§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Tinn.]
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)
I have been trying during recent months and years to lower the temperature of debates in the House on industrial relations because it is right that the House should speak as nearly with one voice as possible for parties with different views on matters of legislation in industrial relations. We are having an exploratory debate on the recruiting methods and techniques of SLADE—the Society of Lithographic Artists, Engravers, Designers and Process Workers. It is not the intention of this side to divide the House. I cannot say that we hope that the debate will be conducted in a low key because there are passionate views on the matter. However, we hope that it will be conducted in a reasonable spirit, showing that we are trying to understand the problems that have arisen and to make suggestions as to the action that should be taken.
We are drawing attention to the recruiting techniques that are being applied by SLADE in commercial art studios, photographic laboratories, advertising agencies and among individual illustrators and fashion photographers. People have been appalled by reports that they have seen on television and read in the newspapers and many hon. Members have been appalled by letters that they have received from their constituents.
Trade union officials have approached enterprises. They have been greeted with disinterest by the staff or, worse still, have not even bothered to talk to the staff. The officials have then gone to management and demanded that the workpeople should join the union. Having recruited not one member by voluntary methods, the officials have demanded not merely 464 recognition but an instant closed shop and have backed up their demands by indicating that work going to or coming from an enterprise may be blacked. Occasionally to show that they mean business they have blacked the work even before seeing the management.
That is not free trade unionism at work. It is against all traditions of free organisation which the Labour movement in this country has stood for in the past. It is reminiscent of the protection racket and gangsterism. Trade unionists and the public alike can hardly believe that such things can go on without the law, the Government, Parliament or the unions lifting a finger to stop it. People rightly look to us in Parliament to debate these issues and to provide a lead. That is why the Opposition have brought this matter to the attention of the House today.
Let me give some examples. Mr. Ben Massara, Managing Director of Gilchrist Studios, is quoted as saying,At the start of 1975, SLADE tried to recruit the staff on a voluntary basis, but there was very little response. Then in May [...] hotted up. They approached us directly and left me in no doubt that if the staff weren't persuaded to join the union, it could lead to trouble. We were emphasising all the time that it was up to the individual. Then we allowed SLADE to address the staff, and the reaction was quite hostile. After the meeting the union officials said to me: 'You do something. Unless they join you'll be blacked.'.Mr. Max Rayner, Chairman of Combined Graphic Studios, says that he had a phone call from a SLADE officialin which he told us what had happened at Gilchrist and that we were next in line. He told me we had two weeks to get organised or we would be blacked. I said it was his job not mine to recruit members and pointed out that this approach was just the same as a protection racket. He said that he didn't like to hear me put it that way but that I was right.I also had a letter from a member of the public—I expect that many hon. Members have had such letters—who wrote that he had always been a moderate and had never before spoken out in protest on a public matter. He said,I fully appreciate the admirable rôle unions have played in the past as I come from a working-class background and my father was an active trade unionist all his working life. But surely these two unions "—465 he is referring to SLADE and the National Graphical Association—have no place in a profession they know little about, is certainly not oppressed and need a high degree of flexibility in order to operate. What the trade unions fail to understand about advertising and commercial art is that the people who work in it are highly skilled individuals who are more than capable of selling those skills at a fair price. For unions to try, and impose restrictions and structures of skill and pay would only be detrimental to the very high standard of skill that exists at the present time.He went on:Yet if I were not to join either SLADE or NGA I would no longer be able to continue in my profession. I must also force union membership on the people I employ, stop subcontracting work to non-union freelance artists with whom I have worked for years, some of whom have been self-employed all their working lives.We are concerned not with the merits or otherwise of unionising advertising agencies, studios and related activities.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)
I am a member of NGA. The right hon. Gentleman has read a serious letter, but does he intend to indicate whether he has made any inquiries about its authenticity?
§ Mr. Prior
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is an absolutely authentic letter. I know the firm involved and the source from which the letter came. This is the first time that this man has written to me, and it is an authentic source. I have received a number of letters in which people have asked me not to disclose their names. Although the big advertising agencies may not mind their names being disclosed, it seems that individuals do not want their names used. I can vouch for the authenticity of this letter and I hope that the House will accept that.
Employers argue, with wide support from their staffs, that it would be inappropriate to bring unions into a business that demands entrepreneurial flair, where the atmosphere is one of individual rather than collective bargaining and where they cannot afford to "carry" those who do not meet the high standards of talent and flexibility that are demanded. I understand that the unions fear that more help is needed for those who fall by the wayside in this competitive busi- 466 ness, that common standards should be set and that work once done by their members may be handled elsewhere. I am trying to understand both points of view.
We are talking not about whether SLADE has a right to recruit or to seek recognition. What has deeply disturbed people inside and outside the business and trade unions is the way in which SLADE has gone about it.
Consider the position of an individual employee in an advertising agency. He may have worked in a job for many years and never even seen a trade union official. Suddenly he is called to a meeting by his employer who explains that he must join a union or the work that they do may be stopped by unionised workers elsewhere. Perhaps a union official is dispatched to explain the position. Two things impress themselves on the employee very quickly. First, the union knows next to nothing about his business. Secondly, unless he joins and persuades a sufficient number of his colleagues to do the same, he runs the risk of seeing his firm shut, himself out of a job and unable to find similar work elsewhere.
And what happens if he does join? For a start, this is not a sweatshop business. In most cases he is unlikely to find himself any better off. The union pay agreement is below normal rates. In return for this he will find himself the member of something called the SLADE Art Union. As the union has had such a very large if unrequested impact on his affairs, he might reasonably wonder what chance he has of influencing it. The answer will be "precious little". The relationship of the recently invented Art Union to the main union is highly unclear, and the main union itself only has constitutional provision for a meeting of branch delegates once every three years. Ernest Bevin once said:Let us be quite frank with one another… Trade union ballots do not reach the standard of parliamentary election".What would he have made of SLADE procedures?
And at the end of all this, is the individual employee free to work in peace? There is no such guarantee. For SLADE is not the only union recruiting in this 467 area, or in this manner. For example, we have NATSOPA, too, setting up a National Association of Advertising Representatives with the ultimate aim of achieving a closed shop in advertising. Once a worker has joined SLADE, what guarantee has he that his work will not then be blacked by another print union?
And what about the position of the employer? He finds himself being faced with the prospect of blacking unless he tells his work force to join up. Nor does it end there. Now we have the "fair list" produced jointly by SLADE and the NGA. It covers advertising agencies, studios, laboratories, typesetters and illustrators.
This is not fair and open recruitment. It is disgraceful. It should be, and I believe is, an embarrassment to the whole trade union movement and the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Prior
People understandably ask, how can it happen? The answer is that they could not have done it or anything like it had the Government accepted the reasonable amendments in the original Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974. For SLADE members would not have had the immunity against breach of commercial contract that gives the blacking threat its sinister menace. And, of course, it would not have been possible under the Industrial Relations Act.
It is possible now for two reasons. First, because the Trade Union and Labour Relations Amendment Act gives individuals that immunity they previously lacked; Secondly, because when a trade union comes to an employer demanding recognition, he has no right to refer that claim to an independent body—only the union can do that.
During the passage of the 1974 Act, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), who was Secretary of State for Employment, spoke about the controversial immunity provisions relating to a commercial contract and said:
In restoring the rights we are not making a threat to the community; we are, indeed, enlarging the freedom of the individual".—[Official Report, 11th July 1974; Vol. 876, c. 1588.]What a travesty of the facts as seen against the operations of SLADE in the past three years! I do not believe that it 468 was ever intended that the 1974 Act or the Employment Protection Act should work in this way. Procedures under the Employment Protection Act are being blatantly ignored while machinery for recognition and powers granted for other purposes under the 1974 Act are being abused in an intolerable manner.
We know why the Secretary of State cannot be here. We warned him that it was not enough to give only the unions access to the recognition procedures under the Employment Protection Act. We raised the problem in Committee when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) asked the Secretary of State:What about a dispute between two unions on a recognition issue? Neither union, because it supposes that the case may not be resolved in its favour, may be prepared to refer the dispute to ACAS. But in the meantime they make life hell for the employer in pursuit of their own internecine differences".The Secretary of State replied:How? The hon. and learned Gentleman must explain that".—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 12th June 1975; c. 390-1.]The Secretary of State asked "How?". Now he knows how, as a result of what has happened in recent months.
On Report the Secretary of State indicated that he saw the difficulty. He saidIf, as a result of such consultations, a way can be found to accommodate satisfactorily both the voluntary TUC procedures and any new statutory procedures, the Government will consider bringing forward an appropriate amendment at a later stage of the proceedings of the Bill".—[Official Report, 30th July 1975; Vol. 896, c. 1968.]We have not had that. These procedures have not been adequate. They have totally failed to deal with the situation.
What needs to be done? First we need recognition by the Government that the present position is intolerable. We expect to get that from the Government and from Parliament in today's debate. I do not believe that any hon. Member could say that the present position is anything other than intolerable.
Secondly, we know that there are voices in Congress House that express the same view. We expect that their views will be strengthened by what Parliament says today. The TUC, through its Printing Industries Committee, must now get to work. We know that it is to 469 meet the IPA on 19th July. I suggest that its first action should be to ensure that all blacking is called off immediately. It must also ensure that the fair list drawn up by SLADE and the NGA is withdrawn. This is most important and the House sould support this suggestion. I certainly hope that the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) will. Although he is a member of the NGA, he must recognise that what is going on is intolerable.
