HL Deb 20 June 1977 vol 384 cc411-5

3.34 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in answer to a Private Notice Question on the Grunwick dispute. The Statement is as follows:

"I understand and share the concern felt by Members in all parts of the House about the events outside the Grunwick Laboratories. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis informs me that his officers are attempting to maintain, in conditions of considerable difficulty, both the rights of peaceful picketing and the freedom of those not prepared to be persuaded by the pickets to enter and leave the premises.

"A number of people have been charged with offences arising out of incidents last week. As the police action in these cases will be before the court it would be wrong for me to make any comment about particular incidents.

"Complaints which have been made about the conduct of police officers during incidents last week are already being investigated in accordance with the new complaints procedure, which includes a review by the independent Police Complaints Board.

"It is a matter for concern that certain of those present may latch on to industrial action by a trade union as an excuse for breaches of the law, and particularly for violence against the police. This kind of activity, I know, has no place in responsible trade unionism, and I was glad to note the appeal by Mr. Grantham, General Secretary of APEX, for a reduction in the number of pickets."

That is the end of the Statement, my Lords.


My Lords, this is a very serious matter, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for repeating what has been said in another place. I can only apologise to the House for the fact that I did not quite latch on to the procedural problem involved, so that I was rather taken aback when I was expected to ask a Private Notice Question myself at an earlier stage in the proceedings.

I am sure the House also will be grateful for the recognition by the Home Secretary of the very widespread concern about what is going on and indeed what continues to be going on, because some of us heard of the most disreputable events outside the Grunwick premises on the one o'clock news. I am sure also that the House will agree that it is not desirable for the Home Secretary—and it would be equally undesirable for me—to make any comment upon the general merits of the dispute. But will not the noble Lord agree that the law of picketing is of peaceful picketing and not of either insulting or violent picketing. The weapon of the picket is persuasion, not shouting insults like" scab"; not using violence or throwing bottles and not intimidating either by threats or by the mere force of numbers.

I think the House would wish me to say—and I am sure the Government will agree—that the police need our fullest understanding and support in this matter. The good reputation of trade unionism, not less than of this country, generally resides in the peaceful use of persuasion and not in breaches of the law, and I think that the House looks to the Home Secretary and to the Attorney General to enforce the law if, as I believe, it is being breached by a number of persons who probably have no direct interest in the dispute and who may, for aught I know, have no membership of the union concerned.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, from these Benches also we should like very much to thank the Minister for repeating this Statement. We would add our comment on the obvious right of peaceful picketing, but emphasise the distress that it causes to see picketing of a non-peaceful nature which cannot do any good to real trade unionism generally. We should also like to say that we recognise, and we hope that it will be widely recognised, that the police are put in an extremely difficult position and need the support of the general public in trying to carry out a very difficult duty. Is the Minister able to give us any information at all about the number of people involved in the picketing who are really in no way connected with the dispute but who are there for reasons of their own, which are not reasons which have to do with the resolution of this dispute?


My Lords, if I may say so, I am obliged to the noble Baroness and to the noble and learned Lord for the way in which they dealt with this matter. As the noble and learned Lord rightly said, this is a matter of some delicacy and certainly I do not think that it would be appropriate, representing as I do on this occasion the Home Office, for me to become involved in the actual merits of this particular dispute. That would be quite inappropriate.

The noble and learned Lord said that this was a serious matter, and I agree with him. He said that there was widespread public concern, and I agree with him on that also. I also agree with him that the essence of picketing is peaceful persuasion and certainly it is desirable to ensure that the rights of pickets in a situation of that sort are safeguarded. That is right, and it is also a duty of the police, just as it is their wider responsibility to maintain the Queen's peace.

Certainly I agree with the noble Baroness that the police have been put in a difficult position as a result of the incidents in the last few days. Unhappily, I cannot answer the question which the noble Baroness put to me about how many of those who are now outside the laboratories are in fact directly or indirectly connected with the dispute, because there would be no way in which the police would be able to establish the answer to that particular question. Although it is right that the allegations made against named police officers should be investigated, and that is being done, I think it is only right that we should pay tribute to the police for the way in which they are discharging their responsibilities at the moment.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister what is being done to prevent the cowardly and contemptible attacks in the middle of the night on the homes of those who do not wish to participate in a strike?


My Lords, any complaint of that kind should be addressed to the police, and I am quite sure that the matter will be investigated.


My Lords, while many of us deplore unpeaceful, disruptive picketing, is it not deplorable that Mr. Ward, the head of Grunwick, refuses to see or to speak to either the Home Secretary or whoever is involved?


My Lords, my noble friend raises a question about a meeting which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment is endeavouring to arrange. I am not in a position to say what progress he has made in that particular matter at the moment. I know that we all want to see this dispute resolved, but I do not think that it would be appropriate for me today to become involved in the merits of this particular dispute.


My Lords, have we not reverted to a somewhat feudal situation in which there is competitive law and competitive force in our society? At the moment, we find our baronial law in conflict with public law, and public force in conflict with the panoply of baronial armies.


My Lords, that is a question of such subtlety that I am not sure that I am in a position to answer it.