National Graphical Association (Dispute)
3:31 pm

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the picketing outside the premises of the Messenger group of newspapers in Warrington last night and in the early hours of this morning.

I understand from the chief constable of Cheshire that between 9 pm and 11 pm last night the number of pickets increased rapidly from 500 to about 4,000 people. Their purpose was clear. It was not to communicate information. It was not persuasion. It was not even demonstration. It was to prevent, by physical force and weight of numbers, newspapers from being taken out of the premises. Many of the pickets had travelled from far afield; many came prepared for, and used, violence against the police. A number were armed with offensive weapons such as iron bars.

At the height of the operation, the chief constable deployed over 1,200 men, from his own force and those of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, and Lancashire. As a result, the vehicle carrying the newspapers was able to leave the premises at the time planned at 5 o'clock this morning, and did so. The pickets began to disperse from about 6 am.

During the course of the disturbances, police officers were attacked and missiles were thrown at them. Twenty three officers were injured and three have been detained in hospital. I am glad to inform the House that at present none appears to have been seriously injured. Thirteen pickets are recorded as having been injured, one of whom remains in hospital. Again, I understand that his condition is not serious. A total of 86 people were arrested for a range of public order offences and offences of assault and obstruction.

I have conveyed to the chief constable my great appreciation of the police operation, and the way in which his officers and those of the other forces dealt with an immensely difficult situation. It is a great tribute to them that the lawful right to move the newspapers was upheld. I have asked that my concern and sympathy should be passed on to the injured officers, as I did in the case of those who incurred injuries last week.

I understand that the number of pickets has now declined to about 150, but there are threats that large numbers will try tonight to repeat the events of last night and this morning. The chief constable has the responsibility for maintaining the rule of law and devising and executing the appropriate plans for doing so. I have made it crystal clear to him that if there is any assistance he requires from me it will be readily available, and he will have my complete support for the exercise of his very considerable powers to the full extent that is required to deal with the situation.

There is and can be no excuse for violence and the attempt by intimidating weight of numbers to negate the lawful rights of other people. Irrespective of the merits of the industrial dispute, what has happened here amounts to breaches of what has always been the criminal law. The place and pretext for its breach make no difference whatsoever. Violence at the picket line is as indefensible as violence at a football match or anywhere else.

Action of the kind we saw last night cannot and will not be tolerated. I hope that the House as a whole will join me in condemning what occurred, and the mass picketing which was its cause, and giving every support to the police in preventing or dealing with a recurrence.

Photo of Mr Gerald Kaufman

Mr Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

I want to make it absolutely plain that the Opposition categorically condemn all violence, in all circumstances, in whatever place, and for whatever purpose it is used. We endorse the view of the TUC policy and organisation committee that trade unions should be supported in carrying out their lawful functions on behalf of their members. I ask the Home Secretary, for his part, to confirm that any possible breach of the law by pickets cannot justify any counter-breach of the law by anyone else.

In view of allegations that have been made, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what reports he has received about the methods of policing at Warrington, particularly in relation to the communications van of the National Graphical Association which has been parked at the Warrington works for four weeks with police permission, and which the police themselves have used during that period? Are not the deplorable scenes of violence the direct outcome of the folly of the Government in dragging industrial relations into the law courts and allowing—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill

Mr Bernard Weatherill (Croydon North East)

Order. This is a serious matter. I hope that the House will listen in silence.

Photo of Mr Gerald Kaufman

Mr Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

The Government are allowing any wayward employer to use the courts of law as a weapon to win a victory in an industrial dispute. Cannot the Government get it into their head that the key to improving industrial relations lies in conciliation, not confrontation?

What action will the Home Secretary now take, as a member of the Cabinet, to get the parties to this dispute round the table to sort out their differences by the time-honoured process of negotiation and conciliation? How many more lamentable episodes such as this will we have to go through before the Government learn that vital lesson?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's condemnation of violence. He referred to counter-breaches of the law in a rather veiled form. If he has any specific allegations to make, I should be grateful if he would do so specifically and they will be investigated in the proper way. He asked about methods of policing. I shall look into any specific allegation that he wishes to make.

