§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, before the noble Lord the Leader of the House at last begins his speech on this topic, I wonder whether I might ask him, without any desire to delay your Lordships, where we stand on the business of today. I do not think I ought to lay blame on any Member of the House or on the Government, but we have now reached 4.45 and we have a list of 24 speakers, which is usually considered the maximum that we can undertake in a day. It has been represented to me by Members of my own side of the House— and I was already contemplating asking the Leader —that he really ought to consider turning this into a two-day debate, because it is not doing any good to Parliament by starting at 4.45 on a list of 24 speakers on a Bill of this importance, which has excited this measure of public interest. I am sorry to have to trouble the House and the noble Leader with this complaint, but I think he will see that it is not without substance and that I have reason.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, I should like to support what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, has said.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, did not need to join the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, in his comments on this matter, because I share his view. If he had not intervened I had intended to apologise to your Lordships' House, because with an important Bill of this nature it is quite wrong that it should start at 4.45. When the noble and learned Lord rose, my first instinct was to see whether another day 681 could be found. The difficulty is of course that a number of noble Lords whose names appear on the list are very busy people—I see the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, in his place—and if we were to arrange a new date at this moment without warning, it might well place those noble Lords in great difficulties. Whether we could adjourn at some stage and turn this into a two-day debate, I do not know. But I will look at it after I have delivered my own speech, which I certainly intend to shorten, and will see whether I can meet the noble and learned Lord's suggestion.
Unfortunately, of course, tomorrow is not a Government day; it is a Wednesday, when it is the right of Back-Bench and Cross-Bench Members to have their own debates. I wonder whether it would be in the interests of the House to adjourn the second part of this debate till Thursday. I can foresee difficulties, but if the noble and learned Lord would permit me, when I have delivered my speech and have listened to the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I will go away and see what we can do and perhaps discuss it through the usual channels.
My Lords, this is a small but important and unusual Bill. It would be wrong to claim that it is not controversial and, as your Lordships will be aware, the space devoted to it in the Press has been quite disproportionate to its length. I intend to discuss the issues which have recently commanded so much attention in the Press, but first I should like to explain the reasons for the Bill as a whole. I need not concern the House with origins of the particular provisions in the Bill. They stem from the amendments to the principal Bill, now the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, which were made both in this House and in another place against the advice of the Government in the last Parliament.
The Trade Union and Labour Relations Act was the first stage of the Government's legislation on industrial relations. Proposals for the second stage— the more forward-looking Employment Protection Bill— were set out in the Consultative Document published before the Election in September. This also con- 682 tained proposals for amending the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act.
Following the Election, the Government decided it would be best to bring forward the measures designed to amend the Act in a separate short Bill, so that the period during which the unsatisfactory provisions remained on the Statute Book would be as limited as possible. We think that unnecessary hazards to good industrial relations should be removed as quickly as possible. These might arise from the operation of provisions which are contrary to the spirit in which the Government believe industrial relations should be approached, and which in some cases pose considerable difficulties of interpretation for the courts and tribunals in their application to particular situations.
My Lords, more important than this, however, is the difficulty of leaving on the Statute Book provisions which, to trade unionists at least, seem to belong to the Industrial Relations Act which the Government were elected to repeal. Some may feel that this is an aspect which is grossly exaggerated. I do not share that view. The Industrial Relations Act attracted considerable hostility, and while remnants remain on the Statute Book its impact is a factor to be reckoned with and the good will which is an essential component of the successful return to free collective bargaining is put in jeopardy. It is perhaps a somewhat unquantifiable factor, but those familiar with labour matters will well appreciate that sound industrial relations can come only from building up the right sort of atmosphere. We would be wrong to ignore this aspect, and therefore the need to remove the vestiges of the legislation which so soured the atmosphere is one of the main reasons for this Bill.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, and others took part last July in the considerations on the Act to which I have just referred. The Amendments were fully discussed in Committee and on Report. Looking at the Hansards of that month, and looking at the brief provided to me by the Department, I suspect that little new will be said. Perhaps in the interests of time I could turn directly to the two clauses of the Bill which have caused the most difficulty and the greatest 683 comment in the Press, leaving the other aspects of the Bill—important though they may be—for further consideration in detail in Committee.
Clause l(e) removes from the paragraph of the principal Act dealing with dismissals in a closed shop the proviso that such dismissals would be unfair if someone objected on any reasonable grounds to being a member of a particular trade union, and Clause 2(3) amends the definition of a "union membership agreement" so as to make clear that it is for the employers and unions making such an agreement to decide to what union or unions anyone who is covered by the agreement should belong. Let me state briefly why we are amending these provisions, so as to negate the effects of the so-called "Lever Amendments" inserted in the Bill in another place last summer.
First, the drafting of both clauses causes very considerable difficulties for those concerned in industry— employers, unions and individuals—and for tribunals who will have to interpret those provisions. But far more important, these Amendments undermine the whole principle of the closed shop. We cannot accept that employers and unions should not be free to arrange their own joint affairs by agreement without the intervention of the law to restrict such agreements or to impose terms in them against the will of the parties. Nor, however, can we accept that it is right to say that employers and unions may make closed shop agreements, but that an employer may have to pay compensation to an individual as a consequence of doing so; and that is the only issue on which these closed shop provisions have any bearing. In intent, if not perhaps in legal effect, these Lever Amendments cut clean across the legislation of the closed shop, and so prevent a return to the pre-1971 position when no one challenged the right of employers and unions to make closed shop arrangements, and in the final resort to dismiss employees who would not fall in with those arrangements. We cannot let the ghost of the Industrial Relations Act continue to haunt our new legislation in this respect.
My Lords, there are two strands to the attack on the closed shop. The first admits the possibility of a 100 per cent. 684 union shop, but says that employees should be able to choose to what union they wish to belong—regardless of what unions the employer wants to recognise. This case has been argued by a number of small professional associations in particular, who are concerned that their members may be compelled under closed shop arrangements to join large craft or general unions which, they feel, do not adequately represent the professional's interest. This is primarily a question of what unions an employer is prepared to recognise for various purposes, and that is a matter which we shall be dealing with more fully in the forthcoming Employment Protection Bill. I hope that this House would accept that an employer should not be compelled to have dealings with a host of small, different unions each representing perhaps a handful of employees. That cannot be good for industrial relations, or for the efficient conduct of free collective bargaining— and it is, of course, to avoid such a situation that some employers are anxious to enter into closed shop agreements. None the less, the definition in our legislation of a closed shop agreement ensures that every union or association has a chance of making special arrangements for its members if closed shop arrangements are made.
My Lords, closed shop agreements need not be confined to unions which an employer recognises for negotiating purposes. Any independent union can seek to make arrangements with an employer, either to require that certain grades of employee should join its membership, or to be recognised as an alternative to some other union in a closed shop, or to have its members or grades which it represents excluded from closed shop arrangements altogether. In another place we introduced in Clause 2(4) Amendments designed to ensure that the definition of union membership agreement would operate flexibly enough to enable particular groups in special circumstances to be excluded from the closed shop requirements. One of these Amendments was criticised on the ground that it did not seem to do what it set out to do, and at a later stage I intend to move an Amendment taking into account the Opposition's suggestion in another place.
My Lords, the second strand of the argument against the closed shop con- 685 cerns the right of the individual to opt out of union membership if he objects on grounds of conscience to joining a union. We have, of course, excepted religious believers, whose creed clearly states that they may not be associated with unbelievers, be they in unions, or any other form of association. But we do not believe that it is possible in legislation— and I stress "in legislation "—to identify in a realistic way other groups of conscientious objection to union membership. We are supported in our belief by the judgments of tribunals, who have interpreted the references to conscientious objection in the Industrial Relations Act as meaning religious objection.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but can he clear up a point for me? He says he has protected religious beliefs. Does he say that that means a man cannot be expelled from a union on the grounds of religious belief, or merely that if a man is expelled he is entitled to compensation? There is a crucial difference here.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, my understanding is that a man on conscientious grounds need not join a union, even though it is in a closed shop relationship with the employer.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, I hesitate to prolong this intervention, but I have to say that that is not the generally accepted interpretation of the Act.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, perhaps we can pursue this matter when we come to Committee stage. It is an important matter.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, is it really being said by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that only religious people have consciences? Does he really forget that during the war, when it was a question of military service, the tribunals were able to identify conscientious objection which was not religious?
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is quite right in terms of conscientious objection to joining the Services, and there were a number of grades of that. I rest my case and we will deal with it in Committee. But I do not think the noble and learned Lord will dispute that the tribunals, when 686 they had to consider these matters, were forced to rely and fall back upon a religious objection as being the conscientious ground. They have not found in any other way.
We do not accept that there should be a general "right not to belong". The reason for this is simple. It is by giving a "right not to belong" that the effective closed shop is outlawed—something which has been widely accepted on all sides as being undesirable and unworkable. But what we have done is to ensure that those drawing up a closed shop agreement have the maximum flexibility in making exceptions, and in particular avoided the risk that the tribunal might regard the union membership agreement as invalid because a few individuals were not required to join. It is in fact common practice, in those companies where closed shop agreements are made, to make special exceptions and arrangements to safeguard individual employees, and we have tried in this Bill to enable practices of this kind to be reflected in the definition of union membership agreement.
These two strands of objection to the closed shop have both been brought into the debate about the effects of the Bill upon the freedom of the Press, which is, of course, the main issue which has been discussed in relation to this Bill. This is a vital matter, and the Government in no way underestimate the strongly held feelings on the subject—indeed we share them. But, of course, this discussion has ranged far wider than the scope of this Bill. Let me try to summarise the arguments, and put them in the context of this particular piece of legislation.
The guardians of Press freedom start from the premise that there will be an NUJ closed shop in the newspaper industry if this legislation does not ban it. The law does not and will not require a closed shop to be established, and gives ample opportunities to proprietors and others, when negotiating any closed shop agreements which may be made, to exclude editors, to include special terms and conditions for them, and so on. But none of that, it appears, impresses those who are concerned about the Bill's provisions, who argue that, if the NUJ lawfully can, it will force proprietors to concede closed shops agreements covering editors. In other words, their argument 687 rests not on what is in the Bill, but on what they take to be the attitude of the NUJ.
Let us recognise that first fundamental point. I believe it is worth examining further. If we were to legislate in this Bill for the alleged attitude of the NUJ, what would be the result? First, we have to assume that a legal remedy would have the desired result. Unfortunately, the history of legisation in this area does not suggest that passing laws to deal with the closed shop is a fruitful activity for the Legislature. This may be regrettable to some, but we all ought at least to be prepared to learn from experience. I am not myself wanting to suggest that trade unionists in journalism would not respect the law, but it ill behoves those who fear the worst of the NUJ and who are not prepared to put their trust in voluntary agreements made by the industry to argue for a legal remedy which has so clearly failed to stick in the past.
Secondly, suppose that we do amend the Bill. We could do two things within the framework of this Bill— and I emphasise that. First, we could say, in the definition of a "union membership agreement", that there is no "union membership agreement" in so far as it applies to editors. What are the effects? Not to prevent closed shop agreements which apply only to editors being made — the Bill does not touch on that at all. The only effect is that if an editor is not a member of the NUJ and his employer dismisses him—which, of course, he does not by law have to do—then the editor may be entitled to compensation for his dismissal. Does that protect the freedom of the Press?
Alternatively, we could specifically say that dismissal of an editor for non-membership of a closed shop union is unfair, and therefore he should be able to receive compensation from his em-employer. The same result again— but I suggest no substantial protection for Press freedom. The only issue at stake —all that this Bill deals with in the context of the closed shop— is whether compensation should be payable by the employer on dismissal. That will not influence the attitude of the NUJ.
So what those who would legislate for the attitude of the NUJ are seeking 688 is, in fact, some kind of provision which is completely outside the scope of ths Bill as it is before this House. The definition of "union membership agreement" and the dismissals provisions in Schedule 1, paragraph 6(5), cannot be used to ban the closed shop in journalism. Nor can any other provision in the Bill. I beg any of your Lordships who are contemplating Amendments to this legislation to consider most carefully what I have said, and to consider the effects of Amendments which they may have it in mind to table.
I recognise, however, that the debate on Press freedom has gone too far for me to stop there, with saying that this Bill is irrelevant. Let me pursue the arguments further. Suppose that we were to attempt to ban the closed shop for editors by saying, not that they could not be dismissed without compensation, but that they could not be dismissed for not being a union member. I would emphasise again the unenforceability of such a law, but that is not my main point. What I want to ask is this: what would be the effect, if the law was enforced, upon Press freedom? In other words, I am asking now: is the closed shop issue in fact relevant to the matter?
The arguments advanced against closed shops in the newspaper industry are, first, that if editors have to join the NUJ, they will be subject to its rules and discipline, which will lay them open to influence by the NUJ upon their editorial policies. Secondly, it is argued that an NUJ closed shop for newspaper staff will prevent outside contributors who are not—and cannot under the union's rules become—NUJ members, from contributing to newspapers.
Let me take editors first. The argument that Press freedom is in jeopardy hinges upon the assumed sinister attitude of the NUJ. I do not want to go into the claims and counter-claims about that. I will assume the worst, for the purposes of my argument. Pressures can and have been exerted on an editor during industrial disputes—irrespective of whether the editor is a member of the NUJ, and irrespective of whether or not there is a closed shop. Banning the closed shop for journalists would not stop such pressures, would not prevent "blacking" of any articles, would not stop a total halt in production of newspapers. That is not a 689 "closed shop" issue, and I sincerely hope that no one in this Chamber will fall into the trap of citing actions during an industrial dispute in support of arguments for banning the closed shop.
But let us suppose that similar actions were taken when there was no dispute, and the editor was told what to leave out of or put in his newspaper. He can of course cite the NUJ's own code of ethics in refusing to accept such orders. But the question is, would the issue of whether he is or is not a member of the NUJ make any difference? Since we are assuming ill-intent on the part of the NUJ, the answer must surely be, No.
If the editor is a member, he is in a better position to influence the union's policies than if he is not, and he can avail himself of the union's excellent procedures to argue why he should not take orders about the contents of his paper. If he is not a member, the NUJ has only to turn what might otherwise have been a matter for internal resolution within the union into a full-scale dispute, in which union membership is not an issue. Banning the closed shop will not ban militancy directed against editors.
Let us consider the outside contributors and the whole question of free access to the Press. This is a question about which more concern has been expressed than any other. But it is not one which should arise from the provisions of this Bill, because the existence of a closed shop does not, in itself, prevent outside contributions. Closed shop agreements (union membership agreements) as defined in our legislation may apply only to employees. Those who work on a contract for services to write a weekly column, or to cover a local football match, but who are not employed on a newspaper's staff, are not employees. Closed shop agreements as dealt with in our legislation do not affect their position. The existence of a closed shop for staff does not give the NUJ a right to demand that outside contributors should also be union members.
What those who are concerned about free access to the Press are, in effect, asking for is not a ban on closed shop agreements, but a ban on any agreements between proprietors and unions in the industry, as to the use of contributions by non-professional journalists. Again, that is a matter completely outside the scope 690 of this Bill. I hope that I may have convinced at least some noble Lords that a highly important subject— the freedom of the Press—is being discussed in the wrong context; a context within which the scope for action to deal with the anxieties expressed by those who believe sincerely in the freedom of the Press, among whom the Government must be included, is virtually nil.
But noble Lords are entitled to a little more than a despairing shrug from the Government; they are entitled to know what we intend to do to safeguard Press freedom. We have made clear that we think that the best and most effective solution to the potential problems facing editors— in terms of principles governing the application of closed shop arrangements to editors, of the protections against outside interference from any source which should be accorded to editors, and of the principles governing the use of outside contributors—will be those worked out between the parties in the industry. We shall not lightly be dissuaded from that view.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment welcomed the initiative taken by the NUJ in suggesting discussions within the industry about the principles governing the application of closed shop agreements to editors, and about possible model clauses for inclusion in any such closed shop agreements. He encouraged the parties to come together and to discuss and agree upon what safeguards might be embodied in any such agreements. He also welcomed the widening of the scope of these discussions, to cover the whole question of the principle to which all in the newspaper industry should adhere in support of Press freedom and the avoidance of improper pressures.
This broadening of the issues, which really goes to the heart of the matter in a way that the limited issue of the closed shop does not, seemed to be the welcome direction indicated by the draft "editors' charter" drawn up by the editor of the Guardian after discussions with others, and which was also to have been the subject of discussion within the industry. However, alas! some of those involved in the industry proved unwilling to come to the table to discuss matters of the kind which the NUJ proposed last December. Finally, after a good deal of useful 691 informal discussion by some of those involved, the parties did manage to get together on Thursday last week under the neutral chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce, to discuss these general matters of vital concern to all in the industry.
Unfortunately, as we all now know, the parties were not prepared to conduct their talks on an industry basis. They have had the chance to consider seriously and deeply all the issues arising from the debate, before committing themselves to any course. What could have emerged from these discussions would be a powerful aid to the maintenance of Press freedom.
Basically it is only in the industry itself that all the issues—by no means confined to the closed shop—can be sorted out in a manner that will ensure the continued support of those in the industry. But the parties have chosen, by a majority of 12 to 2, with one abstention, to refuse to discuss any code designed to protect Press freedom, unless the Government legislate to exclude editors from any closed shop agreements. That is not, I think, a proper way in which to conduct industry talks. Nor, I must make clear, would it be proper for this Parliament to legislate and to amend a Bill, which is not relevant to many of the issues which are thought to be at stake, in a totally unsuitable fashion.
The Government have made clear that they are not opposed to legislation on grounds of high principle, but because they are not convinced that Amendments to this Bill would produce a solution satisfactory to all or any of the parties. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he would be prepared to consider, by some means or other, giving some Parliamentary backing to a charter or similar agreement drawn up by the industry. Those responsible in the industry have in effect declined—I hope only for a short while—to play their part in this, and have refused to bear their proper burden and responsibility as managers with a part to play in the area of industrial relations, and the attendant problems of Press freedom which necessarily arise.
I hope that this House will not be frustrated by the outcome of these discussions and will share with the Secre- 692 tary of State, the Government, and, perhaps, many others in the Press world, who realised how much they had to gain from a successful outcome of general talks on Press freedom, our genuine regret about what has happened. I hope that this House will join with all those who genuinely want to establish a charter for a free Press, in hoping that those parties who voted against an unconditional declaration of support for such a charter will reflect further, and will have further discussions on the matter. That, and not usurping the functions of the legislature, is their role, and the role in which they can make a real contribution if they have only the will to do so.
I do not wish to imply that the Government are washing their hands of such a vital issue as Press freedom; far from it, and we still have time. We are prepared to come in at the right and proper time, in support of policies which command the support of all sides of the industry. If the parties themselves feel that it would be helpful for us to do so, we are prepared to consider how any agreement which emerged from the talks might be incorporated in, or associated in some way with, a code of practice or some similar document. But if it is felt that some wider recognition should be given to what would otherwise be a purely industrial agreement relating to the freedom of the Press generally, or some aspects of it were more specifically recognised by the Government and by Parliament, we would certainly be prepared to consider ways and means of doing so.
Finally, in the light of what has happened, I must repeat further assurances which have already been given in another place. We have at present a Royal Commission on the Press set up by the Government, which is considering evidence from all quarters on issues such as the freedom of the Press, and within whose terms of reference are included inquiry intomanagement and labour practices and relations within the industry ".If all the threats to Press freedom which have been postulated from the NUJ materialise, and if the Royal Commission adduces evidence and recommendations calling for more positive actions by the Government to safeguard Press freedom, we shall not hesitate to act upon the 693 facts in whatever way is likely to be most effective.
I repeat that we do not favour a legislative solution, because we do not think that it will be an effective solution. But if the facts demand such action, we are not turning our faces against bringing forward legislation in the future. But if we do so, it will be well-considered legislation, aimed at genuine problems, not measures which we believe will fail to achieve the ends we all wish to see. I hope that what I have said about the limited scope of the legislation we are considering tonight, and the assurances of Government interest in, and readiness to act upon, the wider issue of the freedom of the Press, will enable us to keep forthcoming discussions of this Bill within the bounds; of conciliation.
My Lords, may I end on a personal note, as the mover of this Bill, to those who will express their concern? I do not believe there is anything between us. We have a desire and determination to ensure the freedom of the Press.
Once, many years ago, I was a member of a union in a closed shop arrangement with the proprietors of the Press, not as a journalist. If a closed shop was in itself a risk to the freedom of the Press, it has existed very many years. But our Press is still free. There is a problem— that I accept. Your Lordships' House has options open to it. I believe this is a wise House. Sometimes it departs from its high standards, but when it wishes it is a very wise and sensible place. We could fight the issue or we could seek a solution. We have our leads into the industry. I hope we shall use our time quietly and constructively to find a solution.
The Government can help and it will — but the House itself can have great influence in reaching a solution. The Government's approach is flexible and understanding. Our eyes are not closed nor are our ears. My door is open to anyone in your Lordships' House who has a constructive suggestion to make.
It is not a draconian measure designed to suppress our traditional liberties, but is, we believe, a worthwhile contribution towards better industrial relations in this country with no pretentions to touch upon grander issues of freedom, democracy and the right to write. I hope 694 that as such your Lordships will give it fair consideration. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Shepherd)
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, I am sorry but I have sat down and the Question has been put. I should be completely out of order in allowing the noble Lord to proceed, and it would be even worse if I endeavoured to reply to him.
§ 5.26 p.m.
The Earl of GOWRIE
My Lords, were my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel to devise a system of electing a leader of your Lordships' House which could cut across Party lines, I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, would do very well. He always speaks with such a perfect blend of authority and sweet reason, particularly, I have often noticed, towards the end of his speeches, and it seems almost ungrateful to oppose him. I shall read carefully the report of his speech, and I, too, with my noble and learned friend, hope that we may have another day on this subject to consider our answers, because in the earlier part of his speech the arguments seemed to my innocent ears to be of a complexity of almost medieval theology. I am still unclear, for instance, about the position of regular freelance journalists who are not on the staff side of newspapers. But whether or not we have another day, the noble Lord has made it clear that the Government have as yet had no real change of heart about accepting serious amendment to this amending Bill.
In making that clear, the noble Lord has, in my view, denied himself the chance of taking industrial relations legislation out of Party politics in Britain for at least a decade. That, as I understand it, is what the Government want; that, as I understand it, is what the Labour Party and the Labour movement in and out of Parliament want; certainly it is what the Opposition want. Of course industrial relations will continue in the forefront of political debate, but we have been told time and again that the law and legislative controversy only poison industrial relations. This Bill amends 695 the amended 1974 Act. It removes the minimum safety provisions in law which the Conservative and Liberal Parties in Opposition felt were necessary not only in themselves, but to prevent this turbulent issue from recurring. In seeking to cut the safety net, the Government will find themselves out on a limb on their own and with an articulate and hostile audience awaiting the inevitable fall.
Would it not have been a great prize to take Party struggle out of industrial relations legislation? I feel frustrated— and I think "frustrated" was a word used by the noble Lord—when I think how easily this prize could have been won. All the Government had to do was accept in substance—and, with suitable modifications, bring all the clauses into line with one another—the Act which Parliament passed before October of last year. Yet by bringing this amendment Bill forward, the Government are undoing all those long hours of useful work by Parliament, in this House and in another place. My Lords, please notice that I stress the word "Parliament". It was not just the Conservative Opposition who made it possible for the summer Amendments to be carried. Others felt, as did we, that there must be certain minimum legal protections for individuals in the workplace and for the wide public outside. For instance, Parliament passed an Amendment which would have prevented unfair dismissal without payment of compensation; that is, under threat of repeal in the present Bill. Let us take another instance. Last summer, Parliament made broad provisions as to what may be done in this country about trade disputes overseas. That, too, is under threat of repeal. So we are that much nearer the full-scale political strike, regardless of any position taken by the elected Government of the day and regardless of whether the interests and rights of individual members of unions are affected.
