§ Debate resumed.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Viscount AMORY
My Lords, I feel it is a very great privilege that it falls to me to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Smith, on his impressive and compassionate maiden speech. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, is, as I think everyone knows, a brilliant former President of the Royal College of Physicians.
§ Noble Lords: Surgeons.
§ Viscount AMORY
Surgeons. I do apologise particularly because, as the noble Lord knows, I have a very good reason to know that fact. He is also, if I may say so, a man of great modesty and charm. We shall look forward to his most valuable contributions to our future debates. What a pleasure it was, too, to listen to the moving appeal which the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury made to us just now.
I would like to start, if I may, by saying that I thought the speech my noble friend Lord Carrington made was marked by that deep sense of responsibility that we all knew it would have, and I think the noble Lord the Leader of the House paid that tribute to him. We have had a series of debates on various aspects of industry over the last 12 months. I think the aspect that is in our thoughts today is the use of power. In my intervention today I want to go on record with two statements and to make one suggestion.
My first proposition is that when power is being used by a section of the nation to the manifest damage of the community at large it is bound to amount to an issue for Parliament, though not necessarily a Party political one. It is not a problem that can be left, for instance, to free collective bargaining without any ground rules, the Government of the day merely standing on the sidelines watching. Perhaps at that moment I would like to clear 1596 one thing out of the way; what I have said does not mean that I am in favour of a rigid across-the-board national incomes percentage. I had intended to suggest that I did not feel that Ministers had yet insisted enough on the right of pickets to use persuasion only and not intimidation or force. It seems that under pressure Ministers are now rather belatedly applying their minds to that problem, from the Statement we have just heard. My second proposition is that the increase in real earnings during 1978, to which the noble Lord the Leader of the House referred in his speech, the increase which has been enjoyed during the past year, has been financed and is being financed by our temporary windfall from North Sea oil and by borrowing. We are still subsidising our own consumption.
The traditional attitude of our trade unions when legal reforms are mentioned—I do not want to say it disrespectfully—is a kind of "Hands off! Leave this to us. We the trade unions will see to matters of reform, if they are needed, ourselves." Mr. Gormley has recently said, "Trust us". But year after year—I nearly said decade after decade—this has been the answer of the trade unions, and no reforms come forward from them. How long is the nation expected to wait? This attitude would not be so unreasonable if it was not that our trade unions, unlike those in most other countries, have a statutorily privileged position with special advantages not available to other citizens which enable them, sadly, to breach agreements sometimes with impunity, and have other immunities which increase their power enormously. These advantages were, of course, deliberately given to them in days when they were relatively weak and the balance of power needed correction. Today the situation is precisely reversed. The big battalions wield a power against the rest of the community which urgently calls out for correction. So my proposition is that it will be indeed an astonishing thing if our trade union structure of power is so perfect that no reforms are necessary in the interests of the nation at large.
In recent years Governments, one of each of the main Parties, have set out to tackle this problem, and each has been repulsed by the practical resistance of trades union power. Here I will freely 1597 admit that, while I believe that the aims and provisions of the Conservative Industrial Relations Act were scrupulously fair, in its anxiety to protect all legitimate interests, including those of the trade unions, it became rather a horror of legalistic complication. I would like to commend, if I may, the speech of my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley, made in our debate last week initiated by my noble friend Lord Trenchard. My noble friend Lord Carr, in referring to the chaos today in the trade union field, said that,in the national interest there must be rules of conduct; whether they are rules introduced by statute or by voluntary agreement can be discussed, but when agreed they must be adhered to".In those rules I think it is inevitable that the law will have some part to play, though I am all for keeping the intervention of the law to the minimum. So my proposition is that both political Parties will have to recognise this over the years immediately ahead. If we think otherwise we shall be burying our heads in the sand.
I select one statistic to illustrate the scale on which we are tearing ourselves apart. One company, ICI, has reported that since the start of these damaging stoppages it has been exporting £2 million a day less; it has been exporting £1 million a day instead of the £3 million which it was exporting normally before the start of the stoppage. Imagine those effects spread over the whole of our export effort. ICI's production, I understand, is already down to about 60 per cent. of normal, with deliveries to customers down to about one-third of normal. If my noble friend Lord Polwarth had not been attending a board meeting of that company this afternoon he would, I know, have wished to give your Lordships this information himself.
There very well may be a very sharp backlash on the part of the long-suffering public to some of these present goings-on, I fear. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton (I have lost my spectacles so I cannot see whether he is present; I think he is) speaking in our debate last Wednesday said that he had never known a time when the TUC was so weak as it is today. The noble Lord speaks with great experience and authority. The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, also made a notable contribution to that debate, again speaking from long experience at first hand.
1598 The noble Lord stated that in his opinion there is today a complete divorce between power and responsibility in the trade union movement. That divorce between power and responsibility is, I think, the type of thing that the most reverend Primate was talking to us about a moment ago. The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, called for a recourse to the principle of arbitration. I agree with his view on that matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Brown, has a solution in the shape of a national differentials council. I have always respected the ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Brown, because he has for many years applied many of them successfully in his own company. I wish I could persuade myself that his scheme for a national differentials council is practical, but I cannot do so. I suppose that what we are likely to see is the recognition of more special cases in which either permanent indexation or some form of comparability, decided by statutory bodies, will be devised. The difficulty with both ideas, of course, is that the number of special cases will grow and it is difficult to know where to stop. If indexation is generally adopted, will not that put paid to any chance we have of halting or reversing inflation?
I now come to my suggestion. There is one practice which today is unfashionable, in disrepute and consequently seldom used. I am referring to the principle of true arbitration—the practice by which when two individuals or two authorities cannot agree they get a third, in whose judgment they have confidence, to decide the issue, for them. In the principle of true arbitration the two parties agree in advance to accept the decision. Today, I believe that the two quite separate principles of arbitration and conciliation have somehow become hopelessly confused. In my view the Department of Employment and ACAS are both guilty in that respect. It is increasingly the case that when an arbitrator is proposed, it is really meant that a conciliator should be proposed. So it is expected that an arbitrator should either split the difference or propose a solution which he knows will be acceptable to both sides. That is not arbitration: it is conciliation, a process valuable indeed in itself, but different. The essence of true arbitration is that both sides accept the result as binding in advance.
1599 The principle of arbitration and the acceptance of the judgment of a third party is as old as ancient Greece, or older. I am not a classical scholar—perhaps my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone who is sitting immediately in front of me will indicate by nodding his head whether what I am saying is correct—but I have been told that in ancient Greece arbitrators had to choose between the cases put forward by each side and could not plump for a decision in-between. The result, it was claimed, was to give both sides an incentive to put forward a reasonable claim in the hope that it would be more likely to be accepted by the arbitrator. My suggestion is that we are not likely to emerge from our present difficult disputes until somehow or other we can restore and bring back into use true arbitration.
I still look forward to the day—however far ahead it may be—when the electorate will look back and feel that some of our current industrial practices are incredibly crude and utterly opposed to common-sense. Far too often today the strike weapon is used not as an ultimate resort when all else has failed, but almost as the opening move in a campaign against the public. If there are manned unidentified flying objects I am sure that a crew landing in the United Kingdom at present would come to the conclusion that we are slightly mad.
The strange thing is that, in spite of our present dissensions and losses of temper over, for instance, picketing, I do not believe that there is any spirit of deep bitterness running through our society. If only there could be a national appreciation of the extent to which we are tearing ourselves apart and rendering unattainable those aspirations for more employment and a more secure standard of living, and a realisation that the remedies are entirely within our own grasp, there would, I am convinced, be an insistence on the part of public opinion that old, out-of-date weapons and habits be laid aside and common sense solutions sought to our current suicidal procedures. Our friends in other countries find many of our procedures out of date and out of keeping with our national character, too, and they are right. It is grand when one can feel that our spirit of national cooperation is equal to the events which 1600 confront us. So often in days gone past that has been the case. It is that spirit of co-operation, which has stood us in such good stead in past crises, which I pray we may recover.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, in ordinary circumstances I would have approached the subject of this debate with my customary confidence, albeit hat confidence has, in recent weeks, because of recent events, been much eroded. I have heard nothing from any of the noble Lords who have contributed to the debate this afternoon to restore my confidence and ensure that some solution to the problem or problems that confront our country is likely to be found in the foreseeable future. I am all the more apprehensive about this debate because, if noble Lords will consult the list of speakers, they will discover that the noble Lord who is to follow me is my noble friend Lord George-Brown. I would rather it had been the other way round, because I should not be at all surprised if he, being a natural critic (I say "natural" not meaning the reverse of artificial; he was born a critic and so he has remained) were to argue against some of my propositions or even my comments. However, there it is. I did not arrange it and we have to make the best of the circumstances.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, I confess also that I am grievously disappointed with the debate. I shall take up the theme initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who informed us at the outset of the debate that, as in the past in frequent debates of a like character, we have sought to analyse, but have failed to produce a solution. There have also been some familiar repetitive comments. For example, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who spoke from the Liberal Benches, suggested, almost as if it were an original concept, that the Parties might come together to talk about the problem. If I may say so—and I speak with the utmost respect—the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a most moving appeal based on the very highest moral concepts, also suggested that. 1601 However, the most reverend Primate does not frequently take part in our debates—I am not complaining about that—and he may not be aware that on more than one occasion this suggestion has been presented to your Lordships' House.
When I came to your Lordships' House in 1970 Mr. Heath had become Prime Minister. We were then confronted by problems; indeed, we have been faced by problems for many long years past. At the time I suggested that it might help if Mr. Heath were to consult Mr. Wilson, who was then Leader of the Opposition, and Mr. Thorpe, the Leader of the Liberal Party, and invite some financial pundits from the City of London, or from the universities and other scholastic institutions, to talk about the problems, to diagnose the complaints and then to seek an approach to a solution of our problems. My idea, which I presented to your Lordships' House and which is on record in the pages of Hansard, was rejected.
Later, when Mr. Wilson became Prime Minister I repeated the suggestion that he should approach the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Liberal Party, et cetera, with a view to reaching an understanding of what was wrong with our country and what the fundamental problems were, in the hope—and I would put it no higher than this at any time, nor did I ever do so—that we might make an approach to a solution. Again, it was rejected. It has been repeated this afternoon. Indeed, the Liberal Party has gone further than suggesting a meeting of Parties. It has suggested something in the nature of a coalition—a congregation—of the three Parties. Of course, from a Liberal standpoint that is very desirable; it would revive interest in the Liberal Party. Although the Liberals would be unlikely to form a Government, they might be able to act as a catalyst for the two major Parties. That I reject. I do not believe that a coalition can solve our problems. However, I will add—and I make no bones about it—that I do not believe that any one-Party Government in the United Kingdom in the foreseeable future can solve our problems. For they are not our problems alone; they are world problems, and many countries suffer from the same complaints.
1602 I do not want to proceed further along those lines, but rather to come to what I might call the solar plexus of this problem; in other words, what is it all about? However, I want to digress for a moment in order to refer to the speech of my noble friend the Leader of the House. He stated the facts and laid them before us. There they are; unpalatable as they are, they are the truth and nothing but the truth. They are not his fault. He is as much the victim of circumstance as any of us. But he failed to provide a solution and all the time he was speaking, particularly towards the end of his speech, I almost felt like getting up and, according to a tradition of the House, asking whether I could put a question to the speaker and so ask him "Now that you have told us about the facts, what do you propose to do?". But as I did not ask the question then, I shall ask it now.
What have we had this afternoon? The most reverend Primate in his admirable speech, based on high moral concepts and the highest possible standard, made an appeal. So did the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. It seemed to me just now that the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, was trying to do the same by offering arbitration. If I have time, I shall come to that and dispose of it very rapidly. I understand the sentiment—the symbolism of it all; to make an appeal: Why are you not reasonable men? Do you realise, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, told us, that people are suffering because of the heartless, intolerable, despicable action or inaction of our own people—Britons? Perhaps I could use the term which was used by the most reverend Primate "and Christians" also. What is the use of your appeal? Appeal as you like.
I turn to something else that is even more topical. We have heard about the law of picketing. Of course we prosecute because of an alleged criminal action, but it takes weeks and weeks before the case is dealt with. In the meantime, what happens? If a person takes civil action, it takes even longer to come before the courts. What is the use of it? That will not do.
Let us deal with the disputes. I shall take one as an example to see whether an appeal would be of any value. I say this as earnestly and as sincerely as I can, 1603 because I mean what I say. I shall take the dispute between the two railway unions. Can noble Lords imagine anything more ludicrous or more irrelevant? It has been going on for 70 years or more. At one time I was chairman of the Glasgow Trades Council, which was then even more influential than the British Trades Union Congress. We dealt with demarcation problems, and often I had to decide from the Chair as between the local people's delegate and the man from the NUR. This dispute has been going on all those years. How are we going to solve it now?—by an appeal? I wish we could. It appears to be almost insane that they should be quarrelling with each other.
What is the dispute about? It is about a bonus for drivers of high-speed trains which, they say, should be paid to all the drivers. So far as I am concerned, they can all have the bonus, and I am sure that that would represent the opinion of every Member of your Lordships' House. Why make any distinction between a driver of a high-speed train and a driver who has to bring in the commuters half-a-dozen times a day and take them back half-a-dozen times a day throughout the network that our railways provide, with all the strain involved?
Why not solve it? Make an appeal to them; knock their heads together. That is what ought to be done, and it ought to be done by Len Murray and the TUC General Council, and no nonsense about it. They have got to speak out. I am not saying this because I am against trade unionism. Far from it. I know the whole history of it. I was involved. I know that Winston Churchill, on 30th May, 1911—perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, is aware of this—actually attacked the Judiciary because of their attitude about the trade unions. It is on the record. It is no use challenging me. I know. That is what he did. Even Churchill did not like what was going on. However, the trade unions became legalised bodies. They have been so all the time.
Now I come to the real point—I knew I would come to it some time. It is this: what is the crux of the problem? The Prime Minister made his decision, no doubt advised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary, and 1604 some of the people in the City of London, and the economists—where are they?—who possess all the knowledge. And look at our problems, and the lack of a solution. What was the problem? The problem was how are we to deal with inflation. This inflation has been going on ever since I was born. All the time. I remember when I worked for thirty shillings a week, then I got £2, and then it went up and up, and I came to the other place and got £8, and so on. All the time prices were going up and up, and they are still going up, and they will go up even more as a result of what is happening at the present time.
This brings me to a point that ought to be made. What started the trouble first of all was the declaration by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government that so far as wage settlements are concerned they must be based on a 5 per cent. arrangement. That was dealt with by the Ford Company and the transport workers' union. The transport workers' union had an agreement with the Ford people. It had not expired. It was likely to be in operation for another four weeks, but they anticipated all that and decided to strike and made it official. The Ford people were anxious to settle. They did not want to lose any money. They were making vast profits and wanted to continue; and who would blame them for that? The result was that the Ford workers got 17 per cent.
Is it not natural that other people in the country would like to follow suit? If you can go on strike backed by the union making it official, 14 per cent. would not be enough. If the Ford workers can get 17 per cent., why cannot we? The lorry drivers, what do they want? There are some who want 28 per cent. I understand that the miners are going to demand 40 per cent. It is very natural. It all started over the Ford business.
What should have been done before any declaration was made about 5 per cent., with perhaps some ancillary payments associated with productivity and so on, is this: it should have been discussed over and over again with the trade union people. This was not done. There was some discussion with the TUC, but many of the trade union people were never consulted. I am not suggesting that there should have been a secret ballot. 1605 They talk about democracy in the trade union movement, but it cannot be said that the general body of workers was consulted about what a pay settlement should be.
Now what should be done? I end by putting forward a constructive proposition, which I have ventured to put before. Some weeks ago we had a debate something like this debate, and I produced a Cabinet paper. I held it up. It was a secret paper, but after all 30 years had expired so I could disclose its contents. What was the title of the paper? It was, A National Wage Policy. It was submitted by the Minister of Fuel and Power, myself, in the year 1946 to the Cabinet, and rejected. What did it provide for? It provided for the creation of an economic council of a more or less independent character—members of the various Parties; people of the City of London, et cetera. I need not go into details. They were to sit down and examine the nature of the problem: prices, exports, imports, capital payments, deficits, revenue, all the rest of it. Having done so, they were to recommend what they thought was a reasonable wage policy, including a minimum wage policy, in order to deal with the people who are now going to go on selected strike and who are obviously paid on too low a level. That was done, but rejected. I suggest that it ought to be revived.
I make a proposition to the leaders of the Parties. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has returned to the Chamber; and I am bound to say that I thought his speech very reasonable. I would not say I agreed with every word in it, but it was very reasonable indeed, and certainly much more satisfactory than some of the speeches of Mrs. Thatcher. The last thing I would do is say a wrong word about the lady. I indulge in no criticism at all, but I am bound to say that some of the implications of some of her recent speeches are quite the reverse of what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said this afternoon. He asked for a consensus, not a confrontation. There is no doubt about it, she prefers a confrontation. She means by that: have a confrontation, and out go the Labour Party. I can quite understand this. Why should she not have an ambition of that character? Everybody has ambitions. She has hers.
1606 I should like this sort of appeal from your Lordships' House. I should like it tonight. We unanimously, leaving out the details and criticising nobody, along the lines of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, this evening—and this is not necessarily confined to hospitals and so on but is dealing with the whole situation—condemn what is illegal; condemn what we believe to be intolerable. That is what we ought to do, and let that go out to the country. As it is, what is going out? Do you think that all these speeches, or any of them, will be reported, tomorrow morning in the Press? Not at all. We make no impact.
We have to make an impact. We have to see that our views are made known, if we believe them to be right. I believe that what the most reverend Primate said was right, and what the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said was right, and what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said was right, with some exceptions, for which of course I forgive him. Let your Lordships' House say to the country, if it is not done in another place, "Let us put a stop to this intolerable nonsense which is ruining our country". Let us do that. That would be worth while. Then we would not require to have these frequent debates about economic policy with all the economists expressing their views, and leaving it at that. That is the sort of thing we want. Unless we are prepared to do something like that, then this debate is not worth while. I use an expression I used many years ago, for which I got into trouble—I may get into trouble again—unless we do that, then the debate tonight is not worth a tinker's cuss.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, I wish to take a slightly different line from that which has generally been taken, not because I disagree with much of what I have heard—even from the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell—and not because I hesitate about disturbing what on the whole has been a fairly wide convergence of view. However, as I take a rather different point of view and as I have written and spoken about it outside the House, it is only proper that I should say it before noble Lords today.
In my view, the Government have gone wrong from the beginning, as have some 1607 noble Lords today, because we have not faced one essential issue; namely, that there is not a conflict with the executive officers of the national trade unions. This is different from other situations. The leaders of the trade unions—I am not apportioning blame because I do not wish to spoil the effect of what I am saying; you may or may not hold them responsible for it—are being as effectively bypassed as the Government themselves are being bypassed. We have had two or three weeks of misery because there still exists the view in people's minds, a view that has been expressed today, that a rational appeal can be made to rational people when in fact it is not the rational people who are leading the campaign today or who are destablising our society. I believe the Government could have acted more quickly, and would act now, if we could get that clearly into the minds of Ministers.
There is an issue now behind the immediate issue; and that is why I cannot agree with the noble Lord who said that the great thing is to get the strikers back to work. Nor do I agree with those, with respect to Lord Shinwell, who have said we must go for a consensus and not have a confrontation. The issue behind the issue is that there are organised groups of people inside the trade union movement, or cloaking themselves with it, who are using industrial action for the political coercion of the Government and the political ransoming of our society.
They are not so much concerned with the level of wages; it is a useful way to put it, but they know only too well the realities of the tax structure at present and what it does to increases in wages. They are concerned with the destruction, certainly the destabilisation, of society. In my view, the Government must be pressed by their friends—among whom I still, on the whole, like to count myself, although I gather they are not always sure about that—and by others (and the Opposition must be pressed, because if they were to inherit the situation in a couple of months time, it is important they should be clear about the issue they would be tackling) on this question, about which the trade union movement has at different phases of its history taken different positions. I refer to the question of the right to use industrial 1608 action for a political purpose; namely the coercion, the replacement, of the elected Government of the day.
The reason why I do not have the instinctive feeling I have had in times of war and peace—the feeling that however madly we behave and however stupidly we mess things up, everything will come right on the day—is because I feel that these people, whoever they are and from wherever they get their direction (and I believe the worldwide thing about the guerillas, the Red Brigades, the Palestinian organisation, the transfer of men, money, advice and knowhow across national borders and all sorts of terrorist groups; it all has a connection) are being allowed in this country to get away with it while we foolishly have a pillow fight with the trade union leaders who are themselves not in a position to deal with it.
Up to 1926—I hate to display how accurately my white hairs give the game away—the trade union movement, on the whole, tended to support the idea that industrial action was a justifiable weapon to achieve political ends. One of the ironies of the situation was that the great Mr. Bevin, who is now upheld by many of my Conservative friends as a great pillar of responsibility, was until 1926 the great leader of this view. He was the one, after all, who used industrial action to stop the "Jolly George" taking armaments to Russia because he disapproved of the political policy of the Government and wanted to replace the British Government with a Government rather similar to the one he thought was in Russia. It was the great Mr. Bevin who set up the soldiers' and workers' councils.
After 1926 and after the General Strike that attitude changed. Mr. Bevin, Walter Citrine, as he then was, and Pugh were the ones who led the change, and from then on the trade union movement has, until very recently, always set its face against the use in any circumstances of industrial action for such political purposes. It has recently changed, or the leaders have allowed it to appear to change, and it is because of that that the Government have been trying to hold the hand of the TUC General Council in a period when the General Council has not been willing to stand firmly by the change of attitude on the part of the TUC and of the trade unions which took place after 1926.
1609 Every Labour leader (be he Prime Minister, Minister or leader in Opposition) from MacDonald to Attlee to Morrison to Nye Bevan as well as Ernest Bevin, to Gaitskell and even to Sir Harold Wilson and Mrs. Castle in 1969—right the way through from Ramsay MacDonald to now—has seen this situation when it was arising and has condemned it and acted against it. I say with a very heavy heart to my noble friend the Leader of the House—my friend in every sense as well as in the formal sense in this House—that unhappily the present Prime Minister is the first Labour leader who has failed from the beginning to say this, and until the Government are willing to see it and say, "We are back with the view that this is not a proper use of industrial processes and we draw the conclusion from that that we must beat it," a trade unionist like myself, a grassroots Labour man of half a century, must swallow hard.
Those who trained me did not duck it, so I do not think I should. If this is the case, then to sustain a democracy to sustain a Labour movement, we must say, "Unless it is stopped, it will be beaten". If we can say that, then we can proceed to the question of what we have to do to meet it? We have waited for a fortnight or three weeks to give the trade union leaders every opportunity to deal with the situation, but they have not done so, for the reason I have just given. Since the deaths of Deakin, Lawther, and Williamson and the end of an era, with the advent perhaps of Frank Cousins, which could be said almost to date it, and following the successive changes of trade union leadership from then onwards, the so-called democracy to the grass roots—democratic leadership from the shop stewards—has been the order of the day.
What those leaders did not realise was that in elevating what sounded like a major defensible democratic principle, they were in fact handing over their own power and their own responsibility to mob rule. Whatever the modern Left may be, it is no longer what we knew as youngsters, when we could identify King Street and the Communist Party, and Mr Ramelson, and the Communist industrial organisation in Coventry; it is not that any more. The Left finds it so easy to infiltrate trade union branches and Labour Party wards, and those leaders 1610 were handing over democratic power to an undemocratic base. They were not increasing democracy. They were in fact destroying it, and with it went their own power and their own authority.
Has anybody ever seen a more pathetic picture than that the other day of the elegant David Basnett and the suitably slightly scruffy Alan Fisher pretending to lead the march of the National Union of Public Employees and the other public service workers, which included every bunch of rag, tag and bobtail in the business? They were not leading it, they were running like mad to get in front, like the French general of the army which had created itself behind him.
If I am right about this—and, frankly, I believe that I am—then I must turn to a short action list of what in the last two or three weeks I would have been doing (and I use the words seriously) had I had the privilege of being a leading Minister in this Government as I did in the previous one, and what I believe now should be done. I do not find trade unionists abusing me in the streets for saying these things. I do not find them spitting at me, or calling me nasty names. They come up to me and say, "George, of course you are bloody right".
First on my list is the declaration of a state of emergency. If such a declaration were only a symbolic act, and if it conferred no additional powers—which is not true—it is nevertheless necessary for that purpose. We are trying to arouse the country to a recognition that we are fighting an attack from within on our democratic liberties. One does not do that by saying, "But of course it is not an emergency". You have to show what the situation is. Can anyone imagine Bevin, or any of our great leaders—let us leave out Sir Winston Churchill—saying, "It's not an emergency, but, boys, it's very serious"? One's first act is the declaration of a state of emergency. Actually I think that that would then give one greater power. I see that the Scottish lawyer shakes his head, but as between the two of us I have been engaged in these kind of situations rather more than he has. I ask him to think rather carefully before he dismisses the point so lightly.
Secondly, one takes the powers, all the powers, and creates the state of public 1611 mind. Next is the discussion for which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, called and the clarification of the role of the police and the actions which are to be taken with pickets. I do not get myself into the argument about primary and secondary picketing. I think it is a silly argument. I have myself been arrested for picketing because I stood on the running-board of a lorry, and that was held to be obstruction. I said that I was only trying to persuade the bloke—
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
I said that I was only trying to persuade the bloke, but they said, "No, you are obstructing him in going through".
What is the use of the Solicitor-General for Scotland telling us today—as only a lawyer could, whereas an ordinary, working-class trade unionist knows how damn silly it is that the lorry driver does not have to stop; he can drive through? What happens if he then knocks the bloke over? What were we told when this was thought to have happened somewhere? We were told that the police would be making a rigorous inquiry involving the lorry driver. The police have got to enforce the law. If the law is as the Solicitor-General said it was, and as it was when I was arrested for breaking it years ago, then the police should do what they did to me down in East London: arrest and charge. Pickets, whether they be primary or secondary, must return to carrying out their proper function, which is to persuade, if the bloke is willing to be persuaded. I understand that one does not obstruct the police, but there are ways and means of doing these things without hurting amour propre. It must be made clear that the Government will stand behind the chief constables and the police forces.
