HC Deb 08 March 1979 vol 963 cc1538-622

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Thomas Cox.]

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you are well aware, this is a Supply day, when the Opposition have the right to choose the subject for debate. Under the rules of the House and the motion moved by the Prime Minister, this debate has to end at 10 o'clock. I draw your attention to the fact that nearly two hours have been taken from Opposition time. I ask you, in view of these circumstances, to consider whether it might be possible to extend the debate or have the debate on another occasion.

Mr. Speaker

It is not possible for me to extend the debate, although it is true that we are two hours late starting on the Supply day debate, or two and a half hours late if one counts business questions.

6 p.m.

Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)

With regard to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James), I hope that the Secretary of State for Employment will report to the Leader of the House that we have lost about two hours of valuable Opposition time during which we could have discussed the whole question of employment legislation. I should have thought that that was a matter which was of some interest to those hon Members who took part in the last debate, and that in turn they would wish to support us in having an additional half-day on Supply when we can discuss these and similar matters at perhaps greater length. I therefore hope that the Secretary of State will report the views of the Conservative Opposition to the Leader of the House.

Perhaps I can waste a little more time by telling the Secretary of State that we are pleased to see him in his place. We realise that he has been up nearly all night conducting delicate negotiations in relation to Times Newspapers Ltd. We congratulate him on the part that he has played in those negotiations. We hope that they come to a successful conclusion, and that The Times, and the other newspapers connected with it, reappear on 18 April as is at present envisaged.

This debate takes place against a pretty bad economic background. The economy is not increasing in relative efficiency. The rate of increase in unit labour costs is destroying our manufacturing potential. We are in for another bout of inflation. Unemployment is again starting to rise.

Nearly four years ago we had the Second Reading of the Employment Protection Bill, as it then was. At that time the Conservative Opposition moved a reasoned amendment, which stated: That this House, while recognising that parts of the Employment Protection Bill give legislative effect to good industrial practice, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which makes no attempt to establish a fair balance between the rights of management and unions, adds a heavy burden of cost without proper consideration of how it should be shared by employer, employee and State, and takes no account of the particular problems of small businesses. I should have thought that that was a pretty apt description today—four years later—of the effects of the Employment Protection Act on British industry. Of course, We must be careful that the Employment Protection Act is not turned into an Employment Destruction Act. If something is to be done for the pool of a million and a half unemployed, then small businesses are one of our best hopes. Those are not my words but the words of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when speaking at a conference at the end of 1977. I think it is indication of the changing mood within the Labour Party that nearly two weeks ago Labour Members were not prepared to attend and vote down the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls). That is an indication that their experience in their constituencies in the last year or so has convinced them that there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that the Employment Protection Act, in some of its aspects, has certainly damaged the opportunities of employment and has also done a great deal of damage to industrial confidence.

We are concerned with the direct effects of parts of that legislation on employment and labour costs.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)rose

Mr. Prior

Let me just get going for a bit, and then I shall give way. I know that the Daniels report, the PSI report—one tends to read into all these reports what one expects to read into them—has caused certain direct and indirect problems and that it has increased costs. We are concerned with the general effect of the sheer weight of legislation on industrial relations which this Government have passed, and which bears very heavily indeed on management.

Mr. Heffer

Is the right hon Gentleman aware that the main representation that I have had from small business in my constituency has been in relation to EEC regulations, which in a neighbouring constituency have led to the closure of one factory and the possibility of 30 people being laid off in my constituency? I have not had the type of representation about which the right hon. Gentleman was talking.

Mr. Prior

Perhaps they did not think it worth while to make these points to the hon. Gentleman. All I can tell him is that the evidence from the surveys, and the evidence from any meeting of business men to which one likes to go, is strongly that the weight of industrial legislation-be it the Employment Protection Act, the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, the Dock Work Regulation Act or the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act—have in the last four years had their impact on the willingness of small and large employers alike to take on additional labour. They have very much sapped the confidence of management.

Mr. Esmond Bulmer (Kidderminster)

I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware that the Merseyside chamber of commerce has drawn attention to the effect of the Employment Protection Act on small businesses. Perhaps the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) might like to have a word with it.

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend is quite correct. For a moment I had forgotten that the Merseyside Chamber of Commerce had undertaken a survey, which proved conclusively that the Employment Protection Act, among other things, was an important factor in the recruitment of additional labour, particularly young people. Therefore, I believe that the general case against the Government is now proved, in that in the aftermath of the rise in oil prices in 1973–74 they proceeded with grandiose schemes which might just have been possible in a thrusting, growth-orientated economic boom but which were totally misplaced in the circumstances of 1973, 1974 and 1975. I do not think that there can now be any doubt that all this legislation has had a debilitating effect on British industry.

Strangely enough, one does not hear this just from small businesses or managers. One also hears it from quite a few trade union leaders.

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Is he aware that the latest figures show that accidents at work have declined by 30 per cent., thereby saving a lot of misery to those at work and obviously helping the economy as well? Would he describe that as one of the debilitating measures that have been introduced by this Government?

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Of course he does.

Mr. Prior

I am always happy to welcome the fall in the number of accidents at work. But I do not think that that is necesarily a direct result of the legislation that has gone through this House. Thank heavens, there are many reasons why good industrial management is now leading to a decline in the number of accidents. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should not be too quick to assume that legislation passed in this House always has the result that he expects it to have.

I should like to quote from the Engineering Employers' Federation survey of November 1978, which states: One of the most frequent comments on employment legislation was that, in total, it represented a burden on management time to the extent that it diverted their attention from the vital functions of production and planning for expansion. ' Too much legislation for management to absorb ' was a common view. Some respondents suggested that they were unable to keep abreast of current employment law because of its sheer volume. I am sure that that statement would be endorsed up and down the country. Quite obviously, the Act is due for amendment.

I really cannot understand the priority which the Government at present give to their business.

We heard the Business Statements today and last week. The Government have hardly any business to put in front of the House at the moment. One would have thought that they could have put forward some reasonable, sensible, agreed amendments to the Employment Protection Act, which I shall outline to the Government and which would do a great deal to get further employment and industrial confidence back into our country.

Government supporters who believe that everything is all right in the best of all possible worlds have only to look at the economic performance of Britain in the past five years to feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

I turn to a number of individual items where some changes should be considered in the relevant Acts. It is tremendously important that ACAS continues and survives changes in Government. I want to see ACAS built up into a thoroughly independent conciliation and arbitration service. It has an essential rôle in conciliation and arbitration, although so far it has perhaps performed the conciliation rôle better than the arbitration rôle. It must be seen to be impartial and objective.

There is serious concern about the conduct of recognition inquiries which ACAS has carried out. Those parts of section 1 of the Employment Protection Act 1975 which set up ACAS and which went beyond promoting the improvement of industrial relations need to be reconsidered, as they are in some respects contradictory. In the recent case of the UKAPE recognition inquiry the UKAPE application was turned down on the grounds that it would not promote good industrial relations. Yet when it came to the court it was overturned on the basis that it would have encouraged the extension of collective bargaining. There is a need for a change to be made in the terms of reference of ACAS if it is to do the job which the Opposition believe it must do.

The Act poses great difficulties as to recognition. It has come under strong criticism from trade unionists and management. There are now some voices for the repeal of all the recognition procedures. Is it right that the law should opt out of recognition? Can the Minister tell us what review is going on? Certainly at the moment the sections of the Act dealing with recognition are not even-handed. The behaviour of ACAS on recognition issues has also not been seen to be even-handed, as the terms of reference do not allow that. That must be looked at again. Certainly, an incoming Conservative Government would do so.

I turn briefly to a matter that has concerned this House a great deal in recent years. It has to do with recognition. I refer to the attitude of the Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers, Engravers and Process Workers and the National Graphical Association. The disreputable tactics of SLADE over the past three or four years are a blot on the good name of trade unionism. Few people inside or outside the House have defended SLADE, and one would like to have seen the Government taking a far more forthright attitude towards SLADE than they have so far taken.

The Conservative Party has committed itself, on its return to Government, to set up an inquiry into the activities of SLADE. I hope that we shall get this inquiry under way within a short time of taking office.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I share the right hon. Gentleman's disquiet about SLADE and the union relationship. Some of our constituents have made approaches to us. I have been in correspondence with the general secretary of the TUC on the matter. There hovers over the matter the question of whether the trade union movement is being brought into disrepute as a result. No great faith will be placed in a Tory investigation. It seems to me to be more expressly a matter for the print group of the TUC which was set up to investigate it.

Mr. Prior

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman said. He has been more forthcoming than any other member on the Government Benches. I am grateful for what he said. However, it is not good enough to say that it is up to the TUC print industry committee. It has had its chance. It is plain that it will not take this opportunity to hold an inquiry. I understand that from both the committee and the TUC point of view it is difficult for them to do so. On the other hand, it is the duty of Government. I see no reason why it should not be a totally independent inquiry. I do not offer to make the hon. Gentleman a member of the inquiry team. However, if he keeps up his present form, perhaps he could go on to it.

An inquiry is necessary. The Government could and should have set it up. There are now two early-day motions on the Order Paper that would have enabled the Government to take some action had they sought to do so. At the moment SLADE and the NGA are engaged in seeking to black, through a series of letters, a firm called T. Bailey Forman Ltd. of Nottingham. It seems that the letters that have been sent round should be challenged in the courts. I suspect that the blacking is far too remote to be sustained under section 13 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. However, the point at issue today is not section 13 of that Act but the fact that blacking is taking place in furtherance of a recognition order.

Mr. Litterick

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The motion on the Order Paper before us, apart from the daily Adjournment motion, deals with the Employment Protection Act. The right hon. Gentleman has so far spent about half his time discussing other legislation. Is that in order? At this moment he is discussing other legislation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)

The right hon. Gentleman should be allowed to advance his argument in his own way.

Mr. Prior

Nothing that I said was in any way irrelevant to the Employment Protection Act.

I was about to say that the blacking, which is supposedly protected by section 13 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, is in furtherance of a recognition issue which is already in front of ACAS. Of course, it is very much bound up with the Employment Protection Act. It is totally unacceptable to the Opposition that a union should use blacking tactics, with the immunities conferred on it, until the recognition has been properly tested. That has not yet happened.

In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern), the Minister of State, Department of Employment, said: It was the awareness of the need to provide more satisfactory ways of resolving recognition disputes which led the Government to introduce the recognition provisions of the Employment Protection Act. I understand from ACAS that one of the unions concerned in the dispute at T. Bailey Forman Ltd., is, in fact, pursuing a formal reference under section 11 of the Employment Protection Act.' It is absolutely inexcusable for a union to take this kind of action until it has gone through the procedures that are laid down in the Employment Protection Act for it to gain recognition. I make it plain that the Opposition condemn the action of SLADE and the NGA in this respect very strongly indeed.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)

Would the right hon. Gentleman equally condemn an employer who prevents ACAS from pursuing a section 11 reference so as to deal with the problem?

Mr. Prior

I do not need any reminder about Grunwick. I stood out the whole way through for employers co-operating in ACAS inquiries. Since we have ACAS and recognition procedures, I believe that each side should co-operate in them. As I have already pointed out, it is the terms of reference to ACAS which have made ACAS lose so much confidence among employers, who are concerned whether they will get a fair hearing. We have to take that point into consideration.

Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, Northwest)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prior

No. The hon. Gentleman has had one go already this afternoon and I think that that is enough.

I do not believe that this dispute has anything to do with working conditions or pay. It is merely an attempt by SLADE again, as in so many other cases, to get additional membership and to protect its membership. I do not believe that the way in which it is acting can in any way be regarded as legitimate trade union activity.

I believe that schedule 11 to the Employment Protection Act 1975 has been used and is being used for totally different purposes from those for which it was set up. In Committee on the Employment Protection Bill I said: It is damaging from the point of view of inflation; it is damaging from the point of view of collective bargaining; it could lead to leapfrogging in industry in an area; it is detrimental to the whole employment prospects of people whom all of us in this Committee would wish to support."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 10 July 1975; col. 1308.] Everything that has happened in regard to the use of schedule 11 from that time onwards has proved that view to be correct.

The Secretary of State for Employment said time and again, in Committee and on the Floor of the House, that this was a provision which was to deal with the low paid. In actual fact, the people who have used schedule 11 have not been the low paid. There have been very few examples of the low paid being able to use schedule 11. It has been used almost entirely by white-collar unions and craft unions, particularly the Associated Society of Technical and Managerial Staff and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (Technical and Supervisory Staff). It has been used to obtain increases in pay which have upset almost every other aspect of collective bargaining, all other arrangements concerning differentials, and so on.

I was told recently that the cost to British Shipbuilders—which was governed last year by the Government pay policy—of schedule 11 claims alone was over £20 million. In many cases in the last year or so, schedule 11 has been used for collusive purposes, where an employer has wanted to pay his people extra and has been prohibited from doing so by Government pay policy, and has therefore encouraged his employees to take a case to the Central Arbitration Committee in order to make a schedule 11 claim. The reputation of the CAC, and the manner in which schedule 11 has operated, have been brought into disrepute by the way in which the CAC dealt so dramatically with the claims of the BBC employees just before Christmas.

I believe that schedule 11, therefore, needs to be examined. It should be taken off the statute book altogether. The sooner that happens, the better it will be. I offer that advice to the Government.

I turn now to the question of industrial tribunals. Although I think there has been some improvement since we debated industrial tribunals in this House, I must remind Labour Members that, when at that time we said that everything was not right with industrial tribunals, we were accused immediately of wishing to undermine the whole principle of industrial tribunals. But a little later the Government made some of the changes which we had suggested were necessary. I do not want any Labour Members today to try to pin on us the allegation that we are against the whole principal of industrial tribunals, because we are not. We want to see some improvements and we want to avoid much of the unnecessary work and legal costs which at the moment are involved in many industrial tribunal cases.

I believe that the six-months rule relating to unfair dismissal ought to be changed to 52 weeks. That was the view taken by the Government when the matter was debated in Committee. All experience since then has suggested that six months is too short a time and that it ought to be changed to 52 weeks.

There has been a considerable change in the matter of burden of proof as between the Industrial Relations Act 1971 and the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974. This again requires to be examined.

I turn to another side of the unfair dismissal argument. In this respect I want to deal with section 58 of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) will have more to say about this when he replies, but I should like to deal with the unfair dismissal provisions which are at the moment included in the closed shop legislation. There are two definite changes in the law that we believe ought to be made.

The first is where a worker is expelled or excluded from a union and at the moment has no recourse to an independent court of law but has recourse only to the independent review committee of the Trades Union Congress. That is not good enough. We have always said that it is not good enough. If we wanted proof of this, we have had it from the recent lorry drivers' strike. A considerable number of lorry drivers, who were not concerned directly with the strike in any way, were warned that if they went through the picket line the local branch of the Transport and General Workers' Union would make certain that their cards were torn up. They knew that if they lost their cards they would lose their jobs. It is not good enough that this matter should be dealt with by the TUC committee alone. It needs to have the backing of the law, and we should certainly wish to make that change.

We also want to bring to an end the position in which, when a closed shop is introduced, it is fair to dismiss someone for refusing to join a union although that person may have been in the employment of the company for a number of years. The best example of this is the one that is always given by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). Some railwaymen employed by British Rail—many of them had been so employed for a long time—lost their jobs simply because they were not prepared to join the union. That is not a tolerable position and it is one that we shall seek to put right by legislation.

Although it does not go far enough, the concordat goes some way to support this view, for on page 18 it is stated that The General Council advise that unions should adopt approaches which place the main emphasis on unions themselves persuading workers on the benefits of trade union membership. If that is the view of the TUC, there can be very little objection to underwriting what it wishes to see by means of changes in the law on the lines that I have suggested. I believe that those changes will need to be made. If the Government wish to make them now we shall give them our support.