In a moment or two I shall try to demonstrate how these minimum safeguards and protections are in no way a return to the ill-fated Industrial Relations Act 1971. I shall try to show how the closed shop is not merely permitted but enshrined by the 1974 Act which we are now being recklessly and dangerously 696 asked to amend. In the meantime, all I ask noble Lords opposite to accept is that Parliament, no less than the great trades unions, has its instincts, traditions and obligations. Foremost among these must be the protection of the individual's right to live, which is to say, the right to work for his living. Closed shops are not threatened by the provision of emergency exits. It was with the individual, the exceptional or the emergency case that the bulk of last summer's Amendments was concerned. Nevertheless, I ask no prize for guessing that the bulk of today's debate will be concerned with another kind of emergency and with the protection of another kind of freedom. As the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, acknowledged, we have heard in recent weeks a great chorus of anxiety from all corners of the newspaper world. Famous conservative journalists like J. B. Priestley, Anthony Sampson, Peter Jenkins and Katherine Whitehorn— hankering for the return of the Industrial Relations Act—have expressed their terror at the possible implications of the closed shop for the media. Newspaper editors—normally a retiring lot who, like headmasters or planning officials, wield great power unseen by the general public —have stepped out into their own limelight. Rightly or wrongly—and in order to argue the case, I want for the moment to remain neutral —they see in the proposed repeal of the 1974 Act a recruiting ground for an attack on editorial independence, the free flow of ideas and the right of the public to know. Their anxiety is shared by many members of the Labour movement and many supporters of the present Government. At a tune when democracy is feeling the stress of inflation very keenly, the traffic in information and ideas must continue to flow undisturbed. We are in an emergency situation. Social tensions will increase with unemployment. The very least the Government must do is to allay the fears of those whose calling it is to put their fellow men in touch with one another.
The Government have tried to do this and failed. They had to fail because the refusal to provide in law for emergency exits from the closed shop is not just an acknowledgment of the reality; it actively encourages the extension of the principle into areas far beyond questions of pay or 697 conditions of work. I know that Ministers have said that the Bill is neutral as to the closed shop because the terms of a union membership agreement are not properly the concern of lawmaking or of lawmakers. But, given the circumstances in which the original Bill came before Parliament— the deal whereby the Government offered to put forward union-approved legislation in exchange for wage restraint—what were the communicators to think? Given, too, the really ferocious resistance which the Government put up last summer to suggestions that there should be one or two escape hatches from the closed shop, is it surprising that editors felt alarm? Many of them, regardless of proprietorial inclination regardless of "Lord Gnome", so to speak—and I do not think that I see the noble Lord in his place!—give considerable support to the present Government. But all of them, including supporters of the present Government, are aware of the situation that obtains in the high command of the NUJ. All of them are aware that the present Bill could empower the NUJ to insist that they, the: editors, join the union.
My Lords, I ask you to remember this point whenever it is suggested that the Government's only aim is to obliterate the memory of the Industrial Relations Act and to restore the purity of the years before 1971, or rather of the years before Donovan and In Place of Strife. Before 1971 or, indeed, until now, no power on earth could force editors to join a trade union, still less to comply with what a 100 per cent. closed shop might, after democratic and legal debate, choose to lay down. That could be a consequence of the present Bill. That is why there is all the fuss.
My Lords, I do not think that I am scaremongering. No concealment is necessary. No undercover or under-the-bed subversion of the kind we shall debate here tomorrow is in question. The Annual Delegates Meeting of the NUJ has a Motion down for debate which states categorically that:It is NUJ policy to support members campaigning by any genuine trade union means for: 100 per cent. membership in chapels, including editors; the right to influence editorial policy; and the right to exclude non-journalist material from publications.No doubt we shall hear more on this last point as our own debate progresses. It is crucial. I was delighted to learn 698 yesterday that it is of concern to Time Out as well as to The Times.
My Lords, I accept that the closed shop principle is considered to be the major protection of the right of people at work to combine. I do not, of course, accept that religion should be the only grounds of conscientious objection to that principle. At the same time, I do not see how it can remain watertight and be subject to the free flow of ideas and information. But, my Lords, is it really necessary for the closed shop principle to be watertight, to be so absolute? In terms of this debate, are not noble Lords opposite who support this amending Bill going absurdly far in defence of a principle that is, after all, under no threat whatsoever from the present Act? Indeed, the reverse is the case. As I said earlier, the Act enshrines the closed shop principle; nor are there plans to resurrect the Industrial Relations Act which was said to be hostile to it.
My Lords, time and again in discussing industrial relations matters, I have heard noble Lords opposite say we on this side of the House have no understanding of the traditions of trade unionism, of the pressing psychological need—if I may call it that—for the closed shop. They argue that the closed shop is the guarantor of the need to combine effectively. They also cite, as an instance and development of this need, what is known in industrial relations terminology as the "Bridlington principle". This, if I understand it rightly, is the development of the need to prevent and reduce the proliferation of trade unions in various trades and professions. Well and good, my Lords, but more than half this country's infinitely damaging industrial disputes can be ascribed to a Byzantine hierarchy of competing labour organisations. Our competitors have far fewer and far more rationally composed groupings. But it is truly absurd for noble Lords opposite to present the trade union movement as a whole as vulnerable or shivering. It helped to bring down Mr. Wilson in 1970; it brought down Mr. Heath less than four years later. We are not living in Dickens' day. The trade union movement is not merely protected; it has a major share in the formation of policy in our State, and, for what my own view is worth, it is right that it should have such a share. Here let me say quickly that it was Mr. Heath, not Mr. Wilson, 699 who first offered this major share to the unions. One of the ironies of my right honourable friend's career is that he was in Office one of the best face-to-face negotiators the union leaders have had to deal with. My authority for this is my friends — and I have them— in the TUC.
My Lords, in the same spirit, Conservative Members of another place have restated that it is no part of policy to bring back the Industrial Relations Act. All they have tried to do is to minimise the harm which the successful operation of the closed shop principle can do to the rights of the individual and the rights of a free Press— and do not let us hear that these rights are nothing to do with Parliament.
The Government have acknowledged that harm can be done by pointing to remedies to be provided by a review body appointed by the TUC in consultation with the Secretary of State and the chairman of the Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Is it surprising that my friends in another place feel that this must go a little further or must be so modified as to ensure that the TUC is not judge and jury in its own cause? It has been very well said that the Labour Party would look askance at any suggestion that the police, for example, should investigate complaints made against them. And imagine the outcry there would be if any abuse of the Companies Act could be investigated only by tribunals set up by the CBI!
My Lords, there is no return to the Industrial Relations Act. There is only the desire to provide individuals, including editors, with the barest and most narrowly limited protection against the abuse of power. I cannot see what is wrong or what is so psychologically damaging about the provision of such safety nets in legislation. It is possible that the great trade unions have not moved with the times—that they are unaware of the degree to which the 1974 Act, as it stands now, unamended, protects them. It is possible that they have put out of mind the great increase in union membership among professional bodies, although I doubt it. Editors are not the only people who believe that the absolutism of the closed shop must be tempered with individual and professional legal safeguards.
700 Many of your Lordships will have been approached, and rightly so, by local government officers who are seriously worried about the lack of machinery for establishing priorities when there is a clash between loyalty to union and loyalty to the general public. Surely noble Lords opposite accept the need, even in a closed shop situation, to have a union to protect general employees and another union, guild or association which could likewise protect managerial functions and responsibilities. I am not saying that one is any more important than the other. Both are important. Those in senior and professional posts may have to take account of matters which are not of great interest to those engaged in framing normal union policy. As the General Secretary of the Association of Local Government Engineers and Surveyors has pointed out, the professional code of conduct for engineers provides that they shall not do anything which will endanger public health or safety. It could create a major conflict for chartered engineers, to give one example, if they were forced to belong to a union to whose disciplinary procedures they might be subject. I acknowledge that these are Committee points and we will wish to look long and hard at them in Committee. I am not against our moving towards a more united society and one in which there is more rather than less exchange of information, with more consultation, more participation and the like, but only Cloud Cuckoo-land has no separation of functions and responsibilities and the likelihood of there being no clashes between them. And only in Cloud Cuckoo-land, not in England in 1975, is the right of trade unions to combine effectively under attack.
My Lords, I close as I began, in real frustration at the chance which this Labour Government have lost in taking labour relations law out of Party politics for years. We know why they have felt obliged to introduce this Amendment Bill to an Act which my colleagues here and in another place found painful but bearable. It was part of the Social Contract, which is under heavy fire at present on the wages front, Settlements are running at 25 per cent, and over and are making the exchange negotiated between the Government and the major unions one-sided in favour of the unions. This is putting 701 it as mildly and constructively as I can. It is not my colleagues who are at present shouting this from the rooftops. It is Mr. Crosland, Mr. Roy Jenkins by proxy, and above all Mr. Healey. They are echoed by others in the Labour Movement. We are saying— and I shall return to this in a debate in my own name next week—that the Social Contract will continue to be meaningless unless all the people feel involved in it. They cannot feel involved in an arrangement which swops the integrity and freedoms of the professions for wholly illusory wage restraint and for a level of lost working days which shows no improvements: over the effects of the Industrial Relations Act.
It was a bad day for the Tory Party when it decided to do too much too quickly in industrial relations law. It will prove a bad day for the Labour Party when it engages in confrontation— confrontation with the humane centre of this country and the professional and political institutions that watch over it. The 1974 Act went quite far enough. It is a shame that the Government have felt compelled to push it still further. It is shameful that they should do so in the name of a Secretary of State who once had a great reputation as a libertarian, Parliamentarian and journalist. This is a bad Bill and we shall give it a Second Reading only in order to amend it.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, when the Secretary of State in another place introduced the Second Reading of this little Bill he reminded his listeners of the long and bitter battle that had been fought by working people to ensure the right to combine in the defence of their own interests. We and the Conservative Party were fighting that battle on their side 70 years ago when we put through the. important Act of 1906. We are, therefore, no strangers to, and certainly no enemy of, the right of free association. Indeed, I would say, just as my Party would say, that the right to free association is beyond doubt one of the essential rights on which all freedom rests.
Let us look briefly at what we really mean by this right of free association. It has been said by both speakers in this debate so far that the closed shop is accepted as a necessary part of good industrial relations But I suggest that 702 it is a curious logic which, while maintaining the right of free association, denies the right not to associate. I know it has been claimed time and again that the right to associate has nothing to do with the right not to associate, but as a matter of logic I find this hard to understand and I remind your Lordships that there have been many industries in which there have been excellent industrial relations and in which the closed shop has never been part of the industrial relations system. But if, as a matter of convenience and from choice as the lesser of two evils, we have in some degree to accept the existence of the closed shop today— and if I do this I do it with reluctance— then I stress that we can see no reason for an extension of this principle or enshrining it into a right. The freedom of association, even if it does not mean the freedom not to associate, must surely mean the right to choose with whom one is associating. Must it always be with the one union which is declared to be the union which has the right to a closed shop in an organisation?
As the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said, there are people in different grades of industry who, while accepting, indeed demanding, the right to associate, do not wish to associate in a prescribed union, and if we have to admit the closed shop and 100 per cent, unionism—and there is a great deal to be said for it, I agree— then there is surely the right of any individual, be he engineer or editor, to choose the group with whom he is to associate.
Let us look at the other freedoms. We accept the right of the freedom of association, but this is only one of the essential freedoms. There are other freedoms which cannot be overlooked or ignored in our anxiety to assert trade union rights and rights of association. As important is the right to defend the position of the individual threatened by the big battalions, the rights of the minority against the majority. This, surely, is one of the hallmarks of a genuine democratic society. Yet what do we find in the legislation before us at present? If an individual refuses to conform, for all reasons except religious objection, then he can be either expelled or excluded from the union, and in the closed shop situation this means that he is excluded from his chosen livelihood. This is a serious penalty.
703 If an employer were to exclude a man from his choice of livelihood he would have to go through due process in the Industrial Tribunal, and if his case were not upheld the man would be entitled to re-engagement or to compensation in its place. But what do we find in this Bill? When the offender—offending in that he will not join the prescribed union —is to be excluded from his place of work and denied the livelihood that he has chosen, his case is to be heard by a tribunal set up by the trade union: not established by an independent organisation; not set up with statutory powers; but to be set up by the very organisation which has shown at every turn that it supports the complete principle and total enforcement of the trade union. Is this giving due justice to the individual who will not conform? If he loses his job, no compensation is forthcoming for him. His case is not even to be allowed as a case of unfair dismissal, and yet surely in the eyes of the individual, and in the eyes of most impartial observers, this would be regarded as every bit as unfair as many other reasons which would be considered as unfair by an industrial tribunal. There are other freedoms and other rights, not more important, but as important, as the rights of association.
There is also the second right, which has already been discussed so much this evening— the freedom of the Press. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has given us to believe that the Government are extremely anxious to see that the Press remains free, that there are no real grounds for fearing that the closed shop in the hands of the National Union of Journalists will be a threat to Press freedom; that journalists are reasonable men and that we can expect that they will behave in a reasonable way when they have this power to force editors to join their union. But, my Lords, law does not exist to deal with a large number of people who undoubtedly are reasonable and decent in their behaviour. Law, in all spheres of life, has to be invoked because there are a minority who will not behave in such a fashion. As the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has already pointed out, resolutions are coming from the National Union of Journalists which must at least give us cause for alarm and cause to think again as to whether 704 this is the kind of power which can safely be given to a body producing such statements.
My Lords, quite recently a delegates' conference of the National Union of Journalists made it quite clear that it was standing for 100 per cent. NUJ membership and the exclusion of all nonunion members from contributions to the Press. This not only is unfair to many people in your Lordships' House who, from time to time, write an article in the Press— that is an issue, but a minor issue —but is surely a most serious threat to freedom of expression, freedom of the Press and freedom of the media. Perhaps it is only a small risk that these extreme measures will be enforced, but it is a risk we cannot afford to take. There has been plenty of suppression of fact, and revolutionary and radical opinion in the Press. We know that. We know that there have been abuses on the side of proprietors, but because there have been things which we would not have wished, or things which we would have wished to see banned by the proprietors, this is no reason to make the situation still worse by adding a further exclusion of rights— a limitation of the freedom of the Press—by extending the powers of the National Union of Journalists.
My Lords, such powers are not needed by the journalists. Why do they require them? They are well able to defend their position without having to acquire 100 per cent, unionism, without excluding the individual contributor who surely cannot be seen as a threat to the livelihood of the professional journalist. Many attempts have been made—many in recent weeks—to try to see whether there can be some satisfactory compromise, or some way out of this difficulty which has arisen due to the Government's commitment to the closed shop in the National Union of Journalists, and because of the very uneasy and widespread feeling voiced by persons who are certainly not reactionaries against trade unionists— persons like the Editor of the Guardian who surely cannot be considered a person opposed to free trade unionism.
Efforts have been made, and as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, only last Thursday, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce, an attempt was made—up to a point successfully made—to get together all the 705 interested parties in the Press world to see whether some agreement could be made for a charter to secure Press freedom. The initiative for that meeting was taken, I am extremely glad to be able to record, by my right honourable friend the Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons. It will be known to all those of your Lordships who are aware of what took place on that occasion, that that meeting was called because of the initiative he took, and it was made quite clear, with the exception of two members from the NUJ, that, if the closed shop was banned for the Press and the media, then a charter to secure Press freedom could be agreed by all the interested parties. We have here the basis for progress to go forward. Surely it is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said in his speech that this had to be regarded as a failure, and that we could not proceed on the lines; outlined in the meeting held under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce. For those reasons, we must say that in attempting to protect the right of association we are sacrificing far too many other deeply important rights which it is the task of Parliament to protect.
But when we look at the position of the trade unions at the present time, and at their position in relation to Parliament, surely there is a larger issue— indeed, two larger issues— which we cannot afford to ignore. As the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. said, we are not living in the days of Dickens. We are living— surely, it must be plain for all to see— in a time when the balance of power has swung to a very large extent in favour of the trade unions. In some ways this is not a bad thing, but trade unions do not need additional legal powers in order to be able to maintain the legitimate rights of their members. They are well able, for technical and commercial reasons over the vast range of industry, to look after the interests of their members without such additional support.
Indeed, what we are facing in many parts of industry at present is the growth of monopoly union power. Monopoly, wherever it may be found, is something which has to be fought by all democratic societies. We on these Benches were early in the fight against the monopoly power of the big employers and we maintain that fight today, but we see no great 706 advantage in adding to the threat of monopoly from employers the growing threat of monopoly by the trade unions. It is quite apparent in present matters of wage negotiation that the monopoly power of trade unions in negotiations is one of the major problems, political and economic, facing the country today. Why then go out of our way to strengthen trade unions by the kind of legislation which is included in the Bill before the House today? It is unnecessary to ensure their freedom and it enhances the danger that comes from already excessive power in many quarters of the union world.
Let us go further, my Lords, and look at the even more vital question. From what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was saying— and as was raised in debate in another place on this same Bill—it was apparent repeatedly that the supporters of this Bill were saying that it is too difficult to pass laws which are unacceptable to trade unions because we have not the ability or the power in Parliament to make such laws stick. If such laws are necessary in order to protect the proper freedom of other members of the community, then it is a vital and essential task of Parliament to discover how such laws can be made to stick. It is not good enough for the sovereign power of Parliament to say that when the unions or any other powerful group of society do not wish a law to be passed then that law is not to be passed, (hat it will create inconvenient situations and tiresome confrontation. It is the job of Parliament to decide not in conjunction with any one section— be it an economist or a trade union— but with the support of the country as a whole, what laws ought to be passed and then find ways to ensure that those laws are truly enforced.
May I add one point. There is no country in the world in which Parliamentary democracy has faded away, has never come into being or has been defeated in. which a free trade union movement giving true protection to all its members has survived. I say to those noble Lords who defend this Bill today—and who are not prepared to accept the rightful task of Parliament to legislate in the interests not of one section but of the community as a whole—that if they will not oppose this Bill, because it is right and proper in the 707 interests of the sovereignty of Parliament and the people of this country to oppose it, then they should oppose it in the interests of the unions they serve.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, the Leader of the House is not here. I wonder whether the Whip could tell us what the situation is likely to be. It is now six o'clock and we have had three speeches— not a minute too long any of them— but it was 4.45 p.m. when I first raised this point. We already have down 21 more speeches and I do not know whether any other noble Lords may wish to speak. May I have some news?
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, the position is that my noble friend the Leader of the House is at present out of the Chamber because he is discussing this matter with the Chief Whip and also with the Opposition. We hope to be able to make an announcement as soon as possible. Beyond that I cannot say more.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
Thank you very much, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. He will bear in mind of course, that it is for the convenience of the House that they should know where they stand at a reasonably early hour.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Lord GREENE of HARROW WEALD
My Lords, it is a great honour for me to address this House today, and I have taken due notice of my noble friends' advice about what to do and have read the literature that was handed to me. I understand that on the first occasion on which one makes a speech it should not be controversial so, if I may, I want to speak about industrial relations. I do so because I feel that there is too much heat in industrial relations. Basically it is something that should operate between men and women of good will, seeking to get agreement between one side and another. In a modern society, where we both believe that we have something to do with industry— whether as shareholders or workers—we are both part of that machinery and we want to get agreement. I believe that the way to get that agreement is by understanding between the two sides, and it is not necessary to 708 have the kind of legislation that is laid down. Even with legislation, if people do not have good will the progress that is likely to be made in the way we want it is not likely to be achieved.
Over the last century I suppose that only six or seven Bills in connection with trade unions and industrial relations have been presented to this House. The Bill which we are dealing with today is the short Bill arising from the 1971 Act. Oddly enough, in my other capacity I was involved in the Industrial Relations Act of 1971, and people will remember the action of the then Government in connection with the railwaymen and the question of the cooling-off period; and, of course, the ballot as well. I do not know what our members would have thought had the ballot gone the opposite way, and had there been nobody in authority on the trade union side to speak on behalf of the members. After all, the leader of any trade union reflects the wishes of the members of his union. He does not take the decisions himself.
We saw what happened at that time. The remarkable thing was that, after that exercise with the railwaymen, the then Government at no time again used the Industrial Relations Act, and I know of no major employer who used the Act either. The cases that came to light were concerned with small individuals and small firms. It might well be argued today that of course they should be protected, but on the basis of what the Act was supposed to do. The fact remains that the Act was to apply to industry and trade unions, and nobody wanted to use it. In the light of those circumstances, the Act has now been cleared and we have these two outstanding problems: the question of the closed shop, and the question of people who are removed or expelled from their unions and what they can do in connection with an appeal.
One talks about the monopoly of trade unions. I was operating in the railway industry prior to 1971 with a closed shop agreement. It did not apply only to my union, but applied to all unions in the railway industry. Therefore, this question of one union having a monopoly over all the others did not apply. You can have a closed shop including all the unions. The closed shop was arranged 709 by agreement. Prior to our achieving the closed shop, we had 95 to 97 per cent, of people organised, so you might ask, "Why did you worry about getting the closed shop? "The pressure comes from the members of the union. I am not particularly worried about the chap who is not in the union. I do not have to do anything for him; I take no notice. But the chap who is annoyed is the fellow who is; paying Ms contribution towards the negotiating machinery within the industry, and an agreement applies to both sides of the industry. The man who does not pay gets the benefit while making no contribution at all. Do we defend that sort of situation? I should have thought that in those circumstances there should be a collective effort on both sides in connection with that principle. So we had the closed shop and we made agreements.
When the new Act came into operation in 1971, the fad: that we were then considered not a trade union but a workers' organisation did not really make any difference to the then government. They consulted us just as much as they did earlier. The technical difficulty at that time was elsewhere, in connection with tax— but I need not say anything about that today. We made this agreement regarding the closed shop, so when the 1971 Act came the closed shop went.
Yesterday, one of my noble friends made a Statement concerning a dispute now going on in the railway industry in connection with signalmen. I do not want your Lordships to run away with the idea that the chaps running this dispute are arch-Communists, Left-Wingers, Marxists and so on, for they are not; but the remarkable thing is that they are not members of the trade union, they are not members of the NUR. In the past — thank goodness I do not do so now— I have had to sit down and watch these chaps running an industrial dispute against an agreement that the trade union was prepared to defend and honour with the management. After this dispute had already gone to an arbitration tribunal, we now hear that these people, because somebody not in the union does not like the agreement, want to start another inquiry into an inquiry that has already been made in connection with the dispute. How this can be defended I do not know. I should have thought that it would be 710 in the best interests of all the people, on both sides of industry, to make sure that the members in their industry are parties to the unions with whom they negotiate.
I agree to a certain extent that there might be conscientious objections. But I do not think you can have a conscientious objection to paying any money to the union that negotiates the agreement from which you benefit. As regards some sort of agreement in connection with conscientious objections for religious purposes, I do not really know what these objections are. On occasions when we have had a closed shop and were working through the agreement in connection with workers not of the union and who did not want to belong to a union, I have wondered whether it was worth while having a row and forcing the issue. On the sheer principle alone, I do not think it could be said that you should have people in an organisation who are not bound to honour an agreement and make no contribution to it.
We must keep in mind that had it not been for the 1971 Act we should not have had this argument. Incidentally, when the 1971 Act was introduced, quite a lot of people criticised it as a case of, shall I say, "Was our journey really necessary." The fact remains that having had that Act we ought to try to get it completely out of the way, and get back to where we were prior to 1971 relying on negotiations of good will between management and unions.
