in the form of a guide to unions and management, about the steps they can take, individually and jointly, to improve industrial relations. The T.U.C. is also helping unions to improve collective bargaining machinery, some of which is unsuited to the requirements of industrial relations in a period of change. For example, it has developed industry committees, with the aim of helping to co-ordinate, at national level, the policies and activities of unions so far as relations with employers are concerned.

Of course, some people will say that the new Bill will tilt the industrial balance of power too much towards workpeople. It is true that trade unions are increasing their membership and are more influential than they were. However, the individual worker in the 1970s needs the protection of his union just as much as in the 1870s, or the 1930s, though the problems are of a different scale and nature. The fact is that mergers and takeovers are creating larger, richer and more powerful companies than ever existed before. Many of these companies now have greater financial resources than the entire national incomes of fair sized industrialised countries. Those that operate internationally—and most of them do—can switch resources and production between one country and another, and they are favourably placed to exploit tax differences. It is essential to make these companies more accountable, not only to trade unions nationally and internationally, but also to Governments—and Governments collectively. Therefore I hope that this House will speedily pass this Bill, which I firmly believe is essential to the improvement of British industrial relations.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, it gives me particular personal pleasure to be the one of your Lordships who finds himself in the position of being the first to welcome to this House the noble Lord, Lord Feather. He has dedicated almost countless years of what I would call "cheerful dedication" to the cause of trade unionism. That is intended to be a deeply felt compliment, in the sense that these matters which we discuss, which are so difficult, are at least better dealt with by someone of a cheerful disposition as well as great technical skill as they would be by someone of a sour or quarrelsome nature. When having dealings with the noble Lord I have always felt that he was always hoping and wanting to reach agreement over whatever we were discussing. I was grateful to him for that, even if we did not agree, but in addition I have a special personal reason for which I should now like to thank the noble Lord. This is that at times I think the most loyal trade union leader would admit that the trade union movement tends to lose sight of the fact that there are trade union movements elsewhere who like to be in touch with our own trade unionists and indeed sometimes to get help from them. When these times occurred the one person on whose shoulder I could always weep was Vic Feather, because the noble Lord always understood that there was a fellowship between trade unions here and trade unions abroad and that the maintenance of that fellowship was for the benefit, not just of the trade unions but of international relations.

My Lords, I have a very great diffidence in rising at this time, partly because I lack the great expertise which most noble Lords who will speak in this debate possess, but also because I am the first person to discuss this subject during the debate in our Legislature who is uncommitted to any Party or to either side. What I have to try to do—and I shall do it, I fear, not very successfully—is to try to reflect some of the ideas of the ordinary citizen about this controversy. I do not mean the ordinary professional citizen; I mean the ordinary citizen of any profession whom one may meet anywhere, and there are quite a lot of reactions to this situation which are common to people in all parts of the country and at all levels of society. I will try to do a little of that even if it causes me to concentrate, your Lordships may feel, a little superficially to some extent on public relations as well as on the technicalities of what happens.

Before I begin to do that may I reiterate what other noble Lords have said about our indebtedness to the "usual channels" for their heroic efforts to help us. I thought perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, did not carry his sense of irony quite far enough; it is really an ironical situation that our Legislature should be discussing the very difficult problem of industrial disputes when deprived of information by an industrial dispute.

I do not wish to go back very far into history, and perhaps we may take for granted (as other speakers have taken for granted) that century in which the employers quite frankly used the law to render ineffective any bargaining power that their employees might have had. We can take that for granted and start with the 1971 law on which there is, I think, a little to be said. If one goes through that law again and for the moment leaves on one side—and I will come back to it later—the matter of enforceable law, one certainly has the feeling that this is not a union bashing document. I think the criticisms that have been levelled at it are the ones which have been heard in this debate already: that the Act tried to do too much in too great detail all at once, and that some of the provisions have simply not worked out to be practicable. Of course another irony which confronts us in this situation is that one of the sections in the Act which was intended to be liberal has in fact been the one which caused the most trouble. With hindsight if there was going to be registration at all it might have been better to make it for all and not seek to conciliate (in a way that did not work) the trade union side by making it optional and thereby creating a source of discord which occupied a great deal of professional and public time.