A matter which has received much attention during the recent lorry drivers' strike and the other strikes this winter is that of guaranteed payments. Several of my hon. Friends have had letters from firms which have made these guaranteed payments, although they were under the impression previously that they would not have to pay out as their employees were put out of work as a result of a trade dispute. These cases depend on how closely the trade dispute can be associated or linked with the firm in question. That is what governs whether the payments have to be made. For a number of firms, in particular those in the textile and footware industries, a considerable number of complaints have been made to us about the way in which these guaranteed payments are operating.

Mr. Heffer

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that his party has decided to repeal schedule 11? If he is, it is most important. There were so many different wage rates throughout the country and so many conflicting arguments about comparability that British Shipbuilders, for example, came to the conclusion that there should be a national agreement covering shipbuilding workers throughout the country. We in the shipbuilding industry have been arguing for that for a long time. The repeal of schedule 11 would not help towards better industrial relations. It would do the opposite and lead to conflict where conflict could be avoided.

Mr. Prior

The establishment of a universal rate for wage claims—it could be called a parity—among shipyards, as was put into effect at British Shipbuilders, has nothing to do with schedule 11.

The purpose of schedule 11 was perfectly clear. It was to help the low paid to obtain higher wages as a result of being compared to the average for those types of workers in that particular area. The effect of schedule 11 has been totally different. It has been used chiefly by unions such as TASS and ASTMS to obtain increases for those who, by no stretch of the imagination, come into the low-paid category. I could cite cases where those increases have in turn created anomalies in another part of a firm which in turn has become subject to schedule 11. This must be examined.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) asked whether I am making firm commitments. The answer is "No". I am saying that these are the measures which we believe should be amended by the Government. I do not know whether the Government have had consultations on these matters, but there should be consultations. When we are returned to office we shall consult on these matters, because those changes need to be made.

The Government have never sought the common ground in any of this legislation. Their consultations have almost always been one-sided. They have consulted the TUC but have not always consulted the CBI or other interested groups. If they had done so they could not have gone through with much of this legislation.

Management has been demoralised. Efficiency, productivity and the will to produce has been sapped. The proposals that we put forward—the basis of the Conservative Party's approach over the last five years—seek to create an even-handedness in industrial relations. We believe that the balance in bargaining power is now tilted too much one way. From time to time Governments have had to resort to the imposition of a statutory incomes policy because they have not been able to keep the right balance in any other way. That is why our proposals would do more to enable responsible and real collective bargaining to take place, free from Government interference.

Each day that this Parliament remains is a wasted day for the nation, unless we can tackle some of these issues. It is not good enough for Britain that time and again when the Opposition put forward views on the Employment Protection Act, on trade union legislation or industrial relations legislation—in a spirit of compromise and of even-handedness—they are rejected by the Government.

The Government know only too well that their policies over the last five years have resulted in high unemployment, a stagnant economy, and a far less competitive position in British industry than we have had for many years. Labour costs are going up by leaps and bounds at a time when nearly all our competitors are controlling theirs more effectively.

Mr. Litterick

They are the lowest labour costs in Europe.

Mr. Prior

Labour costs in Britain are rising at a far higher and sustained rate than they are in Europe, simply because our productivity has been so low. Our approach is not only to make amendments and changes in the Employment Protection Act and the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act but to switch the balance of taxation so that it bears less on those who work, so that people who earn can keep more of their cash in their pockets. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) will find that in his constituency if he ever asks about it.

That is the policy that we shall pursue and it is on that basis, and because we have no confidence that the Government have in any way thought this through over the last few years, that we shall vote against them tonight.

6.36 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)

I thank the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) for his kind remarks concerning my part in seeking to resolve the dispute at The Times. Having said that, I am sorry that I must take a totally different attitude to almost everything else that he said in opening the debate. If he believes that we are going to solve the problems of economic performance, wage levels and industrial relations by taking away from individual or organised workers the rights that have been established under the Employment Protection Act, I think that he has identified a fundamental difference between the attitude of the Opposition, which he reflects, and the attitude of the Government side of the House.

I make no complaint that the right hon. Member linked to the subject of the debate certain aspects of industrial relations legislation, because there is a relationship. During the last decade we have had a series of debates in which we have moved from an argument that used to be posed on the question whether there is any role for the law in industrial relations to an argument that seeks to establish what is the proper role of the law in this area. That is an important change in attitude, which has developed over a long period. It has been reflected in the attitudes of many hon. Members. That change of attitude was shown by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who spoke on the 1971 Industrial Relations Act from his experience as an ex-Minister of Labour. He said that his attitude had changed at that time.

We should examine the role of employment protection legislation from a number of angles, including the industrial relations angle and the way that that is affected by employment protection questions. I believe that when the industrial Relations Act 1971 was put on the statute book it was put there by people who really did believe that one could, by introducing a carefully, legally regulated system of industrial relations, produce an improvement in industrial relations performance. I disagreed with them fundamentally.

Nobody will be able to prove conclusively to somebody who takes another view that the fact that there were twice as many industrial dispute days lost per month under the Conservative Government than there were under a Labour Government was entirely due to the different attitudes to industrial relations legislation, but at least, as reasonably objective people, we can accept that nobody has proved that that type of legislation drastically reduces the number of disputes. The evidence is against that.

I am not claiming that our level of disputes is entirely due to the Employment Protection Act and the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act; it is affected by a number of other matters, just as the disputes between 1972 and 1974 were affected by matters other than industrial relations legislation.

In the light of that experience we can now debate in an informed way the right balance that must be struck between those aspects that we should seek to regulate, those rights that should be protected by legislation and those rights that should be left to be determined by individuals when seeking contracts, and those rights which should be subject to free collective bargaining—or voluntary collective bargaining, which is a more acceptable phrase at this time.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one feature of the 1971 Act that clouds the thinking of many trade unionists today about the horror of a future Tory Government is that there is a total absence of give and take? The Tory Government would not accept any amendments, no matter how constructive, and argued hour after hour.

Mr. Booth

I hope that we can be a little more loving and forgiving than to go down that road. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft made an appeal that when an approach was made suggesting balance and compromise we should examine our legislation to see whether it needed altering. It is proper for us to respond to that. It would be unkind and ungenerous to say that because the Conservative Government would not entertain any amendments to their Industrial Relations Act we are not prepared to entertain an amendment to our legislation. I would not dream of suggesting such a thing to my hon. Friends.

We should acknowledge that we have not produced the perfect instrument. There are difficulties in operating the Employment Protection Act which we should examine. We should acknowledge that it might be capable of improvement. In the legislation that we have introduced since 1974 we have tried to build upon the system of industrial relations, as suggested by Donovan. Our legislation has been more in keeping with the spirit of Donovan than was that of the Conservative Government.

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft criticised ACAS. He said that it found it impossible to act impartially, at least in certain circumstances. The right hon. Member referred to the way in which ACAS has handled the matter of recognition.

I am still convinced, having examined the successes and difficulties of the three institutions—ACAS, the Central Arbitration Committee and the Employment Appeal Tribunal—that they have proved beyond doubt that one can make a contribution towards improving industrial relations by setting up such machinery and by enabling employers and trade unions and individual employees to take their grievances, difficulties and complaints to an appropriate body to be resolved. I take that view, not because I think that the difficulties will be resolved in each case. I do not think that we can set up machinery that will solve all these problems.

However, we have created machinery which is operated in the best traditions of British justice and sensitivity for collective bargaining which have sorted out a whole series of problems which would have cost industry time and which would have had a detrimental impact on our economy at a time when we could ill afford it.

ACAS is now handling 3,000 conciliation cases a year. That is nearly three times as many as were handled by the Department of Employment before ACAS was set up. In the majority of cases ACAS is successful. Cases are referred to ACAS by employers, by trade unions and by trade unions and employers jointly. That proves that trade unions and employers put trust in ACAS for its impartiality and competence. The House should pay a tribute to ACAS in a debate such as this.

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft reserved special and detailed criticism for the subject of recognition. I do not claim that every trade union and employer has abided completely by the spirit of the part of the legislation which deals with recognition. Far from it. The right hon. Member cited trade unions. It would not be difficult for me to cite employers who have not abided by the spirit of the legislation, but that argument does not take us far. It does not tell us whether the recognition provisions should be scrapped, altered or improved.

We must accept that the recognition provisions have enabled recognition to be obtained in hundreds of firms without a day being lost in a dispute. A whole series of references have been successful. I agree with the right hon. Member that the conciliation part of the exercise of recognition has been dealt with effectively by ACAS, but the final stage in the recognition process has caused difficulties.

There have been trade unions and certainly employers who have not abided by the spirit of the legislation and who have refused to co-operate with ACAS. Those refusals have in many cases led to legal appeals against ACAS and the way in which it performs its role. This is holding up part of its recognition work. I regret that.

I do not say that that is because courts are anything other than impartial. It just shows that when they are put before the courts a view is taken of certain matters which does not accord with the view of industrial relations practitioners who are equally sincere, fair and impartial and who man ACAS. It does not help to suggest that ACAS has been anything other than impartial and thorough in handling recognition claims.

Again, this is something that one will never be able to prove. One can only examine the facts and draw certain conclusions. The facts are that recognition resulted in 49 per cent. of the 1,142 references with which ACAS had dealt up to the beginning of 1979; full recognition resulted in 38 per cent. of the cases; and 11 per cent. of the cases resulted in partial recognition. I suggest that those figures are not incompatible with my contention that ACAS has done its job impartially. It certainly has not awarded to 99 per cent. of the applicants the recognition that they sought. It has not awarded full recognition to everyone who has sought full recognition.

I believe that ACAS has done its job impartially and thoroughly. The courts took a different view from that which the ACAS council took of its duty, especially on the question of the way in which it should test the opinion of the workers. In the Grunwick case there was an attempt to use the recognition provision in an area that we had not carefully considered in the House. Here I express personal regret. I admit to my share of the blame. I may not have given sufficient care to the drafting of that section and its purpose when I laid it before the House. I did not envisage its being used where people were on strike and out on a picket line before they advanced their recognition claim. Used in that way, that section of the Act failed to secure a recognition decision that was acceptable to or workable by the parties.

Having admitted all that, I put it to the House: can anyone think of an instrument that would have solved the Grunwick recognition issue, given the attitudes that developed and the pressures that built up? We are asking more than it is reasonable to ask from legislation if we expect to produce a recognition system which will guarantee that every recognition claim advanced can be handled without in some cases bringing about dissatisfaction or without avoiding in every case an industrial dispute.

It is notable—I hope there will be no dissent from this proposition—that there is a series of important collective and individual rights contained in the Employment Protection Act which the right hon. Member for Lowestoft has not mentioned. I suggest that he has not mentioned them because they are working very effectively and making a useful and important contribution to good industrial relations and good employment standards. I mention briefly the redundancy notification and consultation provisions which are working extremely well, establishing a fundamental right for those who organise workers in firms to be consulted before a mass redundancy takes place. I believe that those provisions, together with the temporary employment subsidy and the redundancy payments provisions passed by the House, have probably reduced the social problems that would otherwise have existed and avoided a series of disputes that would otherwise have occurred.

Schedule 11 has been the subject of criticism by the right hon. Gentleman. It has been in operation for less than three years, but it is built upon a proposition that the House has considered not only over the past 10 years but almost over the past century. It is based upon the principle of the fair wages resolution, which was first carried in the House in 1891. It follows and builds upon section 8 of the Terms and Conditions of Employment Act, which was introduced by a Conservative Government.

Mr. Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)

It is an extension.

Mr. Booth

I agree that it is an extension. We are talking about an extension, not about whether we should wipe out the principle from our practices. We are here to debate whether, in the way in which it has been adapted, we have eased problems of industrial relations and contributed to the raising of employment standards. I tend to agree with the point made in an intervention that if there had not been a schedule 11 there would not have been as rapid a solution of the wages problems of British Shipbuilders or, alternatively, those problems would have been resolved only in a series of bitter disputes.

When I examined the claim of the Swan Hunter workers I saw how their wages compared with those of other workers practising the same skills and building the same kind of ships in other parts of the country. If schedule 11 had not been there that claim would have had to be dealt with in another way. That schedule enabled it to be dealt with in a way that avoided disputes, and considerable patience and understanding was shown by many who were involved in it.

The criticism that is advanced against schedule 11 in part is that it has not dealt only with low pay problems. I urge those making that criticism to take notice of part II as well as part I of schedule 11, because the criticism is always advanced against part I, and not against part II, that it has been drawn too tightly and has not been able to deal with some of the problems that we envisaged when we brought it before the House.

The fact is that schedule 11, part 1, has helped low-paid people. Of the awards made under part I, 20 per cent. have been to people who have successfully claimed that they were being paid less than the minimum amount they should have received under the appropriate national or district agreement. The main thrust of schedule 11 is towards relative low pay—relative in industrial terms. It allows comparisons to be made with general levels. Its purpose is to deal with the glaring anomalies that arise when people are paid very different rates for doing the same job in the same industry.

There are several important individual rights in the Employment Protection Act. Adverse criticism has been made today of the unfair dismissal legislation. I speak not as an impartial person. I can never be totally impartial about unfair dismissal because I am probably one of the few people in the House to have been reinstated in a job as a result of a strike by fellow trade unionists who believed that I had been dismissed because of trade union activity. That has had a permanent effect upon my thinking about the issue of unfair dismissal and it has caused me to believe that it is far better for unions, instead of using their collective bargaining strength to resolve questions of unfair dismissal, to put those issues before independent tribunals. That is particularly true of small firms.

That is one reason—not my basic reason—why I am opposed to strong distinctions between large and small firms. When the issue arises of whether one employee in a small firm has been treated unfairly by the employer, it is difficult within the context of normal collective bargaining and union representation to ensure that that matter can be resolved in a way that will not lead to a serious industrial dispute. If one has to make up one's mind, as a fellow trade unionist, whether to vote for the withdrawal of labour in the event of a problem not being resolved in direct negotiations with the employer that, too, is a difficult issue.

I believe that our employment protection in respect of unfair dismissal is no greater than that which generally applies in Western European countries. We have even been a bit slow to provide employment protection in this area compared with Scandinavian and Western European countries. In France, Italy, Belgium, Holland and Sweden there is no minimum qualifying period. As soon as a person becomes an employee he has the protection of his country's unfair dismissal legislation.

In Italy and Norway the remedy for unfair dismissal is reinstatement plus compensation. That is a different approach, but the inherent reasonableness, if I may put it that way, of the proposition that one must have an appeal against loss of livelihood, if that should come about because of an unjust or unfair action, is one that is now undeniable. It is a generally accepted right. If the Opposition do not accept that—

Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)

We introduced it in the 1971 Act.

Mr. Booth

In the 1971 Act, the Conservative Government, in proposing unfair dismissal rights to this House, drew a clear distinction between those employed in small firms and those in large firms. In fact, those employees who worked in firms with no more than four employees were not covered by that legislation, irrespective of whether they had worked for that firm for one, two or 20 years. No cover was provided for them by the 1971 Act.

I am talking about principles. I believe that there is an inherent reasonableness in the principle that the question whether somebody is to lose his livelihood as a result of an unfair action should be able to be tested by an impartial body. That is an indivisible principle. It is not something that one can say exists only according to the size of the firm or organisation in which the person works. Therefore, I believe that much of the criticism against this part of the legislation has been seriously misdirected.

I know that some of the criticisms of the legislation do not attack that principle. I accept that. Some of the criticisms are about the length of time that it takes to operate—the time taken at the hearings. On average, about three-quarters of all hearings are completed in one day. It takes that long to deal with a case. However, good industrial management often takes time when dealing with the problems of individuals.

There have been complaints that the cost of going to the tribunal is high. Sometimes the cost is high because lawyers are employed to deal with unfair dismissal cases where they need not be employed. If I might use an argument that is more likely to appeal to Opposition Members than to my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have found that there are a number of insurance companies that are now prepared to insure firms against the cost of an industrial tribunal. Those insurance firms charge £8 per employee.