Then we have also agreed on the matter of reference to appeals. I do not know what more is wanted when the Trades Union Congress are going to set up an appeals body for the benefit of somebody who has left their union and has not carried out the constitution of the union. They are going to appoint a chairman and two members who are independent and will be appointed only in agreement with the Secretary of State in the Department of Employment, and the chairman of the conciliation and arbitration body. What is really wrong with that arrangement? What more is wanted in that connection, other than taking the matter to law? After all, there is the exercise which we took when going to law in the shape of the Industrial Relations Court in connection with the ballot. Probably the only controversial remark I 711 will make is that the only people who did well out of it were the lawyers.
So what are we now doing? Apart from this, there has also been set up the Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Somebody said to me only last week that the number of cases before the Conciliation and Arbitration Service in the first four months of its existence is twice as many as were referred in the previous eight months to the Department of Employment. I think it proves conclusively that the trades union movement, as such, are more concerned about trying to get agreement and settlements of dispute by arbitration and conciliation, than by confrontation. But when we mix up the two matters in connection with the closed shop, we must remember that there are roughly 5 million people in the trade unions in the industry who are covered by closed shop agreements. While this one is at the moment becoming more prominent than is probably necessary, you are talking about 29,000 people out of 5 million who are covered.
Reference has been made to the freedom of the Press. I am not greatly in agreement with the exercise in relation to the Press. Some reference has already been made to the social contract which was drawn up by the trade union movement and presented to the present Government. Let me say that it would also have been presented to the previous Government if they had wanted to talk about it. I am not now arguing about that. At a later date I could probably give some information which I think would not be disputed. If there had been an amount of understanding previously, we probably might not have had the miners' strike and certainly not the three-day week.
The fact remains that at that time before the social contract when everybody was talking about the monopoly of the trades union movement and said that it was strangling the nation in connection with the economic problem, that argument was removed when the Arabs decided to increase oil prices five times in one year. So it is not only the trade union movement— and I agree that we make a contribution—that adds to the inflation so far as this country is concerned. They are trying— since we are talking about the social contract—to do 712 something about inflation. The social contract does not deal only with wages or with the Industrial Relations Act; it deals with investment, it deals with productivity and with future arrangements in connection with industry, which are very important indeed. The question of using the full capacity of industry is important.
The remarkable fact in connection with our good friends the signalmen, and the social contract, with all the publicity that has been given to the signalmen who have been taking this unofficial action against the advice of the employers and the trade union movement, is that the Press have not said to them, "What about the social contract?" With only one increase in a year, and that only in accordance with the cost of living, they have given the general impression that they are justified. Recently, in connection with the miners' settlement, all the publicity was given to the two miners' leaders or representatives, who had said that they had broken the social contract; that is, broken a social contract— if they had done so— which was drawn up by the trade union movement. It did not matter about the other people on the miners' Executive who had accepted the settlement as such and not as a question of whether or not it was breaking the social contract.
So far as the freedom of the Press is concerned, I welcome it. I wish only that the Press was a little fairer in presenting its problems. I suspect that the criticisms, the opposition or the points of view put forward in connection with the Press, not only in relation to the recent miners' settlement but also in relation to the railway dispute, have not been pointed to the view of trying to get peaceful solutions to our industrial disputes in this country. They seem to me to be adding more coal to the fire, so far as the miners are concerned.
I hope that when we pass this Bill— and I hope that we shall do so— the next question will be on what we do then. Prior to the passing of the 1971 Act, the TUC and the CBI were holding meetings to try to draw up a new charter in connection with the relationship between one side and the other. When the 1971 Act came on the board, those meetings ceased and, with the best will in the world, the relationship between both sides of 713 industry arising from that Act was not improved; in fact, it got worse. However, we have now passed that situation. We are now trying to solve the problem of removing the Act, and already the TUC and the CBI are in consultation to find out what can be done to improve the industrial relations and the economic situation of this country.
Do not let it be said that trade unions are not interested in private enterprise and are worried only about nationalised industries. After all, 75 per cent, of industry in this country is private enterprise, and it is essential that it should pay and be well organised in the interests of the nation. So from the trade union point of view we make our contribution, and I hope we shall continue to do so. It is not generally accepted that many modern trade unions (if that is the right expression) have not only an interest in the public side of industry, but also a considerable proportion of their funds in private: enterprise, in equities. It is in our interests to ensure that private enterprise is running successfully. On the question of whether there should be nationalisation, I would say that we shall have a mixed economy for as long as we are likely to live—I do not know how long that will be so far as I am concerned, but I hope it is a long time.
What is the basis of the Bill that is before your Lordships today? I sincerely hope that your Lordships will remove some of the arguments that are being put forward which narrow the situation, particularly in connection with the freedom of the Press in which I am very interested. And, for goodness' sake! my Lords, do not let us worry about the resolutions that are passed at organisations' annual general meetings. I have thousands. I do not know how long ago it was that my organisation, at an annual general meeting, passed a resolution calling for a 35-hour week. We have not achieved it; many people in other industries have. The fact remains that if you are going to become worried about resolutions, even if they are passed, you should remember that in the light of day they must be negotiated. And, in particular, in connection with a closed shop there must be an agreement between the employer and the employees. What we are really doing by this Bill, as I understand it, is putting 714 ourselves back to the situation which existed prior to 1971.
May I conclude, my Lords, by saying this. I believe there is a lot of good will on both sides of industry. The media today are in a parlous financial position, and it is probably not a good thing for them to tell everybody else how to run their industries— although I do not want to deal with that question at the moment. But it is because of the competition in the media today that the sensational and the exceptional are given the most headlines. In General Elections it is accepted that the Parties share the time available on the media, and the smallest Parties have the least time. But those who cause trouble in our industries today are the smallest section, yet they get the most publicity which, in the ordinary way, nobody could buy. So if I may give a message on the first occasion of speaking in this House—and I do not want to wear out my welcome—it is that there is a tremendous amount of good will on both sides of industry. If Parliament passes this Bill, with the assistance of this House, I think that both sides of industry will be able to get down to the task of finding out what further progress we can make in dealing with the serious economic situation that is facing this country.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, the pleasantest part of my duty this evening, probably its only pleasant part, is to convey very warm congratulations on his maiden speech to the speaker who has just sat down. It was a model of what such a speech should be. He did not err by taking too seriously the advice tendered by older Members, that a maiden speech should be wholly non-controversial. The current tendency is to inject a slight note of controversy into a maiden speech, increasing it in successive speeches. I hope that we shall all have the pleasure and privilege of hearing again the noble Lord, Lord Greene of Harrow Weald, in the near future. We hope that he will be here for many years, and that he will find this a most agree-able House to come to.
Tonight's debate is an extremely difficult one for me to engage in, but I feel, it is my duty to do so. I hope I shall contrive to avoid rhetoric because this 715 is not an occasion for it. The noble Lord who spoke for the Government extended what I hope he intended to be an olive branch. If I examine it rather closely, even suspiciously, to see that it is not a stinging nettle, I am sure he will take no objection, because this is a matter where, on the whole, suspicion is a necessary ingredient in our approach. As to labour relations within the newspaper industry, I have been in titular charge of negotiations on behalf of the employers for nearly five years. Having regard to all the difficulties, they have not been too bad. We have lost very few days in the way of strikes, except for the so-called political strikes which in this situation must be regarded as irrelevant. Our relations with the several unions with whom we negotiate have been patient, good-humoured and good tempered, except for an occasional dramatic display which is artificially contrived by either side for the purpose of winning a point —but we are both such masters of this activity that we immediately recognise when the other side is engaged in it.
Unfortunately, the Government's determination to introduce this Bill creates a danger that those relationships may be impaired for the first time in my experience, because it imposes upon us an obligation to make certain remarks that may be misunderstood and which on the whole we should prefer not to express. I hope therefore that if I make remarks this evening which might give the appearance of being in any sense critical of unions, they will read them in the context of what I have just said, and in the context of the fact that for the whole of my working life I have been a passionate supporter of the union movement. When I was engaged in various activities, particularly in relation to the Arts, I do not think anyone enjoyed a better relationship with the unions than I did. There reposes in my home a most splendid radiogram, presented to me, in half, by a union. I shall not explain the reasons for this, except to say that for many long and laborious hours I sat as the chairman of an extremely intractable dispute that was believed to be insoluble. It was solved not by my talents but by a recognition that if rational human beings sit down together long enough to solve a problem they will arrive at a solution. This is what emerged in this 716 case, and I was the undeserving beneficiary of this splendid set on which I shall be happy one day to play records to some of your Lordships.
Against that background I would say that I am not here as a representative of the Newspaper Publishers' Association. I am here as one of several people within the newspaper industry, none of them a proprietor or chairman of a newspaper, who were sufficiently deeply concerned to come together to see whether they could urge upon the Government that some changes should be made to this Bill in relation to the Press. I am not concerned (I do not mean that I am indifferent) this evening to discuss the wider aspects of the Bill. I am not concerned to consider whether a closed shop is good or bad; whether a closed shop should or should not operate in other industries. I am concerned with one matter, and one only: that it shall be possible for a man to publish what he has written and to say what he wants to say in the British Press without the permission of a single newspaper union and without the permission of any group of human beings. If a situation arose where in the year 1975 it was not possible to publish a contribution because some body of men— some small or large body of men— exercised total control over the situation, this would be a disaster of immeasurable dimensions to the country in which we live. Hence, if I may be permitted to say so, I am appealing to your Lordships to consider whether there is not a real risk of this happening.
I believe the Secretary of State said that if it is a risk, it is a minor risk. May I invite the Government to consider whether, even if it is a minor risk, it is a risk which we are entitled to take. I believe that the noble Baroness who spoke from the Liberal Benches said precisely the same thing. Even if it is the smallest of risks, are we entitled to take any risks at all with this historic right and privilege which has been earned by the shedding of blood and by the sacrifices of innumerable heroic people over the centuries? To some people this may sound a melodramatic presentation of the issue, but I do not believe that it is. I believe that what we are doing today is a matter of historic significance.
May I examine the law on the subject. I hasten to say that I am not an expert 717 on industrial law. The law on this matter is in an immense tangle. I think that it was properly and fairly stated by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, so far as he saw fit to state it for the purposes of his introductory remarks. However, I think that it is necessary to examine the law. We start with the 1971 Act. That Act is something that is not mentioned on the left hand side of this House without invoking the wrath of those who introduced the Bill. I do not know whether it is right or wrong; all I know is that the Bill was an enormous inconvenience to the newspaper industry because, as the noble Lord, Lord Greene of Harrow Weald, has said, we made no use of it but we suffered from it. Every so often everybody left their works to protest against it, and nothing that we could say would bring them back again until they thought that a sufficient period of time had elapsed to mark their high feelings. Therefore, deriving no benefit from it we suffered grave inconvenience from it. What that Bill provided in relation to the closed shop was, if I remember rightly, that one could have a closed a shop, first, if it was democratically determined upon by the workers in the industry and, secondly, if it was regarded as necessary by an industrial tribunal in relation to that industry. Whether it was a good or a bad thing to have, whether it was a wise and prudent provision, or whether it was a hideous and abominable invasion of privacy and liberty, I do not know. All I know is that that is what the 1971 Act provided.
The 1974 Act swept all that away and said that a closed shop could come into existence. I hope that any noble Lord who is better versed in this subject than me will correct me if my account of the law is wrong. Having swept away these provisions, the 1974 Act left it simply to negotiation between employer and employee as to whether there should be a closed shop. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that one of the inconveniences of this matter was that it was difficult for a tribunal to determine whether there were special circumtances, because if one were looking to see whether it was a. matter of conscience, or whether a man was reasonably objecting to belonging to any particular union— both of which are grounds for being excluded from the closed shop which was 718 retained by the 1974 Act—it was difficult for judges to say whether that was so or not. It is very rare for Parliament to be quite so solicitous about judges, or to worry unduly about the magnitude of the problem which they have to solve. If that is the only reason why this Bill is now being introduced, I am sure that an appeal to Her Majesty's Judiciary will earn from them an immediate willingness to deal with all the intractable problems which may arise.
The other reason which the noble Lord advanced was one which in some ways is less amiable— not, if I may say so, on his part, because he is the most amiable of men. However, it is less amiable because the noble Lord said that it took away from the people concerned with the matter; namely, from the employer and the union, the right to look after their own business; it was only their affair. But, my Lords, it is not only their affair. The person who is most concerned with this matter is neither the union nor the employer; it is the employee who is being excluded from the union. He is the person who is most concerned with the matter, and that he should retain no right in the matter seems to me to be wholly wrong.
We come now to this Bill. I was interested to see in the speech made in another place by the Secretary of State that he assigns some interesting reasons for the introduction of the Bill. One of the most interesting reasons is that we introduced this Bill in March for a quite different purpose and that we are persisting with its completion now because we are seeking, if I may mention so indelicate a matter, to carry out a pledge in our Election Manifesto. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, whether he could obtain a copy of the Election Manifesto, which I have not read—I do not have the time to read anybody's Election Manifesto—and show me whether it is there stated that part of his Party's policy is to introduce legislation which enables a man to be expelled arbitrarily from a trade union without compensation. I shall be very interested to see where that features in the Manifesto and what prominence and attention was drawn to it by those people who were seeking election on that basis. I shall be surprised if any reference is found to it, or if it can be suggested that these particular 719 changes have any electoral support of any kind.
I believe that what your Lordships are doing in this Bill is something that is quite wrong in general terms. I am, of course, concerned with its effect upon the Press. In another place the Secretary of State abused me roundly—may I say that he is a very old friend of mine and that I have suffered no serious damage; the next morning I was up and about and doing my business without any special injury and without the need to call in medical assistance—and said that I had brazenly misrepresented the situation, because I had said that once this Bill was introduced and once it was shown that there was a closed shop, a man excluded from a union, or a man expelled from a union, or a man who did not want to join a union would not be able to write in the British Press. He said that that was not the case.
May I analyse that proposition. It is totally the case in respect of any employee. If a man is employed on any contract basis by a newspaper, in a closed shop he must obviously be a member of the union. Therefore it goes without saying that he cannot write. However, the Secretary of State's exception to what he said was my brazen misrepresentation was that so far as casual and occasional contributions were concerned such a contributor was, by the definition of the Act, excluded as an employee. I have to say only this—and now I have to skate with very great delicacy on very thin ice, although some of your Lordships may have observed that I am not ideally equipped for any such physical operations! What I have to say is that there are certain practices which have manifested themselves already and which continue to manifest themselves on the part of the unions that make it abundantly clear that what I said about the exclusion of the occasional contributor was all too unhappily true.
I wonder whether I may show your Lordships a copy of the Financial Times. I have no particular wish to advertise any particular publication, but it has a somewhat rare feature which I have observed. In fact, later on I may auction the copy! Gentlemen, you will see that there is a blank space in that newspaper. In the blank space it says: 720We had intended to publish in this space a report by Mr. Peter Robbins, our rugby correspondent for the past nine years. The report does not appear because certain members of the National Union of Journalists, on instructions from their union, refuse to handle it".The history of that matter is this. I first became acquainted with it—and, I may say, it is what has made me so passionately interested in the whole of this situation—when representatives from the National Union of Journalists arrived at a meeting, convened at the request of the Financial Times, which was held at the Newspaper Publishers' Association. The issue was whether the Financial Times could continue to employ Mr. Robbins. I am told that Mr. Robbins is an exceptionally accomplished rugby correspondent My own knowledge of rugby is limited. I used to go and watch it occasionally but I could not tell you whether or not he is exceptionally accomplished. I know only that he is regarded as being so by those who know a good deal about rugby. I know only that he has been employed casually for nine years and was doing nobody any harm but rather giving a good deal of pleasure to those people who read him. The National Union of Journalists said, "No, he cannot continue to write because he is not a member of the union ". "So be it," we said, prompted by the Financial Times, "he is perfectly willing to join the union." "Oh, No," they said, "he cannot join the union because he does not write enough. A third of his income does not derive from these contributions ". Now, gentlemen, need one say more?
§ Several Noble Lords: "Noble Lords!"
§ Lord GOODMAN
Is this a tolerable or a permissible situation in a civilised society in this day and age? Can we take these risks? Can even the most amiable of speeches by the most adroit of debaters— and there is no one more adroit than the gentleman who addressed us at the opening of this Motion—
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, I do apologise, I should have said "the noble Lord"; I have been here only 10 years. Can we accept this situation because an effort is made to persuade us that this particular union will not act unreasonably? Is this not totally unreasonable?
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene but I have listened to the noble Lord and if he will recall my speech he will realise that I expressed concern here. I should like to direct his attention to the question raised— because I think it would be helpful to the House — as to the way in which this should be dealt with. I suggest, and I should like the noble Lord to agree with me—or disagree—that one should look at the question of the freedom of the Press in its widest possible context; not just within the question of a closed shop but in the widest possible context. I do not think that there is anything between us as to the principles in this matter; I want to find a way in which we can solve the problem.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, if I may say so, I am enthusiastic to a point of positive passion to find a solution to this problem that does not involve a confrontation in this House, if I may venture to say so. I shall also venture to say this: on the constitutional issue the Secretary of State in the lower House made a singularly elegant observation that he hoped we would keep ourlordly noses out of this matter".I am not a constitutionalist and it will not be for me to advise noble Lords what they ought or ought not to do. But I believe that we have rights under the Parliament Act, and if there is one issue upon which we would be entitled to force a confrontation it is the situation that prevails here this evening.
Having said that, I earnestly hope that it will not arise and I and my colleagues who are associated with me in this matter will go to enormous lengths to accept any compromise that saves the principle with which we are concerned. But I have to say this to the noble Lord. He has spoken about a charter and it is fair to say that, so far as we are concerned, no charter exists or has been proffered to us. Mr. Hetherington, the Editor of the Guardian and one of our group, wrote today to the Secretary of State explaining the circumstances relating to the meeting which took place under Lord Pearce. We have never had a charted presented to us officially; we have never seen any document drafted by the Government, and it is the case that he was extraordinarily vague—I shall not use words like 722 "evasive", because I do not think they apply but he was extraordinarily vague —in suggesting what kind of Parliamentary authority should be given to any charter and what kind of legal backing it should have. If there is a charter which is incorporated in this Act and has the force of law, I am perfectly happy to accept that charter as being totally adequate for our purposes if it deals with the matters with which we are concerned. But if it is a charter which is designed to have—as 1 believe the codes of conduct under the original Industrial Relations Act were designed to have— merely a persuasive power to be used in connection with deciding a matter on the basis of "this is evidential", it would be utterly useless and totally unacceptable to us. What will be acceptable to us is anything which has the force of law, and if we can rely on the force of law in any document of any charter that is produced we shall willingly accept it.
The noble Lord may ask why I am approaching this matter with such scepticism. I would explain to him that this involves, if I may say so, making certain reflections on the union concerned which apply (I hasten to say) in the very specialised industrial circumstances in which we live today. The 1971 Act, of which I was no admirer, has created a hideously corroded relationship in industrial affairs which has produced situations which we would not regard ordinarily as matters of behaviour or practice within unions; but it is the case that solemn engagements entered into by the unions are now rejected.
In Scotland, in connection with one newspaper there were 33 contractual relalionships with the members of this union in a period of 15 months. They had all signed agreements— every one of them; they were all contractually and legally bound. How can you offer us an agreement signed by anyone as a substitute for the freedom of speech that we have enjoyed for centuries? And how can you offer us that proposal in the light of our knowledge of the current morality that exists in regard to these matters? I urge the Government to familiarise themselves with what is happening in the world today. They are speaking literally from a fairly narrow world. They are speaking without an understanding of what the industrial relationships really 723 add up to and why fundamental rights have to be protected to the nth degree with the utmost force and power to ensure that they are still preserved.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me for intervening, I should like to say that he makes an impassioned case, with which I wholly agree, and should he divide the House I shall vote with him. But may I ask my noble friend how he distinguishes between the case he is putting tonight and the Transport and General Workers' Union, the AEU and all kinds of other unions who have indulged in these practices for a long time? My noble friend will remember that I once sought his help to stop some manual workers' unions from indulging in this very improper (as he now persuades us) practice. My noble friend was not really on my side. He would carry more of us with him if he would say, "I think this applies to any trade union that goes too far". Could he say that?
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, I do not know that I am called upon to say that. My personal belief in relation to a closed shop in an engineering works or any other kind of works is not relevant to the speech I am making at this moment. I would say only that there is a profound difference between a union engaged in creative activity and a union which is engaged in mechanical processes; and it would be a strangely Philistine and illiterate community that failed to recognise that distinction. That is the only point I shall make. I do not know whether it is right or wrong to have closed shops elsewhere, and if I did know I would not be persuaded to utter a view here this evening, because I am concerned only with the Press. I do not want to open up this issue. But I believe that if a man has a talent to write— if he has something to write that is worth reading —it is preposterous to suggest that someone else could be sent from the union to substitute for him. Is it a rational possibility that the editor of a newspaper telephones the union and says, "That dramatic critic you sent the other day was not much good; he had never heard of Ibsen ", and the union reply, "To the devil with whether he has heard of Ibsen, but he is fully paid up".
724 If I may venture to say so, that, in a word, is the answer to the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown. There is a profound difference and it is one that we have maintained and respected for centuries. As a literate country there is nobody we respect more than the man with literacy talents, and that is what we are concerned to protect here today. I do not intend to prolong this speech, and I would say only that we have evidence that one cannot rely safely on agreements or undertakings that do not have the support of the rule of law and do not have the support of what is passed by this House and the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made one observation that I think one must challenge. He said "What is the use of legislating because if we legislate nobody will obey the law ". I venture to think that is a most unfortunate sentiment to utter in this Chamber.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is being less than fair. If he will look at my speech tomorrow he will see that I never said anything of the sort.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, if the noble Lord said nothing of the sort then I apologise in advance, but unfortunately he conveyed that impression very clearly to me, that he thought it would be futile to legislate because the legislation would be ineffective. Whether he said it or not — and I will willingly withdraw if he did not, and apologise to him very profusely —I believe that sentiment is being expressed much too freely in too many places. It is something we cannot take any notice of, because all we can do is legislate. We have no other power. We can do more; we can legislate and find agencies for enforcing our legislation, unless we are going to abandon all civilised behaviour in this country.
My Lords, I conclude by saying that this is an issue on which there should be no division between the Socialist Government and the Press. Many years ago, as a very young man, I remember being much impressed by debates over the Incitement of Disaffection Act, I think it was called, when it was made an offence to distribute outside barracks literature which might be designed to affect the loyalty or allegiance of soldiers. Protests came from the Socialist Party. Objections came from a Party dedicated to 725 the preservation of free speech. What they had to say was absolutely and totally right; that whatever risks there might be to loyalty, of subverting loyalty, they were nothing like the risks of subverting what people wanted to say, and suppressing it. With that sentiment, I invite the Government to think again, and to say that we will be absolutely and immediately willing to enter into any discussions which will resolve this matter, and respect and preserve the principle.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that I did extend that invitation in the course of my speech. I undertook as a consequence of an intervention by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, to see whether it was possible to make some arrangements by which this debate could be extended to another day. I pointed out the difficulty that tomorrow is Wednesday, that it is a day for Private Members' Business, and I gather there are some 20-odd speakers already listed for the Motion on the Order Paper. I question, too, whether it would be right for the continuity of the debate to adjourn it until Thursday, although the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, pointed out that in the previous century there was a custom that Second Readings were adjourned for some weeks. I think we have moved on from that period. I considered whether we could adjourn at some earlier stage tonight and meet at 11 o'clock tomorrow morning, but unfortunately I have been informed that the Hansard writers would not be available.