But if I may proceed with my process of making no friends and influencing nobody on this Bill, I think the real fault in that context was wrong handling. For instance, there was a fixation on the part of the previous Government speakers to talk about wages, and if you insist upon talking of all remuneration that is relevant as "wages" you give the whole argument a kind of class content which it should not have. I do claim credit for having reminded your Lordships—possibly too sotto voce—that many wages now exceed many salaries, and I thought Mr. Wilson's previous Government showed much greater skill in this matter by constantly plugging the slogan of "prices and incomes". It is surely incomes that we should always be talking about if we wish to avoid prejudice.

To my mind, another thing that confused the atmosphere in those long debates was a tendency by the then Government to refer to the trade unions as a sort of unidentifiable mass. If there is anything that we have learned in the time since those debates, it is that some trade unions and some trade union leaders are different from others. I think it is better for me not to specify who is different from whom, but nonetheless this is extremely relevant to the question we are trying to solve.

Before going on to this Bill I should like to return to the point about enforceable law. There has been a great deal of rather superficial talk which simply amounts to saying that trade unions are of a special variety which should have a totality of contracts not subject to enforceable law. That is arguable; but the problem which is seldom raised in this context, is this: if you insist upon that doctrine in all its purity, you must also admit that you expose the situation to industrial discord without a certain "cushion" that enforceable law gives you. I do not come down on one side or the other on that point, but it really is not possible just to lay down as a dogma that enforceable law is intolerable. I say this because whenever I think or speak on this subject I always go back to what I think was the most moving speech I have heard in your Lordships' House, which was a speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, in December, when she said in fact, "Why does all this always have to land on the ordinary person who is not directly concerned?"

I now come to the present Bill, and here again I am going to speak for a moment about appearances because they are very important. When the present Government came to power the Secretary of State for Employment informed us all that he was going to have a Bill ready by May 1. That was a good Party encouraging statement, but perhaps it was not understood what that meant to the person who gave the subject a few minutes' serious thought. What it meant telling us all was that whatever would be wrong with this Bill there would—and I crave your Lordships' indulgence—"be no damned impartiality about it". I felt at that time that this gave the Bill a bad send off for middle-of-the-road people. It was followed by the publication of the Bill, and that was followed by the appearance on the radio of the estimable Mr. Campbell Adamson, who has a place in industrial relations history, and who said: "Why could we not have had some consultation between the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. on this very important matter in which, of course, we are deeply concerned?" He had reason to say that, because during the discontents of the winter there were times when the C.B.I. and T.U.C. seemed to me much closer to each other than either was with the Government. I felt Mr. Adamson at that moment was absolutely right. I am confirmed in this view by remarks made by the Secretary of State later in the Second Reading of the present Bill when he said that there would be further proposals, further ideas, further Bills, and consultation with the C.B.I. and T.U.C. Why the differentiation? No doubt haste, but that is not a good excuse. The middle-of-the-road public felt that in this way this argument had been distorted to an unreasonable and improper extent.

Obviously it is not for me to make a full critique of the Bill, but I should like to present one or two points rather hastily which seem to me to be important. I have noticed in the draft of the Bill that there is an abolition of Clauses 138 to 145 in the Act which deal with what I think is called officially "deferment of industrial action", known more popularly as the cooling-off period. I should have thought, and many think, that this is a desirable feature of any Industrial Relations Act. It is one more effort to prevent the worst happening. I am aware that this did not succeed in the interim period between 1971 and now. The case of failure was, I think, due to the Government in the end not choosing to use this facility. But, after all, one cannot call something a failure at its first attempt, as though Thomas Edison had called his first light bulb a failure. One must remember that other countries have this provision and have made successful use of it. If it is said that this provision is no use, one is saying that we are not capable of introducing and working a useful provision which other countries can. I do not think we want to say that, but if we leave it out, that is what we shall have to say.

My Lords, I would join with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and, incidentally, with several supporters of the Government in another place, in advocating the retention of the Commission on Industrial Relations, the C.I.R. I noticed many honourable Members put this forward. I must say I found the counter-argument very weak; it seemed simply to be: "Oh, this had too much to do with the Industrial Relations Court, and we cannot think of retaining it. "I do not think that that argument of guilt by association is in the least convincing. I cannot support that as ably as did the noble Baroness, and simply leave that proposition as it is, repeating my support of what the noble Baroness said.

