§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State, I should tell the House that I propose to apply the 10-minute rule between 7 o'clock and 10 minutes to 9 o'clock.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. James Prior)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I think that it would be true to say that no subject has occupied the House more in the past 15 years than industrial relations. It would perhaps be wise at the start of a further period of debate to recognise that none of us has been successful, that during that period our industrial performance has declined and that the period when most of us have been in the House has been one for our country of which none of us can be particularly proud. Before fierce argument breaks out, it may be as well that we recognise our lack of success and approach our debates, as I certainly do, with some humility and in a desire for consensus.
No subject is more central to our problems and few subjects are as important in determining the future of our society. The incomes policies of the early 1960s, the statutory policies of 1966 and 1972, "In Place of Strife" in 1969, the Industrial Relations Act 1971, the Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts of 1974 and 1976, and the Employment Protection Act 1975 have all attempted to tackle the problem, and any Minister who presents proposals to change the law, as I do today, must be mindful of that record.
I do not believe, as some do, that the lessons of the past 15 years are entirely negative or that the only thing to do is to do nothing. That is a counsel of despair and I reject it. It is abundantly clear that some changes in the law are essential. Recent events have amply borne out that fact. I shall have more to say about the detailed changes to the law when I discuss individual clauses of the Bill.
59 Before I do so, I want to say a few words about the spirit and the manner in which the Government have approached their task. I think that it is particularly important that our reasoning should be understood by the House and, through the House, by industry, people at work and the nation as a whole.
Our approach is essentially a pragmatic one. We are not in the business of change for change's sake. In drawing up our proposals, we have drawn on experience—the experience of how the present law is working and the experience of those working in and close to industry. We have proceeded through wide and intensive consultations. Every proposal in the Bill was set out in the working papers that I have published in the months since the election.
In many cases, we have put forward a number of options for consideration. We have listened carefully to all the views put to us. We have made changes as a result. It has been a demonstration of open government—of a Government ready to listen, to learn and to try to meet, as far as possible, the many conflicting views of those with whom we have consulted.
But let no one think that, because we have sought to do what is practical, there is no issue of principle at stake. On the contrary, the Government believe that fundamental matters of principle are very much at stake.
One principle is to ensure that the rights of the individual are respected and upheld, at the place of work as in every other facet of our lives. That has been our guiding principle. I believe that it is one which will receive support from both sides of the House. But the rights of the individual as an individual need to be balanced by the right of individuals to act together. I put the Government position on the record in the debate on the Address in May. I think that it bears repeating. I said:The law should always give full recognition to the inherent weakness of the individual worker vis-a-vis his employer, to the need for him to be organised in a union, and to the need for his union to have such exceptional liberties as may be necessary to redress the balance. That is fundamental, but, having accepted that, the very nature of privilege is that it must always be restricted to what is necessary and never go beyond that"— 60 [Official Report, 21 May 1979; vol. 967, c. 824.]Let me reaffirm that statement today. Let me reiterate that we have sought a balance. I do not believe that what we have witnessed in the last 20 years has been a balance. It is that which has worried successive Governments and this House throughout the whole of this unsettled period. The changes we propose are limited to those where experience has shown that the law is not working well, where privilege is being abused and suffering results, where the creation of new jobs is being inhibited by fear of the present law and what it means. Our proposals do not change the need for bargainers to behave sensibly, nor do they in any way absolve those who lead them from their responsibility of providing practical voluntary guidance on the use of the powerful weapons in their bargaining armoury.
Our proposals are designed to improve industrial relations, but to do so by working with the grain rather than against it. So let no one use them as an excuse for abandoning the search for the good voluntary procedures which are the best protection against tough laws.
These proposals have the support of the nation—their support is as strong among trade unionists as it is in the rest of the community. They command a majority, as far as one can understand, even among trade unionists who vote for the Labour Party. In no way has the support diminished with the passage of time. It is against this background that I will briefly deal with individual clauses.
Clause 1 deals with funds for ballots. It follows closely an early-day motion put down in the last Parliament. That read:That this House in the interest of maximum democratic participation urges the Government to introduce legislation to ensure the provision of financial aid for postal ballots in trade union elections.That was not a Conservative motion, but a Back-Bench Labour one. Would all the hon. Members who signed thatmotion—and five of the main signatories are still Members of this House—vote against that tonight? Even if they disagree with the rest of the Bill, one would have thought that a reasoned amendment would have been a more likely stance for the Opposition to adopt.
61 The scheme would be administered by the Certification Officer. It will be introduced by regulation subject to parliamentary approval and will cover postal ballots held for purposes of the kind referred to in clause 1(3): the calling or ending of strikes; elections to management committees of trades unions and to union offices; amendments to rules; and trade union amalgamations and transfers.
The clause does not make ballots compulsory, although many people believe it should. Nor does it involve interference with the internal affairs of trade unions. It will not lead to the immediate adoption of secret ballots by all trade unions. But it will remove financial obstacles to the holding of postal ballots. It will be for union members who want more ballots to press their leadership to accept this offer. I hope that hon. Members will do the same.
Clause 2 contains the power to publish codes of practice for the improvement of industrial relations. We need both the law and guidance on best practice, and codes will help achieve this. I intend to use this power to produce a code on the closed shop. If no other authoritative, comprehensive and effective guidance is available, I shall produce a code on picketing. The clause requires me to consult ACAS and other interested organisations, and to lay any code before both Houses of Parliament for approval.
I turn now to the closed shop provisions. What we are seeking to do here is to give a right to compensation for unfair dismissal within a closed shop situation for people who are employees at the time the agreement comes in, for employees who have deeply held personal conviction against belonging to a particular union or any union, and to employees who, if they lose their union card, can lose their job.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I apologise for coming in slightly late on the question of the ballot, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will go back a little and give an indication of the extent to which a trade union will be accountable to the Government, who will obviously be supplying the money, in relation to such ballots.
§ Mr. Prior
We shall leave this matter almost entirely to the Certification 62 Officer, who will have to satisfy himself that the election has been held in accordance with union rules. Provided that he is so satisfied, there is no question of the Government becoming involved in any way. The Certification Officer will then have power to demand from the Government the cash required for financing the ballot accordingly. So we have done all that we can to keep this matter away from the Government, and I believe that that would meet the hon. Gentleman's desires.
I return to the question of the closed shop. We are concerned to deal partly with the abuses that have arisen such as in the disgraceful British Rail case and partly with fear—the fear of losing a union card. We do not say that a man cannot lose his job, but we create a deterrent to employers and unions who set up agreements which do not conform to good practice.
I know that some of my hon. Friends would have preferred us to go further on the closed shop and to seek to outlaw it. But I must tell them that that was the approach tried in 1971, and it simply did not work. What we are doing in the Bill is to provide the individual with effective safeguards; and we are proposing much more specific arrangements for the drawing up of any new closed shop agreement. A recent study published by my Department has shown that many new closed shops accord with best practice. They allow exemptions for the long-serving worker and those who object on grounds of conscience. We are concerned to see that the law underpins that good practice and provides a remedy in those cases—I hope few—where it is not followed.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the European Court's ruling over the weekend about the railwaymen who lost their jobs because of the closed shop agreement? In view of that court ruling that they were illegally dismissed, will the Bill make the change required to give them back their jobs?
§ Mr. Prior
The court has given no ruling over the weekend. When it does give a ruling, we shall certainly abide by it, but I must tell my hon. Friend that we believe that the measures that we are taking in the Bill would certainly have prevented the sort of situation which made 63 the three men concerned go to the court in the first place. That was the gist of the message that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General took to Strasbourg when he gave evidence on behalf of the Government in, I think, June or July.
Clauses 3 and 4 provide a right for someone who is employed or seeking employment where there is a closed shop not to be unreasonably excluded or expelled from a trade union, and to get equitable compensation if he is.
Clause 6 makes it possible for existing employees and for those who object to union membership on grounds of conscience or other deeply held personal conviction to claim unfair dismissal if they are dismissed when a closed shop is established. In the case of new closed shops, a person will be able to claim unfair dismissal if the closed shop agreement was not approved in a ballot in which at least 80 per cent. of the employees voted in favour;
Clause 9 will enable an employer to make a trade union a party in unfair dismissal proceedings, where that union puts pressure on the employer to dismiss a non-union employee.
I wish to say a few words about the closed shop and the press. In 1976 the House was worried about the effect that a closed shop could have on the journalist's freedom to report whatever and wherever he liked, to have access to publish and to be free to write free from interference by his union should it attempt to dictate policy. With this in mind, a press charter was suggested. The previous Government were not able to bring one forward for discussion by the House.
The proposals on the closed shop in the Bill are particularly relevant to the issue of press freedom. We intend to provide specific guidance on the subject in the code to ensure that press freedom is not infringed. That seems a better way to proceed, and clause 16 of the Bill includes a power to repeal the relevant section of the 1976 Act. I would not intend to use the power of repeal until those in the industry have had the opportunity of seeing our draft code. If there was still a strong desire for a charter, and a real possibility of reaching agreement on its terms, we would, of course, 64 be prepared to reconsider any abolition of the charter itself.
Clauses 5, 7 and 8 amend the law on unfair dismissal. They have the purpose of reducing the burden imposed on employers, especially small employers. This burden, perceived and real, has been a deterrent to the employment of more people. They would require an industrial tribunal to take account of the size and administrative resources of a firm in deciding the fairness or unfairness of a dismissal. They would also exempt new firms, with fewer than 20 employees, from the unfair dismissal provisions for the first two years after they take on their first employee.
§ Mr. Heffer
Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that, if the Bill becomes law, all the small businesses will take on immediately at least one, two, or three workers and so help to reduce unemployment?
§ Mr. Prior
I cannot give that assurance. I might be able to give the hon. Gentleman another assurance, that it will not be possible for small employers any longer to argue that the Employment Protection Act is a deterrent to the employment of labour.
Clauses 10 and 11 change the requirements on notification of intention to take maternity leave and to return to a job afterwards. They relieve an employer with five or fewer employees of his obligation to reinstate an employee after maternity leave, but the employer will have to show that it is not reasonably practicable for him to do so. They also enable all employers to offer suitable alternative employment, where it is not practicable to offer the employee her old job back.
Clause 14 contains our proposals for secondary picketing. Its aim is to protect employers and employees who find their livelihood and jobs threatened by picketing in support of a dispute in which they have no part and no access to the means of ending it. After the events of last winter, no one can doubt that a change in the law is needed to provide such protection. As The Sunday Times said yesterday:Unions are no longer fledgling creatures in need of special protection. It is their casual victims who need protection now.65 In the road haulage dispute, for example, there was secondary picketing at the docks to stop the movement of essential supplies, there was secondary picketing at the suppliers of raw materials to bring production lines to a halt, and there was secondary picketing at the producers of basic foodstuffs, and at food wholesalers, to bring about food shortages in the shops. That was not traditional picketing. It was the abuse of industrial power. Its aim was to bring industry to a halt, to spread and intensify disruption, and to put pressure on the whole community. Uncontrolled minorities put workers, who had no dispute with their employer, out of a job and inflicted needless hardship on the whole community.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
I wonder what the Secretary of State feels are the credentials of The Sunday Times to pontificate when one thinks that its extremist management shut down that newspaper for a year, affecting people all over the country—Watford, where the colour supplement was produced, firms that made ink, and paper mills—all affected by an extremist management that shut down, without consultation, valuable publications for a year.
§ Mr. Prior
I said not necessarily the best judges, but sometimes they hit the nail on the head, as they did yesterday.
…it is clear that some picketing practices, and, in particular, secondary picketing, have given rise to the present serious situation".—[Official Report, 18 January 1979; Vol. 960, c. 1957.]That view was expressed from this Dispatch Box last winter.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
Although picketing can get out of hand—I think that everybody on this side of the House objects to the manhandling of other people—will the Secretary of State take into account, when he 66 lays restrictions upon the unions to prevent picketing, that the CBI is forming an association whereby any employer that causes a strike will be reimbursed? That means that the employers can get together but that the trade union movement is restricted from getting together.
§ Mr. Prior
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I am doing nothing to prevent unions from getting together in that way. I am saying that one must picket at one's own place of employment. That is a reasonable step to take after the events of last winter. As for employers getting together, that is entirely a matter for them. I gather that they are some way from that position at the moment.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
In view of what has been said in the House of Lords judgment on secondary strikes, does my right hon. Friend think that there is need for any change in the law or anything in that context arising from that judgment?
Mr. Eldon Grifflths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend. Before he leaves clause 14, may I ask him two questions on behalf of a group with which, as the House knows, I have a connection, namely, the police? First, does he intend to issue another code of practice that will deal with picketing, or are the codes of practice merely confined to the closed shop? Secondly, because the police often find themselves right in the middle, through no fault of their own, will he agree to receive a deputation from the Police Federation before clause 14 is reached in Committee?
§ Mr. Prior
I can answer the latter question in the course of the next few minutes. On the first question, the Bill gives the Secretary of State power to make a code of practice. He has to consult beforehand, and one of the bodies that he would obviously consult would be the police. If we cannot get an authoritative voluntary code, the Government will issue a code—I must make that absolutely plain—and I think that that would be in accordance with police requirements.
Clause 14 limits lawful picketing to an employee picketing at his own place of work. The existing right of someone to 67 picket his own place of work is unaffected. The existing right to demonstrate or protest is also unaffected. The Bill does not create any additional burden on the police because it does not create any new criminal offence. We are proposing simply to restore the right to take civil proceedings where secondary picketing induces a breach of contract. In everyday terms, that means that someone may ask the courts for an injunction to restrain unlawful secondary picketing. The remedy is in the hands of the employer whose business and the jobs of whose employees are put at risk.
§ Mr. David Price(Eastleigh)
Do I correctly interpret the drafting of clause 14 as meaning that the employer can take action only against an individual and not against a trade union, and that the current immunity for trade unions remains preserved?
§ Mr. Prior
It would have to be an individual, and with that individual could be added a number of other names as well. The normal law as it applies now and has applied in recent weeks and months would continue to apply just as it does today. There would be no difference between the practice now and the practice once the Bill is passed.
§ Mr. Prior
I am advised that that is not correct. But we shall look at that as we go along, and in a minute or two I shall say a word about the recent judgment in the House of Lords.
Clause 15 deals specifically with the tactics described by Mr Andrew Leggatt in his report on union recruitment activities in the art and advertising industries. SLADE had been prepared to bring companies to the brink of ruin in order to 68 force their employees into union membership and to destroy the jobs of those who were unwilling to join. SLADE's activities brought that union almost universal condemnation—including from this Dispatch Box when the Labour Government were in office. The law must be changed to provide specific protection against such strong-arm tactics in case they are ever used again.
The Bill therefore provides protection to an employer who is subjected to industrial action by employees of another company designed to compel his employees to become members of a particular trade union against their will. This secondary action might take the form of blacking of the firm's goods or materials. The Bill enables that employer to seek an injunction to restrain such secondary action.
I turn now to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis). Clauses 14 and 15 both involve specific changes to the law on immunities to deal with specific problems. We are continuing with our review of the general law on trade union immunities. Last Thursday the House of Lords gave its judgment in the case of Express Newspapers v. MacShane. This case raised issues of central importance to our review. We are now considering their Lordships' judgment carefully. We shall take whatever action seems necessary in the light of that judgment and bring it before the House in due course. There are vital and delicate matters which will require a great deal of thought.
Finally, clause 16 repeals schedule 11 and also the statutory recognition procedures of the Employment Protection Act 1975.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, if clause 16 is carried, one of its effects will be to take from ACAS its present responsibility and duty finally to decide in trade union recognition disputes—a power that has been of great value to smaller trade unions, including several affiliated to the TUC? Would it not be a great pity if that were done, and, further, will the Secretary of State read some of his own speeches on this matter made, I think, about 20 months ago on a certain Private Member's Bill?
§ Mr. Prior
The hon. Gentleman has got there just before I have. I am coming to that in a moment.
Schedule 11 was primarily intended to deal with pockets of low pay, but this has not been its effect. Asregards the statutory recognition procedures, in which the hon. Gentleman is interested, hardly anyone—including ACAS—has been happy with the way they have worked.
I have made clear to the House on previous occasions my full commitment to an independent and respected conciliation service. I believe it to be vital that the valuable conciliation services of ACAS should not be tarnished by association. The compulsory element of the work of ACAS has jarred with every other aspect of its work, which rests on a voluntary approach. I have had to give, and must continue to give, top priority to the true independence of ACAS, which I believe to be of incredible value to this country.
I should say that I am not wholly unsympathic to the idea of some statutory recognition provision. I appreciate the problems for smaller unions, including the EMA—there are other unions even smaller—but I feel, on balance, that such was the damage to ACAS that it would be better to proceed as we propose. The voluntary services of ACAS in recognition cases will still be available, and I intend to discuss with ACAS the scope of its issuing guidance to employers and unions to help on recognition issues.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
My right hon. Friend will be aware that section 1(2) of the Act, which he is not proposing to repeal, provides that ACAS shall be charged with thegeneral duty of promoting the improvement of industrial relations, and in particular of encouraging…collective bargaining.Will that still continue to be the remit of ACAS? I ask that because it does not fit very well with its obligation to conciliate and arbitrate.
§ Mr. Prior
I do not think that the terms of reference of ACAS, now that the statutory provisions have been removed, will be in any way inconsistent with the promotion of good industrial relations and the encouragement of collective bargaining by voluntary means. Both from my hon. Friend's point of view and from 70 the point of view of many other people I believe that now that the statutory provisions are being removed from ACAS the sting of that particular part will he very much diminished. I hope that we can build ACAS up into a truly independent service, because I believe that to be of great importance. I well understand the point that my hon. Friend has made. We have thought about it and consulted on it, but, on balance, we thought that the most important thing to do was to remove the statutory recognition procedures. By doing that we shall have removed the cause of those actions by ACAS which have proved most controversial, particularly in relation to the promotion of collective bargaining.
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State and I shall take but a moment merely to put this question. Is he implying that ACAS is at present anything other than wholly independent?
§ Mr. Prior
It is not what I think. It is what the country thinks, it is what small businesses think, it is what other people think—[HON. MEMBERS: "What the Tories think".]—and it is therefore most important that ACAS should gain a reputation for impartiality. I believe that it has a reputation for impartiality, but a lot of other people do not believe it. It is far better that we face up to that fact and deal with that section of the Employment Protection Act which did most to cause great trouble to ACAS itself. I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members should read the letter sent to me by the ACAS council on the subject of recognition—it has been issued—which clearly shows that ACAS found itself in enormous difficulties in statutory recognition cases.
§ Mr. Palmer rose—
§ Mr. Prior
No, I cannot give way again.
If the Opposition are true to form, they will argue that no changes in the law should be made and that we should leave these admittedly difficult and emotional matters to the unions themselves and to their codes of practice. That was the view expressed in the House and in other places after "In Place of Strife"—a solemn and binding and binding understanding, as we were told it was.
71 It appears once more today that that is to be the easy answer. I simply do not believe, after the chaos and bitterness of last winter and of years past, that that is a tenable position. Of course, we do not expect changes in the law to end all these problems overnight, but I believe that our proposals are the only and the best way to deal with a number of urgent problems and with situations where there is seen to be specific abuse. In this the law has a part to play. We have to give management and unions the ground rules which enable them to bring about industrial peace.
There are some things in a democracy which, perhaps, are better carried through by one side rather than the other. It may be that because of the Labour Party's relationship with the unions it is not possible for a Labour Government ever to take the necessary steps, even though in their hearts many members of Labour Governments know that they should do so. They will do a great disservice to themselves and to our country if they do not give the Bill a fair wind.
This is not a measure designed to change the whole structure of industrial relations. It is not a measure to clobber the unions. It is neither doctrinaire nor draconian. In 1974, when the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill had completed its passage, I urged my party, which was in Opposition, to stick to it, to accept it as a solid foundation. It would have met the desire of Parliament to settle the question and to put an end to damaging and divisive debate.
We have a further chance to do that at the end of today's debate and in the coming months. If we fail, we shall condemn ourselves to a continuing struggle that will sap the strength of our nation. We can start today on a new course. After the experience of the past 20 years, it is already late but our duty is clear.
§ Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)
I commiserate with the Secretary of State for having drawn the short straw in the Cabinet. The right hon. Gentleman is the sacrificial victim who is required by Tory ritual to lead the traditional war dance against the trade unions.
I want to start on a non-controversial note. The decade ends as it began with 72 a Tory Government placing before the House a puny yet damaging measure with the impossible objective of fulfilling Tory election slogans, which like all other savage war-cries are as meaningless as they are bloodcurdling.
The Prime Minister spent last winter and the spring breathing fire. The poor old Secretary of State now has the dirty job of raking up the embers to get a few sparks out of them. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that while he is arousing the hostility of trade unions by needlessly provoking them when he desperately requires their co-operation, he is arousing expectations among the union bashers on the Government Back Benches which the Bill does not begin to fulfil.
The right hon. Gentleman has acted similarly to the other Cabinet moderate, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who introduced shoddy immigration proposals. The Bill is sufficiently provocative and damaging to minorities, but it goes nowhere near far enough to satisfy the uglier sentiments expressed on the Tory Back Benches. Those who express such sentiments will be shouting out during my speech.
There is no doubt that the Bill will weaken and damage trade union rights and individual rights. When it reaches Committee, I promise the Government that the Opposition will subject it to detailed and unremitting scrutiny. On Second Reading it is important to highlight some of the most damaging and some of the most uncertain proposals that erode rights and create dangerous uncertainties.
It was significant that when the right hon. Gentleman came to the uncertainties he said that he did not know and that he would leave it all to the wonderful codes that will be produced at some stage. That will not do. He knows that some of the measures that he is proposing will not be settled by codes. There must be a great deal of agonising in the Department of Employment as Ministers wonder what to put in the codes. That is why the right hon. Gentleman had no way of dealing with the question put to him by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths).
I suppose that when the right hon. Gentleman gave drafting instructions to his Department, he decided deliberately to start with ballots. He probably said 73 "Let's get the easy stuff out of the way straight away." I have no great objections to ballots. I cannot have objections to them. Most of my trade union experience as an officer in the National Union of Mineworkers was gained with the use of the secret ballot.
