§ Mr. Speaker
Before the debate begins, I remind the House once again about the application of the sub judice rule. I shall continue to disallow any reference to the cases of persons who have been arrested where there are charges pending or cases due to be heard. I must also disallow any reference to the civil action pending between ACAS and the Grunwick Processing Laboratories Limited.
The issue in the action between Grun-wick and ACAS is whether the recommendation by ACAS in its report of 10th March 1977 under Section 12(4) of the Employment Protection Act 1975 that Grunwick should recognise APEX for the purposes of collective bargaining in respect of weekly paid staff is, as Grunwick claims, void on the grounds that ACAS failed to carry out its duties properly in conducting inquiries to ascertain the views of the workers as required by the 1975 Act. In consequence, it appears to me to follow that any reference to the actions of ACAS in this matter and to any comments which may have been made on these occasions, whether before or after the writ was issued, fall within the sub judice rule and may not be raised.
The motion, however, begins with the reference to the general situation at Grunwick and I reaffirm that the general issue of the dispute is not sub judice. Similarly, the conduct of the police, the pickets and the crowds can be discussed provided that no reference is made to questions before the court. General references to conciliation and arbitration will be in order provided that they do not touch upon the 569 recommendations of ACAS and the civil action pending in relation thereto.
May I remind the House of the words set out in "Erskine May" to which reference has been made many times in the past by my predecessors. These words are as follows:Good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language. Parliamentary language is never more desirable than when a Member is canvassing the opinions and conduct of his opponents in debate.I believe it is, above all, necessary that we should heed this advice today.
I remind the House that this is a three-hour debate. I realise that a number of hon. Members who will be called may well be speaking under great emotion. I ask them to bear in mind that others have equal emotion and will be wanting to participate in the debate.
§ 4.34 p.m.
Leave having been given on Wednesday 29th June under Standing Order No. 9 to discuss:
The situation at Grunwick, with particular reference to the decision of the London District Council of the Union of Post Office Workers to ban all movement of mail to and from Grunwick.
§ I move the Adjournment of the House so that we may discuss the situation at Grunwick with particular reference to a decision taken earlier this week by the London District Council of the Union of Post Office Workers to ban all movement of mail to and from Grunwick. I hope that your injunction to us to moderate our language and our humours was not addressed specially to me, Mr. Speaker. I shall, nevertheless, seek to follow it.
§ Although it was the particular matter of the Post Office worker's action which imparted the crucial urgency to this matter, you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, today and yesterday that everything will be in order except those matters that are sub judice. The dispute at Grunwick began on 23rd August last year at a time when the staff of that photographic processing firm was swollen by temporary staff, including a considerable number of students, to cope with the August peak 570 of photographic work. That may have been a factor in what followed. The detailed history of what followed is not relevant to the argument that I want to deploy. The two hon. Members with a constituency interest may well wish to recount those incidents, because their concern may have an emphasis different from mine.
§ An outline of events is essential for a definition of the principles that are involved. I am concerned, and I invite the House to be concerned, with what may in the most general manner be called the rule of law. It may also be called the rule of law by Parliament. I hope that we shall have a little rule of law inside our debate. Parliament sometimes makes bad laws. I can think of several. But they are still laws, and one of those laws is that if a man claims that he has been dismissed for joining a union, or wanting to join a union, he may go to an industrial tribunal with a claim of unfair dismissal. The law places the decision of such claims in those tribunals and, behind them, the courts.
§ The Grunwick dispute is not about employees being dismissed upon such grounds—
§ Mr. Bell
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, will be able to give chapter and verse for that. I have been through it but I do not want to detain the House upon that point. I make the bald statement that the dispute at Grunwick is not about employees being dismissed on the grounds of their joining unions. [Interruption.] Last Thursday the Prime Minister, at c. 1738 of the Official Report, said that, on three occasions at least, people had been dismissed by the Grunwick company for joining a trade union. My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who always watches the Prime Minister's words with great care, asked the Prime Minister whether he would list the persons concerned and the dates. That Question was, strangely enough, because it concerned the Prime Minister's words, referred to the Department of Employment. The answer given by the Minister 571 of State, which appears today, was monosyllabic—"No". The Minister of State will not list the names or name the dates.
I say without fear of valid contradiction that the dispute is not about employees being dismissed on the ground of joining unions, on the evidence available. It is, on the other hand, incontrovertible, and not controverted, that the dispute is about the recommendation of APEX as a negotiator for the employees in the factory, not one of whom is a mem-of APEX—
§ Mr. Bell
That applied to ex-employees at the moment when they left the factory.
In that remarkable cause APEX declared an official dispute and picketing at once began. Until nearly three weeks ago it was what is euphemistically called "peaceful picketing", because it was confined to abuse and insults and did not involve physical injury. After the violence erupted and continued in the way that the House knows from our daily exchanges upon the subject, the TUC General Council on 22nd June urged unions to intensify their support for the pickets.
The motion that was passed, which was reported in The Times, urged all unions to continue and to intensify financial and practical aid. The Times, if I may summarise the report, stated that the TUC General Council had urged unions to intensify their support for the Grun-wick strikers after further violent clashes between police and pickets. It added that miners from Scotland and Yorkshire intended to join the pickets that day. A statement issued at the same time said that the resolution would be transmitted immediately to all unions belonging to the TUC. That was on 22nd June.
In considering the responsibility of the postal workers in the Cricklewood sub-district post office it is useful to remember that their present action started on about 16th June, that the serious violence of pickets began to erupt at about that time, and that the TUC resolution calling on all unions to intensify their support came after that had been going on for nearly a week.
572 If the action of the Cricklewood postal workers has on this occasion been unofficial, in the sense that it has not been sponsored by their union, it must be remembered—as they will certainly remember—that when they took similar action between 1st and 4th November last year in the same cause, it was on the instructions of their union. Their General Secretary said then that the statutory provisions against delaying mail were old and had never been tested.
Finally, no condemnation of this illegality—for illegality it indisputably is— has come from any Minister until the Secretary of State for Employment spoke today.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
The hon. and learned Gentleman says that it is indisputable that there is a transgression of Section 58 of the Act, but the only legal authority for such a proposition is the remarks of the Master of the Rolls in the Gouriet case, which were not acceded to by the other members of the court. As yet, there is no authority for the proposition that it is illegal for the union, in the course of an industrial dispute, which this manifestly is, to carry out the kind of activity envisaged at Cricklewood.
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken and confused. In the Gouriet case what was said, and what was cited by the Attorney-General on 23rd June, was that it was possible that a general strike against everybody by Post Office workers would not be a breach of the law. But the authority—if I need to rely on one, and surely the plain words of the Act are enough—is the Attorney-General himself, in his statement of 23rd June, a statement that was unsatisfactory but that did not dispute that there had been a breach of the law.
No condemnation of this illegality had come from anyone, except the rather tepid words of condemnation that had to be squeezed out today. There was not even any condemnation from the Attorney-General, even when he was hard pressed to condemn on 23rd June. Of course, he conceded the illegality and said that it would have his careful consideration, but condemnation came there none. On 2nd November last year, the Minister of State, Department of Employment sub-bornly refused to be drawn into any condemnation of action of the Union of Post 573 Office Workers which at that time was mounting an official strike against Grunwick and was instructing its members not to handle the company's mail. Hon. Member after hon. Member pressed the right hon. Gentleman to condemn this illegality but he ducked every one and talked about the extremity of the circumstances which must have caused reasonable men—by which he meant basically Mr. Tom Jackson—to behave in the way they were behaving. It has even been hard work to extract from Ministers condemnations of violence, or even what Opposition Members would regard as adequately warm and firm sympathy for the police, who have been outrageously handled in recent weeks.
The broader considerations that emerge from this background are as follows: the Post Office has a statutory monopoly for handling mail; it follows from that that a discrimination against particular users on any grounds must be made unlawful, as it is. By the Post Office Acts discrimination is unlawful.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must ask hon. Members not to interrupt from a sedentary position. To do so is quite unfair to whoever is addressing the House. We have our well-established methods that anyone who wishes to intervene may follow.
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that I should draw your attention to the precise words that I uttered at the time that the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) went into—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. They are not germane to what I said. I am saying only that I hope that everyone in the House will listen to the speech being made without making a running commentary from a sedentary position.
§ Mr. Bell
The observations of the hon. Member for Bolsover were delivered from 574 an upright position when the Secretary of State for Employment was making a statement today. That illustrates the point I am making. He was urging that all coercive pressures, including illegality and sympathetic picketing, should continue in order to exercise pressure upon the court of inquiry that is being set up, and the Secretary of State said that he agreed with his hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North West)
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us what illegalities were carried out by pickets? When I visited the picket line, the only illegality was dangerous driving by the driver of the bus.
§ Mr. Bell
That is a very interesting question. I hope later to say a few words about it. However, I was referring to the illegality of the action of the postal workers, which is an entirely different subject.
It follows from what I have said about the Post Office monopoly of the delivery of mail that discrimination against particular users must be outlawed, as it is in the Post Office Act 1953. But by virtue of the same Act, a person injured has no legal redress against the Post Office. That is explicitly stated.
By virtue of trade union legislation, and especially by virtue of the Act that was introduced by Labour in 1974, a person injured—and he may be very gravely injured—has no redress against postal workers when they are engaged in an industrial dispute. He has no redress against the postal workers' union if it endorses the dispute. Both groups are totally exempt. He therefore has no redress whatever for any damage that he might suffer.
That being so, the Post Office is entitled to prosecute or dismiss, but it is not bound to do so. Yesterday the Post Office put out an ultimatum which expired at 11.30 a.m. today. That ultimatum has been ignored and the threat has not been carried out.
These things being so, the final and effective responsibility for the operation of this statutory monopoly falls squarely upon the Government and Parliament. There is no other way in which the subject can be protected. The prime responsibility for ensuring that there is no discrimination falls upon the Secretary of 575 State for Industry by virtue of Section 11(9) of the Post Office Act 1969. The words used are not entirely apt for the particular dispute, but his is the supervising responsibility. I ask what the right hon. Gentleman is doing about it. [Interruption.] The guardian of the law is the Attorney-General. We know what he is doing about it—nothing.
The issue was raised with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on 23rd June. He conceded the illegality, but when pressed and asked whether he would do anything, he said:In deciding whether those most exceptional circumstances exist, I have to take into account the damage caused by a failure to ensure that the law is complied with, on the one side, and, on the other, the risk of grave damage to the public as a whole if action taken is likely to provoke far more widespread repercussions.So the right hon. and learned Gentleman was going to make inquiries. He was further pressed and he referred to the judgment of the Master of the Rolls in the Gouriet case, which made it at least possible that a strike would not be a criminal offence. He said that that was something he had to consider. He said that if Post Office employees werewholly to withdraw their labourthatwould not be a breach of the criminal law…. It is absolutely right that I should have that in mind as one of the public interest factors which I have to consider".—[Official Report, 23rd June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 1741–42.]If the Attorney-General is to act upon that basis, if he is to weigh the impact upon the public of enforcing the Jaw against those who are injuring an individual, against the impact on the public of wider action provoked by his enforcing the law to protect the individual, he lays himself wide open to blackmail. In that way he is replacing the rule of law with the rule of the bully-boys.
We establish a statutory monopoly of the mail and then we say that if it is to be a public monopoly we must protect the individual against discrimination. We provide that an offence is created in certain circumstances. We say that anyone who delays a postal packet shall be guilty of a criminal offence and may be punished on indictment. The Attorney-General says "Yes, but if I prosecute 576 because the Post Office will not and that produces a strike, I shall not be able to touch the strike because it may not be illegal and, therefore, I shall not prosecute". If that line is taken, protection for the individual under Section 58 is non-existent.
We all know about union militancy, and we know that today the Secretary of State for Employment has announced the instituting of a court of inquiry. The mediator was not accepted. The right hon. Gentleman could not get acceptance that the findings of the mediator would be binding. However, he is appointing a court of inquiry and he asks for co-operation. I hope that there will be co-operation, but at the end of the day what will emerge? There is not very much dispute on the facts. There is a little dispute but not very much.