My Lords, at this time, the Industrial Relations Court has no friends left. None the less, I think the balance of argument demands that I say one thing about its operation. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Feather, is right in saying that many people purposely avoided it, but the fact remains that on the average the Industrial Relations Court dealt with cases at the rate of one a day during this period. Even more importantly and impressively, it dealt with 138 cases of unfair industrial practice. Out of the 138, 100 were settled without the court having to make a decision at all, either by settlement or by withdrawal. The court was not wasting its time, or ours. It may have been the wrong way to do things, but I think it is time someone—and I have nothing to lose by this—said a good word for the Industrial Relations Court, more especially as things were said, which should not have been, about the chairman of that court. I must say I would like to hear from the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, something in his eloquent way that would redress that matter. I realise the learned and noble Lord is in a difficult position. If he cannot say anything he is still in a difficult position.

There is the question of what we should now do, on which I feel I should say something to your Lordships, having made these criticisms. These subjects are so difficult. They caused such difficulty to the previous Government. They have been dealt with in part and in such haste by the present Government that further examination of a sober and as far as possible independent nature is requisite. I feel very much as did the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that it is really not good enough to present us with the Bill saying, "Oh well, the other instalments will be all right". In the French sense, that is not serious. If it were not for the strange events that go on all round us in these buildings, I should probably have left it at that, but with opinion in the Legislature so divided, with opinion in the country so worried, there really is a case for further examination of some of these very difficult questions.

The most difficult question is perhaps the one that has been mentioned, that of the closed shop. There seem to be decisive arguments on both sides. I can see that Equity has every reason to be an exclusive union. I have read about the worries of many journalists if the I.U.J. should become a closed shop, and so on. This is a difficult question indeed. In my opinion it deserves further investigation not just by the Government of the day, but by individuals and organisations who have now had the experience post-Donovan, the experience of the 1971 Act and the experience of debates on this Act. I express the hope that thought be given to further examination, not Departmentally, but on a broader scale, largely in private, of the problems and difficulties that exist still in producing legislation which is both practical and just.

I would make some final remarks of a more general kind. I think—and this has been suggested already—that there is still too much in Government thinking of the atmosphere of the cloth cap versus the stiff collar. Concepts of work are changing these days. Under the Marxist/Victorian vocabulary with which we are fettered, many people are "workers" (I think the definition in the new Bill is probably acceptable), but under that definition I am not a "worker", I just work. I feel that this is very out of date and this feeling proceeds from all sorts of reasons. One of these which we have to bear in mind is that a person who is a "worker" of yesterday may be the administrator of to-day. This happens all the time in the Civil Service. One day you may be arguing for the staff, in a few months' time you may be arguing for the administration against the staff. We must realise we are no longer in the period of the capitalist boss and the cloth cap worker. We are I in a period, once described by the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, and by Professor Galbraith, of management and the work force, the employees. There is a shifting between the two which really requires a new kind of thought altogether.

Finally, we are trying to make rules. Of course, we must have the best possible, but the best possible rules are no use unless we have a reasonable morale in this country. Many foreigners have said to me, and I have felt it myself, that this has been a country where one could rely on people and where people, even in bad times, helped each other with a smile, even if it was a smile of resignation. Living in a big city we are going through a bad spell of unreliability, of people of all states of society saying they will do things and then not doing them, and what I would only call "service with a scowl". Accompanying any legislation which we may ultimately agree, the country has to look at itself in a mirror and say to itself that really it must do a bit better with its neighbour than it has been doing lately. I say this not in order to preach a sermon, but because I believe we are capable of this, but also believe it is indispensable to the ultimate legislation that we shall have covering this difficult question.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I hope you will forgive the presumption of speaking in debate for the first time so soon after my introduction to your Lordships' House last Wednesday. But, like my noble friend Lord Feather, I have been very closely connected with the events leading up to the introduction of this Bill, and, also like him, I have had long experience in the trade union movement. For many years I was Secretary of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation, whose members keep up a regular correspondence with noble Lords on both sides of the House. Our friends may neglect us and even betray us, but the Inland Revenue never. I was a member of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, which in my generation was perhaps a little wiser than it has been of late; a difficult body to persuade, but the repository of great experience and judgment in trade union affairs. And then, more latterly, I have been Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is a more pleasurable occupation than your Lordships may have been led to believe.

I think it is necessary, my Lords, to appreciate how much damage this Bill sets out to repair. We must face this, I think, because this Bill is to remedy one of the worst mistakes of the last Administration. I think it is common ground that the Industrial Relations Act 1971, which this Bill repeals, did great harm to relations between the Government and the trade unions. And had the last Administration realised in 1971 how much in need they would be of the good will and co-operation of the trade union movement, surely they would have avoided antagonising them so bitterly and so soon after coming to power.