Incidentally, I see that the Prime Minister said—I think it was yesterday, when I was in the other House—that he would walk across a picket line. I want to make a serious offer. If he and those Ministers who distinguished themselves so much on the Grunwick picket line will form a team to lead a convoy of lorries through the dock gates in London, or 1612 anywhere else, tomorrow morning, then I should be very happy to be there with them, and lead the lorries through. It needs some dramatic action of that kind.
Thirdly, the Government should decide—and had I been a Minister I would have done—on the degree of active use made of the Armed Forces. I would have decided where I was going to use them, and I would by now, I think, have been using them. By that means alone, if one picks the case, it would be found that other people, such as the lorry drivers who have been ambling down the M6, would be ambling through the dock gates, which would be much more to the point. If there were not enough soldiers, sailors or airmen in this country, more would have to be brought back from the Continent. I cannot see much point in pretending to deter the invader from the front door when the citadel is already being taken from the rear. If more Armed Forces are needed, they temporarily will have to be brought back here; and I would have been doing that.
Fourthly, there should be active encouragement of volunteer sources who are willing, if directed, and guided to accept responsibility to do things, to make deliveries and to maintain services. This is a para-revolutionary situation. Yes, it is, with great respect to the noble and learned Solicitor-General. There is an attempt here to take over. Why does he think that every single basic service in the country is being attacked? Over the last six or nine months the schools, the hospitals, the water and sewerage services, the gritting of the roads, have all been affected. What they are after is not the wages of a few people. What they are doing is to show that at any one time, if they did so in a co-ordinated way, they could stop the whole of our services, as they have stopped them in Persia, as I saw the other week; and as they have been stopped in other countries. You bring a society down that way. That is what they are trying to do, whatever way they are doing it; whether in the way I think they are doing it, or in the way which the Solicitor-General seems to prefer. The fact is that they should not be allowed to do it, and we have to break it now.
There should already have been two meetings, one of the senior Ministers 1613 with the General Council and the other of the Prime Minister with the full national executives of the trade unions—not the national officers only; the national executives. It has been done before; we took the Central Hall for the purpose. It had a great effect under a previous General Secretary, George Woodcock. It should have been done now. The purpose is not a waffly appeal; the purpose is not a new concordat; the purpose is to set before them the seriousness of the situation and the determination of the Government to deal with it by whatever means necessary, preferably with their support—and I believe you would get their support, because one of the by-winds of what I am suggesting is that you would be returning power and responsibility to them. You would be giving them back their authority if you beat the groups behind them. They cannot take it back for themselves; that is the tragic situation at the moment. Let us just face it: there is no general secretary in the public works sector, where there are six or seven unions fighting for the membership, who dares be behind COHSE, NUPE or ASTMS, or whichever is the most militant of the unions. David Basnett knows the score as well as any one of us does. So let us have those meetings: we should have had them already.
Then, we should draft legislation quickly, if it has not already been drafted, to deal with the two major pieces of legislation which went wrong. With all the sophistries of the Solicitor-General, please believe me: they did go wrong, and they are the source of all the power that these people behind the official unions are using. One is the closed shop legislation, and the other, which is related, is the protection of employment legislation. So long as an employer can be compelled by a union to sack a man who falls out with that union or whose union falls out with him, without compensation, without recourse to law, without the right of an industrial tribunal or anything, it is useless asking the fellows in the factories and in other industrial enterprises to resist, because if they resist they run the risk of losing their livelihood in that place or, if they are a journalist or something like that, of losing it in their profession altogether. We are very censorious of Eastern European countries and 1614 the Soviet bloc, but once you can prevent a man from earning his living and maintaining his family, the next step for the rest of the Gulag is not an awful way. "The right to work", we used to say; "the right to strike, to withhold our labour", we used to say. Today we are denying people the right to dissent, and that right to dissent must be restored if we want the people in a factory or a mine or a field or an office or a lab, or a hospital or a school to stand up to the bullies who are saying, "Do it!"
The most reverend Primate's reference to the engine driver who is a church warden—I heard as I stood below the Bar—shocked me. That man knows the situation so well. The Archbishop said he did not know how to make his view effective. His view should really be able to be made effective by his throwing in his union card and turning up for work; but he dare not do it. He dare not do it because, possibly, he is afraid of physical violence, although most of our fellows are not. What he is afraid of is that he will never get back on the railways again. You have got to alter that situation. It is the closed shop legislation and the protection of employment legislation which have gone too far. They have provided too much protection for wicked men and no protection at all for the good men and the good women who want to resist—indeed, in the odd, paradoxical way these things work, they have withdrawn protection from them.
My Lords, I have made my proposals—they are not proposals: they are statements of what I would have done. My old colleagues on the Government Benches may affect to be shocked by it or not. I say only this. I do it as a teamster, to use the American word which is somehow more offensive than "Transport and General Workers' Union". I do it with great pride in my lifetime in the trade union and Labour movement, whatever my present differences with my ex-colleagues. I do it with no sense of apology. I want the trade union movement to have strength, and I want to be able to use our bargaining power in a way in which we were too weak to exercise it when I started organising in the early 'thirties. But I want that power to be used only for its own purposes—and I close with this. I read the other day that Sir Robert Mark said—I have not checked 1615 his figures—that because he draws an inflation-proofed pension at the higher levels of the Civil Service rates, by the time he is 83, which will be the year 2000 (which, after all, is only 20 years away), because of the effect of inflation and the rises which are built in now he will be taking—not that he will need, but he will be taking, naturally—£388,000 a year, with a few hundred over—for tips, I suppose. It is no use the Solicitor-General getting a little bit uncomfortable there, because this is what the man said and no doubt the actuaries can work it out.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, may I just finish? I heard the Solicitor-General in silence. He is winding up the debate, and he can deal with the point then. The German experience very largely began this way, when they started to print Deutschemarks, not in ones, fives and tens but in thousands and in tens of thousands in order that people could carry them home. We are on this way now. These disputes will be settled. They will be bought off. The Government will do their best to keep it somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent. They will not keep it much below 20 per cent. I should like it to be as low as possible, but it will be somewhere around that rate. That means more inflation this year and another big step towards Sir Robert Mark's pension.
I as a trade unionist want my trade union movement to be told that we will discipline those disrupting it, as well as the State, in order that they can thereafter discipline themselves again. I want that done because I do not want other people outside the trade union movement doing what other people did in Germany at the end of the day; that is, saying, "We are going to put a stop to it", and doing it by non-democratic means. I think the Government have gone wrong. I think they should be clear why they have gone wrong. I do not want them to come to the penitents' stool or the confessional box. They have gone wrong because they have not realised where the power now is, the kind of people who are using it and what they are using it for; and I want them to be able to say, "We will beat that" in order, among other things, that the real 1616 leadership of the trade unions can be reestablished, with its proper democratic authority and responsibility.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I say, in view of one or two discourteous references, as I see them, to my part in this so far, that I have not—and I ask him to acknowledge this—so far intervened in this debate. I was asked to repeat, and with the permission of the House, I repeated, a Statement confined to the law of picketing. I did not mention the closed shop. It was not relevant. I did not mention the Employment Protection Act. I should like the noble Lord to consider withdrawing his observations about the sophistries of the Solicitor-General for Scotland in relation to that matter.
If he does me the courtesy, for once, of staying until the end of a debate to which I reply, I will reply to his points in relation to the closed shop and to the Employment Protection Act.
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, that sounded rather a discourteous ending of its own—and I do not ask for it to be withdrawn. If I hurt him, it was not my intention so to do: but I think that in some of his answers to some of the questions this afternoon the word "sophistry" would, by my knowledge of the language, be a reasonable description. It was not intended to hurt. If it did hurt, I will withdraw it. What about "sophisticated"? What other word would the Solicitor-General for Scotland like?
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Viscount WATKINSON
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord because I think it is far better that a trade unionist and a distinguished ex-Member of a Labour Government should describe in the terms that the noble Lord has just described the paralysis of indecision that so many of us feel is afflicting Her Majesty's Government at this point. It is better coming from him, and it fortunately provides a very satisfactory background to what I want to say. Before saying it, may I add my sincere congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for bringing home to us what it is all about in terms of human misery.
1617 For 30 years in my small way I tried to make some kind of contribution, in Government and out, to better industrial relations. I think that those of us who have done so might say that today we are all voices crying in the wilderness. I, too, knew Arthur Deakin and I had to deal with him. I think it right to say today how much more in command of his union I found him; how he was able to promise and to deliver—and one never questioned it—and, more important, how much more he was conscious of where the national interest lay.
I agree with my noble friend who opened this debate. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who seemed to think that most of us were talking about a sort of nothing. Where I think that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, has gone a little further than I would have gone, is in the concept that this is all a matter of just a few bad men. So it is—and I want to come back to that—but we must discipline those bad men by accepting as a nation that we really are all of us, or 99 per cent. of us, trying to serve the national interest. I think that to me the saddest thing about the present mess that we are in is that the trade union leaders (and, more important, the trade union rank and file) are not willing to realise that what they are having done to them—and I agree with the noble Lord there—is against the national interest and, therefore, against every striker's interest except for those few men who are determined to wreck our society if they can manage it. There is nothing secret about this. They say it, they publish it, they print it. I do not know—sometimes the noble Lord and I got on very well when we were on opposite sides of the House and sometimes not; but I have always believed that he said what he believed. It is a good thing that he, as a distinguished ex-Member of a Labour Government, has described the kind of paralysis—and I see no other word for it—which at the moment they seem to be imposing in all their actions.
If we left the small minority of men who are organising militant picketing and who are trying to run this as a campaign to bring down what they would call our Right-Wing industrialist society, then, on the whole, it will damage the interests of every single trade union member and the nation as a whole. Perhaps over every 1618 trade union secretary's desk at the moment should hang a sign saying: "Export will not wait!" It is really no good the Government saying: "The CBI made a mistake in saying that there will be a million unemployed". Maybe they did; they were in good company with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The point is that more than a million men are already adversely affected by what is happening and the effect on them is not going to be the next week or two but the next months and the next years if we do not look out.
My Lords, what should we do? There is no use in our sitting down and wringing our hands. I might, I suppose, cry a few crocodile tears and say that for a chap who has tried hard in business and in other ways to make some contribution, it has all come to naught. But I do not believe that. We must go on and try to get through this quite horrific situation. Really, I think that some Members of the Government should read the foreign Press more closely than they do, and they would see the problems that our exporters are going to have, and the problems that people like me and some of my noble friends who have to travel abroad, are going to have in trying to explain to the world that we have not gone stark staring mad; so let us face that.
To come to some practical things in what will be a short series of remarks, I think we must now alter the law on the misuse of picketing and the closed shop. I think that the Government were extremely unwise—and they will regret this—to refuse or reject the offer from my right honourable friend the Leader of my Party, Mrs. Thatcher. I think it was a difficult thing for her to do. I think that joint action on picketing and the closed shop and so on is, as my right honourable friend said, in the total national interest. I think that the Government missed a very great chance in that offer from the official Opposition to support them in the not very contentious or controversial legislation that would have dealt with this particular problem. If they do not do that, then they must answer the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, and say what they do intend to do for themselves.
Well, my Lords, so much for the symptoms. I think that those symptoms must now be dealt with. If the present 1619 Government are not willing to deal with them, then the nation will make sure that a different Government, a Conservative Government, comes in that are willing to do so. I want to say a word or two about the longer term because, in my view, the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, is right in saying that we will not cure this disease just by talking about it or deprecating it. The problem of the more militant trade union shop steward and leader on the shop floors will not go away. It is a new problem and a new attitude, and an attitude that is more dedicated or more bitter than I have ever seen in my life. It cannot be put on one side either by any Government or by the TUC. It must be faced.
Ever since Sir Winston Churchill asked me to become Parliamentary Secretary to Walter Monckton, I have had a moderate amount of experience in Government and in industry and, more recently, in the CBI. That experience leads me to one conclusion as to what we ought to do. I should just like to set this out. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, that if this House is to have any impact on affairs—and I fear that it has sadly little; I would agree with him on that—we must try to say what we feel. But also we must make a constructive proposition to the nation on what ought to happen. The first thing that ought to happen is that the Government must have more teeth to deal with what are really infringements of the law.
I did not understand the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General for Scotland in his Statement. I doubt whether anyone else in industry understands it. I am sure that my noble and learned friend can understand it because he is a distinguished lawyer and I hope that I shall feel suitably instructed when he has dealt with it. The ordinary chap will say, "Phooey! I am where I was and I will do what I adjectivally please!". That will not get us anywhere. So we have to deal with that; we have to deal with the symptoms, and if this Government cannot do it, they ought to give way to one that will. We must at the same time look to curing the disease which is going to ruin us all. Although everybody says it, we must keep on saying it because it happens to be true.
1620 What could be done to cure the disease? This might be easier for my Party, the Conservative Party, because it is fair to accept that I believe the present Government are in great difficulty and greatly inhibited by the fact of the TUC presence within their own Party and the fact—and I am only quoting the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown—that the TUC leadership at the moment is, if not weak, inexperienced. I ventured to say to your Lordships when I spoke on the debate on the Address that I thought we might pay a very heavy price for the inexperience of some trade union leaders. I think that events since then have proved what I said to be right.
I hope that what will happen first—and if it cannot happen in this Government I hope that the next Conservative Government will deal with it—is that industrialists will be pressed to give even more information than they are now doing. I do not mean by some stupid implementation of the Bullock Report; they should have a firm code of conduct which a Conservative Government once very nearly drew up, although they did not bring it into effect. I think my noble friend knows all about that. They must give more information and must get real participation among their own people at all levels to begin to make life easier for the leaders of the trade unions, so that they cannot be constantly subverted by people on the shop floor who are going around telling absolute lies about almost every kind of industrial life and industrial progress.
The Government have to make a major change in their budget strategy. We really must have some kind of public debate each year, and I do not mind where it is held. One could invent a new body or have Neddy. The debate should certainly take place in both Houses of Parliament on what the nation is all about and what level of inflation we can tolerate. It should not be a debate about a 5 per cent. norm, which, as I have said numerous times to your Lordships, was a fatal mistake from the very beginning, but a debate on what the nation can afford. There would be some advantage in having part of this debate in NEDC. The leaders of the trade union movement have never boycotted this body. They still regard themselves as being committed to what it decides 1621 —certainly, the CBI membership take that view. Let this debate take place and let employers and the trade union leadership be committed to the kind of background to wage demands and negotiations which will emerge. This may mean sweeping away all sorts of sacred cows so far as the Treasury are concerned. I do not think it matters very much. Each year, employers and the TUC must be involved by being committed—as in West Germany and most of our other large competitors—to what the nation can afford and roughly how it should go about it. That is not a wages policy, not a norm, but a general background to it all.
Now, lastly, the TUC. It is difficult for me to talk about the TUC. I have had many friends in that august body—most of them, sadly, now retired. The TUC have to come back to the old days when their leaders were willing to recognise the national interest as being the interest of all their members. As the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, said, they also have to be strengthened to deal with the bully boys and the political activists in their own ranks. I believe that only they can deal with them. I do not believe that one can legislate these people out of existence. In a time of crisis one can do something, but on the whole the trade unions must put their own house in order. All I am saying is that employers could help them a great deal more than they do by telling their own people the facts, and the Government could help them more than they do by creating a climate of opinion which the nation is willing to accept. Of course the nation does not want double figure inflation. If only the national will could be expressed there, it would be much easier for strikers to see that what they are doing is damaging their own interests and the interests of their mates, their wives, their friends and their relations. It is part of this proposal that the TUC is able to regain control of its own business and its own house. If it cannot, then some day some Government will have to do so for it. That I personally would greatly regret because that Government might not be a very democratic one.
The three points that I should like to leave with your Lordships are these: first, of course the symptoms must be 1622 dealt with. If the present Government are not willing to do it, I hope and pray that my noble friends will have the earliest possible opportunity to get on with it. Secondly, employers have to do more. They have made a good start and many of them are doing a lot. They must do more. They must be encouraged and even pressed to do more to prepare the climate on the shop floor and thus make it more difficult for the activists and the bully boys to get their way. Then, the Government must be prepared to debate with the nation as a whole what they want to do in a budget before they frame that budget. They must try to get a national consensus on what can or cannot be done. Finally, the trade union movement, particularly the Economic Committee of the TUC and the so called Neddy Six, must take their courage in both hands and once again do what some of their predecessors—Tom Williamson, Arthur Deakin and so many others—did. They must have the guts to give a lead and see the national interest even if it means rough-riding their own members from time to time.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Lord PARRY
My Lords, there is in the poetry of the English language a line that I tried to find for insertion in this debate. I failed to find it where I expected to do so, in the poetry of Matthew Arnold. It is a line that says he mourned the fact there werenone to cry halt while the world trekked back from progress".I believe that everyone who has taken part in this debate will imagine that he or she has been doing that. I believe that the last speaker but one, the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, probably thought that he was doing that—making a massive attempt to do so in this House.
I believe this House is probably at its best when it begins its debates. There was an occasion here this afternoon when it was remarkably free from political prejudice and the discussion addressed itself directly to the items that have caused concern in the country. Quite properly, there were focussed upon here. The debate has at times dropped below the early level and it would be wrong to conceal that fact. What we are dealing with is a situation in which the systems of democracy are under strain. Everyone 1623 who has contributed to this debate has marked some aspect of concern about systems within our democracy that are not now fulfilling those tasks that they were created to fulfil.
In a remarkable maiden speech Lord Smith drew attention to the fact that it is useless for us to wring our hands because democratic institutions have changed. It is equally useless for men who have passed out of government itself, who have either failed in it or finished with it, to say what they would do if now in office. In fact democratic processes have moved them from it.
I want to say here that I believe that the Prime Minister of this country is as well aware as anyone who has spoken in this debate of the great difficulties with which he is grappling. He faces circumstances that will not be changed if the Government are changed. He faces circumstances that are long term, that have grown into the system of the economy, and these will be the circumstances that will be faced by any Prime Minister of Great Britain the morning after the next Election. They have to be faced by Prime Minister's the world around. When the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, referred to the happenings in Iran, he only emphasised the better value of the British democratic system and proved how much better it is than the system that in fact he has publicly extolled.
I believe that we have a democracy whose institutions can, even yet, be used to head off the worst effects of any crisis, whether internal or, as I believe, largely external, if only the people who care so much about democracy now cared only a little about it in the moments when the need for concern is not so obvious. No one has said in this debate that there are 1,200 Members of this Chamber. Where are the 800 now? No one has said in this debate that every Member of the Transport and General Workers Union throughout Britain has the right, at least on one night of most weeks, to go along to his trade union branch and make his views felt. It is a fact that the democratic representation of the people of Britain is as open and free now as it ever was.
When I see a picket line with alienated men standing with snow on their shoulders in incredibly uncomfortable conditions, I recognise some of the things that people 1624 have drawn attention to in this debate. I see the fact that men can be manipulated by others, that women can be worried by circumstances which they may be powerless to control. But I also see men and women with whom I have worked in other circumstances, in social, public and political life, standing in the picket line because they feel they have a case to put and they intend to put it in the way that seems best for them to make it. I believe the Prime Minister of Britain recognises this and, given the backing of the Cabinet he has behind him, he can represent best the concerns that we wish represented.
I know it would be much more convenient for noble Lords on the other side of the House to see this Government fall. I honestly do not think it would advance the cause of Britain; nor indeed the specific solutions that have been suggested this afternoon. In fact, I feel totally to the contrary. I know it would suit the personal wishes of certain individuals taking part in this debate if they were to find themselves in office. I believe that they are honest in that and I would have wished that the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, had attributed similar honesty to my noble friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who, in his conduct of every debate in this place has confirmed in the opinions of his friends and of his nominal enemies that he is a man who can be trusted always to bring to his task the ethics, sincerity and honesty that we have the right to expect of people who have inherited high office.
I believe that we have the right to expect that in a debate tributes could be made in a way that removes from them any innuendo of criticism. I am not going to go on at great length, because the points that I wished to make have already been made, but I wish to say that we have indications of the way in which the representatives of institutions in our democracy have declined. When the most reverend Primate comes here from his cathedral to speak in a debate in this House, he does so knowing that the great Church of which he is the father is not now as influential in the life of the country as it was 30 or 40 years ago or longer, when the other parallel institutions were founded.
I think we all recognise that there are politically-motivated men using the institutions of democracy for their own 1625 advantage. We had perhaps best look at the way in which pessimism is created and sustained in this country. The country might not have felt so pessimistic if the media had not taken up consistently particular stories that focussed attention on specific events, as if they were general ones. I think this pessimistic mood has been built up over a number of years—not just over the past three years, but affecting successive Governments in this country—a mood that makes it increasingly difficult for democratically-elected Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers to affect their manifesto and to carry out the will of the people.
In closing, I would say that I am as fully conscious as anyone of the need to articulate the fears of people even when they have perhaps wasted their own opportunities to affect the debate when they have stayed at home, watching television, when they should have been at a union meeting or attending some other meeting in public life. I believe that the law is clear. I believe that, although the distinguished former Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hail-sham, may feel that there should be changes in the law. The law, as it exists, can clearly be implemented to control and monitor the situation we face. I believe it is essential that the institutions that exist and the laws that exist should be properly used for those who really do care for democracy in Britain and for the future in Britain.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, I should like to start by apologising to the House for the fact that, unfortunately, I may have to leave before the end of the debate because of circumstances beyond my control. Next I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Smith, on his admirable, clear and most telling maiden speech.
For as long as I can remember, mobs, or if I may put it in a more emotionally neutral way, large crowds, have been given enormous latitude by authority in this country. I do not want to define the word "authority" too precisely in this context; but a crowd of 1,000 or 10,000 is allowed to get away with things that a crowd of 10 or 20 could never get away 1626 with, and still less a solitary individual. I know there are pragmatic arguments trotted out to justify this, such as avoidance of confrontation and so on; but even so this state of affairs has always made me uneasy and now, with the unions bolstered by the excessive privileges granted to them by Statute from 1974 onwards, we see the logical consequences of this policy. Food and vital raw materials are held up; our export trade is damaged and the reputation of our exporters in the future is damaged even more; farm animals are dying for lack of feedstuffs; medical supplies are interrupted; salt for de-icing the roads is also held up with a consequent danger to human life; cancer patients are evicted and school children are depicted as "blacklegs" for bringing packed lunches to school.
The pickets and their backers, not all of whom are trade unionists—we have heard of students and members of the Socialist Workers Party and many others—have in fact usurped the functions of Government and arrogated to themselves the right to decide which goods and services shall pass and which shall not pass, and whether or not ordinary citizens shall be permitted to go about their lawful business. In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, mentioned the other day, we see the extortion of money on a gigantic scale. Either this extortion is legal, in which case the Inland Revenue should surely be taking an interest, or it is illegal—in which case the police should surely be doing something. From the Statement made today, I take it that the practice is in fact illegal and I hope that something will shortly be done.
I have been reminded rather forcefully during the last week or two or my one and only visit to Haiti. It was in 1963, at the time of the notorious Francois Duvalier and his Tonton Macoutes; it was in the era of Graham Greene's famous novel set in that island. Haiti was a haunting and fascinating place, but three aspects of its still come to mind very vividly. The first was poverty. I have never seen such poverty anywhere in my travels, with the possible exception of some parts of the Indian Sub-continent. The second was fear, and the wary, cautious look in everyone's eyes—the circumspection and the way in which 1627 nobody was willing to commit themselves openly. In this respect it was worse than the still-Stalinist pre-Dubcek Czechoslovakia which I had visited in the previous year.
The third thing I remember so well was the fact that there were road blocks every few hundred yards, manned by people in civilian clothes, where money was demanded as the price for being allowed to continue on one's way. Provided one paid up and did not argue there were no problems, but I hate to think what might have happened if one had taken any other course.
We certainly do not have Haiti's poverty in this country—yet—but we see the circumspection and we see people reluctant to speak their minds: people who wish to remain anonymous when writing to the newspapers, and those who wish not to be quoted. They are generally fearful, and this is a most disturbing feature of contemporary British life. More shockingly, we have all heard of employers who have sacked faithful employees who have not wished to come out on strike, because the employers do not want to offend some union or other; and, of course, we now have the road blocks where money is extorted from those who wish to pass on their lawful business.
The Government are patting themselves on the back over the fact that there has been virtually no violence so far, but, of course, if everything has been going your own way, and if the spirit of your opponents has been totally crushed, there is no need for violence, because everything is on the point of falling neatly into your lap. Why has the spirit of the opposition, of the silent majority, been crushed? It is surely because of the closed shop, and the consequent fear that anybody who offends the pickets may lose his trade union card, and hence his livelihood, for ever more. In Czechoslovakia, those who offend the powers that be lose their university professorships or whatever and have no option but to end up as road sweepers or in some other unskilled menial job. It is certainly more humane than the practice further East of sending such people to psychiatric hospitals; but it is surely not something to be encouraged or even in the mildest form copied over here.
1628 Surely, all this demonstrates that the closed shop is a gross infringement of individual freedom, and that, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown and the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, among others, said, it must be outlawed or, at least, severely curtailed. The principle of the closed shop is certainly in conflict with the principles underlying the European Convention on Human Rights. It has already been banned in certain West European countries. Similar legislation is bound to be emulated here at some point Let it be sooner rather than later.
One other piece of legislation needs repealing in order—if I may quote the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to whom we are very grateful for initiating this debate—to restore the balance of bargaining power which recent legislation has upset. At the last count, there were 147 countries who are members of the United Nations Organisation. I say "at the last count", because the number grows almost weekly. Of those 147, only one, Britain, subsidises strikes by paying supplementary social security benefits to strikers via their families. It is true that three other countries: two Scandinavian countries—I am not sure which two, at the moment—and the Netherlands, make loans to strikers but those loans must be repaid in full when the strike terminates.
