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Grunwick Processing Laboratories Limited

Volume 933: debated on Monday 20 June 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Before calling the Private Notice Question, I would remind the House of the considered ruling that I gave on Friday last in relation to this dispute. I then said:

"Issues which touch on the activities of those against whom criminal charges have been brought, and on the civil action pending between ACAS and the firm, cannot be raised in motions or Questions until the cases have been disposed of."—[Official Report, 17th June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 734.]
In allowing the Private Notice Question, I have sought to balance the right of this House to discuss the issue with my duty to protect those involved in litigation arising from the dispute, whose rights to a fair hearing in the courts might be prejudiced by references to their cases in this House. I therefore ask the House not to trespass upon the matters which I denned last Friday and which I have already quoted as being sub judice.

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the preservation of law and order outside the Grunwick Processing Labora- tories in view of the great increase in picketing.

I understand and share the concern felt by hon. Members in all parts of the House about the events outside the Grunwick Laboratories. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis informs me that his officers are attempting to maintain, in conditions of considerable difficulty, both the rights of peaceful picketing and the freedom of those not prepared to be persuaded by the pickets not to enter and leave the premises.

A number of people have been charged with offences arising out of incidents last week. As the police action in these cases will be before the court it would be wrong for me, as you have reminded me, Mr. Speaker, to make any comment about particular incidents.

Complaints which may have been made about the conduct of police officers during incidents last week are already being investigated in accordance with the new complaints procedure, which includes a review by the independent Police Complaints Board.

It is a matter for concern that certain of those present may latch on to industrial action by a trade union as an excuse for breaches of the law, and particularly for violence against the police. This kind of activity, I know, has no place in responsible trade unionism, and I was glad to note the appeal by Mr. Grantham, General Secretary of APEX, for a reduction in the number of pickets.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that we shall firmly accept and support his statement and that of the Commissioner of Police that it is the duty of the police to uphold the law and to ensure that peaceful picketing does not degenerate into plain intimidation? Will he reaffirm his opposition to violence of any sort and express his full public support for the courageous way in which the police are carrying out their clear duty to the whole nation?

The law on peaceful picketing is as it has been for one hundred years and is clearly understood by the trade union movement. Of course I am opposed to violence and of course I support the police. I support the police whenever they are carrying out their duties. I believe it wrong for a Home Secretary to pick out one case in which he decides to reinforce his support. I support the police on all occasions when they are carrying out their duties, and I would prefer that that was taken as read.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that this dispute will be solved only when the parties get around a table and negotiate? To that extent, will he accept that we welcome the initiative taken by the Secretary of State for Employment in an attempt to bring that about and regret that it has not met with success? Nevertheless, will he accept that there is a distinction to be drawn between picketing by people who work in a place and by associated union members and "Rentamob" picketing of the kind we have seen? Will he therefore seek to uphold that narrow distinction in law between one type of picketing and another?

The Government certainly welcome the right hon. Gentleman's support. In terms of my right hon. Friend achieving a solution to this problem, what matters is that all involved should sit around a table. That is the best way through the problem in the hours and months ahead. As for a discussion of picketing, and peaceful picketing in particular, the trade union involved clearly understands this problem. It is clear from the report that I have had that if there are 1,500 picketing outside a very small entrance there are bound to be problems. I hope that those involved will listen to Mr. Grantham and understand that the best way is peaceful picketing and a solution such as that which my right hon. Friend is trying to achieve.

As a frequent eye-witness of this dispute in the last few days, may I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, with considerable sympathy for both the peaceful pickets and the peaceful police in a rather difficult situation? But may I urge him to understand that there can be problems on both sides and that we shall look with great interest at the reports that he is receiving? However, appeals for the rule of law to be preserved come ill from the mouths of hon. Members when what is happening is that the Employment Protection Act is being used by lawyers to try to break that Act, which makes calling upon the rule of law start to look a little hypocritical. Would it not be better, therefore, if the House acknowledged, as the Leader of the Liberal Party has just done, that the way to resolve this conflict is to solve the underlying problem? One should treat the disease, not the symptoms, and the sooner the parties concerned get around the table, the better.

My hon. Friend, who, with his colleagues in the area, has been most helpful in recent months, is right to say that the answer here is to solve the basic problem. With regard to the problems at Grunwick itself, there is no doubt that the police and the pickets who are genuinely involved want to "cool it". It needs to be cooled, or there will be further arrests and further injuries to people on both sides. The very nature of the situation at the moment is leading to that.