§ Mr. Varley
No, but they were secret ballots. Even the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there should be postal ballots in all circumstances. We shall have to see what the wonderful codes produce. The union of which I have most knowledge and experience still practises secret ballots. We shall want to know what the Certification Officer will do and how he will administer the scheme. Let no one imagine that ballots are the universal remedy for settling industrial disputes. To believe that displays a nave view of how unions govern themselves and how negotiations are conducted.
The one ballot that was ordered under the Industrial Relations Act turned out disastrously. I should not need to remind a Tory Government that the miners' strikes of 1972 and 1974 began only after secret ballots had been held. So much for the panacea of ballots. There are some on the Conservative Benches who believe that ballots are a panacea.
There must be far greater misgivings about the provisions of clauses 3, 4 and 6 that relate to union membership agreements—
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give one reason why he opposes the modest proposal for ballots? It is not as if the Government are proposing to make them compulsory. How can he attack that proposal?
§ Mr. Varley
I thought that I had made it clear that I do not oppose union ballots. My experience in my trade union life is that it is right for unions to ballot if they want to do so. It is only fair that trade unions should be able to conduct themselves in that way. Most of the unions that have secret ballots are able to organise them without the help of Government money or taxpayers' money. They offer no panacea.
There are much greater misgivings—
§ Mr. Chris Patten (Bath) rose—
§ Mr. Varley
I shall probably give way to the hon. Gentleman later.
There are much greater misgivings about clauses 3, 4 and 6 that relate to union membership agreements. During the weekend Mr. Anthony Frodsham, the Director-General of the Engineering Employers' Federation, voiced some of the misgivings when, as quoted in the Financial Times, he said that the federation hadtechnical but important objections to the conscience clause and the stipulation that a closed shop should be set up only if an 80 per cent. ballot of employees approved…the clause would allow individuals to chop and change within unions as well as objecting to membership of any union on principle. That would lead not so much to fragmentation of bargaining arrangements but to squabbling over minor issues.The head of industrial relations of the Engineering Employers' Federation, Mr. John Porter, put it even more bluntly when he said:We have to say that in engineering there are not very many problems that will be solved by the kind of measures proposed.I am sure that Conservative Members will agree that many other employers agree with the federation.
The proposals contain another glaring anomaly. It may be that it is done intentionally. If a worker decides that he wants to be a non-unionist, he will have the right to take action against a trade union. However, if a worker who is a trade unionist asserts his rights, he will have no redress against an employer who refuses to employ him because he is a member of a trade union. The sloppy thinking that riddles clauses 3, 4 and 6 is a recipe for endless friction and disputes.
The Bill, like the immigration rules, demonstrates a curious as well as a nasty attitude to be taken by a Government who are headed by a woman Prime Minister—a deliberate sexist discrimination against women.
Clauses 10 and 11, relating to maternity pay and a woman's right to return to her job after having a baby, are spiteful and mean. No woman, without the advice and help of a strong union, can be certain of getting her job back, faced with such bureaucratic procedures.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
The right hon. Gentleman denounced clauses 3 and 4. I do not understand why he suggested that it was unreasonable to give a right of compensation to an employee who had been unfairly excluded or expelled from trade union membership. Perhaps he will tell us why he opposed it.
§ Mr. Varley
It is not clear. In moving the Bill, the Secretary of State did not make the matter clear. There is a glaring anomaly in the Bill. A chap who does not want to be a trade unionist can seek rights not to be one and obtain compensation if he is unfairly dismissed. A trade unionist who wants employment may be excluded by an employer because he is a trade unionist. What will the Government do about that provision?
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Varley
I shall not give way yet. As I develop my speech, I may give way, but I am only a little way into my speech.
We are all aware of the Prime Minister's animus against picketing. The Bill seeks to give legal force to her strident prejudice. However, it is so ambiguously drafted that it will cause more problems than it will solve.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), the previous Home Secretary, pointed out to me that the Bill threw an intolerable burden on the rank-and-file policeman. The police constable at the picket line must separate the unquestionably legal primary picketing sheep from the potentially illegal secondary picketing goats. He must cross-question the pickets. He must decide who meets the conditions of the Act and who does not. He must take action against those whom he thinks fail the test. The Bill is so vaguely worded that almost any decision he takes will be disputed and end up in a court of law. That is an intolerable burden to place on a working policeman. Once again, it will mean a field day for the lawyers. I understand that the lawyers cheer this measure. Whoever loses under Tory industrial legislation, it is always the lawyers who gain.
§ Mr. Prior
The right hon. Gentleman has not read the Bill. Nor did the former Home Secretary—but then he never read anything. This has absolutely nothing to 76 do with the police. It has nothing to do with criminal law. It is entirely a matter for the person who believes that his contracts are in some way being broken to take action through the civil court. The police are in no way involved in this.
§ Mr. Varley
We shall go into this matter in great depth in Committee. Is the right hon. Gentleman giving us an assurance on Second Reading that, if so-called secondary pickets take action, they may go on to support, as it were, their colleagues in another factory, and that if they do so the police will not be involved at all? That will not stop that situation. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that, anything that happened in the road haulage dispute last year would not have been affected by this measure.
§ Mr. Varley
I am absolutely astonished if the right hon. Gentleman is saying that the purpose of his Bill is not to take action against instances which occurred last winter and which he described. If he is now saying that, he is misleading his Back Benchers.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Is it not the position that the police now have a right and a duty to intervene when a breach of public order is likely to be created? Is it not also a fact that the Bill in no way alters that duty and responsibility? The right hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this matter. I take his views seriously. If either in a code of practice or statutorily there were to be imposed some limit on the numbers of pickets coming before a factory, would he support that in the interests of enabling the police to maintain public order and fairness on all sides?
§ Mr. Varley
I shall come to what I believe to be a sensible code of practice. Numbers are critical. It is possible for the police, in discussion with those who are taking the action and picketing, to come to an arrangement about numbers. That happens at the moment. Most picketing is done peacefully, as the right hon. 77 Gentleman will acknowledge, and a relationship is established between the pickets and the police. Only on rare occasions does violence break out. When it does, it is deplored by the trade unions as much as by anyone else.
I had better not rub too much salt in the right hon. Gentleman's wounds. However, if he is saying that no duty will be placed on the police to determine what is secondary picketing, he misled the whole of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Varley
I read the Bill and the working papers and took advice from other people. I said that the right hon. Gentleman had misled Government supporters. He is not standing in my position. He cannot see the looks on the faces of some of his hon. Friends. I am sure that when he turns up at the Tory Party conference next October he will have a rough ride indeed.
§ Mr. Varley
I am saying nothing of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman understands what I am saying. When it comes to picketing, rather than impose legalistic restrictions, which will harm and not help industrial relations, the right hon. Gentleman misled the House, and especially the Conservative Party.
These are some of the objections. The questions of interpretation are niggling and damaging. If the Tory Party asks the Opposition what we would like to do on this point—as it and the country are entitled to ask—I shall be frank. The reply is this: nothing very spectacular. [Interruption.] I knew that that would get a laugh.
In introducing the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman—until a few moments ago—gave the impression that he had some cure-alls and that there would be some legislative panacea. Until the events of last winter, this country had had the best industrial peace we had known for a decade. The Minister of State gave the facts to the House recently. In the four 78 full years of the Labour Government from 1975 to 1978, 28.8 million working days were lost in strikes compared with 44.7 million days lost in the three full Tory years from 1971 to 1973. An average of 7 million days were lost under Labour compared with 15 million days lost under the Tories.
Under the present Secretary of State's tender ministrations, the situation is far worse than it was under any of his Tory predecessors. During his first six months of office 20.7 million working days have been lost in strikes—more than twice as many as in the worst full year of the previous Labour Government. That period of industrial peace, that success of the Labour Party's approach, was brought to an end by a reaction to incomes policy. I still contend that that policy contained the seeds of an answer to part of our inflationary problem. Abetted by the Conservative Party, it failed to obtain the consent of the trade unions and their members. We learnt that lesson. It was a lesson learnt by everyone.
Industrial harmony—which was obtained (luring most of the period of the previous Labour Government—can be obtained only by consultation and consent. It requires a readiness to agree on the part of three participants—the unions, their members and the Government.
The Labour Government's voluntary pay policy broke down because, while some trade union leaders were ready to agree with it, they could not carry their members with them. The Labour Party has learnt that lesson, and it is ready to acknowledge it. The Conservative Party was taught an equally bruising lesson. But the introduction of the Bill shows that, if the lesson was ever learnt, it has been forgotten. The Conservative Government are now seeking, for a second time, to impose vexatious legislation—which will not solve anything—on the trade unions. That will remove from the unions any feeling that they have an obligation voluntarily to contribute towards improved industrial relations and trade union practice. If the Government tell the unions that they will legislate, the natural reaction of the unions, if their representations are ignored—as they have been ignored—is to say "Get on with it, but do not expect anything from us." It is paradoxical that out of the last cruel winter emerged the hopeful prospects of 79 the best kind of regulation of trade unions—self-regulation.
The code of conduct contained in the TUC guide is a recipe for industrial peace.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead) rose—
§ Mr. Lyell rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he is not giving way.
§ Mr. Varley
The best industrial practice is self-regulation. It is essential that any code of practice should be observed. I know that the Minister does not disparage his code of practice. He said in his speech that he welcomed a voluntary code of practice. I was once told that no legislation was totally bad. Parts of the code of practice. I was one told that no Industrial Relations Act 1971 survive to this day. The more harmful parts have been repealed.
In the same way, it may be that some of the less contentious fragments of this Bill can be allowed to survive the next Labour Government. But the more damaging parts will be repealed, just as the more damaging parts of the Industrial Relations Act were repealed. That is our pledge to the country and to the unions. In return, we expect the unions to ensure that both the letter and the spirit of the TUC guides are fully observed. There must be no exceptions. There must be no Charing Cross hospital incidents. The spirit and the letter of genuine paternal values have made British trade unionism envied throughout the world for more than a century.
§ Mr. Lyell
I have here the February guidelines, which make clear in the strongest language, used by the TUC, that before industrial action takes place union members should be consulted by a ballot. It is sad, therefore, to hear the right hon. Gentleman saying that he takes no great objection to that aspect. Why cannot we stand together? Why will not the right hon. Gentleman stand up for something which is correct?
§ Mr. Varley
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman supports me in saying that the voluntary code of conduct is the better way of dealing with the matter 80 than the legislative arrangement on which the Government are now embarking. I commend the code of practice to all Conservative Members. I suspect that not many of them have read it. It refers to balloting, picketing, and so on.
What will be the outcome of the measures contained in the Bill? They violate the wise dictum of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) when he said that industrial relations are human relations. The right hon. Gentleman sits where he does now because in a fit of aberration he disregarded his own wise words. It is a fateful irony that we are debating this Bill almost nine years to the day after the Second Reading of the Industrial Relations Bill. Today's debate is muted compared with that Second Reading, when there was a two-day debate with the participation of no less a personage than the then Prime Minister. He concluded his speech with these powerful words:The ideas in the Bill have been widely discussed and carefully prepared. The time has now come to carry through this reform which the people overwhelmingly demand."—[Official Report, 15 December 1970; Vol. 808, c. 1143.]That Act was an abject failure, as everyone now acknowledges. It cured no industrial disputes. It caused many. It was deleted unmourned from the statute book. The deep ill feeling that it provoked helped to hurl the right hon. Member for Sidcup from the position of the Queen's First Minister to his present obscure discontent. That is the lesson that the Secretary of State for Employment should take to heart, for he was once a faithful disciple of the right hon. Member for Sidcup.
The proposals in the Bill will not prevent a single industrial dispute that would have taken place if the Bill had never seen the light of day, nor will they solve a single dispute which their very presence on the statute book is likely to provoke. To make industrial relations a field day for the lawyers is also to make a field day for irresponsible agitators.
If the Bill had been on the statute book a year ago, it would neither have prevented The Times dispute nor have settled it. It would not have prevented the road haulage dispute, nor would it have settled it. It is open to extreme doubt whether it would have done more to deal with so-called secondary picketing than the code of 81 practice of the Transport and General Workers' Union. The definitions in the Bill are so vague and open to dispute that only interpretations which are unfathomable at this stage can put them right. If it is necessary to take legal action to deal with alleged secondary picketing, why bother with this legislation? After all, civil legal action was successfully taken last winter. If the Bill had been on the statute book last winter, it would neither have prevented nor solved any of the dirty job strikes, nor would it have prevented the action taken outside hospitals and schools.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
We wish to be clear about the Secretary of State's interpretation of the Bill. The Bill would not have prevented the Grunwick episode in the absence of the employer there seeking to sue pickets for breach of contract. The Minister now says that outsiders on the picket line—those who do not work in the establishment—would not be interfered with by the police, and that under his Bill they would be committing no offence. The TUC and many Labour Members have misunderstood the Bill. The Minister now says that the police would not take action if ousiders joined a picket line. That point needs to be made absolutely clear.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Varley
I shall not give way. I have already instanced that the Bill would not have prevented any of those disputes. It certainly would not have prevented the action taken outside Charing Cross hospital. The Bill would have done nothing to prevent or solve the recent Independent Television dispute. The Bill would neither have prevented nor solved the most damaging of all recent industrial disputes—the strike in the engineering industry. If the miners had voted for industrial action two weeks ago, the Bill would have done nothing to prevent that. The miners, as I have already said, did not even want the Government's money for their ballot.
If the Bill were now law, it could do nothing to prevent the most damaging of all threatened industrial strikes now looming—the strike in the steel industry. If that strike were to break out in a 82 fortnight, the Bill, if it were then law, could do nothing to solve it.
No wonder that The Times, now back on the bookstalls—no thanks to the Government—scathingly said, in a leading article:This Bill does little indeed, very little, to help.But it was another newspaper, the Financial Tunes, which exposed the vacuum that this piece of legislation seeks to conceal. Talking about the name of the Employment Bill, the Financial Times declared:The title is triumphantly anodyne. It is also quite misleading".
§ Mr. Gorst rose—
§ Mr. Varley
I shall not give way any more.
I can quite understand why the Secretary of State did not want to call this measure an industrial relations Bill. Revisiting the scene of the crime is one thing, but it would take a bigger fool than the Secretary of State for Employment to carry the same guide book as steered Lord Carr of Hadley to the obscurity of the House of Lords. To call this an employment Bill really is intolerably fraudulent. What on earth has it to do with creating employment? For how many unemployed workers will it find jobs? The answer, of course, is: not a single one.
What has the Secretary of State done, in the 227 days that he has held office, either to create a single job or even to save a single job that is under threat? Not a blessed thing. When the law is being flouted in an area of high unemployment, what does the Secretary of State do? Not a thing. When the Secretary of State for industry imposes a nonsensical deadline on the British Steel Corporation, placing tens of thousands of jobs in peril, where is the Secretary of State for Employment? There is not a sign of him.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State is concerned about all those job losses in the steel industry, particularly in South Wales and the North-East, but it is about time that he started using his minority voice against the Secretary of State for Industry. If he does, we can assure him that from the Labour Benches we shall give him maximum support. He 83 cannot be very happy about what is taking place there.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Varley
I shall not give way again. I have given way a great deal, and many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.
When the Secretary of State for the Environment imposes his dictatorial spending cuts that will destroy countless jobs, where is the Secretary of State for Employment? When the Chancellor of the Exchequer jacks up the minimum lending rate to 17 per cent., with all that that implies for employment and small firms, there is not a whimper out of the Secretary of State for Employment.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury tells us of an additional 300,000 people in the dole queue. The Treasury economic forecasts tell us of a 2 per cent. decline in industrial activity. A leading firm of stockbrokers told us last week that unemployment is likely to rise particularly quickly next year, and is likely to go up to 2,250,000, or about 10 per cent. of the labour force. What is the Secretary of State doing to prevent that horrendous possibility from coming about? He is doing nothing.
We all know that the Secretary of State for Employment is a nice guy. He is the nice guy of the Cabinet. I quite like him, too. But I can tell him plainly here and now that being a nice guy is not enough. We want action from him to save and create jobs. So far, in the seven months that he has held office, he has taken three positive actions. The first was to slash £170 million off the Labour Government's job creation scheme. The second was to reduce the budget of the Manpower Services Commission and undermine the valuable work that that body does. The third initiative has been to introduce this damaging, deceptive and irrelevant Bill.
The best favour that this House can do the Secretary of State tonight is to throw out the Bill.
§ Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)
I make no apology whatever, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for waiting this long to make my maiden speech. I realise that I may be one of the last few hon. Members—or indeed the last hon. Member—to do so. But the subject 84 of industrial relations is extremely important to the future of this country, and we must get the industrial relations legislation correct.
I should like to say a few words about the Chorley constituency in Lancashire, which I represent. There are two towns Chorley and Leyland, and there are 22 villages. The scenery ranges from a mini-lake district in Rivington, through farmland, and we have industry ranging from small industry up to the very largest.
Over the last two or three years British Leyland has invested capital expenditure of over £100 million in the creation of new employment at both Chorley and Leyland. I am very proud of that fact and pleased to announce that the mood of British Leyland workers on the shop floor of British Leyland in the truck and bus division, where about 90 per cent. of the lorries are made, in Chorley and Leyland, is very high indeed. They are backing Sir Michael Edwardes' plan for British Leyland. They are working very hard to make sure that British Leyland is a success.
Unfortunately, during the recent general election campaign the Member for Chorley from 1945 to 1970, Clifford Kenyon, much beloved in the House, died at the ripe age of 82. He was a local preacher, and much loved in the area. He was a farmer in Clitheroe and everyone admired his hard work on behalf of the constituents of Chorley, Leyland and the area.
My immediate predecessor, George Rodgers, who was a welder and a trade union Member, also worked hard on behalf of all his constituents, irrespective of party. I should like to pay a tribute to the memory of George Rodgers in this House.
I have had 20 years' experience in the construction industry, in both public and private sectors. I spent the first 10 years with a major contrator and then worked away from the direct workface, where I had been responsible for construction work, by going into management consultancy, property development and construction work overseas.
When I returned to work in the United Kingdom, in charge of 3,000 direct workers for the Greater London Council, I found that industrial relations during those seven years had changed markedly. 85 With all the legislation on the Floor of the House, the unions had much more power and influence. There had been created a grave imbalance between employers and employees, between management and trade unions. Whereas when I went into other activities the amount of time spent by me as a manager and by other managers on trade union and industrial relations matters was probably 20 or 25 per cent., on my return I found to my horror that probably 60 or 70 per cent. of the time was spent on industrial relations matters, to the detriment of the future of the employer and the employee together.
I am in favour of trade unions, but what I do not want to see is any trade union becoming the master of its members instead of their servant. I support the measures in the Bill, particularly the secret ballots to be paid for by the Government, because the ordinary trade union members in my constituency have been crying out for this every day virtually since the general election. They want it and they will welcome it with open arms.
I also support the proposed ban on secondary picketing. Secondary picketing was at its worst during the winter of discontent last year. I am delighted that we are to do something about that. I am also in favour of the closed shop provisions, with people being able to claim for unfair dismissal on the ground of conscience and deeply held personal conviction. That is an excellent provision.
The Bill raises many unanswered questions that will remain unanswered until something further is put on the statute book. First, I raise the question of secret ballots. These are to be voluntary. We may find that trade unions will frustrate their members from expressing a view in secret ballots purely because a trade union has no wish to hold a secret ballot, even though the opportunity is there for the Government to pay for such ballots.
Secondly, what, if anything, is to be done about blacking? Blacking is just as iniquitous as secondary picketing or picketing. There is no mention in the Bill about how a dispute can spread to other construction sites or factories, causing grave harm to the British economy.
My worst reservation is on the closed shop. I cannot see how the United Kingdom can hold its head high in Europe 86 when it is the only country that allows the closed shop. I do not recommend the banning of the closed shop, although I believe that it is iniquitous and I do not want to see it happen. But what I should like to see is one sentence in legislation about this. The Confederation of British Industry has made its view clear on this matter, as has the Institute of Directors. There should be freedom to join a trade union and also the freedom not to join a union.
I hazard a reasonable guess that two-thirds of the workers in the construction industry do not want to join a trade union. They do not want to be bothered with all the hassle and inefficiency that are created by having their thoughts diverted from the job in hand and on to disruption. They want to be free to get on with the job, uninterrupted by trade union action.
I have expressed my keen interest in industrial relations and mentioned my past experience and my belief that the Bill will help a little, though it leaves many questions unanswered. I hope that the Secretary of State will not hesitate to bring in new measures. In that context I do not necessarily mean just codes of practice which cannot be enforced by law and leave a lot to voluntary action—and we have seen that voluntary action does not produce the goods.
I implore the Secretary of State to work hard on behalf of the economy. If we get our industrial relations right, we can look forward to an improved future and be able to hold our heads high as one of the competitive nations of the world.
§ 6.2 pm
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
I follow the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) by referring to the place where he first cut his political teeth—Caerphilly—and what happened there. I understand that the hon. Member has another distinction. He is a civil engineering graduate of Manchester university. That distinguishes him in this place, because he is one of very few hon. Members who are professional engineers, although, sadly, he is only a civil engineer. None the less I hope that he will make a contribution in the House as an engineer, as distinct from a proper engineer. I see the hon. Member smiling 87 at what I say. However, as an engineer, he is welcome.
I understand also that the hon. Member for Chorley is a product of Manchester grammar school. No doubt that endears him to the hearts of another select band of Mancunians in this place. He served his apprenticeship with a local authority. All that no doubt gives him access to a number of select groups of people who also served their apprenticeships as engineers and as members of local authorities and who come from Manchester, a city that has produced so much.
I join the hon. Member in his remarks about Clifford Kenyon. The hon. Member was right when he said that we all had a great love for Clifford Kenyon. He made an outstanding contribution to the House, as did George Rodgers. George Rodgers was a great individual and a marvellous contributor to debates, especially those dealing with labour relations and industrial matters. His contributions have certainly been missed.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the blacking of work. I understand that there are restrictions on one's treatment of maiden speeches, so I shall not be too rough. However, the blacking of work is an alternative to secondary picketing. It is something that the present Minister and his predecessors have never been able to tackle. Blacking has characteristics that prevent its being dealt with in the courts. It cannot be defined in legal terms. Therefore, blacking of work will develop as a result of this piece of legislation.
