HL Deb 23 July 1974 vol 353 cc1561-74

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do again resolve itelf into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Shepherd.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair]

Clause 10 [Acts in contemplation or furtherance of trade disputes]:


This is effectively part of the previous Amendment. I beg to move Amendment No. 16.

Amendment moved— Page 9, line 36, leave out subsection (3).—(The Earl of Gowrie.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

THE EARL OF GOWRIE moved Amendment No. 17: Page 9, line 38, at end insert— ("( ) The provisions of this section shall not apply to any act done by a person if at the time of doing the act—

  1. (a) he knows or has reasonable grounds for believing that another person has entered into a contract with a person whether or not that other person is a party to the trade dispute;
  2. (b) his purpose or principal purpose in taking or threatening to take those steps is knowingly to induce that other person to break that contract or to prevent him from performing it; and
  3. (c) that other person is an extraneous party in relation to the trade dispute.
( ) For the purposes of this section a person shall be regarded as an extraneous party in relation to the trade dispute if—
  1. (a) he is not a party to that dispute, and
  2. (b) he has not, in contemplation or furtherance of that dispute, taken any action in material support of a party to it.
( ) A person shall not be regarded for the purposes of this section as a party to a trade dispute or as having taken action as mentioned in subsection ( )(b) of this section by reason only that he—
  1. (a) is an associated employer in relation to an employer who is a party to the trade dispute, or
  2. (b) is a member of an organisation of employers of which a party to the trade dispute is also a member, or
  3. (c) has contributed to a fund which may be available to such a party by way of relief in respect of losses incurred or to be incurred in consequence of the dispute, where the fund was established, and his contribution to it was paid, without specific reference to that trade dispute, or
  4. (d) supplies goods to, or provides services for, a party to the trade dispute in pursuance of a contract entered into before the trade dispute began, or is a party to such a contract under which he is or may be required to supply goods to, or provide services for, a party to the trade dispute.").

The noble Earl said: In moving this Amendment which deals with the question of immunity I wish to refer the Committee back briefly to the Second Reading debate. Noble Lords will remember that on that debate I cited a letter from Mr. Campbell Adamson in The Times of June 11.


May I intervene? We are in some slight procedural difficulty. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of course has had to move from the Woolsack, disrobe and then return to the Front Bench. I understand that the noble Earl had moved Amendment No. 16; it was consequential, and I did not intervene at that stage. The noble and learned Lord has advised me that it was an Amendment of some substance and had he been able to get to the Front Bench he would have wished to speak to it. We have passed the Amendment but we are in some difficulty and, since we have a degree of flexibility, I wonder whether the noble Earl would agree, with the concurrence of the Committee, to move the Amendment again formally. I can see the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition shaking his head.


If I may intervene, the Question has been put. Our Rules of Order are extremely flexible, but when a Question has been put and an Amendment has been accepted I really think that the right course of action is for the Committee to move on to the next Amendment. We are in Committee; but we have the Report stage, and if the Government feel that an error has been made it will be open to them then to put down an Amendment to reverse the effect of the previous Amendment. I think that to try to go back to an Amendment that has already been carried would be procedurally wrong.


Before my noble and learned friend speaks—and I think he ought to be allowed to say a few words on this matter—if we are going to be faced with this difficulty, quite clearly when the Lord Chancellor is to take part we shall have to see that sufficient time is allowed before an Amendment is moved so that the noble and learned Lord is enabled to reach his place. I appreciate that, quite inadvertently, we are in difficulties, but I think the Committee ought to be appraised of the matter.


I regret that the speed of motion back to the Front Bench was such as to make it impossible for me to intervene when Amendment No. 16 was moved. My understanding from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, last night was that in view of the passing by the Committee of Amendment No. 15 there was no intention to move Amendment No. 16. On the strength of that understanding I took a rather more leisurely course in returning to my place. However, Ordnung muss sein (if I may put it in the familiar language of insistence upon order) perhaps the matter can be rectified at the Report stage. I regret the misunderstanding which has arisen and it may well be that when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, returns he will confirm my recollection of what he said last night.