May I say to the Home Secretary, as someone who experienced the violence—[HON. MEMBERS: "No. Ask a question."] May I ask the Home Secretary whether he is aware that an official of APEX is reported in the Press today as having said that he hopes that 5,000 pickets will arrive one morning and that this will be an opportunity to request the Home Secretary to use his power to order the Commissioner of Police to close the factory? Has the right hon. Gentleman such a power, and, if he has, will he undertake to do no such thing?

I have had no such approach. I am not in the business of saying what I would do in response to newspaper reports—just as the report in the Daily Express this morning was not true.

When my right hon. Friend said just now that the complaints should be dealt with under the new complaints procedure, does he recall that when, on 9th February 1972, in the House, I related an incident to the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnett (Mr. Maudling), concerning mass picketing outside a power station in Birmingham, and gave a detailed account of what had happened there, including criticism of the conduct of police officers, I asked the then Home Secretary whether he would use his power to send guidelines to chief constables about conduct in such cases? The right hon. Gentleman replied——

Order. The hon. Gentleman now has an opportunity to ask a question. In theory, tins is an extension of Question Time, with a Private Notice Question.

Since the answer that I received was that such guidelines already exist, will my right hon. Friend say whether the new complaints procedure introduces any difference? Will he also make use of the power to send guidelines so as to ensure that the complaints which have been made do not wait for a long time but are dealt with immediately?

With reference to the exchanges with my predecessor, nothing has changed. When I spoke to the Commissioner of Police it was quite clear that he and his men wanted nothing more than to carry out the general law and the law of picketing. They would very much like to see a cooler situation than that which exists at present. The complaints procedure does not alter this at all. All that is involved is the number of complaints since 1st June when the new procedures came in and just before that. Those that are about individual policemen must be investigated in this way. These might end up by being taken to law, because the information may go forward to the Director of Public Prosecutions. But nothing has changed, and I am confident that the Commissioner wants nothing more than to cool the situation in order to allow the normal law to apply.

How many policemen have been wounded so far in these disorders? Can the Home Secretary say whether it is now possible for anybody working for the company to believe that any member of the Government, with the possible exception—and I say this sin- cerely—of the Home Secretary, will be unbiased about the matters affecting this dispute since various members of the Government, including Cabinet Ministers, have been participating in the picketing? Should not those who have participated in the picketing now tell the pickets to obey the law for a change?

I have some figures here, and I would not give them to the House unless I thought that they were accurate, although this is a changing situation. Since 13th June, 28 policemen and five demonstrators have been injured. The hon. Member spoke of bias. I have no doubt—and I heard what happened when my colleagues went to Grunwick and what they said on that occasion—that when it comes to the law none is unbiased. There may be more of us on this side of the House who take a different view of the situation when it comes to working conditions in the factory.

What is in the law of picketing that says that a given number of pickets is the only prerequisite for peaceful picketing? How can it be that a local police officer can say how many constitutes peaceful picketing? What about the freedom of the people working in that factory for £25 a week for a full week's work? The real threat to law and order is Mr. Ward's refusal to negotiate with the properly-accredited and very conservative and responsible union in order to get this matter settled. It is significant that the Opposition did not table a Private Notice Question about this 10-month old dispute until there were large numbers of pickets outside the gates.

On the number of pickets, these matters are questions of law and questions of the interpretation of the law in the courts. It is a complicated matter. But the police have duties in this respect, and that is much more clearly understood by those who are genuine trade unionists.

On the second point, I am quite clear that the situation inside the factory is best dealt with by negotiation.

The Home Secretary said that none of his colleagues was unbiased on the issue. If that is the situation, how can he expect the Secretary of State to act as a referee, particularly in view of the action of his Cabinet colleagues in recent times?

The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands. We are talking about my responsibilities under the law, and they are quite clear in the support that I get from my Cabinet colleagues. The Employment Protection Act and the conditions inside the factory raise a different matter altogether. There is a strike on, and anyone who has a view about it has a right to express that view.

May I ask about the law on picketing? Does the Home Secretary agree that it is clearly stated that pickets have a right peacefully to approach those who are trying to get inside the factory to continue working during the dispute? If, by collusion between employers and police—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. If by collusion between the police, those who want to work on during the dispute and the employers, who have arranged to transport them into the factory, the police aid entry into the factory of a closed bus and will not allow the pickets to interview people inside the bus, the police are guilty of breaking the law. They are denying the opportunity for peaceful picketing outside the factory by ensuring the transit of a closed bus taking workers into the factory. This is a breach of the law as it is stated.

