§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
I beg to move,That this House, recognising the importance of improving and maintaining good industrial relations, expresses its appreciation of the efforts made in this direction by trade unions and enlightened employers, but regrets that in some sections of non-industrial employment, particularly banking and insurance, bona fide trade unions are still denied rights of negotiation.I suppose that all hon. Members who participate in this periodical raffle for legislation and the right to introduce Motions are faced with a whole pile of ideas which they want to discuss and have discussed on the Floor of the House. Just as every soldier goes into the Army with a knapsack full of batons, I suppose that every Member of Parliament comes into this House with a bonnet full of bees. We all have a lot of subjects we should like to discuss. I chose this subject because I think it is immensely important not only that we should discuss this topic of industrial relations but that we should do so outside the usual system by which we discuss the subject only when there is a major dispute.
It is almost impossible to discuss the subject calmly and objectively, as, I think, it needs to be discussed, when there is some major industrial upheaval in the country and when both sides have already taken up entrenched positions. So, first. I feel that there is a need to discuss the subject in general calmly and widely and with the interests of the industries and of the nation paramount rather than any particular interest.
Secondly, I make no apology for the fact that this is a subject in which I am deeply interested. It is, after all, at the basis of whether we have a successful country or not. We are faced nowadays with the need to modernise industry in this country. We are face to face with growing competition from overseas, and we are unable to meet it merely by modernising equipment, merely by modernising designs of buildings, offices and factories, but we must be prepared also to modernise some of our approaches towards and ideas about the way these things affect the ordinary people. That is what makes the topic so fascinating, for this is a subject which, no matter what high falutin' terms we 1914 use, is really about how the ordinary people tick in industry in this country.
When I left school, I decided to become an engineering student, and I went on a sandwich course. I say with all due modesty that I was on the way to becoming, if not the worst engineer that Britain has ever seen, certainly amongst the first three or four. I then went to have some practical training in a machine shop, and I remember breaking on a milling machine four couplings in four hours. I then transferred to a shop in which there was switch gear, and I almost electrocuted the foreman, which might have been socially desirable, but was not acceptable to the authorities. Some time afterwards, I decided to go into the Army.
When I came out of the Army and after I had been to Oxford, I went to work for a trade union, believe me, not for the money involved. That is one thing on which one can never criticise trade union officials. It was because I was fascinated by the subject, and because it is an important subject. I spent ten years dealing with industrial problems, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I suppose that all of us in politics are particularly interested in people as such, though, occasionally, we go to party meetings and our affection for them becomes a bit dim round the edges. Generally speaking, everybody in the House is interested in this subject, and what I want to do today is to talk generally about industrial relations, to fly my own particular kites and then to come back to the two particular topics mentioned in the latter part of the Motion in connection with two organisations and two sections of employees.
The biggest problem in this subject is that, as soon as we start to talk about industrial relations, one is immediately faced with the bogy of strikes, and there is more nonsense talked on the topic of strikes in industry than on almost any other subject which is discussed. It does a great deal of harm to the relationships in industry. What causes the harm is that people get the impression that strikes in industry are far more rife than in fact they are. It has been said many times that if the British worker was as irresponsible as he is sometimes made out to be, British industry could not function. This is the most highly organised trade union set of working 1915 people in the world, numbering about 10 million, and they are highly organised, and ultimately more powerful than the employers. If they were as irresponsible as is sometimes suggested, industry could not function at all.
The record of British workers, so far as strikes are concerned—and one has to get this bogy out of the way at the beginning—is a very good one. To put the matter in perspective, in no year since the General Strike of 1926 has the time lost in this country from industrial disputes equalled one-third of 1 per cent. If British industry could not manage with that sort of fluctuation, we should be in difficulties anyhow. Indeed, there is less time lost in this country through strikes and industrial unrest than is lost from industrial accidents and industrial diseases. If one is particularly worried about the existence of the danger to the economy through industrial disputes, I suggest that saving could be made in other fields such as those.
To give another example, whenever Christmas Day falls on a Wednesday, it follows logically that Boxing Day will be on Thursday, and every time that happens, and it happens every seven years, more time is lost through employees staying away on the Friday than has been lost at any time since 1926 through industrial disputes. Let us kill this bogy that British industry is imperilled by a mass of irresponsible working people plunging the country into a series of sporadic strikes.
Another point is that political influence in strikes in this country is very small indeed. We have this bogy from time to time with talk of Communist influence in the trade unions. It does exist. Indeed, there are Communists in practically every field of modern life, as there are also members of the Conservative Party. I find both regrettable, but it is something which one has to face. So far as British trade unions and industrial unrest are concerned, political activity plays a comparatively small part, and when it does, it is sometimes surprising. Last year, we had the seamen's strike, a strike in which sympathies were very much with the strikers on many issues.
I went to Southampton to see exactly what was happening there, because I was 1916 interested in the subject. I went to the headquarters of the unofficial strike at Southampton, and it is true that there were politicians who were running that unofficial strike headquarters. There was a Parliamentary candidate running the strike there. There was money which went into that unofficial strike at Southampton from a political party, but the political candidate who was organising and running it, and running it most efficiently. was a member of the Liberal Party, not the Communist Party.
§ Mr. Marsh
"Jolly good", says the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), but it is time that we got down to realising that it is not good enough for people to sit back, as some of his hon. Friends sometimes do, piously posing as a group of industrial Archangel Gabriels, about to float down and get everything straightened out every time we find ourselves in trouble. Fortunately, from the latest results of by-elections, it does not look as if they will be at the bottom of much trouble in these matters.
§ Mr. Marsh
To return to the point, strike action is comparatively small, and political actions in the field of industrial disputes are also comparatively small. In fact, it is not industrial disputes which represent the major threat to the British economy. If British industrialists ever find that they could not make up the amount of time lost in this field, British industry would be in a very dangerous position indeed.
I want to make the point, which should not be forgotten, that whenever there is a strike, there is always blame on both sides. I have never known a dispute—and I have known a number and have participated in a number—in which one side emerged with a monopoly of virtue. What is more unfortunate is that when we look at many industrial disputes we find that the real cause is not a major issue of principle, but the stupid intransigence of certain individuals, frequently on both sides.
I remember an occasion when many men came out on strike because one man was ordered to wash a car. He 1917 said, "I do not wash cars, I am a lorry driver. I will willingly wash my lorry, but I will not wash a saloon car." The foreman said, "You will wash it". The man replied, "I will not". The foreman said, "In that case, you are fired." The man said, "Right", and walked out, and about 400 other people walked out with him. That is typical of many of the small disputes which occur. When we had an inquiry, we found that both sides had a case. The man concerned said, "I am responsible for my lorry, and I get into trouble if I leave it dirty while washing somebody else's car, for which I have no responsibility. The foreman will subsequently come back and take it out of me."
We sent for the foreman and asked him why he made this chap wash the car when there were fifty other maintenance men who could do it. He said, "It is a matter of principle, I had given the instructions, and that is the end of it." Because people were not prepared to lose face or give way at all, we had 400 men out of work for a whole day on an argument which could have been avoided.
Strikes are important, not so much in their effect on the economy and their effect on wages, as is popularly supposed—and that is another question which we could discuss at great length—but as indications from time to time of the basic unrest which exists in an industry. When I consider the series of disputes which occur in certain industries—and there are some industries where these have become almost a regular feature—I am worried not so much about the effect of the strike, as such, as about the underlying distrust which must exist on both sides, and the dislocation which goes on not merely during the period of the strike but throughout the whole period of employment, as a result of the suspicions and antagonisms which exist on both sides.
What are the other causes of unrest in British industry? I suppose that the majority of argument arise out of wage questions. In our recent rather hurried debates on the National Health Service Contributions Bill and the National Health Service Bill—on which I cannot go into much detail now—a great deal of play was made about wages. It is time we realised that many of our workers receive wages which represent 1918 a bare subsistence. When we say that our workers' average earnings amount to £14 a week, we must remember that it follows automatically that many people earn considerably less than that. There are people in Government industry—the nation's employees—who are taking home less than £9 a week to keep their families and pay a rent of £2 a week or more.
It is all very well to theorise about relationships, and to utter such exhortations as "shoulder to shoulder," "best foot forward," "for the good of the nation," and all the other original remarks which hon. Members tend to make from time to time, but we cannot expect a man who has a couple of children, and who may have to pay £2 a week in rent, but who is taking home no more than £7, £8 or £9 a week, to be a classic example of contentment and well-being. We must face the fact that wages are sometimes very high, and that at some administrative levels they are too high. I am now thinking of certain rarefied atmospheres. In some of the latest promotions among railway-men, for instance, wages have increased astronomically.
§ Mr. Marsh
That will raise the average, and I have no doubt that the latest recruit's wages will be quoted in the averages for many years to come. Despite that, many of our workers are earning appallingly low wages.
Further, there is no logic in the structure of the British wage system. Differentials are arrived at by the use of pure brute force. The reason why the dock worker or the mine worker gets an increase—to which he is entitled—while the agricultural worker or the hospital employee receives less, has nothing to do with their relative contributions to society; it is purely a question of "he who can get most has most." This situation does not do us a great deal of good. Far more important than the wages paid is the method by which those wages arrive in the workers' pockets.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Will the hon. Member give us the benefit of his ideas for curing the admitted lack of logic in the present wage structure?
§ Mr. Marsh
I believe that it is possible to cure it—and here I am sure that many of my trade union friends will not agree with me—by having a proper wages structure. First, however, it is essential to have a rationalised trade union structure. After that we can set about creating a wages structure. I believe that long-term wage contracts are a good thing, although I will not pursue that point now. If I go on in this direction for much longer I shall be getting into trouble from people in all quarters.
The question of wage negotiations in this country has become farcical. Each year we are faced with a definite pattern. We have a claim put in by a group of trade unions; then there is a refusal from the employers; threats are then made, and a settlement is reached nine or twelve months later. But the employers knew when the claim was first made that they were going to arrive at a settlement in nine or twelve months' time, and every employee in the industry concerned knew that he would get an increase in pay, and he had a pretty clear idea of what the increase was likely to be. Yet we have these "phoney" battles going on year after year, of which the main product is a tremendous amount of bad feeding on both sides, and a deliberately engendered suspicion.
In my experience employers seldom negotiate wage increases themselves. If there were any logic in our present approach to wage increases one would assume that an employer would occasionally say, "It is now right and proper that I should award wage increases to my employees." It is all very well to talk about employees sharing in management—employee - shareholders and employee-directors—but the biggest test of sincerity would be the granting of a wage increase by an employer to his workers because he was prepared to admit that it was justified at the time. This very seldom happens in Government Departments, in the cases with which I have had any dealings.
A great deal of effort is wasted in the present form of negotiations. In 1961 we have reached the stage where we could begin—a dreadful thing in Britain—to start thinking of new ways of doing things. The negotiation of a long-term wage contract, with a two years maxi- 1920 mum, certainly at the beginning, is quite feasible, and it could be introduced. Within it we could make allowances for variations in the cost of living, or for the devaluation of money. We could cover such contingencies. Most factors are clearly predictable, and allowances can be made for them.
I come back to the fact that one of the biggest problems in this matter is the lack of a lead from the Government, which are today one of the biggest employers of labour. Some of the wages paid in Government industry are worse than those paid in practically any other sector. The Government are often bad employers, certainly in terms of salaried workers.
§ Mr. Marsh
Yes. I should have thought that their actions had made that fact self-evident to everybody. We have talked a lot recently about the National Health Service, and our belief in it, but we have a system under which radiographers—qualified professional people—are employed at a starting salary of £500 a year, which is less than £10 a week. How on earth can we expect to get people to do a job and feel happy in it when, after all their professional training and their obtaining of the necessary qualifications, they receive from the State such appalling remuneration? This situation is reflected in the fact that many of the professional grades in the National Health Service are attracted to private industry, which pays them a much higher salary. We have the absurd situation in which the British taxpayer trains medical laboratory technicians for the Service, and then finds them leaving it because they can get higher rates of pay in outside industry. We should examine this question closely, and the Government should give a lead on it.
Through the Ministry of Labour the Government should make a more positive contribution in this field. One of the problems of successive Ministers of Labour is that, in industrial relations, they are very much like the archbishops—although I had better not talk too much about archbishops and bishops now. The leading dignitaries of the Church are very much like them when they are talking about religion. We know that every 1921 Minister of Labour believes in good industrial relationships.
We know that every Minister of Labour hopes that the unions and employers will work together for the common good, but it is time that Ministers of Labour started to take positive action. I should like to see the Government making a positive contribution. I should like to see industrial and human relationships in industry professionalised and regarded as a specific science to be studied in its own right. The days when the personnel manager or the industrial relations officer was a chap who was brought in because he ran the company's cricket club and looked after the canteen at the same time ought to have passed. It has in many of the biggest industries, but in many others it has not.
It has not passed in Government industries. I negotiated with the Government on five out of nine National Whitley Councils over some years. To the best of my knowledge there was not a trained industrial relations officer on one of those Councils. The Government work on the assumption that one can shift a person from one Civil Service department to another; that there is no difficulty in moving a man from supply to industrial relations, any more than there is in any other change in the Service.
A lot of good work is done by some organisations to understand personnel management, and this has made considerable contributions to industrial relations, but a great deal more needs to be done. The Ministry of Labour should run residential courses to enable both sides of industry to meet—and I am thinking of the lower and less rarefied levels—to discuss their problems and their differences. The Trades Union Congress has done a good job in educating people at this level, but there is a need for some organisation which will provide a central point at which people can meet on neutral ground for residential courses outside the periods of industrial dispute. In all too many cases the only time when the two sides meet is when they come together to have a row about some subject.
A lot can be done at shop floor level. The classic example is time and method study. More suspicion, and more unnecessary upheaval, is caused by the introduction of time and method study 1922 techniques than by almost anything else. I say this unashamedly, because I have introduced time and method study with the agreement of the workpeople. If a time and method study is properly applied, it can benefit the workers. It can bring in more cash and make their jobs easier, but, because of bad practices, it starts with a whole pile of prejudices which have to be explained to the workers. There are too many instances in which the first the workman knows of what is happening is that a sinister-looking individual turns up with a stop watch and waves it in front of him. It is tragic that that happens, and it is entirely unnecessary.
The Institute of Personnel Management gives valuable advice to industry, on these matters and last year about 150 personnel managers were appointed through the Institute. The Institute is now much larger, but I should like to see the Government giving a lead in Government industry to ensure that qualified people are available to do this job. Furthermore, I should like to see the Government training people for this work and spending more money to enable it to be done. It would be a worth-while investment. We spend money on many things. We can make financial contributions to distribute Elizabethan madrigals to the far-flung corners of the Empire. We ought to spend money on a scheme similar to the Hendon Staff College. The return would be well worth the expenditure.
Most of the problems arise from a lack of joint consultation, and a lack of understanding on both sides. There are still too many employers who believe that the managerial function covers everything which affects the employee's welfare. There is no reason why this should happen. There is no reason why everybody should not be consulted far more often than he is. In too many cases the joint consultative committee is a sort of grumble shop which does not encourage the men to take part in running the industry. Some of our political friends have these ideas of co-partner-ship in industry. A great deal could be done to achieve co-partnership without any difficult schemes. It is merely a question of the employer recognising that the employee has a right to ask questions about things which affect his destiny and his future.
1923 We are faced with growing problems because of automation and modernisation. We cannot get away from them, but as these problems arise there must be new techniques to meet them. We have done far too little to initiate good redundancy schemes. One cannot expect a man to view with equanimity the possible destruction of his job if it means that he will be thrown on the scrap heap with two weeks' wages when he is about 40 and has a wife and three children to support.
It may be said that I am trying to teach my grandmother to suck eggs, but I come back to the point in terms of hard cash and efficiency it would be worthwhile to employers to introduce good redundancy schemes, which would make redundancy perhaps even attractive to the employee. We can never introduce modernisation until we are prepared to pay compensation on a fair, indeed generous, scale to those people who suffer as a result of it.
The question of restrictive practices has been flogged as a sort of pet hobby horse to cover some of the iniquities of employers. Of course there are restrictive practices in industry, but they exist on both sides. If one wants to find the best examples of restrictive practices among workpeople, one must go to the higher professional levels. In the courts one has to go to a middle-man before one can get anybody to take on one's case. I suppose that this is only a variation of who drills which holes, but the difference lies in the remuneration.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
As my hon. Friend is dealing with restrictive practices in the professions rather than in the trades, he might bear in mind that if he goes high enough in the legal profession a Queen's Counsel must always have his "fitter's mate", junior counsel, who is remunerated at two-thirds of his leader's salary.
§ Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)
The hon. Gentleman suggests that court procedure is analogous to restrictive practices. There is not a court in the land in which he or any other person cannot appear himself without counsel and conduct his own case. It was done in the House of Lords not long ago by a military gentleman.
§ Mr. Marsh
That may be a possibility, but if the hon. Gentleman is charged with a capital offence I hope that he will at least give the possibility of engaging counsel a passing thought.
There is an excellent comment on this question of restrictive practices in the pamphlet "Labour Relations and Conditions of Work in Britain" issued by the Central Office of Information. I am convinced that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have not seen this pamphlet. If they had, they would have more difficulty with the Government in another place. It says on page 31:In most industries there are certain generally accepted working rules … in regard to manning and demarcation … while in some industries some of the rules may be incorporated in written agreements between employers' associations and trade unions. Such rules help to avoid disputes and prevent standards of work and pay being lowered by the use of unskilled labour for skilled jobs. They need, however, elastic interpretation and regular review if they are not to prove a brake on industrial efficiency.I have never read a more sensible comment on restrictive practices. Often they are a good thing. They are frequently found because employers will not wake up to the root causes of them.
A couple of years ago I was involved in a discussion that went on in the Economist about the dreadful people who would not allow domestic staffs in hospitals to clean walls higher than they could reach. I say unashamedly that I was one who said that here we were asking charwomen, engaged at £7 a week or so, to scrub walls 14 or 15 ft. high and to clear off the accumulated grime of seventy or eighty years, and that if they fell off a ladder or a chair in the process they would receive nothing other than their ordinary sick pay and, if they were lucky, perhaps a sympathetic letter from the hospital management committee. We said that work of this sort ought to be done properly, with proper scaffolding and safety equipment, by people with a knowledge of the job. Many of these things are on that level.
I now wish to say a word or two about trade unions, because obviously they are more important than anything else in this field. I said at the beginning that if they were nearly as irresponsible as they are sometimes reported to be this country could not continue. They represent something like 9½ million people, including nurses, actresses, lorry 1925 drivers, airline pilots. Indeed, every facet of our domestic and economic life is represented in the trade union movement. The trade unions do a first-rate job. Having said that, I think it is necessary, when an organisation claims, as the trade union movement is entitled to claim, the right of being regarded as a major part of our economic life, that it must also be prepared to accept with it criticisms and suggestions from people who have its interests at heart.