The right hon. Gentleman then referred to what had been said by the TUC. I should be grateful if he and Labour Members would express their full support for what the TUC said in its guidelines in February 1979, when it stated: It is lawful for persons acting in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute to picket at or near a workplace or any other place … provided they do no more than peacefully obtain or communicate information or peacefully persuade workers to abstain from work". If anyone believes that 4,000 people are needed to do that, whom does he think he is kidding?

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas

Mr Norman St John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his forthright statement, which makes it quite clear that what is involved at Warrington is nothing to do with the Employment Act but is to do with the breach of the liberties and rights of the subject as guaranteed by the common law. Will he invite the Leader of the Opposition to associate himself with that condemnation without the qualifications and weasel words that we have just heard from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. No changes in the statute law on employment have made any difference about what happened last night. Violence caused by mass picketing would have been just as unlawful before those changes as it is today. My right hon. Friend is right to refer to the importance of the force of informed opinion. We in this House have a tremendous responsibility. We do not want a repetition of those scenes, and one of the ways of ensuring that is for all of us to condemn violence.

Hon. Members:

The right hon. Gentleman should answer.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill

Mr Bernard Weatherill (Croydon North East)

Order. If the right hon. Gentleman seeks to catch my eye, he will be able to answer at the end.

Photo of Mr David Steel

Mr David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

I would give way to the Leader of the Opposition if he chose to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

Is the Home Secretary aware of the statement at lunchtime by the national secretary of the NGA that tonight's picketing will be an even larger force? Does not that give the lie to the idea that this is some kind of spontaneous outburst? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that political parties in this House should not just repudiate violence in general terms but should specifically repudiate those who in this House give aid and comfort to it?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I entirely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is difficult to square any kind of alleged spontaneity with the document I have in my hand, which invites people to join the picket line in return for £25 to cover their lost time.

Photo of Mr Maurice Macmillan

Mr Maurice Macmillan (South West Surrey)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, quite apart from violence or the behaviour of the pickets, the mere presence of so many of them has in the past been held to be intimidation and that in the past that view has been accepted by better leaders of the Labour party than we now have?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

The first point is most certainly so. In the case of Piddington v. Bates, exactly that proposition was upheld by the courts.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton

Mr Willie Hamilton (Central Fife)

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman must be fair in these matters, what evidence other than that from the chief constable of Cheshire did he receive?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

If the hon. Gentleman challenges my account of what occurred, he must have failed to read any newspapers or to watch any television.

Photo of Mr Edward Gardner

Mr Edward Gardner (Fylde)

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that thousands of pickets, strangers to any industrial disputes and without a word of warning or discouragement from the Leader of the Opposition, are laying siege not just to a printing plant in Warrington but to the barriers of law that are for all of us the ultimate protection against anarchy.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I totally agree. In considering the breadth and extent of the action that has taken place, the House might like to know that on the evidence of the occupations given by some of those who have been arrested we find that some were students, a teacher and a social worker and that they come from places as far afield as London, Scotland, Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Salford and Essex. That is not a spontaneous action or action in defence of anyone's livelihood; it is organised anarchy.

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins

Mr Roy Jenkins (Glasgow Hillhead)

Is it not clear that mass picketing on this scale is, by its very nature, designed to intimidate rather than to persuade? Was it not clearly unlawful under the laws of the last Labour Government? If the NGA desires to avoid violence, surely it should call off a repetition of the picketing tonight and should be urged to do so by the official Opposition spokesman.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Interestingly enough, what he said is today echoed in a quotation in The Standard from one of the six people on whose behalf this whole operation is supposed to be conducted. That person is quoted as saying: There is no way that I condone violence of any sort. We are here for our jobs, but some of these other people come just to have a punch-up with the policemen. We don't want to see that".

