This time last year, almost to the day, the Opposition selected for debate "the Industrial Relations Act and Unemployment". Today, as I understand it, they have chosen "Discrimination and Employment". The change from "Unemployment" to "Employment" over the last 12 months is significant. The Government are certainly not complacent about the latest unemployment figures, but hon. Members opposite clearly recognise, by this change in emphasis in the title of the subject which they have set down for today, that there has been an enormous and continuing success in our measures to bring unemployment down and to reflate the economy. I certainly welcome this open endorsement of our achievements in this field.
Last year the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), in contrast to his usual jovial self, was somewhat despondent. He was on the verge of predicting doom, quoting tellingly, or so it seemed at the time, from the International Labour Organisation, about where unemployment would lead in the seventies, wondering whether perhaps we needed earlier retirement and thinking that the unemployment figures might be 60 per cent. higher than the published figures. But he came to extremis when he ventured to consider that the unemployment challenge which we faced underlined the case for a large extension of the public sector. Fortunately, he told the nation the other day that comments on his party's last vast programme for an extension of public ownership were, presumably like his own gloom about the unemployment figures last year, grossly exaggerated. I very much hope that he may take this opportunity today not to expand upon the programme for public ownership but to tell us what, if any, exaggeration there has been in comments on the proposals of the Labour Party, and also to tell us the full extent of his party's commitment to nationalisation. But I must help him as to the unemployment figures today.
The extent of the achievements of the past year can be briefly illustrated by a few figures. Since the debate last year, unemployment in Great Britain has tumbled from 792,000 to 509,000; that is, from 3·5 per cent. to 2·2 per cent. I think I might remark, in passing, that in June 1970 it was 523,000, or 2·3 per cent. Regional disparities remain, but again here the falls have been dramatic—Scotland from 6·1 per cent. to 3·8 per cent., the Northern Region from 6·1 per cent. to 4·1 per cent; that is, falls of over 30 per cent. in the regions with the biggest problems. Of course they are not as much as we would like, but they are an indication that the tax cuts and the reflationary measures in the 1972 Budget and the inducements to industrial expansion in the assisted areas—all the more effective at this time of rapid economic growth—are having the effect that we confidently said last year they would have. As hon. Members know, the vacancy figures are even more encouraging; indeed, I scarcely like to embarrass the Opposition by repeating them. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) is not easily embarrassed.
The fact that the "silent service" will be speaking in the House is a clear indication of that. But I ought to say that there were virtually 200,000 job opportunities notified to my Department's employment offices last month, which is a 100 per cent. increase on last year. I shall not list all the regional figures, but they are impressive.
Last year I expressed my particular concern—which I think was shared on all sides of the House—about unemployment among young people. But we looked forward to a dramatic improvement this year because of the economic measures that we had taken, coupled with the raising of the school leaving age. Indeed, we forecast—I remember this very well—a shortage of young people, and we encouraged employers to recruit early. The raising of the school leaving age has, of course, a once-and-for-all effect, but I emphasise that the underlying trend among young people is, in any case, very good.
I want to turn for some moments to the reference in the Gracious Speech to discrimination. This has undoubtedly drawn attention to a subject which is of major current concern and interest in employment, as well as in other fields. The Government have made clear their wish to eliminate unfair discrimination in relation to both sex and race. In the main, I intend to leave much of the remarks to be made about this to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who will be winding up the debate, but there are certain things that I wish to say. In working towards this objective of elimination of discrimination we accept that a certain degree of prohibition, with suitable enforcement machinery, is necessary. But we believe that the main emphasis must lie on positive measures to promote more effectively equal opportunities between workers regardless of sex or race. This is a task in which all sections of the community have their part to play as well as the Government.
Hon. Members will be aware that unfair discrimination on grounds of sex has been the subject of debate—how well we remember it—and of consideration by Select Committees both in this House and in another place. Perhaps I may say again how much the Government appre- ciated the work of the two Select Committees in considering the very great volume of evidence which was given to them and in preparing their very valuable and helpful reports which were of great assistance in the formulation of the Government's own proposals which were published recently in the form of a consultative document and outlined in the Gracious Speech. Perhaps I might emphasise the word "consultative" once again when I refer to the document. More than 100,00 copies of the document were distributed throughout the country on its day of publication. To those who have views on the proposals—and there are many in this House—both for and against, I would say again: do not hesitate to let us have them. The consultative period is scheduled to end on 30th November.
The Government propose to make unfair discrimination in employment on grounds of sex unlawful. The areas to be covered would include equality of opportunity for recruitment, training, promotion, shift working and overtime and equality of treatment in connection with short time, lay-offs and disciplinary measures. The main objective of the proposals is to extend the employment opportunities open to women, to remove unfair discrimination against them, and to change the attitudes—this is the important point—which give rise to it. But it must not be forgotten that the proposals will also apply to men.
The House will also be aware that it is proposed to set up—this is set out in the consultative document—an Equal Opportunities Commission, a permanent body with the power to conduct wide-ranging inquiries into the relative positions and opportunities of men and women. It is expected that the commission would devote a substantial part of its time to employment matters, and for this purpose it would be given the power to summon witnesses and to require the production of documents. But it would not have any enforcement powers, because, after due consideration, we felt that it would be better able to secure public co-operation if it were not distracted by enforcement responsibilities.
When considering the means of enforcing anti-sex discrimination measures, the Government examined both the operation of the American legislation and the evidence of the Select Committees. We concluded that there are considerable advantages to be gained from separating the educative and investigatory functions under the legislation from the enforcement functions. So it has been decided to entrust the former to the proposed Equal Opportunities Commission and to leave enforcement in the hands of the industrial tribunals, which are, we think, admirably fitted to do such work. That is because they form a network spread more thickly over Great Britain than would be practicable for any specialist anti-discrimination body, thus ensuring a convenient and speedy means by which an aggrieved individual can seek redress. They have functions under other legislation, notably the Equal Pay Act, but also the consideration of unfair dismissal cases under the Industrial Relations Act. These will in practice often be closely related to sex discrimination issues.
The composition of the tribunals provides a combination of legal expertise. There is, of course, the appointment of legally qualified chairmen, and there are lay members with experience of industry. So they seem well suited for the consideration of the kind of case which will arise under this legislation.
There is a further advantage in using these tribunals, which is the possibility of appeal on questions of law to the NIRC and to other courts whose decisions presumably over time will build up a body of case law reinforcing the consistent application of legislation.
I am sure the right hon. Member for East Ham, North will have some remarks to make about the NIRC later on, and perhaps I can now turn to the question of exceptions.
The Government agreed in the consultative document with those who say—and I think this is right—that all exceptions weaken the principle, but they have also made it clear that they feel that some regard must be paid to avoiding the creation of situations resulting in really manifest anomalies and absurdities. For example, I rather doubt whether anyone would contend that men would make very good foster mothers. There is, of course, the question of acting, and, no doubt, many other cases which will occur to hon. Gentlemen. I am sure that it is sensible that there should be exceptions in cases of this kind.
Considering the large number of different jobs which men and women do, the proposals specify very few exceptions. These relate to employment in special circumstances—the Armed Forces, police and prison services, the clergy and private households. Provision for a general exception where sex could be shown to be a genuine occupational qualification is also proposed, and the consultative document suggests certain criteria. It makes clear, however, that no such exception would apply to occupations on any blanket basis. For each particular job the circumstances would have to be proved to justify exception.
We also recognise in the document that it might at this time be offensive to public taste or decency if certain jobs were open to both sexes and that exceptions may need to be made. This is something on which one is bound to listen to opinions. However, as we know, standards change over time, and provision will be made to enable the Government to amend the general criteria following an affirmative resolution in both Houses.
There are also proposals for the repeal of certain statutory restrictions which limit the working hours of some 25 per cent. of adult women in employment and also limit their working with moving machinery. These it is proposed to repeal. This is a field which I was intending to leave to my hon. and learned Friend who will wind up the debate.
Steps have already been taken within my own Department towards eliminating discrimination in employment. The House will be aware that the employment service actively encourages employers to consider candidates of both sexes for vacancies notified to us. This service, as the House knows, is now being extensively modernised and improved. I dealt with a lot of this last year, and progress has been maintained. Many new features will be incorporated which will be attractive to women—the specially designed job centres which will be situated near shops and offices, with vacancy displays, and a very speedy and informal self-service. Some hon. Members will have had the opportunity to see some of these operations in practice. The job centres will also have counseling and advisory facilities which will assist women returning to employment. As the House knows, separate men's and women's departments will be discontinued as soon as is reasonably practicable, but in the meantime the full range of vacancies will be held in both sections.
We have often discussed in this House, particularly recently, the massive expansion of training under the Training Opportunities Scheme. This expansion is providing much greater opportunities for women. In the past the proportion of women in Government-sponsored training was small because most of the available courses were in Government training centres and were catering primarily for craft training in what were traditionally male occupations—not all of them, but the great majority of them.
The Training Opportunities Scheme provides a much wider range of training facilities, particularly in colleges of further education, and the number of women in Government training has now risen rapidly, from 4 per cent. under the schemes in March 1970 to well over 25 per cent. under the Training Opportunities Scheme in 1973. This number is continuing to increase, and we are encouraging its increase. There are now about 7,000 women on these training courses. Most of them are in colleges of further education, on commercial and clerical courses, but there are many who are seeking training in a much greater variety of occupations, and at higher levels, in fields such as work study, management subjects of various kinds, vocational guidance, occupational health nursing, health visiting and the like.
Another important piece of employment legislation is to be brought forward this Session, the Health and Safety at Work Bill, which will aim to implement the main recommendations of the Robens Report on Safety and Health at Work.
The Bill will be comprehensive in its scope. Not only will it for the first time enable us to deal comprehensively with industrial dangers to public safety and health; it will enable us gradually to bring together and streamline in one piece of legislation various existing Acts and regulations dealing with safety and health. We shall thus be able to apply common and statutory powers and pro- cedures over the entire field of safety and health at work.
These powers will not only enable us to make whatever provision is necessary for the present. They will allow us also—this is important—to adapt and improve measures for promoting safety and health in the future as circumstances and technology change. Legislation which is flexible and capable of ready adjustment should eliminate the need for further major legislation in the foreseeable future.
I have talked about the comprehensive nature of the new Bill, and of the statutory powers which it will provide. But the Bill will provide also for more comprehensive and integrated administration of the legislation. It will establish a new public authority, a health and safety commission, to be responsible to Ministers for preparing and administering measures under the Bill, and for promoting safety and health at work generally. Most of the existing central Government inspectorates concerned with safety and health of workpeople and the public will be brought together within this new organisation.
The health and safety commission will consist of representatives of both sides of industry, and others concerned. As the House knows, from previous experience in other fields, we attach particular importance to this. Representatives of employers, workers and the public will participate directly in the management and development of the new arrangements. The Leader of the Opposition recently called for measures to secure such participation at shop-floor level. We are not only providing for that but are extending the principle to cover the entire management of health and safety policies.
The hon. Gentleman has said that the Government will provide for representation at shop-floor level. Does he envisage that his Bill will therefore contain a statutory requirement that every firm over a certain size must have a joint safety committee, as the Opposition have argued?
For an exact answer to that question we must await the legislation, but it is my belief that the right hon. Gentleman will not be desperately disappointed by what comes forward in that respect.
I have noted that the right hon. Gentleman expressed fear about the statutory protection of workpeople, and I think that that fear is shared by his hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Harold Walker), who takes a great interest in these matters but, I know, cannot be present today. Perhaps I could set the record straight on this point.
The fear springs, I think, from a misinterpretation of one aspect of the Robens Report, not from anything in our proposals. That report stressed—rightly, I think—the importance of a more self-regulating system for promoting health and safety. This amounts to saying that no amount of law and central Government effort will achieve results if the people at the sharp end, as it were, are not doing their bit. I do not think that anyone would quarrel with that. But it certainly does not mean that, because a better awareness and more co-operation from industry are achieved, the Government should opt out. I think that the right hon. Gentleman's fears stem from that. We need both better efforts by industry and more effective statutory arrangements.
Clearly, there will be a continuing need for statutory protection for work-people, and, indeed, we are well aware that in some areas this protection needs to be strengthened. No existing statutory requirement will be repealed in the Bill. What self-regulation means is that such statutory protection becomes a much more effective part of the total system.
Unlike the Robens Report, the Bill's proposals will deal purely with the regulatory and procedural side of safety and health policy. No one should have the wrong impression about the strength of the powers we are providing, whether they be powers to make regulations, powers for inspectors to enforce them, or powers for the courts to punish offenders. The proposals have more teeth than an alligator, and for the safety and health of workpeople and public—that is, all of us—it cannot be a mistake to have powers available for use as required.
I come now to the question of employee participation. The Government will be publishing a consultative docu- ment later this year which will discuss ways of increasing the extent of participation by employees, and will, we hope, further the discussion of this subject, on which there is already a good deal of public debate and on which a number of organisations have already published their views.
We are not only looking at the machinery which could be adopted within an organisation to achieve greater participation. We are examining also ways of increasing individual job satisfaction—this is a matter with which I am personally involved, with the TUC and the CBI—and ways of encouraging more widespread ownership of public companies. We are looking also at the proposals which have been put forward in Brussels, which are designed to increase participation and establish a uniform system throughout Europe. Above all, we are working for a system which meets the needs of this country.
We are convinced that careful and detailed discussion of this important subject is essential. We do not want to rush it. We want to hear the views of all those concerned on the best way to ensure that employees have a greater say in how their jobs are organised and how their working life is run.
The question of disclosure of information is of particular importance here. Participation in any true sense is impossible unless employees and their representatives are regularly given the facts about the enterprise for which they work, and are kept informed of its progress and performance. The Industrial Relations Act contains important provisions designed to ensure this.
Section 56 of the Act obliges all employers to disclose information about their undertakings to representatives of registered trade unions which they recognise for negotiating purposes, taking account of the guidance given in the Code of Industrial Relations Practice. Section 57 requires employers, in the case of undertakings with more than 350 employees, to issue to each employee an annual statement the contents of which are to be specified in regulations.
These are almost the only substantive provisions of the Act which have yet to be brought into force. My right hon. Friend intends to publish as soon as possible a draft revision of the code of practice giving fuller guidance about the kinds of information which employers have a duty to disclose under Section 56 and draft regulations specifying the matters to be covered by the annual statement under Section 57. There will, of course, be full opportunity for discussion and consultation with interested parties before the code revision and the regulations are put into their final form and the two sections are brought into force.
Now, a word about the Industrial Relations Act. Opponents of the Act commonly make two allegations. First, they say that the Act is dead. Second, they say that it is damaging industrial relations. Obviously, if the first allegation has any substance, we are dealing with a very lively corpse.
To take one aspect, since the unfair dismissals provisions came into operation on 28th February 1972 well over 15,000 employees have taken advantage of them and found the Act alive and well. These provisions have provided a new protection for dismissed employees which was long overdue. I am sure that this is recognised by most hon. Members. But the beneficial effects cannot be measured simply in terms of the number of individual complaints. The mere existence of the provisions and the possibility of dismissed workers complaining to tribunals are powerful influences on management to overhaul and formalise dismissals procedures. Certainly all the evidence we have shows that management is doing just that.
That may be correct. I shall not quarrel with the hon. Member's figure without looking at the book. However, a great many of the cases of unfair dismissal never get as far as the tribunals. They are settled by conciliation before they reach the tribunal. The hon. Member must bear that in mind when making that sort of criticism, though I do not acuse hi mof crabbing the Act in any way.
However, the successes of the Act are not limited to unfair dismissals. There has been a good deal of success in the work of the Industrial Court, and I shall deal with this later when I have something to say about the work of the court generally.
Some commentators have alleged—and some unions have boasted—that management and unions have colluded in ignoring the Act. Certainly it is the case—it would be surprising if it were not—that many employers have concluded that there is no need for them to make use of the legal provisions of the Act. But all the evidence available to my Department is that they have only done so after a thorough review and overhaul of their industrial relations policies and procedures. That is as it should be. It was never intended that the Act should be the first port of call for a management faced with an industrial dispute. The law is there, as we have always made clear, as a long-stop—like the law on race relations or divorce. Moreover, the reform of our industrial relations is bound to be a long-term process. We have never pretended that the Act could bring about changes overnight.
Reports of the death of the Act are, therefore, to say the least, grossly exaggerated. Nor can it reasonably be said that the Act is damaging industrial relations. Certainly, both 1971 and 1972 were bad years for industrial relations according to the statistics of stoppages But the Act has not been responsible for the large number of working days lost through stoppages in recent years. Over 90 per cent. of these working days were lost through disputes over pay and related matters. These are nothing whatever to do with the Act, nor was the Act intended to deal with them. In any case, those who rely on strike statistics to support their case against it will have to explain how 1973 has so far turned out to be a much better year.
