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Employment Rights

Volume 93: debated on Friday 7 March 1986

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9.36 am

I beg to move,

That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government, whose economic, social and anti-trade union policies have, since 1979, tripled unemployment and placed the greatest burdens on those least able to bear them, particularly women, young persons and the low paid, through the reduction of internationally agreed minimum legislative standards ensuring basic social, human and employment rights for Britain's workforce; deplores the increasing bitterness and frustration that characterises Britain's industrial relations, exacerbated by the Government's anti-trade union legislation, which has thrown considerable doubt on basic trade union rights whilst encouraging the worst possible management practices, as evident in the News International dispute at Wapping; and calls upon the Government to reverse these disastrous policies of confrontation and attacks upon Britain's workers and their trade unions, which have created so much poverty and strife throughout Great Britain, and replace them with a policy of economic expansion and conciliation and co-operation between employers, trade unions and the Government, based upon a positive framework of rights for Britain's workforce.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Eventually, at 7 o'clock last night, I was able to obtain from the Table Office a copy of the motion that the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) invites us to debate this morning. At 7 o'clock last night the Table Office did not have it printed; it was available only as a typescript copy.

It seems to me to be neither courteous nor for the convenience of the House that the terms of a motion that we are to debate should be tabled at such a very late stage. The motion is lengthy and specific and deals with concrete points. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in order that it should be tabled at such a very late stage for debate this morning.

Order. I do not think that I need any help. The motion is in order. Due notice was given, although it is generally for the convenience of the House to have a little longer notice of motions like this so that we can all see exactly what the debate is to be about.

Yes, it is a point of order, in view of what Mr. Speaker has had to say. Mr. Speaker made specific reference to the fact that it would be for the convenience of the House if these motions were tabled earlier. There are countless occasions when this Government table motions within a few minutes—not at 7 o'clock but a few minutes before the rising of the House. There have also been a few occasions when the Government have demanded on the same day a switch from Committee stage to Report stage and we have had to table manuscript amendments within an hour — [Interruption]—so the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) wants to talk to his Front Bench.

Order. We do not want to take time out of this debate. Does the hon. Gentleman want to be helpful?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether it would have been helpful to those who are expressing their distress, like the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), who is doing it so vociferously at this moment, if my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens North (Mr. Evans) had held a press conference before putting his motion on the Order Paper.

This sounds like a really good Friday morning. I shall answer the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). What I have said about the need for adequate notice applies equally to the Front Benches as to the Back Benches. I call Mr. John Evans.

I am grateful Mr. Speaker. With respect, may I point out to the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) who raised the point of order, that I did seek the guidance of the Table Office on what the procedures were. They advised me, and I followed the rules of the House to the letter. May I also point out to the hon. Member that I tabled the title of the motion calling attention to employment rights some nine days ago. Surely the hon. Member had the wit to read what the subject of the debate would be and thus appreciate precisely what the topic would be. I accept your point, Mr. Speaker, that we have spent too long on this rather ridiculous point of order.

Although I am delighted to have the opportunity to sponsor a debate about these most important issues that are facing us, I am bound to draw attention to the fact that once again the Minister for Employment in not in attendance for a major debate on employment and employment rights. One is left with the feeling that Cabinet Ministers simply never stop running away and are only too happy to leave such debates to Parliamentary Under-Secretaries. However, I acknowledge the presence of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment.

Unemployment is the greatest issue facing our nation and it is right that the House should examine the question of mass unemployment. It is right that the House should examine the Government's treatment of the problems of unemployment and their economic and social policies which have created unemployment. It is also important that the House should review the Government's attack on the disadvantaged, an attack which has taken place over the past six years on women, young children and all those who are, unfortunately, reduced to claiming social security benefits. At this point it is most important that the House should examine the Government's attack on trade unionists and their organisations. It is important that we ensure that full examination is given to those aspects of Government legislation that have created the situation in Wapping, which is a disgrace to an industrial society.

I start by dealing with the issues in reverse order to that in which I outlined them and begin with the Government's attack on trade unionists and their organisations. It is an attack which has been mounted over the past six years. At the outset may I declare an interest in this subject as a sponsored member fo the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. I am a lifelong member of that organisation and I am inordinately proud to belong to it.

Does the hon. Member care to say whether he thinks the three-month strike by the AUEW in 1979 helped the employment prospects of its members?

To be perfectly frank, I do not recall a three-month strike in 1979. Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will have the opportunity to remind the House of that strike. Suffice it to say that any industrial dispute involving members of the AUEW is always in the interests of those workers. The AUEW's record will stand comparison with any organisation to which the hon. Member may wish to refer.

Since 1979, it has been central to the Tory Government's policy to break, or to cripple, the power and the influence of the trade union movement. That power has been built up over many years, often at the behest and support of successive Governments. Until the present Government came to power, every other Government had recognised that the trade union movement should, by rights, have a powerful part to play in the nation's affairs. When one examines the history of the past six years, one recognises that the anti-trade union legislation and the mass unemployment created by the Government are inextricably linked. A major part of the Tory attack on the British working people has been to attack their institutions and to attack working people's ability to defend themselves, their jobs and their standard of living.

Over the past six years there have been four major pieces of legislation that have had a detrimental effect on the trade union movement. The first attack was the disgraceful Social Security Act 1980, which deducted £15 a week, subsequently uprated to £16 a week, from the social security benefit of the family of any individual on strike. That was the first stage of the Tory attack. That legislation applied to unions, such as the mineworkers union in their year-long struggle with the Government. That union had never paid any strike benefit but, nevertheless, the families of the striking miners and other individuals were denied £16 from their pittance of benefit.