My Lords, as a consequence of discussion through the usual channels—and this resulted in the fact that I was not able to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Greene of Harrow Weald—we have agreed that it would be right this evening to proceed with, and complete, the Second Reading. Those who have an interest in this Bill will recognise that it is one on which ground has been well trodden already, although there are one or two new issues. It is very much a Bill for Committee stage. May I make an appeal—and I know the "usual channels" "are associated with me here—that noble Lords should keep their speeches as short as possible, in the knowledge that we have at least two full days set aside for Commitee stage, when there 726 will be ample opportunity to debate these great issues. I am sorry we cannot meet the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, but I think this is the right decision. I hope I have the agreement of your Lordships' House.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, obviously I do not want to start a debate within a debate, because then we might get into an infinite regress. I recognise the difficulties of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and of course, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we try to be as helpful as possible. I think the Government have muddled their Business. This is an important debate about an important Bill. Although I recognise that we are not going to divide on Second Reading, there are questions of principle involved here which ought to be fully discussed, and fully discussed at an hour which is convenient to the House and not when it is inconvenient to the House so to do. There were 24 speakers listed, and no dinners were laid on. We have spent a very great deal of time— until a quarter to five this afternoon— discussing other Business which ought not to have been loaded on to this day's debate.
I can only say that although, of course, I will conform to the advice of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, I do so with reluctance. At any rate so far as I am concerned, I do not think this is the way in which this House or Parliamentary Business should be managed..
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, if I may say so without extending the debate, this is not the way I like a Bill of this sort to be dealt with either. But there have been occasions in the past when, for reasons which were beyond the control of the managers of Business, such circumstances have arisen. It is the job of the Leader of the House, and I take full responsibility, to ensure that this should not happen again. That I will do. I cannot promise I will always succeed, but that will be my endeavour. I apologise to the noble and learned Lord and to the House for the present circumstances.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Lord BALFOUR of INCHRYE
My Lords, as the first Back-Bench Member to speak in this debate, I wish to offer the congratulations of the House, which 727 I am sure are shared by noble Lords on both sides, to the noble Lord, Lord Greene of Harrow Weald, on his maiden speech. With his wealth of experience in industrial affairs, he made a contribution that we shall long remember. We look forward to hearing further contributions from him in the Session ahead.
My Lords, I must also support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, in his protest at the position in which noble Lords on Back-Benches on both sides of the House find themselves. However, the noble Lord the Leader of the House made such a handsome amendemente, we can only accept it in the spirit offered to us, and be thankful for his reassurance that these circumstances will not recur.
On the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I would say only one sentence. He was so reassuring and so calm that he reminded me of someone who refuses to listen to the fire alarm which others have heard, and maintains that the air is unpolluted while others are smelling smoke. To me this is a sad debate. The Government make proposals and the Opposition object. The Opposition then make proposals and the Government will object. It seems to me in this debate we are shadow boxing to a large extent. I believe the economic power has today very largely passed from Parliament to outside bodies, to the trade unions, to the CBI. to the large multinational and international giant corporations, to scientists and to that massive bureaucracy which occupies itself with local and national government. I believe Parliament in industrial matters can check, can guide and can influence for the general good the exercise of power by those outside bodies, and can also try to safeguard the liberties of the individual. It is on that subject in relation to the Press that we are engaged tonight.
Trades union power is today almost unchallengeable by the Executive and by Parliament, unless Parliament knows that it has public opinion behind it on a particular issue. That this immense power has not been generally abused lies, I feel, to the credit of trades union leaders who, perhaps with some exceptions— as in every walk of life—are, generally speaking, good and wise men. But they in their turn are serving a democratically 728 elected body, and are becoming more and more contenders with militancy within their own organisations. We are seeing it all around us, in the signalmen and the toolmakers at Bromwich. I could give your Lordships many other instances of the growth of militants from the decentralised branches.
It is the knowledge of that steady persistent capture of the unions by militants on the fringe gradually working towards the centre, that makes the issue of a free Press so vital, and makes us urge Her Majesty's Government to write into the Bill safeguards for editorial freedom now and in the future. I believe that, whether or not the closed shop is written into law, trades union power can force the closed shop anywhere it is really determined so to do, including the Press. But there are cases, like the newspaper offices, where enforcement can be against the national interest and a national danger and it is the duty of Parliament to take action in such cases.
The danger to editorial freedom is recognised by the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Mr. Ken Morgan, and he has proposed—the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, spoke about this today—a charter, a concordat, to ensure the editorial freedom that we seek. But General Secretaries come and go, and already the militants in the NUJ are advancing from the fringes towards the centre. When Mr. Ken Morgan tried to get his national executive to pass a resolution for no pressure on editors, he was defeated on votes. The NUJ, admittedly, are out for 100 per cent, membership, but certain sections of the NUJ are out to control, by exclusion or quota, outside contributors. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, mentioned this in his speech. Some NUJ branches are calling for workers' control of the Press; others for nationalisation.
Already in newspaper offices there is a growing intolerance towards editorial matter not to the liking of militant bodies of the Left. I can mention the case of the printers refusing to allow a certain article in the Observer some months ago, the case of the Evening Standard cartoon to which objection was taken, the case which the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, cited today of the Financial Times. How long will it be before the militants take exception to attacks upon their leaders or to 729 views of which they do not approve. It is not a case of "Reds under the Bed "; it is a real danger of a militant minority now, but for how long?
The Government have said that if that danger ever arose, they would deal with it by legislative action when it happened. I submit to your Lordships that that is really not good enough. We do not want to wait until something happens, for then the Government of that day might not be in a position to exercise the power which the Government of today say would be exercised in the future.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer. I have endeavoured to conform to the spirit of the Leader of the House by keeping my remarks very short. In spite of Mr. Foot's careful warning in such polite language, when he said in another place,… and to the other place, if by any mischance those there imagine that they should poke their Lordly noses into this matter …" [Official Report, Commons, 12/2/75; col. 532.]then we should have what he considers we deserve; in spite of his courteous warning about Lordly noses, I think our duty is clear. Our duty is to amend this Bill in Committee and give the force of legislation to combat the dangers which I have tried to portray to your Lordships this evening. There is a fine line of distinction between determination and obstinacy; there is a fine line between Mr. Foot's strong determination to resist and over-proud pigheaded obstinacy, and I fear Mr. Foot has crossed the line.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, we are all under the handicap now of the passage of time, but as the first speaker from the Labour Benches since my noble friend Lord Greene of Harrow Weald made his maiden speech, I feel that I should pay very warm tribute to what he told your Lordships' House. I think we shall all agree that we have in Lord Greene a significant addition to the wisdom and wealth of experience already in this House, and we all discerned, I am sure, the voice of moderation in the counsels of the Trades Union Congress. There at least we can identitfy a member of the TUC General Council who cannot be classified among the militants or the aggressive members of the trades union movement. Not always 730 has his wise counsel prevailed, but all of us who are in the trade union movement have had to submit at times to the democratic voice of our members.
I feel that this debate is becoming a little unreal. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, was giving us his philosophy of power: can the Legislature control some of the power blocs, some of the movements inside the community? This is a profound question, I think, in modern times in a democracy. All of us, I think, are beginning to doubt the supremacy of Parliament in many respects in the community today, when pressure groups and combinations and mass movements and demonstrations and industrial action can all bring very strong pressure to bear upon Government. But it is idle to begin to revive the idea that the force of law, the force of legislation, provides a remedy for the sort of situation we are debating today. After all, Mr. Heath might still have been Prime Minister had he not found that the force of law was not enough against the movement which created the serious situation just over a year ago.
I think we have to realise that this Bill is not a piece of capricious or doctrinaire legislation. This Bill has its origins, as the 1974 Act had its origins, in the Social Contract. It was part of the bargain that the Industrial Relations Act of 1971 should be repealed. That was a firm pledge given by the Labour Party which would be fulfilled by a future Labour Government,. It was quite unequivocal and it had to be done. Actually, I think we discovered that it was not practical literally to put the clock back, because there were some sections of the 1971 Act that it would have been ridiculous to throw away, particularly the provisions for compensation by employers for unfair dismissal. Those benign parts of the 1971 Act were reenacted in the 1974 Act. The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, referred to the pressure now being brought to bear upon the Social Contract, but I say to him that it does not help matters if the Government: weaken on their side of the bargain. That does not help to maintain the observance of the Social Contract.
The Earl of GOWRIE
My Lords, I quite agree with the noble Lord about that. I never urged the Government to weaken on their side of the bargain. All 731 I said was that I failed to see how the institution of powers well beyond the situation before 1971, particularly in regard to the Press, is anything to do with the Government's side of the bargain.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, I am coming to that point. I must observe at this moment that the 1971 Act was such a disaster from the point of view of industrial relations that it has imported prejudice into the trade union movement against using legislation at all to regulate conditions between employers and employees. They abhor the law as a remedy for problems which arise in industrial relations.
The aim of the repeal legislation was to restore, as nearly as is possible, the position obtaining before the 1971 Act was passed. That was the aim of the repeal legislation, and that is what this Bill is about, because it is trying to remedy some of the harm done in the 1974 Act by the Amendments which were passed in your Lordships' House and in another place which were unacceptable to the Government. What the unions wanted was to return to the pre-1971 position of voluntary collective bargaining and voluntary agreements. The 1974 Act attempted to facilitate that by abolishing large sections of the 1971 Act which the trade union movement found unacceptable. The Amendments passed in your Lordships' House and in another place last summer frustrated the Government's intention to keep faith with the unions over their part of the Social Contract. That is why we are debating this Bill today.
All matters raised on this Bill are incidental to the simple aim of the Government to restore the position, so far as is practical, to what it was before 1971. It is as simple as that. The closed shop issue, upon which we are going to hear so much before this Bill leaves your Lordships' House, comes up only because it had to be referred to in legislation on what constitutes fair or unfair dismissal for the purpose of the compensation terms. Had it not been for the re-enactment of the 1971 provisions regarding compensation for unfair dismissal, it would not have been necessary to refer to the closed shop at all. Before, when there 732 was no statutory provision for compensation for unfair dismissal, there was no mention, in any legislation of which I am aware, of the closed shop.
Nevertheless, I am still concerned about the right of appeal which a worker might, and should have against what he believes to be unfair exclusion from his union, or unfair refusal to allow him to join. My noble friend Lord Greene of Harrow Weald referred to the independent tribunal which the Trades Union Congress was prepared and ready to set up with an independent chairman and independent members, which could adjudicate upon grievances of individual trade unionists who said that they had been unfairly treated by their unions, and found no remedy within the rules of their union. I think that we shall want to examine that a little more carefully when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill.
I come now to the closed shop issue. The Amendments proposed by this Bill to the 1974 Act do not impose a closed shop upon anybody; union membership agreements are to be agreements and nothing else. The Bill does not enshrine the closed shop; the closed shop was enshrined in the agency shop agreement in the 1971 Act. That is where the closed shop was enshrined. No Labour Act of Parliament has enshrined the closed shop and made it legal, or in fact expressed any opinion whatever on the principle of the matter. As I said a few moments ago, it is only because of the provisions for unfair dismissal that it was necessary in the 1974 Act, and is necessary in this Bill, to refer to the union membership agreement at all. The 1974 Act neither sanctions nor prohibits a closed shop. It is not, however, strictly correct to say that this Bill and the 1974 Act do no more than restore the pre-1971 position. The Bill has to do a little more than that because, as I have explained, it is necessary to define unfair dismissal in relation to a closed shop situation for the purpose of compensation.
Quite recently we have had a great deal of publicity about what can now be described as Press freedoms, or the rights of editors. This has to do with the fears of the Newspaper Publishers' Association and newspaper editors, including news editors of broadcasting services, about 733 some possible consequences of having a closed shop in the profession of journalism. An Amendment to this Bill proposed and rejected in another place would have banned altogether a closed shop in the newspaper industry, and that is apparently what the editors and newspaper management want.
It is thought that this prohibition on having a closed shop in the newspaper industry could be forced upon the workers in that industry, could have the force of law, and could dispose of the matter by making a closed shop in the newspaper industry unlawful. I do not believe for a moment that that would be the likely outcome. The likely outcome is that we shall have five journalists in prison instead of five dock workers, with the Official Solicitor coming to their rescue as he did with the five dock workers.
We have to be realistic about this matter. We on these Benches cannot agree to any Amendment to this Bill which prohibits a closed shop situation in the newspaper and media industry. We cannot discriminate against the National Union of Journalists, or any other organisation in this field, and deny to them the rights of combination and collective action given to all other unions. This would be highly discriminatory, and would have to be justified by overwhelming reasons in the national interest.
It is quite unacceptable to us that a trade union, properly constituted, affiliated to the TUC, of national and international repute, should be disqualified from the same rights of combination', status and freedom enjoyed by all other trade unions in this country. This cannot be justified. Is the freedom of the Press, and are the rights and duties and authority of newspaper and other editors, in such peril that we must afford such safeguards against the abuse of one of the basic freedoms in a free society? This is what we have to answer. Is the threat as serious as all that? If so, since when, and what is the evidence of the gravity and the extent of this threat? The curious thing is that these forebodings about the possible consequences of a closed shop in the newspaper industry were never voiced in 1971, were never voiced in 1974; they arise now.
§ Several Noble Lords: Indeed he is.
§ Lord HANKEY
I beg your Lordships' pardon. He cited a certain amount of evidence as did the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I do not see how the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, could suggest that there is no evidence. I would very much value hearing his comments on the evidence that was given.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, I think that we must examine the evidence. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, I do not take one instance, or even two, as constituting enough evidence to justify banning a closed shop situation in a trade union in the media industry. I think that the evidence must be far stronger than that. In passing, I would observe that the example quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, shows that there is something wrong with the industrial relations in that quarter. Obviously, there is some unresolved dispute there. I think we want to know why that dispute has not been resolved; what is the difficulty about coming to an agreement on the use of casual or specialist contributors in a newspaper like the Financial Times, and whether the professional journalist has a genuine grievance if he raises the question about the insecurity of his own employment in relation to the freedom of the editor to go where he will for casual contributions.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, in fairness to the Financial Times, I would be happy to show the noble Lord the minutes of the discussions between the union and the Financial Times, which I believe will satisfy him that the Financial Times was totally absolved of any responsibility. But I do not want to prolong the debate by reading it now.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says, and I do not deny that there are various troubles and difficulties in industry, including this one. But the point which the noble Lord raised has nothing whatever to do with this Bill, is not created by this Bill and cannot be solved 735 by this or any other Bill until the question of industrial relations has been properly discussed with attempts to reach agreement in the industry itself.
§ Lord BALFOUR of INCHRYE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to make one point clear? He talked of the possibility of making some agreement between the NUJ and the proprietors on outside contributors. Does not any agreement postulate a limitation of contributions from outside people? Does not that interfere at once with the basic liberty of the Press?
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, I shall come to that point in a moment, if the noble Lord will bear with me. I come to the attempts which have been made to get an agreement to cover this and many other matters relating to the employment of journalists in the newspaper and media industries. The attempt was made last Thursday to make progress on a code of practice. Unfortunately, the attempt foundered. My noble friend the Leader of the House read out the motion which was heavily defeated at that meeting. The reason given by the majority who rejected the attempt to make progress on this proposed code of practice was that they first wanted the removal from this Bill of any sanction to the closed shop in the newspaper industry. They wanted, they said, to exclude the newspaper industry from this legislation, whatever that might mean. But what I think they intended to mean was that the closed shop situation should be prohibited in the newspaper industry as a condition of their settling down with the unions to work out a code of practice.
I thought that this requirement was quite unreasonable. It sounded preposterous to me. What the editors and the management were asking the NUJ to do was to yield up its own power of collective action before any discussion could take place on strengthening the power of the editors and the management —and that, surely, is an impossible proposition to put to the union. I think that if we have unreasonable postures on the part of editors and management in the newspaper industry, and have before them a union that is willing, unconditionally, to discuss a proposed code of practice, then the message should go 736 out from this House that we want them to resume their discussions in a more realistic atmosphere.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, the noble Lord is talking as if there were only one union involved. Is not another union involved— the Institute of Journalists?
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, the other union, to which the noble Lord referred, was present at the discussions the other day. They were all around the table, presumably with the genuine intention of trying to reach an amicable settlement of differences and difficulties between them, and I am not ruling out any other union from participation in discussions on a possible code of conduct. I think it is perhaps necessary to encourage the parties to come together to try to work out an agreed code of practice. I am minded to put down for the Committee stage an amendment to the Bill which would require the Secretary of State for Employment to lay before both Houses of Parliament, within a stipulated period, an agreed code of practice arrived at between the parties concerned. Failing an agreed code of practice, the Secretary of State should lay a draft of his own proposed code of practice before both Houses of Parliament and submit it for consideration under Part I of Schedule I of the principal Act of 1974. It seems to me that this is a practical step to take, which may have the effect of concentrating the minds of all concerned on the need to arrive at a speedy agreement on a code of practice, failing which Parliament would require the Secretary of State to have a go at it himself.
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
My Lords, the noble Lord is suggesting the code of practice without the force of law behind it.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, a code of practice under the 1974 Act, as under the 1971 Act, would not have the force of law behind it. The first sections of the 1971 Act on the code of practice for industrial relations did not have the force of law behind them. What they did provide was that the code of practice would be admissible evidence in any matter arising under the Act which had to go to an industrial tribunal. They also provided that in determining any question under the Act, before an indus- 737 trial tribunal, the tribunal should take the code of practice into account. Those provisions were re-enacted in the 1974 Act of the Labour Government and they are still there. Under my proposal the code of practice would be put alongside, and without prejudice, to, the general code of practice which is still in force.
Probably, your Lordships do not appreciate that the code of practice approved by Parliament under the Conservative Government is still in operation. It was re-enacted by the 1974 Act, and that code is still there; and all the provisions for amendment of it, and the role of the Secretary of State in connection with it, which were embodied in the 1971 Act, are also there, literally, in the 1974 Act. Therefore, I propose that the role of the Secretary of State in connection with a code of practice for the newspaper industry should be similar to that which he has under the Act of 1974, as he had under the Act of 1971, for the general code of practice governing and guiding industrial relations. This, I think, may lead to a speedy solution. There is hope that way; there is nothing to be gained by pursuing a remedy in Statute Law. We have tried it and it has failed: it was disastrous. I think that further attempts to do it are bound to fail again.
Therefore, I hope that the parties concerned will get the message from this House and will come together again and try to work out an agreed code of practice covering the matters raised by the noble Lords, Lord Goodman and Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and others of which we are aware. Where there are troubles and difficulties, they should if possible be resolved by agreement. If they cannot be resolved by agreement, the Secretary of State would, I believe, be fully justified in producing his own draft of a code of practice to be required by Act of Parliament to be placed before both Houses of Parliament and given the force of legislative approval. I believe that to be a possible way. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage we can look at that, and if there are any feasible alternatives, they, too, can be given consideration.
My Lords, I conclude by saying that only two conditions need to be laid down on this side of the House. One is that the closed shop cannot be prohibited for one union alone throughout the whole of the trade union movement, 738 no matter what position it holds or how sensitive that position in relation to the basic freedom of the community. The closed shop situation is the right of every union to have, if it can reach agreement on it— and only if it can reach agreement on it. The second condition is that we should not attempt to enforce by law codes of practice which give rise to contentious and unenforceable judgments of the courts, stirring up the action of large masses of trade unionists far beyond the area of the particular problem or dispute and going back to the dark days following the 1971 Act, which was the most disastrous period in industrial relations that I can remember since 1926.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I have two questions which I should be very grateful if he could answer. First, may I recognise the enormous part that the noble Lord has played in the last few weeks in seeking to negotiate a settlement in this matter. We arc profoundly grateful for that, but that is not why I have intervened. I want to ask just two questions. First, is the noble Lord aware of the fact that the strictures on the various parties to the Pearce meeting, suggesting that they were unreasonable in some way in not continuing the discussions, are wholly unjustified because at that very moment a message was being sent to the Secretary of State from another source to say that my friends were perfectly willing to consider a code of practice, provided it had efficacy? So it is not fair to suggest that there was a refutation of any suggestion for negotiation at that meeting. That is the first point I should like to put to the noble Lord. My second question is: if a code of practice that has the force of law is valueless because the judgments cannot be enforced, why is it better to have a code of practice which is of persuasive effect in securing agreement, which would no doubt be equally ignored?
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, on the first point, I think that if that meeting of last Thursday was not fully representative and not fully authorised, then it is desirable that those responsible in the field of management and editorship in newspapers and broadcasting should bring together a team which will have full authority to conduct the discussions with the National Union 739 of Journalists and the Institute of Journalists, who were also present the other day. We want representative people at a conference to try to work out the proposed code of practice.
My Lords, on other matters I think that if the parties concerned, when they have reached agreement, would like to sanctify their agreement by legislation and have it embodied in an Act of Parliament, or would prefer to have it given the approval of Parliament without taking legislative form, I am sure that both Houses of Parliament would be glad to meet any agreed suggestion in that direction. However, first let them reach agreement, then they can decide what they wish to do about it. I am sure that we can encourage them to do so. We can send out a message that they should meet, talk, discuss and try to reach agreement, because if they cannot or do not reach agreement Parliament may decide that it wants the Secretary of State to try to make good that default.
§ Lord ROCHESTER
My Lords, I am not sure whether it is in order for me to ask the noble Lord a second question before he sits down when he has already sat down twice, but I should like to ask him this. He said, as I understood it, that a person who has been expelled or excluded from a union had the right of appeal to an independent body, but how can it be said that such a body is truly independent when, as I understand it, it is to be set up by the TUC?
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, I can save the time of your Lordships' House by referring to the speech that I made in this House on 22nd July 1974, when I expressed my own views about the need for providing an effective and independent court of appeal to deal with a member's complaint that he was unfairly excluded from a union, or unfairly refused the opportunity of joining it. As I have said, that is a matter which I certainly wish to examine more closely when we come to the Committee stage.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Lord COOPER of STOCKTON HEATH
My Lords, I should like to preface my remarks by paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Greene of Harrow Weald on his maiden speech. He served 740 the trade union movement, his own union and the country well and we shall look forward to hearing him again. The Bill is a short Bill which is being urgently introduced by the Government to replace and amend those provisions of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 which was included as a result of Opposition Amendments in another place and in your Lordships' House. As has been said, the Government were pledged to repeal the Industrial Relations Act 1971, and this Bill is intended finally and completely to carry out that pledge. One of the understandings reached between the unions and the Government under the Social Contract was a promise to restore voluntary collective bargaining. This, of course, is the fundamental issue. The question is whether one is to allow voluntarism to operate in the field of industrial relations or whether one is to control industrial relations by Statute. The answer is very heavily in favour of voluntarism.
The Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers' Associations 1965–1968—known as the Donovan Commission—came down very definitely on the side of voluntarism. Another interesting commentator on this proposition was Mr. Aubrey Jones, who, as your Lordships will know, was chairman of the Prices and Incomes Board from 1965 to 1970. He pointed out what he felt was the way to better industrial relations, particularly in the field of prices and incomes. He wrote:It is desirable if possible for the rules to be formulated through a parley between Government, trade unions and management.On Governments and their powers, Mr. Jones said:To attain Office, Governments require a majority of individual votes, but to govern effectively when Office has been attained Governments need to carry with them the diverse interest groups.In support of this contention, Mr. Jones quoted Disraeli:The great art in creating an efficient representative government is to secure its representation of those interests of the country which are at the same time not only considerable but, in their nature, permanent.Mr. Jones comments on this matter that those interests or the modern counterparts of those interests which are the ancient estates of the realm are now labour and capital. My Lords, the final demonstra- 741 tion of the unsuitability of legislation in labour relations has, in my view, been amply demonstrated in the last 30 years and, more particularly, in the last decade.