My hon. Friend is interpreting it, as I said, in an academic way. I have to deal with the situation on the ground and to give guidance. This is an extremely difficult environment, with large numbers involved. It would be much better if smaller numbers of people were there. In this very difficult situation, I think that the word "collusion" is wrong—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] What is clear as far as I am concerned is that the law must be carried out. Quite clearly there is a right of pickets to try to persuade those who hold a different view from them.

Is the Home Secretary seriously arguing that a force of pickets six times the strength of the number of people seeking to go to work does not constitute intimidation of those who are trying to go about their lawful duty? Should he not give much firmer guidance to the trade union movement and the unions involved, advising them that pickets in these numbers are totally intolerable and are an offence against the law? Should he not state that plainly now?

The answer is "No". When I discussed the numbers with the police authorities, they said that numbers were a problem but not a problem overall in the interpretation of the law. That is not to say that they would not prefer a smaller number. They would. I was asked about the overall situation and the guidance given to unions. This union, in particular, does not need guidance on this point. It understands the situation clearly. The right hon. Member has had chances in the past to be involved in trade union matters, and they are not as simple as he thinks.

Would the Home Secretary ask the Attorney-General to direct the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions to a report in The Guardian on 17th June which states that Grunwick has not filed any company accounts at Companies House since 1974? Therefore, we have no up-to-date information about the company's profits, wages bill or number of employees.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will take account of what my hon. Friend has said.

Is it the Home Secretary's understanding of the position that if a given number of people at a place of work, representing the majority of those at work, decide that they do not wish to join a trade union, they should be able to obtain the protection of the law to see that they are not forced to join the trade union? If that is the position, would the Home Secretary say that it is his understanding of the position and say what he intends to do to see that that freedom is protected?

The matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised is not one for the police. It is not a matter for me. It is I hope, a matter for ACAS. It is a matter of the employer and those employed sitting down together and sorting it out. If we treat this situation properly, I believe that there is a chance of that happening. Both sides must sit down and talk. It is intolerable that there are those there who want to make the situation worse. Those who are preventing the parties from sitting down and discussing the problems are playing into the hands of those who do not want a peaceful solution.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is remarkable that a moderate union with moderate leadership, as this union has in the country, and with moderate members on this side of the House amongst my right hon. and hon. Friends, should find itself in this situation? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is a result of deliberate provocation of that moderate union that this situation has occurred? Will he investigate the rôle of Right-wing pressure groups in bringing about that provocation?

I say to my hon. Friend, with his association with trade unionism over the years, that the distinction between moderate and otherwise is not perhaps the right one to draw. The word I use is "responsible", and unions of all sorts have understood this over the years—[HON. MEMBERS: "They are all moderate."] There is no need for my hon. Friends to put it that way, because I have agreed that responsibility is clearly understood on this point. On the question of conditions inside the plant, which is the key to this issue, the parties should sit down and talk, because that is the only way in which the dispute will be resolved.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Order. I propose to call two more speakers from each side. This is not the time for a debate.

First, could the Home Secretary confirm that those officers who have been injured will qualify for criminal injuries compensa- tion? Secondly, will he say how much reduction in police cover there has been in other areas of London so that this situation can be contained, and who will pay the extra cost? Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman reject much more clearly than he did the disgraceful suggestion of collusion between the Metropolitan Police and the employers, when in fact the policeman once again is caught as pig in the middle and is there carrying out a most difficult task with exemplary impartiality?

I have already made clear my view on collusion. Without advice I would rather not give a view about the question of criminal compensation, but I will have a word with the hon. Gentleman. I was asked the numbers of police. Not necessarily actually at the gates, but ready to be employed if required, about 600 policemen are there now. If there are 600 policemen there, then 600 fewer policemen are being deployed elsewhere.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that, if there are 600 policemen who have been mobilised to allow these strike breakers to go to work, it is perfectly understandable that responsible trade unionists from every trade union in the country should show their solidarity—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—with those workers who have been working to end poor wages and rotten conditions imposed by a rotten boss—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]—who by any standards is still living in the last century?

Solidarity with the workers on conditions in the factory is one thing, and I understand that. I hope that my hon. Friend will not draw the wrong conclusion about the numbers. I am saying that there are 600 policemen there to be drawn upon, but not all at one time. There were 1,500 demonstrators there on Friday and so far today there are 1,200. Given that situation, the response is in the numbers that I have mentioned.

First, would the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that it is the duty of the police to see that people are assisted in the exercise of their right to work? Secondly, will he try to expound more clearly what the guidelines are about peaceful picketing? At the moment it is not sufficient to leave this to the courts, as I am sure he will agree. A clear instruction should be given to those persons there who are clearly acting not in the interests of either the union or those employed but in the general interests of mass disorder.

