HL Deb 10 February 1976 vol 368 cc30-57

4.4 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, in reverting yet again to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, I begin to feel some sympathy with an actor who has a small part in the stage production of the Mousetrap, because all the arguments on these issues have been repeated over and over again in the other place and in your Lordships' House. It is hardly necessary to reiterate any of those this afternoon, except in so far as they are affected by the particular situation in which we come to consider this Bill; namely, that there is now in the background the possibility of the operation of the Parliament Acts. I suggest we do not regard that as a threat; those Acts are there to he operated if the need arises. It is wholly unnecessary to talk at any time in terms of confrontation, conflict or strife between the two Houses if we happen still to take a different view on any part of this Bill or of the suggested Amendments. It is encouraging at least to know the Government take the view that if the Parliament Acts are operated it will be because on this issue, if I may quote the words of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, The Government have a popular mandate. That is a conception I find not entirely in accord with the facts.

The Bill, as we know, endeavours to put the clock back some five years, so reverting to the position in relation to the closed shop as it was before 1971. It is not necessary to repeat much of what has been said on that issue, and my noble friends on these Benches have always made it clear that we view that situation with some anxiety. We accept, recognise and appreciate the attractions, particularly of a post-entry closed shop, to the trade unions, and of course also to many employers who find that it facilitates the processes of industrial bargaining. At the same time, we have felt considerable anxiety lest there is a possibility that power might be abused under those circumstances, and the individual—perhaps the awkward individual—might find himself suffering. That is particularly so where there is the possibility of a closed shop in a nationalised industry or monopolistic situation.

Therefore when this Bill was before your Lordships' House at an earlier stage, we on these Benches put down two Amendments, both of which were debated and carried in your Lordships' House. One was to provide that there should be a tribunal with an element of independence to which people who claimed to be victimised by the operation of closed shop legislation could appeal. The other was a similar Amendment to that to which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, referred, to extend the area of objection beyond that of religious objection to the grounds of conscience. Your Lordships' House carried both those Amendments, which went back to the other place where they were rejected. The Bill came back to your Lordships' House and the House assented to that rejection.

It would be open to us, feeling as strongly as we do about these matters, to put down similar Amendments at a later stage to this Bill. The noble Lord the Leader of the House indicated that that would be constitutionally proper, that we should be constitutionally within our rights to do so. I am bound to say, having considered the matter, that my noble friends and I have doubts about the wisdom of such a course. We believe that, although it may be proper, it would nevertheless not be in accord with the spirit of the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament that yet again Amendments should be tabled in your Lordships' House, when we have on a previous occasion acquiesced to their objection. That is the situation so far as the principal Bill is concerned.

The dangers of abuse of the closed shop situation are particularly evident when one comes to consider the Press. It is of course because of that that the Press charter Amendments became added to this particular Bill. Clearly, there are dangers to the freedom of the Press— something which is valuable, however often it may be abused—where the independence of editors may he at risk, where the rights of outside contributors may be limited, and where a valuable and useful union, such as the Institute of Journalists, might find its very existence at stake. It was in those circumstances that Press Amendments came into existence, because it was widely recognised that the newspaper industry is rather different from other industries in this country. It affects not the quantity of our standard of life but its quality. In setting out the Amendments and having the discussions that we did, we were not singling out the Press for criticism but instead we were paying everyone in the industry a tribute by recognising the very special part the industry plays within the community. This was not a new suggestion.

The noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, when he presided over the Royal Commission on the Press in 1962 reported, in relation to a different proposal, in these words: It may be said, and said truly, that the proposal involves treating the newspaper industry differently from industry in general. The answer is that the public interest in relation to the newspaper industry is different. The discrimination is based on the proposition that freedom and variety in the expression of opinion and presentation of news is an element which does not enter into the conduct of other competitive industries, and that it is of paramount public interest. It was because of the widely-recognised belief that that was so that many of your Lordships, and particularly the noble Lords, Lord Houghton of Sowerby and Lord Goodman, determined to sec whether the problems of the Press could be dealt with in this Bill. There was much debate and discussion, and it is as a result of that debate and discussion that these suggested Amendments now come before your Lordships' House. It is perhaps a little churlish and not very helpful of Mr. Foot not to recognise that your Lordships' House played a very substantial part in bringing about the present situation. When one comes to consider the Commons suggested Amendments, as they are entitled, one reaches the situation that as a result of the interchange of ideas between the two Houses a very substantial area of agreement has been reached. There is largely agreement about the content of the charter. There is a disagreement between the present proposals and those contained in the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, which suggests that the rights and duties under the charter should be more specifically written in there than they are in the rather loose wording of the Government's proposal. We on these Benches believe that is right, and we believe that the public interest in the matter is such that it would be far better to have those specific rights and duties written into the charter.

Equally, there has been some difference of opinion as to the extent to which the charter should be enforceable. It has been said that the argument is between those who believe that the law should have no part to play in trade union relations and those who believe that the law should dominate trade union relations. Neither of those attitudes has the slightest relationship to the reality of the situation that has developed. Again, as between the Government's proposals and those of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, there is much in common. It is now widely recognised that, of course, the Common Law of this country will have a part to play in the development of the charter and and its enforceability.

