House Of Commons
Tuesday 19 February 1980
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
County Of Merseyside Bill Lords
Order for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time this day at 7 o'clock.
British Railways Bill (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Tuesday 26 February.
Oral Answers To Questions
I remind the House that long supplementary questions are very unfair to other hon. Members who have questions on the Order Paper.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many redundancies have been notified to his Department since 3 May 1979.
The number of proposed redundancies notified to my Department under the redundancy handling provisions of the Employment Protection Act 1975 during the period May 1979 to 31 January 1980 was 471,645 and involved 7,610 establishments. During the same period 91,376 redundancies at 1,280 establishments were formally withdrawn.
Is the Minister aware that a large proportion of the half million redundancies he has announced are in the Falkirk company of Glynwed Limited? We have been notified that, owing to Government policies, that company will have to declare a fair number of employees redundant. As that company gave £10,000 to the Tory Party election fund and has obviously been misled, could the Minister make arrangements for the £10,000 to be refunded?
Matters concerning Central Office are not the responsibility of my Department.
Does not the Minister accept that the figures he has just given are extremely disturbing? Are they not a disgraceful commentary on nine months of Conservative Government? Many thousands of those redundancies have been in the North-West, not least in my own constituency. When will the Government stop confronting trade unions and workers and begin to deal with the real, deep-seated industrial problems that confront our society, many of which have been created by this Government?
I agree that the figures are disturbing, and many of our policies are designed to deal with this changeover in industry. Perhaps I could put those figures in perspective by pointing out that there is no statutory requirement for people to notify withdrawals of redundancies. The Manpower Services Commission figures for the same period are 150,273. Set against 8 million job changes a year, I think that that puts the matter more into perspective.
Is it not clear that the Government's policy of non-intervention in economic matters, and the failure to help those who are put on the dole in areas such as Merseyside, is causing great difficulty and poverty? Is it not time that the Government changed their policy?
As regards my Department, the £360 million that my right hon. Friend announced in terms of special measures can hardly be described as nonintervention.
Job Release Scheme
asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is in a position to make a statement about the future of the job release scheme.
I refer my hon. Friend to my statement to the House on Thursday 14 February 1980.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the job release scheme is one of the best short-term means of dealing with unemployment without incurring continuing long-term obligations? Does he not think that it is unfortunate that it has proved necessary to curtail this scheme in this way, especially in view of the likely increase in unemployment?
I agree that it would have been better if we could have found the money for this scheme. But I had to adjust, examine and balance a number of priorities and I decided that youth employment should have top priority at present.
Does not the Secretary of State agree that there is a repercussive effect in favour of providing jobs for our youth through the job release scheme? By allowing people to retire earlier vacancies are provided for young people and the so-called savings may be illusory.
I agree that there is some spin-off through which young people obtain jobs as older people retire under the job release scheme. That is one of the better parts of what I think is a good scheme. But the scheme that I inherited had only just been introduced the previous April and unfortunately it was being paid for out of the Contingency Fund and no proper forecasts for expenditure had been made.
Does the Minister recall that he said he had done well with his package? Does he agree that the best judges of that will be the people who will be on the industrial scrap heap as a consequence of the Government's policies? What will be the net savings of the overall package? The Minister has never given a precise figure.
The net savings for the coming year will be about £25 million. As the hon. Gentleman should know, the scheme that his Government introduced just before the election was based on the Contingency Fund, with planned expenditure for the next two years for which no allowance had been made in the Estimates.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received from employers' organisations on the need to introduce flexible retirement schemes.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received from employers' organisations on the need for flexible retirement schemes to be introduced.
My right hon. Friend has received the CBI's views on flexible retirement, which were set out most recently in its discussion document "Jobs —Facing The Future". My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has also been considering representations from the CBI and other interested bodies on this subject in response to his Department's discussion document "A Happier Old Age".
I am grateful for that reply. Does the Minister accept that there is a great deal of interest among trade unions and the many thousands of trade unionists who are not affected by the existing early retirement schemes? Does he agree that now, more than ever, there is an immediate priority need for flexibility of retirement if we are to maintain job opportunities and seek improved mobility of labour?
I accept that there is a balance to be struck between those who want to retire early and those who want to continue at work. We have always had flexibility of retirement between the ages of 65 and 70 for men. The question now is the cost of extending that flexibility below the age of 65. It is astronomical but it is something to be considered.
Does my hon. Friend agree that firms that rigidly adhere to a retirement age are often losing highly experienced people of whom they could be making good use? The nation cannot afford to lose such people now.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The accent must be on flexibility and on arrangements made with employers and employees, in particular in industries undergoing technological change.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the unemployment and job vacancy figures for the latest available date; and if he will make a statement.
In January there were 1,404,389 people registered as unemployed in Great Britain and the numbers of notified unfilled vacancies were 184,626 at employment offices and 19,147 at careers offices. I am naturally concerned about the current level of unemployment, but our economic policies are aimed at providing the right climate for an expansion of genuine employment.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government are working on the assumption that there will be 2 million unemployed by early next year? Has he studied the business forecast by the Charterhouse City group, which predicts 500,000 more unemployed this year? Will the Secretary of State assert his responsibility in the Cabinet and join his anonymous colleague by rejecting the A-level of economics of the Treasury Bench and placing the economic policy strategy emphasis on growth and higher employment instead of deflation, unemployment and confict?
The public expenditure White Paper announced that the figures that the Government were working on for the year 1980–81 were 1·65 million unemployed. That is consistent with the forecast made by the Manpower Services Commission which was available recently for the Select Committee. I have never sought to conceal from the House the fact that unemployment in the present world situation is bound to rise.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it does not lie in the mouths of right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, to raise the question of unemployment when they presided over its doubling when they were in office? Will he further say that the two obstacles in the way of reducing unemployment are the present high levels of wage settlements and interest rates?
The last two matters are of great importance. Part of the reason for our policy of reducing public expenditure is to enable the PSBR to come down. That will be an enormous aid to reducing unemployment and it is a factor that I take into account. I agree with the other point that my hon. Friend made.
Does the Secretary of State understand that in the appalling figures he has quoted he hides the disaster of areas such as the North-East? Does he realise that it is high time he fought his corner in the Cabinet in an effort to spend more money on job creation schemes in regions such as the North-East?
I fully appreciate the serious problems of the North-East. We shall not resolve the problems of unemployment and so on by thinking that we have only to spend more Government money. That is precisely why interest rates are so high and why unemployment is created, because of those interest rates.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the unemployment figures from his Department are fundamentally bogus because they make no distinction between those who are genuinely and unwillingly unemployed and those who are willingly unemployed and members of the black economy?