Those firms are on to a good thing, because when we examine the likelihood or incidence of adverse tribunal awards against small firms we find that there is about a 1,000 to one chance against a small firm facing an adverse award in any one year. However, the chance is there, and I do not doubt that the insurance assessors who advise the companies to offer the premiums are not advising them to go into it as a social service to small firms, or in order to make a loss, but to ensure that their own profits are not gravely diminished.

I do not think that the criticism of bias on the part of tribunals can be sustained—far from it. I do not rejoice in the figures, but the results do not square with the criticism. Two-thirds of tribunal decisions are in favour of employers and only one-third in favour of employees. Therefore, we can hardly say that that squares with the suggestion that the Employment Protection Act is in some way biased against employers. On the contrary, the way that it works demonstrates that it is remarkably fair, even-handed and impartial.

Another myth that is perpetuated about unfair dismissal is that the case load has increased. That is not so. The case load is diminishing, because 1,000 fewer cases have reached industrial tribunals in the past year.

Another criticism concerns the level of awards. It is said that the awards made are far too high. The truth is that two-thirds of industrial tribunal awards are under £400. We can judge for ourselves whether £400 is too high or too low. In some of those cases where the awards are much higher—and there are such cases—we find that the person concerned has had good long service as an employee and has been unfairly dismissed in circumstances where he is most unlikely to be able to get another job. In those circumstances we have to consider whether the higher award is unreasonable, unfair or an indication of bias. I suggest to the House that it is none of those things.

Mr. Madden

I am sure that the House will agree that my right hon. Friend is making a devastating case for maintaining the present legislation. Does he agree that to extend the probationary period from six months to a year, which the Opposition are advocating, would be a major reduction in what many of us regard as the minimal rights that now exist?

Mr. Booth

It would be a substantial reduction in the cover provided by the Act. We are living in a period in which, surprisingly, there is tremendous mobility of labour. A tremendous number of job changes are taking place, even during a period of high unemployment. My Department recorded approximately 4 million job changes last year, and I believe that our statistics cover only about half the total number of job changes. If we take into account the increasing number of persons entering employment, an extension of the qualifying period would mean a considerable reduction of the effective cover of that provision.

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft gave a textbook exposition of the fact that by having a higher standard of employment protection one deters employers from employing and therefore that increases unemployment. That is a gross exaggeration when examined against what actually happens. The Conservative Party's small business bureau asked a slanted question and received a slanted answer. That hardly seems to be effective evidence. The two Government surveys carried out by independent bodies showed that only a small proportion of firms find legislation a major difficulty. In the survey that the Government conducted only a small percentage of firms indicated that they were having difficulty.

It is interesting to notice that when the British Institute of Management wrote to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lowestoft at the same time as it wrote to me, it did not indicate that it was having difficulty with the great burden of legislation that had been laid upon it. It said that it was coping well and that the majority of managers had come to terms with it and that it did not want to see basic changes made in the unfair dismissal provisions. That is the view of the institute.

Mr. Hayhoe

The right hon. Gentleman's own survey—the one issued on 17 August—has a number of figures in it, and the one that shows the most substantial effect is contained in the phrase: 71 out of the 301—24 per cent.—said that they would have taken on more employees but for the legislation. I accept straight away that there are other aspects of the survey that indicate that a smaller percentage objected to particular features, but at least one part of the Government's own survey indicated that roughly one quarter of the firms said that they would have employed more people but for this legislation.

Mr. Booth

It is part of the argument of the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) that the legislation is especially a problem for small firms. The results of the Opinion Research Centre survey, which I issued in a press notice from my Department, showed that only 2 per cent. of employers with fewer than 50 employees named employment legislation when they were asked to identify the main difficulties that they were facing in running their business. Only 7 per cent. mentioned it when they were specifically asked whether Government measures had caused difficulties. These are small employers, if one takes 50 as a definition. When asked what I suggest is the loaded or slanted question whether a firm would take on more or fewer employees if it were not brought within the legislation, the answer was more. The Government commissioned a survey. I am not trying to claim or deny authorship of it. It was relevant. It was helpful to have such a survey and to have the figures considered. It is far better that the figures be available that emerged from the Government's survey than those of the Conservative Party survey for the purpose of discussion by the House.

Mr. Bulmer

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the survey conducted by the EEF, which revealed that the smaller the company the greater the impact of employment protection legislation, especially the unfair dismissal provisions? It revealed that 70 per cent. of companies employing fewer than 50 employees rated the unfair dismissal provisions as the most important factor in their not taking on more employees. The sample was based on 260 companies.

Mr. Booth

I recognise that if one is running a small firm one is less likely to have access to the expertise and advice on how to deal with current legislation that is available to larger firms. It does not help if Opposition Members encourage the idea that the Labour Government have laid a great and terrible burden upon small businesses that is dis-proprotionate to anything that operates elsewhere. That is not so.

If we consider employment protection legislation in European countries generally, we find that we do not have more of it in the United Kingdom. Certain comparisons show that we have less of it. It is an insult to British management to suggest that it cannot cope with the present volume of employment protection legislation when managements in other European countries are able to cope. In other European countries there are as many small and successful firms as in the United Kingdom, if not more. That is what we find in Western Germany. I encourage small firms. I am glad that my Department is operating the small firms employment subsidy. The subsidy is assisting employers to expand their firms. I am glad that we are undertaking detailed work in issuing guidance that helps small firms to familiarise themselves with the legislation that we have introduced.

The caricature that is drawn by those who are engaged in the political campaign against employment protection legislation is made even more grotesque by the suggestion that an employer may not dismiss an employee. It is suggested that a small employer cannot dismiss a member of his work force. An employer on a small scale in my constituency, a farmer, said that he would be asked more questions if he sacked somebody than if he shot them. That was the attitude that had lodged in his mind about our employment legislation.

It is necessary for me to state what is so obvious to anyone who reads the Act—namely, that it is permissible to dismiss an employee under current legislation. It is permissible to dismiss for misconduct, incompetence or on grounds of redundancy provided that an employer acts in a reasonable manner. That is the aim behind the unfair dismissal provisions.

The debate has been curtailed and I shall not deal with all the rights that have been provided by employment protection legislation, many of which have been highly successful. I think of maternity rights. They have removed worry from some women in pregnancy that they will lose their jobs. That worry caused some of them to stay at work too long and some to return too early, to the detriment of their health and that of their children I have in mind the guarantee provisions and the time-off-work provisions, which have enabled a much wider social strata to sit on magistrates' benches and councils. I shall not go into these rights in detail.

The real choice before us as members of a modern legislature is not between having the rights to which I have referred and establishing more or not having them at all, but whether we establish these rights in law or whether working people fight for them through their collective strength. There are some rights that are better enshrined in law than fought for through collective bargaining strength. I say that as a lifelong trade unionist.

I accept that our employment protection legislation has its faults. We have run into difficulties with some parts of it. The Government as a whole are willing to examine criticism. We are willing to consider whether there are ways in which legislation may be improved and defects removed.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

It interest me greatly to hear the right hon. Gentleman repeat that there are imperfections in the employment protection legislation. Why does he not come forward with some proposals to rectify those imperfections? We have debated these matters on a number of occasions. Private Members' Bills have been introduced. Various representations have been made to the right hon. Gentleman. Why does he not come forward with proposals? If he is saying that he is willing to do so, when will he do so?

Mr. Booth

One of the reasons why I am not bringing forward certain proposals is that I think that I could not get them through the House given the present attitude of the Opposition. On the contrary, any proposals that the Government were to introduce in the form of a Bill might be amended so that they would have an effect contrary to that which was intended originally. That is why some measures have not been brought forward. A useful guide is to take into account what happens to Private Members' Bills that address themselves exactly to the issues that we are discussing.

The Government's employment protection legislation is a major step forward. That applies to establishing good employment standards and to improving industrial relations. I am still not totally clear about the nature of the Opposition's policy. However, more of it has been revealed today. I previously regarded the right hon. Member for Lowestoft as a man who wished to proceed by taking careful account of the real problems of trade unionists and listening to the TUC and the CBI. However, it appears that the Leader of the Opposition wants to make sweeping legal changes. It seems that the right hon. Lady seeks to pile proposal on proposal. An Opposition policy is emerging that resembles more a Heath Robinson cartoon than a blueprint for good industrial relations. It is a policy that at best is irrelevent to our problems and at worst could lead to chaos in industrial relations.

The Government's approach avoids excessive legalism. It recognises that the law can establish some worthwhile basic rights but that it cannot of itself command good industrial relation practice if it is not operated by a broad degree of consent. That approach lay behind the recent Government-TUC statement. No doubt there will be some who will not heed the guidance that the TUC is issuing. The law alone will not provide solutions the problems. The best chance of progress lies in establishing a common concept of good practice resting on a foundation of basic rights, and in that foundation employment protection legislation must play a major part.

7.18 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The Secretary of State has given us a detailed statement of the benefits of the employment protection legislation and its workings. To a great extent his speech was disappointing. He admitted that there are defects in the working of the legislation, but he produced no suggestions for reforms or improvement.

I begin by making a rather general remark. Is it not vital to the United Kingdom that businesses outside the public sector should be brave in development, should have enterprise for taking risks and should be prepared to go into risk business even if there is an element of speculation in it? If the United Kingdom is to keep afloat economically, is not that what we should be encouraging? When I employ that high-level and even moral argument in talking to my constituents and I ask them why they do not take more risks and branch out into new business, they ask rhetorically what will happen if they do so. They say "What will happen if I take on a new contract for exports? What will happen if I lake on a contract for a building and I employ 200 or 300 more employees than I normally employ?"

Mr. Litterick

If they do so, the Government will give them a grant.

Mr. Page

Not all firms can rely on that. Many of them do not want to take Government grants. When the contract comes to an end they may not be lucky enough to obtain a similar contract. If they have to retain the extra 200 or 300 employees, they may go bust. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) will allow me to make my speech without sedentary interruptions. We listened very patiently to the Secretary of State's speech. The hon. Gentleman has sat there making interruptions from a sedentary position almost all the afternoon except during the speech of his right hon. Friend.

Mr. Litterickrose

Mr. Page

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. I think there has been enough talk about irrelevant matters.

Mr. Page

I was speaking from the employer's point of view, where he takes a risk, goes into new contracts and takes on many more employees. On the employees' side there is some reluctance to take employment with what one may call the go-ahead business men in commerce and industry because they may go ahead too fast and be put in reverse and may then have to disemploy many of their employees. The workings of the Employment Protection Act and the redundancy system do not solve this problem at all. That legislation does not solve the position for the man who really wishes to develop. The employer's fear of the commitments that he may be taking, both under the Employment Protection Act and under the redundancy system, really works against employment, in that the employer then in order to escape those commitments employs his men for periods less than the qualification period. The employees, even if they may be fully employed in that particular industry, may be spread over a number of employers and thereby fail to qualify for the benefits of redundancy or the unfair dismissal procedure. The system results in a certain casualisation of labour.

I fully appreciate that the law relating to dismissal required reform, and I accept the substance of the Employment Protection Act where it reformed the law relating to the termination of employment; but I would like to see the need for it applied only in a small area; and for the rest we should be trying to remedy the casualisation of labour. It seems to me that the present system promotes rather than cures casualisation, short-term employment. I was first introduced to decasualisation some 20 or 25 years ago on the docks. Early in the morning I used to go down to the pens on the docks. I dare say hon. and right hon. Members know what they were like. The place was rather like a church hall with place was rather like a church hall with.

The stevedores stood at one end, and in the cages were men belonging to the different trades on the docks—above deck, below deck, and so on. When the name of a ship was called out, the stevedores would walk down the middle of the church hall and if that ship happened to have some extra money about it, dirt money or danger money, the men in the pens would be holding up their cards. If it had no such fringe benefits those in the pens would be back against the wall with their cards behind their backs and the stevedore would go into the pen and touch the number he wanted on the shoulders. I was horrified when I first went into those buildings. It is a long time ago now since I was first introduced to this system. When I talk about de-casualisation of labour I do not mean that kind of system. Of course, it has been improved and humanised since then.

I believe that the real solution to our present problems is decasualisation. If we take any one industry, whether building, light engineering or something of that kind, is it not possible to recognise the principle that the men in that industry are employed by the industry and not by the individual employers? There should be a register of the employees within any one industry, providing that one can separate and isolate it as an industry, whether it be construction or some other industry of that kind. There should be a permanent employment of those men in that industry by means of a manpower register which could be operated by the Department of Employment, so that there was always fall-back pay and men in that industry should not be out of employment. I am applying, one might say, the decasualisation of dock labour system right throughout other industries. I really see no reason why we should not be concentrating on that rather than on this difficult position of the Employment Protection Act dealing with individuals.

Mr. Heffer

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the proposal he is making is precisely the proposal which the Labour Party put forward in its document on construction? It is absolutely marvellous to hear that the right hon. Gentleman accepts our point of view on this. I do not want to embarrass him, but it really is the same proposal.

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman does not embarrass me. I am perfectly well aware that it has been put forward, particularly by the TUC and it may have been taken up in his party; but we ought to be progressing towards this, rather than on this rather fiddling business of the Employment Protection Act, protecting one individual who has been sacked, and so on, with all the problems that arise out of the Act. In a debate like this I cannot develop the matter in detail, but the fall-back pay would be based on unemployment benefit plus a contribution from employers. The system is not unknown. It is applied already in the management of holiday pay. All this that I propose could be developed from that.

That cannot, of course, apply throughout the whole of employment, and the Employment Protection Act and redundancy payments would still have to apply to many parts of industry and commerce. But it has always puzzled me why we had to set up tribunals to administer a system of this kind. In civil disputes between two parties the judicial or quasi-judicial court or tribunal is set up to administer justice between the parties. It has taken us many years, centuries indeed, to devise in our courts a procedure for administering justice and I suppose it is about the best procedure in the world, because it really produces a fair decision and justice in the end. Why we have to discard that entirely and set up separate tribunals beats me. The procedure of our courts really is not set up to keep lawyers and the judiciary employed. It is set up to see that parties who are at issue really receive justice.

Someone has believed that by setting up a tribunal of this kind under the Employment Protection Act and by discarding all that we have learnt from the progress of our courts over centuries, we shall set up an informal body and that informality will automatically produce justice. Neither is true. It does not produce an informal body. Because of the informality of the preliminaries before the hearing of a case, one party or another goes into court prepared for any eventuality, and therefore takes an array of legal talent into court with it.

These tribunals therefore build up a special formality of their own, more formal than any court of law. If anyone wants to see informality and justice according to legal procedure, he can go into any county court and listen to the judge when he has before him a possession case where the parties are appearing for themselves. Justice with informality is there administered. It is false to think that by making a tribunal informal it will administer justice or achieve that more speedily. If we must have a tribunal, we should apply the legal procedures that have been well tried over the years.

These legal procedures are based on three principles. The first is that before coming to court the parties must know the case that they have to answer or make known that which they are putting before the court. Secondly, in court their facts should be proved by primary evidence and not by hearsay. Those two principles are the bases of our procedure. Thirdly, the person making the claim should have the burden of proving it. Those have all been discarded in setting up the tribunal under the Employment Protection Act, with no benefit at all.

I challenge any hon. Member with constituents coming into his surgeries at weekends to say whether he has had more complaints about county court procedure than about tribunals. There are far more complaints about the administration and conduct of cases before tribunals than before the ordinary courts.

Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)

I am puzzled by the statement of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). I have taken cases to tribunals for employers and trade unions. There has never been any complaint, rather to the contrary. Tribunals work fairly. I accept that employers are more able to use the legal profession, but the tribunals recognise that and help the applicant who is there in person.

Mr. Page

The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay) has been luckier than I. I have far more complaints about tribunals than about ordinary courts of law. If the ordinary procedure that has been built up for administering justice were applied to tribunals, they would be far more fair.

In summary, we must think harder about decasualisation of labour. We should recognise that employees are employed by an industry and not individuals. Where we must retain the system under the Employment Protection Act, we should do so within proper legal procedure, even if we call the relevant court a tribunal. Let us maintain the tried legal procedure which we know and which in the end will produce justice.

7.34 p.m.