The matter was put at its clearest, perhaps, by the right honourable gentleman the Minister, Mr. Booth, when he said the following words at column 1430 of the Official Report on 21st January: In the first instance we sought to ensure that there will be matters for the industry, but where existing causes of action exist in which such matters are relevant, the existence of the charter should be recognised by those bodies and any decision of the supervisory body should also be quotable in such action. A moment or two later, at column 1438, Mr. Booth added these words: We are seeking to make quite clear, on the basis of law that already exists for specific purposes, just what the situation is. In cases of unfair dismissal, breaches of contract of employment and even where a union member is taken to court by his own union, we consider it appropriate that this provision may be quoted and referred to. We do not want to create any basis of legal action beyond that. That is our position. It has been made quite clear by the Government that the Common Law has a part to play when disputes arise as to the effectiveness or the working of the charter. All that the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, sought to do was to encourage and stimulate the Common Law to be active in those directions. It was not creating any new basis of statutory law whatsoever.

In this situation, when we reach the Commons suggested Amendments, your Lordships will have to consider what course should be taken. I have indicated that we do not believe, on these Benches, that it would be right to seek to amend the principal Bill, if I may so call it. When we come to the Commons Amendments the situation is different, because at this moment the two Houses have not agreed on the Amendments, in the form in which they come forward. It would therefore be open to your Lordships to consider, to discuss and indeed to pass one or both of what I might call "the Goodman Amendments", if we thought that would help. I venture to think that it would help, because last time, as we know, there were hurried all night discussions between the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and the Government, who we were led to believe were not a thousand miles away from reaching some form of agreement. If we were to put down those Amendments again at a later stage and if they were carried, the result would be that this matter would again be referred to the other place. The more important result would be not that the other place would have an opportunity of formally discussing the matter in the Chamber but that there would be a last opportunity of an informal discussion between those who were involved to see whether agreement could be reached.

Certainly, I have no doubt that the noble Lord the Leader of the House would agree that, if we were to pass such an Amendment, that would not in itself, so far as can be foreseen, amount to a rejection by this House, as a result of which Mr. Speaker would proceed at once to certify that the Parliament Act might operate. In those circumstances, there would be an opportunity for discussion. I would hope that is the course which your Lordships will take. I would hope it would be widely accepted that, if that course were taken, it would not be because your Lordships' House wished to flex its muscles or assert its independence, or to gain the transitory pleasure of defeating the Government on an issue of some importance. It would certainly not be with the object of causing any appreciable delay: that in itself is quite purposeless.

I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will find himself able to agree with two quite simple propositions. The first is that, in this matter of Press relationships and the conditions inside the newspaper industry, we are dealing with a very delicate, difficult and important area. The second consideration, which I venture to think is self-evident, is that if we can deal with that area with the agreement of both Houses, of the political Parties and of all the sections inside the newspaper industry, the prospects of success of the legislation we are about to enact will be immeasurably brighter.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, we all have the feeling that we have been here before, and now the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, is proposing that we should repeat what we have done before. It is a matter for regret that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, cannot be with us this afternoon, but he has had the advantage of being able to make his speech and have it reported in the columns of his own Hansard; for I see a letter in The Times newspaper this morning which tells us that but for his disabled foot he would have been here to say much the same thing as he has written in The Times. So I think we can assume that his letter represents his current point of view.

This is part of the aftermath of the 1971 Act. We must not overlook that fact. We are not considering this matter in an atmosphere entirely free either from history or from prejudice. I am sorry to harp on the fact that the 1971 Act did so much damage in the field of industrial relations and of the rights of trade unions that to get through this period without further damaging those relations is extremely difficult. I do not like this Bill. I do not like any Bill that has to do with trade unions, because, on the whole, it either restricts their activities or it perhaps gives them a licence which they should not have. But this Bill is necessary, because the Act of 1974 failed completely to clean the slate of the Act of 1971; and had there been no Act of 1971 there would have been no Bill today.

I have said repeatedly that the only reason why we are discussing this central feature of the closed shop in this House today is that this Bill, like its predecessor, the 1974 Act, has to deal with a situation related to compensation for unfair dismissal. Prior to 1971, there was no statutory provision for unfair dismissal. A worker had only the normal rights of compensation for wrongful dismissal at Common Law or for breach of contract. But the 1971 Act introduced this benefit of compensation, subject to the adjudication of an industrial tribunal, for unfair dismissal and it is only natural that when the present Government came to repeal the 1971 Act they felt they had to retain the provisions covering compensation for unfair dismissal. It is because of that that the 1974 Act had to try to deal with the question which arose: is dismissal in a closed shop situation unfair dismissal? The Bill before us now proposes to say, like the Act of 1974, that dismissal in a closed shop situation is not unfair dismissal. Nevertheless, Common Law rights, for what they are worth, still remain. That is the position and we have gone over it many times.

