I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Temporary Restrictions on Pay Increases (20th July 1966 Levels) (No. 3) Order 1967 (S.I., 1967, No. 216), dated 22nd February 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd February, be annulled.
This Prayer is yet another in the series directed against the attempts of the Government to enforce their compulsory prices and incomes policy, a policy of compulsion and intimidation to which we on this side and, indeed, a number of hon. Members opposite are vigorously and, I believe, increasingly opposed. This Order is made under Section 29 of the Prices and Incomes Act. It deals with the case of about 20 road transport drivers, members of the Transport and General Workers' Union, employed by the Crown Bedding Company Birmingham Limited.
Like all the other Orders that we have debated since the passing of the Act, this one raises important points of principle and, as in those other cases, it is necessary to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour to clarify those points. Indeed, we seem to be building up a kind of case law on these Orders which is clarifying the way in which the Government's policy is working—and a sorry picture it presents.
The House will have noticed that we have only had one Order on price control and I make no complaint about that. We have had a total of eight Orders, in addition to this one, on the question of incomes control. It seems likely that in the coming months we shall have an increasingly large number.
The recent White Paper says that it has only been necessary to make Orders under Part IV in a relatively small number of cases. Clearly this is yet another in the list and it seems likely that we shall have more as the Government policy—
I appreciate that point, and for this reason, among others, I am glad that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour is to reply to this debate. It would be wrong of me to say that I have grown accustomed to his face, because I suffer from the remarks based on a certain musical show. None the less, I should perhaps point out that we had hoped to come on as a kind of afternoon matinee, whereas we appear to be back to our usual late-night show. We are glad of the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary is to reply, because he is becoming very expert indeed in the various matters which these Orders, and this one in particular, raise.
The first point to which I turn is the fact this Order will, no doubt, be justified, as others have been, on the ground that the Government's incomes policy is universal. This Order is interesting inasmuch as it brings up, for the first time, an Order concerned with the Transport and General Workers' Union. In this context it is relevant to ask exactly what percentage of workers who are being covered by the Government's overall policy are members of trade unions and to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to give us some figures in this respect.
I want next to consider the history of this case. It would appear to be somewhat simpler than some of the others with which we have had to deal. The Crown Bedding Company Birmingham Limited is a subsidiary of Slumberland Limited, and it employs the 20 drivers I have already mentioned, who are responsible for operating "C" vehicles. These vehicles supply, from the Company's centre in Birmingham, the various factories of the Crown Bedding Company, which are widespread throughout the country.
The company clearly depends for the success of its operations on the fact that the raw materials are transmitted from the centre in Birmingham to the various subsidiary factories. The last pay agreement which these drivers had was dated 30th August, 1965. It expired on 30th August, 1966, and the Crown Bedding Company decided that it should observe the Government's standstill on prices and incomes, and the criteria for severe restraint following the freeze, set out in the Government's White Papers. It therefore told the Transport and General Workers' Union that it could not negotiate a new agreement.
Under the agreement which expired on 30th August the drivers' basic rate was £14 15s. 6d. for a 42-hour week. With overtime earnings probably came to something over £20 a week. The Transport and General Workers' Union, when that agreement was due to expire put in a claim for an additional £1 14s. 6d., and also a cut in working hours from 42 hours per standard week to 41 hours. It asked that the increase in pay and reduction in hours should take place from 1st January. The company, although it was not obliged to do so under the terms of the Government's White Paper, notified the Government that it had had this claim and it was in turn informed that it was a breach of the standstill. I would be grateful if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would confirm that this was said to the company both in respect of the working hours and the increase in pay.
On 2nd January, because the Government said that the claim was in breach of the standstill, and the firm said that it could not accept it, the drivers of the Crown Bedding Company went on strike. As a result of this, the company decided that it would have to pay the claim, because of the effect of the strike upon its entire operations. Following this, on 7th February, the Secretary of State gave notice of his intention to make an Order and this Order was made on 22nd February, and it came into operation on 23rd February. Under this Order, as in other cases, the firm is now forbidden to pay an increase above the level laid down on 20th July without getting permission from the relevant Minister.
This situation raises a number of interesting questions, and I should be glad if we could have specific answers to them from the Parliamentary Secretary. The first point arises for this reason. The Transport and General Workers Union put in the claim for £1 14s. 6d. and a reduction in working hours. As a result of the Government's prices and incomes policy the action which the union took and the strike apparently no negotiations took place. The normal process of negotiation, whereby the justification for a wage claim is put forward by the union and the employers said whether they feel that it was justified, did not take place. A crisis situation was created by the mere fact that the Government had announced their policy, and the union therefore felt that it should straight away take strike action instead of negotiating.
Clearly, this was an unusual situation because in normal circumstances a compromise might well have been reached. But because of the freeze tension had built up between union and management, unlike the normal atmosphere in which negotiations could be settled, and the union went straight to strike action. The settlement, when it was made, was for the full amount.
This raises some interesting points as to what will happen when the negotiations are subsequently reopened. It seems to me inconceivable that the firm, having once conceded the full amount of the claim, will later, when the freeze comes off and the period of severe restraint ends, try to negotiate for a smaller amount. Taking a period of several years from the beginning of the freeze period, the settlement of the claim may ultimately be more inflationary than it would have been if there had been no Government Order and if the Government's policy had not been introduced.