Thirdly, in due course the House will want to look at the law relating to recognition. Of course there are difficulties about persuading people to use the ACAS procedure, as the Secretary of State recognised during the Committee on the Employment Protection Act. What is to be done if a union refuses to use the recognition procedure that is laid down, or if an employer refuses to accept the recommendation? A sanction was devised to apply to the employer. The union can go to the Central Arbitration Committee to determine pay. Yet there is no sanction if the union refuses to use the procedure because it thinks that it can do better by ignoring it and that it can get away with it. To hon. Members on this side of the House and to the country this is an intolerable situation.
Will the Government now indicate that employers should be allowed to refer recognition disputes under Section 11, or some other section, of the Employment Protection Act? Will they also look at sanctions applying to unions who dodge the procedure? Surely no one would suggest that unions who fail to use the appropriate methods should be entitled to the legal immunities for inducing breach of contract that make the threat of blacking so menacing and so effective. That goes to the nub of the problem.
There is no case for having the procedures under Section 11 of the Act, which allow a union to take a case for recognition to ACAS, and yet, at the same time, allow a union to black and to bring about a breach of contract while retaining the immunities under Sections 13 and 14 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. The Government and the House must consider these problems. We must consider the general problems of persuading the TUC and its Printing Industries Committee to take the action 470 that we have suggested. We must draw attention to the practices of SLADE, which are deeply resented and detested by people outside the House as well as by hon. Members.
Let the Government answer. Did they intend that the Employment Protection Act and the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act should work in this way? I cannot believe for one moment that they did. In which case, is it not time that they gave firm indications of what they intend to do and whether they will hold a review that will lead to the necessary changes. The House has a right to expect answers from the Government on these difficult problems. We do not expect them to be positive today about changes in legislation, but we expect them to recognise that there is a genuine problem that must be dealt with if justice is to be seen to be done.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
I appreciate the restrained approach taken by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior).
The House will recognise that we are discussing only one aspect of the complex web of industrial relations problems that have emerged in recent years in the printing and allied industries. Of course, this aspect is an important one. Saying that it is only part of a wider scene is in no way intended to minimise that fact.
Perhaps, in order to understand the issues and problems more clearly, I should say something, albeit briefly, about the background and history of the matters before us. SLADE—the Society of Lithographic Artists, Engravers, Designers and Process Workers—is a relatively small union. It is about 20,000 strong, or perhaps a little less. It is an old-established union, and its members are concentrated in the printing industry. They deal primarily with the preparation and printing of pictures in all their forms, as distinct from the reproduction of words.
In recent years new techniques and new technologies have tended to transform the printing industry. Old skills are becoming redundant, new equipment is replacing men and new methods are slashing the need for labour. Nowhere have these factors hit harder up till now 471 than the sector of the printing industry in which SLADE's members have been traditionally employed.
I shall not weary the House with a description of these new techniques and changes. It is sufficient that we are aware of them and of their impact if we are to recognise and respond correctly to the problems described by the right hon. Gentleman. We have to recognise that for SLADE—and indeed for other printing unions—the jobs and the livelihoods of their members and their families are at issue.
In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the union should react by trying to extend its sphere of influence. Two years ago the union embarked upon a new and vigorous campaign to set up the SLADE Art Union, as a distinct, yet constituent, part of its organisation, to represent those employed in the advertising and related industries. The union has consistently sought to recruit and retain members in such sectors outside the mainstream of the printing industry. But until recently it has done so without a great deal of success.
Of course, efforts by trade unions to recruit new members or to move into new sectors of employment are commonplace. It is a normal form of trade union activity to which only those opposed in principle to trade unions would object. In the circumstances of the industrial changes that I have mentioned, such an effort on the part of SLADE to diversify was understandable. What was unusual in this instance was that soon after the campaign started, in addition to the usual trade union methods of persuasion and proselytising, SLADE used the threat of blacking non-SLADE work by SLADE members in printing establishments to persuade people to join the union. This was a potent weapon, since individuals and companies in areas such as advertising and publishing depend, often to a large extent, on having the material that they produce processed in printing establishments.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
Before the hon. Gentleman, with his wealth of experience, gets on to the blacking issue, would be say whether he has ever heard of any other union which has two types of member—one with full 472 rights to pension funds and strike funds and the other, some of whom have now been recruited, with absolutely no such rights, paying a lower subscription of only 20p a week and having no access to pension funds or strike funds? There are two discriminatory types within the one union. Is there a precedent for that?
§ Mr. Walker
I do not know what distinctions are laid down in the union's rule book—I have a copy with me—between the different classes of membership, but it is a fairly common characteristic of unions. Indeed, my own union, the AUEW, Engineering Section, has its craft section, its women's section, its guilds section and its young people's section. This is usual in the trade union world.
Over the last few years, the SLADE campaign, or the publicity given to it, has fluctuated. In the advertising industry, the particular target of SLADE, individuals and companies, both large and small, have been approached and, according to Press reports, have been threatened that the work will be blacked unless they or their employees join the union. Incidents which have attracted particular publicity have been the union's unsuccessful attempt to impose union membership on employees of one of the largest advertising agencies, Collett, Dickenson and Pearce, last autumn and the successful attempt earlier this year to do the same to Tattersalls, a smaller Yorkshire-based agency.
However, as is so often the case, the issues have generated more heat than light. There have been allegations, on the one hand, that SLADE was trying to force union membership down the throats of workpeople who did not wish to join and on the other that employers were in some cases taking up an intransigent, anti-union stance, preventing the trade union from attempting to organise, threatening individuals who joined with victimisation and keeping down wages as a consequence. The exact truth is often difficult to discover.
One must readily accept that SLADE's action has provoked dispute and controversy, not only within the advertising industry but, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, also within the trade union movement. The blacking action 473 has on occasion affected the work produced by members of other unions. It is true that a number of these other unions are not prepared to concede that SLADE should have exclusive recruitment rights in the advertising and related industries.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Is the Minister aware that there is a small firm in my constituency, in a country village, employing only three people, which has been blacked unless those three agree to join SLADE, that none of them wants to and that all have refused to do so? Can he advise me what I should say to the owner of the firm, the employer, about what he should do? His business is likely to be ruined. These three people have rights not to belong to the trade union if they do not want to do so. How may those rights be exercised?
§ Mr. Walker
If the hon. Gentleman were patient, he might find some of the advice he seeks in the later part of my speech. I have read the article that he wrote for the Daily Telegraph, published today. I wish that it had been as informative as it was interesting. In that article, he puts forward the idea, which was embodied in the Industrial Relations Act, that workers should have a statutory right not to join a trade union. The whole House will recall the disastrous consequences of providing for that in the Industrial Relations Act.
Also in that article, the hon. Gentleman assumes that many people will leave the trade union movement once they have a statutory right to do so. When that statutory right was accorded between 1971 and 1974, trade union membership, instead of falling as proponents of this idea suggest, actually grew. Few, if any, people left the movement when they had a statutory right to do so.
To turn back to the main stream of my speech, I would remind the House that last year, in particular, the dispute on the issue which I had been describing flared up between SLADE and the National Graphical Association, which also has members in the printing and newspaper industries. Talks were arranged under the auspices of the TUC's Printing Industries Committee, which has been active in recent months in trying to encourage the satisfactory solution of the various problems which have arisen from 474 SLADE's action, and a temporary solution was arrived at towards the end of last year.
However, I understand that SLADE, together with the NGA, has now initiated a new joint campaign which involves the dispatch of a so-called "fair list" of approved firms which employ SLADE or NGA labour to members of these unions together with labels which are to be used to chart the progress of printing work. The object of this exercise is apparently to make sure that printing work does not come into contact with non-union labour at any stage and to enable anything that has been handled by non-union labour to be identified and blacked so that it will not be reproduced or printed.
It might be useful to look briefly at the elements of the SLADE action in the light of the traditions of industrial relations practice in this country and the changing pattern of law over the last few years, before considering them as a whole.
First, let us consider SLADE's objectives. Its principal objective is clearly to increase its membership and to expand into hitherto non-unionised areas. The right hon. Gentleman fairly recognised that that is a legitimate activity of a trade union and that none of us should seek to deny SLADE the right to recruit new members. Indeed, our legislation now contains safeguards for the individual against dismissal or other forms of discrimination by his employer for trade union membership or for taking part in trade union activities, as well as the procedures, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, by means of which unions can seek recognition. The right hon. Gentleman make it plain that what he objects to is not that legitimate objective but the tactics adopted by the union in trying to achieve it.
Although there are now new safeguards and procedures in this area, tolerance and reasonable behaviour by both sides of industry—unions and employers—are required if industrial relations are to be developed amicably and disputes are to be diminished and avoided. I hope that the House will agree that it is unreasonable for an employer to refuse to allow a trade union to attempt to organise his employees, as has been alleged in a number of instances recently.
475 On the other hand, where there is a dispute about recognition, I would expect any union, including SLADE, to pursue the matter as far as possible through ACAS and through the statutory procedures laid down by Parliament, rather than by taking direct action. I am encouraged by the fact that so many unions have chosen to pursue recognition issues in what is now the statutory way, and that, up to the end of last May, 198 references to ACAS had been withdrawn by voluntary settlement.