The problem of the Press arose because of certain signs of militancy and exclusiveness which were discernible in the activities of the National Union of Journalists, and it was pointed out at the time that, from the point of view of this Bill, the NUJ and the newspaper industry were in no different position from any other trade union and any other industry. But because the newspaper industry is related to the freedom of the Press, which is one of our cherished freedoms—often abused, I may say—we wanted to give especial care to the protection of the essential conditions of freedoms in that industry. That is why, when it appeared that the Press was becoming the issue arising from this Bill to the exculsion of all other industries and all other unions, it seemed to me that it was desirable to try to erect some special freedom within which Parliament could require the newspaper industry to function in regard to its industrial relations.

I must remind your Lordships that the Commons Amendments, which embody the so-called charter, require the newspaper industry and all concerned—and they are enumerated in the suggested Amendments from the Commons—to try to reach agreement on guidelines for the conduct of industrial relations, including the closed shop, in the industry within a period of 12 months, and, if they do agree, then that charter has to come before both Houses of Parliament. That, my Lords, is an unusual safeguard. If they reach agreement, when they are all happy, their agreement must come to both Houses of Parliament to see whether we are happy and whether the public interest is properly taken care of in an agreement which might otherwise tend to be a fix-up between unions and proprietors.

If at the end of 12 months there is failure to agree upon guidelines, then that failure must be reported to the Secretary of State, who must then try his own hand at formulating a charter which in his judgment would meet the situation or deal with any aspect of the charter upon which agreement has not been reached. Then, again, the proposed charter must come before both Houses of Parliament for approval to see whether the Secretary of State has got it right after his consultations, which are prescribed in form in the suggested Amendments from another place. That vests the final voice on this matter in both Houses of Parliament, whether there is agreement on guidelines or whether there is not, and it seems to me that that is an especial power to put in the hands of the Legislature on matters of industrial relations and it is this closed shop matter which is the central feature of our discussions and of our disputes.

The difference between the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and mew as that he wished to have specific stipulations as to what the charter should contain and he also wanted the sanctions of the law to be applied in certain circumstances of breach of the stipulated conditions. That meant bringing the law into the matter in positive form, and experience of the 1971 Act has surely shown how desirable it is to avoid bringing the law into this relationship between employers and employees. The trouble is that no one has yet discovered a way of fining 2,000 or 3,000 workers and getting the money from them. Nobody has yet discovered a way of sending 3,000 workers to prison without considerable political and industrial upheaval. Nobody has yet found a way of coercing workers to go to work when they feel that they should stay at home because they have a protest to make which they ought to express by staying away from work. None of these remedies has been found to be possible.

I well remember that at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party when we were discussing the White Paper In Place of Strife, and when a full explanation had been given of the possibility of the courts being brought into recovery of fines as a civil debt but with a full safeguard against any imprisonment for failure to pay, a member of the other place got up and said, "What are you going to do with the thousands of refrigerators that you will get as a result of distraints on workers' homes? How are you going to dispose of them? Will there be a gigantic auction of the consumer durables of the workers of Britain, because you cannot recover the fines from them in any other way?"

This is what makes an absurdity of the position which can arise if enforcement is attempted in a big way. Even if it is attempted in a small way, as it was in connection with the dock workers, one finds that it spreads and gets out of hand and that thousands of workers are going to stay away, notwithstanding the fact that one could scarcely call such strikes as being in pursuance of industrial disputes. Workers stay away, nevertheless. In the end one has to send messengers around to find the Official Solicitor to contrive some reason whereby these men can be released so that the strikers will go back to work.


My Lords, the noble Lord really must not reiterate what is untrue. No messengers were sent around on the occasion to which he refers. This has been said repeatedly. The Official Solicitor acted on his own initiative under his general remit.


All right. Your Lordships have had my version and also that of the noble and learned Lord.


My Lords, the noble Lord has made an assertion about an official which would have meant that he was grossly abusing his public position. The noble Lord cannot say, "All right". It is not all right. If he has evidence to support his assertion the noble Lord should bring it, otherwise he should retract his attack upon a public official.


My Lords, I know the Official Solicitor and I would not wish to say anything which was derogatory either to his dignity or to anything else. So all I will say is that he happened to be the right man in the right place at the right time who was doing the right thing, and that that overcame a serious political and industrial situation.

It seems to me that the practical issue before the House is whether the Bill will be better with or without the suggested Amendments from another place. That seems to me to be all that is worth talking about. Surely the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, does not think that we are going to resurrect Amendments, discussed at great length in this House earlier on, which have gone back to another place and which have been discussed there and rejected. That would be a futile exercise. Surely so many attempts have been made to find the formula upon which there can be general agreement that I fully endorse what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said in his speech: that the possibility of overcoming the final difficulties between us is very remote indeed.

I am never against any attempt being made to achieve even the impossible, but for practical purposes I do not think that we ought to consider that that is likely to be the way out. I believe that we have the duty to vote straight on whether to accept the suggested Amendments of another place or whether to let the Bill go forward without them. I think it would be a great shame if, in order to establish some kind of resistance to the view of another place, we rejected the suggested Amendments from another place and allowed the Bill to go forward without amendment. That would be a great pity because there is great hope from this charter, if it is approached in the spirit of good will by both sides of the industry.

