Orders of the Day — Emergency Powers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th August 1972.

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Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Oldbury and Halesowen 12:00 am, 8th August 1972

I represent a town in the middle of the country, far removed from the docks but inhabited by ordinary people of this country. It is those people I wish to represent in my short speech. No hon. Member can be pleased that we are once again having to discuss emergency regulations in a national crisis. I shall try to make as constructive a speech as I possibly can, having been in industry or closely associated with it since the war and believing, as I do, that the ordinary working man—that includes the docker in England today—is normally a perfectly sound, decent and patriotic citizen.

I certainly do not believe that the class war any longer exists in Britain. But I fear that at present some men are being misled and that they do not understand the Government's policy.

Most people understand the problems and difficulties of the docks and the dock workers and have much sympathy with the dockers' fears and worries about the future. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Government, the employers and the unions to overcome this important but, in terms of numbers, fairly small problem. That is what the Jones-Aldington Report can do. We all know that the problem is one primarily of technological change and that the dockers would be beating their heads against a wall unless they realised that the old-style docker and old-style dock work have gone for ever. That is why I believe that every consideration must be given to the dockers.

I believe that the Jones-Aldington Report is generous. I also believe—I speak now for many people in the centre of the country away from the ports—that the dockers must not presume too much on the public sympathy, must not threaten too much whole industries such as we heard about in a most moving speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and must not try to force whole industries into ruin. Looked at from that point of view this strike is absurd, as the hon. Member for Coventry North (Mr. Edelman) said. I have recently come from Luxembourg which has not had a strike for 25 years and whose people cannot understand what is happening here.

One element which worries me is subversion. We all know that it exists and is increasing. It is something for which the Government, as the trustees for the nation, have responsibility and something about which every good trade unionist should worry greatly. We know that there are a number of men occupying leading positions, or sometimes occupying positions behind the leading figures, whose interests are not the same as those of the vast bulk of the people. I only wish that the Government could act in a dawn swoop, arrest them all, shut them up and put them away out of trouble, but I know that is difficult. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but they have not seen the "tape" which I have just been handed.

There is, unfortunately, in this peace-loving country a sustained growth of violence. I have just heard that in a small port in Lincolnshire seven policemen have been injured by pickets and a number of arrests have had to be made. This cannot be peaceful picketing. It is deplorable in what is, I understand, an official strike. I hope that we shall hear from hon. Members on the Opposition side a condemnation of this sort of violence, which does immense harm to the nation. I saw it recently in the notorious Saltley coke depot disturbances during the miners' strike. The country will expect to hear from the Government that the emergency powers will permit steps to be taken to stop illegal picketing and to stop the use of force in these confrontations.

Having spoken, perhaps painfully, on the issues of extremism, subversion and violence, I now turn to the unity of the nation in these troubles. I believe in the decency of the ordinary, law-abiding working man and I believe that the country wants him to have the best possible deal in a society which we hope will grow more prosperous. I believe that most working men want regular work and wish to give their wives and families a higher standard of living. That is a most laudable ambition and something which the Conservative Party supports.

In times of danger and inflation and when there is a docks strike the people look to the Government and to us for a lead, for who but the Government can protect the weak either against speculators and profiteers or against the bullying pickets? I believe that the Government must get closer to the ordinary people to tell them the facts in simple terms and to tell us all in this emergency, and in rather more detail than they have done so far, where our duty lies.

The country is crying out for leadership, not only from the Government but from every walk of life, including industry and the trade unions. It is because I believe that we are still a great nation and that the vast majority of our people are as sound as ever they were that I believe, given proper leadership, there is nothing we cannot do. I believe this also applies to industry where there is a great responsibility on the owners, the managers and the employers. Sometimes the cult of the professional manager and the whiz kid, and the emergence of the technocrat in industry, has overlaid vastly more important human qualities of leadership, example and compassion.

At the weekend, when I was thinking over these problems and the state of the country, I read some words written by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, to this House in 1660 when Parliament met again after all the troubles and turmoil of the civil war. The Government of the day wished to exercise great vengeance against those who had opposed the King-Clarendon said: The King is a suitor to you … that you will join with him in restoring the whole nation to its primitive temper and integrity, its old good manners, its old good humour, and its old good nature; good nature, a virtue so peculiar to you … that it can be translated into no other language and hardly practised by any other people. I believe we will all do well to remember those words in this important debate.