There is always a great deal of argument about how unemployment figures are computed. As a trend, the figures are reliable. Regrettably, that trend is upwards and it will remain so until, first, the world situation improves and secondly, until we stop buying other people's goods and make them buy more of ours.
Which of the Government's present economic policies is the Secretary of State confident will reduce unemployment in areas such as the North-West, which have lost assisted area status?
A general upturn in the economy. That will come about only when we reduce our unit costs, sell more abroad and stop importing so much.
Does the Secretary of State recall that he made a bold forecast a year ago that a Tory Government would stimulate the economy and create a better climate for industry and commerce? Has not the opposite occurred? We now have soaring inflation while production and investment are falling. Record interest rates are destroying small businesses and jobs and we are heading towards 2 million unemployed and the collapse of the economy. Should not the right hon. Gentleman be hanging his head in shame?
The only mistake that I made was to be more optimistic than I should have been about the state of the economy when we took it over from the right hon. Gentleman.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment when last he met Professor Hugh Clegg.
I last met Professor Clegg on Wednesday 23 January.
When the right hon. Gentleman met Hugh Clegg did he discuss teachers' pay with him? Will he tell us whether the principles laid down in the Houghton report will be adhered to or abandoned? What has been the cost of the debacle in which the consultants hired to work out the teachers' settlement made such a dog's breakfast of their task that it had to be abandoned and the Commission had to start from square one again?
I did not discuss individual cases with Hugh Clegg. I am certain that he would have regarded it as an improper use of my function if I had done so. Therefore, the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question does not arise. The Commission hopes to report on its work on school and further education teachers in April, as it has always said it would.
Did my right hon. Friend tell Professor Clegg that he was going to wind up the Commission after the current round of inquiries?
No, I did not tell him that. Professor Clegg has performed an important role for both this Govenment and the previous one. It is far too early to say whether there will be other cases that we might wish to put to the Commission.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the learned professor may lead him into a quagmire and that sup- posed comparisons between the risk-taking private sector and the rather more comfortable public service will cause nothing but trouble for himself and the Government?
A lot of people are trying to lead me into quagmires at the moment. I shall always acquit my hon. Friend of any such attempt. He has made a serious point. A comparability that merely results in one set of public sector wages following a private sector set of wages provides no answer to our problems. Our problems are largely the result of high wages.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people have entered unemployment since the beginning of the current year.
Between 6 December 1979 and 10 January 1980 the number of people registered as unemployed in Great Britain rose by 43,700 from 1,233,700 to 1,277,400, excluding school leavers and seasonally adjusted.
Is it not clear that that relatively modest increase will be dwarfed by the increase we shall experience in the next six or seven months unless Government policy is changed and in particular, unless the level of sterling is reduced? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the present level of sterling allows other countries to export unemployment to us in ever increasing numbers?
I accept the seriousness of the hon. Gentleman's last point. However, there is a long way to go before we reach the increase of 600,000 in the number of unemployed for which the previous Labour Administration was responsible.
In view of the lag of 12 to 18 months between the time when measures concerning unemployment are taken and when they have an effect on the levels of unemployment, will my hon. Friend confirm that the level of unemployment would have been just as high if the Labour Party had remained in power?
I agree that it would have been quite as high, if not higher.
Given the prospects of employment for next year, why are the Government cutting back the budget of the Manpower Services Commission by £130 million?
The Manpower Services Commission cannot be exempt from overall expenditure cuts.
The Government have ensured that the MSC budget is more effectively used. No apprenticeship places have been lost and, as a result of special measures, efficiency has been increased.
Does the Minister realise that the commercial facts surrounding British Leyland mean that if the company does not receive further Government subvention, it will inevitably go to the wall? What proposals does the Minister have in mind to cater for such a catastrophe?
British Leyland is the concern of the Department of Industry. However, we already have a temporary short-time working scheme that will be made available to British Leyland should it need to use it.
Advisory, Conciliation And Arbitration Service
asked the Secretary of State for Employment in how many disputes the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has been involved since the beginning of January.
I am advised that during January the service was involved in providing assistance by way of conciliation in 199 cases throughout the country.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that ACAS is well qualified to deal with difficult and complicated disputes and that we should not rely on the intervention of Ministers or Prime Ministers over coffee and sandwiches at No. 10, as so often happened during the previous Administration?
I certainly agree that the resolution of an industrial dispute is best left to those party to it. However, it is wise to invoke the expert and impartial assistance of ACAS.
Can the Minister tell us how much more money has been put aside for the development of ACAS since the change in the law on picketing that has been announced today will exacerbate industrial disputes?
Changes in the law on picketing are embodied in the Employment Bill that was published on 7 December. It is expected that those proposals will considerably reduce the disruption and abuses to which picketing gives rise. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the budget for ACAS.
Has my hon. and learned Friend received any request from the BSC or from the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation to act as an arbitrator in the current dispute?
No, Sir. I have received no such request. ACAS has been involved in the steel dispute. It has held several meetings, the most recent of which was held on 13 February. Unfortunately, no progress was made.
Does the Minister realise that the information requested by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Needham), relates to the lack of Government interference in the steel industry? Why do the Government refuse to intervene on behalf of an industry for which they are greatly responsible? Is it not time that the Minister used his good offices, together with the Prime Minister, to ensure that the steel dispute is settled as it should be, and not according to the attitude of the Prime Minister?
The pay dispute in the steel industry is extremely painful and serious. However, it is the same in character as any other pay dispute. It will be best settled by those who are party to it.
Short-Time Working Compensation Scheme
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what decision he has now made on the future of the temporary short-time working compensation scheme for the textile industry.
I refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on Thursday, 14 February 1980.
Is not the Minister aware that, in the light of the Government's failure to secure adequate protection for the textile industry—which was condemned by all parties yesterday—there is an urgent need for conditions relating to the scheme to be improved? Will he at least consider improving the scheme?
We are always prepared to consider improving any of our schemes within the budget allowed.
Will my hon. Friend take note that the measure to increase the amount of money allocated to the industrial language training scheme for those on short-term work and those who are unemployed has been widely accepted and welcomed in my constituency?
I shall be delighted to take note of that. It demonstrates that we change the rules where beneficial.
Does the Minister accept that many thousands of jobs in the textile industry have been lost during the past few months? Does he further accept that tinkering about with such schemes provides no solution? Will he impress upon his colleagues in his Department and in the Department of Trade that there is no substitute for more stringent controls on imports into the United Kingdom, particularly from low-cost countries?