In the engineering industry, because of the absence of secondary picketing, where there is a conglomerate or group of factories working on co-ordinated programmes in manufacture, if there is an industrial dispute that prevents production in one factory, that work will not be allowed to be transferred to another factory. It will be blacked and will lie on the shop floor for as long as the dispute continues. That is the most effective method of secondary picketing. One of the results of the Bill will be to strengthen the idea of blacking work.
I am opposed to the Bill not because it is the thin end of the wedge but because it is the thick end of it. I say 88 that for the reasons spelt out by the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman apologised, saying that the Bill had became necessary because he had failed to get the voluntary agreement of the TUC. I shall refer to that in a moment and follow the remarks made by the Minister when he presented the Bill.
Two matters about which we must be clear are the function of the police in these matters and the coming together of outsiders to join pickets who are employees of the factory that is picketed. Though the Minister departed from the seven working papers, he gave the impression that he was about to outlaw outsiders and prevent them from joining picket lines outside factories where they were not employed.
The Minister created that impression by deliberately setting out in the Bill a definition of workers who have been sacked. He gives those people the right to picket the places where their employment has been terminated. By that he has led the TUC to interpret the Bill as meaning that outsiders—those not employed at a plant or factory—will not be permitted to picket outside that factory. Only employees of that factory, together with trade union officials, will legitimately be allowed to picket.
The Minister went on to enlarge on that—and this is certainly the TUC's understanding of the Bill—by saying that it is only when the employer decides to go for a breach of contract and sues either the union collectively or the pickets individually that the police become involved. Presumably that is because the police would have to make arrests if the employer objected to certain pickets.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) was right when he suggested that the police will be more involved than at present once the Bill becomes a statute. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State deny all that and that we can, in fact, have a repetition of the Grunwick situation in the sense that many people can still protest outside a factory for many reasons other than those directly concerning the dispute inside. Therefore, whether it is at Garners Steak House or Grunwick, the Bill will not interfere with that kind of picketing and demonstration.
§ Mr. Prior
I think that I should put the hon. Member back on the rails. I shall read to him paragraph 10 of the consultative document which was sent to the TUC and other organisations. It says:One approach would be to amend section 13 so as to limit in respect of picketing the immunity conferred by this section to persons who picket within the redefined limits of section 15. This would mean that anyone who picketed outside the limits laid down in the amended section 15 would not be protected by section 13 if that picketing induced breaches of contract. It would then be for the employer concerned to initiate action when he thought that picketing was unlawful and damaging his firm's operations.There has never been any doubt in the TUC's mind as to the effect of that paragraph. In fact, in the letter that it sent me it regarded that as an extension of the civil law. That is the position.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Precisely. It is an extension of the civil law, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for clearing up that point. There has been universal misunderstanding about this aspect of the legislation. I have here the notes produced by the TUC, which spell out the whole question of outsiders being permitted to take part in a picket. If that is so, all that the Secretary of State is pointing out is the vulnerability of trade unionists exposed to litigation as a result of breach of contract. If that is what he is arguing, we have a very different situation from the whole concept that he has been building up on the limitation of picketing and the question of identity of official pickets. Why go to all this trouble if there is no necessity to identify official pickets and if outsiders are not offending anyone, particularly the police?
§ Mr. David Mellor (Putney)
Does the hon. Member not realise that the criminal law covers this point in the law on obstruction? It is up to the police to exercise discretion on whether a particular body of people are causing an obstruction. That is why the criminal law does not need reform. It will be up to an individual police officer to take account of the circumstances and say whether picketing amounts to obstruction. There is the quite separate point whether, in the event of last winter, the police should have taken a more active role.
§ Mr. Atkinson
That may well be the case, but the hon. Member is dealing with the interpretation of a situation by some police officer. It is for the police officer to make up his own mind whether offences of obstruction or breach of the peace are being committed. We are talking about the introduction of a new law. We understood from the interpretation that it would be an offence for outsiders to join a picket. However, that is not the case.
§ Mr. Gorst
The hon. Member may be quite surprised to hear that I share his interpretation of this. If lie goes back to the point that he raised earlier, namely, that of Grunwick, he will realise that all those thousands of people who turned up at the picket lines, as long as they described themselves simply as exercising their civil right to demonstrate or protest, would in no way be affected by the provisions of the Bill. To that extent I entirely agree with him.
§ Mr. Atkinson
The Secretary of State has dissociated himself from the disgraceful behaviour displayed by George Ward at the time, and I am glad that he has done so.
The second point made by the Secretary of State was that at a later stage he would produce a code of conduct on picketing. We inferred from that and from the way in which he presented his suggestion that that would be backed by statutory powers. That is the real question, because it is a new aspect in the debate. In all the preparatory papers that have been discussed prior to the Bill being introduced, this whole business of the code of conduct relative to picketing was not mentioned. If the Minister intends to suggest amendments to his Bill in Committee which bring in statutory powers, these will have to be looked at in a different way, and we shall have to reserve our comments until that time comes. But we must warn the trade union movement to be alert to the fact that there may be these changes on the way and that its members should not prematurely start singing the praises of any aspect of this Bill.
The clog, as they say in Lancashire, will come in Committee when we talk about statutory powers for a code of conduct. These powers will not be designed by ACAS. Up to now only ACAS could 91 design a code of coduct, but now a Minister is taking unto himself the responsibility for putting before the House the code of conduct and taking it into Committee. I assume from that that he will look for statutory powers to back his new code. Therefore, we should alert the trade union movement to expect difficulties in the whole area long before we get on to discussions about ballots and other powers.
On the question of voluntary ballots, the argument has already been put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield. There are differences between trade unions about how they should use ballots. The only regret that I have about the use of ballots is that there has been a diminution of branch practice in trade union life which has caused many problems, both for industrialists and for trade union leaders. That is because they have been willing to check off trade union contributions from wages, and this, together with ballots, and so forth, means that there is very little need for the branch practice as it was known in the first 10 years after the war.
That will mean that from now on many trade unions will have seriously to consider the formation of factory branches as against district branches. That could spell out many problems that the Secretary of State has been trying to avoid by introducing his idea about making ballots available. In fact, it might destroy the whole concept of industrial relations based on secret ballots. It will be a different situation, and I believe that on the whole the Bill will make industrial relations much worse.
There is a tendency here to get into the courts with more issues, and that will complicate matters. It is generally recognised that the courts have never been able to make anything other than money for lawyers. That and perhaps legal reputations are the only products that they have ever been able to produce. They cannot make motor cars, ships or power stations, and therefore they should keep out of industrial relations.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, I believe that the police will be more involved and that we shall be much more concerned with litigation when the Bill goes through than we are 92 now. It feeds the anti-trade union attitudes that are often adopted by the Establishment in our society. There is a tendency here to give credibility to some of the arguments that people use in their anti-trade union comments.
The Bill weakens job security in a serious way. That has already been spelt out, and I hope that in Committee a great deal of attention will be given to the way in which job security is reduced by the question of unfair dismissal. That is quite a serious inroad into the protection that is now afforded to trade unionists and workers throughout industry.
Finally, I return to the question of picketing and the use of ballots. From what the Secretary of State said about employers considering themselves in breach of contract and therefore suing trade unionists. I feel that this raises a number of issues, particularly the use by trade unions of the "unofficial" label for certain disputes. When the unions say that a certain dispute is unofficial, they do so to protect themselves against certain litigation to which they are now vulnerable. No longer will it be possible to say that this is an unofficial dispute and, therefore, they are not directly involved, particularly if in any way a trade union tries officially to apply to the Certification Officer for the cost of covering a ballot.
If there is a ballot in a factory, whether or not there is a strike, and the trade union officially applies for money to cover that ballot, that trade union is immediately involved in every sense. It can no longer say that it is involved in unofficial action if the decision of the ballot is to go for strike action. The employer can then name every one of his employees as in breach. He can sue the union collectively and there is no defence, as there has been in the past. From that point of view, all this weakens the trade unions' present position. As a result, trade unions will become extremely vulnerable to court action. I am sure that trade unions will want to be very careful indeed about applying for money to cover the cost of ballots.
As to picketing, ballots could help under those circumstances. They could assist the close-down of a particular plant. I do not believe that anyone would suggest that if a secret ballot takes 93 place it is counted under the strict conditions required by the Certification Officer. If that were the case, that surely imposes an obligation upon every worker in the plant. Once the decision is taken by the majority to go on strike and to stop the job, there can be no argument that a minority has the right to go into the factory to work. In other words, the outcome of the ballot must be to close down the factory.
The police should then become the picket, because in the name of democracy the police should honour the decision of the ballot to close the plant. The job of the police should not be to allow the minority that has been defeated to pass the picket line and go into the factory to work. Therefore, the issue of secondary picketing arises with greater strength if a ballot has been taken, because that decision must apply right down the line.
If democracy means anything, it means that the only right that a minority has is the right to work to change the majority decision. A minority has no other rights in democratic practice than to work collectively to change the majority decision. Therefore, once a ballot is taken the result becomes a majority decision. If the majority decision is that the whole of the plant should close, in the name of democracy, if for no other reason, the police have the responsibility to stop the job and to allow no one into the factory.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
Would the hon. Gentleman apply that to all votes in whatever forum? Secondly, if the vote was that there should not be a strike, and if any individual or group of workers decided to stay out on unofficial strike, what would happen to them?
§ Mr. Atkinson
That is the crux of the whole problem. With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, that is my interpretation of democracy. That is what I mean when I say that the minority has no rights other than to try to change the majority decision within the rules that apply. We must accept the democratic decision, even though that decision may be against our own personal interests. We may be part of a minority, but under those circumstances we must accept the majority decision. I am certainly not one of those who believe that 94 democracy is a good thing only if it is on their side.
The question of what happens to minorities is a difficult one which, I suspect, will be dealt with in the code of conduct. For example, if a plant decides to hold a ballot, and if I know the Establishment at all, I know what the Certification Officer will say. He will say that he will provide money for the ballot only if all the staff, including the salaried staff, are involved in the ballot and not just the manual workers or the members of a particular union. The Certification Officer will say "Oh, no, we shall not give money for that. We shall provide money only if the salaried staff members of a work force are included in the vote". I want the Secretary of State and the trade union movement to be aware of, and alert to, the problems that could arise with regard to ballots.
If there is to be a two-way agreement with regard to the use of Government money for ballots, one of the provisions that will be laid down by those providing the money is that they will want all the work force—100 per cent. or nothing—to be involved in the ballot, and they will not allow minority sections to hold a ballot of their own. If there is a demarcation problem between skilled and non-skilled, that problem raises other questions.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Atkinson
I shall not give way, because I am denying time for other hon. Members to contribute. I am being accused of putting ideas into the minds of Ministers, and that is the last thing that I want to do.
I end as I began. I believe that we should reject the Bill because it is the thick end of the wedge. For the reason that it will make trade union practices immeasurably more difficult, I hope that my hon. Friends will join together and do everything possible to prevent this latest work of the Tory Government from becoming law.
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye in order to make my maiden speech, which I do with the usual diffidence, and I crave the indulgence of the House. I, like my hon. 95 Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) in his accomplished and thoughtful speech, make no apology for rising late to address the House, because I consider this an important debate.
This is not the first time that I have spoken in the Chamber, as I have asked an oral question, but I am assured that that is in no way construed as a trial marriage. My predecessor in Ilford, South, Arnold Shaw, was, I understand, liked on both sides of the House as a conscientious constituency Member. Having myself been a parliamentary candidate for five years, I ran an advice bureau throughout, and it is therefore also my intention to take very good care of the constituency.
I remember that when he first defeated his predecessor, Albert E. Cooper, in 1966, Mr. Shaw wished him a long and happy retirement. That, of course, was the last thing that Mr. Cooper wanted. It certainly spurred him on to greater efforts to reverse the poll in the next election, which he achieved in 1970. This was again reversed in 1974. It will be appreciated that I do not intend to make the same mistake as Arnold Shaw, but he has already intimated that he does not propose to stand again, and, therefore, on this occasion I think that I can safely express that sentiment.
I am very proud to have been elected for Ilford, South, which is the constituency in which I was born. It was there that I attended my first school and ran a small business. In fact, I served in a choir with another boy, John Barnes, who has now returned as vicar of that same church. He chose righteousness and I chose politics, but some of us, Mr. Speaker, manage both. Several hon. Members have connections with my constituency, but perhaps the most notable person to have lived there in recent history was the late Cardinal Heenan. In his autobiography he wrote that when he was a boy, friends used to visit the family house for a weekend in the country.
The area has local industry, including Plessey, Ford and, until recently, Ilford Limited. Ilford has also served the London docks. Essentially, Ilford is an area that was created for commuters travelling to the City. At the end of the last century the railway companies required a guarantee of thousands of 96 pounds a year from the developers for the first five years before agreeing to construct those stations along the line on which Ilford was developed. It will therefore come as no surprise that one of my principal concerns is the commuter.
Two particular aspects are of concern in the Bill. First, there is no provision for across-the-board union consultation. I should like to feel that, for example, where two major railway unions are involved it will be possible to provide for consultations to be held on the future of the railways.
It is no secret that 75 per cent. of the cost of running the railways is taken up in wages. It is also no secret that commuters in my constituency suffer enormously as they stand on stations waiting for trains that regularly do not turn up on time. Unless manpower shortages are resolved, the situation will worsen and commuters will find an alternative means of getting to work. In the next 10 or 20 years we can expect a major change in office work. I foresee considerable development taking place along the lines of Prestel and other similar devices that enable workers to work more easily from their homes. If that development occurs, considerable pressure will be put on employers to allow their staff to work from home rather than going into the City to perform their tasks. That pressure will arise if office workers cannot rely upon a good commuter service into and out of the centre.
At the moment the commuter suffers when his train is cancelled due to inadequate rolling stock, or when insufficient crew have turned up to man the stock and bring it into the station. I should have welcomed some provision in the Bill whereby the major unions involved in providing guards and drivers were obliged to take account of the consumer and of a desire for single manning in the near future. However, I could not find any appropriate clause in the Bill.
Secondly, there is no basis for equivalence within industries. A number of my constituents are employees, or ex-employees, of the docks. Some of those men and women are on pensions that have not kept pace with inflation because the Port of London Authority is unable to meet the cost. When one inquires why 97 those pensions cannot keep pace with inflation, one discovers that the Port of London Authority cannot afford to pay the pensions that it would like to pay. It is bound by the unfortunate fact that its staff are exempted from the provisions of the Redundancy Payments Act, causing it to employ 800 people a day, at a cost of £4 million a year more than it would otherwise need to pay.
It is a sad state of affairs that any Government could have committed the industry to paying out that sort of money whilst not taking account of its effect on other workers in the industry. If a union was able to obtain a guarantee of this sort from the Government by using its muscle, it should have ensured that none of the other workers in that industry suffered as a result. In hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will assure me on those two points and that it will be possible to make adequate provision for them in the Bill.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) on the quality and brevity of his maiden speech. Perhaps it is appropriate that I follow him, because he made a few strictures on the railway system in and around his constituency. As a railway man, I assure him that if there is one segment of the community in which railwaymen are particularly interested, it is that of the consumer. The passenger is uppermost in the minds of most railwaymen, whether they work for Eastern region, Southern region or elsewhere, when they start their daily work. I hope that the hon. Member will tell that to his constituents when trains do not turn up for one reason or another, or turn up late. Train crews are frequently subject to abuse from passengers because they are quite rightly annoyed at the length of time that they have had to wait.
It is an immensely difficult task to follow someone as popular and hardworking as Arnold Shaw. We have heard from the hon. Gentleman that Arnold Shaw does not intend to stand in any future election, and on behalf of hon. Members I join the hon. Gentleman in wishing Arnold Shaw a long and happy retirement. We enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Gentleman—forthright as it was—and we hope to hear from him often in the future.
98 I shall confine my remarks concerning the Bill to clause 1 and clause 6. As regards clause 1, I claim a unique position as the only Member to have taken part in the ballot of 1972, ordered by the previous Conservative Government. I do not think that I shall destroy the secrecy of the ballot if I tell the Secretary of State that I voted for a strike, as did an overwhelming number of my fellow railwaymen.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) rightly pointed out that secret ballots are no panacea for industrial relations, and many Conservative Members will no doubt agree with that. The danger is that Government-ordered secret ballots are likely to bring forth a backlash from within the industry concerned. The Secretary of State looks somewhat disbelieving. As an unpaid branch official in 1972, I spent a couple of days asking my colleagues—among them my late father, who was also a railwaymari—which way they would vote. My father said that we had a straight choice between the Government and our union. When Governments dabble in these matters—and dabble they do—they are liable to provoke such a backlash from even non-militant sections of the community.
I remember the 1972 ballot. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), in his able speech, referred to salaried staff. In the 1972 ballot, the then Conservative Government managed to provoke a 2: 1 reaction for a strike. I think that Conservative Members will forgive me for saying that this was from a non-millitant section of the railway industry, organised by the Transport Salaried Staffs Association. Because it was seen as a straight choice between the then Government and my union, white-collar workers in the industry decided—it was an amazing departure in view of their normal non-militancy—by a majority of 2: 1 on further industrial action.
The Secretary of State for Employment ought to bear in mind that one and only example—at least in my lifetime—before he purveys this panacea to the more extreme members of the Conservative Party, whether in this House or outside it.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)
Like his hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham 99 (Mr. Atkinson), the hon. Gentleman has totally misunderstood the provisions of the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill to provide for Government-ordered ballots, under any terms whatsover. The Bill is simply making funds available so that the resources of unions that want to have ballots are not under pressure. We have heard over the years how certain sections of the trade union movement have called that in aid in favour of not having a ballot. This at least frees them from that constraint.
§ Mr. Snape
I regard the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) as one of the more sane and sensible Conservative Members—and there are precious few of those around these days. However, he will know full well the immense pressure that will come, from Fleet Street in particular, on each and every trade union to have such a ballot on each and every dispute. Many unions, quite legitimately, could say "We have already consulted our members." No union consults its membership more than the National Union of Railwaymen, my own union. If a union says "We have already consulted our membership about this dispute", the Daily Mail, The Sun and the other organs of Fleet Street democracy would be the first to say "Ah, but this is another example of the wicked Left-wing trade union leadership taking its members away from the paths of righteousness and dragging them down the slippery slopes of militancy." The hon. Gentleman knows full well that that is what they would say.
I repeat what I said earlier. Once it becomes accepted that the Government of the day, however nebulously, are interfering in these matters, that will be an incentive for any trade union to act militantly.
Having dealt with that point—perhaps not to the Secretary of State's satisfaction—I should like to move on to deal with clause 6. Again, I want to put the record straight as regards the closed shop. The railway unions—indeed, the whole railway industry—have been the object of considerable recrimination over the years for their closed shop arrangements. The Conservative Party particularly seems to feel that thousands of railway workers have been browbeaten and coerced into 100 joining one of the three railway unions against their will. We are all familiar with the deep concern felt by the Conservative Party and its Fleet Street allies for the average railway worker. It is a concern amply illustrated in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph, where, in an article unusual in its eccentricity even for an organ such as that, The Daily Telegraph calls for the complete closure of the whole railway system.
What are the facts of the closed shop within the railway industry? Currently, about 225,000 men are employed by British Rail. Since 1975, the effective date of the implementation of the closed shop agreement, there have been employed by British Rail perhaps something approaching 500,000 men, given the staff turnover in a five-year period. In the whole of that five-year period, amongst the hundreds of thousands of employees, I wonder how many Conservative Members can tell me how many railwaymen have applied for exemption from union membership on religious grounds. There have been 30 applications from about 500,000 men.
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman says that it is not relevant, but it is extremely relevant in regard to this industry, as I hope to illustrate shortly.
Of those 30 men, 19 have been granted exemption and continue to work for British Rail, paying the equivalent of their union subscriptions to a charity of their own choice. Out of the 500,000 men, there have been 11 dismissals under the closed shop arrangements. That is hardly the kind of union tyranny so fondly referred to by the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Richard Needham (Chippenham)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the House, therefore, why these 11 people needed to be dismissed? If 19 could be granted exemption on religious grounds, as he said, and it is such a small number out of the total, why worry about the 11? Why make such a great issue of it?
§ Mr. Snape
If the hon. Gentleman will sit down and shut up for a couple of minutes, I shall try to do just that and to answer that question. He must give me a chance to do so.
101 The Prime Minister herself will have to look a little harder to find thosemillions of British workers who go in fear of union power.There are certainly not millions of railwaymen, or even thousands or hundreds, or even tens, who go in fear of union power in respect of the three railway unions. On the point that the hon. Member has just made, let me say, as a member of the NUR, that I find it regrettable that 11 people have had to lose their jobs—for any reason whatsoever. But, given the present Government's policies and the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are likely to lose their jobs as a direct result of the Tory Party's policy, I find the Conservatives' concern for these 11 would-be martyrs to be somewhat disconcerting. I shall try to deal with that point.
It could, perhaps, have been that a little more understanding might have been extended to the 11 so that those who were in the railway industry could have understood their difficulties. But even the question of religious exemption, which was the criterion laid down previously, is by no means a black and white issue. There is no church or sect, including groups such as the Plymouth Brethren and the Exclusive Brethren, which specifically forbids its members to join a trade union, although the two to which I have referred specifically advise against it. If such a matter is to be left to the decisions and the consciences of individuals concerned, there must be some sort of procedure by which both sides, management and unions, can satisfy themselves that there is a genuine religious objection on the part of someone who says that he does not wish to join a trade union.
In the case of the majority of the 30 who applied to be exempt, that is what was done. The finding was that there was a genuine religious conviction which prevented the 19 from joining a union. But in any appeals procedure one has the problem of matters of judgment about both personality and motivation. How does one decide what is a genuine objection to union membership on religious grounds?
