§ Debate resumed.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Lord ROCHESTER
My Lords, if it is now appropriate to continue our discussion on the Employment Bill, the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said that he had bowled a number of balls and failed to take any wickets. I am not altogether surprised, because I do not think that the pitch has been quite suited to his type of bowling. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, it has occurred to me that, 1567 in the week in which the British Open Championship starts at Muirfield, it might be appropriate to say a few words about golf.
I am not sure how many of your Lordships are players of the game. I myself am not very proficient but, in so far as I play with any proficiency at all, I think it is due to my mother who had what might be called a three-quarter swing. But she made up for this by always going absolutely straight from the tee to the hole, and it often transpired when we got there that she had arrived having played rather fewer strokes than had I, because I have always been prone to slice the ball quite considerably.
Your Lordships may wonder what all this has to do with the Employment Bill. I can only say that when my noble friends and I considered what our general attitude to this Bill should be, we concluded that we would wish to play the ball as straight down the middle of the course as we could. I do not suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Spens, has regarded his interventions as being in the nature of deep bunkers on the right of the course. But I must say that that is how I regarded them, and I think I have been more apprehensive on that score because of this tendency to slice which I have already confessed to your Lordships.
On the other hand, the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy and Lord Wedderburn, in their argument have been a constant reminder to me of the almost impenetrable rough that resides to the left of the course, in which it would, it has seemed to me, be very easy to lose one's ball altogether. Indeed, if I may be allowed to say so, it has seemed to me on occasion that the noble Lords have spent quite a lot of time looking for their ball.
I think that our decision to deal with the Bill in this way has been justified by the attitude that has been taken by your Lordships' House during its passage. In support of that, I would claim two things. First there have been the interventions made, in turn, by noble Lords and Baronesses as respected as Lady Burton of Coventry, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, Lord Taylor of Gryfe and Lord Collison, not to mention ex-Ministers of the standing of the noble Lord, Lord Robens, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris 1568 of Greenwich, coupled with the fact that other noble Lords on the Labour Benches, whom one might have expected to make some contribution to our discussions on a Bill of this kind, have been absent from the Division Lobbies and, indeed, in some cases, from the House altogether.
Second, and equally significant for me, is the point that there was an overwhelming defeat for the attempt so to limit secondary action at this juncture as to mean that that would effectively have curbed the long-held right of trade unions to take action designed to stop supplies going to the employer with whom they were engaged in a primary dispute.
Our attitude to the Bill on these Benches is much as it was at Second Reading. It seems to us that the winter before last demonstrated that there were certain very serious problems in this area that had to be dealt with. The Government selected three or four of them to deal with. They set out their proposals for legislation in their election manifesto, and they were endorsed by the people.
Practical experience has taught me that if you are trying to solve industrial problems—and I do not see much point in just talking about them—before you take decisions it is best to consult, so far as you can, with all those having a stake in the problems. That, it seems to me, is what has been done by the Secretary of State and the decisions that the Government then took feature in the Bill that we are now asked to pass.
We retain reservations about some parts of the Bill, as indeed we do about other aspects of the Government's industrial policy. We continue to wonder why the Government have thought it worth while to make some of the changes proposed in the clauses concerning maternity, to which the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, referred. We think they might have conceded a point or two on Clause 4, that is the clause which deals with unreasonable exclusion or expulsion from trade unions. In my view, it would have been a sign of strength, not of weakness to have done so. It remains to be seen what practical difficulties will now arise over picketing and secondary action and for tribunals in determining what are genuine objections on grounds of conscience or other deeply-held personal convictions to membership of a particular trade union.
1569 However, if events show that the Government have gone too far in any of these matters, the country should not come to too much harm, it seems to me, provided that the general body of trade unionists behave reasonably, as I hope and trust they will. Should it transpire, on the other hand, that the Government have not gone far enough, then more can be done following further consultation after publication of the Green Paper on immunities that we are promised in the autumn.
For our part, we on these Benches—and I feel sure that on this I speak for my noble friends as well as myself—hope there will be no need for further legislation of this kind. In our view, it is now of vital importance that this legislation should be made to work and supplemented as far as possible by codes of practice. That is in the interests not just of this Government but of future Governments, not even excluding the possibility to which the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, understandably referred the other day of a future Liberal Government.
I believe that there is now a heavy responsibility on trade union leaders in this because our industrial relations cannot be improved without their help. I beg them to exercise that responsibility in the long-term interests of their members. In fact, given the slightest encouragement from some of the experienced trade union leaders in this House, I would be delighted to put down a Motion couched in the most constructive terms I can think of to call attention to the essential part trade unions can play in improving this country's industrial and economic performance. I say that as one who at the Second Reading went out of his way to reaffirm his continued belief in the need for trade unions.
I should like from these Benches to join in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, for the able, patient and especially the open way in which he has handled this Bill, particularly in making available to us as much information as he reasonably could and for his kindness to me personally both inside and outside the Chamber. I am rather sorry that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not on the Woolsack, I am sure for a very good reason, because the other day he said that one of the draw- 1570 backs to sitting there was that he felt cut off from the Government Front Bench. We, on the other hand, feel that he is much better in closer proximity to the Liberal Benches. For one thing, if he were to bang on that trolley in quite the same way as he sometimes bangs on that Dispatch Box it would simply run away from him and his papers would then become even more scattered than they sometimes seem to be.
For another thing, we would he robbed of those delightful asides to which we are privy on these Benches. I would not dream of disseminating those more widely within the House because I think they are safeguarded in some odd way by a special kind of parliamentary privilege, but I can assure your Lordships that they are not only witty but even-handed in the sense that on occasion they take in those on the Conservative Benches as much as those on the Labour Benches. Liberals, of course, enjoy complete immunity in this respect and that has nothing, I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, to do with the year 1906. We have also relished the lucidity and humour of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Advocate, and on occasions the light touch from the noble Lord, Lord Lyell.
I should like also to compliment the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy and Lord Wedderburn, on their contributions, if I may, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, for the generous response he made to a particular procedural suggestion I made early in the Committee stage and which I hope may have been of some benefit to the House as a whole.