The Act is working and is being used, and so far from damaging industrial relations, it is making a positive contribution to improving them. That does not mean that there have not been problems of adjustment. That was inevitable with such a fundamental change in the law. A good many of these problems have been of the unions' own making. For example, as all hon. Members will know, there have been one or two cases concerning individual workers which have received a good deal of publicity—more publicity than the other side of the Act. I will not become involved in the details of these individual cases or few other hon. Members will be left with time to speak. I want to make one general point. The unions object to the so-called "free rider"—the man who takes the fruits of union negotiations without paying for them. That is a perfectly understandable and justifiable objection, and the Act takes specific account of it. It provides that unions may make agreements with employers—agency shop agreements—under which all the workers covered by the agreement must either belong to the union or make a financial contribution to it in recognition of its negotiating services on their behalf.
Furthermore, it establishes a procedure under which a union may compel an employer to enter into such an agreement if that is shown to be the general wish of the workers concerned. The "free rider" must, therefore, pay or lose his job. By not registering, the TUC unions have voluntarily denied themselves the possibility of making such agreements with employers. I suggest that if agency shop agreements were widespread, disputes concerning individuals and their membership of unions would be avoided to a large extent.
Of course, in order to get agency shop agreements unions must first register, and there is, I know, debate about that. The case for the principle and substance of registration has been made before, and I shall not repeat it. The requirements of registration are fair and reasonable. They represent what any self-respecting organisation would do in any case. Many of the requirements of registration have already been recommended by the TUC itself in circulars to affiliated unions. The other way, I suggest, in which unions have contributed to their own difficulties concerns representation before the Industial Court. It is true that since the TUC revised its policy the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers is virtually now the only union which refuses to defend itself before the court or a tribunal.
But the case I want to use to illustrate the difficulties—the case of Con-Mech, which is bound to be mentioned today—also raises general problems about union attitudes to the Act. If a union has a good answer to a case which it refuses to put it must take the consequences as any other corporate body or citizen would. The AUEW says it had a good case both in the Con-Mech dispute and in the case which received so much publicity last year concerning Mr. James Goad. But it refused to put its case, so naturally the court could not take it into account. That is something upon which the AUEW is almost entirely isolated. Other unions—even though they may be opposed to the Act—will at least defend themselves and put their case. Many have done so to their advantage. Although the isolated stand of the AUEW causes difficulties and attracts attention, it is as well to remember that it is an isolated stand, and other unions see better ways to protect their members' interests.
But the Con-Mech dispute raises more questions than that of a union defending itself. Briefly, the facts are that Con-Mech is a small non-union firm. The AUEW wanted recognition there. The employer refused it. No one knew whether the employees wanted to be represented by the union or not. The Act provides machinery for dealing with just such a dispute as this. I believe I am correct in saying that the Opposition's Industrial Relations Bill also made such provision. The Act provides for the merits of the union's claim to be considered by the Commission on Industrial Relations. In other words, means are provided whereby the dispute can be settled peacefully and without the use of industrial power.
But, of course, the CIR cannot and should not be expected to work under duress, and that is why the Act provides that there must be no industrial action—whether by union or employer—while the case is investigated by the commission.
The AUEW refused to call off the industrial action although its case was being examined by the CIR—a body which I do not think anyone would accuse of being anti-union—and although the employer had said he would comply with the CIR's recommendations.
The CIR has now reported on the dispute to the court and has recommended that the AUEW should be recognised by the employer in respect of a defined bargaining unit. I hope that the report will now provide the basis for a speedy settlement, and the Department's conciliation officers are in touch with the parties—as they have been since the dispute began—to explore what assistance they can provide.
The AUEW has said—and it has been supported by the TUC in this—that it is a law-abiding union, but has also said
There is one law we cannot respect, and that is a law which jeopardises our very existence".
Clearly, the Act has not jeopardised the existence of AUEW at Con-Mech. But, of course, no one who breaks or defies the law can be called law abiding Mr. Len Murray has said that
the issue is not one of the AUEW breaking the law or ignoring the law".
With respect to Mr. Murray—and I have great respect for him—the issue is precisely one of the AUEW breaking and ignoring the law. The union has taken to itself the right to decide which laws it will comply with. Such an attitude, if generally adopted, would wreck the rule of law.
I hope that today at least—I remember what happened last year—we shall not hear any Labour Member supporting defiance of the law, although the epistle from Blackpool to the councillors of Clay Cross gives me reason to doubt whether my hopes will be fulfilled.
I do not think that the AUEW's reason for not complying with the law stands up to examination for a minute. Indeed, it is a law which could give considerable power to unions if only they would register. Before the Act came into operation a union faced with the refusal of an employer to recognise it could use only industrial power. That might, of course, force the employer to recognise it, but it might not, and a good number of unions—particularly of white collar workers—knew from experience that it would not.
There is now a procedure for forcing an unwilling employer to recognise and negotiate with a union. Some unions have used this provision to good advantage. It is plain nonsense to suggest that such provisions, quite apart from the other provisions in the Act of advantage to unions—agency shops and so on— jeopardise the existence of a union. The Labour Goverment had a procedure in their Bill for dealing with recognition disputes, and it is reported—I look forward to confirmation or denial of the report—that they would enact some such procedure if they returned to power, which is extremely unlikely.
I said earlier that the union of which I was speaking was isolated. It is instructive, therefore, to compare the AUEW attitude in the Con-Mech case to the attitude of another union, the Transport and General Workers Union, in a similar case concerning Davenport's Brewery. There is a remarkable parallel with the Con-Mech case. Both took place at roughly the same time, the end of September. Both were recognition disputes which resulted from the fact that an employer had refused a union's request for recognition. In both, industrial action was proceeding in support of the recognition claim, and in both that action continued after the dispute had been referred to the Commission on Industrial Relations, as provided for in the Act.
But there the similarity ends. The AUEW refused, and still refuses, to obey the order of the court to call off the industrial action. That union has not appeared before the court at any time. The TGWU, in contrast, called off the industrial action after the company had told the court that the action was continuing in spite of the reference to the CIR. The TGWU explained to the court that it was not a deliberate failure to comply with the order of the court but arose for a number of largely technical reasons.
Moreover, the TGWU appeared before the court at all stages to argue its case. That was certainly to its advantage. For example, its appearance ultimately led to the court's asking for, and being given, an undertaking by the employer that there would be
no victimisation in any shape or form".
In other words, the TGWU—which no one would accuse of being a weak union—accepted that there should be no industrial action while the dispute was being examined by the CIR. That was what the other union did not accept. I do not want to labour the comparison, but it illustrates how isolated the AUEW is.
Finally, I want to say a word or two about the work of the Industrial Court. Attention has been focused, perhaps inevitably, on the handful of cases where unions have opposed the court, but they have represented only a small proportion of the court's total work. Most of the cases coming before the court have been settled to the satisfaction of both parties without difficulty. This work has gone on largely, indeed almost totally, unpublicised, quietly and unspectacularly. Only about half the complaints of unfair industrial practice made to the court have eventually had to be decided by the court. The remainder were withdrawn, in most cases because a settlement had been reached, often with the aid of the court, and sometimes with the help of my Department. However the disputes are settled, they are being settled, quietly and without fuss.
I would rather not give way, unless my hon. Friend has a pressing point, because I have spoken for a long time.
That is not the picture of the court one gets from Labour Members and certain other critics outside, but it is the true picture. I wish that people would try honestly to find out what the court is doing, rather than approach it with a preconceived picture of what it is doing and shutting their eyes to anything that does not fit in with that picture. The court has shown itself to be eminently fair to unions, as unions that have appeared before it would be prepared to testify. It has demonstrated abundantly the value of an industrially sophisticated court.
These are facts which need stating. Some of the distortions about the work of the court are amazing, and it is time they were removed. None of us has ever claimed that the Act is perfect.
I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that. Perhaps it implies that he will give serious thought to improvements that he thinks should be made to it. If he does, perhaps he will inspire his hon. Friends, instead of being destructively critical, to give serious thought to how the Act could work. In that case, let them put forward their conclusions.
Experience of the working of any law quickly reveals areas where changes need to be made. We have said many times that we are prepared to consider constructive suggestions for amendment. We have so far received no suggestions from the TUC, but I again urge it to examine the Act dispassionately and tell us precisely what provisions it objects to and how they can best be amended to remove those objections. That is a reasonable attitude for any Government to take. What does not seem to me reasonable is the present attitude of some people that the Act—and it is Parliament's Act—should be repealed or put on ice merely because some of our citizens are making claims to be above the law.
The Minister of State has done his best with some fairly unpromising material. He is in the same dilemma as Ministers have been in all the week, created by the fact that the Gracious Speech is so dull and unenterprising as to make it impossible to strike any sparks in the House—as impossible as it is for the Government to arouse any interest among the general public outside.
The Government are clearly trying to give the impression of performing some good works during the death-bed repentance period running up to the General Election. They carry no conviction, for two reasons. One is that the people are no longer convinced of the Government's good intentions. They do not trust the Government, and they recognise that many of the non-controversial measures listed in the Gracious Speech are mainly cosmetic measures designed to give the impression of doing something without tackling the real problems.
I am sure that that is fundamentally true of the important subject of discrimination against women in employment, training and other areas. This subject will be discussed by some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), who will wind up for the Opposition, and therefore I do not want to devote any time to it.
The proposals from a Labour Government have included legislation, after generations of neglect, on the vital question of equal pay for equal work, legislation which should be going into effect much more quickly than it is under the present Government. Our current proposals, contained in a document issued by the Labour Party a few months ago, go much further and are much more radical than the Government's proposals. But I want to leave the subject to some of my hon. Friends, because I have a great deal to say and I do not want to delay the House too long.
The second reason why the Gracious Speech carries so little conviction in the country, and has aroused so little interest this week, is that it deliberately leaves out reference to most of the major questions worrying the British people. I shall give three examples. First, the Gracious Speech neglects unemployment. I was intrigued by the Minister of State's attempt to do a lap of honour arising from the fact that unemployment is now between 500,000 and 600,000. That is a deporable and unacceptable total. To boast that it is less than it was two years ago is the height of impertinence when that boast comes from a Minister and a Government who drove up unemployment to over half a million for the first time since the 1930s. After an enormous outlay of public funds, and the biggest reliance on deficit financing by the Government for a long time—which has had some effect in bringing down unemployment—to claim that the reduced figure is a triumph even though it is still over half a million is confounded cheek.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to withdraw what he said last year—namely, that real unemployment was perhaps 60 per cent greater than was shown in the published figures. The Government are not complacent about unemployment. I said that in my opening remarks. It is right to point out that in June 1970, when the right hon. Gentleman had some interest in this country's affairs, the unemployment situation was serious. He might take account of present-day position concerning vacancies.
Of course, real unemployment is larger than the figures suggest. The figures look better than they are. That is partly because of the raising of the school leaving age and partly because the Government deliberately took the temporarily-stopped figures out of the unemployment total. It is partly because the unemployment figures have never reflected the number of married women who would like to go back to work if jobs in their locality were available. Many married women do not register because they know that the employment situation is hopeless. There are several reasons which I have examined many times in the House which result in the figures underestimating the real level of unemployment. They include special reasons this year, such as the raising of the school leaving age, which did not apply in other years.
I ask the hon. Gentleman not to keep interrupting me. I have a great deal to say and many hon. Members on both sides of the House want to take part in the debate.
When the hon. Gentleman spoke of a national unemployment percentage of 2·4, it would have been appropriate for him to acknowledge the great degree of hardship in those parts of the country where the figure is much higher. As he says, the latest figures show an improvement, but they remain in Liverpool at 6·5 per cent., in Sunderland 6·1 per cent., in Glasgow 5·5 per cent. and in Londonderry, as he knows only too well, 10·5 per cent.
In Newry the figure is 14·2 per cent. The human tragedy which those figures represent should be acknowledged. The Government seem to be saying by implication that they are now resting on the total of over half a million. It seems that they will claim credit because the figures are better. They are not proposing any fresh measures to deal with the problem.
I do not retract anything I said a year ago. The industrial countries of the world face complex problems in maintaining full employment. The problems are much more difficult in the 1970s than in the past. After the great outlay of public expenditure and deficit financing, Britain should have unemployment figures closer to the post-war average, which was much lower than half a million. The fact that the figure is not down to 300,000 or that kind of level is a sign of the problems which we face and which the Government are not meeting. If the Government are complacent about the figures, the Opposition are not. We shall return to the matter many times this year, particularly with reference to the regions of high unemployment.
The second major omission from the Gracious Speech is the absence of any proposal to repeal, amend or modify in any way the disastrous Industrial Relalations Act. I was intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's attempts to defend the Act. Even by the standards of Ministers in this debate, his was a feeble performance. I do not blame him personally because I think he had an impossible task. The only thing he could say which was in any way constructive was that the provisions for unfair dismissal were useful and beneficial to the workers concerned. Of course they are. That was why they were the proposals of the last Labour Government. That was why a measure to bring about such a system of appeal against unfair dismissal was in front of the House before the last General Election.
The hon. Gentleman knows that when we repeal the Industrial Relations Act we shall retain and radically improve the provisions relating to unfair dismissal. He referred to the Con-Mech case. It seems that that case is the latest set-piece example of the last 18 months which demonstrates the futility and absurdity of this piece of legislation. The CIR report which emerged yesterday will, I hope—I agree with the hon. Gentleman about this—provide the basis for a return to work. It is a recognition of the union and, I hope, the end of the dispute.
We should pause to reflect the quite unnecessary and excessive damage which has been caused to industrial relations in Britain once more by a dispute arising in a small factory. In the days before 1971, what happened at Con-Mech would hardly have rated a mention in the local newspaper on the inside page. As it is, it has been blown up into a national crisis by the absurdity of the Industrial Relations Act.
When the hon. Gentleman asks, "By whom?", let hon. Members on both sides of the House pause. Let us be frank about what has happened. Hon. Members know that I do not defend the attitude of the AUEW towards the court. I have criticised its attitude in the past, in the House and outside. It is wrong. I do not need to go over that ground again, except to add that, whatever view is taken about the issue of principle and the best way in which the Industrial Relations Act should be opposed, I believe that the AUEW faces a severe practical problem in terms of the effect of the recurrent fines upon its funds. I hope that when the dust has settled steps will be taken to recall the national conference representing all four sections of the AUEW so that the union's strategy can be reviewed. I do not believe that the AUEW serves its members by paying ever-increasing fines.
I am not making it any part of my case to defend the AUEW's action. Equally I hope that no Conservative Member will defend an employer who in 1973 was so reactionary as to deny the right of his workers to organise and to be represented, and to resort to dismissing people who tried to organise a union in his premises. The real issue before the House is neither the conduct of the union nor the conduct of the employer. The issue is whether an incident of this kind should be escalated into a national crisis.
I shall quote from the CIR report as reported in The Times this morning. It states:
The dispute in this small factory has given rise to vastly disproportionate and damaging
consequences. In our view this could have been avoided by attention to good industrial relations practice.
Yes, it could have been. But in a country of this size, with its great complexities of industries and many thousands of firms, here and there and from time to time there will be managers who behave badly.
What will be the consequences? Surely the Government should have learned their lesson last year when the dispute arose in Midland Cold Storage. That had the effect, because of the operation of the Industrial Relations Act—the hon. Gentleman was trying to suggest that the Act did not cause the strikes of last year—of leading to events which led to an escalation of the crisis. That plunged Britain into an unnecessary dock strike which had damaging effects on our exports, the economy and our working people. That will happen again and again as long as the Act remains on the statute book. As long as the Act remains, somebody somewhere will be foolish enough to use it.
The second count against the management of Con-Mech, apart from its attitude to the union, is the fact that it brought the case to court. Most employers in employers' organisations, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, have the sense to stay away from the court. The employers' organisations recommend their members to stay away. However, as long as the Act is on the statute book in its present form, some people will use it. We are lucky that not more people have used it. We might well have had far more cases which could have resulted in far greater damage to the national economy.
Because I do not want to enter into personalities. But given that both sides of the House accept that there are unreasonable employers and unreasonable trade unionists, and that the Opposition disapprove of the Industrial Relations Act and of the CIR, what are the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for dealing with disputes of this kind? Let us be told plainly.
I was coming to that point and will do so in a moment, because I want first to mention another aspect of the Con-Mech case.