Following the Social Security Act 1980 there came the Employment Act 1980. I had the privilege as acting as Opposition Whip during its stages in Committee and through the House. This Act mounted the attack on the closed shop and restricted the right to picket. It restricted secondary action in furtherance of a trade dispute. That Act has created the nightmarish situation that now exists at Wapping. A ruthless employer, Mr. Murdoch, of News International, has been able to use the law in a way which, I submit, the House never intended.

The Secretary of State at that time was the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) and the law that he put on the statute book has been subsequently amended, altered and shaped by the judges and the legal profession so as to allow what was never intended by section 17 of the Act. It has allowed Mr. Murdoch and other employers to construct a chain of limited companies to create a legal fiction of separation. If, at company A the work or the business is being interrupted by a perfectly legitimate industrial dispute, the law on secondary action can be brought into play at company X although it is owned and operated by the same employer, because a chain of small private limited companies have been erected between them, even though the same work is being done on behalf of the same employer. The workers in that context have been denied their job opportunities and denied their work. Subsequently they have been denied their rights to such things as redundancy payment and the right to claim unfair dismissal and to take such claims to a tribunal. I am sure no decent citizen would attempt morally to justify the scenario that exists at Wapping.

What was intended by the Employment Act 1980? I remind the House that the Committee considering the Bill met on 32 occasions for almost 100 hours. I remind the House that there was no guillotine on the Bill. Indeed, there was no suggestion that the guillotine should be applied to the Bill. We went through the Bill clause by clause, line by line, and examined every aspect of the Government's intentions in that Act.

The Committee spent no fewer than five sittings on clause 14—subsequently clause 15—on secondary picketing. The Solicitor-General was in attendance for long stretches of our debates on clause 14 and our attempts to define and bring out into the open the position in relation to secondary picketing. The Committee never discussed secondary action.

On 19 February—the ninth sitting of the Committee—the Government published a consultation document on secondary action. The Committee had therefore sat for quite some time before the document was produced. The Committee spent some time deliberating whether it should discuss clause 14 on secondary picketing without seeing whether the Government intended to do anything about secondary action. On 18 March, at the 24th sitting, my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) sought guidance from the Chair and asked:
"Would it be in order for me to seek to move a change in the order in which we are considering the clauses in order to defer our consideration of clause 14 and deal with some other clauses in the meanwhile?
May I, with your kind indulgence, Mr. Goodhew, explain the thought behind that request? Clause 14 covers very much the same ground as the Government's working paper. Indeed, the clause and the working paper are not merely interlinked but are intertwined. It will be impossible to discuss clause 14 without also discussing the working paper." —[Official Report Standing Committee A, 18 March 1980; c. 1287.]
The Chairman accepted a motion, which my hon. Friend moved, to postpone consideration of clause 14 until after consideration of new clauses. The Government resisted that motion and, after a short debate, and in view of what the Chairman said, my hon. Friend withdrew his motion. In retrospect, we should probably not have withdrawn it but pursued the important point that any proposals on secondary action should have been examined in Committee.

On Report, the Government produced the blockbuster new clause 1 which covered no fewer than eight paragraphs and 54 lines. It comprised the most monstrous and complex legal jargon which nobody understood at the time, not even the Secretary of State. During the debate in the new clause on 17 April 1980, I said:
"In this case the Secretary of State frankly admitted that there was little knowledge in Parliament of what the complex clause actually meant. We must all sit back and wait and go through goodness knows how many industrial disputes before the judges finally determined what the clause means."—[Official Report, 17 April 1980; Vol. 982, c. 1546.]
In an intervention to the Secretary of State at column 1500 I asked him to define what the new clause meant, and he admitted that we would have to wait until the issue had been tested in the courts. We now know how the judges have interpreted it. The debate on secondary action at that time related to a judgment by the House of Lords in the Express Newspapers v. MacShane case, in which the House of Lords judgment stated clearly that secondary action under the 1974 Act was subjective and that, as long as the individual felt that he was acting in furtherance of a trade dispute that his members were involved in, there was no question of any action being taken against him. The All England Law Reports states:

"On the ordinary and natural meaning of s. 13(1) of the 1974 Act, an act was done 'in … furtherance of a trade dispute', and that the person doing that act was accordingly protected by s. 13 against an action for tort, if he honestly believed that the act might further the cause of those taking part in the dispute … the test of whether the act was done in furtherance of a trade dispute was a subjective one, and it was not necessary for the person doing the act to prove that it was reasonably capable of achieving his object. Since the evidence clearly established that the defendants honestly and reasonably believed that the action taken was fairly 'in … furtherance of a trade dispute', it followed (Lord Wilberforce, applying an objective test, concurring) that the appeal would be allowed and the injunctions discharged".
Because of that judgment, the Government thought that secondary action had to be defined. The Secretary of State said:
"The MacShane judgment appears to affirm that statute law gives to trade unions virtually unlimited authority to damage whomsoever they choose, as much as they choose, without fear of penalty, if, in their judgment—which no court may question—such action seems to be in their interests. In effect, the last as it now stands is a licence to spread industrial action far and wide beyond the original dispute, putting at risk the jobs and businesses of people who are in no way connected with it. No responsible Government could allow the law to remain in that state, and I would suggest that that view must also apply to the Opposition."
It is important to recognise the background to that debate. The Secretary of State was saying that, because of the House of Lords judgment two months before, the Act had been defined in a way that the Secretary of State in 1974 had never intended.

