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Trade Union Duties And Activities

Volume 940: debated on Monday 28 November 1977

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

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the draft Code of Practice, entitled Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities, which was laid before this House on 3rd November, be approved.—[Mr. Harold Walker.]

11.30 p.m.

I am grateful to the Minister for moving the motion formally as that permits me to make some comments to which, perhaps, he will reply.

We do not intend to divide the House on this issue but we felt that it would be wrong if a matter of this importance went through on the nod either deliberately or accidentally.

The hon. Gentleman refers to an occasion when through a curious coincidence of accidents we missed the opportunity to debate one of the codes.

The code arises from Sections 57 and 58 of the Employment Protection Act. A duty was laid upon the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to bring forward the code to put flesh upon the legislative requirement that there should be time off for trade union activities and duties.

The ACAS, in carrying out its duties, produced a consultative draft that was circulated in October 1976. I am glad that many amendments have been made to the original consultative draft so as to produce the text that we are now considering.

There is a problem with consultative drafts coming from the ACAS. As I understand the procedure, it is for the ACAS not to express some view of its own in the draft but to take into account the views expressed by bodies such as the TUC and the CBI. Surely it is an impossible task to put all that into one document and circulate it in finding comments that will be taken into consideration in producing a final draft.

There is a danger that the views expressed in the first draft, which aroused strong feelings among some, will be seen as the views of the ACAS civil servants, those working within the ACAS group. That would be unfortunate because some might argue that as a result the first draft would be in some respects a one-sided document, a pro-trade union draft with no acknowledgement of the need for enterprises to be efficient and productive. That would be an unfair charge to lay against its door.

It is important that the ACAS should be seen to be an impartial and independent body. I hope that it will be jealous of its impartiality and independence in circumstances where it feels that it has put forward a draft culled and cobbled together from the views of major power groupings within society. It should make clear what it has done rather than lay itself open to the charge that it is expressing its own rather partial view on a matter of considerable importance.

In paragraph 8 of the code it is a pity that where the general purpose of the statutory provisions are being described there is no reference to the need for enterprises to be efficient and profitable. Surely there is no point in providing facilities for time off for duties or activities of officers or members of trade unions if the enterprise itself is not one that will continue in being as an efficient and profitable undertaking. Recognition of this primary need would have been a helpful addition, but perhaps it may be taken as read that it underlies the whole code.

Paragraph 8 says:
"some employers face particular exigencies of production, services and safety in process industries."
From my knowledge of industry I would say that such exigencies also occur in industries other than process industries. Perhaps the Minister has such a wide definition of "process industries" that it is all embracing. It seems strange that the words "process industries" have been included. Can the Minister help us about their precise meaning?

In paragraph 12 it is suggested that the arrangements ought to be proceeded with by agreement and that the right way to implement the code is by bringing employers and trade union representatives together to get agreed arrangements. That seems to be at the heart of these provisions. The basis seems to be that, the House having given a view and the code having been produced by ACAS, if it is to work properly there must be agreements at the work place to provide reasonable arrangements to implement the code's provisions.

I compare paragraph 13 with the relevant paragraph of the original draft, paragraph 2(1). That underlines what I was saying about the improvements between the first draft and this document. The original was very loose. I am glad that this document is much more explicit and that employers, who were worried about the width of the original wording, may be reassured. The duties for which time off with pay is to be allowed are much more clearly defined. The use of the words
"his or her role in the jointly agreed procedures"
stresses a fundamental tenet and it is important to get agreement about what needs to be done effectively to carry out the provisions of the code.

Paragraph 13(e) has a bearing on our debate last Monday on the subject of industrial tribunals. Can the Minister confirm that its net effect is that an employer would pay for the time off of a trade union official advising one of the employer's former employees who had a case against that employer before an industrial tribunal? I am sure that that is how it should be read.

I am glad to have the Minister's assurance. This is another financial burden on employers in these circumstances. It is a small matter, but it could lead to considerable aggravation of an employer, who might feel that he was being taken to an industrial tribunal somewhat irresponsibly and yet paying for the time off of the person advising the employee.

Paragraphs 14 to 20 deal with training and are very important. I shall not repeat the argument that has gone on for years between the TUC and the CBI, and other employers organisations before the CBI was set up, about the way in which the employer should be involved in training activities. In the past agreement was reached that time off should be allowed for employees to attend approved training courses.

Under these provisions there is no suggestion that the employer should approve the courses but paragraph 18 states that the employer should have details of them. I am a supporter of achieving as much joint involvement in training in industry as possible. There is a great advantage in trying to arrange training programmes for shop stewards and others when there is an input from both the trade union and employer. If this can be done by agreement it is advantageous. I hope that nothing in the code will detract from the type of joint arrangements which have been made in the past and which I should like to see extended.

I welcome the commitment in paragraph 22 to make it easier for members to be involved more in union elections when they are held, not by secret postal ballot but by voting in the more traditional sense either at the work place or close to it. The suggestion that members should be permitted to take reasonable time off during working hours to vote at union elections is first class.