As I understand it, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North is very detailed in his knowledge of the facts. However, on the accusation that people have been dismissed for joining a union, I am told by my hon. Friend—he will enlarge upon it if he has the opportunity to do so—that 60 cases went to the industrial tribunal and only in the last case was it suggested that the man had been dismissed for seeking to join a union, and that was not sustained— [Interruption.] If I am wrong, I shall withdraw.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
Perhaps I may correct my hon. and learned Friend. I misdirected him on this issue. In all the cases there was no question of the employee being dismissed for trade union activities.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery) rose—
§ Mr. Bell
I shall give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman in a moment, but first I want to finish my sentence. I hope that that is not unreasonable. I was saying that 60 cases went to the industrial tribunal and in the first 59 the man or woman concerned did not even suggest that he or she had been dismissed for seeking to join a union. In the 60th case 577 he or she made that suggestion, but it was not upheld by the tribunal. Before I give way, I point out that the Prime Minister has after all had to make a nil return when asked for his evidence on the same topic.
§ Mr. Hooson
I should not like the hon. and learned Gentleman to spoil what he is saying by putting forward false facts. I have in front of me the tribunal's report and decision. I quote from paragraph 1 under the heading "Reasons". It states:There are 59 applicants before us, all former employees of the Respondent. They complain that they were dismissed because they joined a trade union and fought for its recognition and accordingly that the dismissals were unfair".That was their case, and the unanimous decision was thatThese applications fail and must be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Hon. Members who intervene will be hoping later to take part in the debate. I hope that they will get a good hearing if they are called.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is unreasonable for hon. Members to shout out from a sitting position, and quite out of character with the history of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, it is out of character if we go back further than five years. If hon. Members who have indicated to me that they wish to speak will restrain themselves, I hope that there will be a chance for them to do so.
§ Mr. Bell
It is an awful waste of time. As I was saying, if I am wrong, I certainly withdraw. I understood from my hon. Friend that the employees had not raised the issue. If it be the case that they raised it and they failed on that ground, the net result is the same. Anyway, that was really a parenthesis in considering the court of inquiry that the Secretary of State is proposing to set up.
There is little dispute on the facts. At the end of the day, what shall we get from the court of inquiry? Will it say "The employees must be overruled. They have 578 to join APEX."? Is that the sort of thing that the court of inquiry can say? If it says that, is anyone to accept that in advance as binding?
The point that I wish to make is that the issues are political. They are not justiciable issues; they are political issues of the widest significance.
There has been talk about conciliation, but let there be no mistake—the intention is that conciliation should be the organisation of surrender by Mr. Ward, rather like the conciliation in the Race Relations Act. The question is: how are we to get it? What has enraged the union and certain Labour Members and has led to talk about solidarity has been that, for once, they have come up against somebody who does not crumple. The trouble is that, since the end of the war, all the militancy has been on one side. Certain hon. Gentlemen opposite take it for granted that that should be so and that the onward crushing of this machine should not be stopped. The unions are coercive organisations. When they have mobilised their armies they will turn them against the community, force all of us to accept what they want, and extract unreasonable concessions.
We have heard talk of moderation, conciliation, reasonableness and compromise, but there is a great deal too much of it. There are some who, if they met Apollyon straddling the path, would want conciliation and a reasonable compromise. There are those who would compromise with the devil.
I do not know the merits of the Grun-wick dispute as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North, but I recognise that, for almost the first time in my recollection, someone has stood up against the coercive powers of the trade unions, with all their threats and mobilisation, and intends to go on standing up to them and, if possible, to win.
The coercive combinations of the trade unions have almost destroyed industry in this country, wrecked our productivity and corroded the constitution. Gang warfare has taken over and challenges not only the rule of law, but democracy itself.
These yelling crowds outside the Grunwick Processing Laboratories— [HON. MEMBERS: "And inside."]—are a threat to our way of life, as the Secretary 579 of State knows, If he had been there yesterday, I understand that he would have heard speeches by trade union leaders saying who would be there on Wednesday, Thursday, and so on, and calling for intensification of all the boycotts and for what the hon. Member for Bolsover would call union solidarity.
§ Mr. Bell
This engine, which has destroyed our communal life, is destroying our freedoms and will destroy our nation. Unless it is faced uncompromisingly, as Mr. Ward has faced it, I see no future for democracy in this country. That is why I am happy to move this motion, and I shall be a little sorry if we do not vote on it.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)
In the last words of his statement this afternoon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment expressed the hope that we should have a debate of a kind that would help, not hinder, the effort that the Government have now made to find a peaceful solution to the Grunwick dispute. In the closing part of his speech, the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) showed his contempt for that appeal. I hope that the Opposition Front Bench, particularly the right hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), who, I understand, will be following me, will forcibly express their view on the kind of remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield.
I hope that, throughout the debate, we shall have a series of speeches that will seek to help, not hinder, the effort to find a peaceful solution. Certainly I shall not say anything that will seek to hinder that solution.
It seemed to me that the kernel of the remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield affecting me came immediately before the concluding passage in his speech. It was to the effect that the rule of law requires that when prima facie offences have been committed, those concerned and ultimately the Attorney-General, must inevitably bring prosecutions or the rule of law is destroyed. If that, or anything like it, was the philosophy being presented by the hon. and learned Gentleman, it is 580 totally contrary to what was pronounced in 1951 by Lord Shawcross—I shall be coming back to that in due course— which then received the support of all hon. Members concerned with the law and has since received the support of Law Officers.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
That was not what I said. I said that the balance must not lie between enforcing the law in defence of the individual and the danger of retaliatory action on the part of others.
§ The Attorney-General
We shall see in Hansard tomorrow what the hon. and learned Gentleman said. If he is not supporting what I suggested was the effect of his words, I am glad to hear it. None the less, it is right that in due course I should remind the House of the proper principle, because only in the light of that principle can the House decide upon the Tightness both of my actions and of those of the Post Office.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire) rose—
§ The Attorney-General
Therefore, I shall remind the House of the facts relating to the Post Office.
Grunwick's mail is handled at three main sorting offices: West Central, Cricklewood and Willesden. The bulk of its incoming mail, containing incoming work and cash, is handled by the West Central district office. Small amounts of incoming mail also pass through the Willesden office and the Cricklewood office, but not, apparently, orders.
The company has been collecting its mail from both the West Central and Willesden offices, but not, apparently, Cricklewood, which is the main office handling Grunwick's outgoing mail. One day's mail—64 bags—is still being held at Cricklewood, as I told the House last week. Since 16th June, Grunwick has not delivered mail to that office.
The Post Office has a responsibility to provide services to the community without showing preference towards, or discrimination against, any of its customers. In so far as any postal officer, whoever he may be, offends against that obligation, prima facie, at any rate, he is committing an illegal and criminal act, 581 which, of course, we condemn, just as we condemn those who, for example, show violence on the picket line, whether to or by pickets, and those who, in a totally different sphere, do not provide the necessary company returns required by law.
All these things are illegal and criminal acts, which are to be condemned, and it is a matter of degree, obviously, as to the extent of the damage which they may do. But, as I said to the House on 23rd June, the Post Office is best placed to establish the facts and to take decisions affecting the delivery of mail to the public generally.
It had, therefore, to consider very carefully the consequences of its actions in the interest of users of the postal services as a whole, and the wider implications of precipitate action on its part. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is interested, now that he has made his speech, but perhaps I will leave him to continue his conversation. This was bound to include the impact of any action on its part on the initiatives of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, which were directed towards early resolution of the dispute between Grunwick and the union. The Post Office, however, as early as 17th June, posted notices to warn its staff that anyone deliberately delaying mail contrary to his duty would put himself at risk of prosecution.
I believe that the attitude of the Post Office and its chairman in this very difficult and very delicate situation has been constructive and responsible. Let me also make it absolutely clear that the action taken at Cricklewood, as I said last week, was against the advice of the Union of Post Office Workers, and I think it right for the House to pay tribute to the continuing efforts of Mr. Tom Jackson, the General Secretary of the union, who has done everything in his power to persuade his members to work normally. While he was still trying, however, and, indeed, while we might have hoped that the Grunwick dispute could be ended by mediation, it was, in my view, entirely reasonable for the Post Office to delay further action, that might have made a solution more difficult.
On 23rd June I made my statement to the House. As I informed the House 582 then, I asked the chairman of the Post Office to inform me of the steps that he had taken, or proposed in the immediate future to take, in accordance with the responsibilities of the Post Office.
The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield yesterday, totally mis-described that reply. In making his statement to the House, asking for leave to move the Adjournment of the House, what he said was that in answering the Private Notice Question I had said that I would make inquiries about the probable reaction if I were to prosecute for breaches of the Post Office Act. That was not true at all. It was equally untrue to say, as he did, that we had heard nothing since, and equally untrue to speak about my inaction.
On the contrary, I did what I said I was doing. I wrote to the Chairman of the Post Office and I had a reply from him, telling me what he proposed to do. He told me that the Post Office considered that in view of its statutory duties and responsibilities and in view of the diminishing hope of an early resolution of the dispute at Grunwick, it had decided that, notwithstanding all the efforts that were being made to resolve that dispute, it could not stand by and allow the situation to continue indefinitely.
The letter told me of the action that the Post Office intended to take. That action it has taken. Indeed, the action was taken yesterday morning, and it was on the tapes at 1.30 p.m. yesterday. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had not seen it before he made his application, I can only regret that he had not taken that trouble.
Notices were posted in the Cricklewood office yesterday which first reminded the staff of the warning given on 17th June, of the Post Office's responsibility to the community, and of the obligation on the staff, in accordance with the terms of their contracts, irrespective of their own personal views or beliefs, to handle mail in accordance with current instructions.
The notice finished with these words:Therefore staff who, contrary to instructions, are currently taking unofficial industrial action and discriminating against an individual customer by refusing to handle its mail or that of its correspondents must now resume full working in accordance with their duty.If the staff concerned have not resumed normal working within 24 hours of the posting of this notice, they should know that they 583 will thereafter be formally directed to do so, and if they do not will be required to leave the premises: and until they are prepared to heed any such instructions as may be given to them, their pay will be stopped and the privilege of taking sick leave without a certificate will be withdrawn.The Post Office has been placed in a situation in which whatever it decided to do would be subject to criticism. It took a responsible decision. I know that it considered the situation very seriously indeed, and from every point of view, be-for it concluded that the time had come to take disciplinary action.
The current position is that the staff, other than at Cricklewood, are reported to be working normally, and there has been no escalation of the dispute, despite the fact that there were certainly fears that that might take place. I understand, however, that at Cricklewood the mail awaiting outward sorting is still not being touched. The Post Office has now to judge the timing of the further action to which it has referred, or any other further action which may be appropriate in relation to the operational characteristics of the Cricklewood office.
I have asked the chairman to keep me closely in touch with the course of events. In the meantime, the Post Office would be right to take into account the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment in deciding the course of further action. In view of my right hon. Friend's announcement this afternoon of his decision to set up a court of inquiry, I very much hope that all concerned will return to normal working immediately.
I am sure also that the vast majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House are well aware of the serious issues involved, and that all participating in the debate will bear in mind the need not to say anything that will exacerbate the situation.
I want to say a few words, as I promised I would, about the responsibilities of the Attorney-General in a situation of this kind, and particularly in view of the tendentious words used by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfleld in opening the debate.
In January 1951 this House debated the decisions of Lord Shawcross, then Attorney-General, in not dissimilar circumstances, to prosecute some and not 584 to prosecute other workers who had taken part in illegal—that is to say —criminal strikes. It is interesting to observe that the words of the Daily Telegraph on that day were not dissimilar to what I understood to be suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman in opening the debate. What it said was:Is it not in fact a basic principle of the rule of law that the operation of the law is automatic (except when the law is specifically permissive and not mandatory) where the offence is known or suspected? Is not the arbitrary implementation of the law just as offensive to the elementary motion of justice as an arbitrary law?At least one hon. Member opposite says "Yes" to that today.