I have often found when engaged with others in some major enterprise that the process of how things are done is of as much significance as what is done, and even when, as in this case, the undertaking is of an adversarial kind, it sometimes happens that the things which bound those involved together count for just as much in the end as the things which keep them apart. I hope that that may be so at the end of this Bill; that it will soon become an Act, and that it will help to promote that co-operation between management and employees which we so badly need. With those few remarks, my Lords, we on these Benches are glad to give our continued support to this Bill in the form in which it has now been revised.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord LEE of NEWTON
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, was puzzled some time ago as to why more Members did not speak from this side of the House. May I tell him that the main reason is that we think that this is a Bill which in no way adds anything at all to the problems with which this nation is confronted on the industrial front. If there was ever a time in the long, complicated industrial history of Britain when a united front in all parts was essential, it is now. This miserable Bill will divide it further. That is the basic reason why many of my noble friends have not felt that it was worth a contribution anyway. We heard expressions about the winter of discontent, and changing the balance of power of industry and that this Bill is going to do something about that. My Lords, it will do precisely nothing.
I ventured a few words the other day about this so-called winter of discontent and the feeling that enormous trade union powers were exercised at that time. All we saw was the weakest trade union in Britain, NUPE, more than half of whose members are part-time workers pursuing such honourable occupations as those of dinner ladies at schools, and that kind of job. Will somebody tell me what great industrial power they can wield? The fact is that no industrial power at all was wielded, but because of shockingly bad leadership they got themselves on to a hook which they could not get off. Then, foolishly, because of their frustration, they attacked the public, which was a disgraceful thing to do. But it had nothing whatever to do with the wielding of industrial power.
I recall that when we had our debates in the other place on the 1971 Act we heard that it was going to transform the whole basis of power in industry, but it was a dismal failure. At the end of the day, the Government which enacted it wanted to forget it, no big employer would use it and the trade unions hated the sight of it. In the end, by mutual consent, it was dispensed with.
Certain elements have not been mentioned when we have discussed the trade unions. For instance, you cannot have an election in which trade unions take the place of employers, and vice versa. In that sense, trade unions are a permanent 1572 opposition. Some of us have spent most of our adult lives trying to get a change of atmosphere in that respect, but it will always be the same; trade unions will always be in opposition. However, we have tried hard to get them to surmount certain barriers and to adopt a constructive, helpful approach to the great industrial problems of this nation. I could recount to noble Lords many occasions upon which that has happened, but while the attitude "We're going to change the basis of power" obtains, how can the trade unions possibly trust any Government which treat them in that rather stupid and disgraceful manner?
There are elements in the Bill to which I have very little objection. As I said the other day, I do not object to taking public money for ballots. In my union, we ballot for everything, and it is nice to see that the Tory Party has discovered ballots. They used to have a system by which their leaders "emerged". Now, with all the enthusiasm of the convert, they are forcing ballots upon everybody. I do not know whether those who benefited from the last ballot in the Tory Party would like to look back at it; I think I know one or two who would not.
Turning to the closed shop issue, when I was a convenor in industry I never asked for a closed shop. However, if you act on the principle that closed shops are bad you will get into awful trouble in a number of industries. I should not like to feel that a number of free riders on a coal seam were going to cause disruption in a coal mine, where safety should be the dominant feature; nor should I like to feel that a row at sea in a merchant ship, because of free riders there, was going to endanger the lives of the crew.
I do not think that the closed shop is necessary in some industries, but I noticed that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said the other day:Over 5 million workers are in closed shops and for them union membership is necessary to get or keep a job, or even to pursue a career at all" —[Official Report, 7/7/80; col. 898.]Does the noble Earl really believe that nonsense? Is lie really saying that 5 million members of trade unions are members only because of the fear that they will lose their job? It is sheer waffle. In the huge enterprises which I know quite a bit about I doubt whether 1 or 2 per cent. 1573 of the people there objected to the closed shop. This Bill widens the scope from religious conviction to other matters. When I interviewed people, I found that what they really objected to was paying their "subs". That is what it boils down to with most of them. To put that kind of construction on the reasons for men wanting a closed shop is very wrong of the noble Earl, and I hope that he will take the opportunity now to withdraw that kind of construction.
I want the time to come when we have a far closer liaison between employers, trade unions and Governments. I am very serious when I say that throughout industry in this country there is greater fear now among employers and unions than I have ever known in my lifetime. In my area, firms which we looked upon as permanent are folding up. The unemployment problem is putting people on the defensive. They will not risk some of the things which all of us ought to be risking in order to pull this nation out of the difficulties we are in.
It is for these reasons that I am somewhat contemptuous of this so-called transfer of power, which has nothing to do with it. Power is transferred in industry not by laws of this sort but by changes in production methods. We have reached the stage at which 20 people can stop 20,000. This is not because of laws but because of changes in production methods. It is that kind of problem which this Government ought to be facing and which we in this party ought to be facing. The time when a trade union leader could instruct his members about what to do has gone. Rightly or wrongly, power has gone from the executives of trade unions, from the centre, into the factories. It was brought about, for the very best of reasons, by people like my old friend Jack Jones.
As I have tried to say before in this place, the problem is that we have divorced power from responsibility. This is what we should all be looking at and trying to tackle. Ten years ago, having heard of the great changes that the 1971 Act was going to bring, we all wanted to forget it. I guarantee that a year or two from now the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, will lead us all in forgetfulness.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I said some time ago that my heart bled 1574 for the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and then I was interrupted by a Statement. I now find that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has left us; but, luckily, the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, is here. My heart bleeds for him, too. As the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said, they bowled 150 balls which were all blocked. I remember very well that very much the same thing happened to us in 1976 and 1977 when we were sitting on the Benches opposite. All sorts of ridiculous legislation was passed by the then Government, the principles of which we thought were quite disgraceful, et cetera. So my heart does bleed for them.
If I may reply to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, it seems to me that the Bill, which I very much commend my noble friends on the Front Bench for having taken this far and so well, is an attempt to set a sort of picture in which people's attitudes can be changed. The Bill is not attempting to do more. It does not need to be compared with the 1971 Act. The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, will remember that Acts passed in 1974 and 1976 by the Government which he supported have to be taken into account when he speaks about industrial relations.
The point about this Bill is that it is an endeavour to create a position in which bullies shall be curbed. I said this at Second Reading, and I say it again. The encouragement that there was within the trade union movement as a whole to those people who cared to take advantage of it by the legislation which had built up over the years, starting, if you like, in 1906, had put us in a position where two years ago people were being bullied. It did not matter whether they were third parties like the public, or third parties like subsidiary companies which were supplying goods to a major company, or even if they were ordinary humble trade unionists —there were all sorts of examples of bullying and, to my mind, this Bill is designed to create an atmosphere to combat bullying. It is as simple as that. The value of this Bill will be proved by the effect that it has, and it is sad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, saying that it is a terrible Bill which will encourage everybody to do all sorts of dreadful things. I do not believe it will. Part of the merit of this Bill, perhaps, is that the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, 1575 thinks it is disastrous because it takes all the powers away from the trade unions, and my noble friend Lord Renton thinks it is disastrous because it does not take anything away at all.