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

The speech of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was most interesting, particularly so in relation to his comments on decasulisation. His reminiscences on the disgraceful working practices some years ago in dockland were of as much interest as those of the Secretary of State for Employment when he was, in his view, unfairly dismissed for trade union activities. The central question is whether British workers should enjoy fewer employment rights and less protection than those in other developed industrial nations. After the Secretary of State's speech the answer, which must be shared by the majority of the public, is that there is no conceivable reason why British workers should have fewer employment protection rights than other workers.

Unfortunately, there is much misunderstanding about the provisions of the Employment Protection Act, certainly concerning unfair dismissal. In many cases there has been total ignorance of other important provisions to which the Secretary of State drew attention. Labour Members feel that much of that has been a direct result of the concerted, confused and malicious campaign waged against the main provisions of the Act by the Tory Party and Tory-front organisations.

Among employers in small and medium-size firms, there is a total ignorance of the main provisions of the legislation. After careful discussion and explanation, there is often agreement amongst employers that such provisions are necessary for a comprehensive and sensible industrial relations framework.

The concept of unfair dismissal was enshrined in Tory legislation. We should not pretend that there are no difficulties in that legislation. It is also unfair to leave the impression that, given the opportunity after the next general election, the Conservatives would introduce sweeping changes.

Workers and employers should be reminded that an application for unfair dismissal cannot be made in the first 26 weeks of employment. That is often unknown. After 26 weeks, if proper warnings and procedures are observed, there is little prospect of recourse to the industrial tribunal and still less of a tribunal finding that unfair dismissal has taken place. We have heard today of certain surveys. Without going into details, there is no evidence that the provisions have been a deterrent to employment. After discussions and explanation, most reasonable employers and members of the public believe that we should have such protection. There is no case for removing it from the statute book.

There are many reasons why people do not employ other people and there are many other reasons for our lack of success in the industrial area. I do not think that there is any case at all for saying that unemployment is at its present level because of the provisions of the Employment Protection Act and particularly the provision against unfair dismissal.

We must look at all the other reasons—our ability to compete against other manufacturing nations, our competence in marketing, the level of investment, import penetration, quality design and the delivery of our goods. It is in those areas that we shall find the real reason for our lack of success.

I believe also that weakening the Employment Protection Act would inevitably worsen industrial relations in this country and the whole industrial relations climate. There is a delicate and sensitive relationship between those who buy labour and those who sell it. We have only to recall the recent comments of a member of the Royal Family to know that even after a very short experience of British industry one can find many serious faults with the relationships in it. There is primarily a difficulty of communication, and there are problems of status among employees.

One example of the sort of difficulties that we see in industrial relations is the plight of Times Newspapers in recent months. I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Secretary of State on the role that he played in knocking some sense into the management of Times Newspapers. I am interested to hear that the management has agreed to a decision that a number of us had been urging upon it even before the closure took place last November. It is interesting to note that The Times management and the unions representing the workers have agreed to the application of the new technology in accordance with a timetable to be agreed, and arrangements for future joint reviews. There is an agreement to phase in a new technology according to timetable, and that is the sort of approach which will gain and has gained a response among trade union representatives.

In this debate we have heard of the so-called great shift of power in industry over the past few years and particularly since the Act came into being. We have also heard a great deal about asking our constituents for their experiences. The experiences of many of my constituents do not lead them to think that there has been any marked shift in favour of working people and trade unions over the last few years. I take three examples to illustrate my point.

One case which comes to mind is that of a firm that was taken over one day. The next day the new management spoke to the workers and said that the firm had a rosy future and bright prospects. The day after, 90-day notices for redundancy were issued to 350 workers who subsequently became redundant. Today that firm stands empty and idle. I thank the Secretary of State for his intervention in that affair, but unfortunately in this case he was unsuccessful.

The second example occurred two weeks ago in a textile firm when the workers heard over the Tannoy a request for them to attend a meeting in the canteen. At this meeting they were told that the firm had been taken over by another firm but that there was no need to worry because their jobs were secure. What a way to conduct an industry! What a way to avoid anxiety, insecurity and bloodymindedness. No one knew anything about the change of ownership until the message came over the Tannoy system.

The third example also occurred in the last fortnight. A firm in my constituency, which is in the hands of the Official Receiver, is paying its workers by the week and there is great uncertainty about the future. The workers wonder who will acquire the firm and whether they will have any jobs after the end of next week. That is the climate in my constituency and I bet that it applies to many others as well. So do not let us have a lot of talk about the shift in power away from employers to trade unionists and working people.

I argue that the power in British industry today rests where it has always rested—with employers and management and those with the ability to buy labour. Those who have only their labour to sell should enjoy modest employment protection and rights in their interests and in those of their families. The rights and protection that we have by virtue of this Act are much weaker than those which exist in many other countries with which we are in competition. We do not hear squeals from the Germans, the French or the Scandinavians that their employment protection rights, which are far superior to ours, are any impediment to producing, and exporting to this country. We must look in other directions to find the reasons for the difficulties that we face in industry.

Any attempt to sweep away the minimal rights of British workers would not only result in enormous reaction against any Government who sought to do that, it would do nothing at all to increase our industrial performance by one percentage point. In fact, it would do a great deal to worsen it.

We heard a very low-key speech from the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), who is increasingly becoming the lone voice of relative sanity in the Conservative Party. All the hard-nosed backwoodsmen of the Conservative Party and those to whom they seek to appeal in the country will be very disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not say more about repealing this and attacking that. His speech was very carefully designed and very low key.

I warn a lot of people that if the Tories are returned to power there are grave doubts whether the right hon. Member for Lowestoft would be the spokesman on employment matters. I very much doubt whether his relative sanity would reside in St. James's Square, presiding over the industrial relations framework. There are more dangerous individuals looking with glee at that office and at the sort of damage they could wreak on this country's industry. These people would do untold damage. Many Conservatives should be extremely careful about what they promise to do to appease the wilder groups in the community who in recent weeks have been gleefully looking to the Tories to smash the trade union movement and weaken the position of British workers.

I hope that at the end of this debate the general conclusion drawn by those who look at these matters with more careful perception and understanding will be that the Employment Protection Act is a very modest measure, which gives British workers minimum employment rights and protection, far less stringent and tough than those enjoyed by many foreign workers. To remove these rights would do more harm and damage.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his speech. He has given a clear indication that if a Labour Government come to power after the general election, far from the Act being emasculated, modest advances will be made to ensure that the rights and interests of British workers are protected and advanced.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I ask the forbearance of the House if, in my brief speech, I depart from the legal aspects of the Act and deal with a subsidiary matter of vital concern to my constituency, where unemployment is running at almost 20 per cent. I refer to job creation and the subsequent schemes.

The burden of today's high unemployment is falling disproportionately upon the young. Employers who are forced to cut back tend to retain skilled and experienced people and to let go those whom they might be obliged to train. Unemployment at any time of life is an affront to human dignity and self-respect, but when one is young, keen and full of hope, it is nothing less than a tragedy. The success of Government-sponsored schemes to alleviate unemployment among young people is particularly important.

When it became obvious that the problem of youth unemployment was unlikely to disappear in the near future, the Manpower Services Commission wisely decided to draw together various temporary schemes introduced between 1975 and 1977. There is now a coherent programme for the young and unemployed, with special temporary employment programmes similar to the old job creation programme. One should pay particular attention to the needs of the long-term unemployed. However, there are administration difficulties and I should like the Minister to clear up the matter when he replies to the debate.

In my constituency the job creation schemes have proved particularly successful. When the time comes to modify such programmes, lessons can be learned from the experience of those schemes. In October 1977, a total of 125 young people were on the careers register in my constituency. Under the provisions of the original job creation programme, 83 of those were placed—15 in work experience projects and 68 in other job creation schemes. That represents 66 per cent. of the total and is by far the highest take-up of any of the regional or island authorities in Scotland. The pattern was consistent in every year in which the job creation schemes operated and I have paid tribute in the House to the success of the schemes.

Between November 1975 and December 1977, a total of 472 of the 488 applications for adult job creation schemes submitted to the Manpower Services Commission were approved. At the peak of the scheme's operation in May 1978, a total of 808 adults were employed on various schemes.

In January 1976, unemployment in the Western Isles stood at 21.6 per cent. The fall to 6.7 per cent. by May 1978 was directly attributable to the success of the initial job creation scheme programme. However, the termination of the original projects has led to a steady increase in unemployment and this month it is at 18.8 per cent.

The Western Isles council and those who administer the job creation schemes are confident about the value of the schemes. The work carried out has been relevant to the needs of the area. A large number of projects for which local communities have pressed over many years have been tackled successfuly. Local people have been employed in building piers, various crofting projects, such as drainage, fencing, tree planting and the construction of sheep fanks and in leisure and recreation projects, such as the building of community centres and the laying of playing fields.

The council is optimistic about the future of the new schemes. It hopes that the new programme will prove as successful as its predecessor. However, the sponsors of the schemes are having difficulties with the Manpower Services Commission because of the condition that preference should be given to those who have been unemployed for at least six months. In my constituency, the job creation scheme was taken up at such a high level that there is hardly anyone who has been unemployed for six months. The Department has assured me in answer to my parliamentary questions that there is no bar to such constituents, provided that anyone who has been unemployed for six months is given preference. If such people are not available, the schemes should go ahead. However, schemes have been held up and I should be grateful if the Minister could clear up that point.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) made a remarkably moderate speech, as did the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). I assume that they are projecting the new image of the Conservatives following the wild speeches and statements made by the Opposition during the disputes that took place after Christmas. Undoubtedly, as the general election gets nearer, the wild image and the wild men will be put on the shelf and the more moderate image will be brought out. I do not see many of those wild men in the Conservative Party on the Benches tonight. Conservative Members know that there are plenty of wild men among them. I was here when we discussed the Employment Opportunities (Small Businesses) Bill which was introduced by a Conservative Member and I remember the wild speeches made by some Conservative Members on that occasion. As we get nearer to the general election, the wild image is put aside and no doubt the Conservative whips will tell their Members "Keep it cool, lads. Do not tell them what we really believe. Let them get the idea that we are more moderate in our approach to the unions than we really are."

I should like to take up the point about the Merseyside chamber of commerce survey. The impression was given that small businesses were being battered, as far as employment possibilities are concerned, because of the Employment Protection Act. I do not deny that there may be some employers—though very few—who have been deterred from employing more workers because they are under a misapprehension about the Act.

When Merseyside was developed, small businesses were practically destroyed. Whole areas of small businesses were bulldozed and that is one reason why they no longer exist in vast areas of Liverpool and other parts of Merseyside.

The other factor is that the port of Liverpool is no longer the port that it was. It is no longer a passenger port, with all the small businesses that were part of the passenger trade. They have gone and that is the basic reason why small businesses in Liverpool have disappeared. Of course, we have to be concerned about bringing small businesses back to Merseyside. Some of us are anxious to do that and have argued for a long time that there must be greater efforts in that direction. The Merseyside chamber of commerce may have a case up to a point, but the real reasons for the problem are those that I have given.

It is unfortunate that some small employers may have been deterred—because of the propaganda emanating from Conservative Members—from taking on workers whom they would have employed but for that political propaganda.

None of my hon. Friends suggests, as the right hon. Member for Lowestoft implied, that everything is all right and that we are living in the best of all possible worlds. We have never said that. There is no doubt that the Act gives workers greater protection than they have had in the past, and I am not ashamed that my party brought in such legislation. It was long overdue and it still goes only a modest distance in the direction that is required. We can feel proud of the Act, but we should push for it to go still further.

Let us look at some of the provisions of the Act. It set up ACAS and I believe that it is a good thing that we have a system of conciliation and arbitration. That was also long overdue. It makes provision for the protection of women from dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy. It provides for maternity pay and that working-class people should be given time off for trade union activities or for serving on a public authority. However, there is still no real guarantee. If a company decides that it is not in its interests for a worker to serve on a public authority, there can be arguments about time off.

Anyone listening to Conservative Members would imagine that the Act gives workers all the rights in the world. It does not—even in relation to unfair dismissal. A case was raised with me recently by a worker from a country area represented by a Conservative Member who refused to take up the man's case. I took up his case because he was working on an estate and was unfairly dismissed. His case was upheld by a tribunal and he was granted a sum of money as compensation. But then the lawyers got to work and that money was whittled down to next to nothing. Yet we are told by Conservative Members that the Act protects workers in such a way that they have too many rights and that the balance has moved too far in their direction. That is a travesty of the truth.

The Act provides greater rights than workers have had before. And why not? The right hon. Member for Crosby gave examples of what he saw on the docks. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) was part of the docks set-up and was closer to dockers than I have ever been. He knows the sort of things that used to go on.

I was a ship repair worker and, when I started work on Merseyside after the war, we had to queue outside Cunard and many other ship repair companies at 7.30 a.m. with our tool bags. The foreman would come out and decide which workers he wanted. The rest had to go home.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

The foreman used to feel a worker's muscles.

Mr. Heffer

They did not quite get round to that, but a young vigorous fellow stood a chance of getting a job while a man getting on in years stood no chance. I had to suffer that sort of humiliation. If a worker was a well-known trade unionist or even if he had argued on one job and the foreman remembered him, he did not get taken on. Workers need better rights than they had in those days.

I found it strange that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft should say that he wishes to amend schedule 11. My hon. Friends and I misunderstood him at first because we thought that he had said that he intended to repeal the schedule, but he claimed that he wishes only to amend it. Schedule 11 says that a claim may be reported to ACAS that an employer is: in respect of any matter, observing terms and conditions of employment less favourable than the recognised terms and conditions or, where, or so far as, there are no recognised terms and conditions, the general level of terms and conditions. What is wrong with that? The schedule provides only that recognised terms and conditions of workers should be accepted as the norm and that if they are not observed, a claim may be reported to ACAS. Even then, there are exclusions. Any worker covered by the Agricultural Wages Act 1948, the Agricultural Wages (Scotland) Act 1949, the Wages Councils Act 1959 and a number of other measures is excluded from the provisions of schedule 11. The idea that the Act is a marvellous instrument which cannot be bettered and, indeed, goes too far is an absurdity. Conservative Members are making propaganda out of it.

The same applies to trade union recognition. I thought that we had brought in legislation that gave workers the right to trade union recognition if they wished it. It just shows how wrong one can be. If we are to amend the Act, we had better amend it in that direction—and the sooner the better. There should be legislation to enable workers to have trade union recognition if they wish it.

The right hon. Member for Crosby spoke about the construction industry. There is an important case being made for a system of decasualisation in that industry. Those of us who have worked in the construction industry—and shipyard workers in my trade worked in the industry when there were no jobs in shipping—know that construction workers were repeatedly on the dole. I am not talking about a time of world recession and high unemployment, such as the present, but about what were referred to as normal times. When the job that a worker was doing had finished, he was out of work. That still applies and it may be a week, a month or longer before a worker gets his next job. It is time that workers in the construction industry did not have to suffer in that way.

Other benefits have been gained by the type of legislation that is being introduced. When I was first an apprentice, one was given one hour's notice. That situation existed even after the war. One hour's notice was given on a Friday afternoon. If the boss did not come round at 4 o'clock and give one the sack, one knew that with a bit of luck one had another week's work. That situation has been improved, but it is still not ended, in that workers too often are thrown out of work in that industry. It is remarkable that the campaign against building nationalisation does not look at the positive proposals. That campaign is totally incorrect about the Labour Party's suggestions. That campaign does not even examine the positive proposals we are putting forward on decasualisation. I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Crosby should support us.

Mr. Graham Page

The hon. Gentleman cannot quote me as supporting nationalisation of the construction industry. I picked out that one item of a manpower register as a proposal that should be seriously considered.

Mr, Heffer

I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that we have never proposed nationalisation of the construction industry. I wish Opposition Members would actually read what we say and not read what CABIN said we say. It is important that they should read the document. I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman is supporting our campaign for decasualisation in the construction industry. When the Labour Government are returned, that matter must be a priority.