Photo of Mr Fergus Montgomery

Mr Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

In view of the claims that the pickets are not responsible for violence, will my right hon. and learned Friend explain why so many policemen have been injured? Have they been hitting each other, or were these self-inflicted wounds? What is happening outside the printing works at Warrington is disgraceful and is a breach of the law. When the Labour party makes allegations of police brutality, should not it be reminded that if these people were not breaking the law and illegally picketing the police would not need to be present?

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton

Mr Ron Leighton (Newham North East)

Might there not be a design fault in the new and controversial legislation which has produced a legal juggernaut that is now out of control? Has not it transformed a relatively trivial and obscure industrial dispute, which could be settled immediately by the reinstatement of six men, into a major confrontation that has stripped a major union of all its property and assets by a form of bureaucratic mugging? While that may be possible in a country such as Poland, here it will only sour and worsen industrial relations.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I do not share the hon. Gentleman's view of the legislation, he will not be surprised to hear, but I share the view of the deputy leader of the Labour party, who said: Those of us who believe the law to be wrong have to change it rather than break it.

Photo of Mr William Clark

Mr William Clark (Croydon South)

Is it not disgraceful that when the Leader of the Opposition is encouraged by Government supporters to condemn the violence all that he does is grin broadly? Would my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is rather peculiar that Opposition Members talk about peaceful picketing when bottles, stones and iron bars are used on the picket line? Is not this complete and utter anarchy that must be put down at once? Would he agree, further, that if there are people in the country who do not like whatever laws we have to operate under the only way to change those laws is through the ballot box?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I agree with my hon. Friend.

On the question of the Leader of the Opposition speaking on matters of that kind, I do not take the view that all of us have to speak up on every issue and that if we do not speak up we must be construed by our silence to speak in a particular sense. But in the particular circumstances of this dispute, when the matter is not at an end and when violence is threatened, all of us have to search our consciences and ask whether we can make a contribution to preventing violence by speaking against it. That is a matter for each of us, from the top to the bottom.

Photo of Mr Don Concannon

Mr Don Concannon (Mansfield)

While not condoning the violence or the scenes last night, may I ask the Home Secretary whether he is aware that any decent industrial relations officer or any fair-minded manager would probably have settled this argument in an hour in an office on a Friday? Is he aware that if it were not for the Government's legislation—and they must take responsibility for this—the dispute would never have got beyond the factory line?

Photo of Mr George Gardiner

Mr George Gardiner (Reigate)

Despite the fact that a van containing newspapers was eventually able to leave this plant, it would seem from the reports of last night's riot that the police forces were not sufficient to control the mob assembled. Can my right hon. and learned Friend give the House a double assurance that if any further occurrences of this kind arise the police forces will be adequate to enable our citizens to go about their lawful business?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

The extent of the forces required at any given place must be a matter for the chief constable, but I can assure the House, as I have already done, that all assistance that the chief constable on the day and at the place thinks is necessary will be provided, and that, of course, includes full mutual assistance from neighbouring forces to the necessary extent.

Photo of Mr Dennis Skinner

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Home Secretary argues that the police, out of necessity, had to charge the picket lines long before the delivery van was ready for dispatch at 5 o'clock. Can he say why they had to dismantle the radio equipment in the NGA van and manhandle the NGA officials out of the van five hours before the delivery was due to go out of the yard? Why did the baton charges take place for several hours before the dispatch of that van? Surely this was provocation. Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman should agree that the purpose of the police activity was merely to enable the van to get out of the yard, but the police were provoking the incidents for many hours before that? The police have had an official complaint about that van with which I hope they will be able to deal. Is not the truth of the matter that this Tory Government have set out to smash the trade union movement and that they use the Tory judges in order to cripple the trade unions' financial—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill

Mr Bernard Weatherill (Croydon North East)