I have had it suggested to me by trade union friends outside the House that it is time that I minded my own business on this subject. It would be fatal if people who believed in the trade union movement started treating it as a sort of sacred cow concerning criticism and advice. That would not do either side of the House any good whatsoever. I believe, as a Socialist, in the need for a planned industry. Of course, some hon. Members may disagree with me about this. I am firmly convinced that we cannot have a planned industry and a planned economy unless we have a somewhat more rational trade union movement than we have at present.
We cannot continue with 184 trade unions competing among themselves. That is not good for the people concerned. I think that the trade union contributions paid in this country are far too low. Because of this the facilities of trade unions are too limited. It is a pity that they do not have more money to spend on their public relations in order that their case can be presented as well as the employers' case is often presented. I think it is a pity that they cannot employ more staff and Press officers, and people of that type.
I come, finally, to the question of the white-collar worker and to the last part of the Motion. There is no section of people in this country for whom things have changed as much as they have for the white-collar worker. I remember before the war as a schoolboy that every working-class mum had one ambition. It was that little Freddy should work in an office. If one was a white-collar worker, one had arrived. If one worked in local government, one was doing well, and if one became a civil servant everyone spoke about one with bated breath and envy, because the white-collar worker earned more than 1926 the manual worker and because there were comparatively few of them.
All that has changed. I do not believe that the white-collar worker has a right to anything more than the manual worker, but neither do I believe that there is any reason why he should have anything less. Too often he is worse off. Between 1948 and 1958, the proportion of white-collar workers in manufacturing industry in this country rose from 16 to 22.2 per cent. The gross increase was 900,000 employees in that period, of which over 6,000 were self-employed.
In the United States in 1947 there were 23.5 million manual workers and 20 million white-collar workers. By 1957 the white-collar workers numbered 25½ million and manual workers numbered 25 million. In ten years' time in this country there will be more white-collar workers than manual workers, and because of that we have reached the stage where we must regard these people with the same importance as we regard their manual colleagues.
I now come to the question of the bank employees and the Guild of Insurance Officials. I was rather surprised and disappointed that hon. Members opposite should have put down an Amendment to a Motion which I thought was so obviously reasonable, right and just that everyone would have been supporting it to the "nth" degree. All that we are saying in the Motion is that we regretthat in some sections of non-industrial employment, particularly banking and insurance, bona fide trade unions are still denied rights of negotiation.On 18th April, 1923, the House agreed:That … this House is of opinion that local authorities, banks, insurance and shipping companies, and other employers of professional and clerical workers should follow the example of the Government in recognising the organisations of these workers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th April, 1923; Vol. 162, c. 2160.]All we are asking in 1961 is that this House should pass a Resolution which it was prepared to accept in 1923. This is our degree of revolutionary and radical approach. All that we are asking of the Minister is that he should stand at the Dispatch Box and say that Her Majesty's Government believe that the Guild of Insurance Officials and the National Union of Bank Employees should be recognised by those firms in 1927 which they have substantial membership. That is all we are asking, that when a bona fide organisation has a substantial membership the employers should recognise it. In 1923 the House was able to do just that, but in 1961, with all this backward-looking approach to social affairs, hon. Members opposite find this far too revolutionary to swallow.
I should like to go on talking, but I have talked longer than I intended. I hope that in the course of the debate we shall be able to discuss the subject dispassionately. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that there is always a reason for the things that people do in industry today and that it is to the advantage of all sections of the community that British industry should go forward and that in 1961 employers should recognise the social changes which have become a fact.
§ Mr. Speaker
It might be convenient if I said now that the Amendment to leave out from "efforts" to the end and to add:being made in this direction by trade unions and employers and draws attention to the special problems concerning negotiations in some sections of non-industrial employment, particularly banking and insurancestanding in the name of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) and others is not selected.
§ 11.48 p.m.
§ Sir William Robson Brown (Esher)
I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) for bringing a breath of fresh air to a grievous subject. I only regret that the House is not more powerfully represented today to hear what he had to say.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
I wish, first, to say a word to the Minister. A progressive Conservative Government has a tremendous responsibility in the matter of industrial relations. Indeed, the Conservative Party pledged itself, with the support of the whole party, to introduce certain enlightened Measures with regard to 1928 management-labour relations, and, in particular, to the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Greenwich, and that is the question of giving notice, to which I have attached a great deal of importance for a long time. It is a grievous thing when a man comes home on a Friday night and says to his wife, "Maggie, there is a notice up. After next week I am finished." The shock to that home must be tremendous. The adjustments necessary for the family are something which those of us who are in better circumstances can never appreciate. There is a cold-bloodedness about the whole thing which I strongly deprecate. Past Ministers, even Conservative Ministers, have pronounced the proper words in the prescribed manner but have done little about it. It is rather hopeful that the present Minister has made some beginning in an attempt to tackle this matter. The only thing I would say is that he has tended—as some of us have advised him—to restrict the field of the investigation into industrial relations and the people conducting the survey. I think that the T.U.C. and the B.E.C. are too restrictive. I should like to see a committee established on a much broader basis, and I hope that eventually we shall get one.
The hon. Member for Greenwich must appreciate from his experience in the trade union movement, as I appreciate from my experience in the managerial field, that there is such a thing as an "establishment" even in this sphere which has a very jealous regard for its rights. There are those who would sooner have a strike than have their dignity lowered or their province invaded. The hon. Member said there was no strike which was not the result of faults on both sides. Frequently we find that men who should be reducing the temperature are actually raising it by their behaviour. Often it is the intolerable delays which take place in negotiations with trade unions which lead to the men becoming exasperated, not with their own negotiators but with the management side because they believe they are deliberately stalling.
The hon. Member for Greenwich said that management never offered terms and conditions or inducements without the men having to apply for them first. That is hardly true.
§ Mr. Marsh
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I agree that it is hardly true, but I did not say it. What I said, or what I meant to say, was that in my experience managements seldom make a specific wage offer. Managements may agree to make improvements in conditions, but I have never had experience of a Government Department telling its employees that as from such a date it was intended to increase their wages by 10s. a week.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
I take the point. We should be in Shangri La if that happened, human nature being what it is; but there are countless cases where companies have taken the initiative.
I support what was said by the hon. Member for Greenwich about strikes, but I should like to present another point of view. The extent of a strike, either an official or an unofficial one, regarded from the point of view of the percentage of lost days in a year, may be over-emphasised, exaggerated or played down. It can be regarded as of no importance because the percentage figure is perhaps only .3 per cent. The hon. Member for Greenwich and other hon. Members know perfectly well that it is not the strike that matters, it is the spirit which exists in the factory before the strike and that which exists after it. I do not wish to bore the House with statistics, but I think it is well that the British nation should take note of these figures.
In 1957 France lost over 4 million days. In 1959 the figure was 2 million, a reduction of 50 per cent. In 1957 Germany lost 1 million days. In 1959 the figure was so small that it is not worth quoting. In other words, to all intents and purposes in 1959 strikes in Germany were nil. In Sweden, which to me has always been the supreme example of a country with superb labour relations in every sense, there are few or no strikes. I could calculate down to .00 per cent. Now let us look at our great sister nation the United States of America. There the figures are darned well appalling; but over a ten-year period, from 1950 to 1960, there was a drop of 30 per cent. On the other hand, the figure for Great Britain went up by 50 per cent. from 1950 to 1960. We can make statistics prove whatever we like.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
That is not a fair period for com- 1930 parison. It was the time when the Defence Regulations were in force, and there were other factors which restricted the freedom of industry. In 1960 we lost a total of 3,008,000 working days. In 1959 the figure was 5,270,000, so the downward trend is clear. This pattern is operative in other countries.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
I am not trying to make more out of these figures than is actually the case. The number of stoppages is more important, and it was the number of stoppages which I quoted. But what is important is the spirit which makes men come out on strike, withdraw their labour, disrupt factory production and interfere with the employment of other men in other factories. That is something which happens whether the stoppage lasts for a day or a week, as happened last week in the Yorkshire mines or whether, as in the case of the London dock strike last year, it goes on for a month. It shows that there is something wrong. Which figures would the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) like me to quote?
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
The figure for 1959 was 2,000 and for 1960 it was 2,797, so in the last two years it has gone up by nearly 30 per cent.
§ Mr. Tomney
Even so, the comparison may not be fair. What constitutes a stoppage? Is it a period of half-a-day or two or three hours? In dealing with such matters as these, it is much better to do so in terms of the national economy and in the number of productive days which have been lost, and that figure has fallen considerably in the last two years.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
We could go on quoting statistics all morning. I have made the point that statistics can be used to prove anything, and the number of strikes and stoppages can be distorted by being minimised or exaggerated. The point I am stressing is you can have poor and indifferent relations, without a strike, it is these indifferent attitudes one must change.
I wish to come to the main issue, the spirit existing within the factories of Great Britain; the attitude of mind of 1931 management and men towards one another. I am perfectly satisfied, and I have had no occasion to change my mind during the forty years I have been in industry, that we must get rid of what I might call—bringing in a topical word—a form of inverse apartheid. There is a certain type of management which does not believe that the men in the factory are equal to the management in any shape or form. Those are brutal words, but that is a true statement. On the other hand, there are many men in factories who do not wish to get close to the management or to be friendly. The tragedy is that on neither side do such people constitute a majority, but they are a sufficiently large minority to cause a great deal of trouble throughout the country. I am of opinion that our economy is so delicately poised, and will be for a decade or more, that we can ill afford to have anything but the best labour relations in the world. If we hope to compete in world industry, we must have the most perfect relationship within our factories.
We need more factories of the most up-to-date and modern kind. The only way in which we can meet competition in the world is by having the most up-to-date, the most shining and gleaming factories. But however shining and up to date, they will be empty shells unless we have the right kind of management and the right kind of men with the right kind of spirit. If we can get that across to the country we shall be performing an inestimable duty and service.
I should like briefly to refer the hon. Member and others to the fact that last year one of the employers' organisations, the National Union of Manufacturers, not normally associated with labour relations appointed a committee which sat for many months and produced what it thought was the most important contribution which would be made. It was not a whole series of recommendations on this, that and the other, but a charter of principles to actuate the industry. The basis of the whole of that charter was the acknowledgment and recognition of the status of the individual in the factory. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of that.
When a young man comes into a British factory he wants to feel that he is appreciated. He wants to feel that 1932 after he has been decently educated he is not just treated as a cog in a wheel. He wants to feel that there is a future before him and he wants to know what it is. He wants to know the line of promotion. If he is a conscientious lad, he wants to know that he will not have to work on one machine for the rest of his life with no promotion or opportunities to look forward to other than what the union can gain for him. The factory should recognise the ambitions of such a man, especially after he has married. Many firms view the matter in that way.
When trade is bad the men should know the circumstances and conditions. They should be able to consult the employers with a view to seeing what can be done. The employers would get surprising and revealing help from the men. When a man is getting on in years there should be a tenderness of heart shown to him by the management. He should not merely finish up with a badge after working for a firm for thirty or forty years.
There are many other things I should like to touch on, but I make my final point about the infiltration of Communism. The Communists know that they can make no political headway in this country. They have tried and failed; there is no room for them. It may be that there are some "faceless ones" whom we cannot identify in the unions, perhaps in Parliament as well. I do not know whether there are some among the employers; sometimes there are some strange views expressed there. One thing is very certain, and that is that a dedicated Communist inside a factory or in a union can poison the minds of men tremendously by distorting and twisting facts. Those men are fighting the Communistic battle for Soviet Russia. They are the guerrillas.
I do not believe there is going to be a third world war so long as we hold fast, stand together and carry out proper defence. The attack is on the industrial front. That is where they are going to fight, because that is the only place where they have any hope of winning. We are the most vulnerable of all nations because of our balance of trade difficulties and the like. I say in this Chamber this morning that it is the duty of all of us to follow the excellent example of the hon. Member for 1933 Hammersmith, North and his gospel of the highest co-operation in industry. Building up that spirit in the country is the surest way of achieving——
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
How do you reconcile the statement you have made with the tremendous amount of publicity which has been given to Conservative trade unionists—goodness knows what a Conservative trade unionist is—to contract out of the Labour Party. Do you believe in political freedom inside industry?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member must frame his observations so that they do not sound as if they involved me in that context. Words should be formally addressed to me.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
I understand what the hon. Member is driving at, but I cannot see what he is gaining by asking me that question. There is no interference with political freedom when a member of a trade union can pay a levy to a political party or not as he wishes. No one is taking that away from him. The only difference is that, through a change made by an Act some years ago, a union automatically deducts the amount of the levy unless a man declares that he does not want that done. I think there is a certain amount of intolerance in that. I stand by that, but I would not go further.
§ Mr. Marsh
Is the hon. Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown) aware that that is the case of the Guild of Insurance Officials? There are staff organisations and the management deducts contributions from the employers who, if they do not wish to belong to a house union, have to go to the employers and say so.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
I should want clarification of that. Do I understand that the amount of the union contribution is deducted by banks?
§ Mr. Marsh
In insurance in some of the companies everyone is assumed by the employers to belong to the house 1934 union, but members of the staff can contract out if they want to do so. I disagree entirely with what the hon. Member says about contracting out of political parties, but I should be interested to know whether at the same time he would extend his strictures to employers and house unions.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
There are a number of trade unionists facing me who, I think, would be utterly delighted if employers deducted union contributions.
The hon. Member for Greenwich has referred to managements bringing the unions more into consultation on matters of administration and policy, but he must realise that in the nationalised industries the unions have shown very little desire to sit as members of nationalised boards and accept some of the day-to-day responsibilities of those industries. There is something anomalous about that. I would have a great deal more respect for these men if they recognised that, joined those boards and accepted some of the responsibilities and the strains.
I know very little about the subject in relation to the banks. The hon. Member made the point, which I think is a valid one, that the men should be able to organise for themselves in a way which is right, proper and legal. They should not be restricted to any particular company organisation, as used to be so prevalent in the United States of America. I do not know what the percentage is of bank employees who prefer one type or organisation as against the other. That is my dilemma. If the hon. Member could tell me that it is 90 per cent. or 75 per cent. who want external union representation. I should be more impressed. I will give way if the hon. Member can say that.
§ Mr. Marsh
In the National Union of Bank Employees there are about 58,000 and the proportion of the industry is about 43 per cent., or well over 40 per cent. They are not asking for recognition in every bank, but in their case and in the case of the Guild of Insurance Officials they ask that in banks or companies where they have a majority, or a substantial number, of the staff employed, they should have direct negotiating rights. If the hon. Member will 1935 say that he agrees that where a union has a majority or a substantial proportion of the staff in membership it is entitled to negotiating rights, we are with him completely.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
There is a difference—I am not qualifying my view—between a bare majority and a substantial majority. I say to the hon. Member and to the House that if there is a substantial majority of about 75 per cent. I think the cause deserves great sympathy.
I must conclude my speech because there are many highly qualified and intensely interested hon. Members who wish to take part in this debate. In this matter the Government have a responsibility. I believe that they are aware of it. I believe that eventually they will widen altogether the discussions about management and labour relations, because they are not a narrow field by any manner of means. They are not confined to wages, time and motion study, redundancy and so on; they go far beyond that.
If we could obtain a declaration by the employers and the unions in the spirit in which the Motion has been presented, I believe that our prosperity would move forward not by an insignificant 2 or 3 per cent. but by well up to 10 per cent. It would show Germany that we are also alive and on the march, and give a complete answer in this nation to any threat of Communism at any time.
§ 12.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
The hon. Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown) has widened the debate considerably. I am tempted to follow him, especially on his last topic—the effect or influence of the Communist Party on British trade unions. However, I will content myself with saying that we on these benches have always been, and shall continue to be, opposed to industrial action for political ends.
The grave danger facing us is that if the effective voice of democracy on this side of the House is either weakened or worsened by external forces, it will be the worse for this nation as a whole and for the House of Commons in particular. That is something which has to be guarded against in the trade union 1936 movement, and we are constantly on our guard against it as an Opposition party in the House of Commons.
There are two aspects of the hon. Member's speech to which I wish to refer. One is the question of the long delays in settling wage claims. This causes more disagreement, belly-aching and frustration on factory work benches than any other subject I know. The British mental make-up is for decision. We do not think in decades, like other people do. We like to see some proposal which is advanced being met or refused within a measurable space of time, and the next step being taken. If the Government will use what influence they have with the Employers' Confederation so that a minimum time may be laid down within which a decision must be taken after the submission of a claim, then a great service will be done to British industry in keeping down the malcontents and reducing the pressure for direct action by certain types of person.
The hon. Member also took up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), who stated that in his experience he had never known employers to make, of their own volition, a wage offer which was out of line with what prevailed generally. When I was in industry just after the war I had a very enlightened general manager. When I first went to this post we had no fewer than 1,015 wage rates and assessments. By 1948 we had reduced the number to about 120. We worked on the basis that the general manager allowed me to suggest any system which would be satisfactory to and show a profit to both him and myself, and he would put it into effect. We did this until we came to the point that productivity was at such a level that we had a just demand over and above what would normally be paid. The justice of the demand was admitted by the board of directors, but the argument was that it could not be met because, just as I was a loyal member of my union working and speaking on behalf of the work people, the general manager was a loyal member of the Employers' Confederation, and if he had paid the rates demanded it would have put his factory out of line with his competitors' factories and caused difficulty within the Confederation. This shows the tight 1937 position into which British industry has got itself.
I want to widen the discussion a little. Both sides of the House and the country generally are aware now of the general pattern of industrial relations which is emerging. Arising out of trial and error and practice and custom in respect of the establishment of conditions, severance pay claims, redundancy claims and so on, a pattern is evolving to meet the present situation. But it is a piecemeal pattern which is not applicable to the future; and it is to the future that I want to direct my remarks today.
This problem has to be faced in British industry and British trade unionism in view of the competitive position of British industry in world markets. I believe that a fundamental challenge in respect of competitive prices, terms and conditions will come from behind the Iron Curtain in a decade. There is also a comparative challenge coming from the Common Market countries. There are such matters as the transfer of capital across borders, having manufacturing plants in different countries and the transference of orders to other plants to avoid tariff duties, all of which will have an effect upon us.
We have been tied in the main to Commonwealth preference and tariff duties. We have tried to meet competition in world trade on the best terms available. The question is whether our present pattern is good enough for the future and will ensure our survival. If not, we must decide what the pattern of industry on the trade union side must be to meet the challenge. Everybody is concerned in this.