There is something in the middle, and what is being attempted is to create an atmosphere in which people will say to themselves, "Is it wise to take industrial action? Have I got the powers to do it? Is the feeling of the country against my doing it? Is it reasonable to bully other people? Should I not think about whether there are third parties, such as the travelling public or like the poor people who are employed by suppliers and who may find themselves cut off through some vague strike miles away in another part of the country?" Is it not a good thing that we should try to get people to think in a different way from the way in which they were thinking two years ago? As I see it, that is all that this Bill is trying to do, and I think it is splendid.
§ 4.53 p.m.
My Lords, it is always difficult for a Cross-Bencher to get a hearing, but I think I have one now! I do not think that the members of my group really consider ourselves as having been a "bunker", in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. Rather, I would say that we think we drove very straight down the fairway, whereas the Government, particularly on Clause 17, decided to take a much more difficult path which has taken them through the rough. I only hope that they reach the green easily: and I want to say that we support this Bill to the greatest possible extent. Meanwhile, I hope that we shall be able to keep our little group together because we want to look at the codes of practice when they come out and particularly to see whether they deal with two very objectionable situations which we were not able to put right. The first: the fair list of the print unions which they use as a black list to try to enforce membership of a closed shop; and the second, the practice of certain public organisations when they put contracts out to tender to include a clause which insists that the contractors only use members of a trade union. In other words, again trying to get a closed shop operation in that way. Also I hope in 1576 due course we shall keep together to discuss the Green Paper on immunities when that appears.
Having said that, my Lords, I also want to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, on the magnificent way in which he has taken this Bill and all its clauses, and I am quite certain that the Bill is going to be successful and I believe that our little group has helped in a way towards that success. I suggest that, in particular, when we chose to divide the House on Clause 17 we had an excellent degree of publicity before that Division and we had a very good explanation of the results of that Division. I should like to suggest to your Lordships that the public at large must now believe that all sides of the House are behind the Government on Clause 17. With those words, I should like to wish the Bill all success.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Lord KALDOR
My Lords, I did not intend to speak again, as I gave my views on this Bill on Second Reading. If I speak now, it is not so much about the Bill or its merits but because I feel that I have listened to a really notable and exciting debate which was conducted at a very high level on both sides, and I should like to add my congratulations for the admirable way in which the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, conducted it for the Government side and my noble friends Lord McCarthy and Lord Wedderburn displayed expert knowledge of a very high order. I think in some ways it brought out the best in this House as a Chamber in which issues can be discussed less in the heat of party controversy and more on their merits with this expert knowledge. That is the justification, if there is one, for the House of Lords, and I fear that the Government have not done this House justice by pushing through this Bill without allowing a single comma to be changed; without allowing any amendment, even on those issues where amendments have no other purpose but to clarify the express intentions of the Government.
During the Second Reading debate, I was assured by the noble Earl that the famous subsection (8) of what is now Clause 17 was not intended for any other purpose except secondary action; but when I suggested that this could be made clear in that case, if there was any doubt, even 1577 the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had to admit that there might be doubt. The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, argued, with the authority of a professor of law and an authority in this particular field, and that cannot just be dismissed as something which is a quite impossible interpretation and that a judge may not indeed use this clause in the sense in which my noble friend intended.
All that we suggested was, "If this is your intention, why not make it clear by adding these innocent few words, 'for the purposes of Section 3 of the 1976 Act subsection (3) is withdrawn' "? The noble Earl promised me that the Government would look at it, but afterwards we were assured that it could not be done and the noble and learned Lord went into a long speech with all kinds of analogies with flying objects and this and that, which in the end added very little to the clarification of the problem and certainly did not explain why the Government was so opposed to making the rule clear.
What I have against this Bill is what a good many others on both sides have against it; that its provisions are far from clear, that it will be the subject of endless litigation, that it will be a lawyer's paradise. Therefore, it is not something that is not capable of improvement, and I do feel that, if you want to maintain the second Chamber and have these debates and all this apparatus, the Government, whichever Government they are, ought to be ready to listen when a case is made out for improvement and should not reject it, in the same way as the Government—I must say, for better reason—rejected all amendments to the European Communities Act 1973 and would not allow a single comma to be changed in the original draft. I feel this was a great pity. I do not know why it was done this way. I do not say the noble Earl is personally responsible; it was probably a result of a certain balance of power which has to be kept in view, not to upset the balance one way or the other.
My Lords, I must not speak too long, but I do want to say this: I think this Government are engaged on a crazy course economically. This is my conviction. It does not make it any different that, as I am quite ready to believe, their beliefs, however misguided, are sincere. They are engaged in trying to get rid of inflation 1578 by bringing down wages, by getting wages settlements well below the rate of inflation. In order to do that they have to create more unemployment, and the more unemployment they create the less is the fund, so to speak and if I may use a classical expression, the true wages fund, for paying wages, In other words, the worse their task will be, the worse the problem of getting rid of inflation will be. Therefore, it is a vicious circle. I do not see any end to it.
This Bill will not do very much, because, when it comes to really powerful groups such as the miners, Clauses 16 and 17 will not prevent the miners doing exactly what they did in 1972 and 1974 and having mass pickets to stop all sorts of things from going on. If the Government try to enforce these provisions they will be up against impossible problems of prosecuting thousands and thousands of people, putting them in prison, and creating situations in which the law cannot really be carried out, as indeed the 1971 Act remained a dead letter. So I do not think it will make much difference.
I think as this process goes on, and the economic situation steadily worsens and unemployment increases, the expenses of maintaining unemployment will increase. They will then have to take steps to curtail unemployment benefits one way or another. We have already had preliminary statements in that direction last week. It may be denied now, but, after all, not so many weeks ago in this House the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, denied that the Government had any intention of wishing to reduce real wages, and only a few days afterwards the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it was absolutely essential to bring down real wages if inflation was to be stopped. So we shall see further steps in this direction.
All I am saying is you are always trying to catch your own tail and you never succeed. You reach a stage where this is not enough and you have to do something more. When you reach the next stage, that is not enough and you have to do something more. I do not see wages coming down quickly enough and unemployment rising fast enough to get the whole thing over within a reasonable spell of time. I see ahead growing misery, tension and dissatisfaction, and 1579 several winters and summers of discontent, in this crazy process of trying to stop inflation by creating more unemployment and by reducing real production, real output.