I do not wish to pursue this in any great detail, but it certainly was my recollection that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, said that if we could stop at the hour we selected it was not his intention to move Amendment No. 16, and indeed that we could start to-day on Amendment No. 17. That was my recollection and Hansard will bear it out.


This proves the desirability of allowing a reasonable period of time to elapse between the Committee stage and Report stage so that the two noble and learned Lords can get together. Only one of them is present at the moment. If there has been a misunderstanding, I am sure that my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone will be most anxious to take the proper course of action on Report, but I think that the Question having been put, we ought now to move on to Amendment No. 17.


I must agree with the Leader of the Opposition that Amendment No. 17 has been called and it is before the Committee. I felt I ought to intervene so there should be no misunderstanding if we have to take this matter again on Report.


If I may now go on with Amendment No. 17, I should like to say to the noble and learned Lord that I was not trying to call the fastest Amendment in the West on that occasion. I want to refer the Committee back to a letter by Mr. Campbell Adamson in The Times of June 11, which I cited on Second Reading. I want to cite Mr. Adamson not merely on account of his wide experience in this area but because it is, I think, generally known by your Lordships that he was one who acknowledged, or thought, that, as it had not been effective, the Industrial Relations Act of 1971 should be taken off the Statute Book. About the present Bill, however, he said, and I quote: 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 or 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. I also acknowledged at Second Reading that the repeal of the 1971 Act was an essential and basic platform to the Government's social contract with the labour organisations of this country. I have never been one to attack the social contract which I feel is simply another word for the voluntary policy that all Governments must seek in this sphere. The great labour organisations felt that the 1971 Act threatened their rights and they feel, as I can understand, that at the heart of their rights is the power to withdraw labour. In my opinion it did not threaten to do so, but that is neither here nor there; they felt that it did.

The present Bill is designed to soothe them and is an important part of the social contract. But I must point out to the Government that in many other ways it can be abrasive to others and we must make social contracts with all society. That is the point and pursuit of law. Here we are discussing not merely the right to withhold labour in a trade dispute in a particular industry or service, but how far the frontiers of that right should extend beyond any particular dispute. We want to see a position in which there will be some statutory limits to the immunity which people who engage in these disputes may enjoy. Our Amendment would limit the immunity of either of the parties or a single party taking industrial action in a trade dispute. We feel that this widening under the Bill of the area of immunity becomes all the more important now that society has become so dependent on certain crucial industries or services, and as I shall say in a very few minutes the Minister of State has acknowledged that as well. For example, we have seen recently how vital the power stations are to the life of the nation. During the miners' dispute in 1972 the oil-fired power stations were picketed though they were in no way involved in the miners' dispute.

This Amendment would help to set some limit to immunity from action of that kind. When one sees how dependent our nation is on services such as the power stations, one wonders whether the workers in future will follow this example and perhaps attempt to have their own dispute resolved in their favour by operating in a similar way on the jugular vein of our society. For example, might not ASLEF, in pursuit of a claim by the engine drivers, do this? I put it as a doubt that other unions or groups might seek to use the power stations lever. We believe then that some limits are needed because as Clause 10 now stands no limits of any kind are set upon the immunities available to those who are involved in action in pursuit or furtherance of an industrial dispute.

I think there is an illusion prevailing, if not inside Parliament certainly outside it, that this part of the Bill simply exists to restore us to the position as it was before 1971, that it is part of the declared and promised repeal of the 1971 Act. However, we feel that this is a very great widening of provisions and immunities from that time. There were times when changes in the law over this area were not of any very great concern. I recognise fully that the trades unions object to what they think of as legalistic procedures or legalistic tampering in their affairs. But we must acknowledge that those who conducted disputes in former times were very much part of the established trade union tradition and there was no great fear in this country of abuse of power.

We are now in an age when one recognises that some disputes may or could have a political character, and we are in a period in which people feel that this is not the best time for any Government to extend immunities and privileges of selected groups of people when engaged in trade disputes. It must be a fundamental feature of Clause 10 that the immunities which are extended are for people engaging in disputes, whether they are members of a trades union, or are trade unionists or are merely an ad hoc collection of people, who, in certain circumstances, might not be employees of any of the firms involved. The immunity of the 1906 Act was restricted to contracts of employment, but we feel now that a blanket immunity is being given to break contracts or to induce breaches of contracts of any commercial kind.