On Report, The Secretary of State confirmed our belief that the law was being interpreted quite differently from what was intended when he said:

"There is a deep-rooted trade union tradition of industrial action to prevent goods from being supplied to or from an employer in dispute. The Donovan commission acknowledged that, as did the Court of Appeal in developing the test of remoteness. The new clause recognises this tradition where secondary action is employed because the primary action is only partially effective. However, it withdraws immunity from secondary action if it is used only as a vehicle for spreading the disruptive effects of industrial action beyond those who are actively supplying goods to or receiving goods from the employer in dispute during the dispute.
The principle underlying the clause is that secondary action is justifiable only to the extent that it is used to put direct pressure on the employer in dispute." —[Official Report, 17 April 1980; Vol. 982, c. 1488–89.]
I submit that that is precisely what the trade unions at Wapping are intending to do and what the then Secretary of State implied was allowable under the new clause but which the courts have developed so that it is not allowed. Employees now find that their jobs are literally removed from under their noses and, because of the courts' interpretation of the 1980 Act, they have no claim or remedy against their employers.

If the Government had any honesty, they would restore to section 17 of the 1980 Act the meaning that it was thought to have when the Secretary of State put it through the House. The climate changed when the former Secretary of State for Employment was moved from office and passed to the vastness of Northern Ireland. We were then privileged to have the presence of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) as the new Secretary of State.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire, (Mr. Forth) says "Hear, hear," and reveals the feeling on the Tory Benches for the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Member for Chingford and the Prime Minister have constantly urged employers, time after time, to use the Tory Acts to bring the employees to heel. No one can seriously question that statement, as on innumerable occasions and speeches both the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman used those expressions.

The right hon. Member for Chingford introduced the Employment Act 1982. That was a really vicious Act clearly intended to further shackle the trade union movement and to promote the concept of non-unionism. The then Secretary of State for Employment boasted that the Act that he was putting on the statute book was meant to promote non-trade unionism. He introduced what became known as the "scabs' charter" in which anyone who could prove that a job had been lost because of pressure from a trade union could sue the employer and join the trade union in the action, which could result in payments in excess of £30,000 to the individual for loss of employment.

Tory Members should study what happened since the Employment Act 1982 went on the statute book. Notwithstanding the hysterical outpourings from the former Secretary of State, Tory Members would find that the number of cases that have gone to tribunal under the 1982 Act can be counted on the fingers of two hands. None of them have been awarded anything like the level of compensation that the former Secretary of State provided.

That Act also substantially narrowed the definitions of the trade dispute to closely defined industrial issues. It created a situation in which trade unions could be fined for the so-called unlawful acts of their officers to the extent that unions with membership in excess of 100,000 could be fined £250,000 for any acts that were defined as unlawful. The trade union movement is smarter than that and few cases have appeared before the courts.

However, the 1982 Act tried to create an uncertain climate. The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Chingford, was also the architect of the Trade Union Act 1984. The purpose of that Act was largely to restrict the political rights of trade unions and to attempt to bankrupt the Labour party.

Does my hon. Friend recall, in relation to the 1982 Act, that sections 1 and 2 introduced retrospective payments from 1974 to 1981 for the free-riders working in closed shops who happened to lose their jobs? Professor Jennard from Strathclyde university went round the country trying to find 400 free-riders to pay out £2 million in retrospectve payments that had been set to one side for free-riders during that period.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) for making that important point. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) rightly said, many in the trade union movement would expect similar acts of retrospection to ensure that those who were loyal to the trade union movement in days of struggle would be treated in the same way as the Tory party treated the free-loaders and blacklegs.

An interesting point about the Trade Union Act 1984 is that it has largely blown up in the face of the Tory party. The present situation is that of the unions with political funds, all 33 that have balloted their membership have returned yes votes with massive majorities in favour of keeping those funds. Only four unions await a result and it is confidently expected that during the next two weeks they will also declare a yes vote with huge majorities for the maintenance of their political funds. It is also interesting that the Act, which was intended as a blow to the trade union and Labour movement, has caused one union that previously did not have a political fund to ballot its members and subsequently to create one. It is confidently expected that many other unions that do not have political funds but are currently balloting their members will establish such funds. As some hon. Members pointed out at the time, that legislation will perform wonders in politicising the membership of the trade unions and I am pleased that that result is being achieved.

I ask my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) not to leave this point too quickly. My hon. Friend should extend our thanks to the Government for making the situation clear, but he should also stress that the situation is not quite what the Government expected.

At the outset I said that the Trade Union Act 1984 was intended to break the political powers of the trade union movement and to bankrupt the Labour party. That Act has blown up in the Government's face because of the splendid work that has been done by the trade union movement and in particular by the trade union coordinating committee. That exercise has politicised trade unionists the length and breadth of the country and that can only be beneficial to us, particularly when we come to the next general election, as Tory Members are fond of quoting at length that almost one-third of trade unionists voted for them at the last election.

Hear hear. We would not be here now if they had not voted for us.

The trade unionists will not be voting for Tory Members at the next election. That is certain.

One of the reasons why trade unionists will not vote for the Tories at the next election is that the Prime Minister continues to threaten to introduce further anti-trade union legislation. The Government are seeking to deny workers the right to combine to protect themselves and promote their interests. The Government are doing that because they allege that that will improve the operation of the labour market and alter the balance of power in favour of the employers. Those are favourite quotes from Cabinet Ministers and in particular from the Prime Minister. In other words, the Government's policies are in favour of market forces that would dominate and rule our lives.

The Government have carried out many measures to promote market forces. They have privatised public enterprise and services. They have made massive cuts in public expenditure, capital expenditure, infrastructure projects, and in current expenditure, and such things as pensions and supplementary benefits. The Government have also made uncivilised attacks on the disadvantaged. One attack is going through the House at present in the form of the Social Security Bill.

I shall give way shortly, but I want to finish my point.

Cuts in housing benefit will reduce the income of millions of people and no fewer than 500,000 people in this country will lose more than £5 a week. The severe weather payments are a national scandal and the Government's attacks on pensioners ad claimants have been a disgrace. We have also seen the diminishing of women's rights in employment. They have been denied the primary right of maternity benefit for which women fought for generations. This Government, led by the Prime Minister, have reduced those rights. The Wages Bill, which is currently in Committee, is attacking the young people in our society. Millions of youngsters will suffer as a result of that Act reaching the statute book and they will see their pittance of a weekly income substantially reduced.