I feel that in comparison with these things this present Bill will not add very much and will not take away very much. There will be cases, like the motor car workers, where the Government will get their way without a strike and all this Bill will be unnecessary. They will get their way because the workers will know that unless they give up part of their real wages the factories will be closed down and they will become unemployed, whether it he a question of 1,000, 200,000 or a million workers. When it is a question of closing down employment, and the threat is real, the workers will give way. They are quite prepared to accept a lower standard of living rather than lose their livelihood altogether.
So there will be weak sectors of the economy, which will ruin British industry, where I think the workers will give way because the firms are bankrupt or the Government would close them down, as in the case of British Leyland, or the French in the case of Talbot. There will be other cases, like the miners, whose place of work cannot just be closed down. This country cannot do without a mining industry. It can do without a motor car industry, but it cannot do without a mining industry. It cannot do without electricity. I could mention a lot of other things. In all these cases again the Bill will not be any good at all, for the opposite reason, because it will not be possible to enforce it.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord BALFOUR of INCHRYE
My Lords, I but rarely trouble your Lordships with my voice; I feel this Bill should not pass without some Back-Bencher from here saying two things. I am conscious that my voice can count very little because I am old, pretty deaf, and, temporarily I hope, rather blind. But nevertheless I do want to make two points. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, a general condemnation of the Bill given with great enthusiasm, great fluency, maybe not great brevity. I think we should realise—I hope the other 1580 side do realise—that this Bill is the implementation of what the electorate was told would be done as regards the alteration of union power. It was voted upon and this Government was returned.
The second point I want to put forward is this: I believe that this Bill is not really so disliked, so unpopular, deserving of such derision as many trade union leaders have labelled it. I believe that, in regard to this particular part of Government policy, the alteration of union power, literally millions of trade unionists who voted for this Government at the last election support the action of the Government and support the proposals in this Bill. The Bill is not perfect; no Bill ever is. It may well be that in the future the Bill will have to be modified. But its main principles remain, and I repeat that I believe many—it would be impertinent of me to say many of their Lordships on the other side, but I believe so, in their heart of hearts—do not deride the provisions in this Bill as the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, did, but welcome it because it is right, broadly speaking just, broadly speaking wanted by the country. So the sooner this Bill passes the happier, I believe, will he millions of people in this country, beyond the members of my party, that that has occurred.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, in my view the debate on this Motion should serve two purposes. The first is to express our gratitude to those on both sides of the House whose talents have been brought so generously and so ably to the service of the House. The second is to try to get a final appraisal of the Bill that we are now asked to pass.
As regards the first point, I should like to join with my noble friend Lord McCarthy and other noble Lords in expressing great appreciation of the ability, the urbanity, the patience and good humour of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, in all that he has done as regards this Bill for so many hours and days of our time. We should also pay a very warm tribute to the ability of the partnership which the Opposition were able to field on the Bill. I pay tribute to the talents of my two noble friends—indeed talents of so high an order that, as I 1581 listened to them on the numerous occasions when they spoke, I realised how much people like me have missed through never having experienced the intellectual thrill of academic life. One feels that there is so much that an academic study of the Bill can bring to our consideration of its complexities, although on the other hand I think that a certain amount of experience does not come amiss. However, if the two were brought together in an integrated wisdom, then probably the best consideration would be brought to bear on the matter.
This debate began 10 years ago. It is 12 years since the Donovan Commission reported, and we have been debating this topic ever since. In the meantime, two Labour Governments and one Conservative Government have gone through a great deal of suffering on this question. Now the new Conservative Government have come up for more. Surely our debates have shown, and the Bill itself reveals, how difficult, even intractable are the problems of statutory regulation of industrial life. We are told that this Bill is part of the step-by-step approach to the matter. One is entitled to ask: if this is the first of a step-by-step approach, to where will the other steps lead? Where are we going? One is not sure how much weight this first step will bear, and we are certainly not very well informed about where the Government's goal actually lies.
In the last three general elections the major political parties have all made pledges about industrial relations and the reform of trade union law. They have all had something to say about those matters in their manifestos. This Bill is the outcome of the most recent swing of the political pendulum. As my noble friend Lord McCarthy said, the Labour Party says that it will repeal this Bill. Indeed, in the draft manifesto which has recently appeared amid a certain amount of controversy, but a copy of which I have obtained for greater accuracy, it says:We will: … repeal, in its entirety, the Tory Employment Bill.So, off we go again. An Act of Parliament is made and then another Act of Parliament is repealed. How much longer can the country go on with this kind of legislative see-saw on one of the most sensitive problems in our industrial and social life?
1582 Before some of my noble friends become too enthusiastic about what I have just said, I shall remind them that another part of the draft manifesto says:The next Labour Government will proceed immediately to abolish the House of Lords. It will ensure the passage of the necessary legislation and secure a majority for that purpose.We are to be flooded with quislings in order that we may be abolished! I set those two promises side by side, and it is open to noble Lords on both sides of the House to decide how to vote. However, I take the view that if a fraction of the time that we spent on doing and undoing trade union law in the last decade had been devoted to the promotion of a sounder base for industrial relations and cooperation and to establishing a more lasting relationship on both sides of industry, we should have been in a much better state today than we are.
The Bullock Report with all its faults should have been the subject of the step-by-step approach to something better. It could have gone quite a distance by now had we taken it up when it first came out. But these days it is not cooperation that we hear much about; it is disputes, threats, and so-called industrial action. People became so sick of it at the beginning of last year that undoubtedly they expressed their discontent politically at the general election.
We are told that this Bill is what the people want; that it is what the Government promised to do and that it is their considered view on how far it is right and practicable to go. I am not surprised that the Government have had to restrain themselves and disappoint many of their supporters in framing the Bill. The Government believe that the Bill stops short of being unworkable. They believe that to go further might prove unworkable and might generate a concerted campaign to wreck it, which shows how difficult it is to decide how far to go. But at least the Government feel that the Bill, if not welcomed universally, will nevertheless be accepted. Although some militant trade unions have already said that they will not take a blind hit of notice of the Bill, I personally do not think that that will start the revolution.