The right hon. Gentleman pressed me on his suggestion, which, as he said, the Opposition made in Committee on the Employment Protection Bill, that employers should have access to the recognition procedures and should be able to trigger off those recognition procedures. However, in addition to the arguments which we adduced at that time—strong arguments, I thought—we should still be left at the end of the day, even if this suggestion were adopted, with a problem. It would be interesting to hear the right hon. Gentleman's view on how enforcement could be imposed on behalf of the employer at the end of the procedure.
The right hon. Gentleman fairly drew attention to the difficulties which face unions in securing compliance with a recommendation of ACAS and the protracted nature of that procedure.
§ Mr. Prior
I can give the Minister one view straight away. That is that, if a union does not use the recognition procedures laid down by ACAS, it should not have the immunity which is granted to it under Sections 13 and 14 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. It is intolerable that no sanctions may be applied to a union which does not abide by the procedures laid down by the Employment Protection Act, with which the employer is forced to comply.
§ Mr. Walker
I understand that, but I was dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's separate point about giving the employer the right to trigger off the procedure under Section 11 and subsequent sections of the Employment Protection Act. In the event of the employer being in a position to activate the trigger mechanism at the end of the road, how would the employer secure implementation in the event of securing a favourable 476 recommendation from ACAS? Among the other problems that we discussed in Committee, it is that particular problem to which the right hon. Gentleman must address himself.
I turn to the second part of SLADE's action—the closed shop. It has already been pointed out that in many instances it appears that SLADE and the National Graphical Association are seeking to secure closed shop agreements. This is a matter that the House has debated on many occasions during the past three years. I stress again, as I have done on many occasions, that our policy is one of neutrality towards the closed shop. Current legislation reflects that neutrality and restores the legal position basically to what it was before the Industrial Relations Act made it such a hot issue.
Closed shop agreements are lawful now as they were for so many years before 1971. It is now generally recognised that the attempts made in the Industrial Relations Act to outlaw the closed shop were misconceived and impracticable. I should be surprised if Opposition Members would be prepared to turn the clock back to that grim period.
Notwithstanding the fact that many unions are now seeking to take advantage of the restored opportunity to enter into closed shop agreements, I hope that they will seek to return to the traditional tolerance and flexibility that in general characterised closed shop situations and the pursuance of the closed shop before 1971.
I turn to the other aspects of SLADE's tactics and its objective of increased membership.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
The right hon. Gentleman did not differentiate in his statement about closed shops—I waited until he finished before intervening—between post-entry and pre-entry. It would be interesting for the House to hear his views and the Government's views on SLADE's attitude to post-entry and pre-entry closed shops.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman is luring me down a road that would take up a disproportionate amount of the time of the House. It is a subject that we have debated on a number of occasions in the House. It is no part of my responsibility to seek to defend SLADE's actions, or 477 even to explain the details. It is not for me to explain why it has adopted a particular position. I understand that SLADE is quite clear that it is seeking to establish post-entry closed shops.
Complaints have concentrated on sympathetic action, or the threat of such action, by SLADE members in other establishments to reinforce the claims put by SLADE to particular employers and individuals. As the House will be aware, blacking and similar secondary industrial action of that sort has for many years been a traditional weapon of trade unions in their struggle for industrial objectives. I think I am entitled to remind the House that the Donovan Commission firmly rejected any new legal controls on secondary action. It recommended certain changes in the law to clarify what was a rather confused legal position built up on case law and to reduce the intrusion of the law into this area.
The Industrial Relations Act attempted to restrict the freedom of workers and their unions to take sympathetic action in support of a dispute, but it proved wholly unworkable. I am surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman, speaking on behalf of his party, seriously suggest that the Conservative Party might consider attempting to introduce a similar provision in future. The 1974 and 1976 Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts broadly restored the position to what it was before 1971, with the addition of the amendments to which I have referred that followed upon the Donovan Commission's recommendations.
If, in general, not only attempts by trade unions to increase membership or secure closed shop agreements are lawful and legitimate but so is sympathetic action in support of those and other industrial objectives, one might be tempted to ask why there has been so much concern about the current activities of SLADE.
The advertising industry, by its very nature, is more capable of publicising matters of concern to it than most other industries. In some quarters, of course, every opportunity is taken to attack trade unions in general, and attempts by trade unions to introduce closed shops in particular. However, I accept that there are significant differences between this and most of the other closed shop issues that 478 have emerged in the past few years. I am bound to say to the right hon. Gentleman that they have caused me some concern, as they have to friends of the trade union movement.
When a union seeks to obtain a closed shop agreement with a particular employer, in normal circumstances it is starting from a basis of substantial membership amongst the employer's work force. It is interesting to refer to the comments of Clive Jenkins, the General Secretary of ASTMS, whose union has had a good deal of success in recent years in recruiting new members. Clive Jenkins is reported as saying a month or two ago that as a general rule of thumb he would ask for collective bargaining rights when his membership in the organisation or company had reached about a third, and that he would be prepared to negotiate for a union membership agreement when the membership had reached 85 per cent. to 90 per cent. He said that he thought that was the normal trade union approach. That is broadly true. Where a closed shop is being sought, it is almost invariably the case that the union already represents a substantial number, and usually a significant majority, of those in the plant or the grade of worker concerned.
In the context of the closed shop we have consistently maintained that we doubt whether it would be right to attempt to grant individuals a legal right not to belong to a trade union, especially where the majority of their fellow workers want a closed shop.
We must have regard the views of the majority as well as those of the minority. If the majority in an establishment wants to work in a 100 per cent. closed shop, that must be weighed against the views of dissenting individuals. However, to attempt through external pressure to impose closed shop agreements on establishments in which the great bulk of the work force does not wish to join the union in question, and still less to be subject to a closed shop agreement, is a different matter.
Throughout all my years in the trade union movement, many of them served as a shop steward, I have always believed that for the overwhelming majority of workers the case for trade union membership was so compelling as to need no coercion. Persuasion and explanation of 479 the benefits and obligations of membership are much more likely to bring the laggards into effective and positive participation in a union than any amount of stick. However, that implies the opportunity to persuade, and access, which is recognised in SLADE's Executive Committee declaration.
On the same point, i note that the distinguished Industrial Editor of the Daily Mirror, Geoffrey Goodman, writes today:The union case should always stand on its own feet. It should be achieved by persuasion. Though that persuasion has to be based on an equal right and power to be able to persuade".I share that view. In the circumstances, I hope that SLADE will be prepared to consider a more tolerant and patient approach to the recruitment of new members in the advertising and publishing industries. In saying that, I am sure that I reflect the view of the TUC.
§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
As the right hon. Gentleman knows from the correspondence that I have had with him, exactly the same principle applies in the Midlands where the Transport and General Workers' Union seeks to impose a closed shop at two firms where it has only 20 per cent. union membership. Sanctions are being applied and petrol is not being delivered. Bearing in mind the right hon. Gentleman's plea for a change of attitude, does he agree that it applies just as strongly to these activities in the Midlands?
§ Mr. Walker
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the statement that I have made on principle without wanting to lure me into its application in particular cases. It is clear that there are a number of cases that I could take up, but to do so would be to take a disproportionate amount of the limited time that is available. I am sure that the House will wish me to seek to come to a conclusion.
As I was saying, I am sure that my view reflects the view of the TUC. I believe that its good offices probably provide the best hope of securing a satisfactory outcome.
The TUC's Printing Industries Committee, chaired by Mr. Bill Keys, has been active in attempting to conciliate in these problems. Apart from seeking to mediate in the disputes between affiliated unions 480 that have broken out as a result of SLADE's actions, it will shortly—I understand on 19th July—be meeting the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising to discuss the situation with the aim of promoting jointly agreed procedures under which the unions concerned will have proper opportunities to seek to organise employees in the advertising agencies and art studios. I also understand that discussions of a similar nature are taking place with the trade associations which represent photographers and illustrators. I am convinced that these talks offer the best way forward.
But the situation is delicate and, in view of the imminence of the discussions, and my anxiety, which I am sure is shared by the whole House, that the outcome should be constructive and beneficial, I hope that we shall avoid saying things that might prejudice progress.
In conclusion, I should like to make three points. First, although I have myself expressed disquiet at SLADE's tactics, I firmly reject any suggestions that this affair could be more satisfactorily resolved through the intervention of the law, or that some sort of new statutory prohibition should be imposed to make tactics such as those employed by SLADE illegal. As we all know only too well, such statutory prohibitions have only recently been tried and found wanting. A reversion to industrial relations law of this kind would be a retrograde step.
Secondly, although I cannot say that I am altogether confident of a satisfactory outcome to this affair, I very much hope that good sense will prevail. I am reassured that the TUC has this objective very much in mind and is working actively to that end.
Finally, I think it right to remind the House, and the parties to this and other disputes, that industrial relations problems cannot be solved without some give and take on each side. We have established procedures to encourage the peaceful settlement of disputes and the strengthening of collective bargaining arrangements, but without this give and take and a willingness to accept the spirit underlying current legislation, as well as the letter, we shall not make the progress that is needed.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)
I am glad that we initiated this debate, because there is a fundamental issue here. It is not, at root, a question of bargaining rights or whether people should be able to join a trade union of their own volition. It is at root a question whether it is right for a trade union to initiate industrial action against firms when those firms have no members of that union and against firms where there is no industrial dispute.