The trouble was that the last Administration failed to profit by the experience of their predecessor. Had they not heard of a White Paper called In Place of Strife and what happened to it? Were they unaware that the disenchantment of the trade unions with the Labour Government's industrial policies probably contributed to the Labour defeat of 1970? But instead of pausing to learn the lessons of those events, Ministers simply accused the Labour Government of running away and went blindly down the same path to disaster. I believe that the nation has suffered grievously from that mistake.

While the Industrial Relations Bill was going through Parliament, we in the Parliamentary Labour Party were trying hard to regain the confidence of the trade union movement. To begin with, we were held almost at arm's length by our friends in the trade unions until the follies of the Conservative Government and time healed the breach. Then we had tripartite talks between the T.U.C., the National Executive and the Parliamentary Labour Party to attempt to reach some understanding, some firm compact, which might avoid misunderstandings in a future Labour Government and provide a firm basis for the confidence of the people. A Bill to repeal the Industrial Relations Act 1971 was first on the agenda, and, as the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said, the repeal of the 1971 Act is central to the social compact with the trade unions.

I was present, along with the noble Lord, Lord Feather, at the meetings of this liaison committee over a very long period of time. The natural wariness of the Trades Union Congress of the intentions of a future Labour Government was aggravated by the deep resentment which the Conservative Government had created. So, my Lords, the Trades Union Congress was in no mood for concessions. They wanted an unconditional pledge of repeal of the 1971 Act, and if that could be done by a two-clause Bill so much the better. That was their view. But Acts of Parliament are not repealed quite so simply as that. The 1971 Act was not wholly bad, and some of the better parts of it require these long transitional provisions in the Bill, relating particularly to unfair dismissals. Naturally, when the Trades Union Congress found that a short sharp Bill was not possible, they wished to press for reforms in other matters which they believed had constituted impediments in the way of legitimate trade union activity.

There are several points in the Bill, and some not in the Bill, which the Trades Union Congress were pursuing. Picketing was one, particularly the problems which had arisen about stopping a moving vehicle on the highway. There is no removal of that doubt or difficulty in the present Bill, though the Secretary of State promises that it shall be considered later on. Another point was that covered by Clause 10, the restrictions on legal liability for persuading persons not directly involved in an industrial dispute to break their contracts; and there are other immunities provide for in Clause 10. These were very difficult matters but they came forward, and they come forward in this Bill, because the T.U.C. felt that doubts and difficulties might well be removed in the earlier legislation rather than left till later.

One of the things that I personally regret is not in the Bill is provision for appeal to an independent tribunal by a trade union member who feels serious injustice at being excluded from, or expelled from, a trade union. The Donovan Commission recommended that something should be provided for an independent appeal in circumstances of this kind, and indeed a provision to this effect appeared in the Labour Government's White Paper In Place of Strife, I hope that the Government will consider in due season the wider issues of human rights in connection with disciplinary matters, not only in unions but in professional bodies. I believe that nowadays it is unacceptable that any person's livelihood should be taken from him by the decision of an executive committee or council or disciplinary body of a professional institution, without a right of appeal to an independent tribunal. I hope that that will be seriously considered in future, and indeed the Secretary of State has promised that it shall be considered in relation to a possible code of practice for unions which may come in a later Bill.

But, my Lords, what a pity that these talks with the T.U.C. were made more difficult by the resentment aroused by the 1971 Act. Indeed, we now have such prejudice against many of the terms used in the Industrial Relations Act 1971 that we appear to have compiled a glossary of forbidden terms. It is not "industrial relations" any longer; it is "labour relations". "Registration", which we have had for 100 years, is now taboo; it has gathered so much smear as a result of the 1971 Act that it cannot now, apparently, be used with approval in the trade union movement. We are not to have a "register"; we are to have a "list". So unions will be listed, at least temporarily, and not registered.

Whatever critics of this Bill may say, I think that this Bill would not have been necessary at all but for the Industrial Relations Act 1971. As things are, the passage of the Bill is essential to the Government's economic policy, and without the Bill the social compact, still precarious in my judgment, would collapse. We simply had to reach agreement with the T.U.C., and the Bill reveals the give and take—more give, I admit, than take—in order to reach that agreement. I am sure that many of my noble friends share with me the regret that time and circumstance have prevented a more balanced and constructive Bill from being before us to-day. What we need in Britain is not the narrow scope and spirit of retaliation of this Bill, but the foundations of closer co-operation and active partnership of both sides of industry. It is the basis for a new start that we need so badly to-day.