Clauses 16 and 17 are the sensitive clauses of the Bill. The rest of the Bill is either benign, as in the case of trade 1583 union ballots at public expense; or a little mean, as in the case of maternity benefits in Clauses 11 to 13; or deals with overdue reforms like the clauses on expulsion or exclusion from membership and the conditions of unfair dismissal in Clauses 4 to 10, which I warmly support. I think that Clauses 16 and 17 are still almost unenforceable. Much depends upon the code of practice and whether or not it will be generally observed. Presumably the code of practice, under, I think, Clause 3 of the Bill, will reflect its contents and, therefore, will be the guide to those concerned in the conduct of disputes and matters connected therewith. I think that all will depend upon the adjustment of attitudes towards the intentions of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, suggested that this Bill was more an influence than a law; at any rate, he suggested that it could be influential on public opinion. I am not sure that legislation for education is the best form of legislation. Nevertheless, we have tried it in the past in various very sensitive areas like race relations and sex equality. Both of those Acts of Parliament had a degree of educational purpose as well as the introduction of statute law. I think that it is on the code of practice that the trade unions will be tested. It is their attitude to that which we shall watch with close interest and perhaps a little apprehension. I think that, again, the prestige of Parliament will be at stake, as it was in 1971.
Applying such tests as seem to be available to a layman as to whether or not Clauses 16 and 17 are workable and enforceable, I turn to the report in the June issue of the magazine of the Police Federation, Police, where. Chief Constable Brownlow of South Yorkshire gave a report on experiences at the Hadfields Steel Works earlier this year. He reported on 14th February:Police were in Vulcan Road in strength by 4 a.m. along with 12 pickets. By 5.26 a.m. 1,000 demonstrators had arrived, including a contingent from the National Union of Mineworkers…".A little later 1,500 demonstrators had arrived. So one asks the question: What is the difference between a picket and a demonstrator? Pickets can be on the line in modest numbers; demonstrators may 1584 be there in very large numbers, but they may not seek peacefully to persuade anyone. They may not, in fact, be vocally attempting to persuade anyone; they are merely demonstrating. If scenes such as occurred outside Hadfields works in Sheffield earlier this year are possible when this Bill has passed, it will surely have failed in one of its objects. At the time Hadfields was not involved in the dispute, but the demonstrators turned up, apparently to reinforce the pickets who were quite properly there to try to persuade the workers at Hadfields to stop work.
Another question arising within the operation of the Bill is: If an employer tries to fix responsibility on a certain person for infringement of the provisions of Clause 17 and obtains an injunction to restrain that person from repeating his activities, what does everybody else do meantime? Is it necessary to obtain an injunction against everybody who may be in this position, or is it expected that an injunction secured against one person will be sufficient to deter many more persons? I think that those are all questions of doubt on how the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will actually work.
Some employers are already beginning to feel that there is nothing in the Bill which they will he able to enforce. I certainly believe that a great many members of the public want to be spared the episodes that we had just over a year ago. They want to know whether they can rely on this Bill to achieve that, or whether they will have to continue to rely upon the good sense and decency of trade unionists and their leaders.
I agree with my noble friends when they have said that by itself this Bill achieves very little. I would not say that it is irrelevant because it will he part of the general compendium of industrial law. But it makes one wonder whether the next stage in the Government's thinking on industrial relations can be fruitful unless they try to find an integrated edition of Bullock and Donovan in order to provide a more acceptable and stable basis for industrial relations. If they cannot, I think that we shall continue to devote ourselves to the problems of interruption and disruption to the flow of industry, to productivity and efficiency, which will leave us in no better position 1585 than we are now to withstand the challenge of what is on offer both here and overseas.
I do not think that the prospect is so full of despair as my noble friend Lord McCarthy suggested. Nevertheless, I think that there is very little joy to be obtained from the passing of this Bill unless there is some avowal by the Government that, having undertaken this legislation as an interim measure, they will bring forward something much more profound, something much more acceptable and something more lasting than we have had so far. I think that that is the questionmark hanging over this Bill at present.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, I should like to agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said, about injunctions being taken out against pickets as individuals. In my Second Reading speech I said that I thought that would lead to great difficulties, but I shall not go into that now. It must be apparent to everybody in the House that this Bill is not aimed at the moderate trade unionists. If a good fairy, a fairy godmother or some such person came along and could guarantee that all unions would be controlled by the moderates, there would be no need for this Bill at all. However, unfortunately that is not the case. It is the militants—not the noble Lords opposite—who are the great danger. I have come across militants from time to time.
Briefly, I should like to take up a point which the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, made. He said—and I may have got it wrong—that our lack of productivity was not due to very high wage claims by unions or restrictive practices but was due to poor machinery. That is complete nonsense because the majority of our factories now have the most up-to-date machinery. I once installed a brand new machine in a small works of mine which would have been a great boon to production, but the workers would not work it. You cannot put low productivity down to machinery. The unions have a great deal to answer for regarding our low productivity. I do not think anyone would argue against that contention.
1586 I should like to say why I voted against secondary picketing. If the Government were in any danger of defeat—it was obvious they were going to have a vast majority—I probably would not have done that. But, as it was, I would certainly vote against secondary picketing because it does great damage to our exports. Every noble Lord must surely know that, with late deliveries and the rest.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone said—and, of course, he is quite right—that this Bill is aimed at the bullies. With the small amount of teeth that this Bill has, I rather doubt whether it will have much effect on the bullies, but I hope that it does. Therefore, I give every welcome to this Bill, and hope that it will do something towards increasing our productivity and helping the economic position of this country.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Lord HATCH of LUSBY
My Lords, on the Second Reading of this Bill I tried to persuade your Lordships to put it in its economic context, and I was immediately challenged on the facts that I was quoting. I do not think that the challenge—and I am sorry to speak in his absence—that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, made to me on unemployment figures would be sustained if he were here today. Certainly not after the figures have been published later this week. It seems to me that unless we consider the effects of this Bill within the social and economic context of our time we have no chance of estimating its effects.
During the Second Reading debate I pointed out that not only is unemployment increasing rapidly—and one might add in parenthesis, bankruptcies too—but that those institutions which have been set up to assist the unemployed have also been undermined by this Government. I quoted the instance of the Manpower Services Commission. This appeared to annoy the noble Earl the Minister who interrupted me on the issue within a few minutes of my speaking. This puzzles me somewhat. There must be some lack of communication within the Ministry of Employment. Perhaps it is the same lack of communication which we have witnessed over the past few days, because the figures I quoted at that time and the 1587 evidence that he challenged me to produce to show that the Manpower Services Commission was being undermined were taken from press handouts from his own department, the Department of Employment.