We have seen in the last few years—it started first in property—take-over bids, capital associations and capital formations. We see this sort of thing growing year by year—greater conglomerations and accumulations of capital, finance houses tied to industry, industry taking over factories, and industry using its assets in a boom period to purchase other businesses, all being locked into one capital structure.
Throughout the length and breadth of the country we have seen huge offices going up. When I see them I wonder what the purpose is, feeling that it will require a lot of commerce to keep all 1938 these offices and the people in them properly employed, and I wonder whether there really are such prospects before us. I look again at the capital structure and wonder what the eventual challenge is. The same kind of financial tie-ups are operating on the Continent as in this country. When we think of the countries in the world which are not industrial producers, such as China, we realise that we are faced with a positive challenge: "What are we to do in a situation like this?" That is the eventual challenge that we have to face.
I believe that there are great advantages in large-scale organisations, from the points of view of the employees, the employers and the nation, provided that the terms and conditions of our antimonopoly practices legislation are observed and provided that the large unit recognises its responsibilities to society and the nation. We have now got a different pattern in our society, and people respond to their environment. With the introduction of more material comforts, including television sets and motor cars, we see a lessening of the impulses of idealism which prompted past attitudes in the trade union and labour movement. There is less attention paid to the details of branch administration now than there ever was. More attention should be paid to it. The reason for the present situation is obvious, especially if we look at the United States. Like the United States, we are becoming a material society. A change occurs if people are able to enjoy the benefits of a technical civilisation; they become prepared to surrender to them. The result is that we do not attend to our original wants, the basis of our idealism. This is exactly what is happening at all the factory benches in this country.
When things go wrong which impinge upon the material way of life, some people wonder why it has happened. It is obvious. People in this country, in France and in America are enjoying a material way of life. That has its effects upon the impulse of the trade union machine with which the people are concerned, which guarantees them their living and working conditions.
We in this country have been used, at least since about the 1880s, to a system of collective bargaining which has stood the test of time. It has served its purpose. It has served as a pattern for 1939 many other countries. In America the trade unions are more dynamic and volatile. The people running the unions are not tied to an idealistic movement. They sell labour in the best monetary market they can obtain. They deal with labour contracts on a company and firm basis.
That is in contrast, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich said, to the multiplicity of unions covering all industries in this country. It is true that when any employer is estimating his costs due to changes in techniques, especially in the breakdown of piece-work processes, he must take into consideration every kind of negotiation he has to enter into with all the unions concerned. The T.U.C. is aware of this problem. It is a problem which everyone—employers and unions—must face, because if competition becomes more fierce our economic survival in the world will depend on its solution. It cannot be merely brushed aside. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich made a valid point when he spoke of the complexity and multiplicity of unions in this country catering for the same type of labour.
This leads me to the special position of labour legislation in regard to unions. If the pattern of which I spoke develops in the way I have tried to present it, it is obvious that British unions in their relations with employers will have to develop a contract-by-contract employment arrangement in individual firms and industries. They will have to employ labour lawyers, as is done to a great extent in the United States.
This itself leads to great difficulties, because in a stop-watch wage sheet of a United States company every single item is listed, sometimes to two or three decimal points. Even the number of taps made on typewriter keys is counted. I do not want to go to that extent. If there were to be a large-scale breakdown of costs, the T.U.C. would not be backward in playing its part to further the efforts of industry, provided that the rewards of increased productivity were given to the people who earned them. There would not then be any great difficulty in gearing British industry to such a system.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I am very interested in what the 1940 hon. Member is saying about the development of industry on the contractual basis, industry by industry. Would he go so far as to say that that kind of movement should be helped forward in the House by labour legislation such as they have in America, which has helped a number of industries in America?
§ Mr. Tomney
No, I would not say that. For the sake of good will in industry, the effort must come from both sides. There should be some meeting point between the two sides. If they want the system to be binding by subsequent legislation, that would be a different matter. Up to now we have never found the need for it. It is true that there are such Measures as the Factories Acts, etc., but we have never felt the need for individual regulations or enactments regarding terms and conditions.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
Does the hon. Member believe in the sanctity of agreements once they are entered into?
§ Mr. Tomney
Yes, indeed. It is no use making an agreement unless both parties are prepared to observe it. Once an agreement is entered into which has taken account of all known factors which might affect either industry or unions, both sides must insist upon it. An agreement should be carefully observed for the period of the agreement.
I am very concerned about the net annual growth of the country's economy and the increase in productivity of workers in industry, where the two can be married up on a just basis and where we can reasonably expect that costs will be stabilised for some time ahead. This is a problem. This is where the Government can play their part.
We are probably in a worse trading position competitively than any other nation, despite the fact that we have in the main a higher standard of technically educated worker than any other nation. In the United States all processes are broken down into a thousand parts. In the Soviet Union there is not the same concern for industry in that respect, except perhaps on the heavy industrial side. One country is equal to ours in this respect and the other is much farther advanced.
In his general level of educational attainment the British worker is equal 1941 to any other in the world, but his prospects of maintaining that lead have diminished. The net growth in the national product of this country has varied from year to year. It has been affected by sterling conditions, balance of payments difficulties, dollar difficulties, recessions in our principal markets, failures to grant long-term credits, and the existence of markets where credit cannot be granted. Another factor has perhaps been the failure of any Government to institute a new kind of credit authority to enable long-term trading in capital goods to take place with countries which may take twenty years to emerge to full nationhood.
All these factors have a direct bearing upon cost. The average annual wage increase granted to workers in British industry over the years does not work out at much more than 2½ per cent., taking one year with another. Given the right type of discussions and agreements and the right kind of Government economic policy, it should be possible not only to advance the welfare of the people and give them a higher standard of living but also to increase the general productivity of the country and bring about a growth in the gross national product. If we do not increase the gross national product by at least 6, 7 or 8 per cent. we shall be in real trouble before very long.
A desire to increase the standard of living and predictable labour costs should be at the forefront of the economic thinking of the T.U.C., the Employers' Confederation and the Government. To fail in this will be to fail in everything. I know that in the United States there has been a large range of different benefits. In the main, American industry is much bigger than ours, but business will tend to grow in this country and become more concentrated. In this case industry will be highly concentrated, and with changing techniques and trade demands it may be necessary for industry completely to retool. What will happen to employees in the meantime? Will they be dismissed or retained? On what basis will they be retained? Is 65 per cent. of their net average wage a fair figure?
All hon. Members who have studied this topic with the same care as I have will know what is happening in the United States. We have heard much 1942 about redundancy agreements there, and they are becoming common practice in this country, but there is another very important factor which should not be lost sight of in industrial relations, but it is often either not adequately represented or even misrepresented.
The rewards of workers in service industries always lag behind the general level of wage increases and wage rates. How do we meet this situation in relation to those services, whether local authority services or not, that have to be performed? Do we, by agreement in the next twenty years, regard their cost as a direct charge on industrial productivity, recognising that, in any case, these services have to be given?
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich has said that we are changing over from the former manual-worker society to the white-collar-worker society, but there will always be need for the people who perform these necessary and needful services. Do we leave them out of the picture—always lagging behind the general level of productive employment—or do we bind them to special contracts in association with the unions and the employers as part of general industrial productivity? My opinion is that we must do just that.
Even now, I am not sure what a white-collar worker is. It is a term from 'way back, but today I know of miners who go to the pit in their cars, and who go on to the golf club after having had a shower at the pit. It is common in America for miners to go golfing before breakfast and then to go on to the pit. In one sense, we are all white-collar workers now.
My hon. Friend has framed his Motion very carefully, and I was surprised when the Amendment was put down. Banks and insurance firms are not a specially-privileged section of society. In the main the wages and prospects of their employees are those of unproductive workers. When I see banks advertising for boys of 17 years of age and offering prospects of a salary of £800 a year by the time they are 30, in terms of present-day levels it makes me shudder. Those firms demand boys of A-level education, but industry is after them too—but industry is ready to pay them the appropriate wage.
1943 The miasma that surrounds the question of trade union representation of bank and insurance employees must be dissipated. Trade union membership amounting to 43 per cent. of the employees is more than enough for recognition. The banks are faced with the same industrial automatic revolution—the advent of computers and new techniques—and a much larger measure of automation can be expected in a few years' time. It would be far better for those young men to start something else, and far better for the nation to recognise that fact, because when one trains boys to a certain level one is not generally prepared to lose them again after several years. Many of them may have nowhere to go. It might be better for them to go on the farms and get the satisfaction of doing a good productive job. There is no justification for insurance companies and banks to refuse trade union recognition.
The section of industry that is most in need of trade union representation consists of people employed in the shops. I can go from one end of Oxford Street to the other and hardly find a union member. If ever there has been a record of a sweated industry it is that of the shops. When the unions try to enlist shop people all kinds of obstacles are put in their way.
It may be said that I have been looking too far into the future when speaking of these matters, but I believe that that long look is necessary. My hon. Friend has said that it would be advisable to have some kind of staff college where employers, shop stewards and the like could be trained in the understanding of these problems, but we want something more than that—and we want it quickly.
What is needed is a small economic committee drawn from both sides of industry and given the task of thinking out the long-term prospects for British industry and the long-term rewards that can reasonably be expected for both capital and labour; and of thinking out also the position of the nationalised industries and the service industries in this set-up. Until we start doing that on a national basis we shall be in trouble; once we start doing it, we are on the way to meeting the challenge that must surely come within a decade.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) quite rightly alluded to the delay that occurs from time to time in the settlement of trade disputes. I hope that he will not expect the last task that he suggested should be given to the two sides to be completed in a short time because there is scarcely a more difficult and intractable problem than that of getting all sides to agree on how that aspect of industrial relations should be dealt with.
I am sure that everyone who has listened to this debate will applaud the speech of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) and the spirit in which he moved the Motion. I was particularly struck by one of his asides—so much so that I do not want to leave it as an aside but to bring it out into the forefront of what he said. The hon. Member was saying that it is valuable to examine this problem of industrial relations when it is free from crisis, so that emotions do not complicate its study by the two sides. He then commented, "if there are two sides." That aside is important in doing justice to the whole subject. To have it brought out at the very beginning of this debate that there may well not be two sides but that both employers and workers stand or fall together is a very useful line of approach.
I am naturally sorry that the Amendment tabled in my name and that of some of my hon. Friends has not been selected, and I hope later to state why I have great difficulty in supporting the Motion as it stands. I do not attach a great deal of importance to the suggestion contained in the Motion—for reasons that are not at all clear—that appreciation of the efforts towards good relations should be confined to trade unions and to enlightened employers. I do not quite know why our discussions should, if I may say so, be prejudiced by the suggestion that only some employers, but all trade unions are enlightened. It is that implication that I find in the wording of the Motion—
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I should have thought that the answer was provided in the hon. Gentleman's Amendment. Surely, there is no difficulty at all in drawing the distinction. We should not consider 1945 banks and insurance offices, which are subject at least to a mild censure at the end of the Motion, as being good employers. I should have thought that if the banks and the insurance people had given the sort of recognition that is referred to, my hon. Friend would have said "trade unions and employers"—but some employers are not enlightened.
§ Sir S. Summers
If I may say so, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has entirely missed the point of my remarks, although I do not wish to dwell on this point at great length because it is not of the greatest importance. The implication in that part of the Motion is that all trade unions are battling for this objective, but we all know quite well that some are not. I will leave it there.
It is very difficult to find anything fresh to say on this subject. It has been debated on a number of occasions, and very sensible remarks are generally made on it from both sides of the House. If, therefore, one does not break much fresh ground it is because there is not much fresh ground to break. I think, though, that the importance of the subject of industrial relations is still not adequately recognised throughout the country. The giants in British industry undoubtedly spend a great deal of time and trouble and recognise that this aspect of human relations in industry is just as important as the physical capital that is employed in the business. Nevertheless, there are some who do not pay attention to some of those factors which I regard as indispensable to good industrial relations.
The first of these surely, is that those who negotiate from the management side must have the power to settle, as the trade unionist has across the table, and should not have to say, "Well, we have heard the arguments and we are now going back to someone to relay them." That cannot provide the mutual confidence across the table which is indispensable.
Secondly, I sometimes wonder whether we could improve our lines of communication between those who take part in these discussions, on both sides, and the men on the shop floor who really are interested in the way that these negotiations are conducted, in the kind of conclusions which are reached and the arguments which are advanced. If there is a breakdown in feeling as a result of a 1946 settlement or difficulty in getting a settlement honoured, it is frequently due to a lack of proper communications, and I think that is a very important aspect of the matter.
There have been times when the trade unions can very properly point a finger at employers for an action which has failed to uphold the trade union authority—namely, having refused a request for an improvement, to grant it subsequently to a representative who is not of that union—that is to say, to acknowledge unofficial speakers for the workers, having refused to acknowledge the recognised speakers. It is essential that we should do everything possible to preserve the authority of the recognised speakers for trade unions in their dealings with management.
It is fundamentally for that reason that I have always argued against any suggestion of a secret ballot before a strike is called. What it means is that the leader in question is not to be trusted, that he must seek to obtain the authority of those whom he represents by means of a ballot before the exercise of that power can safely be entrusted to him. We cannot, on the one hand, ask that agreements honourably entered into are upheld and, at the same time, deny the power of authority to a trade union leader by saying that a secret ballot is necessary if he wishes to apply a sanction in support of his case.
§ Mr. Lee
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has been saying, but does he not agree that, if one accepts the principle that a strike cannot begin until a ballot has taken place, one must accept the principle also that it cannot finish until another ballot has taken place to ascertain whether the men want to go back?
§ Sir S. Summers
That is true. I did not have an opportunity of saying that before the hon. Member intervened. However, he has now said it and there is no need for me to repeat it.
On the trade union side, I was referring to lines of communication. I have had brought to my notice a number of instances where difficulty is experienced in reconciling the views of local trade union representatives or shop stewards with those of management, and there is the utmost possible reluctance on the part of 1947 the local trade union representatives to have higher authority on their side brought to bear on the problem. If management is to be asked to uphold agreements and to work out satisfactory arrangements, it must have the right in cases of difficulty to call in higher authority on the trade union side than can be available in any particular locality.
Reference has been made to some of these quite absurd lightning strikes which are based very likely on some relatively small point, and, while having considerable human content, nevertheless ought not to be allowed to take the form of a lightning strike in advance of proper discussions to work out the situation. There is definitely far too much of that. We would all acknowledge that this subject is essentially one of human relations.
Here I should like to pay tribute to what I understand to be the policy and traditions of the trade union representations in the Post Office. There, if my information is correct—and it should be, as it came from the mouthpiece of the trade union concerned—they feel traditionally part and parcel of the way in which the Post Office is run. Their members feel that before a major decision is taken their representatives are given an opportunity to comment on such changes as may be in the minds of management. The whole technique as it has been deployed there over the years is, I think, of great value and deserves a tribute paid to it in a debate of this kind.
It is quite clear that that happy state of affairs is not due to the fact that the industry happens to be nationalised. It is due to the way in which this subject is handled in that context. If the details are studied it will be found that there is a very considerable difference in the effectiveness of policy in this field between B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. By and large, B.O.A.C. has many things which B.E.A. could usefully copy in the handling of topics of this kind.
The hon. Member for Greenwich said that the wages of many people are deplorably low, and this must be so if we have an average of something like £15 a week. He sought to argue, as I understood him, that that was a source of discontent which has brought about trouble in the field which we are discus- 1948 sing. Much too frequently, in my experience, there is the paradoxical situation that it is the better-paid industries in which industrial unrest occurs and that it is by no means confined to those people who feel that their remuneration in comparison with others has been grossly left behind.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Does not my hon. Friend agree that in the City of Coventry, for instance, where the wages are higher than in any other part of the country, there has been a worse situation of industrial strikes and unofficial stoppages than in any other part of the country?
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
Is it not also the case that the trouble in the City of Coventry has been due precisely to mismanagement of the kind which the hon. Gentleman who has just intervened knows very well and of which, perhaps, his own firm is representative?
§ Sir S. Summers
I think it would probably be a pity to disturb the harmonious note on which this debate has so far been conducted by seeking scapegoats. All I am saying is that it is unreasonable to imagine that the trouble in this field is confined to people who think that they ought to be more highly paid. There is a great deal of trouble from people who know that they are extremely handsomely paid, but nevertheless human relations have not been worked out to such a satisfactory conclusion as to eliminate trouble. We see this in the mining industry and in the docks. There is certainly scope for improvement there.
I am not quite sure whether my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown) was not criticising the Minister by what he said on one point, but I think that the Minister is to be congratulated on the steps which he has already taken, since he took up his office, to expand the influence and scope of the National Joint Advisory Council, and on taking the initiative in bringing the two sides of the motor industry together, with a view to trying to eliminate some of the shortcomings to be found there.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
I thought that I made it perfectly clear that my criticism was of previous Conservative Ministers of Labour. I congratulated the present Minister of Labour on the steps which he has taken, and recommended further steps to him. I made no criticism of any kind whatsoever against him.
§ Sir S. Summers
I am very glad that my hon. Friend joins me in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend. I think that it is very valuable for my right hon. Friend at times to take the initiative, without which joint consultation at that level may be difficult to bring about. I would ask my right hon. Friend, in the name of good relations, to direct the attention of the Minister of Transport to the situation arising in the London docks. I refer to an article, very reasonably written, signed "Docker," in the Financial Times yesterday, drawing attention to what was regarded as the unsatisfactory effect of some of the arrangements operating under the auspices of the Dock Labour Board.
§ Sir S. Summers
I should think it extremely unlikely, and the personal experience related in the letter confirms me in my view.
I have also had brought to my attention the feeling of frustration which is felt by workers at the Surrey Docks because of the methods by which the lightering arrangements function and their effect of holding up ships which need to be discharged and which the workers want to discharge. This is not the occasion, nor do I feel adequately informed, fully to deploy the trade union case, but I take this opportunity to ask my right hon. Friend to direct the attention of the Minister of Transport to that aspect of it. It is very natural, in discussions of this kind, that attention should be directed to what one may think are shortcomings of one sort or another and to places where, perhaps, improvements could be made.
The hon. Member for Greenwich was quite entitled to allude to the very broad part of the economy which is working satisfactorily. I think that we compare extremely favourably with other 1950 countries faced with similar problems. There is a very large area free from trouble. But, of course, strike figures, be they the number of stoppages or the number of days lost, have an effect far beyond the limited area to which these statistics apply.