Secondly, we need to consider the position concerning the increase in pay which has actually been paid. We have a precedent for this in the previous cases which we have debated. In the Metropolitan Police draughtsmen's case, the House will recall that the Government attempted to freeze the pay of those workers for more than the period during which other workers who had not pressed their claims had their pay frozen. By this means the Government were effectively trying to claw back from the workers who had broken the freeze the amount which they would have actually been paid in the interim period before the Government imposed their Order. This appeared to be the Government's policy.
In the Denby pottery case, the situation was less clear because the Parliamentary Secretary declined to say exactly what period would be covered by the Government's Order, and he said that we should have to wait to see what decision the First Secretary took. But I think that it is relevant to ask the Parliamentary Secretary on this Order tonight what the Government's policy is. Is it their policy to use orders to freeze people's pay for a longer period than is the case with other similar workers and thereby claw back any amount paid, or is it merely their policy to freeze the pay for the same length of time as other similar workers who have not succeeded in pressing their claim?
I hope that we shall have a clear statement from the Parliamentary Secretary on this matter. Consistency certainly has not been the hallmark of this Government in many respects, there seems to be some inconsistency in these Orders which we have had to consider and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity to clarify the position.
Thirdly, what is the position on timing from a legal point of view? This is, I think, the first Order which, even if it is only designed to cover the shorter time—just six months—will go beyond the date when Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act expires. The Prices and Incomes Act, Part IV, expires on 11th August. If, however, the pay of this group of workers is frozen for six months, that will run beyond 11th August to 23rd August. Is it within the power of the Government under existing legislation to continue to impose the Order after 11th August and until 23rd August? I do not expect the Parliamentary Secretary to anticipate any further legislation, but can he at least tell us the position under Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act, which, we were assured by the former First Secretary of State when it was passed, would not be extended beyond 11th August?
My next point concerns the reports of the Prices and Incomes Board. We were assured by the Parliamentary Secretary on 7th March in a debate on the limb-fitters Order that the Government were committed to and bound by whatever recommendations the Board might make on the matter then under consideration. As to other cases, however, the Government have been far from clear that they will always accept what the Board says. Take, for example, the Board's Report on the road haulage industry. It is clear to a number of us on this side that very often, whatever may be the merits of the Board's recommendations, the decision whether the Government shall implement them is purely a political matter. The Board's Reports are a useful political tool for the Government to employ.
One point, however, on which the Board and the Government are certainly agreed is that a reduction in working hours without any other compensating adjustments is equivalent to a wage increase. I wish to know, therefore, from the Parliamentary Secretary whether this Order covers only the wage claim of £1 14s. 6d. or whether it covers also the reduction in the working week. I understand that it does not cover the reduction in working hours which took place before the Order and, I understand, is still taking place. How does the Parliamentary Secretary justify the narrowness of the Order? If it is to be imposed at all—and we on this side do not think that it should be—it should at least cover both the wage increase and the reduction in working hours. We look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman's confirmation of this.
It cannot have escaped the notice of the House that the case which we are considering results from the fact that the firm voluntarily notified the likelihood of the increase. After that had happened, the Government imposed an Order. The firm was not obliged to notify the fact that the increase had taken place. From the relevant White Paper, one discovers that firms employing fewer than 200 workers are not required to notify an increase. The firm in question did so, however, and the result is that the Government have imposed a discriminatory Order upon it.
The Order raises some complicated points on which I hope that we shall have an answer from the Parliamentary Secretary. One thing at least which is clear from the Order is that the Government's policy is becoming quite impossible to operate on an equitable basis. It is clear that far from having a policy which, their White Paper claims, depends on voluntary action, they are depending on this kind of compulsory Order to intimidate other people into conforming with their policy. This is discriminatory. It cannot result in an equitable solution to the economic problems facing the country. For this reason. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will join me in the Division Lobby against it this evening.
I should like to add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), who has, with characteristic force and lucidity, employed the very powerful arguments which there are against this Order. I want to confine myself just to one or two aspects of the Order which merit the attention of the House even at this relatively late hour.
The prices and incomes policy, as it is developing as a result of Orders under Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act, is seen as a particularly arbitrary and capricious instrument, and possibly never so much as with the Order which we are now discussing. The Schedule to the Order says that it affects the remuneration for work as road transport drivers employed by the Crown Bedding Company Birmingham Ltd. One might ask how many are affected by the Order, and my information suggests that it is 20. I think that that is information on which I may proceed, because it was revealed in an answer from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary himself—
With characteristic modesty, the Parliamentary Secretary endorses my observation.
Apparently, there are 20 men whose activities imperil the Government's prices and incomes policy, so the full forces of the law will be invoked. What is the misdemeanour of those 20 men? It is that they have sought to obtain the market rate for the skills which they have to offer. However, the real misdemeanour of those 20 men lies in the word "employed". They are employed by the Crown Bedding Co. Birmingham Ltd. If they had acquired the expertise in the skills of self-employment which is now developing in a number of industries, possibly as contract transport drivers, they would have escaped the Order. They would have got away. The House would not have been expected to deploy its time, energies and resources in the kind of nonsense in which we are now expected to participate.
That is the real measure of the Government's prices and incomes policy as it operates in the workshop, on the building site and wherever else attempts are made by bureaucracy to frustrate the normal forces of supply and demand.