To return to this Amendment: perhaps to the surprise of the Committee, I should like to cite in favour of this argument another letter to The Times, this time from Professor Wedderburn who (I think it is widely known) was an influential voice in the framing of this Bill. He made it clear in a revealing paragraph which he put in italics halfway through his letter, that: The protection provided by the law should be restricted to those acting in furtherance or contemplation of their trade dispute. That is to say, not of trade disputes generally but of "their" trade dispute, the one in which they were involved. Our Amendment would achieve just that.

The honourable gentleman, the Minister of State, is another person on the other side from ourselves whom I should like to cite in this context. He said that: I come very close to one or two Opposition Members in agreeing that damage to the community can result from strikes or from blacking or secondary boycott in modern terms and that these can be of enormous consequence to the community. He went on: It is evidently the case that modem technological development in services frequently puts a very small number of people in a position whereby their action or their refusal to act can do enormous damage to the capital equipment of the country and to important services on which many people depend. Again, in accounting for why he was unable to accept an Amendment along these lines, he said: We want to think again. We want to think harder about it. We want to look forward to the Employment Protection Bill. However, we feel that it would be wrong to pass the Bill entirely unamended in the hope, as my noble and learned friend argued yesterday, that a future Bill would clear up an anomalous or a doubtful situation. I therefore beg to move the Amendment. I wish to state that we have had some concern ourselves as to whether the exact wording of the Amendment as we have put it down on the Order Paper is totally consonant with the Amendment which we passed last night. If the House gives me leave, I may withdraw it at the end, after hearing what the noble and learned Lord has to say, and we can return to the question of getting it right on Report.

3.25 p.m.


This Amendment is a transplant from the dying body of the Industrial Relations Act 1971. It derives from Section 98 of that Act which dealt with action commonly called blacking or secondary boycott, which has traditionally been regarded as a legitimate way for trade unions to bring pressure to bear on an employer with whom a trade union has been in dispute. It may be significant that the Donovan Commisison did not propose any restrictions on secondary boycotts, even though the Commis- sion recommended extending the protection for inducing breach of employment contracts to all contracts.

When we come to look at the Section 98 provisions, the position under the 1971 Act was this: in the Act, registered unions and their officials had immunity under Section 96 of the Act in respect of inducing breach of any contract, be it a contract of employment or a commercial contract. Section 98 was a slight inroad on that complete immunity that the 1971 Act gave to registered unions and their officials, but the Amendment which was moved last night by the Opposition and carried, denies to such unions and their officials that immunity, and we are faced for the time being—unless that Amendment is dealt with in another place—with a new situation. I am interested that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. is aware of the implications of that in terms of the language of this Amendment. So far as the Amendment is concerned, as it stands at present, its scope is much wider than that of Section 98 of the previous Act and in my submission it is much more dangerous, for unlike that section it refers to a contract with a person whether or not that other person is a party to the trade dispute so that it would seem that it could refer to any commercial contract and even to a contract of employment.

Whereas Section 98 required that one of the parties should be a party to the dispute which was being furthered, Amendment No. 17 contains no restriction of that kind, and it would appear to make actionable in tort all sympathetic industrial action. I wonder whether the noble Lord really intends this serious encroachment upon trade union activity and rights to be made. This Amendment is in a form in which the immunities provided by Clause 10 shall not apply in the circumstances that are described, and, as I said, Clause 10 after last night's Amendment leaves us in the position that there is no immunity for inducing a breach of a commercial contract or for interfering with its performance, or even for threatening to do so. It is clear that this Amendment, coupled with last night's successful Amendment, detracts from the ability of a person to take strike action even to the extent of inducing breaches of employment contracts, and this is indeed piling Pelion upon Ossa.

I really must ask noble Lords opposite where they are going. From the Amendments which are being moved on the Conservative side it would seem that they are striking a wholly Bourbon attitude. They have learned nothing from the experience of trying to deal with industrial relations by legal sanctions and legal enforcement. The effort that was made to do so on the strength of the 1971 Act brought the law into industrial relations certainly in a big way. It was no doubt hoped that by doing so industrial relations problems would be solved and strikes, if not stopped, would at least be reduced in number. But what has happened during the years in which the Act has been in operation is that there have been a record number of days lost through industrial action. I am not saying that all of these were directly caused by the 1971 Act, but the provisions and working of that Act were in a large measure responsible for a general deterioration in our industrial relations over the past two years or so. More important, in my submission, it has been proved time and again that to make industrial action subject to legal processes only makes a bad situation worse.

