§ Order read for consideration of Her Majesty's Message [16th July].
§ Message from Her Majesty read:
§ The Emergency Powers Act, 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act, 1964, having enacted that if it appears to Her Majesty that there have occurred or are about to occur events of such nature as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life, Her Majesty may, by Proclamation, declare that a state of emergency exists: and the present stoppage of work among persons employed in the ports having, in Her Majesty's opinion, constituted a state of emergency within the meaning of the said Act of 1920 as so amended:
§ Her Majesty has deemed it proper, by Proclamation dated the 16th day of July, 1970 and made in pursuance of the said Act of 1920, as so amended, to declare that a state of emergency exists.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Reginald Maudling)
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty thanking Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Message communicating to this House that Her Majesty deems it proper by Proclamation, made in pursuance of the Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act 1964, and dated 16th July 1970, to declare that a state of emergency exists.
May I begin by asking your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a matter of order? Will you tell us whether the debate on the Address to Her Majesty and the Emergency Regulations should on this occasion be taken together?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps it would help the House if I explained that the House is debating a Motion of thanks to Her Majesty. On previous occasions the Chair has allowed the debate to be sufficiently wide to embrace the Regulations and to include the causes which have led up to the Regulations and the strike itself.
I would point out to the House, however, that the Address is not exempted business and that if it is to be obtained tonight it must be voted on no later than 65 ten o'clock, but that under the Standing Orders debate on the Regulations may be continued after ten o'clock. Up to ten o'clock, then, if the House follows my guidance, anything connected with the Regulations and with the events leading up to them may be discussed. After ten o'clock, the debate, should it continue, will be narrowed to the Regulations.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You say that the debate on the Regulations may be carried on after ten o'clock. Am I right in saying that the vote could come at 11.30 p.m.?
§ Mr. Speaker
The second vote. If there were a vote on the Address, there would be a vote at ten o'clock. If there were a vote on the Regulations, that would be governed by Standing Orders one and a half hours later. I hope that that is clear.
§ Mr. Maudling
May I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the guidance you have given us. It means that our debate today will take a slightly different form from that in May, 1966, when both debates were taken together, but I am sure that it is for the convenience of the House to do today as you have suggested.
I have looked back at what happened in the debate on 26th May, 1966. The then Home Secretary, now the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, moved the Address and the Regulation in a commendably brief speech in the course of which he said:I do not propose now to review the course of events leading up to the strike by the National Union of Seamen, nor the efforts which have been made and which will still be made to settle the dispute. What the House will be concerned with today are the measures which the Government are taking to deal with the grave situation which now confronts us."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1966; Vol. 729, c. 737–8.]This is the precedent of the then Home Secretary in 1966. I think that it is a good precedent and I intend to follow it.
I am sure that the House wishes that anything we say on this serious matter this afternoon should in no way prejudice as early a settlement as possible. For that reason, I do not propose now to discuss the rights and wrongs of the dispute which led to the very serious stop- 66 page of work in the docks. Indeed, I believe that, in view of the decision to set up a court of inquiry which has been announced, it would not be helpful for me to enter into a discussion of the issues which the court will be considering.
What I believe the House will be concerned with today, as it was in 1966, are the measures which the Government are taking to deal with the grave situation which now confronts us. As you have said, Mr. Speaker, for the convenience of the House we shall be dealing separately with the allied Motion relating to the Regulations. I propose now to describe briefly what has been done and what we propose in general to do under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920. No doubt hon. Members will wish to raise points of technical and legal detail during the debate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who will speak later, will be glad to deal with any points which hon. Members raise.
As the House knows, the Proclamation of Emergency was made on Thursday, 16th July, and on the same day the Emergency Regulations, 1970, were made; they were laid before Parliament the following day and came into operation on 18th July. Section 1 of the Emergency Powers Act provides thatif at any time it appears to Her Majesty that there have occurred or are about to occur events of such a nature as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life, Her Majesty may, by proclamation … declare that a state of emergency exists".I am sure that in the present circumstances, with the threat of a full-scale docks strike and the total cessation of movement of goods in and out of this country, the Government had no option but to advise Her Majesty that the time had come for a Proclamation to be made.
If Parliament approves these Regulations today, they will continue in operation for so long as the Proclamation of Emergency continues. Under Section 1 of the 1920 Act, this is for one calendar month only. If, unfortunately, the situation were not to be resolved within that time, the declaration of the emergency could be extended by a further proclamation, equally subject to further approval by Parliament.
67 The Regulations with which we are concerned have, of necessity, been drafted to cover a wide variety of situations. I should make it clear right away that our purpose in asking for these powers now is to ensure that we should have them available without delay should it become necessary to use them. There will be no question of any unnecessary use of these Regulations and the powers which have been taken to deal with the emergency will, of course, be ended as soon as the emergency itself ends. But I must repeat our determination to carry out our duty as a Government to maintain essential services and supplies by whatever means are necessary.
At the moment, the only power which has been exercised is that in Regulation 1(4) to appoint port emergency committees to exercise day-to-day control of operations at the major ports. These committees have the duty of assessing the situation in their respective ports and of asking for any help which they may need.
A total of 38 Regulations sounds a pretty massive number and, of course, it is a complicated assortment of powers. I said a moment ago that the powers which they confer are indeed wide, but I hope that now that the House has had an opportunity to study the Regulations it will be seen that they are, in practice—and this is in accordance with previous practice—no wider than is necessary for their purpose. It will be observed that they are substantially the same as those introduced by the Labour Government during the seamen's strike of 1966, although they have been modified in certain respects.
I do not wish to weary the House by going through each Regulation in detail, but I should make some general explanation. The first three Regulations relate to the control of ports and dock labour. Regulation 1 contains a new provision under which ships can be directed to leave port to avoid congestion, and the movement of tugs and other harbour craft and floating apparatus can also be directed.
Regulation 2 is new compared with the Regulations of 1966. It enables any ship or equipment in a port to be moved if the persons directed to take such action under Regulation 1 fail to do so. It also 68 enables the cost of the operation to be recovered from those who fail to comply with the original direction.
The next nine Regulations relate to the relaxation of certain existing restrictions on road transport. Regulation 12 is new and provides for the relaxation of the Regulations concerning the conveyance by road of petroleum spirit and certain other dangerous substances.
Regulations 13 to 26 relax obligations and restrictions as to public services and facilities, enable the appropriate Ministers to regulate the distribution of food and animal feeding stuffs; the supply and distribution of fuel; the prices of food and animal feeding stuffs; and transport services. They also contain powers of requisition.
Regulation 22 is new and relates to the transport of passengers by road and makes provision, analogous to that made by Regulation 21 in relation to the transport of goods by road, under which directions may be given to public service vehicle operators.
Regulation 24, which relates to transport by sea, has been extended to cover essential passengers as well as cargo on all United Kingdom registered ships, instead of home trade ships as previously, to provide a wider range of ships available for essential movements.
Regulation 19 repeats the provisions of Regulation 18 of the 1966 Regulations which empowers my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to provide by order for regulating maximum food prices. This Regulation has on this occasion been extended to cover animal feeding stuffs as well. The Government hope that it will not be necessary to use this power, but they are determined that the community shall not be exploited by those who might wish to exploit the situation for their own personal interests.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food met representatives of the trade last Friday and impressed upon them the importance of keeping prices steady. At the same time, he made it clear that the Government will be prepared, if necessary, to take resolute action. We would prefer to leave this problem to the good sense of traders, reinforced by the good sense 69 of the shopping public. But we now have the powers and if there is any exploitation my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will not hesitate to use them. I remind the House that without the Proclamation and the Regulations we could not have had these powers available to us.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
The House will be glad to give the powers to the Government, but may we have some indication of the machinery which will be available to enforce them? It is all very well to have them, but can they be used—or are they just a bluff?
§ Mr. Maudling
The powers can be used. The Minister of Agriculture, through the officials in his Department, can deal with major problems of exploitation which may arise. Certainly that is our intention.
§ Mr. Maudling
By imposing maximum prices to avoid exploitation through excessive increases in prices which are not justified. The only way in which one can deal with exploitation is by imposing maximum food prices by regulation, which we are given power to do.
§ Mr. Maudling
Through the normal Government machinery when any regulation is enforced.
Other regulations repeat the provisions of the 1966 Regulations for the maintenance of law and order and for the enforcement of the Regulations.
While we must all hope that only the most limited use of these powers will be necessary and that full co-operation will be given by all those to whom we shall look for assistance, there are necessarily provisions for the enforcement of the Regulations. However, I wish to make it absolutely clear that, as provided for in Section 2 of the Act of 1920 and in Regulation 34 of those before us today, it is not an offence for any person or persons to take part in a strike, or peacefully to persuade any other person to take part in it.
These Regulations are not directed against the strikers, the unions or the 70 employers involved in the dispute. They are intended solely and exclusively to protect the life of the community. They are not a means of bringing pressure to bear on either of the parties in the dispute. The Government are acting to discharge their responsibility to the nation to secure the maintenance of the essentials of life for the community at large. I hope that the House will support the Government's actions and will feel, as I do, that in this very troublesome situation the wisest course is for nothing to be said which could possibly exacerbate a position already fraught with great difficulties for the country.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
We shall be debating two Motions during the day but only the first has so far been moved. Therefore, only one Motion has been spoken to—or, at least, so one would have assumed. The Home Secretary, however, has not referred to the first Motion but has based all his arguments on the second Motion, yet to be moved, dealing with the Emergency Regulations. In doing so, the Home Secretary quoted in aid the precedent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) when he was Home Secretary in 1966.
On previous occasions, however, when the House has, unhappily had to debate similar situations, the practice which it has adopted for dealing with them has varied. The Motions can be discussed and voted on separately or there can be agreement through the usual channels to take the two Motions together, even though they may be voted on in different ways. That was what happened in 1966 when my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary made it clear that that had been done by agreement between both sides of the House.
At the same time, however, the then right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, who is now Lord Chancellor, spoke for the Opposition and pointed out that there was no uniform practice in these matters, that it was entirely a matter for the convenience of the House and that the agreement of the Opposition to debate the two Motions together should not be taken as meaning 71 that there should be a combined debate on every occasion.
At that time, Mr. Speaker ruled that the debate could range widely. The two Motions were being taken together and he said that the debate, as he has said again today, could take place on the Regulations, the causes which led up to them and the strike itself. Indeed, some hon. Members opposite, who at that time were in opposition, seized the opportunity to embark upon far-ranging discussion of the Government's economic policy and some fairly widely-based attacks. I certainly do not intend to do that this afternoon or to say anything which might protract the strike.
We on this side have asked for, and we have made it clear through the usual channels that we wanted, two separate debates and that we wanted the Motions to be moved and spoken to separately. I therefore intend to concentrate on the first Motion, which thanks Her Majesty for the proclamation of the emergency. We are doing this because we believe that it will be for the convenience of the House and will help towards an earlier solution to the strike if we spend a little time this afternoon discussing why we find ourselves in this situation.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
The right hon. Lady has questioned the form of the debate. I understood the Home Secretary to say that the whole debate would be replied to by the Attorney-General, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not here. Are we to have two replies, or what will be the form?
§ Mr. Maudling
I said that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General hoped to speak later this evening, but meanwhile my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be answering this debate before it ends at 10 o'clock. There will then be a further debate, of which my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will be in charge. I said that he would be speaking later at the end of the second debate.
§ Mrs. Castle
The situation has been confused by the fact that although we are clearly having two separate debates, and despite the fact that the Regulations have not yet been moved, the Chair has 72 ruled that there will be two votes, one at 10 o'clock and the other at 11.30, but that in the meantime the debate can range widely. I should like to clarify the position a little more by asking the Home Secretary whether the Attorney-General will introduce the debate on the Regulations.
§ Mr. Maudling
He will probably briefly introduce the debate on the Regulations and answer questions on them at the end of that debate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will be replying to the first debate. That, I understood, was what the Opposition wanted.
§ Mrs. Castle
There is no reason why this debate should not end earlier than 10 o'clock and the House then go on to a more detailed examination of the Regulations.
I am trying to make it clear that there are no binding precedents on the way that we handle these situations. We are entirely free to consult the convenience of the House about whether we have two debates or one. We have asked for and obtained two separate debates. I wish, therefore, to speak to the Motion which the Home Secretary has moved, although he did not speak to it himself and he has pleaded in aid and as an excuse the action of his predecessor—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Lady, but there seems to be confusion about what we are debating. It is in order to discuss both Motions now, but after the vote is taken on the first Motion the debate which follows must be limited to the terms of the second Motion.
§ Mrs. Castle
I understand that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Chair has made its position clear. The Home Secretary, however, has not made the Government's position clear, because he has moved one Motion and spoken to the other. I well understand why he wished to do that, because he does not find it convenient for the House to discuss why we find ourselves in this situation today. We on this side find it convenient to discuss it; we claim our right to do so and we shall be in order in doing so.
I should like to make it clear at the outset that when a Government have 73 taken the serious step of declaring that an emergency exists and have taken emergency powers—
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
On a point of order. I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend, but it seems to me to be a very strange situation that when we are to discuss the first Motion and then the Regulations, the Attorney-General is not present. I fail to understand—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sure that the hon. Member knows that the Chair has no control over who is present. That is not a point of order.
§ Mrs. Castle
I share my hon. Friend's view that the Government's behaviour is rather extraordinary. It does not seem to be the Government's day. This abrasive, new style of efficient organisation does not yet seem to have penetrated into the conduct of the business of the House. [Interruption.] I suggest that we get on. We have a lot of points to cover. I am sure that my hon. Friends behind me will have a chance of developing the points which they are trying to make through me, and I would far rather that they had time to make them direct to the Government, who must be held accountable to answer them.
I hope that the Government will be made accountable this afternoon, because we have made it clear that we did not wish today to follow the procedure which was followed in 1966. We wished to have two separate debates. We wished the first Motion to be moved and discussed separately. We were told by the Home Secretary that he would not speak to that Motion. He then spoke to the second Motion, which has not yet been 74 moved, and he said that the Attorney-General would answer any points that we raised on the second Motion. The Attorney-General, however, is not even here to hear what is said. It is extraordinary behaviour by the Government.
I wanted to make it clear at the outset that where a Government have taken the serious step of declaring an emergency and taking emergency powers, they must be assumed to have come to the conclusion that those powers were necessary to preserve the essential life of the community. As none of us in the House would wish to jeopardise the essential needs of the community, we shall not challenge the Government's decisions today in the Division Lobby. None the less, a decision to declare an emergency and to take emergency powers is a very serious decision indeed, and it is not to be embarked on lightly, just as a national dock strike is not to be embarked on lightly. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said last Thursday, emergency Regulationsgive an all-embracing grip by the State on every citizen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1970; Vol. 803, c. 1736.]Moreover, even with the help of these emergency powers the Government are not going to be able to prevent this strike from doing serious damage to the economic life of the community.
Therefore, it seemed to us entirely right that we should give the Government this afternoon the chance to explain how and why it is that we have drifted into the first official national dock strike since 1926 and to ask the Government how they see both the strike and the emergency being brought to an end, because we can all have our searching examination of the Regulations in detail, we can all make our serious speeches about wanting to preserve the life of the community in the emergency, but the simple fact is that emergency powers in themselves do not solve anything, and, in the end, strikes can be settled in one way only, and that is, round the negotiating table.
What alarms us this afternoon is, that there was a negotiating table, and it seemed at one point as if a solution to the threatened strike was going to be found, and certainly the union involved was anxious for a settlement to be found, but because the solution on which so 75 many hopes had been pinned was rejected by the dockers' committee by a small—a very small—majority, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) has kept on stressing to us, because that solution was rejected by a small majority, we are now in a situation in which negotiations have come to a full stop. They have come to a full stop first and foremost, because the employers have ruled out one subject of discussion entirely, and that is one subject in which the other party is interested. In other words, the employers have said, "We will not discuss the union's claim". Secondly, because the employers have taken what we can only call the high-handed and Victorian attitude of saying, "Oh, you are naughty boys, and we refuse to talk while the strike goes on". I would suggest that it must be unique in the history of these emergency situations for the Government to come down to this House and say, "There is a national crisis because the talks have stopped" when the union concerned is pleading to be allowed to continue those talks.
Indeed, anybody who has read, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mitcham has read many times, the statement issued by the Transport and General Workers' Union on 16th July will know that we are conducting a debate this afternoon about the existence of a national emergency against a background such as there can never have been before in a similar situation, against a background, for instance, of the union saying,The Transport and General Workers' Union believes that the national dock strike could be settled within days, perhaps hours, if the employers will open negotiations.And yet the Home Secretary comes down here and asks us to take it on the nod that there is a national emergency. He does not even want to discuss for a moment whether the emergency might have been avoidable. He does not give any indication of the Government's expectation of how long it will last—and a national dock strike strikes at the very life of the nation. He has given us no indication how long the Government think it will last, he has given us no glimmer of a clue how the Government think that the emergency can be brought to an 76 end, and here we have the union which is involved saying that it believes that the dock strike could be settled within days or perhaps hours if the employers opened negotiations.
It goes on to say that itdoes not want this strike to last a moment longer than it need".It goes on to say:It is quite untrue, and harmful to suggest that this claim represents an attempt to escalate piece-work prices. The union says this without qualification, and if there is any doubt about it, then the place to resolve the matter is over the negotiating table now. Without delay.Therefore, I think we have a right as a House, without wanting to enter into the rights or wrongs of the claim or the counter-offer put forward by the other side, to echo the words of the Transport and General Workers' Union that if its arguments are contested, then the place to find out what are the facts is round the negotiating table.
§ Mr. Orme
My right hon. Friend has made a point about the Attorney-General not being present. Would she not agree, in view of what she has just said about the negotiations, that, as the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity chaired those negotiations, it is a bad thing that he is not to speak in the debate? How, therefore, can we get the full facts surrounding the points my right hon. Friend has raised?
§ Mrs. Castle
I share my hon. Friend's regret that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to take part in this debate. I would say again that in asking for two separate debates, and in asking that the two debates should be kept separate, we gave the right hon. Gentleman a very clear opportunity to participate. It may be that, having listened to our arguments, he may yet be prevailed upon to intervene, because it is clearly rather remarkable that we have not been told a word—not a word—about the court of inquiry. Not a word. My heavens, at least that was mentioned in 1966, and, of course, it was because the court of inquiry had been set up that there was acceptance of the need for a combined debate, but the right hon. Gentleman has not even done the House the courtesy of mentioning that a court of inquiry exists.