The other point raised by my hon. Friend was to ask why mention is made of these people in the Schedule. It is on account of the mistaken policy of the Crown Bedding Company in running to the Ministry of Labour to ask whether or not it could proceed with its proposal. Let it be clearly understood that there was no legal requirement that the Ministry of Labour should be informed of this proposal. It was the company's somewhat rigorous interpretation of the White Paper on Severe Restraint, which said that for those employing less than 200 there was no need to inform the Ministry of Labour unless the proposal was thought to have much wider significance. It was that rigorous interpretation one assumes, which sent the Crown Bedding Company Birmingham Ltd. scurrying to the Ministry of Labour—
I suppose that there will always be situations in which certain employers would like to use Government Departments as a shield against the activities of those who seek to increase employees' wages. That could be a proposition to which I would assent—
That may be. I was trying to answer in a generous spirit. As to whether this is something which the House should accept, endorse or applaud I leave to the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Henig) to resolve with his hon. Friends. I do not ask him to resolve it with me.
It raises a much wider point, because the argument constantly employed by the Parliamentary Secretary when we are asked to take these immense legal powers against dribs and drabs of 20 here and a dozen there is that this is the only way of ensuring a universally observed policy. I can do no better than quote his own words on 22nd March:
I am saying that by and large the country voluntarily accepted the prices and incomes
policy and those who have not accepted it have been caught by an Order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 1860.]
But this reminds me of the epigram of the late Dr. Jowett, Master of Balliol, who said:
First came I, my name is Jowett,
There is no knowledge, but I know it;
I am Master of this College,
What I don't know isn't knowledge.
Whatever price and income increases are not known to the Ministry of Labour for the purposes of these debates are assumed never to have taken place.
One can put up with so much nonsense, but we now have to put up with this week in and week out. The Parliamentary Secretary accuses people like me of making wild, unsubstantiated accusations. When we say that the 20 transport drivers employed by the Crown Bedding Company are caught when many have got away, he says that the charges are unsubstantiated. I tell him that I know of many instances, but he will not be an agent provocateur to get me to sneak on employers or workers who make arrangements which are perfectly within the law, but fall without the indicated wishes of him and his colleagues in Government White Papers.
I am glad to know that we shall be voting tonight, not merely to attempt to get some justice for the 20 employees of the Crown Bedding Company, but also against the perpetuation of this nonsensical prices and incomes policy.
I support enthusiastically everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), except that I favour more the observation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) that the company probably had not read the Bill. I would imagine that it had not understood it and, naturally, wished to put itself right with the authorities.
From the beginning, I have regarded this policy as anathema. I dislike it intensely and am very sorry that the party of which I am a member did not vote against the Bill root and branch right from the start. No one in the House would suggest that industrial relations is an area of such peace, good will and harmony that it can bear the intervention of a third party with such a load of nonsense as the Government have imported.
I hope that we will have a number of opportunities such as are afforded by the Order to show how absurd, impracticable and unenforceable is a policy which brings Parliament to the consideration of issues like these at this hour of the night.
We are concerned with 20 people. The circumstances have been adequately described by my hon. Friend and I only wish to refer briefly to one of the paragraphs in the Order. Paragraph 4 says:
In a case where the normal working hours for the work are such as to fall within the meaning of 'normal working hours' given by sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Contracts of Employment Act 1963 (that is to say, where the contract of employment provides for a fixed number of hours without overtime) remuneration for work in the normal working hours, and for work outside those hours, shall be considered separately, except that if the number of normal working hours at the later time is less the rate of remuneration for work outside those hours at the later time for a period equal to the difference shall be compared with the rate of remuneration for work in the normal working hours at the earlier time.
On previous occasions I have suggested that Ministers would be deservedly well punished by having to listen to that sort of stuff read to them night after night, day after day, month after month, and year after year throughout eternity. It is a terrible thing to inflict this kind of legislation on Parliament, and it is even worse to extend it to industry. I do not believe that that sort of stuff can be stuck up in any factory in the country with any possibility of it being understood, let alone the justice of it being perceptible.
I believe that as time goes on the Government will have reason to be thoroughly ashamed of having, with complete arrogance, intruded into a field where the details and complexity are far beyond their comprehension, let alone their control. I only wish to support with all the vigour that I can all that has been said by my hon. Friends.
I propose to make a brief intervention in support of the Order. It seems to me that the argument which we have heard from the benches opposite is almost completely without substance. We heard a number of interesting but minor details from the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). He asked about the future of claims which are relevant to the Order. He complained about its timing, asked about a couple of days, and also complained about possible future Prices and Incomes Board reports.
I do not think that this has amounted to a substantial attack on the Order, designed to persuade the House to vote against it. If the Opposition really believe that this Order should not be passed, they ought to submit arguments to show that it is against an increase which is justified.
Following the speech of the hon. Member for Worthing, we heard an even weaker attack from the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), which consisted primarily of some rhetorical rubbish, some second-rate invective, and the reading rather than the coining of epigrams. It seems to me that there is no point in shouting across the Chamber about 20 men, because the number of men involved does not invalidate the Order. It does not matter whether we are dealing with a million men or one man. The point is that this wage increase was a clear breach of the standstill. The Government had no alternative to bringing in this Order.
