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Secondary Industrial Action

Volume 979: debated on Tuesday 19 February 1980

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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.

Order. I am hoping that those hon. Members who, I know, are interested in the subject will be called after Question Time.

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.