§ Mr. Maudling
I indeed, said earlier that because of the decision to set up 77 the court of inquiry it would not be helpful to enter into discussion of the issues the court of inquiry would be considering. May I say to the right hon. Lady that I think it would not be helpful to her case to enter into the issues the court of inquiry will be considering?
§ Mrs. Castle
Yes, but I thought that, en passant, the right hon. Gentleman could just have mentioned it. Surely, I should have thought, he, or someone in the Government participating in the debate, ought to have been prepared to discuss very seriously with the House the timetable of the court of inquiry, its methods of procedure, how the Government see it playing its part in the solution of this emergency.
Of course, we welcome the setting up of the court of inquiry, and the union and the employers have welcomed it. We all hope and believe that both sides will co-operate very eagerly in the court of inquiry, but I think the House has a right to ask what does a court of inquiry mean? First of all, it means that there is still something to talk about. That is why it has been set up. Secondly, it means that the union's claim, which the employers refused to discuss, is back on the agenda. It has now become a matter which has to be discussed, and only omitted in the time between the emergency was declared and the court of inquiry was set up. Finally, although we do not know when it will be that the court of inquiry will report—we have been given no indication this afternoon whether it will be next week or by the end of this week that we shall get a report—but whenever it does report negotiations on the basis of the report will have to be resumed. Or will they? This is another question I think the House ought to ask this afternoon. Are the employers going to say then that they will not negotiate as long as the strike continues? If so, what on earth will have been the use of having had the court of inquiry and its report?
Therefore, the court of inquiry can only help us out of this emergency by doing the thing the employers said they would never do, which they refused to do, and that is, to discuss the union's claim about basic rates and to negotiate while the strike is going on. In the meantime, we shall have had—what?—10 days or a fortnight more—we do not know—of 78 economic disruption which might have been unnecessary.
Our complaint is that, in pursuit of what we have been told is to be a new style of non-conciliation by the Department of Employment and Productivity the country is in an emergency and, unless fuller information is given of how the court of inquiry is to be conducted and what else the Government intend to do in the meantime, we have no clear idea of when we shall get out of the emergency.
I am the first to pay tribute to the painstaking work which the right hon. Member for Mitcham has put in and the efforts he has made to try to avoid the strike on the basis of his concept of his role, namely, to help the two sides to get a clearer idea of each other's case. I agree with him 100 per cent. that this is the essential first step in the conciliation process. Clarification in itself will often bring a solution. Nobody can deny that the right hon. Gentleman has discharged that part of his task with tremendous ability and dedication. We were all sorry when his efforts failed, and I think he will agree that, while the talks were going on, my right hon. Friends and I carefully refrained from doing or saying anything that might tip the scales against the delicate balancing act which he was trying to achieve.
We did not comment, and I do not want to do so now, on the merits of the union's claim. Indeed, I have gone out of my way to assure the right hon. Gentleman that we believe it is imperative that the settlement reached should not jeopardise the implementation of Stage II of the Devlin modernisation scheme. Why should we want to jeopardise it? The Devlin Committee was our creation, not the creation of the Conservatives. Before another Tory myth is created, the myth that before the present Government came into office all was drift, restrictive practices and inflationary settlements, let us spend a moment putting the record straight.
The truth is that the real leadership and the solution of the problems of the docks have come from Labour Governments. The Labour Minister of Labour, George Isaacs, egged on and inspired by Ernest Bevin, introduced the dock labour scheme in 1947 and started us on the road to the full decasualisation of which Ernest Bevin dreamed. Another Labour 79 Minister of Labour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), set up the Devlin Committee in October, 1964, and acted promptly on its report by introducing the Docks and Harbours Act, 1966, which took decasualisation well beyond the point at which it had started 20 years earlier. Under a Labour Government manpower in the docks fell from 60,000 to 46,000 as a result of productivity schemes.
The right hon. Member for Mitcham told us recently at Question Time that the cost of labour per ton moved through the docks is about the same now as it was four years ago, despite the increase in wages about which we have been told so much—a very high record of productivity, as he was the first to admit. A Labour Government found the money for modernising the physical structure of our ports and docks which had been neglected for so long under our Conservative predecessors. Under a Labour Government investment in the ports rose from an average level of £18 million in 1964 to £50 million in 1969.
While we are about it, there is another myth which we should destroy—it is relevant to our debate this afternoon and I have no doubt that we shall hear about it from back benchers opposite—the myth that the Leader of the Opposition when he was Prime Minister always rushed into strike situations to buy peace through inflationary settlements. This story has been propagated in some newspapers during the last few days. "What a salutary contrast", we are told, "between the stern stonewalling of the right hon. Member for Mitcham and the inflationary settlements of the previous Prime Minister".
These attacks come ill from newspapers which were only too glad when the previous Prime Minister intervened to prevent a protracted national newspaper strike that would have meant the death of three or four national newspapers. I know of the anxieties and desires of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association at that time, because the Association came to see me to beg for the Prime Minister to intervene. The Prime Minister intervened successfully to carry out the job which I am saying the right hon. Member for Mitcham should have carried out, the job of bringing the two sides to- 80 gether and keeping them together until a settlement was reached. There was no question of the then Prime Minister negotiating the sums involved or the details of the settlement; he simply made sure that the procedure of conciliation worked. The parties have been brought together, they worked out the details of the best settlement the newspaper industry had had for a long time, leading the way to a common wages structure which alone can save our newspaper industry from total disaster.
What concerns us this afternoon is that the right hon. Member for Mitcham seemed to accept so blandly the decision of the employers to break off the talks. I say to him seriously, in all good will, imagine if the decision had been the other way round and the union had said, "We do not care what is the effect of a national dock strike on the economy, we are going ahead and we refuse to talk"? Would the right hon. Member for Mitcham have told the union that it was acting contrary to the national interest? Had I been in his job, if the union behaved like that I would have told the union that this was not the proper behaviour in the second half of the twentieth century.
It is not true that an agreed settlement is inevitably an inflationary one, and that the only way to cure inflation is for employers to take a tough line and beat the unions to their knees. I cannot imagine any approach more likely to exacerbate industrial relations, to produce continuing strikes and continuing damage to the national economy.
There has been in certain quarters far too much talk about what is needed being not a settlement but a showdown. I exonerate the right hon. Member for Mitcham from that attitude, which is not typical of him. But let us not forget that Mr. Tonge of the port employers is on record in the Financial Times as saying when the talks broke off, "If there is to be a crunch, it had better be on this issue."
In the Sunday Telegraph of 12th July Peter Paterson said:Mr. Carr has gone through the motions of calling both sides to the Department of Employment and Productivity to see whether conciliation is possible, but both unions and employers believe the Government is already committed to letting the unions sweat it out.81 On the same day the Sunday Telegraph carried an approving leading article to the same effect:Under Mr. Wilson there would have been a fever of activity in Downing Street with the Prime Minister personally seeking to avoid a showdown. But perhaps a showdown is precisely what Mr. Heath wants.Therefore, we have grounds for genuine anxiety. We have a right to hear from the Government their approach to the causes of the emergency and to its cure.
From my experience of industrial relations over the past two years, which have had their stormy rides and trouble spots, it is a profound truth that the vast majority of strikes do not end, or ought not to end in victory for either side. I have never found a strike where there have not been faults on both sides which have contributed to the dispute. If the Government wish us to vote these emergency powers so that they can have a showdown with the unions, then they cannot expect us to take on the normal mood for these occasions.
There is still time for the Government to rectify the situation. I should like somebody from the Government Front Bench to say, before the debate progresses very much further, how they see the work of the court of inquiry continuing. What pledges are they prepared to give to see that the premature, indiscriminate and thoughtless use of troops does not lead us to an extension of this emergency?
The court of inquiry is meeting this afternoon. I ask the Government to ensure that the court loses no time in taking evidence from both sides. Will the right hon. Gentleman see that it remains virtually in continuous session until it has found an answer to the situation? After all, he and his officials in the Department of Employment and Productivity and both unions and employers spent many wearisome hours non-stop, sacrificing food and sleep in an effort to avoid the strike. May we have an undertaking that the court of inquiry will conduct its affairs with the same sense of urgency?
Even though the court of inquiry is sitting, do the Government agree that there is no reason why talks should not take place in parallel with the court of inquiry. Talks between the two sides could go on without a moment being 82 lost by the court in its more thorough examination of the facts. This has happened before. It happened in the Liverpool strike in 1967 when the Scamp inquiry was sitting. That did not mean that talks could not take place. From what I read in the Press I understand that the Transport and General Workers' Union is ready to start talks with the employers at any moment, court of inquiry or no court of inquiry. Will the right hon. Gentleman use all his influence with the employers to see that they respond? If his influence is not great enough, will he bring in the Prime Minister to tell the port employers what a Labour Prime Minister told both sides in a similarly urgent situation, namely that they must meet and must talk?
Will the Government give a pledge this afternoon that they will make every effort to see that the troops are not used? So far this has been a very good-natured strike. Everybody who has moved about the docks and talked with dockers about the situation in particular ports—
§ Mrs. Castle
No. I have not finished what I was going to say about the troops. I will come in a moment to my hon. Friend's point. As I was saying, everybody who has been in touch with the dockers during these first days of the dispute has testified that there is no bloody-mindedness there. In fact, there has been a quite exceptional willingness by dockers to accept that unusual situations involving cargo must be dealt with leniently and tolerantly. The movement of atomic waste, for instance, has been readily agreed, because it is in the national interest. There has been a willingness to make sure that remote islands have been kept supplied. Will the Government build upon this? If we are talking about an emergency and bringing it to an end, this is the most precious asset we have and nothing must be done under the powers to dissipate it.
83 Will the Government give the House an undertaking that where there is a particularly urgent cargo—perishable cargo, for instance, which must be moved—the Secretary of State will first go to the Transport and General Workers' Union and ask Mr. Jack Jones whether the union is willing to see that that cargo should be moved by normal means before rushing in the troops? I believe that more should have been said during the Home Secretary's speech about the Government's concept of using the troops. The employers themselves are anxious that the Government should not clumsily rush in with the military arm where a little more patience and closer contact with the unions, indeed a greater friendliness towards the unions, could have produced a very much preferable alternative.
The Sunday Telegraph has said that the dock strike is the Government's first major test. It has echoed the views of many hon. Gentlemen opposite who have dared to get up during Question Time and let their Freudian slips show. They see this as the first test of the Government—and it will be a test. But they look upon the test as showing whether the Government can really govern, whether they have the courage to put in the troops. They have no regard for what may happen to industrial relations or the national economy in the long term.
I believe that the strike is the Government's first major test, but from a different point of view. It is a test of the Government's attitude to the trade union movement and of their attitude to industrial relations. It is a test as to whether they want to build the sort of constructive industrial relationships about which the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity has spoken in this House and has often written. It is a test as to whether, in Winston Churchill's memorable words, it is to be jaw-jaw rather than war-war.
In letting the Government have these emergency powers, we are not giving them unconditional carte blanche. I would say this to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) who spoke about voting against the use of troops: the vote this evening involves powers which are essential to the interests of our own constituents, the people whom we represent. 84 This applies to the powers of price control which some of us would wish to see exercised and the powers against exploitation. These are powers which spring inevitably from the situation which we face—an emergency situation which the Government have helped to create by the inadequacies of their own policy.
In giving the Government these emergency powers, we are giving them very unconditionally, on the understanding that they are not to be weapons for a showdown, but are to help to create a breathing space for a settlement. We shall judge the Government, as I am sure the country will judge them, by the spirit in which they use the great powers which the House is giving them today. This is the Government's major test. I hope for the sake of all of us that they do not fail.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
On a point of order. May I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the rather peculiar constitutional position in which the House finds itself? Although the main Motion before the House and the main speech from the Opposition Front Bench has dealt with the substance of this present situation which has led to this demand for powers by the Government, we find that the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity has no intention of taking part in this debate. This is the first time in my experience of five Parliaments that this has happened. Can anything be done to induce the right hon. Gentleman to intervene at some stage in the debate?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Not by the Chair, I am afraid. It is no part of the duties of the Chair to say who should open or reply to a debate. So far, our proceedings have been perfectly orderly. I am afraid that I cannot help the hon. Gentleman.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
In a sense, there is a good deal of unreality about the situation in which we are debating. This is the first time that I have ever found myself the only hon. Member rising to speak in a debate on labour relations. Then, too, the speech by the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) was somewhat unreal. It was a mixture of the petulant and the party political, but 85 it did not contribute very much to the situation. Certainly it was no answer to my right hon. Friend's speech.
I am surprised that right hon. and hon. Members opposite do not recognise that the Government are in a difficult position. Ministers cannot easily set out a case which might conflict with what the court of inquiry is seeking to do in the middle of its deliberations. I think that right hon. and hon. Members opposite will find that there are precedents for that. On the other hand, I feel in no way inhibited, and I do not intend to restrict my remarks to the proposed Regulations. In a debate on a situation of the present kind, it would not serve the interests either of the House or of my party.
The situation that we face is a very serious one. If it were not serious, the Government would not be proposing emergency Regulations. Her Majesty's Proclamation refers to the possibility of the present emergency depriving the community of the essentials of life. Because of that threat, the Government are seeking these very wide powers.
The Proclamation also makes it clear that it is the responsibility of the Government to safeguard the nation. It is not the responsibility of the court of inquiry. When the court of inquiry has reported, the matter will still have to be determined by the Government. The Government have to decide what they intend to do arising out of the recommendations of the court of inquiry or arising out of the reactions of the dockers or the employers to its report. This is a matter for the Government. My right hon. Friend made that clear when he said that, although he hoped that it would not be necessary to use the Regulations, the Government would do anything necessary to maintain the life of the nation.
I want to refer briefly to three matters affected by the situation: first, the dockers themselves; secondly, the country as a whole: and, thirdly, the Government.
Dealing first with the dockers, I suppose that I would have been 10 years of age at the time of the 1926 General Strike. I cannot say that I remember it. However, I can remember the aftermath, since it rumbled on for many years. In 1926 the dockers and everyone else came out, and for a long time afterwards we were in the midst of a great economic 86 depression. At one time my father was out of work for 2½ years. There were 3 million unemployed, and in the town in which I lived not 5 per cent. but 84 per cent. of the population were out of work. The situation was a disaster, and we did not get out of it until just before the war. It affected all who were involved in it.
In those days and until a few years ago, the dockers were amongst the lowest paid in the community. Through their union and their own activities they have sought to improve their conditions. There is nothing wrong in that. But they have now reached the point at which they are among the highest-paid in the working community. If any hon. Member doubts that, I suggest that he comes to my constituency and talks to lower-paid workers or even to those who come within the middle range—to those who earn from £18 to £25 a week.
It was on the lower levels of pay that the dockers' rates used to be based, but that is not so today. Unfortunately, the dockers still look over their shoulders at the past. Many men at present in the docks remember the bad days. Of those who do not, many are the sons of dockers and can remember when their fathers were involved. In those days, dockers were subjected to a system similar to that which used to exist in our shipyards. When I worked in a shipyard just before the war, men were selected by a foreman, who went out to the gate and picked them—
§ Mr. Lewis
It may have continued in ship repairing for a limited time, but it disappeared in the shipbuilding yards with the Essential Work Order, made by Ernest Bevin when he was Minister of Labour. I know, because I had to put that Order into operation before I went into the R.A.F. in 1941. It was the Essential Work Order which got rid of the system whereby men were selected if they happened to be the favourites of foremen. However, the practice remained in our docks for some time afterwards, and there is no doubt that dockers remember it. As a result, whenever they are involved in a dispute they tend to 87 think in terms of both their present and their past situations, with the underlying fear that there might be a return to the past situation if they do not take a certain line of action.
If one adds to that the atmosphere in the docks, where there are active Communists—
§ Mr. Lewis
The dockers cannot live in the past. Today they are amongst the highest-paid of any work people in the country. If they insist on living in the past, they must remember that a disastrous dock strike cannot be confined to the docks. It will reverberate throughout the country, and we may arrive at a state of affairs where the strike affects the national economy and our factories are at a standstill. Industry will then find it difficult to get moving again, our exports will be affected, and there will be no production coming out of our factories to go through the docks. At the end of this line, the dockers will lose their jobs at worst or their bonuses at least. If they lose only their bonuses, they will find themselves in a substandard situation in terms of take-home pay, and back in the past. It is, therefore, in the interests of the dockers themselves that they should be reasonable and should seek, after the court of inquiry has finished, to settle this strike. I agree with the right hon. Lady that the quicker the inquiry meets and completes its work the better it will be for everyone.
The next matter for concern is the situation of the country as a whole. Most of the dockers are patriotic. They know that they are in a key industry. They are as much in a key industry as those in transport and in power. Therefore, they have an obligation not only to themselves and their future but also to the country as a whole.
88 We cannot export goods unless we do so, in the main, through the docks. We cannot transfer to aircraft—there are not enough—and the goods involved are too big to be suitably taken by air; they must go out through the docks. The country as a whole, which has a certain sympathy for at least the past situation that has afflicted the dockers, though very little sympathy for their present demands on their present rates, expects them to have regard not only to themselves but also to work people in other places in industry who are dependent upon them as much as they are dependent upon industry.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Is he aware that the strike is likely to cause more serious hardship in places abroad than possibly in this country? I have information which my hon. Friend might like to know. There is an urgent export order of heavy sugar machinery by a firm in Derby which is awaiting shipment to West Pakistan. Any possible delay of the order is likely to ruin—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Interventions, to be effective, should be short, and generally are not made before maiden speeches.
§ Mr. Lewis
I accept what my hon. Friend has said. A dock strike in this country must affect not only goods in this country but also goods that cannot get out of the country and are needed abroad. There is no doubt that the country can be affected seriously in future if the dock strike is prolonged. Industry at the moment is geared to a very good export order list, which will go if there is a prolonged dock strike.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
I accept what the hon. Gentleman has just said about the gravity of the situation and what it means if it goes on a moment longer. But is not the oddity of the situation that the court of inquiry is tending to keep the two sides apart, whereas the trade unions are urgently in need of discussion with the employers?
§ Mr. Lewis
I understood that the court of inquiry was to seek the views of both sides, as courts of inquiry do, and then try to suggest to both sides that they should meet and discuss what it 89 proposes. I think that this is a reasonable way to deal with the situation. I hope that when the court of inquiry's findings are known both the employers and the unions will get together to discuss them.
Whatever dispute there may be about the court of inquiry—there is little dispute that the Minister was right to set it up—the fact remains that industry at the moment has good order lists for export. If there is a prolonged dock strike it will not simply affect those exports that are prevented from going through the docks; it will also affect export orders behind those goods which will or may be cancelled. No one overseas owes us a living. People abroad are just as likely to order elsewhere as here if they are thoroughly inconvenienced. This can, therefore, strike a damaging blow at our economy—at the country, in other words.