I drew this to his attention at the debate, and he courteously replied. If I may summarise his reply as I understood it, it was that it was the expansion of the Manpower Services Commisson that was being curtailed rather than the absolute amount. This hardly seems to me to justify a challenge to my assertion that the work of the Manpower Services Commission was being undermined by this Government. Since then this assertion has been reinforced by the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission himself. Sir Richard O'Brien, who, in introducing his annual review on 5th June 1980, and speaking, according to reports, with the support both of the CBI and of the TUC, said that this year Manpower Services Commission spending would be reduced by £114 million, rising to £207 million in 1983–84. He added that this would lead to cuts in staff and spending, which had meant that the objectives set out by the Manpower Services Commission over the last four years had not been fulfilled. If this does not justify the assertion that the actions of the Government have been undermining the work of the Manpower Services Commission, then what does?
As I understand it, the Government have, from the introduction of this Bill, defended it on two grounds. First, that it represented public opinion on which the Government were elected 12 months ago, and, secondly, that it removed certain obstructions to production. I would briefly address myself to these two propositions. Are we so sure that this Bill is the kind of Bill that was envisaged by the electorate of this country 12 months ago? Did the electorate of this country vote for a reduction in the right of pregnant women to return to their work? Was this taken from the Conservative Party manifesto? Was the electorate told that the Government would increase the power of employers to dismiss their employees without giving them the right of appeal on unfair dismissal? I doubt it.
The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, whose sincerity I totally respect, hopes 1588 that this Bill will create an atmosphere in which co-operation and persuasion will become dominant in industrial relations. I believe that he will be disappointed. I believe he will be disappointed for this reason; unfortunately, the Conservative Party last year identified to the public the winter of discontent with trade union power. This was totally incorrect. If anything, one could argue that it was lack of trade union power, lack of trade union discipline, that led to the winter of discontent.
I can assure your Lordships now, as I did on Second Reading, that none of those incidents which were in the public mind and which naturally and rightly worried the public and worried us all during the winter of 1978–79—the kind of scenes outside Grunwick; the kind of scenes at the Charing Cross Hospital as my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has pointed out with more recent instances would have been touched by this Bill. The law has power to deal with disturbance, but not the law of industrial relations, because the two things are quite separate. But they were identified during the election by the Conservative Party as, "These are the things that happen unless you curb union power". I believe that by the introduction of this Bill the Government are going to disappoint the vast majority of their supporters who supported them on these grounds.
Secondly, if, as my noble friend Lord Lee said so eloquently with his long experience, we are going to face and tackle the basic productive problems of this country, surely we can only do so by a tripartite co-operation between Government, trade unions and employers. Is there any other way? What have the Government and all their supporters been saying throughout the passage of this Bill? I have been listening and sometimes participating during these long hours, hoping that something would happen to this Bill to take away my fears. If we are expecting that the cries of the representatives of the Government and their supporters to reduce trade union power will increase production, we are living in Cloud Cuckoo land. Noble Lords in all parts of the House try frequently to face up to the desperate issues created by changes in productive methods and in our industrial system. We must 1589 face up to the social changes which are essential if we are to achieve that mobility of labour which is needed for a new industrial revival in this country.
If the Government use their position, through their supporters and through the media, to tell the country that they propose to reduce the power of one of the institutions on which the future productive power of the nation rests, what they are in fact doing is sabotaging production. The fact that the Bill has been introduced without consultation with the TUC, or without the TUC having any influence on its drafting; the fact that the Government can quote no trade union or no trade union leader who has given his public support to it; and the fact that the General Secretary of the TUC has gone on public record as saying, like my noble friend Lord Lee, that the Bill is irrelevant to the industrial problems of this country, are matters which should disturb the Government. But, unfortunately, we have seen during the passage of the Bill very little concern and consciousness of the dangers the Government are getting themselves into by, as I said on Second Reading, apparently provoking worker resistance to their economic and anti-inflation policy.
If, when he replies, the Minister can give us any assurance that the trade union movement or any section of it is giving public support to the Bill, I am sure we shall be prepared to withdraw that part of our criticism. I do not believe the noble Earl will be able to do so. But until the Government recognise that they must get together with the TUC and all concerned, we shall drift steadily downwards, as every one of the economic indicators is showing we are doing now.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lord RENTON
My Lords, there was a good deal with which I disagreed in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, but I am sure he will be better answered by my noble friend Lord Gowrie than by me. I wish to be brief, so I move to other matters. Having taken part in the proceedings in another place on the 1974 and 1976 Acts, it has been a great privilege as well as interesting for me to have taken part in the proceedings in your Lordships' House in these calm, informative and constructive debates, which in my opinion have lost 1590 nothing by sometimes cutting across parties. It has been rightly said how much we owe to the Front Benches on both sides, and I need not repeat it. But I wish also, as others have, to pay a special tribute to my noble friend Lord Gowrie, more especially because he has been so patient behind the scenes, sometimes when I and others have wished to exchange views with him, and we have appreciated that very much indeed.
The Government deserve to be congratulated on the Bill and I have been glad to support them on every provision except Clause 17, about which I shall say more later. But meanwhile I wish them well, even on that. The Government are especially wise to have dealt with the difficult and complex issue of the closed shop in the way they have, and now that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is, happily, on the Woolsack again, may I say I believe that my noble and gallant friend Lord De L'Isle did a useful service in starting that debate on Clause 7 which enabled the Lord Chancellor to remove the genuine doubts which had been held on both sides as to whether a deeply held personal conviction included a political one.
Alas—and it is sometimes a pity—the Lord Chancellor does not make the law. When he gave an assurance that the employment tribunals would give the same interpretation to that phrase as he gave, I confess I began to wonder how they would get to know of the Lord Chancellor's opinion; and if the Government have any idea as to how that is to be brought about, I am sure that that information would be of interest and benefit to your Lordships.
On Clause 17, I have no regrets about having been in a small minority in that respect. I have voted occasionally with minorities of the Right, of the Left and of the Centre, and sometimes minorities containing all three. Sometimes those minorities have eventually been proved right, and sometimes not within so very many years. However, on this occasion I earnestly hope we shall be proved wrong, and I say that in all sincerity and not apologetically. Meanwhile, I accept the Government's judgment on that very difficult matter.