There may be many people affected in their production, or in providing greater production, by a limited number of people being out of work and the right rhythm inevitably being stopped. The sense of proportion which we should have was illustrated by a trade union leader, seeking to get a sense of proportion, who reminded his audience of the Scotsman who went to Heaven and was upset because St. Peter would not admit him. The justification advanced by St. Peter was, "We don't make porridge for one." I say that we ought not to be making porridge for one, although we may draw attention to the shortcomings which we see in various parts.
I should like, in the few minutes available to me, to say a word about the situation in the banks to which this Motion primarily relates. On the question of relative membership, my information is that there are twice as many members of the bank associations as there are of N.U.B.E. in employment in the banks. I cannot speak for the insurance companies, because I have no information on that point.
The part of the Motion which I do not care for is the suggestion that, on the one hand we have what is termed a bona fide trade union and on the other something which deserves no mention at all. If the people who work in banks are satisfied to have their point of view represented by an organisation which is confined to the membership of one bank, and to pay a subscription to the organisation concerned, I cannot see any reason why it should be suggested that that is something almost out of order, which ought to be replaced by an orthodox trade union. Indeed, if the bank associations had always had the name of a trade union, I am not sure that some of these arguments would now come forward. It is implied that they do not do so well for their members.
Reference was made in an earlier speech to that and to how much more a trade union would do for them. This 1951 competition has been going on for a great many years. I understand that the relative proportions are not significantly different from what they were 5, 10 or 15 years ago. There are cases of complaints being made from local government that the conditions offered by the banks are so attractive that they are taking people away from the opportunity of working in local government.
No reference has been made, but I am quite sure that it will be before the day is out—the Press has certainly alluded to it—to the challenge that has been made through the I.L.O. to the bank associations on the ground that they violate an agreement because they are said to be dominated by the employers. In that context, I should like to refer to the final sentence of an agreement, signed by both the bank associations and the N.U.B.E., in 1955, at the Ministry of Labour. The concluding sentence read:It is agreed that N.U.B.E. and the bank staff associations are properly constituted organisations entirely controlled by their members independently of the employers.I know of nothing that has changed, in the constitutional sense, since 1955, when the approbation of N.U.B.E. in that context was acknowledged and, indeed, put in writing.
The fact that the salary of the representatives is not entirely derived from union funds need not in any way impair the independence of the spokesman for the employees concerned. Nevertheless, I think that the claims of the bank associations would carry greater conviction if the subscriptions were raised to a level which would enable the full cost of their staff representatives to be found without help from anywhere else. If that could be done, I think that it would be in the general interest of those who wish to be represented in that way.
I am glad that this debate has ranged widely over this subject. If, in doing so, it enhances the status and the whole technique and importance of industrial relations, I am quite sure that it will have been eminently worth while.
§ 12.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) on one or two of the points he has 1952 made about the relation of the banks and the trade unions. He will appreciate that I have had no experience of trade unionism in banks, but there are hon. Members present who, if fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, will probably deal with that subject. There is a long history about these relations in the trade union movement. There were company associations in the engineering trade when I was in it, and they were naturally the enemies of the Amalgamated Engineering Union; they were recognised later.
To me, a union subsidised by employers is not a trade union. The hon. Member has met our point himself. This is the question which he must ask himself before he refuses to accept the Motion. If his case is a good one, based upon his precedent of 1955 and on the assumption that his conditions are met—that company unions are bona fide representative organisations of the employees—surely the employees should have a choice in their representation as between the N.U.B.E. and any other house union; and the employees having made their choice, the bank employers should recognise it. Free association of employees and employers is not free association unless the employee can freely choose the organisation that represents him and which can have equal recognition from the employer. On the matter of principle, therefore, without knowing a great deal of detail, it seems to me that the banks fall down upon this issue.
§ Sir S. Summers
Should one infer from what the hon. Member is saying that N.U.B.E. would be willing to collaborate with the bank associations in joint representation of the workers vis-à-vis the management?
§ Mr. Pannell
Frankly, I do not know the answer. I have stated the conditions which should be met. Just as in the old days I considered that staff men—engineering foremen—should have the right to be represented by my trade union rather than by a union subsidised by the employers, that same principle for which I fought so many years ago on behalf of engineers holds good for bank employees. In a recent article by the Minister of Health it was stated that although we cannot stipulate details, the House of Commons can assert certain 1953 principles. What we are trying to assert this morning is the right of free collective bargaining.
I remember an argument in the 1950–51 Parliament about recognition of telecommunications engineers in the Post Office, to which reference has been made. I am subject to correction—my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) will know about this—but I believe that the principle was laid down that a fair total of employees as a basis for recognition was 40 per cent. of the grade concerned.
§ Mr. Pannell
It is not an absolute rule, but I suppose that it would be a general principle. I can only say that even in the dark days of depression, I negotiated for people when only 5 per cent. of the grade was involved. The remainder did not join, but they all shared in the benefits which I achieved for them.
One must say at the beginning, in case it is forgotten, that the biggest contribution to good industrial relations is undoubtedly full employment. All good industrial relations and all the advances which have been made since 1945 have sprung from full employment. The ideal is rather like a state of mild inflation in which employers are chasing men instead of men chasing jobs.
I do not want to go into a lot of biographical detail, but I remember my apprenticeship being broken in its last year by the engineering employers in 1922 on the famous managerial functions dispute, in which they held that the workers should have no control over the sort of machines they manned and had no right to argue about the working conditions. In an old debate in this House, some of the grandfathers almost of hon. Members opposite denied the principles which are being enunciated from that side today.
I shall make one small quotation from that debate before I leave the subject of the bank clerks. It is from the speech of Captain Foxcroft, in the debate on 18th April, 1923, who said:As a Conservative who intends to vote for this Motion"—1954 it was a Motion affecting bank clerks—I would say two things. Those representatives of the bank clerks whom I have interviewed are most reasonable in their claims, and I am certain that they will be most reasonable in their policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th April, 1923; Vol. 162, c. 2195.]I leave that thought with hon. Members opposite.
We are now talking about industrial relations in a period of full employment. The hon. Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown) made a point about the social attitude of the bad old days. I am old enough to remember some of those social attitudes. I regarded the hon. Member for Aylesbury as a trifle unfair in what he said of some of the local representatives. He spoke about the necessity of employers to bring in either national or full-time representatives to argue on a higher plane than could normally be achieved at local level by shop stewards.
Shop stewards are much maligned. Day after day, they settle far more—hundreds, if not thousands—industrial disputes than any full-time organiser ever does. Twelve years before coming to the House of Commons, I was a convener of shop stewards. I was working at my trade; I was not a full-time official of the union. I remember the industrial relations of that war period. The whole question of negotiations with the Ministry of Labour and National Service for deferment and the like was done by a chief engineer of the company and myself. We did not have a full-time union official. It went on without regard to status. I got used to him and he got used to me.
The idea which is continually put about that there is a breed called shop stewards who are inveterate troublemakers is a very false one. In the Amalgamated Engineering Union, any five or more men working together can choose their own shop steward. The job is by no means a sinecure.
The hon. Member for Esher—I am sorry he is not now present—mentioned the Communists. We should not let them intrude into our discussion today, although I hope that I may say something without offence to hon. Members opposite. It is only the trade union movement that knows the nature of the Communist attack. The Conservative Party does not know the nature of the Communist attack. Classically, the 1955 Communists always infiltrate to fragment the parties of the Left. That is the pattern throughout the world. They do not attack the Right, the employers' organisations or the chambers of commerce. That would be most unhopeful ground for them. They attempt to go in on the parties of the Left. This is a daily battle demanding a great deal of vigilance.
The exploitation of imaginary or real grievances is a difficult issue. I have often charged hon. Members opposite with this before. They do the trade union movement great harm when, sometimes, they talk about the Communist influence within that movement. They attempt sometimes to vilify forms of social democracy as expressed by the Labour Party when they do not appreciate these facts, because they have never experienced them. It is on us that the main brunt of repelling this Communist threat falls.
§ Sir S. Summers
The reason why some of us are particularly concerned about this is the extraordinarily small percentage of trade union members who pay any attention to the election of their officers. If a larger percentage paid attention to it, fewer Communists would find their way to the top.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Member now makes a blanket assertion about something which is intensely variable. The percentages in the various unions are very different in the elections of officers, according to the machinery employed for the purpose. For instance, in the National Union of Mineworkers, where the elections are at the pit face, the proportion is fairly high. In the A.E.U., where a man has to go to the trade union branch to vote, it is a low proportion. These things vary greatly. The machinery of some unions makes it easy for members of the Communist Party. However, I do not think that into any argument about industrial relations this subject ought to intrude as a major factor and, in any case, everyone should bear in mind the background of the difficulties which the trade unions have in this matter, having regard to the nature of Communism and the communists.
Some years ago, my own union had a complaint at its national committee 1956 about the lack of workers' consultation in the nationalised industries. We sent a questionnaire to our branches and district committees to ascertain the number of workers who knew about the complicated machinery for that purpose. Members of Parliament ought to know that the right of consultation was written into every Nationalisation Act of the Labour Government, but only 7 per cent. of our members knew about it. I suppose the answer is that the number of people who are intensely interested in what I would call politics in their day-to-day affairs is small. The fact is that the right of consultation is there, although it is very little known or recognised.
We must all recognise now, I think, that the trade unions are an estate of the realm. An estate of the realm may be fairly defined as any organisation which has the power to give or withhold supplies. Also, we must recognise that wages and salaries are still the largest element in the costs of many industries. No chairman of a finance committee of a local authority bringing forward a budget is likely to forget that probably 74 per cent. of the rate he intends to precept is composed of wages and salaries fixed by agreements over which the local chairman has no control. They are there Since they form such a large element of costs, it must be recognised that this is something to which we ought to pay a great deal of attention in order that, at least, we may have our money's worth.
I have always found that, in the main, people have not so much resented innovations in their work introduced by employers, but what they have often resented is not being told the ends which they are supposed to serve. George Bernard Shaw once said, in the preface to Man and Superman, I think, that there is no joy so great as knowing that one is being used in a mighty purpose, and there is no misery so great as knowing that one is being used by personally-minded men for ends which are base ones. That is a philosophy which is, I think, well recognised.
I can remember the days of the pay-offs in the 'thirties. It is a very grim experience to watch the chap in the office after the rumour has gone round that 100 are to be paid off. A man makes his job hang out before someone 1957 comes round. There used to be some curious practices. I knew one individual who used to go round and, perhaps, say to a worker "What is your name?" The fellow might say, "Summers." "Well, Summers, you are sacked," would come the reply. There would be no doubt about the glee in his voice as he said it. This is why I insist—I hope the Minister will not disagree—that what we are talking about today depends more than anything else on a viable economy and on the idea that we should have and maintain full employment.
Full employment does not mean just a wage at the end of the week. It is not a matter of a man being able to give his wife enough to bring up their children in decency. It is all the difference between a man on his feet and a supplicant on his knees. Human dignity cannot be left out of it. This is one of the things in our social attitudes which employers cannot always understand. I remember going as a shop steward to see a new functionary whom I had to visit. He said, "Well, Pannell—?". I immediately said, "Well, Bragg—?" "I beg your pardon," said he. I replied, "You are begging my pardon, and I will beg yours. But I come here not as a fitter but as an advocate." That is the difference. People who sometimes talk about unofficial strikes do not understand these things. I have never been in an unofficial strike without thinking the cause a good one, and better than many official ones.
I ask hon. Members to treat this seriously. They are men of self-respect. How would they react in these circumstances? I remember another occasion in a firm where the secretary to the board with whom there had been no difficulty at all was replaced. I telephoned the new man about something—a commonplace procedure between that official and the convenor of the shop stewards. I wished to speak with him about the delay in meeting an award for an increase which had been made. After talking for two minutes, he said, "I cannot waste any more of my time with you", and he put the telephone down. The 1,500 people I represented did not intend their representative to be treated like that, and they all stopped work. When the chairman of the board phoned 1958 me up—we were on Christian name terms—he asked, "Well, Charlie, what is all this about?". I told him that we wanted an apology. He said, "Is that all?". We went before the board and the chairman said to the new functionary, "Now, then, what are you waiting for?".
I maintain that that strike, which lasted only an hour, was a strike for a perfectly good principle, to make clear to that new functionary that all the work done over the years in building up a good industrial relationship should not be thrown overboard. It was a strike for self-respect.
A great deal of nonsense is talked in the newspapers about strikes, and people have the wrong sort of attitude. Do hon. Members remember a recent strike which arose after a young man came back to work after his honeymoon? He did not want to work night shifts any longer. The boss, having a romantic heart, said that he could go on the day shift. The day shift went on strike. A great deal was made of that at the time, but what was not explained was that the men on the day shift had a collective bonus and, in order to satisfy that young man's romantic notions of early married life, they were being asked to accept a reduction of 15s. a week. They thought that that was too much to pay for his happiness. A great deal is made of things of this kind, but the approach is wrong. These day-to-day incidents are really the weft and woof of industrial relations.
My experience in industrial relations has not been gathered in a place like this but on the factory floor, having to deal with people who come forward with a sudden grievance or, on the other hand, having to deal with people dressed in a little brief authority, and it is sometimes not easy to put things through the official channels. One may telephone the trade union organiser and tell him what has happened but he, being a busy chap with a lot on his plate, thinks it all seems rather irrelevant and small and says, "Cannot you settle it yourself?". That is what one does. This is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) said, we really must get down to brass tacks and study industrial relations as something akin to a science.
1959 Some people seem to think that what is good for the professions is not good for trade. This, too, is a hangover of snobbery. My hon. Friend referred to restrictive practices in the professions, how, for instance, a Q.C. will not go into court without a junior who will receive two-thirds of what he is paid. One could mention a great many such things. There are the sanctions applied in various professions. Dr. Bronowski said at one time that a wrong in any social group can be judged only within the context of the group which considers it wrong. I recently gave a series of lectures on return to civil life to officers who were to be bowler-hatted. Most of those who think it good to have traditions in their regiments and certain codes founded on those traditions cannot understand that the trade union movement, too, has traditions and a history. They think it terrible when they read in the newspapers occasionally—the report is usually embroidered a great deal—that a man has been "sent to Coventry". What is the first thing that his wife in their social code do? She cuts somebody, and the man is blackballed in his club. Before we point a finger at trade unionists we must remember for example, the late Dr. Axham, who was struck off the Medical Register for acting as an anaesthetist when he was associated with the late Sir Ernest Barker. Every social group has its codes and sanctions.
We had better remember that the trade union movement began actively at the end of the eighteenth century and was born among the voteless proletariat who could demonstrate only industrially. The movement has its history and its memories of more than a hundred years from the time of Waterloo almost to 1945 which was a period of recurring crises of unemployment and insecurity which it was born to fight. When people indict the trade union movement because of its political affiliations they had better remember that it had a century of industrial action when it failed to achieve workers' compensation in the factory, when it failed to secure and achieve the social amelioration we had to have at some stage or another, and we must remember that all these things do condition people's thinking. I do not want to go back over all that history or over the history of my party, but I can say 1960 that that is partly the story of the life I have lived.
My hon. Friend and I have known each other over a period of years, and I am glad to have heard him today. Of course he brings to this subject knowledge, and a younger and, if I may say so, in a formal way, a better educated approach. He has entered this battle, I am glad to say, at a period when full employment has been achieved and when, therefore, the trade union movement can concentrate on its new task of how to get its share in an affluent society.
Let us make no nonsense about the issue. Samuel Gompers, one of the greatest of trade union leaders in the world and in the United States, was once asked in the United States, "What are the trade unions after?" "More," he said. And, of course, they are. How, I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, bearing in mind something which the Home Secretary said on a famous occasion about the rising standard of life, do they expect the workers to get that, to get their share in the affluent society, without asking for it and without having organisation to achieve it? That is what we are talking about.
When we are talking about strike action we ought to remember that strike action was a necessity among the voteless proletariat when they had not, as the workers have now, a hundred Members of Parliament adopted as Parliamentary candidates by the trade unions. That was the time when strike action grew up, and the trade unions cannot be expected to give up the right to strike. What we have to do is to create the conditions in which strikes are needless, in which they become a myth—because the strike action is a crude and brutal weapon. In the last resort it is the desperate throw of desperate men who know they are beaten. A strike is very much like going into the Division Lobbies. We can argue, and then when argument is to no avail, we divide. The greatest force is the threat of a strike in the last few days before the final break, which is the most harrassing part.
We want to get strikes out of our system, and in the new and more affluent society we want to get both management and workpeople to have increasing respect for one another, no longer 1961 regarding themselves as masters and men and no longer being just "hands on the clock". What we want is respect for those men who are the white collared workers to give them the same recognition as the blue collar workers, as they are called in the States, and which they have won for themselves in the battles over a period of years.
This idea of trade unionism has caught on. I remember telling a group of officers recently that if we counted up all the people, men and women, who are members of trade unions and professional organizations with all their dependants we should probably find that they represent the great majority of the people of this country who believe in the idea of collective bargaining as against the old theory of every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. One of those military types was quite staggered. "Majority?" he exclaimed. "Then who are the enemy?" I pointed out to him that we are all consumers—not all producers, but all consumers—and in the last resort that is what we are. We serve the great masses of the people. We are all consumers whether we are trade unionists or not.
We are all one in our present society, and if we win our economic battle, and win the status we want for our people, so that they have an increasing standard of life, and if we win it for them, not on the old background, but by this new form of consultation which has been slowly built up, the result in the end will be not only a higher standard of life, but, what is more, increasing dignity for all our people.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I hope that I shall not be thought patronising if I say that the speech which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has, in my view, been the most valuable here today. I welcome the Motion and the speech of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) who proposed it, because I feel that we far too seldom discuss in this House this issue of industrial relations. It is an issue which is in the main psychological, and on it the House ought to give a lead to people outside.
If I may just take up one point which the hon. Member made, he complained 1962 that Conservatives did not realise that trades unionists were fighting a battle against the Communists. I readily admit and accept his complaint. When I see letters written by retired lieutenant-colonels to the Daily Telegraph saying what a lot of Communistic rascals trades unionists are I get very angry, because I know that even in the unions which are dominated by the Communists it is the trades union members and leaders who are fighting the battle against Communism, and I make no excuses for those of my friends, some of them my hon. Friends sitting on these benches, and people not only outside but inside the Parliamentary party, who fail to realise that the battle against Communism is fought in the main in this country by the trades union members and the trades union leaders.