Order. I order the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to resume his seat.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

If the hon. Gentleman had heard me aright, he would know that the specific allegations against the police, if any, will be considered in the proper way.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the plans of the Government to smash the trade union movement. I have to say, although this goes beyond last night's events, that I cannot think of any better way of damaging the trade union movement than by condoning what happened last night.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell

Mr Anthony Favell (Stockport)

Is the Home Secretary able to confirm that it is within the powers of the chief constable to turn back the hordes of lawbreakers now heading for Warrington before they reach their destination?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

If he suspects that their attendance at the spot will lead to a breach of the peace, he has full powers to do so.

Photo of Mr Martin O'Neill

Mr Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

Can the Home Secretary confirm that the reports he has received from the police have contained references to the destruction of the NGA van, or is he giving us a partial view of the situation as he has received it?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I have given the facts to the House that seem to me to be relevant.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark

Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it has to be a cause of considerable sadness that we have a rent-a-mob of 4,000 people being carted round the country paid for by the trade unions and deliberately supported by the Opposition Front Bench? Is not the violence caused because a section of the community feel that at heart the Labour party believes in smashing laws and not supporting them?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

My hon. Friend talks of sadness, and there is, indeed, cause for sadness in yesterday's events, but there is also cause for satisfaction, and it is that the rule of law is being maintained and that the overwhelming majority of people want that to continue.

Photo of Mr James Lamond

Mr James Lamond (Oldham Central and Royton)

Since the Home Secretary has told us today that the situation is so far out of hand that he cannot control it unless he has the full support of the Opposition Front Bench—a view that seems to be strongly supported by his Back Benchers—does he realise that he will get the support of people like myself only when he applies conciliation and not confrontation to the situation?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

We can manage quite well without the hon. Gentleman. The question is the price that has to be paid. Some people think that the price the police are being asked to pay is too high and we have a responsibility to reduce it.

Photo of Mr Alistair Burt

Mr Alistair Burt (Bury North)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the real problem in this dispute is caused by the attitude of those who believe that they can pick and choose the laws they obey because of political reasons and that this disrespect for the rule of law is compounded by the irresponsible attitude of those Opposition Members who refuse to grasp the nettle and condemn those who defiantly break the law and picket illegally? Does he not agree, further, that this spineless and craven attitude of giving in to the bully boy and the militant throughout the Labour movement is responsible for Labour Members sitting on the Opposition Benches and not on the Government Benches?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said. My task is to do what I can to assist those responsible for maintaining the rule of law, and that I shall continue to do.

Photo of Mr David Winnick

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North)

Is it not of interest that the Master of the Rolls is quoted in one newspaper as saying today that the legal system favours the employers at the expense of the unions? Leaving aside how those talks took place between the Master of the Rolls and a senior civil servant in the Department of Employment, is not that remark of great relevance?

Why does not the Cabinet learn from the experience of the Industrial Relations Act? Since that Act showed itself to be a recipe for confrontation, is it not obvious that all anti-trade union laws will lead to this kind of confrontation?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman for one moment. It is a complete illusion to think that the law can keep out of industrial relations or has ever done so. The only difference between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. and hon. Friends is as to where the line should be drawn.

Photo of Mr Andrew MacKay

Mr Andrew MacKay (Berkshire East)

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noticed that because the British public, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, totally condemn acts of thuggery on the picket line, and because they believe passionately in upholding the law, there has never been an occasion when they have so totally opposed industrial action?

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett

Mr Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Can the Home Secretary confirm that it is the Government's duty to produce conditions conducive to public order? Will he reflect that for 16 weeks there was picketing at the dispute in Stockport perfectly peacefully until the courts were resorted to and that that is where the difficulties have come from? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give further thought to the fact that many of my constituents in Stockport do not want copies of the Messenger pushed through their front doors if they are produced in these circumstances? Will he ensure that they do not have them?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I do not think that it is very difficult to advise those who do not want copies of the Messenger what to do with them. I do not believe that that is the central issue in this dispute. However, it is quite ridiculous to suggest that the Government are at fault because problems have arisen as a result of people deliberately flouting a court order.