The then Attorney-General gave the true answer, and I must quote at some length from what he said, because this is a matter of the gravest possible importance, and I hope to have the full support of the right hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon.
Lord Shawcross said:I think the true doctrine is that it is the duty of an Attorney-General, in deciding whether or not to authorise the prosecution, to acquaint himself with all the relevant facts, including, for instance, the effect which the prosecution, successful or unsuccessful as the case may be, would have upon public morale and order, and with any other considerations affecting public policy.In order to inform himself he may ask his colleagues who are charged with ministerial responsibilities although, of course, he cannotshift his responsibility for making the decision on to the shoulders of his colleagues.He went on:If political considerations which, in the broad sense that I have indicated, affect government in the abstract arise, it is the Attroney-General, applying his judicial mind, who has to be the sole judge of those considerations.Lord Shawcross continued with these words that are so much in point in this debate:Questions have been raised, I know, in regard to prosecutions in respect of illegal strikes under the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order … The law laid down by that Order, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, is not always easy to apply to all industrial disputes in peace-time. If one prosecutes too soon, it may only exacerbate the difficulties and impede the opportunities of settling the dispute by negotiation or arbitration. Prosecution may result in the individuals proceeded against being made martyrs in the opinion of their colleagues, and instead of leading to the observance of the 585 law it may produce even greater disregard of it and so bring the law further into disrepute." —[Official Report, 29th January 1951; Vol. 483, c. 683–4.]That is what I had in mind the other day when I spoke about the true meaning of peaceful picketing and said that there will be no martyrs in this particular dispute.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman remembers, at the time of the postal workers suggested blocking of South African mail he gave as his reason for not prosecuting that it would cause the sort of widespread political and industrial chaos about which he is talking. In the event an injunction was granted by the courts and the post office to a man obeyed that injunction. Does not that instance make the right hon. and learned Gentleman believe that his judgment was false on that occasion? On this occasion we think that his judgment continues to be false.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think that my judgment was faulty. This is a matter which is now before the House of Lords and we are waiting for its judgment, not on whether my judgment was faulty but on the general issues of that case. The less I say about that the better.
Lord Shawcross went on:But whilst I would never allow a threat of criminal action to be used as a kind of pawn in industrial relations, I shall not hesitate to prosecute in what The Times described as 'appropriate cases' and 'at the appropriate time'."—again I agree with him and endorse what he said—The public cannot be held to ransom nor the law as it is at present be brought into complete disrepute.On the other hand, there may well be circumstances in which the public convenience is not affected by the strike or in which, for other reasons, the public interest is not served by prosecution. Lord Birkenhead, again, in one case felt that the public interest was best met by a withdrawal of proceedings which had already been started, on an undertaking by the individuals concerned to resume work. I cannot pretend to lay down in advance any rules on which I should act in these matters. I am always loth to proceed against the rank and file in an industrial dispute where the real inciters and leaders have succeeded in covering up their activities."—[Official Report, 29th January 1951; Vol. 483, c. 684–5.]Lord Shawcross there set out clearly the various public interest aspects which 586 it is necessary to consider. Indeed, he clearly put forward the argument in opposition to the intervention of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley).
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman address himself to a much more serious public issue which arises in this matter? That is, that a group of people by action known to be illegal or industrial can suspend prosecution against themselves by that threat. That is an issue on which the Attorney-General should address the House.
§ The Attorney-General
Of course I address myself to that issue. That is absolutely inherent in everything that I have quoted from what Lord Shawcross said. Unfortunately, the public interest does not produce easy decisions. These are matters of balance. This is a matter on one side, and other factors to which Lord Shawcross referred are matters on the other side. As Lord Shawcross rightly said, what the Attorney-General has to do is to make the right decision at the right time. At the moment my view is that any suggestion that it would be right at this time and in these circumstances, after all that my right hon. Friend has done and in the situation as it now is, to consider prosecution would be totally wrong, counter-productive and would be the very opposite of what Lord Shawcross was saying.
§ Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
I have been listening with care to what the Attorney-General said about the speech of Lord Shawcross, which is well known in the Law Officers' Department. Does not the Attorney-General agree that the public interest cannot be served if a company is forced into liquidation by reason of illegal action?
§ The Attorney-General
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, as have other hon. Members, puts a factor which is one of the public interest factors that one must obviously have regard to. My hope is that nothing of the sort will arise. My hope is that with the support and advice of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) the company will see sense. I hope that it will take part in this inquiry and that it will put its case before the court of inquiry, and before the very distinguished gentlemen who compose the court of 587 inquiry, so that both sides of the argument can be looked into and examined by members of the court of inquiry.
I very much hope that the company will not do so on the basis that if the report is in its favour it will accept it but that if the report is against it, it will reject it. That appears to be the way in which the matter has been put before us this afternoon. I hope that both sides will accept the court of inquiry on the basis that they will accept whatever its conclusions may be. If they do that, then the situation which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned will be quite irrelevant.
I must read the final paragraph of what Lord Shawcross said in that debate, because it sums up the way in which I would deal with this matter and other matters within my responsibility. Lord Shawcross said:Summing up the whole matter, I can only say that so long as I hold my present office, I shall try to the best of my ability to continue to administer the duties of the office in what appears to me to be the public interest, and to do whatever i can at least to maintain, if not to strengthen, the influence of the office in the promotion of justice, as well as its traditional independence and integrity."—[Official Report, 29th January 1951; Vol. 483, c. 688.]Everything that he said in that speech was accepted and confirmed by right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench at the time. It has, as the right hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon knows, been the basis of decisions of Attorney-Generals and Law Officers ever since. He knows very well —I hope that he will not say anything whatever to the contrary—that this balance of the public interest is one that every Law Officer has had to consider and decide upon. It is not simply a question that offences have been committed and therefore the time has come to prosecute, as the Daily Telegraph then suggested.
When the right hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon asked me a Private Notice Question last week, I explained the situation and said that the right course, as I saw it, was for me to find out more about the situation and then make up my mind whether I should take the matter out of the hands of the Post Office, and I emphasised that it was only in the most exceptional circumstances that it would be right to take that course, because the Post 588 Office knew the facts and had the public responsibility for seeing that the mail was delivered.
I do not believe, on the facts as I have learned them today and as I have explained them to the House, that the time has now come when it would be right for me to take that action. Yesterday, when this matter was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Beacons-field—it may be without all the facts before him, because he had not read the tape—I did not believe that it was then the right time to do so. I hope that the House will support me in that view.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
This is a debate about the rule of law, and no subject could be more important to this House.
There are two main facets of the rule of law in the Grunwick affair, separate but linked by a shared significance and common implications—that is to say, the picketing aspect and the Post Office aspect. In a short debate one has to be selective, and I intend to confine myself mainly to the Post Office aspect, which is the specific subject and occasion of the application of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) and his speech today.
This is not at all because I underestimate in any way the lamentable situation in regard to the picketing and the disastrous implications that it has for the rule of law. In the words of Lord Denning, "The mobs are out", and mob law and the rule of law cannot co-exist. It is a situation fraught with great danger and detriment.
However, there is one significant distinction between the two situations—that of the picketing and that of the Post Office. The evils of the picketing situation thrive because, or at any rate partly because, the law is not or is not recognised to be, sufficiently clear and adequate. The Post Office law, on the other hand, is clear and adequate. It is only the will to enforce it which is lacking.
The law on picketing is unsatisfactory because Section 15 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 does not go far enough in providing statutory limitations and restrictions on picketing which are clearly recognisable and readily enforceable. That this is so is the fault 589 of this Government in insisting on framing the provisions of Section 15 as they did—[Interruption.] I hope that the Gov-ment supporter who is making all the noise will save the time of the House by obeying the injunction of Mr. Speaker and refraining from those sedentary observations which seem to come so naturally to his temperament and his mentality, such as it is.
Section 15 is an imperfect one which is in need of amendment, and it makes possible a situation such as that at Grunwick. But on the Post Office aspect, this is not so. The law is clear and it is satisfactory.
An hon. Member said last week by way of criticism that the Post Office Act 1953 reflected the wording of an Act of 1710. So what? Magna Carta was 1215, and even this Government have not sought to repeal it—at any rate, as yet.
The Post Office Act follows very properly the pattern of balance, the pattern of reciprocity, which lies at the heart of our constitutional and legal arrangements. Where there are rights, there are duties. Where there are privileges, there are obligations. That is the basis and structure of a civilised society.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
No. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) knows that I always give way save in these three-hour debates, when I think it is unfair to other hon. Members who wish to speak. I am genuinely sorry, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
Not only has the Post Office, therefore, the exclusive right to deliver mail; it has the proper and peremptory duty to deliver mail. This duty, within his own sphere and competence, is shared by every postal worker. The exclusive right, the monopoly right, is conferred by Section 3(1) of the Post Office Act. The Post Office has, within the British postal area, the exclusive privilege of conveying from one place to another and of performing all the incidental services, of receiving, collecting, dispatching, and delivering letters. That is to say, the Post Office has a statutory monopoly.
590 The Act goes on to provide for the enforcement of the Post Office's monopoly right and its protection against infringement. That is in Section 4, which provides that anyone seeking to send letters other than by post or collecting them for that purpose—in other words, anyone seeking to infringe the Post Office monopoly—is liable on summary conviction to a fine in respect of each letter. There is, therefore, a sufficient and substantial statutory protection of the Post Office monopoly.
So, in return, true to the pattern of reciprocal and complementary rights and duties, the law specifies the corresponding duty. On that, Section 58 is clear and explicit:If any officer of the Post Office, contrary to his duty … wilfully detains or delays, or procures or suffers to be detained or delayed, any … postal packet, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and be liable to imprisonment or to a fine, or to both.So the duty is clear, and the breach of that duty is clear in the circumstances of this case.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
The only question is: who should prosecute, and when?
The answer to that second question is clear. It is on the time factor. There has been a long history of this flagrant breach of duty. The Attorney-General was defending his position and procrastinating in the House as long ago as 13th December last year, more than six months ago. Clearly, further delay cannot be justified. Indeed, the delay to date cannot properly be justified.
Who, then, should prosecute? The Attorney-General says "If anyone, the Post Office." The Post Office no doubt says "If anyone, the Attorney-General." Each waits on the other, and nothing happens. It is the Battle of Walcheren all over again—Great Chatham with his sabre drawnStood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham.The Attorney-General says that prosecutions under the Post Office Act are normally undertaken by the Post Office and not by the Director of Public Prosecutions. But there is nothing in the Act to 591 say that there must be. In a normal situation, yes, but this is scarcely a normal situation. This is borne out by the fact that the Attorney-General says—and relies on it to defend his action—thatthere have in fact been no prosecutions under the relevant sections in circumstances of a similar nature."—[Official Report, 13th December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 965.]Why have there not been? Previously, it has been unthinkable that postal workers should act in this way in deliberate breach of their statutory duty and defiance of the law.
In what the Attorney-General calls "normal circumstances", the people prosecuted by the Post Office are not Post Office workers but outsiders who steal mail, and so on. There are different considerations when they are employees. I can well understand the reluctance of the Post Office to prosecute its own employees. The Post Office has done all that it thinks it can do. It has suspended them without pay. But, unfortunately, even that sanction has been torpedoed by the action of the union in making good their pay.
So, if the Attorney-General continues in his present inaction and the Post Office in its, the only incentive to stop the breach of the law will be a continuance of holidays with pay in the summer months. If the Post Office does not prosecute, the Director of Public Prosecutions must do so. The Attorney-General seeks to extend the same flimsy protection over himself and the Post Office. He enunciated a doctrine that he calls the doctrine of balance, but stripped of that patina of respectability it simply amounts to the belief that the enforcement of the law is unnecessary or impractical if there is a sufficient number of people combining to seek to break it. That is the nub of the matter. And that is why failure to take action must strike at the heart of the rule of law.
I have some sympathy with the Attorney-General in his position. In a sense he is caught up in a conflict of loyalties. On the one hand there is his loyalty to the supposed interest of trade unionism— I do not think that it is their true interest, though I concede that he may think so. On the other hand there is his loyalty to the great principle of the rule of law.