In my judgment, from the evidence given to me by firms in my constituency, it seems that SLADE is significantly widening the frontiers of industrial action and is claiming the right to take action against firms simply because they have employees who do not belong to SLADE but whom SLADE wishes to recruit. There is no doubt in my mind that a significant measure of coercion is taking place and has taken place over many months. I am sorry that the Minister of State did not seem prepared to acknowledge that the allegations of coercion that have appeared in the Press have substance in fact. As he is unwilling to recognise that fact, perhaps I can give him one or two illustrations from firms in my constituency.
The first is from a member of SLADE itself. He is a constituent of mine. He is profoundly disgusted by the actions of the union. He feels that it would not be right, or, indeed, fair to him, for me to reveal his name, because he has not sufficient confidence in his union to believe that it would not take action against him personally if his name was revealed. But I have his letter here, and he has also provided me with a copy of a letter from SLADE circulated to fathers of chapels throughout the South-East by the secretary of the South-Eastern branch. That letter from SLADE says:Dear colleague,Work from unrecognised sources. Please note that following unsuccessful attempts to organise the undermentioned company any artwork produced by this firm is 'black' and should therefore not be handled.The company thus blacked was Oxford Illustrators Ltd. The letter is a union document and seems clear evidence of the sort of coercion taking place.
482 I have a letter from another constituent who also feels that such is the pressure on small printing and art work businesses that he, too, must remain anonymous. It is a sad state of affairs that when constituents write to their Members of Parliament their fear of intimidation and of pressure on their own firms is such that they feel that they cannot let their names be revealed. This gentleman writes:For 30 years I have run a successful small design, artwork and photographic studio in the centre of London. Now the business is threatened by union activity. We have not been approached in any way directly by union officials and none of our staff has expressed any wish to join, in fact, quite the contrary. But three of our client firms have now told us that they will reluctantly be forced to use us no more unless we employ union labour. It seems that the union which represents processing engravers and printers have instructed their members to refuse to process work other than from studios employing union members. This is, to my mind, no more than a protection racket.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The point is, surely, that the intent is that they should trade only with those on the list of the new booklet which has been compiled by this union in conjunction with another union.
§ Mr. Stanley
I think that my hon. and learned Friend is correct. Indeed, I have also received from another constituent the detailed instructions which SLADE has been circulating to all its branches explaining exactly how the so-called "fair"—a total misuse of the word—list should operate.
I gave a third and final example, but this time it concerns someone belonging to the related National Graphical Association, or rather who is under pressure to do so. This gentleman is willing for his name to be made public. He is Mr. Arthur Auger and he writes:I am a self-employed Commercial Artist, and have been so for 27 years. After all this time I have been 'blacked' by the NGA—so now the artwork I produce cannot be printed by a union firm and one of the people I have been associated with for 25 years cannot now print my work.I hope that these illustrations make clear the extent of the industrial pressure, indeed, blackmail, being applied, particularly to the smaller businesses in this work.
A fundamental principle is at stake. The principle of what is called secondary action is capable of limitless extension if 483 it is conceded that action can be taken against a firm, where there is no dispute, simply on the ground the the union would like to see that firm's employees become members of the union.
Now we have a situation in which it is suppliers who are being blacked. Later, we could move to a situation in which the suppliers to the suppliers might be blacked, and then, at the other end, purchasers might be blacked. If that principle is extended, we are effectively conceding a right to union activists to engage in the blacking of any firm anywhere if they so choose. That would be contrary to the spirit of the way in which trade unionism for the most part, as the Minister rightly said, has been conducted up to the present.
SLADE is telling non-union employees that they must either become members of the union or see commercial pressure applied to their firms, so that those firms become bankrupt. That is unacceptable and intolerable, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said, and I hope that, as well as being firmly condemned on this side of the House, it will be condemned by the Under-Secretary of State, when he replies, in rather more than the lukewarm terms employed by the Minister of State.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)
I am a Member of the National Graphical Association, and I hope that hon. Members will recognise that in the area of justice and the individual's freedom and rights, I would not hesitate to be critical of any organisation with which I was associated if I felt that criticism was justified. But after listening to several of the speeches and to the correspondence which has been read, and the manner in which it has been read, it would seem that when the House of Commons gets it wrong it does so in a big way.
This is a tough industry. I have been involved in it in one way or another for about 30 years. It is also an industry where the greatest concern, as expressed either in the small jobbing shop in the sort of area to which we have had references, or even in Fleet Street, is not with the sort of problem which has merited blacking, and the conflict between management and trade unions is not the issue which is in the mouths and minds of 484 people. They are concerned with the erosion of a craft. This is what worries most people in the industry.
If this is a different angle from that expressed so far in the debate, maybe this is because many hon. Members do not understand the industry and are acting on the basis of correspondence—which they are entitled to do—or have a total ignorance of the worries and anxieties of the industry. Unless it is understood that there is another focus to the problem, namely, the anxieties of craftsmen and the decline of a craft, we shall make no headway in understanding it.
I think it is a good thing for the Opposition to give part of their Supply Days to this issue, because it gives some of us a chance to look not only at the nature of the industry but also at some of the wider implications of industrial relations.
I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was right to say that, whatever the solutions which may be found on this issue, no legislation by any Government will solve this problem, because we are dealing with human situations and with the anxieties of people. If they get it wrong, we shall not solve it by legislating against what they see as their interests. They have to be educated and informed, perhaps, but they have also to be encouraged if we want them to adopt more progressive practices.
I turn now to the relationship between the NGA and SLADE in the area of the labels. What has happened, very simply, is that there has been an anxiety about the way in which work has been done by people who have no association with the industry and no interest in it at all. This is what it is all about. It is not as if we were condemning a group of fine craftsmen who are no longer able to work as they have in the past. What bugs the people in the industry is that it is so easy for the freewheeler and the person with no association or craft status whatsoever to move into the industry and out again.
The statement by the NGA and SLADE concerning the label said:The Joint SLADE/NGA labels—the label which is attached to the work as it moves from sector to sector—have been designed to accommodate work being completed in stages by a number of firms. For instance, work which may originate 485 first within a Studio, then go on for reproduction into a SLADE house, finishing up within a printing establishment. At each stage, chapels will check by means of the T.U. label where the work has come from, and they will add their certification when the job is passed on to the next stage. The aim of the exercise is to ensure that there is a full control against non-union work slipping through the net and being reproduced or printed".This is the anxiety of the members, and I approve of any system which attempts to assist in finding out where the work has been done in part. Because of the scale of modern technology in procedure, it is possible for these things to be done in different parts. Some firms cannot adequately cope with the total operation. It is perfectly fair, surely, for a trade union to try to assess whether part of a job has been done by a group of people with no association with the industry and no skill, and who are simply after the high rates of pay which are endemic—
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South) rose—
§ Mr. Moonman
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. We have already been warned about the shortage of time.
One evening newspaper has indicated the enormous amount of work being done by young boys and girls who have come straight from school and are engaged without completing any apprenticeship at all. What hon. Members should ask themselves here, rather than sounding off with words such as "blacking", which may be good emotional stuff in the preparation of an election address—[Interruption.] There are better uses for Supply Days, but what hon. Members should be concerned with here is work that has been done by people who have no knowledge of the industry and no association with it. That is a very serious condemnation—
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Moonman
I shall not give way. It was implied in the speech with which the debate began that there was something secretive or devious about this procedure adopted by SLADE and the NGA. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the public reports of the NGA and in the magazine Print there has been constant reference to this procedure. I have before me the latest 486 edition of Print, which I hope hon. Members will read. It is available from Bedford. The lead story is thatFive million of the joint NGA and SLADE identity labels have been printed, and 4½ million of these have now been issued to Association and SLADE branches. The new NGA/SLADE Recognised List of Offices was also issued last month.The report further states:These two new joint ventures will—in the words of Tony Dubbins, Assistant General Secretary—' greatly assist in the campaign against work from unrecognised sources'.We can play with images—I hope that I am reasonably fair-minded—but the "unrecognised sources" are people who have no association with the industry, have not served an apprenticeship, and have no real feeling for the industry.
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Moonman
I shall give way shortly. It was suggested that this was a new issue. I have before me a report of a delegate meeting of the National Graphical Association of June 1974. I could quote from the reports of meetings of two or three years before that. They all make one particular reference of which I think the House ought to take account. This is what was said by one of the members of the NGA who was worried about the state of the craft:When we look at the fundamental problem we see before us today that the problem is the ease with which so much of our work can now be undertaken. With the advent of cold type composition and the new techniques that are being introduced into our industry day by day, we are finding more and more on the composing side that much of our work that previously was undertaken in the comp room is now bypassing it and coming up from unrecognised sources.This is a confirmation of the underlying feeling of anxiety in the industry that the traditional methods of the industry, as used in the composing room, have almost become redundant because of the new processes and new technology.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
It is not correct to say that the union is dealing only with people who are unskilled. It is preventing people from carrying out their work 487 and threatening to put firms out of business which have had fully skilled people working with them for many years. Does the hon. Gentleman realise, and do his own union and SLADE realise, that while we accept that they can recruit members, if they wish, by normal means, if they try to do it by blackmail all that will happen is that work will go overseas? Work is going overseas, and the very people the hon. Gentleman is trying to help will have fewer jobs available to them.
§ Mr. Moonman
I cannot speak for SLADE on this, but the cases which have been brought to the attention of the NGA have shown that the people concerned have had very little association with the industry and have not had the skill that is required in the industry. On the second point, if there are examples where blackmail is being used, the Minister has condemned them and I would do so, too. This is a danger, and it would be wrong in any society and in any type of work. But we are talking today about something that goes beyond that.