Who is the country? This is a question which should be put to those who seek to prolong the strike. The ordinary men and women employed in industry are the country. A catastrophic situation arising from a prolonged strike will not affect the rich, because they are rich enough not to be bothered; it will affect the man employed in the factory and the housewife who needs his wages or who is herself employed in a factory. Those people will be affected in their millions by a prolonged dock strike. Therefore, those on either side who seek to prolong the strike because they believe that there is some fun to be got out of it ought to be made to realise that they are damaging the country and that, in damaging the country, they are damaging ordinary men and women.
Thirdly, I should like to refer to the Government's situation in relation to the strike. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is right in the friendly, co-operative, patient approach that he has shown in this situation. I am sure that it is right to handle labour relations on the basis of endeavouring, at any rate, as a Minister, not to show partiality to one side or the other and to be friendly. But one has to be firm as well as friendly. Sometimes one can escape being firm while being friendly for a limited period. But the time may come when my right hon. Friend may have to be firm. If 90 this strike is not settled, the Government will have to decide what is to be done—not the Opposition, not either side in the dispute, not the inquiry. If the two sides agree to accept what the court of inquiry proposes, well and good. If not, it is back to my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend will get full support because we know that he has shown a friendly co-operative approach to this matter; he will get full support for being firm when the time comes.
In my view, it has been an advantage that we have not put the troops in too soon. I hope that it may not be necessary to do so, but if we have to send troops in because we must at the end of the day, we shall then have to consider seriously whether we put them in just for the benefit for the fruit and vegetable merchants or for the benefit of industry as a whole. In other words, the time may come when we have to decide whether we can afford to allow exports to rot as well as the fruit.
I believe that this strike can be solved during the next week or so if there is good will on both sides, but it must not be settled on the basis of one side conceding completely and the other standing firm. If we arrive at that situation, then the Government must do their duty, and we shall support them in doing it.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John D. Grant (Islington)
It is customary for a maiden speaker to start by making some reference to his consituency and to his predecessor, but in view of the gravity of the situation which the House is debating this afternoon I intend to waive that custom, save only to say that I am proud to have been elected to represent the people of East Islington, and proud, too, to follow in the footsteps of so distinguished a Parliamentarian as Sir Eric, now Lord, Fletcher. I feel sure that the people of my constituency will understand my reasons for cutting to the minimum this tradition of the House and will appreciate that I am making this speech in somewhat unusual circumstances. In the years ahead I hope to have plenty of opportunity to deal in the House with their special problems.
I was particularly keen to take part in today's debate because for the last 10 years I have been quite closely involved 91 in industrial relations and I know many of the principal characters concerned in this dispute. I am not claiming to be any kind of an expert. My personal view is that there is no such animal in the complex and constantly changing world of industrial relations. I think that Ministers and ex-Ministers on both sides of the House who have tangled in this field will know what I mean. They have frequently finished up bothered, bewildered and on occasions slightly bruised. It is perhaps rather surprising in view of that that the Ministerial mortality rate at St. James's Square is not rather higher, and in mentioning that perhaps I can bring some small comfort to the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), who has not very much with which to comfort himself at the moment. I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in his efforts to find a solution to this dispute, but I shall not be able to refrain from some criticisim of his handling of certain aspects of it.
I shall not weary the House further with the protracted history of the dispute, except to recall that for about two or three years the employers have quite consistently ducked the issue of the basic rate in the hope that the problem would somhow go away; presumably expecting it to be overtaken by port modernisation talks or, alternatively, by their loss of responsibility through port nationalisation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) was quite right when he referred to this the other day, but he was scoffed at by hon. Gentlemen opposite, many of whom, I rather suspect, when they hear the word "port" immediately think of something bottled. If that is thought far-fetched, perhaps I might tell the House that one hon. Gentleman opposite to whom I was speaking the other day thought that the fall-back rate was some kind of industrial injury benefit.
I am not suggesting that the dockers' claim, if it was conceded, would not add substantially to the costs of the port transport industry, but to hear the employers and some hon. Gentlemen opposite talking one would think that the claim was a settlement. Claims are invariably lodged as the basis for negotiation. They usually result in a compromise, and that is what negotiation is 92 all about. It means striking a bargain, and I hope that we can perhaps hear less about the size of this claim.
Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that at some stage the employers will have to recast their package offer to allow for some variation of the basic rate. It may be possible to do so without the increase necessarily being passed on fully all the way up the scale. I thought that the union had indicated that it was at least prepared to talk on these lines, but what about the employers' attitude?
I am not going to suggest to the House that all port employers are—HANSARD can find a word for that—but the port employers in this dispute have shown a remarkable intransigence, both over their attitude to the basic rate and, even more important, over their utterly outdated and ridiculous refusal to negotiate with the union while the strike goes on. I thought that pointless and provocative posturing of that kind went out a long time ago, but obviously it has not.
Here I feel justified in making serious reservations about the Minister's handling of the situation and emphasising some of the remarks of my right hon. Friend. If I may use the currently overworked phrase, I think that the Minister should have leaned on the employers, and I shall try to show why. The best hope is that Lord Pearson's court of inquiry will produce a formula which will include some form of increase in the basic rate. I think that in that way the employers will feel obliged to accept and be able to blame the court for any loss of face which they feel that they have suffered. This is the only sensible way to a speedy solution. But if the Minister had put pressure on the employers last week I think we would have stood a fair chance of getting just that kind of settlement without the lenghy and costly strike action which we are now enduring. If, on the other hand, the court of inquiry feel unable to offer that kind of solution, then I fear that we may be back to square one, and the struggle could be long and bitter, indeed, I accept the primary need for conciliation from the Department of Employment and Productivity, and I have the utmost respect for its efforts over many years in that field, but it seems to me 93 that when the chips are down we need rather more from the political head of a Government Department than the chairmanship, however skilful, of meetings, and his addition to the necessarily cautious guidance which the concilation officers of that Department give to the parties. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not like the term "interventionism" but in industrial disputes there comes a time when straight talking is required and when heads need banging together, and on this occasion it was the employers' heads which needed some attention. I shall be delighted if the Pearson inquiry speedily resolves the dispute, but I feel that we are greatly at risk.
I should like to refer to a letter I received today from a fairly prominent port employer. It was an unsolicited letter, and I am given to believe that it was written on behalf of a number of employers. The writer does not support the claim, but there are one or two paragraphs that I should like to quote from his letter. He says:The faults and causes of the current strike are not all one-sided. Negotiations for further modernisation have dragged on largely as a result of dilatoriness on the part of employers and ship owners not only in the Port of London but also in other ports in the country. Management at dock level has been largely demoralised for years because of interference by ship owners and agents based outside the docks …The system is at fault and I venture to suggest that there is still too little consultation between management and men. A far higher degree of education and training of management is required and dock managers must be allowed to show leadership and to manage on their own initiative. Moreover, whilst the casual system enabled money to be the only reward there must now be greater consultation, participation and more opportunity of advancement.It concludes—and this is particularly relevant in view of some remarks made by hon. Gentlemen opposite—I was personally disturbed to hear the Chairman of the National Association of Port Employers state that he refused to talk with the unions until work was resumed. This attitude used to be standard practice, but unless both sides talk and genuinely attempt to seek peace there can be only an imposed settlement and such a solution must be second best to a solution agreed between the parties themselves.If we had more port employers taking that view we would not be in the mess that we are in now.
94 We have heard a lot about the Conservative Party cure-all for wildcat strikes. But this is an official strike, and I submit that the proposals contained in that much-vaunted document "Fair Deal at Work" would do nothing to bring it to an end, and would have done nothing to avert it or to avert any of the other major stoppages that have occurred in recent years. We can therefore dismiss that myth. I hope that when the Prime Minister visits the United States of America he will take time off to look at their industrial relations system. He will find that legal sanctions do not work.
I have mentioned one kind of wildcat. There are other kinds of wildcat. If we have a state of emergency that may require the use of troops in the docks, the Government should also deal with those wildcat commercial interests which have been quick to cash in on the strike at the expense of the British housewife. I do not see why the Government should not implement their powers to control prices immediately. Why should they not do so? Who would object—apart from the would-be racketeers? Nobody has anything to worry about unless he is seeking to cheat the public.
There are those of us who feel that the port employers and some hon. Members opposite are not altogether unhappy at this showdown with the union. They feel that if it goes on for very long there will be little public sympathy for the dockers, and increased support for the Conservative proposals to reform industrial relations—proposals that the trade unions so much resent. If prices rocket and the economy is hard hit there will be a tailor-made scapegoat for the evasion of election promises on prices, taxes and a range of other issues.
I hope that these suspicions are unfounded, but hon. Members opposite should be aware that the quickest and surest way to dispel such ideas would be to get the parties to the dispute back around the negotiating table promptly. They must come together in the end, no matter what the court of inquiry finds. Now that orthodox conciliation has failed, we should—in line with the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle)—have a more positive approach from the Government, not simply 95 to seek peace at any price but to move on the lines that I have already indicated, to try to help the parties to reach a sensible compromise rather than risk a fight to the finish, which would only damage the whole nation grievously.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. John D. Grant) on having got his maiden speech over. We hope that we shall be hearing from him a lot in future. I say that with sincerity, because today he spoke, as he said, from a long experience of industrial relations and a close knowledge of many of those involved in the dispute that we are now discussing. My view is that the contributions that people make in debates in the House are in exact measure to their personal and current experience of the matter under discussion. I therefore hope that the hon. Member will not fall into the trap that some of his hon. Friends have done and divorce himself from his previous existence—his previous way of earning his living—so that he can keep fresh and topped up with his knowledge of affairs outside the House; otherwise he will find that he tends to become only the mouthpiece of journalists. It is better for journalists to speak for themselves.
This debate was intended to discuss the emergency powers, as introduced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but it seems to be turning into a long debate on the rights and wrong of the dispute. It has always been traditional for Members on both sides of the House to try to avoid stirring up new difficulties at a time when disputes are going on. That has been the consistent attitude taken by hon. Members. I have probably attended more debates on industrial affairs in the House than even the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I remember when the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), were at the Dispatch Box discussing industrial disputes and hon. Members of the then Opposition were urged not to intervene—were urged to allow the two sides to get together to try to come to a conciliatory agreement. The only thing that I agree with in what the right hon. 96 Lady said is that ultimately the dispute will be settled round the table.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity on the part that he has played in trying to solve the dispute. Both sides in the dispute, and the commentators who have been personally involved with the way the dispute has been handled, have appreciated my right hon. Friend's thoughtful, careful and considerate attitude as the independent chairman of the negotiations. That attitude seemed absolutely correct. My right hon. Friend brought the two sides to his Department. He tried to discuss separately with them their problems, and, as he said in an earlier statement, before the rather tragic one of 16th July—I think that the previous statement was on 10th July—the difficulty was to get each side to say exactly what its problems were. Ultimately, after the negotiations took place, we came to the position when a recommendation had been arrived at that Mr. Jones felt he could put to his Committee.
The right hon. Lady gave the impression that throughout the dispute the trouble has been caused by the recalcitrant attitude of the employers. The employers' side has been dragging its feet over the years in making a more vivid contribution towards modernisation schemes in the docks. I have been down to the docks on a number of occasions. There is a fragmentation on the employers side. There are so many different kinds of employer. Then there is the Port of London Authority and the background of the Dock Labour Board. It has always seemed to me that the employers failed to get together to present a considered attitude with which all could agree. It did not seem much good for different unions to negotiate with different employers and then find that the P.L.A. did not agree with the steps which had been taken by other employers.
Mr. Jones felt that he had gone a long way, and I presume that he thought that he had got an agreement which would be acceptable to the trade union side. I think that he behaved with real personal courage because he tried to ask the trade unionists and the dockers to continue working while the outline agreement was being discussed. That was perhaps a tactical mistake, because my reading of 97 the newspapers suggests that it upset a large number of the delegates attending the meeting the following day, who did not feel that it was within his terms of reference to try to stop the strike. It was a courageous effort on his part. Perhaps, had he not taken that step, the agreement would have been found acceptable on a vote of 43 to 49 instead of rejected by that margin.
I am not trying to stir things up, but it should be put on record that it is not the employers who have refused to negotiate. My right hon. Friend said on 16th July:… it became clear that the unions were not prepared to resume talks on the basis of an increase in the modernisation payment which had been under discussion last weekend."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1970; Vol 803, c. 1727.]That was a statement that the unions refused to negotiate and come to the table on this claim—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] This is what my right hon. Friend said in the House—[An HON. MEMBER: "Quote it."] I have already quoted it and that is what he said—[An HON. MEMBER: "It was wrong."] What my right hon. Friend said, with his intimate knowledge, I believe was right and clear.
It is disappointing that the unions refused to discuss a new agreement with the employers unless certain matters were included, and that the employers are refusing to talk to the unions unless certain matters are excluded. That is the position today. Therefore, my right hon. Friend had no alternative but to set up the court of inquiry.
I hope, though, that the Under-Secretary of State will tell us when the Pearson Committee will be reporting. Can we expect at least an outline of its report before the House rises? A statement next Thursday, if possible, would be very helpful. Otherwise, unless there is some real coming together of the parties, and a statement before the House rises, it would be unwise for the House to go into recess. I say this despite the fact that my holiday arrangements, which necessitate the removal of my car overseas, would be jeopardised, but that is the situation which faces many hon. Members.
It is the duty of the House to complain about the disgraceful speech by the right hon. Member for Blackburn. It was an 98 unguarded and inflammatory speech, especially when, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench in the middle of a dispute, she threw out the question of whether there would be an indiscriminate and thoughtless use of troops. How utterly absurd can you get? The right hon. Lady knows, as well as every other hon. Member, that if and when troops have to be used in the docks, they will not be used indiscriminately or thoughtlessly.
The decision will be a very hard one for my right hon. Friends, and they will take it only after the deepest deliberation and careful consideration of the consequences, which are clear to them, since they were outlined early on by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) last Thursday. He said:Will he also appreciate that there are many on this side of the House, and many trade unionists, who will call for an extension of the strike …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July 1970; Vol. 803, c. 1736.]That was a very unwise thing to say so early on. If it had been said by an hon. Member on this side, the hon. Member for Tottenham and his hon. Friends would have shouted about incitement. His was an incitement. His was the first occasion when an extension of the strike was mentioned in the House—quite unnecessarily.
We shall listen with interest to see how much encouragement the hon. Member and his hon. Friends give to the production of a conciliatory and satisfactory settlement, or whether they want to stir it up themselves. They tasted blood last June in dealings with the right hon. Lady and the then Prime Minister, and I think they want to see whether they will enjoy the taste again. For the sake of the country I hope that they will be moderate and will not continue the attitude of incitement which was evident the other day.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
First of all, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, West (Mr. John D. Grant) on one of the finest maiden speeches that I have heard in the House.
The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) said that when he was in opposition he was told by the then Government not to intervene but to allow discussions to proceed. The reason 99 why we are intervening now is the same: we want discussions to continue. Therefore, we are being consistent. We like discussions to proceed in all industrial disputes.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) appeared to think that the whole cause of the dispute should be laid at the door of the dockers. He never once mentioned the employers. Nevertheless, he used an alarming phrase when he said that the dockers would lose their bonuses and soon find themselves living in substandard conditions.
This is the kernel of the cause of the dispute—the fact that the dockers have a basic wage of only £11 1s. 8d. It is obvious that, without the extras, they will soon be in substandard conditions. Should we judge people's payments and conditions on their overtime and bonuses or on their standard rates of pay? I suggest that the dockers need a basic rate of pay which is reasonable. In this case it is unreasonable. Their present basic of £11 1s. 8d. was fixed 4½ years ago and they have not had an increase since.
This is not a rash action by an irresponsible group of workers. This is an official strike authorised by their union. Their claim for a review of their basic rate was submitted more than 18 months ago, and only when the threat of a strike was made did the employers make an offer. Is it to be wondered that these men went on strike?
This industry has been reasonable. Since decasualisation, productivity has increased by 40 per cent., although earnings during this period have gone up by only 25 per cent. A basic rate of £11 1s. 8d. is ample justification to strike.
The employers estimate that the cost of the increase to them would be 50 per cent. The unions estimate the cost at between 7 per cent. and 10 per cent. With a difference of this magnitude, there must be good ground for the two sides to have discussions. Unfortunately, the employers are willing to discuss everything but the basic rate, the one genuine grievance. How many workers, apart from M.P.s, have gone 4½ years without having their wages reviewed, let alone increased? When the estimates of cost vary so greatly—between 7 per cent. and 100 50 per cent.—there must be ground for discussion. The stumbling block is not the union or the workers but the employers, who virtually refuse to discuss the prime cause of this dispute, which is the basic rate.
The Government maintain that because they have established a court of inquiry they need not do anything further. Indeed, they have said that they should not take sides in the dispute. I suggest, however, that a dispute of this magnitude, which requires the taking of emergency powers, requires the Government to be prepared to find ways to solve the problem.
If, in solving it, they discover that one side will not discuss the root grievance of the dispute, then the Government should be prepared to take sides, in the national interest, because if they find one side to be wrong it is their duty to ensure that the basic grievance is discussed, particularly when it is a genuine one. I defy anybody to say that the dockers do not have a genuine grievance in complaining about their basic rate of £11 1s. 8d. not being increased in 4½ years.
If the Government are not prepared to take sides, they are shelving their responsibilities. The court of inquiry cannot end the matter. After all, what will happen to its report? Will the Government see that something is done if the report reveals the need for action?
The basic trouble in this case seems to stand out a mile. Although the Government are anxious to show how tough they will be with the unions, I hope they will not pick on this issue to illustrate their toughness, particularly when at the root of the problem is a basic weekly rate of only £11 1s. 8d.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)
I am surprised to be intervening in this debate, and I apologise for not having been in my place for the whole of the speech of the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle).
I have also been surprised at the small amount of detail and attention that has been paid by hon. Members to the regulations with which the debate is concerned. Although hon. Gentlemen 101 opposite have put pressure on the Government to lean on the employers, it seems that they are not prepared to take into account such matters as arbitration, which the dockers originally rejected but which the employers were at one stage urging as a means of solving the dispute.
I urge hon. Gentlemen opposite to accept that there is not all right on one side or the other. There is probably a deal of right on both, something which always happens in industrial disputes like this. It is wrong to suggest that it is the responsibility of the Government to come down strongly in favour on only one side, and my view is that the general public agree with me. Some hon. Members have responsibilities to trade unions. I appreciate that it is right and proper for them to voice their views. However, let it not go out from this House that there is only one side to this question.