It is clear from the Crossman Diaries that the Government of the day saw the flaws in this legislation almost as soon as it reached the Statute Book, but by then they felt it too late to do anything about it. I cannot see that there would be any serious public objection if we were to get into line with the rest of the world once again after an interval of just over 12 years. The point is that it is simply not in human nature to look a gift horse in the mouth, nor is it fair to expect people to do so. If people are even slightly bored with their job, if they have no particular loyalty towards their employer or to their customers, and if, in addition, there is absolutely no financial disadvantage whatsoever in striking, then why on earth not go on strike? Repeal of this legislation would, strange as it may seem at first glance, be very much in the long-term interest of the average trade unionist.
Only two days ago, I met a small employer in North London—a sensitive, 1629 kindly and experienced man who had spent much of his working life on the shop floor himself—who, very sadly, was on the point of closing down his small light engineering works after six years. Because of reasons that he could not put his finger on, there had been a complete breakdown of labour discipline—he did not use that phrase, but that is what he meant—over the past few months; timekeeping had gone to pot, absenteeism was rife and workmanship had become slipshod. He was losing money heavily in consequence, and could not afford to continue, with the result that more than a dozen extra people would be joining the dole queues and swelling the unemployment statistics.
The trouble is that people like his employees had come to assume that—if I may slip for a brief moment into the hideous political jargon of the 1970s—they were in a "no lose situation", and of course, in the very short term, their assumptions were right. But a country simply cannot function in this way effectively, or indeed at all, for any length of time. Surely it is time, calmly and dispassionately, but with determination, to redress the balance and make people once again face the consequences of their deliberate actions. If this and the other necessary reforms were carried out, I believe that this country would be a more prosperous and also a happier place.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, I would seek to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Parry, on one point he made in his otherwise delightfully poetical speech. He suggested that the tone and standard of this debate had fallen, because among a number of recent speeches there had been criticism directed at the Government's handling of the crisis. I put this to the noble Lord. I think we are all agreed in this House, without dispute, that the country is facing a grave situation in which the very fabric of our society is being shaken. We are incurring losses which will affect our standards of life and our balance of payments for years to come; we are losing export markets, some of which we may never regain, and the relative downward standard of life in this country as compared with our friends in the EEC 1630 is going to take a further jerk downwards. In that situation, surely those, of whom I am one, who believe that the Government are not handling the situation effectively, would really be untrue to our duty if we did not say so. If the patient is seriously ill and you think that the doctor is poisoning him, surely you should not say: "Hush, no disturbance in the sick room. The patient is too seriously ill to challenge the admission of poison". Surely it is up to those who think that way to say so, loud and clear.
I found the speech of the Leader of the House, the Lord Privy Seal, towards the beginning of this debate, desperately depressing. We had a long, conscientious and, as always with the noble Lord, courteously delivered summary of the things that are going wrong, of the disasters that are falling on our community. But there was not throughout that speech a single indication that the Government had any new idea or new policy as to how to handle it. We start in the position that this country is in a mess, and it is surely up to those who hold responsibility—however tenuously, however temporarily—as Government to indicate what they are going to do about it, what changes they are going to make.
We had a reference, as we have had again and again in these debates, to the anti-inflation policy. But we had no apparent even realisation that the admirable objectives of that policy—and the objectives are such as we would all support—are not being achieved by the methods that are being used. Surely it is now obvious—and I say this with pain and sadness, as I am sure your Lordships will accept—that the policy has failed that whether or not you call it an anti-inflation policy, it is not inhibiting inflation and we are now seeing wage settlements, some of them in the public sector and within the direct control of the Government, such as that in the BBC, which make the 5 per cent., to which the Prime Minister pinned his faith so eloquently only a few weeks ago, seem like a remote daydream. In that situation, the House should have expected, and the country certainly would, statements from those who sit on that Bench opposite, and a similar Bench in the other place, indicating that the Government will now take steps to deal with the matter.
1631 I think that the basic mistake that the Government have made—and I hope that they are coming to realise this—has been that they have sought to enforce the anti-inflation policy solely by putting pressure on the employers, while leaving the trade unions not only free of any Government interference or pressure, but still entrenched behind their massive legal privileges. This approach ignores the fact that it is not the employers as a whole who are pressing to make inflationary wage settlements. The pressure, of course, comes from the trade unions. In those circumstances, to put all your pressure upon the employer—who in most cases is, to the best of his ability, trying to resist excessive demands while leaving the organisations which are making the demands absolutely unhindered in their attack—is surely a reductio ad absurdum of policy. It is as though, as it were, police action were taken against the householder while all the courtesies were shown to the burglar.
The locus classicus of this policy and the perfect exemplifier of its failure has been the Ford issue, upon which I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, a Question two days ago. I am sorry that she is not in her place on the Front Bench. With her usual chivalry, the noble Baroness made her usual gallant efforts to defend the indefensible.
Let us look at what happened in the case of the Ford issue, because it crystallises the failure of the Government's policy. It was made clear to Fords that Government contracts and everything else would be withheld if they settled for more than 5 per cent. They offered 5 per cent., the immediate result of which was a nine weeks' strike which cost Fords several hundred million pounds and this country's balance of payments very substantial sums indeed. At the end of those nine weeks and of those colossal losses, Fords settled for 17 per cent., which everybody knows is very much higher than they could have settled for at the beginning of the dispute, thus avoiding the strike.
Policies of that kind inevitably produce disaster. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said, "Oh well, we had to do it, because otherwise other people would have made higher settlements; as it is, they have settled for less". The fallacy of that 1632 argument is that in the light of the Ford settlement and some of the others which are now being made and offered, those unions which a few months ago were content to settle for 5 per cent. are reopening the matter. Therefore, the disaster resulting to the Government's policy and to the interests of the nation from the 17 per cent. Ford settlement, which itself was the result of the course of events which I have described, is all the more severe. In the future, that figure will be taken as the norm or standard.
It is no use moaning, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, did two days ago, and as the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal did to some extent today, about the fact that another place deprived the Government of the sanctions weapon. If the counter-inflation policy is crucially important—and I personally accept that it is—and if the sanctions weapon were a necesssary instrument for effecting that policy, why on earth did the Government simply accept the decision of another place and not, saying that it was necessary, offer to dissolve Parliament and submit the issue to the electorate? If the sanctions policy were a necessary instrument for restraining inflation in this country and the Government felt that they had been denied it, as they have said, by what they regarded as the misguided decision of another place, they could have taken the constitutional course of appealing to the people. Such a course is even more obvious and evident when you are already getting towards the end of the first half of the fifth year of a Parliament. Oh, but no; the Government stay on, without the weapon, and grumble about it. But they offer no alternative.
I shall seek, as most noble Lords have been, to be constructive. Therefore, I should like to put two suggestions to the Government. If the Government really are sincere about their counter-inflation policy, as they say, why do they not—and here I have much sympathy with the noble Lords on the Liberal Benches—obtain Parliamentary authority, not for a rigid figure but for the guidelines and seek to embody them in a Statute which could be adjusted, with Parliamentary approval, by Statutory Instrument; and, having done that, then legislate to remove the immunity from suit of the trade dispute provisions of the Trades Disputes Act in the case of any strike which is 1633 being pursued to effect a breach of the guidelines? Where a union is demanding something which, in the Government's view, is disastrous and violating guidelines which they regard as essential, why do they not say that such a union need not have the legal privilege which unions otherwise have in pursuit of their lawful claims? If the Government were sincere, why do they not do that?
Equally, why do the Government not use the instrument of the Inland Revenue to secure that proper levels of taxation, payable through PAYE, are imposed upon the fruits of settlements that breach the guidelines? The fact that the Government do not even seem to have explored these possibilities, but are simply going on with their policy of attacking the employers, is what I find to be the most infinitely depressing thing about this debate. Deprived of the sanctions weapon, the Government are now trying to use the other blunt instrument of the Price Commission, the legislation regarding which will be reaching us shortly.
But before that legislation reaches us and before we discuss it may I say this, with great respect, to the noble and learned Lord on the Front Bench: do the Government realise that if they simply use the Price Commission to squeeze employers' profits, to squeeze the employers in the upper millstone of the Price Commission and the lower millstone of the unions, they will not achieve their object? They will diminish employment. They will cause investment in this country to be cut off. They will produce a steady running down of the economy. No company with responsibilities to its shareholders will continue with investments and developments on a substantial scale which will give employment if it knows that it is to be subjected to a process of that kind.
May I give the House a small example that I came across the other day of how this kind of thing happens. In a certain case of which I know, the person concerned sought a very useful little device to go into the shoe of somebody who has a badly disabled foot. He went to a shop where previously he had obtained this device but was told that it is no longer made; the Price Commission had denied an increase, so the device is no longer made. That kind of thing, which is a small tragedy to a few disabled 1634 individuals, will be repeated again and again if the Government try to use the Price Commission to pursue their insane policy—I do not think that that is too strong a word—of apply all the pressure to the employer while leaving the unions scot free.
May I say one word more regarding picketing, as the noble and learned Lord who was good enough to repeat today's Statement today is going to wind up this debate, upon which I should like to invite his comments. He said to us, I recall—and he will correct me if I am wrong—that pickets have no right to force a driver to stop. Will the noble and learned Lord tell the House and the people outside in plain language what a driver is to do if he drives up to a depot where he is to collect or deliver goods and finds, as drivers are finding every hour of the day at the moment, a line of pickets? Is he to drive into them, or is he, as they wish him to do, to stop? If he stops, the pickets, by standing there, are effecting what the noble and learned Lord says that they are not allowed to effect.
If I am right, ought not the Government, faced with that situation, to instruct the police to take action to clear the way so that a driver who does not wish to stop and carry on a conversation with the pickets shall be entitled to exercise his right? To say, "You can complain to the police afterwards ", does not take one anywhere, because of the practicalities of identification at the depot where the driver does not know the pickets, who themselves may have come a long distance, and makes a mere retrospective complaint to the police wholly useless and ineffective. What is needed is resolution by the public authorities concerned to enable not only the pickets to exercise their rights under the law as it now stands, as they should do, but equally to allow other people going about their lawful business to exercise their right, and particularly their right of not being stopped. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General will give us the answer to that.
On all our experience of the last week or two it seems that the Government intend to do none of these things. The Government, led by the present Prime Minister, will not take any action which 1635 will seriously displease the major trade unions. The noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, in his most remarkable speech—and, if I may say so in parenthesis, this debate was justified if only on account of the opportunity it gave us to hear that very remarkable speech spoken with Lord George-Brown's authority on these subjects—reminded us that it was the present Prime Minister who, consistent with his policy of never displeasing the unions, defeated the attempts of Sir Harold Wilson and of Mrs. Barbara Castle to carry through the trade union legislation embodying the effect of In Place of Strife. Those of us who had the pleasure of reading the late Mr. Richard Crossman's entertaining memoirs were able to read in detail how that was done. If I may say so, I have great personal affection for the present Prime Minister, whom I have known for a great many years, and in personal terms he will not take any action which will displease the unions, and I believe that is the single factor which will bring this Government down. That is a circumstance which I admit I can contemplate with stoical fortitude, but my fortitude is diminished by the damage which can be done in the interval. The Government are tottering to their fall; they are obviously in their last stages—not prepared to take a stand, dominated, as I think one of my noble friends said, by the strong Transport and General Worker element with their majority in the House of Commons and indeed among two members of the Cabinet, including, curiously enough, the Minister responsible for maintaining our food supplies. But when they go—and perhaps the sooner the better—I can contribute an epitaph which, if the most reverend Primate will permit me, is based upon a rather cruel parody of my favourite hymn:Trembling they passed, the great surrender made,Into contempt which never more shall fade;Their memory hated in the land they failed".
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord WIGODER
My Lords, from these Benches may I first say how much we appreciated the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and secondly how much we are looking forward to the maiden speech as a free citizen of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. 1636 I make no apology for devoting the whole of my remarks to the present unsatisfactory state of the law of picketing and as to what can be done to improve it. I do that, recognising that of course the present state of the law of picketing is not the cause of our present troubles but I believe it is a very substantial cause of the extent of those troubles. Therefore, I cannot go along with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who appeared to think that it was somewhat indelicate to raise this matter at this stage. On the contrary, I believe it is urgent to do so and perhaps even more urgent that it should be done at a moment when there are a large number of people, both inside the unions and outside, who would welcome such reforms.
May I therefore begin with the simple observation that there is no such right as the right to picket. I think it was Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg—I hope I have the reference right—who spoke about the "inalienable rights with which all men had been endowed by their creator", but he did not go on to enumerate the right to strike or the right to march or the right to picket. The reason why the right to picket is not a human right or a fundamental right or anything of that sort is simply that, certainly under our law, picketing by itself per se is invariably unlawful. It is unlawful from the point of view of the civil law because it must give rise to some effect to induce a breach of contract; it is unlawful under the criminal law because it must invariably at the least give rise to some obstruction of the highway, and therefore the only right which people have to picket is that right which has been specifically granted by legislation in this country. Those are the only circumstances in which it is permissible under our law.
I would not want to blame the present Government for the state of that law. The fact is that Section 15 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 re-enacts word for word—except for one (for these purposes) irrelevant phrase—Section 2 of the Trade Disputes Act of 1906 and I do not need reminding that that Act was passed by a Liberal Government. I hope therefore that it is not entirely inappropriate that it is a Liberal who might perhaps urge the need now drastically to reform that section. I do so in the belief that we are being loyal 1637 to our principles, because we believe still that the law should be used in order to protect the weaker members of society. What has changed in the last 70 years is that the whole balance of power, economically and politically, in our society has changed and the techniques of picketing have developed in a way which was never envisaged back in 1906. They have developed now to such an extent that it is difficult to draw any valid distinction between a major strike in an essential service industry and an apparently minor strike in an industry which is not of such immediate importance, because in the way that picketing has developed the minor strike can develop and progress very rapidly into a major threat to the welfare of the whole community.
As your Lordships will hear in a moment, I come to the conclusion that not only are reforms necessary but in the last resort it is necessary for them to be enforced by the criminal law. I consider, if I may, four immediate reforms, for which I believe there would be a great measure of public support. The first reform is that the number of pickets at any place of access where industrial action is taking place should be limited, perhaps to six or 10 or whatever number is thought appropriate. I know that there are some difficulties in enforcing that, although not quite the absurd difficulty postulated in the Government's consultative document of last November, where it was stated that it would be difficult for the police to decide who were the excess persons who had no right to be there.
There are various criminal statutes of which the law of riot, for example, is one, an offence which is committed by more than 10 people in certain circumstances. If the police find a riot they do not have to determine which is the 11th man and only deal with him; all 11 who were taking part in the riot are guilty of the offence and I can see no practical difficulty at all in the police dealing with the situation if they find more than a permitted statutory number of pickets on any one place of access to premises where there is strike action. I do not believe that any of us in this country want a recurrence of the Grunwick troubles and of the tremendous strain that in particular that put upon the Metropolitan Police Force.
1638 The second reform which I believe is necessary is that picketing should be limited, so that it can lawfully be carried on only by members of the union who are employees of the employers who are involved in the dispute. I believe again there is widespread support for this, and indeed it appears in the guidelines issued by the Transport and General Workers' Union last week and it is clearly acceptable to that union, at any rate, at this stage. It is, I think, very necessary, to some extent for the reason touched on by the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, in his remarkable speech, and that is that there are groups of people in this country, particularly—there is no point in not naming them—in the Socialist Workers Party, who latch on to every industrial dispute for the purpose of causing complete anarchy and overthrowing our whole state of society. I believe our society is entitled to fight back against that menace and there is no reason at all why these people should be allowed to join in every industrial dispute and adopt it as their own for ulterior motives and with not the slightest interest in the welfare of those who happen to be on strike.
The third limitation that I believe should be considered is simply that those who are picketing should picket only at their own place of employment, and the fourth limitation that again I believe is desirable is that they should seek to dissuade only those who are working for the company with whom the union is in dispute. Again I do not think there is any real difficulty about that, because that also has been accepted by the TGWU in their current instructions to their pickets. I believe that those four proposals would very substantially diminish the risks which the whole community undergoes at the moment from the spread of mass picketing, from the use of flying pickets and from the use of secondary pickets. I do not believe they are any restriction at all upon the legitimate right of those involved in an industrial dispute to further their dispute by striking. I should perhaps add that I cannot see how it is possible to give pickets a legal right to stop vehicles. That seems to me something that would give rise to intolerable problems for the police, and I cannot see how that right can lawfully be given to them.
If these reforms, or some of them, are necessary, I turn to look, lastly, at how 1639 they can be brought about. There are four possible ways of doing it. The first is by a code of practice similar to that which the TGWU have issued recently. I find this difficult to regard as an ideal solution. Codes of practice are invaluable when they define the ways in which agreed objectives can be obtained, but this is not an agreed objective. I am delighted that so many members of the TGWU have in fact abided by the guidelines issued to them from their head office. But the fact remains that there are many who are not abiding by it, and there is no question but that in future industrial disputes there can be no guarantee whatever that a code of practice of this sort would be adhered to by those taking part in industrial strike action. But I add this. The unions for their part have said in terms that they are not there to police codes of practice of this nature; they are indeed quite incapable structurally of doing so.
The second suggestion that was made in the Government's consultative document on this subject is that the code of practice should be given more force by being adopted by Parliament, whereupon it would have the status, as it were, of the Highway Code, so that the rules in the code of practice could be cited in court where proceedings were taken. Again that seems to me to be a misapprehension of the whole position. The rules in the Highway Code are invaluable in court in deciding cases, for example, of careless or reckless driving. But there is no such offence as, for example, unreasonable picketing, and I believe it would be very undesirable to seek to create one. I cannot see how in the course of proceedings under the existing law, for example, for obstructing the police or assaulting the police, or whatever it may be, the rules in the code of practice that I have indicated would be relevant on more than a minute number of occasions. It does not seem to me, therefore, that adopting a code of practice in that way as part of our rules would be of any assistance.
Thirdly, it might be possible to rely on the civil law. I find it again difficult to see how this exclusively can be an adequate remedy. It is placing employers in an impossible position if the burden of en- I forcing the law is placed on their shoulders 1640 exclusively when it really ought to be upon the shoulders of the community as a whole. It means that it must endanger their internal industrial relations in future, and it has, of course, also the very real objection to which the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell referred, that the timelag is bound to be so great that it cannot be effective in dealing immediately with any breach of the rules.
I therefore come to the reluctant conclusion that the only way of dealing with what I suggest is an urgent and serious problem is in fact by changing the criminal law to give effect to some of the measures which I have ventured to suggest to your Lordships. I know it will be difficult. I know that there are those in the Government who will point out the problems that may arise. But I believe that the difficulties would be overcome if there were the political will to do so, if there were the will to take measures which some trade unionists might find objectionable. I believe that at this particular moment there are many people, inside the unions as well as out, who would not find such measures objectionable and would be happy to see them brought into effect. I do not want to advocate a coalition Government. I do not think my right honourable friend Mr. David Steel ever used those terms, or anything like them. I do believe that there are in all the political Parties at the moment, and among those outside the political Parties, a great many people of goodwill who could cooperate together in ensuring that these reforms are brought about.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, speaking for the first time, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said, as a free man, at least a free man so far as the last five years are concerned, it is perhaps appropriate that I do in fact follow the noble Lord, because he and I have spent many hours together going through the delights of the Matrimonial Proceedings Bill and the Criminal Law Bill. On this occasion I find myself speaking from this Back Bench on what is in fact I think one of the most serious issues that this country has been confronted with for a very substantial period of time indeed.
Before I go into the substance of my speech I should like to say two things. 1641 In normal circumstances I would say that I shall speak briefly, but I have learned in this House that anyone beginning a speech by assuring his colleagues that he is going to make a short speech always in fact makes an extremely long one. So I therefore deliberately decide not to use that form of words. Secondly, I speak as someone who has had experience over the last five years as Minister of State in the Home Office with direct responsibility for the Police Service. During that period we have spent a very substantial amount of time dealing with this question of picketing, and it is about that that I wish to speak.
In so doing I would say just two other things. First, during the last two and a half years I have had the good fortune of a very close personal relationship with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, and I want to make it absolutely clear that nothing I say this evening is to be taken either directly or indirectly as any form of criticism of anything that he has done or not done over the last few weeks. Having worked for so long in the Home Office I know what an enormous burden and responsibility the holder of that office carries at a time of serious national crisis, not only carrying out the responsibilities of his own Department, but being chairman of the Cabinet Committee dealing with the emergency situation. He carries a very heavy burden indeed. Secondly, neither do I regard it as particularly dignified—having held office for so long in a Government—to make a speech within three weeks of leaving the Government which implies that one did, in fact, have the most substantial differences with one's colleagues during the whole of the period of one's time in that office. With that by way of introduction I should like to say that I believe that there can be little dispute about the seriousness of the situation with which we are now confronted.
It is not a question simply of the number of disputes which we are facing at present, although that indeed is certainly serious enough. There have been strikes by the water and sewerage workers; by the railways; in road haulage and among local authority employees ranging from ambulancemen to refuse collectors. We have the possibility of strikes in many other key areas of our economy, not least the very real risk of a major confrontation with the National Union of 1642 Mineworkers which has been brought a great deal closer as a result of what I have just read on the taping machines in this House. This is certainly among the most serious series of disputes with which this country has been confronted in the past 50 years. It is certainly arguable that it is the most serious.
I repeat that it is not just a question of the number of disputes, but rather the manner and the mood in which those disputes are being conducted. Things are being done and said that are quite foreign to the traditions of the British trade union movement. There have been pickets who have attempted to stop school children from going into their schools. There have been acts of intimidation—they are not a media conspiracy; and I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, is not with us tonight—and that was made absolutely clear by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in his Statement in another place the other day. We have had the squalid episode in Birmingham where cancer patients have been sent home and discharged from hospital because of the attitude of a number of hospital porters. There has been another case where a spokesman for the London ambulancemen has indicated that if grievously ill people died as a result of his colleagues taking industrial action, then that was just too bad. There has also been the suggestion made in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and by others, and yesterday in the Financial Times, that money is being extorted by some pickets in return for which lorries are being allowed through picket lines. These are not just rumours. Two named examples were given in the Daily Telegraph last Saturday, and, as I have indicated, there is another example in the Financial Times of yesterday where a spokesman for the British Plastics Federation stated that the going rate was £1.50 to £10 for allowing lorries through the picket lines.
I should like to ask my noble and learned friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland a direct question as regards this particular matter because it is a matter of some importance. He may recall that I raised it with the Leader of the House after he had repeated a Statement in this House on an earlier occasion and I said that I wished to come back to it. I should like to know what is now going to happen 1643 as a result of these statements by clearly defined individuals that money has been collected by pickets. The Statement which has been repeated by my noble and learned friend this afternoon—a Statement made in another place by the Attorney-General—made it clear that a serious criminal offence was committed if what I have described took place. What is going to be done about it? In my view it is a most serious matter and it seems to me that one of those gentlemen who are doing, I am sure, an extremely valuable job—and many civil servants are doing extremely valuable work—on these emergency committees which have been set up throughout the country, should pick up the telephone and ask the gentleman from the British Plastics Federation who has made this statement (there are at least two other examples of such statements), whether he is prepared to make a formal complaint to the police. It seems to me that if there is clear evidence of the commission of a serious criminal offence of this kind, it is crucially important that action should be taken to deal with it.
I have made it clear that in my view what has been done and is being done in these disputes is wholly repugnant not only to this House and another place, but to millions of decent trade unionists and their wives in this country. It is, as I have indicated, entirely alien to the tradition of British trade unions. Many, like myself, who have been involved in the Labour movement throughout the whole of their lives know that what is now taking place would have been denounced in the most biting terms by Ernest Bevin, Arthur Deakin, Will Lawther, Tom Williamson and Vic Feather.
I look forward to an early statement by Mr. Fisher the General Secretary of the National Union of Public Employees about the quite disgraceful behaviour which has been committed in the name of his union and which I believe is most lamentable, doing, as it does, grave damage to the reputation of the British trade union movement. However, we must accept that conduct of that kind has taken place. It really is not a question, as was suggested here the other day, of some form of media conspiracy. I believe that what has been taking place on some of the picket lines is quite unacceptable in a democratic society.
1644 I should now like to set out my own views as to how we should handle this matter. It cannot simply be shrugged off as a matter of little importance. The issue is so serious that it does not brook either evasion or too much delay. Let me say at the outset that I very much agree with what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said on this matter last week, both about the menace of secondary picketing and about the grave difficulties of legislating to deal with the problem of picketing. We cannot pretend, having lived through all the convulsions caused by the passage of the Industrial Relations Act, that it simply did not take place. It was a fact. Therefore, I very much agreed with what my right honourable friend said about the desirability of some form of non-statutory code of conduct which he preferred to legislation.
However, in my view two things follow from that. First, that in the case of the lorry drivers' dispute the Transport and General Workers' Union ensures that its members abide by that voluntary code of conduct. And secondly, that it takes disciplinary action against any of its members who refuse to accept that code of conduct. But what, my Lords, has happened? The statement made by Mr. Moss Evans was given a great deal of publicity at the end of last week. No member of the Transport and General Workers' Union on the picket line could have had any doubt about what was in it. Indeed, the Daily Mirror made the whole of its front page available to Mr. Evans. So I am sure that some pickets accepted it. But what is undoubtedly clear is that a very large number did not. Secondary picketing is continuing, and on a substantial scale, and at the moment there is not the slightest indication that the union is prepared to take any action against those responsible.
Let me give one illustration of what this means by drawing on an account given to me by a friend who has a small business. This week he sent three of his own lorries to a port to collect urgently-needed supplies. His men were threatened by the men on the picket line. They were told that they would be thrown out of their own union—and they did not happen to be members of the Transport and General Workers' Union—and would never be allowed to get a job again. They turned 1645 back. My friend spoke to the strike committee and pointed out that this was clearly secondary picketing. He drew the attention of the strike committee to the contents of the front page of the Daily Mirror. He pointed out that conduct of this kind was specifically prohibited by that code and by Mr. Evans' statement. The reply he received was "Moss Evans isn't on our picket line". The following day he again spoke to them. He remonstrated with them. "Yes", they said, they would let the lorries in. That same afternoon he rang them again to confirm the arrangements and they said that they had changed their minds and would not let the lorries through. I do not believe that we in this country can go on in this way.