I turn to the question of the "fair list". Whether we like it or not, the list is used in the printing industry. In the North of England a document that has been produced indicates those printing shops that accept the list as good and as part of trade union structure. There is nothing strange or vicious about the list. The new list which has just been brought up to date contains, among the opening remarks of the General Secretary, the words:This booklet supersedes the one published in July 1975.Many managers find it helpful and do not think of it as a vicious trade union document. It indicates the firms throughout the country where work can be transferred from one to another.
Who is opposed to this attempt by the NGA and SLADE to organise the "fair list" and label system? There are many people who are called "freelancers"—the "rent-a-desk" types who are prepared to move around the industry and to get the greatest possible benefit. Managements are not so anxious about the situation, as is evidenced by the fact that 700 to 800 agencies and studios have accepted the NGA agreement alone. If there were the sort of irritation that has been sug- 488 gested by the Opposition, we would not have such a large number signing.
It is a matter of concern in many parts of the country that the number of compositors has fallen. Between 1969 and 1971 there was a drop of 50 in Birmingham alone, and the number has declined by another 100 during the past three or four years.
I believe that the trade union movement and the committee set up through the TUC by the individual general secretaries are anxious to make sure that the movement's image is not tarnished by any one group or any one official. We shall not help the trade union movement if the case is made out—and I do not believe it has been made out by the Opposition today—in such a way that the complaints are excessive and over-stated.
At the bottom of the issue is the fear which men have when they see their craft being eroded and work that has been done over a period being transformed into new technologies. Also, some managers do not even allow men to become members of a trade union.
Much of this debate has been about how officials of SLADE intimidated people to join the union. I could give good examples, if time permitted, of cases where managers have prevented people in the industry from joining a trade union. There are two sides to all these issues. The case made out by the Opposition is biased and it does not help the industry or industrial relations in this country.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
Although the House will welcome the disavowal of the Minister of some of the most disagreeable practices of SLADE, I do not think that this is good enough. The appalling recital of acts of ruthless bullying presented to the House today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) shows that the anxieties that have been expressed about the Government's industrial relations legislation have been abundantly justified.
The SLADE action relates to a number of issues but, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, recognition is one of the most important. One notes with interest that the Minister and other hon. Members have tried to suggest that, whatever else 489 must be done, the law must be kept out of this matter and it must be solved in some other way. Unfortunately, that is not the policy that the Government have adopted in their legislation.
If the Government had said that the law and legal procedures had no place in recognition problems that would have been a logical and understandable position, even though one might disagree with it. But the Government have not adopted that view. They have come to the conclusion—rightly in my view—that, although there are some areas of industrial relations where conflicts and disputes, such as disputes over wages, can be resolved only by negotiation, or, in the last analysis, by strike action, there are other sorts of disputes which should be settled within an orderly legal framework.
The Government were right to come to the conclusion that among the forms of dispute which should be settled within an orderly framework recognition was paramount. In coming to that conclusion they were not differing from the philosophy of the Industrial Relations Act. They were altering the labels and changing the procedures, but essentially they were following the same task of providing an orderly and legal mechanism for resolving an in-tractable problem.
The Employment Protection Act provided a procedure and alternative machinery. I was glad to hear the Minister say that this should be followed properly. But in the area of recognition disputes the procedure provided by the Government should be followed always, because it should be possible to devise a machinery that will work. If there are defects in the present arrangements, those defects should and could be improved. There are problems about the procedure operating under the Employment Protection Act, but the answer is not to dismantle that procedure but to concentrate on improving it. The difficulties apply on both sides of the coin.
I come to references to ACAS. At present a trade union can refer a recognition dispute to ACAS. I accept that there is much to be said for the view that ACAS does not have adequate powers to exercise its responsibilities in relation to recognition disputes. If ACAS is not 490 able under the present arrangements effectively to carry out a ballot in the work place where recognition is at issue, changes should be made in the law to give ACAS the requisite powers to carry out its duties. That is not removing the law: it is improving it.
In this case it would assist the union if we had a machinery working properly. We must make changes on both sides of the coin. I would not be opposed to ACAS having greater powers to carry out ballots and to operate in that way.
Criticisms are made of the curious nature of the Central Arbitration Committee procedure. If an ACAS recommendation is not accepted, what is the sanction? We had a number of lengthy debates on the Committee stage of the Employment Protection Bill. It seems a curious sanction that if one does not recognise a union in respect of which recognition has been recommended, the union can take one to a separate body, which can impose unilateral compulsory arbitration. That still does not compel one to recognise the union. It enables a particular wage claim to be considered on a particular basis, and the sanction is unrelated to the recognition issue and therefore will not necessarily solve that problem.
Furthermore, there are other defects in the present arrangements. There is a two-month wait before the recommendations in the Central Arbitration Committee procedure can be set in motion. There is a specific statutory obligation for conciliation to be considered, and then there is the award—and possibly still no recognition. Here, again, there is a defect. If the failure of tardy procedures, ACAS and the Central Arbitration Committee has led to any distress on the union side and a reluctance to apply the law—a law imposed by the Labour Government—I have some sympathy with the trade union movement. But I suggest that what is needed in this situation is for the Government to amend the law.
In some countries, notably on the other side of the Atlantic, if an employer does not accept a recognition recommendation which has been properly arrived at by the statutory procedures, there are many more penal sanctions than are involved in 491 reference to the Central Arbitration Committee, and those sanctions are more closely related to the implementation of recognition recommendations. It would not affront me if an employer who found himself in that situation were to be subject to an injunction, or even to a fine.
But what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If we accept some of the failures to follow the procedures laid down—not by us, but by the Labour Government—surely those procedures should be improved, but, on the other side of the coin, the recognition procedure should be tightened up.
Although the Minister gave a lordly reference to the good reasons why employers should not be able to refer recognition matters, he did not explain with any cogency what the reasons were. I believe that the employer should have a right to refer a recognition dispute to ACAS because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said, there may be a recognition dispute between two unions. Therefore, the arguments advanced against an employer having a right to make such a reference do not stand examination.
If an employer makes a reference and there is a recommendation which is not implemented, what sanctions can the employer take? If it is said that the only objection to the employer having a right to refer a recognition dispute to ACAS is that there can be no sanctions to enforce implementation of the ultimate recommendation, the Minister is lacking in the imagination and comprehension with which I would credit him. It is difficult to see what the situation would be. If it were recommended that there should be no recognition, it is hardly likely that the employer would be unduly distressed or would find it difficult to implement that recommendation.
What if the union then resists? On that point my right hon. Friend's remarks were most apposite. If the union resists the decision of ACAS that there should be no recognition because there is not a sufficent degree of support, what can the union do about the matter? The answer is that it can resort to industrial action and the sort of "blacking" which has been the subject matter of so much of this debate. But on the footing I have described there will be no justifica- 492 tion for that whatever, because an independent body would have examined the situation and would have concluded that the union ought not to be recognised.
If the employer should be compelled to accept a recognition recommendation, it is reasonable that the union should be compelled to accept a non-recognition recommendation. What the union would try to do about the situation would be to use its normal industrial powers to force the employer to recognise it, even though ACAS had recommended that it should not be recognised. I think that that would be regarded generally as intolerable action on the part of a trade union, and in those circumstances it would be reasonable for society as a whole, as part of its general procedure for the orderly resolution of this type of dispute, to say that the union should not have the considerable powers granted to it by the law, powers that take the matter away from the normal situation in which the union has to abide by the law and permit the union to induce breach of contract and to be immune from action in tort in respect of its behaviour.
The concept advanced by my right hon. Friend would be an effective sanction. If we were to tighten up the arrangements for the recognition procedure so that ACAS had the power to do its job, so that the employer could take out an injunction but at the same time, in an even-handed way, require the union not to engage in the sort of practices we have heard about while the recognition matter was before ACAS and after the decision had gone against it, we should improve the present arrangements. There would be no pretext for either side to take industrial action instead of going through the proper procedures to determine these matters.
Labour Members constantly pretend that they do not want the law brought into trade union matters, but they do. Indeed, they have invented their own laws. Anybody who sat through 40 sittings of the Employment Protection Bill in Standing Committee will never take seriously Labour's assertion that it does not want the law brought into this sphere of activity. Labour has changed the names and altered the law by tilting its balance, but the law is still there right in the middle. I suggest that we should 493 get the law right and stick to it. We should then avoid a lot of humbug.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)
With great respect to the hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), I had hoped that there was enough experience in this House in industrial relations for hon. Gentlemen to realise by now that we cannot take the law and beat people over the head with it until they co-operate. Co-operation can be won only by persuasion and argument. The Conservative Party still does not understand this. God forbid if the Conservatives ever find themselves in power and in a position to do anything about the situation. We would be down the slippery slope again.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) started, as it were, half way up the street. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) said, men involved in this part of the printing and publishing industry are being de-skilled. They are being told "We do not want you doing the job any more because machines can now do it more cheaply, better and more quickly". If we stop to think about these disputes in British industry, we come to realise that we are increasingly making it impossible, and certainly very difficult, for men to work with their own hands. Many men in the printing and publishing industries who have followed their fathers into that work and who have spent a lifetime in the industry now see that work drying up or being undertaken elsewhere.