I want if I may to deal with the question of industrial relations on a relatively broad pattern and to follow in some respects the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite. We in this century have been bedvilled by what perhaps was the nadir of industrial relations, 1926 and the years around. Of course, bad industrial relations are in many respects the product of our age and in a sense the product of size. If one looks at some of the Buddhist temples put up 2,500 years ago one sees an extraordinary enlightenment in the advice which Buddha gave both to masters and employed. Hardly anybody in 1926 attempted in any way to carry out what Buddha laid down two and a half thousand years ago, and it is true to say that bad industrial relations really have been the product of this century and the latter part of the last century. Therefore, I want to deal with the reasons why I think they have become bad and how we might improve them.
It is clear that since 1926 we have gone a long way. I think the majority of people in industry in this country today recognise the need for better industrial relations, and a goodly number of them are doing something about it, but we still have employees who are not carrying out their personal responsibilities in industry and we still have employers who fail to recognise the real need for better industrial relations.
A former Minister of Labour told me that he had visited a factory where there was trouble the week before, and the 1963 trouble arose from a very simple cause. It was that the management had put a new works rule into the pay packet. When the workers received their pay packets that was the first intimation which they had had that a new works rule was being brought in. This was in 1959, and it is quite inconceivable to some of us that these things can happen, but they do.
I think the greatest fault in talking of good industrial relations is in the name "industrial relations", because industrial relations are essentially human relations. What matters most in industrial relations is not the form and pattern of the organisation, although that form and pattern are thrust upon us when confronted with size, but human relationships. I went round the works of the motor-car manufacturers, and I make a point of trying to visit at least one industry every month. I always try to do so.
What stands out above everything else is that if the man at the top of the organisation is a man of sincerity, a man of sympathy and a man of understanding, if he creates in the minds of his workers the idea that he wants to give them fair play, we are very likely to have good industrial relations in that firm. Good industrial relations are not obtained by establishing a superstructure of consultation and organisation. The only possible basis on which they can be obtained is that those working in the firm recognise the genuineness and sincerity of the upper management. If that is not recognised, everything goes to the ground.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I am listening with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and he has spoken of the motor manufacturers. Is it not true that Vauxhall's have good industrial relations, and, while that may certainly be due to the quality of the people at the top, is not the quality of the people at the top in other firms probably just as good? The fact that Vauxhall's have instituted certain processes and conditions has made the position a little different. He seemed to be saying that it actually depends on the outlook of the people at the top, but is it not true that it depends to some extent on the conditions and methods of management?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I do not want to waste time by going over the mechanics of the Vauxhall system, although I think that every hon. Member should make himself acquainted with them. It is true to say that the mechanics at Vauxhall's today are of considerable importance. I am not for one moment saying that they are not important. When one comes up against size, the form of the machinery is and must be important. I am saying that it is no good believing that we can rely on the professional personnel officers or the machinery, unless at the top of the firm there is a man who commands the confidence of the workers underneath him and under whom the workpeople have a sense of fair play and equality.
I have said that I believe it is essential to have this sort of relationship, and that we must have men at the top who are fair-minded and can create this condition of confidence among those below them. I have also said that size is our enemy, and there is no doubt that size is our enemy in other forms of organisation. While we have to accept size, because no longer can we say that we are to have small organisations, we must transform what were, first of all, purely personal relations into what we now call industrial relationships via a form of mechanics. In this process, nothing is more important than selecting what I would call the n.c.o.s of industry.
I wonder how much damage has been done to our industrial potential in the last twenty or thirty years by the failure to select, or even the attempt to select, the right kind of n.c.o. in industry. The hon. Member for Leeds, West mentioned that he had been rudely treated by an underling in one business with which he was connected. It is true to say that in the case of full employment an n.c.o. who has the power of leadership is vitally necessary. In the old days in British industry, the foreman or charge hand was selected because he was good at his job or because, maybe, he could swear better than his immediate colleagues, and, unhappily, this was considered in British industry as being a fairly satisfactory basis for selection. Today, if we are to get the right kind of industrial relations, we must see that every n.c.o. in industry is a leader, because if we do not have n.c.o.s who are leaders, the impetus from the top will 1965 be lost. Therefore, I say that the second important thing in industry is to get n.c.o.s who are themselves leaders.
I do not want to create the impression that I am blaming only employers for bad industrial relations. I think we must not accept the proposition that there are no bad men, but only bad officers. There are bad men, and I think there is a lot of leeway to be made up in British industry in that there still remain in almost every industrial establishment in this country men who do not face any sense of social responsibility. They might represent 5 per cent. or it might be 10 per cent., but they are there, and they cause this country immense losses. I agree that where we have got managements which are on the ball these men do not make effective trouble, but where management is not on the ball they make very effective trouble.
We have to tackle that element in our community among ordinary working people which has failed to recognise its proper sense of social responsibility. This is often due to faulty education in the widest sense, and, unhappily, it is due in some cases to the memories of the past. Let us not forget that two of the most troublesome industries in this country are those with bad past relations. The mining industry and the docks industry are two industries with very bad records even today, and they are bad because they have had a bad history.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I should like to take the hon. Gentleman up on one point. I know nothing about the docks, but my constituency abuts on the mines. I should have thought that in view of the terrible history—I was going to say bloody history—of industrial relations in the mines over so long, bearing in mind that the miners have now nationally forsworn industrial action, their record is a pretty good one. I thought the old fires had died down fairly quickly.
§ Mr. Shepherd
That is not so, and if the hon. Gentleman will look at the records of industrial disputes in this country he will find how heavily they are weighted in the mining industry—very heavily indeed, unhappily. I am saying that there is still this group of industrial workers to be found more in some industries than others who will not face their social responsibilities.
1966 In the same way as we have got to have foremen with this different outlook and condemn the employer who says, "I wish we could have the situation we had in 1939, when there were more workers wanting jobs than there were jobs for them, so that we could discipline them without any trouble", so, also, we want to condemn those among the working people who fail to accept their proper share of social responsibility. I would be much happier if the trade union movement did more along these lines.
One of the great difficulties about organisations which are paid to represent bodies of men or women is that, on the whole, they are reluctant to voice any criticism of those who pay them, or whom they represent. The British trade union movement has a duty to condemn those elements among the workers which cause all the trouble within our industrial establishments, and which represent no more than 5 per cent., or 10 per cent. at the most, of our total working population.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West made some very useful remarks about strikes. I hope that the House will try to convey to the vast majority of those engaged in industry the fact that the strike weapon is now a completed outmoded concept. It is tragic that loss of earnings and output should continue because of strikes. It is tragic that we should have the bitterness which strikes engender. The strike is no longer an effective weapon. In almost every case the worker fails to benefit as a result of it. We must create in the minds of the mass of our workers the idea that the strike is something to be used only in the greatest extremity, and is no longer something to which they can have recourse on even quite trivial grounds.
This is the standard of conduct which we must try to get over to our people. We must make them realise that a strike is not an accepted method of industrial bargaining. I hope that all those in the trade union movement will do their best to create that impression. If we could get rid of the idea that strikes are something to which the workers can readily turn we could materially improve industrial relations. We are concerned not only with the immediate damage caused by the strike, in terms of loss of output; we are also concerned with 1967 the friction it causes and the bitterness which goes on for months and months after the strike has ended.
I do not pretend that industrial harmony is all that we should aim for in our industrial life, but it can play a tremendous part in obtaining from the country a much greater effort than is now being made. If we could create a feeling that management and workers were working together this country would be capable of much greater industrial achievements than is now the case. No one can say that we are getting from our factories and workshops the maximum output of which we are capable. We all know that friction of various kinds creates shortcomings. If we can create a new spirit in industry we shall be able to produce much more, and much more economically.
The major responsibility lies with the employers. The managing director of a company has an absolute responsibility for giving leadership. To a considerable extent the conditions existing inside an industrial establishment will depend upon his personality. Even if he has the same quota of malcontents as his neighbour, if he has the qualities of leadership he will be able to overcome the difficulties caused by troublesome men. One employer was talking to me about the joint consultations held in his organisation. He was aware of the Communist technique of carrying the meeting on and on until everybody was bored and many left, after which the meeting would start launching out on matters in respect of which the Communists wanted to make trouble. He told me that he always made a point of sticking there to the very end of the meeting, and he made certain that the employers' representatives stuck it to the end. It is by those means that the men who are truly leaders can create industrial harmony.
The most important thing we can do to ensure the highest level of good industrial relations is to make the men at the top of British industry understand the need for industrial leadership and good industrial relations. I admit that we have such men in a goodly number of cases, but in others alterations are needed. Sometimes we see the failure to alter the pattern of an organisation 1968 when a change is needed because of its increased size.
At a very rough estimate I would say that the failure to achieve good industrial relations in the motor-car industry has been due to the failure to realise that different patterns have to be established with much larger organisations. Many of our motor-car companies have believed that they could go on with the same pattern of industrial relations organisation that they had when they were relatively small. I do not blame managements entirely, because they are often preoccupied with many problems, but they have not taken enough trouble over the question of good industrial relations. In a large-scale organisation it is as important to work hard for good industrial relations as to work hard for good sales. They are not obtained by chance; they are the product of an intensive effort.
As I have said, many employers have other considerations to deal with. I run a business myself, and I know how difficult things can be. Many problems, financial and otherwise, have to be dealt with all the time. But many employers tend to think that industrial relations are a kind of side product of their job, whereas the establishment of such good relations is one of the prime objects of policy. It is no good creating a first-class mechanical layout for a first-class product, with a first-class sales organisation, if the essential matter of establishing good industrial relations with the workpeople is neglected.
Therefore, I hope that one effect of the debate will be to bring home to those who have the prime responsibility in the matter—and they are undoubtedly the men at the top of British industry—the fact that they have a duty to the country, to themselves, to their shareholders and workers, to take a keen and personal interest in the establishment of good industrial relations, and to realise that they are not obtained by mere chance.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) and I have taken part in many debates of this character over the years. Although he would not expect me to agree with him in all things, I nevertheless always enjoy hearing him speak on 1969 this subject, because he has vision and courage. I often wish that more employers would listen to what he says and try to conduct themselves as he conducts himself. Similarly, I agree with him with what he said about those trade unionists who are as guilty as the employers, in that they are still trying to break free from the nineteenth century. A relatively small number of people on either side of industry can cause a most disproportionate amount of damage. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said on that topic.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) on his good fortune in winning the Ballot, and on his good sense in choosing this subject, one which I do not consider is aired sufficiently in this House. The hon. Member for Cheadle referred to good industrial relations being as important as good salesmanship. We can find another equation. The House spend a lot of time discussing complicated economic matters such as imports, exports, credits, soft currencies and so on but we often forget that upon our success in resolving the problem we are considering today will depend in the end the fortune or otherwise of our economic activities.
Modernisation of equipment is vital, but we have found that despite fairly large capital investment and modernisation in some industries there has been nothing like a proportionate increase in total production or productivity. This is largely because there is not a good spirit within the particular industry, and we therefore do not achieve the results we otherwise would.
I was glad that my hon. Friend referred to the small amount of time lost by strikes in British industry. The amount of time lost by strikes is a story which has been overplayed—I think tragically. I try to keep abreast of what happens in industry. The amount of time lost by disputes is infinitesimal in proportion to the time lost through ill health caused by industrial conditions or accidents.
I was reading something the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said the other day about increases in industrial accidents. I am sure he will agree that even the increase from one year to another in the time lost by accidents is far and away more than 1970 the time lost by industrial disputes. I thought that my hon. Friend was right to pay particular attention to that.
We hear a lot about the Machiavellian scheming of certain sections of industry which culminates in strikes. This again is a story which is overplayed. We hear about the character and associations of some chap who is the cause of an industrial dispute about which he feels strongly. It is suggested that some underground cell has been scheming to get him to act as a stooge, or something of that sort.
I recall a strike in the London Docks when I was at the Ministry of Labour. I read all the accounts of the scheming which had gone on. The scientific young men who write articles in newspapers were telling us that we should consult the sociologists about what had caused the strike. I had an idea that the excuse for the strike was not the real reason. I had an idea that the beginning of the strike synchronised with the beginning of the hop-picking season in Kent. I caused a little inquiry to be made, and found that mum, dad and the kids were thoroughly enjoying life. In many of these disputes there is not the scheming and so on about which we hear so much.
We are discussing industrial relations, and only this morning I spoke to some delegates from Northern Ireland. They were from Messrs. Harland and Wolff where thousands of men are being laid off. They came to see the Home Secretary, and we know that the Northern Ireland Prime Minister is in this country. It was not a good advertisement for the Government's approach to the problem that the Home Secretary refused to see the delegates to discuss their problem of thousands of workers being laid off. That is not a good lead, and I consider that the Home Secretary should have spared a few minutes to talk to these men.
I recall that my late colleague Aneurin Bevan once said—and this is a free paraphrase—that when a strike threatens we must not say anything about it for fear of precipitating trouble; when the strike is in progress we must keep quiet for fear of retarding a settlement; and when the strike is over there is no point in pursuing the matter any further. There are times when we get ourselves into that kind of thinking. I have felt many times that we in this House are far too 1971 statesmanlike. In fact, I am not sure that we are not too conceited, because we expect industrialists to take a lot of notice of what we say.
There is a lot to be said for discussions on industrial matters, and I hope that this debate will be the first of many in which we can discuss industry out of a strike atmosphere, out of an atmosphere in which there is tension, to try to examine where our mistakes lie and how we can improve the position. In Lancashire we have a saying that there is "nowt so queer as folk", and I think that that is the point at which one should start looking at industrial relations. Unless one can get out of the atmosphere of psychological analysis and what Bill Smith meant when he told the foreman what he thought about his ancestors; unless one can realise that a man with a grouse considers that his problem is the biggest thing in life at that moment, we will not understand how the majority of strikes begin.
By their very nature industrial relations will always be an inexact science. It is something like the United Nations in that up to now it is the only alternative to war which man has succeeded in devising, and it is a fact that good negotiating facilities in industry are the only alternatives to strike action. To refuse the one is to invite the other.
My hon. Friend referred to certain employers of what are broadly known as white-collar workers refusing facilities for recognition and negotiation. By doing that those employers encourage the very tactics about which they then proceed to grumble. My hon. Friend mentioned banks and insurance companies which do not accord recognition to trade unions. I have always thought that there was a certain amount of cowardice behind that attitude. These professional unions have no history of strike action, and I sometimes think that the employers concerned would not dare to act as they do if the unions which function for the professions had such a history.
I hope that this debate will do something to assist in getting those employers to accept the need for recognition. I am thinking of the banking profession in particular. Indeed, I am not sure that in refusing recognition they are not in contravention of one or two I.L.O. 1972 Conventions. The I.L.O. Convention No. 98, Article 2, has some specific things to say. I will not go into it in detail, but I think that the Ministry of Labour ought to consult those Conventions which we ratified a long time ago and bring them to the notice of such employers and remind them that it is wrong not to accord recognition to bona fide trade unions.
That is all the more important because of the stage into which we are now moving in which there will be a large increase in the number of white-collar workers, and obviously a large increase in the trade unions to represent them. There would appear to be a certain irony in that this scientific industrial revolution may have to be accompanied by the turning back of the clock to the days of the fight for trade union recognition.
I know that the Minister of Labour met certain professional unions the other day. I have a Press notice which the Ministry sent out saying that the Minister was to meet the National Federation of Professional Workers to consider the revisions of the existing arbitration arrangements for non-manual workers so that they could go to arbitration.
I remember when the former Minister of Labour was eliminating the Industrial Disputes Tribunal. Some of us tried to stop him. I remember arguing that that kind of arbitration had had a civilising effect upon the whole pattern of our industrial relations and that to eliminate compulsory arbitration of that type might well usher in a period in which economic power instead of civilisation could be the medium which industry would begin to develop. I was glad to see the Minister assure the unions concerned that he was seized of their points and would try to assist them.
I believe there is now a need for the professional unions which are springing up not to have to battle their way through all that awful period for recognition but to be accorded the proper recognition which in 1961 we are entitled to expect. I wonder whether, in fact, the Ministry of Labour itself is now sufficiently adapted to the new conditions into which we have moved. The Ministry still bases its actions on the Conciliation Act of 1896 and the Industrial Courts Act of 1919 which was based 1973 on the Whitley Reports. The year 1896, or even the year 1919, belongs to a world which has long since ceased to exist. Indeed, in 1919 there was very little in the way of workshop machinery for negotiation.
Most of the speeches today have concerned themselves with general negotiating in industry. I believe that it is now very important indeed to look at the internal workshop machine which is now acquiring far greater power than it has ever had in the past. My belief is that that power will continue to go from the centre, from the executive of the trade union or even of the T.U.C. outwards and that much of the negotiating on wages and conditions will have to take place in the factories themselves.
I see that Mr. George Woodcock was saying something on this matter the other day. One has tried to argue this for some years. I have done it before in the House. I think it good that our trade union leaders should recognise that this is bound to happen under the conditions into which we are moving. Therefore, if I am right about that, surely it is not good enough for the Ministry of Labour still to base itself on the Industrial Courts Act of 1919. I know that the old Whitley proposals played a very vital rôle indeed in instituting workshop organisation.
I do not think in terms of a seven-a-side committee. The hon. Member for Cheadle told us how much larger the industrial unit would become. I believe that any large industrial unit should produce a works committee broadly representative of all the interests within a large factory, but it is obviously wrong for it to confine itself to a seven-a-side committee. It cannot be done. I believe that we must have very large units and adapt ourselves to the new conditions. All types of interests must be represented round the table. The conference table is the alternative to the strike just as the United Nations is the alternative to war.
We must not continue to base ourselves on the type of legislation—I do not mean legislation in the Parliamentary sense but in the industrial sense—which though it served us very well in the past is certainly now quite obsolete. Again, I do not believe that there is any one type of internal negotiating 1974 machinery which is the right type. There is no pattern in this. Each great factory, and for the purpose of what I am saying I am thinking of factories with 10,000 or 15,000 people in them, has to devise that type of negotiating machine which is applicable to its own conditions. Merely to conform to a given pattern, either laid down by Whitley or anyone else, is almost certain to result in a far less effective organisation than would otherwise be the case.
Indeed, one recalls with some pleasure one's own experience in this field. Up to the day in 1945 that I came to this House I was chairman of the works committee of what is now Metropolitan-Vickers in Trafford Park, where some 30,000 people were employed. There we tried to build up a machine which acted speedily and with reference to each section of the factory. On the employees side of that committee we must have had twenty or twenty-five members. The management would sometimes send along the general manager and labour superintendent—there were two superintendents on rota and two foremen on rota—rather than stick to equal numbers. We did not vote on the matters under discussion. If we had voted it might be that Metropolitan-Vickers would have been nationalised years ago. The management would, perhaps, have objected to such activities.