I should like to see more trade unionists involved in electing trade union officials and officers. One of the difficulties in the past has arisen because extremists and politically motivated individuals are able to operate more effectively and take positions of power because of the apathy of those who do not turn up at branch meetings that are held away from their work place. The present system is such that few participate.

I am in favour of greater participation in all elections whether they are to this House, to local authorities or to appoint union officials.

I said that I was in favour of greater participation in any elections. Anything that encourages greater participation has my support.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), from his normal seated position, can give me a list as long as his arm but he will not detract me from my view that the more participation we have in our democratic procedures the better.

I shall not give way. I do not care particularly what the hon. Member's views are. I want to see the greatest possible participation in union affairs and in other elections. I would have thought that any true democrat would support such a view.

In paragraph 22 of the Code of Practice, in the fifth line, the word "or" appears, and I wonder whether the word "and" would not be more appropriate. The wording is:
"Also there may be occasions when it is reasonable for unions to hold meetings of members during working hours because of the urgency of the matter to be discussed or 'where to do so would not adversely affect production or services."
It does not appear to me that these are alternatives—that the meeting should be held either when the matter is urgent or when production would not be adversely affected. It seems to me that the sentence would make much more sense if the word were "and" rather than "or". Perhaps the Minister will say whether, as sometimes happens, a mistake has occurred in the drafting, or whether it is the intention merely to indicate that these meetings should not be held in such a way that the production would be adversely affected.

Am I to understand that the hon. Gentleman believes enthusiastically in democracy unless production is affected?

What I said—the hon. Gentleman will be able to read it tomorrow—was that it does not seem to me that it is an either/or situation, so that these meetings should be held either when the matter is urgent or when production is not affected. That would seem to me to be a very curious either/or situation, and I invite the Minister to help the House by giving his views.

I will not give way.

I turn now to paragraph 33 of the code, on which I have one comment to make. The reference in the fourth line of paragraph 33 to "members" seems to me to be the only reference at all in the code to carrying through the provisions of Section 58(4) of the Employment Protection Act 1975, which says that the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and the code referred to in the section shall
"provide practical guidance on the following matters, that is to say, the question whether, and the circumstances in which a trade union member is to be permitted to take time off under this section for trade union activities connected with industrial action."
It may be that I am not reading the code as those who drafted it intended, but I should be grateful if the Minister would indicate where the requirements of Section 58(4) of the Employment Protection Act 1975 are carried out in the Code of Practice, if it is otherwise than in that one small reference in the final paragraph of the code.

It is my view that the Code of Practice can be either a tool or a weapon. As an engineer, I can think of very many tools which can be used for practical constructive work or which, used in another way, can be very dangerous weapons. As a tool, the code could improve industrial relations. As a weapon, it could disrupt production. Used responsibly, it could be of considerable use. Used in a pedantic, legalistic and obstructive manner, it could easily cause great damage.

It is not our intention, as I indicated, to vote against the motion tonight, but that does not mean to say that we agree with all aspects of the code. I do not believe that the Confederation of British Industry would. I do not believe that others who have had a hand in its production are committed absolutely to total support for all its provisions. But ACAS has produced in the code a generally acceptable compromise, and that is the job that ACAS had to do. I believe that we in Parliament, whether on the Government or on the Opposition side, should give approval to the code tonight. We should be prepared to return to consideration of these matters if experience shows that the code is not working well.

I hope that ACAS will find means of monitoring the way in which the code is used. If defects emerge, if its provisions are misused, if clarification is needed or it its provisions are not effective, ACAS should be prepared to come forward with amendments to this code which we shall consider.

Having made some critical comments about the code—other critical comments can be made from different points of view—I still believe that the right course tonight is to approve the code and to see how it works. If changes are needed in future we should consider them, but we on the Opposition Benches will give the code a fair wind tonight.

11.51 p.m.

Initially I want to welcome the code very much. As someone who was involved in a number of shop stewards' courses before I entered this House, it seems to me that much of what is in the code is already practised by a large number of companies up and down the country. I take it that this is an attempt to bring some of the others who have been reticent more into line.

I should like to make one or two critical comments. First, it is quite wrong to use the word "training" because in this area of industrial relations we should think much more in terms of giving those involved a much wider knowledge and of providing knowledge on a whole range of fronts. I am worried that the code will stick too rigidly to what it describes as "training" which is relevant to the industrial relations duty of an official.

That is too tight a definition. I hope therefore that my assessment of the code is wrong. I believe that shop stewards should be able to acquire knowledge in terms of economics and for example the way in which the capitalist system is run. They should be able to acquire knowledge in the areas of psychology, sociology and so forth. I hope, therefore, that we shall not restrict the code simply to what certain employers feel is the industrial relations requirements for their companies.

I found that employers were more than willing to pay for courses if they were to brainwash shop stewards into accepting productivity schemes, job evaluation schemes, measured day work schemes or one of the many schemes that business and management consultants bring out practically every day of the week. I am worried about that tendancy to restrict.