The Bill, however, does not even deal with that aspect of people who fail to join a trade union. It does not even attempt to define or to lay down some sort of guidelines concerning these sorts of 102 objections or any other sort. It merely trots out a very wide-ranging provision when it talks aboutgrounds of conscience or other deeply-held personal conviction.It is the belief of the majority of railwaymen—at least, the majority that I know and have met—that the deeply held personal conviction held by most of the 11 who were dismissed for not joining a trade union was a desire to avoid paying their union dues to anybody. [Interruption]. I am asked how I know that. We only know that and we have only arrived at such a conclusion by holding various hearings, which have been attended by top-rank representatives of management and the trade unions, and personally interviewing the majority of the 30 applicants for exemption.
It was the unanimous belief of both sides, management and the unions, that the motive of the bulk of the 11 would-be martyrs was a desire to avoid paying their union subscriptions or, in the case of a few of them, represented a continuing saga of disagreement between the individual and his trade union.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)
If that is the hon. Gentleman's argument, why does he object to the Bill, which introduces grounds of conscience or other deeply held conviction? If the hon. Gentleman found a railway man who had a deeply held personal conviction against being a member of the NUR, would he be happy to see him continue to be employed?
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman is so anxious to make a point that he does not listen. I have already said that, but how can it be determined whether a man has a deep-rooted and genuine objection? How is it possible to exclude the people I have mentioned? There are a handful of people in any industry who have a deep-rooted and virtually religious conviction that they should not pay anything to anybody. They have a deep-rooted and personal conviction that they should not put their hand in their pocket. The union subscription in the railway industry is about 50p a week, but they will not pay that to a trade union or a charity of their choice.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg rose—
§ Mr. Lyell rose—
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell) has had more than a fair crack of the whip. He has already tried to intervene twice during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, and he appear extremely anxious to avoid considering my point. It is difficult to define a genuine conviction, religious or otherwise. Unions and management in the railway industry over the years have tried to adopt a fair and agreed process to deal with these people. The three would-be martyrs at the European Court of Justice have the best wishes of unions and management. We do not believe that they have deeply held personal convictions, and two of them have a history of non-stop disagreement with their union. The railway industry is happy to let them be martyrs if that is what they want.
When the first union membership agreement came into force on the railways, management and unions bent over backwards to give a fair hearing to anybody who felt that he had reasonable grounds for objecting to membership. However, clause 6 is a parasites' charter. It will enable those who have no intention of paying their union dues to benefit from agreements that the union has achieved.
§ Mr. Snape
Yes, freeloaders. When we talk of industrial relations, the eyes of many Conservative Members glaze over. They believe that the trade union movement is led by wicked Marxists who ring Moscow for their orders every morning and are determined to bring Britain to its knees. It appears to me that the more extreme are the views held by certain Conservative Members, the less industrial experience they have. There is a direct corollary. The most vociferous union critics on the Conservative Benches belong to the biggest and best closed 104 shop in the United Kingdom—the lawyers. I do not know of any one of them who has industrial experience.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) is not in his place, as he is one of the few Tory Members who works for a living. He runs a successful company that is a competitor of British Rail's cross-Channel Sealink service. He should be here to give the Government the benefit of his knowledge on clause 6. Like British Rail, its competitor, Townsend Thoresen Car Ferries is a closed shop. Although the hon. Member for Dorking is better qualified than I am to talk of that company, I believe that it has operated a closed shop since 1976. I do not think that the Tories will hear a great deal of objection from the hon. Gentleman to the operation of such a closed shop. He would be the first to tell them that it has worked extremely well in that industry, as it has in ours.
The Conservative Party, having launched the biggest onslaught on living standards since the 1920s, is now attempting to break the power of the trade union movement to resist that attack. It is aided and abetted by such rag-tag organisations as the National Association for Freedom, which is determined to bring down the trade union movement, but it will take more than a bunch of butchers, bakers or candlestick makers to break the back of the trade union movement. We have fought worthier opponents over the years and are still in business. That organisation frequently sends me its monthly newspaper, so I do not want the Tories to feel that I am as biased for the unions as they are against them. It is a bit of a struggle, but I read that publication.
I say to the National Association for Freedom, as I have said to the Tory Party, that it appears to have little knowledge of industry or business. In its short history it appears to have been devoted to busting up the Labour Party through its activities in the Newham, North-East constituency some time ago or in its support for the so-called martyrs in my industry. It appears to have no genuine desire to see trade unions build up the sort of relationship that would benefit all, and wishes to return to what it believes are the halcyon days after the First World War. The clock stopped for that 105 association in 1922. It gives us the example of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), who distinguished himself—I would say, disgraced himself—at Grunwick, but is the wrong sort of example for the railways.
There are precious few hon. Members on the Conservative Benches who know anything about industrial relations, but those of us here who do will oppose clause 6. If the Solicitor-General goes ahead with these proposals, he will cause dissension for the future. Many senior members of management in nationalised and private industries, possibly quietly over a drink and not publicly, believe that the closed shop is good for their industries.
During the recent CBI conference, the British Railways Board member for industrial relations, Mr. Clifford Rose, who is an enlightened individual although we disagree with him fairly frequently, was the first to say that he was against the resolution regrettably carried at the conference and was in favour of the closed shop. I should like to conclude by quoting the close of his peroration at the conference. He said:Let us stop indulging ourselves in self-righteous indignation and put some of the steam generated by this issue".—that is, the closed shop—into real efforts to improve communication with the workforce".So say all of us in the railway unions. If hon. Members opposite would like to have some industrial experience, we shall be delighted to see them at Unity House. We can fix all of them up with jobs on the Southern region within six weeks, and they will then see the practical difficulties that working railwaymen face every day of their lives.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I think that it is near enough to 7 o'clock to announce to the House that we shall be operating the 10-minute rule.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
I am delighted to be the first hon. Member on these Benches to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr. Dover) and Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) on their excellent and fluent maiden speeches. The House will 106 be grateful for the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley on the time spent by firms on industrial relations and the necessity to improve them so that more time can be spent on other matters. The House will also greatly appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South said about the problems of the railway industry and the difficulties of commuters in the London area. We look forward to hearing further from my hon. Friends. We are operating under the 10-minute rule and I will be brief.
I welcome the Bill. It is carefully thought out and it is not a surprise. Much of its construction took place between 1975 and 1979 when we, in Opposition, put forward amendments to the Employment Protection Bill, the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill and the other legislation that was enacted. I am particularly glad that the Bill has been introduced in December, thereby enabling the Committee stage to start in January. That is in sharp contrast, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) will recall, to when the Employment Protection Bill was started with a great rush in April 1975. It did not reach the Committee stage until May and we were required to get through it by July. No such speed and haste exists in this Bill, and that cannot but be good for the whole parliamentary process.
I should like to say one or two words about the codes of practice on the improvement of industrial relations. Clause 2 gives the Secretary of State power to introduce codes of practice. That is particularly welcome because the codes concern the improvement of industrial relations. Clause 2(3) requires the Secretary of State, if necessary, to modify such codes after he has heard representations. Section 6 of the Employment Protection Act 1975 remains intact, giving ACAS the power to do the self-same thing, namely, to introduce codes of practice for the improvement of industrial relations. Indeed, clause 2(8) is written in exactly the same way as section 6(11) of the 1975 Act—the words are virtually identical. It is no bad thing that both the Secretary of State and ACAS can, from time to time, introduce these codes of practice. Each will learn from the other, and each gives a double opportunity to make representation when the draft codes are brought forward. 107 The draft codes will spark the interest and lead to constructive debate.
I am sure that the Government realise that if they propose to end codes of practice on the improvement of industrial relations, regard should be paid to schedule 17 to the 1975 Act, which places the onus on the Government to say when a code of practice ceases to have effect. They cannot say that they are not fond of a certain practice, but they should say when it ceases to have effect.
I am glad that clause 16 gets rid of the recognition procedure which ACAS was finding impossibly difficult to use. In this case the Government and the TUC have worked together. In response to our working document, the TUC said that it preferred to see recognition disputes resolved by voluntary methods. Under the 1975 Act—still intact—ACAS can do so by conciliation, inquiry or advice. Therefore, removing those sections of the 1975 Act will improve matters and lay greater emphasis on the conciliation role of ACAS.
In Committee we must give further consideration to clause 1(3)(c) and (d). Under paragraph (c) it is stated that the ballots and the money can be given forelecting a person to any post which he will hold as an employee of a trade union".Will the money cover the election addresses of those standing for the particular post? I wonder whether a draft scheme will be put forward first and then the final scheme. What happens with regard to expenses and costs where an employer contributes to the costs of the ballot by allowing use to be made of the workplace, and so on? We should examine those matters carefully in Committee.
However, paragraph (d) can be nothing but welcome to the trade union movement. It refers toamending the rules of a trade union".I hope that the trade unions will make use of that. I hope, too, that they will hold a ballot on whether the members want to use the ballot procedure. I should like to see the use of ballots on the question whether or not unions should build into the negotiating procedure an automatic recourse to arbitration if they are running into industrial difficulties with employers. We should empasise that the 108 matter is entirely voluntary and that there is nothing to be lost by the unions requesting the opinion of their members by using paragraph (d).
Clauses 6 and 13 may be broadly described as the conscience clauses. The argument about unreasonable expulsion from a union or whether one should have a conscientious objection has been going on since the Donovan report of 1968. The majority on that Commission thought that the conscience clause should apply. Before 1968 about 1 per cent. were not members of a union but worked perfectly happily alongside the overwhelming majority of the work force who were members of a union.
Examples of genuine conscientious objections to joining unions were discussed in 1975. Let me restate them. A person may object to a highly politicised style of leadership of a particular trade union. A person may object because a trade union has not represented him or her properly in the past, in that it has been either inefficient or slack in a matter or a dispute taken to an industrial tribunal. A person—man or woman—may object to a trade union because it is slow and slack in carrying out provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. All of these examples are reasonable grounds of conscientious objection to joining a trade union. Week after week in 1975 those points were put to the Ministers. Not once did they say "impossible", "unreasonable" or "unfair". They virtually agreed with us when we spelt out those examples.
Under Clause 10, I am most concerned about an employee giving written confirmation of her intention to return to work. Section 47(3) of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 states thatan employee may postpone her return to work until a date not exceeding four weeks from the notified day of return".That qualification was put in because we were anxious about women who had difficult pregnancies. I hope that we can examine the matter in greater detail in Committee.
On Clause 7, I ask the Government to consider whether the unfair dismissal procedure should apply to all small firms rather than just those that are starting out. If more jobs and opportunities are to be created, we should include all small 109 firms. We know the cause of conflict in the 1970s—the difficulty of marrying the relationship between improving industrial relations and collective bargaining. We should place more emphasis on improving industrial relations. In the past, laws have placed too much emphasis on the extension of collective bargaining. The Bill is correct—it puts the emphasis on improving industrial relations. It does not wipe out collective bargaining but it says that the improvement of industrial relations should take precedence. That is wholly good for the country.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I draw the attention of the Chair to the gross unfairness of the 10-minute rule that is now being applied, so far as it affects minority parties? It cannot affect the debate and, therefore, I cannot be said to be arguing a personal point of view.
However, I believe that it is necessary to make two points that should be considered with regard to future debates, since I understand that the job of the Chair is to protect all hon. Members. First, it is highly debatable whether the 10-Minute rule should apply to the Second Reading of a Bill where speakers have to argue various clauses. We have just heard a speech from the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) that was gabbled through to bring it within 10 minutes—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Will the hon. Member come to the point? We are wasting the time of other hon. Members who wish to speak.
§ Mr. Smith
My second point is that members of minority parties should have some rights. If we are not called before 7 o'clock, we are faced with the position, on behalf of a substantial minority of electors in the country, of trying to state a case in 10 minutes on a Bill with 16 clauses. That is grossly unfair and a denial of rights to minority parties in the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the rule applies only to the Second Reading of Bills. I think that the minority parties get a fair share of the time of the House, but I do not wish to go into that now.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (Chester-le-Street)
The Secretary of State, who is a modest man, has called his Bill modest, but in some respects it is more mean than modest.
Clause 5 removes from the employer the onus of proof in unfair dismissal cases. Clause 7 modifies the unfair dismissals obligations for small firms. Clause 8 abolishes the minimum award in unfair dismissal cases. Clauses 10 and 11 weaken maternity rights. Clause 12 limits guarantee payments and clause 16 removes the recognition provisions of the Employment Protection Act and puts nothing in its place, and also abolishes schedule 11 to that Act. These are all mean-minded measures which, taken with the July statutory orders, will make the lives of employees far more difficult.
In one sense, the Secretary of State is right. "Modest" is an accurate description of the Bill. In contrast to the ambitious claims made for the Industrial Relations Act, the Secretary of State does not even pretend that the Bill will do much to improve industrial relations or make the economy more efficient.
The Bill must therefore be judged by far more prosaic criteria—are its objectives right, will it work, what will be its cost and its benefits?
I am in favour of the provisions on balloting, particularly for trade union appointments. However, I warn the Secretary of State, as have my hon. Friends, that ballots concerned with disputes do not always lead to the results that the right hon. Gentleman wants—as we saw in 1972. Ballots cannot be a panacea, but they can prevent trade union leaders going out on a limb and can strengthen them when they have massive support behind them. They can give them the confidence that comes from overwhelming support.
The two most contentious issues in the Bill are those concerned with the closed shop and picketing. There are two strong arguments in favour of closed shops. First, by closing up trade union organisation they give trade unions and their members additional power. That is the argument from the employees' point of view.
Secondly, because unions speak for all employees, the organisation issue is settled and that benefits industrial relations. 111 That is why many employers support closed shops. Indeed, the Warwick university survey shows that the majority of closed shops introduced in manufacturing industry since 1974 have been initiated by employers rather than by trade unions. So much for the media distortion that overbearing trade unions are forcing closed shops on reluctant employers. That is not the case.
The only respectable argument against closed shops is the libertarian one, though the argument is far less relevant in this context, because without collective organisation employees are in a weaker position. Indeed, they are powerless. The greater the collective organisation, the better protected the employee.
However, as the TUC has pointed out in its advice on closed shops to affiliated unions, many closed shop arrangements are flexible. The Department of Employ-men survey quoted by the Secretary of State shows that many closed shop agreements exempt not only new entrants who object on religious grounds but those who object on conscientious grounds and those with particular positions in a firm.
The survey also shows that two-thirds of the agreements negotiated since 1974 exempt existing non-union members from joining a trade union when a closed shop is introduced. In addition, I understand that the survey showed that since 1974 only about 100 workers, out of the many millions covered by closed shop agreements, have been dismissed. I also understand that the Government have sought to suppress that finding, because it would be inconvenient for their argument that this is a major problem. It is not, and the Government know that it is not.
The Government's proposals to widen the exemptions are objectionable on two main grounds. It is one thing for employers and trade unions to agree on what constitutes conscientious objection and deeply held conviction, but it is another to arrive at a definition that would stand up in an industrial tribunal which is, after all, a court of law. The CBI has pointed out that fact to the Government and I hope that they will take it on board.
The second problem is the provision that will allow an employee to object 112 not just to being a member of any trade union but to being a member of a particular trade union. That will lead to disruption of existing bargaining arrangements and it could lead to a growth in multi-unionism—something which Tory spokesmen always claim to be against. That is why the Engineering Employers' Federation and the Institute of Personnel Management have reminded the Government of the weakness of that provision. I hope that the Government will reconsider it.
Those two main provisions on the closed shop are likely to damage, rather than improve, industrial relations. The approach advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) of relying on TUC guidance, which ought, in my view, to be backed up by a code of practice, is far superior.
The existing law relating to picketing is limited and, in some respects, unclear. We rely for its enforcement on the good sense of trade unions and trade unionists and the police. For the most part, it has worked well. Trade unionists are able to put across their case, and the police ensure that public order is maintained.
The Bill's provisions are too restrictive. It is wrong that workers will not be able to picket other plants of the same company or customers and suppliers. Until now, those practices have been considered by both sides of industry to be entirely legitimate, and they are being restricted by the Bill. In addition, the new provisions on unlicensed pickets will either involve the police or be largely ineffective. Once again, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield is right. Reliance on TUC advice and the support of a code of practice is a far better approach.
In conclusion, this is a modest Bill which, to misquote Winston Churchill, has plenty to be modest about. Its two most contentious provisions will do little to help industrial relations and will prove unworkable. Most regrettable of all is the fact that the Bill will do little to improve collective bargaining or to help productivity, and nothing to increase industrial democracy and worker participation. Nothing is more indicative of the Government's attitude to industrial relations than the thumbs down that they gave last week to the experiments in industrial democracy in the Post Office. Those 113 are the main reasons, though there are others, why I shall have no hesitation in voting against the Bill tonight.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
The essence of what I want to say is that there is a need to establish that the law has a role to play in industrial relations, and that constant trade union propaganda has established insidiously that the law does not have such a role, which is absolute nonsense. Practically every democracy has a comprehensive corpus of trade union law. The experience of those countries shows that it does not lead to extensive litigation and that it does not produce widespread ill feeling.
Indeed, it has been proved in other countries that such law has positive advantages. Certainty replaces vagueness. People know the rules of the game, and the players in the game—if I may call it that—cannot constantly keep on inventing different rules. The rule of law is not designed to destroy trade unions. It is designed to create order, fairness and certainty, and the last of those is the most important. Only idiots want to send trade unionists to gaol, and only idiotic trade unionists want to go there. If there are any such idiots, they are probably idiots because they want to be agitators, and they will probably go to gaol anyhow because of that.
There is an argument that one should do nothing. There are two good reasons why we should not accept that. First, we can learn from the Labour Government's experience. Did their way produce peace or result in harmonious relationships? Did it save the community from the serious disruption of last winter? It did not. On the contrary, their way helped to induce and provide disruption and disorder.
Explaining why that happened brings me to the second of my reasons. Unions, just like employers, are a pressure group. Each has different interests, and so that oppose each other. When they have quarrels, friction and conflict are bound to arise, and when that happens there must be a set of ground rules by which matters will be handled. Of course democratic societies are perfectly capable of containing conflict, but only if there are rules which tell people how they should conduct themselves. We do not have a sufficiently comprehensive legal 114 structure in this country. That is why I welcome all the measures proposed in the Bill. I do not believe that they can do any harm, and I hope that they will—as they must—do a certain amount of good.
A number of areas are crying out for attention. On the one hand, there is a degree of uncertainty about what is the exact legal position in some respects. On the other, there is no legal position. This state of uncertainty inevitably favours irresponsible union militancy, and so there is a structure which, in certain circumstances, can be positively damaging.
Hon. Members may want to know what further legislation we should try to introduce. It would be idle for me, with so little time, to try to recite the details of some three or four Bills that would possibly be needed, but I can indicate their general direction. First, they should all concern legal immunity, and they should not abridge the right of people to withhold their labour—to go on strike. The right to strike is fundamental and is virtually inalienable. To abridge the right to strike would be morally wrong as well as totally impracticable.
The kind of immunity of which I am talking and which I do not want is the ability of a trade union—its officers and members—to pursue a dispute in such a way as to do certain unacceptable things—to cause grievous damage to the public or to employers, not because of a strike but because of actions that flow from a strike. I am thinking of picketing, blacking and the exertion of pressures on suppliers or on customers. There is no justification for any legal immunity that inconveniences the nation or damages commercially an enterprise for which an employee does not work.
The steps that the Government should take can be easily summarised. They should consider introducing a Bill stating quite simply that trade unions are corporations and that trade unions have the same rights as corporations. In view of the lack of ability to sue for libel, they may wish to have that. But it should also state that trade unions have the same duties as corporations, which at present they do not.
The present position is grossly anomalous, and is certainly so by comparison with international practice. Britain is the 115 only country that sanctions trade unions to have a non-legal status. In effect, our law says that unions are not individuals, that they are not companies, that they need not pay taxes, that they cannot be sued and that they can have power without curbs. Whereas the withdrawal of labour is perfectly reasonable as a way of conducting a dispute, practically everything else is not, and practically everything else is at present also legal.
The Bill may go some way towards stopping up a hole, but it will not fill that hole. The Government deserve credit for what they have achieved already. The trade union movement, for example, is not currently engaged in widespread militant obstruction, but that does not mean that there is no need for a legal framework beyond what is now proposed. Nor does it mean that we should wait for militants to go on the rampage at some future date before we take action.
The Government deserve credit for the quieter mood in industrial relations. It is quieter because the Government have approached the problem resolutely, because they have refused to bail out troubled public industries, because they have refused to print money, because they have defied unpopularity and, above all, because they have done what is right. This courage has paid off. It has impressed the trade union movement and it has laid foundation for a framework of sanity. In short, the Government have changed today's climate of industrial relations.
However, the Bill is less than a third of a loaf. Unlike some other loaves that have recently been on offer and have rightly been rejected, this Bill is acceptable, but only if there is more bread to come, and only if tomorrow's loaf is baked considerably larger than the one that we have before us this afternoon.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I begin by taking issue with the Secretary of State. The philosophy he advanced is one we have heard on many occasions. It is that the balance has been lost, that it has been tipped in favour of the trade unions and the workers and against the employer. That is a very old argument. It was the argument that was 116 used by the American employers at the end of the Second World War. As a result, various pieces of legislation were introduced that have been a millstone round the necks of the American trade unionists. The important point about their argument is that it is not true. Can anyone honestly say that the balance has so tipped in favour of the workers that they have only to threaten strike action or carry out secondary picketing in order that the employers cave in and the workers get automatically what they have demanded?
That is a false picture of the reality in industrial life in Britain. The balance is still in favour of the employers against the workers and the trade unionists. It has always been so. Despite the excellent legislation brought in by the previous Labour Government, which helps to redress the balance up to a point, the balance between workers and their employers is still basically the same as it always has been.
I say to the Secretary of State that we have been here before. We had the same argument over the Industrial Relations Act 1971. Of course, the Government have learnt something since that Act. First, they dress the Bill as though it is a moderate or modest proposition. They say that it is not similar to the Industrial Relations Act, that there are only a few changes being made here and there and that we do not have to worry. The truth is that if the legislation goes through we shall see, within a short time, how immodest the legislation is and how it will damage, hurt and weaken the trade union movement. That is what the Bill is designed to do: it is designed to weaken the trade union movement.