Let me tell the House why there is so much agitation. A third of the men and women employed in Fleet Street will lose their jobs in the next three or four years—that is the price which the new technology is extracting in Fleet Street. It is a virtual death sentence on many workers in the industry. They cannot just pick up another job once they have been made redundant because there are no other jobs in Fleet Street, or indeed elsewhere. I ask hon. Gentlemen to understand that these strong emotions have arisen not just because the workers in this industry are finding their jobs being taken away from them but because their very livelihood is being removed.
494 It has been suggested—I do not want to make heavy weather of this because the language used has been moderate, although some of the phrases have not been moderate—that SLADE and the NGA are acting like people who wear jackboots. Instead of steel knobs on their boots they have felt, but they are using jackboots, it is said, none the less.
In any dispute of this kind there will be accusation and counter-accusation. Let me give three examples. At one of the top 10 London agencies—Collett, Dieckinson and Pearce of Howland Street, London, W.1—when eventually SLADE was able to go in to talk to the staff—we can leave aside the cameras of Thames Television which happened to be there—the union discovered that, Nixon-style, the whole of the conversation had been tape-recorded. How is that supposed to make sensible talking and explanation possible?
§ Mr. Corbett
That may be the hon. Gentleman's view. The union was invited in to put its case. I should be very surprised if the hon. Member, or any other hon. Member, would defend a system whereby an employer put a bug under a desk during meetings between union officials and those whom they hoped to recruit.
I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft did not say that this is not a problem that affects every agency or every art studio. Far from it. Both SLADE and the NGA have reached many agreements. However, there is an agency called J. Piercy, owned by the National Magazine Company, which, in turn, is owned by Hearst, an American outfit, I understand. When eventually, having recruited members there, SLADE sought to have talks about the possibility of an agreement, lo and behold, it discovered that the first thing that management, with great regret and tears in its eyes, wanted to talk about was selective redundancies. The July 1976 issue of the SLADE journal tells us—perhaps it could just be by chance—the chosen few for selective redundancycomprised the elected representatives of the newly joined SAU employees along with four other colleagues".495 Therefore, let no one pretend that all the wickedness, if wickedness there has been, happens solely to one side of the argument.
There is the case of an agency in Leeds referred to in the June 1977 issue of the SLADE journal, at which 11 of the artists approached agreed to join SLADE, but before they could do so they were dismissed by the firm for inefficiency. At a second agency five artists joined, and this time they were all sacked for joining the union. Perhaps there are remedies open to the union and to those members in such circumstances, but the message should not go out from this House that all the pressure is coming from one side.
I ask the House to understand, against the background of the loss of skill, against the very real promise—that is what it is—of massive job loss right through this industry, that men and women who see work which has traditionally been done in their area are saying, as the new technology takes over, no more than "All right. If the work is moved out of the print shops where it has normally been done because of this new technology, we shall, as a union, attempt to follow the work." With the certainty of less job security, men and women in this position will not just try to hold on to what they have got but will try to get back some of the work which has been lost to them because of the growth of the new technology.
There have been great arguments and battles, along Fleet Street over the introduction of new technology, and in the end agreement has been reached. I think it right that the trade unions should say, particularly at the reproduction end of this argument and the great newspapers and magazines, "All right, we shall accept that this material will now be prepared in different ways and outside our normal places of work but, as a quid pro quo for that arrangement, we must have the right to be able to extend union membership into the advertising agencies and the art studios where the work is now being done, because traditionally it is our work."
It may be thought only small beer, but people faced with the job loss in the traditional part of this industry see that as a small way of trying to improve job security, to enhance their job prospects and to give them some possible alterna- 496 tives if and when they are made redundant along The Street.
We are told—some of us were at a meeting the other night at which it was made fairly clear—that not many of the people currently working in the advertising agencies want anything to do with SLADE or any other union. There was in 15 agencies, I understand, a ballot carried out by the Industrial Society, and the results showed that 44 felt that they wanted trade unions and 2,584 felt that they did not. Of those asked whether they would join, 234 said that they would and 2,233 said that they would not.
That may seem compelling evidence not just of disinterest but of complete antagonism to the idea of trade unionism. But I do not believe that one can claim that on the strength of that ballot. One was measuring prejudice. The unions had no unfettered ability to go in, in a calm and neutral atmosphere, to talk to people in those agencies about their attitude to trade unions. Indeed, in one agency the meeting had started an hour before, when the employer had given his views, and it was aided by a free bar at the end of the room. These brilliant whizz-kid instant communicators—because that is what they are—happened to feel the need, when the time came to question the union officials who had gone there, to produce bits of paper from their pockets and read out prepared questions. Clearly, therefore, with the atmosphere at that meeting in that agency, it is not surprising that the result of the ballot came out as it did. No hon. Member will say that in an absolute sense that is a proper test of attitudes towards trade unions.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The hon. Gentleman must recognise that SLADE itself has never asserted that there will be any immediate benefits coming from joining—neither in pay nor in terms and conditions. No benefits have come. So what case has SLADE got for inviting these men in the factory to join when there are no benefits for many of those highly-paid men from joining a union at all?
§ Mr. Corbett
I am not here acting as a recruiting sergeant for SLADE, but it is my view, for what it is worth, that the first question that one should ask when 497 contemplating trade union membership is not "What can I get out of it?" but "What can I put into it?" It is trade union members who run trade unions and employ general secretaries, not the other way round. It is not a fruit machine at which one waits for the three bananas to come up.
Not everybody working in advertising agencies earns big money. They are not all whizz-kids. It is exactly the same with magazines. There is a place for whizz-kids. There are very few of them around. But whizz-kids need some of the more routine and dull jobs to be done for them to operate as whizz-kids.
There is a report in another issue of the SLADE journal this year about a 26-year-old artist in a studio in Leeds being paid £20 a week. I do not make the accusation that all those who work in advertising agencies or art studios are grossly underpaid or exploited, but it has already been argued—I touch on this only briefly—that in everyone's interest this industry needs to be better regulated and better organised, with more systematic training and so on.
It will be argued by SLADE that there are many studios in London and elsewhere with which agreements have been sensibly reached but, because those studios fear that the 10 largest agencies would reduce or stop the placing of work with them if that fact were known, these studios have asked the union not to make those agreements public.
It will be argued by SLADE also that many jobbing printers, for years quite properly organised by the trade union movement, are worried at the very disorganised way in which some of the agencies sometimes do their business, so that, at no more than the whim of the creative director or whatever he is called, they may lose an important piece of print work.
I repeat that it is necessary in some way—I do not say that the present methods chosen are right—for this part of the industry which is going through such turmoil to be regulated in everyone's interests.
Both my hon. Friend the Minister of State and the right hon. Member for Lowestoft said that there is to be a meet- 498 ing between the IPA and the TUC Printing Industries Committee. I imagine that all of us in the House will wish that meeting well, since it may well be that one step on the way to a solution of this difficult, emotional and confused problem lies in the willingness and ability of those principally involved at least to sit down and talk to see whether there is a more sensible way of going ahead.
I end on this note. In this world there is no such thing as absolute freedom. There is no absolute freedom for me to go out tomorrow morning, start an advertising agency and book space on behalf of clients either direct or through the Newspaper Publishers Association. There is no way for me to demand from the Newspaper Publishers Association the discount which it gives for the big space bookings.
Just as they accept that there is reason, logic and a sense of regulation and control in the way in which they do their business, the proprietors need also, I suggest, to understand and accept that there is a parallel and matching need for the other end of their business to be similarly regulated, provided—I add this proviso deliberately—that we are talking about persuading and winning the willingness of men and women working in the studios and agencies to come into the trade union movement for the strength which they can give to the industry and for the hope which they can bring for better job protection and conditions.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
I, too, wish that meeting well. I wish it success, but I can only hope that those at the meeting to which so much reference has been made will approach the issue with a twentieth-century attitude, or even a twenty-first century attitude, rather than—as does happen—with a nineteenth-century attitude.
Having listened to the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett), I must tell him that, if he has a sense of complaint about machines overtaking work done by men, he will have to get used to it if he truly believes that what this country needs is investment. A frequent consequence of investment is that machines replace men. This is a fact of life which the trade union movement will have to get used to, if it has not already done so.
499 This debate, however, is about methods used to persuade people to join a trade union. It is not a debate about whether they should become members of a union. It is not about whether they should have the right to become members of a union. It is not about whether a union should have a right to persuade them to become members. It is a debate about the methods used to persuade them to become members. I wish, therefore, to put on record certain views which I hold and which my party holds in regard to the method of recruitment used by SLADE, in particular, and in industry generally.
First, it should be clearly stated that, if democracy is to be maintained, it must be based on a respect for law and that law has to be maintained in an orderly manner. Blackmail, bullying, mass hooliganism and mob rule have no place in a true democracy. The first conclusion to be drawn from that is that we must have a police force that is respected and that, although it may occasionally err, is nevertheless backed by those who make the law, that is, by Parliament. I deplore the attacks which have been made on the police and, indeed, on the judges in recent weeks. I regard these as dangerous signs. Any Government worth their salt would thoroughly condemn them and make absolutely clear that they deplore such attacks.
However, having said that, I express the strongly held view that any person who wishes to join a trade union should be allowed to do so. Equally strongly, on the other hand, I hold the view, and so does my party, that a person who does not wish to join a trade union should not be compelled to do so, and certainly should not be bullied into doing so. Where a majority of employees do not wish to do so, they should not be coerced into joining. What has happened, how-ever—it can be proved to have happened—is that there are groups of people who, even where the large majority, or, in some cases, 100 per cent., did not wish to join SLADE, have been compelled to do so.