Let us briefly examine the records of Government. The experimenting with policies by both Conservative and Labour Administrations illustrates how unwise it is to attempt to regulate industrial regulations by Statute. Consider, for example, how the 1964 Labour Government introduced prices and incomes control using the Prices and Incomes Board. By 1969 that policy was dropped and was replaced by proposed legislation on strikes. In Place of Strife has been referred to, and that was part and parcel of it. On that legislation there was much argument between the TUC and the Government and, in the event, the Bill was amended, although it never saw the light of day because it was overtaken by the June 1970 Election.
A Conservative Government were elected in June 1970 and were pledged to legislation on strikes. They abolished the Prices and Incomes Board in March 1971, and in that same year they introduced the Industrial Relations Bill, which became an Act although it hardly ever functioned, and after two years in Office the Conservatives returned to the point at which the Labour Government had begun the exercise in 1964; namely, to seek to operate a prices and incomes policy, a course which they had previously denounced. In November 1972 all incomes and prices were frozen.
My Lords, by this small Bill the Government accept that labour relations are best dealt with outside legislation. This is the attitude of the TUC, and on these matters the TUC asked to be consulted and to be given the opportunity to suggest remedies. This, of course, is the best way forward, not easily accomplished but rewarding if successful. What does that mean in relation to this Bill? On the rights of workers; as to arbitrary or unreasonable exclusion or expulsion from a trade union, the TUC have committed themselves to set up a review body to consider appeals from individuals dismissed from their jobs as a consequence of being expelled from a union or having been refused admission to a union.
I appreciate all the absolute appeals to freedom which have been made in many 742 of the speeches this afternoon. I appreciate, equally—having been a member of the TUC General Council for many years and a practitioner in trade unionism for over 40 years, although I am now retired—that it is possible for the TUC to examine cases and to deal with them fairly. There is a committee of the TUC set up to regulate differences between unions on the Bridlington principle. This comittee works admirably and its decisions are accepted automatically. Thus, I can see no difficulty, if a man has trouble with a union, with him having the right of appeal to a committee set up by the TUC in consultation, of course, with the Secretary of State. When this Bill was being debated in another place on Third Reading—
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, before the noble Lord turns to another subject, may I ask him to say what he thinks would happen if the union or unions concerned in a dispute were not members of the TUC? What would be the position of the Bridlington rules then?
§ Lord COOPER of STOCKTON HEATH
My Lords, that is a difficult one. Of course, if the two parties were agreeable to submit themselves to the TUC as the arbiter, then that would be a viable way of overcoming the problem. I remind the noble Lord that the mass of organised workpeople are affiliated to the TUC and that the numbers outside it are very small indeed. I can, however, envisage the possibility to which the noble Lord referred, and I believe that when such a case arose some time ago the TUC acted as arbiter.
I was about to refer to Amendments which were moved in another place to this Bill and to comment that I have been surprised by the narrow difference that actually exists between us. The TUC is prepared to set up a review body. In another place the Liberal Party introduced an Amendment asking for a tribunal to be established and a Conservative Amendment also sought a tribunal. The terms of reference were exactly as had been agreed by the TUC— they had been lifted, as it were—so that precisely the same terms of reference would have operated. The only difference, an important one I agree, concerned the personalities—who should adjudicate—and how the body was to be 743 set up, but, as I say, the difference between us is not all that great. As to the alleged interference with the freedom of the Press, the NUJ has suggested a meeting of all the parties and we have heard a great deal about that. So far it has failed, but I hope, however, that eventually there will be success. In moving the Conservative Amendment in another place the honourable Member for Lowestoft, Mr. Prior said—
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, I intervene in the noble Lord's speech only to remind him that direct quotations from speeches in another place are permissible only in the case of Ministers' speeches.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, the noble Lord would be wise not to quote but to paraphrase.
§ Lord COOPER of STOCKTON HEATH
My Lords, in that case I will refer to what the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said earlier because he used words similar to those which I had intended to quote. He said that all they wanted to do was to go a little further. There is. as I say, a very narrow distinction between us. However, it means that if the present legislation remains and this amending Bill is not accepted there will still be this residue, as it were, of the 1971 Act on the Statute Book. It was to repeal that Act in its entirety that a pledge was given to the Trade Union movement, and I therefore hope that this pledge will be carried out.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ The Earl of COURTOWN
My Lords, I wish to refer at the outset to a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath, when he said that there was not as much difference between us as was sometimes the impression given. I feel that a great deal of heat has often been worked up about aspects and different factors which are not really so important when they are looked at objectively.
This Bill clears away the last of what the Government, and presumably the 744 TUC, deem to be objectionable in the Industrial Relations Act 1971. I am sure that that Act was never thought to be perfect by those who sponsored it. Indeed, the point has been made time and again that what they produced was their idea of providing a basis of law to our industrial relations which then could be examined and proved over a period and, if necessary, amended. In the event, the unions never gave it a chance to be put properly into practice. They were determined that it should not be allowed and they were successful. It was a pity.
It will be for history to pass judgment on the significance of what has occurred and the effects, but in looking back after only three or four years various points seem to emerge. The aspects of the Act which proved to be the most objectionable from the unions' point of view resulted from the unions' determination not to comply with the Act rather than the Act itself, and to ignore the courts and other bodies which the Act set up. Nevertheless, all Parties in Parliament at one time or another have expressed the belief that there should be a better basis in law for our industrial relations.
I spent a lifetime in industry, starting at the bottom and moving upwards. When I first heard of the idea of producing an industrial relations Bill and providing a basis of law for human relations I felt that it would lead to trouble. Yet when we look at this matter, we find that much of our human relations are in fact subject to the rule of law. What, after all, are race relations or racial discrimination, other than human relations, and yet there will be few of us who would not agree that there is a necessity for racial discrimination legislation. Equally, our relations with our neighbours—and even with our wives—are subject to law; yet we are very unwise if we go to law. However, we need the law to deal with the unreasonable people who do not comply with what is regarded as social behaviour.
It will be for history to evaluate whether the Government are wise to proceed in this way with industrial relations, but the view of history would, I believe, have been very different if the unions had collaborated in trying to make the Act work and highlighting its faults. It is now the intention of the Government to complete the dismemberment of the 1971 Act, with a few exceptions which 745 they consider beneficial to the unions. The main purpose of this Bill is to reinstate the legality of the closed shop. Although there is some argument about this, it is clear that it takes the legal position back to what it was before the 1971 Act. AJ1 I can say is that it seams to me that before the 1971 Act the legal position of the closed shop was extremely obscure. It is difficult to see why the unions were so much against the 1971 Act in this respect. As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, pointed out, the 1971 Act produced the idea of an agency shop, which was not all that different from a closed shop, and I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Greene of Harrow Weald, who mentioned the fact that people who wanted to opt out of the closed shop did pot pay their union dues. The Industrial Relations Act allowed for dues to be levied on those who in fact opted out of the union. It provided a logical basis, with elections and so on, for an agency shop, with proper safeguards; for the religious or conscientious objector, and once the agency shop was agreed it gave the union more power to maintain it than it often had in the previous closed shop arrangement. It was a great pity that the unions did not collaborate so that the real faults could be shown.
Even if it is true that the Bill is taking us back to the situation before the 1971 Act, it seems to me that there is even more need for safeguards for the individual than there was in 1971, due to the much greater power of the unions, which has been shown, and the spread of their influence into white-collar fields. I am not at all against unions or their spreading into white-collar fields; on the whole, it is desirable. But I believe that as far as possible an individual should be able to join 1he union of his choice, and that a body independent of the union should be available for appeals. Many employees, both white and blue-collar, prefer to belong to the union which reflects their own particular skills. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, chemists and many technological specialists have their own institutes, associations or unions.
I quite see the advantages in a particular establishment of having one union with which to deal, but nevertheless there is, I think, very strong feeling among the white-collar workers, as there has been 746 in many cases in the long organised factory workers, for unions which reflect their own particular skills. Are we entitled to stop them belonging to these unions of their choice? I doubt it. The Government propose to have any appeals to a non-statutory body set up by the TUC. What if the associations or unions concerned are not affiliated to the TUC? How can the TUC body act independently and properly in such circumstances? And how can its findings, if they are just, be implemented? What happens if a union insists that a manager should join it? It seems to me that the possibility of difficulties arising, which has been highlighted in the case of newspaper editors, could be reflected in many other situations in factories.
We know that in many cases, over many years, the closed shop has been in operation. In many cases it was not officially a closed shop, but a closed shop was operated. In many instances it was much less troublesome to management to allow it, even if it meant injustice to individuals. Some of these cases of injustice came to light and were widely publicised, but many more did not. As the unions gain power in new fields more and more cases will arise. We all know the misgivings of newspaper editors. I believe there is a possibility of many more such cases arising, especially if against their will management and specialists are forced to join unions, thus bringing about a clash of responsibilities. There should be some independent means of resolving these cases. I accept that the Government in their mandate from the country —if a minority vote can be deemed to be a mandate—are entitled to repeal the 1971 Act. I do not feel, however, that they are entitled to put nothing in its place, taking into account the changed situation since 1971.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, first, I wish to say how pleased I was to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Greene of Harrow Weald. Of course I have heard him on many occasions at the Labour Party and at the TUC, and if he will forgive me, I have always thought of him as one of nature's Life Peers. He has this combination of wisdom, experience, sagacity, persuasiveness and rationality which are so highly 747 esteemed in this Chamber, and I am sure we all hope that we shall hear him many times in the future, particularly on trade union subjects, of which he has so much experience.
I should first like to confess tonight to as rich a variety of interests on this subject as I think it is possible to have. I am an employee of the Mirror group of newspapers, a member of the British Committee of the International Press Institute, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Press Union. I am also a member of the National Union of Journalists, and have been for 46 years. In fact the noble Lord, Lord Castle, and I have almost 100 years of membership of the NUJ between us. I should also mention a very special relationship with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment, since he has been my editor and I have been his, and our friendship has survived this most rigorous of tests.
With the background I have outlined, I am sure your Lordships will understand why today I am taking a path of moderation and reconciliation. Perhaps I can best start by describing what I think has happened. Three or four years ago the British Committee of the International Press Institute became alarmed at the increasing number of incidents in which trade unionists had used their power to try to influence the editorial content of the paper they were working for. Usually these were rather special cases when a newspaper was dealing with a dispute in which the staff was involved—but not always. Now it is being suggested that the current protest against the Bill has been stimulated by newspaper owners simply because they hate closed shops, rather than by editors who are concerned about the freedom of the Press. Now this is not true within my experience. Three or four years ago I was a member of a delegation from the British Committee of the International Press Institute which waited upon Lord Goodman and the Newspaper Publishers' Association to express our deep concern about union intervention in editorial matters, and to ask for the backing of the proprietors— that it should be given to editors who refused to make the changes in their paper demanded by a union or a chapel.
748 At that time, the National Union of Journalists were asked for their views on such a situation and they said very properly that they were against censorship of any kind in a newspaper. So the current anxieties have not suddenly sprung up; they have been developing for some years. Over the past few years my union have become extremely militant, and quite rightly. The noble Lord, Lord Castle, and I have lived through long years when the NUJ was the weakest of unions. Journalists could be sacked on the spot simply because they no longer fitted in, and provided they were given proper notice there was little or nothing their colleagues could or would do. At that time they were subjected to many indignities, and indeed sometimes to brutalities. Then in the post-war years they fell behind in their pay. The militant printing union did very well, but the journalists, who were the most flexible, the most co-operative, indeed the most dedicated of workers, did very badly. It was not until they adopted the disagreeable but effective techniques of the printing unions that they were able to make substantial progress.
The militants— and I bless them for this— have made great gains for journalists. Journalists now have a very high degree of security. They do not have to lie awake wondering, as we did as young married men, whether we were going to be fired on the whim of management, editor or sub-editor in a newspaper office. They have acquired many fringe benefits. Perhaps I can best describe the change in their pay by saying what has happened to some of nearly 1,000 journalists ranging from juniors to editors. Eight years ago, two-thirds of this group were getting between £ 1,500 and £2,500 a year. Today the middle income bracket in the same group contains four-fifths of the total and they are getting between £ 4,000 and £ 6,000 a year. So even when one discounts inflation it is obvious that the journalists have made a very great leap forward. Now that it has been made, the only problem is to keep it topped up. So I hope that there will be less frequent recourse to the harsher union techniques which may involve the loss of copies, perhaps 1 or 2 million copies in a night or even a whole night's run.
749 But what has given anxiety, not only to editors but to many ordinary, moderate, reasonable members of my union, is that the new legitimate, economic militancy has been accompanied by a developing political militancy. Some of it is far to the left of the views of anybody who sits on the Government Benches in either House of Parliament. The danger appears to be looming up. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is not yet convinced, but I think those who work in Fleet Street are convinced that the danger is looming up, even if it is not clear at present. The danger is not that they will try to put their extreme views into practice, but that they will lead less extreme men than themselves ino demands for some kind of workers' control over the editorial content of some newspapers.
The reason for the anxieties of editors at this moment is the conjecture of developing political militancy with the provisions of the Bill before us. The Bill removes some restraints on the formation of the closed shop, but marginally facilitates it by making it a fair practice to dismiss a man who will not join or who is put out of his union. The attainment of the closed shop must, of course, be the first goal of the political militant. Yet we ought not to become too alarmed. I think we do not have, on the editorial floors of newspaper offices in Fleet Street, what might technically be called closed shops. But we have what are virtually closed shops. We have very strong union chapels, and still the walls of the editor's room have not yet fallen. Yet the anxieties are real and the problem before this House is how to mitigate not the intended, but the unintended possible consequences of this Bill. Those consequences, I am afraid, were not perceived at first by either the Government or by the people who work in newspapers at any level. There are certain possible consequences which none of us, including my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, would like to see.
Some people have asked: how could a Minister, himself a journalist and one of our most famous defenders of liberty, have been so cavalier as he appears to some people to have been at the beginning of this controversy. The answer is, I think, that my right honourable friend, like all of us who have been concerned 750 throughout our lives with the liberty of the Press, and who have been preoccupied by the external threat which comes to the Press from Governments, from the Bench, the courts and other institutions, has not given very much thought to the problems of what the German journalists call "the inner freedom"; that is the relationships between owners, managements and editors, and between editors and their journalistic colleagues. We are dealing now with the question of "inner freedom", a possible threat from inside the newspaper, and if the debate so far among the editors, the proprietors and the journalists has been rather confused, it is because we are thinking through these problems for the first time.
I know that some of my noble friends and my honourable friends are cynical about the Press, and indeed say that the freedom it exercises is most imperfect and is most imperfectly employed. But there is no reason why it should become more imperfect than it is. What has to be stressed—and this is a point which has been missed from many discussions—is the right of a newspaper to have a political philosophy, and a policy based upon that philosophy devised and expressed by the editor. The editor is the guardian of the paper's tradition; the custodian, if I may borrow a phrase, of its unwritten manifesto. He is also the custodian of the social compact which every newspaper has with its readers.
There was a time, especially in my youth, when editors were absolute monarchs claiming divine right. They would disappear into their sanctum and communicate with God, or more likely with his agent, the proprietor, and then emerge with a policy. I have worked for editors like that. I am afraid I must confess that I have been one. Had I but served my proprietors with half the zeal I served my God, I might have done a lot better for myself. The age of the great intervening proprietor or publisher disappeared with the retirement of Lord Northcliffe's nephew, Mr. Cecil King, He was really the last of the line. Today in Fleet Street I think it is generally true to say that the editors run their newspapers, but of course they run them within the traditions and not in a personal way. It is not personal freedom that they enjoy. It is a happy coincidence 751 when they are able in Fleet Street to express exactly their own private views.
If I may give one example, the editors of both the Guardian and The Times in 1951 opposed in their newspapers the return of the Labour Government, but as private citizens neither of them voted Conservative on that occasion. Today the editorial power is much more devolved than it used to be. The multiplication of specialists in newspaper offices, particularly in political, industrial and financial affairs, and the development of political columnists have subtracted not from the power of the editor which remains in the background, not from the power he possesses, but from the power he is actually able to wield. We have to remember, too, that the newspaper today is a vast concern with, perhaps, 500 journalists in a number of departments which are in themselves almost autonomous little newspapers. The editor in these circumstances has perhaps only the first word and the last word, and not too many in between.
If I may say so to my noble friend Lord Bruce who wrote the other day to The Times suggesting that perhaps only 30 or 40 people in the whole of Fleet Street have influence on the newspaper Press, I suggest to him that influence is much more widely devolved than that. There are in any single newspaper 30 or 40 people at least having daily an important influence on the creation of that newspaper but not simply in the political departments; I am referring to all the departments.
The journalist's freedom is derived from the editor's own freedom and they will be less free and not more free, I strongly feel, if they have a voice in the political policy of their newspapers. Today there are very few jobs on a news-paper which require the commitment of a man to its policy. The others, even when they are Lobby correspondents or industrial correspondents, can do an honest job of work without any strain on their political consciences, no matter what their views are or what are those of the newspaper. This is a very valuable safeguard to journalists; for most papers in this country are Right of Centre and most journalists are not. It would be a terrible day for journalists if, perhaps, to work on the Daily Telegraph they had 752 to be Conservatives, because they would be taking part, in effect, in a kind of Conservative Party policy in the editorial discussions; and it would be terrible today, too, if people had to be Labour pro-Marketeers in order to work on the Daily Mirror.
I feel sure that in the long run my journalistic colleagues will not be seduced by proposals for chapel control of editorial political policy. The danger is that they may not react quickly enough. It is essential that the normal decency and liberality of British journalists should be one of the main supports of Press freedom but we cannot depend on that alone. Press freedom requires, with the world as it is today, some other supports. These are very difficult days. We are in an age of high inflation; and the professional ethics of medical consultants and schoolteachers can be strained simply by the need to get more pay. Sheer economic motives could cause good liberal journalists to have restrictive policies towards non-professional and semiprofessional contributors to newspapers and magazines. At a time of inflation and recession—with, perhaps, newspaper closures and journalists thrown out of work—the temptation to demand a reduction in outside contributors may become very strong indeed. The freedom of the Press cannot be left to owners, editors and journalists. No single individual has a right of access to the Press, but unless some leaders of opinion, some experts, some people with special experience are able to make a substantial contribution to the newspaper and magazine Press of this country, we shall become politically and intellectually starved.
Let me give one short example of the kind of mentality which nice, kind journalists have. When I became editor of the Daily Herald and, of course, they were the pioneer closed shop, being the official trade union newspaper, almost on the first day I suggested that Richard Titmus, the great labour expert, should review a book on social security. The assistant editor came back and said, "I am afraid that the lads are a bit upset. They want to know why somebody on the staff cannot do it." I explained that Richard Titmus was the great expert. He came back a second time and said, "Could it not be ' by Richard Titmus in an interview with a Herald reporter'"? 753 I said that we wanted Titmus, who is a splendid writer, to write on this subject because it would improve the paper and would sell many more copies to undergraduates who adore him. They saw the point of the argument and did not persist, so that I was able to continue with this policy. My successor, Mr. Sydney Jacobson, ran into trouble when he thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, should write a column for the Daily Herald. She did this in her usual forthright and vigorous style, and after she had made five contributions the father of the chapel came along and said, "She has exhausted her quota." It seems there was an arrangement by which an outsider could write only six articles in a year. They managed to get over that; she could go on writing provided that she did not—
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, that is not quite accurate. I did not exhaust my quota. They would not allow me to write political articles of any kind and after a while—after far more than five contributions—I just had other things to do.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, my noble friend will forgive me if I persist with the myth, which is very strong. Her recollection does not coincide with that of the farmer editor of the Daily Herald. He came to an arrangement that she could go on writing providing that she did not trespass on the specialist writers on that paper. The thing came to a climax on another day when it was suggested that it would be a good idea that she go to report the Conservative Women's Conference. They thought that this was a trespass—on whose toes, I do not know; perhaps on its millinery correspondent. Eventually, the thing was negotiated away. It does not matter very much on a paper like the Daily Herald or the Daily Mirror to have an agreement of this kind because the fashion of inviting public men to contribute to their columns has disappeared many years ago purely for technical reasons. But it matters vitally to papers like the Guardian, The Times, the Observer and the Sunday Times.
I should remind your Lordships that very little has been said in the general debate about the periodical Press—and 754 here I must stress my interest since I work for a concern which publishes an enormous number of periodicals. Many people in the periodical Press think that the unintended possible effects of this Bill threaten them even more seriously than their newspaper colleagues. By tradition magazines have always carried a larger amount of external material than newspapers. The fears are perhaps alarmist. His Grace Dr. Coggan will probably contribute regularly to the Church Times as his predecessor did. Could that be interfered with? Or could Harvey Smith go on as a contributor to Horse and Hound. These are alarmist fears, but they are the kind of things now said in the trade.
The trade and technical Press depends even more on external contributors because they tend to serve a specific science or professional technology. Most publications of this kind have union employees, but the editor and one or two senior editorial executives are often actively associated with the profession that they are serving. The closed shop will simply not work for them.
I sincerely hope that noble Lords are persuaded that the fears which we have are genuine and are only occasionally exaggerated. My belief is that the charter or a code of practice is necessary, and I hope it will be achieved despite all the current difficulties. I should like to express my own thanks for the constructive role played in this by the editor of the Guardian and by the secretary of the NUJ. But the code alone may not be enough. A really militant chapel could easily disregard anything of this kind. Can we, with all the good will and intellectual ingenuity for which this House is so famous, devise some addition to this Bill which will give a firmer base to some of the provisions in the charter? I fervently hope that between now and the Committee stage Amendments can be devised to soften the fortuitous conflict between the two great democratic freedoms, the freedom of combination and the freedom of the Press.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, could I ask whether he is proposing to support the Second Reading of this Bill, or is he against it?
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, I am supporting the Second Reading of the Bill. I have said that I am dealing only with the unintended effects of the Bill and not with its intended effects which I thoroughly support.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Lord HANKEY
My Lords, I should like to join with those who congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Greene of Harrow Weald, on his most interesting maiden speech. I have for very long been a great admirer of the noble Lord, Lord Greene, because I live on a railway line which is served by the NUR rather than by ASLEF. The ability of the noble Lord to settle the current disputes which arose fairly often affecting the guards, the drivers and others has been very striking and we have had a remarkably good service. As a former diplomat, I admire diplomacy where it occurs.
Speaking about commuters, I am sorry to say that I do not see how I can remain here until the end of this debate if it continues after about 11 p.m., because I have a date in the country tomorrow morning, and no bed in London, and it is absolutely unavoidable that I should take the last train. I had no idea that this debate would begin so late or go on for so long. I apologise, and no discourtesy is intended to your Lordships' House.
I would somewhat broaden the basis of this debate. We have spoken a great deal about the Press and about the closed shop, and I sympathise with a great deal that has been said. But I want now to approach this matter from a broader angle because I find that this Bill in tact does the opposite of what the interests of this country require. In my opinion, we need an orderly trade union system in which the leaders of the trade unions can ensure the proper execution of the agreements which they negotiate and secure the execution of the Social Contract. We need good order and discipline in carrying out agreements in our factories, docks, businesses and mines in order that we may at last begin to hold our own in world trade, and that there may be more investment in our industries. Without this, our standard of living must inevitably decline.
The clear effect of this Bill, however, is to multiply the occasions for causing 756 industrial disorder, to make it even more impossible to carry out the Social Contract, and to endanger even further the ability of our industries to fulfil their contracts or attract investments. These are very serious charges against the Bill and against the Government, my Lords, but I shall substantiate every one of them.
I would begin by saying that I am not critical of trade union leaders. I have a great personal admiration for them and many friends among them. But there has been a steady increase in the influence of the Left Wing, and I consider that this Bill will diminish still further the ability of the trade union leaders to lead their flock in the correct direction.