When the Secretary of State, the Government and the Prime Minister decide that they will do certain things on behalf of those they represent, they do them. It would be a jolly good thing, sometimes—and I say this to my hon. Friends—if, when we were in Government, we did them as well. There may well be a U-turn. I am not saying that there will not be a U-turn. What I am saying is that up to now the Government's whole policy has proved to be an utter disaster for ordinary working people, but at the same time it is beneficial to those who own and control industry. That is part and parcel of the scheme to weaken the 117 trade union movement at the expense of working people.
I turn to the question of secondary picketing. It has always been understood that when involved in an industrial dispute one could picket in any part of a company. In addition, one could actually call on the members of one's union to come out and give assistance on the picket lines. One could call on other sections of workers to show their solidarity.
Clause 14 is the most serious attack on the trade union movement. It will undermine the whole basis of peaceful picketing. One of my hon. Friends said that it was a charter for the industrial militants. Those who wish to break the law will still join the picket lines. It will not stop the pickets but will have the opposite effect.
If I were on the shop floor and fellow workers said to me "We are involved in a dispute and we need your assistance", I would join the picket line to help my fellow workers. I would not hesitate to do so. When one is involved in a struggle, one has to win. I listened to the argument about the lads who fought in the transport dispute during the winter, and there were terrible cries about their secondary picketing. I remember watching on television a lad looking over the M6 somewhere near Warrington. The question was put to him "Why are you doing this?" He said "We are in a battle, and when you are in a battle you have to win." Hon. Members who have served in regiments should know what that means. When one is in a fight to win better conditions, it is the same thing as fighting for a regiment. One is out to win.
That is the whole point of the closed shop. People must not be allowed to desert in the face of a struggle. They are involved in a battle, and one connot expect trade unionists not to fight for a closed shop.
We have debated these issues time after time, and we will debate them again. I say to the Secretary of State that it is an illusion on his part, and on his Government's part, to believe that the trade union movement will sit down and allow the closed shop to disappear. It will not.
The Government claim that the trade unions are in support of the Bill. I 118 remember that that was said in the debates on the Industrial Relations Act. I remember Conservative hon. Members saying that the workers and the trade unions were all in favour of the Act. The result was that the demonstrations and struggles against the Industrial Relations Act were the biggest that the country has ever seen.
I agree, as does my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), with balloting. No one is opposed to balloting, but we consider the provisions proposed in the Bill to be the first step towards something more than balloting. If unions wish to carry out ballots, they do not need money from the Government. They can do that themselves, and should be encouraged to do so. They do not need the beginnings of Government interference.
I shall not take my 10 minutes. I feel that I have covered the basic points that I wished to make. I conclude by saying to the Government "Prepare for a struggle on this issue, and not only in the House. We shall fight the Bill line by line in every way". I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend saying that we would repeal the Bill and—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, he did not"] If he did not say that, he ought to have done. I will say it for him on behalf of the Labour Party—the Bill will be repealed. Any decent parts that may emerge from it may be incorporated in future legislation on the basis of experience. There will he no hesitation on our part: it will go as the Industrial Relations Act went. We shall not hesitate when we are in Government.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Edinburgh, South)
I have been fascinated while listening to Opposition speakers. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) accused my right hon. Friend of having introduced an immodest Bill. I should have thought that some of his suggestions were in even more immodest and intemperate language. A statement such as "when one is involved in a struggle one has to win" presumably meant whatever the cost and whatever the hurt to the innocent. Those who have been involved in a war will know of the injuries caused to the innocent and the question of whether they should be part of any battle.
119 After listening to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) I can only surmise that he had the wrong script. He had the script from 1971, and he was talking of a totally different Bill from that which we are discussing today. The Bill is sensible and moderate in its approach to a central problem in our society. That problem is the control within responsible bounds of the use of power in the hands of sections of our community. As my right hon. Friend said, the Bill deals with the problem in a pragmatic way and on a basis of principle.
The sensible nature of the Bill lies in the fact that it does not so much dictate as suggest, that it does not so much coerce as facilitate, that it does not so much legislate a form of industrial relations as suggest limits. It is in setting limits that the Bill fits into the whole pattern of our society, because freedoms and liberties, whether of individuals or of sections of society, must be limited if they are not to damage others.
That is why not just I but the vast majority of people in Scotland welcome the Bill—because it suggests and facilitates its own implementation, and it protects people from unfair exploitation.
Much has been said about the provisions relating to the ballot, and I have one or two comments about that. Most importantly, the ballot is to be no inefficient employer's charter. It seems to be suggested by the Opposition that the ballot provisions have been put into the Bill to damage the trade unions. I do not believe that for a moment.
The whole purpose of a ballot is to allow those who are voting to exercise a mature rather than an instant consideration. Part of that mature consideration will be the ability of the employer to persuade his workpeople to take a particular course of action. If an employer is to use the ballot efficiently, there will be an onus on him to open his windows, to open his books to those who work for him in order to persuade them that a particular course of action in a ballot is right. I believe that that sort of participation, which a ballot of this kind can engender, will prove to be one of the most constructive results of the Bill.
I, too, do not wish to take up all my time tonight, so I turn briefly now to the 120 question of the closed shop. The Opposition have held this out as some savage attack by the Conservative Party on the rights of trade unions, and they have defended their position in a particular way. They have said that we on the Government Benches have not realised that employers like closed shops. To my mind, that is perhaps the worst argument of all, since this is one of the few areas in the law that I know of where an employer can unilaterally and with impunity breach a contract of employment with an employee. In my view, the state of the law in that respect should not be allowed to continue, and, if anything the fact that employers and unions happen to be agreeing and working hand in hand on these matters makes the wrong and injury done to the individual even worse.
Closed shops, however infrequently they happen, can transgress individual rights because, by their nature, they can operate without control and at present, apart from religion, without criteria and without compensation. They can destroy the life and future of an individual. They can demand conformity where that is desired or they can on occasion, at their own discretion, reject the conformity that is offered to them by people who wish to join a union. I believe that in our society that, too, is unacceptable.
When almost universally we condemn in totalitarian States their persecution of dissidents, it is very difficult for us to turn a blind eye to a different sort of persecution of people with their own particular convictions in our society. I therefore welcome that part of the Bill also as providing for another extension of the liberties of the individual, for which we on this side at least stand.
As I said at the outset, in practice the Bill is moderate. Its main contribution is not on the detail that it legislates but on the more open and fair atmosphere that it can create by inviting people to come out of the jungle of present industrial relations into a more civilised and generally acceptable arena where the argument can be won on reason rather than on emotion.
This is a Bill which increases liberty precisely because it constrains power. History has taught us that only by the constraint of power are the freedom and liberty of individuals ever increased. 121 I think that it was Solzhenitsyn who once said to people here in the West "It is not your liberty I criticise; it is the way you surrender it step by step." I believe that the Bill is the first step on the way back to regaining some of that liberty which we have surrendered in the past.
§ Mr. Norman Hogg (Dunbartonshire, East)
I oppose the Bill because I believe that it will damage industrial relations, and I say that having spent almost all my adult working life involved in industrial relations. It flows from a Tory manifesto commitment and the belief, expressed in that manifesto, that industrial relations could be improved by restrictive legislation. We have just heard the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) assert that. He put it in somewhat philosophical terms but assert it he did none the less.
The truth is quite otherwise. The Industrial Relations Act 1971 proved that. I believe that the Bill has no foundation in an informed analysis of our present problems in industrial relations. It simply expresses the collective prejudices of the Tory Party in the country, to which right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches are now bowing. Clearly, the Tory Party has learnt nothing from its experience of the 1971 Act. It is insisting on reasserting its dislike of the trade union movement.
I turn now to two specific provisions of the Bill, those on secret ballots and on picketing. Clause 1 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations for public funds to be used for secret ballots for trade union elections, for amendment of rules and for calling and ending strikes and other industrial actions. We are told that that will cost £1 million in the first year and £2 million in a full year. I cannot understand why the Government propose that money should be spent in this way. The trade union movement has not asked for it, and there is no evidence that the trade union movement cannot afford to run secret ballots. The record in this respect is clear. Trade unions use ballots very widely, and, so far as I am aware, there has never been any suggestion that they are not able to fund them.
Many unions call strikes only if that action has been confirmed as the wish of 122 the members through the use of the secret ballot. We have heard nothing from the Government Benches about the recent ballots in, for example, the milling industry, which demonstrates the truth of what I say.
There has to be aright on the part of the national executive council of a trade union to call and end strikes, and I am worried about the effect of the Bill in that respect. Conservative Members are fond of suggesting that trade union leaders are not responsive to their members and that their management of their unions is not all that it should be. Such claims are most unfair, because it is the right of national executives to call strikes or to end them, and very often, before ballots can be considered, even in unions where ballots are the rule, there can be a spontaneous reaction from the membership to a given situation and the trade union leadership has then to deal with that.
There can come a point, even in an angry situation, when trade union leaders must exercise judgment about ending a strike without reference to a ballot. I believe that that is right. It can be proper and it can be very responsible. In fact, that is what is done at present. The Bill, on the other hand, will undermine the authority of trade union leaders in a way which will not be helpful to industrial relations.
Many trade unions appoint their national executives by secret ballot. In the union that I worked for, I was responsible, along with others, for conducting an annual election to elect the national executive by secret ballot, with every member having a vote. At the same time, I was responsible for the organisation of ballots to deal with the calling and ending of strikes.
Not once did I hear a complaint from any member of the union for which I worked to the effect that the elections were not conducted properly or that the ballots were not conducted properly. Neither did I hear anyone suggest that public money would in some way or other improve the elections or ballots. I never heard that once, and I believe that the Bill is thoroughly mistaken in its provisions in that respect.
What lies behind these proposals is the suggestion that trade unions are undemocratic and that they do not follow true trade union practices, notwithstanding 123 that the major trade unions in this country conduct elections for their major offices. This is certainly true of the Transport and General Workers Union, the General and Municipal Workers Union and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. It is true also that NALGO elects its national executive on the basis of annual ballot.
The suggestion that the trade union movement is deficient in its democratic procedures and can be improved by the measures in the Bill is unfair. That is one of the ignorant assumptions that are made. There is no case for the use of public money for this purpose. There is no demand from trade unions that such money should be used for the purpose. There is no public demand for spending public money in such a way. The assumptions that are made in the Bill in that respect are erroneous.
The proposals on picketing are not consistent with the sentiments that have been expressed by the Conservative Party in recent times. The Conservative Party is fond of presenting itself as the party of freedom, the defender of democracy and the upholder of individual liberty. However, in clause 14 there is proposed an erosion of civil liberty. The clause will restrict the activities and involvement of working people in pursuance of a trade dispute. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) demonstrated that it would not be possible for the employees of a company to go to another plant owned by the same company to picket. That seems to be an erosion of the liberty of trade unionists. It is putting trade unionists in a special position within the law, and I find that unacceptable.
The proposal is contrary to the advice of the TUC. It is contrary to the guidelines that it set out. Therefore, it undermines the authority of the TUC. Further, it undermines the authority of trade union officers who may be advising against secondary picketing in a particular circumstance. All those features detract from the intention of the Bill, which is, I suppose, to improve industrial relations. However, it is mistaken in its approach. The provisions on secondary picketing are deeply offensive to the principles that are often claimed by Conservative Members.
124 I believe that workers will scorn the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) was right in that respect. The Bill is an attack on the principles of trade unionism. It is offensive to the democratic principles of the trade union movement and of the country generally. It will reduce freedom. Indeed, it is an attack on freedom. The fact that 12 million trade unionists are to be put in a special position in the conduct of trade disputes is contrary to the principles of democratic freedom.
The Government are introducing a Bill that places restrictions on working people. The restrictions are of a sort that I believe to be deeply offensive. The Bill will be deeply offensive to people throughout the country. I do not accept that there is widespread support for the measure. That will be demonstrated during the next few months as the Bill passes through Parliament and we learn of the attitude of Britain's working people. It will come to be recognised that the Bill is mistaken in its assumptions and irrelevant to the needs of the trade unions.
The Bill is damaging to industrial relations and it will be of no assistance to those who are working hard to create the best sort of industrial relations which, of course, will aid our economic recovery.
§ Mr. D. A. Trippier (Rossendale)
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate, not least because I consider that the legislation proposed is essential if we are to restore the balance in industrial relations.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on honouring the clear commitments that were made during the recent general election. I am convinced that the Bill will be widely welcomed by British industry and that its effect will correct the imbalance that has evolved from the vagaries of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 and the Employment Protection Act 1975.It will have the added advantage of enabling many more employers to be less reticent about increasing their manpower. If those were the only benefits to be gained by the Bill's implementation, it would deserve the full support of the whole House. I have no doubt that that support from Labour Members will not be forthcoming. 125 I wish that Her Majesty's Opposition had not been so predictable in their denouncements of the Bill and that their arguments had been rather more enlightened. I wish, too, that they had conceded that certain clauses were necessary. If Labour Members do not know now that much of their legislation was a disincentive to increased employment, they have acquired more ostrich characteristics than I gave them credit for having.
The Bill is not meant to be a panacea for all the ills that have beset industrial relations. It is an effective start, however. To some of my hon. Friends it will not be enough. They seem to consider that major surgery is necessary rather than bandaging. I cannot agree. The industrial relations and employment legislation arena is littered with the remnants of those who advocated major surgery. The Industrial Relations Act 1971 is a sad example of that. To restore the balance between the responsibilities and duties of the trade union movement requires necessary but limited changes. To legislate further than is proposed today would be not only foolish but extremely provocative.
My right hon. Friend has no such death wish. He would rather negotiate than seek confrontation. He is to be congratulated on publishing his working papers on the proposed amendments to existing legislation in July, September and October and on seeking the views of both sides of industry before introducing the Bill.
If all else that I say is forgotten, I beg the House to remember that just as the Government do not believe that Her Majesty's Opposition have a monopoly of compassion, so they reject totally that they have a monopoly of understanding of what is wrong in industrial relations, even though they think that they have. The balance that has been referred to is upset by current legislation. That law is counterproductive because it has never really helped the people for whom it was originally designed. In advancing my argument I shall refer to the provisions for funding secret ballots and those relating to secondary picketing.
It was wise not to impose secret ballots on the trade union movement by law 126 and make them compulsory. Wherever possible, it is much better to encourage trade unionists to take advantage of the extension of democracy by means other than imposition by the statute book. The provision of the necessary capital to allow ballots to take place will mark a significant turning point in the democracy within most unions. That can only be for the good. If we are to continue saying that we believe in strong and responsible trade unions, it is important that responsibility evolves from within the movement as a result of the wider participation of the rank and file members. I emphasise that the provision will benefit most trade unions, because I cannot visualise how it can extend the participation of rink and file trade union members in the two unions which represent the majority of the work force in my constituency, namely, the textile and footwear unions. Both unions have a record that is second to none for good industrial relations. Both are strong and responsible.
The Government do not pretend that the secret ballot is an innovation. It is not that, but it strengthens the case for the Bill when we remember that last month, in an 87 per cent. poll of the members of the National Union of Mineworkers, 113,000 miners voted to accept the National Coal Board's 20 per cent. offer, while 107,000 voted against. In the secret ballot on the Edwards plan for British Leyland, 106,000 Leyland workers voted to accept it, while only 15,000 voted for rejection.
It must be remembered that the Government have a duty to protect those not involved in a dispute who may suffer as a result of industrial action. They also have a responsibility to help prevent behaviour that goes beyond all reason. That includes preventing a repeat of the abuse of picketing that took place last winter, which so distressed the nation. Those events demonstrated the need for greater statutory protection for employers and employees who had no involvement in any dispute but whose businesses and jobs were put at risk.
This legislation does not change the criminal law or make secondary picketing a criminal offence. The Bill will enable an employer to seek an injunction to restrain secondary picketing if it damages 127 his business. No one wants to see a repetition of such events as occurred last winter, when flying pickets were trying to stop lorries on motorway approaches and when some drivers said that they were being forced into laybys by pickets in cars.
I welcome the fact that this legislation makes clear what is and what is not lawful. That is important. The Government cannot abdicate their responsibility for the interpretation of the law to the chief constables in the country, whose job it will be to enforce the laws that we make here. As the police should not have this difficulty, we must ensure—I must point this out to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—that the Cabinet give them unqualified support in their difficult task of enforcement.
In the whole of the Bill there is no question of mounting an attack on the basic rights of trade unions. Where is such an attack in the provision of public funds for ballots, for example? The changes that the Bill introduces are limited but vital.
Earlier, when speaking on the Government's wish to encourage a strong and responsible trade union movement, I dwelt on the importance of the word "responsible". I close by emphasising that trade unions will be stronger and will recover the confidence of the public if the law checks the practices and abuses of industrial power which have attracted general condemnation. I urge the House to support the Bill.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
I must place on record my belief that the choice of speakers in this debate has discriminated against minority parties. I hope, too, that we shall never see a state in this House where hon. Members are penalised for raising points of order.
§ I welcome the Bill—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman did not imply that he had been put back in the list because he raised a point of order. If he said that, he is completely wrong. I hope that he will withdraw it.
§ Mr. Smith
If that is the implication of what I said, having put it on the record, I withdraw it.
Having welcomed the Bill, I say that there are some parts of it that need to be amended. Certainly, when we come to Committee or Report stage I hope to see the occasional amendment here or there. On the whole it is a good Bill. It is reasonable and moderate. For that reason it should be supported. In passing, I take the opportunity to place on record my appreciation of the consultation which the Minister of State had before he drew up the Bill—something which is in the interests of good government and the rights of minorities and the majority in the House.
It is nonsense for the trade union movement to get so worked up about the Bill. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) spoke about all that the Bill did not do, how poor it was and why it would not do this and that. I wondered what on earth he found so objectionable about the Bill. If the Bill will do so little, as his speech seemed to indicate, I cannot understand what all the upset is about the Bill.
I believe passionately in individual liberty, but when that liberty interferes with the liberty of other individuals, or when people abuse power which they may have legitimately obtained, it is the job of Parliament, of all bodies, to curtail the abuse of that power and protect the liberty of the individual. That is why the Bill is necessary. That is why basically, although with reservations, it should be accepted and welcomed by the House. Time does not permit me to deal with all the clauses. However, I should like very briefly to look at one or two of them. First, on the matter of secret ballots, the Bill does not compel any union to hold a ballot if it does not wish. Indeed, if it did so, I should object to the Bill. Ballots are not always attractive. For example, if a ballot is used to call a strike, it follows that there must be a ballot to call it off. Ballot-rigging is not unknown in this country. Therefore, ballots are certainly not a panacea. However, as that clause is entirely voluntary, I cannot see any reason for anyone to take objection.
129 Let me turn to the issue of the closed shop. I have always held the view—I state it clearly now—that the closed shop was incompatible with individual liberty and freedom. My criticism of the Bill is that it does not go far enough on the matter of the closed shop. Certainly I want workers to become members of trade unions. If the trade union movement is good enough, it will be able to attract those employees into its ranks without forcing them to join against their will. I understand the argument about free riders. That can be overcome by voluntary contributions to charities, which some unions are now making and which have much to commend them. However, it is disgraceful when people who have worked hard for an industry for 30 or 40 years lose their jobs as a consequence of refusing to belong to a union. Anything that can be done to take away that abuse of individual liberty is to be welcomed. If for no other reason than that, I support the Bill.
My greatest reservation is about picketing, as I greatly value individual liberty. Any man or woman has the right to try to persuade others to his or her point of view. However, we must face facts. Last winter there was disgraceful abuse of the right to picket. Hospitals were starved of supplies. Men refused to bury the dead. Textile workers on the docks pleaded for raw textiles so that they could continue to work but were refused supplies by lorry drivers. Who, therefore, in those circumstances, and with that history, can blame a Government for reacting to such a situation?
I should like to see a code of picketing practice voluntarily applied. I understand what brought the Government to this point of view. I remind them of the words of Lord Denning in his dissenting judgment in Hubbard v. Pitt in 1975, in which he argued that the right to picket should not be confined to trade disputes. He said:Here we have to consider the right to demonstrate and the right to protest on matters of public concern. These are rights which it is in the public interest that individuals should possess; and, indeed, that they should exercise without impediment so long as no wrongful act is done.I could continue to read his judgment, but time does not permit. What worries me about even moving into the area of restricting picketing is the effect that that 130 could have on other rights of demonstration.
I hope that even at this late stage the TUC may yet put forward proposals that will persuade the Government to drop the clauses on picketing, and which will satisfy the Government that its proposals will be adhered to. I have often said that, and I find it strange that a union will penalise a man for not striking when it instructs him to do so but that it will never penalise a man for striking when it instructs him not to strike. If the TUC could indicate that it has proposals about secondary picketing that could and would be enforced, even by backing them up with a union rule book, there would be great merit in the Government re-examining the clauses on picketing.
I have reservations about that part of clause 8 which states that conduct after dismissal can be taken into account, in terms of unfair dismissal, in tribunal proceedings. The words "after dismissal" should be examined.
I also have reservations about the maternity provisions in the Bill.
I welcome clause 16, especially the proposal to abolish schedule 11 to the Employment Protection Act 1975, which has been grossly abused by some unions.
With few exceptions, I welcome the provisions of the Bill. It has its weaknesses, but clearly something has to be done to deal with abuses.
The Bill deals with employment, and rightly so. It is not a Bill for dealing with, or necessarily helping, industrial relations. The Bill is not a panacea for all ills. Good industrial relations entail good management, good communications, proper working conditions and decent wages. They entail partnership between capital and labour and a proper use and distribution of profits. The Bill does not deal with any of those matters. In some ways, therefore, it does not go far enough. However, it seeks to re-balance the scales between employer and trade union, and to protect the rights of individuals and minorities within the trade union movement and in the industrial relations field.
It is not a bad Bill. I shall vote for it this evening, and I shall encourage my colleagues to do likewise.
