HL Deb 30 October 1975 vol 365 cc624-9

[Nos. 5 and 6]

Page 2, line 42, leave out ("industrial democracy in") and insert ("good industrial relations and the involvement of employees in the affairs of")

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

Because the Amendment would prevent the promotion of industrial democracy by the National Enterprise Board.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 5 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason numbered 6. This Amendment was rejected on a Division in the other place. It would have left out the words "industrial democracy". Reverting to what the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said at the beginning about the purposes of this House, I wish to point out to him that there is another purpose to which he did not refer; namely, the purpose of discussing, debating, amplifying and possibly clarifying, a concept; and I believe that a very useful purpose can be served there. Although in this case I invite the House to reinstate the words "industrial democracy", I cannot say that everyone is absolutely agreed as to what we mean by this concept: what it means; how it will work out, or how it will be achieved. This is a process which will go on. In the meantime, I hope that we can agree that the words should be included in the Bill.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 5 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 6.—(Lord Beswick.)


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said at the end of his few remarks. The fact is that we are not in the least opposed to the principle of participation in industry. All we were seeking to do in this instance was to get rather more definite words into the Bill. Throughout the discussions we have had—covering not only this Bill but also those Bills dealing with the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies—we have pointed out that we are considering a legal document which will become an Act of Parliament and will be subject to interpretation in the courts. We did not think that it was good legislation to put in such a vague term as "industrial democracy". The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, was the first person in this House to draw attention to the vagueness of the term and to the fact that it could be interpreted as leading to workers' control. Some of the debates that took place on this matter in another place made it quite clear that a number of members of the Party opposite meant just that by these words. We foresaw that danger, and that is why, in our Amendment, we sought to tighten up the definition.

I am sorry that we have not had more co-operation from the Government in trying to find a fuller and better description of what I think we are all desirous of achieving. I am also sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath, did not come into our debates, because I have since discovered that he is the deputy chairman of the Industrial Participation Association. I am astonished to find the amount already going on in industry within the field of participation. I believe it would be so much better if we could build on all that experience which already exists, and be sure that in interpreting what is now in the Bill we work with the maximum flexibility.

It will go a long way if the noble Lord is able to assure us that in interpreting this power to encourage industrial democracy the National Enterprise Board will work with maximum flexibility and will allow different firms to develop and to build upon what they have already done within their own firms along the way that suits them best, but in the general direction of what we all, I think, desire.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are some submissions made by the other side with which some of us—I can speak only for myself—have great sympathy, and that this is one of them? This subject of industrial democracy has been a subject of controversy for many long years. Indeed, even before the First World War it was debated, but then it was described as Syndicalism—workers'control; the workers not only participating in industry, whether privately-owned or nationally-owned, but exercising complete control. I have never at any time accepted that interpretation; neither do I now. I understand what participation means, and I think it is a very desirable objective. But if "industrial democracy" is interpreted by some people as meaning the exercise of control exclusively by those engaged in manual production, I reject it.

There is another reason why I object to it; that is, that if there is to be participation in industry by which it might be interpreted that the workers should exercise some measure of control, should be consulted, then obviously the consumer element in the country is also entitled to be consulted and to exercise a measure of control. Perhaps I could explain the matter in another form. When we speak of Socialism, what do we really mean? In so far as it relates to public ownership, we mean that the workers should exercise their discretion, should exercise some measure of control and should be fully informed about transactions undertaken by those in authority, but we also mean that the consumers should be consulted. That is what we mean, not only the producers but the consumers. That is my interpretation of industrial democracy; it sometimes happens that when Members of your Lordships' House on the Opposition Benches express an opinion which evokes a certain measure of sympathy, if not among all my colleagues at any rate among some of them, and particularly myself, then it makes it very difficult for us to decide what course of action to adopt.

I want to say only one further word. Of course, this is a revising assembly. It is also a forum for expressing opinion. That may be an opinion that is wholly, or at any rate partially, accepted by the public. There is no reason why it should not be expressed; nor is there any reason why the Government should not take note of those opinions when they are expressed, whether in this Assembly or outside. I say this only in order to suggest to my noble friend, for whom I have a great regard and who has a considerable understanding of these problems, that it must not always be assumed (I put it this way) that when the other side propose an Amendment affecting some piece of legislation it is not also accepted by some Members of your Lordships' House on the Government side.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said. It is quite true that over the past 60 years a great deal of thought has been put into this question of a move towards more industrial democracy. I have a great deal of sympathy with the aim, but one has to be very careful, and therefore experiments in this direction arc to be encouraged and welcomed to see what can be learned from them. There are dangers that one may think that just by the adoption of those two words, "industrial democracy", many difficulties can be smoothed away. If they can, well and good, but the mere adoption of a policy called industrial democracy will not solve many of these problems. I am very much in favour, as I have said, of experimentation and of seeing whether we can gradually work towards some advance in this field; but the criterion must be that, at the end of the day, or when the policies have been worked out, the concern in question should be in effect more efficient and not less efficient than it was to start with.


My Lords, while I have much sympathy with what my noble friend Lord Shinwell has said, I still feel that the words, "industrial democracy", though vague, can be potentially developed into something which is new; and the words which they replace could beread as very restrictive. Everybody wants good industrial relations; and as for the involvement of employees in the affairs of the firms by which they are employed, they could hardly be more involved in one sense than they arc at present, because their livelihood depends upon the affairs of the firms by which they are employed. Therefore, we are proposing to substitute a term which may take us forward for a phrase which is really static and does not mean anything new.


My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Shinwell, and particularly the point he has made about the consumers, because how can the phrase, "good industrial relations" be applied to the consumers? It cannot be applied to the consumers, so the new phrase which we have here is obviously much more pertinent and much more appropriate.


My Lords, may I again add a brief word here? The reason why I, at any rate, originally put down this Amendment concerning industrial democracy was because, as soon as I got to that point in the Bill, I immediately looked for a definition of it, as one generally does if one has read a Bill or two before, and of course I found none. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, may be right. This is what I think is called, grammatically, a proleptic use of the word. In other words, it is looking forward and does not discuss a concept which is fully formulated at the present time. In that sense I would not disagree with the noble Baroness. I would hope, as she would, that the development of industrial democracy would go the way that we want to see it go, and I think we would have a good deal in common as to the way in which we do want to see it go. For my part (I speak entirely for myself here) my objective would be that, so far as industrial democracy is concerned, it should be mainly on a unit basis—that is, it should be based on the firm or even the plant—and that the objectives should be that, while there are obviously distinctive interests within that firm, the firm itself should stand as one. You cannot have industrial democracy, you cannot have any kind of democracy, if you have several Governments at the same time. This must be the objective: that the firm should reach a common policy through participation and then stand as one vis-à-vis the Government and everybody else.


My Lords, I had not expected that I should be proven correct quite so completely and so soon when I said that the debate would go on, but I am certain that when the Bill goes on the Statute Book there will be a continuing discussion about this concept, problem or possibility. My noble friend Lord Shinwell asked me to accept that there may sometimes be an element of truth in what is said by noble Lords opposite. I hope that it becomes clear that I conceived that to be possible in the course of the debates we have had here. Of course, I accept it. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked whether I could give him some assurance about the National Enterprise Board and its attitude towards industrial democracy. I shall be most surprised and disappointed if the NEB attempt to impose some rigid pattern on all those companies for which it has responsibility. It will depend entirely on the human beings who happen to work within the particular company or industry.

On Question, Motion agreed to.