I am glad that Mr. Heath has said that a future Conservative Government would not seek to reintroduce the Act of 1971. That, I think, is good; it relieves a great deal of the tension for the future. It will enable the unions and the Government to go much further than the demolition and repair job which is in the Bill. My profound conviction is that farseeing and courageous leadership in the unions could be matched under the present Goverment with some vision and hope for the future, and that is what we want to see. In my view the alternative is a depressing prospect which will sicken and exasperate the people, and quicken the loss of confidence in existing institutions, including the unions themselves, to cope with the nation's problems. It is from that point that we have to look to the future, dispose of the 1971 Act in this Bill, and then start on the constructive work of to-morrow.


My Lords, I wish to raise a point of order. The Motion before the House is that we shall give a Second Reading to this Bill. This Bill has been withdrawn in the House of Commons.


My Lords. I am not interrupting, nor am I seeking to speak on the Question, but I understand, from rather informal sources, that the noble Lord is not quite right. A message will in due course be received from another place, and I shall pose a question to the Leader of the House which I hope will enable him to explain what is in fact probably convenient to your Lordships. But, in the meantime, I respectfully suggest—and I do not see the Leader of the House here at the moment—that we continue with the debate because nothing has been officially brought to our notice.


My Lords, I can confirm that my noble friend the Leader of the House will be making a Statement when he is in a position to do so.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should not like anything to interfere with the great pleasure it gives me to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, on making his maiden speech. He is a most distinguished trade unionist, a most distinguished Parliamentarian, he has enormous experience, and I think that he is a very great addition to your Lordships' House. We welcome him unreservedly, and we hope that we shall often hear him again. I must also say a word about the noble Lord, Lord Feather. Vic Feather's name and face, if I may say so, are familiar in every home in the land. For years we have admired his pawky humour, and his absolutely monumental common-sense in dealing with the most difficult and controversial issues. He has to-day shown a great capacity to deal uncontroversially with a very controversial subject. We shall hope to hear the noble Lord very often. I should like to say, as I have said before, that the presence of the General Secretary, or the former General Secretary, of the Trades Union Congress in this House, as a permanent feature of our debates, would add very much to the weight and authority of the opinions that we generate.

We have had a very interesting debate. I listened with particular interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, had to say. I thought that there was tremendous force in her fundamental analysis, and I thought that she made a great many good points. I shall not repeat them.

My basic objection to this Bill is that it seems to me almost backward-looking and retrogressive. I say, "almost" because mercifully it preserves the Code of Practice. Many of us have urged for years that our legislation ought to recognise and provide for the very valuable constructive function which trade unions ought to perform, and do perform, in our great society by assisting in the settlement of disputes and difficulties by collective action, and by giving our workpeople the assurance that their interests are reliably cared for and well protected and looked after. There was an admirable statement of this in Section 1 of the 1971 Act. As my noble friend Lord Gore-Booth has remarked, anything in the 1971 Act is now taboo. I think that if you look at the crossed-out passage at the head of Schedule 1 (the old paragraph 1 of Schedule 1), an admirable redraft of that section was produced in another place and, for some reason which, in the absence of Hansard, I have not been able to ascertain, was crossed out. I think that your Lordships should give serious consideration to putting it back, preferably in the body of the Bill itself, but, if not, in the place where it is printed (if that is the right term) at the top of Schedule 1.

If you look at Clause 2(5) of the Bill, you will see the strong implication that we are to go back to the traditional basis of British law which is, if I may summarise it in very lay terms, that trade unions should be able to commit conspiracy or act in restraint of trade with impunity. So much more that is constructive should really be said in the Bill. Speaking strictly from these Benches, I deeply deplore the traditionalist conservatism of the Labour Party's proposals which are before us to-day. The Bill is, for that reason, almost wholly retrogressive. For goodness sake! let us raise our eyes and sights to better things and move on from 1871, 1875, 1906 and the other provisions before and since that we have suffered for so many years, and move into the second half of the twentieth century.