One new feature of the Con-Mech case is that the sequestrators appointed by the Government seized £100,000 not from the general funds of the union but from a loan made by the union to an urban district council which came from the political funds of the union. We need to hear from the Government, either today or very soon, what view they take of this development. This action was probably in breach of the Industrial Relations Act itself. Under Section 154, it is not legal under the Act to seize money for purposes of this kind
if under the rules of the organisation property which is or has been provided in that fund is precluded from being used for financing strikes, lock-outs or other industrial action.
I would not attempt to rule on that legal point but there is certainly great doubt whether the action by the NIRC was not a breach of the Act.
Indeed, the Act was so badly drafted and received such scant consideration in the House because of the guillotine—Section 154 was never debated at all in Committee—that it is not surprising that those charged with the task of its implementation do not really know what it means. However the point about the seizure is decided legally, it should be recognised by both sides of the House that it is grossly improper that the political funds of a union, subscribed through political levies for political purposes, should be confiscated in this way. The Government should make an early statement on this aspect.
I want to give the Government a little advice at this point. We are not today debating phase 3 and prices and incomes, but I point out to the Government that they are faced with trouble because of the Industrial Relations Act as well as trouble as a result of the unfairnesses and anomalies of phase 3, and that they are probably going to have enough trouble industrially this winter without unnecessarily worsening the situation by retaining the Act.
The hon. Gentleman said that he had seen no suggestions for amendments to the Act. On the contrary, there have been a large number—including those from the Industrial Society, the CBI and other organisations—and even Sir John Donaldson himself has said that many parts of the Act were misconceived. The Opposition have made suggestions. Over a year ago my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition suggested that the Government should at least ensure that actions for unfair industrial practices went through a sieve like the CIR or some other body before reaching the NIRC. Many suggestions for amendment to the Act have been made.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to misquote me. I said that we had not received any suggestions from the TUC. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] HANSARD will show who is right. I said that we had received suggestions for amendments from other bodies but not from the TUC.
The TUC has made its views plain. It wants to see the Act repealed and considers that it is not its job to propose formal amendments to the Government. I believe that the TUC is right in this. The Industrial Relations Act is the Government's own and they must take the consequences of it, but they have a duty to rescue the country from the consequences, and the longer they fail to do so the more serious those consequences may become.
The other great omission from the Gracious Speech is any reference to the urgent need to try to restore faith in arbitration and reconciliation. One of the saddest aspects of the Government's industrial relations policy—the most disastrous industrial relations policy pursued by any Government since the war—is that they have destroyed faith in arbitration and have largely reduced references to conciliation as well.
The hon. Gentleman interrupted me earlier to ask what proposals we had in these matters. Central to our proposals is one for a national conciliation and arbitration service to be administered by a board appointed by the Secretary of State. It should be left free from day-to-day interference by the Government to organise a new system of conciliation and arbitration that could command the respect and confidence of people on both sides of industry. That is one of our central proposals and it is badly needed.
Even within the limited perspectives of the present Government there are a number of current issues on which they should be taking the initiative to provide conciliation or arbitration. For example, there is the deplorable state of the motor industry. Several disputes are going on. This summer has seen a whole series of them and great damage has been done to the industry and the country. The peace-keeping activities of the Motor Industry Joint Council should be reactivated. I believe that the council met recently but I do not know the outcome.
It was the initiative of the Labour Government which led to Sir Jack Scamp doing the first-class job which he did for some time as chairman of a team which investigated disputes. During that period the number of days lost in disputes in the industry was reduced to half what it had been and was at a much lower level than recent experience. The motor industry is crying out for some kind of initiative of this kind and the Government should not simply sit on the sidelines.
A more local but still very important example is the situation of the Triumph Motor Cycle Company. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and wishes to raise that case. Again it seems to be one in which some initiative should be taken by the Government through a court of inquiry or a conciliator, for example, to help to bring about a resolution of the difficulties.
Another example is the case of George King and Company of Stevenage. I saw a deputation from the workers in the firm a few days ago. The firm is of very great importance in that it makes conveyor belts both for the home motor industry and for export. Recently it was taken over by Tube Investments and it is threatened, at short notice, with a reduction of 70 per cent. of the labour force, to take effect in a few months' time. Earlier this week my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) took a deputation from the firm to see the Minister for Industrial Development, but I put it now to the hon. Gentleman that the Department of Employment too has a duty to interest itself.
This case has important industrial relations implications. It is a case in which the unions have gone to very great lengths to produce a report on ways in which they believe that the efficiency of the company can be improved, the overhead costs reduced and their jobs saved. This kind of initiative deserves recognition and praise from the Government. I suggest that here is another case where someone should be appointed by the Government to preside over talks between the unions and the management to see whether the differences can be resolved and the jobs saved.
Those are merely examples—I could give many others if there were time—of the ways in which we want to see the Government taking more initiative in industrial relations. They are too inclined to sit back and leave the matter to both sides of industry, and there are many occasions when constructive initiatives could be taken.
I wish to make a brief reference to two proposals in the Gracious Speech. First, I should like to refer to the proposals relating to new laws on safety and health. I should like to have spoken at length on this subject, and I am sure that this applies to many hon. Members on both sides of the House who also would have welcomed the opportunity for a full-scale debate. During the whole of last Session we demanded a full day's debate in Government time on the Robens Report, but facilities were denied to us. Eventually we had a debate that lasted just over two hours, and it resulted from the good fortune of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) who introduced a Private Member's Bill on this subject.
The Government are asking both sides of industry for views on proposals in a consultative form. I believe that the House should take part in that consultation and have a debate on this matter while proposals are still in the formative stage. It may be too late to suggest a debate on Robens, but I feel that debates should take place on proposals which affect discrimination against women and proposals involving employee participation. We should have a debate on these important measures at an early date, and I hope that this matter will be taken up by the Minister with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.
Although I accept most of what the right hon. Gentleman says about discrimination against women, I must point out to him that there have been debates on this subject both this year and the previous year and there have been two reports from Select Committees which the Government have had an opportunity to consider in drawing up any consultative document.
I acknowledge that but, the Government having drawn up a consultative document, I believe that it should be debated by the House, not as one of many subjects covered in the Gracious Speech but in a separate debate in Government time.
I welcome what the Minister said today about safety and health proposals and about the measures which the proposed Bill will contain. He went some way, as did the Government's statement, to allay the fears and doubts which arose from the wording of parts of the Robens Report. We must be vigilant about this matter because grave doubts were raised by Robens. It almost appeared from some paragraphs of the report that we were being recommended to accept reliance on voluntary codes of practice in place of statutory provision. I noted that the hon. Gentleman said there should be statutory provision at least as tough as, if not tougher than, the provisions in existing law. When we come to debate these matters this is what we shall be looking for in the transition period from old to new statutes. We must make certain that no worker loses any of the statutory protection he now possesses.
There are two other points which I feel bound to stress, and I shall make them briefly because of pressure of time. The first relates to the need for elected workers' safety committees and safety representatives. The Minister said that he thought hon. Members would be satisfied with what the Government have in mind. We shall be looking at this matter very carefully. The Minister knows that when the General Election took place in 1970 there was before the House a Labour Government measure which sought to make provision of this kind. Furthermore, on three successive occasions since the General Election Labour Members have promoted Bills on this topic and those Bills were frustrated by Conservative opposition. If the Conservative Party has now been converted to our point of view, it is high time that this happened. If they have not been converted, we shall seek to make amendments when the Bill comes before the House.
The other important point which must be stressed in talking of safety and health is that, however good the statutory provision, this is ultimately a matter of enforcement. We shall continue to demand a massive increase in other related sectors so that the law can be enforced in much more detail and in many more premises than it is enforced at present. I have a great respect for the Factory Inspectorate, and its report reflects great credit on a team of dedicated people, but it must be said that they are given an impossible task in terms of their numbers in relation to the job they have to undertake. Again, we shall be returning to this question in due course.
As regards worker participation, we are having to wait rather longer than was recently indicated for the Government's thoughts on this topic. Some months ago the impression was given that when the Government presented their proposals for the amendment of the Companies Act they would include statutory provisions on worker representation. At some stage along the line this appears to have been dropped and it is now being treated as a separate exercise. I had the impression that a Green Paper on worker participation would emerge by about the end of October, but the Minister now tells us that it will be rather later this year. I am not quite sure what "rather later this year" means since we are already almost at the end of the year. If one is to believe accounts in the newspapers, it would appear that this matter is being delayed because of differences in the Cabinet and the reluctance of some members of the Government to move along this road at all.
I say this not entirely in a partisan spirit, because I think it must be said that everybody has found difficulties in formulating proposals. Difficulties have been experienced by the Government, by the Labour Party by the CBI—the CBI Council recently threw out proposals put forward by its employment committee—and by the TUC which took a long time to produce an excellent document on industrial democracy. That TUC document was approved provisionally by the TUC conference as an interim report, with further work to be done on the subject. Hon. Members in this House have taken some time over this issue and there is no need for us to swap debating points as to who has taken the most time.
Speaking for myself, I believe that we have reached a stage where legislation is needed on this aspect. The status of the worker has been improved, and is still being improved, by the growth of trade unionism, by the spread of collective bargaining and by putting more subjects on the agenda of such bargaining negotiations. This must continue to be the principal way in which the status and dignity of the worker is improved in the years to come, but undoubtedly we have reached the stage where legislative initiative is needed and where the State needs to give a hefty push to ensure advance along the road to progress.
We are living in a period when the expectations of the worker are growing every year; the average level of education is becoming higher, communication is improving and the expectations of men and women in their jobs are increasing all the time. But side by side with this progress we are going through a period when the processes of industry are becoming more repetitive, monotonous and frustrating. This is also a period in which units of ownership are becoming fewer. Take-over bids are everyday occurrences and sometimes they are made by multi-national companies. Decisions affecting workers' livelihoods are made by people who have little knowledge of the ideas and aspirations of workers. Therefore, there is urgent need for an initiative to see that workers or their representatives are involved in discussions and in joint decision making. This applies to all forms of worker control—in other words, to what happens on the workshop floor, even down to decisions by foremen to change the position of benches—as well as to decisions at board level about the future size and shape of a company.
I believe it is vital that whatever happens at works level must be built into the trade union machinery. We must not legislate—the Labour Party has not finalised firm proposals for legislation—in such a way as to separate the workers from their trade unions. The importation of workers' councils on the German model to operate side by side with collective bargaining systems and joint consultation systems which have already been built up by trade union activity will be counter-productive if we do not watch the situation closely. We must recognise that trade unionism has already made considerable advances, and we must build on that advance and not supplant it by something else.
Secondly, we have to grasp the nettle of the concept of elected workers' representatives on the boards of companies, whether one-or two-tier boards. This is a complicated subject which we must debate in detail. In the modern situation there is no substitute for elected worker representatives on the board. After long debate and with some hesitation the TUC has come out in favour of worker directors. Some trade unionists do not agree. The CBI does not agree. The report by Lord Watkinson, accepted by the CBI, is against the idea. I say that those who have doubts on either side are wrong and that this has to be part of the pattern of the future.
Thirdly, we are not likely to jump straight into an ideal pattern. There has to be some kind of rolling programme of advance towards greater industrial democracy. Again speaking personally, I believe that legislation should provide that every employer employing over a certain number of people has a statutory duty to consult his workers about the kind of pattern they want. The Secretary of State should have power to make an order in circumstances in which he believes that consultation has taken place and where the workers are ready for progress but the employer is obstructing that progress.
That power could be used at least in the early years to provide for a variety of different patterns, perhaps a two-tier board in one case with 50 per cent. worker representation, perhaps a number of director-workers in a single-tier company in another case. The Government need not be dogmatic to the extent of having only one pattern for every kind of industry or trade. We can experiment with different forms. Certainly an initiative is needed and the Labour Party, although we are not yet committed on detail, believes that some initiative of this kind is needed.
Let me put this in the context of the general approach of the Opposition to the whole question of industrial relations legislation. The Minister challenged me to say what our proposals were. We have given a great deal of thought to this. We have had constructive discussions between representatives of the Labour Party and the TUC. These are continuing. We shall come into government, whenever the next election takes place—and the sooner the better—with our thinking well advanced on these fronts.
The Gracious Speech which we shall bring before Parliament following that election will contain radical and new measures for industrial relations. We envisage three major Bills. At least two will be contained in that first Gracious Speech while the third, I hope and believe, will be in the second Speech. The first measure will provide for a complete repeal of the Industrial Relations Act. And I mean a complete repeal. What I have in mind is the attitude of the Roman General Scipio who, after he had conquered Carthage, said "We will tear it down, we will destroy everything. We will plough the fields with salt to make sure that nothing grows." The Industrial Relations Act has to go. In that same measure we will provide for the establishment of a conciliation and arbitration service along the lines I have suggested. This service is much needed and should be established at an early date.
In the second measure, which I think we will call the Employment Opportunities Bill or something similar, we shall be providing for the extension of workers' rights in a number of directions with regard to notification of redundancies, periods of notice, the right to belong to trade unions and also trade union rights in terms of recognition and such matters. In the third measure we will be providing for changes in the law to provide for worker participation and the extension of industrial democracy.
That will be the legislative framework within which many other initiatives will be taken to improve industrial relations so that we move away from the dreary record of the last three years, which has been the worst period for industrial relations since the end of the war, towards a new deal for the working people of Britain.
I am sorely tempted to follow the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) in the remarks he made about the Industrial Relations Act. I do not do so only because I particularly want to accept the invitation set out in the Government policy document entitled "Equal Opportunities for Men and Women" to have this matter discussed and to let the Government know individual views upon it.
I am surprised, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) was surprised, to hear the right hon. Member refer to the proposals for dealing with discrimination against women on the grounds of sex with such derision, describing them as "cosmetic" proposals. I regard them as serious proposals, and I believe that this House will treat them with seriousness and gravity because of the effect which they can have for good or bad if ultimately implemented in legislation.
Any objective observer must see that there are advantages as well as disadvantages in being a woman. Those who are tempted to ask "Why cannot a woman be more like a man?" are likely to have an answer that is to the advantage of the sex they are attempting to criticise. There are many women who are afraid that legislation of the kind anticipated or set out for discussion in this policy document—aimed obviously at strengthening the rights of women—might imperil the advantages they now have without necessarily removing the grievances.
If only for this reason it would be wrong for us to listen only to the strident voice of Women's Liberation. It would be equally wrong for us to ignore the grievances that give rise to this movement. There are some grievances women have which can be removed by the law. Some of these have already been dealt with. For example, the Government, have been responsible for introducing legislation recently which will ensure that in future juries will be composed, as far as can be made certain, of as many women members as men. The archaic property qualification that kept most women off juries is removed for good.
We are able to deal with specific grievances such as unequal pay for women by using the law. The Act which is now on the statute book is an excellent example of the way in which the law can be properly and effectively employed to deal with specific grievances. I would wish that the effective date for the full operation of that Act could be brought nearer than 1975. That is a matter that will probably rest upon the events of the future. Having conceded that the law can be properly and effectively used in this way, it is only right that one should recognise that women may have grievances which cannot be easily dealt with by the law.
For example, the Government propose to deal with employers who discriminate against women on the ground of sex. If such legislation became effective, a finance company, for example, might be told "You cannot discriminate against this person because that person is a woman", but there would be no control over that finance company in discriminating against that woman in deciding whether it should allow her credit. The difficulty of solving one problem demonstrates the impossibility of resolving the other.
Women have some grievances which require no alteration in the law. No one supposes that any legislation likely to come before the House, introduced by the present Government or any other, might result in a woman being made the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces or in women being made admirals or air marshals. But I see no reason why we should not have women train drivers. There are women train drivers in Russia. It is said that they are not very satisfactory in some respects, although I am not sure in what respects. But there is no reason why a woman, if she wants to be trained to drive a train, should not be given the opportunity of following her ambition. One does not hear of many women who wish to follow that calling, but there is no reason why, if there is a demand for that type of employment by women, it should not be followed by them. It is important that discrimination, in whatever form it shows itself, should be dealt with as effectively as possible.
The Home Secretary, in his foreword to the Government's policy document, uses these words:
The Government wants to eliminate unfair discrimination on grounds of sex wherever possible and to change the prejudiced attitude which gives rise to it".
That is a very laudable ambition. But one thing troubles me. It would appear from the document that the Government have in mind introducing a form of declaratory law of the kind incorporated in the race relations legislation which declares a principle impeccable in itself. If the Government say "We propose to pass a law declaring that it is against the law to sin", one is in some difficulty in saying "I do not like a law of that kind", because one could be so easily misunderstood. It might be thought, and indeed might be said, that one was in favour of sin because one was not prepared to support a declaratory law against it.