§ Several noble Lords: Hear, hear!
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, these products were required for an urgently-needed export order. If it is not met, to a marginal extent all the people of this country will have their standard of living affected. That is only one illustration; there is case after case of this kind of conduct taking place at our ports. As I have indicated, I recognise that there are great difficulties in dealing with this matter. There is no simple solution to it. Certainly if I thought that there was, my view would have been changed by the time I decided, when I was a Minister at the Home Office, that it was right to go down to the Grunwick factory during that dispute. For all sorts of reasons I do not think it right for Ministers to become involved in "sharp end" situations, even though Sir Winston Churchill did on one occasion become rather involved himself in Sydney Street.
I went to Grunwick because it was quite clear that what was going on there was creating a very serious situation. There was a great deal of public concern about the matter, but there was also a very serious problem affecting the Metropolitan Police who, if I may remind the House, were being most savagely criticised in another place for attempting to enforce the law of this country. Frankly, what I saw then was quite unacceptable. I saw hundreds of men—sometimes thousands of men—who had no conceivable involvement with that dispute picketing the company. Some were Yorkshire Miners 1646 brought down by Mr. Scargill. There was the editor of the Yorkshire Miner, a gentleman who found his conversation with the Metropolitan Police so alarming that he sought some form of political refuge in East Germany.
Certainly, what I saw then concerned me very greatly, because I do not believe that the presence of hundreds or thousands of people on a picket line has anything to do with peaceful persuasion. We must recognise that this is a serious matter, a serious fact, uncomfortable and difficult. There is no easy solution to it. Until we accept some form of analysis on these lines, I do not believe that we shall begin to start dealing with the problems caused by the present difficulties confronting us.
I believe that in this situation there are two requirements. I indicated my preference for a voluntary code of conduct followed by firm disciplinary action by the union against those who ignore it. The code should deal not just with the area covered by the code of conduct which was published in the Daily Mirror last week. First, it should deal with the fact that it is unacceptable that pickets should come other than from the factory that is being picketed; and, secondly—indeed, this is largely the same point—there should be a clear prohibition on outsiders becoming involved in any way.
However, I repeat that this would have to be backed up by the unions agreeing to take disciplinary action against those of their members who defy them. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is to meet the Trades Union Congress next week. I hope that at that meeting he will raise the picketing issue with them. At the moment I believe that, understandably, he is going to talk to them about the incomes policy problems which are now arising. However, I should like to ask my noble and learned friend the Solicitor-General this direct question. Will the question of picketing be raised at that meeting or not? I believe that it is most important that this matter should be firmly on the agenda at that meeting, because I do not think for a moment that we can tolerate a continuance of what is happening at present. It must be made absolutely clear to the TUC by the Government that this is a high-priority issue. I believe that the TUC should be 1647 left in no doubt whatever that failure to agree to a voluntary code, backed up by disciplinary action against those who ignore it, will lead, not to a quiet and sad resignation that nothing can therefore be done, but to immense pressure from public opinion that Parliament should agree to pass legislation to deal with this abuse.
As I have indicated, I should far prefer to see voluntary action taken by the TUC. Speaking entirely for myself, but I suspect for a great number of other people outside this House—many rank and file trade unionists included, whose jobs are now, of course, being threatened—I believe that the anarchy which we are seeing on the picket lines at present simply must stop. I believe that that is the overwhelming view of our fellow citizens.
I have already indicated that the situation which confronts this country is very serious, and I fear that it is deteriorating. We not only have lawlessness on the picket lines, but a growing threat to the Government's entire counter-inflationary policy. There is a risk that this policy will be swept aside in an avalanche of wildly inflationary pay settlements. In that situation we may well return to riproaring inflation and as a direct consequence of that there will be a further rise in the level of unemployment, still higher interest rates and a further cutback in private sector investments in this country. Without a substantial increase in private sector investment, there is no way in which this country can begin to emerge from its economic difficulties.
However, if hyper-inflation returns, it will do two other things. First, I fear that it will do grievous damage to the self-esteem of the British people. As a nation we have done very poorly in the last two decades. Just after the war, together with the United States, we looked out on a war-devestated Europe. Our record had been a proud one. It is true that the cost had been harsh but our reputation stood high.
What is the situation now? Far from being a country, as we were then, with the highest living standards in Europe, our path has led inexorably downward. We have been overtaken by West Germany, by France, by Holland, by Belgium, by 1648 Luxembourg, by Denmark, and now even by East Germany. It is a dismal story. I believe that this is recognised by a large number of people in this country, and that there is a will in this country to halt this slide towards further national decline.
One central question faces us: have our political leaders the determination to face up to this growing national mood? Let us face it, we start off with something of a problem; the reputation of the profession of politics in this country has declined pretty sharply. I think in public opinion polls we appear a little ahead of second-hand car dealers—not particularly the most attractive group of men or women one would necessarily wish to be associated with. I suppose that that is inevitable in a country with such an unsuccessful economic record.
I believe that that record can be corrected, but only if every serious person in public life accepts that the great divide which exists in this country lies not between the two Front Benches in Parliament, but between Government and those dark forces that exist which have elevated brutal self-interest and reckless disregard for the wellbeing of our fellow citizens into the central principle of their existence. I am certainly not advocating any form of coalition government. I rather thought that Mr. Steel had been suggesting that, but I understand from the noble Lord who preceded me that that was not his intention. In any event, I do not believe that we are going to see a coalition government in this country, certainly at the present time.
However, I believe that, in the critical situation in which the country now finds itself, it is the duty of all of us to minimise, and not to maximise, our differences when we are discussing matters of this sort: not to fight bogus Party battles from one side of Parliament to the other. I believe that the term "the national interest" had a clear meaning for Lord Attlee, for Sir Winston Churchill and, yes, for Anthony Eden, and for the late Hugh Gaitskell, whose death has done such grievous damage to this country. One thought so at the time as one of his very dear personal friends, but everything that has followed since has made his passing even more of a calamity for the 1649 people of this country than it appeared at that time.
In this situation, whatever may be the temptation—and I am talking not just about the immediate situation but even that of a few months ahead—to make any form of Party advantage out of the serious national situation that faces us, it will do still further damage to the reputation of everyone involved in the profession of politics. I believe that, whoever forms the next Government of this country, this is going to be the major test, and that to some extent it is going to be an even greater test for whoever forms the Opposition in this country. Oppositions can, if they are minded to, do great damage to any Government, and I think a call to responsibility in the next few years is going to be even more urgent so far as Oppositions are concerned than is the case for Governments. Speaking for myself, whoever forms the next Government I certainly propose to do everything I can to avoid the repetition of a situation such as we have seen all too often in the last 10 years.
I shall now conclude, aware as I am that I have been detaining your Lordships for a substantial period of time. As I have indicated, we face the particular problem that at this moment in this country we do not have a very high opinion of ourselves. We are suffering from a severe loss of national self-confidence. Our reputation outside this country is an embarrassment to many of our closest friends and allies. To rescue us from this gradual drift into decline will require a supreme effort of national will, and the single-minded effort of everyone who cares for the future of this country.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Lord ORR-EWING
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations, first, to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and, secondly, to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, on his maiden speech, as he described it, as a free man. I hope he will feel free in due course to move further to the right. If he feels that, like others before him he will get a warm welcome from this side of the House. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, who took a similar path, have made outstanding contributions to our debate.
1650 There is one sad thought in my mind, and that is that on this vitally important issue at this critical time we have, as Members of your Lordships' House, some 20 trade union leaders, and not one of them has been here, so far as I could trace, during this debate. Certainly not one has yet spoken. This occurs time after time. It is such a shame that these elder statesmen, who could contribute from their knowledge and present contacts, so seldom come and give us the pleasure of hearing them and their constructive suggestions.
In opening this debate, my noble friend said that he felt that we had all been rather long on analysis and rather short on solutions. I am still hopeful that the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, will, when he winds up, give us less of the analysis and more of the solutions.
Like many others, I have to travel in Europe. I was on business for the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris on Monday. It is so sad that at the luncheon that followed—and they were all speaking fluent English, which makes one rather humble—they said, "What has gone wrong with Britain? Have you gone stark, staring mad? We just cannot believe you are the nation that we know so well". Later they discussed a recent article in Der Spiegel. I have asked the Library to get me a translated copy of a long analysis of the difference between West Germany and ourselves. I understand from the reports I received there, that the key point they make is that there is no basic difference between the workers in Germany and our country. They both come from similar stock; they both have a conscientiousness, and a desire to do a reasonable job for reasonable pay. The only difference is in the structure of their trade unions and the structure of our trade unions, and—perhaps more important—the attitude of the more militant sections in the respective unions of the two countries. Whereas there they are anxious to get new machinery, more competitive machinery, faster machinery, into use at the earliest moment, here there is a reluctance, a Luddite-ism which is reflected all too plainly in Fleet Street and in other places. I do not apologise for spending a moment or two on this trade union problem on which so many others have spent time.
1651 The Leader of the House, Lord Peart, in opening told us that so far only 200,000 people had been laid off. But I assure your Lordships, as chairman of an engineering company and closely involved in other engineering companies, that this is really the tip of the iceberg. I would suggest that there are probably another 800,000 on short time, or working in a disrupted way, because some of the supplies for almost all of the factories have not come through and are being held up either at the docks or at the suppliers.
Owing to the employment legislation we have had in the last five years, we have a guaranteed wage in one of our factories, and, whereas earnings would be over £100 a week, the guaranteed wage is £60 a week. There is therefore little point in sending people home in order to reduce the overheads of the factory; we might as well keep them under-employed making bits and pieces which can be put into stock and which may be useful at a later stage. This all disrupts the flow of production, it disrupts delivery to our customers both in this country and Western Europe and it all helps to destroy our reputation as an exporting and efficient country.
Price inflation is bound to result—because all this will have to be paid for from sales of products in future—and damage to our export orders is already being felt. For example, one factory is making components for the motor industry. If we get an order from Saab or one of the big producers in Western Europe and we cannot deliver on time, then immediately, because they all dual-source, a competitor company will get more of the work and we shall get less. Inevitably, this must lead to higher unemployment.
I was pleased to hear Lord Harris refer to Grunwick, and I do not apologise for returning to the question of picketing because I believe it is endemic to much of our trouble. George Ward was a constituent of mine for many years and therefore, like Lord Harris, I took a special interest in Grunwick. Earlier than July 1977, Mr. Scargill boasted that he could put 3,000 Yorkshire miners in buses, that he could have them on the road within two hours and that they could be placed on a picket anywhere he liked. 1652 This is a pretty ugly situation. In fact, we did not have 3,000 miners appearing to picket 250 people, mainly women and most of them Asians. Not just 3,000 miners, but another 15,000 assembled, making a total of 18,000 people picketing Grunwick to "influence peacefully" those 250 people. That, surely, was a travesty of the law, and a travesty of fairness and justice.
I have obtained from the Library—I compliment our Library staff; efficiency has improved tremendously in recent years—a copy of The Times (also, by the way, on strike) dated 17th July 1977. Perhaps some of us have forgotten what the situation was like then. The headlines read:Police arrest 70 as Grunwick battle leaves 30 hurt. 18,000 join the demonstration".The sub-heading reads:Government considering change in the picket law".That happened 18 months ago. What has happened since? When one reads on in what was obviously an inspired article, one is told that the Government are to take action because they believe they need to relieve the police. Perhaps Lord Harris had some hand in announcing the fact that 25 per cent. of the entire police population of metropolitan London was siphoned off to Grunwick to look after those demonstrations. The article goes on:It is expected the Government will bring forward proposals for amendment of the Employment Protection Act when the Grunwick dispute is settled".That dispute has been settled for 15 months. Where is the action? Where are the solutions? The article adds:Measures would include restriction on numbers".Where is the action?There would be a limit of the right to picket to those who are genuinely interested in the dispute at that works".Where is the action? Then it says it might be desirable that armbands should be worn by officials picket approved by the unions in order to keep out the baddies and of course to keep out militants and students who have no interest except to cause disruption. It is sad that nothing has happened in 18 months. I understand the police reported almost a year ago. The CBI put in their report many months ago. Where are the solutions?
1653 I suggest, too, that what is going on now is making trade unionists most unpopular. There are 11 million trade unionists in Britain but there are 22 to 23 million workers in a population of 55 million, so trade unionists are a minority. Surely it must be—I put it no higher than that—in the Labour Party's interest to do something to make them less unpopular because this unpopularity of the trade unions will inevitably swing back to the discredit of the Labour Party, with whom they are so closely allied.
I urge the Government to accept the discussions which Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and Mr. David Steel have suggested. That is what the country is looking for; they want some bridges built in areas where there is no difference of opinion. I suggest that in the practice of mass picketing and the disruption of our social services and industrial life, there is common ground on which the Government could move. I hope the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, may be able to give us some hope when he replies to the debate.
In his repetition of the Statement made in another place, the noble and learned Lord said prosecution should follow criminal actions "if the facts can be established." Is that realistic? What citizen will come forward and give evidence? I have seen this happen in various factories: "Not me, guvnor, why should I risk losing my card and my job? Why should I risk my children and wife being sent to Coventry or otherwise suffering?" is the answer one gets. Thus there is deep reluctance on the part of those who see these things going on. They will not come forward and give evidence because of the possible threat to their future and that of their families. What employer will come forward? Will he risk his customers and supplies being blacked because he gives evidence in criminal proceedings? I believe it is unrealistic to think this evidence will be forthcoming, however evil the disruption.
I would add to what Lord Harris said about how alarming it is that we are giving more and more power through the trade unions to pickets. They have the power to say, "Yes, you may load this lorry, but not that one." They have the power to say, "If I have £150, guvnor"—or £10 or whatever the figure is—"I'll 1654 let your lorry through." They have the power to let certain lorries out of the docks and to forbid others. This is a free country operating under the law. It should not be operated under pickets, a percentage of whom, I suggest, are not interested in good industrial relations, industrial prosperity or better social services. I feel that many of them have come through the schools of subversion now being operated in Eastern Europe. Many of these trade union leaders have been through courses in Moscow and elsewhere. Surely the time has arrived when this should be exposed and the true facts known.
Many people have suggested the institution of a code of practice. I am becoming rather cynical about codes of practice. Under the Employment Protection Act 1976, a code of practice was to be evolved in the vitally important sphere of the freedom of the Press. We ask Questions about it, but no such code of practice has appeared. The Minister is now responsible for bringing out a code of practice and has been responsible for a year and a half. What talks has he had on the subject? If a code of practice does come, can we rely on the irresponsible militants to carry it out, and if we cannot will the trade unions discipline them? If a goody is to lose his card for standing up to be counted, why should not a baddy lose his card for doing exactly the same? Personally, I believe neither should lose his card and that we should not have closed shop legislation continuing ad infinitum.
It is reported that the transport drivers, having refused 15 per cent., have gone to the Central Arbitration Committee. The Directory of Paid Public Appointments contains a description of the Central Arbitration Committee and I warrant that numbers of your Lordships had not heard of it until it was referred to in the case of the BBC strike just before Christmas. It is a strange body. The number of members is shown, and then, under the heading "functions" it is stated:Has taken over the functions of the Industrial Arbitration Board; i.e. to arbitrate in disputes referred for settlement with the consent of the parties, and to settle claims against employers …".That is a funny one—an arbitration committee to settle claims against employers. Apparently, they are to use comparability, as between lorry drivers 1655 —and who else? How can one compare a lorry driver with anyone else? It was easy in the case of the BBC. The BBC rates of pay for engineers and others were compared with those of the ITA. At least there was one yardstick there; but it was not taken into account that for every three people employed on an ITA programme the BBC generally employ five or six. Many of your Lordships who have worked in both organisations, or who have contacts with them, will recognise that generally there is a considerably more generous manning ratio in the BBC than there is in the ITA. That was not taken into account. An award of 12½ per cent. was made, though the Government had laid down 5 per cent., and another 4 per cent. was given in certain cases to iron out anomalies. So there was an inflationary settlement which took no account of productivity as compared between the ITA and the BBC.
I smell a really inflationary settlement, unless it is laid down by the Government that all matters must be taken into account. I do not know how one compares lorry drivers with others. Does one take mileage, fatigue, unsocial hours, noise, subsistence, or what are known as perks? I am told by lorry drivers that for every three official loads there is one load which goes for cash, or something, into their pockets. Has that been taken into account? If, as has been reported, 22½ per cent. is to be recommended from the Central Arbitration Committee, it will be a really inflationary step, and I hope that the Government will lay down the terms of comparability before the matter is decided.
Lastly, in the dying weeks of the Government, I appeal to them to accept the offer made by Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and Mr. David Steel, and to seek out the common ground, certainly on the matter of picketing. The country wants Parliament to do something about this matter. It would help, not harm, the Labour Party. If, after 11 years of Labour power during the past 15, no action is taken, then God help our country. I urge the Government please to answer the offers made by the other main Parties and to come forward on a basic agreement that something will be done about trade union problems and picketing.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Lord PLANT
My Lords, I ought to remind the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, that three ex-general secretaries of trade unions have been sitting here during the debate, and there is a total of 80 years of general secretaryship between them. The greatest part of that service was undertaken by my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who spent almost 50 years as a general secretary. My noble friend Harold Collison had to leave the Chamber only in the past 10 minutes, but had sat here since the start of the debate. Sixty years ago a similar debate was taking place, and out of that debate was set up the Whitley Committee. The joint secretary of the committee was the father of my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale. The terms of reference of the committee, set up over 60 years ago, were:To make and consider suggestions for securing a permanent improvement in the relations between employers and workmenandTo recommend means for securing that industrial conditions affecting the relations between employers and workmen shall be systematically reviewed by those concerned, with a view to improving conditions in the future".The outcome of a report issued at the time was that there should be an advance in joint co-operation in industry between employers and labour. I have been a great believer in the Whitley system. I believe that it has done a tremendous job between the staff side and the official side in a number of spheres: the National Health Service, local government, electricity, gas, water and, in particular, in the Civil Service. My noble friend Lord Houghton was in at the birth of "Whitley-ism" in the Civil Service in the early 1920s. We must persevere and make the Whitley system work in the fields in which it is now operating, as well as extend its principles and structures over a wider field. But of course there are militant groups, especially in local authorities, who want to replace the Whitley system with local shop stewards' committees; that is, more negotiating power in the hands of local people to the detriment of central authority. The noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, touched upon this issue, and there is much in what he says.
One of the criticisms of the Whitley system, the joint consultative system in 1657 industry, is that there is too great an identity of interest and sentiment with the employers. It is always difficult when one comes to an agreement with the other side to stand in one's corner and say, "I have agreed". From time to time one's members take one to task and say, "You should not have agreed".
I was very interested to read the editorial in the Whitley Bulletin. William Kendall, Secretary General of the National Staff Side of the Civil Service, says that ten years ago:Whitleyism was so firmly established that any question of its survival seemed beyond the bounds of possibility. Now, however, there must be a question-mark over its future, and 1979 will probably be a make-or-break year…Why is Whitleyism under fire? Mainly, because it no longer recognises the reality of relationships between the basic grades and those attempting to manage them. The concept of proceeding by "administrative action" is no longer acceptable, neither is that involving the exercise of management prerogative. Any revision of the Whitley system must recognise this reality, or the system itself will be increasingly by-passed in favour of more direct industrial relations methods".I regret that editorial. I believe that the staff side must not take this kind of action and line simply because it might be rebuffed on one or two issues. "Whitleyism" means joint co-operation, joint argument, and coming to an agreement.
We must not assume that the strikes that are taking place at the moment are not representative of rank and file opinion. Judging by the debate so far, it would seem that the strikes that are taking place are engineered by a very small group. I beg leave to doubt that. These people have a grievance. However, I believe that all unions ought to have laid down in their rule books the necessity for a secret ballot before strike action is taken, as the National Union of Mineworkers does. I feel that the action that has taken place on the picket lines is now bringing into question the closed shop and other issues. But the workers have a grievance; we cannot sweep it under the carpet.
I want to give your Lordships a practical example of the National Arbitration Tribunal, which has been accused of being inflationary. The British Waterways Board staff did not have the 30 per cent. pay increase in 1975 which most other groups of workers had. That was 1658 because the dates were unfortunate for them. They have been behind, as indeed were the university teachers and the police. Those two groups of worker; have had this anomaly settled, but not the British Waterways Board staff. Government pay policy has prevented justice being done to this group of staff. All that the Waterways Board can offer is pay well below their analogues elsewhere. Indeed, the chief solicitor post is advertised at £8,500. No wonder there are no takers!
The staff there have a case, but because the British Waterways Board cannot meet their claims due to Government pay policy, the staff are now working to rule. The Transport and General Workers, NALGO, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association—their members are all working to rule. Communications between offices does not exist; orders for material are not placed; mail is not being sent; the safety of canals is now at risk. There was a review by the engineers, the Frankel Review, which advised that many millions of pounds had to be spent on canals to make them safe. The Government have offered £5 million during this year. The Board have asked the staff to get on and spend the money in order to make the canals safe. The staff have said, "This is new work; we have not had satisfaction with our pay, and we are not prepared to undertake this new work unless the pay scales are revised". This has now meant that during the next few days a number of canal structures will have to be closed because they are unsafe.
I spent many hours arguing with the trade union movement that they should go to arbitration; and, with the full agreement of the British Waterways Board and, indeed, with the knowledge of the Secretary of State, the unions proceeded to go to arbitration under the umbrella of ACAS. It was a good case; but imagine our surprise when the arbitration tribunal said that the case was not well founded. It was not well founded because it happens to be an industry on its own and there are no comparable analogues. Then they went on to say, "It will be six weeks before we give you a detailed verdict". That is not the way to deal with workers at the present day. There is a flood of messages now going to the British Waterways 1659 Board from the staff telling them to resign or pay them money which the Board themselves went to arbitration, jointly with the staff, to obtain. How do the workers put right such an injustice? There are injustices, but how do they put right an injustice today? A pattern is being set. It is almost a pattern to see which group of workers can get the most. Having done that, no General Secretary can stand aside and get less than the going rate; otherwise, he will be ridiculed by his members, and certainly will be out of a job. No General Secretary is going to accept 5 per cent. It is not on.
Of course, I agree completely that if we take too much out of the common pool we shall inevitably face the tough struggle back from the brink of chaos. It will obviously involve higher taxation, unemployment and a lower standard of life for all of us. The loyalty and endeavour of everyone since 1976 will have been in vain. But who is going to break this vicious circle? Will the miners hold back? I see that, today, they have been offered 3½ per cent. I think Joe Gormley will not take that very seriously. Why? Because his conference, his masters, have told him what to ask for—at least, what to aim for. Will the power workers hold back and say, "We are perfectly content with 5 per cent."? Of course they will not. Their conference, too, have given clear instructions.
The Civil Service settles on 1st April of this year, but it settles on a unique basis. It settles on a pay research exercise, comparing their pay with analogues outside doing work of similar complexity and responsibility. Those reports have now been delivered, and they are being unravelled—a long, arduous job, being supervised by a pay research board. Certain information is leaking. I have no knowledge, but I shall be very surprised, very surprised indeed, if the top end of the Civil Service is not expecting a 20 to 25 per cent. increase in pay out of pay research. I see some of the Clerks smiling, because they will follow that pay. If that is so, there will be howls of indignation. But the Government have said, "We shall accept what comes out of a jointly agreed pay research". Why will it be that the top end of the Civil Service, being compared with managers and executives in private 1660 industry, banking and elsewhere, will have a big pay increase? It is because the perks in private industry have escalated out of all accepted, previous practice. These perks were going to highly taxed, but they are not. There are cars; you now get suits from your employer on a lease-lend basis; free meals; mortgages at 3 per cent.
Then, the workers at the bench see in the Press that Rolls-Royce want to go to the Price Commission to raise the price of Rolls-Royces. Why? Because there is a black market in second-hand Rolls-Royces. How do you expect a low-paid worker to hold back when he sees a second-hand Rolls-Royce being sold for an enhanced profit? He reads in the paper that a footballer is now going to be sold for a million pounds, and the footballer, of course, gets a cut of that. These are the sort of things which set the mood, which set the atmosphere.
I was greatly impressed yesterday to read Geoffrey Goodman's article in the Daily Mirror. I think he has set a reasonable tone. I think we should take to heart some of the things he has been saying. He is pretty hard-hitting. He says:The Opposition has unleashed the most militant forces in the trade union movement which they now attack. What difference will a Tory Government make? Is there a credible alternative to the Callaghan pay, prices and inflation policy?This is the question that Geoffrey Goodman asks. Clearly, we must try to answer it. If we want more growth, more jobs and better welfare, then there must be some interference by Government, even in free collective bargaining. I am not sure there is any real "free" bargaining or "collective" bargaining. The 5 per cent., obviously, was too rigid; but I believe that the Prime Minister and the Government were absolutely right to say that this was what should be aimed at. If the Prime Minister had not done so, I believe the Opposition would have criticised him. I support moderation, but I am bound to say that the workers have a grievance, and this grievance has to be settled before we get back into calmer waters. All TUC history shows that hasty decision cannot last or be fully implemented. At the moment, we have no sympathy strikes. That is something to be thankful for. There is no 1661 panacea for all time in the settling of our present problems. Much depends on the mood.
Let me illustrate one issue, the mood on 1st April. On 1st April, the child allowance going into the mother's purse is increased from £3 per child to £4 per child, but the father's pay packet is denuded by the income tax child allowance—the allowance is £100. The Government are putting an extra pound per child into the family purse. The father looks at his take-home pay and on 1st April it will be reduced; whereas the mother will be more satisfied because her purse will be enhanced by the extra money. No one has said to the trade union strikers, "There is more money coming to you on 1st April by way of child allowances."