Photo of Mr James Couchman

Mr James Couchman (Gillingham)

My right hon. and learned Friend no doubt heard on "The World at One" today the lengthy interview with Mr. Joe Wade, the general secretary of the NGA. Did my right hon. and learned Friend find his posture any more convincing than that of the Opposition Front Bench?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

My hon. Friend invites me to make a comparison which would not necessarily be helpful in the context of this dispute.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt

Mr Laurie Pavitt (Brent South)

Like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the Home Secretary, I am one of the last to support or condone violence, but may I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that this is a re-run of what happened in my constituency at a firm called Grunwick where, unfortunately, I witnessed violence by both police and pickets? I ask the Home Secretary to recall that all these years later, when we sought to establish the rights of an individual to join or not to join a trade union, not one trade union member is permitted to work for Grunwick. This is directly contrary to the rights of people to join a union. It is a non-union company. Any employee who joins a union is sacked.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

Whether or not that is so, I will not comment. I respect the hon. Gentleman's genuine belief that violence is to be deplored. However, I ask him to agree that generalised condemnations of violence are not sufficient. We have to face the fact that if there is mass picketing on the scale that we have seen in these recent events it is almost bound to lead to violence. It is that which has to be condemned and not just violence in general terms.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence

Mr Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall any other issue in this Parliament upon which the Leader of the Opposition has remained so silent?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I follow the utterances of the right: hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) less closely than my hon. and learned Friend does.

Photo of Mr Robert Clay

Mr Robert Clay (Sunderland North)

Will the Home Secretary accept that it was a quite frightening experience to witness personally, on the invitation of one's constituents who previously had been arrested, what happened last night and then to hear the braying hysteria of Government supporters? Is not it time that the Home Secretary commented specifically on the fact that the police broke into a van owned by the NGA that was legally parked and broke its radio telephone links, smashed its PA system and broke its walkie-talkie communications and that they did it before there were any disturbances? Is it not a fact that, as a result of NGA officials not being able to use that communications equipment, it was made far more difficult for them to organise the demonstration?

Whatever else, if, before there has been any disturbance or any violence, rank after rank of police with riot shields and riot helmets proceed to make baton charges on demonstrators who are simply standing there several hours before any attempt to drive the delivery van out of the works, is it not inevitable that violence follows?

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that whatever retaliatory violence occurred—violence which has been condemned by the Opposition as much as by Government supporters—it is also the case that I and other hon. Members witnessed the most appalling brutality by some members of the police force, in some cases where it was quite unwarranted and it could be seen that the demonstrators had not provoked it in any way? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman condemn——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill

Mr Bernard Weatherill (Croydon North East)

Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to keep their questions short.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue complaints against the police, there is a proper avenue for doing so.

The hon. Gentleman said that it was a frightening experience to be there. I have no doubt that he is right in saying that. But what he has to bear in mind is that the purpose of lawful picketing as enunciated by the TUC itself in 1979 does not require 4,000—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption]——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill

Mr Bernard Weatherill (Croydon North East)

Order. The Home Secretary was answering a question. If we cannot have order in the House, how can we expect it anywhere else?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

If the hon. Gentleman had told me that it was the intention of the union to use that method of communication to reduce the number of pickets to the number required for genuinely lawful picketing, I should have very much more sympathy with what he says.

Photo of Mr Neil Hamilton

Mr Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

Since my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned the TUC, does he agree that one of the best ways to de-fuse the present situation and end the violence will be for the TUC to stand up for the maintenance of the rule of law and to discipline the NGA? Is not the apparent lack of authority and will of the TUC in this respect deplorable?