I am uncertain and unhappy about the prospect of passing a declaratory law against discrimination of the ground of sex, because it could be said that one was against women or against trying to remove the grievances which we recognise some women must tolerate. That would be wholly wrong.
The processes of persuasion and education are not to be confused with the law, which must be preserved and used as an instrument of command rather than of persuasion. It would be a misuse and an abuse of the law if it were to be engaged by the present Government or any other merely in order to change people's minds The law must be clear, because if it is not it loses everything, including the respect of the people it is supposed to help. Persuasion can rely upon shadowy, vague and even abstract ideas. The law cannot. I am therefore worried about the possibility of another declaratory law being passed of the kind incorporated in the race relations legislation.
I wish to say this about the proposed Equal Opportunities Commission, which is at the heart of the proposals set out in the policy document. I do not see any serious disadvantage in setting up a commission whose purpose is to inquire and investigate and which has the powers which the Government want to employ to persuade people not to act in a way which would be against the interests of women on the ground of sex alone and which would serve, to use the words of the policy document, as "a catalyst for change". But what I cannot accept—and I shall listen with great care to all the arguments adduced in the other direction—is that the commission should be responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced.
I should like to see set up a commission on the lines of the Civil Rights Commission in the United States. It was created in, I believe, 1957, and it serves the purpose, which the Government want to implement, of inquiring into a problem and of persuading people of the manner in which it should be solved. To restrict the rights of a commission to receiving evidence in the way that the Government propose is not altogether acceptable.
To say to a commission "You shall investigate on a wide basis only those areas which the Government consent to your investigating" is an unnecessary restriction, although it may have to be imposed if that body is to ensure that the law is enforced. But if it were set up on the lines of the Civil Rights Commission in the United States it could be given wide powers of calling evidence and of investigation which would be denied to it if it were set up in the form proposed. In addition, it could, of its own initiative and on its own responsibility, choose those areas of inquiry which it thought most necessary to investigate.
This is a debate, so far as it touches the proposals to which I have referred, of great importance to a wide variety of people, some of whom undoubtedly not only recognise grievances but suffer from them. I should be content to support any proposals which would ameliorate or do away with those grievances. But I shall not do anything to weaken the law, to bring it into ridicule or to set up a mere face-saving device, which could so easily happen unless the proposals are considered with the greatest care and anxiety, as I believe they will be, by hon. Members.
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) will forgive me if I do not follow his speech. I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the most irrelevant Gracious Speeches that we have had from the Government. What is omitted from it is of far more significance than what is contained therein. I am particularly disturbed to find no mention of the improvement of industrial relations. We are, instead, offered a sop in the form of increased employee participation——
As my hon. Friend says, only a Green Paper—and we have had those in plenty from this Government. If the Government presume to be concerned about industrial relations that subject is at least worth a mention.
With your consent, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, I will confine my remarks to one incident concerned with industrial relations; namely, the events relating to the Triumph motor cycle company at Meriden, which, although it is just outside my constituency, takes the majority of its workers from my constituency.
I am sorry to forecast one more event in the long and sad decline of the British motor cycle industry. Those who know anything about that industry and the great names of Royal Enfield, AJS, Matchless and all the others which have been concerned with the manufacture of British motor cycles in the past know that there are now very few names in that industry which we can call British. One of those, and the best known the world over, is that of Triumph. Already there is word abroad, particularly in the United States, that, whereas BSA failed to kill Triumph when it took the firm over, Norton Villiers in taking Triumph over may well succeed in killing it.
I do not want to go into the long history involving the absorption of a once profitable company by the BSA group and the events surrounding the assumption of the chairmanship of the former company by Lord Shawcross, but it is worth mentioning that the birth of the new company, Norton Villiers Triumph was accompanied by a run on the Stock Exchange, many rumours about insider trading and a great deal of trumpeting by the Government. It was said that the £4·8 million which the Minister for Industry was to put into the company would save the British motor cycle industry and help to save its exports.
On 19th March this year the Minister for Industry made a statement that a new company was to be formed which would become the nucleus of a new British motor cycle industry. Although I led two deputations of shop stewards representing the workers at the Meriden factory and continuously since then made representations to the Minister, both in the House in the form of Questions and in writing, it was not until 14th September that Mr. Dennis Poore, the chairman of the new Norton Villiers Triumph company, came to Meriden to announce the closure of the works. He may have visited the factory before then but the first statement he made at the factory was that it was to be closed. After six months of rumour and speculation about the future of the jobs and of the industry, the first thing that Mr. Poore does after the announcement of the £5 million Government money intended to save the motor cycle industry is to propose to close down the factory which assembles most of the motor cycles made in this country.
That is not a good way of conducting industrial relations. It is not a good way of involving the workers or of paying lip service to the employee participation which is mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
On that day the redundancy which was to take place next February was discussed. There followed a further visit to the factory by Mr. Poore. Because of the threat of imminent redundancy, Mr. Bill Lapworth, the divisional organiser of the Transport and General Workers Union and I obtained a remit from the working force to negotiate with Mr. Poore to set up a workers' co-operative to run the plant.
During our first meeting with Mr. Poore we were told by him "You will need time". He stressed that we were engaged in a complex endeavour and that we would need time to complete our negotiations. That statement is very significant when it is compared with some of the statements he has made this week.
The prime need then became apparent of keeping the plant going for a longer period than the threatened closure period to ensure continuity of production and to make sure that United States dealers—who comprise the biggest export market for motor cycles from Great Britain—knew that Triumph was going on and that supplies would be available for the peak sales season of January, February and March next year.
I have been in constant negotiation with Mr. Poore to secure from him agreement to keep the factory in production for a longer period to enable us to complete our negotiations for the formation of a workers' co-operative and to ensure the continued supply of motor cycles to United States dealers. Almost every time that I managed to come to an agreement with Mr. Poore about continuing production beyond next February, the local management of the plant found yet another excuse for failing to implement its side of the bargain.
Although the Minister of State, Department of Employment may not be able to accept all I say, I know from personal experience that he is a sympathetic listener, as is his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. When I have been to see the Secretary of State about industrial matters in Coventry he has not been able to agree with all I have said but at least he has listened, and there have been occasions when he has taken action following my approaches. I make a personal appeal to him to take an interest in this situation and to secure the interest of his Secretary of State.
Last Thursday, in this House, I secured with Mr. Poore an understanding for a resumption of normal working and an understanding that the plant should continue in production at least until next July to give us time to get off the ground the workers' co-operative. Last Friday I put those same proposals to a mass meeting of the working force at the factory. In his letter to me of 31st October, Mr. Poore accepted that the proposals I put to the mass meeting were an accurate reflection of what he and I agreed last Thursday.
Although those proposals were accepted in full by a mass meeting of the work force, on Monday morning of this week Mr. Poore had insisted that a prime requisite for any final settlement was that the agreement had to be finally agreed at local level. I am sad to say that, although there were elements of discussion at the factory on Monday afternoon, after that brief discussion the local plant manager, Mr. Strangward, took off from the factory at a great rate of knots—that is the most generous description I can apply to his departure—and was not seen again in the factory until Thursday morning, after the closure notice had been given to the workers and after redundancy notices had been sent out.
I emphasise that it was Mr. Poore who insisted that the settlement had to be finally achieved at local level. At local level we are still waiting for Mr. Strangward to return and tell us how to implement the agreement which I negotiated with Mr. Dennis Poore in the House last Thursday.
Again this morning I understand that the stewards have stressed that they are still waiting to hear from the local management, in accordance with the local management's side of the bargain, about how the local management intends that this agreement should be ratified and implemented at local level. They have even gone to the extent of ensuring that, though there might be a rather cluttered situation about the factory gate at present, Mr. Strangward can have all the access and egress he might wish for so that some kind of discussions can continue.
This is a dispute from which the industrial relations part of the argument cannot be divorced. Many of the arguments I shall adduce later are perhaps more appropriately matters for the Minister for Industrial Development. I stress that a central part of what has been happening at Triumph at Meriden has been a breakdown of industrial relations, a breach of an understanding that I achieved with Mr. Poore in the House a week ago. This is at least worthy of the interest of the Department of Employment. It should merit an inquiry by that Department into exactly what has been happening.
There may have been an omission of the phrase "industrial relations" from the Gracious Speech, but I know that the Secretary of State for Employment and the Minister of State wish to see an improvement in industrial relations. That being so, here is a cast-iron case where their interest and an inquiry would be rewarding. The work force, the shop stewards and the union representatives have nothing to hide.
The hon. Gentleman was good enough to acknowledge that most of the problem with which he has been dealing so far is one for the Department of Trade and Industry. However, there is a strong industrial relations aspect to it. My understanding of the position as at this morning is that we have been in touch with all the unions and with the company but that shop stewards were wishing to deal with the company direct. However, the hon. Gentleman has given us some more background information today. I will go back and find out whether there is any later information, in which case I shall be in touch with the hon. Gentleman later on or at some suitable time next week.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that understanding. I certainly hope that it is a more viable understanding than some others I have had over the past week.
Though I recognise that many of the points that I wish to discuss now may not be matters directly appropriate to the hon. Gentleman, I still think that the matters in which his Department is involved are germane to the future outcome of the plant.
The other thing that particular concerns me about the apparent failure of local management to comply with the understanding I achieved here last Thursday is that if the threatened closure next week is implemented we may not have a British motor cycle industry.
American dealers told me when I was in the United States doing some research for this project, they told me also when we held a meeting of about 40 dealers this week in a Committee Room upstairs, and it was stressed to the workers themselves by dealers who have been over here this week on an excursion and business trip, that unless they get their motor bicycles for January, February and March, which is the peak bicycle season, many of them will go bankrupt. This is a subject about which the Minister for Industrial Development and I talked this morning, and we agreed that some of them could go bankrupt. Unless they can get their motor cycles for the peak buying season, many of them will either go out of business altogether or have to cease being Triumph dealers.
In other words, because of this threatened closure, because there will be no continuity of production thereafter, the British motor cycle industry, and its vital outlet in the United States, will be put in jeopardy. Many of the dealers have had no parts or machines since August and are even now being threatened with lawsuits in certain States which have legislation which says that manufacturers and suppliers must provide a comprehensive parts and servicing network.
Therefore, in the peak sales season for American motor cycle dealers there is already a great deal of dissatisfaction with the Triumph organisation, and because of this closure these dealers will not have any bicycles. If this situation continues, by this time next year, and certainly by next year, we shall not have any dealers.
Unfortunately, the Government's money is involved in this. Part of Mr. Dennis Poore's grand design for what he thinks will be the salvation of the British motor cycle industry includes a very long gap between what the Meriden factory can provide and what he hopes will be provided by a new production unit at Small Heath, Birmingham. Even under the most charitable and generous interpretation of what the Small Heath factory can do, and taking the earliest that it will be able to come on stream with motor cycles, we must allow for the inevitable gap in failing to service American dealers and provide them with motor bicycles.
Deliberately built into Mr. Poore's grand design, using £4·8 million of Government money, is a strategy where the American market will not be able to be serviced and will not be able to be won back.
I recognise that the Minister for Industrial Development may not be able to intervene in every management decision made by Mr. Poore. A major policy by Mr. Poore, recreating the British motor cycle industry on the Japanese scale—he is planning to build 120,000 motor bicycles a year at Small Heath—and a decision completely to re-structure the British motor cycle industry at this time, leaving dealers with no bikes, could lead us to the situation where the name of Triumph and of the British motor cycle industry will be damaged beyond repair by this time next year.
Even if all the motor cycles which are now completed and partially completed in the factory—about 1,500—were let out of the factory, it would not make a great deal of difference. I have an order sheet here from various parts of the world excluding North America. More than 7,000 motor cycles are on order from all parts of the world apart from America.
When I was in the United States a couple of weeks ago, on the basis of 19 telephone calls I picked up an order book for 5,000 more motor cycles for the proposed workers' co-operative that we intend to develop. Even if all the present stock of motor cycles were supplied to American dealers, most of them would not have three machines apiece, and that would leave the rest of the world unserviced.
It is a very serious situation when Norton Villiers Triumph, with Government money, is deliberately planning to deprive markets and outlets all over the world so that at some stage in the future it may he able to win them back. I fear that the company will not be able to win them back and that the Japanese, with Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki and all the other brand names now well known on both sides of the Atlantic, will be given what they desperately want—a complete monopoly and world domination.
The whole point about the Triumph motor bike—I have an advertising leaflet here from Triumph—is that it has always been made by skilled men. It has always been made by men who have been at the factory sometimes for up to 30 years. It is not a computerised, mass-produced, ½ million a year, product. It is a motor cycle suited to be built on a scale up to 50,000 a year. It is praised all over the world for its handling characteristics and for the fact that it is made at Meriden by skilled men.
The other aspect of industrial relations which I hope the hon. Gentleman's Department will examine is the fact that deliberate accusations, deliberate allegations, very stupid stories and, I am sorry to say, very serious untruths have been put around America, and even around American dealers, by senior executives of the Triumph Corporation in Baltimore. I was appalled by some of the stories that I heard that senior executives of the Triumph Corporation in Baltimore had been telling in the United States about the work force at Meriden, bearing in mind that this year the workers have accepted a reduction in the wage they are paid for waiting time, and for the past two or three weeks have prepared to do some work without pay, and even without insurance cover.
The most significant factor about this work force is that the Coventry employment situation is not a deteriorating one, and, I am glad to say, is one where some kind of alternative employment is available in quite a few cases, but none of these men has left the factory. They have stayed there without their pay, sometimes without insurance cover. These are the workers who have been libelled all over the United States by the senior management of the Triumph Corporation in Baltimore. That is not a happy way for a company to go about its industrial relations. A work force which is willing to stay as loyal as that, with only a minuscule number leaving the plant over the past two or three weeks, has a reputation and a tradition which are worth hanging on to.
Finally, we still need time to get our workers' co-operative off the ground. In the interim we need an inquiry by the Minister for Industrial Development into how the Government's £5 million will be spent in trying to save the British motor cycle industry, because we fear that the grand design which Mr. Dennis Poore has evolved will not save the British motor cycle industry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell his right hon. Friend the Minister for Industrial Development, with whom I had another meeting this morning, that we want an inquiry and we want Government participation in this industry, because, after all, there is provision for a Government director on the new board of Norton Villiers Triumph. The people of this country must know exactly what this £4·8 million will do and how the British motor cycle industry will be saved. If we can get our workers' co-operative off the ground, there will be a far better chance of saving the British motor cycle industry than with the grand strategy and the grand design which has so far been put together by Mr. Dennis Poore. So I hope that the hon. Gentleman will communicate what I have said to the Minister. I hope that those on the Front Bench and the hon. Gentleman's advisers will also communicate to the right hon. Gentleman what I have said, because we need more time to get our workers' co-operative off the ground.
In the main, we have the financial aspects of this now going in the right direction. We even have market outlets and a marketing organisation which are gradually beginning to fall into place. We are still negotiating about the name "Triumph", and we want to go on talking about that name. If Mr. Dennis Poore really wants to help, as he said at a meeting we have had—he also realises that we need time—I suggest that one of the first things he must do is to recognise that continuity of production beyond the threatened closure next Friday is not only in the interests of the workers who are trying to form their workers' co-operative, but is in the interests of the whole British motor cycle industry because if the American dealers do not get their vital bikes in the peak sales season at the beginning of next year, I am sorry to say that if I am allowed to speak in this House at this time next year I shall not have any constituents who make motor cycles.
The advantage of the Queen's Speech is that it provides many subjects to be discussed in this House. It is not my intention, therefore, to follow the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), or other hon. Members on either side of the House other than to say that in an important debate on discrimination and industrial relations the motor cycle industry obviously has a rightful place. I congratulate the hon. Member for Nuneaton on his sales prowess in the United States. He almost sold me a motor cycle.
I suppose that paragraph 12 of Her Majesty's Speech is of overriding importance to people living on fixed incomes. I remind the House that this is what it says:
At home, My Government's continuing aim will be to secure a prosperous, fair and orderly society; to maintain their policies for promoting employment and for raising standards of living; and to improve the health, welfare, educational and other social services. They will have particular regard to the requirements of the old, the sick and the needy.
I hope that those words will be taken at face value, because the Government must face up to the implications of the inflationary spiral in a way that they have not so far done.
In spite of the Price Commission, prices are still rising by at least 1 per cent. a month. In spite of the recent pension increases—£1 for single people and £1·60 for a married couple—it cannot be said that the elderly and the retired are any more prosperous. I am keenly aware of the plight of such people, because a large number of them live in my own constituency of Bournemouth and Christchurch.