The use of the 1971 Act elevated minor issues in modest companies and organisations into headline news. Substantial companies, responsible employers, fought shy of using the dangerous weapon that was being pressed into their hands. The outcome of such cases as were brought, generally speaking, was that instead of a quiet and amicable settlement which could have occurred were it not for the hardening of attitude in the full glare of publicity, the industrial difficulties were aggravated.

Time and again in these Amendments noble Lords opposite are showing that they have not learned their lessons from these experiences, and the future bodes ill indeed if they persist in this posture. We on the Government side take this position: their effort, their technique, failed disastrously. We ask by this Bill, and subsequent Bills that will be coming forward, to be given our opportunity to deal with the problem. I concede that certain risks are being taken; that certain additional freedom of action is being taken which may be exploited by some elements. This risk, however, is the risk that we have to take. We feel that it is imperative to cross this bitter divide that has divided a large part of the working population of our nation from the Government of the country. We believe that as part of our policy of conciliation in the face of confrontation, the kind of powers and authority which this Bill will give to trade unions is a reasonable price to pay for their offer and willingness to collaborate. I therefore hope that not only will this Amendment be withdrawn on merely technical grounds, but that noble Lords opposite will carefully review the course upon which they appear to be embarked.

3.34 p.m.


May I support my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in his appeal to the Opposition not to press this Amendment. When talking about extraneous bodies, I believe the Opposition are thinking about the revolutionary parties which exist in this country and which have no more support from this side of the House than they have from the Opposition. The Amendment says that people belonging to extraneous bodies cannot interfere with respect to arranging strikes or assisting in strikes. These revolutionary parties do not go about the business in that manner. They make up their minds where they want to cause disruption; they do not go in as a party themselves. They have one of their members become a member of the trade union which is directly implicated in the action and he can take whatever action he likes in spite of anything one could put down in this long and tenuous legislation.

If you try to prevent strikes—and very often they are unofficial strikes—by legislation of this character, you will find that these revolutionary parties know the legal way to get round legislation. The trade unions themselves are now finding a practical way to prevent them from doing that. I ask noble Lords to have some faith in the trade union movement at the moment and the efforts they are making to overcome these difficulties. I am not going to speak at length but there are many arguments I could put forward. The main reason I am asking the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, to withdraw the Amendment is that if he does not do so he will not be able to put its effects into practice. If I may draw an analogy, having decided as an Opposition that you are going to drop the old Industrial Relations Act, do not try to graft a piece of diseased bark from the old Act on to the new one that is intended to do the very things that the Opposition want and will do if given the opportunity.


My noble friend said that he did not intend to press this Amendment, but there is one aspect I should like to put before the Committee. One effect of the clause would have been to extend the immunity to all contracts. I recognise that we passed on from that last night. There must, all the same, be some doubt in the minds of people as to how far it is right that there should be any extension at all of the immunities. One can say it is rare at the present time for contracts to be enforced where they are unlawfully frustrated by sympathetic strikes or inducements to strike. I doubt whether that would be a good reason to take away the right to enforce. That would be a fallacy. It is up to the person who enjoys the rights—and these are civil rights—to enforce or not enforce them. If they consider it is not likely to improve industrial relations or to be ineffectual it is likely they will not enforce them. To attempt to extend the immunities seems unnecessary.

The noble and learned Lord last night said that Clause 10, as it then was, put the matter in a clear and satisfactory position. We certainly would not regard it as it then was as a satisfactory position in practical terms. If it is not satisfactory I should have thought the legal clarity was not then a virtue. Safeguards for civil rights no doubt complicate the law, but to suppose that through simplifying the law by removing safeguards for rights you are doing something praiseworthy seems to be fallacious.