If the Government had increased the youth training scheme allowance in line with inflation, it would now probably be £8 or £10 more than it is. There is not much point in having a one-year, two-year or even three-year scheme, if at the end of that period the youngsters are simply dumped back into the unemployment queues.

At the outset of the hon. Gentleman's catalogue of inaccuracies he claimed that public expenditure had been slashed, grossly reduced, or some such thing. Will he remind the House of the proportion of gross national product that was taken up by public expenditure in 1979 and contrast it with the proportion that is devoted to public expenditure this year? In other words, will he substantiate the claim that there has been a cut in public expenditure?

I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's question immediately. The major reason for the Government's un-Christian attack on the under-privileged is the size of the unemployment bill, which is the product of massive unemployment. That bill is just short of £20 billion this year. Unemployment is the reason for the massive increase in public expenditure since 1979. Unemployment has trebled since 1979. If the hon. Gentleman cannot understand that, it is time that he took up some other profession.

Apart from those considerations, unemployment is a colossal and incredible waste of money and human resources. Virtually all the wealth that has been obtained from the North sea has been poured down the drain of mass unemployment. That is one of the greatest crimes that this Tory Government have committed against our society. Despite the Government's rhetoric about the wonders of the free market, unemployment continues to escalate. It appears to be never-ending, despite all the Government's claims and all the bleatings and pleadings that we hear from Conservative Members.

Indeed. There are now no fewer than 3·4 million benefit claimants, which is the euphemism that is used. However, that does not tell us how many are out of work. That is the fiddle that has continued for the past six years or so. As unemployment increases, so does the benefits bill, and that is why the Government have had to cut the value of the benefits that are paid to the unemployed. It is worth recalling the theft of the six month wage-related unemployment benefit, for which workers have paid. It cannot be regarded as a benefit that the Government provided and then withdrew. Workers paid for benefit through their national insurance contributions.

As all my hon. Friends are only too well aware, the Government fiddle continually with the unemployment figures. It was announced two weeks ago that about 60,000 unemployed would be taken off the register by a further judicious fiddling of the figures. I am pleased that the Minister for Employment has just entered the Chamber. I am pleased to welcome the chief fiddler to our debate.

The Government decided to include those in the armed forces and the self-employed as being employed. That enabled the percentage of unemployed to be reduced at a stroke from 13·1 per cent. to 12·4 per cent. That is virtually unbelievable. I should like to know how many unemployed self-employed persons will be counted as being unemployed. If the employed self-employed are to be included in the employment total, presumably the Government will be prepared to include the self-employed unemployed in the unemployment total. It seems that the Minister for Employment does not understand the question.

Everyone in the House is only too well aware that the Government's policies over the past six years have created massive and almost uncontrollable unemployment in our society.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give me a definition of the unemployed self-employed. When someone is unemployed and looking for work, how does he know whether he is an unemployed self-employed person or an unemployed employee? When we assess the percentage of unemployment, we need to compare the number of people who are working with the number who are not, who are receiving benefit and who are available for work. One side of the equation must be those who are at work, which plainly means those who are working for employers as well as those who are working for themselves and those who are engaged in the armed forces.

I am grateful to the Minister. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I will read with great interest the intervention that he has just made to try to ascertain what it means. I am sure that many of us will go to many parts of Britain in our effort to find out what is meant by the definition of unemployed self-employed. It seems that the Government have no difficulty in counting the employed self-employed in employment totals. That is a measure of the fiddle that the Government are operating and perpetrating on the British people.

There are so many ways in which the Government have contributed to increasing the level of unemployment, and it would be perverse of me to go through them all. I shall mention a decision of the Government in 1980 which allowed the pound to rise to £2·40 to the dollar, which had a devastating effect on wide stretches of British industry. They tried to cope while the pound stood at that level against the dollar and they found it impossible. The effect was devastating on so many British companies. Many of them went out of business because of that act of folly. Later on the value of sterling fell to £1·05 or £1·03 against the dollar and the Government did not intervene. That served to compound their incompetence and folly.

That is the main thrust of the argument of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who, in evidence which was quoted in The Guardian yesterday, called for an attack upon Treasury power. The article states:
"The creation of a powerful Cabinet committee to overcome the influence of the Treasury on industrial strategy was demanded last night by Mr. Michael Heseltine, the former Defence Secretary."
The right hon. Gentleman should know better than anyone about the powers of the Treasury. He is a former Secretary of State of two of the greatest spending Departments, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of the Environment. He is denouncing the Treasury in the most vigorous terms for being responsible for much of the decline of British industry. In describing the control that the Treasury has, he said:
"It is like in commercial terms allowing finance directors to run a company. The books will add up but there won't be many sales.
I could not think of a better description of the British economy that has been created by the Government's act of folly.

We have seen slashing attacks on public expenditure—

The hon. Gentleman has said that when sterling was standing at £2·40 against the dollar many British companies went out of business. Might I inquire of him which companies suffered that fate? Can he name one? While he is reflecting on that, does he recall that General Motors' first investment in Britain came when the pound-dollar parity was £1 to slightly in excess of $4.

I have no doubt that during the next few days I shall be receiving quite a few letters that will answer the hon. Gentleman's question. I am sure that they will contain the names and addresses of many such firms, especially small firms, throughout the country. They will set out the many businesses that had to cease trading during the time when sterling stood at £2·40 against the dollar.