§ The Attorney-General
Having put it that way, the right hon. and learned Gentleman might at least give me credit for 592 being honest in the view that I have expressed—that the effect on the public interest must be weighed against the question of an immediate prosecution. It is not a question of my agreement with and support for trade unionism. It is a question of the effect of an action of that kind —rightly or wrongly—on the public mail generally.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
Before I comment on that may I say to the hon. Member for Walton, to whom I refused to give way earlier, that I gave way to the Attorney-General because I specifically mentioned him in my speech.
Of course I accept the Attorney-General's explanation of his motives in this matter. I have a high personal regard for him and I have known him for a long time. But in all candour I must say that his judgment has been persistently at fault in this matter. I would be lacking in candour and in my duty if I said otherwise. I think that the Attorney-General has been caught in a conflict of loyalties, but the lesson to be learned from such a conflict is that the lesser should give way to the greater loyalty. There is no greater loyalty in a free society than loyalty to the rule of law and no single citizen owes that loyalty more than the Attorney-General.
I conclude by pointing out that the rule of law is indivisible. If we allow one part of the structure to weaken, we endanger the whole edifice. It is like those great dams built for the protection of the Low Countries. A breach suffered in one part that is not repaired will allow the flood waters to pour in and obliterate and destroy the familiar landmarks of our free society. If we allow the rule of law to be eroded and subverted, very soon the lamps of liberty will be extinguished. These are the great issues which are behind the debate today —the maintenance of the rule of law and all that depends on it for a free and orderly society. It is for this House above all to be vigilant in its protection.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
I feel a little diffident because the debate so far has been a closed shop for lawyers and legalistic arguments, and I am not a learned gentleman. I hope in my remarks to deal with the major thesis of the rule of law.
593 Is the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) saying to the House that the letter of the law—Clause 5, subsection 2 and all that jargon which ordinary mortals like me have difficulty in understanding —must be applied at all times and at all costs without considering the public interest? I must point out that use of the law in that way caused trouble when so used by the Government in which he served, and two notable people, who were called the Shrewsbury Two, caused a situation in which an individual called the Treasury Solicitor had to undo the rule of law which was put forward by the Conservatives.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith rose—
§ Mr. Pavitt
No, I shall not give way. The last time I had the privilege of pressing this case it was also during a three-hour debate, and in such short debates it is unfair to give way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I support the plea made by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt). A large number of hon. Members still wish to take part in the debate. The debate is due to finish at 7.34 p.m. Therefore, if we can keep down the number of interventions, more hon. Members will be able to take part.
§ Mr. Pavitt
First of all, may I put upon the record that this debate, although it has as a by-product the position of the Post Office workers, is basically about the Grunwick dispute in general terms, except for those matters that are precluded by the sub judice rule.
The newspapers this morning gave the erroneous impression that only Conservatives had been asking for the debate. I must point out that there were two other applications for an emergency debate on this matter from my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) and myself. On 22nd June I tabled Early-Day Motion No. 381, which was signed by more than 100 Members, asking for a debate. Therefore, the idea that this was something that Labour members did not want to talk about is entirely erroneous. I would add that not one hon. Member from the Opposition Benches signed my Early-Day Motion. However, it would be churlish 594 not to admit that my previous Early-Day Motion—No. 328—received support from all parties except the Scottish National Party. The SNP has got what it calls unilateral independence, which means that it does not trespass on English matters. That previous Early-Day Motion sought to cool the Grunwick situation, bring down the temperature and prevent the trouble from escalating.
Yesterday the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) said:I have been trying during recent months and years to lower the temperature of debates in the House on industrial relations."— [Official Report, 29th June, 1977; Vol. 934, c. 463.]I welcome that statement very much as I believe that the right hon. Member and other Members on the Opposition Front Bench have as much head as they have other parts of their anatomy, and they want to see good relations and accord with the TUC. They want to talk sense without falling into any extreme political conditions.
The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) and the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East both based the whole of their case on the rule of law. It was on this issue that we had a similar debate on 4th November last. On that occasion we discussed Tom Jackson and his genuine assumption that when Mr. Ward said that he was prepared to mediate and negotiate, the matter would proceed on that basis. Now, more than six months later, that has not happened.
Nothing brings the rule of law more into disrepute than the projection of the image of law and order being used to support one class of society—that of which most lawyers are members—and leaving the rest of society as second-class citizens. Any conflict between workers and bosses in which the law can be used as a delaying tactic, and money can be provided—by whom?—to weight the outcome in favour of the rich and powerful and dispossess ordinary people of the right to put their case effectively, means that the man in the street loses faith in the law as a means of protection. This becomes a frustration, and the inevitable consequence is that he looks to other means which most of us would deprecate. Nevertheless, we must understand the frustrations that caused it.
595 I yield to no one in my respect for the postmen serving my area of Willesden and Cricklewood. They are the cream of the kind of person who creates good neighbourly relations. The postmen co-operate in helping the elderly and they are always ready to help when trouble arises. Recently, local Post Office workers have been in the forefront of a campaign organised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services called "Good neighbours". The postmen and the union have shown a responsibility to the community in that respect. Tom Jackson is always levelheaded; he is not a person who dashes round in circles making the wrong decisions.
I was delighted with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment on this topic, but Tom Jackson must be profoundly disappointed that the assurances which he was given on 4th November in this Chamber did not materialise. In putting off action in terms of solidarity from his Post Office staff, Mr. Tom Jackson did not see any reciprocal development on the management side of Grunwick in fulfilling the solemn undertakings given in this House.
In the weary months—now 10—no voice has been raised by the Opposition about the conditions which led to last August's strike and sackings. I have in my hand a contract of employment consisting of three foolscap pages—the document which was in operation when the strike first started. It is an appalling document, but I hasten to say that whenThe devil was sick, the devil a monk wou'd be".The basic £25 in the contract last August is now nearer £38. There has been a change because the wages have been upped because of the strike, but basically what has now happened is that the management at Grunwick is determined not ever to have normal industrial relations. The management has done so because in future it may not be able to cut prices by employing cheap labour and also labour newly arrived from overseas. In other words, it will lose the edge in a competitive situation.
I wish to compare Grunwick with a factory only 300 yards away in the GEC group entitled Associated Automation. 596 The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) was one of the first to visit that factory, but he did not have the courtesy to inform me that he was doing so. Since 1971 I have tried hard to meet Mr. Ward of Grunwick. Indeed, this is the third time I have been engaged in that exercise. Letters and telephone calls from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, who is the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), and from myself yielded no results. My right hon. Friend and I are the two constituency Members for the Willesden area, and it is immaterial where we draw the line because we give a mutual service to the whole of the area.
Last Monday week my right hon. Friend arranged to visit Associated Automation because of an industrial relations problem, but it was difficult for my right hon. Friend, who is a Minister, to make that visit because he was speaking in a debate in the House that afternoon. Therefore, my right hon. Friend courteously sought to make a change in the arrangements, but he desisted when he learned that the Chairman of GEC arranged to cancel a visit to Germany in order to meet by right hon. Friend and me. He travelled specially from Birmingham to see us. He had arranged for the chief personnel officer of GEC to meet us, together with Mr. Seeley, the factory manager. We had one and a half hours' discussion before we both visited the Grunwick pickets 300 yards away.
On the other side of the coin, I challenge any hon. Member to say whether he has ever been refused an interview by the head of any local firm. Normally, there are reasonable relations between Members of Parliament and local industries. But that does not apply to Mr. Ward, who does not even answer letters. Certainly the mutual exchange of views with the GEC Chairman and his staff was extremely helpful to industrial relations. I certainly do not see a Grunwick situation arising at the GEC factory.
It is interesting to note that at Grunwick although wages of only £25 were paid last August for a 35-hour week, with a half-hour's overtime without payment, one had only to go to a factory 300 yards away to find unskilled female labour earning £49 per week with proper overtime. I could continue retailing the differences between good and bad industrial 597 relations between the good factory which I have mentioned in the GEC group and the sweat-shop just down the road.
I accuse Mr. Ward of being not nonunion put positively anti-union. My experience in a period of six years is that he is a very determined man, and therefore I am worried about the outcome of the court of inquiry because I doubt whether he will accept its results. If Mr. Ward has no union in his factory as a watchdog on conditions and pay, the advances secured in 1977 will remain frozen year after year. The only way in which progress can be made is via discussion across the table between men and management. And that means union organisation.
This dispute is about the right to join a union. In the 1972 dispute the claim made at Grunwick was that men were not sacked for joining a union but were put off because they were surplus labour. At the same time I saw certain trade journals in which Grunwick was recruiting people to replace those who had been sacked. At the end of 1972 and the beginning of 1973, Mr. Ward was sacking about one worker a week. When this was happening Mr. Ward was also showing the need to advertise for more workers.
I accept what has been said by some Opposition Members—namely, that there is a right for a man not to join a union if he does not want to, but that matter has never been in doubt. Indeed, Mr. Roy Grantham has never sought to say anything different. I regret to say that on the picket line only last week I heard Mr. Gouriet make a false statement to reporters outside Grunwick. He said that the dispute had taken place because the union was demanding a closed shop. That was a lie. There has been no question of denying rights to those who do not want to join a union.
I apologise if I am somewhat burned up on this issue, but it is a burning issue for my constituents. Unlike the hon. Member for Hendon, North, I have accorded him the courtesy of informing him that I intend in this debate to talk about his conduct. I wish that occasionally when I see him, as I have done four or five times in the last fortnight, he would at least do me the courtesy of saying "Good morning" as he goes into that factory in my area.
598 The hon. Gentleman carries a large measure of responsibility for all that has happened in the last 10 months. I am glad that he has to live with his conscience and that I do not. I accuse the hon. Gentleman of intervening to secure, not industrial ends, but his own political ends. Unless the hon. Gentleman lacks all intelligence, he must have known that the prolongation of the conflict would have dire consequences. He had a choice and he chose to prolong it. He knew that if mediation were not accepted by Mr. Ward, as it was accepted by the union and by Mr. Roy Grantham, there would be an escalation of the situation. He chose escalation. He knew that if he could maintain and fuel Mr. Ward's obstinacy, conciliation would give way to confrontation. The hon. Gentleman chose confrontation and enjoyed it.
Lastly, the hon. Gentleman knew that if he could fan the flames for long enough the Post Office would seek to put them out. He fanned the flames, and last week it was the Post Office workers who sought to put out those flames. I thank God that on the Opposition Benches there are many others with more political integrity and compassion who command my respect and that the hon. Gentleman is not representative of the best interests of his party.
It is to compassion that I turn as my plea to this House.
The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield made a plea for the rule of Parliament, and I endorse his plea for Parliament to have an effect on the issue. Parliament should seek to influence the cause of the chronic illness rather than merely to treat the symptoms. My constituents in Chapter Road, Dollis Hill Lane and Cooper Road include housewives who want to go shopping, children who want to go to school and senior citizens who want to go to Robert Owen House—which has a fine name in my area and does a good job of work in social services. They want to pursue their normal lives, but they are living in a hell that is not of their own making. This is a situation that one of the most conciliatory of all trade unions—APEX—has been seeking to resolve since last November. For that reason if for no other, the House should throw its weight behind the court of inquiry and the conference table in seeking peace rather than leaving 599 these people in the middle of a battlefield.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
The matter now before the House is of transcendent importance to everyone in the country.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should not the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) declare his interest in the Grunwick company?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is customary to declare one's interest, but the interest of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) is pretty well known to the House.
§ Mr. Ridley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You said that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) should declare his interest, which was pretty well known, to the House. Since he has now told us that he has no interest whatsoever in this matter, could you tell the House what allegation of interest you are making against my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I was not making an allegation. Unless I am grievously mistaken, it is pretty well known that the hon. Member for Hendon, North has been adviser to the Managing Director of Grunwick. That is all.