I have already mentioned the safeguard of the approval of both Houses of Parliament to whatever is the outcome of the discussions between the parties concerned. I draw attention to the introduction of a new feature in the charter that was agreed to by the Minister at quite a late stage on the previous occasion; namely, subsection (5) which provides for an independent body—not a judicial but an independent body—to which can be referred all disputes and problems that arise from the interpretations of either the guidelines or the charter. They will not be able to make an award but they will be able to make a judgment, and they will be able to make their judgment publicly and to ensure that it is printed and available for all to see. In these days, surely the judgment of an independent body is worth something. Although it might not be regarded by some as equivalent to the force of law, I believe that in certain conditons it would have greater force than the force of law. It is much more likely to be respected. Certainly it is not likely to be resisted, as I believe would be the intervention of the courts.

I am always hopeful that common sense will prevail in any situation where the interests of both sides of industry are so deeply entrenched against obtaining agreement and co-operation as they are in the newspaper industry. It will not take very much to wreck Fleet Street. The workers must understand that as well as the employers. Notwithstanding the shadow of this Bill and the uncertainty of what is going to happen to it, discussions are going on at the present time between the unions and the employers to reach agreement on the use in the industry of new techniques, which are probably essential if newspapers are to survive. I hope, therefore, that upon that kind of co-operation can be built an accord which will lead to agreed guidelines.

My final comment is on the question of individual freedom. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, referred to this several times. I hope that I stand for as much individual freedom as most people, but one is bound to concede that living in any community in association with others and having to adjust oneself to living and working with others is hound to entail some pooling of liberty, some adjustment of one's individual liberty to the liberties and freedoms of others. It seems to me that it would be bad if we were to elevate individual freedom to the point of anarchy, to the point of insistence on individual rights, no matter what. That is not freedom; it is the abuse of it. Whether it is in the community of a town or village, or whether it is in the community of a trade union, there is bound to be some give and take in matters of freedom.

In this particular case the "give "has been given to those holding certain religious beliefs. I would have wished that the "give" should go to people who hold deeply-held personal convictions. But no matter. There is "give" there. But the "take" has to be that those who wish to work in harmony with their fellows and to be associated with collective action and common endeavour, must try to harmonise their desire for individual freedom with the wishes of those with whom they work in order to have the association of all their fellows in what they do.

Surely now, in present national difficulties, the one thing above all others which is needed is co-operation: not the exercise of individual or even collective anarchy, not the exercise of freedoms to the disadvantage of others, not the exercise of freedom to the disruption of industry, interference with production in the name of freedom. We want people to understand that those who have freedom have something to give and they can give it in co-operation with others and reclaim it at any time. That is the thing about freedom, that you can reclaim it at any time. Therefore I think noble Lords make a mistake if they are now going to preach the gospel of individual freedom as a matter paramount above all else in the whole field of social activity, trade union activity and personal freedom. I think this effort which the suggested Amendments from another place require the industry to make is worth while and I believe if we leave it alone the chances are that this kind of agreement that we all seek will come out of it—including the position of a minority union, which after all may loom large in the discussions that are taking place—and at the end of the day we may feel satisfied with what we have done. But if we go on I fear that we shall not only make it an issue between this House and another place but shall have disturbed the possibility of reaching agreement in the industry and we shall finish in a worse mess than we began, and, heaven alone knows! that was bad enough.

4.43 p.m.

The Earl of DROGHEDA

My Lords, as you all know my noble friend Lord Goodman is unfortunately indisposed. He is making rapid recovery but he cannot be here today. I do not know why the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, used the expression "Lord Goodman's personal Hansard", which is a bit of an exaggeration: but Lord Goodman had a powerful letter in The Times today, written in his inimitable style. In his letter he explained—and I go along with him as a co-signatory of his earlier Amendment—why we did not feel happy about the "watered down" version of the proposed Press charter; namely, those pieces of this Bill which affect the Press. We still feel very unhappy.

It is of course true, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said, that without the 1971 Act we would not be discussing this Bill at all, but so much water has gone under the bridge that I do not think it matters very much. We have it, and we have to deal with the position as it is today. I am bound to say that no Government spokesman, either here or in another place, has said at all convincingly so far as I am concerned why the specific safeguards for which we press should not be written into the charter. The Secretary of State for Employment has indeed fully recognised the special position of the Press and has said over and over again that he regards the freedom of the Press as being vitally important, as indeed does every sensible person.

Originally there was no question of a Press charter, but there was pressure from many of us and from many Government supporters for the charter. So what we are really talking about still is the question of the built-in safeguards, and there are some points which I think are enormously important. In particular there is the question of the closed shop and the right of the journalists to belong to the union of their choice. To me it is most distressing that at no point has Mr. Michael Foot referred by name to the Institute of Journalists, treating it almost as though it did not exist, despite its 3,000 members and its long and distinguished history. Therefore we have considerable doubts about this so-called voluntary charter. Many people in Fleet Street still believe that we would be better without a charter at all.