The number of letters which I have had sent to me and the poignancy of their complaints impel me to criticise Her Majesty's Government. I should like to quote an excerpt from one such letter. It states:
The pension is still pitifully small and a disgrace to any Christian country. I do believe that this smug preoccupation with percentages is one reason for the Government's growing unpopularity.
So said a constituent only this week.
The enemy from within which threatens the stability of our society is no radical or revolutionary group; it is the ogre of inflation. If we are to fight this monster effectively, or even to hold our own in the struggle, it is vital to restructure our priorities. More money must be available to the elderly so that they may keep abreast—or even, dare I say it, ahead—of the ever-rising cost of living. The big question is, where is that money to come from? I suggest, as the first candidate, that it should come from those funds which have been earmarked for the Channel Tunnel and for luxury airports. A restructuring of our priorities would involve not merely the allocation of more resources to a chosen sector, but also an abandonment of certain projects which in the conditions now prevailing are no longer of prime importance.
Another priority which should come high on the list is help for the ill and disabled. I noted with regret the Prime Minister's announcement last month that hospital building programmes will be affected by the cutback in public expenditure. Are not hospital waiting lists already long enough? I would say that the queues are far too long. I should like to see, too, universal concessionary travel rates for the disabled, more generous grants with which the handicapped may buy specially adapted cars for personal transport, and a widening of the categories of eligibility for such grants. These are matters to which the Government should give their early attention.
A disabled constituent of mine recently sought financial assistance to enable him to run a private van. That was not a luxury for a man in his condition; it was a necessity. Yet the Department of Health and Social Security would not give him a grant. It pointed out that, since he had not lost both legs, he was not considered eligible.
I shall not occupy the time of this House by detailing examples, but with 2,762 handicapped people in Bournemouth alone, made up of 888 blind, 1,621 physically handicapped and 253 deaf, and with an increasing number from the last return of 328 more in the area, this is to me a very important problem.
In endorsing the Queen's Speech, and in particular the twelfth paragraph, I urge Her Majesty's Government to acknowledge and respond to the grave implications in our currant inflation. There must be a genuine realignment of our priorities. Social welfare must come in front of showpiece projects. We must feed and clothe the citizens of the island before we construct tunnels to the Continent.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) touched on the problems of the disabled. A matter which needs looking into thoroughly is that of disabled people who apply for vehicles and who are told that they must first obtain employment before concessions are granted to them. The hon. Gentleman raised a very interesting point.
On past occasions, when the Gracious Speech has been debated, it has been referred to the grand inquest of the nation. In recent years it has departed from that high standard, I believe because of a tendency on the part of both Front Benches to compartmentalise the debate. Instead of having a wide-ranging debate, as ought to be the case, on the Gracious Speech, the debates are put into little compartments by the Front Benches and in effect what we have is a series of debates which could take place at any time in the parliamentary year.
I was rather disappointed this morning when the Government spokesman occupied so much valuable time with interventions and interruptions. In fact, I wondered whether he was doing this because he wanted to stretch out the time in view of the sparseness of the attendance on the Government benches—not that the attendance in the House as a whole reflects any credit to us in view of the importance of this subject.
I want to deal with employment and to consider the activities of the National Coal Board in my constituency in relation to the sale of brickworks to private firms. The Minister of State said this morning that we were dealing with a different situation from that which prevailed when we discussed unemployment in the debate on the Gracious Speech last year. In the Northern Region we are still concerned with unemployment and employment prospects. Employment prospects are not enhanced in any way by the activities of the National Coal Board. In April this year discussions took place with the National Union of Mineworkers on this matter and certain assurances were given. I have a letter from the Chairman of the National Coal Board of 26th July 1973 in which he referred to the board's policy in this matter. He referred to the changes which have taken place in the dependence of the National Coal Board on the brick-making sector of the industry. It is a continuation of a trend within the National Coal Board to hive off the profitable parts of the undertaking.
Many of us recollect the situation which existed in the late 1960s, between 1968 and 1969, when the board's brick-making activities in Scotland were merged with Thomas Tilling and the Scottish Brick Company was formed. The leader of the Northumberland mine-workers stated yesterday that in the event of a change of policy in this matter and the return of a different Government, the people who had purchased the brick-works from the National Coal Board might find that the situation would be reversed, in which event the question of compensation and issues of that kind would not be matters for discussion.
I want to refer briefly to another aspect in the Gracious Speech which is related to the question of employment. It concerns the housing activities of the National Coal Board. There is in my constituency a mining village called New Hartley where the pit was closed some 10 years ago. The National Coal Board, in its wisdom or otherwise, decided to sell the 181 houses occupied by retired officials and by workers and a group of miners still employed in the industry. Those houses were sold to a property speculator at £480 each. They were the subject of an improvement grant from the local authority. The workers still employed by the board are now having eviction notices served on them.
The service occupancy agreement between the board and the employees of the board resident in New Hartley is such that, as long as they continue in their employment with the board, housing accommodation will be provided. The board is endeavouring to evade its responsibilities by offering to those people alternative accommodation of a standard lower than that which they enjoy at the moment. This is the type of intimidation which is being carried out by the board in the interests of assisting private industry and in pursuance of private profit.
If we are to consider harmony and good industrial relations in the mining industry, the Chairman of the National Coal Board ought to make it perfectly clear to his officials in the South-East Northumberland area that intimidation and pressure of that kind with regard to housing accommodation should not be applied. There is no time to go into the detail of the matter now but I think it important that the House should be aware of it.
The level of housing provision has a great effect on job prospects and the attractiveness of an area to incoming industrialists. Unless the incentives given to industry are backed up by assistance to the housing associations and others providing housing accommodation, jobs will not flow into the North-East generally or into my constituency as quickly as they are now needed. Housing and employment are related closely to one another, each being essential to the other in that way.
In the Northern Region, housing associations are doing an excellent job not only in providing additional accommodation but in dealing with the basic housing problems which still prevail there. The voluntary housing movement ought to be given considerably greater help than it has been given in the past. Moreover, in the light of what some local authorities have done in handing out improvement grants to property speculators, one can only comment that the money for house improvement grants would have been far better directed had it been allocated to housing associations.
The Gracious Speech has all the marks of an outgoing Government who have lost confidence in their past performance and their future ability. In the heady days of June 1970, when Ministers were expounding their programmes and policies, the Government were able to dismiss the mounting national and international problems facing us on the pretence that they had all the answers. Today's tawdry document shows how far they have lost their way.
Much has been made of the reference to law and order in the Gracious Speech. Some time ago, the Government introduced legislation dealing with the operation of night clubs, and very welcome legislation it was, but the workingmen's clubs and social clubs in my area are finding that that legislation, designed to meet a particular need, is now being directed against them and their interests.
The Minister of State, Home Office knows that the workingmen's clubs and social clubs in the North-East are to a large extent community centres providing a valuable community service. Yet in my constituency, only a few weeks ago, the Market Place Club in Bedlington was treated to a display of force by the Northumberland police in a raid on a bingo session at that club. In all the talk about the maintenance of law and order, we hear a good deal about the difficulties of the police both in their work and in recruitment. On the occassion to which I refer 30 or 40 police officers were used to check on the club's activities during a bingo session, the people in the club at that time being put into a state of alarm.
What crime were those people supposed to have committed? Some old-age pensioners attending the bingo session had failed to sign the club register. That was the heinous offence committed by some old folk in my constituency, for which they and the others present were treated to a display of police force, unparalleled in the area, and a stigma was put on a club which is rendering outstanding service to the community both socially and financially in giving help to many voluntary organisations.
It may be thought that this matter can be over-stressed, but my constituents and I regard it as serious. Too much regional police activity at this time is being directed against people in the lower levels of society and too little attention is devoted to the real crimes committed in our society and against society itself.
I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I hope he will agree that it is not incompatible to accept on the one hand the value of the social work done by clubs while on the other hand acknowledging that, whatever the law may be on the difficult subject of gaming and licensing, the police have a duty to enforce the law and to inquire into complaints which are made. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman has himself been to see me on several occasions to suggest that the police are lax in this work.
We have raised this matter for precisely the reason touched on by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I have reminded the House of the earlier legislation and I am showing how that legislation was abused by the police. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman defend the use of 30 or 40 police officers, men and women, in dealing with a bingo session at a club? He knows the facts from the report received on this matter from the police authorities. That is why I say that, in our concern for law and order, we must see that that concern is directed where the real troubles lie.
I turn now to the question of local government finance and the proposed appointment of a commissioner to look into complaints against local authorities. I hope that the Government will not follow their past practice on so many measures in this connection but will not shrink from the introduction of legislation fully suited to the purpose. It has been possible to have a brief review this morning of the Bill concerning local government finance. These are measures to be welcomed and we await with interest their development in the weeks ahead.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) and had a sneaking sympathy with his opening remarks when he complained that speeches in the debates on the Gracious Speech are departmentalised and that this may be the cause of the sparse attendance on occasions. He has a valid point. I shall not, however, refer to the problems he mentioned of his constituency or the matters he raised concerning the police.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State was correct in opening our debate by referring to the marked fall in the level of unemployment. There is a distinct contrast between the current figure and the figures for one year and two years ago. In previous debates on the Gracious Speech the level of unemployment has been a recurring theme, and in 1971 it caused a Division on the final day of the debate. Today the figure shows a dramatic change, and the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) was a little ungenerous in not giving the Government credit for that fall.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech contrasted with that of the Leader of the Opposition earlier this week when in column 24 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for Tuesday 30th October he referred to the current manpower shortage. Later he referred to the manpower deficiency. His remarks are in sharp contrast to the attitude adopted by the right hon. Member for East Ham, North today. I believe that the marked drop in the level of unemployment is a cause for congratulation of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and all the members of the Government who have contributed to such an impressive reduction in the numbers who are out of work. The reduction permits us today to debate the Government's other proposals on unemployment in a much calmer atmosphere.
I should like to return to the subject which was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner; namely, the Government's proposals for bringing in a law on discrimination. Doubtless there are certain areas of industry where discrimination exists on a fairly large scale. Certainly it is the Government's duty to tackle the problem and to correct it. But having read through the consultative document I, like my hon. and learned Friend, am thoroughly disappointed at what appears to be the Government's approach. Instead of picking out individual areas where discrimination exists and producing remedies, the document attacks attitudes and is an attempt to change human nature by legislation.
I emphasise this point just as my hon. and learned Friend did. I also predict that if the Government intend to bring in law aimed at changing human nature, that law will be brought into contempt and will be open to ridicule. There are, of course, parts of the consultative document with which I agree. There can be no argument against the suggestion that men and women employees should be treated equally. But the consultative document is open to ridicule where it deals with what my hon. Friend the Minister of State described as equality of opportunity for recruitment.
In paragraph 2.9 the document says
All exceptions weaken the principle of non-discrimination.
However, I believe that there will be many exceptions, and this is acknowledged later in the document when it says that exceptions for genuine occupational qualification will be interpreted in a widely differing manner.
Let me suggest two situations to my hon. Friend the Minister. I have an interest in a firm of builders merchants, and it is normal practice there for us to encourage our employees to come up to managerial level from the warehouse. Heavy cases have to be shifted in the warehouse and other heavy work is involved. Yet our managerial staff has always come up that way. Under these proposals it will be illegal to advertise for a warehouseman or a warehouse-woman. Sex must not be mentioned in the advertisement.
We shall therefore have to advertise for someone capable of doing warehouse work. Suppose as a result of the advertisement both men and women apply for the job and we accept the male labour. It would be perfectly open under this consultative document for the rejected female labour to appeal to the industrial tribunal on grounds of unfair practice and discrimination in employment. How could a company surmount this difficulty and defend itself? It would be possible to say that the qualification for working in a warehouse should be 12-in. biceps or something like that, but I can see no other way if laws of this sort are produced.
Let us take a situation in the hotel trade.
An hotelier might prefer all his waiting staff to be females, but he would be compelled to advertise only for someone to wait at table, because there must be no mention of sex in the advertisement. The hotelier might appoint only women to his staff, but a rejected waiter perhaps holding a diploma from the Hotel and Catering Industry Training Board might then appeal to the tribunal complaining that he had been discriminated against.
The selection of staff in most industries has evolved from years of experience. It is not discriminatory to say "I prefer women to do this job" or that men are preferable. The choice is the result of experience and it would be wrong for industrial tribunals to have to adjudicate for people who felt aggrieved because they had not obtained a position when it had been traditional for the work to be done by members of the opposite sex.
If the Government implement proposals along these lines they will fall into exactly the trap that has been fallen into in similar legislation in the past. I detect in the authorship of this document a resemblance to another law which produced unsatisfactory interference in industrial training—namely, the Industrial Training Act 1964. It sounds fine, but I believe that in practice it will be unworkable.
I began by saying that there were spheres where discrimination must be halted, and I agree that in credit matters and in mortgages it is for the Government to act to deal with such discrimination, but they could be tackled in the Bill on credit control which is also mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
I wonder how a case of alleged discrimination in my constituency will be covered in my hon. and learned Friend's proposals. I refer to a female employee of South Eastern Gas. Under the terms of employment for Segas and all other gas undertakings, employees who are householders have a substantial reduction in their gas bills. I suppose that electricity employees have a similar reduction in their electricity bills. My constituent has not received the benefit because she is female.
The chairman of South Eastern Gas has told me that that is not discrimination on the ground, of sex, because only householders can qualify; the concession is given to male employees because they are householders. If the lady in question can prove that she is a householder, she can receive a substantial reduction in her bills. But she is not prepared to subject her income and personal affairs to that scrutiny. In a letter to me she says that her male colleagues have not been subjected to that scrutiny.
If we accept the principle of non-discrimination and say that my constituent must have the same benefit without investigation, every employee of the board, whether a householder or not, will be able to receive the benefit. A typist who is not a householder but is the daughter of a householder and has the account transferred to her name, which is quite easy, will receive that advantage. That is the board's case, and it is very logical. If there is no investigation of whether the applicant for the concession is a householder, the area of benefit is widened to many more employees. I cannot see how the introduction of laws of the kind proposed will get over that problem, which must occur in many other industries.
We cannot be complacent about the present unemployment figures, however good. I have a specific proposal relating to my experience in industry. To succeed in building up our economy we must continually export more. Industrialists and property developers building abroad should realise their opportunity to increase exports by using British building materials, just as foreign competitors who have come over here use materials from their countries. Considerably more employment would be generated as a result, particularly in those areas of the North-East which still need considerable support.
The other day I was involved in a building being constructed in this country for a Swedish firm, which insisted that all the products used should be Swedish. There has been similar insistence in other developments in this country involving foreign capital. I hope that for the sake of a further reduction in the unemployment figures the Government can impress upon British developers abroad—every week we read in The Times of the developments taking place with British capital—that they have a unique opportunity to bring considerable benefits to this country by using British materials. That would show that we are not complacent about the unemployment figures, as the right hon. Member for East Ham, North suggested. It would be to the great advantage of the country as a whole.
There have been two speeches from Government benches referring to the Governments' anti-discrimination proposals, and both of these speeches have been lukewarm in their support of the Government attitude on this matter. It is significant that there is not a single Tory woman Member here today. We have had two women Members present on this side. So, while the quality of the total representation of women in the House today has been very good, the quantity has been limited.
I am glad to note the change of heart by the Government regarding legislation against discrimination. I suspect that this change of heart is not based on a conviction that the problem needs to be dealt with, because on successive occasions in this House, and the other place, Private Members' Bills have been introduced by myself and others, and each time Ministers have made speeches violently opposing the idea of legislation. I except the hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of State, Home Office, because he was on the retreat when he made his first speech, but the speech of his predecessor and successive speeches in the other place made clear that the Government were adverse to legislation in this matter, and the Prime Minister, no more than two years ago, stated in writing and in specific terms, that this was not a proper subject for legislation.
We are now approaching a General Election, and the Government's popularity among women voters has slumped because of the cost of living. It has nothing to do with discrimination. It is to do with the grocery basket. This is an attempt by the Government to regain women's votes which they have dramatically lost in the last three years because of the Prime Minister's deception in the course of the 1970 election campaign.
I note that the Liberal Party is not represented here today, but this is not surprising, because when I sought to introduce a Bill on this matter I wrote to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), the Liberal Chief Whip, asking him to be a sponsor. He wrote a curt reply saying that this was not his cup of tea. Therefore, the Liberals also were not enamoured of the proposition that women and men should be treated on the same basis for jobs, education, and other matters, provided they have the proper qualifications.