As my constituency is close to that of the hon. Gentleman I recognise clearly that the textile industry has not contracted only during the past few months. It has been contracting during the past few years. It is the most protected industry in Britain. I recognise that imports cause a grave disturbance in the textile industry. Basically, the textile industry is a good industry. It works well and has a high productivity rate. However, there has been a change in world demand. The question of low-cost countries producing goods without subsidies for sale in Britain and competing with our factories, must be dealt with. The future of the textile industry depends on the up-grading of its products. We must concentrate on higher quality and higher technology, as that side of the industry is still expanding.
Bsc Plants (Jobs Loss)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will estimate how many jobs will be lost in the period immediately following the closure of British Steel Corporation plants in each part of Great Britain, including those most likely to be affected in small businesses and the retail trade; and if he will make a statement.
Employment levels depend on many factors which cannot be forecast with any degree of certainty. It is not, therefore, possible to estimate how many jobs will be lost following the closure of BSC plants. I can, however, assure the hon. Member that all the resources of the Manpower Services Commission will be available to help those workers affected by the closures.
Will the hon. Gentleman consider allowing the British Steel Corporation to offer another 1 or 2 per cent. above that already offered to the trade unions involved? After all, the Government gave the higher taxpayers £4 billion in tax relief. Is he aware that there is a danger of growing unemployment becoming a danger to the State?
I am not in a position to offer the steel workers 1 or 2 per cent. That is a matter for negotiation between the management and unions involved. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there has already been an increase of 1 or 2 per cent. on more than one occasion.
Will the Minister agree to undertake research into the likely effects of the problems surrounding steel on small manufacturers and engineering shops, particularly in areas such as Birmingham? Those firms are desperately worried about the steel industry's difficulties. While the Minister has admitted that the figures are not readily available, will he take steps to find out what they are?
I accept that there is a need for research. My Department is researching into the position of the longterm unemployed. As a result of the closure announcements, local authorities have come together with the Government and with the steel industry to try to secure the future on a better and broader basis.
Secondary Industrial Action
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement concerning the Government's current policy regarding secondary picketing.
Our proposals to limit lawful picketing to an employee's own place of work are already contained in the Employment Bill, which is before the House.I have today written to the TUC, drawing its attention to the widespread public concern about some of the recent incidents of mass picketing in the current dispute, and pointing out the extent to which much of this is already contrary to the criminal law. I have made it clear that the Government look to the TUC to reaffirm its advice to all member unions to observe the TUC's own guidance on picketing, which it produced last winter.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that his helpful reply will be greeted with enthusiasm by many people in the country? Does he agree that secondary picketing is a symptom of a wider malaise—that of the closed shop? Is he aware that in my constituency people who are still at work are being requested in letters from the union to pay £5 to cross the picket line? Does he agree that consultations should take into account those gross abuses of the closed shop, which amount to industrial blackmail?
That matter does need examining. My hon. Friend will be well advised to ask those who are being requested to pay such sums to check union rules to see whether that is within the rules. I agree with much of what my hon. Friend said about the closed shop. It is necessary to strengthen those parts of the Employment Bill dealing with the closed shop, such as arbitrary exclusion or expulsion from a union, which underly the fear that many people have that, if they cross a picket line or take the action that my hon. Friend mentioned, they will lose their union card and their job. I do not believe that such action is supported by either side of the House.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that Lord Salmon in Hunt v. Broome said that the provision in the 1974 Act gave a narrow but real criminal immunity for peaceful picketing? Does he concede that clause 14 will involve more people in the threat of criminal prosecution than he has so far admitted?
I do not accept that. I had the matter checked, following the hon. Gentleman's remarks on Second Reading. The Bill does not make picketing a criminal offence. It gives employers the remedy to take civil proceedings to restrain secondary picketing in the way that I have described on many occasions.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, on reflection, clause 3 of the Employment Bill is weak and inadequate in dealing with the closed shop and poses a fundamental constitutional danger? Will he accept that it leaves the judges to decide a most important political principle, and will bring them, once again, into the political arena, thus damaging the rule of law?
I do not accept that clause 3 is too weak. Nor do I accept that, when seen alongside a code of practice, there is any need for it to bring judges into the political arena. The truth is far from that. I believe that many people will abide by what is good practice with regard to expulsion or exclusion, and we may have many fewer cases than people expect.
Order. There is to be a statement on this matter at the end of Question Time.
Not on this.
Order. I am hoping that those hon. Members who, I know, are interested in the subject will be called after Question Time.
The statement is not on this point.
I want to be fair to the House. I shall call two more hon. Members from either side, if they wish to catch my eye now. Those who are called now will not be called after Question Time.
Young Persons (Training Opportunities)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has any specific proposals to assist young people with training opportunities in urban areas where there has been a rundown of existing industry.
I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that a wide range of training courses is already available under the youth opportunities programme to unemployed young people in urban areas. The programme, as my right hon. Friend announced on 14 February 1980, has been expanded to provide about a quarter of a million opportunities in 1980–81. Planned provision in the coming year will take account of changes in industrial structure.
Do I need to remind the Minister of the critical situation obtaining in South Wales? Will he accept that, if the area is not to be turned into an industrial desert, we need more than an extension of the youth opportunities programme? Will he prevail on senior ministerial colleagues to intervene now, as a matter of urgency?
The hon. Gentleman's main question refers to training opportunities for young people. In South Wales, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, there is a commitment to give young people adequate training. The schemes are designed to fit young people for the areas in which there are job opportunities.
In looking at the role of skillcentres, will my hon. Friend consider not only the shortage of instructors but the age at which a young person may enter a skillcentre for training?
As my hon. Friend knows, we are undertaking a review of training generally, including skillcentres. The Departments of Employment and Education and Science are considering together how to encourage young people to work in the best way possible. In that context, we shall consider my hon. Friend's point.
Does the Minister agree that it is time that we had a fresh look at the formula whereby the Department issues figures relating to the travelto-work areas? Does he accept that the formula distorts the real figures? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Manchester, where the overall unemployment figure is 6·1 per cent., in certain areas it is double that? Does he agree that it is time that we altered the travel-towork formula to show the true urban position?
It is not very long since the travel-to-work formula was arrived at. I shall be visiting Manchester on Thursday to look at the problems raised by the hon. Gentleman. However, he is quoting figures based on where people live and not where they work.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should concentrate on the enterprise workshop training programme? Will he accept that that gives the chance to found an enterprise that will have a permanent effect on an area?
We are delighted to concentrate on any scheme that is enterprising and makes a profit.
Does the Minister agree that the review of the skil /centre programme is being carried out by the Manpower Services Commission as a result of his Department's proposal to close 20 skillcentres? Will he confirm that his Department is also proposing to cut the training opportunities programme from the 99,000 places of two years ago to 60,000 for next year? Will he accept that that is foolish at a time when unemployment is soaring and when we have skill shortages that training could, to some extent, remedy?