Section 6 of the 1974 Act (which I am sure all your Lordships hold in your hands), which is now to be repealed, contains important provisions about the rules which the members of a trade union must comply with: the use of its property and funds, the election or dismissal of its officers, officials or shop stewards, eligibility for membership, rules about expulsion of members, settlement of disputes in that connection, notably by adhering to "the rules of natural justice" —I am quoting. Similarly, Section 5 of the 1974 Act, also to be repealed, protects the worker against exclusion or expulsion by way of "arbitrary or unreasonable discrimination"—I am again quoting— and gives him the right of appeal to an industrial tribunal, with a further right of appeal to the High Court. One would have thought that all this was good for our workers and was highly uncontentious. But if we thought this we should be entirely wrong.
These sections, now to be repealed by the present Bill, prevent militants and Communist bullyboys from intimidating honest workers or those who might object to faked elections, or those who do not like being forced to hold up their hands in support of resolutions of which they do not really approve. And not only ordinary workers, either. Shop stewards, managers, or editors (whom we have so much mentioned) will be particularly exposed. One has to connect this also with the new provisions about union membership agreements. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned some interesting points in this connection. Anyone who gets into trouble with the 757 union or with a section of the union in his particular business may be forced out of the industry altogether; and it is much harder for shop stewards, managers or editors to obtain other jobs.
So what a grand background this Bill provides for private threats to resistant members of a trade union! Your Lordships may well believe, I suggest, that the phrases in the 1974 Act about applying rules of natural justice and banning arbitrary and unreasonable discrimination do not at all suit the intentions of the promoters of this Bill and the Left-Wing militants behind them. Do your Lordships remember the scandal in the Electrical Trade Union some ten years ago, and how Leslie Cannon objected to a faked election which would have put the union under Communist control? A new election was ordered by the court and the result was the election of Leslie Cannon. He was a great man and I was proud to be his friend and colleague. His death was a great loss to us all. I wonder whether that could happen again when this Bill receives the force of law. But, of course, militants do not want anything like that to happen again, so those sections of the 1974 Act are repealed.
Clause 2(1) of this Bill says that a member of a trade union may have an "implied" right (I am quoting again) to terminate his membership. But it is not clear what this means, and the intention to conceal any such right, and even to prevent its being used, seems to me obvious. Section 8(6) of the 1974 Act gave the Registrar the power to ensure that the rules of the trade unions complied with the provisions of the Act. That provision is now repealed by Clause l(c) of this Bill. Could there be any clearer indication that the trade unions or their members are to be allowed or even encouraged to play fast and loose? In parenthesis, the provision in Section 11(4) of the 1974 Act, that a trade union… shall at the request of any person supply him with a copy of its rules,remains in force. But how much use is that if the rules may contain almost anything or almost nothing? The clause becomes meaningless; and I find this rather significant.
I share the views of those who have said that unions cannot expect to be free of controls and rules. Companies, 758 building societies, co-operatives, banks, insurance and many other organisations, even the Churches, are subject to the force of law. I do not see how trade unions can expect to escape from a requirement that they shall carry out their agreements and comply with the canons of decent behaviour. I know quite well that most of them do. But I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said: we do not introduce legislation for the good chaps; we introduce it to enable the good chaps to control the bad ones. I have great confidence in our great trade union leaders that, with the proper background, they would be able to do that. But I cannot understand why the Government and the TUC bring forward a Bill such as this which, in my opinion, does the contrary.
I now come to the provisions about trade union immunities. The 1974 Act went back largely to the immunities of 1906, but at least it provided only protection against action in tort in respect of acts inducing another person to break a contract of employment Under Clause 2(2) of this Bill the immunity will be extended to an act inducing another person to break any—I repeat "any"— contract or interfering or inducing another person to interfere with its performance. The following sentence also gives immunity for threats to do these things. These immunities are of course granted only to acts done in contemplation or in furtherance of a trade dispute. But Section 29(3) of the 1974 Act is amended in such a way by Clause 1(d) of this Bill that there is a trade dispute for the purposes of the Act even though it relates to matters—the word is "matters", not "disputes"—occurring outside Great Britain; that is, even though the persons acting in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute are not affected in any way by matters occurring overseas, as the 1974 Act requires.
May we now consider the effect of these provisions on our economy. This is what interests me most. This is what is of importance to the country. The militants in our trade unions can threaten to create a dispute or break a contract in any industry on account of any dispute anywhere or any matter occurring anywhere. It can be an incident in Greece, or Cyprus, or China, or Chile, or Pakistan, or South Africa, or Outer Mongolia. It 759 really does not matter. They have total licence to stop the mines, stop the docks, stop imports or exports of any kind, stop communications, posts, railways, or to threaten to cause the breaking of any contract, whether for exports or defence, or anything you like, for any reason at all. So far as I can see, the Government, the TUC, for which I have great admiration, the law, our many excellent trade union leaders—everybody will be powerless in the face of this bully-boys' charter. Thank God that the law of picketing still stands! I suspect that we owe that fact to the Home Secretary, not to the Secretary of State for Employment.
Yet even now the container port at Tilbury has been virtually closed for three weeks by an idiotic dispute between two sections of the Transport and General Workers' Union. Is this in the country's interest? I accept what has been said on this side of the House about the excellent Conciliation and Arbitration Services. These have my warmest support. I support what has been said about the TUC trying to settle these matters. But why has London's container port been closed for three weeks? It is an impossible situation for our traders. Having been concerned with export promotion for years, I know only too well what enormous damage this does to our export industries and to the chances of employment there, notably in the motor car industry.
The disorder and chaos in the labour relations of many of our most important industries, docks, mines and communications, has reduced this country in ten years from about the richest and most powerful country in Europe to a state of notorious poverty, industrial muddle and ineffectiveness. Our friends overseas—I say this because I travel a great deal— cannot understand why we have allowed ourselves to become industrial and economic pariahs. I suppose their kind sympathy is the most unbearable thing which I have to put up with on my travels. They cannot understand it. If I may say so, although we are supposed to be reliable people, we have become most untypically unreliable in carrying out our contracts, commitments and undertakings because we are hagridden by inflation and by chaotic labour relations in so many of our vital industries— 760 most fortunately not in all of our industries. But how can we maintain our position in world trade, or benefit by the immense opportunities which are now open to us in Europe, if we deliberately license even worse chaos, as we do by this Bill? Is it not an interesting coincidence that the Communists and Marxists are so much opposed to our joining Europe?
I have personally lived through two Communist revolutions, one in Poland and one in Hungary. May I assure your Lordships with all possible objectivity that this Bill, taken with the 1974 Act, will enable a good many of the more arbitrary and more unreasonable and objectionable features of those unhappy events to be repeated here—not dramatically but quite quietly behind the scenes. The militants go along and they make these threats. If the good trade union leaders cannot control the situation, then slowly the militants will get their way. They will for instance get some known Communist into the position of branch secretary when he ought not to be there. They will get other things, too. One has seen this. It really is time for your Lordships to be vigilant in these matters. May I draw attention in this connection to the debate which my noble friend Lord Chalfont will start tomorrow. I assure your Lordships that that debate will be of very great interest.
Of course, in Russia, or Poland, or Hungary, no utter nonsense like this Bill would be allowed for an instant. The Left-Wing deviationists who were responsible for it, or for disruptive action taken under it, would go straight to a corrective labour camp—or in Russia even to somewhere like the Karaganda coalmines.
We need Governments with much more serious consistency and with much less to-ing and fro-ing—if I may say so, speaking strictly from these Benches. It is sad to reflect that the Conservative inflation wrecked their incomes policy and their industrial relations policy and, finally, the Government themselves. I do not think that the 1971 Act was all that bad, but it could not stand up to the strains of inflation. The Labour Government, by licensing industrial disorder in a time of even higher inflation, are now making it impossible for the TUC, or even the best and the most powerful 761 trade union leaders, to carry out the Social Contract. In fact, certain trade union leaders have already vowed destruction upon it. The inevitable result must be very painful for the great trade union leaders, who are now unfortunately retired, whom we have welcomed to this House.
There are many very good and very successful ways of organising industrial relations. I have had the privilege of serving for many years on the Trade Union Liaison Committee of the Organisation for European Economic Development and of being able to study industrial relations at close hand in a number of countries. One can have a national contract or agreement between both sides of industry which is endorsed and given the force of law by the Government, as in Sweden; or one can have works councils and workers represented on the boards of companies and a very few and very powerful industrial unions, as in Germany; or one can take the workers into life-long social security partnership in the industries themselves and make them all feel personally consulted over every new company development, as in Japan; or one can have relatively free industrial relations but enforce rigid adherence to agreements, as in the United States of America; or one can protect the worker from inflation by indexation and the use of fiscal and other methods to prevent the indexed wage increase from being a mere starting point for another round of collective bargaining, as in Brazil. There are other indexation systems also, as in France. The worker is protected while inflation is being properly tackled. By contrast, the very unhappy experience of this country shows without a shadow of doubt that if one allows workers and unions to play fast and loose with their contracts and everybody else's contracts, and that if one pays for their families and refunds their income tax, however improperly they have behaved, as we have done since 1966, then the country goes to pot.
My Lords, I try never to be unconstructive. We have to look at our industrial relations in the light of inflation. People do not realise that inflation does not increase arithmetically—2, 4, 6, 8, 10. It increases logarithmically—2, 4, 8, 16, 32. This is a scientific fact. This year we have gone from 12 per cent. to nearly 20 per cent. Unless something much more 762 radical is done, we must expect something like 30 per cent. next winter. One cannot have good industrial relations with any such high degree of inflation as we have now. What can the worker do but go on strike in order to pay for his colour television set and his motor car? In practice, the employer will have to pay him at least the extra amount to compensate him for the rise in the cost of living. But why should we have such a system that the worker has to go on strike to wreck production and productivity in order to get what he is going to get, anyway? That is just the kind of bonus that our Communists and militants want.
May I urge the Government to study the systems of indexation which are in use in France and Brazil to see how we can adapt them. There would have to be sophisticated indices. You must not compensate for increased taxes or prices which are designed to remedy inflation itself; you have to be careful about higher import costs if the pound falls; you must pay for increased productivity but only—and I repeat, only—after it has been achieved. The calculation of productivity must be scientific and based on the known results for last year, not "pie in the sky" results for next year.
Such a policy based on indexation would not of itself cure inflation and it would have to be a more general measure than just for wages and salaries. But the workers would be protected while the Government tackled inflation seriously. No Government as yet have done that. Of course such a policy would require a great modification of free collective bargaining. Free collective bargaining is a shibboleth. We really must get used to that idea. We should have to find fiscal, social security or other means of preventing—and I repeat, preventing—the indexed increases from being the starting point for another round of free collective bargaining. That would fuel inflation more than anything. The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, made a most interesting speech on indexation to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. You will find it in Hansard of the 26th November 1974 at col. 1302.
Whatever is done, I should like to see some new and effective system put into a National Contract—I repeat, a National Contract—between the Government and both sides of industry and backed by the 763 law. There ought to be a National Contract; something more than the apology for a Social Contract we now have. I am not against it; I am in favour of it, but I really do not think it is working. It really ought not to be a Party matter, either, or an electoral gimmick; and the TUC and the CBI should receive and exercise powers to help police it and to ensure the execution of the agreements which the unions and industries make. This would also be a colossal change but it is high time that the CBI, the TUC and the unions accepted much greater responsibility. They are an essential part of our system but they must be made to carry their responsibility in making the system work.
It is really high time to reform our present system, which is demonstrably futile and will infallibly lead this country to ruin. I know as well as you do, my Lords, that we shall not get any constructive policies like these, or perhaps any other constructive action, from the present Government and the present Secretary of State for Employment; this does not accord with their ideas in the least. I accept that. I do not say that these are the only sort of ideas which are acceptable, but at least we need something new. It is as plain as a pie crust that this Bill will make things worse—more industrial chaos, less orderly labour relations even where they are now good; more cost inflation, more misery, probably more communism. Indeed this Bill seems to be positively designed to do just that. I do not know how the Government can have passed it through another place and presented it to your Lordships' House. I shall vote against this Bill if there is a Division, and if not I hope we shall amend it out of all recognition.
§ Lord DENHAM
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, sits down, he said at the beginning of his speech that as the debate had taken longer than he had expected he would have to leave before the end. As the average time of speakers before him was twenty-one minutes and he has now taken longer than that, I just wondered whether he would reconsider his decision to leave before the end.
§ Lord HANKEY
My Lords, unfortunately I cannot, but I should like to 764 say that a great many noble Lords have spoken for longer than I have and I am not quite sure whether the average is twenty-one minutes.
§ Lord JACQUES
My Lords, as the one who is going to wind up this debate, I appeal to noble Lords to keep to the Bill.
§ 8.45 p.m.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, before participating in this debate, it would be proper if I were to disclose the nature and extent of my private interest. I am a director of a small private limited company called Tribune Publications Limited, in which I hold 60 shares comprising 14.6 per cent. of its issued share capital, which is shared among 26 members. In view of the fact that with your Lordships' permission I intend to refer to the editors of other newspapers during the course of what I have to say, I ought perhaps to inform your Lordships, if you do not know already, that the editor of Tribune is Mr. Richard Clements; we operate a closed shop and there is no question of in any way influencing what the editor of the paper does.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am a little disappointed that so far a copy of this extremely important and independent journal does not appear in the Library of your Lordships' House, and I hope this will soon be remedied.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, with the greatest possible pleasure, unless the noble and learned Lord is already a subscriber himself, as I am sure he is.
If I may, I should like to touch upon some of the issues relating to the freedom of the Press to which noble Lords have referred today, and indeed which appear to have been the centre point of our debate. Like most noble Lords, I believe myself—and I believe your Lordships do generally—in the freedom of the Press. What I have been troubled about for some time is the almost complete absence of it. What we have at the present time 765 in this country is not the freedom of the Press but the freedom of those individuals who edit the various national daily newspapers. It is the editors who have the freedom, not the Press organisation comprising journalists, compositors, graphic artists, mechanics and all the rest. They are the people who have the freedom, and what bothers me, and what I think disturbs many of my noble friends, is that this freedom, particularly since the war, has become progressively abused.
There was a time when comment was supposed to be free but when fact was sacred. I believe these were the principles which animated the late C. P. Scott of what was then called the Manchester Guardian. No one who has read the Press to any extent over the last thirty years can fail almost to despair of the way in which this dictum has degenerated, so that today fact has almost become inseparable from comment and comment from fact. This has given the editors of the national newspapers a licence which they now take for granted.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for intervening, as one who has worked for many years on the Guardian let me tell him that comment and fact were always mixed together. Fact was sacred but very often it appeared in a cocoon of comment.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's intervention, but perhaps I could elaborate my point a little better by referring to the rough draft of a charter which has been prepared by Mr. Alastair Hetherington, the editor of the Guardian, as incorporating those ideals which were inspired by the late C. P. Scott, in which Mr. Hetherington invites his co-editors and co-members of the NUJ to agree. He says:We believe that news must not be distorted, suppressed or censored and that comment ought to be fair and based on accurate facts. We accept that opinions and conjecture ought not to be presented as established fact and that it is wrong to falsify by selection or misrepresentation ".Anybody who can read that and agree with it and pretend that the editors of our great national newspapers during the last thirty years have followed, or permitted to be followed, the ideals that are put forward in this charter must, I suggest with the greatest possible respect, need to 766 have their brains examined because quite the reverse is true. Noble Lords opposite are quite accustomed to the support of the Conservative Press. They have had it for so long now that it has become a fact of life. We on the Labour Benches are now almost resigned to acceptance of the fact that most of the national daily newspapers will be edited by people who will always support the Tory cause. Of this there cannot be overmuch complaint. On the Labour Benches, it is not our complaint that we are outnumbered in comment and opinion. We are quite content with that. But what we are not content with, and what the country will not for long be content with, are situations where the Press has suborned and suppressed facts, and where facts are distorted until —
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, I am wondering whether the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, would pay some attention to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, that we should stick to the Bill.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I must be allowed to conduct my speech in my own way. I am only too sorry that it has caused some discomfiture to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, it causes me no discomfiture at all, but this House is working under very considerable disadvantages on this Bill, for which the noble Lord the Leader of the House has already apologised. There have been appeals from the noble Lords, the Leader of the House and Lord Jacques, and now we are having a long disquisition on the behaviour of editors of national newspapers which has nothing whatever to do with the contents of this Bill. I only ask the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington to have some consideration for his fellow Members in this House.
§ Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE
My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord will forgive me, many noble Lords have today discussed the behaviour of editors and the whole effect of the Bill on editors. I do not think that my noble friend is out of order. I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord in 767 pleading for brevity, but I think his attack was rather unfair.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, may I say this to the noble Baroness. I was only asking the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, to pay some attention to her colleague sitting on her right-hand. This has been a most unfortunate debate; it has been badly mismanaged by the Government Front Bench, and we now are being subjected to discursive speeches which are in order, but are subjecting the House to considerable inconvenience. If this is the way the business of the House is to be carried on, I can only say that it will not inure to its greater credit. There we have the Chief Whip and the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, taking diametrically opposite views. I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, instead of giving us a long lecture on the state of the Press, to talk about the Bill which we are supposed to be discussing, at not inordinate length.
§ Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE
My Lords, it ill becomes the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, to take advantage of the generosity of my noble friend the Leader of the House in apologising for the general inconvenience, to attack my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington gets up again, may I say that there are several editors here present under whom my noble friend has written his thesis. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who waved me aside with the arrogance of the intellectuals which Aneurin Bevan once warned me against, I just want to know which of the editors behaved to him in the way he is now speaking about.
§ Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON— resume the speech that I was making when the noble and learned Lord intervened. I am sorry that the remarks I 768 ventured to address to your Lordships did not find favour with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. I am very glad to note that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is still with us, because I should like him to clarify a point if he will, if necessary by intervention. He said that in his view the newspaper proprietors and the newspaper editors would join together with the NUJ in agreeing a charter. If it be that the parties can get together with the editors and with the NUJ, and possibly also with representatives of the proprietors, and if a charter can be agreed—even though it may not initially have the force of law— then this may well help to ease the problem at the present time.
§ We are concerned with freedom. I am just as much concerned with freedom as is my noble friend Lord George-Brown or the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone. The question is: how to achieve it. I do not think that the instances quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, this evening have any particular bearing on this problem. After all, they occurred under the existing law, before this new law had come into operation at all, so I do not think the answer lies there. I think we ought to give this Bill—
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, invited me to intervene. It is clear that intellectual arrogance is not a quality that makes for clarity. I was not able to explain that we are only too pleased to have a charter if it has legal efficacy. As to the episodes taking place under existing law, under existing law they took place and were driven off. Under the new law they will take place and will not be able to be driven off.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, that is entirely a matter for conjecture. I said in my initial remarks that I would not detain your Lordships long. If your Lordships will permit me, I wish to reserve my right to intervene, perhaps more fully, when this matter is raised again on the Committee stage. May I assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, that the question of the freedom of the Press and of the editors, which I have raised this afternoon, will be raised again on that occasion with even more documentation.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, I will not follow my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington, except to join him in threatening your Lordships with interventions at the Committee stage of this Bill, nor will I follow the noble Lord, Lord Hankey. I will join with my noble friend Lord Ardwick in the confessional. My intervention tonight is inspired by the fact that I am at all times required to defend the principle of the freedom of the Press and other media in relation to the collection of information and the expression of comment and criticism. I shall strive to eliminate distortion, news suppression and censorship. That is what is required of me as a member of the National Union of Journalists. I think noble Lords will join me in my surprise that an organisation which can have such a declaration in its cede of conduct has produced the one identified hobgoblin in this discussion today.
My Lords, I join in the debate at this late hour having discarded the speech I intended to make because of my position in the batting order and in deference to the clock. But there are one or two things which must be said to dispel misconceptions which your Lordships may have had from earlier speeches. I do not think for one moment that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, was at fault in pointing out that on the agenda of the NUJ annual meeting of this year there is a further demand for a 100 per cent. closed shop, and so on. But what he did not point out, and I think in fairness he should, was that the NUJ itself, which I admit has been going through a pretty erratic period, has four or five resolutions on the agenda calling for a restoration of associate membership, which excludes editors from the disciplines of the NUJ and the closed shop, a move which I hope succeeds. At least it is a move in the right direction, away from the years in which we have been troubled with the kind of terrorism in certain offices to which Lord Goodman has referred. I welcome Lord Goodman back after his defeat in the columns of The Times. I regard his intervention as one of the many adventures which we may perhaps expect in the field of polemics.
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords. I am sorry the noble Lord is unable to identify his opponents. But, frankly, in the course of his remarks he spoke of the gravest danger he saw, which was the exclusion of specialist writers and so on, and he introduced exhibit No. 1 to prove his case. I am not going to excuse or explain, because I do not know what happened on that occasion. All I can say is that, so far as I understand what my union is up to, it cannot occur again. The one man who has the authority to speak for the union, the man who has shown tremendous generosity of spirit in this dispute, the General Secretary, said this —and he was referring to certain contentions in the pamphlet produced by Hetherington, Astor and Hamilton:The other main fear is that village correspondents will be barred, and politicians and other specialists will be stopped from writing specialist articles for newspapers. They will not, at any rate, by the NUJ.Your Lordships may not think that satisfactory, but what more do you want? That is a declaration by the chief official of the NUJ.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, I think the noble Lord must be honest. How much weight does a declaration by Mr. Morgan carry with the NUJ? I think many of us know that he is under very great pressure. Some other fellows in the NUJ carry a lot more weight. Should not my noble friend come clean on that?
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, I deny that anybody in the NUJ carries more weight than the General Secretary, and every trade union official in this House will recognise that the General Secretary is the repository of the power of the union until a national conference.
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, the noble Lord will have an opportunity to intervene later, and I hope that he will reserve his comments until then. I am sure the whole House agrees with me in that suggestion.
771 We have been talking with some frivolity, but generally with great seriousness about a thing called the freedom of the Press. The freedom of the Press is a splendid, blessed phrase. In Fleet Street itself it is used with a certain reticence. Its interpretation, I must say, varies from office to office. There is an entirely different definition of the freedom of the Press in the News of the World from that in The Times. Journalists themselves regard it with a certain reticence, as they would a personal religion. But, by and large, there is a general belief that ""freedom of the Press" means freedom of access to sources of news and freedom to publish without vexatious legal hindrance and obstruction. As a matter of fact, freedom through the recent history has found as its enemies not only legislators but lawyers themselves. This has been the case from John Wilkes to Harold Evans. I hope Lord Goodman's intervention tonight as a champion of the freedom of the Press is an act of contrition for his profession's actions in the past. However, whatever we say about that particular aspect of the freedom of the Press, surely we are all united in paying at least verbal homage to the concept.
Where I find it so distressing is that somehow or other, owing to misconceptions, the present proposals in this Bill are regarded as a threat to freedom because they may interfere with the freedom of editors. My noble friend Lord Ardwick has expatiated at length on the position of a modern editor in his office. Most of his time is spent in consultation with his fellow, hand-picked journalists, a hand-picked staff, and often his conclusions are tempered by what they have to say. He is a chief among equals. He is, as it were, the player-manager, who perhaps may not be the most brilliant player on the field, may not be the highest paid, but is responsible for strategy; and, of course, the frequency of his exits is comparable with those of the football managers themselves. But it is now suggested by those who oppose this particular clause in this Bill that he is to be subject to being sent off the field by the very men he is playing with, his fellow players. This will not do.
I think that we have perhaps served this House ill, and Parliament ill, by our 772 concentration on the effect on newspapers of this provision in the Bill. One has the feeling that in some cases this defence of freedom of the Press is a camouflage for a general dislike—I shall not put it higher, except in the case of some contributors to this debate—of strong unionism. It would be a great pity if this House spoiled what I believe, particularly in the time since I have been here—I cannot speak of what happened before—has been an impressive record of looking at subjects with complete objectivity, and attempting in the national interest to come to somewhat bipartisan decisions upon them. It would be a pity if it went out from this House that your Lordships were diametrically opposed to the closed shop, which, if we are not careful, is the impression this debate will give.