§ Mr. Ridley
The words that you used, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hendon, North had an interest. You now say that what you meant was that he was an adviser to Grunwick. I must make the point that there is all the difference in the world between accusing him of having an interest and saying that he is an adviser, because the word "interest" implies that he has a financial interest, which he has now said he has not. I should be grateful if you would apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not think that my comments require any apology. The word "interest" does 600 not automatically imply a financial interest. The hon. Member for Hendon, North has agreed that he has an interest because he has a constituent involved and because he has acted as his adviser and spokesman. That is all that I have said.
§ Mr. Gorst
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that upon the outcome of this matter will depend, on the one hand, whether citizens in our society are allowed to conduct their affairs under the rule of law, without regard to whether what they do is popular or not, and, on the other hand, whether they will be required to do nothing that may offend powerful vested interests.
It is claimed that the British people will not suffer to be ruled by tyrants. However, the resolution of the Grunwick issue will show whether we can still make that proud boast.
I assert that in all matters of substance my constituent, Mr. George Ward, Managing Director of Grunwick, has been in the right. I further assert that his defeat would be a serious blow to the freedom of the individual, to the rights of small business men and to the future of democratic government in this country. Throughout, this dispute has been bedevilled by a cacophony of lies and claptrap at which the enemies of individual liberty have for long been skilled. I have been into the Grunwick factory, I have talked to the ordinary workers and discussed the issue with Mr. Ward and his management. I am in a unique position to deny categorically the scurrilous allegations made, not simply by the Marxist howling mobs outside Grunwick's gates but by the allegedly moderate APEX, which has at every point tried to distort the facts and to mislead the public.
What are the facts? Ten months ago the management of Grunwick dismissed a worker because he refused to do this job properly. He had not been employed by the firm for any great length of time. Indeed, he intended to leave the firm in a matter of weeks, which is a fact that may well explain why he was not doing his job properly. His dismissal led to a number of other workers walking off the job without permission. There is little doubt in the minds of the management 601 that this was a pre-planned exercise—but I must say at once that that cannot be proved. It can be only inferred from what subsequently happened.
It is of the utmost importance that the House should know that it is not merely the assertion of the management but the admission of APEX that not one of those who walked off the job was a member of APEX or any other trade union. Surely that is a significant fact. Not a single person among those who walked off the job had ever been to the management to ask for trade union bargaining rights nor had they even mentioned trade unions in any context whatsoever.
§ The Attorney-General
I have hesitated to intervene, but the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) is trespassing right across the whole field of the dispute in the ACAS issue, which I understood was sub judice and about which Mr. Speaker made a clear pronouncement earlier.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I was just wondering how far the hon. Member for Hendon, North was going to go into this matter, but I agree with the Attorney-General that we are getting dangerously near sub judice matters.
§ Mr. Gorst
The matters that are sub judice concern the ACAS report on trade union recognition.
It is of the utmost importance that the House should know that it is not merely the assertion of management but the admission of APEX that not one of those people who walked off the job was a member of APEX or of any other trade union. It was only after they had walked off the job that they rang up the TUC and asked for advice. What happened next was that they joined APEX and were subsequently fairly dismissed by the management. Of course, that chain of events has led APEX to claim that they were dismissed for joining a trade union. They were not. I have the authority—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Hendon, North is now going too far into sub judice matters, and I ask him to depart from that line of argument.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When Mr. 602 Speaker was in the Chair the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) dealt with that point, and under that ruling the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) should be allowed to make that point.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker I did refer to that point. While the ACAS matter is sub judice, the matters that have been to the industrial tribunal for decision have never been sub judice, and this point is included in those matters.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am sorry that I was not present when Mr. Speaker gave his ruling, but I accept the assertion of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) that Mr. Speaker allowed this point. Obviously there must be continuity of rulings, and therefore I shall let the hon. Member for Hendon, North continue.
§ Mr. Gorst
I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I shall not be dealing with matters that are sub judice.
I have the authority of Mr. Ward to repeat what he has said on every occasion that this point has been put to him. The people dismissed were dismissed for leaving their work without permission. They would have been dismissed for breaking their contracts in this way, whether they joined APEX or not. Mr. Ward has always regarded APEX as irrelevant in this dispute.
Apparently it takes time for the truth to do its work. I repeat that the industrial tribunal heard 60 cases arising from the dismissals and found in every case that no unfair dismissal had taken place.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman does not wish to give way, he does not have to. If he is allowed to continue, more hon. Members will be able to take part in the debate.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it acceptable that an hon. Member should distort the report 603 of an industrial tribunal as the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has done?
§ Mr. Gorst
It was even claimed that the sacked employees were dismissed for joining a trade union, but the industrial tribunal did not find that allegation proved.
The House may well think that it is a very strange kind of trade union recognition dispute when those involved never were members of a trade union or contemplated joining one whilst they were at work. What APEX did was to recruit non-union employees after a dispute with management had commenced and, to put the matter in the mildest possible way, to seek to mislead the public that they were battling against an employer who sacked his workers because they were trade unionists. This is only the first of many verbal frauds that have been employed against Grunwick management.
Another farrago of nonsense used to justify the unjustifiable has been to claim that Mr. Ward, who is himself an Anglo-Indian, is a racist employing slave labour and that his oppressed employees worked in the most appalling conditions and were so denied basic human dignity that they even had to raise their hands to secure permission to go to the lavatory. This rubbish, which first saw the light of day in the Socialist Worker and the Morning Star, is false and it has been added to by many other falsehoods.
I ask the House: would anyone stand so loyally beside a racist, a tyrant, and an appalling employer of this kind? Would 260 frightened workers, most of them females, face such violent intimidation at their place of work if this were really true?
After the favourable verdict for Grunwick at the industrial tribunal one would have thought that in a law-abiding society —in Britain as it used to be—that would have been the end of the matter. Unfortunately, trade union arrogance has become boundless. The unions have decided that if Grunwick could not be beaten by fair means, it must be beaten by foul ones. If law cannot yield success, the field must be given over to force.
So we have seen violent picketing, unlawful blacking of Grunwick's mail, and this whole sorry story of conflict and 604 riot which stems directly from the refusal of APEX and other trade unions to accept that they cannot have their way in each and every case. They will not accept that others, besides themselves also have their rights.
Perhaps the most cynical stance has been that of Mr. Tom Jackson, the UPW General Secretary. Whilst urging his Cricklewood members not to break the law, he has assured them that they will be paid while they do so. Surely this conduct of the union is that of an accessory both before and after the fact.
No one should suppose that my constituent, Mr. George Ward, has had an easy task in upholding his legal rights. Indeed, he could well be faced with three or four simultaneous occasions of legal proceedings, putting an enormous strain on the time and resources of any man. They could break the stoutest of hearts. How has this been allowed to happen?
It has happened because the Government allow trade union leaders immunity to traduce their opponents during a trade dispute. It has happened because the Government have never been willing to enforce Mr. Ward's undoubted right to have his mail delivered. It has happened because what the Government are prepared to call a peaceful picket is, beyond question, a violent demonstration. Finally, it has happened because, unhappy with the laws they ought to be enforcing, the Government take refuge in a judicial inquiry. With Governments such as this, for how much longer will any ordinary citizen be able to exercise against trade unions even those diminished legal rights that he still possesses?
The indictment against the Government is that they have played in this whole affair a very sorry rôle. Unwilling to stand up for the law when it was clearly being broken, they have nevertheless been ever-willing to see a small business man's undoubted legal rights trampled under by force while his loyal workers have been coerced by fear.
If Grunwick are beaten, it will be a sorry day for liberty under the law; it will be a matter subsequently for bitter regret and reproach. I ask the House not to listen to devious appeals designed to destroy the citizen's legal rights but to tell the Government bluntly that their 605 overriding duty is to uphold those freedoms to which every subject, including Mr. George Ward, is entitled.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
As the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has taken an active part in the proceedings at the Grunwick plant, I want to treat seriously everything he has said, and in order to do so I have no intention of entering a slanging match with him over the more rhetorical parts of his speech.
In contrast to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell), the hon. Member for Hendon, North knows what happened at the industrial tribunal. I do not wish to take the hon. and learned Member to task because we do not have time for that, but from his long experience in the House he will know that it is no excuse, on being found to have misrepresented the legal position at the industrial tribunal, to point an outstretched arm at the hon. Member for Hendon, North and say "He informed me that this was so". The hon. and learned Member knows that a document has been available in the Library for several days. He raised this debate in his name. It is his responsibility. He had a duty to brief himself and not merely to say that someone else had informed him.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
The hon. Gentleman said that he was not going to take time referring to me and immediately started referring to me. I said that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) was more fully informed than I—and he plainly is. After all, this so-called misinformation arose from my saying, as I thought correctly, that a point had not even been raised before the industrial tribunal. In fact, it was raised and the tribunal did not find in favour of it. I do not see an awful lot of difference in that.
§ Mr. Mendelson
That is the lamest possible excuse and it has made the hon. and learned Member's position even worse.
I return to matters that are more important. I wish to discuss not the matters that he hon. Member for Hendon, North outlined but issues that involved the rights of our citizens under the law and under 606 the ordinary human relations that have been established by the trade union movement of Great Britain as a model for other countries. That is an argument that has not yet been raised.
We are discussing the rights of workers to organise themselves in the defence of their interests. It is time to introduce that issue into the debate. I know the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has been making some efforts to improve his relations with the trade union movement. I have confidence that what I say will not be entirely lost on him at least.
We are discussing a group of workers who for many years have been lowly paid. Many of them are not well versed or informed about all the rights at their disposal to organise themselves. The shabby rhetoric of the hon. Member for Hendon, North put the situation in a different light.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) talked grandly in quotations from the Earl of Chatham. That is a poor way of dealing with this human problem. The majesty of the law can be invoked in many different ways. This afternoon it has been invoked merely as a barrier to defend a bad employer who does not want to carry out either the spirit or the letter of industrial relations as established by Parliament.
We must consider the attitude of this particular employer to attempts at a settlement. I regret that the beginning of the debate was hinged on the propagandist remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield. It would have been better to begin discussing the problems of the industrial relations involved. That is why I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment last Thursday to make a statement to the House. He has now made such a statement which is useful.
Everyone should co-operate in trying to find a settlement. My right hon. Friend has worked hard to bring that about, but Mr. Ward has sabotaged all his attempts. No other word can be used to describe Mr. Ward's action. What is his excuse for refusing to co-operate with a mediator? What is preventing Mr. Ward from co-operating? In three or four long private discussions Mr. Ward has been asked to co-operate. I know that 607 my right hon. Friend does not want to be critical at the moment. He has just set up a court of inquiry and does not wish to make the situation more difficult.
It should be clearly stated in the House that Mr. Ward has had an opportunity of co-operating with the Secretary of State in the last four days. Why did he refuse to do so? He refused because he does not want a settlement. He wants to defeat his former employees. He does not want the dispute to be brought to a civilised conclusion.
Workers have the right to organise themselves but obstacles have been put in their way by Mr. Ward, with the full support of the hon. Member for Hendon, North. Mr. Ward says that under no circumstances will he reinstate the workers whom he has dismissed. That should be put on the record. How can there be a settlement if an employer says that he will not re-employ the people involved, even before the inquiry takes place? Under any Government, any inquiry to resolve a dispute would be frustrated from the beginning if one side stated that it would not co-operate.
§ Mr. Gorst
I want to help the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). He is correct to say that Mr. Ward will not reinstate any of the workers who walked off the job and were legitimately dismissed. He has good reason, not merely because the law does not require him to do so but because if he reinstated one single person 260 workers would walk out.
§ Mr. Mendelson
That is a most valuable addition to the debate. It is of the greatest possible importance that that should be put on the public record.
I turn to the criticism by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield of workers who declare their solidarity. I say, all honour to the people who are on strike in this case. They deserve the support of all trade unionists and of those who believe in the freedom of workers to organise themselves. Without solidarity, the British trade union movement would never have been established. I represent an area where one of the earliest strikes took place. The scissor grinders in Sheffield, without the help—at that time two years before the introduction of the anti-combination laws in 1779—of those around them, would have been beaten into the 608 ground. Let not those who belong to the strict closed shop to which the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield belongs try to deride the solidarity of those who combined to defend their essential interests.