Perhaps the most important clause is the one to which the noble Lord, Lord 1591 Houghton of Sowerby, referred—namely, Clause 16 dealing with picketing—because it deals with what so many people have regarded as the disgraceful menace of flying pickets and especially because of the way the flying pickets have behaved. Lord Houghton did a valuable service in drawing a distinction between genuine flying pickets and demonstrators because, of course, the implication there is that the demonstrators will not be breaking the law if they demonstrate peacefully and cause no breach of the peace, but the flying pickets will be breaking the law if they are in contravention of what is now Clause 16, formerly Section 15 of the 1974 Act. We must be vigilant about that matter and the police will require all the responsible help they can be given by the whole community.
I hope trade union leaders, officials and shop stewards will bear in mind that the Bill calls for a great sense of responsibility on their part, because it is needed to prevent abuses which harm so many of their fellow workers. I remember those fellow workers in my constituency when I was in another place, and I say again, as I said on Second Reading, that I could never have been elected to the other place without the support of very large numbers, indeed thousands, of members of trade unions, as well as workers who were not members of trade unions, and their families. So on this matter one speaks with a little feeling, as well as experience.
Those fellow workers are often annoyed and sometimes frightened by the abuses, some of which this Bill should check. Those abuses not only frighten and annoy them, but may even cause them to lose several weeks' pay, and may even bring about unemployment. May I say in passing that that is what worried me most in regard to Clause 17, though I did not have time to stress it. Surely what are now needed are responsibility and restraint, above all else. I hope that my right honourable friend Mr. Prior will receive the support that he deserves for the stand he has taken on so many issues in the Bill. The step-by-step approach is surely right. One must remind all those in the Labour movement who claim, quite wrongly, that everything is lovely in the garden so far as their movement is concerned—they do not all feel that; I know that the noble Lord, Lord 1592 Houghton or Sowerby, does not—that Mr. Prior and the Cabinet were democratically elected to do the things which the Bill is designed to do; and so I wish them well.
§ 5.52 p.m.
The Earl of GOWRIE
My Lords, since Second Reading on 20th May we have debated the Bill for four days in Committee and for two days on Report. In addition, there has been a day's debate on Second Reading and today's debate. Nearly 180 amendments were tabled at the Committee stage, and more than 60 on Report, and the bulk of these amendments were debated fully. The noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, though he made some kind remarks for which I thank him, castigated me for not having altered the Bill or not having accepted any alteration to it in any way. The noble Lord is not quite right there. The most substantial Government amendment was brought to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Robens of Woldingham, and we followed his advice and altered the Bill accordingly. There was a considerable and important amendment on joinder in the name of my noble friend Lord De La Warr, which we also accepted.
Of course I understand the frustration, and at times irritation, usually admirably contained, which the Opposition felt and which the noble Lords, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton and Lord McCarthy, had especially to bear. I want to pay my own tribute to the very great industry and learning that both noble Lords demonstrated, and to the lucidity and, in almost every case, good humour with which they pressed their amendments. It would be improper for me to quote remarks made behind the scenes by my own officials on the contributions of the noble Lords, but let us say that we in the department were all extremely impressed.
I appreciate that both noble Lords must have found the debates frustrating. It is a matter of personal regret to me that we were not able to accept any of their amendments, and yet the explanation is quite simple: the Government approach this whole subject in a way that is radically different from that of the noble Lords, and that is a matter of honest difference of opinion. It is not that we have not listened to their arguments, or that we 1593 have failed to understand their worries. We simply do not believe that the Bill would achieve its declared overall purposes if it were amended as they wish. I must add in fairness to both noble Lords that they have had a fairly good run, because not only were they regaling your Lordships' House with their expertise on the Bill during the various stages of its progress, but they were also appearing for about one hour a week on national television on the same matter. So I do not think that they have done too badly.
In thanking the noble Lords who spoke for the Opposition, I wish to thank, too, those many noble Lords on all sides of the House who have made some very kind and flattering remarks about those of my noble friends, as well as myself, who have carried the Bill through your Lordships' House. Those remarks were especially pleasurable to me today, since over the last two days I have been somewhat in the wars on matters of public and employment policy. I should like to take this opportunity to say that I wish that the newspapers, if they are kind enough to notice my speeches at all, would attend to what I actually say. After all, in my case they do not have the excuse that people use when listening to Miss Anna Ford.
However, that point apart, I wish in particular to join in the tribute paid by my noble friend Lord Renton to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Perhaps your Lordships feel that you wish to follow the remarks made in a totally different context by Miss Mandy Rice-Davies, who said, "Well, he would, wouldn't he?" However, apart from that obvious coalition of interest, within the Government, and without it, we have been immensely impressed by the tenacity with which my right honourable friend has fought his case and, above all, by the six years' hard labour that he has given to this enormously difficult and contentious subject. I believe that even those who feel that he has got the Bill wrong would wish him well; and of course I certainly do not think that he has got it wrong.
Reverting to our realm, I believe that the Bill will return to another place as a better Bill than that which reached us in May. We have strengthened the encouragement which the Bill gives to union ballots by inserting a provision obliging employers to provide facilities for such 1594 ballots to take place. We have tightened up the closed shop provisions by making it clear that everyone in the relevant group of employees—both trade unionists and non-trade unionists—has the right to vote in a closed shop ballot. As I said earlier, we have added a new joinder provision which will make anyone who enforces union-labour only clauses in commercial contracts and thereby causes unfair dismissal, liable for the sums payable in compensation to any employees dismissed; and we have made a number of changes to clarify other parts of the Bill.
I believe in all that we have strengthened the purposes of the Bill while remaining faithful to its underlying principle of changing the law to correct manifest abuses and injustices. As I said on Report, this is not simply the step-by-step approach. It is really the abuse-by-abuse approach—not tackling matters in this difficult collective field by way of legislation, except where there is an overwhelming need to do so, and except where in our judgment there is overwhelming consent that we should do so.
The Bill restores the right of workers to claim unfair dismissal if they are sacked through the improper imposition and operation of a closed shop; and I am enormously grateful for the support given to the Bill in that respect by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. It restores the right of an employer to seek a legal remedy when his business or livelihood, and the jobs of his employees, are threatened by secondary picketing. It places strict and specific limitations on immunity for spreading industrial disruption far and wide beyond those concerned in a dispute.