Of course, we have not yet tackled the question of differentials. This has been mentioned during the debate and clearly it is something to which I believe the three sides, Government, TUC and CBI, must give consideration quite quickly. It is very easy to knock the TUC. It is a fact that when there is no agreement with the TUC centrally things go wrong, as now. Free collective bargaining is supposed to be a solution if it is accompanied by a stiff monetary policy. I believe that a monetary policy would only succeed with the TUC's agreement.
The Prime Minister has been fighting a battle for a long time to prevent our falling back into serious inflation. He needs our support and understanding. I am glad he is going to see the full General Council of the TUC and I believe that it will be right for the question of picketing to be on that agenda. I am ashamed when I read—I do not know whether it is true—that money has been extorted from people passing the picket lines. I am ashamed, too, that my fellow trade unionists have caused cancer patients to be sent home from hospitals. These are the things which clearly the Prime Minister must talk about to the General Council. I believe that the antics of some of the strikers and the pickets at the present time have done the trade union movement no good and will bring a question mark over some of their activities. This is something that will have to be answered in the coming months, as my noble friend Lord Harris has said.
1662 In 1969 I was present in Downing Street when we told the Prime Minister and Mrs. Barbara Castle that the TUC was not prepared to have their policy, In Place of Strife. Many meetings were held. The noble Lord, Lord Brown, suggested that Mr. Callaghan was one of the architects of that policy not going forward. I do not accept that. Of course, at that time the leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party was also giving advice to Harold Wilson; and my noble friend Lord Houghton may want to put the record straight in relation to that episode. I believe that this debate has fairly reflected the concern of the public at the present time. I believe that some of the suggestions that have been made will have to be reviewed by the Government and certainly must be reviewed by the General Council of the TUC. I hope therefore that the debate will have been timely and will probably persuade many members of the trade union movement to consider their position, and the General Council to try to come to some understanding in the months ahead.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord NUGENT of GUILDFORD
My Lords, I should like to start by expressing my own personal concern at the present industrial situation—concern which has been expressed already by noble Lords on all sides. I regard the present situation as the worst that I have seen in my lifetime, other than perhaps in 1926. I did not feel much comforted from listening to the noble Lord the Leader of the House today in his factual report. I felt that it told us of a very gloomy position with no sign of improvement coming in and every prospect that it was going to look worse in the course of another week. His figure of 200,000 laid off already I think is probably correctly amplified by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing in saying that there are many hundreds of thousands more workers already on short time who will in the course of the next week or so be laid off. This is really a very gloomy situation and I am afraid that it indicates that the Government's pay policy is in course of destruction. Their gallant fight against inflation, which, I must say, had my full support, is being destroyed; and before 12 months are past I think that we shall be in double figures again and I think that we shall be hit hard, too, in 1663 terms of unemployment. Indeed, I would say that before 12 months are out everybody in the country will be worse off, including those who have big pay rises now.
I regard it as a very sombre situation and it indicates that the policies of noble Lords opposite which set out with such confidence that they would be able to win industrial peace, that they would be able to win co-operation, that they would be able to win improved production by co-operation with the trade unions, have proved in the event to have failed. So we face this desperate situation today when the people of the country are looking to the noble Lord the Leader of the House and his right honourable friends in another place to take action that will protect them in their daily lives and work against what is happening to them now, and which, above all, will save us from such suicidal things happening again in the future.
Before suggesting one or two thoughts that I have of how this situation might be dealt with, I should like to say firmly what I am sure we all believe: that the solution will have to be found in terms of co-operation between the Government, the trade unions and the employers. It must be so. The trade unions, of course, have a major part to play. However unhappy they may look as public figures today, they have a major part to play in the future. I should like in a few words to try to differentiate the constructive aspects of the trade union movement from the destructive aspects which are doing such immense damage today. I will record that for the past five years in my position as chairman of the National Water Council I was responsible, first of all, for setting up the new industrial relations structure for the water industry, bringing the three sectors of the industry together—the management of rivers, the supply of water and the sewage treatment—making it all into one structure and then operating it. It became my personal responsibility to conduct this industrial relations machinery, this joint consultative machinery, on the lines to which the noble Lord, Lord Plant, has been referring, and to carry out of course the annual wage and salary negotiations and all the other multitude 1664 of continuing business which is all part of the scene—indeed, the way of life. Nobody knows this better than the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who is sitting opposite.
I must record that my experience has been perhaps a very fortunate one. It is true that the water industry has a good tradition—not all that good perhaps in the sewage treatment side of it; but, nevertheless, we were able to construct with the three major unions concerned a relationship of mutual confidence so that we were able to settle our differences. We were able to negotiate our wages with the manual workers and our salaries with the salaried staff annually within the Government's guidelines. We had our differences, but because we had built up a relationship of mutual trust between us they knew that I would do the best for them and I knew they would do the best they could for me, and they did.
We were lucky because when we had local troubles, as everybody has in different parts of the country, the bulk of our workforce were men and women who had a tradition of serving the public. They kept steadily at work and it was relatively easy therefore to isolate militants when trouble broke out. I should certainly record that last year when I had quite a bit of trouble on my hands again in the North-West—where one usually does have trouble—the union leaders were most courageous in going down and meeting the locals who were on unofficial strike and doing their level best to get them back. We did get them back in the end and were able to get our wage settlement through.
It left a situation behind where our manual workers were some £5 a week below the electricity and gas workers who traditionally, as they often work in the same trench, naturally have to be paid the same wage. I recorded before I retired from my post that this was something which would have to be put right this year. It has been put right. The noble Lord the Leader of the House recalled that a settlement was made last week. But in making the extra supplement—and I would add this to what the noble Lord told the House—over and above the 5 per cent. the greater part of it, three-quarters of the extra 8 per cent. or 9 per cent., was covered by the gain that 1665 had been derived from the national productivity scheme which I introduced during the years of my service. So in fact the actual cost to the public of that extra wage award which has been given will be quite small.
I record this because this is a typical picture of what is happening right across the board in the greater part of the industrial scene. We should keep this in mind in looking now at this very troubled scene that we have. As I say, it is typical to find local outbreaks of trouble where militants take action; and usually trade union officials are able to deal with them. What has happened in the past few years—and is especially happening now—is that the militants have won the day and the militants have shown again and again that violence pays. This is what I believe we are really up against; again and again over the past few years militant groups in trade unions have won the day in putting forward some excessive claims, and the trade union officials and leaders concerned have been obliged to go along with them. If they did not, they would find themselves in a position of opposing a wage or salary increase which would benefit all the members, so willy-nilly trade union officials have gone along with these particular people.
As the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, said, undoubtedly some of these militants are linked with this very undesirable Socialist Workers' Group with international connections. They are not primarily involved with the interests of the industry concerned; they are there to make trouble, to coerce the Government of the day, to hijack the public in order to put pressure on the Government, in order to cause disruption. These really are the dangerous people whom we are up against.
It is quite clear to me that noble Lords opposite with their friends in the trade union movement are getting all the support that the leaders can give them. It is true that Mr. Moss Evans has gone along with his own union; but, broadly speaking, I am quite sure that the trade union leaders are doing the best that they can to help this Government, with whom they are in close relationship, and more than ever so with an impending General Election. It is quite clear not only to me but to noble Lords in this House—indeed, the whole country—that if this Govern- 1666 ment cannot succeed with this kind of policy, nobody can. Therefore noble Lords opposite, and indeed Parliament as a whole, and the whole country, must be saying: "What changes are needed in order to give effective government?"
Let me turn now to what I think has to be done. There has to be a change in the balance of power between Government, trade unions and employers. The three areas which have been discussed today are the ones which have to be looked at.
First of all is the area of the liability for breach of contract. In this area I feel that it is the civil liability with which I am principally concerned. Although I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, I am not myself in favour of criminal liability. I think that this is exceedingly difficult to handle. But that there should be a change in the immunity from civil liability as it now stands, I am sure is right. Again, I recognise that there are great complexities here, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, said in answering questions on the Statement.
The second area in which I am sure there should be a change in the law is that of the closed shop. All noble Lords on all sides of the House—indeed, everybody throughout the country—has been affronted by the intimidation which we know is going on because men are threatened with the loss of their union card and therefore their job. It is clear to me that there must be some flexibility in this area. The closed shop has to work; you have to have bargaining machinery in all factories and businesses so there must be union machinery there. I would think that a conscience clause is probably the kind of flexibility which is needed to give protection against intimidation of this kind.
The third area is that of picketing. There is nothing that I can add to the interesting and cogent discussions which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, made on this subject. Regarding the reference of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing to the Grunwick affair, we really are entitled to ask the Government: You must have been thinking about it now for the past 18 months. Surely you have something to say on how you think the law should be improved in that respect.
1667 I would think—and I say this with all sincerity to noble Lords, especially those who have been associated with trade unions in the past—that although this is primarily concerned in the interests of the country as a whole, it is going to help the trade union leaders because that will enhance their authority. They would then have some sanction to put against the militants. They will be able to say: "We shall not be able to keep you as a member if you are going to lay us open to liabilities of that kind". But at the present time there seems to be nothing they can do to restrain them. They are obliged to go along even when they know that it is wrong.
I hope, best of all, that this Government will legislate; but perhaps that is too much to ask. But as a minimum I hope they will listen to the plea that has been put to them from several noble Lords that they should seriously consider, together with the leaders of our own Party and the Liberal Party, making a joint statement of how they believe this crisis in our national life should be tackled. It will then be up to the next Government after the General Election to take action along these lines and to carry it out. It is so necessary to get general support and unanimity on these complex matters which, if there are major Party differences on them, the general public cannot understand. This deprives legislation which could have the solution in it of all the force that it might have. I join in making that plea to noble Lords opposite. I hope that they will seriously consider it.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, a sense of crisis soon passes in your Lordships' House. Within a couple of hours it is all over, and after six hours there are scarcely enough noble Lords left in the Chamber to man a secondary picket line outside a fish and chip shop in Battersea! It may be that in this House we ought to have that convenient practice which they have in the Senate of the United States, where you can put a speech on the record without making it. Mark you, it empties the Chamber considerably. When I was there a few months ago there was only one Senator on the Floor. He was speaking and the 1668 official reporter, who has a contraption slung round his neck, was walking up and down looking like a silent organ-grinder. But happily, as members of the public went into the gallery they were given a sheet to explain that if they did not see their Senator there they must not think he had gone home: he would undoubtedly be busy beavering away in one of the many committees throughout the Senate building for the glory of the United States. But we have nothing so convenient as that in your Lordships' House, although I sometimes wonder who we are speaking to and what for. However, we must not despair; something of what is said in your Lordships' House on an occasion like this does penetrate somewhere.
The common fault of memories is that they are usually too short; but a greater fault, I think, is that memories can be too long. My memory is even longer than that of the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown; but I am not hag-ridden by it and I do not let it become a kind of nostalgia for the great men controlling the great events of the past—because they were not, and they did not. The General Strike was a miserable affair: I was there. The noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, was too young to be there. The great men of the day were facing the biggest crisis in the trade union movement. They were going to and from No. 10, Downing Street, and mostly being insulted, while the rest of us were singing hymns of praise in the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street—mostly "Abide With Me ", because we knew the words and the tune! But within nine days the whole thing was over. The mine-workers were left to go it alone and after a miserable six months they went down to defeat.
The great trade union leaders of the past would not recognise the trade union movement and its shop-floor power today. They lived in an age when workers were dependent upon their union. It was their protective shield, as far as they could get one. They needed the strike pay; they needed collective action to defend small and weak groups of workers; and therefore the discipline of unions was inherent in the movement. It was voluntarily observed; loyalty was given.
Today, however, the position is very different indeed. As I said a week ago, much activity takes place within the nominal framework of the union but the 1669 power belongs to the workers, who do not need the machinery of the unions so much as their own disciplines and rules. All this sepulchral stuff about sinister forces at work in the present strikes is really rather "old hat", and I am glad that my noble friend Lord Plant had something to say on this subject. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, just now gave a striking example of the kind of thing which is causing so much upset among the rank and file of today.
My Lords, do we not remember the rash of unofficial strikes in the early part of the Labour Government in 1964? Do we not remember the setting up of the Donovan Commission to have a look at the whole structure and activities of the trade unions, with a view to getting some order and to analysing the problems? Do we not remember, too, the seamen's strike, when we heard from the then Prime Minister that it was being run by a small and closely-knit group of "politically motivated men"? Do we not remember In Place of Strife and the 1971 Industrial Relations Act?
No, my Lords, the present situation is probably no better but certainly no worse than those times. On previous occasions when this kind of unrest has arisen, it has mainly sprung from a very keen sense of dissatisfaction and is not inspired by political motives. That is my general judgment. But in this debate so little has been said about the merits of the wage demands now at the centre of the piece. Hardly a word has been said about the deep sense of grievance caused by the erosion of differentials—how little we have heard about differentials today, and the comparabilities which are so sensitive. I remember the General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen saying he had something like 39 differentials in the pay structure of the members of his union, and woe betide anyone who tried to interfere with any of them! These things, I am afraid, are the stuff of trade union prestige, dignity and identification. I think it is too early to hold an inquest on current events, because I believe we are only at the beginning of the trouble. I think we might have a miserable way to go yet.
The debate has been mostly about the conduct of the strike, and not so much about its substance and its potential 1670 problems for the economy and industrial peace. I shall not dwell on picketing; there are plenty of other noble Lords who are better able to discuss it than I am. Obviously civil liberty is involved in picketing. Our civil rights are there, as well as in the closed shop and so on. But it is not the main issue, and it would be a mistake for us to go rushing in with proposals to change the law at this stage.
Remember, my Lords, that after the General Strike of 1926 punitive legislation was quickly introduced by the then Conservative Government, which shackled the public service trade unions from 1927 to 1946, forbade them to join up with other trade unions and kept them out of any political or other industrial affiliations. That was the punishment for being involved, only indirectly, in the General Strike of 1926. The idea was to keep the public service apart, so that its loyalty should not be contaminated by association with other workers. One can make mistakes by rushing into legislation to remedy a situation which is charged with emotion, but which is not so easily solved when it comes to changing the law.
I want to deal for a few moments with the strike, because when everything else is put aside we are left with the strike itself, and even if all picketing, secondary and primary, finished tomorrow we should still be faced with a stubborn strike. A Minister said that we may have lost a battle but we have not lost a war, but what is going on now may be the decisive battle of the war. Even if the strike itself was settled tomorrow—and could we possibly hope for that?—and the workers went back, they would pick up a 15 per cent. pay rise immediately. Yet if this strike was settled at three times the Government's guidelines, what a wave of relief would go through the land, because the manifestations of industrial strife would be ended; but the economic consequences would remain. But we are not there yet. The end of this strike is not yet in sight. Are we on the way to winning the war, if a settlement cannot be reached with the current strike, even at 15 per cent?
Let us take a more optimistic assumption. Let us suppose that in the pay rounds to come, which are now imminent, the average pay increase was only 10 per cent., or twice the norm, 1671 would that put us on the way to winning the war? It may be—and this may disturb some noble Lords, especially those on the Government Front Bench—that we should redefine our war aims or, at least, say in more specific terms what they are. I assume that we are not after unconditional surrender anywhere, and I hope that other powers in the land are not after the unconditional surrender of the Government either. There must, however, be an objective. What is it?
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has said that, when we have said everything about the unions and about their practices during the strike—when that is all over—they will still be there. We shall need them, and we shall have to sit down with them and that is the only way by which peace will come. So should we now look at how peace might be brought about? We need a peace treaty, or at least a truce, or are we just going to wait for the miserable weary end to endurance and attrition?
Let us face it, my Lords. The 5 per cent. guidelines have been trodden underfoot. No trade union leader could or dare attempt to settle at 5 per cent. from now on, because he knows that the settlements that matter so far are far and away above that limit. The trouble—it has been said more than once, and I have said it—is how little authority exists anywhere to settle anything at the present time. If 5 per cent. can no longer be held, should we not be taking up a new position? I suppose that it might be called a strategic withdrawal, but if it is taken in time it might spare the country a bitter descent into chaos. There must surely be a lesser evil than the harmful prospect of months of disruption by industrial indiscipline and discontent.
The first condition of the strategy is the recovery of authority which has been lost by those bodies democratically entrusted with it. Authority must be recovered by the union executives, the TUC, the CBI, the Government and Parliament itself. But authority cannot be recovered without acceptance of authority by those in a democracy who are in a position to yield it. If authority is withheld by the mass of the people, then no Government can continue to govern. In the last analysis, either it is revolution or it is acceptance 1672 by a democracy, under the influence of public opinion, of the authority of those who are democratically elected to have it.
If the Government are to meet the TUC next week, that is the time to begin. I think that the aim must be to find the basis upon which we can stop the disastrous slide into industrial and political chaos. To reach a compact which will hold is the problem. What compact will stick in present circumstances? It clearly has to be realistic. It has to be an indication of fairness and of the reasonable satisfaction of grievances.
There are two major matters to settle. First, what is to be the new guideline which will stick, which can be held? Secondly, what plans shall be followed for closing the gaps where comparabilities have been broken down, especially, of course, in the public services? And the second matters just as much as the first.
Noble Lords should not underestimate the will and the capacity of the public services to indulge in a degree of industrial action that this country has never seen before. Last Monday was surely a striking example. The biggest strike in British history was held last Monday. They were all public servants. This House was not sitting on Monday, and I watched them from my flat in Marsham Court being shepherded by the police from the coach parks at Vauxhall. On this bitterly cold day they were being shephered along the pavement to Central Hall and to the Palace of Westminster. There were thousands of them. There was not a word, not a shout, not a slogan. There was no disorder. They were shuffling along, as ordinary a body of men and women as anybody could meet in a week. What inspired them, what brought them there in the discomfort of the weather on Monday—men and women, old and young—in an orderly fashion? It was really like a silent protest, a silent vote of censure upon Parliament, upon the community. "We can't get our message across", they were saying, "except in this way".
The catching-up process is the most grievous part of the whole exercise—I have had such bitter experience of it—where ground has been lost and an attempt has to be made to close the gap, either in one leap or in a succession of 1673 steps or stages. I see that staged increases similar to those given to the Army and to the police are described in a magazine which I received from Phillips and Drew, the stockbrokers, as forward sterling. They are promissory notes, payable in cash on the due dates as a charge on the production and resources current at the time. This, as I said, is the police kind of settlement. The other is the one with which I was closely concerned—the teacher type of settlement where it took 32 per cent., adding well over £300 million a year to the education bill, to close the gap. It is a question either of that experience all over again or of staged increases.
I must say that I got a bit of a shock when I saw a headline in a teachers' magazine which read, "Houghton must be restored". This I thought was a welcome suggestion! However, another headline, not quite so happy, read, "Houghton must be nailed to the negotiating table". That, I thought, was a rather painful fate for one who did the teachers so much good. There is the choice, and there can be no dodging either the one remedy or the other.
As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, pointed out a few moments ago, these comparative grievances are the most acute of all. It is astonishing how deep feelings run about disparities of that kind. This is not defeatism, my Lords. I do not regard it as such, but I say quite candidly that the prospective vision of our Prime Minister in what Mr. Merlyn Rees might describe as "a boy on the burning deck situation" is not one which I like to contemplate. I think he has to set about a salvage operation vigorously and urgently. The authority of Government and Parliament must be reasserted and every support given to the union leadership to do the same; otherwise we are all in a vacuum at the mercy of the forces of anarchy and disruption. The Prime Minister must not say to the rank and file, "It is up to you". It is not up to them; it should not be up to them. I do not believe in rank-and-file leadership—never have. I have never allowed it to happen where I have been, and when the present Prime Minister was my assistant secretary in the 1930s he had a good working model of firm leadership to look at, but modesty forbids me to say a single word more!
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Viscount TRENCHARD
My Lords, with all the excellent contributions we have heard in this debate, I shall try to be brief, particularly as I do not want to be greedy as I had a good opportunity last week. I should like to add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords, to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, on a marvellous initial effort. I hope we shall hear him a great deal more.
I think everybody wants to do something to change the situation that has allowed the kind of crisis to develop which we now have. I am not going to deal with the immediate short-term crisis as that has been adequately dealt with by more distinguished speakers than myself, but I should like to make a few points on which are the correct lines for us to follow in order to try to get to a situation where these appalling problems do not occur.
It seems to me that the solutions suggested, both today and previously, really come under two main headings and two subsidiary ones. There are those who still feel that, in addition to an adequate control of the money supply, one must have an incomes policy of a kind and who feel that perhaps our incomes policies in the past have not been in the right form and that a flexible one has to be developed. I am not with that school, but at least I feel that it is an area which we shall have to talk through much further.
The second main area which has received a great deal more support today, and progressively over the year, is the area of reform, either through the law, codes or rules, with two objectives: to balance the bargaining position to a greater extent and to strengthen responsible trade union leadership.
The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, today highlighted a third heading, and he has mentioned it previously; namely, would we really look at arbitration a little more seriously? I entirely support what he said; that is, that arbitration in this country has a very poor reputation because we have only ever used it by throwing some vacillator into the middle of a dispute at the last minute to try to halve or three-quarter the problem. A permanent arbitration system, such as has been worked in Australia, has not been a panacea more than any other cure for these problems, 1675 but in the view of the Australians it has achieved a great deal, and I think that should be looked at.
The final heading which everyone has mentioned on which there is common agreement is, of course, more communication and participation, starting at floor level and building up. So that is not contentious. Of the two main areas—and perhaps with arbitration still in mind—I believe that reform must be regarded as the first necessity. Even those who believe that after reform an incomes policy would still be necessary in some form, or even, if arbitration is to work, at the end of a disputes procedure in order to hold very high pay demands, must agree that those things will only work if reform has taken place so that authority is not flouted; because the incomes policy—let us face it—has now all but broken down and is flouted, and I feel that arbitration would receive the same fate. So I believe that the reform—the law, the code, the rules—is the key. I also believe that the pay policy lasting over the bulk of 12 years, as it has done, has done immense harm, and particularly to differentials, which the noble Lord, Lord Plant, mentioned. The quid pro quos for trying to keep the incomes policy going have also done much harm, including price control, and that strengthens my view that we really must concentrate on the reform of the basic background areas.
I was deeply moved, as many other speakers have said, by the appeal of the most reverend Primate, I would just say that I hope that his appeal will help to improve human nature, but I feel that man will retain his acquisitive nature in the main, and to a degree, of course, we need it; we need it to make incentive schemes work in the factory, and we need it to make businessmen create new wealth. He mentioned, however, the power combined with the acquisitive nature, but in all humility I would say to him that it seems to me that it is the power side of the equation that we have to look at. There is a danger in a crisis situation of looking at the particular topic of that crisis too large and many other problems that have troubled us in recent years too little; as my noble Leader, Lord Carrington, said, when the particular crisis is over, and the particular strikes now on will be 1676 over, because there are economic limits to them, there is danger that the wide-ranging sets of basic problems will not be dealt with sufficiently thoroughly or comprehensively.
I have said in this House before that we have a whole range of completely unique situations in relation to trade unions and collective bargaining. Pickets have been more than adequately discussed today, and that is very closely allied to sympathetic strikes, which are totally illegal in some other countries. The haulage dispute has highlighted them. The rigid closed shop has been mentioned today and has caused problems in the railways before. Our multi-union problem is undoubtedly clearly causing a particular rail problem at the moment, but will cause others again.
It is interesting that we always have our strikes and our main problems at this time of year. That is partly due to the cycle of the bargaining system, but it is also due to the fact that tax rebates between October and the end of the financial year are a more important factor than supplementary benefits, which are often mentioned in this connection. There is the question of key industries, which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, touched on just now when referring to the 1927 Act, which he did not like. But, I like the idea of seeing whether we can outmode the strike weapon in industries of national importance, as has been suggested by the Leader of my Party.
I have left until last, because I want to spend what remaining time I have on it, the dependability of agreements and constitutional behaviour. I have left that matter until last because I believe that it has the biggest single effect on the efficiency of British industry and is the reason why its productivity is so much lower even in multinational companies with the same management standards and the same equipment they have abroad.
The particular aspect of that problem, which is unique to Britain, is the unofficial problem, the unconstitutional problem. It is becoming worse year by year. If there were no law against robbery I hope that we would not all become thieves, but robbery would spread year by year. It seems to me that we have in this country 1677 a very strong collective bargaining situation, but we are very weak in the delivery of those bargains. We always hear that there is little that can be done, certainly by law, and even by codes or changes in rules, to make agreements stick—indeed, to cure the problem of unenforceability.
We are often told as regards the law that people will pay no attention, that the law will exacerbate the situation, that this area is too sensitive for the law, and finally that it has been tried before. I shall return to those headings in a moment, but at this stage I should like to say that if the law were of no account then the importance that has been attached to it by trade union leaders over the years in pressing for the immunities which they have and in pressing for the repeal of what very few packages we have had in this country, seems to me to underline the fact that the law is not unimportant when viewed the other way round.
I think that the very thorough Royal Commission, the Donovan Commission, which provided so much information on this vexed subject—it must be remembered that it was a good few years ago—may have underestimated the degree of connection between the official and the unofficial British problem. Was that Commission right to separate official from unofficial action as completely as it did? My view, which is not quite the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, is that we have a sprinkling of militants—not Reds under the bed—at all levels.
For a long time the easiest and quickest way to achieve more money or any other union objective in the British scene has been through repeated instant floor-level strikes or more particularly strike threats. Those tactics seem to have been tolerated, even encouraged, or at least not found unwelcome by some union leadership. They have very seldom been condemned by union leadership, certainly not in the first week or two, and if they look as though they are being successful—as in the road haulage dispute—they are declared official.
Almost never has a union threatened to use many, or all the powers in its rule book, which include fining and ultimately the removal of the membership card. 1678 They have not used those threats in order to secure compliance with an agreement or with an agreed disputes procedure—for instance, the Ford dispute and the bakery disputes. Yet, there have been cases, well before the present crisis, when rule books have been used to the full—and many others when they have been threatened—when a union wishes to get unanimous support for a strike, even a political one.