As the TUC pointed out in its document "Good Industrial Relations" knowledge is strength and power. I would regret it very much if the code simply pro- vided so-called "training" which told a shop steward how he or she ought to behave within a particular company. I hope it is quite clear that the job of a trade union official, shop steward and representative is to protect and to further the interests of the people whom they represent. Fundamentally that is their job.

I do not for a minute accept what the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) was trying to put across—that such people have other kinds of duties which, it seems to me, management or their consultants can adequately deal with. Their main function is to represent working people and to further their interests. I hope that "training" will be on that basis.

I also think that it is a great pity that we have not made any advance in planning agreements. What an opportunity it would be to link planning agreements in British industry to the right of shop stewards and other trade union activists to receive courses of appreciation in opening the books of companies and challenging the assumptions and edicts that we get day in and day out from management.

I suggest that it is ironical that we have this at a time when we have what to all intents and purposes is a statutory incomes policy. One of the functions of appreciation courses for shop stewards should be to enable them to put a good case to management in wage negotiations. However, we have at the moment a statutory level of increase of 10 per cent., and it seems almost a waste of time to train shop stewards to represent their members in a better fashion in wage negotiations, knowing that at the end of the day, even though they could make a good case for more than 10 per cent., the Government will make sure that they do not get it.

We talk about courses of training for shop stewards. However, in my experience it is people in management who need industrial relations training. Again, it is a little ironical that there is no mention of this in the document. I am not saying that there should have been a special section devoted to it. But I think it ought to be made clear in the introduction to a code of this kind that it is people in management who really need training. The level of appreciation and understanding of industrial relations amongst employers and managers, who are the real decision makers, is pathetic, to say the least.

By and large, Government supporters will welcome the provision of time off to enable people to attend certain meetings and functions. I take very little notice of the opinion of the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth in regard to the importance of ensuring democracy in voting. The point has been made already that few shareholders ever bother to turn up at company meetings. The Opposition do not seem to want to encourage that. They do not want to encourage a democratic involvement when it produces results they do not like. The real life of a trade union is at branch level, and the real answer should be to encourage more people to attend branch meetings. The answer is not to come up with all sorts of gimmicks and to sidetrack branches meetings.

Did my hon. Friend hear the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsolver (Mr. Skinner) that he did not care about his view? Was not that exactly the situation which led to the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) voting for a Communist in an election in his branch of APEX? Is it not important to get information and to care about other people's views so that we can understand exactly what we are voting for in the trade union movement?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.

I return to my earlier argument. I hope that there will not be a tendency to restrict the content of courses of appreciation for shop stewards and trade union representatives. There should be courses of appreciation in economics, sociology, psychology and politics. There should even be some information for example on the lifeline being given by the Bank of England to major companies and similar issues and on the financial structures and balance sheets of those companies. All in all, we must challenge the elistist concept in British industry that only certain people in management have the kind of knowledge that is required to make decisions.

When we look back at the record of British economic and industrial growth over the past few years, we see what incredibly stupid mistakes have been made. If the aim is to challenge that elitism and the myths which have been built up about the competence of British management, I am all for it.

One final aspect in which shop stewards and trade union representatives need training is how effectively to organise industrial action to defend workers interests. I hope that that will not be left out of any course which they attend.

12 midnight

I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) that there is need to improve the training and qualifications of management. I doubt whether this code is the right place for it, but I am glad that he spoke about it.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe), I welcome this code. I have been consistent in urging that it should be made much easier for people to participate in trade union activities. It is enormously important to avoid the situation in which people find, at the end of the day, that they are too exhausted to attend a branch meeting.

For one reason or another, union democracy withers on the vine because of lack of participation. To the extent that the code will make it easier for people to participate in union activities and make elections and some decision-making more democratic, I unreservedly welcome the idea behind the code, and the code itself.

It is as well to realise that when the small firms wake up to it, as I suspect that they have not, they will regard the code as another straw on their back, and it will be important to explain to them that it will not add enormously to their already extremely heavy burden. Had it been possible to provide a cut-off point for a minimum size of firm to which the code would apply, I would have felt a little happier, but I accept that it is not possible to do so.

That being so, I would have liked to see written into the code a rather firmer declaration of the special problems and difficulties which can affect a very small firm faced with the need to allow time off—perhaps quite a lot—for union activities. This problem gets but a passing mention.

Paragraph 8 refers to
"the special circumstances of the small firm".
That is the only regard paid to the special problems of the small firms. I would have liked to see the language strengthened there. I do not think that anything but good can come of this as far as large firms are concerned.

As my hon. Friend said, everything depends on the spirit in which the code is operated. There is no doubt that it could be used as a weapon. There is nothing in the language of the code to prevent evil-intentioned persons from using it completely to sabotage the operations of a firm they wished to damage. The language restraining them therefrom in the code is flexible in the extreme. There are such expressions in paragraph 25, for example, which says that the management representative should be
"informed as far in advance as is reasonable in the circumstances."
There is no kind of guidance as to what constitutes reasonable advance notice. Paragraph 29 says:
"The union official and union member should not unduly or unnecessarily prolong the time they are absent from work on union duties or activities."
Once again there is not even a guideline as to what constitutes an undue or unnecessarily long time. There is something to be said for putting some kind of figure as to the number of hours a week which might be considered to be reasonable.

