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Picketing

Volume 981: debated on Monday 24 March 1980

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44.

asked the Attorney-General what representations he has received following his recent statement on the law relating to picketing.

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend feel that some of the more aggressive noises from the TUC and particularly, I understand, from the GMWU over the weekend are not representative of the views of the majority of trade unionists? Will he therefore do all that he can to ensure that the sensible proposals going through the House are pursued in such a way as to retain the support for them of the majority of working people?

The enforcement of picketing laws, whether as they exist or as they will be if clause 14 of the Employment Bill becomes law, is entirely a matter for the chief constables and particularly the police officers at the site. The statement that I made on 19 February was circulated to chief officers of police and no doubt they will bear it in mind when they advise their officers what to do about picketing.

In view of the Attorney-General's repeated statements that primary pickets will retain the right to peaceful persuasion after the passing of the Employment Bill, will he inform the House whether the Government intend to introduce a new clause to the Bill to allow primary pickets the right to stop lorry drivers to persuade them peacefully of the justice of the dispute?

There has been a great deal of discussion about that matter and it has been decided that there should be no right to stop lorry drivers. One of the questions that always occurs to me is what would happen if a lorry driver did not want to stop. Would he be committing a criminal offence? That is the sort of problem that one would face if one went down the road suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, even under the existing law, so ably defined by him recently, there are still difficult situations for the police and those who are trying to picket peacefully? Does he agree that it would be a great help if the TUC would go further with the law enforcers in agreeing basic guidelines that could be enforced by both police officers and those operating picket lines?

I said on 19 February that I thought that the guidelines issued by the TUC were sensible. I was sorry to see some comment the other day that tended to suggest that the TUC was withdrawing those guidelines.

Is the Attorney-General aware that in some areas there is automatic fingerprinting of pickets charged with obstruction? Does not that increase tension? Would it not be better to limit fingerprinting to cases where serious charges are involved and not make it automatic, as is the case in many areas? Does he not agree that automatic fingerprinting causes increased tension in those areas?

That is a question which would be better put to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.