The review of the skill-centre programme was started under the right hon. Gentleman's Government. It was designed to try to make effective use of existing facilities. I do not accept that altering the numbers of the TOPS scheme will reduce overall training opportunities. The areas in which there is a proposed reduction can best be covered by industry.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he has taken to identify the extent of voluntary unemployment; and what is his latest estimate of the numbers involved.
The application of rules about the unemployed accepting suitable jobs has been under review and I am awaiting the views of the Manpower Services Commission. The work of DHSS unemployment review officers has continued on the greater scale already announced. As I explained to my hon. Friend on 4 December, I do not have an estimate of the extent to which there are people on the unemployment register who may be described as voluntarily unemployed.
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful reply. Is he aware that about 750,000 vacancies are still unfilled? Will he accept that employers throughout the country are having difficulty in obtaining staff? Does he agree that a great many people are caught in the unemployment trap and simply cannot afford to work? What steps do the Government intend to take?
The unemployment trap is a matter for the DHSS, which is reviewing the problem. If we are told of specific cases of unfilled vacancies we shall be pleased to consider them. It is a complex issue. Frequently, it is a problem of a mismatch of skills. The matters that employers raise are not quite so simple when looked at in detail. I have investigated many cases and I could give chapter and verse on the problem. I do not want to minimise the fact that it is a serious situation when vacancies are notified but people remain unemployed. We hope to announce proposals to deal with the problem in the near future.
Bearing in mind that the country is in a serious situation because of Government policies, will the Minister give thought to the Government Front Bench opting for voluntary unemployment?
Trade Union Legislation
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further representations he has received over trade union legislation.
I have received a number of further representations about the Employment Bill since it was published on 7 December.
Is it not clear that legal battles against the trade union movement will no more succeed now than did the 1971 Tory legislation? Would it not be far more sensible for the Cabinet hawks, such as, for example, the Prime Minister, to drop policies which are now provoking strikes in industry?
An overwhelming majority of people, including trade unionists, wish to see a sensible framework of law in which trade unions, employers and workers can operate. If Labour Members continue to take the view that they have taken in the past, they are doing themselves and their country a great disservice.
Does not the union decision at Longbridge—in the case of Mr. Robinson—to call for a mass meeting rather than hold a secret ballot, with all the possibilities of intimidation that will follow, demonstrate once more the need for individual workers to have the right to call for a secret ballot? What representations has my right hon. Friend received, and is he in sympathy with them?
I am greatly in sympathy with the holding of secret ballots. A number of trade unionists, including Conservative trade unionists wish to see such ballots made compulsory. So far, I have taken the view that it is better to have voluntary acceptance of secret ballots, and that is the way in which the Bill is framed. I hope that when the Bill is enacted, and money is made available, more and more people will make use of postal ballots and workplace ballots held in employers' time.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many Labour Members find it regrettable that he, whom we have all liked and understood—and who has fought a rearguard action in the Cabinet—has nevertheless succumbed to the pressures of his colleagues? If the working party document that was sent out today is included in legislation trade unionists will be worse off than they were prior to 1974, particularly on the basis of the suggestion in (a) dealing with the test. Is not that likely to lead to greater confrontation in industry?
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. Furthermore, there is overwhelming acceptance in the country of the need for certain immunities to be limited. At the moment they go too far, and they cannot even protect employees who wish to work but who are not able to do so.
Industrial Relations Hearings (Employee And Employer Representation)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of employees and what percentage of employers are represented by lawyers, by union officials or by other industrial relations advisors, respectively, at industrial relations hearings.
For statistics on the percentages of employers and employees represented by lawyers and trade union representatives in industrial tribunal hearings, I refer the hon. and learned Member to the answer that I gave on 29 January. Statistics for representation by "other industrial relations advisers" are not available.
Is it not correct that, whatever the representation, the failure rate of cases concerning unfair dismissal which now reach industrial tribunals is 72 per cent.? Nearly three out of four cases fail. If that is correct, will the Minister reconsider the Government's proposal to remove the burden of proving fairness from employers in cases which are already heavily weighted in the employers' favour?
We must look at the matter in the context of encouraging employers, particularly small employers, to create new jobs, and to maintain existing jobs. There is another side to the figures given by the hon. and learned Gentleman. Employers have been brought to the tribunal to answer claims for unfair dismissal which, in 70 per cent. of the cases, have proved to be unsustainable. That is part of the problem which must be faced.
Will my hon. and learned Friend accept that the reason why so many cases are turned down by industrial tribunals is that they are fatuous cases in the beginning?
There is a widely held feeling that a mechanism needs to be instituted to filter out the truly hopeless case before the employer has to go to court with his foreman, his production manager and so on, and spend a day or two days there, only to find, having won the case, that he receives no costs.
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that one of the grave imperfections of the present law on industrial tribunals is that employers can be brought before them, and yet no costs can be awarded? Does not that militate unfairly against employers who have to spend considerable time and effort in attending industrial tribunals, often to defend wholly fictitious claims?
Although it is not quite accurate to say that no costs can be awarded, they are awarded in 2 to 3 per cent. of cases only—cases in which the claim is shown to be frivolous and vexatious. The Government are aware of the concern that is felt, and we propose to make certain improvements.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 19 February.
In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.
Has the Prime Minister had time to consider the forecast of the Manpower Services Commission that shortly there may be over 2 million people unemployed, and that the number of unemployed school leavers is likely to double? If the Prime Minister accepts those figures, does she not think that now would be a good time to release thousands of jobs to younger people, by allowing men over 60 who wish to retire to do so?
As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I have never made forecasts of unemployment. I hope that those for the first quarter of 1981 will turn out to be unfounded. I cannot emphasise too strongly that if people continue to make excessive wage claims, those claims can, by pricing goods out of the market, lead to increased unemployment. I trust that that will not happen.
In view of the fact that the people of Canada yesterday voted out of office a Government obsessed with the same disastrous economic doctrines as those of the right hon. Lady—after a mercifully short spell in office—will she provide at least some of the British electorate with a similar opportunity to pass judgment by delaying no longer the writ for the Southend, East by-election?
The right hon. Gentleman forgets that we were returned to power with a very convincing majority.
Will my right hon. Friend find time today to meet Sir Michael Swann, and to convey to him the increasing unhappiness over proposals to discontinue regional broadcasting. Those proposals are particularly unacceptable while allegations persist of wasteful programming on the networks, and while there is a suspicion that local radio is to be financed at the expense of regional radio.
I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's views to the attention of Sir Michael Swann. The way in which the programmes are arranged must remain a matter for the BBC, but it must be sensitive to public opinion.