I would remind the House that if the Order was not brought into operation the probable repercussions could he very significant. As has been mentioned by hon. Members opposite, the union concerned is the Transport and General Workers' Union. It is well known here that the leader of that union, a very respected member of this House until a short time ago, is very strongly against the Government's prices and incomes policy. It is understandable from the point of view of the Transport and General Workers' Union that his union should make no effort to restrain its members when they seek a wage increase which they regard as justified.
It is, therefore, the job of the Government to ensure that the prices and incomes policy, as they see it, is maintained by the imposition of an Order, as a wage increase in this form would have meant a breach of that policy. I contend that if Orders of this kind are not made when wage increases are implemented, irrespective of the number concerned, the dam will be breached. We all know that a freeze is followed by a flood, and if there is an unfreezing at this stage by a number of cases like this the whole incomes policy is torn to bits.
Despite the contribution to the debate by the hon. Member for Oswestry, I assume that the Opposition are as committed as much as we are in this respect, so I hope that the House will approve the Order.
I believe that this Order is the most significant of all the Orders relating to prices and incomes policy we have debated, because the company, by its public spiritedness, or by its lack of efficiency, or by its not having read or understood the Bill, notified the Ministry of this increase to its 20 transport drivers when it had no statutory need to do any such thing. Had it not notified the Ministry—and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary categorically to answer this point—presumably those 20 drivers would now be enjoying in peace and quietude the increase in wages and the reduction in hours, as no one would have known that they had got them.
This is the whole basis of the injustice of the present Government's policy. About 25 million people are employed in this country, of whom 10 million are trade unionists, many of them working in plants employing a lot fewer than 200 people. It is only in the larger units that notification is necessary. A small firm employing, say, five transport drivers can give them an increase and be under no necessity of notifying the Ministry. There is no necessity for it to do anything, and no necessity for an Order like this to be debated. If the party opposite believes this to be a fair system, I am glad that there are so many hon. Members on the opposite side who share my view that it is unfair, and that it creates enormous antagonism among the working population.
If one is in an organised community one is caught by the Government's legislation; if one works in a smaller unit, one is not caught. It is only because this firm, perhaps by inefficiency, perhaps because of public spiritedness, or because it did not understand the Bill, notified the Ministry. The Ministry therefore brings in this Order to stop something of which it would never even have known but for the mistake of the management.
This company is an example of, not one, but thousands of small and medium-sized firms which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) said, are not inhibited at all by the Government's legislation. We are, therefore, building up a division between the working people of this country, some feeling that they are victimised by the Government's policies and others feeling that they can get away with it. This is creating distortion and is not solving the Government's problems nor the problems of the nation.
The whole power of the State is to be mobilised about 20 drivers of the Crown Bedding Company. I have no doubt that they deserve this increase. I have no doubt that they laboured all through the night so that Labour Members engaged in debates on the Iron and Steel Bill could sleep throughout the night. They deserve being paid overtime and having their hours reduced to carry out that public service.
We do not know what made the management of this firm decide that these drivers needed this increase or what special circumstances there are concerning these 20 drivers. It may be that in the area in which the firm operates if it had not given the increase it would have lost all the drivers who would have gone to work for someone else. Good luck to them. The firm may have had to give the increase to maintain its efficiency. Do the Government know this? Have the Government even begun to investigate it before they produced this Order? They produced this Order in a vacuum because it fits in with their ideological hidebound idea that from a central point in the country they can control all the activities of 25 million workers.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil. I do not believe that the State, in a free society, can achieve that object. All that the Government are doing is attacking little groups of people, because every Order we have debated on this matter has affected no more than about 100. The Orders affect those who cannot defend themselves and they are supposed to bring some form of social justice but never in the whole history of our democracy was such a charade and injustice created in the field of what is known as social justice.
I have been provoked into intervening briefly in this debate by the remarks of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), who somehow manages to reduce many of the most important issues we debate in this House to comedy and farce. Opponents of this Order from the other side of the House have gone the whole range of farce, comedy and tragedy and, above all, of sheer, downright hypocrisy. Yet if only they had acted in 1962 and 1963 in the way they say now they would act if they were in power, the situation might have been entirely different.
Added to all this comedy, farce, tragedy and hypocrisy, the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), from the Front Bench opposite, asked some questions of the Parliamentary Secretary. He asked whether or not the Order covers these drivers because of a few days of grace. He was guilty of the very same charge, levelled by one of his hon. Friends, that some of the management of the firm had not read the Bill. It is obvious that he himself has not read the Prices and Incomes Act.
We can check HANSARD tomorrow to see whether my recollection is correct, but I recall the hon. Gentleman querying the point about this part of the Act expiring on 11th August whereas it clearly states in Section 25(4) that the period of 12 months covers such a period. While many of us on this side of the House may have our difference among ourselves, I for one take the view that it was necessary to have these reserve powers to deal with precisely this kind of problem. I am a member of a trade union representing National Health Service workers who are on a much lower rate of pay than are these people who, we are told, have an average wage of £20 a week with overtime. If they were allowed to get another 34s. 6d. a week, there would be an outcry not from 20 men, but from 200,000 or 300,000 or more in other sections of industry.
Although this is hard justice, it therefore seems right and inevitable that if this part of the Act is to work effectively, it should be applied to all sections. If there is brought to the Minister's notice something which contravenes the Act, some action must be taken to close the gap, and that is what the Order seeks to do.