I have been worried by the economic effect this strike is likely to have. It will mean the loss of between £140 million and £150 million worth of exports weekly. It is possible that we can catch up on some of them when the strike is over, but some will be lost for ever.
One of the difficulties which I have not heard mentioned concerns industrialists and exporters. Because of the dock strike, promised delivery dates may be broken. This is part of what has become known as the English disease—the inability to fulfil contracts on the given dates. I speak as a small exporter. It is important for exporters to be able to deliver on the agreed date. When one is unable to supply on a date which has been negotiated, the chances of new business are decreased. I do not say that there is no chance of new business, but it is more difficult to get it. The long-term economic effects of a prolonged strike, and, therefore, the financial effects, need greater emphasis.
As does my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), I hope that we shall have some sort of interim statement from Lord Pearson's court of inquiry before the House rises for the Summer Recess at the end of the week. I hope that we shall be told tonight that the Government intend to get some interim statement before the 102 House rises. The problems are immense, and no one wishes to exacerbate the situation, I least of all, but if the House rose before we knew the way in which Lord Pearson and his committee were thinking, and before we knew the reaction of the employers and employees to the committee's interim findings, we might find that it was necessary for the House to reassemble much sooner than any of us would want. I should prefer the House to sit longer rather than to have to return much earlier.
Nobody in the House wants perishable produce in any ship in any port to rot and go to waste. It would be foolish and criminal. I urge the Government to request the dockers to unload and allow the distribution of perishable items which are about to rot and go to waste. This is a reasonable request. To meet it might obviate more precipitate action by the Government to ensure that such foodstuffs were not allowed to rot.
Third-party insurance is dealt with in paragraph 10 on page 9 of the Regulations. The Regulations seem to be the same as those introduced by the Labour Government in 1966, but I should like to know the exact position of someone involved in an accident when third-party insurance provisions arise. If there was an accident on the roads and normal third-party insurance provisions were not applicable, the ordinary citizen who was involved and his insurers might have to bear the cost. He would also lose his no-claim bonus. It would seem wrong for him to be in that position. Is there any likelihood of that? If not, how is the situation covered?
I do not have to declare an interest in this subject, although it is something that affects me. The present regulations governing the transportation of petroleum spirit do not allow its delivery in the evening without a signature for the delivery. Will the Emergency Regulations permit more flexibility? The present Regulations governing the delivery of petroleum spirit are largely out of date. They require that someone should be in attendance to take delivery because of possible spillage. With modern equipment for delivery, that provision is now out of date, and I hope that the emergency regulations will allow greater flexibility.
103 Paragraph 9 on page 12 deals with food prices. Considerable powers are given to the Minister of Agriculture to control food prices, if necessary. I hope that these powers will never have to be used. I join with my right hon. Friend in urging housewives to do comparative shopping if prices appear to be much greater than they now are. Shopping around is the best way to ensure that market forces work and the best way to ensure that those trying to make an extra profit because of shortages are not allowed to do so.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)
What the hon. Member is saying would be absolutely right if the undue profit were being made at the retail level, because housewives could find a retailer who was playing the game straight and go to him. But if it is done at the wholesale level, so that the retailer is as much a victim as is the shopper, what can the poor housewife do about that?
§ Mr. Emery
The hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) knows enough about economics to know that it is up to the retailer to choose where to do his own buying. That would apply only if a retailer had only one wholesale supplier, but that is not generally the case nowadays. If the retailer found that he was being taken for a ride by his wholesaler, to use a colloquialism, it would be his duty to ensure that he found another source of supply. It comes back to the housewife, who must make certain that, if by some misfortune the retailer has to buy from a particular source, the customers go elsewhere. I accept that that would be hard on the shopkeeper. This is why I urge the need to shop around. This is why I hope that housewives will turn from purchasing beef and lamb to buying produce which we have in this country, such as poultry. They would then find that there is not the increase in prices which might be applicable for some types of beef and lamb.
Where prices have risen during the strike it is essential that the Minister shall put as much effort into getting prices down again at the end of the strike as he put into trying to stop them rising. Anyone who has been in business knows that once prices have gone up, it is three times more difficult to get them down again.
§ Mr. Emery
I urge the Minister to make a strenuous effort to ensure that the moment the dispute is solved the supply of those goods whose price appears to have been unjustifiably increased shall be increased in delivery so that there can be a scaling down of prices.
I should like an assurance from the Minister over what should happen if it became necessary for persons other than dockers to operate expensive equipment on the docks. None of us likes to think of the possibility of troops having to move goods. I do not refer to this in order to be provocative, but the Minister has to ensure that there are available a number of skilled operators who are able to work the mechanical handling equipment now involved in unloading ships.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
There are plenty of them. Is the hon. Member aware that they will all be getting much more than £11 basic wages because they are well paid by the State as Servicemen?
§ Mr. Emery
The hon. Member has been in this House long enough to know that their take home or guaranteed pay would not be as much as the dockers get. I am trying not to get into this argument and I have avoided it so far.
It is important that in this period the Government should take necessary steps to safeguard very complicated mechanical handling equipment. It could easily be damaged by people who are not used to operating it.
It has always been my view that no section of the community, workers or employers, has the right to hold the rest of the country or the economy of the nation to ransom. I do not mind whether they are doctors or dockers, employers or electricity workers. The Government have a duty to ensure that no person is allowed to undermine the stability of the nation or the standard of living of the people. That is why these emergency Regulations are necessary. They are necessary so that the Government can carry out the duty which every hon. Member ought to support, I hope not necessarily in the Division Lobby, of ensuring that these powers shall be available to the Government to safeguard the economy and the standard of living of the majority of the population.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
This afternoon we heard from the Home Secretary an interesting and brief speech which to some extent had a remarkable philosophy. He said he thought we should support the Emergency Regulations because the Government had established a court of inquiry. He went on to urge that we ought not to discuss the issues involved. But we have these Emergency Regulations before us because there is a history behind this whole matter. The Regulations were not plucked out of the air. They are here because there is a dock strike which has a long history behind it.
For 18 months the dockers' trade unions have been urging the port employers to raise the basic time rate for the majority of dockers in Britain. On six occasions the employers have said, "No, we are not prepared to discuss the basic time rate." A very complicated situation has arisen because the rate of £11 1s. 8d. does not apply to the whole of the dockers. Those in Liverpool have a £16 a week basic time rate. Had the employers been sufficiently intelligent to have offered dockers throughout the country £16 a week basic time rate, in my opinion we would not have had a dock strike at this moment. The employers argued that if the rate was raised to 8s. an hour—although the claim is £20 a week and the hourly rate would be higher—the whole of the piece rates and bonus rates would have been affected. In Liverpool dockers have 8s. an hour but the basic piece rates are on a basis of 5s. 6½d. an hour. They have been quite happy with that basis.
We on this side of the House say that the main responsibility for this dispute is on the shoulders of the employers, and we have good reason for saying so. We said that, not because we do not understand the problems, but precisely because we do understand them. The dispute could end in 12 hours if the employers would offer a basic increase in the time rate and then discuss piece rates at local level, as they could do under the agreements and under the modernisation programme.
However, the Government will not lean on the employers: they seek to wash their hands of it. They rush in with emergency 106 powers. I challenge that we are in an emergency. I admit that we are in one sense.
The Home Secretary's statement that nothing was coming into or going out of the country was untrue. The Liverpool dockers have been loading ships for the Isle of Man. They have decided that their earnings will be donated to charities of their choice. This has been happening in other ports, in an effort to ensure that people living on islands surrounding this country will receive the foodstuffs they require. Is there a real emergency?
If the Government wanted to solve the problem of moving perishable goods, they could have discussions with officials of the Transport and General Workers' Union. They did not have to rush in with emergency powers of this character.
I shall not support these powers. I shall vote against them, because they are totally unnecessary in the present situation. I agree with Mr. Jack Jones's view that they are premature. If one believes in conciliation, the machinery of conciliation could be put into operation, and these powers are not needed for that.
There are emergency powers to enable the Government to introduce price controls. I have not seen much action in that respect so far. I understand that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had a walk-round in one of the markets this morning. That is all that has been done so far, and it is about all that will be done. I shall be interested to see whether powers are used to control prices. Regulation No. 29, which is headed "Trespassing and loitering". reads:No person shall trespass on, or on premises in the vicinity of, any premises used or appropriated for the purposes of essential services".How do shop stewards or others who are picketing carry out their lawful picket except in the vicinity of the place where they have been working?
In Liverpool there are no pickets, because the strike is 100 per cent. The occasion may arise, however, when scabs are brought in by some unscrupulous employer and the trade unionists decide to put a few pickets on. Under these Regulations those lads doing the picketing could be arrested.
I know that hon. Members opposite will say that similar Regulations were 107 introduced in 1966. They were, and I opposed them then. I said forcibly at the time that I did not agree with them. I have always been ashamed that I did not then vote against them. I shall salve that conscience tonight by voting against these Regulations. I hope that others will join me.
§ Mr. Heffer
I do not repeat my mistakes. I profit from my mistakes.
Regulation No. 31 says:No person shall—(a) do any act calculated to induce any member of Her Majesty's forces or constable to withhold his services or commit breaches of discipline.If a group of dockers were to say to their sons home on leave from the Army at the weekend, "We are on strike. We hope that you are not going into the docks and do our work for us", under this Regulation that could be an act calculated to persuade the soldiers to withhold their services.
These Regulations are full of such things. I do not trust hon. Members opposite. I never have, because they have a long history of such actions against the trade union movement and the workers. Leopards do not easily change their spots. Hon. Members opposite are going through a schizophrenic stage. They first make brave statements to the effect that they will bludgeon the workers. When the reality of their threat hits them in the face, they walk the other way. Then they said again that they would bludgeon the workers. All the dockers came out on strike. So hon. Members opposite said, "Perhaps we had better not bludgeon them". Then they bring in these emergency powers. Then they back away again. They are doing it all the time. They would be sensible to back away altogether. Ministers should get round the table and discuss these matters. That would be far more sensible than introducing such emergency powers.
It is every Government's responsibility to concern themselves with the welfare of the people. God forbid that the strike should continue for a fortnight, but if it does and if the Government were then forced to introduce forms of emergency powers the situation might be different. 108 But emergency powers do not have to be ones such as these. Harsh Regulations of this kind have been introduced only three times—in 1926, in 1966 and today. Less harsh Regulations than this could be introduced. If that were done in a matter of two weeks, we may be able to view it somewhat differently. However, the Government rush in with these Regulations and, at the same time, set up a court of inquiry. I argue that the one contradicts the other.
I therefore hope that my hon. Friends will not accept the Regulations, and that they will oppose them in the Lobbies at half-past eleven. If we could delete the offending parts of the Regulations, I should be greatly in favour of doing that. However, I understand that we have to vote for or against the totality of the Regulations. On that basis, I hope we shall reject them. They are unnecessary. They are too early. If they lead to the introduction of troops into the docks, we shall have one of the most serious industrial crises the country has ever known.
Yesterday's Sunday Express discovered that the Maoists are active—
§ Mr. Heffer
—or the Trotskyites are active. I am sure that all my very good Roman Catholic dockers will be roaring their heads off. I do not see any of them running round with little red books quoting chunks of Chairman Mao. They understand the situation full well.
If troops are brought in, it will be no good saying, "We have introduced further regulations to move the tug boats." Nobody is working on the tug boats. Nobody is operating the lock gates. There are no maintenance men working in the docks. It could blow up into a gigantic industrial conflict of a type that we do not want. I warn right hon. and hon. Members opposite that that is the logic of their action. Unless they have the fullest consultation with the Transport and General Workers' Union and reach agreement with it, the outcome will be tragic, and that is why I hope my hon. Friends will reject the Regulations.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke with considerable passion and knowlege of the intricacies 109 of the dock world. He represents a constituency which is closely connected with the problem which we are considering. However, my view is that this is a debate about the emergency powers and not about the issues in this dispute, and I wish to confine myself to the question of the powers.
The hon. Member for Walton objected to the introduction of the powers and, at the same time, complained that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture had been wandering round Covent Garden Market doing nothing. Without the powers, my right hon. Friend would be able to do nothing effective if he were forced to act. Therefore, that part of the hon. Gentleman's argument was self-defeating.
I should help the hon. Gentleman about another matter which he raised. He suggested that people taking part in the strike, even if they did what he regarded as legitimate acts, could be arrested for loitering in the vicinity—he objected to those words in the Regulations—when, in his view, all they would be doing would be picketing. That is not the case. The second paragraph of Regulation 34 states:Provided that a person shall not be guilty of an offence against any of these Regulations by reason only of his taking part in, or peacefully persuading any other person or persons to take part in, a strike.That would seem to safeguard the position of the peaceful picket. I hope that, in view of what I have just read, the hon. Gentleman feels a little happier.
§ Mr. Heffer indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Cooke
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but perhaps on reflection he will realise that the position of people doing legitimate acts is safeguarded by the Regulations. It is provided that if people do what the hon. Gentleman suggested they will not be guilty of an offence against any of the Regulations—and that means the whole lot.
The speech of the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) was attacked by some of my hon. Friends because, they said, it was inflammatory. I do not want to attack her speech. I did not have the pleasure of hearing it because I was attending a meeting of a Select Committee which over the years—and the hon. Member for Walton will 110 have sympathy with me here because the Committee is concerned with something about which he is keen—has been considering ways of improving the conditions of hon. Members and the efficiency of Parliament. But all that is extraordinarily irrelevant compared with the present grave emergency for which these powers are designed.
I do not wish to get involved in the issues of this dispute. The House of Commons is not a good place in which to debate them, certainly not at this stage, because, although we have had the benefit of hearing speeches from Members who claim to have a very close knowledge of the dock industry, we have not heard the other side of the case, and we cannot do so because it is not represented here. I therefore wish to discuss the Regulations and to ask a few questions about them.
The newspaper which yesterday published a forecast that the strike would be considerably extended no doubt exaggerated the information which it had received, but today hon. Members have made rumblings about possible extensions of it. Several hon. Members opposite have wondered what would happen if the strike went on for a long time. The hon. Member for Walton said that the introduction of the emergency powers would exacerabate the situation and painted a macabre picture of how the trouble would spread. If that happened, there would no doubt be grave injury, not just to the dock industry, but to the economy and perhaps not simply public distress but inconvenience, hardship and even injury.
I am glad that the Regulations attempt to safeguard vital supplies. The first three Regulations would seem to deal with the problem which might arise if vital cargoes could not be unloaded by any of the normal processes. A large number of other Regulations need examination. The hon. Member for Walton, who complained about them and who may not be successful in getting enough Members into his Lobby to defeat them, surely would not complain about their being examined if we are to have them.
I have reservations about relaxing the restrictions on the use of road vehicles. I can see that they may be necessary, 111 but I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that they are used very sparingly and will take into account the fact that grave dangers could arise from the indiscriminate use of vehicles which would not have to come up to the present high standards. I should not think that one hon. Member would disagree with the proposition that there are far too many vehicles on the roads which, even with the present Regulations, are thoroughly unsafe and a danger to the public.
§ Mr. Cooke
I am glad to have the support of the hon. Gentleman, who knows a lot about this matter. The use of these powers should be viewed against the background that we realise the difficulties and that we do not want to make them worse.
Regulations 13 to 16, dealing with essential public services, are necessary because there could be a loss of life if the vital services with which they are concerned were not maintained. No one taking part in a strike would willingly put at risk the life of another citizen, but it is all too easy for someone to pull a switch at one end and not to know what will happen at the other. It might be assumed in the event of a stoppage in the electricity supply industry that all hospitals had their own auxiliary equipment. One must not presume this, and clearly the Government have a duty to protect the interests of all.
One might believe that perhaps the non-collection of refuse, which caused trouble not long ago, was merely an inconvenience and that we might have to put up with that sort of thing in the event of a dispute or stoppage. But, as we know, this can cause danger to health. The question of sewerage and sewage disposal is of vital concern. We cannot allow the rivers to become polluted because the sewage works are out of action.
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) asked some pertinent questions about the movement of liquid fuel, petrols and oils. Any stoppage in the distribution of these vital substances could cause not just grave inconvenience but injury to people. I hope that the Government have their plans 112 laid should it be necessary to see that essential supplies get through.
If, for instance, public transport, which operates on one of these vital fuels, were unable to function, some communities would find themselves cut off from the rest of the world. With the contraction of public transport services in country districts, the private car can be vitally necessary. If there is no fuel for it, the whole community can find itself at a great disadvantage.
I hope very much that the price control which is envisaged for the fixing of maximum prices for food and animal feedingstuffs will not have to be used, because it tends to create other difficulties. Some of us are old enough to remember what it was like during the war when we had fixed prices. Those, however, were prices above the counter and other things happened beneath the counter. Surely, we would hope that we will not get to that state of affairs.
The hon. Member for Walton made much of the rigours of these powers and I imagine that he would have said something about the requisitioning of chattels and the taking of possession of land had he looked at the relevant Regulations. This is an extreme case which could, I suppose, arise. Chattels, of course, can include practically everything.
There is a provision for compensation, and if the compensation is not agreeable one can go to arbitration. This, however, is a fairly clumsy power and I hope that it will not be needed. It is a depressing thought that Regulation 28 contains provisions with regard to sabotage. That foreshadows an ugly situation and I hope that that will never occur.
The saving paragraph will be of great interest to hon. Members opposite. I hope that no one will fail to notice that under the penalties Regulation—Regulation 34—the peaceful picket will be absolutely safe. I do not claim to be an expert on this, but the Regulation says so and I would have thought that that would stand up in any court. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) disagrees. Perhaps he will seek an opportunity to elaborate his case, because he knows a lot about these things and the House will be grateful if he gives time to the subject.
113 I hope that these powers can be allowed to lapse when they would normally lapse and that they will not have to be renewed. They are very wide. In the wrong hands, there could be abuse. I do not mean abuse in the worst sense by the Government, because I am sure that they will be slow to invoke any of these powers. There could, however, be abuse in the sense that officialdom could be extraordinarily obstructive to the private citizen in the situation which could exist—and, heaven knows, officialdom makes the like of private citizens difficult enough already.
At the very worst, the Regulations envisage an utterly tragic situation approaching national economic suicide should the stoppage continue and spread. As a Member for a great maritime city—Bristol also has its docks—I felt that I must make these few observations. I hope that eventually we shall see a fair deal for all.