Many trade unionists regard these immunities as rights that they possess, as rights they ought to possess; but the immunities were granted simply because the pay and conditions of workers at that time left a great deal to be desired, and strikes, whether they were extensions of strikes or strikes in the first instance, were regarded to a large extent as justifiable because they were strikes in order to endeavour to relieve hardship. That may still be the case sometimes, but no one can pretend that it is the case always. Unless and until we can have an assurance that all the procedures envisaged in the procedural agreements have been gone through, and unless there is some provision for arbitration, trade unions are to be regarded as being judges in their own cause. For that reason, it would be dangerous to extend the immunities in any way whatsoever.

I hope that my noble friend—when he redrafts his clause, if he decides to do so—will bear this in mind, because I am quite certain that this is something which is felt very strongly in the country. It is all very well for people who are in a dispute because they have a grievance, or think they have a grievance—because they think there is an injustice being done to them which is contrary to their interests—to pursue that and to bring any pressure they can on to employers, but to carry that further is, I think, extremely dangerous.

I quite recognise that Clause 10 as it now is without the addition of this Amendment would make it possible for contracts of employment to be interfered with, but at any rate it would mean that one would not have a kind of "forest fire" effect—that is, having a dispute, a strike, and then immediately the trade union going to other employers, or employees of other employers, and seeking to extend that strike in breach of the contract of employment. That would have a much quicker effect, a kind of forest fire effect, which I should have thought wholly undesirable in the present circumstances.

Strikes nowadays can have the most immense effects. We sometimes talk of this being the age of the consumer, but the consumer's interests can be tremendously badly affected by a rapid spread of a strike. There does not seem to be any machinery at all for that to be taken into account. In those circumstances, the most we can do is to make certain that the immunities are not extended. I fully agree with what Lord Houghton said yesterday, that we have to work towards a situation in which there will be a form of arbitration and so avoid strikes, but in the meantime we certainly should not extend immunities in any way in this Bill.


May I add one or two sentences as a complete non-expert in this field? I have listened to arguments put forward by those with experience such as the noble Lords, Lord Douglass of Cleveland and Lord Houghton, but, having listened to the debates on the 1971 Act and learned a certain amount from them, I feel when listening to this debate that noble Lords opposite are completely unrepentant about the 1971 Act. They have learned nothing; they still speak as if they believed in it. Unfortunately for them they did not win on this one. The truth is that until they realise what the dissolution of the 1971 Industrial Relations Act means we shall get very little further with the social contract or compact, or whatever it is called.

The words of wisdom spoken by people who know how the trade unions work show that it is no good speaking in terms of yesterday's arguments. To-day it is quite different. As we have seen in Northern Ireland, whatever line we take on what happened in Northern Ireland the Government have to accept it whatever their views were. We should take notice of the views of people who really know what happens in the trade unions.


When listening to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, I confess that my feelings were a little hurt. I spent the first four or five minutes of my speech making our position on the 1971 Act quite clear and I had all kinds of glowing things to say about the social contract and how necessary it was.

I think there is not a great argument between us on this matter. My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn put his finger on the operative point when he spoke of the repeal of the 1971 Act, which I acknowledge was an essential part of the social contract, and said that it should not involve an extension of immunities which were not there before that Act. This was our objection. When the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor appealed to me asking whether I really intended serious encroachment of rights in what, in the jargon, is called the secondary and tertiary fields, I was not aware that rights of this kind were seriously encroached upon before the Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Douglass of Cleveland, said that we should not graft bits on to the new Bill. We have accepted the repeal of the 1971 Act and said that we will not reintroduce it, but, just as the Government have taken on board whole tracts of the 1971 Act as well as much of the Donovan spirit which inspired it, we feel it is not dishonouring that Act but furthering it if we try to amend this Bill into a form workable and acceptable in all areas of the community—indeed to the 12 million or 14 million workers who are not members of powerful organisations. Again, as my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said, we are talking about civil rights and civil sanctions, not criminal ones.

I am quite unrependant about the spirit in which the Amendment was moved, and indeed about its provisions, but I am alert to the difficulties consequent on our carrying the previous Amendment. With that in mind and a desire to use the time between now and Report most carefully to examine the position, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


For the purpose of hearing a Statement on equal status for women, I beg to move that the House be now resumed.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.