I do not want to press this because whatever influence is used and whatever stipulations are put into the code, everything depends on the spirit in which it is operated. I hope that the fact that the code has received an unreserved welcome from the Conservative Benches will indicate that in such contacts as we have with business we shall urge those involved to co-operate with the maximum amount of enthusiasm, which they can muster.

12.6 a.m.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas), I spent many years in trade union education and it is to that aspect of the code that I want to address my remarks. The code represents a small step towards improved industrial relations and perhaps a smaller step towards a measure of industrial democracy. It is significant that, while company directors can get off to board meetings without any let or hindrance, shop stewards, who may have a vital problem to discuss with full-time officials or with their members, have often been prevented from doing so during working hours. To that extent the code is to be welcomed. All that it does is to codify the industrial practices operated by the best firms.

Those of us who have been involved for any time in trade union education have been concerned to see the education side stressed rather than the training side. My hon. Friend for Bristol, North-West and I have been well aware of situations when companies have approached providing bodies and said "We have a problem. The shop stewards do not understand the grievance procedure. Would you do a one-day or two-day course to show them how to use it?" or "We are trying to introduce a new job evaluation scheme and the shop stewards do not understand what job evaluation is. Will you come along and tell them about it in fairly general terms?" The companies have been trying to get the tutors in industrial relations to act as suckers to do the groundwork for them and to present a fairly reasonable front for some scheme which would be objectionable in the long run.

We have constantly stressed the need for trade union representatives and trade union members to be able to participate in trade union education, which is an entirely different subject from the mainstream of education. It is necessary to inform trade unionists so that they are not only trained in the affairs of their unions but are able to play a participatory role in the company for which they work. If we are to have industrial democracy as we in the Labour Party understand it, trade union members must be able critically to examine the total concept of the firm in which they are employed. I have not yet seen a comprehensive system of industrial relations education or any other kind of trade union education which would fit them to do that.

We know about the problems of joint involvement in syllabuses. My experience is that this is usually meant to provide some input into the syllabus to sell some point on behalf of the company. That is dangerous. It is certainly not education. At best it is indoctrination and at worst downright political propaganda. We have to be objective about this. Hon. Members are getting some experience of joint courses. My experience of these courses is that one of two things happens. Either the shop stewards try to score off the management and the management clown or the situation is reversed. There is no dialogue.

The hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) should understand that we are operating with two different value systems. In those circumstances, although one hopes that education will bridge the gap, to think that it is possible to conduct meaningful courses on issues directly related to the workplace is asking too much.

My other criticism of the training and education aspects of the code concerns an area in which I had a specific interest before I became a Member. I accept that perhaps some of the phrases in the code cover race relations, education and training, but I should have liked to see more in the code relating directly to the race relations aspect. There are many firms and industries in which, if we are to have meaningful industrial democracy, we have to provide the opportunity for the majority of the employees, in some cases, to participate in that democracy. The first barrier is that of language. We should have emphasised the deep problems that exist in the textile industry and other industries in relation to education and training, particularly language training and race relations. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will emphasise the importance of this point.

My second point is that it is fine to talk about providing opportunities for education and training, but someone has to provide the facilities in terms of cash and, perhaps even more important, personnel to carry out that education and training. It is not good enough to assume that someone will learn the process of industrial relations by "sitting next to Nellie", by sitting next to the chap who already does the job, or by going to meetings.

The quid pro quo on the training of trade union representatives is that there is a great need for more cash and facilities to be given to the providing bodies in this field. I accept that this may not be the responsibility of my hon. Friend, but I hope that he will talk about this with the Department of Education and Science. More cash and facilities are needed by the Workers' Educational Association, and by the extra-mural departments of polytechnics involved in this work.

Teaching posts are frozen at the moment, and as long as posts are frozen we cannot talk about expansion. In many cases the departments concerned could not expand much more without putting an intolerable pressure on those involved in this area of education. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West and I would have welcomed more cash and facilities when the field was being pioneered 12 years ago. It was only in 1963 that the TUC created the present scheme of education and training and the NCLC was wound up, and a new kind of partnership was created between the TUC and the Workers' Educational Association and other providing bodies, and we had the present scheme for trade union education.

I accept that many unions were doing it long before, but many unions were unable to provide it. It was the partnership that created this provision. Since then the demand has out-stripped the provision. If we are to meet the kind of obligations laid down in the code and give an opportunity to any shop steward who is elected to go on a proper course of education, we need to create far more facilities than we have.

It is regrettable that, when we are talking about providing a training college in the North, we find that Faircroft College, in the Midlands, has still not reopened. There is some doubt about whether it will reopen, and what kind of courses it will provide. The Government must put their money where their mouth is and say "If we believe in good industrial relations and in working class education, trade union education, we have to provide the cash." I hope that it will be forthcoming soon.