I want to leave the House with the thought that by the continuing of the stoppage, nobody is benefiting. By every hour that it goes on, we are losing something of that improved quality of life that we all fought about at the recent General Election and which everybody in the House, all his time in the House, is trying to achieve—better homes, schools, health and hospitals, the improvement of the environment and getting rid of pollution. All these things need money and we know that we cannot afford them all now.
The previous Government found that they could not afford to do all that they wanted to do. The level of the difficulty might be a matter of dispute, but no hon. Member on the benches opposite would disagree with the proposition that the previous Government raced ahead on all those good things in such a way that they overspent. That happens, of course, with other Governments, but the previous Government in particular found this. If they had had more money, they could have done more. Politicians delight in spending other people's money.
§ Mr. Cooke
I was about to come to my final paragraph, Mr. Speaker, and bring my remarks back to earth.
114 The money that we need for all the things we want to do comes from taxes, and taxes come from profits. If there are no profits, there will be no revenue from the taxes. Every hour that the stoppage continues reduces the amount of resources that we in this House have to deploy for the public good.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I understand that in the first part of this debate—until 10 o'clock—we are concerned in the main with the Motion which declares the state of emergency. I think it is right to say that this is the seventh time in the history of the country since the passing of the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, that a state of emergency has been declared. This is, therefore, a serious moment in the history of the country.
We have heard sufficient reference this evening to the Regulations which it is intended to pass in the light of the emergency. That illustrates what a serious state of affairs this is. In the 1966 debate it was said that the Regulations then introduced were the most severe since the general strike of 1926. Although I have not had time to compare the Regulations, a cursory glance is sufficient to satisfy me that today's Regulations are very similar to those that were passed in 1966. These are, therefore, save for the general strike of 1926, the most severe Regulations that we have had for many years.
That illustrates that we are not embarking lightly on this course this evening. The Government have obviously considered their position. It is certainly right that any community must safeguard its livelihood and its life, and a Government which are responsible for safeguarding that life must take the proper steps. Nevertheless, I do not think that any hon. Member on the benches opposite, or on this side of the House, could with equanimity give the powers in, for example, Regulation 25 for the requisitioning of chattels or in Regulation 26 for the taking of possession of land. They are very severe. I cannot imagine anybody on the Conservative benches lightly agreeing with Regulations of that kind unless they thought that there was a very serious emergency.
115 A point has been raised concerning the position of pickets. Regulation 32, under the headingPower to arrest without warrant".provides thatWhere a constable, with reasonable cause, suspects that an offence against any of these Regulations has been committed, he may arrest without warrant anyone whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be guilty of the offence.The position is by no means clear, but as a lawyer I would say that at the very least a picket could be taken in overnight without anybody being able to do anything about it.
I mention these matters not to say that emergency powers should not be taken, although it is my view that they are somewhat premature in the present situation, but to warn the country of the seriousness of the situation. This is a strike which could easily spread, and no one in his right senses wants to see it spread.
I therefore say this to the Government. Having taken emergency powers and asked for the Regulations, they must use them with the utmost discretion. They must refrain from using troops at all until they become absolutely necessary. There are, as the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) rightly pointed out, many signs of good will among the dockers. There was the unloading of the cargo, to which the right hon. Lady referred, of radioactive fuel. There was the carrying of the children's luggage by the dockers at Swansea and the unloading of the perishable cargo of bananas at another part. All these are signs of good will remaining.
It is in these early stages that the court of inquiry has the best opportunity for making the greatest impact. Either the strike will be settled in this coming week, I would say, or it will go on for a long time, and no one would like to see that occur. Therefore, the Government are bound to pay regard to this fact, that, normally, introducing the strong arm of the Government into this kind of situation exacerbates it, and can cause it to be protracted for a long time, till there comes a second opportunity for settling it when the people on the two sides are pretty fed up with it.
116 Therefore, in this week particularly, the Government's handling of this situation will call for the utmost tact. I do not, for example, think that troops should be used even to unload perishable goods without the dockers being first of all given the opportunity to do so. Such steps are vastly important, and, as the Government cannot be everywhere, they will depend upon the tact and good sense of the people in charge on the spot, and so it is particularly important that the Government ensure that there are proper guidelines laid down so that the people on the spot do not rush into doing things which aggravate the whole situation for the country.
It seems to me that an extremely serious situation has arisen. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity has been both complimented and criticised for the steps he has taken. I think he is in a very difficult situation. I myself have been considering what is the right function of a Minister in this kind of circumstance. What the man in the street fails to understand—and I share that failure to understand to a considerable extent—is this. If it is right to set up a top-line court of inquiry headed by one of the finest legal intelligences in this country, Lord Pearson, and a strong team is appointed to support him, why was it not right to do so before this situation had arisen; that is, before the strike had been called? It is common form. I know, for a court of inquiry to be appointed at this stage. Nevertheless, it is a serious flaw—is it not?—in our situation at the present time, and in our conduct of labour relations, that a strike has to be called before the court of inquiry is set up.
Figures were published in the Observer yesterday which conflict considerably with other figures I have heard quoted. In the Observer an estimate was made by somebody that the likely cost of the strike in loss on the rough trade balance in the first week would be £65 million, in the second week £77 million, and in the third week £80 million. I do not know whether the Government share the view that those estimates are fairly near the mark. Certainly it is a very serious matter for this country.
Therefore, I ask myself: is it right that the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity should merely be 117 umpire in these circumstances? Is it right for him to sit back and take the view that the right course for him to take is merely to be umpire, merely the man who chairs the meetings, listening to both sides to ensure that both sides are fairly put, but does not lean on either side?
I have had many arguments with a number of people as to what the right function of the Minister is. I am persuaded that when the community is so involved as it is here, when the cost to the country is so great, and when one is dealing with a strike at a vulnerable spot, almost the most vulnerable spot in the economy of the country, the right thing for the Minister to do is to lean on one side if he thinks that side is being unreasonable. Otherwise, it seems to me, the country could be held to ransom. If the right hon. Gentleman succeeds, if the strike comes to an end quickly, if both sides come together—and they show no signs of doing so at the moment—he will, of course, have the plaudits of the country; but if this strike goes on and he has not leant on either side, and, if he has observed an unreasonable attitude on the part of one side or the other and he has done virtually nothing whatever about it, he will come in for heavy criticism indeed.
I take the view, having considered this matter, that the country has a real interest in this and that its view should be represented. How can it be represented in such talks except by the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity? I should like to ask this question, and I think it is important from the public's point of view. Did the right hon. Gentleman, before the strike was called, before the employers stated that they would not discuss matters any further, before they broke off negotiations, say to both sides, "Look, do not do that; I intend to set up a very high grade court of inquiry to inquire into this matter and surely you can continue discussions till that time at least"? I think it was incumbent on him to do that.
I repeat that I think the right hon. Gentleman is in a very difficult situation. One can have on the one side the criticism, which has been made in so many speeches, of the Prime Minister in the past when the Labour Party was in Government, that the Government intervened too much and too quickly, but there can 118 be the other criticism where, perhaps, the Minister does not throw his weight on one side when his own judgment and reason suggest to him that he should. I think, therefore, this is a very difficult matter to resolve.
It seems to me that one of the matters which must be of the greatest concern to this House, and, no doubt, will be a matter of inquiry by the Pearson court of inquiry, is the long time it is taking to implement the recommendations of the Devlin Report on the docks. Whose fault is this? It is something which the country is entitled to know. One can understand that the situation in the docks is by no means an easy one. Obviously, the docks are crying out for modernisation and for the containerisation programme to go forward. One understands that this costs a great deal of money. Is it right that some of the employers are unwilling to spend the money, or are unable to spend it, and that, therefore, their interest is in direct conflict with the interests of other employers in other areas?
On the one hand, the modernisation programme means not only that employees are redundant but that employers are redundant as well. On the other hand, behind any programme of modernisation there is the likely threat of redundancy for employees, and this is a very real threat, and I can understand dockers of 40 or 50 years of age working in, say, London, and seeing the containerisation development at Tilbury feeling very frightened about their future and their prospects. This one can fully understand. Therefore, they are likely to adopt an almost Luddite attitude to this matter, which has to be resolved by somebody. It is not enough merely for the two sides to attack each other when the crunch comes. I understand that the dockers at Felixstowe have determined to go on strike to show their solidarity with their fellow dockers when, perhaps, their interest truly lies in another direction.
In the same way there are modern employers in the docks who can see the advantages of modernising and the need to spend money and to go almost for the Devlin doctrine of "buying the book". I think there is a great deal to be said for the view that in the end this country will come to the situation where the book 119 has got to be bought, and the question really is: What is the price to pay? But these matters do not seem to me to be capable of resolution by simply a frontal clash between the unions on the one side and the employers on the other. Is it correct, for example, as a representative of the employers said at a dinner, that many of the employers wish to be nationalised? Was it a faux pas? Or was he representing the probable view of many of the employers in the docks? I am assured, sotto voce, that in fact he was. This may well be true. It would seem to me very odd that that view could be expressed at a dinner without there being a basis of truth behind it.
All these matters are of vital importance to the country, and what does alarm me is that this situation has got to the stage where there is a national emergency declared, which will cost a very great deal of money, and where a mistake by a minor official in a port could so exacerbate the situation as to cause the strike to spread a great deal. In these circumstances, what is the duty of any Government? Is it to stand on the sidelines and say that there their function is merely to act as umpire to ensure that the game is played according to the rules? This will not be the Government's view in four or six weeks' time if the strike continues. Even at this stage the Minister should make every effort to get the two sides talking together again. It may be that talk will not resolve the matter, but talk accompanied by an interim report from the court of inquiry might prevent the situation getting out of hand.
Suffice to say that the situation is of potentially tremendous seriousness for the whole country, and no one in the House can pass the Regulations with a light heart. If we have to do so, we have to do so, but we must realise that by so doing we are not providing a remedy. At best, we are trying to provide some means of first aid if the situation gets out of hand.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)
I support the Government in bringing in these powers. As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said, we cannot do so lightly. These are serious measures and we must think carefully before supporting them. I have 120 given a lot of thought to this and, although I regret the need for them, I believe it is right for the Government to have these powers. Some of the measures may be counter-productive and likely to aggravate the position, and this we do not want to do. I am sure the Government will use the powers with great care only when it is necessary to do so.
The Government have a duty to protect the consumer and the national larder. We are a large family and a vast amount of food must come into the country to supply what British agriculture cannot produce. If anyone suffers, it will be the consumer and I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will watch the position of the consumer carefully. The Minister has already played a major part in the emergency. Although there was laughter from the Opposition about his visits to the markets. I think he was absolutely right to make those visits. He was firing a warning shot. There are people who will seek to take advantage of the situation, and it is right for the Minister to show that he means business by watching the position carefully. The Regulations are to a large extent concerned with maximum prices and the distribution of food, and the Minister has a real part to play. I am disturbed about reports of hoarding of certain foods, particularly oranges, and I have every confidence that my right hon. Friend will watch this situation carefully.
There had already been increases in prices which have nothing to do with the emergency but are entirely due to measures taken by the Socialist Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members need not shake their heads, this is a fact. Any grocer or greengrocer knows that prices have been rising for some time and will continue to do so because of the ridiculous policies of a Socialist Government of days gone by—not so long ago either. We are still reaping the effects of what they did. The previous Government have a heavy responsibility for these increases, and I hope that in winding up the debate it will be made clear that in many cases the increases are not because of the strike but because of the previous Administration.
One lesson which I hope the Government will learn from the emergency is 121 that it is futile to rely so heavily on the importation of food. We need a considerable increase in home production. It is the height of folly to rely on imported food to feed the country and stock up our larder. What powers has the Minister of Agriculture over agriculture as a whole and the production of food? If the strike continues, we shall be forced to rely more on the British farmer. I should like to know how much meat is in cold store, how long we can continue and what the exact position is.
I am disturbed to see that the price of New Zealand lamb is rising rapidly. I can see no reason why—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Socialist Government."] If hon. Members will contain themselves, I was not going to blame the Socialist Government. This may be a seasonal rise, but I doubt it. It is important that the Minister should keep his eye on the position. We rely far too heavily on imported bacon. It would be interesting to know what stocks we have and what encouragement can be given to home producers. It may be that some of the pig going into pork can be diverted into bacon. I hope that my right hon. Friend is watching the matter carefully. Eggs are imported in large quantities and I hope that the strike will finish this practice once for all. If there is anything we can produce and indeed ought to produce in this country, instead of importing them, it is eggs.
The Minister should also watch the situation in regard to horticultural products. We could do without some of the heavy luxury imports. For example, I do not see why we cannot use our own home-produced food instead of importing such a vast amount. We must consider our balance of payments, which was a problem under the Socialist Government, and it is important to see that we do not import unnecessary food. The strike may be a way of making clear to the nation how important it is to rely more on home products rather than on imports.
There are three or four Regulations about which I am a little concerned. Regulation 12 deals with the transport of petroleum spirit, and I hope that the Government will realise the tremendous reliance placed by British agriculture 122 on diesel fuel. Since almost every farmer has a tractor that uses this fuel our food cannot be produced if supplies run out. I should like an assurance from the Government that there will be no shortage of diesel fuel and that this commodity will be treated as a matter of high priority, so that agriculture may continue to play its part and to produce the food we need.
I should like to draw attention to Regulation 17, which deals with the distribution of solid fuels. Again, we in the rural areas rely very much on these fuels. Owing to the mess and lack of planning on the part of the previous Government, solid fuels are at present in short supply. It seems to me, as a simple rural Member, crazy that in Britain solid fuel, coal and so on, should be in short supply. It is most important to have solid fuels available in the South-West. If the emergency continues, I hope that the Government will watch the situation carefully. It is ridiculous that anthracite dust is being exported and then being brought back to this country in the form of briquettes. This material is coming to the South-West, and if it is denied to us we shall be in a worse situation than we are at present.
§ Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington, North)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman, as a simple rural representative, if he could enlighten me about the language he is using? He has referred to the Minister watching grocery and greengrocery prices and has expressed the hope that the Minister will keep an eye on the price of New Zealand lamb. He has just asked the Minister to watch carefully the position of solid fuel supplies. Instead of asking for the Government to watch matters and keep an eye on them, does he not advocate positive action to deal with these problems?
§ Mr. Mills
I thought that was the whole point of this debate. This is what the Regulations are all about. My right hon. Friend has powers to deal with these matters and I am suggesting that, if the situation gets worse, he will use them.
Regulation 19 deals with the maximum prices for animal feedingstuffs. Tremendous rises have already occurred as a direct result, though hon. Members opposite will not like it, of Socialist Government.
§ Mr. Mills
If you ask the trade they will tell you that is true. We hope that during the emergency the Minister will watch very carefully the increase in the cost of animal feedingstuffs. British agriculture is already finding it difficult to cope with the increases which have already occurred.
I will repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech. [HOM. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members opposite will have to take it, though they may not like it. They will have to put up with these things now. I believe that these powers are necessary. I hope they will be used with great care. I should like to emphasise that some of them could be counterproductive and do more harm than good. In spite of what hon. Members opposite say, I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue to watch very carefully what is going on and take action where necessary in the interest of the consumer.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)
From the very first day I came into this House, which is now a long time ago, I have never subscribed to the theory, which I have heard advanced many times over the years, and which today was urged by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), that when a strike is in progress the House should not discuss its merits for fear of exacerbating the situation. It seems to be an idiotic doctrine that we cannot talk about a strike when it is on for fear of exacerbating it and we cannot talk about it when it is coming to an end because there is no point in talking about it when it has ended.
It has been said that this is one of the most important problems faced by the country. I thought that the purpose of this House was to talk about important problems which were facing the country. According to the Order Paper, we shall shortly be talking about the distribution of the levy on cinematograph films. I am sure that is important, but not as important as the present situation in the docks. We shall also be talking about the Weights and Measures Act (Amendments of Schedules 1 and 3) Order 1970. That is important, but if we are able to talk about that matter, then we must be able to talk about the present situation in the 124 docks. We should not continue with the fiction that there is an area of industrial relations which is one of the most significant factors affecting the economy but it is taboo as a subject for discussion by the House of Commons until all the dies have been cast and nothing we can say will make a ha'p'orth of difference.
Having staked a general claim to talk about the strike, I intend now not to do so, I intend to talk about the emergency and these Regulations which are being made under the Emergency Powers. I wish to discuss the purposes for which the Regulations will be used.
The powers conferred on the Government by the Regulations are very great indeed. They are virtually totalitarian. The sequestration of land and chattels—and incidentally, although I am not a lawyer, I understand that by law one's wife is a chattel—and many other powers given to the Government are totalitarian. We should be very concerned about putting such powers into the hands of the Government, because unless we change our minds in four days' time Parliament will be going off and leaving them to it without any necessity for them to account for anything they do under these powers.
This is especially important when we see what is said in Regulation 36(1) under which these powers can be extended:Any power conferred by these Regulations to make an order includes power to revoke or vary the order by a subsequent order.That is not merely a blank cheque. It is a blank cheque on a revolving credit: it can continue virtually indefinitely.
When one is considering whether to give such huge powers to people who, within a few days, will be in a position to exercise them without public accountability, one has to ask two questions. First, to what sort of people are we giving these powers? Secondly, in the light of what we know about the sort of people that they are, what are the best guesses that we can make of the ways in which and the purposes for which they will exercise the powers?
Under the powers, they could take some steps of which I would warmly approve. Supposing, contrary to the wishes of all hon. Members, the strike were prolonged for such a length of time that food shortages became serious. Under these 125 powers, the Government could institute rationing. If they decided that it was necessary, I would approve. If food is short. I would prefer to see it shared by a fair system of rationing than to know that it was rationed by the purse. The Government could use these powers to exercise such price control measures as become necessary to ensure that no one profiteers and racketeers. If the Government took such measures, I would warmly approve.
I do not think that they will do it. I do not think that they can do it. If they did it, it would make nonsense of all that they have been saying in the last few years, especially in the election campaign. Over the years they have been saying that they do not believe in Governments interfering with market mechanisms. The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) said today that the greatest protection for the consumer is the operation of free competition—as though in Covent Garden or Smithfield there has been for many years anything but the most imperfect competition. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite say that it is not necessary to have Governments interfering with the market, fixing prices, controlling this and that, and intervening. They want less Government intervention, and they say that competition is the great protection. How can they say that and then attempt to control prices? The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been engaged today on a Cook's tour of the markets. I wonder what he did when he got there, what he looked at, whether he looked into any books, whether he traced through any consignments and did any comparison over a few day of prices charged.