You can make what legislative provisions you will, it will not affect the number of closed shops which are created in Fleet Street or elsewhere. So whatever your fears—and I believe them to be unjustified—about the closed shop, it will not be affected by legislation.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, is my noble friend actually saying to us that no matter what the Parliamentary democracy of this country thinks, with his friends he is going to organise it differently? Does my noble friend understand quite what he is saying, that it is all moved outside democracy?
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, I have said nothing of the kind. What I have said, or implied, is that before the 1971 Act closed shops thrived. As was pointed out by my noble friend in his excellent maiden speech, 5 million people are in closed shops. I should say that most newspaper offices in this country are already closed shops. A tremendous number of newspaper offices are closed shops, but on the editorial side.
When there is a gesture promising to be as rewarding as that made by Alastair Hetherington in his possible charter for an agreement between the NUJ and all the other interested people, with some extraordinarily fine suggestions in it about how newspapers should be conducted, and which everybody is about to welcome as the way out of a difficult situation, what a pity it is that when they 773 got round a table together, as they did last Thursday, the only people prepared to go on discussing it with a view to a conclusion on principle were the NUJ, while the others laid down a kind of blackmail that they would not discuss this change, which could be the remedy for our ills, unless they got their own way over about four or five sentences in this Bill. I believe that the newspaper proprietors, who are so eloquently represented by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, must think again.
The fact that such a declaration will not have full, legalistic sanction, and will not be capable of complete enforcement in law, must not rule it out as useless. Declarations of faith are not useless. They may sometimes be in the eyes of too legalistically-minded people, but the Nicene Creed is a declaration of faith. So please, at this delicate stage in our discussions; here and inside the newspaper industry, do not let us say in advance that the actions upon which they are now embarked are going to be useless, so throwing away the good will of the one union which caters for 29,000 journalists.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, I shall be brief and speak only on general lines. I shall not try to undo all the nuts and bolts of the closed shop. First, I must congratulate my noble friend Lord Greene of Harrow Weald on his maiden speech. As a trade union leader he commanded my respect and admiration, and his experience will be an asset to this noble House. When this Labour Government promised to get rid of the 1971 Industrial Relations Act and then proceeded to exercise it, many of us who had fought so hard against it heaved a sigh of relief and satisfaction. However, since the question of Press freedom and the intention to make editors join a closed shop have been suggested, this idea has been introduced, it seems to me, to bedevil the argument about this Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill. I wish we did not use the phrase "freedom of the Press" but substituted "freedom of information" which is wider and includes all the freedoms of the media. In any discussion about freedom of information we do not speak of absolutes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, or of an immaculate conception of freedom.
774 I wish for a moment to dwell on freedom in democratic societies, as I have to discuss this subject in the United Nations and in one or two Human Rights Committees. Developing countries will not accept freedom. They talk about "development freedom". I am always challenged in those countries as to why we allow racialist groups to put out propaganda and why we do not ban them. I always say that we believe in freedom of speech so long as it does not incite us to violence. Neither the Fascist nor Communist Parties are banned in this country. I am rather soft-hearted about the idea of a free Press, even though a free Press is not always a fair Press, for our Press is a reflection of the society in which we live and our society is not always fair.
I sometimes wonder why I feel this freedom should not be trammelled in any way, because anyone who is married to a top politician has very mixed feelings about the Press and about journalists, editors and proprietors. There are many times when these feelings range from persecution through indignation to cynicism. But these personal reservations shrink when I meet delegates from certain other countries where freedom of information and of the Press is rejected utterly; and then my belief in our freedoms in the Press and media almost takes on a halo. I forget the character assassinations in which the Press and media indulge. I think only about the freedom to say what one thinks, to answer back, to give all points of view.
In one seminar I was asked why the British Press had gone in for character assassination of General Amin. I must exercise a little self-censorship and not give your Lordships my reply! It is because many of us fear a threat to this freedom to speak freely about anyone or anything from the Queen downwards —all of which I feel is the hallmark of a democracy—that we wonder about the National Union of Journalists' intentions, which are not clear to me. I feel that we need some safeguard, so that anyone can be allowed to print in newspapers any independent views which they hold.
Finally, it only needs one tyrant like Stalin to extinguish the human rights of a whole generation. I am sorry that the charter which was drawn up by Mr. 775 Hetherington was not accepted by the newspaper editors. Here I must say a word to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, with whose views I sympathise greatly. But I think he goes, perhaps, a little far when he insists upon a legal application of the code of practice, or the charter, or whatever it is they have in mind.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, the editors have not yet had this before them. Two editors went to the meeting but they were not delegates in any sense, and such action as they took was purely for themselves and other editors might have quite different views.
§ Several Noble Lords: Order!
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, I am sorry. I have practically reached the end of my speech. I was saying a word to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. I plead with him not to insist on the legal bits about the charter, because here is a case where the Government are very sympathetic. The Secretary of State has gone very far to meet them and it would be a great pity, as the leader in yesterday's Evening Standard said, if the employers did not grasp that opportunity.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, I shall also speak on the theme of the dangers to the Press, because I myself sometimes contribute to the Press as a freelance and I naturally, therefore, fear the Bill. I was rather amused to hear the noble Lord, Lord Castle, say that there was no danger from the NUJ because the General Secretary had given all sorts of guarantees. The General Secretary is, presumably, only a human being. He might be knocked over by a bus tomorrow and the next General Secretary might have different views. The only way we can be sure of keeping the freedom of the Press is by having it written down in law. We cannot rely on the niceness of the General Secretary.
My Lords, I must not detain the House but, to take up a point very aptly made 776 by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, regarding closed shops, I have had some experience of closed shops in manufacturing industry. Some employers are quite happy with a closed shop, because some of them will do anything for peace. However, whereas one might have a closed shop for making plastic ashtrays, one cannot have one when one is dealing with artistic or literary talent. Usually, such talent is inherited. This is an art, like painting. I would not compare it with politics, but it would be very difficult to have a closed shop in politics and, with due respect to him, I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Castle, that if the House of Lords were a closed shop he would not be here, or so I presume.
My Lords, I will not dwell on that, but I should just like to point out that in the Bill—and I shall stick to the Bill—under Clause l(a) and (e), the trade unions would be given power arbitrarily to exclude or expel members and workers who had reasonable objections to joining a union would be given no rights. Before 1971, there were no such arbitrary powers and any worker victimised by a union closed shop could seek justice in the courts. I well remember speaking on the Rookes v. Barnard case and there were other cases before that. There was the case of Bonser v. Musicians' Union and one or two others.
Another reason why I object to the Bill is that it is one-sided. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. For instance, employers who arbitrarily sack employees can be taken before an industrial tribunal. The industrial tribunal that the Secretary of State is proposing to set up under the Bill can hardly be called unbiased. A closed shop union which expels a member and thereby puts him out of work cannot be taken to any court. Why, then, should it be possible to take an employer to court? This seems to be one law for the closed shop and one for the employer. Neither will an expelled member be able to put his case before any court, once this Bill becomes law. I could quote the relevant parts of the 1974 Act on this point, but I will not delay the House.
I wish to explore a novel aspect of the Bill which has not been mentioned so far. I draw the attention of your Lord- 777 ships to the fact that this measure is a violation of Article 20 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees everyone freedom to join or not to join an association. With 1he exception of the Communist States, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, all members of the UN voted for that Resolution. If the Bill goes through unamended and an NUJ closed shop comes about—I agree that under the Bill it need not come about, but equally it would be perfectly lawful for it to occur—there will be gross interference with the independence of the reading public who will be denied the opportunity of enjoying the many freelance articles (I do not include those written by myself) from well-informed sources on every subject under the sun. I understand that about 60 per cent. of the news copy for some newspapers comes from outside contributors. Might not this affect readers' letters? I understand that the Daily Herald collapsed chiefly because it would employ only members of the NUJ and had no outside contributors.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I never read the horoscopes and I do not believe in them. The Secretary of State does not appear to take the militancy of the NUJ seriously. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Castle, who mentioned a pamphlet which I, too, have been sent. It says that the new militancy in the NUJ was demonstrated at last year's annual delegates meeting which instructed the executive committee, the NEC, in these terms:ADM instructs the NEC to launch an immediate campaign for a 100 per cent union shop covering all journalistic jobs, any work performed by non-union members to be blacked and the full backing of the print unions to be sought for any such blacking.That official policy was put into practice during the recent pay dispute in the regions and the London suburbs between the NUJ and the provincial proprietors' association, the Newspaper Society. There is the answer. The NUJ intend to have a complete closed shop.
It is perfectly true, as several noble Lords have said, that if the union has 778 that, outside contributors will be unable to have their material printed. It might be asked: why can those contributors not join the NUJ? But they are not allowed to join unless they receive the greater part of their income—I cannot remember the exact percentage—from the contributions they write. Furthermore, there are many writers who would not wish to join the union, because they would feel inhibited about expressing certain opinions. We must therefore have safeguards written into the Bill for outside contributors and to protect the reading public, so as to ensure that there is the widest possible dissemination of unslanted news, ideas and knowledge.
I will end my speech within the next two minutes or so, but I should like to remind the House that shortly after the First World War all the newspapers in Canada went out of circulation, because the unions broke them. Canada was, I understand, without newspapers—apart from a Government news sheet—for two to three months. We do not want that to happen in this country. I admit that such a prospect may seem far-fetched, but if we do not protect the freedom of editors and the Press generally by the law, it could well happen here. I also have in mind what was laid down in the 1965 Act regarding monopolies and mergers. It was quite rightly said to be an intolerable evil to give monopoly control of the Press to one proprietor. Would it not be as great an evil to give control, or potential control, of the Press to one union? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I deplore the implications of the Bill, and I hope that your Lordships' House will amend it in order to protect the essential freedom. If the House of Lords cannot protect the essential freedoms in this country, then there is no point in having a House of Lords.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Lord STOW HILL
My Lords, I will do my best to be brief, and my task is made easier by the very accommodating opening of my noble friend Lord Shepherd when he initiated this debate. Anybody who has watched his public career over many years, as also the public career of Mr. Michael Foot, the Secretary of State, will know, without the least question, how passionately sincere both of them are in 779 the matter of the custody of the democratic freedoms, and I accept that at once. They have by their attitude amply demonstrated that that is the case. They have intimated that they are, in effect, ready to talk and to see whether or not some accommodation can be reached on the question of the freedom of the Press.
I cannot, however, proceed with my speech without complimenting the maiden speaker to whom we listened with such pleasure, the noble Lord, Lord Greene of Harrow Weald. When I hear such speeches I always feel, in a sense, an inferiority complex. The noble Lord spoke with such authority on a matter to which he has given a whole life of service —trade union relationships and the atmosphere of trade unions. I wish I knew one-fiftieth of what he obviously knows about it. His speech was extremely valuable, and we will all take great pleasure in listening to him again.
My Lords, my anxiety is that over a period of time—I do not say six months or a year, but perhaps five or ten years— this Bill, when it becomes law, may have a bad effect upon the readiness of the Press to speak freely without inhibition, not to pull its punches and to keep the reading public fully informed. That is my anxiety.
It is said that the National Union of Journalists has behaved well so far; we had closed shops before the 1971 Act; we have closed shops now, and there is no reason to think that they have done harm in that respect. I would say at the outset that I do not really think that that is the question. We are discussing a Bill which may, and I presume will, become an Act of Parliament, and it may stay on the Statute Book for years, long after those at present in charge of the affairs of the National Union of Journalists have been superseded by others, perhaps much less reasonable and restrained than they are. We have to look forward to the possible effect over the years on that priceless freedom, the freedom within certain accepted restraints to say and write what you think it is proper to say and write.
Since 1689, the Bill of Rights, and 1702, the Act of Settlement, we have recognised that it is essential for a healthy 780 and vigorous democracy that certain exercises of the faculty of speech are sacrosanct and are entitled to a special protection. We enjoy it in this House. The barrister speaking before a court has special protection which others do not have. People who do not have that protection are the journalists. A journalist does not enjoy immunity from libel actions and all the rest of it which those whom I have mentioned do enjoy. As long experience over the centuries has taught us, if our democracy is to remain vigorous, active and healthy those privileges, if I may so describe them, are of inestimable value.
I view with suspicion and apprehension provisions in legislation which may create, I think or at any rate fear, a long-term background of pressure limiting the complete freedom of the journalist to say what he thinks he ought to say. When we look at public figures, people who take part in public life, the reading public, the viewing public and the listening public like to be able to say to themselves, "We know the worst that can be said about them. Nothing has been hidden. If nothing worse can be said about Mr. X or Mrs. X than what has been said or published in the Press, we know how we can evaluate it." Public opinion on the whole is merciful and reasonable, and I always think that the journalist who is extravagant in his attacks on people does his own credibility much more harm than he does harm to the objects of his criticism.
But the journalist, I repeat, is unprotected. Mr. Michael Foot deployed the broad argument of the Government on this aspect of the matter in his speech on the Report stage of the Bill which we are now discussing. He took my noble friend Lord Goodman to task for asserting that the outside contributor would be prohibited access of the Press and pointed out, quite rightly, that as a matter of law the only persons to whom union membership agreement could apply were employees, and employees are defined in the Schedule to the 1974 Act as persons, in effect, serving under a contract of service. Clearly, those who are on the staff of a paper, the editors, the sub-editors, the editorial staff, the regular reporters, the regular writers and contributors would be within the scope of the word "employee". But if I may say so, I 781 thought that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, gave an ample answer when he produced before your Lordships a copy of the Financial Times which seemed to show that, whatever the legalistic result of it was, the actual pressure extended far beyond the four corners of what is authorised by the 1974 Act in the form of union membership agreement.
I do not discuss that because it seems to me that the long-term situation is far more important in this context. I try to put myself in the position of a journalist, say, between 30 and 40, with a young family dependent upon him. He is paying his mortgage on his house and he has the usual calls on his budget as we all do, and the more so in an inflationary situation. Journalism is an honourable profession. It is the duty of the journalist, one which he accepts when he enters upon that profession, not to pull his punches; to write fearlessly subject to reasonable restraints that which he thinks; to record contemporary events and matters of public interest as he sees them; to criticise when he thinks necessary and to contribute his own comments. They may be valuable or they may be valueless; but that is his duty, and that occupation involves hazards. It involves the risk that you will make yourself thoroughly unpopular in various quarters when you express views which are resented in those quarters. You cannot be everybody's friend; you will become somebody's enemy, and that person will "have it in" for you. That is a risk of the profession. It is a risk of which the journalist knows and which he undertakes, and a risk which he honourably faces.
We have a magnificent Press in our country. Obviously, it has defects, as has every human institution; but it serves the purpose of keeping the public enlightened and, together with speeches in Parliament and the other media, enables the public to form a reasonable judgment such as enables this country to come through crises which have overwhelmed regimes in other countries. That is something that we should be very careful to preserve. My Lords, I picture that journalist receiving the kind of friendly advice that he might receive from friends: "I should pipe down a bit, old chap, if I were you, on what you write. 782 You are upsetting some of your colleagues in the union." It is so easy for us to persuade ourselves that discretion is the better part of valour. There is such a temptation for a married man in that situation to start saying to himself, "I owe it to my family not to become too antagonistic and to get involved in enmities quite unnecessarily." There is a temptation which may influence a journalist over a number of years, unnoticeably. It is a danger which I think the journalist is exposed to in the closed shop from which he can be expelled if he infringes the rules of the union.
A union might have rules which, however worded, in effect require that members shall not act contrary to the interests of the union. If he is expelled because it is alleged by those who do not like him and want to edge him out that he has infringed against the rules, I suppose that he can go to the High Court and challenge the rules or say that his conduct has not affected the interest of the union; but, in practice, what journalist in that situation will be able to do that. He will have the strongest temptation to conform, to pull his punches, to be what they used to call in the United States some years ago "a regular guy". That is my apprehension. I may be wrong; but it is a risk we should guard against.
The Secretary of State for Employment. Mr. Michael Foot, for whom I profess a very great admiration and, I hope I may be allowed to say, affection, stated that, "after all, what were the Government doing other than just restoring the situation to what it was before the 1971 Act? That is an incomplete statement of the situation. What the Legislature now says in the Schedule to the 1974 Act is that the dismissal of an employeeshall be regarded as fair … if(a) it is the practice, in accordance with a union membership agreement, for all the employees of that employer … to belong to a specified … union …and,(b) the reason for the dismissal was that the employee was not a member of the specified union … or had refused or proposed to refuse to become or remain a member of that union …".For some reason which I have not discerned, the existing provision contained in Section 5(1), which provides that a mem- 783 ber shall not be excluded from membership or expelled from membership of a trade union or a branch or section of a trade union by way of arbitrary or unreasonable discrimination, is going to be repealed (if I read the situation correctly) by Clause 1(1) of the Bill we are now considering. I do not know why that should be so.
However, what seems to me the case is that it is no longer accurate to say, or not a complete statement of the situation to assert, that the Government are doing no more than going back to the pre-1971 situation. Here we now have the Legislature proclaiming, almost, that it is fair to dismiss somebody, although one may have nothing else against him, because he will not join a particular, specified union. It is almost saying to the employer: "Go ahead. So far as unfair dismissal proceedings are concerned, you may dismiss this man with impunity." Then the Secretary of State went on to assert that, so far as the editorial staff are concerned, who he accepted were employees within the meaning of the 1974 Act, they were amply safeguarded (if I understood his argument correctly, and if I misreport it I hope he will forgive me) by paragraph 32 of the Schedule to the 1974 Act (I believe he was referring to this provision) which provides that a union membership agreement is subject to negotiation and can be altered in scope by contractual agreement between the employer and the trade union.
I would submit that that is not an adequate precaution. The union may refuse to agree, and the employer may be put under pressure to agree to a union membership agreement which is not modified so as to exclude, say, the editor or sub-editor, the editorial staff or the professional journalist. So I would respectfully submit that that is not an adequate precaution. But I am greatly encouraged by what my noble friend Lord Shepherd stated about the attitude of the Government. I am not in the least surprised, because I am certain that Mr. Michael Foot would be anxious to do anything he could to obviate the least danger to the freedom of the Press, of which he is, after all, such an ornament, and was in his past career.
784 I want to make only one further comment. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, in his impressive speech, said that the code of conduct, if it were possible to negotiate one, should have legal force. My noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby pointed out that both in the 1971 Act and in the 1974 Act there was a provision that the code which is referred to in those two Acts should in a sense have legal force. In the 1974 Act it is contained in paragraph 3 of Schedule 1. The relevant wording is that the code of conduct "shall be admissible in evidence" and" shall be taken into account by the tribunal "—that is a reference to the Industrial Tribunal. Speaking for myself, I would rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and slightly disagree with my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, when Lord Houghton says that that formula would in his view (I think he said this) be adequate. I should have thought that if one were amending the Bill, one should have something a little more compulsive in it than that language. I was most interested to hear from my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby that he had formulated an Amendment which he had proposed. I myself think that the Bill should be a little strengthened. My Lords, I hope I have been brief. That is all I want to say and I hasten to sit down.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, having listened to the debate, may I intervene in order to ask my noble friends to realise that this Bill is not entitled "Journalists, for the better protection of" nor, "Editors, for the better protection of". It is entitled the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill. Apart from journalists, there are other members of trade unions. Some of us may be illiterate; we may be simply manual workers. However, some of us are included in a Bill which is entitled the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill.
Earlier in the day I had a slight brush with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who does not seem to be paying very much attention to the Bill, on the ground that he did not appear to think that what he was proposing to do had anything to do with the rest of us. At the risk of irritating the quasi journalists and the 785 quasi editors, of whom we have enormous numbers around here, may an ordinary transport worker like me—
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
No, my Lords, a real one, like the noble Lord, Lord Greene of Harrow Weald. But may I just say that if all the things which the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, the noble Lord, Lord Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, are claiming for this Bill were given to the rest of us, we would change the face of this Bill. I am bound to tell noble Lords that I see no reason at all why a fellow who just scribbles is entitled to special protection, which the chap who pulls the levers and decides where the train is to go, like my father who actually drove a Pierce Arrow lorry, does not have. To the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who has not done me the pleasure of coming to hear me, I must say that he has got it wrong. This is not a special protection for Fleet Street; it is something for all trade unionists. If the noble Lord gets his way, or if this Bill is passed, then all trade unionists, including the most illiterate among us, would claim the rights which are given under it.
Having said that to my absent friend, although he may read the report of my speech in the morning, may I turn to those of my noble friends who have been kind enough to stay. I find myself wondering into which debate I am intruding. This Bill is called the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill. May I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, that giggling was never a replacement for argument. I have sat here for some hours and listened to certain people, who call themselves journalists, claiming special rights. I am a journalist, too. I write, too, and I ask myself what it is that they are claiming. They want the ability to tell the editor that in some circumstances they will allow him to employ somebody like me to write, but they will say, "You must work it out with Mr. Morgan"—or whoever Mr. Morgan's successor may be—" otherwise do not employ him ". My Lords, you would never allow the Transport and General Workers Union that right; you 786 would never allow the National Union of Railwaymen that right.
When I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Castle, an hour or two ago I understood exactly what this was about. It is an actual claim by some people to get their outfit organised, to tell the editor —or the proprietor—who he will allow to write in his pages that week. Tomorrow we are to have a debate on subversion and the two debates are not unrelated. If the noble Lord, Lord Castle, were to have his way, the NUJ, infiltrated by some fellows from outside, could shut —and here I speak particularly to my noble and learned friend Lord Stow Hill; they could not open but shut—the pages of the Press to those they say should not write.
I ask your Lordships to understand what is involved in this. We talk about democracy and we do not mean it at all. What we mean is the ability in the name of democracy to deny democracy. I would say to my noble friends—not the noble Baroness who is sitting there because she knows, as she has said tonight —some of us have had to fight and fight and fight again (if I may resurrect a phrase) to allow people to say what they want to say. This National Union of Journalists' argument will shut it to everybody. I want the freedom for my friends in the Transport and General Workers' Union to fight Jack Jones; I want freedom for my friends in the AEU to fight Hugh Scanlon, but, equally, and on the same terms (if the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, will forgive me) I want the freedom of the Press, not to fight the proprietors but to fight Lord Ardwick and Lord Castle who, if they had their way, would shut it against the rest of us.
We shall get to the "nitty gritty" (as the saying goes) of this Bill when we get to the Committee stage. I intervene at this late hour—having sat here and listened—just to warn my noble friends that I shall be here through the rest of the Bill and to ask the House to understand—and if I may through this House appeal to the people outside to understand—that there is a great battle for freedom here. For the one real freedom is not the freedom of a branch, the West Central Branch of the NUJ; it is not a 787 freedom for a handful of people who can manipulate a trade union branch meeting, just because they stay when all the rest have gone home. It is a battle for freedom for the rest of us. We are getting overwhelmed. So although I did not wholly approve of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, when he waved me aside about the Transport Workers' Union, 788 although I believe it applies to us as much as to the journalists, and although I myself would not give the Bill a Second Reading, I ask the House to give it a Second Reading. I hope the House will do it in the knowledge that some of us will fight for the freedom of ordinary people, not the freedom of organised branches of trade unions which have come under the control of a very few dedicated people.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord WIGODER
My Lords, almost everything that is original on this subject has been repeated many times over the last five years, both in your Lordships' House and in the other place. I doubt whether similar discussions have been taking place in the Parliaments of the other Western industrial nations, whose standards of living have so rapidly been overtaking ours. I doubt whether they have found it necessary to indulge in sterile arguments; year after year about the primitive and obsolete weapons of industrial warfare—the strikes, the lockouts, the pickets and closed shops. I do not believe that this Bill will contribute anything to solving the problems of our industrial expansion, our increased productivity or our increased efficiency. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, that the real issue raised in this Bill is one that concerns the freedom of the individual.