We hope that the inquiry will result in a peaceful settlement. Nothing is more in the interests of the workers involved than that. We honour those who declare solidarity with the workers involved and who take appropriate action in doing so. I do not take back a word of what I have said about that. I hope it is fully recognised that, unless Mr. Ward and the hon. Member for Hendon, North change their attitude, there can be no solution to this tragic dispute.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
I wish that I had the time to follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). He is an attractive debater. Many hon. Members wish to speak. The Attorney-General kept strictly to the legal aspects, and I shall do the same.
One aspect of the issue is the failure by the Government ever since last August to indicate firmly that a wilful refusal to deliver the mail is a criminal offence. In the debate on 4th November last year, the Secretary of State seemed to suggest that discriminatory action by Post Office workers did not fall within Section 58 of the Post Office Act 1953. The action then became official. Not until last Thursday, in answer to my Private Notice Ouestion, did the Attorney-General in terms concede that the action was a breach of that section. This delay has encouraged those who are hindering and delaying the mail.
On 16th June discriminatory action began again. About a week later the TUC fanned the flames. On 17th June, although we did not know about this until today, the Post Office posted a notice warning the staff of the consequences of this unofficial action. In my view it was reasonable, having posted those notices, for the Post Office and the chairman then to delay further action. I agree that what they did was right. On 23rd June the Attorney-General told us that he had written to the Chairman of the Post Office asking to be put in the picture about what was happening. Whether that was as a result of my Private Notice Ouestion or a 609 step that he intended to take anyway, I do not know. However, 23rd June was a week after this illegal action had started at Grunwick. Why was that not done before?
No one knew last Thursday whether the Post Office was doing anything at all about it. Yesterday we had the 24-hour ultimatum with an indication that a formal direction would be given if at 11.30 a.m. the mail was not moved as it should be. We heard the threats of a sit-in by the postal workers and we do not know what the position is now, save that the latest I have heard is that the Post Office has not as yet issued its formal direction. I do not know why. In my view, that formal direction should be issued immediately the 24-hour ultimatum is up.
What will happen if the direction is issued and the Post Office workers refuse to move or, if they do move, others are put in and also refuse to act properly in accordance with the law? The Attorney-General says that the Post Office must now judge the timing of future actions. I think that the formal direction ought to be given at once. As to future action, I agree that the Post Office is entitled to reconsider in view of the change that has occurred over the past 24 hours. First of all there is the ultimatum, which creates a new situation, and there is the statement by the Secretary of State today about the court of inquiry. If the ultimatum is not eventually enforced, it is a total waste of time. Failure to enforce it can only make things worse. I am not asking the Attorney-General to intervene today and take over the responsibilities of initiating prosecutions against these workmen.
The change of circumstances over the past 24 hours makes it even more important, as has been said by the Attorney-General, the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), who responded to the Secretary of State's statement, that the Post Office workers must now be encouraged by everyone to discontinue their unofficial action and go back to work.
§ The Attorney-General
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member 610 for what is an extremely helpful observation. May I take it from what he has just said that, having regard to the announcement of a court of inquiry, he would regard it as perfectly right for the Chairman of the Post Office at least to wait before doing something that might extend the conflagration in the hope that, as a result of the setting up of the court of inquiry, the postal officers at Crickle-wood will obey the instruction and go back to work?
§ Sir M. Havers
As I said—perhaps I did not make it clear—the timing in the immediate future must be a question for the Chairman of the Post Office. But it cannot be left indefinitely. There must come a time when it is no longer reasonable, on the Post Office's behalf, to do nothing. It may be that the Attorney-General would consider, in the early part of next week, coming to the House and making a statement about the situation.
I must say that I was interested to see the way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had, quite properly if I may say so, taken over direct communication with the Chairman of the Post Office, because, although it had not been clear, perhaps, until last week, the ultimate responsibility here, if the Post Office fails to act reasonably, must lie upon the Attorney-General's shoulders, unpleasant as that may be for him.
I have been reading again the debate in 1951. I would like to add to this one passage from The Times to the point that the Attorney-General made. The Times said:If it is invoked"—that is the right to prosecution—as soon as the alleged offence is reported opportunities for settling the dispute may be lost; if prosecution is delayed in the hope that the strike or lock-out will end, the law may be brought into disrepute. When several thousand men join together and strike, there is the invidious task of selecting only a few of them for prosecution".There is the view expressed by Lord Shawcross and, I think, accepted—as the Attorney-General has told us—by all his successors in the Law Officers' Department.
The then Attorney-General said in the House:whilst I would never allow a threat of criminal action to be used as a kind of pawn in industrial relations, I shall not hesitate to 611 prosecute in what The Times described as 'appropriate cases' and at the 'appropriate time'. The public cannot be held to ransom nor the law as it is at present be brought into complete disrepute. On the other hand, there may well be circumstances in which the public convenience is not affected by the strike".—[Official Report, 29th January 1951; Vol. 483, c. 684.]That might almost be entirely appropriate today.
I intervened during the Attorney-General's speech to point out to him that it can, in my view, never be in the public interest that a company should be forced into liquidation by illegal activities so that 65 people, or in this case 250 people, are thrown out of work. I would disagree with him when he takes the view, in answer to my intervention, that that is not an overriding matter of public interest. The moment that the law fails to intervene when someone can be forced into liquidation and people thrown out of work is the moment when the situation has got far beyond public convenience and is a matter of the greatest public importance.
The announcement of the court of inquiry, which I very much hope will be followed by the end of this discriminatory boycott by the postmen, is to be welcomed. There is one particular thing which the announcement by the Secretary of State has done. It has removed the anxiety I had when considering the approach that was made to Mr. Ward and Mr. Grantham to the effect that they must be bound by the decision of the mediator without the name of the mediator ever being disclosed. It is rather like an arbitration clause in a contract, in which both parties agree to arbitrate if a dispute arises, and in the event of failure to agree an arbitrator between them the president of the appropriate professional body nominates one.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)
I am aware that, in publishing the letters which I sent to the parties, I may have left this issue in doubt. I do not think there was any doubt in the minds of Mr. Ward or Mr. Grantham that the proposals I was making to them were subject to the person who was appointed as mediator being acceptable to them. I did not tell them the name, but I made it clear to them that they would both be told simultaneously, immediately before the proceedings, and that if they 612 disagreed we would not proceed on that course.
§ Sir M. Havers
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is always a problem when one sees only what is published and when, quite properly, much has not been disclosed. If the Secretary of State had said "I shall appoint a High Court judge", that would have been enough. We have there a class of person of whom there can be no criticism. That was one of the worries I had, but it has now been relieved and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the gentlemen who have agreed to serve on such a high-powered and independent body to try to intervene in this case.
While we are left with this discriminatory action—and in my view the Post Officer workers' action is very much more serious than picketing in its consequences for the company—how can Mr. Ward be expected to play his part in the court of inquiry if this pressure is maintained? There is a risk that there may be nothing for a court of inquiry to consider if this illegal pressure continues. From the remarks of at least one trade union leader today, and it may be more, it seems to be the view of a number of union officials that they are confident that this boycott will bring the company to its knees within 72 hours. If that is the result, this debate will be a charade and the appointment of the court of inquiry will be a total waste of time.
It is of fundamental importance that the prssure should be relieved and the company allowed to continue and remain viable. Otherwise, because it has been so wholly dependent on the mail for its business, the risk of its being brought down in that way would make an absolute nonsense of what we have been doing today. I ask the Post Office, Mr. Jackson and all those concerned to realise this and to relieve the company from the pressure that it is now under, so that it can assist the court and enable it to come to a fair and proper decision.
The pressure must be removed because, quite apart from the individual case of Grunwick, if one company is destroyed by illegal action of that kind, unfortunately a part of democracy will also be destroyed. A failure of the rule of law to protect any individual or company, however small, against such illegal action must in the end diminish the rights of 613 us all. One success of this kind could well lead to a repetition against some other person or company.
I have a final point which has been made a number of times, but not, I think, in this debate. This sort of discriminatory action, this breaking of the obligation under Section 58, not only can be used in furtherance of a trade dispute but is a weapon which would be hideously effective against any other organisation or association. I am not sure that many of us would grumble too much if it were used against the Communist Party headquarters, but it might be used against Labour Party headquarters or Conservative Party headquarters. That would be a purely political interference which could be very serious.
That is one of the reasons why I find discriminatory action of this kind so terrifying for the future. That is why it must be stopped now. Best of all, it will end voluntarily, but if after a shortish time—and I fear that there is not much time left—the Post Office has unreasonably failed to act, unless the Attorney-General takes over we on the Conservative Benches will not be able to support him as we have done today.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
There is less than 40 minutes for Back Benchers to take part in the debate, and a considerable number still wish to do so. I plead with the House for that to be borne in mind.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The right hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) made a very restrained and constructive speech. I could not help thinking, when he referred to the public interest, of the situation in 1971–72 when there was a Post Office strike. His own Administration did not then invoke the law as the Conservatives are advocating today, simply because they did not want to exacerbate what was already a very difficult situation. There are no exact analogies in this situation, but one can well understand the restraint of the Attorney-General in considering whether to use this very blunt weapon.
As I listened to the rhetoric of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. 614 Mendelson), following the rhetoric of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), I thought that if ever there was justification for an independent court of inquiry that was it, because it was so obvious to me that there were determined groups on both sides intent on exacerbating the situation. That is the truth of the matter. There was no kind of give or compromise whatsoever from either hon. Gentlemen.
The truth is that there are two irreconcilable interests here. A means must be found of bringing about a moderation of attitude. The hon. Member for Penistone, putting into words views expressed from sedentary positions by other hon. Members, said that we should go on putting all possible industrial pressure on the firm. I think that to the majority of people in this country that is unacceptable.
I say plainly to the hon. Gentleman that I have considerable sympathy with the case against Grunwick. I should have been more impressed by the case for Grunwick if the hon. Member for Hendon, North had not misled his right hon. and learned Friend and the House on the findings of the industrial tribunal. If he had complete confidence in his case, there would be no need to misrepresent anything. It is important that we put on record what the industrial tribunal actually found. Its unanimous decision was that the applications before it were dismissed "for want of jurisdiction". It did not even consider the question whether the dismissal was because the men had joined a trade union. It simply considered three preliminary points under paragraph 7 of Schedule I to the Act of 1974.
On the other hand, it is worth pointing out that the hon. Member for Hendon, North said with tremendous conviction that Mr. Ward had dismissed the people who were dismissed simply because they had left work. The one paragraph about the agreement in the tribunal's decision says:It is common ground that a number of the respondent's employees walked out from work on Monday afternoon, 23rd August 1976, and commenced a strike. Their action continued, they were joined by others, and on 2nd September 1976 the Company sent to each of the applicants a letter in common form stating that 'Your participation in strike action has brought the contract to an end, and accordingly your employment with this company has ceased'.615 That was why they were dismissed. Why the hon. Member for Hendon, North had grossly to misrepresent that in this debate. I do not understand.
I should have thought that there was a formidable case for saying that there is a freedom for people not to join a union if they want not to join and that there is freedom for an employer not to have unions in his factory if he wants not to. It is the law, whether right hon. and hon. Members like it or not, and the law must be upheld on all sides. It seems to me, from various contributions to the debate, that there are right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who do not like the law as it is. But we are talking about the rule of law, which is indivisible, as the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said.
One very important question raised by the whole matter is the question "What is lawful picketing?" The House cannot burke this question. When the question was raised this afternoon "Why cannot you stop the bus and remonstrate with the people on it?"—
§ Mr. Hooson
I substitute "persuade" for "remonstrate". I take the view that if the people on the bus do not want to be obstructed on their way to the factory, they have every right not to be obstructed. If one of them is willing to be persuaded, the bus can be stopped. It is exactly the same with an individual walking to the factory. The pickets have no right to obstruct his passage unless he is prepared to listen to persuasion. He is a free man every bit as much as each of the pickets is.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
What I referred to was the actual experiences on the day my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary visited the Grunwick site, when the police allowed pickets lawfuly to enter the bus and talk to the people going to work. I say that that should be done every day.