I regard this legislation only as a step in the right direction. It is an improvement. It gives us, as workers, more rights than ever before. But the anomalies have been shown up over the years. The Grunwick affair is an example of the anomalies. There are many others. They have to be eliminated. There have to be amendments to the Act. These must be in a totally and fundamentally different direction from those proposed by Conservative Members. Let us support this Act and this legislation. Let us reject the type of wild statements and even the so-called moderate statements that come from the other side of the House.

Conservative Members want to weaken the rights of workers. Those rights have been gained over years of hard struggle. Every time that progressive legislation has been introduced giving workers increased rights, there has been a howl from hon. Members on the other side and from employers. When children were taken out of the mines, there was a howl from the other side of the House. One has only to examine the arguments that went on at that time. It has always been like that. It is like it now. Tory Members always argue against positive legislation that gives workers more rights and more protection. So be it. They cannot turn the wheel of history backwards. It will go on and improve. The workers, who create the wealth, will finally come into their own and will control democratically the means of production in this country. I hope I live to see that day.

8.14 p.m.

Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)

I trust that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) will not mind if I do not follow his arguments, in the interests of others who want to speak in this debate, which has already been truncated by two and a half hours. For over three years, unemployment has been at an unacceptably high level. A figure of 1½ million unemployed is far too high in its own right, and higher than that of all our main industrial competitors. Unfortunately, there is no sign that it is going to go down substantially in the foreseeable future. If this Government or an incoming Tory Government really mean to do something positive in this respect, radical changes will have to be made.

The cure for unemployment cannot come from Government services, the nationalised industries or large public companies. Many people would argue that there is already overmanning in many areas of these sectors, which will have to be remedied if they are to become really competitive. Let us not worry too much about that in the present state of unemployment.

The only remaining area that can cure unemployment is that of the small business, which accounts for just under one-third of our GNP. If every small business in the country took on one more person each we would have no serious unemployment. Why do they not do so? A survey was recently carried out among 800 small businesses to find out why they will not expand. The answer was, as suspected, Government legislation. They were asked which Government Acts discouraged them most from taking on more people. Top of the tree, as can be guessed, were 80 per cent. who named the Employment Protection Act. How often does it not happen that governments of all political parties pass legislation that is the opposite of what was desired. We should perhaps remember Newton's third law of motion which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The survey asked what parts of the Acts were causing most trouble. Top of the tree here came sections 70 to 80, which cover dismissal procedures, industrial tribunals and compensation payments. Here comes the rub. If this genuinely caringly motivated Act is causing unemployment, what are we to do? I say to hon. Members in all parts of the House that if this point is now proved beyond all reasonable doubt we must do something. Leaving the Act as it stands on the statute book, we should start making exemptions from parts of it for small businesses that take on more people.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)

To which survey is the hon. Gentleman referring? Who are the publishers?

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

The employers' federation.

Mr. Fairgrieve

The survey was carried out by the Small Businesses Bureau.

Mr. Walker

Would the hon. Gentleman say by whom it is published? Is it not No. 32 Smith Square? Is that not the office of the Conservative Party Central Office?

Mr. Fairgrieve

So what? The survey bore out the figures that every hon. Member gets from his own constituency. I know that it is not entirely satisfactory to exempt some firms rather than all firms, but it would be an initial way of highlighting the harm that this Act is doing. After proof, overall repeals could follow.

Before any hon. Member on the Government Benches starts talking about going back to the bad old days, with people being summarily dismissed and chucked on to the unemployment heap in an inhuman way, let me ask this: would a person prefer to be 100 per cent. unemployed, with no hope of a job, or would he prefer to be taken on by a firm which says that it wants to expand and will take that person on? The firm might say that it expects to take on more people, but there is a risk, for reasons beyond its control, that it might not be able to give a complete guarantee of permanent employment. Again, before Labour Members start objecting, I would like to say that exemptions from sections of the Act would apply only to the extra people taken on by that firm from the exemption date, and such exemptions would be applied only to firms employing fewer than a certain number of people, or with a turnover below a certain level.

When a firm broke through either of those barriers, the Act would apply totally. If the Government are genuine in their desire to cure the curse of unemployment, this is a constructive suggestion, which is worth serious consideration and speedy action. I hope that the Minister will agree to examine this idea on behalf of those who go to bed tonight unemployed, knowing that they will wake up tomorrow morning still unemployed.

8.20 p.m.

Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)

I should like to take up the point about small businesses. If any hon. Member suggests that the non-expansion of small businesses is due to the Employment Protection Act I suggest that he looks again at its provisions. There must be other factors besides that. I remind hon. Members that in the Act there is a provision for contractual employment, where an employer can contract for a certain amount of time. In addition, if an employer goes bust—Conservative Members have suggested that this is what people are afraid of—he would have to pay out compensation. That is taken care of in the Act. People seem to be afraid of the Act, but they should try to understand it.

When the Act came on to the scene, management looked upon it in an appalling way. I was part of management at the time. What management did was to take the Act to pieces, look at it, discuss it with middle management, and consider how it worked in relation to individual companies.

I do not know why we should be discussing the Employment Protection Act during the current period of unrest. I believe that we would do better to discuss it impartially at a time when there is no industrial unrest, because we could then look at it in a different frame of mind. That is why, as a new Member, I am disturbed to hear many hon. Members talk about the Act in the way that they do.

I am also disturbed about the way in which the Act has been reported in the media. I have talked to some American students on the subject of industrial relations. They were puzzled, because although America has twice as many strikes as the United Kingdom, that fact is not reported in America in the same way as it is reported in our media. The British media talk about "the British disease", but although the situation is twice as bad in America it is not called "the American disease". Therefore, we should look at other aspects of the problem besides the Employment Protection Act.

I turn to some of the workings of the Act. It is essential to retain notification of redundancies. Today I led a delegation to the Department of Industry in respect of a factory that is closing in my constituency and causing about 190 people to be put out of work. Had it not been for the Employment Protection Act, and the 90 days' notice that had to be given, those people would have known nothing until the employer gave them notice according to the statutory requirements.

Incidentally, that same employer had problems with another of his companies. He refused to bring in ACAS. It was only when we gave publicity to the problem that ACAS was brought in and settled the dispute. Therefore, ACAS works. I did not like the way in which the dispute was settled, because two people were thrown out on a limb and eventually dismissed, but at least the provisions of the Employment Protection Act were gone through. Their case went to a tribunal and subsequently to appeal. Therefore, the Act worked for them, not in the way that some hon. Members have suggested but in favour of the employer in this case. The fact remains that had it not been for ACAS much production would have been lost, and with it many more jobs.

Some people have suggested that the six-month probationary period should be extended. In so doing, I believe, they are doing a great disservice to British management. If within six months a personnel manager cannot determine whether or not a person is suitable, he should look at himself or the staff that does the interviewing for him.

There is no problem about unfair dismissal. All it does is to ensure that an employer looks at his methods and the ways in which he treats his employees. Now he must give notice of dismissal and tell a person why he is being dismissed. No longer does the employer put in the boot and say "Through the door". I have never yet had any trouble with a tribunal in relation to unfair dismissal, providing the code of practice that is understood by every employer is adhered to. During my time in management, I did not lose one case of unfair dismissal. Therefore, in that respect, I believe that the Act strengthens management, while at the same time giving fair protection to the employee. In fact, management's duty is not only to look after the interests of its shareholders—it has an equal responsibility to its employees.

The position of small employers has already been dealt with. During my by-election campaign, I met many small employers. They had no concern about the Employment Protection Act, simply because they run their firms well. As many hon. Members said, there is room for improvement. What is unnecessary is a large-scale demolition of the Act. We should use it and build upon it in order to take industrial relations into the year 2000. Whether or not Conservative Members are successful in their bid to form the next Government, they should think carefully before demolishing this Act, because it is a piece of legislation that will help industrial relations get over its present problems.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

Since the length of the debate has been curtailed, I want to devote my attention to only one aspect of the Act—its effect on small employers. There is a distinction between small and large employers. As I listened to the debate, and reflected over the years that I have been in this House, I could not help thinking that if, in the last decade, we had spent as much time talking about employment creation as we have about employment protection, the whole country would be very much better off.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that we do not want to turn back the wheels of history and that we want them to go forward. The great danger for this country is the wheels staying exactly as they are. We spend an enormous amount of time considering industry in the context of one type of industry—established, petrified industry. We spend too much time considering the views of the CBI and TUC with regard to large industry. One need only look at the economic record of this country, not only for the past decade but for the past two decades, to realise that there has been virtually no growth in large industry, except through amalgamation.

I well understand the views expressed by Labour Members about the unfair way in which employees used to be treated when amalgamations of that type took place, when their whole future was thrown into jeopardy.

I accept that a great deal in the Employment Protection Act was needed and was long overdue. However, we are deluding ourselves if we think that that Act does not affect employment, especially in small employers' establishments. Of course it does. I do not need a survey to tell me so. I have spoken to a number of small but well-informed, genuine, humane employers in my constituency who tell me that that is so. That is not the major reason why their firms do not expand and why they do not employ more people, but the matter is always raised. People say that they are disturbed and worried about this matter, and that it is just not worth the candle.

The hon. Member for Walton referred to the decline in his area of Liverpool. I know that city. It used to be regarded as the capital of North Wales. I remember when there were many small employers and small industries in Liverpool. I know that there has been a decline there. That decline is affecting the whole country.

Only one-quarter of British industry is now in the hands of employers who employ fewer than 200 people. That sector of industry is much larger in the United States, France and Germany. However, when we look at the record of this country, the truth is, as an American economist pointed out to me lately, that only 30 per cent. of employed people in this country are now engaged in productive or creative industry. There is a 70 per cent. superstructure which the 30 per cent. support. It is like the ship which started off with a large hull and a small superstructure. We now see a large superstructure on a small hull.

The Employment Protection Act needs amendment in favour of small employers. It frightens them off. It is an important factor, although perhaps not the most important. If employers continually say so, there must be something in it. Why is that so? Small employers, especially those who are in new industry, often operate on slim financial limits. They are concerned about adding to their responsibilities.

Recently, in a debate on a Private Member's Bill, I cited my experience in my constituency with a firm that is one of the great success stories of British industry. It now has branches all over the world. It employs hundreds of people in my constituency. Seventeen years ago, when I first became a Member of Parliament, it employed only about six. It was virtually operating on a shoestring. I doubt whether that firm could have survived in today's industrial atmosphere, yet its wage rates are now 25 per cent. above the union rates and some of the people who started with it are now in management, and even directors. It has a first-class record, yet it would not have grown if it had been jeopardised in its first couple of years. We do not pay sufficient attention to the entrepreneurial risks.

I told the Minister about the experience, in my constituency, of the very happy cooperation between public investment, which is organised by the Government, with a rural development board providing factories, and young entrepreneurs who start in them. This is creative new industry. It is a happy arrangement between public investment and private enterprise. Many of those people tell me that the first two or three years are the most difficult and the Act adds to the difficulties.

The probation period of 26 weeks under the terms of the Employment Protection Act is too short, at least for small industries. I cannot speak about large industry. I have no real experience of that, except in a professional capacity, to advise or discuss legal matters arising from a large industry. I do not have proper first-hand experience of large industries. But I do know that the Act is a real inhibition to small employers. It must be amended to help them. I do not dispute that we needed most of this legislation. However, we must revise and amend it in the light of experience. I thought that the approach of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) was constructive. It was refreshing after some of the remarks that we have heard recently. Nevertheless the Minister and the Secretary of State are deluding themselves if they think that this Act is not an inhibiting factor for smaller employers.

Mr. Heifer

Is not that precisely the same argument that can be used for small businesses not having safety regulations for their machines and not installing extractor fans to carry out chemical fumes and smoke? It is precisely the same argument.

Mr. Hooson

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, it is not the same at all. If the hon. Gentleman were setting up his own business he would probably have to borrow money from the bank as most small business men do. They cannot calculate as far ahead as can a big established business. The entrepreneurial side of this country must be encouraged. We have only to look at the industrial performance of this country.

I put this to the hon. Member for Walton. Even with North Sea oil we have made a terrible mess of the economic situation. Imagine what it would have been like without North Sea oil. That is the real test of performance in this country. We have reduced the small employer's side of industry. Private enterprise has been thwarted. We have moved into a petrified established kind of industry with no growth. The only growth sector that we can reasonably foresee in this country is that of the small businesses, and we should be encouraging them to expand.

Within the next decade we need to create 5 million new productive, creative jobs in this country not only to mop up unemployment but because there will be a need for a great shake-up in cases of overmanning. That can be done humanely only if we have created new jobs. This aspect of the Employment Protection Act needs amendment, and the sooner it is amended the better it will be for this country.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. I remind hon. Members that we have roughly 40 minutes left before the winding-up speeches. As far as I can judge, there appear to be about six hon. Members still wishing to take part in the debate. This means that they will have about seven minutes each in which to make their speeches. I hope that hon. Members will try to keep within that limit.

8.36 p.m.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

The question tonight surely, is whether the operation of the dismissal procedures in the Employment Protection Act is an obstacle to employment. It is as simple as that. Nobody pretends that it is a great obstacle. Some people believe it to be a greater obstacle than others believe it to be. There are far greater obstacles to employment. I should have thought that the taxation system was a far greater obstacle to employment.

In the search for more employment, particularly among small businesses, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) pointed out, any fair-minded person must realise that the operation of these provisions has proved to be inhibiting. It may well be that a business man is unnecessarily afraid of the provisions, but the state of a man's mind is as much a fact as anything else. If he thinks, even wrongly, that he will not be able to manage his business so long as these provisions apply to him. they will prove to be inhibiting.

It may be said that he is not as robust as German or French business men, who have been, rather unusually, exemplified as paragons by Labour Members below the Gangway. We have been told how they can manage, in spite of having to face much more difficult obstacles than are put before the British entrepreneur. We have to deal with our entrepreneurs as we find them, just as we have to deal with our work force as we find it. Perhaps they are not as good as their counterparts in those other countries, but people are frightened, and I believe that they are frightened partly through ignorance. The small business man does not have the advantages of a personnel department. As one of the Labour Members explained, a personnel department can go through the Act and provide expert advice, telling a business man what to do to avoid the worst pitfalls of the Act. The larger firms, which have these facilities, no doubt manage to live with the Act fairly successfully, but the small business man does not have those facilities. Something must be done, therefore, to cure his fear that if he takes on a man and finds him unsatisfactory, he will be taken to court under a jurisdiction that is peculiarly and deliberately vague.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) complained, the provisions have been made vague because it is fashionable to think that, if they are vague and informal, they will work more quickly and in a fairer way, whereas exactly the opposite is the case. The vaguer a provision is, the more unfair it is, the slower it is in operation, and the more bad blood is created.

I should like to give an example of where I think that bad blood has been created. The position has recently improved a little, but it is in danger of becoming bad again. Here is an example of vagueness. I refer to the doctrine of constructive dismissal—that, even though the employee has resigned, he is held to have been dismissed because he had good reason for resigning. There has been a dispute about what is a good reason for resigning when an employee pleads constructive dismissal.

For a long time this question exercised tribunals, the appeal tribunals and the Court of Appeal. It frightened the employer and very often excited the employee over-much. Eventually the Court of Appeal ruled that conduct by an employer which was said to have justified the employee in resigning must amount to a breach of contract. The employee could not use bad behaviour as a hook upon which to hang a claim for constructive dismissal. The reason claimed for such dismissal must amount to a breach of the contract of employment. That was the case of Western Excavating Ltd. v. Sharpe in 1977 and it seemed a pretty firm ruling and something to cling on to, a raft in a uncharted sea.

Now vagueness has come back and clever, astute, people—I do not blame them—representing employees, have said that the breach need not be of explicit terms of the contract. It could be a breach of implied terms. In all contracts of employment, they say, "mutual respect" is one of the implied terms and therefore if an employer does something which damages that mutual respect that constitutes a breach of contract and the employee can then resign and plead constructive dismissal.