We have seen cuts in bus grants and the subsequent collapse of bus sales. Local authority housing allocations have been cut, with the result that the backlog of housing repairs stands at about £20 billion. There have been cuts in local authority road maintenance programes and the roads of Britain are falling to pieces. There have been cuts in the nationalised industries' programmes and enormous problems are building up for our society. The decision to cut public expenditure programmes has given a further twist to the unemployment spiral. Every decision not to intervene because of the doctrine of market forces has produced an additional twist to the spiral of unemployment. Unemployment continues to rise, and it will do so remorselessly. Employment Ministers wring their hands and make statement after statement about unemployment flattening out, hopeful signs, expected employment rises, levelling off and signs that next year will be better. There are statements of good intentions time after time, but nothing concrete is done to bring to an end the remorseless spiral of unemployment.

Once prosperous regions, cities and towns now suffer from mass unemployment. They have been reduced to such an extent that they now qualify for grants from the EEC's regional and social funds—that is, they would qualify for grants if there were money available for those grants.

More than 7,000 people are out of work in St. Helens, North, which was once one of our great and prosperous northern towns, and almost 50 per cent. of them have been out of work for more than 12 months. Skilled craftsmen over 45 who have given a lifetime of service to Britain ask me at my surgeries, "Will we ever get a job again?" I can only reply, "Not as long as the Conservative party is in office carrying out these policies."

The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that, if the Labour party were elected to office, it would be relatively easy either to hold the increase in unemployment or to decrease it. Why did the Labour party manifestly fail to do that the last time it was in power, when unemployment went substantially beyond the 1 million point to which the hon. Gentleman wants us to return? When unemployment more than doubled he manifestly failed to do anything about it.

I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw that statement. I did not say that the next Labour Government would find it easy. In fact, the next Labour Government will find it dreadfully difficult, given the nightmare that the Conservative Govnerment will leave behind them, to get people back to work.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity. As we are talking about high levels of unemployment, will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what methods the Labour party would employ to reduce unemployment which have not been tried and tried again, and failed on every occasion? In every unemployment debate, we get the same old answers and solutions that have failed time and time again. We get no new ideas.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to say that we shall launch a series of tea dancing classes—[Interruption.] Yes, it is cheap, because the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) makes cheap remarks. Under the last Labour Government, 500,000 more people were employed in 1979 than in 1974. There are now 2 million fewer people working than in 1979. If the Labour Government had used the same system of statistics as the Conservative Government are using, unemployment would have been less than 900,000 in 1979. That is the truth. The last Labour Government proved conclusively that a Government who were concerned and determined would create employment. Every hon. Member, including members of Centre Forward, the previous Tory Prime Minister and Lord Stockton, have made it clear on innumerable occasions that unemployment can be conquered—

By Government action. The Government are out of step with everyone. The chambers of commerce are calling for programmes to tackle unemployment. The CBI and trade associations, including those in the construction industry, are calling for a programme of public works to tackle unemployment. The Tory wets, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the TUC and the Labour party—everyone, bar the Government—are attacking the Government and calling for a programme of public works.

In the interview the Prime Minister gave a fortnight ago for the CBI magazine, she wrung her hands and said that Governments can create only artificial jobs. I remind the Prime Minister and Tory Members that there is nothing artificial about the unemployment they have created. It is massive and dreadful.

The greatest employment right of all is the right to work. That right has been denied to more than 3 million of our citizens. The Government are responsible. They have taken away that right to work. The Prime Minister's political epitaph will be "The Prime Minister for Unemployment". The Government stand condemned. If Conservative Members are so anxious to know what a Labour Government would do, they should resign. Hold an election and we will show them what we will do.

10.24 am

I begin by paying a small tribute to the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) for introducing this important subject, because it gives the House a useful opportunity to debate what is probably the cluster of the most central issues of concern to politicians. As it is Friday we can debate these matters at some leisure, in contrast to the more hectic mid-week.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in complimenting my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helen's, North (Mr. Evans) on giving the House "a useful opportunity", he is effectively rebutting the specious and bogus point of order raised by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth)?

I see no necessary contradiction between my suitably gallant remarks, which are in danger of becoming less gallant if the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) continues in that vein, and the wise observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth).

That is the extent of the congratulations that I extend to the hon. Member for St. Helens, North. His long and almost hysterical motion seems to be almost entirely wrong. Conservative Members have asked him what a future Labour Government might be able to do. Has he considered this simple point? He supports a party which appears to be committed to massive increases in public spending—according to recent calculations it will be £24 billion extra in total. Will that expenditure be any more in the interests of genuine employment than it was the last time the Labour party went down this route between 1974 and 1976? As all hon. Members will recall, it ended sadly and ignominiously in recourse to the International Monetary Fund.

I do not believe that the Labour party's solutions are credible. I am sure that is one of the main reasons why the party is languishing as it is.

Obviously, Opposition spokesmen will say during today's debate that more should be spent on capital investment programmes. Does my hon. Friend agree that if that point is made it should be put in the context of capital investment in Britain last year, when it was at the record high level in real terms of £55 billion?

I accept the point that my hon. Friend has made so well. He underlines the fact that capital investment should be correctly and profitably made. The great bulk of that investment is in the private sector. Conservative Members make no apology for that. There is a role for both the public and the private sector to play in these matters. It is important for the House to realise that just because investment in the private sector has increased, it should not be derided. It is every bit as important as public sector investment, and it produces jobs.

I stress that in the past six or seven years the Government have not been, and are not now, anti-trade union. They are against the mindless and self-defeating militancy of a minority of trade unionists and their leaders who do not know what is in their own best interests, let alone the best interests of the country.

I should prefer to continue, if I may.