§ Mr. Hooson
If the bus is stopped, and if a police officer asks "Is anyone on the bus willing to listen to a representative of the pickets?" and one of them says "Yes", I think that the pickets 616 have the right. Otherwise, I do not think that they have the right.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that there were attempts during the passage of the 1974 Act to make amendments that would have given the power to stop a bus, but those amendments were rejected by the Government. My recollection is that there was an intention to strengthen the right of picketing, which was rejected by the House.
There is the question of numbers. In narrow streets in a small area, the very numbers present and picketing are often an intimidation in themselves. For example, the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) said today that the only danger of an accident when he was outside the factory was from the bus being driven dangerously. If a lot of people are determined that the bus will not get to its destination unless they have a chance of speaking to the workers on it, and are obstructing the passage of the bus, what can one expect but that danger will be caused? The House should consider this matter further. We should not have any illusions about what has been happening. There has been a considerable degree of illegal picketing at Grunwick, and there has been gross provocation by Grunwick.
There was an article of considerable insight in The Times today about the irreconcilable views of the entrepreneur and of entrepreneurial workers, in this case immigrant workers, who face the prospect of no job or a job in conditions which they would not choose. The entrepreneurial manager cannot continue in business unless he is successful, successfully competing here with firms such as Kodak. Trade unions are at their best and strongest in large, firmly-established enterprises.
An hon. Member who spoke earlier referred to a very large, well-established firm in his constituency which was a subsidiary company, and no doubt it has no problems of trade union recognition. We must recognise that there are two irreconcilable elements here, and it is important that a court of inquiry should be set up. The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) said that there was no conflict on fact, but we have heard nothing today but conflict about fact. The chairman of the tribunal is one of the 617 most enlightened lawyers in the country, and if the tribunal does nothing else at least it will find out the facts of the case. That would be much more helpful than listening to the competing rhetoric of one side of the House or the other.
I do not think that this debate can usefully add much now that there is to be a court of inquiry. I said yesterday that everything justified an inquiry and I am glad that the Government have decided to set one up. I hope that the Post Office workers will consider withdrawing their action and that there will not be mass picketing outside the factory. That would greatly help the situation. Some elements are obviously determined to exacerbate the position, but it cannot be in the interests of the country, the unions or small employers for the situation to get out of hand. I agree with the Attorney-General that he must be very careful when he uses the law in such circumstances. But the court of inquiry has now been set up, and if, after a reasonable time in which everyone can consider the situation, there is still law-breaking, that will be the time to intervene with legal action and with no equivocation whatever on the part of the Government.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
Freedom is not a simple question of the absence of a legal bar; it is the right and power to be able to choose when there is no legal bar. It has always been possible for middle-class people—those with the wealth—in the absence of legal restraint to choose, on the basis of their own evaluation, what is the best possible course of action. But for working people that choice has often been frustrated because they have had no physical power to make a choice.
The reason why trade unions put such stress on solidarity and seek to unite to obtain that power is that over the years they have seen that individually they are weak and that they gain strength only when they combine. For Opposition Members to disparage that principle as undesirable or illegal is palpable nonsense. Without that power the great mass of people would not enjoy their present standard of living and would not have the freedoms of choice that they now have. Those have been won over the 618 years by the solidarity of working people through the trade union movement. In a classic situation such as this, where people who want to be members of a trade union are being denied that right by their employer, there can be no reason to criticise those who support the labour movement in this country for saying that we must also support the labour movement in this strike.
If Mr. Ward were to win, the trade union movement would have failed the many people in that factory who want to be members of a trade union. I reiterate what has been missed so often by Opposition Members. This dispute is not about a closed shop at Grunwick. It is not about taking away the right of those who do not want to be members of a trade union. It is to give to the people who want to be members of a trade union the right to do so, even if they are in a minority in that factory. The 1974 Act set up machinery whereby issues such as that could be decided by an independent arbiter, namely ACAS. ACAS ruled on the matter, and when it did so the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) issued a statement on 30th March—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is beginning to get out of order and to deal with a matter that is sub judice, as I explained at the beginning of the debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I read the House a statement earlier saying that any comments that had been made about the ACAS issue that is before the courts, either before or after the writ had been issued, would be ruled out of order.
§ Mr. Lyon
I shall not delay the House unnecessarily. I have made my point.
We had a situation where the strikers had been on strike for 10 months. Earlier today the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) talked about the unacceptable face of trade unionism. The unacceptable face of trade unionism that he wants to convey through the mass media is of large and powerful trade unions holding a poor, small business man to ransom.
619 But in the 10 months before mass picketing began a small number of Asian women had been standing outside the factory gates day in and day out. They had been neglected by the House, neglected by the Opposition and neglected by everybody in the country. They had been completely neglected by Mr. Ward. During that long and arduous vigil Mr. Ward came out of the factory to speak to one of the leaders, Mrs. Jayaben Desai, a little old Asian woman, and told her "You cannot win, Mrs. Desai."
I say to Mr. Ward that he cannot win. He is denying a fundamental right enshrined in the European convention which Lord Hailsham wants to incorporate in the law as a basic freedom. That is the right of Mrs. Desai to belong to APEX if she wants. It is for that right that we are fighting, and for that right that people are going on the streets. They did not go on the streets until Mr. Ward had so obstructed any inquiry for so long that there seemed no other way of getting that freedom for these people. That freedom is as important as the freedom of people inside the factory not to belong to a trade union. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) suggests that he is unique in having been inside the factory, but when I was on the picket line he invited me to go inside the factory. I think that I am unique in having been on both sides of the picket line on the same day. After being on the picket line I talked to police on the buses after they had done their stint. At the invitation of the hon. Member I went into the factory.
I give the hon. Gentleman credit for inviting me in. I was most interested in the situation that I found. When the door was opened, Mr. Ward was on the telephone. However, the hon. Gentleman invited me in without let or hindrance. He took me to the managing director's room without let or hindrance. He sat me down without let or hindrance and told me of the management's case. When I indicated that I had not come to talk to him but to those inside the factory, he took me into the factory without let or hindrance, without asking permission. We talked to the people in the factory wherever I wanted to go and Mr. Ward was never consulted.
§ Mr. Lyon
If I sloped in unnoticed, it was only because I had asked a Pressman who had gone in to convey my expression of intent to the hon. Gentleman. I received a message that the hon. Gentleman agreed. I went in by a door that was locked. It was opened by one of those inside. I was met immediately from behind the door by the hon. Gentleman. I sloped off at the end only because the hon. Gentleman was immersed in a Press conference in which he was giving the company's view of what should be done in future. He seemed to be so busily immersed that I could not talk to him, although I waited a few moments to allow him to talk to me.
The hon. Gentleman says that the 260 workers inside the factory would walk out if the people who have gone on strike were to come back into the factory. I am bound to tell the House—I say so because the hon. Gentleman would expect me to convey an honest impression of what I found inside the factory—that it is the fact that a great many of them would take that view. I do not say that all of them would do so, but a great many of those inside the factory are not anxious to be members of a trade union and are now almost bitterly hostile to the prospect of joining APEX.
If it should happen that APEX is given recognition so that it is the recognised union for those who want to belong to a trade union, there will be a long period in which Mr. Grantham and his officers will have patiently to work to minimise the bitterness that has been built up inside the factory by those who have had to walk through the picket line. I accept that, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been sufficiently sensitive to the reasons for that attitude existing.
I cannot think of any employer in my constituency, or any employer that I have met anywhere else in the country, who would have acted as obdurately as Mr. Ward. I do not think that I can be accused of racialism if I say that I believe that that has something to do with his newness in our society. Equally, many of 621 those inside the factory have no understanding of an industrial situation. Many of them are new to our society. Many of them came from East Africa, where they were not engaged in industry but in commerce. Many of them were engaged in shorthand or typing, occupations that did not involve them in industrial processes. They do not have the background of working people in this country. They do not understand the need for and the availablility of trade union organisations.
We have a situation that is exactly the position that obtained in this country before the onset of trade unionism in the middle of the nineteenth century. We have gone back 100 years, because in relation both to the management and to the work people there is not the appreciation of what has been won for workers in this country in 100 years. The obduracy and the difficulty that have occasioned the settlement of the dispute arise because the work people as well as the management do not see the necessity for trade unions. However, it is beyond any doubt that they were exploited.
The hon. Gentleman and others have taken exception to my suggestion that employees were originally working for a 40-hour week for £25. When I was in the factory I asked about wages. It is fair to say that there were variations between different work people. Some were earning £30 for a 35 hour week when the strike began. It is clear that whatever they were earning when it began, they have had a 30 per cent. increase in less than a year in the course of stage 2, which has been massively breached. The purpose of the increase is obvious, it is to try to buy the loyalty of the workers on whom the hon. Gentleman now relies.
It is not right to say that Mr. Ward was not exploiting the workers before the strike began. I think that he is still exploiting them, but not to the same degree as 12 months ago. That is why, when Mr. Ward approached Mrs. Desai and said "You can't win", she turned to him and replied "I have already won." In that sense she has. The reason why we need a trade union in the factory is that its presence will ensure that things never slip back again. That is why it is essential that the workers should have a union.
622 There has been argument about the way in which trade unions have tried to assert their rights when the law was denied to them by the obduracy of the managing director. One way in which they have tried to do so is by picketing, on which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) has commented. The hon. and learned Gentleman asks for a clearer definition. He said, quite rightly, that when that proposal came before the House in 1974 the Government rejected it. In fact, the Government rejected it—I was in the middle of the argument—on the representations of the police. The Department of Employment wanted to have a closer definition of picketing and to give a clearer right to picket.
I wanted to introduce a provision which in modern life would bring the old law of picketing up to date. The law of picketing has always allowed a picket to approach someone peacefully to persuade him. It has always been the right of the individual to refuse to listen to representations. However, in modern times, with the introduction of motor vehicles, it is difficult to make representations if motor vehicles proceed without stopping. It is nugatory to say that the right extends only to putting people on notice, to say "Please stop and listen to our representations". There should be the possibility of allowing the vehicle to stop so that the representations can be heard. That is what I wanted to bring into our law.
As a trade-off for that I wanted the number of pickets to be limited to about six. That would be a sufficient number to have a peaceful picket without mass picketing. With the present state of the law, there is nothing wrong with mass picketing. It does not matter how many are picketing as long as they do not intimidate.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull) rose—
§ Mr. Lyon
No, I shall not give way. When we were considering a mediator there were 500 people outside the Grunwick gate every day and there was no violence. That could not be described as illegal picketing, even though many people were gathered there. They were acting peacefully in standing behind the police barriers. In no way did they seek to intimidate. I agree that a large number 623 of people can intimidate, but they do not necessarily intimidate.
The issue that has caused most concern throughout the debate is the Post Office ban. In my view, there is nothing in Section 58 that makes illegal the stopping of the mail in a trade dispute. There is no lawful authority for the proposition that that is the case because it has never been considered.
When the Attorney-General is criticised for not acting as if there has been a breach of the law, I must point out that in 1973 there was a similar discriminatory ban against mail going to France for reasons that Post Office workers thought to be right and there was no intervention by the then Conservative Attorney-General. There was no call by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) for the implementation of the law. The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) was noticeable by his silence on that occasion. That ban is not directly comparable with the present situation, which is arguably a trade dispute, but it is comparable with the Gouriet situation, to which I shall not refer because that is also sub judice.
If it is true that Section 58 is as clear as the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East thinks it is—that a postman is not allowed to stop the mail —it means that postmen have no right to strike. Who in this House believes that in 1953 we took away the right of postmen to strike? There is no legal textbook in the Library to which the right hon. Gentleman can go and find therein stated that postmen are denied the right to strike.
It is interesting that in the Gourier case the Master of the Rolls pointed out that in 1971 the Conservative Government took away the denial of the right of gas and electricity workers to strike in pursuance of a trade dispute and said that it was not a criminal offence, and he noted that we had not done the same for Post Office workers. The reason was that none of us expected such a ban to be applied in a trade dispute. No one thought that Section 58 applied to a trade dispute. No one argued it before Mr. Gourier went to the court in the first of his actions in relation to the ban on Grunwick post.