Does the right hon. Lady recall promises to families during the general election campaign? Does she realise that families with children are now ravaged by inflation, high rents, high mortgage charges and additional school meal and transport charges? They are getting a very bad deal. Will she instruct the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase child benefits substantially from 1 April?
With regard to child benefit, as the hon. Gentleman knows, such decisions are usually announced in the Budget. I ask him to await the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I also ask him to consider that the moneys to pay these benefits so often come from the breadwinners of the families, and it does not always make good sense to take in tax, put it through big bureaucracies, and to pay back rather less.
Will my right hon. Friend, in any further consideration of the middle ground of industrial relations reform, consider implementing a former Government White Paper of January 1969 entitled "In Place of Strife"? If she did this we would get a general agreement on the matter.
There is widespread agreement on that matter. We are making a very good start in the Employment Bill and there is a consultative document which will take the law a little further on the matter of protecting law-abiding citizens and firms.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 19 February.
I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I have just given.
Will the Prime Minister condemn the apparent involvement of Rhodesian security forces in the bombing of churches by terrorists? Does she agree that this incident underlines the need for Lord Soames not to rely on the security forces to the extent to which he has done so far? What action will she take, in view of recent events, to ensure that he does not have to rely on them?
I shall condemn bombing and intimidation from whatever quarter it may come. My noble Friend Lord Soames has done his best to eliminate intimidation in Rhodesia. On the particular incident that the hon. Member mentioned, I cannot give a report yet because investigations are not fully completed.
Have my right hon. Friend's thoughts turned to the Common Market and the British contribution to it? If so, will she consider taking the "empty seat policy" of De Gaulle until our case is recognised?
With great respect to my hon. Friend, I believe that I am more effective by being in my seat than by leaving it empty.
Despite so many heavy commitments, will the right hon. Lady consider making a personal visit to areas of high unemployment and poverty so that she can see the grim reality? Will she agree that we are now heading for economic and social unrest which will damage the social fabric of this country unless the present abrasive policies are changed?
I do not in any way accept the right hon. Member's premise that we are heading for economic and social unrest. I get about the country a lot and I shall continue to visit all areas. Increasing unemployment is not part of Conservative policy.
Will my right hon. Friend waylay the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and ask him how many civil servants have responded to his request to become "deep throats"—which apparently means that they should give the Labour Party information about Britain's security services?
I saw the reports in the press. I very much hope that they are not true because any such request would severely undermine the very best traditions of the Civil Service in this country.
Having paid lip service to St. Francis, at the instigation of Saatchi & Saatchi when she first entered No. 10, will the Prime Minister ponder today—
I think that hon. Members can hear me, but just in case they cannot I shall repeat the question—
Order, the House heard the hon. Member.
Will the Prime Minister ponder today on whether she is really enamoured of the selfish, self-concerned and uncaring society that she is trying to create?
I was not aware that Saatchi & Saatchi were experts on St. Francis. If they are, I must consult them more often. Self-reliance and self-sufficiency are qualities that one would expect of most families in this country. If those who are able and fit can keep their families and keep them well and then have a little over to help others, we shall have a much better society than we have now.
asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 19 February.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier.
In the interests of manufacturing industry, will my right hon. Friend take whatever action is necessary to lift the blockade of steel supplies either through the ports or from the steel stockholders, and tell the workers at Hadfield's that they can go back to work tomorrow because the Government will take the necessary action to ensure their protection?
A great deal of steel in still moving, and production throughout manufacturing industry in this country has kept up remarkably well. With regard to the incidents that we saw on television outside Hadfield's, I cannot condemn them enough. Those incidents bore no relation to peaceful picketing, which is the only kind protected by the law. If we are to get scenes like that—and this appeared to be more a criminal matter than a civil one—we must leave enforcement in the hands of the police. We should give the police our full backing in their difficult duties.
Is the right hon. Lady aware of increasing concern that is being expressed about the decision of the British Steel Corporation to run down the size of the industry to 15 million tonnes? This is regarded as too low by many people who should know. Do the Government intend to stand aside from this decision, irrespective of the consequences to our nation, which is so dependent on external trade? Will she confirm that the Government intend to ask a leading American business man to run the British Steel Corporation? Is that not a remarkable way of dealing with the industry at a time when the chairman and the other directors are engaged in negotiations? Is she not, in fact, telling the workers that their chairman will be sacked in a short while? Is not the real trouble that Sir Charles Villiers and Mr. Scholey have been too zealous in carrying out Government policy? That is their real crime.
The management of the British Steel Corporation is charged with the duty of running the corporation and so far we do not intend to interfere with its decisions. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there have been some difficult decisions to face on running down the industry. He himself had to take some in his constituency. He knows that we provided £48 million for Wales, to help with the effects of the run-down in steel there. The position of the chairman of British Steel Corporation must not be undermined—I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The chairman and the trade union leaders have the job of settling this strike and we have every confidence in his doing so.On the question of the appointment of the chairman, we would be culpable if we were not looking for someone as a possible replacement for Sir Charles, bearing in mind that he goes towards the end of the year.
But surely the chairman's position is undermined if these stories are allowed to leak from Government sources. It seems that the chairman is to be replaced in the middle of the negotiations that he is conducting. Has the Prime Minister any idea from which of her Ministers this story came? On the first question, The Prime Minister has a direct responsibility for th, size of the industry. It is a strategic industry, and investment cannot be left to the test of market profitability in our country. Surely the Government should satisfy themselves about the future size of the industry?
I shall take the right hon. Gentleman's questions in order. There is no question of undermining the authority of Sir Charles Villiers as chairman of the British Steel Corporation. I express my confidence in him, and I hope that he and the steel unions will get together to sort out this strike. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the size of the steel industry. The size of an industry is determined by what it can sell and the quality and delivery dates of its products. Other steel industries on the Continent that have gone through difficult times have steadily come through to profitability. I believe that ours can do the same.
Since the Prime Minister entered No. 10 Downing Street reciting the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, will she take time to consider why, instead of bringing an answer to that prayer, she has brought discord, error, doubt and despair to the country?