It is significant, and interesting, to note that there was no debate on this subject at the Tory Party conference. We debated it at our conference, and even the Liberals jumped on the band wagon and debated it. The debate at our conference was based on the document "Discrimination Again Women", which is the only substantial document produced covering the whole subject of discrimination. One of the main criticisms of Government proposals in the consultative document is that they are extremely limited in scope. When I, or my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler), or any other hon. Member introduce a Private Member's Bill, it must be limited in scope, but the Government, with all the resources of the Civil Service at their disposal, chose to introduce a Bill which is limited in scope. In fact, it is more limited than the Bill introduced by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green.
There is no indication in the Gracious Speech of when the Bill will be produced, although four or five other Bills mentioned in the Speech have already been produced. Nor is there a firm guarantee that they will be legislation on the statute book before the end of the Session. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will give a firm undertaking that, despite the opposition which has been clearly expressed on his side in this debate, legislation will be on the statute book before the General Election.
The consultative document refers to education, but the Gracious Speech does not, and of course, that is the critical area in which discrimination begins. Boys and girls at school are conditioned to accept their traditional rôles of breadwinner and housewife. The Secretary of State for Education and Science made clear in her evidence to the Select Committee, of which I was a member, her hostility to legislative activity to deal with the problems in her sphere of activity. In a debate in another place on a Private Member's Bill, Lord Colville indicated that legislation, if need be, would be introduced to deal with discrimination in education.
It is to be noted that the Department of Education and Science is not represented on the Front Bench. It must have known that this matter would be raised. The right hon. Lady has indicated clearly that she believes she already has adequate powers to deal with discrimination. Those are the powers which are indicated in Appendix 2 of the consultative document. It is clear that the right hon. Lady has won the day in the Cabinet on this matter. All that will happen is that Her Majesty's inspectors will go round the schools looking at the curricula to see whether there is any discrimination against women. The report of the inspectors will not be published.
The public is kept in the dark as to the action education authorities take and the pressures which will be brought to bear on local education authorities if they do not fall in with any recommendations which the inspectors might or might not make.
The same applies to universities. It is well known that universities are still discriminating against women in their selection of undergraduates, and particularly the medical schools. All that the White Paper indicates is that the Government have gone out of their way to say that the universities are autonomous bodies and can do what they like with the public's money. The Secretary of State will have discussions with the universities, but supposing the universities still maintain their restrictive practices, what powers is the right hon. Lady prepared to take to ensure that they no longer engage in such practices?
The Government say that neither existing single-sex schools nor the provision of further single-sex schools will be tampered with. The right hon. Lady is fond of using the expression "freedom of choice". But what crimes are committed by calling in that specious phrase! For 95 per cent. of our children there is no freedom of choice. Many education authorities throughout the country have no single-sex schools anyway. Even supposing they had, it is educationally unsound to have such schools. Boys and girls will grow up and live in a two-sex society, and the sooner they learn to live with that the better.
Local education authorities should be instructed that they will not be allowed to build any more single-sex schools. Boys and girls should be taught in two-sex schools at the earliest opportunity.
Equality of opportunity in employment should be universal. There is no reason for legislation to prevent men—here there is discrimination against them—being allowed to do midwifery. I do not know what we would call it. I have addressed women's meetings throughout the country and I have put this matter to them. I have yet to find an audience of women who would not be prepared to be delivered of their children by qualified men. Male doctors are there so long as a midwife is present. Babies are often delivered by policemen or bus conductors in emergency cases. I believe I am right in saying that in Scotland male nurses are given training in midwifery. That is not so under the English National Health Service.
We should not exclude the churches by making them an exemption. I see no valid reason for not allowing a woman the opportunity to preach from a pulpit if she so wishes. The churches should be asked to explain their outdated attitudes which defy logic and run counter to the feelings of many people.
I speak for myself on these matters. I have a jaundiced view of the exceptions outlined in the consultative docu-
ment in paragraphs 2.9 to 2.16 Most women will probably agree that the general criteria for exceptions which are enumerated in paragraph 2.13 are unacceptable. Paragraph 2.13(a), in referring to criteria, says:
Where it would be offensive to public taste or decency for a man (or a woman) to do the job.
What on earth does that mean? If a man chooses to apply to be a women's lavatory attendant, he might be a peculiar kind of animal but why should we stop him? Conversely, on the Continent it is not uncommon for women lavatory attendants to be in employment in men's lavatories. That is the kind of prejudice of which we should be rid. We all know what goes on in lavatories—anyway, that applies to most of us—and to pretend that we should make an exception in this case because it would be an offence to public decency and taste is a nonsense.
Paragraph 2.13 (b) says:
Where it could be shown that for the performance of personal services strong preferences among customers or clients make the employment of a man or woman essential to the business.
That is playing up to the prejudice which we are seeking to destroy.
Paragraph 2.11 says:
The Bill would also provide for a general exception where sex could be shown to be a 'genuine occupational qualification'.
That provides wide loopholes for still exercising the prejudice which we are seeking to change or eliminate. It does little more than reinforce existing prejudice which the Minister said it was the Government's purpose to remove.
Similarly, I should like the exemption for firms employing fewer than 25 employees to be removed. How was 25 decided upon? It seems a purely arbitrary figure. There are a lot of women employed in factories which employs fewer than 25 people.
I welcome the proposals for maternity leave, but it would be an improvement to make provision for paid maternity leave. That would bring us into line with the Common Market. I thought that one of the main arguments for going into the Common Market was that we would harmonise upwards our social security benefits, which in many cases on the Continent are superior to ours. For example, in Sweden, which is not in the Common Market, there will be introduced early next year provisions for paternity leave. When there is a dependent child at home the father will be able to get paternity leave to enable him to help out with the family chores. Why should he not?
The Government still seem to think that discrimination against women in occupational pension schemes is acceptable and inevitable. They see no contradiction between paragraph 2.5 on page 10 of their document—
equal access to potential benefits and…equal protection against acts to their possible detriment."—
and paragraph 2.8 on page 11—
the Government does not believe that it is necessary to require occupational pension schemes to provide benefits for women and men on the same basis".
There is an obvious contradiction between those two statements.
Then the Government go on to make the completely unsubstantiated assertion that,
Many women will not wish to make the necessary payments.
How do they know? They have not asked the women's organisations. If women get equal pay, they will expect to pay equal contributions and to get equal pensions.
It has been estimated that one-third of manual working women are not allowed to join their employers' pension schemes, which means that by 1975 these women will have to join the State scheme, paying 1½ per cent. of their earnings, for which they will receive neither tax relief nor any benefit to their retirement pensions from their employers' contributions.
Again, when it comes to opportunities for training the Government sidestep the real issue. The White Paper does not tackle the question of discrimination against women over suitability for training, including apprenticeships. I believe that the Government should have made a declaration in favour of compulsory day release for all young workers, male or female. The Government training centres should be called to account. They should make annual reports as to the availability of places for women, because the present figures are disgraceful. Women get very few opportunities to go to the Govern- ment training centres. Hardly any provision is made for them.
I turn now to the question of the complaints procedure. The onus of complaint falls on the individual, according to the consultative document. But there should also be, in our view, the possibility for organisations to bring action collectively. I hope that we shall have an assurance that where organisations feel that there has been bad practice they will be able to take up the complaint.
On the question of enforcement machinery, we violently disagree with the consultative document and are not prepared to accept industrial tribunals, still less the National Industrial Relations Court. The women want their own antidiscrimination board, or whatever it might be called, which would combine the duties of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which the Government propose, and the complaints machinery of the NIRC. The Labour Party is committed to abolishing the NIRC, so our legislation will be completely different from the Government's.
I think that a separate board for women is an important psychological factor—a very powerful board combining both the conciliatory and enforcement procedures and the educative procedures in the one organisation. No mention has been made of staff, or how the Equal Opportunities Commission will be manned and serviced and the rest. But at any rate it will have no enforcement powers. The kind of machinery we would set up would have not only enforcement powers but provision for a woman who feels that she is being discriminated against to have power to get extremely generous compensation if her case is proven.
The Labour Party's proposals are much more comprehensive. I appreciate that some of them could not be dealt with in the Bill which the Government have in mind, but they could be dealt with by other Departments. Discrimination is so comprehensive and covers so many aspects of life that we should need a very large Bill or a series of Bills emanating from different Government Departments. I want to quote one or two examples of discrimination.
Recommendation 21 of the Labour Party's Green Paper says:
The principle of co-ownership of property should be introduced into family law.
This would cover the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Robert Taylor) about the woman who could not get certain services from her gas board because she was not a house owner. Recommendation 22 says:
Matrimonial law should be amended to strengthen each spouse's right to occupy the matrimonial home and to use and enjoy the basic household goods.
I believe that an instruction should go out from the Government to local authorities that a house must not be let unless to a married couple jointly. I have had experience in Scotland, for example, of cases where the man has threatened to kick out his wife and she has no legal redress because he is the legal tenant or owner.
I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the point. The lady I mentioned is joint householder with her husband. But males are not asked to prove that they are householders, whereas females, for the purposes of administration, are asked to fill in a form and state that they are householders. If one ignores that, all other couples, householders or not, will have to get the same advantage.
I accept that correction. I am not labouring the point. I am pointing out that discrimination is immensely wider than the Government admit in their consultative document. One would, therefore, have expected their proposals to be much wider. The Government have not sought to implement the recommendations of the Select Committees of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. They have violated or ignored many of them. For example, both Select Committees advocated separate machinery, and the Government have ignored that.
The wider proposals of the Labour Party cover matrimonial property, taxation matters, women who are widowed, divorced or legally separated, unmarried mothers and so on. In all these cases women are discriminated against, yet the Government give no indication in the Gracious Speech that the problem will be dealt with during this Session. I suspect that not only is this a weak attempt to catch the women's votes and persuade the people that the Government are converted to the idea of equality but that even if we get legislation this Session—which I doubt very much—it will be far too limited.
The main topics for discussion today are discrimination and employment, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Robert Taylor) on his comments, particularly his remark that it is not possible to alter human nature by legislation. This is no doubt far better done by education. We seek too often in this House to try to improve human nature by passing laws which are then treated with contempt.
The particular aspect of discrimination I want to talk about is that of discrimination against the small milk producers in the farming community. The Gracious Speech says that
My Ministers will continue to take action to ensure an efficient and soundly based agricultural industry.
In terms of efficiency, agriculture has practically reached its peak. What we should like is a continuing assurance that the industry will remain prosperous. Although it may be said that arable farmers are reasonably prosperous this is certainly not true of milk producers who, with the high costs of feeding stuffs this winter, will face extreme difficulties.
I appreciate that there have been a number of meetings between NFU officials and the Minister and that the Prime Minister has also been involved. I am sorry to learn that the NFU has failed to impress on the Government the seriousness of the situation. Only yesterday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister finally turned down the pleas of the NFU. I have recently had the opportunity of meeting large audiences of farmers in my constituency who are extremely worried about this situation. One NFU branch wrote me a letter containing the following statement:
At the meeting a lot of small farmers present felt that unless something was done quickly to stem the ever increasing spiral of production costs many farmers would go out of business this year.
Representatives of another NFU branch have told me that at one meeting the position was described as "desperate".
It is suggested that the price of feed this winter might be as high as £60 to £70 per ton. If this situation is reached, thousands of cows will have to be dried off and slaughtered, many of them in calf. Farmers point out that the milk price has not been increased for two years.
Following a meeting with the National Farmers' Union, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture issued the following statement on 8th October:
Officials of the Agriculture Departments have had a series of meetings with representatives of the Farmers' Unions to consider the present animal feed situation and its likely effect on the production of the main commodities concerned.
I believe that at those meetings departmental officials and the NFU agreed certain figures relating to the profitability of the dairy herds. In 1970 a dairy herd of 38 cows should have produced a net income of £2,188; there was a substantial increase in 1971–72 and a further increase in 1972–73. I believe that these figures have been agreed between the Department and the union, but we are now told that, due to the high cost of feeding stuffs, milk producers will have to accept a reduction in their income for the year 1973–74.
At a time when incomes are rising all over the country, it is the milk producers who are being asked to take a cut for the year 1973–74. There has been no increase, or only a fractional increase, in the price of milk in the past two years. One of the main complaints of my farmer milk producers is that they are now being called on to pay Common Market prices for their feeding stuffs but are not receiving Common Market prices for their produce. The Minister in his statement on 8th October went on to say
Milk producers have had the benefit of two good years and their long-term prospects are excellent.
But farmers have been living on their "long-term prospects" for a great number of years. They now expect to reap the benefit of the capital they have ploughed back into their industry and the greater efficiency they have achieved.
In a recent speech to NFU members in Lancashire the Minister, referring to the problem of feeding stuffs, said:
If it were to be a long-term or continuing problem that would be a different matter, but we all know that what farmers have to face is the period up to the next Annual Review, when proper account can be taken of the
changes that have taken place in production costs of all the various commodities.
But it must be remembered that we are talking of a six-month period and that this will be a time when farmers will be faced with very heavy costs indeed.
I should like a bankable assurance that, if a milk producer's income falls below the average of the last two years, he will be recompensed for loss of income. This would enable him to go to his bank manager and say "I am facing heavy bills for feeding stuffs during the winter months, but I have an assurance from the Government that if I suffer a considerable drop in income I shall be paid retrospectively to cover this winter period."
It is all very well for the Minister to say that farmers can take advantage of their accumulated profits, but any spare cash they have will be reinvested to increase production. They have been asked to invest and this is what they have done. They have no cash resources to meet the high bills which they are now facing. The vast majority of small milk producers will keep going because they have no alternative. They cannot abandon their holding and take jobs in industry at £50 or £60 or more a week—though I am afraid that many of their sons will be tempted away from agriculture by the higher rewards to be obtained outside farming. Therefore, I repeat my plea to the Government to consider whether they can give a firm assurance to the small milk producers that they will be recompensed for the substantial increase in costs which they will face in the winter months and that this will be retrospective.
There are two other matters in the Gracious Speech which are of considerable concern to my constituents. We welcome the statement that legislation will be introduced
to promote road safety, to improve the control of traffic and to permit greater flexibility in the provision of rural road transport.
Greater flexibility in rural transport is something for which we have been asking for many years. The first thing that comes to mind is the greater use of mini-buses in rural areas and the relaxation of some current licensing provisions. There is also the possibility that people living in remote rural districts could use school buses, where seats are available, to take them
to shopping centres, bringing them back in the afternoon with the schoolchildren.
Control of traffic is an important factor in rural areas where drivers of juggernauts are constantly seeking short cuts to reach the motorways. It is inevitable that damage is caused to walls and hedges on these narrow country roads. I should like to see included in the envisaged legislation a provisison that damage to walls and hedges should be a notifiable offence. This kind of damage not only involves a farmer in considerable expense but it also results in his cattle straying on to the highway.
I am glad to have had the opportunity of bringing these matters to the attention of Ministers. I hope that they will take note of what I have said.
I listened with great care to the references this morning by the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) to the Industrial Relations Act. I cannot help feeling that, in speaking about obeying the law, the Minister was rather oversimplifying the situation. I do not suggest that we should not obey and respect the law. We ought to do so, but respect in any sphere has to be earned and I suggest that the Government have not earned respect for this Act. While everyone has a responsibility to obey and respect the law, Governments also have a responsibility to introduce laws which are good laws and which will not make difficulties for any section of the community in obeying them.
That is precisely what the Government have done with the vicious Industrial Relations Act. It may be that some parts of that Act and some of the ideas behind it stem from a degree of ignorance about the trade union movement. I can speak with some knowledge on that subject. Let me remind the Government of some of the events which took place in their early days of office, leading to the Industrial Relations Act. I can best liken this to a confrontation between footballers, when one kicks another. The offender says "I am sorry I kicked you, chum" and helps the other man to get up. At the same time he is saying "I am glad I have made it impossible for you to continue in the game." The Government's record in dealing with the trade union movement and the thousands of workers it represents is analogous.
We are happy to know that the Government are drawing towards the end of their term of office and will be replaced by a Labour Government. In their early days the present Government believed in the "lame duck" policy, which was serious for trade unionists because it meant that workers faced redundancy. If a firm had no orders the result was unemployment, and at that time unemployment was rising. The Minister may well congratulate the Government upon the magnificent total of 500,000-plus unemployed at the moment. The Government have brought the total down but their policies in the earlier years certainly knocked it up.
The Government have shown a willingness to use the law to deal with working people but have not shown the same readiness in other directions. I can understand Ministers being unable to comprehend this simple fact because they do not have a background knowledge and understanding of the working classes and the trade union movement. I can understand their not being able to grasp the fact that it is difficult for a trade unionist to appreciate that an Act of Parliament restricts him in his ability to negotiate his working conditions and to get justice at work and at the same time presents him with difficulties when he wants to rent or buy a house. He can see the unacceptable face of capitalism in the housing and land speculators.
