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Volume 977: debated on Monday 28 January 1980

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asked the Attorney General if he will make a statement on his consideration of the law relating to picketing.

The Government have indeed reviewed the law on picketing, and their current proposals resulting from that review are contained in the Employment Bill now before the House.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that Mr. Scargill has now called for civil disobedience? Is he aware that this second-rate revolutionary has only a small number of people who support him, including a handful of Labour Members, and that his views are opposed by the overwhelming majority? Is he satisfied that the proposals in the Bill to which he has referred, as well as the present law, provide adequate protection for those who want to mind their own business and go about their work normally?

There are two important elements in my hon. Friend's supplementary question. Whatever view one may take about them, I hope that everybody will share the view that they are of the greatest importance. I have not seen the statement attributed to Mr. Scargill. However, if anybody is advocating civil disobedience, that is of the utmost importance. I am sure that we shall all wish to see exactly what was said before expressing a view about it.

My hon. Friend asks whether the Government are satisfied with the law in general. The answer is "No". There are two respects in which those who picket in furtherance of a trade dispute are favoured compared with others, namely, sections 15 and 13 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974, as amended. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and the Government have shown that they are not satisfied with either. Current proposals for changing them are contained in the Bill that is before the House.

Since the Bill was presented—[Interruption.] I hope that the House will realise the importance of this issue. I have been asked a question and I propose to answer it. Since the Bill was debated in the House there have been serious developments. Certain cases have come before the courts, and clearly my right hon. Friend wishes to give the most careful and urgent consideration to those cases and the matters that have developed from them.

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that all my right hon. and hon. Friends regard as more serious the statement made by the Prime Minister the other day on a television programme with Brian Walden, namely, that the proposals that are being put before the House are only interim measures and that the Government will consider introducing proposals on picketing? That must be regarded as more serious in terms of good industrial relations than anything that Mr. Arthur Scargill may have said.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to the second half of my answer. Obviously the developments of recent weeks have raised new and very serious questions. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has indicated the importance which the Government attach to those questions and the urgency with which they will be considered.

Order. We were one minute late in starting questions to the Attorney-General. I shall therefore call one more hon. Member from each side.

In view of the current argument about the effect of calling out the private steel sector, will my hon. and learned Friend consider whether

"furtherance of a trade dispute"
should be more restrictively defined in future legislation?

That is one of the questions that we must consider. I am sure that the people of Britain will want us to consider the whole issue very carefully before we express our views. The decisions that are taken will affect every aspect of life in this country for a long time to come.

My hon. Friend's point will be considered, but it would be idle at this stage for anyone to express views about what the answer to that question—or any aspect of it—should be.

Does the Solicitor-General agree that many people fear that Lord Denning's judgment, which was made at the weekend, has hardly helped the matter? Many people also fear that that judgment will provide more explosive material in an already dangerous minefield. Lord Denning has made the law even more uncertain, and he is therefore bringing the law, and the rule of law, into disrepute. Will the Solicitor-General advise his noble Friend that, although hon. Members may have respected Lord Denning in the past, the time has now come for him to retire?

Order. Such remarks should be made only when there is a motion on the Order Paper. Judges are not to be criticised unless there is a substantive motion before the House.

Many people have fears that arise from the present situation. No purpose is served by concentrating on criticism—direct or indirect—concerning a judgment the text of which the hon. and learned Member for Abertillery (Mr. Thomas) has probably not seen. No copy of that judgment was available when I came to the House.—[Hon MENBER: "The Times"] If the hon. and learned Member for Abertillery thinks that that is sufficient, I beg to disagree. The issue is so important that we should first obtain copies of the text of what has been said. We should then obtain copies of what orders have been made as they are relevant to an earlier question. We should consider those before criticising anybody—least of all the courts.

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. That last statement seems to imply that the inefficiency of the courts will delay proceedings in the House.

Order. It does not matter what that statement implied, because we cannot pursue it now.

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. A few minutes ago you made clear to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) the position about making personal criticisms of Her Majesty's judges. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Abertillery (Mr. Thomas) did not intend any discourtesy to you, or to Her Majesty's judges. May I invite you to ask him to withdraw his words?

Further to the previous point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the judgment is not available because union rules prevent the shorthand writers from typing the proceedings on Sundays. I am not criticising, but it seems to emphasise the desirability of what I was just saying, namely, that we should find out what has happened before casting clouts in any direction.

Order. I warn the House that, although the time is extended for the debate on foreign affairs, there is a long list of right hon. and learned Members who seek to catch my eye. I hope that points of order will be brief.