In 1966, when there were shortages, I conducted an investigation, albeit in a very humble way. I did not have available to me the facilities which are made available to a Minister. However, I can get into the Canary Wharf of West India Dock whenever I want to, and I can talk to the men there. During that strike, there were allegations of racketeering by some people, notably the dockers themselves, and I followed through a number of consignments from the time that they were purchased. I discovered what happened to them, where they went when they were sold, which parts of what consignments were sold on which days 126 and for what prices. That is the only way to do it.
Some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have used the argument which I heard on Mr. de Manio's radio programme this morning. They say that there is a law of supply and demand and that if supplies are short or threatening to be short when demand is great, prices are forced up and no one does wrong by increasing prices. I do not accept that. If a man has a shipment of meat, fruit or vegetables and is paid X shillings for it, and if his normal mark up is 15 per cent., his normal selling price is X shillings plus 15 per cent. If demand then increases so that instead of selling his shipment over six days he sells it over four days, he has still paid X shillings for it. Just because he has customers queuing for it, there is no reason why he should charge more than the price he paid plus his normal mark up. If out of one and the same shipment, part was sold in the market last Wednesday at one price and another part on Thursday at a high price, that has nothing to do with the law of supply and demand. It is sheer racketeering.
The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) has just figured out that differences in price between one day and another for the same consignment are the fault of the Socialist Government who went out of office a month ago. I do not know how he figures out that one, but he is very imaginative.
In the last few days, not only has it been possible to see two different markups on successive days on goods from the same consignment. There has been a generalised change of mark-up spread overall because goods are short. A markup is meant to cover a man's handling costs, wages, lighting, heating and the rest of it. They do not change from day to day. It follows that any increase in the markup from one day to the next is as much a racket as an increase in the selling price on goods from the same shipment which have been bought at the same price.
Do the Government intend to take no action in this respect? Did the Minister follow through any consignments today with a view to seeing where they were delivered, what price was paid, and whether different prices were charged for 127 different parts of the same shipment on successive days?
§ Mr. Mikardo
My right hon. and learned Friend is probably right. The right hon. Gentleman was too busy staring at the television cameras following him to do anything so mundane as flicking through a file of invoices. But that is the sort of detective work that has to be done if the Government are to exercise price control.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot do that. They cannot disapprove of the man who sells goods for 12s. on Wednesday but charges 13s. on Thursday for goods which he has bought at the same price. That is the system which they always advocate. That is what they mean when they talk about enterprise and initiative. Of course, it is exercising initiative and enterprise to gain as much as possible out of any situation, no matter at what cost to the community—
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
In the hon. Gentleman's analysis, has he not overlooked the fact that when supplies are short overheads may run on undiminished? There must be factors of which a supplier has to take account, such as higher overhead costs and a smaller throughput. Then again, the cost of the reception of goods into a market may be increased simply because the conveyor may have to return empty if there is no outgoing load to offset costs. The hon. Gentleman did not bring that sort of factor into his analysis.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his lesson in cost accounting. It was one which I took about 40 years ago when I studied the subject in great depth and, because I am a little older than him, perhaps some time earlier than he made the same studies. I do not need the lesson.
What the hon. Gentleman says is right over a long term, but it cannot apply from one day to the next. That is what I am talking about. That diminution of volume does not arise when one is extracting from stock. There is a great dif- 128 ference between selling ex stock and selling against anticipation of future incoming deliveries. When I looked at the matter in 1966 I took those and other factors into account. They have not yet operated. They might in a week or 10 days. I see no protection for the consumer against racketeering from the bland, lady bountiful, sightseeing public relations exercise of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That is why I do not believe that the Government will exercise price control. They cannot.
Let us get down to hard cases. Why do they want it? They want it for one reason—to put the troops in. It is as simple as that. The rest is all fairy tale, all flannel. They want these emergency powers—19 pages of them—just to put in the troops. That is what it is all about. They could have done it in a simple one-page regulation. It was clever of the Government to copy the Labour Government's 1966 Regulations, because it makes it difficult for those who then supported those Regulations—that does not include me—to vote against the Regulations now. It was clever of them to do it, but they could have done it in one page. It is all about putting in the troops.
I should like now to say a word about that. I made some criticism of some of the observations of the hon. Member for Torrington. However, I am in complete agreement with one of his points. The hon. Gentleman said that the exercise of some of these powers—he said this twice—could aggravate the situation instead of doing any good. I have no doubt that the exercise of some of these powers could aggravate the situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that they could be used to prevent picketing. The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) said that they could not because of the proviso in paragraph 34. However, he is not right, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) reminded him. A man is protected by the proviso in paragraph 34 only if he ispeacefully persuading any other person or persons to take part in, a strike.But that is not the only reason why men may picket. They might picket to try 129 to persuade people not to take part in the strike, not to deliver goods to the employers of those on strike or to take away the goods of those employed. A man could be nicked for that.
As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said, a man could be nicked without any charge or explanation under these very wide powers. If within sight of some soldiers a striker walks along holding up a board saying, "Soldiers, do not blackleg on your fellow workers", he can be nicked. The Regulations have so specified.
That is not the worst infringement of civil liberty. One infringement of civil liberty in the Regulations which leaves me absolutely breathless with amazement is paragraph 29(2), which says:No person shall, for any purpose prejudicial to the public safety, be in, or in the vicinity of, any premises used or appropriated for the purposes of essential services".We would all agree withfor any purpose prejudicial to the public safety".I agree that nobody should be on such premises if his purpose is to prejudice public safety. But sometimes we might have to figure out what his purpose was.
It goes on to state that if a personwas present in, or in the vicinity of, the premises concerned"—this is the important part—the prosecution may thereupon adduce such evidence of the character of that person … as tends to show that he was so present for a purpose prejudicial to the public safety.I am not a lawyer. When I speak on these matters, which is seldom, I do so with the greatest diffidence and in all humility. However, I should guess that I am right in thinking that there is no provision remotely comparable with this anywhere in British law. According to these Regulations, if my hon. Friend the Member for Walton were to walk across the road in front of the West India Dock gate he could be nicked, and the prosecution, when he appeared in court the following day, could say: "We know this man. He supported the seamen when they were on strike. He is a bad character. So what is he doing round the West India Dock? He can be there only for the purpose of blowing up the dock gate."
As I understand our law, a man cannot be convicted on character assassination. 130 But that is precisely what it says in terms: that an assessment of a man's character is made to decide whether he is guilty of an offence. Because the prosecution cannot prove the purpose for which he was there, it uses an assessment of his character as an article of proof.
These are very great powers indeed. That is why I say that I agree with the hon. Member for Torrington that in some circumstances their exercise could aggravate the problem.
I come to my last point. What will happen if the troops go in? First, we shall not get the kind of co-operation which the dockers are already showing and have shown in respect of particular difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton mentioned the work that they are doing to make sure that the off-shore islands—the Isle of Man, Orkney and Shetland—are not starved out. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery listed a number of other things which they are doing out of sheer good will and to the prejudice of their dispute action. I am sure that if the Government were to say to them, "There is some perishable cargo; what do you think about it?", there is no reason to suppose that they would not be equally reasonable. If I were a docker and somebody came to me at this moment with that request, I would say, "Yes, I will shift the perishable cargo." But if somebody came to me at 25 minutes to 12 tonight and asked me, I would say, "No, I will not, because you have taken powers to do something on the assumption that I shall not be co-operative. If that is how you feel about it, I will make your wish come true. I will not be co-operative."
If the Government put in the troops, first, they will lose the present co-operation of the dockers. Second, they will not get a lot of cargo shifted. It is not easy to shift cargo. It is a standard illusion among people who have never been down the hold of a cargo ship that all one needs is a strong pair of arms, a strong pair of legs and a broad back. That is not so. There is a knack in shifting cargo and in moving heavy weights. It is a different knack according to the weight and shape of the cargo. Dockers learn this over the years and do it instinctively. A hundred soldiers will not shift in a day the cargo that 10 131 dockers will shift. They will get in each other's way.
I make the unhappy prophecy—I am sure it will come true if put to the test, but I hope that it will not be—that if ever troops are moved into the docks, on the very first day a large proportion of them will go sick; some of them with strained backs, and some of them with hernias, because they will pick things up the wrong way. They do not have the knack of handling these goods. Very little cargo will be shifted, with the result that we shall get the worst of all worlds. We shall get a loss of co-operation by the dockers, and the maximum provocation, merely for the lifting of very little cargo, if any. In any case, the T. & G.W.U., if it wants to, can stop the use of these troops. I do not think that it will, but it could stop even the dockers shifting cargo, because all that is necessary is to bring out the lock gate men, and then nothing else matters.
The whole thing is a nonsense. This is a huge edifice of 19 pages built on a single thing which is a nonsense. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Walton. I shall not give the Government these powers because I do not trust them to use them with discretion and sensibly. If weapons are being given out, one takes note of the character of the people to whom those weapons are being given. I shall do my bit of character study now. I would give a brick to a professional bricklayer, but not to a professional smash-and-grab raider. I would give a stick of dynamite to a professional borer of tunnels, but not to a professional blower of other people's safes. I am not suggesting that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are literally smash-and-grab raiders and blowers of safes, but I am suggesting, and I hope that it is not out of order, that, metaphorically, they will go around chucking their weight about in a very delicate industrial situation.
The likely outcome of their use of these Regulations, almost certainly not this week, but after the House has risen and we cannot call them to account, will be to give the maximum of provocation, with the minimum of protection for the citizen. It is on those grounds that I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Walton, will 132 oppose the passing of these Regulations tonight.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I dislike these Regulations, and it should be no surprise to the House that I dislike them, because they run counter to my entire political philosophy, and my dislike of them is nothing to the dislike which I am sure inspires my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). I am surprised that he dislikes these Regulations, because he is a Socialist, and they are a complete blueprint for ultimate Socialism—[Interruption.]—Oh, yes, indeed. These Regulations are the modern Czechoslovakia, and that is why I dislike them. I was surprised to hear that the hon. Member for Poplar dislikes them, because he is a Socialist, as I am not, but to do him credit, I thought that it was very honest and straightforward of him, because he extricated himself at the end by saying, in effect, that if we were Socialists he would not mind, but because we are Conservatives he does not trust us to have these powers. That, I think, is the nub of the argument in this debate. I think that it is very honest of the hon. Gentleman, and quite right in the circumstances that he should vote against these Regulations.
The hon. Gentleman says, if I may enlarge slightly on his argument, that if we could have a Socialist world, with a Socialist Government, these Regulations might be acceptable, but if there is a Conservative Government he does not trust them with these powers, and therefore he will vote against them. That is a sound argument, and the hon. Gentleman is right to vote against the Regulations.
I shall vote for the Regulations for the exactly opposite reason. I dislike them, but I trust the Government with these powers.
§ Mr. Iremonger
It is not surprising at all. That is what the debate is about. That is what the General Election was about, and we won it. The people trust us. We do not want the trust of hon. Gentlemen opposite. We are satisfied 133 with their sneers and their laughter coming from their natural home, in opposition to a democratic Government. I am satisfied to have these Regulations, with regret that they should be necessary, in the hands of a Conservative Government, and it is interesting to note that this is almost an extreme Left-wing monopoly attendance at the debate, apart from those hon. Members on this side of the House. It is understandable that these Regulations should be objected to from the other side of the House, for the reasons that I have stated.
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Poplar a little further on the points that he made. In the first place, I should like to set everything that he said in the context in which these emergency Regulations are laid, and which the hon. Gentleman did not do the Government the fairness to observe. These are Emergency Regulation laid in the context of an emergency, and the hon. Gentleman rather seemed to overlook that.
Next, I should like to take him up on the first point that he made. He said that the House ought to discuss the merits of industrial disputes, especially when they were important. The hon. Gentlemen is entitled to that point of view, but I should not like him to put it on record and to follow him immediately in debate without asserting that I regard that as a fundamental error. I do not think that it is the function of the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity—and I certainly do not think that it is the function of this House—to concern itself with the merits of industrial disputes. There are two schools of thought about this. That is my school of thought. The hon. Member for Poplar and most hon. Gentlemen opposite who are following this debate so attentively take the opposite view, and I think it is fair that our respective positions should be stated.
The hon. Member for Poplar said that because the issue is important we should talk about it. To follow that argument to its logical conclusion, one should say that if the issue is important in a major dispute between parties in a civil trial the issue should be debated in the House. There is an argument for that point of view, but I think that that is a fundamental constitutional heresy. It is the 134 duty of this House to establish the framework of the law, and then to keep out of it. It is the function of the House—especially hon. Members on this side—to keep a sharp, critical and hostile eye on the Executive, but it is not the function of the House, having laid down the framework of the law and of industrial relations—as I hope we shall do shortly in greater detail—then to enter the question of detailed administration. [Interruption.] It is always worth listening to the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme).
§ Mr. Orme
I am sorry that I intervened from a sitting position, but I thought that the hon. Member was contradicting his earlier premise, when he said that the House should not discuss industrial matters. Now, apparently, he wants to discuss industrial matters through legislation and direct interference.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I obviously did not make clear the fundamental distinction that I was trying to make. It is right for the House to discuss the framework of the law, in terms of industrial relations, tort, contracts, and so on, but once that framework is legislatively established it is not the function of the House to enter into the details of its administration in the courts of justice or in terms of negotiation between parties. That is my distinction, and I am as emphatic about getting the framework right as I am about keeping out of discussion on it once it has been got right.
The hon. Member for Poplar discussed in detail the merits of the powers that these Regulations give to my right hon. Friend and other Ministers. He said that they gave them totalitarian control. That is true. The hon. Member taxed my hon. Friends and me for supporting these totalitarian powers—powers to control prices, for example—because, as the hon. Member said, it runs counter to Conservative political philosophy, which hopefully embraces the functioning and benign influence of a free economy and the market. The hon. Member pointed out that this is in contradistinction to Conservative political philosophy. I should have thought that that was childishly obvious. He did not set this argument 135 in the proper context. These are emergency powers to deal with an emergency. It would have been just as fair to tax Sir Winston Churchill, in the course of the Second World War, with being inconsistent and untrue to his Conservative philosophy in terms of the even more dictatorial powers that he and his Government sought to enable them to carry on the war.
These powers place totalitarian control in the hands of the Government. That is why I dislike them. I disliked the wartime emergency legislation. But the hon. Member does us less than justice if he takes the point entirely out of context and says that we should object in the short-term of the emergency to powers that are much more repugnant to us than to him when they are in the hands of any Government in the long-term. The hon. Member also said that we were giving the Government formidable powers and then going off for a month. That is a fair point. If we were giving the Government these powers in the middle of a session their existence would not be a frightfully good argument for going off immediately and not continuing. One could say that as a result of the emergency powers taken by the Government the House should not go into Recess at all.
That point might be argued for a minute or two when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House tables the Motion for the Adjournment for the Recess. There are arguments to be advanced about it. I should be happier if we could bring Ministers to the House every day during the emergency. One should therefore ask oneself whether one should oppose the Motion for the Adjournment. I shall consider my attitude to that in due course. [Laughter.] There is no need for hon. Members opposite to laugh at that. The Motion will be tabled and I am entitled to consider my attitude to it. I am entitled to tender advice to my right hon. Friend. If hon. Members opposite think that I have made the wrong decision by not voting against the Adjournment Motion—if that is what I decide—they will be quite entitled to say that I have acted wrongly. But that is a matter for other considerations.
136 The point that the hon. Member for Poplar overlooked—or did not choose to mention—is that these Regulations continue in force only for a month. We have to come back anyway if the emergency continues after a month, precisely because these Regulations will have to be renewed by the authority of the House. Then, of course, there will be a great day of reckoning. Everything that my right hon. Friends do in the meantime under these Regulations will be done under the shadow of the reckoning which will take place when they ask the House to renew them. Therefore, the hon. Member made a bad point, as the lawyers say. We should be satisfied with the very proper provision in the Regulations that they cannot remain in force for more than a month.
One should, because it has been rather lost sight of in this debate, recapitulate the object of the Regulations. That is to ensure that the life of the country shall go on and that no sectional interest, however virtuous it may be in the eyes of some hon. Members, shall threaten it, and that the Government shall have the powers and be able to use them if necessary to unload food supplies, among other things, to feed the people.
Of course, we are all very tickled by the suggestion of the hon. Member that soldiers cannot lift heavy weights. I have noticed this disability only too often myself. Having been in the Royal Navy, I was always extremely surprised if any soldiers managed to do anything. I should have thought that the Government would have been much better advised to bring in the Royal Navy to assist here. We do not get hernias lifting heavy weights in confined spaces. The Royal Navy would be able to move those heavy weights and would just be thankful that things were not moving about. We are accustomed to lifting heavy weights when the deck is not steady.
If I may make a prophecy it is that, if the unhappy situation arises in which these powers have to be used when the Army or the Royal Navy is brought in to move supplies—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Royal Air Force?"] Not the Royal Air Force, no—I do draw the line at some things.
§ Mr. Iremonger
With great respect to you, Sir. It had escaped me for a moment I was getting, if not out of order, at least on to very dangerous ground. The Royal Air Force is, of course, accustomed to dealing with more subtle matters, which they do with great expertise. It would be an abuse to bring them in for these matters. But I think that the hon. Member for Poplar will be very disappointed if, unhappily, these powers have to be used. He will find that, if troops are brought in, they will do their duty satisfactorily.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who has now left the Chamber, made an extraordinary suggestion. He seemed to think that it would have been much better—and that it would be better as a general practice for Secretaries of State for Employment and Productivity—if my right hon. Friend had set up this court of inquiry earlier. I find this hard to follow. If that were the idea, Ministers would have to jump in as soon as they could. The least shadow of an industrial dispute and they would have to say, "You must not discuss this between yourselves: we shall set up a court on inquiry". This seems to be the counsel of madness.
Obviously, it must be left to those primarily concerned, the parties, to negotiate, until the negotiations break down. No Minister has any right to anticipate the failure of negotiations. He should not set up an inquiry until it is patently necessary. I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are very much against any interference with the rights of trade unionists, would equally resent this premature intervention by a Minister.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
The hon. Gentleman says that hon. Members here have expressed their view. All those who have expressed their view immediately left. It is only those who have not expressed their view who are still here.
§ Mr. Iremonger
That has struck me, but I did not want to rub it in. To be fair to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, he remained in his seat until at least two speeches after he had sat down. There comes a time when even if one does not want supper, one 138 might wish to have a look at the report upstairs of one's speech.
Another heresy which is quite popular on the benches opposite—this came out clearly in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)—is the suggestion that the Minister of Labour should not be neutral in matters of this kind. Having jumped the first insuperable fence, which is getting the Minister into the negotiations, some hon. Gentlemen opposite would have him not be neutral but leaning on one side if the national interest is involved. This doctrine is dangerous.