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery

Mr Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Is not it a fact that a Tory party member, Sir John Donaldson, failed totally as chairman of the notorious Industrial Relations Court and, as a result of that failure, eventually the Conservative party admitted that that law was a bad law and should have been withdrawn? Is not the same man, now Master of the Rolls, engaged in a similar task?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill

Mr Bernard Weatherill (Croydon North East)

Order. Before we go too far down this path, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not seeking to criticise the Master of the Rolls.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery

Mr Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

My question will be brief compared with some that have been allowed.

Is it not a fact that the Home Secretary is only selectively and partially answering the questions put to him by Opposition Members, that he has only taken evidence from the chief constable of Cheshire, and that he seemed not to know about the brutal violence of the police last night? Does he expect British trade unions which are under full scale assault from the Conservative party to sit quiet while they are dismantled? Is that what the Conservative party is after? It is the Conservatives who are encouraging mass picketing more than any Opposition Member. We are all appalled at violence, and we are especially appalled at police violence. I have never been violent in my life.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

All that I am asking Opposition Members to do is not to condone breaches of what was the criminal law long before any of the legislation to which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) objects came into effect. What would be helpful from as many people as possible is the simple endorsement of the TUC guidance on the conduct of picketing, which was endorsed by the last Labour Government.

Photo of Mr Richard Alexander

Mr Richard Alexander (Newark)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the vast majority of people listening to their radios this morning were disgusted and frightened by the noises that they heard of the activities of the pickets at Warrington? Does he accept that they will not be reassured by the noise that they have heard from Opposition Members? Will he take time today to disabuse the country of the disgraceful smears that we have heard from some Opposition Members about the conduct of the police? The police did not arrive armed with bottles, sticks and stones and, in one case, a gun.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

My hon. Friend is right. If I appear to be inhibited to any extent in commenting on the allegations made against the police, the reason, as I am sure that the House will understand, is that I have responsibilities in the investigation of complaints and police discipline. These matters must be considered in the proper way. On the other hand, hon. Members who have made complaints have not hesitated to clothe themselves with the privilege of the House in making such allegations.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill

Mr Bernard Weatherill (Croydon North East)

Order. I must protect the business of the House. I shall call the hon. Members who have been standing and then I shall call the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), should he wish to speak again.

Photo of Mr Robert Litherland

Mr Robert Litherland (Manchester Central)

Bearing in mind the report in The Guardian this morning, does the Home Secretary agree that it would be unjust and unfair for the Master of the Rolls to give a judgment on the NGA when he is also a prime adviser to the Tory Government?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

The hon. Gentleman has distorted the facts completely. In any event, they do not arise out of the events last night.

Photo of Mr John Townend

Mr John Townend (Bridlington)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the vast majority of the public expect the courts to deal most severely with those who partake in mob violence, especially when policemen are injured?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

The courts most certainly have the full powers necessary to deal with the offences that come before them.

Photo of Mr Doug Hoyle

Mr Doug Hoyle (Warrington North)

The Labour party does not condone violence and nor does the trade union movement. Was not the picket last night peaceful until the communications van was touched and was it not only after the communications van was destroyed that violence began? Will the Home Secretary examine that fact? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also not try to escape from the fact that it is the Government's fault, because of their stupid legislation, that we are in this position? Will he use his authority in Cabinet to persuade the Secretary of State for Employment to intervene to bring the dispute speedily to a halt?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

The hon. Gentleman is seeking to erect almost the weakest excuse that I could imagine. There is no point in condemning violence without recognising the fact that if 4,000 people come together in such a place, having been invited and offered money to come, one is creating violence and there are no excuses afterwards.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

With reference to my right hon. and learned Friend's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), is he aware that many Conservative Members are deeply concerned that offences of violence are not being adequately punished by the courts? Will my right hon. and learned Friend monitor closely the sentences that are passed by the courts against those who are found guilty of having caused the disturbances and consider whether any further action by him is called for?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I shall seek to ensure that the House has as much information as possible about the outcome of any proceedings arising from last night's incident.