The Government have not shown the same readiness to curb these people by force of law although they showed a readiness to introduce the Industrial Relations Act and take away the prized right of the working class to negotiate their working conditions and wages with their employers. That right has been taken away as a result of the Government's counter-inflation measures. If we set a ceiling and say that a lower-paid worker can reach a limit only of £2 or £3 a week, we are inevitably restricting the ability of trade unions to negotiate with employers on the basis of company wealth, the type of job, the state of the industry and so on.
As an ex-trade union officer of many years standing, let me explain to the Government that one of the first things such a trade union officer must establish in industrial relations is trust. He must gain the confidence of the employer, while the employer must have the confidence of the trade union officer. This element of trust is essential if both are to do their jobs properly without strife and strike. We will not get that degree of trust by introducing the law into working conditions and wage negotiations. It has been adequately proved that not only do the trade unions not want the Act but that most of the employers do not want it either. It is, by and large, being used only by the worst type of employer.
I have the problem of dealing with the worst-off sections of the community. Here I proudly declare an interest. I am a sponsored Member of a union which caters in the main for the lowest-paid workers. I speak for the members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, whom the Minister will readily concede are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. When some months ago the Government introduced an order restricting to a miserly £1 a week increases made to those workers under the counter-inflation legislation, they hit at some of the worst-paid people in the country. Bradford is a low-wage area. I therefore speak with some passion and feeling for the people who live in it.
The Government introduced the Industrial Relations Act to deal with the trade unions. In dealing with the trade unions, they are dealing with thousands of members whom the unions are trying to defend and protect. People join trade unions because they want, first, to protect their working conditions and, secondly, to improve their working conditions when improvement is abundantly necessary. They want to protect the right to work. They want to improve the legislation which protects them from accidents at work.
Men and women do not lightly resort to strikes, thereby perhaps depriving their families of things they need. The only thing with which they have to bargain and upon which they are absolutely dependent is their labour. It is different for the financier who, by making a telephone call in an office, can make a few thousand pounds on a property deal or in land speculation, which the law has not yet touched. It remains to be seen how far the Government dare deal with their friends and supporters in that area. The worker, through his trade union, in effect sells his life's blood to his employer in order to obtain the wherewithal to live. The situation is different for the big industrialist and land speculator.
As I have said, we cannot advocate breaking the law; that would be wrong. But the Industrial Relations Act is bad law and much of the responsibility for the bending of or refusal to operate the law which has occurred rests on the Government's shoulders. In the heady days of the "lame duck" policy and confrontation with the trade unions, the Government kicked the trade unions. Recently they have said "We want to introduce a counter-inflation policy. Please talk to us about it". Having kicked the footballer to the ground and helped him up, the Government say "Sorry I hurt you, but we are pleased you are out of the fight". In other words, they say "We are happy for you to talk to us provided one of your arms is tied behind your back". That is the way in which the trade union movement sees Government policy. A tremendous amount of distrust has been bred among trade unionists about the Government's actions before and since the passing of the Industrial Relations Act.
I fervently hope that the Minister of State, Home Office, for whom I have a great deal of respect, will prevail on his colleague who is responsible to do something about a matter to which I make passing reference. The building industry is in great difficulties; it is in a mess. It needs reorganising, and I hope that the next Labour Government will reorganise it. Meanwhile, however, people are suffering, not only in my constituency but in the whole of Bradford.
That applies to many other parts of the country. Local authority work cannot be done because there are no workers to do it. The schools in Bradford are in a very serious situation. They are bulging at the walls. In many instances pupils and teachers must travel perhaps half a mile to a club room or church hall for some lessons and return to the main school for others simply because there is not sufficient room.
Tenders are long overdue because builders are engaged in building luxury offices and hotels. During the recent school holidays workers were taken away from a school in Bradford which was overcrowded to help to build an hotel. I am inundated with letters from parents who are very concerned, as I am, about this serious situation. There has been a great deal of correspondence between the Minister and myself about it.
I commend to the Minister, hoping that it will be commended to the Government, that, at least in the short term, control should be instituted similar to but not as ruthless as the control which was imposed in the last war when there was compulsion, at least for a time, to ensure that schools, housing and other important local authority structures were built. At present tenders are not being fulfilled because other contracts are more lucrative.
The burning problem in the building industry applies not only in Bradford but throughout the country, and I am grateful for this opportunity of expounding it. I hope that, for the sake of the mothers and fathers in my constituency who are concerned about their children, the Government will not treat my words lightly but will promptly do something about this matter because it cannot wait for the return of a Labour Government. Something must be done about it now.
May I be the first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) on the ingenuity with which he wove into the subject today the problems of his milk farmers, with whom I sympathise. From my experience and from representations I have received, I can vouch for the accuracy of all he said. I assure my hon. Friend that the Home Office, whose Minister of State is present today, will deal with this problem as competently in every way as it deals with the problem of immigration.
I intend to pay great attention to your injunction about shortness, Mr. Speaker. I do so the more easily because on this subject of discrimination and employment my objection is to the principle of legislation, whether upon the lines proposed in the Government's consultative document or upon the lines of proposals which have been made by Opposition Members. I do not, therefore, need to go into the particularities and details we have heard today, especially from the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). It is the basic principle of legislating on a matter of this kind which to me is wrong, and it will come as no surprise to my hon. and learned Friend to hear that I shall oppose the Bill in principle if not in detail with all vigour and at every stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Robert Taylor) delivered an interesting speech. He said that it was not discriminatory to prefer to employ men, or indeed women, in a particular occupation if the choice were based upon long experience. Of course it is discriminatory. One is discriminating, and the fact that one is discriminating upon the basis of long experience and possibly wise judgment does not mean that one is any the less exercising the function of discrimination.
What I have sought to show from the beginning—and in my case the beginning is a long way back because I have opposed every attempt at legislation against discrimination whether on the ground of race, sex or age—is that discrimination is always right. We come into the world to discriminate, to differentiate between what is good and what is bad, between what is well-designed and what is ill-designed. The whole operation of living is concerned with exercising the function of discrimination. That needs to be said, because so often the misuse of words traps people's minds in these controversies. I think it was Bentham who said that error is never so difficult to eradicate as when it has its roots in language. My hon. Friend, while uttering a sentiment with which I agree, was shrinking from the word "discriminatory" as though discrimination were a terrible thing to do.
Let us consider the proposals to legislate against people discriminating. One cannot discriminate against someone or something; one can only discriminate between two things. The conclusion drawn from the discrimination may be adverse to one or the other, but to say that one can discriminate against something is a total misuse of language.
In the case of the latest folly, which happens to be sex—it is not the last one; there will be plenty more once we start on this road—the basic fallacy is to try to insist through the law that men and women are the same and in every aspect equal. One cannot talk about human beings in general being equal or unequal—the word is meaningless—but they can be equal or unequal in relation to a particular thing that one has in mind. If it is lifting a heavy weight, for example, it is obvious that men and women are not equal; they are unequal in a particular way. In many other activities of life one can establish superiorities or inferiorities in that aspect. To legislate to the effect that it is against the law to exercise the function of judgment in relation to a particular sector of human affairs is, surely, a gross abuse of the law-making power.
My hon. and learned Friend spoke of the correct use of language. Surely he will agree that there is a distinction between discrimination and unfair discrimination. There is no suggestion that there should be legislation against choice only against the unfair use of discrimination.
My hon. and learned Friend has illustrated well the confusion of mind that exists. There is no such thing as unfair discrimination. One can discriminate skilfully or unskilfully. The conclusion reached at the end of the process may be fair or unfair, but discrimination as a process cannot be fair or unfair.
I ask my hon. and learned Friend at what moment in time this strange light dawned upon the Government. The hon. Member for Fife, West rightly—I do not agree with him often—referred to the speech of the late Sir Richard Sharples speaking from the Dispatch Box for the Government of the day. I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the logic of what Sir Richard Sharpies said for the Government then with what my hon. and right hon. Friends say for the Government now. One could be right, but not both.
This change in attitude is due not to any change of conviction or opinion but to electoral considerations and nothing else. Even that I could half forgive if I thought it a good electoral judgment, but it is a bad one. There are nine people who think that this is a lot of nonsense for everyone who thinks it a good idea. Let my hon. and learned Friend ask the women's organisations. They will tell him that it is a good thing—and that proves that it is a bad thing.
I do not wish to take up time. I have had my opportunities to speak on this subject, and I shall have many opportunities in the days to come. I want to leave time for other people.
The hon. Gentleman is tempting me into wider fields in asking me to talk out the debate on the Gracious Speech. All I want to say is that we have started along a bad road. I forecast at the time of the Race Relations Bill that it would be a bad omen which would lead us on. I forecast that sex would be next, and we knew then roughly the vista ahead. It was forecast by my noble and learned Friend Lord Hailsham—at that time Mr. Quintin Hogg—who put down on behalf of the Opposition of the day an incredible amendment to extend the operation of the Race Relations Bill to discrimination upon grounds of sex, nationality, language, social position, economic position, birth, social status—I cannot remember hat else, but it was a list as long as my arm. I remember saying that even a good Samaritan would end up before a conciliation committee along that road. That is the road upon which we are embarking in this legislation.
The distinctions that some try to make between the educative effect, the conciliation effect and the enforcement effect of this legislation are each equally objectionable. We are not entitled to use the coercive processes of the State to do what we call "educating"; that is to say, to make one set of values, one synthesis, one opinion, lawful in a sector of human affairs and all other opinions and synthesis unlawful. That is not what parliaments are for, and I shall resist these attempts whenever they are made.
I shall not take up the views expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) about legislation against discrimination in employment except to say that as a sponsored member of the General and Municipal Workers Union—the union with the largest number of women members—I naturally support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) in his forceful speech.
I shall devote my remarks to the sentence in the Queen's Speech which promises that:
A Green Paper will be published containing proposals for promoting a greater degree of employee participation in industry.
There are two reasons why a Green Paper is preferable to a White Paper. First, there is still considerable confusion over what is meant by participation and, secondly, any real move towards industrial democracy and widening employee participation is incompatible with the present industrial relations legislation. The problem could have been overcome if the Government had announced simultaneously in the Gracious Speech that they intended to repeal the Industrial Relations Act. This was not done. It is best, therefore, that we wait till we get a Government prepared to repeal the Act before we get legislation on employee participation.
Any moves towards industrial democracy are incompatible with the present Industrial Relations Act because they are based on two diametrically opposed views of industrial relations. The first view is that the real problem in industrial relations is that the system has failed to respond to the growing challenge from below and that what needs to be done is to change a largely authoritarian industrial system in which management controls the important decisions that affect workers' lives. That was broadly the approach of the Donovan Commission in 1968.
The second view accepts that there is a challenge from below but considers that the more effective way of tackling the problem is by imposing a system of legal restraint on trade unions to suppress the challenge. This approach is enshrined in the Industrial Relations Act, though it is very much a traditional approach. Its antecedents can be traced back to the views expressed in the majority report of the Erle Commission on trade unions of 1869. However, its long historical antecedents have not made it any the more effective. On the contrary, the Industrial Relations Act has proved that it is almost totally ineffective in dealing with the industrial relations problems.
There are four main charges against the Act. First, it has helped to sour the general industrial relations atmosphere. Other factors, including inflation, have played their part. It has not helped the improvement of industrial relations. To have the Act imposed on a unitedly hostile trade union movement has not helped to do the things that the Donovan Commission said should be done.
The second charge against the Act is that in some cases it has promoted strikes. It is not too much to say that some of the interventions of the National Industrial Relations Court seem to have been more concerned with the prestige of the court than with industrial relations problems. In the Con-Mech case, the sequestration of the AUEW funds has not only probably gone beyond the legal bounds of the court's authority but has actually worsened the situation.
In any event the National Industrial Relations Court's legal functions, whatever Sir John Donaldson may say, prevent it from acting as an effective mediator, even though an acceptable form of mediation is so desperately and urgently needed in industry today.
There is the related problem that the Act is being used as an authoritarian crutch by employers too incompetent to sort out their own industrial relations problems. Con-Mech is not the only example. I understand that there are 30 other such cases awaiting judgment by the court.
The third charge against the court is that it has undermined other institutions which might otherwise have played an important rôle. A Commission on Industrial Relations type of organisation has a job of work to do in investigating industrial relations problems. Since the Act was introduced, the CIR has been almost totally ineffective.
The fourth charge against the Act is that it has been ignored by many employers and trade unions. I know from personal experience that many unions and employers have agreed to ignore the Act. This is not because they want to keep the law as a long stop, as the Minister suggested, but because they think that it is totally irrelevant to their problems. Let us face the facts. The Government did not pass this legislation to have employers and unions agree to make agreements legally non-enforceable or to have the vast majority of unions deregistering. They did not pass the legislation to have agreements made—I quote the ICI agreement in particular—in which employers and unions agree not to use the Act. The truth is that this is a law which is widely loathed and ignored and which brings disrepute on our legal system.
The Government's determination to press on with the Industrial Relations Act regardless has set back industrial relations at least five years. What is needed in industrial relations is an acceptance of the fact that there is a challenge from below—a challenge to a largely authoritarian system—and that that system should be changed. That is where proposals about industrial democracy come in.
Two points need to be made about that straight away. First, employee participation is not about things like communication, job enlargement or job satisfaction, though these are important in themselves. It is about power. I hope that the Government recognise that.
Secondly, any system of participation must be based on the extension of collective bargaining and of trade union and shop floor power. That is one reason why I am wholeheartedly against any system of works councils such as that so uncritically espoused by the Liberal Party, which, I am sorry to say, has no representatives in the House on an occasion when such important matters are being debated.
I believe that such a system of works councils would be extremely divisive and would weaken the collective bargaining system.
The case for worker representation on boards is that major decisions over future corporate strategy which affect workers' lives are taken without workers having any say. It is true that as yet there is no consensus about what should be done. I am attracted by the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) about a flexible approach, although I think we should examine closely the idea of a two-tier board system with, as the Trade Union Congress recommends, a 50 per cent. worker representation on boards. A worker representation of only one-third as put forward in the EEC Fifth Draft Directive runs the danger of giving a democratic facade to managerial prerogative without any of the reality of power.
I believe that with a new system of extended collective bargaining such as the Labour Party advocates, with workers' representatives on boards and with an extension of public ownership, employees will begin to have a real say in the running of industry. I believe that nothing less will match the needs and aspirations of workers today.
I shall not try to follow the strictures of that veteran class-war warrior the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney), nor shall I try to follow the more misogynistic chemistry of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). In the short space of time available I shall try to address myself fairly strictly to the references in the Gracious Speech to those aspects of policy for which the Secretary of State for Employment is responsible.
The right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), in the course of a fairly thoughtful contribution, made a number of remarks which cannot be left unchallenged. First, he criticised the Government for the total neglect of unemployment in the Gracious Speech. I would put it to him that the situation is now quite drastically transformed, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State so rightly pointed out. For example, my own region of the West Riding, which when the Labour Government left power had an unemployment situation far worse than the national average, has an unemployment situation now exactly on a par with the national average, due very largely to the regional development and fiscal policies of the Government.
Then the right hon. Gentelman went on to say that, as Scipio had destroyed Carthage—delenda est carthago is the quotation he was looking for—so a Labour Government would approach the total repeal of the Industrial Relations Act. I should have thought that was a very inappropriate analogy, because he will remember that nothing arose from the ashes of Carthage, no new structure emerged. I am sure he would want a more sensible approach than the total destruction of the whole edifice of British industrial relations. What appeals to me most about the Gracious Speech is that employment policies present a totality of approach. They are a coherent strategy, and that strategy is surely to maximise the effective use of the resources of British manpower and womenpower.
If one takes the three measures—first, worker participation in industry; secondly, health and safety legislation; and, thirdly, legislation in the field of unfair discrimination—it will be seen that each has a part to play in maximising the effectiveness of the British work force. In particular, I should like to welcome the measure which is presaged in the field of industrial safety. This is an area in which we can not only make the face of capitalism more acceptable, but throughout industry, whether in the public or private sectors, we can minimise the tragic effects of apathy, bad machine design and poor supervision. It is a very important social measure, and I am glad to say that it has had ample public and private discussion. It is not the sort of measure that will be rushed through by Government with insufficient consultation.
We have had the Robens Committee's report, which proved to be an extremely useful piece of research. If we are talking about cosmetic measures, as the right hon. Member for East Ham, North did, I would say that the appointment of a committee of inquiry like the Robens Committee some three weeks before a General Election is a much more cosmetic measure than are positive Bills introduced in what could be the last Session of a Parliament. But that report was a very useful document, and the fact that the Department of Employment has produced its own detailed response to that committee very well in advance of the legislation augurs well for its passage through this House.