So we are back where we started. This is the kind of vagueness which terrifies the small employer and was vividly pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. An employer no longer knows where he stands and I believe that what is required is that the clauses dealing with such matters as constructive dismissal or what amounts to misconduct by an employer must be clearly spelt out either by amending the legislation or in some other way.

It must be remembered that in these cases no costs are awarded and therefore to the small business man the thought of taking himself, and perhaps another witness, from productive work even for the day, which is the average length of these cases, means that he will lose an immense amount of money he will never recover whatever the result.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

What about the lawyers?

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

The small business man does not employ lawyers. I wish that he did. The case would go much faster if he did. He cannot get his costs back even if he wins and so he is at a grave bargaining disadvantage. He settles in nine cases out of 10, even though he may have a good case. He settles because it is cheaper for him to do so. Even if he wins he knows that he has to pay his own expenses and perhaps costs.

For those reasons, it is essential to have certainty in both the base and the operation of the law. There is no certainty at present. That is why an employer is reluctant to take on new labour. I believe that there must also be some sort of filter through which cases that are often frivolous and vexatious and which abuse the process can be passed, either after some ex parte application to ACAS or some other body, to the court itself, or to a tribunal before leave to bring a case is given. That would mean that the cases were serious, that they were not merely gold-digging cases, and that there would not be what amounts to blackmail.

If that can be achieved, unjust dismissal, which is an important and desirable legal concept which we do not wish to see abolished since we invented it, can be removed from the sphere of industrial disputes and dealt with by tribunals and courts of law.

I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State's praise of that structure of the law. If that structure is to continue, there must be more certainty and the Act must not operate, as it does now, as a serious, but not the most serious, obstacle to increased employment.

8.46 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)

I intend to be brief. We are treading some well-trodden ground. Most of the debate has centred round the effects of unfair dismissal procedures, particularly in relation to small firms. The Secretary of State stated the facts and it would be tedious for me to repeat them.

As the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) said, small business men take certain attitudes. Surely, the way in which to react to that reality is not to change the law but to change the attitudes, and to desist from propagating the myths instead of the facts. Many Opposition Members are guilty of propagating the myths rather than the facts.

It has been suggested that the qualifying period, at least for small firms, should be increased. I was interested to hear the observations of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). He said that, because the qualifying period had been reduced to six months, there was an increased movement towards casual employment. The logic of that argument is that the qualifying period should be abolished altogether. This is another conflict of view with the Opposition.

There is a basic principle, which my right hon. Friend repeated today—that protection from unfair dismissal is an indivisible right. Whether one is an employee in a small or a large firm is irrelevant: the right must be the same.

We have heard the usual comments about small firms and their effect upon employment. I wish that we would think seriously about employment. Constantly we seek simple panaceas for unemployment. One of the favourite arguments is that, if only every small firm would take on one more worker, the unemployment problem would disappear. That argument puts the problem in a trivial and superficial light.

Unemployment is a serious and complex issue. Many factors are involved. The increase in the size of the work force is an important factor. Another important factor is the effect of technology, which will increase in the future. There are many other factors.

Incidentally, it is not true to say that small firms are the only growth sector. We have only to look at the record of the chemical industry over the past 10 or 15 years. That is an industry which has doubled its output and it consists mostly of large firms. I am not arguing for or against large firms. I am only saying that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) should get his facts right.

Mr. Hooson

That sector by and large has not grown. I was referring to individual firms.

Mr. Clemitson

I am merely pointing out one example of a large industry which has been highly successful. We cannot generalise and say that it is only in the small firm sector or the large firm sector that growth will take place. Such statements would be wild generalisations, superficialities. No doubt in discussing every Bill which has sought to protect people at work from the early days of the nineteenth century exactly the same arguments have been voiced about the adverse effects such Bills would have on employment.

We have heard a great deal, especially from the Opposition, about making information about the Acts available to small employers. I am concerned about making information available to employees. One of my constituents came to me recently with a case of what in my view was constructive dismissal. His unemployment benefit was suspended. He appealed against that suspension and went to the insurance tribunal. He confused the insurance tribunal with the industrial tribunal and thought that the one tribunal was dealing with both issues. By the time the penny dropped, more than three months had gone by and effectively he had lost his rights under the Act. I merely cite that as an example. Let us not be one-sided in this. Let us realise that information needs to be given both to small employers and to employees. They need to be made aware of their rights.

Over the past five years, despite what has happened in the past few weeks, there has been a considerable improvement in industrial relations. This is not just a question of the figures for industrial disputes and strikes. In a more fundamental sense there has been an improvement in the climate of industrial relations, and the employment protection legislation has had a great deal to do with that in terms of the rights of individuals and of the setting up of ACAS which in many un-publicised, unsung cases has helped to settle disputes If we have had trouble in the past few weeks, that only serves to underline the argument that has been advanced many times by my colleagues, that what we need is co-operation and consent not confrontation. That is the way forward.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

This debate gives us a brief opportunity to raise some of the anxieties we feel about the 1975 Act. I remind hon. Members who have spoken from the Government Benches that there was no root and branch opposition to that Act from the Opposition Benches. A large number of constructive amendments were tabled in Committee by my hon. Friends, many of which were accepted by the Government. The idea that we set out in 1975 wholly to overturn the Bill and wreck it is not proved by a careful study of the Committee proceedings.

Much has been said about the anxiety that the Act has caused to firms in taking on additional people. I wish to mention only one anxiety, to which I hope the Government will reply. The Thirteenth Report of the Social Services and Unemployment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, on which I served, refers on page 49 in paragraph 193 to the Employment Protection Act. One piece of evidence which came from representatives of the Institute of Careers Officers was that— The young person I think is at a disadvantage because of this legislation. We heard many other anxieties expressed and our recommendation at the end of that section of the report was, as we have said on page 50, that: Continuing efforts should be made to ascertain whether or to what extent the Employment Protection Act is deterring small business men from taking on additional personnel. We then urge the Government to make greater efforts to explain the working of the Act to small business men. Because of the procedures of this House, we have not yet had a reply from the Government in debate on that report, but I should be interested to hear what they have to say about the evidence that we took, especially that of the careers officers.

The difficulty that ACAS has had from the beginning is contained in section 1(2) of the Act, where an attempt is made to square the circle by promoting good industrial relations and collective bargaining. That section refers to the improvement of collective bargaining machinery and to the need to improve industrial relations. I believe that the extension of collective bargaining is happening of its own volition. One of the troubles that ACAS has had is in trying to marry those three concepts contained in section 1 of the Act.

On conciliation, I was interested in what the Secretary of State said about 3,000 cases per year. He said that it was either at the instigation of management or unions that such cases were taken up by ACAS. I think that there are occasions when ACAS could, off its own bat, offer conciliation and intervene. It might have been able to do so in the Ford dispute. In that section ACAS is given the authority to do that.

On arbitration, one of the difficulties of ACAS is that with a rigid incomes policy there is a limit to what it can do. However, there is an important part in the section on arbitration on page 3 of the Act which says that the Service can alter its normal procedures if it feels that there is a special reason that justifies arbitration as an alternative to the normal procedures. It does have an opportunity to do that if it wishes. As I say, the difficulty for ACAS is the incomes policy. I should like to see many more difficult cases going to arbitration.

I think that much more attention will have to be paid to the advice that ACAS can give in connection with section 4, and it will have to do more in advising on manpower planning and job evaluation. I particularly wish to draw the House's attention to the end of section 4(2) of the Act, where it is stated that ACAS can give advice on any general matter on industrial relations where it thinks such advice would be helpful.

The concordat, or the agreement between the TUC and the Government, says on page 9: Some unofficial action may arise because of faulty communications within the union, and unions need to periodically review their internal machinery. I do not think that "periodically" is enough. It should be done annually. The difficulties that we have been through over the past three months indicate that there should be a very regular review by unions of their internal machinery. Under the Act ACAS can certainly help and I should like to see both ACAS and the TUC getting together to improve that situation.

We argued in Committee during the passage of the Bill that if a person had a genuine conscientious objection to joining a union there should be provision for that person to appeal to a court or industrial tribunal. The concordat says on page 4: In particular, unions are advised to bear firmly in mind that the closed shop may not be a rigid arrangement, agreements should provide for conscientious objectors and can provide for certain categories of workers to be excluded from the closed shop provisions. That is as close as we could get, almost, to what we have been arguing for over the past four years. Here, on page 4 of the concordat, recognition is made of the fact that there can be conscientious objection to joining a union. I hope that the Government will take one small step forward from that and actually make an alteration in the Act. They can easily find the amendments because we tried so hard to put them on the statute book. Before this Act came into effect a small percentage of non-union people worked peacefully alongside those who were members of unions and the conscientious objection clause was perfectly understood and accepted.

There is a problem about disclosure of information. If the Secretary of State reads the December issue of the Industrial Relations Review and Report, he will note that difficulties are emerging when disclosure of information cases go to the Central Arbitration Committee. The issue is what constitutes information for the purposes of collective bargaining. In three cases—namely, ASTMS v. GKN Sankey, ASTMS v. Clydesdale Bank, TASS v. Dunlop Company—the CAC appears to have given contradictory advice. That is an issue that the Government will have to consider carefully.

I refer to the health and safety at work provisions in section 116. We are now having organisations of employees queueing up for recognition as unions. The Government will have to consider carefully the appointment of safety representatives and whether appointments should be confined only to those in recognised trade unions. In my view others should have the right to be appointed.

The Government should publish the research that they have undertaken on industrial tribunals. The Minister of State gave me a somewhat oblique answer on 20 February 1979. We are entitled to more information about their workings. If the Government will loosen one or two parts of the 1975 Act, that will create a better atmosphere and more employment.

Several hon. Membersrose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I call the hon Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick). I remind the hon. Gentleman of the implied contractual obligation to speak for a maximum of seven minutes.

9.2 p.m.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I am almost inclined, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to take your remark personally. First, I comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel). The hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that the existence of the Employment Protection Act 1975—perhaps he meant the whole corpus of labour and labour relations legislation—has brought about unemployment among young people that would not otherwise have happened. He seemed to say that. I see that he is shaking his head so I shall not make the remark that I was about to make.

It has been a disappointing debate. I regret to say that it has been disappointing mainly because of the tone set by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), whose interest, enthusiasm and, at times, knowledge of the subject causes me to have some respect for him and to listen to him with great interest. His speech was characterised by great vagueness and an over-anxiety to make propaganda points for a specific sector of the electorate. His speech did great unfairness to the legislation that the Government have introduced and to himself.

It is a bad policy to try to gauge legislation to meet the needs of—perhaps it is appropriate to use the term as we are talking about industry—the least efficient people in the economy. Opposition Members constantly reiterate the attitudes of small business men. That implies that there is a case for special treatment for those who are especially incompetent. That does not do small business men a a great service. That does not do a service to the needs of the economy.

The British people would not thank us or the Conservative Party if we were to enact legislation that made life cushy for small business men. Most of us agree in principle that anyone employing labour should be obliged to accept certain common basic responsibilities as an employer of labour. That seems to be a simple principle. I should find it difficult to avoid if I were an employer. I am sure that most Opposition Members agree that it is a basic moral obligation.

We have chosen to impose on all employers the duty to accept the same basic ground rules. It does not prevent more efficient, more competent employers offering better conditions than are laid down by the Employment Protection Act. It seems to me that responsibilities to employees which the Employment Protection Act lays down really are minimal and certainly if we compare these to what is done elsewhere in Western Europe we see we have not been outstandingly radical at all in this respect.

Again, it was noticeable in the speech of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft that there were not many facts. He talked of the insupportable burden on management time arising from all the legislation and alluded, in a rather evasive way, to cost at the same time. We all know that European managements, European enterprises, bear a much heavier burden in these respects and bear it, apparently, with equanimity and are much more successful, by and large, than are most British enterprises, at least in international competition. It seems to me, therefore, that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft again did himself a disservice. He ought to have brought forward comparative facts showing that there are employers elsewhere who are bearing these burdens and being crushed by them, or are not. He did not try to do so, and that is enough to make any serious Member of this House a bit sceptical about the rather vague arguments that he brought forward about a lot of little employers feeling very bad about this kind of legislation.

I am not at all surprised that many little employers—the lumpen element in the middle class—are feeling very bad about having obligations imposed upon them by Parliament. They always did. I am sure they were very vociferous when Parliament said children should not be sent up chimneys or women should not be sent down coalmines. ' Twas always thus, and it seems to me that a great party like the Conservative Party should be careful about the interest it espouses so explicitly and with such enthusiasm. It seems to me that these are not a reputable part of society in the sense that it seems, no doubt unwittingly, that the Conservative Party is prepared to expose a significant part of the working class of this country to a degree of risk which, says that party, is insupportable if working people are working for larger firms. Do they really mean that? I doubt it very much. They should beware of that kind of special pleading.

Through the debates on the Employment Protection Act it was remarkable that the Conservative Party kept on insisting that this would make the employment of labour more costly and therefore, as a number of Conservative Members have said tonight, it would make employers a lot more cautious about recruiting labour. It seems to me that any sensible human being ought to welcome that.

I have been employed as a personnel manager involved in the functions of recruiting and training people, managing industrial relations, and so on and I have seen the devastating consequences of the irresponsible hiring of labour; because the irresponsible hiring of labour inevitably leads to the casual firing of labour. It has been in the past and is still, to some extent, a very general feature of the conduct of British industry that management has taken a casual view of the hiring of labour, and, more importantly, the disposal of labour. That is why we have enacted legislation of this kind. Opposition Members have been sensible enough to remark that there is a good deal of consensus between the two sides of the House that in those circumstances some protection was necessary.

If people are to be recruited irresponsibly, there is trouble. It is also inhuman and cruel, because those people are not being offered any kind of future. Some people may ask "Why should they expect security?"—but they do. People expect some degree, at least, of assurance that they will have a job next month or next year. That is not a plea—and I would not make such a plea—for job security for life; but again I suggest to Conservative Members that they should not confuse the rewards and penalties of entrepreneurship with the obligations of workers. Workers are not paid to take risks. They are simply paid to do an assigned job in our economic system.

We are told that entrepreneurs take risks and reap unusual rewards if they succeed. But workers are not paid to do that. They are merely paid to work. Even in occupations where there is a high risk, workers' wages do not reflect that. I do not mean the risk of bankruptcy but the risk of life and limb, which is why we passed the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act. Workers are rewarded not according to the insecurity of the firm or the dangers of the work place but according to the going rate in their labour market.

It is therefore totally indefensible for the Tories to suggest that the modest protections of the Employment Protection Act should be subverted, undermined, watered down or diminshed, so that a significant section of the working class should receive less protection at work, security of employment and so forth than the remainder.

9.11 p.m.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

We have established a little common ground between the two sides in the debate. The speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) was most restrained, but anything from this side of the House is treated as an attack on the whole edifice of legislation. We are, however, seeking to examine particular points in the legislation to see whether employment prospects in the country are being enhanced or retarded. That is not an attack on the working man. The present prospects of employment are daunting. Unemployment is getting worse. The principal forecasts, not least those locked in the Department of Employment, suggest that it may get worse in the next few years.

In those circumstances we must consider restraints on employment, and today we are concentrating on the Employment Protection Act. There is restraint on employers, and we should take it seriously. We do not say that the rights of working people should be abolished to enhance employment prospects, but we should examine whether what we are trying to do is right in the context of other serious problems, such as mounting unemployment.

There has been comparison with the practice in other European countries. I do not say that everything that is happening in overseas countries must be right in this country. Even if in concept it is right, it cannot necessarily be implanted here without considering the background, conditions and other circumstances of their industrial relations that may be different. We may want to achieve a better standard of workers' rights, but we should consider the pace at which we proceed. We must consider that when determining new obligations on employers. We may have tried to do too much too quickly.

We have had much discussion on the effect of the legislation on small businesses. Many small employers in my constituency have mentioned the effect of the legislation. The survey that was mentioned by the Minister of State and reported in the Official Report, on 16 February, volume 962, column 1510, indicates that 24 per cent. of companies thought that this was a factor. That evidence should be taken seriously. We should consider slightly amending the provisions of the Act without attacking its overall principles.