It is not a question of equal representation but of all sections being represented. In this kind of organisation we should try to set up standing subcommittees which would function when a dispute began and which would function within half an hour of it beginning. The works committee itself becomes merely a clearing house and reports on problems which have been solved. The committee is the centre of all activities of a benevolent kind, welfare, trade unions, canteens and all that sort of thing.
I would recommend that type of internal negotiating machine to all those interested, employers and trade unionists alike, because from my experience in having seen round the world quite a bit I have yet to find anything better of its type anywhere in the world. Again, it is very important that we should try to solve these problems at factory level, because my experience is that the further a matter is removed from the point of 1975 dispute the less chance there is of a satisfactory solution.
I remember the days when some people even considered it a triumph to fail to agree on an issue. In the engineering industry, under the silly machinery that we have, we all ride off to York like Dick Turpin for central conference, and when central conference has met, with great pomposity, the matter is referred back to the local committee for settlement. We should try to take the matter up at the point where the dispute begins and try again and again to reach a settlement. Given good will on both sides, one finds that in 99 cases out of 100 there is no need to go outside the factory. In the difficult war period I do not think that any dispute went outside our factory. Therefore, I believe that this question of the setting up of satisfactory internal negotiating machinery is a necessity. It in now even more necessary than it was in the days which I have been discussing. because of the coming of what we broadly describe as the scientific industrial revolution.
Some industries, and some firms in an industry, will modernise far more readily than others. This being so, the pattern of production is changing rapidly in one factory as against another. In these conditions, how can we hope to get satisfaction from a national wages agreement? There is no common structure. We can have a highly automated plant in one factory and a more primitive type of plant in another, and yet we are trying to run both structures under a national agreement which is based, as it must be, on a type of production which may cease to exist in a great many factories. Therefore, that type of national agreement has, I think, become less useful.
I know about those in the engineering industry better than most of the others, but most national agreements in productive industry are based on, or they presuppose the existence of, a bonus scheme of some type; either an individual piecework bonus or a collective piece-work bonus scheme. Yet, in many sections of industry, the fact that it is possible to retain a bonus scheme is proof that the industry has not been modernised. In an automated or highly-mechanised plant, an individual bonus scheme cannot be worked because the worker has lost 1976 the power to regulate his own production.
Mention has been made of the motor car industry and I think that, especially in that type of industry where there is a line product, some of the restiveness which we find stems from the fact that the national wage structure to which attempts are being made to adhere is completely irrelevant to the methods of production obtaining in the factories concerned. As I have said, the new techniques render the type of bonus structures preconceived by a national wage agreement quite obsolete and irrelevant to the way in which we are now modernising our factories.
In many industries we have reached the point where a wage structure which is quite obsolete is based on a pattern of skill and craft which has long since gone. But on both sides of industry it takes a long time for negotiators to adapt themselves to new conditions. With the coming of the scientific revolution, methods of payment will have to be determined more and more at factory level and both sides must adapt themselves to that fact.
The disputes which we find in the car industry are causing the Minister concern, and I was pleased to note that he had set up a group of representatives of employers and trade unions to study the reasons for those disputes. One reason why I welcome that action is that it represents a break from what I have always believed to be the rather stupid assumption that when trouble appears in an industry it is because of the presence of a standard type of "bug" which has worked its way into the industry. It is assumed that the trouble is caused by a sort of miasma, not peculiar to one industry, which affects certain types of industry, and that trouble arises for no reason peculiar to the industry, but because of the presence of this "bug".
When that stage is reached somebody prescribes, as the way to solve the problem, something known as. "better industrial relations"—to which I should have thought the answer is, "Exactly". But that does not give us an insight into the problems peculiar to a certain industry or reveal the possibility that a dispute, on the railways, for example, might revolve round an issue peculiar to that industry, and, therefore, would have nothing in common with temporary 1977 troubles arising in other industries. To think along those lines seems to have become most unfashionable and indeed slightly reprehensible. So I was glad that the Minister decided to set up a committee to examine the problems peculiar to the car industry.
We have all said that we can never hope for perfection in this sphere. It may not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the presence in the proletariat blood of a certain number of red corpuscles rules out the possibility of devising a foolproof system of strike prevention. It may be that the stupidity of some employers, to which reference has been made, will always prevent us from reaching a situation in which we are 100 per cent. strike free. I think that patient inquiry into the problems of each industry offers the best chance of improvement.
§ Mr. Edelman
Would not my hon. Friend agree that there are two aspects to be considered regarding the motorcar industry, the structural aspect and the symptomatic aspect? Certain relations with the symptomatic aspect are very important bait do not override the problem of dealing with the structural aspect. So long as it is described as seasonal, there will be a sense of insecurity within the industry.
§ Mr. Lee
I propose to say a word about that subject now. I believe that there are two elements in the car industry which I hope the committee will examine. One is the pay in the industry. Far too much has been made of the high wages which are paid in the motor-car industry. I can remember when Ford began at Trafford Park and based himself on the economics of high wages. He could command the cream of labour and operated the "sack-em and start-em" mentality which went with it.
The pay for skilled and semi-skilled work in the car industry is pretty high. But because a large number of people working in the industry are specialists in that industry alone, the only alternative to working in the industry is low-paid unskilled work. Therefore, as seasonal slackness comes round, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) that there is great anxiety which of itself must lead to defensive thinking and in 1978 some instances to action based upon that sort of thinking.
One of the great problems which causes disputes in the car industry is the monotony of the repetitive processes which form part of assembly work. I do not know whether this is the day for confession, but I feel that had I to spend my days tightening up four nuts on a certain part of a car in a given time, or pushing bumper bars into position for the rest of my life, I should seek some means of getting away from the job for a day or two occasionally, especially in this sort of weather. I think that the daily, dreary monotony of a repetitive process in which a man must become a specialist, and continue to do all his life, is enough to make any man want to kick over the traces now and again.
§ Mr. Lee
Let us keep things in perspective.
I think one should also say a word about the need for transferring labour from industries which are contracting to others which are expanding. In large sections of industry skill is being eliminated. Skill which is not used is not neutralised; it becomes a positive handicap. The skilled man used to blueprints is not so good at a monotonous process as is the semi-skilled man, and that is one reason why I think that the Ministry of Labour should now begin—it should have done this long ago—to look at the problem of the retraining of skilled people whose jobs are disappearing. Once this process begins, it will go on at a great pace.
The credit squeeze and similar things have caused this country to hold back the process of automation, but in the United States, where they have gone ahead with automation more rapidly, 6 million men are unemployed. The trade unions of America more than any other unions in the world welcomed automation, but now they are not so sure. They are more defensive in their approach to this problem, because the United States never prepared for the coming of automation.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Surely the problem is not created by the unskilled worker but by the fact that in the motor industry 1979 we pay semi-skilled and, to put it unkindly, unskilled labour more than is received by skilled workers in other industries.
§ Mr. Lee
Perhaps I have confused the hon. Member. I am not now referring to the car industry. I was saying that the methods of assembling cars now have eliminated skill. This process will go on through a great number of industries. It is a paradox that, whereas now we are short of skilled labour in some of the great capital industries and our delivery dates have to be put back because of that, in some other industries and parts of the car industry skilled labour remains because the pay is higher although we would like those workers to go to the other industries.
The Ministry of Labour, a Department in which I have great faith, is not utilised to anything like the degree it ought to be by the Government. It has a great rôle to play. In a week or two we shall be debating the question of apprentices. If hundreds of thousands of skilled men are to witness the disappearance of their craft, which to them is the thing which means security, without any attempts to retrain them for the new jobs of craftsmanship which are required, we shall face great disaster. With waiting and the defensive thinking of the trade unions, this skill which men possess will become a positive curse because they will not be able to utilise it in the repetitive processes. We could have a large unemployment problem among unskilled labour, and a demand for non-existent craftsmen and technicians. This is a problem which the Government and the Ministry of Labour should be tackling.
The "64 dollar question" is whether unscientific methods of determining wage and salary payments and conditions of employment can meet the needs of a scientific industrial age. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich half referred to national wage policies and the like. I shall tell the House a secret which I hope will be kept inside these four walls. I nearly got thrown out of the Ministry of Labour ten years ago for producing a national wages policy. It did not receive the greatest welcome on either side of industry.
§ Mr. Lee
I still believe that in the age to which we must attune ourselves, the silly, horse-dealing nonsense to which collective bargaining has come is quite inapplicable to conditions of the future. I have solved problems in so-called collective bargaining. There was a dispute concerning instrument makers and instruments which one could hardly see, and another concerning 50-ton castings. I had to try to solve one with reference to the other. That is the way industry runs. We should not overplay this sort of sacred cow of collective bargaining beyond the point at which it ceases to have any usefulness to us all. I have doubted whether the present negotiating position can be applicable to the new conditions.
§ Sir W. Robson Brown
I am very interested in what the hon. Member is saying. Can he enlarge on the question of who is feeding and nurturing this sacred cow?
§ Mr. Lee
On both sides of industry if collective bargaining is mentioned, only a cad would move an amendment and the matter is taken as read. The time has come when we should jolt a few minds on that type of thing. I have mentioned that there is a possibility of technological redundancy. That, I think, can lead to disputes. In the main, it is caused by a faster rate of wealth production. Redundancy payments are not drawn up in an industry in comparison with the wages it paid before it modernised itself. I should like to see in industry a method of redundancy payment not based on two or three weeks' half pay or full pay, but on a longer period during which time the process of retraining those men could go on. That is very necessary. The industry concerned could certainly afford those payments and the Government must ensure the retraining of such people.
It is one of my criticisms of the Ministry that at the moment it appears to be doing nothing whatever about that. As other hon. Members have said, yearly contracts and agreed compensation should be part of the terms of employment for people working in industry. In other countries a more general application of minimum wage payments has been enshrined in legislation. I think that should come here. Some of the restiveness and strikes and the causes of those things 1981 would not arise if instead of wages councils which got an agreed minimum in certain unorganised industries we had legislation to ensure a minimum wage below which no one would fall. That of itself would do much to ensure peace of mind for many unskilled people.
In the end, of course, the only real guarantee of stability in employment is the continuing growth of the economy. Only the Government can so order affairs as to ensure that. Much is said and written to the effect that the State must not interfere in such matters as wages and industrial conditions. That is nonsense. Governments nowadays are employers of many millions of people. Their economic policies determine the wage levels of industries which do not come under the purview of the Government. To believe that we can go on merely having the employer and employee negotiating round the table with the State taking no part whatever in such discussions—to pretend that it does not know anything about them when in fact the ability of the Government to govern might well depend upon it giving help to ensure peace and progress in industry—is hypocritical.
I have spoken for too long, but I wanted to say some of these things because to me they are vitally important. They are as important as economic debates and as important to the sort of lives millions of people live as any other subject this House can discuss. This is the nation in which the first Industrial Revolution took place. We are in grave danger of missing the boat in the second industrial revolution. We are not adapting ourselves to the new techniques in a way in which men and management can live together. Our export position is not so good that we can afford not to take this into very serious consideration.
We are entering a phase in which new industrial nations, some with plant and equipment of the most modern type, will be our competitors. We shall not muddle through this phase as we did through the first half of the twentieth century merely by ignoring the issues which face us. I hope that from this debate industry on both sides will see that we have to drop all the silly, old-fashioned nonsense which has been referred to today and to realise that the most modern approach from men and management 1982 and the most modern industrial relationships are needed for us to face our problems. If the debate succeeds in that, it will have been well worth while.
§ 2.28 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Peter Thomas)
This has been one of the best and most constructive debates I have heard for a very long time. I should like to congratulate all hon. Members on their contributions to it.
First and foremost, I congratulate the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) on his good fortune in the Ballot and on his selection of subject. I also congratulate him on his speech. He was very fortunate in his presentation, he is most fluent and relaxed and he was most constructive and extremely well-informed. Indeed, that has been the type of speech that we have had from both sides of the House today. They have been constructive speeches. It is interesting to find what a great measure of agreement exists between both sides of the House when we discuss an important subject like this.
My right hon. Friend wishes me to tell the House that he intends to consider very carefully all the points that are raised in this debate. The subject of industrial relations, as the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) and the hon. Member for Greenwich said, is a most important one because a healthy state of industrial relations is essential to our economic life and to the maintenance and improvement of our standard of living. As the hon. Member for Greenwich said, it is the basis on which depends whether we are a successful country or not.
Our system of industrial relations is, of course, a matter not of law and compulsion but of voluntary action, and if this system is to be maintained and improved it is important that its achievements and the way in which it works should be widely understood and appreciated. For the same reasons it is also important that those who share in the responsibility for the conduct of industrial relations and those who derive benefits therefrom should be aware of the doubts and anxieties that there may be about the working or the results of our industrial relations procedures. Therefore, I think it right that these 1983 doubts and anxieties should be ventilated as they have in great measure been today. It is good that there should be criticism and excellent that there should be ideas, and that is why I, on behalf of the Government, welcome the debate and congratulate the hon. Member for Greenwich upon his choice of subject.
Having said that, I must say that I have looked at the Motion very carefully and I must confess that I am not happy about its precise terms. There are two general points in the Motion, and, although it has not been the main part of this debate, I should like first to deal briefly with the latter part of the Motion. This is the part which deals with non-industrial employment and, in particular, with banking and insurance. Although the Motion rests to a great extent on this latter part, the main debate has been over the field of industrial relations generally.
Viewed from the standard of conventional industrial relations, the sector of non-industrial employment has special and individual problems. These special problems are very well known in the Ministry of Labour. The hon. Member for Newton mentioned that a few days ago my right hon. Friend received a deputation from the National Federation of Professional Workers. As he said, the deputation was concerned specifically with the problems caused by the abolition of the system of arbitration which could be invoked by one party to a dispute without the consent of the other; that is, under the Industrial Disputes Order, 1951. This system rested on its acceptance by both sides, and it was brought to an end when it was no longer jointly acceptable. My right hon. Friend told the deputation that it would be undesirable to re-introduce such a system without the same agreement on both sides of industry as that on which it was originally based, but he also told them that he recognised the special problems which they had nut before him and was giving them careful consideration.
The Ministry of Labour has been aware for a very lone time of the problems that undoubtedly exist in the fields of banking and insurance which are mentioned in the Motion, and from time to time in recent years, particularly in banking, we have been concerned with prolonged negotiations involving ques- 1984 tions of recognition and the establishment of negotiating machinery.
The real problem here is, of course, that of recognition. In order to try to convey some of the difficulties of the problem, I should like to say something generally on the subject of trade union recognition. Under our voluntary system of industrial relations, trade union recognition depends on the willingness of an employer to recognise and deal with a particular trade union or unions as representing the interests of his work people. This is a matter for his judgment in the light of modern demands and practices, and, in particular, in the light of the wishes of his own employees and the position of the trade unions concerned.
That does not mean, of course, that the Government or the Ministry of Labour stand aloof. We certainly do not. Our conciliation machinery is always available should the parties ask for it. But, quite clearly, we cannot take sides in disputes concerning recognition. If the Ministry of Labour took it upon itself to support or oppose the claims of particular unions, it could no longer maintain its impartial position and much of its work in the field of industrial relations would be made impossible. It is clear, therefore, that the question of recognition is not a simple one; it can raise difficult problems.
The hon. Member for Greenwich suggested that I should say something to the effect that if the majority or a substantial proportion of the membership of the banks belong to the National Union of Bank Employees they should qualify for recognition. But it is not as simple as that. There are no hard and fast rules governing the matter, and I am sure that, on reflection, hon. Members will agree that it would not be profitable for there to be such rules. Hon. Members opposite in particular will, I am sure, know of many instances in the industrial field where a union has sought to secure recognition where other unions were already recognised. The employer has then taken the view that, despite the substantial membership involved, recognition of the new union would create difficulties with his employees as a whole or with the organisations already representing them, such difficulties that he would prefer to make no change; and the employer's 1985 action in such circumstances has received trade union support. I mention this to nuke the general point that it is not practicable to have a general formula for recognition on the basis of which a trade union can claim recognition as a right. Obviously, it will turn on the merits of the particular situation.
In banking and insurance there are differences of treatment, but in general the clearing banks and the insurance companies recognise internal staff associations, and the staffs themselves have joined and continue to support these associations in substantial numbers. It has been suggested—not very strongly, I admit, in the course of the debate, but it certainly has been suggested for some time that these staff associations are in the main not really trade unions, although they may be in law, and that they are under control of the employers and as such, are incapable of representing adequately the interests of the staff.
The hon. Member for Newton referred to the fact that some people suggest that because such an association is under the domination of the employer, the employer may be in breach of International Labour Convention No. 98 concerning the application of the principles of the right to organise and to bargain collectively, which the United Kingdom Government has ratified. Perhaps I might point out that the T.U.C. has asked to see my right hon. Friend on this aspect of the matter, and he has informed them of his willingness to see them. Clearly, my right hon. Friend will consider most carefully any evidence which the T.U.C. puts before him. Indeed, as I have said, he intends to consider most carefully everything that is said in the debate today.
In the meantime, I would merely say that this is not a matter which can be settled on the basis of general assertions, nor do I think that simply the placing of certain facilities at the disposal of a particular association can be said to be with the object of placing the organisation under the control of the employee. That is a very material point, as hon. Members will see if they look at Article 2 of the Convention. As I read it, it certainly suggests to me that the Convention is not broken by the employer unless the support which he gives to the workers' organisation—this is an important point—is for the purpose of 1986 domination and control. I think that this must be right. There obviously must be many cases of which hon. Members know where a shop steward is paid his wages and does a lot of work for his union during the time for which he is paid his wages by his employer. A convenor may be paid wages and also be given office facilities. If one took a very strict interpretation of the Convention, those activities might be open to question.
On the subject of the problems which exist in some sections of non-industrial employment, which are referred to in the Motion, I admit that I find some difficulty in accepting the exact words of the Motion, because I do not think it is right to suppose that a particular union or unions necessarily have a right to recognition irrespective of the circumstances of the particular case.
§ Mr. Marsh
The hon. Gentleman is making the point that he would not want to lay down general principles of recognition. No one is asking him to. We are putting to him a particular case which has been in being since 1923. As long ago as 1923, the House expressed the opinion that these unions should be recognised. All we are saying is that the hon. Gentleman should do as well in 1961 as his predecessors did in 1923 and express an opinion on this one case, without laying down a general principle. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that in the case of insurance workers we are talking of only three employers, and in at least one case over half the staff are members of a union which the employer refuses to recognise.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this, because after he referred to the 1923 debate I obtained the OFFICIAL REPORT. The exact terms of the Motion were:That, in view of the worsening conditions of middle-class professional workers, and of the advantages resulting from the recognition of the organisations of manual workers and the practice of collective bargaining, this House is of opinion that local authorities, banks, insurance and shipping companies, and other employers of professional and clerical workers should follow the example of the Government in recognising the organisations of these workers.I do not think that anyone present in the House now would join issue with the terms of that Motion, but the Motion we are debating today is very different.