§ Mr. David Mellor (Putney)
The Bill represents the very minimum that the 131 Government can do in the prevailing circumstances. It has nothing to do with pressure from Conservative Members. It is what the country expects, in view of what has happened over the years of Labour government.
I have become accustomed, in the relatively short time that I have been a Member, to Opposition spokesmen stating that every Bill put forward marks the end of civilisation as we know it. The speech by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley)—who, alas, is not in the Chamber—was extraordinary. It was the hollow, empty booming of a hollow man. One would like to be able to say, whether it was accurate or not, that it was unworthy of him. It was extraordinary in the light of the present climate of opinion. Are the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends so totally remote from what is being said up and down the land—even within the membership of the trade unions, whose interests exclusively they seem to think they are here to protect and preserve?
As one Labour Member was prepared to admit, the Bill is a modest Bill. In no way is it a repetition of the Industrial Relations Act 1971. In no way does it clear away the evils of the legislation of 1974 and 1975. I understand why that must be so. It is the wish of the Secretary of State not to be provocative. He said movingly in his speech to the Conservative Party conference that he wanted to establish a climate of industrial relations in which people would come out of the trenches and join together. In no place more than in industrial relations do we concentrate too much on matters that divide and not enough on matters that unite.
I should like to have thought that there would be support not only from the Conservative Party or from the party of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). We need support from the Opposition Benches. It is not too late for a change of heart from the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker). I live in hope—but I shall probably be disappointed—that there will be some recognition that the aim of the Bill is not to put an end to the trade union movement but to try to do something for the future of the country. The aim is not to play party games but to help to put 132 the country back on its feet. Are we capable, after all, of recognising the truth of what John Methven said at the CBI conference—that as a nation we are indeed drinking in the "Last Chance" saloon?
The speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield has, unhappily, set the tone of many of the speeches from the Labour Benches. They are the speeches of people who apparently have not read the Bill, and they seem to be directed to people who the speakers sincerely hope will not have read the Bill. No one who had read the Bill could possibly say some of the many things said by Labour Members. No one who had studied the Bill could possibly believe for a moment half the ritual incantations to which we have been subjected tonight.
The position that we find ourselves in as a Government is that the people expect that they shall not have to go through a winter as wretched as the last one. Labour Members do not seem to be able to make up their minds as to quite what is their objection to the Bill—whether it is too draconian or whether it does not cover the points that we are trying to cover. It would help us in meeting their points if only they could decide on what they believe to be wrong with the Bill. It is not good enough to say that it will not work.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is placing his trust in good sense. He hopes that somewhere in the upper ranks of the TUC there will be a response. But if there is not and the measure does not cover events such as those that happened outside Charing Cross hospital very recently, we shall have to think again. I believe that my right hon. Friend would be prepared to think again, and we would certainly support him. But there is one thing that the recent events outside Charing Cross hospital have established. They have shown what a lot of nonsense were the much-vaunted TUC guidelines, dredged out at the eleventh hour to try to save the election for the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan).
I should like particularly to touch on the extent to which the legislation of 1974 and 1975 severely damaged individual liberties in this country. Those who are students of hypocrisy in its more 133 advanced form will have enjoyed the contrast between speeches of Labour Members in this debate and their speeches in the debate on the immigration rules. On that occasion, only a week or so ago, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was subjected to constant taunts from the Labour Benches, such as "What about the immigration rules and the European Convention on Human Rights?" Well, what about the Employment Protection Act 1975 and the European Convention on Human Rights?
We are about to have a judgment from the European Court. I do not often go in for prediction, but I would wager my parliamentary salary—or some other fairly limited sum such as that—on the proposition that the European Court will have no hesitation in slinging out the whole thing lock, stock and barrel. I am glad that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) is with us tonight, because he was one of those who were pressing most the Home Secretary on this point. He asked him what advice the Attorney-General had been giving the Government on that matter. I wonder whether he asked the same question of the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) when he was Attorney-General. Perhaps he would have received an answer showing that the advice of the right hon. and learned Member changed depending on which way the wind blew, just as it did on the Clay Cross issue.
I return briefly from that diversion to welcome three provisions in the Bill. The changing of the burden of proof in industrial tribunals would do a great deal to improve the atmosphere in industrial tribunals. Making the burden of proof neutral would make employers feel less inclined to believe that tribunals were biased against them.
I welcome the abolition of schedule 11 to the Employment Protection Act, because, of all the measures carried through by the Labour Government, it was that that most employers most feared—not because of anything that they need be ashamed of but because it totally undermined what is at the essential root of our industrial recovery—that is, that an employee's wages should be based on the success of his own enterprise and not on some bogus comparison with the state of the industry generally or of some other specified firm. I am very glad that my 134 right hon. Friend has not hedged on this one and has thrown the schedule right out.
I also welcome postal balloting. There is no question but that if postal balloting became more widespread we should not be subjected to events such as the recent strike of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. The votes for that strike were almost exclusively from those who were not elected by postal balloting. Those elected by postal balloting were almost exclusively against it.
This measure is offered in a spirit of conciliation, with a genuine wish for reconciliation in industry and for a fresh start appropriate to the imminent beginning of a new decade. The nation will not readily forgive yet more pointless bloodletting of the kind that so disfigured the passage and implementation of the Industrial Relations Act and the opposition to it. What is required now is for people to put party games on one side and to try to think of the country. I should like one or two Opposition Members to recognise the need for that.
§ Mr. Michael Welsh (Don Valley)
I know that we are limited to 10 minutes, but before I speak totally against the Bill I must congratulate the hon. Members for Chorley (Mr. Dover) and for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) on their maiden speeches. As a Member who arrived here on 3 May, it gives me pleasure to hear maiden speeches, and though I am limited to 10 minutes I am prepared to give some of that time to congratulating those two new hon. Members. I hope that they will have the opportunity to participate in many more debates.
I oppose the Bill for two basic reasons—first, because it is an attack on organised labour and, therefore, an attack on individual freedom within industry. There cannot be individual freedom without organised labour. Secondly, that is why labour was organised during the last century—to protect individuals working within industry.
I allowed a solicitor to look at the Bill, and he said "Mick, a Philadelphia lawyer could not understand that." Therefore, in Committee, and most probably later in the courts, it will be difficult to understand the Bill. I want to speak 135 about the Bill as a layman, and I shall not be capable of breaking down every fine point.
My first point is on the payment for ballots. It has been said that the National Union of Mineworkers voted not to accept the recommendation of the national executive committee. That is not so. The miners voted to accept the recommendation of the NEC; it was the members of the NUM who did not. I leave that for hon. Members to think about. Anyone who knows the set-up of the NUM will realise the implications of that.
On the question of expenditure, I should have thought that because of the cuts that have been made by the Government it would be totally wrong for them to say that they will spend £1 million this year and then another £2 million to pay for ballots. That is immoral. That money must come out of the total, so education, social services or housing will have to suffer. It is immoral to cut social services and at the same time be prepared to pay for ballots.
I have taken part in many ballot votes, some of which have been successful for the unions and some have not. The trouble with ballot votes is that if it is thought that the Government are supporting the ballot vote, and are therefore willing to pay for it from the minimum amount allowed, as the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) said, there must be a vote to return to work. That is the great difficulty. If the power workers came out on a ballot vote, and if within 24 hours a settlement was obtained, they would have to be balloted once more. It would take about a week to get them back to work, with the consequent loss of production. I see no reason why the State should pay for this sort of thing. The unions are capable of looking after themselves.
On the matter of changing union rules by ballot vote, I know of no unions that vote for a change of rules, though some Government Members may know of them. Most unions have biannual or yearly conferences and their rules are changed by the delegates who attend those conferences. I do not know of any union that changes its rules by a vote, but there may be some. Anyway, it is 136 in the Bill that the unions can ballot to change the rules.
It is strange that a Minister should come forward today with a code to improve industrial relations when only last week the Secretary of State for Industry was unable to interfere in the controversy over increased industrial democracy in the postal union next year because the chairman of the Post Office said that he did not want it. Now we have the Employment Bill supposedly aimed at improving industrial relations, yet the Government cannot do anything about improving industrial relations in another area because the chairman of that undertaking does not want it. The unions wanted it but the chairman did not, so it never went ahead.
Clause 3 refers to unreasonable exclusion or expulsion from trade unions. If an appeal goes to the industrial tribunal, the unionshall not be regarded as having acted reasonably only because it has acted in accordance with the requirements of its rules".That is very strange. In clause 1 the Government are willing to spend money on a ballot of the members to change the rules, yet when it comes to unreasonable dismissal, or refusal to join a union, the rules will not be considered as reasonable. There is a contradiction there somewhere. In one clause the State is willing to spend money to have the rules changed and in another it refuses to accept, or instructs the industrial tribunal not to accept, those rules. I submit that there is something terribly wrong here.
We all know that the Bridlington agreement works very well within the trade union movement when members transfer from one union to another with the agreement of both unions. The Bill will infringe the Bridlington agreement, and as a result there may be inter-union disputes. The Government will have caused the trouble, and later will probably criticise the unions for having industrial disputes.
Clause 6 deals with deeply held convictions about not joining trade unions. I shall give the House two examples, one of which is particularly important. An individual can be badly hurt by believing that the State fully supports him for not joining a union. He may think that when a union calls its members out on strike he will go on working. That is commonly known as scabbing. By that one action 137 of scabbing that man's whole life may be altered from then on. Believing that the nation supports him, he commits a mortal sin against a trade union, and there is no confession box that he can go to afterwards.
A few years ago an old man died in my constituency. I went into the local for a swift half, and mentioned that this poor old man had died. Normally, miners are very sympathetic, but on this occasion they just sat there. I stood there for a moment and wondered what was wrong. Then one of them told me that that man was a "twenty-sixer". I leave that with hon. Members to reflect upon. That poor old man suffered from that mortal sin from 1926. No law of the land can ever alter that sort of situation.
In another case, a lad called Anthony Flynn, who has since passed away, came to me. He had lost a finger working in a quarry and he came to me to ask me what he should do. I told him to go to his trade union and he replied that he was not in one. I took him to the citizens advice bureau, where he was told off for not being a member of a trade union. On his behalf, I asked for legal aid. We got legal aid and he won his case under common law. My point is that if we will the way we must will the money so that people can fight common law cases on their own behalf. That is another example of where not being a member of a trade union can hurt the individual.
I note that with regard to picketing the phrasenear to his place of workis often used. That reminds me of a business friend who visited New York each week, who once told me "Paris is near". I do not know how one can define picketing in such circumstances, but that must be settled in law should such cases emerge. Picketing does not help industrial relations all that much, but what is worse is to pass laws that infringe people's rights and which make organised labour do what the law desires instead of the trade union sector and the Government of the day working together, which would be much better. As Jack London always asked, "Will it work"? The Employment Bill is designed to create better industrial relations, but I respectfully submit that it will not work.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
The Bill before the House contains four major proposals, all of which in my view are desirable. First, it provides for the establishment of a fund from which secret ballots are to be financed. I take that as a very clear example of the determination of the Conservative Goverment to introduce, or extend, democracy into industrial practices. That proposal is one to which no reasonable-minded Member could object. I was very pleased indeed that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) gave that provision somewhat limited support, but support none the less.
The second aspect of the Bill, which in my view deserves unqualified support, relates to the provisions for employees who are unreasonably excluded or expelled from trade union membership to receive compensation from those responsible for that act. It is important for the House to appreciate that the right to compensation is extended only to those who have been unreasonably excluded or expelled.
As has been said before, expulsion or exclusion from union membership can wholly destroy a man's ability to earn his living. It must happen, probably not infrequently, that the exclusion or expulsion is unreasonable. In my view, it is monstrously unjust that persons who have been so treated should not have the right to claim some compensation from the people who are responsible.
When the right hon. Member for Chesterfield dealt with clauses 3 and 4, he declined to deal with that aspect. He did not advance any arguments, good or bad, against the provision entitling such a person to claim compensation. The House is entitled to know whether the Labour Party proposes to support or oppose those provisions that entitle people to compensation when they are unreasonably excluded or expelled from union membership. I hope that we are told the answer in the winding-up speech.
The third aspect of the Bill upon which I shall briefly touch is the closed shop provisions. The Bill gives significantly greater protection to employees who have been dismissed because of their refusal to join a union when that refusal 139 is founded on grounds of conscience or other deeply held personal convictions. I ask myself whether any reasonable-minded hon. Member can object to such increased protection. It is the least that this House can offer in a democracy.
I also wonder whether any reasonable-minded hon. Member can object to the other provisions that touch on closed shops, such as the provision that a closed shop should not be effective unless it is supported by 80 per cent. of the existing work force, or the provision that persons in employment before the consultation on the closed shop agreement should not be dismissed for refusal to join a union. It seems to me, and probably to most people in Britain, that that extension of protection is simply a restatement of basic democratic rights.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is not present, because he asked how one will decide whether the reason for refusing to join a union is based on a deeply hell personal conviction. There are two simple answers to that question. First, the test in the Bill is no more difficult than the test included in the 1978 Act—namely, whether the refusal was the result of a genuine religious conviction. The hon. Member was a member of the Government that built that particular test into the 1978 Act.
The other answer is that if it is right and proper to leave the determination of the central issue as to whether a man has been unfairly dismissed to the tribunal, can it be wrong to leave the determination of these other questions to the same industrial tribunal?
§ Mr. Skinner rose—
§ Mr. Skinner rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) must resume his seat or seek to intervene.
§ Mr. Hogg
There is nothing in the Bill to prevent trade union officials picketing in the course of their duties. It has been suggested that the contrary is true, but that is not so. The Bill does not prohibit anyone from picketing. It merely confines the right to picket to an employee's place of work. I regard that as wholly reasonable. Those hon. Members who take a contrary view are seeking to perpetuate precisely the conditions that led to the disorder of last winter. More than that, they are seeking to perpetuate precisely those conditions that led to hardship for hundreds of thousands of people who were not involved in the original trade dispute. I do not think that that is an attitude which reasonable-minded men could hold, and the fact that the hon. Member for Bolsover clearly holds it fortifies me in that view.
In my view, this Bill deserves the unqualified support of the House. Its proposals are essentially moderate in character. If implemented, it will extend democracy in industrial relations, and, if carried, these measures will do something to protect individuals and the community as a whole. For those reasons I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I declare my interest as a seaman, a sponsored member of a national union, and not paid or in any 141 way receiving one penny from that union. As a seaman of 10 years' standing, I hope that the House will allow me to go into some of the detailed effects of the Bill on one body of workers, because there has been an awful lot of generalisation from the Conservative Benches about trade unions, as we had in 1971—and, my God, we learnt an awful lot of lessons after that piece of legislation.
I want to bring to the attention of the House the fact that due to the detailed aspects of the interpretation of the 1971 legislation and its effects on the destruction of trade union activity, the Government at the time were forced to make exceptions to their legislation, which compromised their principle of the right not to belong to a trade union. That is the same principal as is being presented to the House again this evening.
The argument is that the balance of power has changed. After Grunwick and the comparison of conditions in our industries with those in the rest of Europe, I should have thought that there was good reason for saying that the trade unions do not have enough power to achieve what they need, by any measure of comparison. However, in view of the time, I leave that argument aside.
The Secretary of State said that there is a fundamental principle involved in the Bill—the right not to belong to a trade union. It is the same argument as we had before, as if that right is equal to the right to belong to a trade union. The difficulty, of course, is that one tends to undermine the other in a state of organisation, and the degree to which it does that depends upon the power of those who collectively come together to argue their case to improve the conditions of workers in the industry, whether union workers or non-union workers. Indeed, we would say that, as was reflected in the previous legislation, the Bill seeks to outlaw the closed shop. We argued the collective right and the problems of undermining by granting this right not to belong to a trade union.
The then Government recognised the force of the argument in certain industries, particularly my industry, seafaring, and in the actors' union, Equity. They then changed the argument and said that in those activities there could be people who would be denied the right not to 142 join a trade union. Once one is prepared to concede the point in one area, it is a principle that is to be conditioned by the argument and the consequences of that argument, otherwise it is a principle which is absolute and one does not seek to change it.
What I want to prove to the House is that, while the Tory Government at that time recognised that their legislation would destroy the seamen's union and Equity and undermine trade union development itself, this Bill also has the same reeds of destruction. If it is granted a Second Reading tonight, it will be with the acknowledgment of Conservative Members that in particular areas, especially the seafarers, it will seek to destroy particular trade unions and, therefore, deny the rights and benefits of organisation which the majority want. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen to the arguments for a few seconds and they may then reject them once I have reached them.
§ Mr. Prescott
That is said before the arguments are put. That is the sort of thing that one is learning to expect from the Government on the production of such arrogant legislation.
However, I should like to give some facts for the benefit of a number of people who, apparently, are not aware of them. My industry has had a pre-entry closed shop since before the war. Ironically enough, it was supported by the shipowners. At the CBI conference, it was the shipowners who were arguing "Please retain the closed shop principle". [Interruption.] Hon. Members should wait and listen to the arguments.
The shipowners want stability in the industry. It is an industry with 2,000 ships, if not more, and 95,000 seafarers, spread all around the world. Eighty per cent. of its work force leaves within four or five years of joining, so it has a massive manpower turnover, and when they join the industry people are not necessarily aware of the benefits of trade unionism. All those factors increase the problem. There has been competition between the official and unofficial unions throughout the history of the industry. The closed shop provided some form of stability, and the employers were therefore also interested in having a closed shop.
143 If members are allowed to leave a union or, because of the high turnover, do not have to join a union, in this industry in particular many people may take that option, and there could be many reasons for that, conscience being only one.
A man may eat, sleep and live for up to two years on board ship, and such difficulties can create great agitation on a vessel visiting different parts of the world. It is easier in a factory to argue that the men may not want to work with a non-unionist, but it is much more difficult for a seafarer, and that fact must be recognised.
If many of those who have newly joined the industry do not want to become members of the union, the necessity for a ballot will then be argued, and 80 per cent. of those in the industry will have to agree to the principle for it to be carried—and I do not know how that percentage could be determined. In my industry a postal ballot is extremely difficult, producing low turn-outs. A vessel may be calling at ports all over the world and may have left port before the post arrives. I do not need to spell out the problems.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire) rose—
§ Mr. Prescott
Ballots may be voluntary but seafarers will nevertheless be denied proper opportunities.
There could be an increasing number of people not in the trade union, and the union is in any case difficult to organise because members are spread all over the world. It is difficult for a trade union official to visit members. Ships come in in large numbers every day to all our ports. A man will come ashore and sign off, and he wants to get home immediately. The next time that he sees his ship is at the last minute before it sails. Those conditions are not ideal in which peacefully to communicate an argument for trade unionism, which should not be denied to anyone.
In an industrial dispute normal methods of picketing can be used, but seafarers are faced with further problems. We are covered by other legislation. It is considered to be conspiracy if we disobey a lawful command or act together. We can 144 be fined by the captain, charged in the courts for criminal damages, and even civil damages can be deducted from a man's wages by the captain. If an incident occurred abroad, even fines against the company by the immigration authority can be passed on to an individual. An individual may say that it is his right not to belong to a union, and lie may make that decision in New York. The other men may decide that it is their right not to work with him, but the criminal law can be used against those men. Hon. Gentlemen may argue that such men could leave the factory, but a seaman cannot do that. A seaman seeking only to maintain his right to belong to a trade union and maintain his organising ability may have the force of damages under the criminal law used against him.
There are considerable difficulties with picketing, and for a seafarer it is impossible to define the place of work. I have heard it said that the Bill was purely to give the right to those offended against to seek damages in tort against people not officially involved in the dispute or who can be shown to be not involved. It has also been said that policemen would not intervene to find out who that person was. If men are picketing and an injunction on a claim for damages is brought against them, they will presumably have to desist in their action. Some months later, the court will decide whether that person had a legitimate right to be involved in the dispute. That undermines the position on picketing. If a man refuses to accept that injunction, what will happen? It will be the same as occurred in the case of the 1960 seamen's strike. That person will be in contempt of court. If he stays on the line he will go to gaol, and if he goes to gaol that is no way to improve industrial relations—it will inflame them.
§ I shall now—
§ Mr. Prescott
I notice that the hon. Gentleman has not intervened to comment on the facts as to whether there is a dispute in the matter.
The time limit of 10 minutes makes matters extremely difficult. I oppose the Bill on the basis of many of the arguments that have been put forward by my hon. Friends. I specifically oppose it with regard to Equity and seafarers. It 145 will contribute to the destruction of the only sort of trade union organisation that exists in those bodies. That is a good extra reason why it should be opposed.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad that I caught your eye. Like the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), I declare a personal interest. I am a Fellow of the Institute of Personnel Management, which is involved in industrial relations, and a former member of the Transport and General Workers Union and the Civil Service Union.
The Bill is a moderate one. However, we should look at the background to the Bill and realise why the different clauses are needed. If we look at the British people, we see that one of their strengths is the ability to recognise when things are wrong. Another strength of the British people is their intense loyalty to organisations, associations, institutes, clubs and traditions. Because of that, they do not easily opt for change. They do not like change for the sake of change. They are reluctant to discard organisations or institutions which have served them well in the past. The further north one goes in Britain, the more one finds that the reluctance to change is more deeply entrenched. Old loyalties and old ways are not easily discarded.
In Scotland, after last winter, the British—and Scottish—sense of right and wrong made clear to all those who were prepared to listen that the people expected individuals who were not involved in disputes to be protected. The Bill takes care of that. It was also made clear that something had to be done about secondary picketing. The Bill takes care of that as well.
Protection should also be given to individuals where a closed shop threatens their jobs. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East made a convincing case for the seamen. I should like to point out that it is not unknown for seamen to hold ballots. Let me tell Labour Members that moderate individuals in trade unions have put forward their views on secret ballots at many conferences that I have attended. Moderates welcome the opportunity for secret ballots.
146 Scottish people take the view, because they are reluctant to discard their old ways and because they have a deep distrust of the glib, easy answer, that the Bill is not a glib, easy answer. They do not accept that drop-of-the-hat solutions can possibly cure the complex problems that are faced in Britain today. The Scots are a canny people.