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins

Mr Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

How can trade unions, trade unionists and, indeed, the public have any confidence in the operation of industrial relations law in relation to the present dispute and in the impartial administration of justice, bearing in mind the political advice given by a senior member of the judiciary last year to a senior civil servant? Was not that a breach of a fundamental constitutional convention? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman unreservedly condemn that action?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I certainly will not do so. If the hon. Gentleman reads the stolen document to which he refers, he will realise that it does not bear the construction that he has put upon it.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway

Mr Harry Greenway (Ealing North)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that most trade unionists realise that the attitudes of the Labour party in this matter are mischievous, directed against their best interests and positively malevolent, and that is why many more trade unionists voted Conservative than Labour at the general election and why the trend will continue?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

It is certainly correct that the majority of trade unionists do not favour violence or mass picketing and are embarrassed and ashamed by what occurred yesterday.

Photo of Mr Dennis Canavan

Mr Dennis Canavan (Falkirk West)

How can the Government seriously claim that their employment legislation strikes an equitable balance between the rights of employers and employees when the trade union movement, which represents employees, is apparently banned from bringing other trade union comrades to the picket line to support the rights of the employees, yet the employer in this instance is allowed to hire a private army, wild dogs and apparently the police to defend his so-called rights?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

The hon. Gentleman's description of the four security men employed by the employer shows that he has never left the world of fantasy.

Photo of Mr Roger Gale

Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the cause of the dispute is the result of a minority seeking to impose its will on a majority that has already expressed its view by secret ballot? Does he agree also that, despite his generous construction on the silence of the Leader of the Opposition, the British public are likely to view his silence slightly less favourably?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I still believe in the right to silence, but in this context, if not in the courts, there is also a right to comment.

Photo of Mr Ronald Brown

Mr Ronald Brown (Edinburgh Leith)

Is not the Home Secretary aware that his statement about the rule of law is a cover for legalised Fascism? Is he also aware that the terrible duty created by the Government is such that pickets will continue to fight for their rights for a job and a decent standard of living, and that the Labour party will be with them four square?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I do not think that I or any other hon. Member need take any lessons from the hon. Gentleman about Fascism.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls

Mr Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Is it not obvious that if the NGA were ever a responsible trade union it is now nothing but a conspiracy against the public interest? Is not it a great shame that Mr. Shah's resolve to stand up against last nights violence and odious behaviour was not matched by a similar resolution by the Newspaper Proprietors Association?

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson

Mr Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

Will the Home Secretary reconsider the carte blanche authority given to the chief constable in view of the evidence of the bussing in of 1,400 policemen? Did not the Home Secretary make an unprecedented statement by saying to the chief constable that, whether he was right or wrong, he would get the support of the Home Secretary?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

That is not what I actually said. I said that, if the chief constable uses his lawful powers to the full, he will have my complete support.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the British people, whichever party they support and whether or not they are trade unionists, will agree that what they saw on television last night and what we are told will happen tonight is the most abhorrent concept of mob rule? They will judge for themselves at the ballot box those who did it, those who supported it and those who will not speak against it.

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I think that my hon. and learned Friend is right. I am concerned at the moment not with the ballot box but with avoiding further violence. I hope that the clear expression, by the overwhelming majority of hon. Members, by sound or silence, of their abhorrence of violence and their recognition that mass picketing is likely to lead to violence will lead to a de-escalation of what occurred and the saving of injury to life, liberty and property.

Photo of Mr Robert Parry

Mr Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

I mentioned last week the injuries to pickets and the police. Since then, one of my constituents has sustained a badly broken leg and he was kept in a prison cell for an hour before an ambulance was called.

In view of that and of the presence of the thugs. heavies and minders of Mr. Shah, will the Home Secretary call for an urgent inquiry into all aspects of this case? Will he inform the House whether the Government intend to bring in the Army to support the police against the workers, as they did against the Welsh workers in the 1920s?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I have received a letter today from the hon. Gentleman about the matter to which he has referred. I shall be looking into it and replying to him.