When people go on strike, in a sense as a direct attack on the way in which the matter has been handled, it should be remembered that since these Orders were brought into force there have been fewer strikes during the whole of 1966 than in the previous year.
Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are not discussing the Government's prices and incomes policy. We are discussing the Order which is before us. The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to the Order.
I return to the Order, Sir.
I understand that the last pay increase agreement was made on 30th August, 1965, and that it expired 12 months later. If the increase sought did not fulfil the criteria laid down by the Government, then, in the interests of all other sections of workers in industry and everyone else in the country, these workers must take their turn in the queue. There must be no queue jumping.
It is precisely because of that that the Government are compelled to make this Order. It is only the eighth Order to be made, a clear indication of the effectiveness of the policy which has been pursued. There was no alternative to the action which the Government took, and it was right and proper for them to do so.
The hon. Gentleman has not answered the point. If this firm had not made a mistake, the Ministry would not have known anything about this increase, and there was no statutory necessity for the firm to do anything about it.
That may be so, but it does not alter the fact that once the information had been laid before the Minister there was nothing he could do but act in accordance with Part IV of the Act, which is what he did.
I hope that it will be recognised that the making of this Order is not an attack on 20 people employed by Slumberland, or the Crown Bedding Company, but is an attempt to create a sense of understanding among everyone that someone or somebody cannot be allowed through if others are then to be expected to await their claims, and that there must be justice to all. That is what the Order is intended to do and I hope that it will receive the support of the House.
I have an interest in matters of this kind because I have for many years employed "C" licence drivers. There are 1·3 million "C" licence drivers employed in this country today by many hundreds of thousands of firms. There is a national basic minimum wage. There are 1,000 different rates of pay for a standard 42-hour week, ranging from the basic minimum up to figures of the order of £33 and £35 for a 40-hour week.
All this firm need have done, in spite of everything said by the few speakers opposite, was to have declared these men redundant, all 20 of them, and claimed redundancy pay for them, a perfectly proper and legitimate thing to do. In the period of any dislocation caused by the "C" licence drivers not being available, it could have used British Road Services or any other long-distance haulage firm to distribute its products. Then, it could have re-engaged the same 20 men four weeks later at 34s. 6d. a week more.
By that means, the law would have been made to look an ass, as it would have been and as it is an ass in this matter. Here is an Order brought before the House to apply to 20 out of 1·3 million men of the same type and employment engaged in hundreds of thousands of firms all over the country. I warn the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour that it is utterly impossible—[Laughter.] I do not know what the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) is sneering at. I happen to know about lorry drivers. I doubt that he does.
I deeply regret, as always, the time wasting activities of hon. Members opposite, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But I hope that the hon. Member for Rugby, who sits for such a highly marginal Midlands constituency, will recall, when the next General Election comes, that he is going into the Lobby tonight to frustrate a legitimate wage advance of 34s. 6d. a week for hard-working Birmingham lorry drivers, whom I represent in my philosophy and he does not. I love representing the working man, the horny-handed son of toil, whom we are debating, and whose wages we are debating.
It would be utter hypocrisy for the Parliamentary Secretary to deny that the firm could legitimately have given those men an increase of 34s. 6d. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman remaining sedentary does not even know the geography of the South Worcestershire constituency. He should come there and study the course of the River Avon.
Order. I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) will find that that was not an entirely proper remark and was not in accordance with our traditions in the House.
I did not say that the hon. Gentleman smelled.
What I was saying to the Parliamentary Secretary was that it would be utter hypocrisy on his part to deny that the firm could perfectly legitimately have discharged the men and re-engaged them a few weeks later at a 34s. 6d. increase in pay. Does that not reveal the major Statute here as being not only inadequate, but entirely foolish and ill-conceived? If we are to have Orders brought to the House in the interests of squashing a wage increase for just 20 men—last time it was 200—we shall presumably have, in a few weeks, a special Order to deal with the wages of one man. Is that the goal and objective of the Parliamentary Secretary?
Almost the last words of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) were to pour scorn on the Order we are debating because it applied to only 20 men. Speaker after speaker opposite made the same point. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) said that whether the Order applied to 20 men or 200 was irrelevant to him, which caused a great deal of amusement on the benches opposite. I hope that the same hon. Members were laughing on the evening of 13th December, when this sentiment was expressed in the House:
In my view, it is immaterial whether the number of workers affected is 30,000 as it is here, whether it is 120, … or even whether it is a single man— …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1966; Vol. 738, c. 400.]
That was the view of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), and I consider it to be altogether proper and laudable.
I hope that some of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends will feel on reflection that the view he then held was more proper than the view they advanced tonight. Our job is to decide the Order's merits, not the number of men to whom it applies, and to do so, as we have been told time after time in this and other debates, in the general context of Government incomes policy.
When the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) makes a speech attacking the Order, saying that it is the destruction of the traditional market rates and the forces of supply and demand, he expresses a view which, as I understand it, is alien not only to Government incomes policy but to the incomes policy, such as it is, of the official Opposition, and to all incomes policy as advocated by British industry and the trade unions. It is only a tiny minority of commentators on these Orders who object to them per se because they frustrate the free forces of the free market. When the hon. Member reminded my hon. Friends that they should support him or should abstain, I hope that he will understand that although they might do this they would not do it in the interests of the free market and the free movement of prices and wages.