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
Is the hon. Gentleman certain that he is not taking the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) out of context? I suggest that my hon. Friend did not mean that the Minister of Labour should lean on one side or the other for the sake of it, but that he should do that to keep the discussions going, so that agreement might be reached. In this case, one side walked out—it did so publicly, on television—and refused, as late as Friday night, to discuss any further prospects of a settlement while the men were on strike.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I think the hon. Gentleman is right and that I may have done a slight injustice in equating what the hon. Member for Walton said with the point I was criticising in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. The hon. Member for Walton I believe said that the Government should lean on the employers, not necessarily to give way on the terms, but to go on negotiating and to ensure that unions like the T. & G.W. were consulted.
However, I do not think that I am doing the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery an injustice. I understood him to say that the Government should not be neutral but should lean on one side or the other if the national interest was involved. This seems a dangerous doctrine because it means that if there is a dispute in an industry which is vital to the national interest, such as the seamen or the dockers, they could have a stranglehold on negotiations and a special call on the good offices of the Minister. 139 They could, by pitching their demands too high—there might be a temptation to do that—feel certain that the Minister would lean towards them because they could hold the country to ransom. I thought, therefore, that the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion was not only dangerous, but somewhat naive.
Like the hon. Member for Poplar, the hon. Member for Walton said he would vote against these Regulations, and that is obviously right from his point of view, which is different from mine, and I shall be voting against him. I am glad that there will be voting on this issue. I wish that there had been the same enthusiasm when on an earlier occasion, a vote was called on an issue when there was a difference of opinion between the then Labour Government and their supporters. The hon. Member for Walton said that he was a little ashamed of that, but it is a good thing that matters in the House should be brought to a Division. Personally, I am sorry that the Labour Government were not brought down a little earlier by voting according to convictions of the kind which the hon. Member for Walton was explaining.
He thought that the House should not rise until the inquiry had reported. I should have thought that that would be a rather bad thing. What are we to do—to sit here meeting every day fabricating business so that we can bite the heels of the inquiry? I should have thought that the first requirement for the inquiry was that it should not be unduly harried to make its report. It may well be that when the inquiry has reported, it will be thought in the general interest that the House should be recalled to discuss the report, but that is another matter. For the House to sit simply so that the report may be hastened would be a poor thing.
The crux of the whole debate, which was brought out in the speech of the hon. Member for Walton and which was the point made by the hon. Member for Poplar and which is the real division between the two sides of the House, in so far as they will vote—I do not know whether it subsists between the two Front Benches—is that the hon. Member for Walton thinks that the Regulations are objectionable because he does not trust the Government. I think that the country as a whole does trust the Government.
140 The kind of people whom I represent—and I understand fairly well how they feel—want Regulations of this kind in circumstances of this kind in an emergency of this kind to be brought in at last. There is a feeling in the country that for far too long too many people with great industrial power, such as these interested parties, have been able to play ducks and drakes with the national economy without the Government ever being prepared to take powers which would secure the continuation of national life.
There is clearly a great temptation for people like the dockers to exploit their undoubted power. It would be quite wrong for the Government to take powers to interfere with ordinary industrial negotiations and to infringe freedom in that way, but when it comes to a condition like this in which, unless the employers give way, they will have the entire odium of bringing national life to a halt, it is only right that the Government should hold the ring by seeing that central services are maintained.
If the threat which is made to the people and to the Government by the dockers is, "If you use the powers, if you bring the troops in, or whatever it may be, we shall have a general strike"—and that is what has been suggested and it is a general strike that we are talking about—if, as the hon. Member for Poplar said, if the troops are brought into the docks, the dockers will not help to load bananas for the Isle of Man, or whatever it is, it is my sense of the feeling of the people—and, like every other hon. Member, I have been in close touch with them on these matters during the General Election—that they will say, "If that is the threat, if that is what you are going to do, we do not want it, but we are fed up with always running away; we have survived worse and we shall survive this."
The people are right about that. The Government are right to have taken a stand.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I hope that the former Home Secretary will not quibble about words. He and I know what we are talking about. We are talking about reports which mean that the ultimate 141 threat is to bring national life to a standstill. That is undoubtedly a blatant threat, but although there is a risk, although there is the cost of the strike to be reckoned with, there is also the cost in the long run of giving way. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) seems to want to assist me.
§ Mr. Callaghan
No, I do not want to assist the hon. Member at all, I promise him. I wonder what it was that the Government were supposed to be taking a stand on. I think he would be giving more help if in his peroration the hon. Member asked the Government what stand they intend to take on the Pearson Report when they get it. The Regulations are clear; it is what they do about the issue that matters.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman intervened. He evidently was not attending to what I said. That is what the whole debate is about. That is what the debate in the last 20 years has been about—what should the Government do when they are frightened by a threat of a strike? They should do absolutely nothing but determine that the strikers should not get their way by threatening the national survival. They should say, "Until you have sorted this out we shall see that the life of the nation goes on".
The cost of giving way, as Conservative and Socialist Governments have done, by leaning on the employers throughout is the evil of which we have to take account. All politics are choices of evil. We have chosen the evil of leaning on the employers and giving way for years. The time has come not to lean any more.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The Government have set up a court of inquiry. They have intervened. I ask the hon. Gentleman to address his mind to this. Is he saying that when they receive the report the Government should do nothing with it, but throw it to the lions and allow the unions and the employers to get on with it and stand back even though the consequences are a disastrous strike, while they have the recommendations in their hands? If that is so, the hon. Member will find little support from those who put him back into Parliament.
§ Mr. Iremonger
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and I are seeing the inquiry 142 in totally different terms. I do not see this inquiry as something which will tell the Government what to tell one party or the other to the dispute or as a sort of weapon to make an agreement and enforce it upon the parties. The purpose of the inquiry, if it is to serve any useful purpose, is to clarify for the benefit of the parties because, perhaps, their vision is clouded by interests and passion, and clarify for the nation, who may fairly judge between the parties, what the issues are and what the rights of the matter are.
I do not want the inquiry to be in any way a recommendation for the Government to impose a settlement. Not at all. I want the settlement to come out of the logic of the situation by free negotiation between the parties or by the abandonment of the strike when either side decides that it cannot keep it on any more. It is better to face it in this way now, as it should have been faced in many similar circumstances in the last 20 years. The long-term result of giving way now, which would be the result of not passing these Regulations, would be infinitely more damaging to the life of the nation than any damage which might accrue if the strike went on.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has epitomised the fundamental difference which exists between a large number of hon. Members on this side of the House and hon. Members opposite. The reality of industrial life at the moment is that we cannot contract out of discussing such issues as this. We are discussing this issue because the Government have brought in an Order to which we have to say either aye or no. The Government seek these emergency powers because they believe that a national emergency exists arising from this industrial dispute.
During the last few years we have had many debates on industrial relations and legislation in connection therewith, because industry is central to our economy. It must not be forgotten that the dockers have been discussing this issue for 26 months. Five meetings have finished in disaster, because the employers refused to discuss the basic rate of £11 1s. 8d. The dockers gave 40 days' notice of a strike. During the whole of 143 that period nothing happened. As we on this side said in our debates on industrial relations, the so-called cooling-off period achieves nothing, as is shown by the experience in Australia and the United States. Everybody waits for the cooling-off period to end, and then battle is joined.
In the 40-day notice of strike period no move was made. No inquiry was set up. There was no form of industrial conciliation. Everybody recognises that the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, in his rôle as chairman in the opening stages of the discussions which took place just before the strike began, tried to bring about some form of conciliation, as his Department is bound to do. I am glad that it is returning to its proper rôle, but this did not happen during the 40-day waiting period.
Important questions during our debates on industrial legislation were the proposal for a 40-day or a 60-day waiting period and the question of a secret ballot. What would be the point of having a ballot amongst dockers? They do not need pickets at the gates. A ballot would merely confirm overwhelming support for their case.
I represent an inland dock constituency of the port of Manchester where there are about 2,000 dockers. I talked with them during the recent election. I therefore know how difficult it is sometimes to convince the dockers that the rest of the community wants to be on their side. This is why the Labour Government proposed to nationalise the ports—to bring some sanity into the ports industry, not only from a commercial point of view, but, more important, from an industrial relations point of view.
The dockers work in an industry which is contracting before their eyes. There has been a 50 per cent. reduction in the labour force in 20 years. This process will continue. There is much modernisation, such as containerisation. In Manchester £8 million is being spent on a new container port. The dockers want some share in the prosperity which they are bringing about by their greater productivity and their reduced labour force. They will insist on getting their share.
144 It is no good hon. Members opposite talking about the average wage of £30 or £35 a week earned by dock workers with overtime and bonus payments. Dock workers have a basic wage of £11 1s. 8d. and fall-back pay of about £16. All this goes into the computation of the dock workers' earnings. The system of earnings is very complicated.
I represent a trade union in the engineering industry, which is only just moving away from the £10 basic rate. Next year it is to move on to a basic rate of £19. The piece-work earnings of skilled men are computed on a basic rate of 66s. This does not make sense to anybody outside that industry, and the system in the docks does not make sense to anybody outside the dock industry. But the dockers understand it. They know that their livelihood is tied up with basic rates, and they realise that the further they get away from the basic rate of £11 1s. 8d. to the higher earnings which they receive with overtime the more unrealistic their earnings seem to be.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
My hon. Friend will agree that the dockers can read and that they will know that Governments of both parties paid a former Tory Minister who is now part-time Chairman of the B.B.C. £57 per day, not per week, for an appointment involving two days a week. The dockers think that this is a little bit inflationary.
§ Mr. Orme
Industrial workers do not miss these points. When we debated the judges' salaries people thought that they had no effect outside. They should have asked the industrial workers about that point.
The dockers fear that their jobs are virtually disappearing before their eyes and, rightly, they are fighting to maintain their living standards. I have a great deal of sympathy with them. It might be said that some of their fears about nationalisation of the ports were not based on reality, and many of us wanted to see the Bill in question improved. Unless they get justice in respect of a claim which has been in the pipeline for over two years we shall run into trouble.
The Government have introduced these Regulations because, they claim, there is an emergency. Nobody would deny 145 that there is some sort of emergency, but does it warrant these powers, and will they resolve the emergency? As soon as the dock strike started the Pearson Committee was set up. I read over the weekend that Mr. Tonge expected the Pearson Committee to report by the end of this week. Jack Jones, the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said that the committee should sit night and day until the report was produced. The production of the report will not mean the end of the strike. When the report has been produced, the employers and trade unions will have to get round the bargaining table and resolve the dispute. The two sides are so far apart on this issue that it will take a considerable report to resolve it. I believe, however, that this could be the basis of resolving the dispute.
In this delicate situation the Government have gone for emergency powers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) have said, 19 pages of the Regulations are about the State having authority to put troops into the ports if necessary. The Government should have said to the country and to this House that they want the Pearson Report quickly and will press for it as soon as possible, even an interim report, if possible, before the Houses rises for the recess. They should accept the offer that the dockers have made. I do not think that the dockers have ever been more conciliatory in a dispute than they have been at this time. They have been conciliatory to the islands and to people and children who need care.
I do not say this without knowledge. I believe that if approaches were made to the Transport and General Workers' Union to move perishable goods where this can be proved to be necessary, the response would be there. This would go some way to ameliorate the situation and stop it from escalating. If, however, the troops once go in, we shall be in real trouble.
The troops were used in the 1945 period of a Labour Government, not throughout all the ports, but in the London dock strike. That has left behind bitterness. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar has said, it was highly 146 inefficient. The work of a docker is highly skilled. People think that dock workers are some form of casual labour that is picked up off the street. The fact is that the job is handed down from father to son and becomes almost an inherent trade. It is a skilled trade and not semi-skilled. These people should be paid according to their skill and the work they do. We shall soon see whether they are paid too much when we put into the docks unskilled workers or troops, who will be asked to do jobs which they do not want to do and which will put them into an intolerable position.
Therefore, having set up the Pearson inquiry and got the two sides to agree to negotiate and give evidence as quickly as possible—and on a narrow reference, which it should be possible to resolve—the Government, instead of being precipitate and rushing in, should do their best to ensure that the report will be available quickly and clearly. I hope that it will lay a basis for the future.
It is criminal for anybody to suggest that anyone on this side of the House wants to see an extension of the strike or the strike last a day longer than is necessary. Many of us who have spent our lives in industry and have been in industrial disputes do not rush into these things lightly. We realise what they mean for our own people, the sacrifices that will be caused and the hardships that can be created. We are already beginning to see a break-through of racketeering in certain prices which will be exploited by unscrupulous people in our society.
Rather than go ahead as they propose, the Government should have taken a step back. They should have given an assurance that for this week no troops will be used, that they will urge the early implementation of the Pearson Report and that we should not have to vote on the Regulations tonight. As has been said before, we pass these Regulations, and then hand them over, not to Ministers who are, perhaps, sensitive to the situation and want to avoid trouble, but, perhaps, to some faceless people, perhaps little local bureaucrats in some port who could create difficulty which could escalate the whole trouble out of hand.
Some of us, therefore, will feel that we shall have to register our feelings by 147 a vote tonight against these Regulations. I know that this may not concur with what my right hon. Friend will be saying from the Opposition Front Bench, but I think he recognises that there are deeply-held convictions and views on this matter, and one is not taking one side or the other, but we are expressing quite honestly our views in this House where we ought to express our own views. It will be a warning to the Government that we feel that they are not handling this matter aright. We feel they have been too precipitate. We shall watch this situation. We cannot tolerate a position in which the strike unfortunately goes on but the House gets up for the Summer Recess and leaves these emergency powers in the hands of the Government. Such a thing will not have happened before.
I am hoping that the intransigence of the dock employers can be ended and that negotiations can start, if not immediately, then immediately we have the Pearson Report. I want to see, as everybody else does, an end to this dispute, and the Government would be foolhardy to take on the dockers or any other industrial workers, for that could only end in industrial anarchy. I do not believe the Government want that, but they could be manœuvred into a position from which it would be difficult for them to extricate themselves if the strike were to go on beyond next weekend. We have to try to bring it to an end, and it is on that basis that, like my hon. Friends, I shall feel obliged to vote against these powers.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
We have heard an impassioned speech by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), and that is the danger of the situation: too much passion, too much heat in discussing something which is critical for the welfare not only of many millions of workers but for the economy of the country.
We have all heard that the dockers have been helping. This is true. I have been very conscious of the fact that at Southampton particularly, when a children's cruise ship came in over the weekend, the dockers co-operated in getting the children and the baggage away from the ship in the quickest possible time. There is co-operation there. We 148 must try to use this co-operation to the uttermost. We have seen it when food has been loaded for the various islands.
We have seen that it is not all black and white in the docks. The dockers are workers who have these fears that they will be oppressed. They are not going to be oppressed by the Conservative Government. These emergency powers are for precisely what they say, and that is to keep foodstuffs circulating within our country.
At Southampton there is a £14 million modernisation scheme. This must be to the benefit of the dockers of the future. We know that dockers like their jobs; otherwise they would not keep them as a family concern, son following father. My own fear is that this dispute may break up the family structure—which is a good thing—in the ports.
I would reply to the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) that there is fruit rotting at Southampton docks, several thousand tons of it, but I quite agree with him that the Army will suffer hernias and certainly a great number of backaches. But that is part and parcel of the job. However, we know that the dockers are skilled—and certainly the loading of container ships is a skilled job.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) wants the Government to lean on the employers, but the Conservative way of life, the commercial way of life, will mean that the employers will be leaned on by the commercial interests, and there is no reason for the Government to add additional pressure.
I hope that the emergency powers will facilitate control over the roll-on roll-off ferries, which will be used more extensively during the holiday season. The Minister may have to use the roll-on roll-off ferries completely for the containerisation of foodstuffs instead of for taking people for holiday trips to France. Transport Command may have to be used to airlift as much produce as possible.
I finish with a word of warning to the worthy trade unionists opposite. This is not a popular strike. The public will be bewildered by the idea of hon. Members threatening each other. There has been a spate of newspaper articles criticising the payment to dockers of subsidies in the form of supplementary benefits. 149 This is quite wrong and does not produce a conciliatory atmosphere. If these powers are to be used, they must be used as the last resort, and I feel sure that the Government will use them only as a last resort.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I listened to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) with more sympathy this evening than I did on Monday last when he asked whether it was not disgraceful to call out on strike men who were getting a basic wage of £37 10s. A week is a long time in politics, but the hon. Member has learned a great deal during the last seven days, and I congratulate him. This evening he has spoken about the spirit of conciliation. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) unfortunately remembered what he had to say a week ago. From now on the hon. Member for Southampton, Test must remember that what he says is taken down and will be used in evidence against him at any future opportunity.
My first task is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. John D. Grant) on his maiden speech. He is well known to many of us as an expert industrial correspondent, and what he said fitted in with his experience on the issues he mentioned. He read a most remarkable letter to us. I congratulate my hon. Friend and hope that he will continue to take an interest in these matters.
I hope the Home Secretary will forgive me if I say that I thought he made rather a casual speech. He did not discuss any of the issues, although it is clear from the feeling in the House on this occasion and from past precedent that people are as much concerned with discussing the issues as with discussing the Regulations. I wish we had heard more about the Government's attitude on the issues, not so much on the merits as on the method of handling the situation. I raised this matter earlier this afternoon, and I want to come back to it, because there is a fundamental difference between some of us on this side of the House and some on the other side.
What is clear from listening to the debate and from the attitude of the trade unions and the employers is that the only people who have been anxious for a 150 strike are some backwoods Tories and the Economist, which is always batty on industrial matters anyway. Nobody seems to be anxious for a strike, and this is a great advantage to the Government. That is why I want to emphasise later that I think the Government have about a week in which to take advantage of this fluid situation which could be easily upset. I will come back to that a little later, because I want to press the Government on what their attitude is.
I am sure that when we see the Government's proposed industrial legislation we shall all draw lessons from this strike as to how that legislation would have affected it. My own preliminary view, on the basis of what we have heard of the Government's proposals, is that there is nothing in them which would have affected the issue of a strike in any way. On the face of it, it might seem to be superficially likely that it might have delayed the strike while the hearing took place, though we are not certain about that. It would have depended on the temper of the employers and the reaction of the men, but I doubt whether it would have averted it.