The arguments are very finely balanced and there must be a great deal of discussion between now and the Committee stage, and I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will comment upon the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, which I personally thought was most helpful and constructive. I suppose he will not agree to go along with what the noble and learned Lord proposed; one can but hope. My Lords, I do not wish to say anything more now. I am extremely sorry that my noble friend Lord Goodman could not be present. He will be here for the Committee stage and I have no doubt that your Lordships will be treated to some of his well-known oratory, but before then there will undoubtedly be a great deal of discussion and we hope that the Government will still be willing, even so late, slightly to move their position.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, read with sympathy the letter which appeared in The Times this morning from the noble Lord, Lord Goodman—who appears to be having trouble with his left foot. But I do not really think that, succinctly written as it was, it carried the argument any further. It did not shift my opinions at all but I suppose that would be pretty hopeless because I speak with that degree of obstinacy that comes from tingeing justice with memory. I have been a member of a trade union for 56 or 57 years and I need to go back beyond the 1971 Act to find out the obstinacy of the trade union movement.

It ought to be remembered that the trade union movement was born of a voteless peasantry and voteless proletariat and through all their history they have come up against their natural enemies, who have largely been on the Conservative Benches in the other place or, more largely, in the House of Lords, to say nothing of the judges of the time. Through all the years the trade unionists had to go as supplicants to the political Parties and eventually they won the vote. Now we find there is a certain rhythm that the life of man attains in this sort of thing. When the trade unions are defeated at the polls they swing back to industrial action, and it was natural, following almost every industrial precedent, that in 1971 when the Conservative Government had got into power, bringing in the 1971 Industrial Relations Act, that there was a swing to direct action again.

No one can forget the terrific marches that took place at that time and when I was a Member of the other place and there was an attempt to fix a guillotine on the discussion of the Bill I tried to warn that these people were marching with their feet, and every shop steward who was concerned about this matter and had control of hundreds of members was quite different from a supine electorate who did not care very much about these things. It is the people who care very much, who matter. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Widoger—and this is why I was glad about his speech—we are now at the point where the Parliament Act has been invoked and much of what has been said is so much water under the bridge.

There was another point to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, responded with some feeling; that is, the position of the Official Solicitor. Quite frankly, may I tell your Lordships that I did not know such an animal existed before the intervention of the noble and learned Lord on behalf of the five dockers. As a matter of fact we were not entirely alone in our ignorance, because the legal correspondent of the Guardian said that the official receiver had been called in—which only goes to show how one can get mixed up about this sort of thing. We were not alone in our ignorance. When one speaks about justice being seen to be done, I can only say that if one asks any docker or if one asks the most responsible trade unionists among dockers, they believe the Official Solicitor was an official fiddle to get out of the difficulty. I have no doubt that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, with his great legal knowledge, is right, but it is what humble people believe that matters, not what the legal luminaries are talking about. The fact of the matter is that they thought there had been an intervention.

I have noticed that in previous discussions here there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the one man who stood up and said, "I will not belong to a trade union". In times of deflation and unemployment when I wanted to be a trade unionist and I was sacked for being one, I never heard a whiff of sympathy. People always plead the right of a man to stay out of a union, never the right of a man to go in. That is what it is all about. That is what I mean when I say that I tinge justice with memory.

My Lords, we now come to the position that the Parliament Act has been invoked. The Bill comes back to us as it was first presented. Briefly, the choice before this House is to accept the Amendments of the Government, which give this House something of what it wanted, or to accept the original Bill in all its pristine purity, if those are the right words for it. There is nothing much more to be done about it. Some sort of virtue has been invoked, in that we shall not vote on this tonight. I wish we were to do so, because if this House had voted to reject the Bill tonight, it would have been law tomorrow; the Speaker's stamp would have been on it. There is no question at all about that, because this House would have shown that it rejected the Bill. We are making Parliamentary history. On my reading of history, the House of Lords have rejected a Bill from the Commons before, but I do not think they have ever sought to amend a Bill in this way, and that is what makes it different. That is why we have had some rather cloudy opinions as to what is to be done next. So I think the point has to be established that we can play about with this Bill for as long, as it takes to the end of this Session, and then it becomes law; or we can attempt to get a rapprochementwith the other place, and see how far they will go. But I tend to think that the Minister has gone as far as he intends to go. Therefore— and I hope your Lordships will not make some sort of "Custer's last stand"on this, but that you will understand the facts of political life, that this is what the Parliament Act is all about—we either go on and the Bill becomes law in its original form by the end of the Session, or we accept the Amendments of the Government. I am not putting the weight one way or the other. These are the facts of Parliamentary life. The fact is that the elected Chamber must predominate in the end.

My Lords, there is one other point. I notice that the right honourable lady, Mrs. Thatcher, announced at Scarborough over the weekend that on 29th February she will be making a great speech pleading for the co-operation of the trade union movement with the Conservative Party. I warn them that they are on the eve of being a secret weapon against Mrs. Thatcher, because the rejection of this Bill is not the way to go about what their leader desires.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, the Bill will, of course, receive a Second Reading, as my noble friend Lord Aberdare advised the House to accept it. Nobody wants a confrontation between the two Houses. At the same time, I am tempted to say a few words in very general terms, because this is a momentous day in the history of Parliament. Today, both Chambers, one at each end of the corridor, echo to the strident clam our inspired from behind the scenes by our latter-day industrial tyrants, as I see it regardless of the nation's wider interest in the freedom of the individual. In my view, this day must be the absolute nadir of the decline in the fortunes of our nation, a decline which has stemmed from the policies of the Socialist Government. If the echoes to which I refer in this Chamber are muted—although the noble Lord, Lord Pannell, could hardly be described as being mute—the distant message is the same as was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda.