I will turn to the substantial and detailed speech of the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and to some of the questions he properly asked. I hope that many of them can be dealt with when I come to the chonology of the Order, the Government's reasons for making it and the Government's intentions for the future of the Order.
The first substantial point he made was that only a small number of cases have come before this House. Only a small number of Orders have been made and Prayers put down against them. He asked whether the Orders were relevant to the general strategy of the Government's incomes policy. He said that only a small number of wage increases have been the subject of Orders.
I am sure he knows that wage movements since 20th July, 1966, have been remarkably small. The reason is not the freeze. We have had a freeze on previous occasions, for example in the early sixties and mid-fifties. In spite of the recessions then, wage increases went on. This is the only occasion when wage movements have been confined, and they have been confined because of the incomes policy and largely because of voluntary compliance with it. Where voluntary compliance was not possible, an Order has been made.
I do not want to tempt the Parliamentary Secretary outside the bounds of Order, but if he is going to sustain his argument that on this occasion movements of wage and salary earnings have been more restricted than they were in periods after the action of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) and Mr. Peter Thorneycroft, will he be so kind as to publish these figures in the OFFICIAL REPORT, particularly the figures for salary earnings?
I suggest that the hon. Member, who is kind enough to acknowledge the difficulties surrounding this debate, puts down a Question asking for the figures for any period of his choice. When he studies the answer he will find that the position I have outlined is true. The unique thing about the recent period is that it has been one of economic constraint associated with a conscious policy of wage limitation. This is what distinguishes it from previous economic crises of similar origins.
I can confirm, as I almost invariably can when the hon. Member for Worthing moves the Prayer, that the facts he outlined are correct, although this evening he made two slight errors which are material and germane to the case. He said that the men concerned had a basic wage of £14 15s. 6d. My information is that the basic wage is £1 more than that. I make that point, not because I want to pick the hon. Member up on details, but because this wage could not put them by any conceivable standard in the class of lowest paid workers. The most exacting criteria for lowest paid workers suggest that £15 a week is the dividing line.
These men applied on 13th December for a substantial increase in their minimum wage, a broad, substantial increase in their average earnings, which in the recent past have been rather more than £21 a week. They wanted an increase of £1 14s. 6d., which was rather more than 10 per cent of their basic earnings. They wanted a reduction in their working hours from 42 to 40 a week, which is the equivalent to an improvement in remuneration of 5 per cent. So on 13th December—
The figure for overtime is something like 12 hours a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The figure is clear, it is obvious, and it in no way invalidates the proposition I am making. Their basic wage was in excess of what anyone can regard as that of the lowest paid worker. Their application was for an increase which in terms of extra money and a shorter working week amounted to an improvement in remuneration of something like 15 per cent., by any standard a substantial increase, and an increase which was far outside the norms laid down by Government policy.
I think that again, as a fortnight ago, it is important to remember that these applications for increases in wages and reductions of the working week were made on 13th December, after the publication of the White Paper on the Standstill, after the publication of the White Paper on the Period of Severe Restraint, and I have no doubt at all that the Transport and General Workers Union, described by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) as one of the defenceless groups in the country against whom the Government were mounting an attack, knew very well that the claim was and would be a breach of the incomes policy. I have no doubt at all that the Transport and General Workers Union said, "This is a breach of the incomes policy, but we go ahead with it nevertheless." The argument has been advanced in the House that some breaches of the incomes policy have been made by mistake, but I have no doubt at all that on this occasion it was made intentionally and deliberately.
I must ask the hon. Member for Worthing the question which I have asked him and his colleagues on their Front Bench every time we have debated Orders like this. In that situation, assuming that they had an incomes policy at all, as I am constantly told they would have and once had, what would they have done? Would they at that point have said, "The incomes policy is only for the nonmilitant. The incomes policy is only for the voluntarily co-operative. The incomes policy is only for those who choose to comply, and anyone who does not comply may escape"? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity of telling us what, in the face of this straightforward, obvious and overt challenge, he would have done in those circumstances.
The Government's attitude was clear and precise. Our obligation to our policy was to make an Order under Section 29 of the Prices and Incomes Act, and this had special significance in this case for the reasons which I want to outline.
The hon. Gentleman asked me whether the Order covered both the proposed increases in wages and the proposed reduction in the working week. There is no doubt at all that the Order covers both. There is equally, I think, no doubt at all that the existence of the prices and incomes policy and the existence of the reserve powers was not a contributory factor in the sort of industrial relations which operated in the firm between 13th December and the early weeks of January. The hon. Gentleman has put it to the House that the knowledge that the Government would intervene might in itself have encouraged the union to take action more precipitate than it would have chosen to do had it been able to negotiate freely without the reserve powers being there hanging over their heads. The union knew, I reiterate; it had read the Government's documents and could understand that paragraph 24 of the Standstill White Paper urged management and men to go on negotiating in the usual way. The incomes policy in no way precludes traditional negotiations—indeed, it encourages them—but only reminds the parities that the negotiations should be carried out in the light of the existence of the incomes policy.
Notwithstanding that, the rather precipitate step was taken by the union which produced a strike on 2nd January. Again I ask the hon. Member for Worthing what alternative he thinks the Government have in such a situation. Until then, the incomes policy is still voluntary. Until that moment, the company and the men are being urged voluntarily to accept wage limitation. It is not until industrial action is taken to make sure that the company refuses to accept the voluntary implications of the policy that the Order is made.