The right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to agree. I hope, however, that he will agree, as a Scot, that it is not easy to get a nation to learn to live within its means when it has been living outside its means for a long time.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on the criminal law on picketing.The recent events outside the private steel firms have renewed public anxiety about the law on picketing and intimidation. I must emphasise that the law on picketing does not, in any real way, change the criminal law and in no way diminishes the rules that govern public order. The criminal law of the land applies to pickets as it does to anybody else. Let there be no illusion that the immunity provided under the civil law enables pickets to break the criminal law. Peaceful picketing in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute is lawful so long as it is the honest belief of those involved that their action will advance the interests of those in dispute. This does not mean that the freedom to picket is a licence to obstruct or intimidate. The law permits picketing solely for the purpose of peacefully obtaining or communicating information or of peacefully persuading another person to work or not to work. The immunity from civil proceedings given by section 15 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 does not extend to any wrongful act such as violence, threats of violence or similar intimidation—whether by excessive numbers of pickets or otherwise, or molestation amounting to a civil wrong. In those circumstances it may be open to the employer, on his own behalf or on that of his work force, to take action in the civil courts. In addition, the criminal law is perfectly clear. Each of us has the right to go about his daily work or pleasure free from interference by anybody else. Each one of us is free, as an individual, to come and go as he pleases to his home or to his place of work. The law specifically protects our enjoyment of those rights. If anyone tries to deter us from exercising those rights by the use of violence or intimidation. or obstruction, he is breaking the law and may be punished. The freedom to picket does not confer or imply any right to stop vehicles; still less do pickets have the right to stop people going about their lawful business. Pickets have no right to link arms or otherwise prevent access to the place that they are picketing. This is not a new situation. The present law was made clear by my predecessor on 25 January last year, in column 706 of the Official Report and by my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson in 1972, when he was Attorney-General. If pickets by sheer numbers seek to stop people going to work or delivering or collecting goods they are not protected by the law, since their purpose is to obstruct rather than persuade. Are large numbers really necessary in the name of lawful, peaceful persuasion? They are more likely to lead to unlawful assembly, or even an affray. So far as excessive numbers are concerned, the courts have recognised that the police may limit the number of pickets in any one place where they have reasonable cause to fear disorder. In my view, this includes, in the appropriate case, not only asking some of those present to leave but also preventing others from joining the pickets. The enforcement of the law is, and must remain, a matter for the police and the courts. I recognise the difficult task that chief officers of the police have in deciding how order can best be maintained so as to ensure that ordinary people can exercise their own rights. It is the function of the law to protect the rights of people—employers and employees—to go about their daily business, to work or not to work, and to make their own decisions whether to exercise those rights. If we let go of that principle we risk abandoning the rule of law and risk surrender to the rule of violence. I hope that by stating the main principles of the law, with which the Lord Advocate agrees, I have removed the doubts and encouraged all those concerned, whether pickets or others, to respect and uphold the law. I am sure that the great majority in this country will support this.
The House will be grateful to the Attorney-General for his statement of the present law, but, for the avoidance of misunderstanding in the country, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make clear that what he said purports to be a statement of the law and is not concerned in any way with changing it?Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is a matter for chief constables and others concerned with law enforcement to ensure that the criminal law is administered, bearing in mind, as they do, that emotive situations are not always improved by introducing criminal sanctions? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman impress on his right hon. and hon. Friends that their task is not made easier by inflammatory pronouncements by politicians? Will he confirm that there is a well recognised tradition that Ministers of the Crown, including Law Officers and Lords Chancellor, do not seek to instruct chief constables in the way that they should carry out their duty.
The statement that I made set out the law as it is today. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to chief constables. I think that all hon. Members have great admiration for the way in which the police have dealt with the problems facing them. It is the duty of chief constables to administer the law. The man on the spot is best able to judge what action he must take. I agree that no help is ever given to any situation by inflammatory statements. We on the Government side would also like to see a little support for the upholding of the law from the Opposition Benches.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend have the least doubt that if the pickets who have been responsible for violent and alarming disturbances of the peace outside factory gates had not been members of a trade union but ordinary members of the public they would have been arrested and exposed to the risk of a sentence of imprisonment? Does he agree that there is not only no immunity in law but that there should be no immunity in practice to trade unionists or others who cause an unlawful assembly, an affray, or a riot?
As I said in my statement, the criminal law applies to all, whether he be a picket or anyone else. In every case, in my view, it must be for the senior police officer on the spot, bearing in mind the number of people there and the pressures facing him, to make the difficult decision about what action to take.
Does the Attorney-General agree that his statement amounts to an assertion that the present criminal law on picketing is adequate to deal with the situation? If that is what his statement means, how do the Government propose to ensure that the law is administered in this country? Will they have particular regard, in that context, to those people joining picket lines who are not members of trade unions but who are there purely and solely for the purpose of trouble making?
The hon. Gentleman is right. One of the problems always is that Rent-a-Mob, or those who simply want to have a beat-up, sometimes join picket lines. When those who have been arrested in the past appear in court, one may find that this is the case. I made the statement to remove some doubts that appear to exist about the criminal law. I can tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be meeting the representatives of chief police officers tomorrow, at their request. My right hon. Friend will hear their views on their problems in enforcing the law. It is not for me to comment on that.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend keep an open mind on the recommendations of Sir David McNee on amending the Public Order Act 1936, in which he suggests that mass picketing, as at Grunwick and other places, might be considered in connection with such amendments?
I have discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is undertaking a review of the Act. He is considering a consultative document on the complex issue.
Does the Attorney-General agree that sometimes the media bear a responsibility for inflaming a situation by giving the wrong interpretation of incidents? In mitigation, will he consider a report in the Morning Telegraph today in which Geroge Moores, the chairman of the South Yorkshire police authority, states that the incidents that occurred at Hadfields were not intimidation, and that the chief constable of that area carried out the law to its full intent?
I have not seen a copy of the newspaper referred to by the hon. Gentleman. There are occasions—not only in this aspect but with IRA parades, and so on—where the television cameras appear to see things that others do not see, sometimes for reasons that can only do harm. It is something that should be borne in mind when watching television programmes.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain to the House the position under the law of an individual or organisation that actively organises disorder by assembling pickets by the busload and directing them in such overwhelming numbers to a site that disorder is bound to follow?
That is a problem to he dealt with by police at the site. If they consider that there are enough, or too many, pickets they can stop the buses. The position of those who organise the pickets must depend each day on the circumstances. It may be that when the busloads were organised there were only half a dozen pickets at the site. If the busloads are organised and sent to a site where there are hundreds of pickets, a different situation arises.It may be a matter of conspiring to incite, but each case would have to stand upon its own merits.
The Attorney-General's statement has been precipitated by the secondary picketing in the steel industry. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not feel that it would have been more to the benefit of the whole country if a statement had been made by one of his ministerial colleagues? An early intervention by the Government in the steel industry pay dispute would have removed the cause of secondary picketing.
The Law Officers owe a duty to the House to express a view on the law. Clearly there is some doubt in various areas about the law. If one looks at the newspapers over the past few days one finds that that is amply demonstrated.I thought that it would be helpful to the House and to the public if a clear, simple exposition was given of the law as it relates to secondary picketing.