Last week, in the other place when the Prime Minister repeated and endorsed Mr. Evans' assurance that no union action would be taken against workers complying with the code of practice and crossing secondary picket lines, in my view he inadvertently confirmed the power that the rule books contain to secure compliance of members when the unions want it. Is not the trouble that they do not use their rule books when they should?
The practice of the strike threat at shop-floor level has been specifically encouraged. The handbook of the Transport and General Workers' Union for shop stewards in 1972—and I have not looked at it since—says:As a shop steward you represent on behalf of the union its members in the workplace. You are responsible for ensuring that wages and working conditions are a credit to the union".Also at that time the record or magazine of the union contained an article which said:Wage increases worth hundreds of millions of pounds have been won by the T … GWU in the last year and the key to this success has been the fact that the union has involved shop stewards and members in taking decisions on agreements".To me that indicates that it is not all a question of trouble on the shop-floor which cannot be controlled, nor even of weak leadership. I believe that it has been the easiest way in which to achieve aims in this country, with our totally lawless and nearly ruleless situation. I believe that if we can achieve a situation where a union's own rule books are used to ensure constitutional behaviour—the procedure agreement—and the fulfilment of normal yearly or, as they are in America, sometimes three-yearly agreements, we shall see productivity in this country increase by leaps and bounds to the benefit of all, including those trade union members.
1679 I should like to return for a moment to the objections to using the law, which could help to bring about a situation of a requirement to use the rule book in this way. The arguments that people would pay no attention or that it would exacerbate the situation in my view are not valid, or would not be after a time. It may take time to get it accepted, but abroad trade union leaders are, almost tacitly, expected to ensure that agreements which they have signed are carried out, and they do not have unofficial strikes.
If union leaders are obliged to do these things, it will strengthen their position. If it is known that they are obliged to and is expected, it will become accepted fairly quickly. The argument that the area is too sensitive for the law does not stand up when we have laws on subjects like abortion, when we tackle employment protection with complicated laws, and when we want laws on participation and other equally sensitive areas. The argument that it has been tried before is only partially correct. Since 1927 in this country only two packages have been mooted, and that is much less than in most of our competitor countries. One was never tried and the other was tried with a big division—and not the kind of consensus about which we have been talking today—in the establishment of the country over it, at a time of poor monetary control and great trouble with the incomes policy. I do not think we are unique in the world, and I believe that we cannot be the only people who are right. It would be very much easier to tackle the situation if we could get a consensus. Let us hope that we can. It will depend, in my view, on whether the Party opposite is able to reconcile its particular ties with the trade union movement as to whether we can get political consensus or must wait for national consensus without all Parties being involved. I hope that the former is possible.
The fact that the present Government find it necessary still to follow a policy of appeasement in this situation worries me a great deal. The Prices Bill, and the plan to alter the guidelines for the low paid, are, in this sense, measures of appeasement. They have been dealt with before. If I can end on a very much lighter note, I could not help, as I read the Prices Bill 1680 last night, thinking of Alice in Wonderland: thinking, as I did, of the profits of industry at 4 per cent. in real terms as a return on capital; with the cost of money at treble that; with the current rate of inflation at twice that and going up. With that level of profitability I had to think of Alice in Wonderland and I opened it at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. The first thing I saw was that delightful little rhyme:Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!How I wonder what you're at!Up above the world you fly!Like a tea tray in the sky".Then, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, may I transpose as follows:Said Alice to the Mad Hatter, 'They've got no money to invest'. 'Then leave them even less' said he.Alice, perplexed, changing the subject. 'You said just now that flexibility for differentials was important. Now you say more for the low paid. Which do you want?' 'It depends who you are talking to, silly girl, said the March Hare! 'Amen', said the dormouse".
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Baroness BURTON of COVENTRY
My Lords, having had the privilege of sponsoring the noble Lord, Lord Smith, of Marlow, when he came to your Lordships' House, I should like, if I may, first of all to congratulate him on his maiden speech. I know that some people often say, "Well, you are much too polite in your Lordships' House". But I should like to assure Lord Smith that it sounds a bit rude but I am not being polite and I am not being merely courteous. I thought it was a first-rate speech. Your Lordships may not know, but one of the pursuits that Lord Smith is particularly interested in is music, and while obviously the remark I am going to make may come from a type of music to which he is not particularly addicted, I thought it was a very perfect model of a model maiden speech. I say that because it was short and it was obviously spoken with great knowledge. Fortunately for Lord Smith, and unfortunately for the country, it was a very topical speech at a topical time, and I thought it brooked no alteration, and was completely unanswerable. We all hope very much that we shall hear a good deal of him in the future. I really congratulate him with all my heart and not out of politeness.
Apart from this, I have got nothing of cheer to say. For a week I have been 1681 trying to make up my mind whether or not to take part in this debate. Really and truly, I was trying to decide whether or not I had anything which I thought it was worth while to contribute. Monday made the decision for me. By chance I happened to hear some elderly people on the radio. There were no sob stories, they were just words of despair and helplessness, and those words have been with me ever since. I might have seen something since which made me want to join in, but I could not forget them and I thought that everyone who has an opportunity, as we in this House have, should get up and say so and be counted for what they feel.
As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, spoke, I noted down five points which gave me great courage because I thought, and hoped, that it would not harm him or me in that they were what I wanted to talk about. As for those five points, he said people should speak up from all Benches; that this type of action would continue in future, whatever Party was in power; he spoke of the authority of Government, which I noted as "Government/Parliament"; he spoke of the harnessing of public opinion; and he said he thought the crisis—and I believe there is a crisis today—meant that the public were prepared to accept what they would not have done in, say, 1973 or 1974. After that I listened, in company with your Lordships, to the speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and I again drew courage from what he said.
Reference has been made to the terrible headline in the Daily Telegraph—it may have been in other newspapers—about the 68 cancer patients sent home, and I simply want to say that what is going on is sheer unadulterated wickedness, and there is no other word for it. I believe that nobody, however justified their grievance, has the right to inflict such suffering on others. I repeat, it is wicked and it can have no place in our society. Such behaviour, such callousness, would shame any country, and we have always regarded ourselves as being a civilised one.
I therefore felt that what I had to say, particularly what may be unpopular in part, is best said from these Benches, but I am drawing courage because I am obviously not alone in what I have to say. 1682 We may differ on small points, but while at the beginning I thought I would be getting into terrible trouble—and if that were to be the case, so be it—I now feel that that may not be the case.
I rise from a feeling of despair, despair of what has happened to our country and to so many people in it; despair at the number of people in our community who I believe feel as most of us do, and many speakers today have made that point. I will never believe that the ordinary decent people of this country condone what is going on. I am sure of that. Also despair because so many are afraid to speak out, and, most of all, from a realisation that those who do protest will get nowhere.
Tonight I do not want to single out any group or groups; unfortunately there are too many to make singling out of any value. We have a position today, as everyone realises, where various sections of the community say before any negotiations start, "Give us what we demand or we take industrial action". That is the starting point now. My believe is that although our present troubles may be bought off, they will recur time and again, whichever Party is in power, unless Parliament can deal with them once and for all.
I do not intend to talk about the weak, the low paid, the old, the sick or the defenceless, because quite simply they do not count. Nobody cares any more. That has been obvious for some time, and never more so than last week when, as has already been mentioned this evening, the spokesman for the ambulance service in London, speaking of the then pending 24-hour strike on Monday last said, "If it means lives lost, that is how it must be." I saw and heard him myself on television—and so it was not a case of "the wicked Press".
In addition to not talking about those affected, I do not propose to deal with whether or not claims are justified. We have got beyond that. Certainly the country cannot afford them, but we have got beyond that, too. I see it as the responsibility of Parliament to deal with this situation—and this applies in particular to those in another place, the elected representatives of the people. I believe that unless we can deal with the 1683 root of the problem, it will continue. I think that it will continue for two reasons. Strikes are successful—if you are strong enough and you do not care who gets hurt. Secondly, I believe that there are in this country people who are determined that our democracy as we know it shall not continue and that certainly our industry shall not succeed. That has been clear for a long time.
Last week, like many others, I spent considerable time in another place. We all know that it is only by being there that reactions and atmosphere can be seen and felt. The Prime Minister spoke of theindefensible hardship [that] can be imposed on innocent people and on people who are not connected with the dispute".He then went on to say, as reported at column 1547 of the Official Report:I begin by asserting two fundamental principles of our society. First, we cannot deny the right of men and women to withdraw their labour and still call ourselves a free society. That to me is fundamental. The second principle that I assert is that the community has an overriding right against all sectional interests. These principles must be reconciled. This is the difficulty of a modern society".Remarks have been made about the Prime Minister tonight. I do not believe that anybody could doubt his determination to stand against inflation, and I believe that most ordinary people in the country feel that way. I believe they feel that if he gives way then indeed we shall be back to the inflation which ruins everyone of us, and of course the country. But when he spoke of the overriding right of the community against sectional interests I looked at the Left-Wing Benches on the Government side. They did not approve—and I shall leave it at that. Expressions speak much more loudly than any words. I am sure that the Prime Minister realises this position as well as anyone. He has plenty of experience of it. He meets it almost every week in the National Executive Committee or elsewhere. But it is hardly a contribution to the struggle that he is putting up.
So what is the solution? Is there one? I return to what many noble Lords have said. Parliament is supposed to be sovereign. At the moment it is far from that. Every Member of both Houses must surely accept that, and I believe that the public has a right to demand that sovereignty. 1684 We cannot go on like this, however unfair pay rates may be. We in this House are quite clear, and I think the country is quite clear, but it does not know quite what to do about it. The Motion which we are debating speaks of the present industrial situation. We shall never get anywhere on productivity or investment until we come to our senses. One does not need to be a captain of industry to realise that fact. I believe that to be sovereign Parliament as a whole should say that it is not prepared to go on like this. People do not want to know who is to blame; which Party said this or that; or which Party wants confrontation. They are sick and tired of this bickering on television, and I do not blame them. There is little respect for Parliament today, and I think that must sadden all of us.
My Lords, the Leader of the Opposition offered support to the Government last week, and she has done so again since. The conditions she offered, then and now, may not have been acceptable, but Mrs. Thatcher did make an offer. I would suggest—I nearly said "with great respect", but I do not see why I should say "with great respect" because it is not what I feel—on behalf of the general public that the offer should be considered. Before any words of wrath descend on my head—and they do not seem likely at the moment, unless my noble friend who is to wind up feels he has to admonish me—I want to say, and I want to make it quite clear, that I am not talking of a coalition, I am not talking of a National Government; but I do ask the Government, the Opposition, the Liberal Party and all others to join with the Prime Minister for a period of emergency. I am sure that ordinary people everywhere want this, and I wonder when the politicians are going to realise it.
I think time is too short to wait for the General Election. I do not think we can wait like this. And whenever the General Election comes, and whoever wins it, this industrial action will continue. Do not let us deceive ourselves of that; I do not care who is in power. The losers will be those least able to fight—the sick, the poor, the old, the unemployed and, of course, the country. Is that what we want? Are we prepared to acquiesce in such a prospect? Is that the best that we in Parliament can do?
1685 My Lords, I do not sit on the Front Bench and I am much more simple on the Back Benches, but I want to say this: Is this honestly the time to boggle at conditions for coming together? The country, I think, has a right to expect something better. Could we not try to sink our differences for this period of emergency for the wellbeing of all our citizens and for the future of democratic government in this country as we understand and believe in it? We can do this in wartime—and the country is at war today; make no mistake about that at all. Two or three years ago I spoke in this House about the battle for men's minds. I think that battle is still there to be won, and I believe that we can win that battle if we go forward together.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Lord ALPORT
My Lords, I am an admirer, though sometimes a somewhat reluctant one, of the vitality and persistence of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry. Last night, at about this time, she was castigating her colleague on the Front Bench, Lady Stedman, for the inadequacy of passenger facilities at Gatwick. Tonight she has made another most telling speech; and although, last night, my sympathies were somewhat with Lady Stedman, tonight I found much in the speech of the noble Baroness with which I thoroughly agreed.
This House of Parliament in times of economic crisis or public disorder has the role, so it seems to me, of a chorus in a Greek play. We may explain and comment, but we have not the power to control the evolution of events or determine the attitudes of the principal actors. We sometimes tend to believe, I think, that what we say in this House can inflame passions or embarrass those who carry direct responsibility for national policy. I very much doubt whether that is ever the case. Our duty, as I see it, is set out in the time-honoured words of our Writs of Summons:To give counsel, considering the difficulty of the said affairs and dangers impending, for the honour, safety and defence of the Kingdom".Like my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, this is the first time since as a child in 1926 I felt real apprehension 1686 about the breakdown of ordered, good-humoured, moderate-minded life in this country. I have always believed that ordinary people in Britain—sensible, humane, patriotic—had established institutions of government and control which represented their national qualities: institutions from parish councils to Parliament and the great professional bodies, the great trade unions, the centres of higher education, the industrial organisations in the private and public sector, institutions well-attuned and developed to meet national needs.
I believe that England must be "one nation". It was the late Iain Macleod who gave the group of young Conservative Members in the early '50s that name. It represented exactly the country and the ideal that we sought to serve; and the phrase has now become part of the common currency of contemporary politics. It seems to me that today we are almost as far from it as ever we were. Today, I see in this country the breaking down of established systems of human relationships which are the essential levers of control in an industrialised society. It is not, for instance, the power of the official trade union movement that causes me anxiety; it is the lack of authority and the ineffectiveness of its leaders—not least the collective weakness of the TUC—which pose to me the greatest dangers. Power now rests, as so many noble Lords have said earlier, with the faceless men who have no responsibility—the so-called militants. Strike action is aimed no longer to put short-term pressure on the employers but at the most vulnerable sections of the public, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, has said. She quoted that statement by Mr. Dunn: "If the strike means that lives are lost, so be it!" He could have gone further and said: "The more the merrier!" because it might well follow that the public might be counted to bring pressure on the authorities to give way to strikers' demands in the event of people dying from lack of medical attention.
The losses caused by the modern strike weapon are not felt principally by the pockets of the employers but by those of their fellow workers in other industries who are put on short time or who lose their jobs. The hardships involved are not affecting so much the well to do as 1687 the old age pensioners and all who possess no reserves to tide them over periods of scarcity and disruption. It is evidence of the powerlessness of the trade union leadership that Mr. Moss Evans had to make the lorry drivers' strike official in order to regain initiative from the unofficial militants who were in control. Even more convincing to those of us who have been steeped in politics for many years is the fact that in Election year, the trade union wing of the Labour movement—for that is what it is—has allowed a situation to arise which will almost inevitably entail the defeat of the political wing at the next Election. That is really what Mr. Len Murray said in the statement that he made yesterday.
If the purpose of withdrawing labour has become corrupted and the authority of the official trade union leadership dangerously diminished, industrial action has become increasingly designed to coerce the Government of the day and, again, as so many of your Lordships have said, substituted narrow sectional interests for the national interest.
I remember the late Lord Mitchison saying to me after a very short time as a Minister that Britain had become ungovernable. But no country can continue to exist in prosperity and stability unless the people accept government and unless the Government is allowed to exercise authority over them. I have no doubt that the root cause of this is the impact of inflation on the standards of living and contemporary expectations. When inflation exceeds 10 per cent. it has, I think, been generally true that social disruption has followed. The gravity of the situation is compounded by the fact that for several reasons Parliament itself has lost authority. I am always amazed by the fact—and here again I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry—that those who today sit in another place seem unaware of the danger which they face collectively of losing control to an even greater extent than has already happened. When a senior Minister talks about having to rely upon democratic persuasion, it is a sign that the Government recognise that they have ceased to have the authority to pursue policies which are in their collective judgment essential to the wellbeing of the nation as a whole.
1688 Following the line taken earlier in this debate by the most reverend Primate, I believe we have a situation in which the key centres of authority in our political life in this country have lost the power to act effectively in the national interest and when sectional interests have learned to employ the industrial weapon of the strike not only to coerce the Government but to intimidate and victimise the most vulnerable sections of the community and, in addition, to victimise their fellow workers by means of creating hardship of both a financial and physical kind. In some respects—and here I agree with the noble Baroness—this is the equivalent of an industrial civil war.
When we have experienced periods of unrest before—and there have been many such occasions during these past 20 years or so—somehow it seemed to me that the memories of the harsh days in the winter months have tended to dissipate with the ensuing spring and holiday season. It will not, I think, happen this time. There is a deep and widespread feeling of anger nationally and a sense of injustice at what is happening. That bodes ill for the Labour movement as a whole and for the trade unions in particular. I prophesy that sooner or later there will be trouble.
When any institution like the trade unions in this country is obviously in need of regulation and reform, and this principle has been applied to financial institutions, the professions, the City and the rest of it, it has been our practice—and I think it a good one—to give it a chance of putting its own house in order by self-examination and regulation, and to support its conclusion where may be necessary by legislation through Parliament. I personally believe that a strong, responsible trade union organisation is essential in any industrialised country, particularly in Britain. It was, after all, I would remind your Lordships, British trade unionists who after the war gave an effective trade union movement to defeated Germany. Surely, if we can do that for the Germans, we can do that for ourselves.
I said earlier on that I was concerned with the decline of the authority of Parliament, and, as other noble Lords have said during this debate, this has been 1689 partly due to what I regard as the misuse of the Party system. I think that the experience of In Place of Strife and the Heath débâcle of 1974 show that the reform of the British trade union movement must be a Parliamentary and not a Party operation. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in his interesting speech, made the same point. Although I have often spoken in your Lordships' House in favour of a national Government, I accept that it is not possible at the present moment. But the fact of the matter is that there must be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, said, co-operation between the Parties because all Parties have something to gain, and something to lose by lack of co-operating in this field.
We shall have an Election in a matter of months or perhaps a matter of weeks. I suggest that before that date the three Parties agree that, whatever may be their differences and the form of their manifestoes, one item is included in it. That is that, whether there is a Tory or Labour Government in power after the Election, the new Government will give to the trade union movement the opportunity of considering its existing organisation with the view to reform and regulation, and this review must be completed by the beginning of the Session of 1980–81. Thus any necessary legislation should be put on the Statute Book by the end of that Session. In the event of failure to accept this challenge, or the inadequacy of the regulatory machinery proposed, then the Government of the day, of whatever Party or group of Parties it may be, will introduce its own code of regulation in the national interest.
I feel that such a process would be regarded by public opinion in Britain as being fair. I believe it would greatly enhance the authority of Parliament as a whole. I believe it would impose on the leadership of the trade union movement a responsibility which they should be able to exercise in return for the undoubted privileges they enjoy. It would, I hope, give back control to the leadership of the unions, where it rightly belongs, and I hope it would start a new era of economic stability and sanity for a Britain which cannot afford, and will not put up with, the continued repetition of what is happening today.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Lord VAIZEY
My Lords, rising at this time of night gives one the feeling of speaking in a secret conclave, a small group certain that it will not be reported, and certainly not in today's Hansard. I therefore whisper my warm congratulations to my noble friend Lord Smith on his excellent maiden speech. We hope to hear from him often in the future.
It seems to me that we need to look at the present unhappy position of our country in a very long-term perspective. It seems to me we need to ask ourselves: Where did we go wrong? And also to ask: Where, if at all, can we begin to put things right? I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that the time is past when politics can be left to the Party professionals, to the people who enjoy the game, the scoring of points and the tactics. They, of course, have their place, but in really difficult times we have to get down to some fundamental issues, and I hope that in getting down to this position we shall pay due attention to the wise words spoken with great clarity and force by the most reverend Primate.
Perhaps a speech in this Chamber is hardly the place in which to get down to fundamentals, particularly at this time of night. I am also slightly terrified, when I rise in this House, that I might fall into the professorial deformation of lecturing your Lordships. When I was first asked to come to this House, my friend Tony Crosland, whom I questioned on this point said to me: "It will do them no harm to be lectured"—adding thoughtfully, "occasionally".
My Lords, this is not a lecture: it is a personal statement. I have tried to be honest with myself in preparing for this debate. I am conscious that I have very great friendship for many people whose ideas and beliefs I find I no longer share, not least a number—I am interested to discover a diminishing number—of people in this House. But in my case, at least, the old New England practice of the town meeting applies. You will recall that at those meetings people had to stand up in front of their fellows and be counted—a practice to which the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, referred a few moments ago. That is what I am doing, with some discomfort, now. The events of these past few months—probably these past 1691 few years—have led me to rethink my own position. In so doing, I have come to two sets of conclusions and neither set, I may say, is compatible with what I have hitherto believed. I no longer think that the social democratic position is a tenable one in this country. I have been a social democrat all my adult life. Why do I think that this position is no longer a tenable one? To explain that, I have to go back to first principles, and I apologise if I appear to be departing from the immediate problems of our country.
What, I ask myself, is this crisis? It is a crisis of authority; it is a crisis of responsibility. Obviously, those who are on strike, or who are threatening to use the strike weapon, have great power. Is this power used responsibly? Do the men and women concerned behave as they would if they were faced directly by an appeal to their emotions, to their sense of duty, to their sense of obligation, as we all do when we are called upon by our families, our friends and our neighbours? No, my Lords. I do not believe that that London ambulance leader who made that unfortunate statement on television is a human monster. I just do not believe it. But in startling contrast to their everyday human attitudes, when they get involved in these strikes and industrial disputes they seem to feel little sense of responsibility towards the community, which, after all, pays them for their services. This is the paradox. After all, these people are perfectly ordinary decent people, and I ask myself why it is that this sense of responsibility breaks down in these industrial disputes.
The answer, I suggest, is a breakdown of the idea of authority. I ask your Lordships to take the phrase: The unions have too much power. That is a statement that would command wide assent, even—perhaps particularly—among large sections of trade unionists. And how right was the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown. The trade union leaders, so-called, have little or no power at all. They lead from behind. Their proposals, their ideas and their suggestions carry no weight at all with those whom they purport to lead. If the trade unions have too much power, it is certainly not wielded by those pompous and inadequate men who pontificate on the television night 1692 after night between high-level ministerial meetings. They utter threats. They are not obeyed and they have little power, because they carry no authority. The crisis then, in my view, is about authority.
People of my generation, and people of my intellectual background, have problems about authority. The very word is linked with authoritarianism, paternalism, hierarchy—all the things that we were taught to reject and rejected. I am now convinced that very little can be done in this country till authority is restored. Most immediately relevant, of course, is authority in the trade unions. Once a union executive is elected it must, in the general run of things, be accepted by its members. Union leaders must try to stop leading from behind. In order to help this, I am convinced, reluctantly, by the arguments that have been put forward in your Lordships' debate today and elsewhere throughout the land, that traditional attitudes towards trade unions need careful rethinking.
Since the 1870s, the trade unions have been given great legal immunity. Since 1940, they have indeed been incorporated in every way into the very framework of government. They are, of course, deeply embedded in a very great political Party. It is clear, however, to me, and it must be clear to many others, that their position in our country needs rethinking. If I tried to spell out now and in shorthand what it seems to me is necessary, I should indeed lay myself open to serious misrepresentation. Let me just say that, in my view, the steps that have to be taken are the steps to restore the authority of the trade union leaders within the trade unions, and that means that their authority must rest upon free, secret and fair elections—no more mass meetings. The rule of the mob is a very terrifying thing, as those of us who have experienced it know. Also, the unions must become accountable to the community for their actions.
These two simple statements, if fully followed through, would, I am convinced, go far towards alleviating our present discontent. We shall be told that steps cannot be taken; that nobody can touch the trade unions; that we should think of 1971 and 1974. I must say that that is not my view. Nor, if noble Lords really read it, was that the view of the Donovan 1693 Commission. What makes such a view uncomfortable is that it represents a major break with a powerful social domocratic tradition. The tradition in which I was brought up is that it is a bargain between trade union power and political action. That bargain has been broken. I say that with great regret, but I believe it to be true.
I said earlier in my speech that I had come to two sets of conclusions. I have stated the first: that trade unions have to rearrange their affairs or their affairs have to be rearranged for them. My second set of conclusions is that the sphere of public activity is far too big. The State machine is now literally irresponsible because it is so vast. It cannot be controlled, least of all by Parliament and by the Ministers who sit in Parliament. That much, I think, is widely accepted, not least by many members of the present Cabinet.
What follows inescapably, however, from the conclusion that the State machine is irresponsible is that the State itself carries an ever-diminishing authority. The whole strength of our civil Government has rested for centuries upon the acceptance of the authority of the civil power. We have seen that authority seriously challenged. We have seen the power to allocate food and fuel handed over to self-appointed groups of pickets, responsible to themselves alone. We have seen Ministers humbly supplicating trade union bosses for permission to carry on the Queen's Government. It is intensely humiliating for them. It is gravely dangerous for us. What is happening is the ending of civil authority, an ending of civil authority which may be seen in all sorts of ways.
This debate is on a Motion about the present industrial situation. I wonder whether your Lordships know what is Britain's fastest growing industry. Is it oil? Is it micro-processes? No, it is not. Britain's fastest growing industry is crime. Eight per cent. of boys aged 14 to 16 have been convicted of serious crime—theft, burglary, robbery and violence—compared with only 2 per cent. only a generation ago. I hope that I am making no trivial point, and I hope that I am not wandering far from the substance of your Lordships' debate if I find in this at least one index of a break- 1694 down of authority. It seems to me that when the State controls so much, many people seem to be saying, "To hell with everything". I am led inescapably to the conclusion that the time has come to roll back the carpet of State authority that lies across our community. These huge corporations have bred huge unions. Nobody is responsible to anybody any longer for anything.
Let me conclude by saying that the great Socialists whom I have had the privilege to know, and to know well, would have been horrified by what is now happening. I share fully the view of my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry that they would have been horrified by the breakdown of responsibility, the lack of respect for duly constituted, freely elected authority in the country and in the unions, and I think that they would have had the courage to reconsider their position and their actions.