The Order was made to cover both sections of the new agreement—the increase in wages and the reduction in the working week. Clearly, the Order in relation to the wage increase must continue to operate until Part IV of the Act lapses on 11th August. The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was the Government's intention to "claw back", as he described it, the increase the men had obtained in excess of the incomes policy norm between the time the Order became operative and the time when the new rate was first paid.
I take issue with him on his term "claw back". I understand the necessity for the Opposition to describe Government policy in pejorative terms, but I would put it another way. The Government say that their obligation is to hold the incomes policy line to make sure that no body of men by militant action, by greater determination to flout the policy, obtain advantages over those who have accepted the policy voluntarily. Therefore, it is clearly Government policy to make sure that any increase obtained in excess of that policy is compensated for by a period of forced restraint, Thus, if the hon. Gentleman's question is whether the Government are equating the period of excess payment with the period during which the Order is in operation, the answer is, usually, "yes".
That is the only point which needs to be made about the increase in wages. There is a point of some substance about the proposed working week reduction. The hon. Gentleman was a little wrong in saying that the company had had to accept all the union's demands because fear of the incomes policy encouraged the men to insist on the acceptance of all their demands. I understand that the union originally asked for a two-hour reduction in the working week and finally accepted a reduction of one hour.
The important point here is that there may well be a claim that the Road Haulage Wages Act, 1938, which, before 20th July—the significant date—gave road haulage drivers of "A and B" licence vehicles a reduced working week by a Wages Regulation Order, applied to these men as well. Therefore they may be adjudged to have a statutory right to a reduced working week if they apply to the Industrial Court for the appropriate order on the ground that their working week should be reduced by one hour.
It may well be that the union will decide to take that claim to the Industrial Court and ask for a reduction in the working week of these men. I therefore make it clear that although, as it stands, the Order covers the reduction in the working week, if the union took that course and the Court ruled that the Wages Regulation Order should apply to these men as well and that their working week should therefore be reduced, my right hon. Friend would contemplate using his powers under Section 29(4,a) of the Act and notifying the management that, within the terms of the incomes policy, the working week could be reduced.
Would not this action that the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Minister may contemplate be totally in conflict with the whole of the incomes policy so far, which has been to divide on a purely arbitrary line and say that if an amount has not been paid by a certain date it is beyond the pale? Surely such a course would be wholly inconsistent. It would also be totally unfair on everyone else affected by these Orders.
This is an involved point and perhaps I have not made it clear. The Wages Regulation Order for a reduced working week came into operation before 20th July. Had such an arrangement been made in this case before that date, it could have continued to operate. But the union did not take recourse, as it might have done, to the Industrial Court before 20th July, and it may well be—I cannot prejudge the decision of the Court—that these men are not receiving the reduced working week to which they may have been entitled even before 20th July. Since their entitlement, if it exists, is a pre-July entitlement we will consider letting it go ahead and allowing it to be reduced.
It has been suggested that in some ways there is a productivity element in this bargain and that it should have been allowed to go through on the basis that the men had agreed, for their increase in wages, to do more work, to carry more loads and do extra hours. The information that we have is that certainly no such element exists. Equally our information is quite contrary to that offered by the hon. Member for Worthing when he suggested that the reduced working week is being implemented and the increased remuneration is being paid against the Government's instructions and against the decision of the Government. This is totally false.
It is totally false, because our experience, even with those unions and managements who disagree with the principles of an incomes policy, is that they are prepared to co-operate with the Government when the policy is put into operation in this way. That is why I very much deplore those pejorative things said about the Crown Bedding Company when it was suggested that it had made a mistake in notifying the Government that the increase was contemplated. It had no legal requirement, but it had a requirement in terms of the public interest. We have made it clear that we expect firms to respond to the public interest far beyond the stipulated legal limit, and I am happy to say that on most occasions most firms have been far more ready to respond to the public interest than many hon. Gentlemen this evening.
I am glad to contribute to the hon. Gentleman's education. "Pejorative" means an argument so constructed as to cast a matter in its worst possible light, and this seems to be an admirable description of the performance given by the hon. Gentleman this evening.
If I may speak again, with the leave of the House, and reply briefly to the Junior Parliamentary Secretary. It might be convenient if I said that we do not propose to move the second Order standing on the Notice Paper because it would not be possible to debate it adequately. We do propose to put it down for debate on a later occasion, when it is possible to debate the matter fully.
What is becoming abundantly clear is that each of these Orders is attracting an increasing amount of interest. This is the largest House we have had at the termination of such an Order. It is right and proper that the House should have an opportunity of debating them at length and going into them in detail. I would certainly be among those who feel that whether these Orders cover one person, 100 persons, 1.000 persons or the entire population, the important thing is that we should be concerned with the points of principle involved, because this Order and others like it strike at the very foundations of our political society.
I would be glad to do so, because one of the unfortunate implications of this policy has been that instead of relying on legislation which is debated in this House, the Government rely on intimidation, by relying on what they interpret as the spirit of their own policy. This is a fundamental matter, which we on this side, and I hope hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House, would rightly regard as one of great importance.
As far as the Parliamentary Secretary's questions are concerned, I certainly would not attempt to defend what I would do in the absurd position in which the Government have now got themselves into. I do not feel called upon to do this at all. That is up to the Government.