My right hon. and learned Friend's statement made it clear that much of what has happened over the past few years on the picket lines has always been unlawful, and that the law has not been enforced. Is it not the case that there has been disorder outside football grounds that has been dealt with by the police with the normal weight of the criminal law, while the same sort of disorder outside factories has been tolerated? Should not the criminal law be applied equally to both cases?
The law has been clear for a number of years. I pay tribute to the TUC for the guidelines that it laid down last year, which were similar to those that I have set out today. My regret is that those guidelines are no longer being observed by trade unionists, although they are perfectly clear. On individual cases, it is rather like comparing the sentences between two cases. Unless one knows all the facts, it is difficult to take a firm view.
As the Attorney-General says that the law has been clear for a number of years, what, with all respect to him, is the purpose of today's announcement? It neither adds to nor detracts from one's knowledge of the existing law. Does it not rest essentially on the fact that a decision whether to prosecute in an individual case rests upon the judgment of a chief constable on the question whether it will cause more or less aggravation in a complex situation?
I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman, having read the newspapers, would agree that there is no apparent agreement on the interpretation of the criminal law. I felt that it was useful to make the position clear.
In congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend on his lucid statement of the law as it stands, may I ask him to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that a full copy of his statement is put into the hands of every chief constable in the land as soon as possible? Does he not agree that far from exerting pressure on chief constables during this confused time it is important that they should all be absolutely clear about their rights and duties under the law, so that it can be enforced firmly and impartially?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. I understand from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that it will form part of a Home Office circular.
I am grateful to the Attorney-General for making the law clear by repeating what I said last year. I agree that each case has to be judged on its merits. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House what are the special doubts, to which he has referred several times, that led him to make the statement?
The newspapers often influence the view of the public, and if one reads them it appears, for example, that lorries may be stopped by the pickets from entering works. They express a view that an excessive number of pickets is not contrary to the law and cannot be interfered with by the police. Those are two typical examples of the way in which the law is misinterpreted. The criminal law is sufficient to cover the various offences that have been demonstrated by the pickets over a number of years.
If the criminal law is adequate, why are some chief officers of police expressing doubt and anxiety, and saying that the law should be strengthened? Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that his statement will remove those fears? To put the position in perspective, bearing in mind the widespread anxiety across the country, will he say why chief police officers are to be seen by the Home Secretary tomorrow—after this statement—and why they were not seen before?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has no power to require chief constables or chief officers to see him. It is at the request of the association that the meeting takes place tomorrow.My hon. Friend has proved my point by demonstrating the doubts expressed by police officers. That is why I have put into a clear and unmistakable form what the criminal law is on picketing.
Does the Attorney-General realise that what he intends to do will exacerbate on a grand scale the existing position? Does he know that on the 1 o'clock television news Mr. David Basnett gave his opinion on behalf of the general council, and that he described Government proposals as a re-run, in slow motion, of the Industrial Relations Act 1971? He pleaded with the Government to arrive at a consensus because, he said, it would result in the gaoling of trade unionists, with all the ills that would flow from that.
If ever one wanted proof that my statement was necessary, the hon. Gentleman's question is proof.
May I bring my right hon. and learned Friend back to the issue? What Britain finds intolerable is that what the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) calls "legal intimidation" is getting away with it? Will he remind his colleagues that something must be done about that?
I hear what my hon. Friend says. I assure him that there is no need to remind my colleagues about that.
In view what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, is it not clear that most of the contributions from the Government Benches have been criticisms of the police? The right hon. and learned Gentleman explained what the law is now. Will he take into consideration the fact that when workers are involved in an industrial dispute they hope to win that dispute? The attitude of solidarity between workers, especially workers in other industries, to help their fellow workers is a fundamental feeling. I have the greatest sympathy with workers who are involved in disputes. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends would be much better engaged in settling disputes rather than displaying the attitude that we have been witnessing?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman subscribed to the guidelines on picketing that were issued by the TUC a year ago.
Of course I did.
If he did—he assures the House that he did—it is a great shame that he is not vociferous in saying that the guidelines should be followed at the various sites that are being picketed.
In view of newspaper reports this morning, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that his statement fully supports and in no way differs from the speech made during the weekend by the Lord Chancellor?
Perhaps my statement was more detailed. However, there is nothing that contradicts in any way what my right hon. and noble Friend said.
Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman read reports in today's newspapers that some chief police officers are advocating the use of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) 1978 Act against pickets in industrial disputes? Will he assure the House that the Government have no intention of extending that Act into the industrial world?
I have seen no such report, and I have heard no mention of it.
As the Lord Chancellor has said that what happened at Had-field's clearly involved breaches of the criminal law, and as certain trade union leaders have stated their intention of doing to Sheerness Steel what was done to Hadfield's, surely it must be right for chief constables to feel that they have the power, clearly established on a proper legal basis, to prevent excessive numbers gathering to create further breaches of the criminal law? Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that chief constables have the power to prevent excessive numbers gathering and to ensure that such events do not recur?
One of the matters about which there are some doubt was an excessive number of pickets. I hope that my statement will resolve these doubts and make the police aware of the powers that they have in those circumstances.
As the law is so simple, and as it has been expressed as such by three successive Attorneys-General, would it not be better if people stopped demanding tougher penalties and tougher laws and allowed the police to administer on the spot the law as it now is?
The demand for tougher penalties and tougher action has arisen because people did not realise how effective the criminal law is. That was one of the purposes of my statement.
My right hon. and learned Friend has assured us that chief constables know what the law is. Is he aware that what worries the public is whether chief constables have the means to enforce the law? In view of the disgraceful violence of last week, why, for instance, were the special patrol groups not used?
As I understand it—this was definitely the position in South Yorkshire—the resources were quite adequate to deal with the situation.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that there is a clear distinction between picketing, where numbers are restricted, and demonstrations, which are something quite separate and legitimate?
Too often picketing has turned into a demonstration. That is where the problem arises. A picket that is sufficient peacefully to persuade and to communicate does not need 1,000 or even 100 people. In my view it is a demonstration when we end up with 500 or 1,000 people.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that while the police have an outstanding reputation for impartiality the law places them in serious difficulties? Does he accept that the power and abuse of the closed shop enables pickets to intimidate those who seek to carry on their proper business and to undertake their work? Will he, together with his right hon. Friends, consider further amendments to the law on the closed shop as well as on picketing?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that we must never underestimate the difficulties that the police have, especially in situations such as those to which reference has been made. Those situations have been unlike some of the demonstrations and parades with which they have to deal.The closed shop or the loss of the union card arises only in circumstances in which the person who is threatening the loss of the card is not able to enforce its loss. If the rules of the union permit the loss of the card, that would be a course that could be taken. If the rules do not permit the card to be withdrawn, the person who suffers its loss in such circumstances will have his remedy in the courts.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was rather plaintive in his answer to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), the former Solicitor-General. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think that he should have more political support on both sides of the House. Does he not think that as a junior Minister he should stop trying to steal the thunder of the Secretaries of State for the Home Department and Employment, who are willing to be properly cross-questioned before Select Committees? Does he agree that he should stop issuing statements on the Floor of the House when he knows that he cannot be properly cross-questioned on them? Does he not think that he should cease to be the only Minister, apart from his deputy, who refuses to allow Select Committees to cross-question him on his statements?