The police are protecting the right to work. They are also protecting the right to picket. The two go together. With regard to the activities of the police, I have noticed over the years—I noticed it during the miners' strike in the early part of this decade—that it is not so much points made in writing; it is not so much guidelines in that sense of the term. It is also an understanding of relationships between policemen and pickets, and in most cases that suffices. We shall get back to that only if the numbers are reduced.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the basic cause of this dispute is the arrogant anti-trade union attitude of the employer, who refuses to talk about this matter? Will my right hon. Friend take steps to bring forward the High Court action in order that the powers of ACAS can be confirmed and this whole matter settled in a more reasonable manner?

The cause of the dispute is clearly in the plant. I have no locus with regard to the High Court. I am not sure what locus my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has, but his attention will be drawn to what my hon. Friend has said.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I noted your ruling at the beginning of this question about the admissibility of certain matters in discussion in the House and their relationship under the sub judice rule. You will remember that a week ago I applied for leave under Standing Order No. 9 to have an urgent debate on this dispute. You then ruled that no discussion was permissible and that no application for a debate under Standing Order No. 9 could be allowed.

As, Mr. Speaker, you have now recognised that it is possible for the House to discuss the general principles of the issue without impinging upon the right of the court to deal with the alleged offences against particular persons, would it not now be right for you to allow an application under Standing Order No. 9 so that the House could express its view upon this issue? It is clearly in the interests of everybody—the police, the strikers and those working at the factory—that there should be an urgent debate in the House so as to put pressure upon all parties to come to a peaceful conclusion to this dispute, which has lasted 10 months. It would, therefore, be in their interests for there to be an early and urgent debate in the House. Would you allow an application under Standing Order No. 9?

Further to that point of. order, Mr. Speaker. For you to rule in accordance with what the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) has argued, it would be necessary for all the matters relating to ACAS which you have ruled are sub judice to be brought into consideration, as no negotiation or search for a compromise is possible until the matter before the High Court is out of the way.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the submissions now being made to you, may I submit to you that, as it has been established clearly this afternoon that the power and duty of the Home Secretary to issue guidelines during an industrial dispute involving the police have remained unimpaired, as he himself has confirmed, it is essential that it should be possible to question the Home Secretary, who is responsible to the House and not to the courts, during the period of the dispute? Therefore, the right to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, in spite of what the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has said, must be fully preserved if the responsibility of the Home Secretary is to be maintained in Parliament.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that during the debates on the formulation of the law as it affects this case, there was some discussion about the use of buses. It is on that, and the guidelines and the necessity to have a debate, that I would strongly urge that we have a chance to look at a practical example of what was in mind in many of the warnings that some of us gave about the use of buses during a dispute to get workers inside a factory—with the assistance of police, I may add. Because of that very point, I urge the Home Secretary again to have a look at this business of guidelines, and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider the possibility of an urgent debate.

I spent a considerable time last week examining this question, because, obviously, I want to preserve the rights of the House to debate issues of national concern, and, at the same time, I must honour the protection of those who are charged before the courts. That is why I gave a very careful ruling on Friday. I am sorry that I did not have a full House when I gave it, but if hon. Members will study Hansard they will see that I concluded by saying:

"… The general issue of the strike as such is not sub judice."—[Official Report, 17th June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 734.]
If an application under Standing Order No. 9 is put to me, I shall consider it on its merits. I cannot say now that I should accept it. Nor do I say that I should reject it. It would be dealt with solely on its merits at the proper time.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In those circumstances, when is the proper time, in view of the fact that——

Order. The hon. Gentleman, surely, has by now learned that it is when we have finished statements.

In so far as the appeal by the trade union leader for civilised joint discussion with the management has been supported by the Home Secretary this afternoon and by the Leader of the Liberal Party, would it be possible, Mr. Speaker, for you to give an opportunity to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who asked this Private Notice Question, to make his contribution to support that appeal?

On a separate point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance on the protection of the privileges of hon. Members? Is it in order for an hon. Member to give the impression on radio that he is the local Member for a particular area when in fact he is not? Second, is it in order for an hon. Member to visit the constituency of another Member and to involve himself in local things without first according the courtesy of telling, in this case, my right hon. friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) that he is going there?

It is a courtesy that we notify each other when we visit other Members' constituencies. It is not always observed. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was in my constituency a week ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Order. I was very interested to read about it in the newspapers. But] cannot rule on the other abstract issue that the hon. Gentleman put to me.