Perhaps I might take up a point that was raised earlier in the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), which is that, as far as this policy is concerned, we voted against the principal Bill, which this Order comes under, on Second Reading on a reasoned Amendment. Thereafter, once Part IV and the element of compulsion had been introduced into the Government's policy, we opposed it root and branch right through the Committee stage, through the Third Reading, and we have continued to do so on all of these Orders.
We really cannot accept what the Parliamentary Secretary is suggesting this evening that the stabilisation which is taking place has been due to the compulsory element of the Government's prices and incomes policy. We accept that it may have been due to the element of intimidation which has resulted from that compulsory element, but we also feel that it has a great deal to do with
I find the sudden weakening in the rigid front which the Government have hitherto adopted with regard to the actual date line on which claims shall or shall not be accepted a very interesting development indeed. We shall study with interest what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, and we shall consider carefully the implications of this for all the people who have been affected by the previous prices and incomes Orders.
May I say a few words to the Parliamentary Secretary following upon what my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) said. I have great respect for him, but does he really think it is right to say that every person in this country has a duty to read every White Paper that is published and act accordingly? This is an extraordinary extension of the fiction that every man shall presume to know the law. As a lawyer, I have always thought that to be pretty dotty, but this is a great extension of that suggestion—that every man shall presume to know everything in every White Paper.
On reflection, I think the hon. Gentleman will regret that remark, and, if for no other reason, I hope that we shall vote in large numbers against this Order.
|Division No. 305.]||AYES||[11.8 p.m.|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Carlisle, Mark|
|Awdry, Daniel||Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Channon, H. P. G.|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Braine, Bernard||Chichester-Clark, R.|
|Batsford, Brian||Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Clegg, Walter|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Cooke, Robert|
|Bessell, peter||Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Costain, A. P.|
|Biffen, John||Bryan, Paul||Crawley, Aidan|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Campell, Gordon||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Dance, James||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Peyton, John|
|Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Jopling, Michael||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Pounder, Rafton|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Pym, Francis|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Kimball, Marcus||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Doughty, Charles||Kitson, Timothy||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Lambton, Viscount||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Royle, Anthony|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Longden, Gilbert||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Loveys, W. H.||Sharpies, Richard|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Lubbock, Eric||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Grimour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||MacArthur, Ian||Smith, John|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||McMaster, Stanley||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Grant, Anthony||Maddan, Martin||Temple, John M.|
|Grant-Ferris, R,||Maginnis, John E.||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Maude, Angus||Tilney, John|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Mawby, Ray||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Gurden, Harold||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Webster, David|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||May don, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L, C.||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||More, Jasper||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Worsley, Marcus|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Wright, Esmond|
|Hiley, Joseph||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Hill, J. E. B.||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clithsroe)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Peel, John||Mr. Reginald Eyre and|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Percival, Ian||Mr. Bernard Weatherill.|
|Abse, Leo||Floud, Bernard||Murray, Albert|
|Allen, Scholefield||Foley, Maurice||Oakes, Gordon|
|Anderson, Donald||Ford, Ben||Ogden, Eric|
|Archer, Peter||Forrester, John||O'Malley, Brian|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Fowler, Gerry||Oram, Albert E.|
|Ashley, Jack||Gourlay, Harry||Oswald, Thomas|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Gregory, Arnold||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Grey, Charles (Durham)||Owen, will (Morpeth)|
|Barnes, Michael||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Padley, Walter|
|Barnett, Joel||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Baxter, William||Hannan, William||Pentland, Norman|
|Beaney, Alan||Harper, Joseph||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Bence, Cyril||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Haseldine, Norman||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Binns, John||Hattertley, Roy||Rees, Merlyn|
|Blackburn, F.||Henig, Stanley||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hooley, Frank||Richard, Ivor|
|Boardman, H.||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Boyden, James||Howie, W.||Roberts, Gwllym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Hoy, James||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Huckfield, L.||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St.P'c'as)|
|Hunter, Adam||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Hynd, John||Rose, Paul|
|Cant, R. B.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Carmichael, Neil||Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)|
|Coe, Denis||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Coleman, Donald||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Sheldon, Robert|
|Concannon, J. D.||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'e'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Jones, T. A. (Rhondda West)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Kelley, Richard||Slater, Joseph|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Kenyon, Clifford||Small, William|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Lawson, George||Snow, Julian|
|Davies, Ifor (Cower)||Leadbitter, Ted||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Davies, Robert (Cambridge)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lomas, Kenneth||Thornton, Ernest|
|Dell, Edmund||Loughlin, Charles||Urwin, T. W.|
|Dempsey, James||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Dewar, Donald||McBride, Neil||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Dobson, Ray||Mackie, John||Whitaker, Ben|
|Doig, Peter||Mackintosh, John P.||Whitlcck, William|
|Dunnett, Jack||Maclennan, Robert||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Macphereon, Malcolm||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Eadie, Alex||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Manuel, Archie||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|English, Michael||Mapp, Charles||Woortburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Ennals, David||Marquand, David||Woof, Robert|
|Ensor, David||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Yates, Victor|
|Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Maxwell, Robert|
|Faulds, Andrew||Millan, Bruce||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)||Mr. Charles R. Morris and|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Mr. Harold Walker.|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Morris, John (Aberavon)|