My Lords, I hold many noble Lords opposite in regard and respect, recognising their sincere dedication to the Socialist creed, recognising also that many of their tenets coincide with those held on this side of the House. Our bitter differences are a matter of method and of degree. After all, as Sir Geoffrey Howe said the other day in an interview, men and women arc in politics, "because we care deeply about the society in which we live". For that reason, my heart goes out to those noble Lords opposite whose thraldom to the Socialist Party has brought them to the edge of a steep place. I think that in the not too distant future, there may well be an almighty splash.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, it seems as if I am to be the almighty splash! I must begin by first apologising that my judicial duties in the Privy Council prevented me from listening to the first two speeches. I have had them reported to me by my noble friend Lord Aberdare and, therefore, I think I know more or less what was in them. I do not want to detain the House for long, because I think what we really have now to discuss is what measures we take about the Bill rather than what we think about the Bill, because most of us know what each of us thinks about it.

In the first place, I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—and I think he will accept it, because he has done so on previous occasions—that it has never been part of the intention of my noble friends and myself to hold up Government Business. We have facilitated every stage of the Bill through this House. What we have also sought to do is to perform our constitutional function of criticising and amending. My Lords, the legal position—I think we must now consider the legal position for a moment—is as follows. If we were to refuse this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon, it would probably, in a purely rational world, be the best thing we could do, both for our-selves and the Government.

In a purely rational world this would be the right course of action. This is a hopeless little Bill. It cannot be tinkered with so as to make it otherwise than oppressive, for reasons I have rehearsed again and again and to which I will refer only briefly in a moment. Most of the amendments, at any rate, that we could think of, have already been thought of and discussed. The position is that if we were to reject the Bill this afternoon Mr. Speaker would then be free to certify under the Parliament Act tomorrow, and it could become law on presentation to Her Majesty on the following day, assuming that indecent haste was not pursued. Therefore, if we were living in a purely rational world, I would recommend the rejection on Second Reading in the interests of everybody—Parliament, Government, Opposition, and everybody else. But we all know that we do not live in a perfectly rational world, and therefore the House will not be surprised to know that this is not the advice I am about to tender.

First, what we did would be open to misconstruction, the kind of misconstruction to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Pannell, referred in his last sentences. It would be said that we were beastly Lords, the natural enemies of the working man, like Lord Feather, Lord Pannell, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and other reactionary elements in our social and national life; therefore, we were wicked people and ought to be sent to the tumbrils. I am not sure that I would mind that very much; I am getting to a certain age. But, at any rate, I see no reason why I should cut these things short.

But there is another and perhaps better reason why we should not refuse the Second Reading. If we refused the Second Reading, we should get the Bill without the possibility of discussing at Committee stage the Commons suggested Amendments. I think that that would be discourteous to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, who is the original father of the suggested Amendment, although he modestly did not refer to the fact in the course of his speech; it might be thought discourteous to the Commons, and it would certainly be discourteous to those who would wish to discuss the pros and cons of that Amendment, or who might even—as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said he might do, and for aught I know the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, may do —suggest further Amendments to it. If we were to reject it here and now, we should prevent that entire discussion. I think, on the whole, the sense of the House would be that we would wish to have the discussion. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion, like my noble friend Lord Aberdare, that it would be wrong for us, despite the irrefutable, logical case in favour of rejection, to refuse the Second Reading.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, I do not say that I am adopting a position from which I shall not resile as the Bill goes through this House; at the moment I take a somewhat different point of view. He suggested that it would be a good thing to send this Bill back to the Commons with Lord Goodman's suggested Amendment in it. I do not happen to think that this would do anybody any good. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, suggested, as I understood it, that we should send it back to the Commons with the original Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, to the suggested Amendment in the Bill, which we have every right to do if we want to.

Although I cannot, of course, speak for Mr. Speaker or those who advise him, I should have thought it was quite unlikely that they would treat this as an Amendment to the Bill. But I do not think that that will be worth while. I think we are sick to death of discussing this matter, and I suspect—again without attempting to speak for them at the other end of the corridor—that they are sick to death of discussing this matter. If we are to talk in terms of good or bad relations between the two Houses, I should have thought that the fact that we returned it again with an Amendment which they had already discussed twice would not be as good from that point of view as an outright rejection of the Bill, which would give them their way without further argument. So I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, about this at the present time.

The second point I want to make is that I think if we were to amend the Bill once more—and I am not yet determined to do so—we ought to try something which had not been tried before. The one thing which occurs to me is of importance, and which has changed the situation since we had it here the last time, is that certainly in the autumn of last year Lord Houghton said, in the course of discussing the Employment Protection Act, that if we had put our conscience Amendment in the terms of the Labour Party Standing Orders and, I think, used the phrase, "deeply-held personal convictions" instead of the phrase, "conscience" he would have voted for it. This makes a new suggestion, and it would certainly affect not merely the general situation under the Bill but also the particular situation in connection with the Press, because it would provide an editor who had deeply-held personal convictions in favour of the National Institute as against the NUJ with a weapon against his employer. It would not give him a weapon against a union, a point to which I must revert in a moment in order to clear up some of the misconceptions which seem still to be current even after our lengthy discussions. But it would give him a weapon against his employer.