The Government legislation of 1980, 1982 and 1984 enhanced the power for ordinary trade union members. Those three stages, so far, of our trade union legislation have improved the balance between employers and employees and between trade union leaders and their members. I remind the Opposition, who may disagree with me, that opinion polls have consistently shown that the general public, including ordinary trade union members, have taken the view time and time again that trade unions in the past, especially in the 1970s, had too much power, not only for their own good, but for that of Britain. It was necessary and timely that the balance should be rectified.

The motion refers essentially to the central problem of unemployment, and it is to that that I want to address the brunt of my remarks. It needs to be pointed out, when the House is understandably concerned about unemployment, that on the other side of the equation—employment—we have seen some satisfactory progress since the depth of the recession. It is notable that, however one calculates these matters, the increase in employment, including some assessment for part-time equivalents, since March 1983, has been about 700,000 new jobs. I am sure that all Conservative Members share the deep concern about the unemployment which still exists in spite of the increase in employment. If there is one area—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was reported in the Daily Mail yesterday that a statement is to be announced this morning on the decision of the privatisation of Vickers. Is there any indication as to when—

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not ludicrous that a statement of this importance will be made to a nearly empty House on a Friday morning when many of those Members with a deep concern in the matter are not able to be here because they were not aware that the issue was to be raised today? Is it possible for you to use your good offices? We made representations to the Government through the usual channels. We asked them to defer this until next week so that all hon. Members with an interest could hear the statement and take part in the questioning, instead of which the Government have insisted on dragooning it through.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a disgrace that a statement is to be made this morning about Vickers when there is an early-day motion on the Order Paper on this subject signed by 101 Tory Members, tabled by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks), who will unfortunately not be in his seat after the next general election. However, he should be told of this sort of thing. Is it not the biggest rip-off of the lot when the Government have invested £200 million in—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not pursue that argument. He must raise a point of order with the Chair.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying to emphasise the importance of this statement. We gave £200 million being given to Trafalgar House, which is important to the 101 hon. Members—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must pursue the argument of whether it is in order for a statement to be made.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is an additional point. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) has said, the statement is being made on a Friday, when many hon. Members are absent. He implied that some people could not get here—I believe that they ought to be here—but I also believe that the practice of statements being made on a Friday should be investigated by the appropriate authority. The Government wanted to get the Tory Members who have been involved in signing the motion, away from the House, in particular the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks), who has actively promoted the Trafalgar House scheme with the resultant loss of several thousand jobs in his own constituency. I have no doubt that he will have to pay for that at the next election. However, I believe that that is the reason why the Government have wangled it in this fashion today.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am less than happy that any statement of consequence should be made on a Friday. I knew nothing of this statement until the point of order was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). It was not on the board when I came in and it was not on the television Annunciator. It has obviously been the subject of some conflict between the Labour Front Bench and the Government Front Bench. When we came into the House this morning there was no notice on the customary place. The customary place, for the benefit of those who have not been Members for long, is on the entrance to the Members' Lobby. I think that it is appropriate that there should be a short comment made by the Leader of the House on a statement of this kind.

If it is on the same point of order, perhaps I can help the House. If the Government decide to make a statement on a Friday, that is a matter for them. They inform Mr. Speaker's Office. I understand that the Government want to make a statement at 11 o'clock.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This refers to the point of order that my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) raised initially rather than the one that has developed. I want to draw to your attention the fact that apparently yesterday's Daily Mail had details of a statement to be made in this House before hon. Members had heard it. I think that that is an abuse. It is an abuse that it appears in a newspaper before we have the statement and it is a serious abuse that it happens on a Friday when the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks) is not in his place to hear the statement.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not surprised at this tactic being engaged in yet again. It seems to me a standard procedure for the Government to manipulate the procedures of the House in a manner designed to keep Labour Members particularly ignorant of their activities. I am concerned that the commercial undertaking which is identified with this Vickers proposal is Trafalgar House. I am concerned that there are familiar connections between that company and members of the Government.

That is not a matter for the Chair and the hon. Gentleman knows that.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am asking you to use your authority regarding this statement, because you are aware that the Opposition have continually complained about the Government making statements of great importance such as this on a Friday. I appreciate what you said earlier, that the Government have a right to be able to do this, but surely the Chair should be able to rule that the Government should at least give notice to the House when they intend to make a statement of this nature so that hon. Members interested in the statement can participate. How can hon. Members who have returned to their constituency to deal with interests there be here to question the Minister making the statement today? Surely, it should be the right of the Chair to determine whether the Government have given hon. Members the opportunity to be here to participate today? I am asking you to rule on that.

The hon. Gentleman knows that statements are often made on Fridays. I am not able to instruct the Government whether they should make a statement.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not right that when a statement is ready to be given to the House that statement should be made at the earliest opportunity because, obviously, it will contain news. It is not necessarily just for those hon. Members who happen to be present at the time. It is also fully printed in Hansard and helps to avoid that which the Opposition have criticised in points of order, that is leaks. I feel that it is sensible to let us all know at the earliest opportunity. If a few hon. Members are missing, that is neither here nor there—it is just unfortunate.

Further to the original point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point has to be made that when we have a debate on a Friday morning we come to the House to discuss one issue. Something has come to our attention in a newspaper, which many of us may not read regularly—the Daily Mail. Perhaps we ought to read it more often. There are procedures, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) said, for letting us know about statements. A statement of this magnitude should have been announced in advance and should not have been announced on the annuciator at the time that it was. The House had been sitting for an hour before the announcement was made. It would have been for the convenience of hon. Members for the announcement to be on the board at 9 o'clock. It is a discourtesy to the House and I believe that it is the responsibility of the Chair to ensure that our interests are protected in these matters.

I think that Mr. Speaker has indicated that it is a great advantage to the House to have as much notice as possible when a statement is to be made. The point that has been raised is a matter for the Government. It is not a point of order for the Chair.