§ Mr. Thomas
The unions are recognised. N.U.B.E. is recognised. Barclays Bank, for instance, recognises N.U.B.E. I believe that N.U.B.E. is recognised to a great extent by the Midland Bank. It is not the case that N.U.B.E. is not recognised.
But, we cannot say that, because it is a union, because it is a bona fide union, and because it may have a substantial membership, we are entitled to say that in every case it must be recognised. We have to deal with the circumstances of each case and think of the feelings of the employees involved and the staff associations involved. It is not a matter for making a pronouncement such as that contained in the Motion. It is a matter for discussion and negotiation, and that is how we in the Ministry feel about it. If we can assist the parties in this, we shall be happy to do our best.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The Parliamentary Secretary appears to be laying down the doctrine that unions should be capriciously unrecognised.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am not laying down any doctrine. I have a great respect for the hon. Gentleman's intelligence and ability to follow an argument. I do not say that my argument has been very clear, but I think that he understands my argument that general principles of recognition cannot be laid down, because they vary so much according to the circumstances of the case.
I will tell the House what is being done. In certain cases at present my right hon. Friend has made arrangements for the Ministry's conciliation services to approach certain insurance companies whose names have been given to him by the Guild of Insurance Officials. This is because the Guild considers that it has strong grounds for recognition by these companies. That is the right way to proceed. Effective conciliation demands impartiality. If we in the Ministry of Labour take sides, 1988 if we strike attitudes, our chances of making progress are so much the less.
I turn now to the wider question of industrial relations which is dealt with in the Motion. It is clear that there are no differences in the House on the importance of improving and maintaining good industrial relations. I do not want to be carping about this, but it is an important matter. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) that the wording of the Motion seems to attempt to allocate blame and praise, and to suggest that on one side all is well and that on the other side there has been dragging of the feet. That is how I read the Motion as well. In so far as that is so, it detracts from the merits of the Motion. I shall leave it at that. I think it will be agreed by the House that not all trade unions and not all employers act all the time in a way most conducive to good industrial relations.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman must not be provocative and ask me to come back with an example on the other side. It will be accepted on both sides of the House that some employers are not doing anything like as much as they can and some trade unions also could do a great deal better.
§ Mr. Thomas
I have said that more could be done by both sides in the field of industrial relations. As I read letters and accounts of particular events and the more spectacular disputes, I sometimes consider that the country as a whole is not sufficiently conscious of the sustained effort and exercise of responsibility by employers and workers' representatives which is put day by day into the job of establishing and maintaining harmonious relations. We can easily overlook how many potential causes of disharmony and conflict are nipped in the bud or settled through the normal procedures without attracting public notice. There are many more of these than of those which result in stoppages of work.
As has been mentioned on both sides of the House, our record of time lost compares very favourably with that of 1989 other advanced industrial countries in the West. Despite our comparatively good record, all of us from our different points of view would like to see improvements in certain aspects of our system and practice of industrial relations. Improvement is necessary if we are to secure that measure of economic growth which is essential if we are to maintain and increase our standard of living. We need to use our limited labour resources to the best advantage in the right place and supported by the most modern techniques. We want to avoid unofficial strikes, especially in key sectors of industry where they inflict great damage on the country's economy and on many who have no direct interest in what is going on.
These are not simple problems. They require a great deal of understanding and good will on both sides of industry. Generalisations are not enough. It is necessary to examine the problems in detail, with a determination to solve them, if possible, and trade unions and employers today are showing a most commendable determination in an endeavour to do exactly this. It is right that the House should show appreciation of these efforts.
The Trades Union Congress and the British Employers' Confederation have both been doing a great deal of work on the subject of strikes. There has been some criticism of the interim report of the General Council on its inquiry, presented to the Trades Union Congress last September, but I personally derive great encouragement from the fact that the T.U.C. has found it possible to embark on this work. Representatives of the British Employers' Confederation and of the Trades Union Congress have begun joint talks on the question of strikes and this, too, is an important step forward.
These joint talks reflect the desire of organised industry that its problems should be examined and, to the maximum extent, settled in conditions of industrial peace. Naturally, the Government have considerable interest in all these matters, and we, for our part, are doing everything we can to bring about improvements by guiding and furthering discussion at any point where this can be useful.
The hon. Member for Newton mentioned many of the things that we are 1990 doing in the Ministry of Labour. I should like particularly to refer to the discussions that are taking place at present on the National Joint Advisory Council, of which my right hon. Friend the Minister is Chairman and on which sit representatives of the British Employers' Confederation, the Trades Union Congress, and the nationalised industries.
These discussions are not concerned—and this is the important matter—with industrial relations at the national level. It is not at that level, as the hon. Gentleman said, that difficulties are arising. The discussions are concerned mainly with labour-management relations at the factory level and on the factory floor and, in particular, with the improvement of joint consultation and the mechanics of communication.
The National Joint Advisory Council is, therefore, looking at arrangements for consultation between the managements and employees of industry against the general background of communications in individual establishments as well as within the employers' organisations and trade unions concerned. It has also been agreed that my right hon. Friend should appoint a committee on the selection and training of supervisors. I suggest that this is a significant area, concentration on which could produce most useful results, since a great deal clearly turns on the ability and skill of those responsible for the handling of grievances at the point of origin on the factory floor.
Going back a stage further in the process, the Council is examining arrangements for the recruitment, selection and induction of employees. Also included in the immediate list of projects before the Council is the preparation of an agreed document setting out desirable and proved practices in industry for dealing with problems of redundancy. As has been mentioned, the fear of redundancy, with its threat to the security of individual workers, can be a real cause of friction, and great difficulty is certainly found unless proper steps are taken to meet it. When redundancy occurs it may give rise to serious trouble in the absence of properly worked out plans that are understood and recognised as fair by those involved.
Hon. Members will agree that these are all important activities. They show 1991 a realism in attempting to deal with current problems of industrial relations at the point where the main difficulties arise, and this is equally true of my right hon. Friend's current talks with the motor car industry, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Newton. I cannot, of course, anticipate the outcome of these talks, but I know that my right hon. Friend has been most impressed by the positive attitude adopted by both sides, by the willingness of both sides to accept some responsibility for the present difficulties in the industry, and by the constructive ideas that have been advanced for the improvement of relations.
Then there are the talks on industrial relations in the shipbuilding industry that have been going on under the auspices of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport's Advisory Committee. These are another indication of the very reel desire that is being shown at this time to get down to the actual situation in sectors where industrial relations have not been good——
§ Sir S. Summers
May I ask whether that effort on the shipping side includes matters relevant to the docks?
§ Mr. Thomas
No, I do not think that it does. It refers essentially to shipbuilding, and not to dock matters.
I have spoken for longer than I had expected, and I apologise to the House for so doing. For the reasons I have given, I cannot commend to the House the Motion in the terms in which it stands, but I certainly commend this debate to the House. It has been most useful and worthwhile, and it can be an encouragement to those on both sides of industry who are seeking to maintain and improve good industrial relations.
I do not think that anybody hearing what has been said today would suggest that we had approached the problem in a mood of complacency. We have rather given an expression of approval of the nature and direction of the efforts that are being made at the present time. Very constructive suggestions have been put forward and, on behalf of the Ministry of Labour, I am grateful to the House. My right hon. Friend will certainly consider everything that has been said.
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
I certainly agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that some very frank and open comments have come from both sides of the House. As has been said, there is a great advantage in having this kind of debate when there is not a particular industrial crisis occurring, but it is a pity that if there had been an industrial crisis the very same, sensible, forward-looking remarks that have been made today would have attracted a good deal more attention than I am afraid they may attract when emerging from this afternoon's quiet, highly respectable but, I agree, very interesting debate.
The Parliamentary Secretary and other hon. Members have referred to the various inquiries that are at present being conducted by different bodies into different aspects of industrial problems. Shipping was the last one mentioned, the motor car industry has been mentioned, and so has the trade union inquiry into strikes. I could suggest a few other existing problems into which it would be most useful to have some thoroughgoing investigation. The point is, however, that if these inquiries are to be of any real use and if we are to learn any lessons from them, they should be very searching, and the more they can be made by independent groups rather than by interested bodies the better.
It is often said that if they are made by representatives from one side or the other, those people really understand the problem and their remarks may be the more wise but, as the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) has said, we are at a turning point in industrial matters, and some sharp, searching light turned by people who have not taken already committed positions—people outside—into various aspects of industrial matters would have a very salutary effect at this moment.
The interesting thing about today's debate is that I suspect that it has reflected very well the thought on both sides of industry. People are much more open-minded about industrial affairs than they were a few years ago. Before I make some remarks about industrial wage negotiating procedures, I should like to say a word or two on the training of skilled people in industry—that is to say, the training of original apprentices and the retraining of people who have had 1993 to leave their jobs. The hon. Member for Newton indicated that we are soon to have a debate on apprenticeship. I did not know this. I do not know whether I have missed something, whether this is something in the channels of which I was not aware.
§ Mr. Holt
As industrial relations concern people at work, and apprentices are certainly people at work, I hope that I shall not be extending this debate too far if I discuss one or two aspects of this problem. The Parliamentary Secretary knows very well that it is a problem and it is right round his neck at the moment.
About two years ago we had the Report of the Carr Committee which was set up specifically to deal with the problem of training more apprentices. Mention was made in the Report of the action which should be taken to deal with the bulge which occurs this year and next year when I think it will reach its peak. That Report stated that at that time there would be 316,000 mare children of the age of 15 than there were in 1950. I agree with the comment at that time that much of the action contemplated had no teeth. The figures that have occurred since bear out our anxiety. In fact, it appears that the same number of apprentices are being trained each year—something in the region of 95,000—whereas the actual percentage is dropping slightly for each year.
§ Mr. P. Thomas rose—
§ Mr. Holt
If the Minister is going to intervene I should like him, if possible, to correct some figures which I have obtained, should they be wrong. I got them from an Answer given by himself or the Minister to a Question, namely, that in 1957 there were 36.6 per cent. 15 year-old boy trainees, in 1958 34.4 per cent. and in 1959 33.6 per cent., which substantiates my observation that the percentage has been going down.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I thought I would intervene to let him know—I am sure he will he pleased to hear—that in 1960 the number, and in consequence the percentage, was up on the 1959 figures.
§ Mr. Holt
I am very glad to hear that. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman can give any more substantial figure. In my researches in preparation for this debate I noticed that he had said that he hoped the figures for 1960 would be available, although I think they do not normally come out until June. Can he say whether the figure has substantially increased? Has he started to make any inroads into the problem? Is he satisfied that there has been encouraging progress?
§ Mr. Thomas
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I can never be satisfied with the figures. I hope he will forgive me if I do not give the exact percentage, because I cannot remember it, but it is around 36 per cent.
§ Mr. Holt
It is in the right direction at any rate. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that in view of the problem which has to be faced this year and next year, it is very doubtful whether the percentage will be enough.
Those firms which run their own apprenticeship schemes, particularly the larger ones, make arrangements for a regular intake each year on the basis of the replacement of older employees who are leaving. Unless some special arrangement is made or inducement given by the Government, it is most unlikely that the firms will suddenly increase the size of their apprenticeship schools by 50 per cent. merely because there is a bulge coming in the school leaving group of children. The firms would say, "We shall not have any more people to replace, so why should we do this?" They should do it because the percentage of children who are likely to be capable of doing craftsmen's work remains the same year by year, so that if in a certain year there is suddenly a large bulge in the school leavers, many more children will be free that year and capable of being trained for a craft.
I suggest to him that he should get the Chancellor of the Exchequer to offer, before the Budget, because action has to be taken now, some financial inducement to firms who are carrying out what we like to call for the purpose of the Act recognised apprenticeship training schemes.
At the moment, the cost of such schools and the wages of the apprentices are the costs of the companies and 1995 the taxable profit of a company is arrived at after these costs have been accounted for, so we should have to do something more by way of inducement. I suggest that a tax allowance of 150 per cent. of the wages of any apprentices in the schools should be allowable before arriving at the taxable balance of the company for the year.
The effect would be that, if the wages of the apprentices in a training scheme of any company totalled £5,000 for the year, the company would add £2,500 as a notional cost before actually arriving at its balance which would be liable to taxation. In effect, it would be an extra £2,500 profit for the company over the year. It would be, in effect, a tax relief. I think that this would be a real inducement to many companies to comply with a general direction being given by the Government. The Government should not then leave this matter just as a tax inducement. They would have to give some indication of the extra number of apprentices they wish to be taken on and set some upper limit of the tax allowance which they were prepared to make.
One cannot allow companies just foolishly—I do not think that they would want to do so, but in case they did—to take on a ridiculous number of apprentices in order to get a tax benefit. I hope that the Minister will think about this suggestion and if he does not see any real snags in it—I have not seen any myself—seriously consider putting this proposition to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
There is another aspect of training for skill which the hon. Member for Newton touched on. It concerns those people whose skilled work is replaced by automation. He referred to the problem, particularly in the motor car industry, of workers whose jobs then become unskilled or semi-skilled. In the cotton industry and, I think, in the leather and shoe industries, there are similar problems. In the cotton industry, it is slightly different because the skilled man would merely lose his job. The mill would close, and the alternative in many cases for people in Lancashire who hitherto had received quite reasonable wages and performed a skilled job was often to take unskilled work if they 1996 could not find employment in another mill which was still running. Many such people have had to put up with wages £4 or £5 less than they were receiving before.
I do not see how this problem can be left to industry. The Government must take much stronger action and much more initiative in developing their own training centres far retraining. Where industry is itself willing to take such people on and retrain them for a new skill, making them apprentices even though they may be 35 or 40 years of age, the companies concerned should have the same tax allowance that I referred to earlier. Not enough is being done for people of this kind, and I know of many sad cases of people who feel that their life has really been cut off. Perhaps for 20 years they have worked in a cotton mill or a weaving shed doing very highly skilled work, and their only alternative employment has been something semi-skilled in a quite different industry. This is not a problem which we can afford to neglect. We must do far more for such people to have them retrained.
The trade unions should alter their practices where at present they prevent such people coming into the unions as skilled craftsmen. The printing industry is rigid about this. The electrical and mechanical engineering unions take most of their skilled people in at school leaving age or just after. I know that even those unions have now started to be rather more flexible in allowing people in as skilled men at a later age, and I feel that this trend is greatly to be encouraged.
I turn now to wage negotiations. One of the most satisfactory features of this debate has been the general acceptance by both sides of the House that the whole subject of industrial relations, how wage negotiations are conducted and filially brought to conclusion, and the basis for wages being different in one industry compared with another, are regarded now and for the future not as matters solely for employers' organisations and trade unions but as matters first and last for the Government of the country, and therefore, for debate in Parliament.
For those who do not like the idea of the Government having more and more say in these matters, we could, I 1997 suppose, go back to what hon. Members on this side often like to call the laws of the jangle. There is not much likelihood of that. Gradually, I think opinion is beginning to recognise that, somehow or other, we must introduce into our present negotiation arrangements a much more logical system since the present has neither rhyme nor reason about it. This means that, in the first place, the Government must on the economic side give to those who will conduct the negotiations an indication of the amount of extra wealth which they think will be available this year and next year to be shared out in wage negotiations.
It may be that initially the negotiators, on both sides, will take no notice of this. The argument then is either that the Government must use legal sanction or the alternative solution that they can achieve their purpose by constant education and propaganda. At least to begin with, we must try the latter, even if we do not in the end exclude some legal sanctions. I do not think that the Government have done enough about this. Occasionally, we have exhortations from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but that is not education. Neither is it backed up by any statistics or figures which impartial people can examine and accept if they are right.
If the Government accept that those who do the negotiations must then try to achieve much longer-term contracts for wages on the basis of economic figures which have been given by the Government, and get away from what the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) and the hon. Member for Newton referred to as merely negotiation by brute force, but developing a system of negotiation in which reason plays a considerable part and scientific analysis of the worth of jobs that various people are doing, with the object that a person who has a certain standard of skill in, for example, Bolton will receive more or less the same wage as a person with the same kind of skill working in Birmingham or Bristol.
It is often a cause of great complaint in my part of the world that in recent years, some of the industries in the Midlands seem to have been able to pay far higher wages than some of those which are depressed in Lancashire. Part of the reason is simply that the cotton industry has been a retracting industry 1998 whereas some of the industries in the Midlands have been expanding.
Another element is one which has been the result of Government policy. It is simply that most of the Midland industries have received far higher protection than those in, for example, Lancashire. This is the case with the hosiery industry in Leicester and certainly of the motor industry in Coventry, which has had a 30 per cent. tariff, which has enabled it to pay higher wages than some of the older industries in the North. This kind of discrimination must be removed if we are to have a logical basis for sound and scientific wage negotiation.
If we can then move to longer contracts on wages, and if redundancy agreements are part of those wage negotiations, we can leave the top little increment of wages, which may vary slightly from area to area, to plant bargaining, to which reference has been made. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Newton speak in favour of more plant bargaining. I welcome this. Previously when it has been mentioned, people often have thought that it would lead to a lot of chaos. It does not seem to me that that would be the case, provided that we have the basic wage negotiation on a national basis on well-documented evidence beforehand. We could then leave something extra at the top to be negotiated on a plant basis for that extra little success that might be obtained in the firm through having efficient management, very good workers or an extremely co-operative spirit. I think that if we proceed on those lines we really shall bring our present chaotic system into a much more sensible one, and one which will give a great deal more satisfaction to all the people working in industry, so that we shall have a great deal less trouble and frustration than we have at the moment.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
Today is the first anniversary of the day on which I was elected a Member of this House, and I feel that of all the debates I have listened to in these twelve months, this has possibly been the most constructive. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) said he felt that the subject of industrial relations was possibly the most important of all the home affairs matters we can 1999 discuss here, and I readily agree with him on that. I also was able to agree with practically all the first part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), and I feel that that again shows that on this vitally important subject both sides of the House are agreed on the sort of line which ought to be taken. That is important because we as a body here can probably influence all those parts which make up industry as a whole to adopt the more modern thinking and more far-sighted methods which are needed.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) has talked a lot about industrial training, and I wish there were more time to enlarge on that now. He said that of course the need in the future will be for technologists, and that ties up with the thinking of many hon. Gentlemen today that the white collared worker who has been mentioned quite a lot is the white coated worker of the future, the technologist, the computer operator; and we have to see that those computers and the other highly technical equipment which will be available to our manufacturers shortly, but which take a number of years to develop, will have, when they are completed, trained people able to work them.