12.14 a.m.

If the Government believed in good industrial relations they would have sent the top civil servants and Ministers on industrial relations courses long ago.

I welcome this code of practice. It is a weapon, as the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) rightly said. As I see it, it is a function of Labour Members to provide weapons for working people to defend and advance their own interests. It is a tragedy that we have had to wait so long for this code following the implementation of the Employment Protection Act.

My remarks will be brief and related mainly to paragraph 13 of the code. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will answer one query concerning the combine committees. There are many large companies today, multi-plant companies and multinational companies in some cases, where the interests of workers and work groups often transcend the allegiance of individual trade unions. The fact that they work for a certain employer at different sites around the country is their binding force.

Neither the official trade union movement nor Government Departments look gladly at combine committees, but some of the committees are becoming really effective. One can quote as an example of the past the British Motor Corporation committee of 10 years ago. Today, with a different industrial relations perspective, one would cite the Lucas Aerospace combine shop stewards committee. I want the shop stewards and trade union members working in such a combine to be able to use the expertise, skills and technology available to them at various sites to frame an alternative corporate plan, a workers' corporate plan.

I have a feeling that once the lawyers become involved they will say that this is not industrial relations and is not covered by the items listed in paragraph 13, for example. This matter is crucial. By the time the code of practice comes into force next April there could be problems in Lucas Aerospace. I attended today a meeting on this very issue with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry, responsible for aerospace. I want an assurance that the shop stewards and leaders of the Lucas Aerospace combine committee may have the necessary time off, without loss of pay and without the present fear of victimisation, to refine their ideas and get them straight, ready to negotiate with the company.

That is what will have to happen in the end.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government are serious about planning agreements shop stewards and trade union representatives should have every opportunity to make a contribution to those planning agreements?

I will tell my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry said publicly today that he would ask the Lucas Aerospace company to enter into a planning agreement with the Government. The workers' problems that the combine group of shop stewards have come up against could have been solved if there had been planning agreements in operation. They are about involving the workers in what is happening in their company.

This does not mean only that the workers are involved through their official structure as we on the Labour Benches understand it. We must take account today of the growth of combine committees and the power of the work group in multi-plant companies. This is something with which the official trade union leadership has not yet come to grips. I hope that the implementation of the code of practice will send the combine committee movement on a little faster.

I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to confirm the statement of the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) that under paragraph 13(a) it is intended that a workmate, a shop steward, can attend an industrial tribunal and represent or speak on behalf of an aggrieved constituent, a former employee who has already had the boot, without loss of pay and the victimisation that there can be today.

Unlike the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), I do not criticise the industrial tribunals. I feel aggrieved if I do not get one case into an industrial tribunal at least once a month. I feel that I am failing in my job if I do not have one constituent using the tribunal system, which is there to be used by constituents.

I hope that my hon. Friend will nail what the hon. Gentleman said about paragraph 22. The paragraph clearly implies that if a matter is urgent it shall be discussed irrespective of the problems of production. That is what paragraph 22 says as it stands, though it is not what the hon. Gentleman wishes it to mean.

As some of my hon. Friends know, part of my industrial experience was in production management. It used to grieve me if the vans were not being loaded and the production line stopped. But I never had a production line stopped for this sort of reason, because my colleagues and I, and most of my superiors—though not all—were putting into practice precisely what is in this code now.

If a matter is urgent, it does not matter if production is interrupted because, if no account is taken of an urgent matter, more production will be lost at the end of the day than would be lost if it were interrupted in the first place. This is the story of British Leyland. There would not have been all the problems in British Leyland in the past few years, and we should not have lost the production of so many cars, if cognisance had been taken of the workers' problems in the first place.

I come now to paragraph 29, to which the hon. Member for Flint, West referred. I resent the presence of this paragrant in the code of practice. It is a criticism and an implication that workers' representatives, shop stewards and trade union officials, cannot be trusted to use only the time necessary to carry out their functions on behalf of the workers. I contrast paragraph 29 with the expansive lunch hours of managers in British industry.

:And on the golf course. What about those lunch hours which never end because the people are never seen back in the factories at the end of the day? Where is the admonishment there? There is not a word. Yet it is thought fit to put in not an implied criticism but an explicit criticism to the effect that trade union officials and shop stewards cannot be trusted. This is the sort of attitude which has permeated British industrial relations in the past few years—a lack of trust and a fear of assuming that ordinary work people can accept a responsibility. Even the Government sometimes cannot accept that workers' representatives can play a truly responsible role.

It is that refusal to grant responsibility that drives people into a corner and brings on others who do not wish to be responsible but wish to use a given situation for all kinds of other purposes.