With regard to the other matter that the hon. Gentleman raised, I do not believe that a public service is done by making remarks of that kind. Our task jointly should be to try to persuade those who are involved not to risk further danger to life and limb. That is what I have been seeking to do by illustrating and explaining the magnitude of what occurred and seeking to enlist the support of as many people as possible on both sides of the House for the condemnation of violence and the taking of action to prevent it from recurring.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing

Mr Harry Ewing (Falkirk East)

Is the Home Secretary aware that when, in calmer moments, the House and the country have an opportunity to reflect on the matter both will be greatly concerned about his hysterical and provocative approach? The Home Secretary said that he had given the chief constable of Cheshire an indication that he would give him all the aid and assistance that he required. As arrangements exist for forces to transfer officers to provide assistance to another force, what assistance does the Home Secretary have in mind? Surely he agrees that the House should have full knowledge of his thinking on this matter. What assistance does the Home Secretary have in mind to offer the chief constable of Cheshire if he asks for additional help?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

The hon. Gentleman is right. In practice, chief constables normally make satisfactory arrangements to obtain support from each other when their own resources are insufficient. It is obviously very much better that that is how it should work. However, section 14 of the Police Act 1964 provides me with a further power to secure assistance from one force to another. If it is necessary for that to be used, and if the chief constable gives me an indication that it is necessary, I will certainly respond.

Photo of Mr Gerald Kaufman

Mr Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

The Home Secretary has asked whether the Opposition endorse the guidelines of the TUC. On behalf of the Opposition, I say that we readily do so. Since the TUC is so wise in the eyes of the Home Secretary, will he join the TUC in condemning the employer in the Messenger newspaper group for his intransigence? Since the Home Secretary says that the TUC is so wise, will he agree with the TUC about the damaging and disruptive effects of the Government's Employment Acts of 1980 and 1982?

Since the Home Secretary has twice this afternoon come to the defence of the Master of the Rolls, will he agree with the Master of the Rolls that the legal system is not, in practice, even-handed as between employers and unions and that current functions put the courts almost entirely in the business of restricting or penalising the latter and not of remedying their grievances?

Will the Home Secretary agree with his right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), the sacked Foreign Secretary, who has said this afternoon that what we are witnessing in this country today is a gradual withholding of consent from the Government, the start of a rejection of civilised values, an increase in crime and lawlessness and one or two violent outbreaks of anger and frustration and that the consequences are a very dangerous threat to national unity and social cohesion? Is not the sacked Foreign Secretary right? Is it because he was right that he has been sacked?

When will the Tory Party return to conciliation?

Photo of Mr Leon Brittan

Mr Leon Brittan (Richmond (Yorks))

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman, given the difficulties that he faces, should seek to erect a smoke screen which has nothing to with matters that we have been debating. I suppose that it was unreasonable to expect the right hon. Gentleman to rise to the occasion and to seek to prevent violence tonight.

However, in spite of that, I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has endorsed the TUC guidelines, though, if he believes that my invitation to him to do so implied that I agree with everything else that the TUC says, he cannot be serious. I remind the House again, because we have a responsibility in this matter, of what the guidelines say, that picketing is permissible only to do no more than peacefully obtain or communicate information or peacefully persuade workers to abstain from work. I make no apology for repeating that there cannot be any possible need to have 4,000 people to do that.

Later

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins

Mr Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the Home Secretary's answer to a question that I posed a few moments ago on his statement, he referred to a document and said that it would not bear the construction that I placed on it. Is there not an obligation on the Home Secretary, in accordance with the convention of the House, to lay the document on the Table?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill

Mr Bernard Weatherill (Croydon North East)

I did not hear the Home Secretary quoting from the document, in which case it might have been necessary to do so, but I do not think that he did.