As it is past three o'clock, I feel that perhaps it is time that we closed the discussion on banks, otherwise we shall become overdrawn. All I would say is that, although the hon. Gentleman for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) will disagree, if members of an organisation want to be represented by a particular type of staff association and are happy with that staff association, I do not really see why they should not be allowed to choose to use it; and if a simple remedy is needed to see whether their interests are being ignored because those staff associations have an element of subsidy in them, why they should not send a ballot paper to all the members asking them whether they feel that their interests are harmed by this, and if they think it to be so, divorce the staff associations from the firms concerned. The only thing would be an increase in the annual fees which members have to pay, and if they feel it is worth paying £5 a year instead of £1 or £2 in order to have complete independence, let them; 2000 and if they do not I do not see why they should be forced to.
§ Mr. Page
I think that that is possibly the point about the insurance companies, but it does not apply to banks, and it was those, I should have said, I was concentrating on at this stage.
A tremendous number of platitudes are said throughout the country by trade unions, employers and other bodies on the subject of industrial relations, but very little action seems to be taken on the views they express. Previous Ministers of Labour have all shown their interest in industrial relations, which, of course, they must have, and I think that the little booklet produced by my right hon. Friend who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies, called "Positive Employment Policies", was extraordinarily valuable. However, I feel that the people who really need it are the backward managements, who are the very people who threw this booklet straight into the wastepaper basket without reading it.
The point is that we have to get across this message, not to the converted, but to the old-fashioned and unenlightened. However, the Minister of Labour has produced these two initiatives; first, the negotiations between the T.U.C. and the British Employers' Confederation. From the reports which we have had in the Press, which are all that I have to go by, it seems that the trade union side in these discussions is getting bogged down because of various inhibitions, while on the employers' side it seems that the nervousness of the employers makes them speed so quickly over the ground that they cannot stop to have a discussion. However, the motor industry discussions seem to be quite a different affair, because, I believe, the Minister of Labour himself is taking the chair.
I am extremely hopeful about the results that may come from these discussions. I believe that it may be the ultimate object of these meetings that the unions and the employers in the 2001 motor industry will try to bring about a code of industrial relations for the motor industry which they both can apply. If the motor industry, which is now in the limelight and gets plenty of Press publicity, and in which a lot of interest is taken all over the country, could adopt such a code, agreed between the employers and the unions, I believe that many other industries and firms would follow.
A great many suggestions have been made here today for improving industrial relations. All of them are valuable, and I should have liked to comment on them all. May I just mention one more simple, and I believe vital, problem in industrial relations which, of all of them, is most easy to have put right. It is the complete failure in companies, by the unions, and, even worse, by the employers, in what is called communications or the communication of ideas from the top right through to the people on the production lines, at the shop counter, the bus garage and in the workships. It really is pathetic, and I was very interested in the story told by the hon. Member for Leeds, West about his experience when he came to see the chairman of a company, having had a row with a new subordinate, when the chairman at once took his side. This is a perfect example of the failure of that chairman to see that his lines of communication for the two-way flow of ideas were working properly.
I believe that any firm that employs more than about 150 men, all of whom are probably known to the managing director personally, should have on the board a director who is responsible for dealing with communications and industrial relations. Let us take the case of a medium-sized factory employing about 1,000 people. There is a finance director, a production director, a director of engineering, a purchasing director, a plant director and other people like that. The only connecting links between all these different jobs are the people themselves, and there is seldom a director of personnel. Every board of directors should have on it a personnel director, who has his own chain of subordinates running through the firm, who will act for him, through whom ideas and policies affecting the future activities of the board can pass, arid suggestions for the improvement of techniques and various other 2002 improvements can pass back to the board. The present situation in most firms—and it must be remembered that all big firms are not good and all small firms are not bad—is that the people in the lower stratas have not the faintest idea what is going on, or what the future hopes of the firm are and what it is trying to do. There is a remarkable failure to realise the value of leadership by the board of directors concerned.
No successful war-time leader ever failed to make enough time to put himself and his ideas across to the people he was hoping would willingly follow him and co-operate with him. If leaders in industry today—both in the unions and on boards of directors—could only realise the immense value in terms of increased productivity and better human relationships which a little more effort in leadership would bring they would be amazed. They would see startling improvements in their relations, their productivity and their turn-out, and the morale of their firms would improve.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. E. C Redhead (Walthamstow, West)
Hon. Members on both sides have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) for the choice of subject he has made as a result of his luck in the Ballot. I endorse those congratulations, and I would also congratulate him on the manner in which he spoke. He set the tone for the very constructive debate that we have had, from which we may well profit in future when we have the opportunity to debate matters in a calm atmosphere and away from the atmosphere of crisis, which, unfortunately, is normally the only occasion on which we do discuss industrial relations.
My hon. Friend referred to the fact that a Motion with a similar purpose was moved as long ago as 1923. He rather regretted the fact that here, thirty-eight years later, we were still noting the fact that in certain fields the recognition of trade union activities had still not been accorded. He may find some solace if he rereads the report of the debate, because he will realise how different was its tone from the tone of today's debate. We have got away from the old conception of the function of trade unions, and there has been a common recognition of the constructive part which they play in 2003 industrial life and the contributions they have made to industrial relations.
Much has been said in this debate about the progress in industrial relations, and the advantages that accrue to our industry generally from the contributions made both by trade unions and enlightened employers. It is good that that should be recognised and acknowledged, for far too often our minds are conditioned, the public attitude is biased, and its sense of proportion is distorted, by the failures which sometimes occur and the breakdowns which hit the headlines. There are, after all, relatively few major industrial disputes from which we now suffer, but the unofficial strikes and disturbances to which reference has been made become magnified out of all proportion and are news in themselves.
In our modern journalistic fashion everything must be reduced to a news story, and I am afraid that too often the manner in which these affairs are treated only tends to exacerbate feelings and embitter relationships, and often to render a settlement much more difficult to achieve. When an industrial dispute occurs, it is very rare to find in any of the popular newspapers any clear account of what the dispute is about. That is an unfortunate feature, and if today we have centred attention in a constructive way on this problem I hope that we shall have done something to counter not only Press reports but some of the cheaper jibes which one sometimes hears from political platforms about trade unions and the activities of the trade union movement.
Solid achievements, matters which are resolved through these means, the attainments which have been secured through good industrial relations which have been built up enabling us to reach reasonably peaceful solutions by representation, negotiation and argument at national level, at district level, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) reminded us, not least important at factory level and at shop and office level, do not in the ordinary way attract a great deal of attention but pass unnoticed, largely because they are successful and run smoothly.
There are problems about all this. There is occasion to re-think and re- 2004 examine our relationships today. The need to continually re-examine the machinery of collective bargaining in the light of modern conditions and modern needs is undeniable, but the advance and success of collective bargaining in its varied forms—if my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) will forgive me, I am not trying to regard it as a sacred cow—in its capacity jointly to tackle the problems which we have discussed today, rest and depend ultimately upon mutual respect and mutual confidence.
That must be a two-way traffic. The fast essential of confidence and respect is recognition of the right of free association by the workers; the right to organise and band together for mutual aid and protection; the right of such organisations as may emerge from the voluntary acts of workers, in whatever sphere they operate, to be recognised and afforded the means of representation and negotiation.
That brings me to the latter and specific purpose of the Motion which is, to draw attention to, and express regret at, the continued denial of these rights of recognition and facilities for bona fide negotiations on the part of bona fide trade unions in certain sections of non-industrial employment.
I was disappointed in the Parliamentary Secretary's reply to that aspect of the Motion. He referred, as did the Amendment which was not selected, to the special problems which exist in certain spheres. He referred—and this is the only special problem to which I have heard any particular attention given—to the special problem of the existence of staff associations confined to individual employers. In passing, it ought not to be overlooked that in some instances the staff associations have come into existence initially sponsored by employers as a counter to the claims for recognition by the existing bona fide trade unions. The Parliamentary Secretary said that it is a matter for the judgment of the employer and the wishes of the employee. I do not contest that view. I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about conciliation officers being asked to see the managements of certain insurance companies with which the Guild of Insurance Officials is having difficulty.
I am not arguing that it is desirable that the Minister should lay down a general formula of what should be the 2005 basis of recognition. I am saying that the Ministry can stretch its application of impartiality in this regard too far and that, after all, it has a responsibility to the nation and to the community generally to impress upon recalcitrant and archaic employers what are the requirements of modern conditions and the demands of human rights.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
This is not a matter confined only to banking and insurance. The House will recall a dispute which my union had with the Automobile Association last August. As a result of strong action by its members and great support outside, the Automobile Association recognised the union's right to negotiate. A staff association is now being formed within the Automobile Association with a contribution of ld. a week, so that this system is not limited only to banking and insurance.
§ Mr. Redhead
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that example. He has saved me the necessity of referring to it later, as I had intended to do. It comes fittingly from him as he has had active association with the clerical union concerned.
When it is said that in this field of the black-coated worker there are special problems, let no one imagine that I am denying the existence of special problems. Is there anything unique about that as far as the insurance companies, banking concerns, the Automobile Association or any others with which my hon. Friend has difficulty? Is there anything peculiar about it in that regard? Every field of employment has its own special problems arising from the peculiarities of a particular industry or a particular service. Everywhere else they have had to be tackled and hammered out, and be met by the construction of appropriate machinery and forms of organisation and negotiation that have been judged to be appropriate by those intimately concerned, so long as they have recognised the first requisite of expressing a fundamental right to freedom of association. I am not persuaded that, given good will and, indeed, some rather more positive encouragement than I have so far seen from the Ministry of Labour in this connection, the difficulties of special problems are in any sense insuperable.
2006 Before I came to the House I was very actively associated in one field of black-coated trade unionism where special problems might be, and indeed were, apprehended to be well nigh insuperable. I refer to the trade unions in the Civil Service. It is not without significance that it was the Government's example of recognising Civil Service unions that prompted the resolution of 1923 and urged the extension of that example in the other fields with which we are still concerned.
§ Sir S. Summers
Are we to understand that black coats are the same as white collars and white collars the same as black coats?
§ Mr. Redhead
The term is, I think, well understood by hon. Members. There are variants of it, but I am speaking of the non-industrial Civil Service where the struggle for recognition of voluntary associations was fought and won nearly forty years ago. Here, surely, the special problems, the peculiar relationships that existed for civil servants, the apparent divorcement of the Civil Service from the general factors that condition the normal relations between employer and employee in productive industry, the ingrained sense of aloofness on the part of public servants and where the employer interest was a rather unique one and remains still unique, where the Government are the representatives of the public at large, but where the Government are a changing factor and one which reflects political considerations and is susceptible to political changes were peculiarly difficult for a system of collective bargaining.
The very idea of a trade union organisation in the Civil Service was looked upon askance in the initial stages. I recall occasions in the early days when my Lords of the Treasury were appalled at the idea of a respectable civil servant belonging to an organisation which by any stretch of imagination could be described as a trade union.
The first primitive attempts at organisation had to be expressed in the form of a "round robin" lest anyone should be picked out as an obvious leader and be subjected to penalties for having incurred official disfavour. Or there was an humble supplication, a grovelling cap-in-hand approach to my Lords of the Treasury or the head of the 2007 department. But by persistence, by courage and by the readiness of certain individuals to sacrifice even opportunities of official advancement, and also, may I say, by the emergence of a new and enlightened generation at the Treasury and of heads of Departments, these problems, which had seemed insuperable obstacles to trade union organisation and representation in the Civil Service, were overcome.
Now we have a network of recognised trade unions of an inter-departmental character. They are imbued with a sense of responsibility and professional pride, although I agree that they are too numerous and fragmented. I regret that in many cases they lack a sense of identification with workers in other spheres of industry and that is something which I wish could be overcome. But they have recognition defined in terms which I think it would be useful to mention and which I hope will be noted by the Parliamentary Secretary. Recognition is a formal act and gives the association certain definite rights; the right to be brought into consultation by the employing authority on proposals affecting the category of staff for which the recognition is granted; the right to be a party to any formal agreement made on their conditions of service and a right to go to arbitration. It also involves the association in responsibilities to the extent to which in the exercise of its rights it makes itself a party to agreements and understandings.
I emphasise that because earlier the Parliamentary Secretary tried to ride over the difficulty about the non-recognition of the National Union of Bank Employees by saying that it was recognised. I wish to emphasise that it should be recognition in real terms and not merely that the existence of a union should be acknowledged. It should be an effective means of negotiation.
§ Mr. P. Thomas
I accept that, and I hope that what I said was not taken to imply that the recognising of its existence is a sufficient recognition. I said that N.U.B.E. was recognised by certain banks and I instanced Barclays Bank. That is effective recognition.
§ Mr. Redhead
I am glad to have that assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary but it is not the point of view which 2008 is always held. I wish to emphasise that this recognition has to be of an effective character. The mere idea that black-coated workers, if I may continue to use that phrase, should have an organisation which transmits representations as and when the organisation meets, and the employers in their good time and judgment return a reply, is not effective recognition within the understanding of the modern requirements of effective negotiation.
§ Mr. Redhead
That is a pointer to the practical difficulties which the bona fide trade unions in these spheres have been experiencing and of which they bitterly complain.
To return to the example of the Civil Service, which was the most unlikely sphere one could imagine for the development of relationships of the kind which have been developed over the years, we now have a system by which trade unions and staff associations in the Civil Service have built up direct negotiation and a Whitley system which, I venture to say, is a model to many other industries and public services. It has been adopted as an example by local government and other public services and has set a pattern which I am quite sure in these days no Treasury official or head of department would want to go back upon to return to the old days of anarchy.
Here I wish to pay a tribute which is unusual, because in this House we often say harsh things about the Treasury. In my experience, dealing with some of the officials at the Treasury who handle establishment matters, I have found them much more enlightened and much more ready to do the right thing in staff negotiations than some of the Ministerial directives permitted them to do. It would be wrong if I withheld my tribute to the contribution they have made to working out a system of adequate relationships in the Civil Service I am not saying that everyone is satisfied with the results. Political and 2009 economic considerations have had their parts to play in that regard, but it is not without significance that nowadays the Treasury itself, far from offering any objection or obstruction to trade union membership, on the basis of voluntary association and in full recognition of that principle, in its handbook to new entrants positively urges the new entrant to join his appropriate organisation.
This has been to the evident advantage of administration, the Government and the public interest in the Civil Service—what was seemingly a most unlikely field for recognised trade union activity originally. I cannot believe that the special problems, whatever they may be. of banking, insurance or any other spheres where free association or recognition is still denied, are insuperable. I say this to those who still toy with the idea. The house union is no answer to this problem—no answer whatsoever. The staff association which is sponsored and promoted by the employer can never be regarded as a free and unfettered organisation. Subsidisation from the employer, which in itself is an invitation to those who are not well-steeped in the tradition of trade unionism to accept a cheap alternative, constitutes an obstacle to bona fide trade unionism and is not a suitable basis for the relationship between employer and employed today. It has been adopted as a mere subterfuge and an attempt to postpone and evade the correct solution in this field.
Where there exist two or more associations genuinely formed on a voluntary basis, the problem of which shall be recognised, a problem to which reference has been made in this debate, has already been tackled in the Civil Service, to which I have already made reference. It has been tackled in a way that leaves the individual entirely free to choose. Here it may be appropriate for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West to say that in the booklet, "Staff Relations in the Civil Service" it is laid down that to secure recognition an association must show that it is representative of the category of staff concerned. In the non-industrial Civil Service generally recognition depends solely on numerical strength. The Treasury has never announced any precise percentages which would establish a claim to national recognition or raise the question of withdrawing national recognition and it con- 2010 siders each claim on its merits of the representational capacity of the organisation concerned as measured by its numerical strength. My hon. Friend, however, was correct when he said that in practice it has been a normal rule to take account of the fact that if an organisation in competition with another can still claim that it has 40 per cent. of the potential membership, recognition is accorded to it normally by the Treasury and the Department concerned.
I want to emphasise that this is a problem which cannot be ignored. It is one in which the Government ought to take a much more positive line of encouragement to what I have described as the recalcitrant employee. In looking back at the 1923 debate, I was interested to discover that a predecessor of mine in the representation of the constituency which I have the honour to represent also took part in that discussion. I thought that these words of his were somewhat significant:The whole history of organisation in this country proves one or two things. It proves that friendly negotiations between employers and employed, whether they be professional or otherwise, between accredited representatives of employers and of bodies of workmen, is always the system that will lead to the peaceful and best results, assuming that we remain under the capitalist system. Frankly, I am out for the abolition of this system, because I see the failure of it, and its ill results towards the great body of people. But I am not going to say that, because I believe in the abolition of that system, therefore I am going to do nothing within that system which will distribute the amenities of life better than they are distributed today."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th April, 1923; Vol. 162, c. 2190–1.]Those are the words of my old friend and colleague the late Lord McEntee, and that is still the position of those of us who occupy the benches on this side of the House.
It has been recognised in this debate that the contribution which is made by appropriate means of joint consultation and joint negotiation is among the positive things which make for the good of British industry today. These things also constitute the machinery which is available to be used given good will, and I hope that good will will be extended in other spheres where so far this system had not been adopted or recognised. The black-coated workers for a very long time were regarded as nonproductive workers to whom little 2011 attention need be paid. Today their numbers are swelling. Today they are becoming an increasingly important part of the total community.
If those who continue to deny trade union recognition to the bona fide unions which exist in their ranks, do not mend their ways, they are, quite clearly, not only sowing the seeds of future trouble but also denying themselves the constructive contribution which men and women who join together for mutual aid and protection can bring in the service of the industries in which they serve. That is not only a plea for the constructive contribution that they can offer; it is a plea for what I believe to be an unquestionable human right—the right of free association, to be represented by one's own spokesman in the pursuance of those things which constitute the vital elements of the livelihoods of those who are engaged in these circumstances.
§ Mr. Redhead
I do not accept that that is the test. I repeat what I said earlier, that an association which is in any way sponsored or subsidised by the employer can never be a free and unfettered organisation commanding the respect of men who have a desire for real freedom and real, effective trade union recognition and trade union rights of negotiation. I do not accept in any sense at all that staff associations which are organised in that way can be any real substitute for genuine trade unionism.
I plead once again that the Parliamentary Secretary should give further consideration to this matter. While I welcome what he has told us already about the Government's intentions in respect of conferences and consultations with the employers concerned, that there will be on his part a readiness to go beyond the strict requirements of the impartiality of his office and to underline to those who so far have obstructed this principle——
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.