I deeply resent paragraph 29 and its criticism, and if it were possible to do so I should move an amendment to delete it on the ground that it discriminates and is totally unfair to those whom we are now asking to do a job as representatives of British workers. We are asking them to do it on behalf of the Labour Government. It is their job. We give them a weapon, and we expect them to use it. We do not expect them to start off with a slur on their character and one hand tied behind their back. Yet that is what paragraph 29 does, in my opinion.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will allude directly to paragraph 29 and point out, although his words will not have the force of the draft code, that it is not intended as a slur and is not intended to mean that trade union representatives are irresponsible. I hope that he will put that at least on the record tonight so that some of us later, when problems arise, can use my hon. Friend's words. We know that he is greatly respected outside the House for the work he has done in bringing forward this proposal and the Employment Protection Act. I ask him not to let the occasion pass without a direct reference to paragraph 29.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth pointed out that there were not many hon. Members on the Back Benches. I am not convinced that there will be no opposition to this draft code of practice when the Question is put. We know what the Tory Party has been doing both inside and outside the House. We saw the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) at it again tonight on "Panorama". The Tories have launched a massive campaign against the Employment Protection Act, and tonight gives them a God-sent chance to mount an ambush against the Government. I suspect that outside this place, in the clubs—not in the pubs now, because they should be closed—in the dining rooms and in the flats around Westminster there are Members of Parliament waiting to ambush the Government.

The Tories are committed to oppose and to reform the Employment Protection Act, and one of the things at the root of their opposition is the weapons we have given to the trade union movement. This is a most important weapon, and it is only when the draft code is passed that I shall believe that there is no opposition to it from the Tory Front Bench or from any other Conservative Members.

I say that because they cannot complain, through the media and by other means, that the Employment Protection Act has resulted in massive constraints upon businesses, both small and large, and then allow this code, which is a weapon to ensure workers' rights, to be passed. They cannot say that that Act imposes burdens on small and medium-sized firms, which should have good industrial, relations and usually do because they are small and medium-sized, and allow the code to pass without a vote. If they do, they will have to answer in the country for their actions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is particularly offensive that this paragraph, which suggests that trade unionists would abuse any time given to them for discussions of this nature, should come from this place, where many hon. Members are in receipt of public funds and spend a lot of time on other occupations?

Most hon. Members are part-time. About 400 have other jobs to go to. Look at the number of Members present. There are no Liberals, no Ulster Unionists and no Scottish and Welsh nationalists. In fact, very few Tories are present. It is a credit to this side of the House that three Ministers and so many of my hon. Friends are present. We are suspicious that some Tory Members are waiting in ambush to ditch this important measure.

12.26 a.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is right to draw attention to the disparity in the balance of hon. Members present on this occasion but I do not know that it is right to express the suspicion that he has done of Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) and I are not always given to uttering kind words about each other, but I am prepared, without hesitation, to believe him when he says that he and his hon. Friends have no intention of dividing the House this evening.

I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr said about the report that he had heard that the Opposition intend to launch an all-out assault on the Employment Protection Act. I was under the impression that that Act had been subjected to an all-out assault for the past two years. Perhaps the difference now is that we might be told which parts of the Act the Opposition intend to repeal, or precisely what they intend to do. Whenever we have asked them to state precisely what they mean to do they have retreated into a quiet corner knowing that, by and large, the Act is a popular measure not only among trade unionists but among those who have seen the inestimable benefits that it has brought for industrial relations generally.

Where are the inestimable benefits for the workers at Grunwick Limited? I have listened carefully to the argument about this wonderful code of conduct and what it will do to improve industrial relations. If it is to do anything, and if the Employment Protection Act is as good as my hon. Friend is suggesting, why it is that George Ward, backed by the Tory forces opposite, has been able for about 18 months to keep workers out of a trade union? The same applies to E and H at Langley Mill, in Derbyshire and to Sandersons, near Skegness. There is to be a demonstration there on Saturday, and I hope to be present.

All those things are allowed to happen, and now my hon. Friend comes along with a little camouflage and suggests that everything in the garden is rosy. When he has brought George Ward to task I shall understand that he is doing something fundamental.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not allow his assessment of the benefits of the Act to be obscured by the deplorable situation at Willesden. He should ask himself why, if the Act is so lacking in benefits for the trade union movement, it has been so bitterly attacked by Conservative Members. I doubt whether the House would expect me to be led into a debate about the Grunwick dispute, but I should be happy to debate the matter with my hon. Friend on an appropriate occasion. If he gets an Adjournment debate I shall be happy to respond to it.

I have to reply to points raised in the debate about the code of practice that is before the House. I must stress that it is not the Government's code or my code; it is the ACAS code. I am in the same position as every hon. Member in interpreting its words. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr will be encouraged if I say that we must take paragraph 22 as meaning what it says. That paragraph states:
"Also there may be occasions when it is reasonable for unions to hold meetings of members during working hours because of the urgency of the matter to be discussed or where to do so would not adversely affect production or services".
It says "or", and that is the word that we ask the House to approve.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) wanted to insert "and" instead of "or"? He was saying that one could not deal with an immediate problem if it interfered with production.

I am picking up that point and stressing that my interpretation is the same as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr and contrary to that of the Opposition spokesman.