The way in which the hon. Gentleman manages to find every opportunity, whether relevant or not to the matter that we are discussing, to get at me about that is almost a miracle.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. I was kind to the hon. Gentleman. His intervention was not relevant, but I thought that I would let him complete his statement.
If my right hon. and learned Friend is correct and the police have powers to limit the number of pickets, would it not be helpful if the police and trade union leaders were to meet, when they expected difficulty, to agree among themselves on the number of pickets that should be sent to a dispute? Would it not assist if trade union leaders and the police were to come to such agreements? That would demonstrate whether the trade unions want to make an impact through peaceful picketing or through demonstrations.
Anything that will enforce and promote peaceful picketing is desirable. If responsible trade union officials with senior officers of police can between them decide what is a peaceful number that is not excessive, that will encourage peaceful picketing and make breaches of the peace less likely.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that his statement makes clear that the law is entirely adequate to deal with the existing position? Does he agree that the law will never solve industrial disputes and that bitterness in the dispute is being generated by the Government? The Government are making militants out of moderates. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the basis of the dispute is the criminal neglect by the Secretary of State for Industry and the Prime Minister, and the rest of her cronies, in not bringing the steel dispute to an amicable and decent conclusion, which could be done in moments if the Government would show some sense?
It is rather sad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question. The questions before it had been devoted to the matter about which I was speaking. The hon. Gentleman's question has nothing to do with that.
Yes, it has.
I am seeking to explain to the House my view of the criminal law on picketing. The solving of industrial disputes does not have a bearing on the powers of the police and the duties of those who picket.
Most members of the public would regard what happened outside Hadfield's as a demonstration and not a peaceful picket. Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain the extent to which the leaders of trade unions can recruit members of unions other than those involved in the dispute and pay them and be within the law?
As one looks at the guide—I come back to that because it has so much in common with the criminal law—one finds that it is laid down, as I recollect it, that one trade union in a dispute should not be involved with another union that comes to its aid without the union in dispute seeking that aid. When the situation goes far beyond that—where assistance is provided not at the request of the trade union concerned, and against its wishes—that is another matter, which will have to be considered when we look, for example, at the issue of excessive numbers.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the House thanks him for making his statement even though it repeats the law as it stands? Are he and his right hon. Friends aware that it is unfair to put the police in the position in which they now find themselves? The police are having to bear the brunt of a policy that could be overcome overnight if only the Government would test out the trade unions by allowing the British Steel Corporation to add a further 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. to its offer. The Government should at least give it a trial.
Once again we are diverted from the important point. Some people think that it is unfair to put the police in to deal with violent demonstrations. However, that is their job, and they undertake it. They are there to enforce the law and to protect the ordinary citizen. Perhaps, on occasions, they have a very dangerous job and on other occasions and more often they have jobs that they find distasteful, but they carry them out and have done so over the years, to the great admiration of the British people.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's clarification of the law and the support that the Prime Minister gave earlier to the police, but may I tell him that it is a great deal easier to define the law in this place than it is to enforce it on the picket line? Will he recognise that, far too often, caught between their duty to uphold the right of pickets lawfully to picket and the public to go about their business in peace, the police are placed in an impossible position?
I believe that I have made it clear—I hope I did—that the police are in a particularly difficult position. That position has been clearly expressed by my hon. Friend. The police recognise that position and no doubt it will be a matter for discussion with my right hon. Friend at the meeting tomorrow. Ultimately the duty of the police is to enforce and uphold the law. That they have done in the most difficult situations, and they have gained the admiration of us all.
Is it not a fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made his statement this afternoon not to clarify the bewilderment of the press, which is not an unusual condition, nor to correct press reportage in its muddledness, which is not an unusual situation, but to placate the hard-liners in the Cabinet and the bemused backwoodsmen on the Tory Benches?
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that his statement and the subsequent questions have been helpful to ordinary trade union members who are deeply concerned at the conditions in which they find themselves particularly where they are exposed to the unsolicited involvement of other trades unions in their dispute? It was necessary that a statement of this sort should be made so that the views of this House could go out to the country.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I think that he is right. There are too many barrack-room lawyers talking about the issues. It is easy for someone who has no knowledge of the law to accept what he is told by someone who is trying to persuade him to break the law without his realising it.
Will the Attorney-General take the opportunity of clarifying to his right hon. and hon. Friends and the public in general that what he said this afternoon applies to the police and their attitude to the Hadfield's pickets, and that the Hadfield's pickets were not secondary pickets? They were pickets who had been legitimately called out by their trade union.
It was quite clearly secondary picketing as we define it, but that is not the point. Whatever the form of picketing, the same rules apply, under the law, to the behaviour of the pickets.
Did my right hon. and learned Friend hear the "Today" programme, broadcast yesterday? Mr. Alan Goodson, chief constable of Leicestershire and chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said in that programme that while of course the police would do their duty, picketing was an extremely difficult area for them to be involved in. Will the Attorney-General therefore confirm that when the police are involved in dealing with mass picketing they will receive the full support of Her Majesty's Ministers? Hopefully, they will receive the support of the Opposition leaders as well.
I can give that assurance. I can go further, and say that the police have received that backing throughout the dispute.
Will the Attorney-General accept that we are interested in and support the view that there should be no tension between the police and pickets, or, indeed, between the police and any other section of the community, but that we are not sure that a parliamentary statement in response to press stories is the best way of easing tension? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that his statement had the support of his noble Friend the Lord Advocate. Will he make it abundantly clear that he is not changing Scottish law and that it is not the job of the police in Scotland to prosecute? Prosecution there is the job of the procurators fiscal. In order to avoid any doubt that may prevail in the minds of people in Scotland tonight, will the Attorney-General clear up that point?
As I recollect, I have not spoken in terms of who prosecutes; I have spoken of the obligations of the police. Of course, a different situation prevails in Scotland. In this country if there is a serious affray the Director of Public Prosecutions will almost certainly take the case over. My statement was seen by the Lord Advocate and he agreed to it. That is why I said what I did.
As there has been a general welcome for the clarification given to the House by my right hon. and learned Friend, will he consider inviting the leaders and general secretaries of all the trade unions to a special meeting so that he may explain the law to them?