I hope that the Government, even at this late stage—and I have some confidence in the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity—will carefully consider the implications of what is happening in the country, as distinct from their preconceptions before they returned to office, on a number of these issues concerning industrial legislation. If they do consider the implications, we might avoid a substantial clash. Not that I mind a clash between the two sides, but I care very much about a clash which would embitter industrial relations and set them back. I ask the Government and the Home Secretary, as a senior Minister, to apply this dispute as a test case when they come to prepare their legislation and bring it before the House.
I see the responsibility of the House today as threefold. First, we must answer the question: is it proper for the Government to be given these powers? The second question, which is more an observation than a question, is that the House must remind the country of the tyrannical nature of the powers which are being taken by the Government. I use the word in a strict sense; the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) put it 151 perhaps in more purple language. But nobody on either side of the House should be ready to give any Government these powers without the country fully understanding how we are delivering ourselves into the hands of the Government. By handing over these powers we are giving the Government an all-embracing grip on the citizens of this country.
The third point—and this is where the Government have failed today because, broadly, the first point has been established—is that we as a House must probe the Government on their attitude towards the dispute. The Regulations, however important and tyrannical they are in one sense, will not end the dispute. They are merely a means, in the Government's view, of enabling the nation to survive while the dispute goes on. But the step is taken, and it is important that the Government should say more about it. This is why I felt that the Home Secretary, or, indeed, the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, could have helped the House by explaining the Government's attitude to the future handling of the dispute.
I do not complain overmuch about what the Government have done so far. They have done what we would have done had we been in their position. We would have invoked the powers hoping not to use the Regulations. We would have set up a committee of inquiry. But we would also have indicated to the House our attitude on the committee of inquiry.
The Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity has now pushed himself into the centre of the dispute. It is no good the hon. Member for Ilford, North saying that the Secretary of State must stand back and allow the market forces to play; allow each side to exhaust each other, with the nation becoming exhausted in the process, so that at the end of the day somebody would win. The Government conceivably could have taken that attitude, and it could be argued that was their attitude in the sense that the Minister has said that he has not leaned on either side. But the Government have now put themselves in the centre of the dispute. They have set up a court of inquiry, and Lord Pearson and his colleagues will report to them.
152 What, then, do they propose to do? To that question, we have had no answer and, to my mind, it is the most important issue. It is even more important than the Regulations, although I do not take away one word from what I said about the nature of the Regulations.
What will the Government do when they get the Report? Will they continue with the attitude that the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity has taken so far? The right hon. Gentleman says, "I sit here as an impartial chairman. I use my good offices with both sides. I listen to what they have to say. I keep down the temperature. I keep the discussion on an even keel. But I have no view." If the Government say that in the light of the Pearson Report, where do we get? Presumably the Pearson Report will say either that there is some merit in the dockers' claim for an increase in the basic rate or that there is not.
Supposing that it says that there is some merit in the claim. Supposing, then, that the employers still refuse to negotiate. After all, Mr. Tonge has been pretty forthright. While the men are on strike, he will not negotiate. I know that some hon. Members will say, "Very well, let it continue." However, I do not think that that is the general view of the House. I want to know whether that is the view of the Government, and I think that it is a fair question.
If we get a report recommending a change in the situation of the men and conceding that they have a case, will the Government remain neutral and sit between employers and employees without putting pressure on either side? if so, the week's breathing space that the Government have now will freeze, and the chance of unjelling it again will be extremely remote.
What the Government must do in the light of the Report, when they get it, is not only to get the two sides together; they have to take an attitude. They have to reach their own conclusions on the merits. After all, they have put themselves into the centre of dispute. They have set up the court of inquiry. Having set it up, they expect the report. They expect to receive the views of Lord Pearson and his colleagues. Having 153 seen them, it is the Government's job to reach some conclusions.
No one can say what those conclusions will be, but, in the light of them, will the Government press their view on the two sides and get them together? That seems to be a most important question. If the Government do not do that, I shall regard them as seriously responsible for the continuation of the dispute. I do not hold them responsible now, but this is the testing time, and they must make up their minds quickly. I ask for an indication of the Government's attitude on procedures for the future handling of this dispute, once they have the Report.
Another question which I must put concerns what I have called three times the tyrannical nature of the Regulations. I do not think that the Government are tyrants. After this afternoon's display on the Treasury Bench, no one could assume that we were dealing with tyrants. Certainly I do not think that my right hon. and hon. Friends ought to vote against rising for the Summer Recess, whenever the Government's proposal is put to us. It would be cruel to insist on the Government staying here to experience a Question Time every day like the one that we had today.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I have long suspected that my hon. Friend has a cruel streak in his nature though he has a kind heart underneath. But I ask him to be kind to his own Front Bench and not to force a Division tonight. I hope that he and his colleagues will not vote against the Regulations. Certainly the Opposition do not intend to divide the House. We believe that there are mischief makers—none of them in this House, of course—who would misconstrue a vote on this subject. If my right hon. and hon. Friends voted as an Opposition, people would argue that we were against the granting of these powers and therefore against the continuation of the life blood of the nation. We know that that is not true, so I make another appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends—
§ Mr. Swain
What would be the attitude of my right hon. Friend if he were in my position? I have two sons in the Army who may be called upon to unload ships, much against their will. If they 154 disobey orders, they will be subject to the rigid discipline of the Army. I have already written and asked them to disobey any instructions to assist in unloading ships—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and I shall vote against the Regulations.
§ Mr. Callaghan
My hon. Friend is entitled to vote against the Regulations, but I expect that his sons have too much good sense to listen to their father. Certainly, he would not want to risk putting them in the glasshouse for six months to ease his conscience or anybody else's.
§ Mr. Callaghan
If my hon. Friend cares to join them I shall very much regret it, because I value his presence in the House too much to want that to happen.
I do not think that this is a Government of tyrants. Indeed, I do not think that they want to use these powers at all. The purpose of taking these powers is not to use them; it is to give an impression to the country that we have a dynamic, purposeful Government. They are bluffing—[Interruption.] Which is it? Do the Government intend to use these powers? If not, why are they taking them?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Do the Government intend to use them to put troops in? Is that their purpose? Or is it that they are taking precautions in case they are necessary? Is that what the Government are doing, or do they intend to use them?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I thank the hon. Gentleman. When he has been here as long as I have, no doubt he will have made as many speeches.
I do not think that this is a determined effort to use the powers. I have quoted the one to the use of which I would have the least objection—namely, food prices. I asked this afternoon whether the fixing of maximum prices was bluff? The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is not here now, although he was present at the beginning 155 of the debate. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman intends to fix any maximum prices of food. He has not got the machinery to enforce them, if he had the intention. I do not mind a bit of personal publicity about the Minister's walkabout around the markets, as though he is the first Minister to use his legs at six o'clock in the morning. As far as I am concerned, he can stay in bed all day. If he signed the Orders he need never go to the markets. But right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will find that no single price Order is made. The whole thing is nothing but gigantic bluff. They will allow prices to go up. They will make no attempt to control them, because they cannot, and they have not the machinery with which to do it. There is no evidence so far, unless the Minister of State gives it to us, that they are trying to construct any of the machinery.
The next important point I should like to mention, which has been put from both sides of the House, concerns the troops. I notice that both the employers and the unions have said that they regard the putting of troops into the docks as something which should be the last resort, not the first. That is becoming more generally recognised now.
If it is true, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test says, that there are perishable goods lying in Southampton docks or elsewhere, I suggest that it is the Government's immediate responsibility to approach the Transport and General Workers' Union and ask whether it will give facilities for its members to move that perishable food. I understand that the Government have not so far done this. It may be that they will. We do not know the extent of the perishable goods. But if the Government will make the request, then at least they will have established afterwards, provided that it is not done in an offensive spirit, that they have endeavoured to get the unions, through its members, to move the perishable food. They may be astonished at the response that they will get. We would regard it as extremely premature if the Government were to attempt to put in troops to move perishable goods without first asking the union concerned whether it can assist in this particular matter.
156 I said that these are very severe powers to ask for, and I wish to refer to some of them. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) will be asking some searching questions about the Regulations in the next debate, but I should like to refer to one matter touched on by both sides of the House. We do not resist the taking of these powers, but we insist, and we believe that everyone in the House, on whatever side he sits, should insist, on full accountability for the use of them. As they are drawn, it is a very hit-and-miss business whether anybody knows if the powers have been used, and they are powers which we should not concede to the Government without full accountability. For example, by Regulation 32, a police constable will have power of arrest without a warrant. I hope that the Home Secretary will give guidance to chief constables about how such a power should be used if, in an extreme case, it is intended to use it.
If these extreme powers are used, there should be accounting to Parliament in the form of publicity about them. These severe powers include in Regulation 27 the billeting of seamen on private citizens. There is also the question of requisitioning chattels. It is theoretically possible—no, it is practically possible—for the Government to seize furniture for billeting purposes and to take motor cars. There is no limit to what they can do.
By Regulation 20 the Government can decide which farmers should get feeding-stuffs to feed their cattle. It is no use hon. Members opposite shaking their heads. These are the powers for which they are being asked to vote. I am not resisting them. What I am saying is that, even though the Government are not a Government of tyrants and may not want to use them, we do not know who may be delegated by them to use them.
I make a simple and reasonable request. The Government should keep a firm hold on every Minister who has these powers. He should be required to account to Parliament by some form of publicity for any power which is used and how it is used in an individual case. That can be done by reporting to the House if it is sitting. If it is not sitting, 157 it can be done through the London Gazette. I see no reason why the House should yield up rights and traditions which it regards as the essence of a free country without saying to the Executive that they must account by means of publicity, and without having to have it dragged out of them, for the manner and circumstances in which each individual power is used. If hon. Members opposite were sitting on this side of the House, I could well imagine the chorus of applause which would greet any such statement. They have a chance to make sure that the Government make it.
We do not object to the taking of these powers. We believe that it would be premature at this stage to use the power which is most in Members' minds, namely, the power to call in the troops. The union's ability to do the job has not been exhausted. We shall regard as a test case for future industrial relations the way in which the Government continue to handle this issue once they have received the Pearson Report. We strongly urge them to make up their minds on the report when they have received it and to get the two parties together and conciliate between them in accordance with whatever conclusions they reach. To find a way out of this dispute is more important than to give the Government these powers, and it is to this end that we shall be directing our minds in the days ahead.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Richard Sharples)
I think that those who have sat through the debate would agree that it has been a responsible one, and that there has been a wish on both sides to keep the temperature down and to find a solution to the problem, if possible.
The House has benefited from the very thoughtful maiden speech of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. John D. Grant). We know that he comes to the House with a long experience of these matters. He would not expect me to say that I wholly agree with every word he said, but I am sure that we will find his experience in matters of this kind most useful when we discuss the wide issues that arise in the whole field of industrial relations during this Parliament.
158 It was made clear by my right hon. Friend in opening the debate that these Regulations are, broadly speaking, in the same form as those introduced at the time of the seamen's strike in 1966. We made it clear that they are essentially precautionary and that the Government have no intention of making use of them unless and until the needs of the situation compel us to do so, and then only to the extent necessary. But, as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said, any Government placed in the situation in which we are at the moment would have had to take these precautionary measures.
The debate was opened for the Opposition by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). She apologised for the fact that she would have to leave early for another engagement. The House accepts the reason why she had to be away. She said, "We have not commented on the merits of the union's claim and we do not intend to do so." With certain exceptions that has been the line taken by hon. Members generally, and absolutely rightly. The House has not wished or thought it appropriate in this debate to go into details of the claim and the dispute that is taking place.
Many questions have been asked, not least by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, about the work of the court of inquiry and the timetable that it would follow. It might be helpful to the House if I placed on record—since this has not been done before, because the court of inquiry was appointed only on Friday evening—the terms of reference of the court of inquiry. They are:To inquire into the causes and circumstances of the dispute between the parties represented on the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry arising from the claim of the Workpeople's side for an increase in the national basic minimum time rate, and their rejection of the Employers' offer, having regard to all the relevant factors, including the present pay structure and negotiations for its reform, and to report.The members of the court of inquiry are Lord Pearson, who was the chairman of the court of inquiry that investigated the seamen's dispute; Mr. Grint, who was until 1969 the independent chairman of the National Dock Labour Board; Mr. Will Paynter, a member of the Commission on Industrial Relations 159 and previously General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, and Mr. Fielding, past President of the Engineering Employers' Federation.
I want to say a word or two about the timing of the report and when we can expect some results from the court of inquiry. In announcing its setting up, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Employment and Productivity used these words:I shall appoint it with maximum speed and, of course, I shall make clear, though I do doubt whether that will be necessary, to the Court of Inquiry the urgency with which investigations must be carried out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1970; Vol. 803, c. 1729.]The preliminary meeting of the court of inquiry took place this afternoon, and formal hearings will start tomorrow, Tuesday morning. The procedure which the court will adopt is, of course, a matter for the court itself to decide, but we are fortunate in that Lord Pearson is a most experienced person in these matters. It seems likely, from what we know at the moment, and considering the precedents in cases of this kind, that the hearings will take two or three days.
I am sure the House recognises that this is not a simple issue, and that it involves a study by the inquiry—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Did I understand the Minister to say that the formal proceedings would start tomorrow? The court was appointed on Friday. May I ask what happened on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and today? If the matter is so urgent, and we are now to have these Regulations, why do we have to wait until Tuesday before the court starts its work?
§ Mr. Sharples
The preliminary hearing took place today. The hon. Gentleman probably did not hear what I said. This is a complex matter, because the court has to take into account the background of the second stage of the Devlin negotiations, and also the reform of the present pay structure. It is a matter of getting a balance between those two which the court has to consider. The inquiry will need adequate time—there is no doubt about that—to consider these issues and to prepare and publish its report. This will obviously take a few days longer, and from the information 160 that I have at the moment I think it unlikely that we shall have the court's report before the House rises for the Summer Recess. If one looks back to the nearest parallel case, which was the 1966 seamen's dispute, one sees that it took eight days from the time of the preliminary hearing to the publication of the report, and I think that is the best timetable that we can hope for, although the court has been impressed with the need for urgency.
It was suggested by a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite that talks should continue in parallel with the work of the Court of Inquiry. I think that there are serious difficulties about that. First, I think every one of us believes in the urgency of the inquiry, and that nothing should be done which would in any way interfere with the urgency of getting a result from it. The parties concerned in the dispute will be giving evidence during the period, and will either be in attendance at the court, or else will need to be available constantly to give evidence. I believe it will hold up the court if the parties were to be involved in parallel negotiations at the same time. Once the court has completed its hearings, then both sides will want to consider its findings.
I come, now, to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, about what would happen once the findings of the court were known. Then would be the time for renewed negotiations between the parties, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would offer to intervene at that time if that would assist the negotiations. I am sure that that would be the right time for him to offer to intervene again.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Would the right hon. Gentleman expand on his use of the phrase "to intervene"? Does it mean that the Government will take a view of the Pearson Report and will say to the parties, "This is our conclusion on it and this will be the starting point", or will they allow the parties to just sit there and argue about the report?
§ Mr. Sharples
It is impossible for me to answer that question in advance of the findings of the court of inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman has raised an entirely hypothetical situation. Let us 161 first get the findings of the court, and then it will be for my right hon. Friend to decide how best he can assist the two parties in coming together and reaching a solution. It would be quite wrong of me tonight to try to anticipate a purely hypothetical situation.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The Leader of the House will be asking us to recess shortly. We will not be satisfied to do that until we know how the Government intend to handle this report. The right hon. Gentleman may not be able to answer my question tonight, but we must have an answer if we are to allow the House to rise. We must know what the Government's attitude is, not on the merits but on the procedure of handling it because, if they say that they will not make up their minds about handling the issue until they have seen the report, then that really looks as if they are ready to be much too complacent about it.
§ Mr. Sharples
My right hon. Friend has made it clear time and again to the House throughout the discussions that he is available to try to help to reach a solution. I repeat that it would be absolutely wrong for me to try to say what the position will be, and how he might best be able to assist, in a purely hypothetical situation and in advance of the receipt of the report.
A number of hon. Members, particularly the right hon. Gentleman and many of his hon. Friends who are most closely concerned with the ports and those who work in them have referred to the calm atmosphere which at present prevails inside the ports. I am sure that it is the wish of everybody that that atmosphere should continue for as long as possible.
I wish to make it clear that, in so far as the question of perishable goods is concerned, we would wish to consult the unions before taking any steps to move these goods. This is the principle which we have followed and which we intend to continue to follow. I hope that the unions will agree, particularly in the Port of London at the present time, to the movement of these perishable goods, and I hope that it will be possible for them to be moved with union labour. It is, however, quite essential that these goods are moved.
On the other hand, let us be clear that there remains on the Government a clear 162 obligation to maintain supplies of food and essential commodities and to use the powers available to them to do so. It is also an obligation on the Government to protect the housewife, in so far as this is possible, against rises in prices.
I appreciate the difficulties involved in this, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is keeping very closely in touch with the situation. Let us also be plain about this: if it became necessary, in this connection, to use the powers which we have, then we would not hesitate to do so, although the situation has not arisen yet. I very much hope that that situation will not arise but, should it become essential to do so, then it would be necessary for us to take action at the retail point.
The right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn said that the emergency powers did not solve anything. She was absolutely right. The dispute and the problem will not be solved by the emergency powers, but they are an essential precaution. She went on to say, and I agree, that clarification of an issue will often bring a solution. I think that that is where our best hopes for a solution lie. We all know that in the end the dispute will be solved in one way or another around the negotiating table.
The efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to find a solution will be untiring. No one should underestimate, and no one who has spoken today has under-estimated, the seriousness of the situation if a national dock strike were to continue for any time. We all know what would be the effect on prices, essential supplies and full employment throughout the country. The cost to the country if the dispute where to continue would be very heavy, and this is something which all parties to the dispute must recognise. We all hope for an early end to it and we all wish my right hon. all success in his efforts to find a solution through setting up a court of inquiry.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the urgent need and the Government's intention to control prices if need be. What steps is he taking to create the apparatus to ensure the control of prices if the need arises?
§ Mr. Sharples
The powers are contained in the Emergency Regulations and the Government will use them if that becomes necessary. Full publicity for these powers would probably be the best weapon in the Government's armoury.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Will the hon. Gentleman explain his answer a little more precisely? I appreciate that the Government are taking powers, but that is not what I asked. I asked what steps they were taking to create the apparatus to enforce the powers. Perhaps he will deal with that question in a little more detail.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty thanking Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Message communicating to this House that Her Majesty deems is proper by Proclamation, made in pursuance of the Emergency Powers Act 1920, as amended by the Emergency Powers Act 1964, and dated 16th July 1970, to declare that a state of emergency exists.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.