In this crisis I therefore come to the view that we have to try to reverse two historical trends: a trend away from responsibility for our own actions, and a trend away from the willing acceptance of authority. Historical trends exist, of course, to be reversed. There is no time like the present for beginning to return to a responsible society. It will be uncomfortable, but we were not born into a comfortable age. I do not despair of such a change. Contrast, my Lords, the spirit of 1938 with the actions of 1940. We are seeing a change in public attitudes no less profound and perhaps no less important than the change at that time.
§ 10.26 p.m.
Viscount MASSEREENE and FER-RARD
My Lords, to start with, I should like to apologise because, owing to the fact that I had to speak in Thanet earlier today and was caught up in a most appalling traffic block resulting from an accident, which delayed me for about an hour and a half, I was, much to my disadvantage, unable to hear the speeches of my noble Leader and the noble Lord the Leader of the House.
I should like to congratulate the noble Lord who has just sat down. I wholeheartedly agree with him, as I think the whole House will agree with him. The real problem today is one of authority. When it comes to secondary picketing, I have 1695 always regarded that as being illegal, but there appear to be different points of view on that. I do not think we can completely blame trade unions for secondary picketing because I think to a great extent it results from the attitude of lawlessness which is general in this country, particularly among young people, although certainly not all young people. In all types of society there appear today to be instances of irresponsibility.
I should like to say how much I enjoyed the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, because he brought up the question of Communist cells in the unions. I have been speaking on that subject for 20 years or more because I have seen one or two at work. I was always laughed at and people thought that I was speaking through the top of my hat. My noble friend Lord Trenchard thinks there is only just a sprinkling, but there is definitely more than a sprinkling. How long are we going to endure seeing this country torn apart by militant minorities? I remember referring to something I said in this House a few years ago and which I shall now repeat. It is in Hansard. A friend of mine had an acquaintance who was going to import goods into this country from Czechoslovakia; he went out there in March and was told, "Don't import them in August because there is going to be a dock strike in London". To a great extent, that bears out what the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, said today.
We have heard today that in the productivity table of the industrial nations of Europe we scrape in near the bottom and that we shall soon be on a par with the Portuguese. This is very sad because we have North Sea oil and I believe that in the last four years the Government have had £5,000 million from North Sea oil. What has happened to it? I thought it was meant to strengthen the economy but it must have gone in higher wages—unearned—which of course has meant greater personal consumption and thus more imports. So the benefit from North Sea oil appears to have been frittered away so far.
Of course, when we come to exports, we have heard about ICI. I think one noble Lord told us how they are losing £2 million a day. I went to the Boat 1696 Show, and I am told now that a lot of the yachts and boats there cannot be moved, boats which would have been very good for the export trade, and which were due in Dusseldorf. Now they cannot be moved and they cannot go to the Boat Show in Dusseldorf, so there are more exports lost. If you cannot please your buyers—if you cannot produce the goods for exhibition after three weeks they forget about you. I think this is very serious.
Of course, we are told by various bodies—not only by the Labour Government—that voluntary agreements and codes of practice are the way to deal with union power. Well, my Lords, we have been trying this for quite a long time. I quite agree it might succeed if the unions could control their own members, we were told by one noble Lord from the Front Bench opposite a few days ago that last year nearly 90 per cent. of strikes were unofficial. That is really a disgraceful state of affairs. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, was saying it is a question of authority. The union executives cannot exert their powers; they cannot control their members. If they could, everything might probably be satisfactory.
I do not believe that it is impossible to bring the unions in this country within the law, because they are within the law in every other industrialised nation and it has not hurt the unions of those nations; it has helped them. I intervened on a Question last week pointing out that public utility employees on the Continent, in most democracies—I think, nearly all democracies—cannot come out on lightning strikes. They cannot say on Monday, "We are going to strike on Tuesday". But, of course, they can send their notice in under their service contracts. The gas workers, the water workers, the hospitals and so on cannot go out on strike like that. I do not really see that it would be a great hardship on the unions in this country to follow the custom adopted by Europe generally.
Luckily, we have not, so far as I am aware, had any particular violence with the picketing in these strikes, though we had that very unfortunate incident when a poor man was run over; but I do not think we have had any physical violence. Yet you do get victimisation in secret. I remember the strike of the footplate men on the railways in the days of Sir Anthony 1697 Eden. I think two, or it may have been three, drivers who disobeyed the union committed suicide, and quite a few had to emigrate. It is that victimisation that I think is so unpleasant, terrorising the families and children.
I understand that the situation is very difficult for the present Government or, indeed any Labour Government. I do not want to be rude, but it is very difficult to turn on one's paymasters. After all, the Labour Party receives the majority of its funds from the unions: it is the child of the unions. I think that ours is the only country in Europe where a political party is the complete child of the trade unions.
As regards public utility or local authority employees, I should like to see their wages index linked to rises in the cost of living in return for which they would not strike, but could send their notice in under the terms of their contract. I am told that in Liverpool at present 250 people are dying every day and there is no one to bury them. As regards the hospitals, we have heard today about the poor cancer patients who have been sent home. We cannot allow that to continue in a civilised country. The unions must adhere to their contracts. Let me take shipbuilding as an example, because I once had occasion to have a small interest in building a ship. The shipbuilder makes an agreement with the union and he then does his costing. The union is quite liable to break the agreement thus making his costing complete nonsense. One cannot do business like that, and therefore one has one's ship built abroad.
My Lords—I nearly said my God! I am glad that the most reverend Primate is not here—I have always spoken out against the closed shop. So far as I know it is contrary to the Atlantic Charter on Human Rights and, I think, the European Convention on Human Rights. Some Government must legislate about it. It has always been the case that everyone in this country—rich or poor—has always been equal before the law, but what worries me is that that is no longer so. Under the law the employer is now definitely at a great disadvantage as compared with the employee. The employee can walk out within an hour and the employer can do nothing about it. No decent employer would get rid of anyone in less than four 1698 weeks—certainly I would not do so—but even then the employer is guilty under the Employment Protection Act and must prove his innocence. That is a complete reversal of British law and it must be put right.
I see that I have spoken for 12 minutes, but it will take me only about three minutes to make some observations on a subject which I have raised previously. I think that during strikes the trade unions should look after their members. After all, they are one of the biggest operators on the Stock Exchange. My son is a stock broker and his firm has done a little business for the unions. They arc some of the biggest operators on the Stock Exchange: they are one of the biggest capitalist investment blocks. It is no good the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, laughing, because it is true. Therefore, I think that the unions should be responsible for looking after their members when there is a strike. How crazy our situation is! The Government, the State, has a nationalised industry; that industry goes on strike and Government, the State, pays them to be on strike. People on the Continent must think that we are mad. There are many issues involved, apart from the trade unions, regarding our economy, but I do not intend to go into them now because I have already spoken for 13 minutes.
I should like to make two points. The Government ought to call a state of emergency because it is extremely easy to frighten people with shells and bombs, but it is very difficult to frighten them economically—by the time they are frightened, economically it is often too late. Therefore, a state of emergency would show people the seriousness of the situation. If these strikes are to continue, the Government ought to set up a corps of volunteers. I am sure that they would get 200 or 300 thousand volunteers to drive lorries and trains. The Government should set up such a register. I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, who said that these strikes hit the poor people and the pensioners. They cause inconvenience, but they do not cause great hardship to the rich. We must try to guard against causing hardship to the ordinary people of this country. It is not their fault that these things happen; it is the fault of authority. That brings me to the end of 1699 my remarks. I hope that I have not spoken for too long, but I feel very strongly about this. I believe that a state of emergency would make people realise the seriousness of the situation.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Lord KINNAIRD
My Lords, I hesitated before putting down my name in this long debate, but, among other things, I felt so sad for this country that I decided to speak. What is happening to this island?—in living memory so great and still the best country to live in. Recently I was talking to a middle-aged taxi driver, who told me that his nine-year-old son asked why Britain was called "Great". He was trying to explain the British Empire when the boy said, "And have they thrown it all away?" I do not suppose that there are many families represented in this House who did not lose sons in the 1914–1918 war. Why did we fight it? For national survival, not for Socialist ideologies. The 1939–1945 war: more sons lost. Why did we fight it? For national survival, not for Socialist ideologies.
How did we win those wars? Not with Socialist ideologies, but with that Bulldog spirit and our country in danger. It is in danger now, and where is that Bulldog spirit? I believe that it is still there, if only it had had the right leadership. But ever since the war, through Socialist ideologies—not social justice because that is quite another thing and I think that we have social justice in this country, but Socialist idealogies—both from Socialist and Conservative Governments (you do not have to be a Socialist to be a socialist), we have indulged ourselves to a laughable degree. We have gone soft; we have behaved as if the world owed us a living. We have squandered our wealth and in every successive crisis we have given way and given in; but alas! always to the wrong elements which have crept into our society, and which are not in sympathy with our way of life, with the result that we are faced with social disruption. Between us, unless we can find a way to stop this social disruption tearing our country to pieces, there may well be precious little left of England as we know it and for which we have fought and won two world wars.
1700 So I say to the people of England, "Wake up. Band yourselves together. Don't any longer allow the disrupters of this country to pull the wool over your eyes—the disrupters, so determined to disrupt, and yet so angry when thwarted. The disrupters—our country cannot afford them any longer. So in the name of freedom fight back. Rout them. Show them who is master in the house, before we find ourselves pushed out through our own back-door, out into the cold and the snow outside".
My Lords, you may think I am a little over-imaginative. I hope you are right. But as a nation we are inclined to act like the ostrich bird—it cannot happen here. My Lords, it can and it might. The Times newspaper is shut down, but last Saturday the Daily Telegraph said this of your Lordships:Never, in the history of Parliament, have their counsels, their attitudes, their tones of voice, been so urgently needed".Having read that, I felt like the noble Baroness, Lady Burton: I had to stand up and say what I had to say.
Before I sit down I want to quote from Lord Lovat's recent book entitled March Past. It reads:The future is best built on good things that have emerged from the past. In the 1970's we seem to have lost our way, but surely not the map as well"—Lord Lovat, the great Commando leader. I have no means of knowing how good this Government are at map reading, nor even if they have lost the map. But if they have lost the way—and I repeat, if they have lost the way—and if they have lost control of the situation, then, in heaven's name, they had far better either call in those, or, failing that, give way to others, who have not.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Lord SEFTON of GARSTON
My Lords, five minutes ago I had to make my mind up whether or not to take part in this debate. I apologise for not having put my name on the list of speakers, but I quote no better authority than the Companion to Standing Orders which says in fact that we should not have prepared speeches, and prepared speeches have a habit of ruining debates. I indicated to my Front Bench that I should like to make a contribution, but in view of the lateness of the hour I was 1701 still doubtful about speaking until the noble Lord who spoke last made his contribution, opening with an explanation of how we won the war, and said that we did not win it with any socialist ideology.
I am old enough to remember the last war, and I am old enough to remember the day when this nation faced up to the simple and inescapable fact that they had not faced up to until then, that we were fighting for our existence, just as I say the nation should face up now to the fact that we are fighting for our existence. Winston Churchill, by popular acclaim right throughout the nation, stirred the nation to take the necessary steps to win that war when everyone else had deserted this country.
I remember the headlines of one of our important Right-Wing journals which said, "Britain goes Socialist". It said it because that Government, consisting of all Parties, had decided to take control of the whole of the economy of this nation. In that sense the application of what the Daily Express termed "Socialist government" was needed to win this war, and it meant nothing more nor less than the fact that everybody with influence contributed to the national effort. That is what it meant in effect. It did not distinguish between trade unions and employers; between persons responsible for the investment of capital and persons responsible for the use of that capital. It did not distinguish between anybody. It abolished sectional interests.
I have been rather amazed, listening to the debate, to see the unity between both sides of the House on the question of what was the major problem today. It seemed to come over crystal clear that the major problem was not the unemployment of 1½ million—that was never mentioned, though we are talking about the industrial situation; and it was not the problem of certain regions of the country which are now, and have been, suffering unemployment beyond a tenable level for the last 15 years; that was never mentioned either. The major problem was the conduct of the strikers and how they were affecting the life of the nation. That was the major problem that linked both sides, and I heard my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich spend about 20 minutes on that; I know one should not use extravagant language like "union bashing" 1702 in this House, but to say he was critical of the trade union movement would be an understatement.
My noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry was emotional about the effect on some people and on the social life of the nation, and I sympathise with her; but surely she did not mean all the people who are on strike. Surely she did not mean all the people who marched in those demonstrations last Monday, because I do not believe that. There is a very small minority of people who will say things regardless of the damage they do to the community. They should be condemned, but we should not condemn all the people involved in the industrial troubles.
If we do that we understate the problem we face because the industrial situation will not be rectified very much when this strike is over, or when we have settled the public sector, or when we have settled all the wage claims that are coming in. Following this bout of inflationary activity we will be facing a situation of unemployment affecting getting on for 2 million people. One of the sections of this country that will be damaged by that increased unemployment will be that in which I have lived all my life, the Northwest; and let me give an illustration of what I am concerned about.
We heard the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury—I regret that he is not in his place now—along with others make a genuine appeal that we should get together across the boundaries of Parties for the sake of the nation. I agree absolutely. When there was talk about the social and economic problems facing Merseyside I received a letter over the name of the Bishop of Liverpool. He urged me, after 25 years in local government fighting for Government investment in that city, to do what I could to ensure that investment took up the slack in that city and began to correct some of the social and economic problems there.
I replied to the Bishop of Liverpool suggesting it was not only the Government's responsibility to see that investment was steered into the places where it was needed, it was also the responsibility of those who had control of that investment; and I said that if he examined the Church of England he would see that it 1703 had an income of £43 million available for investment every year. I said that if the Church steered it away from the lucrative areas of Victorian London to Merseyside it might lose some money, but it would be making a tremendous contribution to the economic life of Merseyside. He agreed with the principle and undertook to take the matter up with the appropriate body inside the Church of England. That was 18 months ago and a reply has still not come. I do not believe the Church of England can divorce itself from being a section within our community.
My noble friend Lord George-Brown regaled us with terrible stories of "Reds under the bed". I well remember Lord George-Brown trying to establish a national plan, working within the Department of Economic Affairs, and I remember him urgently saying, "We must get a contribution from the private sector in our community to make national planning right". What a great tragedy that the CBI and the employers categorically turned down any question of having anything to do with planning agreements some years ago, when in fact if they had given it a cautious welcome they could possibly have included in those planning agreements something like a long-term wage agreement in certain industries, so leading to a more stable pattern in industry than we have today.
So all that I feel I should say is that certainly everybody in this House, and everybody in the nation, almost without exception, would want to contribute to the simple philosophy that all sectional interests must be forgotten in the interests of the nation as a whole. But do not let us forget that when in fact the trade union movement set out, consciously or unconsciously, completely to destroy the philosophy of this Labour Government that we should be able to negotiate these matters reasonably and rationally, and have a proper control of the economy, they were very well supported by a certain lady in another place who was determined to put Party interests before the nation.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Lord ROCHESTER
My Lords, this has been a momentous debate, and I wish now, however inadequately, to try in the 1704 course of my remarks in winding up on behalf of my noble friends, to respond to some of the points that have been made in the speeches. For me those speeches to which I most warmed were those which emphasised the need for us to come together in confronting our common danger and for courageous and disinterested leadership in seeking to overcome that danger. I think that that was the spirit at least of the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, initiated the debate, and it has been taken up first, and most notably, by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and by Lord Orr-Ewing, Lady Burton of Coventry, Lord Nugent of Guildford, Lord Alport, and a number of others.
The most reverend Primate suggested that there was a need for the three Parties to come together to tackle some of our basic economic and industrial problems. I agree. This is exactly the suggestion that was made a day or two ago by my right honourable friend the Leader of the Liberal Party. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, thought that my right honourable friend was calling for a coalition Government. That is not so. A coalition Government is not at present practical politics. The suggestion was made because of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, himself; namely, that in his view neither of the major Parties is really in a position to solve the nation's problems on its own. In my view, this can be done only if there are elements at least of the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Parties who are willing to do it.
If we are to find common ground on which we can build together, it seems to me that a number of things are called for. First, the Government should not introduce policies which are clearly unacceptable to the opposition Parties. An example of what I have in mind is the Bill, which is to be debated in another place on, I think, Monday, to strengthen price controls. Reference has already been made to this, and in the view of the Conservative and Liberal Parties it can only serve to aggravate our problems. Worse—and I do not think that the point has been made quite so specifically in the debate so far—it shows the inconsistency of Government policy, for just when the Government are warning the unions that excessive wage claims will lead inexorably 1705 to higher prices, they then seek to reduce, or altogether to eliminate, price increases, thus shielding those who make excessive claims from the consequence of their actions.
Secondly, in my view, the Government should immediately consult the Opposition Parties to see whether any agreement can be reached concerning the most contentious items of existing industrial legislation, such as picketing, the closed shop, the Employment Protection Act and so on. It is perhaps best that I should speak on this from the heart and from my own experience. Many of your Lordships will have seen the article which appeared in the Guardian last Saturday about the imminent risk of the Mond Division of ICI, which produces a wide range of chemical products essential to other industries much nearer the consumer, having to close down altogether, with all that that would imply for the nation's economy in general and our export trade in particular. I feel this very keenly, because I spent nearly 30 years of my life, I will not claim in improving but I hope in at least maintaining, the excellent industrial relations and performance which have characterised that division for rather more than a hundred years. Now, in my view, if more resolute action is not taken immediately by the Government regarding in particular this question of secondary picketing, what has taken so long to build up may prove to be irreparably damaged within only a few days.
I know very well from first-hand experience that there are merits in industry operating on the basis of consent and persuasion, and I know the danger which is inherent in agreements, regulations and laws which, in practice, may prove to be unenforceable. But in the last resort, surely, we must be prepared to put our democratic inheritance to the test, and combine to uphold it instead of submitting in fear and ignominy to being governed—as it seems to me we now effectively are—by unofficial and in some cases self-appointed strike committees.
I have said something of what, in my view, the Government should and should not do, but the other main point I should like to make is this: the problems with which we have to contend are highly complex, and there are no ready-made solutions. Whatever the complexion of 1706 the Government in nine months' time, those problems will still be there; and in this situation I suggest that it behoves us all to share a certain humility, and not pretend that the Party we belong to has, for some odd reason, a monopoly of wisdom in these matters. On the contrary, in my view, as politicians, we bear between us a heavy responsibility, largely due, I think, to lack of knowledge of what actually goes on in industry, for having advocated and implemented legislation which has culminated in our present troubles. Further, because of the overriding need, as I see it, for Government and Oppsoition Parties now to take agreed action, we should show ourselves willing, whatever our Party, if necessary, to sacrifice, at least temporarily, some sacred cows.
I say this because it is very easy for us to ask everybody but ourselves to give something up, and I say it also because it enables me to respond to something which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said about my Party at the beginning of this debate. We have for long advocated the need for a statutorily enforceable incomes policy, but if a more generally acceptable means of determining pay could now be agreed between the Parties which would be effective in conquering inflation, then in my view Liberals should not—indeed, they would no longer have need to do so—insist on this particular point.
I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, had to say on this subject when, as I understood it, he suggested that the Government should form a judgment on what the nation could afford by way of wage and salary increases in future and, as I understood him, said that he thought there was a strong case for that judgment being endorsed by Parliament. I see this as an illustration of the way in which we may start from different positions but may be able to reach some common ground. For the rest, in the short term it seems to me that there may be no other honourable way open to us than simply to endure. I must say that I had a feeling of some relief when I learned the other day that the lorry drivers' strike was not to be settled at a figure which I had come to feel it would be settled at—well over 15 per cent.
1707 I say "no other honourable way" having in mind three points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, in what I thought was a remarkable speech in the debate initiated the other day by Lord Trenchard. The noble Lord is not here but it seems to me, if your Lordships will forgive me for going on for a few more moments, that they bear repetition. The first was in relation to the lorry drivers' strike which had, as he put it, brought the surpeme irony thattrade union dues paid by those whose jobs may now disappear have to be used as strike benefit for those whose actions have rendered them unemployed".The second was that it was nonsense to suggest that there is a need for increases in wages and salaries of the order now claimed when in the last pay round there had been a rise of no less than 7½ per cent. in personal disposable incomes; and, third:We are faced with demands on national resources which … do not even exist…the price of defeat on this issue is the…ending of the Welfare State…".Surely, in the face of these facts, common sense and justice combine to counsel us to unite to hold the line. We should be greatly helped if the Government could give a clear lead in this direction. As it is, I must confess I am not at all clear what their policy now is. In the longer term, I can only say once again that if as a nation we are to remain solvent, and if the very fabric of our society is to survive, we shall have painfully to learn to share an understanding that we cannot go on taking out of the national kitty more than we put into it. The Prime Minister gave a lead in this direction in the debate in the other place on 16th January. I applaud him for it because I have been looking hard for something that I can say as a compliment to the Government. He said, for example, that if local authority pay seettlments are as high as 15 per cent. and the same services were to be provided as at present, the domestic rates would have to increase by about 27 per cent.; and that excessive pay settlements for the public servants generally would mean cuts in rail services, longer hospital queues, poorer education and fewer jobs.
My Lords, those are the harsh economic facts of the situation and we all need to join together, I suggest, in proclaiming 1708 them. I hope very much that this debate will serve at least to influence public opinion to come to feel what I think has been the consensus to a very large degree in the debate; namely, the need, as I said at the beginning, for us to unite to face a common danger and for Parliament to give a lead as to how that danger can be overcome.
§ 11.10 p.m.
Lord HAILS HAM of SAINT MARY-LEBONE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, who has just spoken, made a poignant plea to us all to sacrifice sacred cows of our own at least temporarily. In the absence of our great high priest, the most reverend Primate, I have been wracking my brains as to how sacred cows can be temporarily sacrificed. I understand only too well how one can sacrifice a sacred cow; but I always thought the resurrection was confined to the human race. However, no doubt further debates will elucidate this esoteric subject. I shall sacrifice one sacred cow, not temporarily but for ever; and that is very largely the speech which at one time I thought I was going to make.
We put down this debate on the Order Paper because we thought Parliament ought to be consulted about what we believe to be a very grave national crisis. There has been, I think, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby—who seemed to think it was nothing worse that he had known when he was a boy—a general consensus that there is a very grave national crisis to consult about. I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Smith, who very early in the debate made such a notable and I thought moving maiden speech derived from his personal experience, which was only a particular application of the more general situation to which the most reverend Primate drew attention.
We have to ask ourselves what is becoming of this country. It is not only the number of strikes; it is not only the number of people who have been laid off as the result of strikes. It is not only the pitilessness of the action of some of the pickets, of which the Birmingham episode of the cancer patients is only one.
But, more and more as the debate has proceeded, I have been impressed by one noble Lord after another who really was 1709 asking the question what sort of a nation we want to be. This did not come only from the Conservative Benches. I was impressed of course by my noble friend who sits behind me; but the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, almost delivered the speech which I have now sacrificed, only she put it much better than I could ever have done; and so did the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and so did my noble friend Lord Alport.
We have to decide whether our system of government can continue on these lines. I do not know that the answer which has been given is an unequivocal "Yes". It is only three months ago that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was addressing the Labour Conference. Three months is a long time in politics, if I may borrow an idea. There is no copyright in ideas. He said:Our economic record is something to be proud about; something we shall have to shout about. The prospect ahead is a very encouraging one indeed. Whoever wins the next Election is going to inherit the best balanced economy, the best economic prospects of any Government since the war".It was only on 1st November that the Prime Minister was telling another place:…this country is at a watershed in its history. So many things are going better for Britain through the advantages of North Sea oil. We can win great benefits in the years ahead…If we succeed we shall be one of the industrial leaders of the world by the mid-1980s".—[Official Report, Commons, 1/11/78; col. 56.]It does not sound like that tonight. That was less than three months ago. This country is tearing itself apart, in my opinion, and it is because, as more than one speaker has said, sectional interests are not prepared to put the interests of the community first. This country, my noble friend Lord Kinnaird reminded us only a few moments ago—a country for which many sacrifices have been made both by the living and by the dead—is tearing itself apart. Of course, we have not, any one of us, the monopoly of wisdom, as the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, has told us; but there is something which I must say, harsh as it is to say it. No Party has the monopoly of wisdom, but the Labour Party has the monopoly of Government and it has therefore the sole responsibility for leadership.
The most reverend Primate asked us all to get together. His plea had already 1710 been heeded by Mrs. Thatcher and by David Steel; but there has been a deafening silence from the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Plant, whom we were very glad to welcome when he appeared, said that there were trade union leaders in the House. Indeed, there are 20, but during the whole of this crisis there has been almost a deafening silence from the leadership of the TUC while this country is tearing itself apart. No one of us has a monopoly of wisdom, but there are some of us who ought to exercise leadership. And I must say this to the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey: I think the Prime Minister and the Labour Party must bear a very serious degree of responsibility for what is happening.
It must be obvious to all of us—and our brief interchange this afternoon was only a particular example of a more general proposition—that we are faced with a situation in trade union law which was geared to a social condition of the 1906 era, when trade unions and industrial relations meant something utterly different from what they do now; when the strike was by the oppressed employees of Mr. Gradgrind against Mr. Gradgrind, and the picketing took place against Mr. Gradgrind continuing his business. But we are not faced with that kind of strike today, when cancer patients are turned away from hospitals, when sewage is not being disposed of, when the exports of the country are being throttled, and when food is rotting at the docks.
We are not in the presence of situations such as Taff Vale and Osborne and the classic trade union cases which were legislated against in 1906—but we still have that law in force, and not only in force but reinforced by the present Government. The present Prime Minister, when he was a lieutenant of Mr. Harold Wilson, as he then was, was the principal Cabinet Minister responsible for the distruction of In Place of Strife. But for him, Mrs. Barbara Castle and Mr. Harold Wilson might have succeeded; but thanks to Mr. Callaghan, In Place of Strife was dropped. He is also responsible for the manner in which the Opposition was ranged against our own Industrial Relations Bill in 1971.