Therefore, I think it is something which we might want to consider. If we did this, I may say at once so far as I am concerned, and I have no doubt from the point of view of my noble friends, that it would not be with the idea of prolonging or delaying proceedings, which I hope would not be the case for more than a few days, but certainly not more than a week or two. But it might be worth while, in order to achieve what I am sure we should have liked to achieve; that is, something like a consensus upon the matter, taking Lord Houghton's suggestion, as it has been taken in other parts of the Bill.

As regards the other outstanding matters—that is. both Lord Houghton's suggested Amendment, the Houghton charter, and the earlier parts of the Bill about unreasonable exclusion and unreasonable expulsion—I think we have no alternative but to take the view of the Government, although we do not agree with it. And the view of the Government, although we do not agree with it, is this: although the rights ought to exist they ought not to be protected by legal sanctions. This is a view I profoundly differ from, as does the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and as do most Cross-Benchers, and I suspect most fair-minded people. But the Government have at any rate made these concessions since the long passage of this Bill through Parliament began. One is that in relation to the unjust exclusion or expulsion they have suggested a voluntary tribunal, and one is that as regards the Press they have proposed the suggested Amendment. Although I think that both suggestions are without teeth and therefore not worth very much, there is something to be said —not that I would wish to say it myself —for the Government's view that the only possible course open is to give them a fair chance to prove whether or not they are useless. I think we have no real option but to do it.

But, on the question of conscience, I must say that I remain profoundly of the opinion that I held in the earlier stages of the Bill. It is not only Plymouth Brethren and Seventh Day Adventists who have got consciences; Atheists have consciences; even Anglicans have consciences, though I am happy to say of a singularly rubbery and effective kind. Sometimes our consciences have nothing whatever to do with our religious beliefs; they are deeply-held personal convictions. I cannot help thinking that the Government would be very wrong and that another place would be very wrong, if we used the expression which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, suggested to us, in saying that only on the question of conscience we shall say that the House of Lords has rejected this Bill.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. It seems to me that I am going to be the "fall guy" before this is over.


My Lords, we have all suffered from rushing in where angels fear to tread. There is no reason at any rate for the noble Lord to imagine that I say this except out of genuine respect for his experience in this field of law.

Before I sit down there is one point I must clear up. When we are talking about conscience, or when we are talking about the suggested Amendment and the Goodman Amendment to it, it has nothing whatever to do with sanctions applied either to trade unions or to trade unionists. This is a delusion from which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, still suffers, apparently, although I have done my best now on, I think, five occasions to disabuse him of it. The position is whether or not an employer who dismisses an employee in closed shop conditions has to pay compensation to that employee. The union does not come into it, and the men do not come into it either. They have had their way; the man has gone. He has lost his job and he cannot be reinstated for the very reasons the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, stated and which the industrial tribunal underlined the other day in the course of rather a muddled judgment about the Ferrybridge six.

The only question is whether the employer has to pay. It is nothing to do with fining 2,000 or 3,000 trade unionists; it is nothing to do with the Official Solicitor; the simple question is whether an employer, who finds for his own economic advantage that a closed shop agreement is the one he wants to make in order to avoid trouble, has got to pay innocent people out of his own pocket for their loss of their jobs. It is in order to ensure that he does not pay a penny that the Government and the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord Pannell, are coming to the assistance of the employer to deprive the dismissed workmen of their compensation. This is the miserable depths to which the Labour Party and their trade union friends have fallen.

No, my Lords this Bill is a Bill designed to protect the strong against the weak, and it is done for bad reasons. It has nothing to do with the 1971 Act (which has been trotted out again) because if one looks at the 1974 Act one finds how hollow the claim is to have repealed the 1971 Act. There is a whole part of that Act re-enacted in the 1974 Act in the Schedule, 22 pages and, I think, 32 sections. The only question which arises in this Bill is whether, because they have chosen to re-enact that part, they are prepared to do justice as well. Apparently the Government are not prepared to do justice as well. Every kind of sophistry and every kind of arrogance has been introduced to cover up what they are really doing, which is to protect the strong against the weak.

Well, they have chosen to invoke the Parliament Act. I do not blame them for it. It is a much more sensible and constitutional attitude than all the huffing and puffing which Mr. Foot and his friends indulged in at the expense of your Lordships' House. They have the right to impose their will on the country, and they are going to exercise it in one way or another. We have done our best to improve matters. It would have been both undignified and un parliamentary to try and indulge in delaying tactics, and I suggest that we should pursue our way, doing what we think to be right, but not seeking in any way to obstruct Government business. This is a bad little Bill. It cannot be made anything else. However, I suggest that we should proceed with our business with dignity and without rancour, knowing that the Government have decided to invoke the Parliament Act against us, and not complaining that they have done so, provided that it is clear that the ill-doing is their doing and not ours.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot possibly complain about the way your Lordships' House has considered the Second Reading of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, called this "mean, ugly, little Bill" Throughout our discussions on it today and during the last Session strong views have been expressed, but they have always been put forward in a genuine sense of candour and with a genuine recognition that what divides us is not really a matter of principle but a matter of method. I agree with the noble and learned Lord that what we should be considering between now and the Committee stage is the best way in which this House should approach the remaining stages of the Bill, and what decision should be taken when we come to Third Reading.

Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, I was initially attracted to the idea of putting everybody out of their misery, both in another place and in your Lordships' House, by suggesting to the noble Earl the Opposition Chief Whip that if, somehow, he could get some of his troops into the Division Lobby I was prepared to ask some of mine to join up and to ensure that together we dealt with the situation. However, on reflection, that would not have been right. It would always have appeared rather an unholy alliance, and at the end of the day history would not have thought much of us. If the noble and learned Lord will do me the honour of reading my speech, he will see that throughout I have suggested that what we should seek to do is to adopt the normal processes of this House of Second Reading, Committee stage, Report, and Third Reading, and it would then be for the House to decide what to do. As I have already said, it is the Government's hope that we should obtain this Bill without the use of the Parliament Act, and, if not by agreement, at least by acquiescence.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, acknowledged, leaving aside the question of the freedom of the Press, certain parts of the Bill your Lordships' House has already accepted, albeit with unease and reluctance. While it may be right for the noble and learned Lord to feel that there is something still open to us in the field of conscience, perhaps I could say to him, although it is reminding your Lordships' House, there have been 11 different drafts on the question of conscience during the passage of this Bill. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, with his great affection for the standards of the law and the need for consistency of the law, would recognise that taking one Act of Parliament with another, we ought to have the same definition of these matters.

The noble and learned Lord can correct me if I am wrong, but if my memory is right, during the last Session we passed three Bills in which the conscience clause was restricted to the question of religious belief. Like the noble and learned Lord, if it were possible to put conscience into this Bill I would do so, but all the advice that we have received is that it is not possible to define conscience in such a way that it could not be used in a disruptive fashion within unions and between unions. All the experience of the various bodies and tribunals is that when they have had to consider the question of conscience, they have had to fall back on to religious belief. I say to the noble and learned Lord that there is nothing between us on this issue. The problem is a definition that will stand in a Statute, one that cannot and should not be used to created difficulties and strife between workpeople within a union and between unions.

I come to the question of the freedom of the Press. I join others in expressing sorrow at the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, cannot be present today. I hope he will soon be fully fit again, not only to be able to attend this House but also to deal with certain other matters in which I notice he is involved, and certainly I hope that he will be back in time for the Committee stage. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, that although there is little between the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, what there is between us goes very deep. I have looked at this matter and I assure the noble and learned Lord that I would be prepared to look at it again, but, as I said in my opening speech, I do not believe that there is a chance of bridging the gap. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, suggested that we should pass this Amendment and send it to another place, if only to make it necessary for discussions to take place. I said before, and I repeat, that I am most willing to initiate discussions. I am willing to go to the bedside of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and to other noble Lords to see whether it is possible to bridge this gap, but I personally do not believe that that is possible.

However, if an approach of a serious nature were made to me, I would certainly see whether what was put forward was possible. I suggest, however, like the noble and learned Lord suggested, that if we were to do that, then it should not be a question of sending an Amendment to another place; it should be done now, between the various stages of the Bill—and if this Bill goes through our normal procedures, it will be here for at least a month, which means that we have time. On the other hand, if we were to accept the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, to send the Amendment to another place, then they would have to consider it. I agree with the noble and learned Lord that nothing would be more likely to harm our relationship than to create a sense of frustration—I almost said "harassment "by sending Amendments to them when they have been so carefully and exhaustively considered, and voted upon.

Perhaps I might say to the noble Lord and to the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, that it may be that the Government proposals, are not sufficient for the freedom of the Press. I have repeatedly said, and the Secretary of State has repeatedly said, that the Government are as much committed to the freedom of the Press as is any editor in Fleet Street today. After all, the present Government set up the Royal Commission on the Press; we set it up for that purpose, recognising that the freedom of the Press is not only a question of the position of editors and unions, but is a much deeper and more immediate one. I have said before, and I repeat, that if the measures proposed in this Bill are insufficient to guarantee the freedom of the Press, this Government will, without any hesitation, introduce the necessary legislation so to provide. I suggest it would be better, if we were to introduce legislation of that sort, that it should come not just because of a debate in this House but as a consequence of a Royal Commission considering all the possible aspects. If, therefore, we were to take the view that the Government's Amendment was half satisfactory, then opportunity will still be available because this Government are as dedicated as anybody to the freedom of the Press.

I hope, therefore, that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading. We can then go into Committee, we can consider the Amendments that I shall be moving on behalf of the Government, and certainly there will be opportunities to consider the matter. I ask the House to reflect carefully on what I said earlier about the constructive approach of our relations with another place. As I said. I believe that we are at the most formative stage of that co-operation. Joint Committees are being set up, and perhaps nothing is more illustrative of the changed relationship and attitude between the two Houses than the way in which, beyond any of our wildest dreams, our two Committees scrutinising the EEC legislation are proceeding. I would not wish that process in any way to be prejudiced by short-term problems and fears. I therefore beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.