My second objection to the Bill lies in the almost total immunity granted to trade unions to organise strikes and picketing, and break contracts at any time, anywhere and on any grounds so long as it is done in contemplation or in furtherance of a trade dispute—and, if I interpret the text correctly, so long as no personal injury is involved. I am referring to Clauses 10 to 14, and I hope that every noble Lord here has read that text with the utmost care.

Clause 15 also makes it clear that collective agreements are not enforceable in terms which, taken with Clauses 10 to 14, almost amount to saying that they need not be kept or adhered to. Under these provisions anyone from any industry can go on strike at any time in alleged furtherance of any trade dispute anywhere—in the mines, docks, Wales, Scotland, an oil rig, or even because of events in Zambia, Chile, or Ruritania. Just look, my Lords, at the definition of a trade dispute in Section 26, especially subsection (3), which states: There is a trade dispute for the purposes of this Act even though it relates to matters occurring outside Great Britain. What a plum for the trouble-makers! The Government, the T.U.C. and the courts will no longer be able to protect the interests of the community in any way. I cannot think how all this stuff got through the other place. My Lords, we just have to put it right here. The implications are much too serious for our country. I should like to explain why.

For years we have been losing our hold on markets, both at home and abroad. One of the reasons is that in so many cases we do not fulfil our delivery commitments. I have spent many years of my life promoting British exports. I still travel extensively. I know what I am talking about. I have statistics relating to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. If noble Lords want to challenge what I am saying I am prepared to produce them, but at this late hour I should prefer not to do so. The reason given for the failure to fulfil commitments is almost invariably strikes, go-slows or other problems of our industrial relations which I think, with all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Feather, are poor by modern standards. The damaging strikes are not necessarily in the exporting industry. They may be in components, in transport or in raw materials like coal or steel, in electric power, the docks or even ships. Please do not think, my Lords, that I just blame our unions for this—I do not. I believe that management must carry a considerable share of the blame. So, too, must successive Governments for allowing degrees of inflation guaranteed to wreck almost any system of industrial relations. You cannot have good industrial relations without inflation compensation. However, I will not say more about that now.

Referring to what my noble friend Lord Gore-Booth said, I think a good deal of the unpopularity of the 1971 Act in practice derives from the fact that so much stress was laid on incomes policies at a time of inflation. The most offensive thing you can do to a man is to restrict his income and his earning power I at a time of rising prices. It has caused immense trouble in our community. Of course you must allow strikes in order to put that right. What else can a working man do? It is fair to recognise that. Thiolicy of restricting incomes has been carried to a point where it has brought the 1971 Act into a state of disrepute, which, I agree with my noble friend Lord Gore-Booth, it did not really merit.

But the point I wish to make and to drive home with all the emphasis I can, is that unless we have the right legislative framework neither unions, management, government nor anyone else can hope to produce reasonably happy and co-operative industrial relations, or even to protect the interests of workers and of the industries they work in. Our legislative framework, I previously based on the Trade Disputes Act 1906, and on other Acts before and since, has over the years proved disastrous. We have fallen years behind the successful countries, both in the sensible co-operative organisation of industrial relations and in the settlement of disputes, and behind, in consequence, in industrial progress and in investment. Our standards of wages and salaries are, by European standards, deplorable.

I do not wonder that our workpeople are discontented. They are right to be. Yet every Government tells us that to press for more would be inflationary. Only Italy and a few others are now below us in the Common Market in income per head. Why have we reached that state? It is because our production is so poor and our sales effort rendered I quite ineffective. Do you wonder that; our investment rate is one of the lowest in the O.E.C.D.? I entirely agree with the T.U.C. that it is essential to get the investment rate up. But if you cannot get it up without better productivity and better profits—and now the Soviet Union I also attaches importance to profits—we cannot go forward. Last year and the year before we had to import motor cars to meet home demand because of lost production. This year we have suffered the three-day week. So do you wonder, my Lords, that our balance of payments position is so bad?

Of course, it is high time to recognise that the 1971 Act was not by itself the correct answer. At the time, I said that it was only a step in the right direction. Personally, I think we could have used it to much better effect. The 1971 Act had one vital defect, however. Whereas the Swedish, German and many other systems run with the co-operation of the trade unions, our own reform had to be done over their dead bodies. I do not altogether blame the Conservative Government for this, because so far as I could ever find out the T.U.C., unfortunately, could not reach agreement on any useful reforms which could be accepted. Evidently, it cannot do so now or we would not have what I think is this truly pathetic, ultra Left Wing document which can only serve to complete the ruin of our country.