It is ACAS' code and therefore it is not for me to attempt to explain why ACAS arrived at the conclusions it reached or to try to understand its reasoning. It is merely for me to say to what extent we accept the code.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth echoed the complaint in the document before the recent first annual conference of the CBI "Britain means business" which said:
"Much of ACAS work has been applauded, particularly in conciliation of disputes, but there is concern … about the way it conducts recognition enquiries and about the biased nature of its consultative drafts on codes of practice".
The hon. Gentleman felt that there was room for criticism of the code. When drawing up any code under the Act, ACAS is required to publish a first draft for consultation, to consider all representations and to submit the final draft for the approval of the Secretary of State and, subsequently, Parliament. That procedure was followed in the preparation of this draft code and the consultative document was produced only after extensive consultations with the TUC and CBI.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth also reminded us that ACAS issued a consultative document setting out the first draft of the code in October and copies of the consultative document were made widely available. In all, ACAS received 200 formal submissions from the TUC, CBI, individual employers, employers' associations, professional associations, local authorities and individuals. After the submissions had been carefully considered, there were meetings with some of the more important organisations to discuss them further. The present code reflects in its changes the comments and advice that ACAS received.

This is not the first code of practice stemming from the Act. I very much regret that because of a series of misfortunes, none of which was his responsibility, the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth was deprived of the opportunity to comment on behalf of the Opposition on the code on the disclosure of information. I very much regret the circumstances of that occasion, and I accept my fair share of the blame for them.

The hon. Member criticised the lack of an efficiency criterion in paragraph 8 of the code. He also criticised some of the things that had been included. He referred to the passage dealing with the
"particular exigencies of production, services and safety process industries."
The paragraph says that these are examples. It would have been unreasonable for us to expect ACAS to attempt to specify in that paragraph all the criteria which should have been taken into account in determining when it is appropriate to have time off for trade union duties. I wonder, too, whether it would have been within the terms of reference of ACAS to refer to an efficiency criterion.

The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends referred to the question of training. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) was critical even of the use of the word "training", and suggested that we needed something wider such as experience, knowledge, or education. I understand his point. But in paragraph 14 the code reflects what he was saying. It reads:
"To carry out their duties effectively officials need to possess skills and knowledge. In addition to the practical experience obtained from holding office officials should undertake training in relevant subjects when necessary."
The need to possess skills, knowledge and practical experience is therefore acknowledged.

I take my hon. Friend's point. But paragraph 15, which seems to be linked to the preceding paragraph, says that the training should be relevant to the industrial relations duties of the official. That worries me. It seems too restricting.

The Act provided ACAS with the mandate to set up a code which dealt with time off for trade union duties. While there is no specific reference to shop stewards, they were the people that we had primarily in mind. The circumstances in which time off might be appropriate, and the purposes for which training is required, are specified.

My hon. Friend said that it was ironic that there was no mention of training for management. Notwithstanding the validity of that criticism, the code is about time off for trade union duties and activities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) referred to the need for language training. I hope that there will be no difference between us about the importance of this. I know that my hon. Friend speaks from personal experience in his constituency. But in so far as it refers to training, the code deals with time off for the training of trade union officials.

Is it not a fact that in the textile industry language training in race relations fall within trade union activi- ties? One of the problems for trade unions in the textile industry in particular, where there are many immigrant workers, is to educate those workers in the meaning of trade union membership and responsibilities to enable them to participate in trade union duties.

I understand that point that my hon. Friend is making. If he is saying that the code should specifically provide that a trade union official or members should be allowed time off to allow him to carry out his trade union activities, taking into account his ethnic origins and lack of familiarity with the English language, I am sure that that will be considered by those who will have to apply the code. It may be that occasions will arise when the point that my hon. Friend raised will be relevant.

My hon. Friends have spoken about the importance of adequate Government support for training, and it may interest them if I digress to say that the Government share that view. It is important that we support trade union training and education. For that reason we have provided since last year what I consider to be a significant amount of financial support to the TUC and affiliated independent trade unions. In 1976–77 the grant that we made available for trade union education purposes was £400,000. This year the grant will be increased to £650,000, which includes £100,000 towards the cost of short courses of two to three days for categories of education that were not eligible for assistance in the first year.

In anticipation of the expected growth in employee participation and the education needs that will arise from that, the TUC has made proposals for a major expansion of the training and education provision by the early 1980s. The proposals, which would call for at least a corresponding increase in the level of Government financial support, are being carefully considered by my Department and the Department of Education and Science. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale, in stressing the need for Government support for precisely that kind of training, referred to the National Council for Labour Colleges. I am bound to say that he struck a responsive chord in my heart because for many years I was the Secretary of the Manchester and Salford College of that organisation.

There are upwards of 200,000 shop stewards in British industry and if we are providing only £3 for each one, does my hon. Friend agree that we have a long way to go yet?