§ Mr. Walker
That was demonstrated in the referendum on the Scotland Act. The result was a three-way split which left us all with nowhere positive to go. Yet, as with the rest of the United Kingdom, the Scottish people were aware that something had to be done. They were aware that Britain was being held to ransom—as we were held to ransom last winter.
Old loyalties were questioned and examined, old attitudes were critically examined and doubts were expressed openly about the way in which industrial practices were carried out. The people of Scotland supported the Labour Government in their efforts during last winter to bring sanity to the industrial scene. They continued to support the Labour Government at the last election. Many of them deserted their unions to do so.
People have not forgotten how the militants rejected the advice of trade union leaders. I remind hon. Members that a trade union leader was quoted in The Daily Telegraph on 17 January of this year as saying that strikers had "seized control" and that "anarchy" prevailed. That is why millions of trade unionists look to the Government to redress the balance. I believe that the measures in the Bill are designed to do just that. They provide a framework of modest change. They are just sufficient to permit moderate people to work together towards improved industrial relations within a free collective bargaining environment which recognises the parameters of economic reality.
Since 1945 Governments of all colours have, for considerations of short-term popularity, intervened in industry, introduced legislation, gone in for borrowing and printed money. The sad truth is that demand management policies and intervention on a massive scale, coupled with legislation designed to appease trade 147 union leaders and activists, have created a Frankenstein industrial situation. The monsters spawned by Frankenstein are inept management, intransigent unions, endemic high rates of inflation, low investment in some key areas, over-manning in many industries, demarcation disputes that belong to the days of the ark and low productivity.
The people of Britain recognise that we cannot continue to travel the road of Frankenstein and the monsters. They know and accept that some changes have to be made. The Bill will go some way towards doing that. It will not resolve the problems, because they will be resolved only by people on both sides being willing to do something.
I should like to illustrate that fact by an experience from my constituency. A canning factory closed in a small town where the majority of working people were employed in that factory. Instead of having lots of militant action, parades and noise, the people got together. I should like to put on record that the active paid local officials of the trade union could not have worked harder to find a solution. They worked with me, as a Conservative, and with the Labour, Liberal and Scottish National candidates at the general election. We recognise that we require a collective effort to find a solution. I believe that we are moving towards a solution.
The people in Scotland generally, as in Blairgowrie where the factory closure took place, are looking for co-operation in place of conflict and for conciliation in place of confrontation. It is no good Labour Members making noises. The people heard all the noises last winter. They are looking to us to get together and find solutions acceptable to all.
I am optimistic that the change of mood in the country will be helped by the Bill. The co-operation that I have enjoyed with the trade union officials in my constituency is real. They are not interested in hollow posturing or making political points. They care about the jobs of their members who have been made redundant.
I believe that the Bill is a small measure towards helping industrial relations, that it will help productivity and produce more and lasting jobs and that 148 people will recognise that it is a genuine attempt to bring a balance into the industrial scene. It will be seen to be a Bill that will be fair to all.
I accept the views put forward by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East about the difficulties of seamen. I accept that something has to be done, because reasonable people must always listen to reasonable arguments. I commend the reasonable argument put by the hon. Gentleman. But I do not expect that when the Bill becomes an Act we shall suddenly, as if by magic, solve the problems that have existed in this country over the past two decades.
We require co-operation. We do not want people constantly to be knocking the trade unions. Equally, it does no service to trade unionists if Labour Members constantly knock employers. All trade unions and trade unionists are not bad, and all employers are not bad. We are looking for a meeting of minds, a willingness to recognise the parlous situation that exists in Britain. We also need a movement towards the solution of the problem. The Bill is a move towards restoring the balance, and it will help in that way.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)
It is difficult to make a sensible speech in five minutes when one has been waiting about five hours to be called, although I understand the situation.
The Bill is a charter for bad employers. It is an attempt to turn the clock back to the 1930s and it is trying to force low pay through within the law as framed by the Conservatives. I wonder whether the general public realises, since the Minister said earlier that the Bill has the full support of the nation, how many married women will be subject to an attack in respect of their maternity leave rights. I wonder whether the public realises the effect that that will have upon families with young children. The Bill sets out some of the worst conditions for married women—in respect of entitlement to maternity leave—in the EEC.
We are supposed to be talking today only about strikes, picketing and other related matters. It is noticeable that throughout the debate not one Conservative Member has referred to the restrictions and the attacks that are being made 149 upon married women and their rights. This is not a progressive Bill but a reactionary piece of legislation, and the public will realise that once it becomes law.
In Manchester we enjoy the best industrial relations on record. I therefore regret very much some of the inflammatory speeches being made by the chief constable of Greater Manchester. He is causing grave concern among trade unions in my area. I have received a copy of a letter that was sent to Mr. Anderton by the engineering union in my city. It goes as follows:Dear Sir,On behalf of both the Manchester North District Committee of the AUEW (Engineering Section) and at our meeting of the Manchester North Shop Stewards' Quarterly the following resolution was passed: —'The two aforementioned bodies are very disturbed at reports in the press attributed to Mr. Anderton, Chief Constable of Manchester, where he says that picketing is a privilege not a right.We would respectfully point out to Mr Anderton as far as the Trade Union Movement is concerned, peaceful picketing is a hard won right and not a privilege, and I would point out that the two bodies already mentioned and the Trade Union Movement as a whole do all in their power to retain the right to picket'Hopefully, you will please understand the depth of feelings amongst Trade Unionists, and realise that the statement like the one you have made appear to all Trade Unionists to be inflammatory and will do nothing but exacerbate the situation.Those are the issues about which the trade unions, quite rightly, are concerned. The Bill will be not the end of the problems but the beginning. We need good working relationships and reasonable rates of pay. The trade unions do not seek a battleground. I hope that the Government are not hell-bent on confrontation.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Mr. Harold Walker (Doncaster)
My first and pleasant duty is to congratulate the hon. Members for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) and Chorley (Mr. Dover) on their maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Ilford, South made a restrained speech, but with a dash of wit. I hope that the Ministers heard his plea on behalf of the retired dockworkers. I wish the hon. Gentleman the best of luck and hope that the Department has a responsive ear.
150 The hon. Member for Chorley, if he departed from the convention that maiden speeches should be non-controversial, was only following an example that has been set increasingly of late. His speech was none the worse for that, and we look forward with interest to his future speeches.
Earlier this year the Government, by two orders during the summer, cut the protection for redundant workers and damaged the safeguards against unfair dismissal. At that time, I said that those mean and shabby actions were only the beginning of the attack by the Conservative Government on the whole range of statutory protections and safeguards that Parliament, belatedly but rightly, had granted to workers in recent years—safeguards and rights that not only the British Parliament but Parliaments throughout Western Europe have felt it proper to provide in one form or another.
Today we have been debating the second wave of an assault not only on the workers' organisations but on individual rights and safeguards. I doubt that anyone will by now be misled into believing—
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) rose—
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman might allow me to say a few sentences. I doubt that anyone will be misled into believing that today's package will—
§ Mr. Marlow rose—
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman has not been in the House five minutes. I wish that he would learn the courtesies and conventions of the House and not be so rude.
I doubt that anyone will be misled into believing that today's package will exhaust the eagerness of the Government to diminish the employment rights of workers, both collectively and individually.
I must tell the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), who is not in his place, that his hope for more bread to come may well be satisfied. Already we know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Industry are conspiring together to cut supplementary benefits for the wives and families of those who are in dispute with their employers.
151 The Under-Secretary of State for Employment, without notifying or consulting the TUC or the relevant unions, has already declared his intention to repeal the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act. The high-handed and arrogant way in which he has approached the matter will only stiffen the resistance that will meet that repeal when, and if, it comes before the House.
Perhaps the most serious thing yet to come is the declared intention of the Secretary of State, in the aftermath of the decision of the House of Lords in Express Newspapers v. MacShane, to spit in the face of their Lordships by bringing forward amendments to restrict the application of section 13 of the 1974 Act. Such amendments may well have serious consequences both for the law and for industrial relations. For that reason, we should have considered debate and decision by the whole House, not a dramatic reform being slipped in as a postscript to the Bill in Standing Committee.
If the Government sought—as they may have done fairly—to avoid influencing or prejudicing the Law Lords, they should have delayed publication of the Bill until it could be presented in its full and final form. If, on the other hand, they felt that the parliamentary timetable would not allow that, they should, in my view, if they were determined to go ahead in the light of the House of Lords decision, proceed by way of a separate Bill which could then receive the full consideration which it deserves. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will meet our anxieties on that matter.
§ Mr. Marlow
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way now. A few moments ago, he spoke about the individual rights of trade unions. I hope that he is concerned for the rights of individual trade union members. Will he say something about that?
§ Mr. Walker
The Bill deals with the collective rights of workers, with collective bargaining and with workers' organisations, and it deals also with individual workers and their rights. The hon. Gentleman will find that I have something to say on those matters.
I share entirely the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton 152 (Mr. Heffer) that the Conservative Party seems to have learnt at least something from its disastrous experience with the Industrial Relations Act—that presentation and timing matter. I suspect that that is why we are having these retrograde changes dribbled out bit by bit, in order to soften the total impact.
Perhaps the Government believe that their attacks on the Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers and Engravers, on picketing and on union membership agreements will divert attention from their mean-minded and needlessly provocative whittling down of protection for individual workers, such as maternity rights, guaranteed payments, the rights of workers on fixed-term contracts, and the further changes in the unfair dismissal provisions.
§ Mr. Walker
I ask the hon. Gentleman to forgive me; I have very little time. I have given way once, and I cannot keep on doing so.
In regard to one of the matters I have just mentioned, perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us what will happen in the case of women who have declared in writing, as they will be required to do, their intention to return to work after their confinement and yet fail to do so. Without a clear statement from him, the obvious response of women in those circumstances will be for all of them, whether they sincerely intend to do so or not, to declare their intention to return to work, merely to safeguard themselves.
Obviously, there is not sufficient time available in this debate to deal adequately with all these matters, but I must warn the Government that each will be analysed and criticised, and many of them will be vigorously opposed in Committee.
I turn briefly now to the change proposed in clause 5. Not only have the Government reverted to almost exactly the wording of the 1971 Act in shifting from the employer the burden of proof that the dismissal was reasonable, but they have in addition provided that what is fair or unfair may vary according to the size and administrative resources of the employer.
Thus, at a stroke, the Government have not only dramatically tilted the balance 153 against the applicant but they have, so far as I can see, introduced a novel concept into the law—a concept which, I am sure, will test such forensic skill as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State can command when we discuss the issue in Committee. I can only assume that the parliamentary draftsman had his tongue in his cheek when subsequently writing into that same clause the reference to equity.
Of course, the Government claim for this, as for some of their other changes, that it is aimed specifically at helping small firms. But it applies in every case, regardless of size—to the small, the medium and the large firm alike. Apparently, we are now to have justice on a sliding scale, varying according to the size and administrative resources of the undertaking.
The Government seem to have brushed aside all the independent research showing that the unfair dismissal legislation is not a great problem for small employers, just as they appear to be turning their back on the concept of equality for all before the law, which, of course, they wrote into their election manifesto but readily abandon now in discriminating between different sizes of undertaking in respect of the rights of workers employed therein.
With all their professed concern for the growth potential of small businesses, the Government are apparently overlooking in clause 5, and in clauses 7 and 11, that they may well be providing positive incentives to keep down the size of a firm. They are inventing deterrents for an employer who might otherwise take on additional employees, because once a certain threshold has been reached the exemptions will not be enjoyed that are now being proposed.
I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Industry is in the Chamber. I read with care the report in Hansard of his reply to the full day's debate last Friday that was devoted to the problems of small firms. Lo and behold, the problems that we hear so much about arising from protective legislation, such as the Employment Protection Act 1975, the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the Redundancy Rebates Act 1977, received hardly a mention.
154 Before I deal with the more general proposal to switch the onus of proof of unfair dismissal on to the applicant, I quote, not for the first time, the collective and authoritative view of some of those who are at the sharp end of unfair dismissals and dismissal procedures, namely, managers. In a fairly recent survey of its members, the British Institute of Management, when referring to the present unfair dismissal provisions, stated:this is generally regarded as reasonable although managers consider that the unfair dismissal provisions relating to closed shops need amendment. Otherwise management would not wish to see any changes in the unfair dismissal provisions".I turn to union membership agreements. I doubt whether there is need for me to rehearse the considerable practical problems in defining conscientious objections and deeply held personal convictions. They have been referred to in the debate. I believe that they are self-evident. They are obvious to all. Nor do I intend to rehearse any of the arguments for or against the closed shop. My view, which I have often expressed in the House, is that it is a matter for the trade unions and the employers concerned to determine for themselves. I have on nearly as many occasions asked that union membership agreements be conducted in a flexible and tolerant manner wherever they are practised.
The relevant proposal in the Bill is especially difficult to interpret. In many instances it may make existing union membership agreements nugatory. Welcome though that may be to some Conservative Members, it will inevitably damage industrial relations in many areas. If the effect of the provisions is in practice to impose a virtual ban on many closed shops, that will defy all the advice both received and given by the Donovan Commission, which unequivocally set its face against a ban on closed shops.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) mentioned that there is concern, not least on the part of the Engineering Employers' Federation, that the closed shop provisions will make it unfair to dismiss employees who object, on the stated grounds in the Bill, to belonging to a particular trade union—shades of the Ferrybridge Six. The EEF and the TUC are at one in arguing how 155 disruptive that may prove to existing satisfactory bargaining arrangements. It is an open invitation for the formation of breakaway groups and the consequent fragmentation, with all the harm that that will entail, of collective bargaining.
I shall refer to another concern of the Engineering Employers' Federation, namely, the abolition of schedule 11 to the Employment Protection Act 1975—or at least the recognised terms and conditions of employment provisions. We have not yet had an adequate statement from the Government of their reasons for taking that action. What evidence is there to justify that step?
For almost exactly 40 years we have had statutory provision to prevent undercutting of the terms of industry-wide agreements. The most recent statute, which immediately preceded the Employment Protection Act, within which Schedule 11 was subsumed, was the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act 1959, section 8 being relevant. We have had no indication from the Government that they intend to resurrect even that measure, inadequate though it was.
A survey carried out by the industrial relations research unit of Warwick university showed that, contrary to what the Government argued, schedule 11 is achieving one of its objectives of helping the lower paid. The majority of managers covered by the survey said either that successful claims had improved industrial relations in their enterprises or that the successful claims had had no consequential effects whatsoever. Even the Government now concede, contrary to what was said by one or two Government supporters today, that the provisions of schedule 11 have had no direct, or only a small, effect on the national pay bill.
Let me turn briefly to one other provision that was inadequately commented on in the debate. I refer to the proposed repeal of the recognition provisions in sections 11 to 16 of the Employment Protection Act. I do not pretend that they have worked as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furess (Mr. Booth) and I hoped when we introduced them in 1975. However, they have worked a lot better than some people have been prepared to credit. Certainly experience and, more particularly, the judges in the courts have revealed, if not 156 caused, weaknesses in the procedures that were not there in the first place but were subsequently created by judges who insisted on reading into the provisions words which had been debated long but which were rejected in the House. [Interruption.] I was asked whether I was criticising the judiciary. I am sure that I should be out of order if I did that. However, the judiciary criticised the House for these measures and at least one learned judge superimposed his ideas on what Parliament decided. He decided to read into these provisions the words which Parliament specifically excluded. The right hon. Gentleman knows the words to which I refer.
Repealing all these provisions without putting anything in their place leaves trade unions with only one way of wringing recognition out of a stubborn and pigheaded employer. We all know what that is—industrial action. Is the Grunwick way—that was a manifestation of the wrong way—a sensible way of proceeding in these matters? If the present arrangements are unsatisfactory, as I think they are, we should try to find better ways. Surely we should have a decent, sensible, civilised way of resolving recognition disputes through proper machinery. Unhappily, the Government seem to prefer the hard way—the way that left blood on the pavements at Willesden. [Interruption.] That, apparently, is what the Government prefer. They are not replacing with alternative machinery the provisions that they are withdrawing. If I am wrong, the Under-Secretary of State will correct me when he replies to the debate.
Let me make this point from the research carried out by the industrial relations research unit of Warwick university. It said:Despite the problems, by the end of 1978, just over 900 of the 1,300 or so references had ben completed and collective bargaining had been extended to over 50,000 employees through the use of the statutory procedure. This was achieved overwhelmingly by voluntary settlement through conciliation during the procedure and the references were withdrawn. In the 20 per cent. of references where ACAS issued a report, recognition has been achieved in only a minority of cases.The report goes on:But this is to be expected. In these cases the employer has resisted all other attempts by the trade union to achieve recognition.157 Just in case the right hon. Gentleman thinks I am making his point to some degree, the report goes on:However, these voluntary settlements are reached in the context of the statutory procedure. There is no guarantee that similar success would be obtained by conciliation in the absence of statutory provisions.I hope that the Minister will reconsider that matter again. Perhaps I may urge upon him, by way of a positive and constructive suggestion, that he might usefully consider the way in which the procedure has developed in Northern Ireland, which had the benefit of introducing these provisions subsequent to England and Wales and learning from our experience.
I turn to the power of the Secretary of State to make codes of practice. The Secretary of State will recall the long debates in Standing Committee in 1975 about the purpose, function and raison ďetre of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. He is departing from the fundamental concept which underlies the creation of that body. There was criticism of the over-involvement of Governments and Ministers in the day-to-day management of industrial relations. It was our view that Ministers should stand back and that the State should withdraw and leave it to those who had day-to-day practical experience of industry to determine those matters.
As part of that approach, we gave to ACAS the responsibility for producing codes, subject to endorsement by the House. Now, the right hon. Gentleman is taking that power away from ACAS. Certainly ACAS will continue to have the power to make codes, but the right hon. Gentleman will also have power to make codes, and his codes will override those of ACAS.
One of the most remarkable statements of the right hon. Gentleman was that he did not want ACAS to be tarnished by association and that he wanted to give it absolute independence. As I pointed out in an intervention, I doubt whether there is a single body—a single quango, for want of a better phrase—that has its statutory independence written in such firm terms as those in the first schedule to the Employment Protection Act:The functions of the Service and of its officers and servants shall be performed on behalf of the Crown, but subject to paragraph 35 below158 —that is, the Secretary of State's obligation to provide the pay and rations—the Service shall not be subject to directions of any kind from any Minister of the Crown as to the manner in which it is to exercise any of its functions under any enactment".The Secretary of State by his intervention diminishes the independence of ACAS.
The Secretary of State said that his code will also produce guidance on press freedom. When the Under-Secretary of State replies, I hope that he will cover all the matters that were the subject of inclusion in the proposed press charter. The charter would have covered not merely the way in which union membership agreements shall be applied to journalists. It contains guidance on the avoidance of improper pressure to distort or suppress news, comment or criticism and the right of editors to discharge their duties and to commission and publish any article on the question of access to contributors.
There are many matters upon which we have touched or which we have debated inadequately today. We shall try to rectify that in Committee. There are also many parts of the Bill that we shall vigorously oppose. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said that the Bill would contribute nothing to the solution of the real problems facing the country. It will do nothing for production or productivity. Despite its title—it might have been more appropriate to give it a title indicating that it is an employers'Bill—it will not do anything to improve industrial relations. It will have the same effect as its infamous predecessor, the Industrial Relations Act, not only because of the impact of some of its specific provisions but because of its generally harmful effect on the climate of industrial relations.
Paraphrasing what I said on an earlier occasion, I believe that working people will see the measure as part and parcel of a wider attack on them and their standards. The policies of the Government, not only on this matter but in other fields, seem deliberately calculated to arouse strife and conflict that the country can well do without and which could be avoided. The Government seem intent on dismantling the decent, modest and humane basic provisions introduced by the previous Labour Government. I give the Government notice that at the earliest opportunity we shall repair the 159 damage that they are inflicting on working people's protections and safeguards and on good industrial relations.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)
I have the pleasant task of beginning my speech by congratulating the two maiden speakers who have made their debut tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) paid a graceful tribute to his predecessor, George Rodgers, a very much respected Member of the House. He told us of his constituency and of its virtues. He showed, if he will allow me to say so, the enviable capacity to make a speech without notes, and, more than that, a short speech without notes, which is very much harder. He will bring to the House 20 years' experience in the construction industry. He has great experience in matters of industrial relations and we shall look forward to his future contributions with great interest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) also began his speech with a tribute to his predecessor, Arnold Shaw, whom he described as a very good constituency Member. He was certainly a very popular and hardworking Member of this House. My hon. Friend is a distinguished Territorial soldier, among his other qualities. He showed his concern for the interests of his constituency by speaking with great knowledge and feeling of the interests of commuters and of the problems that they are facing at present in his constituency. We shall look forward to his future contributions and are confident that they will be of great value.
The quality of our debate today has, I think, reflected something that most right hon. and hon. Members must feel—that those who strive to construct a fair balance between the legal rights and the legal restraints of people in an industrial society such as ours have to grapple with factors that are highly complex and are certainly highly emotive. But grapple with them we must—unless we believe either that everything is all right as it is or that, whatever may be wrong with our present arrangement, Parliament has got nothing to do with it and Parliament can do nothing to help to put it 160 right. I do not think that many people in our country today are either so complacent as to believe that everything is all right in the industrial scene or so resigned as to believe that there is nothing that Parliament can do to help.
Let us consider industrial action, so-called. More than anything else, I should have thought, in recent years, the events of last winter convinced people that we have not got the balance right. It has been tipped much too far in favour of those who want to interfere with other people, and therefore much too far against the interests of those who want only to get on with their own jobs, as usual. It has been tipped much too far against businesses and their customers and their employees, remote from the dispute, who can suffer the most dreadful damage and have no remedy at all.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) said that it was nonsense to talk of the balance being wrong. I am sorry that he is not in his place. He said that the balance was still very much in favour of employers. I thought that when we listened to his views on industrial disputes we heard the authentic voice of those who believe that, when they want to get something, no rules apply. [An HON. MEMBER: "Come on."] I noted with care what the hon. Member for Walton said. "Come on" is the right response, perhaps, but it should have been addressed to the hon. Member for Walton. He said "Never forget that these lads are engaged in a struggle. When you are in a battle, you have got to win. It is an illusion that the trade union movement will sit down and allow this to happen." He said, referring to the Bill, "You have got to win."