We should pay particular attention to the time that is allowed to elapse before the unfair dismissal provisions apply in particular circumstances. I believe that it is fair to extend the period from 26 weeks to 52, and I reject the argument that it is a bad employer who cannot decide in the shorter period. The fact is that employers have to take risks. Many employers, with all their burdens, are not prepared to take the additional risk of making a mistake that will involve them in redundancy payments and unfair dismissal proceedings. That is very inhibiting. Many employees will be dismissed prematurely because during the fifth month an employer who is not sure of an employee is inclined to get rid of him rather than risk running into the period of the legislation. There is a case for the modest proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft.

Against the awful background of worsening unemployment, I wish Labour Members would realise that we on the Conservative Benches are not mounting an attack against the fundamentals of this legislation. All that we are saying is that in certain cases it is defective and even injurious to employment prospects in this country.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) just said, we are not mounting an all-out attack on the Employment Protection Act any more than we did during that measure's Committee and Report stages some years ago.

Some aspects of the legislation have been praised and some have been rightly criticised. Overall, the debate has confirmed again that this Government's so-called employment protection legislation has had exactly the opposite effect. Jobs and job opportunities have been destroyed as a result of it, and the case has not been made out for any job having been protected by it. Consequently the country's dole queues are longer and people, particularly young people, stay in the queues longer.

The debate has demonstrated conclusively the trade union bias in the Government's legislation on industrial relations. The Employment Protection Act and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Acts of 1974 and 1976 were part of the Government's payment for the transient and largely illusory trade union contribution to the social contract. In the social contract's first phase we saw inflation and unemployment soar to record levels, and in total we have seen an economy in which industrial production—the wealth of our nation—is only as much as it was five years ago. In the same period, earnings have risen by 120 per cent and prices by more than 100 per cent. Any transient benefit from the trade union side as part of that contract has long since gone, but the damaging effects of the legislation remain.

The Secretary of State has accepted the role of law in industrial relations, and in doing so he has advanced a different argument from those we heard from him and his right hon. and hon. Friends in years gone by. He admitted his change of view on this matter, and rightly so, because he has been responsible for sponsoring and fathering more industrial relations legislation in this House than any of his predecessors, whether they were at the Department of Employment or the old Ministry of Labour. He also made general comparisons between the Industrial Relations Act 1971 and the current legislation and he referred to strike statistics. Figures can be chosen from the past to suit oneself. In fact there was one full year only when the 1971 Act was in operation—1973.

Mr. Litterick

That was a disaster.

Mr. Hayhoe

The hon. Gentleman is jumping in before he knows the facts, which is not unusual. In 1973, the number of days lost through strikes was about 7 million—fewer than in 1977 or 1978 and less than three times the days lost in January of this year. Therefore, the attack launched on the Industrial Relations Act and the claim that it poisoned industrial relations and caused increase in strike activity is not proven. Labour Members often quote figures for 1972 when 24 million days were lost as a result of strikes, but 10 million of those days were lost because of the coalmining dispute. I have read the Wilberforce committee report, as, no doubt, other hon. Members have. It contained no reference to the Industrial Relations Act. A myth has grown up that the Industrial Relations Act was the cause of industrial unrest. That is not true.

In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) referred to the terms of reference of ACAS and the conflict that exists in them. We pointed out while the legislation was going through that there was a conflict between the duty imposed upon ACAS of improving industrial relations and extending collective bargaining. We argued at the time that those factors could, in certain circumstances, be incompatible. We have been proved to be right. It would have been wiser if the Government had accepted the amendments that we then moved.

We also argued that the recognition procedures were loaded in favour of the trade unions. Again, experience has shown that to be right. Unions had access to the procedures, whereas employers did not. That created from the start a feeling of unevenness about the recognition section of the Act. It has led to this aspect of ACAS's work attracting greater criticism than the constructive and helpful role that ACAS has generally played when acting as conciliator or arbitrator.

Questions of guaranteed payments and unfair dismissal have been raised. I shall not repeat the points about unfair dismissal and industrial tribunals—except that I hope that Ministers will be concerned, as I am, about a particular aspect of the matter. A study of the judgments made in unfair dismissal cases leads one to feel that too many are decided on the basis of procedural points rather than on the merits of the case. The judgments seem not to be concerned with the justification for the dismissal of the person concerned but more with the fact that proper procedures have not been gone through—perhaps in a pettifogging way.

We should re-examine what has been happening to try to achieve a more even-handed way of dealing with these important questions. The right to go before a tribunal and claim unfair dismissal is important.

Mr. Litterick

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that justice has to be seen to be done within the firm? To that end, it is necessary that the firm, in its own interest, should establish—however rigid or bureaucratic it may seem—a recognised procedure by which people get the sack.

Mr. Hayhoe

I agree. I believe that the post-1971 legislation has led to a considerable improvement in such procedures in most industries. But the hon. Gentleman will accept that the perception of the fairness of the legislation by outsiders can be affected if they think that the issue is being decided on a small procedural point when there are real issues of merit involved.

The point about pro-union bias in the legislation is so clear and is so well understood by Labour Members, as well as by my hon. Friends, that it does not need to be argued. We saw an indication of pro-union activity by the Government in the news about recent Inland Revenue action and the points put so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) in his Standing Order No. 9 application today.

However, perhaps we see the unfairness at its sharpest in the closed shop. What an irony and what a grotesque absurdity it is that the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 should contain the legislative backing for the sacking of individuals who refuse to become, or remain, trade union members in a closed shop.

Section 58 of the Act provides that: Dismissal of an employee…shall be regarded as fair if the individual concerned falls foul of a closed shop agreement. There is no similar provision anywhere else in the statute. The dismissal of an employee caught with his hand in the till or of a confessed or convicted thief may or may not be fair. The burden of proof will rest on the employer. But the dismissal of an individual, perhaps with long and loyal service to the firm, who is sacked as the result of a union membership agreement being made will be fair. The dismissal of an employee, perhaps one with a record of violence, for severely assaulting a fellow worker may or may not be fair. It will be determined by an industrial tribunal. The dismissal of an individual with genuine, deeply held, personal convictions against trade union membership, who is willing to pay the equivalent of union dues to a charity—so there is no question of free-riding—and who refuses to join or remain a member of a union, will be fair. The statute says that it will be so.

Section 58(3) of the 1978 Act is a pretty disgraceful piece of legislation which should never have been enacted and which should be eliminated from our law as soon as possible.

I have spoken so far in general terms. Let me be much more specific. A constituent of mine, Mr. Arthur Dungate, had been employed by Hounslow borough council as a signwriter for more than six years. He is well liked by his fellow workers and by the management. Recently, he was on jury service for seven weeks and he went to work for two hours every morning before going on to the court in order not to let down his department and to keep the signs coming through. Someone said of him at that time "There are not many who would do that." How right he was.

Mr. Dungate has been dismissed as the result of a closed shop agreement. The Labour majority on the council has confirmed his sacking. A few Labour councillors stayed away from the vote, but not one was prepared to vote against such a monstrous act of injustice. That meeting was on Friday 16 February—just two days after the Prime Minister came to the House waving the so-called concordat, which contained the suggestion that closed shops should be dealt with in a flexible manner and that proper provision should be made for those with conscientious objections.

I have taken up the matter with the Prime Minister and with Mr. Len Murray and have asked them to intervene. Apart from an acknowledgement, I think that is all that has happened. The Minister may tonight or at a later stage give one better news. If any right hon. or hon. Member would weigh in and give support to this individual, that support will be well received. Are those opposite unwilling to intervene on a matter of this kind? Are they all so weak and spineless that they will stand on one side washing their hands about this whole sordid affair? It is not as though Mr. Dungate, my constituent, is just a single isolated case. Mr. Phipps who is employed by the Hounslow borough council and who is not a constituent of mine, is also being sacked.

In my own constituency, at the Brentford works of Booths Distilleries, other people are being victimised by the Transport and General Workers' Union as a result of a closed shop agreement which came into force on 1 January 1979. I have taken up this matter with Moss Evans but have heard nothing from him.

The law as it affects closed shops must be changed to provide proper and reasonable safeguards for individual rights—the right of appeal to a court of law against arbitrary expulsion or exclusion from a trade union. This can mean the loss of a job if a closed shop is involved. Provision for compensation is required and an end to the iniquitous enactment that closed shop sackings are fair. Protection is required for individuals who object to union membership on grounds of deeply held personal conviction but who are not seeking to gain financially as a result of that objection.

Just as the overwhelming majority of residents in Hounslow are firmly opposed to the sacking of Mr. Dungate and Mr. Phipps, so, too, are the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens opposed to the inhumanities of the closed shop. They are in favour of the essential safeguards, to which I have referred, being enacted and arranged as soon as the Conservative Party comes back to office.

I have referred to the concordat and the Employment Protection Acts. These are very relevant to the matters my right hon Friend raised about SLADE. The blacking and blockading activities of SLADE are thoroughly disgraceful. Whatever the fears of members of that print union about job loss and skill redundancy which flow from technological change, there can be no excuse for the sort of action which has been taken by the leadership of that union—

Mr. Heffer

Referring back to the hon. Gentleman's point about the closed shop, is he really saying that the Conservative Party will repeal legislation in relation to the closed shop so that there is no legislation to deal with that matter at all? Or is he saying that the Conservatives will bring in legislation of a kind that exists in the United States—the right-to-work legislation? It is important for us to know what is in the minds of hon. Members opposite. If they simply mean to repeal the Act, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that there were always closed shops. There were always one or two people in such circumstances who felt that they were wrongly treated. That was without legislation. This legislation, in fact, protects them in a way that did not afford them protection before.

Mr. Hayhoe

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said in the latter part of his remarks. I suggest that he reads in Hansard what I have said, which was very precise and clear. Perhaps, unlike himself, I mean what I say.

Mr. Heffer

I always mean what I say.

Mr. Hayhoe

In those circumstances, the hon. Gentleman can do me the courtesy of reading what I said rather than getting up and interrupting when he knows that time is short. The House listened to him earlier in the debate.

I welcome the news that SLADE has suspended the fair list system. I gather that this news came out yesterday. However, I am worried about the genuineness of the change, because I understand that earlier this month SLADE's London branch assistant secretary, when speaking at a surgery meeting of the SLADE Art Union about the suspension of the fair list, went on to say: We'll come back in a couple of years' time and do it properly. You'll all be glad to pay the £1.35. If there has been a helpful move by SLADE in withdrawing the fair list system, it is worrying that one of its officers should be saying "Yes, but we are doing it only for a short time". I hope that SLADE will stop all the vicious pressure tactics that it is using. I hope that it will pay some attention to the advice given in paragraph 16 of Guide Three of the concordat, which states: The General Council advise that unions shall adopt approaches which place the main emphasis on unions themselves persuading workers of the benefits of trade union membership. That is about as far away as one can get from the sort of activities that we have seen by SLADE, which has gone not to the workers but to the management and said "Unless you force all your people into the union, we will black everything that you do." I hope that the Government will respond to the early-day motions calling for an inquiry into the activities of SLADE. If they will not do so, let me again give the assurance that the next Conservative Government will set up such an inquiry.

I began by talking of the job and job opportunity destruction that has resulted from this legislation. The evidence about this, which to some extent has been disputed today, is nevertheless accepted right across the House, because no Labour Member has suggested that the employment protection legislation has had no effect whatever on jobs and job opportunities.

There is a conflict about how much effect it has had. We have the Daniels report. We have the ORC survey, carried out on behalf of the Government, and the best figure that one can dredge out of it is that mentioned by the Secretary of State, that 2 per cent. of small employers saw employment protection legislation as the main difficulty—worse than taxation, high interest rates, planning permission and everything else. But 24 per cent. of those surveyed said that they would have taken on more staff but for that legislation. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between those two figures. Even so, it is a very substantial element within our society if 5 per cent. 10 per cent., 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. of small businesses are not taking on extra staff because of this legislation.

We also have the surveys of the Small Business Bureau, the Engineering Employers' Federation and the Merseyside chamber of commerce, all of which have been referred to. One that has not been specifically referred to is the survey carried out by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I should like to quote from one section, which states: Virtually all of the 1,048 firms surveyed reported that the legislation is adversely affecting their business. A commonly voiced reason was that the time spent ensuring that the company did not breach the laws is quite out of proportion to the value of the legislation to the firm and wastes valuable management time. Many firms also feel deterred from recruiting new labour because of this legislation—particularly the Employment Protection Act. By our vote tonight, we reiterate our criticisms of these Employment Protection Acts, and also reinforce our intention to make the necessary and essential changes in the law to remove the bias that now exists.

9.40 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)

Until the hon. Member for Brentford and Isle-worth (Mr. Hayhoe) rose to wind up the debate for the Opposition, I thought that we had had a well mannered, good-tempered and low-key debate, conducted in terms of moderation. I contrast that with the abrasive, sustained attack by the hon. Gentleman, who seemed to find it hard to say a kind word about legislation that has been widely praised on both sides of industry since its enactment and which is considered to be one of the most beneficial influences in British industry. The hon. Gentleman must be the last surviving defender—although I suppose that those who applauded him shared his view—of the Industrial Relations Act. Even on the eve of the disastrous—for the Conservative Party—general election of 1974 the director-general of the CBI could do nothing other than describe that Act as disastrous.

Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)rose

Mr. Walker

I shall not give way, as I have only just started.

I am sorry that I missed the speech made by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). It was the only speech that I missed. By all accounts it was a sensible, thoughtful and restrained speech. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to refer to his speech. I am trying hard to do so. If the account that I received of his speech was accurate, it was the kind of speech that we do not hear from the Leader of the Opposition. We cannot fail to get the impression that it is like the interrogative technique that one sees in Hollywood films, of the hard cop, soft cop approach. At one moment one man browbeats the party. He is followed by the avuncular type. Presumably the right hon. Gentleman is the soft cop, who will now wait for the right hon. Lady's tough follow-up.

Some of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks have been replied to by my right hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman complained that the volume of labour relations legislation had been heavy on industry. In the past four years it has been a heavy burden. There has been much for industry to absorb and understand. That happened because we had to make up such a backlog. We recognise the difficulties.

Later on I shall refer to SLADE, about which references were made by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden), in what I thought was a well-informed and robust speech, paid a tribute to my right hon. Friend, in which I should like to join, in acknowledging the efforts that my right hon. Friend made, toiling through last night, which have now resulted in an undertaking about The Times. [Interruption.] I hope that the sneering and disapproving noises made by Members on the Opposition Benches—most of whom have not been in the Chamber the whole day until now, and some of whom have no doubt just come crawling in from the Smoking Room—will be put on the record, so that the workers at The Times will know who are their friends and who are their enemies in the House.

The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart)—I do not blame him for taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by the debate—raised the question of employment problems in his constituency, especially those of young people, and the difficulties that are being faced in the application of the job creation programme in the Western Isles. I understand that the Manpower Services Commission is considering the position. I shall ensure that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are drawn to its attention, and he will receive a response from the Under-Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was critical of sections 11 to 16 of the Act. I understand that. He thought—indeed, there was a general belief—that what we provided was a more sensible and peaceful machine, by means of which trade unions could seek recognition from employers, perhaps recalcitrant employers, in ways different from those that had to be resorted to traditionally, and especially to avoid the disastrous confrontation that we have experienced. I am bound to tell my hon. Friend that we thought that as well, but in the light of experience I have my own reservations about whether we have found the right way. We shall have to look very carefully at the provisions to see whether they can be reformed and strengthened to enable us to avoid the kind of difficulty which has arisen, particularly as illustrated by the Grunwick dispute.

One thing that we could not envisage was the degree to which there would be intervention by the courts, and the interpretations that would be placed by the courts on the words of the statute. We shall have to look at these matters. I am sure that the whole House will share with me the view that it is right that we should seek to have some kind of machinery, whether by statute or otherwise, to enable trade unions to seek recognition in a sensible and peaceful way, rather than having to fight their battles on the streets of Willesden or elsewhere.