In making that alarming statement I have chosen my words carefully. I mean exactly what I say. If agreements have no sanctity whatever, either as to substance or procedure, how can any trade union leader or committee retain control of the situation? Anyone who wants to cause local trouble can do so. I do not see what arguments our many good and constructive trade union leaders—and we have a great many in this country—can use. I cannot recall any case of a trade union member or branch being effectively disciplined, except for registering under the 1971 Act in accordance with that law. The leaders are now bound to lose all control of the situation, if they ever had any. I am much in favour of the great leaders of our trade unions having real control. I cannot see that they will have it under the new Bill.

I have fervently hoped and prayed that under the Labour Government the Social Compact might really come to mean something and change the situation. Under this Bill, I am sure that it will have no more chance than the proverbial snowball in Hell. In my view, when we amend the Bill the law must make it clear that agreements are to be kept until they expire and are not to be broken. We must face the fact that if procedural agreements at least are not enforced, there is no chance of substantive collective agreements running without disturbance, or of our industries fulfilling their commitments, or of our workers getting proper salaries and wages.

I want to say more about procedural agreements. How can you expect the trade union leadership to get procedural or other agreements respected (and, after all, they are the ones who make them, although we must credit them with the intention to keep them) if the State pays our tax-free funds and supplementary benefits to strikers and their families, regardless of whether the proper procedures have been broken? It is futile. I put forward a serious, constructive proposal that a striker and his family should be able to enjoy these benefits only if a certificate is given by an industrial tribunal to show that the strike is constitutional, and that the proper procedural agreements have been observed. That would give real power and control to the unions. In the years of "Women's Lib" it would also mobilise our very sensible women on the side of better industrial relations. Please do not think, my Lords, that a small matter like this is unimportant or ineffective. It does not involve any punishment, fines or anything like that.

Last winter I remember the colossal trouble caused to commuters by the ASLEF work to rule. After about three weeks of major disruption and a real trauma to the commuters, the Chairman of British Rail announced that the railways had now lost over £12 million. Twelve million pounds, my Lords! They were now fed up, he said, and he would no longer pay any driver who refused to take a train out for inadequate reasons. From that moment I can certify as a commuter that there were plenty of trains by which to travel. But could there be a more damning commentary on railway management to leave it so late? And surely we should now profit from that lesson. So I shall press my proposal on supplementary benefits, although I know quite well it is rather revolutionary, because I believe it would be constructive and helpful.

My Lords, I have always hoped that the Labour Party or the T.U.C. would come up with the proposals on conciliation and arbitration that they have so often talked about. In my opinion they are absolutely essential for the development of better industrial relations. I shall be very sorry indeed to see this Bill go through without those proposals coming forward. I should have been very happy to see them incorporated in this Bill. I think that better participation of workers in industry is at least of equal importance, but I would not want to see that come about against the background of this Bill as it now stands.

In conclusion, my Lords, I want to express real alarm at the effect this Bill will have if it is not radically amended. We shall have innumerable strikes on grounds quite irrelevant to the industries affected. The universal dissatisfaction at our unchecked inflation makes trouble inevitable anyway, but this Bill makes it easy and indeed legitimate for communists and the extreme Left to exploit disputes. We shall again have coachloads of trouble-makers from Manchester, Liverpool or North London trying to envenom local situations as they did in Shropshire, in Scunthorpe and elsewhere. The Labour Party and the Government as a whole surely do not wish for this: I am absolutely certain they do not. I think they must beware of becoming a Trojan Horse for the roughs and rowdies and for the extreme Left. The electorate would be deeply shocked if that happened, and they would be right.

My Lords, speaking from these Benches, I say with total conviction and without fear of contradiction that our countrymen are completely fed up with confrontation politics, both in these matters and in others, and with to-ing and fro-ing in high places. This Bill represents a swing to one extreme. It would be ridiculous if it were not dangerously harmful. Let us in this House try hard to amend it, so that it will become a sensible middle-of-the-road Bill that can be made to work, even if the extreme Left and the extreme Right do not like the result. My Lords, let us hog the middle of the road. No other body in the United Kingdom can do this. We have as Members of our House so many distinguished lawyers, distinguished industrialists and distinguished trade unionists, including now also the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord Feather, that we should be in an unrivalled position to do this. I think our House would indeed thereby earn the thanks and the gratitude of our great community.

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