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Code Of Practice On Picketing

Volume 413: debated on Wednesday 22 October 1980

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2.55 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will distinguish in the Code of Practice on Picketing between the immunities which protect those engaged in "peaceful picketing" and those which would protect a "mass picketing" demonstration.

My Lords, as paragraph 29 of the draft Code on Picketing explains, there is not and never has been immunity for people who seek by sheer weight of numbers to stop others from going to work or delivering or collecting goods. Such mass picketing—whether or not it is described as a demonstration—goes beyond peaceful persuasion and may well result in breaches of the peace or other criminal offences. The law provides immunity only from civil actions and it does so only for those who picket peacefully at their own place of work. However, we agree with the noble Lord that it is important for the code to be absolutely clear on this point and we shall certainly consider whether something more can be done in the final version of the code.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, but would he not agree that in view of the disgraceful scenes which occurred at the time of the Grunwick dispute and which have also occurred since then, it is very important that specific warnings should be included in the code? Paragraph 29 refers to "mass picketing", but it is not clearly shown there that flying pickets would be included in that phrase and that flying pickets by themselves have no lawful protection as pickets other than as mass demonstrators.

My Lords, I do not think that I should go much beyond my original Answer, except to stress that if picketing goes beyond peaceful persuasion—criminal behaviour consists of intimidation of any sort—then there is a clear breach of the criminal law, and that can be dealt with under the appropriate law. The code does not necessarily have relevance in that area.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there are hundreds of closed shops now in this country with no mass picketing at all but owing to Goverment policies, because people are unemployed? Can the noble Lord do something in that respect?

My Lords, I am tempted to ask "Which Government and which policies?" However, I think that we are 24 hours too late. I tried to deal with closed shops yesterday. I do not think I can go further than my previous answers on the civil and the criminal law.

My Lords, will my noble friend ensure that his original Answer is brought to the notice of all concerned and given the widest possible publicity?

My Lords, in so far as it is within my power I will certainly do that. I will pass on my noble friend's comments to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

My Lords, would the noble Lord include the use of foul language in his definition of "intimidation"?

My Lords, I hope that I am not going deaf. Did I hear the noble Lord say "sound language"?

My Lords, if I have heard aright from noble Lords opposite, there could be most interesting definitions of what is and what is not foul language; but I think we should leave intimidation and matters of that sort to the courts and especially to noble and learned Lords, be they on the Woolsack or in other parts of the House.

My Lords, what would the noble Lord do if he accepted a definition of foul language, when in parts of the country foul language is often a term of endearment? I shall not give the noble Lord an example today.

My Lords, I should be fascinated to go into etymological details with the noble Lord over the teacups or perhaps in other parts of your Lordships' House, but I shall bear his comments in mind.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that such a code would be successful only if it were reached by agreement rather than by coercion? Therefore will he tell the House what discussions have taken place with the TUC and what is the result to date? It is only by co-operation with the TUC that such a code can be successful.

My Lords, the Government very much regret that the Trades Union Congress has made it clear that it does not support the code, particularly as the Government have drawn on the TUC's own guidance, in its own pamphlets, when drafting this particular code. The Government do not believe that the decision of the TUC reflects the views of the majority of its members, who have been shown consistently to support the Employment Act and indeed the codes of practice.

My Lords, I should be happy to try to give the noble and learned Lord an answer, but I fear the wrath of the usual channels more than I do the House. However, I shall endeavour to find out and inform the noble and learned Lord.

My Lords, that is a most pessimistic attitude to take. Surely the House takes dominance and precedence over "certain channels" and the Chief Whip.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will have been in a position of pre-eminence long enough to know that there is a Latin maxim which is very relevant to him: it is de juri, non de facto.