I do not suggest that my view of the law will be adopted by the present 624 judiciary. Probably not. But, in the present state of the law, it has not been decided, and no one can claim that the Cricklewood postmen are carrying out an illegal act until the court so decides. Therefore, we should refrain from any suggestion that they are doing so until the matter has been decided.
In the final analysis there is one rule of English law that is absolutely fundamental—that a man cannot be made to work against his will. If a man wishes to withdraw his labour, he is entitled to do so. Nobody can make him go back to work. There can be financial penalties, but no one can make him go back to work. Therefore, if the Cricklewood strikers, in defiance of Tom Jackson or anybody else, decide not to handle the mail, in my view they have a legal as well as a moral right to take that action.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
In the short time remaining before the Secretary of State addresses the House again, I shall avoid making any comment on the industrial aspects of the Grunwick dispute. I welcome the inquiry set up by the Secretary of State. I believe that that inquiry and this debate may help to defuse the situation.
Equally, I shall not attempt to deai with any of the allegations that have been made against individual members of the police service, save only that in general I reject totally the suggestion of police either brutally or partiality in this matter. I very much regret that some Members of the House have seen fit to give room to those charges.
I want to concentrate on three points: first, the approach to law; secondly, the duties and morale of the police in this matter; and, thirdly, the responsibilities of the House and the Government to the police.
On the rule of law, I remind the House that the police, more than any other group, regard the law as a seamless garment. They cannot enforce the law in one place and not in another, against some people all the time and against others only some of the time. Whatever the Attorney-General may say, for the police the law is indivisible. If it is broken in one place, be it Cricklewood, Chapter Street or Clay Cross, it starts to come apart everywhere else.
625 At the moment the law is being broken in four specific ways. First, there is interference with the mail. I hope that the appeal made by the Attorney-General will be successful. I say no more about that. The second breach of law concerns assaults on the police. More than 100 officers have been injured. That is far too many. Any officer injured is one too many. The answer to the charge of brutality is that 100 police officers have been injured and not one has drawn his truncheon.
The third breach of law is the attempt to subvert and disaffect individual police officers. Section 53 of the Police Act 1964 provides that:Any person who causes, or attempts to cause, or does any act calculated to cause, disaffection amongst the members of any police force, or induces or attempts to induce, or does any act calculated to induce, any member of a police force to withhold his services or to commit breaches of discipline, shall be guilty of an offence".I have no time to go into the details, but there have been deliberate breaches of that law by those who have been on the picket lines and on the demonstrations outside the Grunwick plant. I have written to the Director of Public Prosecutions seeking his intervention in the matter.
The fourth clear breach of law is the most common—namely, the obstruction and attempted intimidation of individual citizens not only on their way to their place of work but in their private homes.
There is no question of the police taking sides in this matter. This morning the Police Federation met. I hope that it is right for me to read to the House a short statement made by the Police Federation on this matter:The police are not concerned with the issues giving rise to this dispute. It is their simple duty to uphold the law. The police must remember at all times that both sides have rights under the law. Just as free citizens have a right to go on strike and to picket in a peaceful manner, so have other free citizens the right not to strike, to refuse to be persuaded and an inalienable right to go to work.Along with citizens' rights go citizens responsibilities. A citizen who takes adavantage of the right to picket or to take part in a demonstration, has a responsibility to ensure that his conduct does not deprive other citizens of their rights. He must obey the law. The tame applies to organisations which take part 626 in disputes and demonstrations. They have a special responsibility not to create situations in which maintenance of the rule of law becomes impossible".The Police Federation concludes, and I ask the House to note this:Amongst the crowds outside Grunwick on most days there have been elements who have no respect for law, nor any obvious connection with the dispute. Such people have a vested interest in violence and confrontation with the police. They cannot be controlled by officials of the trade unions concerned in the dispute. They can and must be controlled by the police.I endorse every word of that statement, and I hope that it will have the support of both sides of the House.
On this matter of the law. there is no room for neutrality. No Minister or Member of Parliament should pose as a referee between the police and the pickets. That is not the issue. The choice is between the rule of law and the rule of the mob. On that matter there can be no room for partiality or neutrality. That is an issue that we must determine.
I do not wish to take the time of the Secretary of State. I have limited myself to eight minutes. However, I want to make two other points. The morale of the police is now at a low ebb. There has been a year of difficulty over pay, worsening conditions and rising crime and violence. I very much regret that there have been one or two incidents in the eastern part of the city where a number of police officers, expressing their concern about what has been going on, have seen fit, both yesterday and today, to begin to work to the book.
The House will recognise that, at a time when the police service, particularly in the Metropolitan area, is stretched as seldom before, when members are getting knocked about and their wives are deeply concerned, it cannot be wise or sensible for the Home Office to have chosen this moment to cut out overtime in many divisions, and it cannot be right to be sending out documentation illustrating how to make it easier to complain against the police. I believe that the Government should be handling the police with a great deal more sensitivity.
I conclude with this appeal to the Home Secretary and, through him, to the Prime Minister. I believe that the Government have been slow to give the police the support that they deserve. They have given it, but they have given it in a slow 627 and uncertain manner. I would not ask the Prime Minister to back the police uncritically, but I ask him to do so unmistakably. I think he must tell the public and this House publicly what in private he knows to be true, namely, first, that those who have been responsible for most of the violence at Grunwick are not the trade unionists. They are the anarchists and the revolutionary Socialists. Those people are using every device, including the deliberate injection of racial hatred and deliberate attempts to suborn the police in order to achieve their goal, which is the breakdown of law and order. That requires to be said.
Secondly, it needs to be said and understood that those who encourage picketing on a scale which of itself involves not only intimidation but threats to public order are aiding and abetting the anarchists. This goes for trade union leaders who call for armies of pickets and it goes for hon. Members of this House who deliberately make the work of the police more difficult.
Finally, it needs to be said by the Prime Minister that, when violence is used to break the law of the land, the police are in duty bound to use counter-force to contain it. The enforcement of the law means exactly that—the use by the police of minimum force but, in all circumstances, of enough force to ensure that the law-breaker is arrested and is brought before the courts to face charges.
No one knows better than the Prime Minister—and, indeed, the Home Secretary—that police morale has been badly battered by a year of frustration over their pay dispute It would be a catastrophe if the police were now to be overwhelmed or if they were to falter for lack of support.
I ask the House—and I do so, Mr. Speaker, with confidence—to stand up and be counted on the side of the police. The country expects no less of us, and so do the police themselves.
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand that the Secretary of State is willing to give three minutes of his time to his hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher).
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
As a sponsored member of APEX, I have folowed this dispute for the last 45 weeks. 628 I raised the matter in the House in an Adjournment debate on 20th December last year. It created little interest here or in the country, but a great deal of interest in the trade union movement, because we are fighting for the principle that no one should get the sack for joining a trade union, and that is the principle which Yorkshire miners, London dockers and others are interested in maintaining.
It was said by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) that people were not sacked from this establishment for joining a trade union. Let me remind him that in 1973 five members who joined the Transport and General Workers' Union were sacked, and that there was an industrial dispute which lasted some weeks before it petered out. That was the first occasion, before APEX was interested. I believe there was another occasion in 1971 when people were sacked for joining a trade union.
It was said that we are telling lies and uttering claptrap. What we are saying cannot be denied, because we have the wage slips in the head office of APEX, showing that people were paid £25 per week for a 35-hour week and £28 for a 40-hour week. No one is telling lies. We know, too, that no one was entitled to take a holiday until the wintertime. We know that people had to work compulsory overtime without being given any notice. As a consequence of this, these people came out on strike.
We ought to address ourselves to this question: will the Grunwick management accept and implement the finding of a court of inquiry? I do not think that it will. If it gave a categoric pledge that it would, I do not believe that it would carry it out.
In a debate in the House on 4th November there was a reference to a letter to the Union of Post Office Workers in which the company said that it would co-operate with ACAS and carry out its findings. What happened? Two weeks went by and ACAS asked "Will you co-operate?" The company said "We are considering the matter". Finally, ACAS had to send a special messenger round to get a reply, and the reply was "We are taking the matter to the High Court". This was procrastination designed to exhaust the strikers. These are the tactics adopted by the management.
629 During the debate we have heard two voices of the Conservative Party. We have heard the voice of the extremists. We have also heard the voice of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), who said, in a public statement issued on 30th March:The Report on the Grunwick Dispute by the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service has now been published. The ACAS Council, including both employers and trade unionists, have commended that the management should recognise APEX for collective bargaining purposes. I hope that the Report will be accepted, that picketing and blacking will end, and that there will be a full restoration of normal working.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Is the hon. Gentleman referring to a matter that is sub judice? In any case, I must warn him that he is a minute over time.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)
In the debate there have been many references to the rule of law. I put it to the House that the rule of law is to be respected as much when it depends upon consent as when it is backed by criminal sanctions, and that for people to refuse to co-operate with bodies established under the law, going about their business under the law, is in a very real sense to show a contempt for the law.
That is why I very much regret that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has chosen the occasion of this debate to launch an attack upon the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service. I noted the hon. Gentleman's words very carefully. He told the House that ACAS has tried to distort facts and mislead—
§ Mr. Booth
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. Very well, I withdraw the reference to the hon. Member for Hendon, North, and will merely say, in relation to my point about respect for the law, that ACAS is a body set up by this House under the Employment Protection Act. It is a body that has been run by a council comprising members of the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry, and independent people.
§ Mr. Booth
I am talking about the role of ACAS in this dispute, and I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, and the House, that I shall not enter into any part of the duties of ACAS which are to be considered by the High Court. That will be made perfectly clear, if the House will bear with me for a moment. ACAS is a body that was set up by the House under the Employment Protection Act, and APEX chose to seek the assistance of that body 10 months ago. It sought assistance in order to resolve the dispute at Grunwick by conciliation.
§ Mr. Speaker
The House will remember that I said this afternoon that general references to conciliation and arbitration would be in order, provided that they did not touch upon the recommendation of ACAS and the civil action pending in relation thereto.
§ Mr. Booth
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On 31st August the company declined the offer by ACAS to assist. It subsequently declined further offers on a number of occasions.
I remind the House that the ban by UPW members at the Cricklewood depot on postal packages for Grunwick, which has been talked about this afternoon, is not the first such ban that has occurred in the course of this dispute. On the previous occasion when such a ban was operating the UPW gave an undertaking to the court in respect of that action. It was given, I understand, as a result of there being an agreement by Grunwick to co-operate with ACAS on the question which is now before the courts. Therefore, ACAS was not only unable to pursue its general duties in respect of conciliation but was unable to embark 631 upon the role that the House laid down for it under the Employment Protection Act in respect of another matter in which an action took place which it is referred to by this House as being in breach of the rule of law.
The right hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) asked what action the Post Office will take and what action my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will take in respect of what has happened at the Cricklewood sorting office. I can tell him and the House that I understand from the Post Office that it has decided to take no further action today, so as to allow all concerned to consider the implications of the announcement of the setting up of the court of inquiry. I know from the tone and the spirit in which he spoke that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will respect that.
With regard to the wider issues of the action of certain members of the Post Office union, the right of postmen to take normal industrial action was first put in doubt by the recent Gouriet case. The question had not been raised before. Neither we nor any previous Administration had any doubts on that score. There was no suggestion in 1971 that the three-week strike of Post Office workers was then illegal.
We propose to remove that uncertainty. I very much hope that no one in this 632 House will wish to argue that postmen should be placed in a worse position with regard to normal industrial action than nearly all other workers in this country. But until that is the position in law it in no way detracts from what I originally said about respect for the law.
Much has been made of the tribunal decision concerning 59 dismissed strikers in the Grunwick dispute. The point at issue in that tribunal decision was whether or not a person who had taken part in the dispute had not been dismissed. That was the issue before the tribunal—
§ It being three hours after the commencement of the proceedings, Mr SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings pursuant to Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) and the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.