My Lords, two topics have been discussed this afternoon as though they were separate. I do not think they are separate; they are closely connected. The first topic discussed was that of the closed shop. It was conceded at once by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when the debate began, that the prime effect of this Bill is to facilitate the creation of closed shops. There is a clear division between the two sides of the House on this issue. Noble Lords on the Government side of the House have made it perfectly clear that they welcome that development, that they are enthusiastic about it and are prepared to minimise and tolerate any abuses that may result. Noble Lords on these Benches have made it, I hope, equally clear that although we are prepared to accept the closed shop as something so firmly embedded now in our industrial structure that it is quite idle to talk of uprooting it, nevertheless there is a real danger of abuses arising, and that it is the duty of your Lordships' House, and of Parliament as a whole, to seek to safeguard people against those abuses.
My Lords, it has become abundantly clear in the course of this debate that these abuses arise in two directions. They can affect the individual. They can affect his right to work; they can affect his livelihood if he comes to be expelled from a union which has a closed shop throughout an industry. Not only can 790 they affect the individual, but they can equally affect the right to existence of small unions, even if they have the effrontery not to belong to the TUC, who have every right to an independent existence. The prime function of this Bill is to give safeguards, included in Section 5 of the 1974 Act, against possible abuses.
What is now suggested is that instead of these safeguards, carefully worked out and agreed to by Parliament, there should be set up a committee to consist of three people, an independent chairman and two nominees of the TUC. Let me make it perfectly clear that I would accept at once that within the ranks of the TUC there is a large number of people, all with independence, all with impartiality and entirely capable of administering justice in dealing with complaints of that sort. But, my Lords, a litigant who is unsuccessful simply will not believe it. It is therefore, essential—and one of the matters to which I know your Lordships will wish to return at Committee stage— that a body should be set up to provide those safeguards, a body which not only is independent but which also gives the confidence to everyone that it is, in fact, acting wholly independently and free from outside pressures. That is one issue that has been debated tonight.
The other issue that has been debated, as though it were a separate issue, is the issue of the freedom of the Press. Again I respectfully agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown. The issue of the freedom of the Press is not a wholly separate issue; dangers that arise to the freedom of the Press are merely particular and, perhaps, rather more spectacular examples of the dangers that are inherent in any closed shop situation. I accept at once, of course, that there are abuses on the proprietorial side so far as the Press is concerned. I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, said about that. But I doubt whether it helps at this stage for the pot to start calling the kettle red. If I may, I propose instead to deal with the other side with which this Bill is, in fact, concerned.
We are dealing, in the case of the Press, with a particular union, the National Union of Journalists, the vast majority of whose members are beyond any question tolerant, sensible, intelligent, demo- 791 cratic people, and who are led by a General Secretary who is conspicuous for those qualities. But it is really not in dispute, when one looks back at the history of the last few months, that, equally, within that union there is an active militant and, indeed, revolutionary minority. It is against the possibility of abuse that we must now seek to legislate.
If there is a closed shop throughout the whole newspaper industry, what will happen? First, it will be clear that outside contributors will find their freedom threatened, and I have found no answer to that tonight in the arguments of noble Lords on the Government Benches. Secondly, it becomes perfectly clear that the very existence of that comparatively small body the Institute of Journalists, will be threatened. Why should they be? Why should they not be allowed to exist if they wish to? Why should they be subject to the threat of industrial action by the National Union of Journalists in a situation where we have to recognise that the newspaper proprietors arc really in no condition to withstand any threat of such action.
Thirdly, inevitably if there is a closed shop on that scale throughout the whole industry, and editors are compelled to join that union, there is the danger—I put it no higher than that—of pressure being put upon those editors. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when he opened the debate, said that it would always be open to the editors of they were members of the union to take part in the union's discussions. So it would, but, in the meantime, who is to produce the newspapers? Really editors have better things to do than to be compelled to attend chapel meetings at whatever hour it may be of the day or night.
In those circumstances it is not unnatural that the tempting suggestion should be put forward that there should be some form of charter to safeguard the freedom of the Press. Clearly that is in certain circumstances likely to be acceptable to both sides of that industry. But I hope that I might ask the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, one very simple question, and really it can be answered, Yes or No: is it proposed that this charter should be more, or less, enforceable than the Social Contract? I ask the 792 question in all seriousness, because it is really not possible to continue to govern this country on the basis of agreements which are wholly unenforceable, because nobody is able to determine the terms with such precision as to know whether or not they have been broken. For that reason, I venture to suggest that there is something in the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, this evening, to the effect that a charter of this kind can be effective but will only be so provided there is backing which will enable it to be enforced.
The last observation I would make tonight is one that follows again upon a quotation that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, began. When the Secretary of State in another place was interrupted in the middle of his peroration he had got to the stage of saying:If by any mischief those there "—your Lordships will appreciate that it is your Lordships who are being referred to by the expression "those there"—imagine that they should poke their lordly noses into this matter"—.The threat remained unfinished because the Secretary of State was interrupted at that stage.
Whatever the threat was, I am bound to say that my noble friends and I on these Benches are not exactly quaking in our shoes. We regard the issues raised by this Bill as being issues which it is the duty of your Lordships' House to deal with firmly according to its convictions. We believe that there is a duty on your Lordships' House to assist here to protect the liberties of the individual, to assist the small battalions, and to help to preserve the freedom of the Press. When the Committee stage of this Bill arrives, those of us on these Benches will do our best to fulfil that duty.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, with the exception of the brilliant speech, if he will allow me to say so, of my noble friend Lord Gowrie when he opened from this side of the House, and the notable speech from my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the speech also which I enjoyed listening to from my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, the critics of this Bill do not mainly come 793 from the Conservative Party: they come from the Cross-Benches, they come from the Liberal Benches, they come from the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, and the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, from the Labour Benches, and I thought that I detected a note of criticism even in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. If I have misjudged her, I immediately apologise. I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Greene of Harrow Weald. I was called out by the Leader of the House just as I was settling down to enjoy his maiden speech. Therefore, I can only say that I enjoyed the exordium, and I shall look forward, as I have no doubt will all noble Lords who were here and more fortunate than I, to hearing him again. I must also apologise for the same reason to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for not having stayed through his speech. However, I have a fairly full note of it, which I certainly admired.
At this extremely late hour I shall, if I may, try to confine myself to the content of this Bill, and to judge it according to certain criteria. It is a Bill which repeals Section 5 of the principal Act; that is to say, it repeals the provision in the principal Act that workers should not be unreasonably excluded, or expelled, from a union. In closed shop context, that is the repeal of a provision which prevents people unreasonably from being deprived of their livelihood, and unreasonably from being able to appeal to an industrial tribunal which is one of the courts of the land That is the first thing this Bill does. No one from the Government Benches has sought to defend that.
The next thing the Bill does is to repeal Section 6 which makes certain provisions regarding the rules of trade unions and provides that there should be no control by the Registrar of the rules of the trade union. So the second thing the Bill does is to repeal Section 6, which says that the rules of the trade unions should conform with natural justice. So this is a Bill to legalise rules which do not conform with natural justice, and also to ensure that there is no sanction to ensure natural justice in the rules. Nobody has endeavoured to defend that provision. Nor has anybody from the Government Benches said a word to suggest that there was any particular feature of the other rules which offended 794 their particular views about union organisation.
It is a Bill under (e) to ensure that if a person on reasonable grounds refuses to join a particular union in closed shop context he should be dismissed without compensation. It is not a Bill to legalise the closed shop; that has already been done. It is a Bill to deprive of compensation somebody who on reasonable grounds refuses to join the particular union. No one has sought to justify that. Again, it is a Bill to enable people in this country to strike to the detriment of this country in support of disputes outside this country, glorifying the political strike and using the suffering of the people of this country as a means of doing it. Nobody has sought to justify that. That is what this Bill is doing, and of course if we were not to consider the lesser of two evils, as is sometimes the course which we have to follow, this is a Bill which ought never to receive a Second Reading in any civilised House of Parliament. That is where we stand at the moment I am glad to see the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack. I am not surprised that he played no part in our deliberations.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord give way? I shall certainly take some part at the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, I shall be interested to see which proposals in the Bill the noble and learned Lord seeks to defend, because I wish now, in his hearing, to measure the things which I have described against the provision of the universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which this country set its hand in the aftermath of the war under the leadership of a Labour Prime Minister in 1948—a better Prime Minister than we have now. In the hearing of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I want to examine the provisions which I have described against the desirability of maintaining the rule of law. The targets of the Bill do not strengthen the unions against their employers. No one has suggested that. The targets of the Bill do not even strengthen the unions against the Government. No one has suggested 795 that. It is the individual, the minority, the unprotected, the unorganised—these are the people from whom the Bill withdraws protection; and to the organised unions of this country it gives the power to oppress them in the circumstances which I have described. That is what the Bill does. I thought that my noble friend Lord Gowrie struck exactly the right note at the outset of the debate, when he said that the Government had missed an opportunity of taking labour relations right out of Party politics by leaving the 1974 status quo exactly where it stood. I thought he was quite right. To what kind of labour relations will the provisions in the Bill which I have described give any improvement? The noble Lord knows perfectly well that labour relations have not improved since the repeal of the Act of 1971. But this is not an Act for the repeal of the provisions of 1971; this is a withdrawal of protection from the individual, the unorganised and the minority.
My Lords, let us look at the first of the provisions which I have described; that is, that part of the Bill which will legalise the unreasonable expulsion or exclusion of a member of a union, or a person who applies for membership of a union in a closed shop context. The universal Declaration of Human Rights to which this country has set its hand, and to which the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, is as much morally committed as I am, says two things: first, it says that no one may be compelled to belong to an association. That is Article 20(2). It also says that everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunal. But here we have a Bill which is designed to compel people to belong to an association and which repeals the provision which safeguards them from going to the industrial tribunal.
It proposes a private court not suggested or provided for in the Bill, but which will be provided under some future dictate of the Trades Union Council which will propose a tribunal of its own constitution. My Lords, we do not even allow Ministers to appoint the chairmen of their own tribunals. That is why the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is given the prerogative of patronage in such cases to ensure the independence of the chairmen. In defiance of Articles 796 8 and 20(2) of the Declaration of Human Rights, people are to be compelled to join an association and the right of appeal to the tribunals of the land guaranteed by Article 8 is being taken away.
My Lords, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, but some people, apparently, are to have more right to freedom and expression than others. The right I am quoting is from Article 19 of the Declaration of Human Rights, to which a Labour Prime Minister set this country's hand and honour. But of course the National Union of Journalists has declared that its policy is to stop outside contributions. What is the value of freedom of expression if the only freedom of expression that one possesses is a freedom in which one cannot appeal through the media, one cannot broadcast on the radio or the television and one cannot write the odd article as an outside contributor to the newspapers?
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord would care to say from where he gets his information that that is the policy of the NUJ?
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, that has been referred to more than once in this debate, but I will give my own piece of reminiscence. When I was much younger the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and I belonged to a debating society. It was formed on the lines of a model parliament in the institution founded by my grandfather, the Polytechnic, and I well remember the Leader of the Labour Party saying in that debating society—this was more than 40 years ago—how the NUJ, of which he was proud to be a member, was determined to limit the right of outside contributors. That has been their attitude ever since, and it has been established in this debate more than once, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, from the Cross-Benches underlined part of the very point I am seeking to make.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, I suggest that the noble and learned Lord is under a misapprehension about the policy of the NUJ. It is true that one of its branches has a resolution to that effect which will come up in April at the annual conference, but I do not know of any 797 decision to prevent outsiders from writing for newspapers.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, I must not quote from the Hansard of another place. If the noble Lord will refer to the Official Report of the other place for 3rd December, 1974, column 1419, and also to the references in this House, he will find that he is not altogether right in what he has just said. What we are discussing is not what they actually want to do, but what it has become legal to enable them to do. The question that we have to decide as a matter of policy is whether the law has not, perhaps, some part to play in the protection of these human rights. I must tell the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that many of these rights—not all but many—are enshrined in the European Convention and are enforceable against this country before the European Court. Only this week there was a decision which stated that the policy of this country had infringed that Convention. I should not be surprised— and I add that I should not be sorry— if some of these provisions did not in time come before the European Court.
Perhaps the learned Attorney General will be disposed to argue that a man who is unreasonably compelled to join an association should be dismissed without compensation, without recourse to law, but Article 8 of the Declaration of Human Rights—and I think that this is infringed in the European Convention—says that everyone has a right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law. Is it not a good thing that there are international bodies supervising the activities of Governments who introduce Bills of this kind and then tell the Second House of Parliament not to poke their lordly noses into it? I wish I could share the encomiums heaped on the Secretary of State, but I cannot. I have never forgotten the day when Mr. Michael Foot tried to use the brutal machinery of the contempt procedure against Mr. Ian Macleod when he was editing The Spectator. I had the honour to speak against him. I had the honour to vote against him. I have never known him protect the rights of those with whom he does not agree, and I do not regard 798 him as a friend of liberty. I can only say that I have known him as long as some noble Lords and I do not regard him as a friend of liberty, nor do I regard the Labour Party as friends of liberty. They can never make up their minds whether they want freedom for everybody or simply for those who agree with them; and this Bill, which has been generated below out of malice and spite, has received no measure of defence whatsoever from those whose duty it is to defend it
We shall have a Committee stage. We shall discuss these various proposals one by one, and we shall see whether a better defence of them is made then than has been offered to your Lordships this evening.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Lord JACQUES
My Lords, I should first like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Greene of Harrow Weald. He made the kind of speech I would have expected from Sid Greene, and I hope we shall hear that kind of speech many times in the years to corns. I am going to speak from experience, rather than from legal or technical knowledge. During the whole of my working life I have worked in a closed shop in different parts of the country, and in the past 20 years I managed a business which had a work force of 5,000 and had a closed shop in every department. I therefore know something about the closed shop. The only problem arising out of the closed shop that I ever had to deal with in the whole of that 20 years was the failure of a tiny minority of the workers to pay their contributions to the trade union. They allowed their membership to lapse. Most of that tiny minority wanted to get the benefits of the trade union without paying their share. There were a few, of course, who were a bit negligent, and a few who were financially embarrassed, due almost wholly to their own behaviour; but in those cases both the employer and the union showed very considerable leeway. They allowed them time in which to pay up their arrears.
799 I never at any time came across a case of unreasonable expulsions or exclusion, and these closed shops covered several different kinds of trades, including building and engineering. My experience is supported by the researches of the Donovan Commission. The Donovan Commission reported that abuse of power by the trade unions in respect of membership was most uncommon. We have also the experience over a period of two years of the 1971 Act. That Act allowed complaints to be made to an industrial tribunal. The number of complaints taken against trade unions was less than 1 per cent. of the number taken against employers for unfair dismissal; and as to the cases upheld, the cases upheld against trade unions amounted to fewer than one-half of 1 per cent. of those upheld against employers. At the end of the two years there were altogether only 20 cases justified against trade unions, and in the majority of those cases the complainants were criticised for their conduct, especially their conduct in not using the established procedures before the appeal to the tribunal.
Then, since this House amended the 1974 Act, we have also had six months experience of the amended Act. There have so far been 11 cases for the tribunal; five have not yet been heard, four have been dismissed and two have been withdrawn. Not a single case has been upheld.
When we were discussing the 1974 Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said on 16th July 1974, that if there was only one case he had a right of defence.
§ Lord JACQUES
No, my Lords. I sat through this debate without interrupting a single noble Lord. I ask noble Lords opposite to give me the same chance to develop my own argument. If at the end of the day I have not answered all the questions, I will stand at this Dispatch Box and say, "Fire them at me and I will do my best to answer". The noble Baroness told us that if there was only one case there had to be some means by which he could defend himself. That is a principle which we accept absolutely, but we must also have regard to the proposition that he who uses a sledge-hammer 800 to put in a tack is likely to do a great deal more harm than good.
If there is one lesson which we should have learned in the last two and a half years it is this. If you give individuals the opportunity of appeal to a statutory tribunal with compensation at the end of the road, then many will take it regardless of the merits of their case, regardless of continuing the established procedures and will take it out to the end without attempting to reach any sort of agreement with the trade union. If, in addition to the compensation, you give people the opportunity of snubbing those with whom they have been working and with whom they have fallen out, that is even more the case. That is the lesson, which above all, we should have learned in the last two and a half years.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, as he now is, made one of his most sagacious speeches during the Committee stage. In particular, he said that dealing with the expulsion and exclusion disputes is a matter of wisdom rather than a matter of principle. That we would wholly accept. The principle is not in doubt, but carried to extreme it is not always workable. It is the Government's belief that the General Council of the Trades Union Congress has acted wisely not only in setting up the independent review committee as an appeal body, but in some of the incidental arrangements which it is proposing to make.
There has been some question about the word "independent". Let me explain that. It is intended that the two lay members shall be completely independent of the union which is affected. That is what is meant by "independent". We believe that they have been wise not merely in setting up this independent review committee but in the incidental arrangements; and, in particular, in agreeing that there should be consultation with the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Conciliation and Arbitration Service. We believe it is inconceivable that these three bodies should not agree on the personnel of the review committee, having regard to the number of people who would be eligible and available for this kind of duty.
Secondly, we believe that the General Council has been infinitely wise in decid- 801 ing that the chairman shall be a man with legal qualifications. We believe this will ensure that the procedure of the committee is in accordance with the principles of natural justice. Thirdly, we believe that the General Council has been wise in restricting the use of the Appeals Committee to those who have followed the full use of the unions' established procedures.
Fourthly—and this flows entirely and directly from my knowledge of industrial relations—it has been infinitely wise in stating that before the Review Committee decide about any recommendation at all. it will proceed by way of conciliation and agreement. That is what one has to do if one is to get good industrial relations. Fifthly, we believe it has been wise in restricting the whole procedure to the situation of the closed shop. After all, all the debates in Parliament and outside, last year and this, have shown that the concern is in relation to the closed shop which may involve a man whose livelihood is at stake. I believe that that is what Members of your Lordships' House had in mind when they suggested that there should be some appeal for the man excluded or expelled.
As to enforcement, I would point out that the Trades Union Council has for many years had disputes committees. It has proper procedures for seeing that the decisions of the committees are carried out; and we do not doubt that if over the years the TUC has been able to get the decisions on disputes committees implemented, they will be able to get the decisions of this dispute committee carried out. Furthermore, the Council has said clearly that it will be a clear responsibility on the part of the unions to act on the committee's recommendation, and in its opinion it is completely inconceivable that any union would flout the General Council's intention. We accept that.
I assume, and I hope I am right in doing so, that all sides of this House have a twin objective in mind. We all want to see justice for the individual, but at the same time we want to get that justice without disruptive industrial action which would frustrate and inconvenience the public and jeopardise our opportunity of delivering our exports. I say to the House that if one wants that twin 802 objective, this is the best way of achieving it.
I should like to comment on a question raised very early in the debate. It was pointed out that there could be conscientious objections as well as religious objections. I do not want to spar with the noble and learned Lord on legal matters; that is the last thing that I want to do. But my advice is that in the context of the closed shop, tribunals have been able to identify the conscientious objector only when he is a religious objector. I am given two cases to quote: Hynds v. Spiller-French Baking Limited and Woolam v. National Union of Insurance Workers.
I come now to the Press. I think we all want freedom of the Press; but, as the honourable Gentleman the Member for Rochdale, Mr. Cyril Smith, pointed out in another place, there is a great deal of difference between freedom of the Press and fairness of the Press. That has been reinforced tonight by my noble friend Lady Gaitskell. Our Press is ostensibly free; but it is by no means fair. What has not been said in either House—and it is something which I think should be said—is that some of the unfairness of the Press is accidental. It is in the very nature of journalism that words should be taken down as they are spoken, that words should be taken out of their context; that texts should be reduced for publication. All that has to be done at very great speed. It is in-evitable that there will be mistakes of judgment. It is inevitable that there will be some unfairness. We ought to concede that a good deal of the unfairness is not deliberate; it is accidental. But some of it is deliberate. A great deal of the unfairness is deliberate in regard to individuals, groups of individuals and institutions. The honourable Member for Rochdale gave some choice examples but I have not time to repeat them tonight.
We on this side of the House—and I suspect that we would be joined by Members on all sides—want not merely a free Press but a fair Press; and whatever we can do to get a free and fair Press we will do. But this Bill is not about freedom or fairness of the Press. This Bill is about the freedom of the workers in industry and commerce to negotiate the terms of their employment. The parties 803 can negotiate a "closed shop" if that is what both sides want and decide upon. They can decide that they are going to specify that some people, clearly denned, need not be members of the union which is a party to the "closed shop" but can be members of some other union—some other smaller professional unions that have been mentioned in this debate. The Bill goes on to say that parties can in fact exclude members of the staff completely, including, one would assume, editors; and, incidentally, any outside contributor to a newspaper, not being an employee, would automatically be excluded.
I recognise, however, that there is a genuine fear, and it would appear to be a genuine fear on all sides of the House, that these two freedoms might conflict: the freedom of the workers to negotiate the terms of their employment and the freedom of the Press. But I would emphasise that, while that fear is genuine, we should not let it cast a shadow over the whole of the Bill, because the number involved in respect of the Press is a very tiny majority of the workers who are covered—something like 25,000 against 5 million. We do not share the genuine fear which is felt by many people. Why do we not fear it? We point to the code of conduct of the National Union of Journalists itself. That code of conduct will not stand for interference with the freedom of the Press from any quarter whatever. We have also in mind that it was the National Union of Journalists that took the initiative in promoting the possibility of getting agreement to a Charter. We welcome, no matter how it might be criticised and no matter who might be critical of it, the work done by Mr. Hetherington, the editor of the Guardian, and the draft of a charter which he has prepared. It is our belief that that draft could be the basis of a charter for the whole of the industry.
Two noble Lords who spoke on that aspect were very helpful. First, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. He at least narrowed down the difference between the Government and the Cross-Benches, if he did not narrow down the differences between the Government and the Opposition. But Lord Goodman said in fairly specific terms that he would be happy if there could be a code of conduct, pro- 804 vided that it had legal backing. That narrows down the differences quite considerably. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that if he is prepared to put forward specific proposals, I believe that they will be considered by the Government. However, in considering them, the Government would have to have due regard to all the attendant difficulties that there might be in making it part of the Statute.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, may be influenced by the speech that was made a few minutes later by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who said that he wanted to follow the precedent of the 1971 Act and to have a code of practice—but in this particular case a code of practice which was restricted to the Press, a code of practice which could be used in evidence in the courts or in tribunals. The noble Lord went further. He wanted a code of practice which had some kind of Parliamentary approval. I believe that the Government would look sympathetically at a proposal of that kind. May I point out that we already have precedents for this. For example, I was a magistrate for 25 years and, as your Lordships know, the Highway Code is used in particular in the magistrates' court. I never knew a single case where a decision of the court was taken in such a way that the evidence of the Highway Code was in any way disregarded or belittled. Once the Highway Code was quoted, the bench sat up and took notice.
May I also point out that we have, for example, the fair wages clause in municipal contracts. I am advised by authority that the fair wages clause is not a matter of Statute; the fair wages clause is merely a matter of Parliamentary resolution; yet it is something which is taken notice of throughout the whole country. I believe, therefore, that we should not dismiss lightly the possibility of a code which can be used in evidence that has that kind of Parliamentary approval.
In conclusion, may I say that the Government are quite determined on two things. We are determined that we shall carry out our election pledge to repeal the 1971 Act. Secondly, we are determined that the freedom of the Press shall be protected from all quarters, and it is for that reason that we have set up the Royal Commission on the Press.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.