I warmly welcomed some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). I am glad to note that in saying that I have brought a smile to his face. I welcomed particularly his comments on the need to decasualise labour. He mentioned particularly the building industry, but I believe that his remarks were made in a more general sense. I agree with him about the building industry. He will be pleased to know that for about two years the Department of the Environment has sponsored a committee that was set up to look precisely at this issue. Progress has been made, although there has been some difficulty in getting agreement about the register or registers with the employers' organisations. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, there are two employers' organisations in the industry—the Federation of Master Builders and the National Federation of Building Trades Employers.

I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman's support when, as I hope, shortly, I or some other Minister introduces proposals for decasualisation in the fishing industry. If there is a need for decasualisation in the building industry, there is an even more acute need for it in the fishing industry. I have been involved in trying to persuade employers in that industry to agree on decasualisation measures. Likewise, I have been involved in talks which may lead eventually to a degree of decasualisation in the construction industry.

A theme that has dominated the whole debate has been that of unfair dismissal, particularly with reference to small firms. We seem to have this debate increasingly frequently in the House. There was a very full debate on the subject on 16 February. Some hon. Members who spoke today spoke also in that debate. In listening to the debate today, it would be hard for anyone who did not know the facts to believe that it was the Conservative Party that introduced the unfair dismissal provisions that Conservative Members so bitterly attack today.

The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) suggested that there ought to be an extension of the qualifying employment period to 52 weeks. Even at the time of the introduction of the provision, it was seriously suggested by the Conservative Party that the period chosen was one that would be diminished in the light of experience of the case load as the application of the provision developed.

The right hon. Member for Crosby appeared to miss the point about the unfair dismissal provisions in seeming to believe that somehow making the industry itself responsible, rather than separate employers, would somehow eliminate the need for redress for workers who might wish to complain of unfair dismissal. Workers would still be liable to be faced with dismissal, unfair or otherwise, in the building industry, irrespective of who was the employer. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to deprive workers of their statutory right, established by Parliament, to complain of unfair dismissal. That point is often overlooked.

The remedy is one for unfair dismissal, not for any kind of dismissal. The employer has to make the case that he has dismissed fairly. That was raised this afternoon when complaints were made that the burden of proof had been unfairly imposed on the employer. I see the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) nodding his head, because he believes that the employers were not the party on whom to impose that burden of proof. I accept that he disagrees with me, but when a worker applies to the tribunal he is appealing against a decision already taken by the employer. He is appealing against an arbitrary and, prima facie, unfair decision taken by the employer.

Only the employer can know the reasons why he has dismissed a worker. For that reason alone it would be sufficient and proper to place the burden of proof on the employer. I cannot help being surprised at the number of Opposition Members who write to me enclosing letters of complaint from their constituents saying that they have been unfairly dismissed and have been denied access to the unfair dismissal procedures. That is because they have not had sufficient qualifying time. Invariably hon. Gentlemen send the letter to me saying they would be grateful for my comments. They hope that they can then return such letters to their constituents with a sympathetic note, regretting that the Minister has not dealt with the matter in a more constructive and sympathetic manner.

There is a word appropriate to that kind of behaviour, Mr. Speaker, although you might rule me out of order were I to use it. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the word?"] We are getting the full whiff of the Smoke Room right across the Chamber, as we often do on these occasions. I can almost smell the brandy.

The right hon. Member for Crosby, whose views were to some extent echoed by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), asked why we needed the tribunal when we had an adequate judicial system that he felt could deal with any complaints of unfair dismissal.

I can understand the right hon. Member's saying that, as he is a lawyer. I am not a lawyer. I am an ex-shop steward and I have had precious little experience of the courts. What little experience I have had would have been sufficient to deter me, as a trade unionist, as a shop steward and as a worker, from seeking a remedy in the courts. I am not saying that the courts are unfair, or that they are not impartial.

Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walker

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will contain himself, I think that he is anticipating me.

Mr. Grieverose

Mr. Walker

No, I will not give way. The hon. and learned Gentleman must allow me to make my point.

Mr. Grieve

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walker

I do not know why the hon. and learned Gentleman is shouting at me before I have made my point, which is that the whole atmosphere of the courts is intimidating to workers. It is legalistic, and dominated by the jargon and recourse to learning that lawyers find comes easily to them.

We, as did the Conservatives when they established the unfair dismissal procedure, have made provision for redress through the tribunals which are less formal than the courts. They are an informal way in which people can seek redress in a more relaxed and less legalistic atmosphere. There has been an increasing tendency on the part of employers to use the law.

Mr. Grieverose

Mr. Walker

This is a matter that we regret. I hope that instead of an increased use of solicitors and barristers, and legalism in the courts, we shall restore the informality that was originally envisaged when the concept was established.

Mr. Grieve

Will the Minister now give way?

Mr. Walker

No, I shall not. I have precious little time left. The hon. and learned Member had better get that into his head.

References have been made to surveys. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) should have been more honest when he referred to the survey that was put out from the Conservative Central Office and which attacked the Employment Protection Act. As Mandy Rice-Davies would have said "They would, wouldn't they?" What other response could one expect from the Conservative Central Office? Hon. Members might have relied more reasonably on the research commissioned by authoritative, highly respected, independent sources by my Department and which was quoted by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Fairgrieve

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Walker

No. I give the last word on this matter to Lord Carr. When first introducing these unfair dismissal provisions he was understandably pressed by those who supported the cause of the small business man and wished to see exemptions. When introducing the Conservative Government's code of industrial practice he made it clear that he had received representations from small businesses. He said: On the question of small establishments in particular, while I appreciate their difficulties. I feel that the universal applicability of the code is a fundamental feature of it which must be retained. If we were once to depart from that much of the pressure and incentive of the code would be weakened. A too-easy gateway of excuse would be open for people not prepared to enter into it."—[Official Report, 18 October 1971; Vol. 823, c. 391.] I turn to the SLADE problem. I understand why this matter was raised. In the last few months I have had informal discussions, not only with the general secretary of SLADE, Mr. John Jackson, but also with members of the SLADE art union. Mr. Jackson is aware of what has been said in the House. He is particularly aware of my comments in the full debate some time ago.

Far from being insensitive, he has made clear to me his society's readiness and anxiety to respond to the criticisms. Progress in doing so has been inhibited until recently, because there has been a ballot about a proposed merger with the National Graphical Association. If the merger had taken place it might have removed some of the difficulties in the way of a different approach to recruitment. However, the outcome of the ballot was declared recently and the merger proposal was narrowly defeated.

In the light of that, Mr. Jackson and his colleagues are developing an approach to the union's positive objectives in a manner that should avoid the complaints that have been made. He has made it plain to me that he is anxious to achieve this without returning to the conflict experienced in 1976.

As on so many other occasions when the House has debated industrial relations, the Opposition's contribution has

followed two themes. The first is a strident and abusive criticism of our labour laws, with a marked absence of specific remedies. The second theme echoes the lead of the Leader of the Opposition. It is to denounce trade union power and to imply that most of the ills that afflict our society are attributable to the unions.

In January the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) talked of people fearing the power of the unions and of the unions smashing Government policies. It was bloodcurdling stuff. The great flaw in British industrial relations is not union power so much as weakness. The people who said that were those who wrote "The Conservative Opportunity", to which the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) contributed.

Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 268, Noes 282.

Division No. 87] AYES [10.00 p.m.
Adley, Robert Clark, William (Croydon S) Goodhart, Philip
Aitken, Jonathan Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Goodhew, Victor
Alison, Michael Clegg, Walter Goodlad, Alastair
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Cockcroft, John Gorst, John
Arnold, Tom Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Cope, John Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Cormack, Patrick Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Awdry, Daniel Costain, A. P. Gray, Hamish
Baker, Kenneth Critchley, Julian Grieve, Percy
Banks, Robert Crouch, David Griffiths, Eldon
Beith, A. J. Crowder, F. P. Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Bell, Ronald Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Grist, Ian
Bendall, Vivian Dodsworth, Geoffrey Grylls, Michael
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Drayson, Burnaby Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell)
Benyon, W. du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Berry, Hon Anthony Durant, Tony Hampson, Dr Keith
Bitten, John Dykes, Hugh Hannam, John
Biggs-Davison, John Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)
Blaker, Peter Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss
Body, Richard Elliott, Sir William Haselhurst, Alan
Boscawen, Hon Robert Emery, Peter Hastings, Stephen
Bottomley, Peter Eyre, Reginald Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Fairbairn, Nicholas Hayhoe, Barney
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Fairgrieve, Russell Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Braine, Sir Bernard Farr, John Heseltine, Michael
Brittan, Leon Fell. Anthony Hicks, Robert
Brocklebank-Fowler, c Finsberg, Geoffrey Higgins, Terence L.
Brooke, Hon Peter Fisher, Sir Nigel Hodgson, Robin
Brotherton, Michael Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Holland, Philip
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Hooson, Emlyn
Bruce-Gardyne, John Fookes, Miss Janet Hordern, Peter
Bryan, Sir Paul Forman, Nigel Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Howell, David (Guildford)
Buck, Antony Fox. Marcus Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)
Budgen, Nick Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Hunt, David (Wirral)
Bulmer, Esmond Fry, Peter Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Burden, F. A. Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Hurd, Douglas
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Gardiner, George (Relgate) Hutchison, Michael Clark
Carlisle, Mark Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham) James, David
Channon, Paul Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd)
Churchill, W. S. Glyn, Dr Alan Jessel, Toby
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Sims, Roger
Jopling, Michael Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) Sinclair, Sir George
Kaberry, Sir Donald Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Skeet, T. H. H.
Kilfedder, James Mudd, David Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Kimball, Marcus Neave, Airey Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Nelson, Anthony Speed, Keith
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Neubert, Michael Spence, John
Kitson, Sir Timothy Newton, Tony Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Knight, Mrs Jill Nott, John Sproat, Iain
Knox, David Onslow, Cranley Stainton, Keith
Lamont, Norman Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Stanbrook, Ivor
Langford-Holt, Sir John Osborn, John Stanley, John
Latham, Michael (Melton) Page, John (Harrow West) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Lawrence, Ivan Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Page, Richard (Workington) Stokes, John
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Parkinson, Cecil Stradling Thomas, J.
Lloyd, Ian Pattie, Geoffrey Tapsell, Peter
Loveridge, John Penhaligon, David Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Luce, Richard Percival, Ian Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
McAdden, Sir Stephen Pink, R. Bonner Tebbit, Norman
McCrindle, Robert Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Temple-Morris, Peter
Macfarlane, Nell Price, David (Eastleigh) Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
MacGregor, John Prior, Rt Hon James Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Pym, Rt Hon Francis Townsend, Cyril D.
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Famham) Raison, Timothy Trotter, Neville
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Rathbone, Tim van Straubenzee, W. R.
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Madel, David Rees-Davies, W. R. Viggers, Peter
Marten, Neil Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Waddington, David
Mates, Michael Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Wakeham, John
Mather, Carol Rhodes James, R. Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Maude, Angus Ridley, Hon Nicholas Walters, Dennis
Mawby, Ray Ridsdale, Julian Warren, Kenneth
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Rifkind, Malcolm Weatherill, Bernard
Mayhew, Patrick Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Wells, John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Whitney, Raymond
Mills, Peter Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Wiggin, Jerry
Miscampbell, Norman Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Winterton, Nicholas
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Royle, Sir Anthony Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Moate, Roger Sainsbury, Tim Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Monro, Hector St. John-Stevas, Norman Younger, Hon George
Montgomery, Fergus Scott, Nicholas
Moore, John (Croydon C) Shelton, William (Streatham) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
More, Jasper (Ludlow) Shepherd, Colin Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Morgan, Geraint Shersby, Michael Mr. Michael Roberts.
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Silvester, Fred
Abse, Lao Cant, R. B. Dunn, James A.
Allaun, Frank Carmichael, Nell Dunnett, Jack
Anderson, Donald Carter, Ray Eadie, Alex
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Carter-Jones, Lewis Edge, Geoff
Armstrong, Ernest Cartwright, John Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Ashley, Jack Castle, Rt Hon Barbara English, Michael
Ashton, Joe Clemitson, Ivor Ennals, Rt Hon David
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Cohen, Stanley Evans, loan (Aberdare)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Evans, John (Newton)
Bain, Mrs Margaret Concannon, Rt Hon John Ewing, Harry (Stirling)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Conlan, Bernard Faulds, Andrew
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Bates, Alf Corbett, Robin Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)
Bean, R. E. Cowans, Harry Flannery, Martin
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Bidwell, Sydney Crawshaw, Richard Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Cronin, John Ford, Ben
Blenkinsop, Arthur Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Forrester, John
Boardman, H. Cryer, Bob Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Davidson, Arthur Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Bradley, Tom Davies, Ifor (Gower) George, Bruce
Bray, Dr Jeremy Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Deakins, Eric Ginsburg, Devid
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Golding, John
Buchanan, Richard Deil, Rt Hon Edmund Gould, Bryan
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Dempsey, James Gourlay, Harry
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Doig, Peter Graham, Ted
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Dormand, J. D. Grant, George (Morpeth)
Campbell, Ian Douglas-Mann, Bruce Grant, John (Islington C)
Canavan, Dennis Duffy, A. E. P. Grocott, Bruce
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Marks, Kenneth Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Hart, Rt Hon Judith Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sillars, James
Hattersiey, Rt Hon Roy Mason, Rt Hon Roy Silvester, Fred
Hayman, Mrs Helena Maynard, Miss Joan Skinner, Dennis
Heffer, Eric S. Meacher, Michael Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)
Hooley, Frank Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Snape, Peter
Horam, John Mikardo, Ian Spearing, Nigel
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Spriggs, Leslie
Hoyle, Doug (Nelaon) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Staltard, A. W.
Huckfield, Les Molloy, William Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Moonman, Eric Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Stoddart, David
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Morris, Rt Hon Charles R. Stott, Roger
Hunter, Adam Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Strang, Gavin
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Morton, George Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Janner, Greville Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Newens, Stanley Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Noble, Mike Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
John, Brynmor Oakes, Gordon Thompson, George
Johnson, James (Hull West) Ogden, Eric Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Johnson, Waller (Derby S) O'Halloran, Michael Tierney, Sydney
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Orbach, Maurice Tilley, John
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Tinn, James
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Ovenden, John Tomlinson, John
Judd, Frank Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Tomney, Frank
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Padley, Walter Torney, Tom
Kelley, Richard Palmer, Arthur Tuck, Raphael
Kerr, Russell Park, George Urwin, T. W.
Kilroy-Sllk, Robert Parker, John Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Kinnock, Neil Parry, Robert Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Lamble, David Pavitt, Laurie Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lamborn, Harry Perry, Ernest Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Lamond, James Phipps, Dr Colin Ward, Michael
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Price, C. (Lewisham W) Watkins, David
Leadbitter, Ted Price, William (Rugby) Watt, Hamish
Lee, John Radice, Giles Weetch, Ken
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Weitzman, David
Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Reid, George Wellbeloved, James
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Richardson, Miss Jo White, Frank R. (Bury)
Litterick, Tom Roberts, Albert (Normanton) White, James (Pollok)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Whitehead, Phillip
Lomas, Kenneth Roderick, Caerwyn Whitlock, William
Loyden, Eddie Rodgers, George (Chorley) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
McCartney, Hugh Rooker, J. W. Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Roper, John Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
McElhone, Frank Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
MacFarquhar, Roderick Rowlands, Ted Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Ryman, John Wise, Mrs Audrey
McKay, Alan (Penistone) Sandelson, Neville Woodall, Alee
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Sedgemore, Brian Woof, Robert
Maclennan, Robert Selby, Harry Wrigglesworth, Ian
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Sever, John Young, David (Bolton E)
McNamara, Kevin Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Madden, Max Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Magee, Bryan Shore, Rt Hon Peter Mr. James Hamilton and
Mahon, Simon Short, Mrs Reneé (Woly NE) Mr. Donald Coleman.
Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Question accordingly negatived.