It is as wrong to force people to join a union when they do not wish to do so as it is to prevent a man from joining if he wishes. One hon. Member said earlier that the will of the majority should prevail. It can be clearly proved that there are cases in which SLADE has 500 compelled employees to join a union although the vast majority in the company did not wish to do so. I can give one example—I shall not give details now, but I am prepared to send the evidence to any hon. Member who wants it—of an employer who is actually paying the union dues of his employees although they did not want to join. The truth is that he did not wish to be blacked, so he is paying the union subs each week in order to keep the union happy.
That is why I believe that such phrases as "protection money "and" protection rackets" are not out of place in this debate. There are employers who are paying fees for their employees in order to protect themselves from being blackmailed by SLADE in terms of work. We regard such a situation as quite intolerable.
If a man—the same applies to a woman—does not wish to join the union, he should not be blackmailed into doing so, but there is clear evidence that SLADE is adopting deplorable tactics. They are disgraceful, scandalous tactics, and, frankly, they do trade unionism no good. In fact, they do it great harm. I put it to those hon. Members on the Government side who have spoken thus far that, when they talk about a reluctance on the part of people to join—the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead gave some figures in this connection—they should realise that one of the reasons why some of them are not anxious to join may well be that they have heard of the activities of SLADE and, not being people who understand trade unionism or who have been in a trade union in the past, they are a little afraid when they hear about some of the tactics being employed. I say, therefore, that SLADE is doing itself more harm than good by some of the methods which, without doubt, it is adopting.
I hope that the TUC will act to put an end to these disreputable antics. I believe that there are even Members of Parliament—I am not one of them—who have been affected through their business connections by some of the activities of SLADE in recent weeks. If the TUC and others who will be present at the meeting to which reference has been made are not able to make progress along those lines, I hope that the Government themselves will continue to press SLADE 501 and the TUC for action to be taken. The language of bullying and almost of thug-like telephone calls to employers is not the best way to preserve and enhance the interests of the trade union movement. Certainly, it is no basis on which democracy can be maintained.
I hope, therefore, that out of this debate will come the clear message that we believe in the rule of law, that we are proud of our police force, that we hate bullies, that we hate blackmail, that we shall not stand idle, and that whether such moves come from individuals, from mobs or from people imagining themselves to be trade unionists—even from people who may call themselves members of SLADE—we shall condemn them as a House and say that, if people wish to join a union, we are delighted, but if they do not, they have the right to refuse to do so and the right to the protection of the House if pressures are put upon them to force them to do so against their will.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I am delighted to participate in the debate and to follow the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). I first declare an interest in that I am a director of a group of advertising companies and have spent almost all of my working life in advertising in a similar way to the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman), who I am sorry has left the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman made one or two comments that I should like to take up.
I would take a moment of the time of the House to explain what working in an advertising agency or art studio is like. The hon. Member for Basildon gave a sadly biased picture. Agencies and studios are harmonious organisations. They are not conflict-based, as many companies are. People are professional in their approach to their work. They work in a professional atmosphere. There is no question of cowboy operations such as the hon. Member for Basildon suggested. We are talking about skilled people who do skilled work as teams.
This has to be so because the total work output is achieved only by team-work, usually operating to extremely tight schedules. The interrelationship between people is crucial. I am sorry 502 that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) is leaving because I was hoping to educate him. People, professionally and technically qualified at every level and in every part, are the only instruments for success. Therefore, proper mutual understanding is imperative.
Work in agencies and studios is relatively highly-paid. There is complete job mobility and people stay in jobs only where they are happy in that job. If not, they leave and go somewhere else.
One point which has not been mentioned is that there is widespread ownership in almost all agencies and studios. I have never known an agency where there is not some form of profit-sharing or bonus scheme or both. This means professional commitment to the job. Working conditions are good. That is directly important to the creative process. Bureaucracy is at a very minimum, in parts non-existent. Self-discipline is more important than corporate discipline. It is against this background that SLADE has been approaching agencies and studios.
In talks with SLADE representatives, people in studios and advertising agencies have over and over again asked the questions: "What does membership of SLADE offer? What can it do for me?" They have been searching to find out what the advantages might be. But over and over again, the SLADE union representatives have answered "Join up, and then we shall talk to management to see what we can do for you", or words to that effect.
With such answers it is no wonder that ballots conducted among 1,875 people in eight large agencies—the very agencies in which one might expect to find the greatest propensity to join—produced the following results: 85 per cent. did not want to join any union, only 9 per cent. expressed a desire to join, with the remainder not knowing one way or the other. Of the 9 per cent. wanting to join, less than half knew which union they wanted to join, and even after considerable talks, only two people wished to join SLADE.
Against considerable lack of interest in joining SLADE, and often against considerable animosity or even anger at the idea, the union has resorted again 503 and again to the most unsavoury and self-serving strong-arm tactics. Unfortunately, one has to use a term like "strong-arm tactics". In talking to the management SLADE has taken the line "Never mind what people think; management should persuade them that membership of SLADE is good for them—or else".
In spite of ballot confirmation that no one wished to join SLADE, some firms have been blacked by newspaper and other printing unions under pressure from SLADE, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley) have pointed out. In a recent television programme Mr. Brian Murphy, who is head of information at the TUC, described the best method of recruiting to a union as follows:Word of mouth. If a worker in an office or on the shop floor says 'I am a member of a union. I am proud to belong to it, and this is what it has achieved' then that is the most effective form of advertising.On that description, SLADE'S methods seem violently opposed to those of other unions.
There seem to be two underlying weaknesses identified by these SLADE actions. First, much of the fuel for this action seemed to come from concern in SLADE that the union had been missing out in recruitment terms in its historical areas of interest and that rival unions, ASTMS, NATSOPA, NGA and others were eroding its position. That this concern led SLADE to use the tactics it used is indefensible, but it is easy to understand its problem, which seems to have been met by, first, an agreed peace formula between the major print unions establishing demarcation rules for recruitment, and, secondly, merger talks between NATSOPA and NGA which SLADE is now thinking of joining, and will be balloting its members in January of next year.
But could not the TUC be galvanised in some way to seek out and encourage such alternative peaceful solutions to inter-union squabbles and thereby avoid enervating and deeply distrubing activities such as so many studios and agencies have faced in the last two years—and which other companies in other businesses have been facing, are facing and 504 will continue to face in future? Such positive action would be in the interests of the trade union movement, of business and of people everywhere.
Second, the policy of coercion of people to join a union by blackmail tactics is contrary to any accepted code or belief in individual human rights, including the United Nations covenant ratified by this Government only last year. I would have liked to read to the House the necessary paragraphs which are to be found on pages 7 and 22 of this pamphlet "International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights". Cmnd. 6702.
What action should the Government take to minimise the chance of such happenings as these SLADE happenings in the future, and to mitigate their efforts should they happen? First, should not Section 3(2) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Amendment Act 1976 be re-examined and revised as necessary to make illegal activities which induce a breach of commercial contract? SLADE's threats to black are just such an activity which would have been illegal under the 1974 Act. And the operation of "fair lists" of SLADE unionised businesses would surely have been illegal too.
Suppose the whole TUC took the same actions that SLADE has been taking? Then all of the non-union working population would be blacked—a most worrying thought.
Secondly, should not the ability of a union to black output, and thereby to undermine an individual's right to work, be carefully examined, at least circumscribed, and at best abolished?
Thirdly, should not the Government review the operation of the Employment Protection Act, particularly as it establishes the powers of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service? At present only unions can refer a recognition problem to them. Should not companies be allowed to do so as well?
The Government's assurances that ACAS would be able to assist companies seem not to have applied to those companies who have recently had to deal with the problem raised by SLADE's activities—particularly as SLADE itself was not prepared to refer to ACAS and refuses company requests to do so.
505 Could not the Government, like the unions themselves, take the message and get on with these things that need doing?
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)
This has been a good debate if rather shorter than was anticipated because of the statements that preceded it. But the issues have become a great deal clearer as a result of the debate and perhaps clearer than the Minister would have had us believe. However, I welcome the statement that the Minister made towards the end of his speech.
The most significant feature of the whole debate, which, I remind the House, is about theRecruiting methods and techniques of SLADEis that not a single speech has been made in any part of the House that has not criticised or not commented upon theRecruiting methods and techniques of SLADE ",There has not been a single defender of the techniques and methods that were attracting criticism from this side of the House. Certainly they were not being defended by Labour Members. I hope that SLADE and the NGA will take account of this, because—perhaps we know it better than they do—often what is not said in the House is as significant as what is said. No one—not even the most militant, Left-wing pro-trade union supporter, the person who believes that trade unions can never in any circumstances do any wrong—has come here to defend the blackmailing, bullying tactics that have rightly been condemned in many of the speeches today.
The hon. Members for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) and Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett), both well respected, able, intelligent Members, had to deploy their speeches in dealing with matters not under criticism. I accept that they were right to point to the difficulties that flow from the development of new technologies. The hon. Member for Basildon referred to the erosion of skills and said that that was at the base of the problem. I suppose that all Members with any knowledge of industry realise that there are such problems right across the whole span of industry.
506 We know that many old skills are being replaced by new machines and techniques. That, of course, causes great concern. It is right that the House should be worried about these problems and should attempt to find ways of resolving the real fears among individuals who see their traditional rôle in important industries under threat. But that is not what this debate is about.