I understand that, but I ask my hon. Friend to appreciate that we are making some progress. After all the years of the trade union movement's existence when it was unthinkable that there should be one penny of public money spent on supporting trade union education and training, it is significant that in 1976–77, 1977–78 and beyond we should be providing what I think are significant sums. I am bound to say that only a few years ago the trade union movement itself would have been suspicious about taking money from the State. I hope that the fact that it is now taking it is an indication of the confidence that it has in the present Government and their good intentions.

The hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) is usually most reasonable and constructive when discussing these matters. Tonight, he seemed to be indulging in an aberration from his normal, more reasonable, personality when he suggested —I am paraphrasing his words, but I am not exaggerating them—that there may be malevolent people who would seek to exploit the code for damaging industrial relations purposes. That is not the sort of language that he normally uses. I think that my hon. Friends would be the first to assert that the code is couched in the most moderate and reasonable terms. I am sure that if anyone sought to exploit it in the terms suggested it would be for an industrial tribunal to make the final judgment. I know that in the Conservative Party currently there are some doubts and scepticism about industrial tribunals, but I think that industrial tribunals would have to interpret the very reasonable language in which the code is couched.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth was rather critical of paragraph 33, which concerns time off in respect of industrial action. The Act specifically asked ACAS to address itself to this possibility in the code. The guidance that it gives is sensible and, in the kind of situation that may well exist, the reasonable granting of time off, by pro- viding proper discussion and the adequate informing of those concerned, may well provide a satisfactory resolution of what may be an actual or potential dispute. Confusion or lack of information at such a time may well only worsen a situation.

The hon. Member asked me about the proper representation of members of a trade union before industrial tribunals, and my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr asked me to confirm his understanding that paragraph 13(e) meant that it would be reasonable to allow time off for a trade union official to appear before an industrial tribunal even though that tribunal might be dealing with a case of unfair dismissal by that official's own employer. Yes, indeed, that is the interpretation that certainly I would place on those provisions. I do not see that it would be unreasonable.

There may be those who would say that that was an odd situation, that here was an employer who sacked a chap and then had to allow time off and pay for it so that a shop steward could represent the dismissed worker, even against his own employer. Of course, nobody queries the other side of it, which is that the employer will often be represented before the industrial tribunal by a member of the management who is receiving his pay from the same company. There is nothing at all odd about my interpretation. It can spring only from the assumption that the interests of the company are identified only with the employer, whereas I assert that the interests of the company are identifiable with the whole company, the employees as well as the employer.

Paragraph 29 says:
"The union official and union member should not unduly or unnecessarily prolong the time they are absent from work on union duties or activities."
The code is required to address itself to what is reasonable in all the circumstances. My understanding is that reasonableness extends both ways. While there is a ready assumption that reasonableness is intended to act as a brake on the employee or on the trade union official, it should also extend the other way and the employer should be prepared to accept reasonableness, and perhaps that is the criterion that should be used in the application of paragraph 29.

In the absence of any indication of what constitutes a reasonable amount of time off, clearly reasonableness can be extended indefinitely in both directions.

Of course it can not. If there is a difference of opinion between the trade union representative and the employer it will be laid before the industrial tribunal for it to decide what is "reasonable". Naturally, we hope that there will be few of such cases.

I agree with the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth that it is to be hoped that the application of the code will proceed by agreement and understanding and that the tribunals will be kept out of it as much as possible. However, perhaps there will be cases where "reasonableness" will have to be decided by an industrial tribunal and case law will be built up to establish what is "reasonable" and "unreasonable" in the application of the code.

I hope that I have not missed too many of the questions raised by hon. Members.

I wish to raise a brief but new point with the Minister. How many copies of the code have been printed? Will they be available to the many thousands of shop stewards and others who may want them? It would be typical if 200,000 people wanted copies and only 20,000 were available.

I cannot answer that question, and I suspect that my hon. Friend knew that I would not be able to. If he is anxious about the adequacy of the printing I shall look into it. It is interesting that, unlike most Government publications which carry the price of a single copy, this code shows the price of bulk orders. I hope that it will have a wide readership and that it will be carefully studied by those to whom it applies.

It might also be useful if small firms were able to obtain copies of the code easily.

I am not sure what the hon. Member means. Perhaps he is hinting that I did not take up his argument about small firms. The code will be as readily available to small firms as to any other employer or trade union. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have been grateful that the code specifically refers to small firms and suggests that trade unions should take their circumstances into account when applying for time off.

I hope that I have not missed replying to too many questions. The code is not mine. It is not the Government's code. It is the code produced by ACAS. I have expressed the Government's view of its provisions.

The Government intend to bring the provisions of the Act and the code into operation on 1st April 1978. That should give those concerned on both sides of industry adequate time in which to review arrangements for time off and to reach agreement about any changes that might be necessary. When we have implemented Clauses 57 and 58 the whole of the Employment Protection Act will be in operation. This is an achievement of which we can be proud.

These provisions represent a major part of one of the most significant improvements in industrial relations that this country has experienced. I hope that the House will join me in commending ACAS for the code. I am sure that all those involved in industrial relations will find it helpful.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Code of Practice, entitled Time Off for Trade Union Duties and Activities which was laid before this House on 3rd November, be approved.