The implication of that is "Never mind the rules and never mind who else gets hurt". That is a recipe for anarchy and is the doctrine of the survival of the strongest. Because there are those who take that view—though I regard it as uncharacteristic of the hon. Member for Walton—we believe that it is necessary that such rules as there are should be capable of enforcement.
Let us look at the statutory protection of jobs. A measure of protection should exist against dismissal beyond what the contracts provide for. We introduced that measure into our law. But, in the other scale, surely we have to set the need 161 to create new jobs and, these days, even to sustain existing jobs. That means business confidence and flexibility.
Two years ago Lord Lever, who then had some special responsibility for small businesses—perhaps as an antidote to the ministrations of his hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), who, unfortunately, is no longer present in the Chamber—correctly identified the danger. He said that we must not let the Employment Protection Act become an employment destruction Act. That was at a time when, for the Labour Government, truth was busting out all over.
The truth is that we can, for the best of motives, invest the holding of a job with a security and a protection so great that no one will offer that job in the first place. We have to get that balance right, and we were elected to do so.
What was missing in the speeches from Opposition Members was any reference to the outcome of the last general election. There is nothing in the Bill that was not foreshadowed in the Conservative Party manifesto upon which we were elected with a substantial majority. Those proposals, having been expanded in working papers throughout the summer and the autumn, are now embodied in the Bill. I do not think that Opposition Members do much service to the unemployed in their constituencies, whose numbers increased so dramatically under the previous Administration, by insisting that we have not got the balance right.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
I merely ask the Minister if he will refer me to the passages in the Conservative Party's manifesto that referred to cutting down women's maternity rights, worsening fixed-term contracts and other attacks on the protection of workers' rights.
§ Mr. Mayhew
In our manifesto we said that we would reform those aspects of employment protection legislation—[Interruption.] Opposition Members may not like it, but we said that we would reform those aspects of employment protection legislation that prevented businesses from staying afloat and providing employment. That was the essence of our manifesto.
§ Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)
My hon. and learned Friend mentioned small firms. The exemption proposed 162 in the Bill for the first two years will be a great help for new firms. It will encourage them to take on more people, and it has been widely welcomed. Will my hon. and learned Friend consider issuing a code, because small firms find that the whole of the employment protection legislation is very complicated? If it were possible for the Government to issue a clear code, it would help small firms a great deal.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He takes a great interest in such matters, and his suggestion will be considered. I shall come to the exemptions for small firms in a moment.
One thing that has been so extraordinary about speeches from the Opposition Benches is the apparent inability of Opposition Members to decide whether to be disappointed or relieved about the Bill. We had the most extraordinary collection of epithets from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley). He called the Bill puny, mean, spiteful and needlessly provoking. I was reminded of the old adage—if in doubt, abuse your opponent. There was very little of substance in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Very little of substance was heard from the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) either. But in contrast we heard the speech of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who welcomed the Bill almost entirely. He welcomed the consultations, the provisions in relation to SLADE and those for schedule 11. In fact, he gave the Bill a general welcome, although he expressed reservations about the maternity provisions.
I turn to the Employment Protection Act 1975. Probably right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches really believe that this Government's attitude is based on spite. If they believe that no debate in this House or elsewhere will change their minds, because that belief is not founded on reason, it is founded on faith or perhaps on hope. It is certainly not founded on charity.
The purpose of the changes to the Act which the Bill proposes is to encourage employers to create more jobs. That is why the Bill puts a premium on starting a new small firm. We know that new firms create 80 per cent. of all new jobs 163 and we know that small firms of 20 employees or fewer create two-thirds of those new jobs. However, it is just after takeoff that these firms are at their most precarious. We propose these exemptions for small firms in order to help businesses create new jobs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel), in a valuable speech, urged that we should extend that protection to all small firms and not just to new ones. We shall have to consider that carefully in future. The Bill will repeal schedule 11 to the 1975 Act in order to help small businesses. That proposal has the support of the hon. Member for Rochdale and others. That schedule was intended to give protection to low-paid workers by statutorily improving terms and conditions of employment. I agree that this is not an easy matter. The proposals were attacked by the right hon. Member for Doncaster, but low pay today is, in the main, due to low profitability, and this is what we must try to help firms get right. Most unions will acknowledge that schedule 11 has not solved the problem of low pay. We believe that more jobs will result if wages are fixed by negotiation rather than if employers are forced to follow national or local agreements to which they were not parties.
If anyone wants an example of the effect of the ministrations of schedule 11, he only has to look at what happened to Courtaulds at Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland in order to see how statutory proposals and provisions can lift wages above the level that was negotiated with unions on a productivity basis to a level which, in some cases, is above that of the district.
I turn to the provisions for reinstatement after maternity leave. I understand the anxieties that may have arisen. At present, 10 million women have jobs and only about 110,000 claim maternity pay. Those who employ those women need earlier confirmation than at present of their intention to return. So do their temporary replacements. Nobody has mentioned the problem of the temporary replacement, but he or she needs some earlier notification than is at present given. The additional confirmation, which clause 10 provides, will only have 164 to be given if the employer asks for it in writing not less than seven weeks after the confinement. There is a provision of 14 days to furnish that information. There is nothing very serious in that, but at least it tells the employer where he stands and reduces the uncertainty that is inherent in the right to reinstatement.
I was asked what would happen if a woman gave her notice but did not return. The answer is exactly what would happen at present—nothing. It has been suggested that this will nullify the whole procedure. I doubt whether that is right, but if it is the case we shall have to reconsider the matter. However, I have a higher opinion of human nature than have Labour Members.
But these provisions bear hardest of all on the very small firms, and the Bill provides some exemption for those employing less than six employees. The need for this, and the evidence of that need, is in our constituencies for those of us who have ears to hear, and it is in our postbags for those who have eyes to read. These employers will have to prove that it is not reasonably practicable to offer back to the employee her job or a suitable alternative. Only then will they be relieved of the obligation to reinstate.
To those who complain of their being second-class citizens, I acknowledge that to that extent their rights will be diminished.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Not destroyed. If the hon. Gentleman listened, he would understand that they were not destroyed. But what is the alternative? By definition, they will only lose their right to reinstatement if it is not reasonably practicable to get back their old job and not reasonably practicable to be offered a suitable alternative. Is it suggested that the employer must do what is not reasonably practicable? If one runs a business of that size in a way that is not reasonably practicable, the consequence will be that one goes to the wall along with the jobs of the five employees, the reinstated mother among them. Is that what Labour Members want?
Labour Members must face the fact that employers with five or fewer employees are exempt from the Sex Discrimination Act—an exemption that was 165 proposed by the previous Government in a rare and admirable moment of realism. It is a very curious principle that swallows the unqualified refusal of a job on the ground that the applicant is a woman yet will not accept a restriction upon her statutory right to reinstatement when to implement it after maternity leave would not be reasonably practicable. That is not a distinction that I am able to support.
§ Mr. Varley
The Minister has placed a great deal of emphasis on supporting and creating conditions to assist small firms. Which does he think is doing most harm at present to small firms—the provisions of the Employment Protection Act or the 17 per cent. minimum lending rate?
§ Mr. Mayhew
If I had been a leading member of a Government who produced expenditure plans—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—I shall answer. Had I been a leading member of a Government who had produced expenditure commitments without providing any means of paying for them, I would be keeping rather quiet about the minimum lending rate that has resulted.
I now turn to that part of the Bill which has been described outside as an attack on the fundamental rights of trade union members. I find it very difficult to see where the fundamental rights of trade union members are attacked by the ballot provisions. Many hon. Members have spoken of the desirability of secret ballots. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield said that he had no objection to them, which was about the most positive thing in his speech. I sympathise with those who ask for mandatory ballots, but I believe that such a requirement would simply lead to an increase in unofficial action as a means of evasion.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield said that ballots were no panacea as though it had been claimed that they were. Of course they are not. What is being said to trade unions through the Bill is "You do not have to have a secret ballot for any of your decisions. It is up to you. But if you are thinking of having one, you do not have to worry about the cost, for the taxpayer will reimburse you." That may be an assault on the rights of the taxpayer—yet another one—but it can hardly be said to be an assault on the rights of the trade unions.
166 I turn to codes of practice. It does not seem very plausible to suggest that for my right hon. Friend to have the power to issue codes of practice for the promotion of industrial relations, after consultation with ACAS and for the approval of Parliament, is a wicked and dreadful assault. Codes of practice are now well established in our arrangements. They meet the objections of those who complain of legalism in industrial relations. If practices such as picketing and the closed shop are to remain lawful, as under the Bill they are, and if those practices can be abused and occasion great injustice, guidance should be available to all those concerned in clear and simple terms that have been approved by Parliament. That is also provided for in the Bill. We greatly hope that once the Bill is enacted we shall gain TUC and CBI approval for the codes.
Turning to the SLADE provisions in clause 15, it is hard to recognise in what the Bill proposes for strong-arm recruitment tactics of the kind perpetrated by SLADE an attack on fundamental union rights. The Bill will withdraw from those activities immunity from civil action. Few people will regret that. They have been an embarrassment to trade unionists and a grave injustice to their victims.
§ Mr. Prescott
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman recall the incident concerning the "Globtik Venus"? During an industrial dispute, the owner wanted to get the crew off the ship. He hired thugs on Humberside to attack the ship with axes and hammers to take the men off that vessel. The owner was advised by certain Conservative hon. Members.
§ Mr. Mayhew
If that was a truthful account, there would have been a breach of criminal law. That is the answer to that.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The real wrath of this debate has been reserved—it is somewhat bogus wrath—for the Government daring to propose a change in the legislation that at present governs closed shops and picketing. It has been said that only voluntary guides are any good. However, picketing and the closed shop bear crucially upon the rights of other people. The trouble with voluntary guides—valuable 167 and welcome as they are—is that they afford no remedy to those who suffer harm if they are flouted.
It is not a question of either voluntary or statutory guides, because we need both. Only law can give those who are harmed a remedy. That principle is not questioned when duties are placed on an employer. There are countless guides to good practice, good housekeeping, good maintenance and good inspection, all properly compiled in the interests of employees. They impose duties on employers, but no Opposition Members ever suggest that employees would be adequately protected by voluntary guides alone without the enforcement of common law or of the Factories Acts, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and all the other relevant Acts.
No Opposition Member ever asks for those laws to be repealed. What is the difference? The difference is that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and his friends do not care so much about the rights of those affected by the closed shop and picketing. They are left to take their chance on voluntary observance. So much for the Labour Party's devotion to the principle of a State without second-class citizens.
§ Mr. Marlow
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for giving way. He has been talking about remedies. There is a proper proposal in the Bill that if a closed shop agreement is set up, there must be an agreement by 80 per cent. of those within that area of work. Certain people are currently trapped within the closed shops. The Conservative Party believes in individual freedom and choice. Will my hon. and learned Friend consider the possibility of introducing at a later stage measures whereby, at three-yearly intervals, if 20 per cent. of a closed shop wish to have a new ballot they can again consider the question of coming out of a closed shop?
§ Mr. Mayhew
In the code of practice for the closed shop, consideration will be given to recommendations concerning periodic review. From the union side there is not much to complain about in a Bill that leaves the legality of a closed shop agreement untouched. I know that there are grounds for complaint from another side, and these have been forcefully 168 impresed upon us—that we are not outlawing the closed shop. My right hon. Friend has explained why we are not going down that road.
But what we say to the trade unions is this: "If you are to have your closed shop, you must realise that a union card refused or torn up can mean a right to work denied. You have your independent review committee, and we hope that it will continue. But it is only just that you should not be final judges in your own cause but that your would-be members should have a legal right to appeal for an enforceable remedy to a truly independent tribunal experienced in industrial matters if they think that you have behaved unreasonably and that they have suffered in consequence." There is nothing radical or novel about that. It was recommended by Lord Donovan at least 10 years ago.
It is very strange that Opposition right hon. and hon. Members can uphold with such fervour the concept of unreasonable dismissal from what is only one employment and yet turn away in horror from the concept of unreasonable expulsion from a union when that can very well lead to exclusion from all employment in the only trade which a man knows.
We have heard attacks on the requirement for a secret ballot, on the extension of the conscience clause, and on the provision for compensation for those who are existing employees, such as the British Rail employees, who have the rules unilaterally changed against them and are made to join a trade union or get the sack. I believe that these changes are wanted by the country as a whole and by the majority of trade union members. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] The polls—[Interruption.] It is trade union members who have to face the hardship and the consequences of closed shops. It is trade union members, and not Opposition Members, who have to brave the picket lines and who are asking for protection. These are the people who understand the issues at stake and who voted for a Government who set out their proposals in their manifesto. That is what Labour Members never refer to—that these battles were the battles of 3 May, and that the issue was put to the test and decided on 3 May this year.
Closed shop agreements have had the kind of exemption that we are proposing 169 in the Bill for many years quite voluntarily and these proposals sort themselves out in practice. There is much less doubt in determining these cases in practice than there is in debating them generally. That is what industrial tribunals are for, and we intend to use them.
I come lastly to what has been said about the Bill's proposals for picketing. The extraordinary thing about this debate has been that the Opposition Benches have been littered with right hon. and hon. Members who have been knocked flat by the Aunt Sallies that they themselves have erected. The right hon. Member for Doncaster seemed to be surprised that we were not proposing in the Bill a criminal offence for picketing outside the provisions of the Bill. Of course we are not doing so. He cannot have read the Bill or the working papers. The criminal law is not being affected.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York) rose—
§ Mr. Mayhew
The criminal law is not being touched. The vital thing to remember about the Bill is not, as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Hogg)said, that it is putting trade union members in a special position in the law. They are in a special position
§ in the law already. This Bill is restoring to employers, and others who are harmfully affected by the consequences of people acting as pickets inducing breaches of contract, their common law rights that statute has taken away.
It is said that these are simply the distinctions of a lawyer removed from the realities of life. I am very sensitive to that kind of charge. But one thing a lawyer is allowed to do is to cite authority. I cite the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who said on 16 January this year that secondary picketing
is not designed to stop the blackleg from doing the job of the man on strike. It is intended to stop another worker from doing the job that he usually does. I hat is the distinction that I make as an ordinary citizen and not as a lawyer."—[official Report, 16 January 1979: Vol. 960, c. 1546.]
That is good enough for me. This is a Bill that is demanded by the country. It reflects the belief of the Government that there is injustice to be put right, and I commend it to the House.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 315, Noes 245.173
|Division No. 127]||AYES||[10 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Bruce-Gardyne, John||Dykes, Hugh|
|Alexander, Richard||Bryan, Sir Paul||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Alison, Michael||Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Buck, Antony||Eggar, Timothy|
|Ancram, Michael||Budgen, Nick||Elliott, Sir William|
|Arnold, Tom||Bulmer, Esmond||Emery, Peter|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Burden, F. A.||Eyre, Reginald|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston North)||Butcher, John||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Butler, Hon Adam||Fairgrieve, Russell|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Cadbury, Jocelyn||Faith, Mrs Sheila|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Farr, John|
|Bell, Ronald||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Fell, Anthony|
|Bendell, Vivian||Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Chalker, Mrs. Lynda||Finsberg, Geoffrey|
|Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)||Channon, Paul||Fisher, Sir Nigel|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Chapman, Sydney||Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)|
|Best, Keith||Churchill, W. S.||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Clark, Dr William (Croydon South)||Forman, Nigel|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Blackburn, John||Clegg, Walter||Fox, Marcus|
|Blaker, Peter||Cockeram, Eric||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)|
|Body, Richard||Colvin, Michael||Fraser, Peter (South Angus)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Cope,John||Fry, Peter|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Cormack, Patrick||Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Costain, A. P.||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Bowden, Andrew||Cranborne, Viscount||Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Critchley, Julian||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Crouch, David||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Bright, Graham||Dean,Paul (North Somerset)||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Brinton, Tim||Dickens, Geoffrey||Goodhew, Victor|
|Brittan, Leon||Dorrell, Stephen||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Gorst, John|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Dover, Denshore||Gow, Ian|
|Brotherton, Michael||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Durant, Tony||Gray, Hamish|
|Greenway, Harry||Marlow, Tony||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Marten, Neil (Banbury)||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Mates, Michael||Scott, Nicholas|
|Grist, Ian||Mather, Carol||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Grylls, Michael||Maude, Rt Hon Angus||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Mawby, Ray||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)||Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Mayhew, Patrick||Shersby, Michael|
|Hannam, John||Mellor, David||Silvester, Fred|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Sims, Roger|
|Hastings, Stephen||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Mills, Peter (West Devon)||Smith, Dudley (War, and Leam'ton)|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Miscampbell, Norman||Speller, Tony|
|Heath, Rt Hon Edward||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Spence, John|
|Heddle, John||Moate, Roger||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Henderson, Barry||Monro, Hector||Sproat, Iain|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Montgomery, Fergus||Squire, Robin|
|Hicks, Robert||Moore, John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)||Stanley, John|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)||Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Holland, Philip (Carlton)||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)|
|Hooson, Tom||Mudd, David||Stevens, Martin|
|Hordern, Peter||Murphy, Christopher||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Myles, David||Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)||Neale, Gerrard||Stokes, John|
|Howells, Geraint||Needham, Richard||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Nelson, Anthony||Tapsell, Peter|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Neubert, Michael||Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)|
|Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Newton, Tony||Tebbit, Norman|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Normanton, Tom||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Nott, Rt Hon John||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally||Thompson, Donald|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Osborn, John||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Page, John (Harrow, West)||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Parkinson, Cecil||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Parris, Matthew||Trippier, David|
|Kimball, Marcus||Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Trotter Neville|
|Kitson, Sir Timothy||Patten, John (Oxford)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Knox, David||Pattie, Geoffrey||Viggers, Peter|
|Lamont, Norman||Pawsey, James||Waddington, David|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Penhaligon, David||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Latham, Michael||Percival, Sir Ian||Wakeham, John|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Peyton, Rt Hon John||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Lawson, Nigel||Pink, R. Bonner||Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)|
|Lee, John||Pollock, Alexander||Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Porter, George||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Waller, Gary|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Walters, Dennis|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)||Prior, Rt Hon James||Ward, John|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Proctor, K. Harvey||Watson, John|
|Loveridge, John||Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Luce, Richard||Raison, Timothy||Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Rathbone, Tim||Wheeler, John|
|McAdden, Sir Stephen||Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|McCrindle, Robert||Renton, Tim||Whitney, Raymond|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Rhodes James, Robert||Wickenden, Keith|
|MacGregor, John||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Wiggin, Jerry|
|MacKay, John (Argyll)||Ridley, Hon Nicholas||Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)|
|Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Ridsdale, Julian||Winterton, Nicholas|
|McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)||Rifkind, Malcolm||Wolfson, Mark|
|McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Younger, Sir George (Acton)|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Madel, David||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Major, John||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and|
|Marland, Paul||Rost, Peter||Mr. Aothony Berry.|
|Abse, Leo||Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Campbell-Savours, Dale|
|Allaun, Frank||Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Canavan, Dennis|
|Anderson, Donald||Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)||Cant, R. B.|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Bradley, Tom||Carmichael, Neil|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest||Bray, Dr Jeremy||Carter-Jones, Lewis|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Cartwright, John|
|Ashton, Joe||Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Clark, David (South Shields)|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)||Cohen, Stanley|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Buchan, Norman||Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Conlan, Bernard|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Cook, Robin F.|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Campbell, Ian||Cowans, Harry|
|Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)|
|Crowther, J. S.||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Cryer, Bob||Janner, Hon Greville||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)|
|Cunningham, George (Islington S)||John, Brynmor||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Robertson, George|
|Dalyell, Tam||Johnson, Walter (Derby South)||Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)|
|Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Rowlands, Ted|
|Deakins, Eric||Kerr, Russell||Ryman, John|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Sandelson, Neville|
|Dempsey, James||Kinnock, Neil||Sever, John|
|Dewar, Donald||Lamble, David||Sheerman, Barry|
|Dixon, Donald||Lamborn, Harry||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)|
|Dobson, Frank||Lamond, James||Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)|
|Dormand, Jack||Leadbitter, Ted||Short, Mrs Renée|
|Douglas, Dick||Leighton, Ronald||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Silverman, Julius|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Litherland, Robert||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)||Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Snape, Peter|
|Eadie, Alex||Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)||Soley, Clive|
|Eastham, Ken||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Spearing, Nigel|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||McCartney, Hugh||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Stallard, A.W.|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||McElhone, Frank||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)|
|English, Michael||McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Stoddart, David|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||McKelvey, William||Stott, Roger|
|Evans, John (Newton)||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Straw, Jack|
|Ewing, Harry||Maclennan, Robert||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Field, Frank||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)|
|Fitch, Alan||McNally, Thomas||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Flannery, Martin||McWilliam, John||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)||Marks, Kenneth||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Ford, Ben||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Tinn, James|
|Forrester, John||Maxton, John||Torney Tom|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)||Meacher, Michael||Urwin, Rt Hn Tom|
|Freeson, RtHon Reginald||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Mikardo, Ian||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)|
|George, Bruce||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Watkins, David|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Mitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen)||Weetch, Ken|
|Ginsburg, David||Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Golding, John||Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)||Welsh, Michael|
|Gourlay, Harry||Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)||White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Moyle, Rt Hon Roland||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Newens, Stanley||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Whitlock, William|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Ogden, Eric||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||O'Halloran, Michael||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||O'Neill, Martin||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Haynes, Frank||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Palmer, Arthur||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Park, George||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)||Parker, John||Winnick, David|
|Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)||Parry, Robert||Woodall, Alec|
|Home Robertson, John||Pavitt, Laurie||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Homewood, William||Pendry, Tom||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hooley, Frank||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Young, David (Bolton East)|
|Horam, John||Prescott, John|
|Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Huckfield, Les||Race, Reg||Mr. George Morton and|
|Hudson Davies, Gwilym Ednyfed||Radice, Giles||Mr. Donald Coleman.|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)|
|Question accordingly agreed to.|
|Bill read a Second time.|
|Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).|