On a different point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will agree that the decision whether to accept a statement is entirely a matter for the Chair, not for anybody else, and that that is where the decision rests. Therefore, the issue is whether or not you accept the statement.

I am advised, and I was fairly sure of my ground when I said this, that if the Government advise Mr. Speaker of the intention to make such a statement, Mr. Speaker cannot reject it.

10.41 am

It is just possible that this is act two of a three-act speech. The central aspect of the unemployment problem, to which the House should pay the greatest attention, is long-term unemployment. Many Conservative Members wish that the Government would do even more in the Budget and on all other available occasions to tackle the problem. It can be approached in a number of ways.

Clearly the community programme has already been a great success. It needs to be extended at the most rapid sensible rate. Clearly the enterprise allowance scheme has also been a great success, and it would be a good idea to relax some of the terms and conditions of this excellent scheme to make it possible to expand it further. Clearly the job start experiment, which has so far been introduced only on a pilot basis, should be extended further, because once again it establishes the principle and cost-effectiveness of a measure of subsidy for employment. The Employment Select Committee, in its interesting recent report, gave added weight to the arguments to extend those measures further.

The motion also refers to the problems of management. I hold no brief for the recent actions of Mr. Rupert Murdoch. However, it has been well said that those who have gone on strike in that part of the printing industry have effectively dismissed themselves. That is sad. In many cases when employees go on strike they confidently believe that their employer will wish to re-employ them because it is not thought to be in the employer's interests that they remain on strike. In this case, because of Mr. Murdoch's plans and dispositions, their action effectively amounted to their own dismissal. That is a tragedy, and it does not appeal to me any more than it does to Opposition Members.

Labour Members will have some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but is he aware that many of those workers were not involved in the dispute but were dismissed by Murdoch as a total action? What is the hon. Gentleman's position towards those workers?

The story is complicated, and I fully confess that I have not followed the details as closely as has the hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless, this seems to have more of the stuff of an industrial tragedy than anything else. Even at this late stage I wish that a move towards a more sensible resolution could be made. Clearly there is a problem, in that there is not a great deal of alternative employment for workers in the traditional skilled trades in our inner-city areas. That links up with what I shall say later about adult training and re-training.

It is unfortunate that for a long period the behaviour of certain elements in the printing industry has been almost a byword for restrictive practices. Those restrictive practices could not have continued for as long as they did without the connivance of weak and, and in many cases, incompetent management. Newspaper proprietors and managers of earlier times have a great deal to answer for in that respect. They allowed trade unions to control the hiring and firing procedures almost entirely, they allowed manning levels on existing machines to be determined by the unions rather than by themselves, and they effectively gave the unions a veto over the introduction of new technology which, as the House will know, stood idle for many years before it could be brought into production. That has more the element of tragedy than anything else. As so often in our long and distinguished history, we bring many problems on ourselves.

I should prefer to continue, as many hon. Members wish to speak.

I agree with the motion that we need a climate of economic expansion in the interests of employment and, equally, an atmosphere of industrial co-operation if we are to succeed, proper and provide new jobs, which both sides of the House wish to see. The Government, through their macro-economic policies, have produced precisely that climate of expansion and done better than many of their predecessors. I remind the House, if it needs reminding, that we are now in the fifth year of a satisfactory rate of economic growth. Manufacturing productivity is improving at a faster rate than in France or Germany, albeit from a low base, and new jobs are being created, especially for women and part-time workers, and, I am glad to say that in the more successful parts of the private sector, also for full-time male workers.

Obviously, we wish to encourage as much industrial cooperation as possible in all parts of industry and commerce. The best of British management already manages to bring that about, but we must look for ways to bring the standards of the average management up to those of the best. That implies the need for further measures, possibly in the Budget, to encourage employee participation through wider share ownership for the general public, and especially for employees. The way ahead has beeen signposted to some extent by firms such as Baxi Partnership, the National Freight Consortium and the John Lewis Partnership, all of which involved their workers much more fully, partly through this mechanism. We should seek to find every sensible way to make progress towards what Professor Martin Weitzmann has called the "share economy". Sensible progress towards more revenue sharing would be preferable to the rather self-defeating pay scrambles of the past, and to the insistence on some of the traditional restrictive practices, which have damaged our competitive position.

The most serious emerging employment problem is not the legislative problem, to which the hon. Member for St Helens, North drew our attention, so much as the inherent conflict between insiders and outsiders within the employment market. That is a serious problem, and there are all the signs that the interests of the so-called outsiders—the part-timers, the self-employed and people working on a consultancy basis—are growing and improving. We welcome that, because it is partly responsible for the growth in employment. However, the interests of traditional insiders, particularly those who lose their jobs—those who were originally in male full-time paid employment—are not so attractive, especially with the decline of manufacturing industry.

In British industry and commerce, those who are secure insiders and who take steps to hold on to their jobs and to increase their pay, as can be seen from the figures for average earnings, do so at the expense of those who are insecurely outsiders and who would like to get in. I am not sure whether we can solve the problem easily or quickly, but the thrust of Government policy to deal with the problems of unemployment must now be dkirected principally at the sector of the unemployed who have not recently received sufficient attention—the middle-aged male family man who would like a full-time job and probably had one in, for example, manufacturing industry before he became redundant, and who wishes and needs to return to paid full-time employment to support his family.

The classic model of the nuclear family of the husband in full-time work, a wife not working, except to look after the children—I do not wish to take on the feminist lobby, because I know of the work involved in being a housewife — and two children, is now more of a myth than a reality. It accounts for only about 18 per cent. of all families. We must direct our attention to the people in that category who seek to return to full-time employment, and who are finding it difficult to do so. In the interim, their income needs support and they need our understanding.