Even if we accept that that is the reason for some of the activities that have been criticised, it still does not help those concerned. Putting pressure upon individual photographers or illustrators, on small or large advertising agencies, will not protect the jobs of those who are under threat because of new technology. That is merely trying to extend membership of the union. That is an entirely different question. The number of people whom the union will have in membership is not the same as protecting the skills and jobs of those who are being overtaken and adversely affected by new technology.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
The point surely must be made that blacking, or the threat of blacking, small provincial agencies, such as one in my constituency, will serve only to reduce jobs and recruitment and bring great hardship to the industry.
§ Mr. Hayhoe
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What is going on is job destruction, not job preservation, and that is emanating from a union, which we are told, is concerned about its members and their prospects for the future. There is something so paradoxical about it that we can only hope that, when SLADE looks at the matter in the light of what has been said in this debate, it will come round to the view that some of the techniques and methods that it has been adopting should be put on one side as having been ill-conceived.
The fact that SLADE is trying to impose union membership upon unwilling individuals in wholly non-union situations cannot possibly be justified. There are large numbers of freelance people with skill and artistic ability—members of the Association of Fashion Advertising and Editorial Photographers, of the Association of Illustrators Gallery, and others of that ilk. Such people, with skill and ability, who have made their own living, often on a freelance basis, now see the 507 activities of SLADE threatening their livelihoods. They cannot face the prospect of their work being blacked for any time. If it is blacked even for a few weeks, that could put them out of their livelihood entirely. It is monstrous that a union with SLADE's long history should use such tactics against such individuals. I hope that it will reconsider what it is doing.
The points made about recognition are of great importance and may have wider application outside this area. I think that our arguments in Committee on the Employment Protection Bill—that under the Section 11 procedures employers should have the right to refer and to trigger off the recognition operations of ACAS—have been shown to be wholly justified.
The Minister made a somewhat pedantic point about enforcement. He seemed to say that employers should not have the right to refer because of what would happen if, at the end of the day, the union concerned refused to accept and implement the recommendations that ACAS might make. If an employer refuses to accept the ACAS recommendations, there is provision in the Act for the Central Arbitration Committee to act. There is a complicated procedure for enforcement mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan).
What would happen if a trade union refused to accept the ACAS report? If, in the circumstances with which we are concerned, ACAS had gone in and truly reported that there was no interest on the part of individuals to join the union, presumably SLADE would have accepted that and pulled back. If not, and if we had a series of instances in which trade unions refused to accept the clear recommendations of ACAS on recognition issues, we should have to consider changes in the law.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) specifically suggested that perhaps the immunities that Parliament grants to industrial action in a broad sense should be looked at again in particular circumstances where blacking procedures are adopted on recognition issues and where the union concerned is not complying with the ACAS report. That would seem to be a sensible and 508 reasonable way to proceed. There are ways of getting out of the difficulty.
This has not been an anti-union, union-bashing debate. It has not been an anti-SLADE debate. It has been an anti-recruiting methods and techniques and tactics of SLADE debate. I make no apology for that being the purpose of the debate. Some of the things that have been done in the name of SLADE to increase its membership are wholly repugnant to the vast majority of Members, wherever they sit, and to the trade union movement.
What has come from the debate has been a general condemnation of these tactics and pressures—the blackmailing, as it has been called, the protection racket—that have been operated in certain circumstances. That language is justified by well-established factual records of what has happened.
There has been a clear call from the House that the blacking should be suspended. I hope that constructive proposals will come from the meeting of the Printing Industries Committee of the TUC with the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising on 19th July. I suggest that the matter should be widened to include the Newspaper Society—perhaps not at that meeting, but at another—in order to cover the whole industry and to try to get the whole thing on a proper footing. I am sure that is the call that goes out from the House.
Finally, I hope that the Minister will reinforce, perhaps in more stalwart language, the criticisms implicit in the carefully worded comments of the Minister of State.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of Slate for Employment (Mr. John Grant)
I begin by saying how pleased I was that it was the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) who spoke first in the debate. Frankly, I have been a bit worried about Jim, because it seems that in recent days he has been shunted to one side to make way for the more hysterical outbursts on industrial matters of his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). I was confirmed in my view by reading an article by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East in the Daily Mail. That paper was certainly a suitable 509 vehicle for the right hon. Gentleman's views.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft used strong language, and strong language has been used throughout the debate about the activities of SLADE. This is a very important issue and we should recognise that it is also an emotive issue. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) said that this was not a union-bashing debate, that the real concern was about the fundamental issue of the closed shop. I shall not have time to go into that subject in detail, but my right hon. Friend has already said a great deal about it.
Although it may not have been a union-bashing debate, underneath so much of what the Opposition have said there lies a basic anti-trade union pre-judice. That takes us back to the debates on the Industrial Relations Bill. In selecting this subject for debate the Opposition thought that they could embarrass the Government. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft came very close to saying that. I cannot help but observe that what angers Opposition Members is the fact that we have broadly got back to sanity in industrial relations.
Of course, there are always major disputes of this kind. There always have been and there always will be. But the figures for working days lost through strikes in 1976 illustrate my point. There has been a dramatic break-through to industrial peace.
§ Mr. Grant
Tomorrow's figures may not be as good, but by comparison with the period when the hon. Gentleman's party was in office, there is a marked difference.
Trade unions clearly have considerable power and most hon. Members would agree that they usually use it wisely and responsibly. It is in their own best interests to do so. The best recruit is the volunteer, and one volunteer is worth 10 pressed men. However, there is a powerful argument for the closed shop, particularly where there is potential or real exploitation of the work force.
The hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley) felt that my right 510 hon. Friend the Minister of State did not acknowledge sufficiently vigorously the various charges about SLADE in regard to coercion and so on. That view was repeated by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth. This is a very serious situation. It may not be capable of settlement through normal industrial relations channels. It could be that Ministers in the Deparment of Employment will have to be involved at some stage, but it would be wrong for them to put themselves in a position in which, if their services were called on, they would not be regarded as impartial. I think that the Opposition Front Bench will acknowledge that. They would be the first to accuse us if we went too far in that direction or any other.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) said that we were dealing with a tough industry. Like him, I have some personal experience of the printing and particularly the newspaper industry, and I agree with him. He would probably agree with me that the whole issue of the closed shop was nothing like the major issue that it now seems to have become until we had the Conservative industrial relations legislation. That brought the closed shop into a new kind of prominence, promoting it as a major issue and bringing about a polarisation of attitudes.
The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) made much of the need for the powers of ACAS to be strengthened and said that the procedures provided should always be followed. It was this insistence on perfection that was the hallmark of the previous Conservative Government and that brought it into such massive disrepute in industrial relations. We cannot have that kind of perfection in industrial relations.
There has been some misunderstanding about the rôle of ACAS. Its rôle is not to impose solutions but to conciliate and to try to promote agreement by persuasion. When we get to the point at which the activities of ACAS involve sanctions, we are in danger of seriously damaging its effectiveness.
My right hon. Friend indicated previously the large number of settlements of recognition cases where there was withdrawal and a successful settlement after referral to ACAS. I do not have the success rate with me, but it is apparent 511 that the kind of issue we are discussing today is comparatively rare.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) said that there was no absolute freedom, and I agree. I have made similar comments myself about the freedom of the Press. Freedom is one of the most abused words in use today. I was very interested in what my hon. Friend said about regulation and control, and I wish that we had time to develop that theme.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) spoke about Government pressure but we are not involved in that way at this stage. I suppose that we could become involved, but that is all the more reason why I and my right hon. Friend feel it right to measure our words very carefully in responding to this debate.
The hon. Members for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) painted an extraordinary picture of the advertising industry. It may be that it was correct, but I was waiting for the "jingle" to come on afterwards. He certainly knows how to advertise. He asked for the TUC to be galvanised, and I think that everyone will agree that the meeting set for 19th July is very important.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West) rose—
§ Mr. Grant
I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have only a few minutes, and anyway he has not been present during the debate.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth made a valid comment when he said that most hon. Members had expressed criticism of one degree or another. I think that is right, and I hope that those who are directly involved in the dispute will take careful note of the views expressed in the House today.
The Minister of State has made the Government's position very clear. We are concerned about SLADE's tactics, but we cannot conceive that the intervention of the law in this kind of situation would help. If experience of the recent past is a guide, it is reasonable to assume that such intervention would be counter-productive. It is best at this time to accept the good offices of the TUC Printing Industries Committee as the best hope of securing a fair and satisfactory solu- 512 tion, though we in no way underrate the difficulties of achieving that.
I do not believe that it is ever wise for Governments or the House to have a totally closed mind about existing legislation. It must stand up to the test of experience, but the experience must be gained over a considerable period in order to be truly relevant. The recognition provisions of the Employment Protection Act are still relatively new. They came into operation last year and a number of the procedures have not yet been used.
Finally, we say to the parties in this and other industrial disputes that the big stick is not the best way to resolve industrial relations problems. It could not be used in this situation without causing indiscriminate damage, often to the user as well as to those on the receiving end, and damage also to innocent bystanders.
The Government have established new procedures for the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes, and they are proving to be of immense value. I know that various criticisms have been made, particularly by hon. Members opposite, about loopholes and gaps. However, it is too early for us to consider changing the law in that respect.
§ It being Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.