Of course, that Bill had its defects. I think that it had nothing to do with the defeat in the Election of 1974, but of 1711 course it had its defects. I said so privately, as my noble friend beside me knows. When we were in Opposition and when we were planning it, I had my criticisms of it, but it was an honest attempt to deal with the real problem. But over the years of this Government, we have not only not dealt with it, we have not merely wasted our time, but we have put it in the minds of the unions and of Parliament that unions ought not to be subject to the law in the most sensitive areas in which they operate, and now we are reaping the result. We have legalised the closed shop and encouraged it. We have extended by Section 13 of the Act of 1976, to which the noble and learned Lord referred this afternoon when he repeated the Attorney-General's Statement, interference with contracts other than the contract of employment, and now we are reaping the result. So that I think the Labour Party has a very serious responsibility to bear.
For five years, the Conservative Party has been subjected to taunts and jibes from the opposite Benches of the other place and of this House, to the effect that we cannot deal with the trade unions; that Tory Governments mean confrontation. Those taunts and jibes look a little odd this evening—do they not?—when this country is like a toy yacht on the Round Pond without a steersman, being blown this way and that by each wind of each militant group that chooses to do something against the law.
I think, as a matter of fact, that there is something which the Government would do well for a moment to consider, and that is the state of emergency. I have been round this course, too. I have been round this course more than once in office and in opposition, and such experience as I have is that it is always best, when you are faced with the possibility of an emergency, to put it on early; have your regulations in force before tempers begin to be lost.
The reason for that, of course, is that if you let that critical moment pass, you find that the danger is that you put on your state of emergency at a time when you either create panic or you make the situation worse. If you start early with your state of emergency in this kind of situation, you will save yourself a lot of bother and 1712 the nation a lot of tears. The Government have chosen the other course. I only hope they may be right, because we can do nothing about it. But I can only say that by choosing the other course they have taken upon themselves a very heavy burden of responsibility, and the nation will hold them responsible should they have proved to be wrong.
The second point I should like to make is this. I have said it before, but I want to say it in the context of this crisis. There has been a great deal of argument inside the Parties and across the Floor about what is called a statutory incomes policy. Both Parties have started with an ideological objection to it. Both Parties prefer responsible, free collective bargaining. Both Parties have been compelled at one time or another to accept a statutory incomes freeze—Phase 1—and it has almost always succeeded. Then comes the next stage—Phase 2—which is a little less severe, usually a flat rate rise, and this succeeds, but not quite so well. Then you get Phase 3 and that fails, but not completely. Finally, you get Phase 4, and Phase 4 always has failed hitherto. When we argue about whether or not we want a statutory incomes policy we ought to ask ourselves at what stage of this extraordinary cycle we have reached, because I think that the argument is about nothing.
I think the Government were perfectly right to say that if general wage settlements exceeded X per cent.—and I do not know whether 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 or 10 per cent. was right—there would be an unacceptable degree of inflation. Nobody complained about that, but that is not a statutory incomes policy and it is not a Phase 4 policy. It was the attempt to impose a Phase 4 policy which caused the confrontation in 1974 and which is causing the confrontation today. For that, on this occasion the Labour Government, with their presupposition that our confrontation was due to the Industrial Relations Act and was not an attempt to impose sanctions during Phase 4, bear again a very heavy burden of responsibility.
The next point I want to make is that when Mr. Heath was beaten by a whisker at the end of February 1974 he was in the fourth year of his term of office. I think that the lesson which should have been 1713 learned from that is that an old Government and a failing Parliament is not fit to handle a situation of this gravity. When he refused to face the country in October 1978, the present Prime Minister was making the greatest error that a Prime Minister has made for very many years. I said so at the time and I say so again now. If he had faced the country in October, for aught I know he might have won. I do not know; we might have won. But whichever Party had won in the Election which did not take place, we should have faced this period of anarchy with a fresh mandate from the electorate.
I had intended to say a very great deal more but I see that already I have been speaking for too long. By way of conclusion, therefore, I am going to say only this. I agree with those noble Lords who say that we ought to re-establish authority. The authority of the people is what we need to re-establish against sectional interests. We need to re-establish the authority of the people, and the only instrument which can re-establish the authority of the people is Parliament: the grand inquest of the nation down the corridor, the high court of Parliament when the two Houses are in consensus. That is what is needed.
I do not believe in the sovereignty of Parliament, but I do believe in the sovereignty of the people. I think that the unlimited powers of legislation that we possess are both unnecessary, dangerous and deleterious. But our authority ought to be unquestioned, and it is the responsibility of the Government to re-establish the authority of Parliament. If they set about that course and show a little leadership, even if the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, is right that we cannot wait for an Election—and she may well be right—the Government will receive a very great measure of support, both from these Benches and, I doubt not, from the Benches below the Gangway.
I was reminded last night of a poem by Chesterton, and I shall paraphrase it: Let them smile at us, picket us, starve us; but do not let them quite forget we are the people of Britain and we have not spoken yet.
But when the people speak they will pass judgment on those who have been responsible for our present sufferings.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, at least I am at one with the noble and learned Lord in one important matter—I rise to my feet to make a speech which will have to be rather different from the speech that I thought I was going to make when I was thinking about it yesterday and earlier today. I cannot hope for one moment to match the rhetoric to which we have just listened, or indeed have heard from a number of noble Lords, because again the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, is right in saying that the Government have the monopoly of government, and that forces me to avoid rhetoric and to address myself to the day-to-day realities of the situation, and that I hope to do. I apologise if I cannot reply to all the points that have been made in the debate, but again I shall try to deal with those that I can properly and sensibly deal with, having regard to the lateness of the hour.
One constantly reiterated theme throughout this debate has been in the mouths of various speakers, calling upon the Government to announce solutions to what the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, called the highly complex problems. We were asked repeatedly for a clear lead. My Lords, there are no magic solutions. I have not heard any in the course of this debate and, despite what the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, said about these present troubles, they are in fact pay disputes which are taking place and they must be dealt with first of all at that level. Of course the Government deplore them, and deplore the form that they have taken from time to time and in some instances. But the Government cannot intervene in private pay negotiations in the way that some people seem to imagine. If the Government did, that would worsen the situation in these pay disputes.
Furthermore, when we bear in mind that the Government believe, and have consistently reminded the country for 12 months now, that in order to get the kind of growth and the kind of employment levels that we want, and the kind of continued recovery that we have seen for the last 24 months, we need a rate of inflation of no more than 5 to 8 per cent. and a rate of pay increase of the order of 5 per cent., how can the Government intervene in a 1715 situation between the Road Haulage Association, on the one hand, and the drivers, on the other, when the drivers have refused to accept 15 per cent.? What role do noble Lords imagine the Government can play in intervening in that particular dispute?
I shall have to deal later with points that have been made about the emergency and proposals for legislation, but I do ask noble Lords to bear these general matters in mind. If there were magic solutions they would have emerged already, and I certainly cannot produce them. I also want to warn again, if I may, against hysteria. I can point—and I shall have to do so—to some of the solutions that have been looked at before, for example by Donovan and by others. Some of the solutions have been tried, and particularly in the 1971 legislation, but have failed. I believe that the mature and sober approach was best displayed by my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby in his speech, and I think there was an echo of it in what the noble and learned Lord has just said: we absolutely depend on the acceptance by the people as a whole of Government policy, and we must look to the people for support in relation to that; but I shall come back to that shortly.
I do not disagree with what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said in opening the debate and many others have repeated. The situation is serious and I accept as well that some at least of the damage is bound to be long term. One certainly deplores what the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, described as the wickedness that some have displayed in the course of some of these disputes. I believe that there is a tendency in the Press to exaggerate them, but, on the other hand, I accept that in some instances it would appear that the facts reported are correct. The wickedness is of such a kind that one has to condemn it, even if the instances are fairly isolated.
Many of the diagnoses that have been made of the troubles were accompanied by fairly unspecific calls for action. If the Government have to take action they must take action now. We must look at what we can do now, and in the short term. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, brings great authority 1716 and eloquence to bear on a matter of this kind. He called for specific legislation and I do not want to attack these proposals, other than to say this: the proposals he put forward give some indication of the kind of measures that are suggested but which certainly cannot be taken immediately and certainly would not improve the situation in the short term.
For example, he asked for legislation to tax excessive wage increases. I recognise that as a proposal that normally comes from the Liberal Benches, but I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, will agree with me that no other Party has hitherto supported any such proposal. So what prospect is there in the short term, or even for that matter in the long term, of putting through such legislation? I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, would find that the right honourable lady would not support such a measure. Furthermore, he called for a removal of immunities from strikers in respect of strikes against percentages laid down in guidelines. Does he really imagine that in Parliament as presently constituted, or likely to be constituted at any time within the next 12 months, such legislation would pass? If he does, I have to disagree with him.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord challenges me on that. If the Government have said, as they have done, that holding pay guidelines is vital to the nation's survival, and if the Government are prepared to use all their other powers to stop wage settlements above the guidelines, why does he not come to Parliament and see whether Parliament would not support such a proposal instead of dismissing it out of hand and offering no solution of his own?
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, one makes a judgment on the utterances which have emerged from the leaders of different Parties in another place, and the Government's judgment is that these proposals would not command a majority in another place. That is all I can properly say in relation to that. I have no quarrel with the general sentiments that have been given eloquent voice by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others. One certainly agrees—the Government certainly agree—that there is a too frequent resort 1717 to the strike weapon, that strikers resort to that too soon, too readily and too irresponsibly, as the most reverend Primate said. But I would remind him, when he calls in the course of his speech for some kind of body that would adjudicate, some kind of judicial type of body, that in fact when there was a body of that character, not perhaps as far-reaching as he had in mind—the Prices and Incomes Board—and that body was acting in relation to this type of claim some decades ago, the Party which had sponsored that body lost the next General Election, and thereafter the body was instantly abolished.
It is easy to pour scorn on trade union leaders. That was not done by noble Lords opposite and I compliment them for resisting that kind of temptation. But one or two speakers did in fact do that. I was deeply sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, who is not with us any longer, make such remarks about Mr. David Basnett, because if one wanted to find a trade union leader of responsibility, who has done his best and argued the case for responsible free collective bargaining, and in particular for responsibility, one could not do better than to select Mr. David Basnett. It is fairly easy to do what the noble Lord did and to point to alleged malign conspiracies and call for dramatic gestures. It is not my approach to do any such thing. The noble Lord also referred to the need for meetings with trade union leaders. Does he imagine, does this House imagine, that we have not had such meetings? If one reads the newspapers, for months past the Prime Minister and trade union leaders have met from time to time, and repeatedly at all hours of the day or night. The Government have striven, even if one looks at it very narrowly, even for their own electoral advantage, to reach a compact. One cannot blame it for lack of trying. The Prime Minister is meeting the leaders of the TUC very shortly. The agenda for that meeting has not been disclosed, but undoubtedly the discussions will be wide-ranging and not confined to any formal agenda which ignores the real probems which face us today.
I should like at this point to pay tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, which has been mentioned by various speakers. He brought immense experience to this particular debate, and I think put his finger very much on the 1718 heart of the issue when he asked if it was beyond the intelligence and ingenuity of our society to devise some way in which at least the safety of patients in hospital was guaranteed. I think again it will be clear to the House that, in this particular as in the general field, it is easier to propound the problem than to provide the solution. I can assure him that solutions are being sought most urgently and that his suggestions among others will be studied most carefully. I thank him for his contribution and hope that we will hear many more of that kind from him.
To turn from the general matters that have been touched upon in the past few hours, I believe that the specific problem should be seen in the perspective of the general assessment which was provided by my noble friend and Leader Lord Peart at the start of this debate. That is the best assessment that we can make at present and I shall come back to it briefly when I refer to the suggestions that there should be a declaration of a state of emergency. Your Lordships will appreciate from what was then said that, so far at least as the food situation is concerned, supplies in the shops are, in fact, well maintained and there is every reason to think that that will continue for the foreseeable future. However, I am, of course, thinking in terms of days rather than months.
Our current concern, as has been mentioned by others, is the effect upon industry and, of course, when one looks at the other disputes, possible incidents in the public services and the Health Service. I shall not at this time of night repeat the survey of the present situation as it affects industry and daily life, but let me turn to a number of specific points which have been mentioned and with which it is right that I should deal.
Many questions have been raised today about the law relating to various aspects of industrial action, and I shall endeavour to concentrate upon those points. However, in doing so, I should like to mention what the noble and learned Lord was saying a moment ago. He has drawn attention most eloquently to the circumstances in which the 1906 Act was passed and said that the situation is very different today. The situation is, indeed, very different today, but the way he has put matters—and I would not dream of criticising him for it—is different from the 1719 way in which matters have hitherto been put from the Front Bench opposite me, either here or in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, will recall making a speech a week ago in which his approach was much less sweeping than the approach which the noble and learned Lord seemed to be advocating tonight. Let me make some points absolutely clear. I indicated earlier that there is no statutory right to picket. There is no specific statutory prohibition upon picketing. The criminal law, ever since 1906, has never distinguished between primary and secondary picketing. So, in one sense, the concern that is deeply felt about secondary picketing and about the behaviour of pickets who are doing this or doing that or who are said to be doing various things, is tending to induce a hysterical mood that matters that have stood in the law for 100 years, or at least for 70 years, ought to be changed overnight, despite the experience of attempting to make such changes in the past and the way in which such changes have in fact failed.
I dealt earlier with picketing and it would be wrong for me to go into the matter at any length tonight. But it is important to bear in mind what I said when I was repeating the Statement of my right honourable friend the Attorney-General. When secondary picketing was considered by the Donovan Royal Commission, the recommendation was that secondary picketing at least in one of its senses—that is, the blacking type of secondary picketing—ought to be made illegal. In doing that, the Government were acting upon advice which proceeded from a most authoritative source.
§ Lord CARR of HADLEY
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for allowing me to intervene, but as he has mentioned me perhaps he will forgive me. Of course, I know that that was one of the unanimous recommendations of the Donovan Commission but it must be read very closely with the other main unanimous recommendation of that Commission; namely, that all the special immunities should attach only to the official action of registered trade unions and should not attach to all the unofficial actions of unregistered and ad hoc groups, which is the curse at present.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, indeed the noble Lord is absolutely right, and in pursuance of the conviction, which he has obviously held for a number of years, that in that respect Donovan was correct, he was a member of the Cabinet which introduced the 1971 Industrial Relations Act which had exactly that provision. I do not want to criticise the then Government for introducing that Act—that is not my purpose at all. I do not want to make that type of point. But I want to make the point that that Act was in force for the best part of three years and, in fact, very few unions registered under that Act. Accordingly, almost all the actions of strikers including pickets, during that time—whether they were official in the ordinary sense or unofficial—were illegal under the Act. Despite that the strikes went on; despite that the secondary picketing went on; and despite that the country was brought almost to its knees in February 1974. Therefore, it is wild to imagine that by introducing that kind of legislation, one somehow solves the problem. One simply does not.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, if I heard him correctly the noble Lord, Lord Carr, is asking: what secondary picketing? As I said, there is more than one sense of secondary picketing, but he will recall that the miners established flying pickets and that they also picketed the oil stations and power stations. It was that which, in a matter of a few days—certainly a few weeks—brought us to the three-day week.
§ Lord CARR of HADLEY
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for allowing me to interrupt again, but that was official action by what is now a certificated union, according to their rules and after balloting their members. That is a very different circumstance from what is happening today.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Carr, is very careful in what he says. It was not a registered union at the time. Of course, they balloted their members. The noble Lord referred to another of the provisions of the 1971 Act, to the effect that one 1721 should be able to have a ballot. He will recall that that was tried once in the whole period of three years when the Act was in force, and that during that period of three years all that happened was that a ballot was held among the rail unions and there was an ample majority for the strike action. It was never tried again. So, again, one has a piece of legislation which, on the face of it, is seen to provide some kind of a solution but, when one put it to the test, it provided no solution at all.
I should like to turn to another matter, that of intimidation and violence. I do not want to give noble Lords the impression that I am trying to defend the indefensible. Let me make it abundantly clear that the Government for which I speak deplore and condemn any breach of the criminal law by any person in the course of an industrial or trade dispute, whether he is a primary picket, a secondary picket, a trade union member, a member of the Socialist Workers' Party or anyone else. That condemnation extends to any form of criminal behaviour.
Secondary picketing as such no more involves, excuses or, indeed, encourages such criminal activities than does primary picketing. So the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 gives no protection to intimidation or violence by pickets. It gives no protection to pickets who threaten intimidation or violence. It gives no protection to pickets who commit, or who threaten to commit, a breach of the peace, assault or anything of the kind. So one cannot blame that legislation for that result. As I said at an earlier stage today, the 1976 Act, which was passed at a time when the Labour Party held a majority in another place, made no change whatever in relation to the criminal law of picketing.
However, of course, in that context it is quite right to ask the kind of questions that I was asked by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who asked, "What is a driver to do if he comes to a line of pickets?" That is a question to which I can only offer this answer: Of course he must stop. Then the noble Lord would say to me, "If that is not obstruction, what is?" Of course, if he is forced to stop by a line of pickets, it is obstruction and it is an offence against 1722 the criminal law; we do not need legislation to make that an offence; it is an offence. If that offence is reported to the police or if the police observe it, they can arrest the pickets because, as I understand it, it is an arrestable offence.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARY-LEBONE
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will not have forgotten that I put to him this afternoon that that is precisely the situation where the police should be on duty, so that they can observe the offence and prosecute it themselves. It was that which he did not accept.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, with respect, what I indicated at that time was that it is undesirable to have the police at all situations where there are pickets because they are normally not necessary. Of course one may have to revise one's view if this kind of thing is to happen, but one must also remember that police resources are already very seriously stretched, and to require vast numbers of policemen to be at every possible dock or depot in the country where there may be a picket line is to ask too much.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, I have given way several times. I have been speaking for 20 minutes and I should like, if I may, to continue.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
I should prefer, if I may, to continue. My noble friend Lord Harris said: What is going to happen if money is in fact being demanded as reported in the Press? As the Attorney-General said in his Statement, that is a serious criminal offence. Again I have to say that in England at least enforcement of the law is a matter for the police; if complaints are made, then the police must investigate them, and if there is evidence they must prosecute them.
The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said: What happens if the evidence cannot be obtained? I am sure lawyers in the House at least will agree with me that if the evidence cannot be obtained there is 1723 nothing one can do about it, unless one wants to introduce special kinds of measures which exist in countries where there is terrorism, as in Northern Ireland, and one has to abandon all the normal protections of the common law. Do we have to do that? Surely, on the evidence before us, we are not yet at that stage.
Again, the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, was good enough to make quite clear what changes he would like to see. He made four specific points. I hope he will forgive me if at this late hour I do not give him detailed replies. In relation to the matters on which he spoke, these are matters which have already been attempted, and certainly deeply thought about if not attempted. For example, the suggestion he made that the only ones entitled to picket should be the employees engaged in the dispute was in fact a provision in Section 96 of the Act of 1971, and it simply did not work.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
I will remind the noble Earl opposite, who said: "But why?" For three years that was on the Statute Book and there were a great many industrial disputes, and it did not work, and there was no serious attempt to enforce it.
The Earl of GOWRIE
My Lords, the reason this legislation did not work was, in very large part, because it was not backed by the then Opposition. The present Opposition is now making a very large offer to the Government to try to revitalise and reform the situation. This is what we want to hear a response to from the noble and learned Lord.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, we were reminded a moment ago that the Government have the monopoly of government. We have been told today that the Home Secretary ought to tell chief constables to do this and that, and that men ought to be encouraged to claim their civil rights. For three years that Act was in force, and neither the civil remedies nor the criminal remedies worked. You cannot blame the Labour Opposition for that. They fought the Bill, and one can make what criticisms one likes of the manner in which that fight was conducted, 1724 but one cannot blame the Labour Party for the fact that the 1971 Act did not work.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARY-LEBONE
My Lords, I am sorry that we are pursuing this rather cantankerous line, but what the noble and learned Lord must realise is that the case against him is not that they opposed the Act in Parliament, as they were fully entitled to do, but that they sabotaged it after it was passed.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, I have to respond to that. The noble and learned Lord will recall that that Act contained a good deal of elaborate legal machinery, particularly of a civil kind and with the Industrial Relations Court. What does he suppose made a laughing stock of the Industrial Relations Court? It was not the Labour Opposition. It was as much the Official Solicitor and the nonsense of that kind of case, which simply demonstrated that you cannot have lawyers sitting in courts regulating industrial relations and disputes in that way in this country. It simply does not work.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARY-LEBONE
My Lords, that is again lending currency to the idea that, when Lord Chancellor, I gave any instructions to the Official Solicitor of any kind at all in relation to that matter. I have repeatedly said that I did not, and I repeatedly said that he was acting, so far as I was concerned, under his general remit, whoever else may have spoken to him.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
Well, my Lords, I do not know where his instructions came from. I certainly never suggested, I do not suggest, and I did not think I suggested today, that the noble and learned Lord had anything to do with it. But somehow he was whipped from a decent obscurity, brought into the limelight, and acted on behalf of people who had not instructed him; and thus they were released from prison and from the consequences of contempt, and somehow set at liberty. After that, the whole thing collapsed. By the end of the affair, by February 1974, neither trade unionists nor people in industry nor, for that matter, I believe very many politicians would support that kind of scheme. When the 1725 noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, spoke on 17th January—I have his speech before me—he certainly did not advocate a return to that kind of legalistic machinery.
§ Lord CARR of HADLEY
My Lords, that is not true. The noble and learned Lord must quote me correctly. I hold very deeply and strongly that the machinery established under the Industrial Relations Act was extremely good, and if he will look at the exact way in which the present Employment Arbitration Tribunal is set up—its composition, powers and everything about it—and the wording of the statute, he will see that it is lifted almost word for word from the whole section of the Industrial Relations Act. I never denied the machinery be set up. It was first-class machinery and I am delighted to see it still in existence.
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
My Lords, I will not, as I had originally intended to do, refer in detail to the noble Lord's speech, but noble Lords may look at the legislative proposals which Lord Carr proposed in column 987 of the Official Report for 17th January.
I must deal with the accusation that the Government have given too much power and too many privileges to trade unions. I want to make the quite general point that I believe there is a degree of exaggeration and misunderstanding here. The only way in which the privileges have been extended concerns the civil law immunities in relation to tort and matters of that kind. I would like to signify my total agreement with what Lord Carr said on that occasion and what was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, when he spoke tonight. Lord Carr said we should not forget that we need strong unions; we do not want weak unions. Lord Alport said, if I may say, with respect, sensibly, that we want strong and responsible sensible unions. That is absolutely correct, but the remedy for our present troubles cannot be to weaken the union leadership; that would only ensure that effective power would pass to the irregulars, to the militants who are answerable to no one. The remedy cannot be for the Government to dictate to union leaders how to act in this or each particular situation. I believe that would not work and, if it did, the militants and others might see their leaders as mere pawns in the hands of Ministers.
1726 I wish also, without repeating, to direct the attention of noble Lords who did not hear or read his speech to the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Lee of Newton. He gave the same message, in effect, from the vantage point of a lifelong devotion to the Labour and trade union movement, that we must think hard and honestly about these problems. So indeed must the whole community. The temptation for any of us to seek short-term political advantage must of course be resisted.
I return to the question which I am going to have great difficulty answering; namely, what do we do?—as my noble friend Lord Shinwell put it. We do not rush foolishly into legislation which will not work and has not in the past worked. We endeavour to persuade the union leaders to take measures that will enable them to gain control over the unofficial pickets, and I believe we are having some, though only moderate, success in that regard. We have set up, as the Government must, emergency committees to try to ensure that the latter day situation is kept under control. We urge that the criminal law be enforced. We exhort, and that is one of the things the Government can and must do. We point to the consequences of selfish actions to the whole community and we try to invoke the pressure of public opinion. We have discussions of the kind that are continuing to take place with union leaders and with representatives of industry to try to find solutions, and we try to support these people against irresponsible hotheads who give trade unionism a bad name. The changes that are needed, if they are to be obtained quickly, and which are needed now, must be sought and obtained by agreement. I do not believe there is any other solution.
I wish to conclude my consideration of the points raised in the debate by referring to the suggestion that we should have an emergency, and that it should be declared, as the noble and learned Lord said, soon. It is very important to acknowledge that the purpose of proclaiming a state of emergency under the 1920 Act is to enable the Government to take powers which they would not otherwise have. There is no advantage in a state of emergency being proclaimed unless, and until, such powers would enable the Government to 1727 deal more effectively with the supply of essential requirements than other methods would do. My Lords, that situation has not yet been reached. For example, we do not believe that, if we were to introduce a state of emergency, the Services could provide more than a very small fraction of the vehicles required to move the goods which are currently being moved, despite the efforts of those who are trying to stop the movement of goods.
There is one other matter I want to refer to. There is no power under the Act of 1920 to make emergency regulations which would make it an offence to strike, or to persuade another person to strike, or to withdraw his labour; and much of the secondary picketing, and indeed the primary picketing of essential supplies is being done with this purpose. Even if we took the maximum powers available to us under the Act of 1920, we would not advance the situation.
I hope that I can agree with most of the speakers in the debate that the public reaction to the stupidity, the selfishness, and the contempt for the community which some at least of the militants have displayed is a factor of great importance in dealing with the situation. But I should like to say this: We have heard many people speak about the ordinary, decent members of the public. It will not do for ordinary, decent members of the public to complain only when something has gone wrong. They must face the responsibility that now and every day they have to consider this: Shall I stay at home this Thursday night, or this Wednesday night, and watch television, and leave the union meeting to be run by other people? If they do, if people simply abdicate their responsibility, they cannot then turn round when every thing goes sour and say, "It's the Government's fault." The Government cannot send a representative to every branch meeting, in every trade union organisation up and down the country.
So the public must understand this: They must not make scapegoats for their own shortcomings, however ordinary and however decent they may be. If the public give the Government, and the trade union movement, the kind of support that they ought to get, we should have nothing to fear. Without that 1728 support we would indeed be in trouble. I would believe that the debate, if it receives the publicity it deserves, will perhaps help us to get that. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for giving us the opportunity to consider matters in this way.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.