There are several ways in which that group could be helped. An obvious way — I pay tribute to the Government for their recent action on this — is to continue to maintain the real value of child benefit. Until family credit is introduced in the spring of 1988, child benefit will be an important part of Government assistance for less well-off working families. Secondly, we must give priority in the Manpower Services Commission's strategy and in all the training programmes to the needs of adult training and retraining. We are helping too few people in this respect — only 250,000 — and I hope that the Government will give every possible support, financially and in other ways, to such training schemes. Thirdly, I stress that we have examples of successful programmes which are up and running. They include the community programme, the enterprise allowance and the job start scheme. I hope that Ministers will put their full weight behind those schemes so that, in the Budget, those measures can be carried forward.

The underlying factor in the interests of employment is that we must sustain a high level of economic growth, as the Government have done, and reduce inflation even further, as the Government are committed to do. If those two conditions are fulfilled, the private sector — to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred in the context of capital spending — will do the lion's share of the work. That is the way in which a healthy economy works and the way in which jobs have been created successfully in our partner and competitor countries.

If my hon. Friend the Minister wished to refresh his memory of ways in which we could complete our agenda of measures to deal with unemployment, I suggest humbly that he could do worse than re-read the checklist on the front page of the pamphlet "Work to be Done", published by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) and myself, in which he will find several measures to which the Government have not directed their attention, but which could usefully be pressed on his colleagues in the Treasury.

I commend what the Government have done so far, but I urge them to do more, especially to deal with the No. 1 problem of long-term unemployment. They must focus their efforts principally on the needs of the adult unemployed, having satisfactorily dealt with youth unemployment through the youth training scheme. We must find ways of helping the middle-aged unemployed to return to gainful employment.

10.52 am

I shall comment on several of the matters mentioned by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), especially on his remarks and others made during the debate about what is happening at Wapping. We must try to find a solution to that serious industrial dispute. I understand how eagerly the hon. Gentleman had to search to find matters on which to congratulate the Government. He congratulated them on maintaining child benefit, but I know that he, other Conservative Members and all Opposition Members have urged the full maintenance of child benefit. No one knows better than the hon. Gentleman that, were the Government to do that, they would have had to increase child benefit by considerably more than they announced a few days ago. I am glad to support his demand that we should rectify the matter, perhaps in this Budget, and sustain child benefit at its proper level.

I shall comment later on the speech made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment in reply to Monday's Adjournment debate on Wapping. It was a deplorable speech.

The motion lists many different forms of action that must be taken by the Department of Employment, in which I have a special interest. I must clarify some of the misconceptions that have been spread, not necessarily by the Under-Secretary of State—he is young to the game —but by some of his Conservative predecessors at the Department, who have tried to spread strange tales about what it achieved during the Labour Government.

The main work of the Department falls into four categories, all of which must operate successfully to obtain a decent employment policy. First, the Manpower Services Commission was set up a little before we came into office in 1974, but all the substantial expansion and financing of the MSC, and the special role that it was asked to play in the training programme, which remains of such great importance, was the work of the 1974 Labour Government. Some Ministers have said, absurdly, that we were not interested in training programmes, but we spent greatly increased sums on training. We allowed the Manpower Services Commission to go full speed ahead with the work, and we wanted to graft the new training programmes on to the programmes that preceded them.

Unfortunately, the Conservative Government inflicted serious injury on many training and apprenticeship schemes. Their conversion to a better training policy arrived belatedly. If the Minister looks back at what we did on training, he will know how puerile is the tale that our approach was not ambitious and intelligent.

The Labour Government established the Health and Safety Commission and, therefore, extended safety provision to about 5 million people who had not had it previously. That aspect of the Department's work is increasingly important, especially since the development of the chemical and nuclear industries. I vividly remember the enthusiasm of the chief inspector of factories for the establishment of the commission. I am glad that even this Government have not dared to destroy it, although its effectiveness has been considerably impaired by the shortage of inspectors and the Government's failure to recognise what could be achieved by an imaginative programme for extending health and safety provisions into many other areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) mentioned what the Government have done, through a series of measures, to curb employment rights or remove them altogether. It is especially offensive that people who have never had to worry about their salaries should wish to cut the salaries of many youngsters and others. It is also offensive that, after so much effort was made to extend employment rights to women and to set up a programme by which that could be carried forward, during their six years in office the Government have been searching for ways to curb the extension of rights. We must ensure that we carry forward the work that was initiated during the years for which the Labour Government is sometimes attacked.

The Labour Government also established the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. That has a direct bearing on the Wapping dispute and on how we might find a way out of it. Neither side of industry could accuse ACAS of being non-independent. It was established for that purpose, and great credit is due to its two main directors during its life, Jim Mortimer and his successor, both of whom carried out their tasks excellently. One advantage that the Government possess is that they could use ACAS in this dispute and in others much more effectively than they have. I urge them to do so.

Some Conservative Members—the worst offender is the chairman of the Conservative party, who had a brief and disastrous spell at the Department of Employment—try to say that the Labour Government did not contribute to industrial relations. However, we established the main independent body on which any sensible development of industrial relations must now depend. I hope, therefore, that the Government will pay particular attention to the constructive proposals that I shall be making later in my speech about the way in which we should seek an honourable and decent escape from the terrible dispute in Wapping. More than 5,000 people have had their jobs taken from them in the most shameful and shocking manner and it is the duty of the House of Commons to try to find a way out.

I see that the Minister for Trade is getting ready to speak. I thought for a moment that he had come to speak on behalf of his old Department, the Department of Employment, but I gather that he has risen on the stepping stones of his dead self to higher things at the Department of Trade and Industry—or perhaps he has descended to nether regions altogether. If 1, like the Minister for Trade, had had a good job at the Department of Employment and was doing it fairly decently, I should not have gone off to join those racketeers.

It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 5 (Friday sittings).