At this point, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch—and I shall come to his point about the MSC a little later—that he has indeed put his finger on a difficulty in public relations here. It is broadly true that most people in this country, when they think of law at all, or when they think of laws being passed to provide redress for specific abuses, think in the main of criminal law, and are anxious about the provisions which may be needed, or may need to be changed, in respect of criminal law. We have to convince people that, in addition to the extant laws on demonstration and mass 1595 behaviour, it is useful and proper for there to be civil remedies and civil redresses in a field where people will not usually wish, when they can avoid it, to make use of these remedies, but which are there when they feel they have no alternative but to do so. So one must look at both the civil and the criminal provisions (not of this Bill, of course, but provisions overall) in that context.
We have removed the immunity for coercive recruitment tactics, as were famously associated with SLADE, and the Bill encourages the use of secret ballots by trade unions. Again, I am pleased that not only the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, but the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, had some pleasure there, though one of the most cherished moments that I found during these stages in Parliament on the Employment Bill—and I hope I am not spoiling the speech day atmosphere or the prize-giving atmosphere by referring to it—was when the entire Labour Party in the House of Lords went through the Lobbies in protest at massive extensions of public spending for the provision of secret ballots by trade unions.
All these reforms that I have mentioned are long overdue. I do not think that many people seriously doubt that the steps we are taking in this Bill have the support of a large majority of people in this country. I believe passionately that, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, a Minister of State in the previous Government, said, this is a moderate Bill; yet it is decisive and incisive in its approach to specific abuses—to what my noble friend Lord Mottistone called the abuses of the bully.
There has been much talk about the degree of support among trade unionists for the Government at the last election, and therefore, by inference, for this Bill; and there have been subsequent opinion polls to show that a majority of trade unionists agree that the proposals in the Bill are right and necessary. I still stand on my own scepticism, in really many fields, about polls and surveys. I find that the PSI survey, for instance, gives considerable support to our approach on employment protection, while the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, finds the very reverse. In the long run what we 1596 must rest on is our parliamentary sovereignty and our parliamentary judgment. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, that from time to time Governments have to do what they think is right, regardless of popularity; and in the end have to be judged on the quality of their own performance. But, that said, I agree with my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye that we have been careful to consult every step of the way here and to seek consent for what we are doing, and I believe that we have achieved this consent.
My Lords, I want to come quickly to some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, in respect of the overall economic context in which we are approaching the Bill, and particularly our attitude towards the Manpower Services Commission. The noble Lord said that when I intervened when he raised this at an earlier stage I showed some irritation, and indeed I still feel it. The irritation was simply because it seemed to me that the noble Lord was claiming that we had reduced expenditure on the Manpower Services Commission, whereas in fact net expenditure in real terms—not adjusted for inflation, but expenditure in real terms—is (and I have figures here to prove it) up this year on last year. I say that with no sense of gratification, because the Government are trying to reduce expenditure overall, and I would much prefer to be able to tell the House that it was down this year on last year. Nevertheless, in spite of wishing to achieve that aim (and we are confident that we shall be able to in time, but cutting out waste and reducing the fat, and so forth) many of the Manpower Services Commission's programmes are related to demand in the fields of youth unemployment and the like, and, as youth unemployment has grown, so I am proud to say that we have been able to increase the overall provision. Indeed, in that particular respect we have increased it by 25 per cent. to meet the need.
I want finally to say that we have not set out in this Bill to create an entirely new legal framework for industrial relations in this country, but I believe we have established the necessary ground rules, and the right ground rules, for the day-to-day conduct of good management—trade union relations. That is the role of law in industrial relations, to be applied 1597 as seldom as possible but to provide the right context. It is really more a redress of a balance of power than a reduction in powers of unions that we have been after in our approach.
I hope that no one who has followed our debates will make the mistake of thinking that legislation alone can bring about the improvements in procedures and institutions, or in habits or in practices, which we all know are so needed; but, as far as the foreboding of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, is concerned, I should like to say to him again, as I said to him on Report, that he overestimates the degree of opposition that exists to this Bill within the union movement itself, and under-estimates the desire of most people on all sides of industry to see it work.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, said we had divorced power from responsibility, but the point of civil law in this whole field is to target upon individuals, and individual responsibilities, for their action. I would have thought that we are really doing what he wanted in this regard by proceeding against individual abuses committed by individuals, rather than trying to move against the union movement collectively.
The responsibility for improving industrial relations rests squarely with employers and trade unions, and with managers and workers. If we have learned nothing else from the last decade, it is that no one else—not Parliament, not the Government, nor the courts—can assume that responsibility. It is inseparable from the responsibility for the day-to-day conduct of industry; and, as my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft said in a remarkable speech when we were debating Clause 17 on 8th July—and I am quoting my noble friend from col. 1093—what happens this winter is not going to be decided by this clause, however it is drafted or amended. It is going to be decided by the individual decisions of trade unions and managers up and down this country in the public sector, in the private sector. May I say that an enormous responsibility rests on their shoulders".Laws can shape behaviour over time, but they do not transform deep-rooted attitudes overnight—hence the step-by-step approach. The will to put right what is wrong with our industrial relations must not of course stop with this Bill, and the real task lies ahead.
1598 On the subject of the complexity of Clause 17, may I say this to my noble friend Lord Renton and to the noble Lord, Lord Spens? For reasons which were explained this afternoon by my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate, the drafting may be highly complex, but the industrial situation, the industrial reality and the industrial abuse we are trying to tackle are in fact perfectly simple, and we think everybody in industry understands them.
Finally, my Lords, the Bill takes an essentially reasonable approach to remedying abuses that the vast majority of people in this country, including most trade unionists, want to see stopped. I do not believe the people of this country want to see, or are prepared to see, the purposes of the Bill frustrated or subverted. If that were to happen there would, of course —I say this with all seriousness—be great pressure for us to take much stronger action, and we would not flinch from that pressure.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, hit the nail on the head when he said that it has been 12 years since the Donovan Commission reported. Much suffering has taken place affecting Governments of both parties and affecting industry while we have wrestled with the difficulties of reforming our industrial relations law. But no one—certainly not the noble Lords opposite, who were responsible for very substantial alterations under the previous Administration—can think that any of us could have shrunk from or shirked this task. We think we have got it right. We think now that we have legislation that will stick. The commitment of this Bill to reform is—how may I put it most politely?—enshrined in a manifesto which has not yet had a papal imprimatur on the part of the Labour Party, and we think the Bill is going to last. We also think that the Labour Party would be most unwise from the point of view of its own interests, even if it would be wise from the point of view of ours, to make too solid a commitment to repeal. Our job now in this country is to get on with the job and to tackle the real problems of industrial regrouping and reorganisation which, however the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, and I may differ in terms of our analysis of what needs to be done, we both agree is the primary task.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.