There are some aspects of that legislation that I wish to amplify. First, although Lord Robens and his committee quite rightly criticised apathy as the main source of industrial accidents and related diseases, much recent research—as was shown by the survey of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology of 2,000 accidents in 1972—brings new light to bear. This report made three suggestions:
I suggest that the Health and Safety Commission, with its executive, will have two very important rôles; first, a statutory rôle of ensuring that the design and the supervision of machines is such as to prevent industrial accidents to the maximum extent; and, secondly, an extremely important educative and informative function to try to minimise the degree of apathy and to persuade work people of the positive rôles which they as individuals can play in health and safety matters within their place of work.
I would refer to other important aspects of employment matters in the Gracious Speech. Legislation concerning unfair discrimination against women should consist of a positive approach to give more responsibility to women throughout society. I go along to a certain extent with the remark of the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), that there is a pool particularly of married women which could be utilised at work, women who are unwilling to take up opportunities at present but could do so if it were manifestly clear that they would have responsibility at work commensurate with their qualifications.
The other matter to which I wish to refer is employee participation. Here I go along very much with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice), who, in an extremely well-informed contribution, suggested, unlike his right hon. Friend, that the Green Paper approach is right. I do not follow his analysis which suggests that, because the Industrial Relations Act must be repealed first, we cannot at this stage move towards legislation. I believe that this is supremely the field in which there must be the fullest consultation between both sides of industry, Government and other representative bodies. It is not an area of legislation which, contrary to the beliefs of the right hon. Member for East Ham, North, can be foisted upon the public. It is not a situation in which the State, as he said, "needs to give a pretty hefty push." It is an area in which the State and the Legislature need, above all, to be guided by the wise advice of the trade union movement, the CBI, industry and all sorts of other bodies. Therefore, I welcome very much the Green Paper approach.
I find the prospects in the field of legislation vis-à-vis employment during the coming Session extremely encouraging. I find the legislation proposed helpful, and I think we should remember that it is legislation which is going to be brought forward at a time when unemployment is rapidly falling. We now have a pool of unemployment of some 500,000 but I think that at a time when job vacancies are almost equal to the number of unemployed we must take note of the fact that in an age of earnings-related unemployment benefit the unemployed person can now afford to take much longer to shop around and look for the job which is appropriate to his qualifications. This is certainly happening at present. In my own industrial area of Bradford, for example, the state of affairs is such that anyone wanting to advertise a vacancy in the local paper has to wait days for his advertisement to appear because there are so many of them.
We are building on a basis of achievement, and we are building to produce a more just and fair society, an aim totally in line with my party's principles.
It is an interesting paradox of today's debate that we have heard from so many Conservative lawyers who do not like the Bill on discrimination against women because, they say, it is not a matter in which the law can operate, yet at the same time the Front Bench—the Minister who is to wind up is a lawyer, too—cannot envisage industrial relations except on the basis of law. The remarkable lack of enthusiasm among some Conservative lawyers for the use of the law in certain fields of human activity is certainly novel, and I wonder why it should be so. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that it relates to women.
There is a certain lack of enthusiasm also for the Queen's Speech itself among some Government supporters. For example, for the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle), with his long service in the House and his long devotion to supporting his party's Whip, to be critical in the way he was today indicates a surprising lack of enthusiasm.
It is in some ways appropriate that we should be debating the Queen's Speech on a day which is normally devoted to private Members' matters, since so many of the items in the Queen's Speech are non-contentious, the sort of things which we usually discuss on Fridays. In fact, they are matters for private Members' legislation, which only goes to show that the Government are running out of steam and running out of ideas. What is more, the Queen's Speech is full of bromides—so many that the Government are in grave danger of being prosecuted under the Drugs Act for over-prescription.
One of the themes of the Queen's Speech is the appeal to women's votes. One understands this piece of cynicism on the part of the present Government, for they were elected on a promise—directed specifically at women—to cut prices. We all know that that was a lie, and we now know that the Prime Minister is seeking to get out of it by saying that he did not mean what he said. Yet here he is back at the same old game of trying to "con" women. Does he think that women are so unintelligent? Do the Government so lack respect for women that they will try again the same "con" game?
Much of the Queen's Speech is directly beamed at the woman voter, and one such item, of course, is the antidiscrimination Bill. I am inclined to echo some of the comments about it of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner). But perhaps this Bill is only another example of the doings of a Government who always confuse public relations with government, a Government bent not so much on legislating as on putting a good face on what they do—rather like someone sending a Christmas present which is all packing and paper with nothing in it. That is typical of this Government.
Who discriminates? Very often it is the Government themselves who discriminate. In the public service, there is discrimination against women—and I shall not be caught in any of the terminological arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Buckingham, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) about that. He took refuge only in "skilful" and "unskilful".
In the Government, local authorities, schools and education and medical services there is and has been for a long time discrimination against women. We do not need a law to deal with it. We need better government and better administration. Consider phase 3 and women's pay. One hon. Member told us today that we could not achieve equal pay because the law would not come into operation until 1975. Surely, if the public authorities wanted equal pay and if they wanted to abolish discrimination, they could do it. They do not need any law to help them.
The Gracious Speech contains a great deal about law and order. That is not surprising from this Government. They have to keep their troops happy, they have to keep their men and women of Selsdon happy, and because of that there is a great deal in the Gracious Speech on that topic. For example it says:
At home, My Government's continuing aim will be to secure a prosperous, fair and orderly society.
Later the Gracious Speech says that
Priority will continue to be given to programmes in support of law and order
That comes from a Government who themselves break the law and provoke people to break the law by passing bad laws. It comes from a Government bent on clipping the currency to a degree which no right hon. or hon. Member in this House has ever known. In the Middle
Ages they would have been hanged for it, yet today they expect a vote of thanks.
That is not the only thing they are guilty of. Look at house prices and land. The Government encourage a lack of thrift and they encourage people in robbery. No one will suggest that the prices young people have to pay for a house today are anything other than robbery, yet those prices are a direct result of the Government's administration. For them to talk about law and order is indeed Satan rebuking sin.
The Housing Finance Act is the biggest piece of blackmail I have even seen on the part of any administration. Under it local authorities are told either to operate the law or be removed from office. The Government know that the authorities regard it as anti-social and immoral, and yet they tell the authorities that if they do not operate it they will be removed from office and their ratepayers will be penalised in the process. That is bad law [Interruption.] It may be the law, but it is about time that the lawyer who is to reply for the Government today recognised the difference between good law and bad law.
It is no good prating to people "This is the law". The law must be justified to them. A Government must indicate to the people that the law is based on certain principles of natural justice. They have to prove to people in this sort of society that the law is morally acceptable. The Industrial Relations Act is not a law which can be proved to the ordinary person to be based on a natural sense of justice, fairness and equity. That is what the debate should be about.
I am very surprised that some lawyers do not understand that the average English man and woman are very sensible to what is just. Most of them do not need laws. The hon. and learned Gentleman comes from the North. He will know that up there the average chap does not need a law, because he knows what is right. The average chap will say of some of the legislation passed by the present Government "This may be law, but it is not just."
I had hoped to say something about a particularly stupid Bill that the Government are bent on introducing, the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill, but in view of the time and the undertaking I gave you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not weary the House with that matter today beyond saying that it is one of the most stupid pieces of law the House has ever had the misfortune to face.
I cannot attempt to follow up the great variety of subjects raised by hon. Members in the debate, but I particularly wish to welcome the Government's intention, as contained in the Gracious Speech,
to help to remove unfair discrimination on grounds of sex in employment and training and to widen the range of opportunities open to women.
This worthy aim provoked a rather cynical response from the Press. Immediately following the Queen's Speech, the Evening Standard's front page banner read:
It's the wives Ted's chasing
The following morning a headline in the Guardian read:
Heath makes play for woman voter".
That was an entirely understandable reaction, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) has appreciated.
I have participated in successive debates over the years on equal pay and discrimination, yet I never cease to be amazed at the Government's chameleon-like attitude to women. Policies are changed to blend with the surrounding mood.
Following the General Election, when the women had put their trust in the Prime Minister, the Government were defiant. In 1971 they rejected the idea that legislation was the right way to deal with discrimination, and later the Prime Minister said that that was his view. Then there was a thaw, and at the beginning of this year Ministers were agreeing that some form of legislation might be considered. Now, as the Government ship is sinking, there is complete capitulation.
We on this side welcome the proposals, even though the motives behind them may have something to do with the cost of essential foods, and the fact that women make up 52 per cent. of the electorate and are sick and tired of rising prices. But, the result of this surrender, the consultative document "Equal Opportunities for Men and Women", is weak, vague and totally inadequate. It is limited in scope and application, and is a feeble weapon with which to fight discrimination. It is an exercise in window dressing and a total disappointment, especially after comprehensive reports from two Select Committees have shown the way Parliament should be acting in this matter.
In his speech on Tuesday the Leader of the Opposition recommended to the Prime Minister that he should read the Labour Party's Green Paper, "Discrimination against Women", which was endorsed by our recent conference. All Government Ministers should read this Green Paper and emulate it as a basis for anti-discrimination. It is price 20p and obtainable from Transport House.
The Green Paper's 24 far-reaching proposals, based on wide-ranging evidence of long-standing discrimination against women, provide the basis for legislation on the scale which is required. It recommends that education, credit banking, mortgages and insurance facilities, the provisions of services as well as employment training and advertising should be included within the scope of an independent enforcement agency. It makes further recommendations in education, training, social security, children's allowances, single parent allowances, taxation and family law. Those are all necessary factors in any effective anti-discrimination legislation.
That is in total contrast to the Government's disappointing document of missed opportunities. The last Labour Government believed that the most fundamental and essential measure to eliminate discrimination was the Equal Pay Act. There is no mention of that in the Queen's Speech, yet the practical implementation of the Act, according to a survey carried out by the Institute of Administrative Management, is as far off as ever.
It is ironic that that survey was published on the same day as the Government announced their legislative proposals on discrimination. The survey showed that there has been a move in the last year away from rather than towards equality. The consultative document admits that its proposed measures are an essential complement to the Equal Pay Act and are based upon the Act.
The Department of Employment's new earnings survey, which was published on Wednesday, shows that the average weekly earnings for men for full-time work, including overtime, is now over £40. The figure for women is now £23 10p. That shows not only that women are low paid but that the Government have acted contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department said yesterday, when he claimed with great passion that the Government had throughout their incomes policy been biased in favour of the low paid. So much for the women who earn £23 10p a week. The gap between the average male and female earnings is, as can be seen from the figures, incredibly high despite the Equal Pay Act.
Where is the orderly progress towards the Act's implementation? Is the hon. and learned Gentleman convinced that the Act will be fully enforced by December 1975? If so, what is his evidence? Will he issue a second report on its progress through the Office of Manpower Economics?
The Government have refused consistently the demands of the Opposition, trade unions and women's organisations to exercise powers under Section 9 of the Act. They have refused to introduce an intermediate stage to ensure that women's rates shall be at least 90 per cent. of the appropriate male rates by the end of the year. It is too late now. Stage 2 of the incomes policy made it impossible for those women below 85 per cent. of the male rate to reach 90 per cent. this year. Stage 3, by its interference with collective bargaining, restricts still further the implementation of the Act. It prevents both free negotiation of equal pay before the end of 1974 and the implementation of long-term phased collective bargaining agreements already providing for the achievement of equal pay in 1974.
There has been no vigorous and determined Government effort to implement the Equal Pay Act. There would appear to be poor prospects for any anti-discrimination legislation based upon the Act if it is to be treated in the same laconic manner.
The consultative document is remarkable for its omissions and weaknesses, particularly where positive and effective action could be taken. The most serious omission is to exclude education from the scope of the enforcement machinery. Yet the Department of Education and Science, which is not represented for obvious reasons, has done nothing to eliminate widespread discrimination in education. That is because it has not admitted publicly that that discrimination exists. That is in spite of the formidable evidence of a Select Committee in another place. I have asked the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Education and Science to do something about the quota of women in medical schools. She said that she could not and would not. We have asked here to do something about the positive discrimination against women head teachers of mixed schools. These are the kinds of discrimination about which something positive should be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) mentioned occupational pension schemes. These will not have to provide benefits for women and men on the same basis, and this is totally unacceptable. In consequence, women will be forced to rely on the inadequate provisions of the Social Security Act 1973—and we all know that that Act fails to provide equality of treatment and discriminates against women, for reasons repeatedly stated by the Opposition.
It is welcome that the Bill will make it unlawful for employment agencies to discriminate in offering vacancies and submitting clients to jobs. But would the Government consider setting up a register of private employment agencies and making evidence of discrimination grounds for an agency not to be registered? At present, women make up 38 per cent. of the labour force, and the Government's proposals on training and re-training are to be welcomed as far as they go. But do they go far enough?
Is there not tremendous wastage of potential skilled labour? Less than 8 per cent. of girls leaving school take up apprenticeships but over 40 per cent. of boys do so—and 75 per cent. of those girls are apprenticed as hairdressers. Only 10 per cent. of working girls get day release, compared with 40 per cent. of boys. Should not the industrial training boards be required to discriminate positively in favour of women and to produce regular data indicating the training position for men and women separately? Should there not be separate targets for men and women trainees in the expansion of the training opportunities scheme? Why is there a difference in the free training courses for the single woman without dependants and the single man without dependants.
So much for the limited scope of the Government's document. The legislative proposals are equally limited. The industrial tribunal machinery would be cumbersome but, according to the Minister of State, speedy. Past experience cannot lead us to rely on speedy action through the industrial tribunal machinery. The whole enforcement of the law will rely on the individual victim being prepared to complain. A man or woman seeking redress against discrimination would need to be exceptionally persistent, patient, determined and courageous and prepared to face the risk of victimisation.
The legislation using the enforcement machinery of the Industrial Relations Act would be unacceptable to the trade unions and in consequence would be made less effective. There is need for a totally independent statutory body dealing solely with discrimination. It should be easily accessible and provide effective remedies, legal aid should be available—that is extremely important—and it should operate speedily. Most important, it should include machinery for dealing with discrimination in education, housing and credit facilities, and not only in employment. How do the Government justify excluding everything but employment?
I would support local bodies sorting out grievances at local level, provided that they could do so fairly quickly and cheaply. At least they would be more accessible. The Equal Opportunities Commission, although it would be able to conduct wide-ranging inquiries, would be a totally edentulous body lacking in real power—an observer rather than a body able to do something It will be the Government's poodle. It will be able to inquire only into something determined by the Government and will report back to the Government, not to Parliament. It will have no enforcement responsibili- ties, and there is no guarantee that its recommendations or views will be acted upon. It should be able to investigate groups of companies or individuals and the industries against which allegations are made. There is no provision for this in the proposed legislation.
The proposals on discrimination in the Queen's Speech are welcome because they represent some limited but inadequate long-awaited progress in the right direction. But, in view of the Government's past record of apathetic inactivity on this matter, we must regard the forthcoming legislation with cautious optimism. Anti-discrimination legislation on the statute book is useless unless it is good law, law that is both workable and enforceable. It is equally useless if it is not actively implemented by the combined enthusiasm and efforts of Government, industry, trade unions and the general public.
Even if both these conditions prevail, legislation of itself will not remove discrimination and prejudice. But it will create a climate of opinion in which discrimination and prejudice will find it harder to thrive and is a necessary precondition for an effective strategy to promote equality of opportunity and treatment.
I agree with the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) that this has been a wide-ranging debate. We have dealt with the problems of the dairy industry, the problems that beset pensioners and also the whole subject of employment and discrimination. I shall concentrate, as did the hon. Lady, on that part of the Queen's Speech which deals with the Government's proposals on discrimination against women.
I thought that the hon. Lady's strictures on the absence of a Minister from the Department of Education and Science were a little unfair. I am sure she will appreciate that the debate on the Queen's Speech is always wide-ranging, and she will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science replied to yesterday's debate when education matters were being dealt with.
But any hon. Member could have raised that matter with her or with her Department. The hon. Lady will also be aware that the Green Paper setting out the Government's attitude was issued in the name of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
I would point out to the Minister that the document to which he refers was put out by three Departments equally and that at the Press conference which was held with a flourish of trumpets an education Minister played a great part; but we have had no education Minister present today. There have been fewer people present today than there were at that Press conference.
I should have said that the foreword was written by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Since the hon. Lady has made those remarks, I must point out that it is perhaps unfortunate that the Shadow Home Secretary is not here today, or indeed any Shadow Minister for that Department. They were here yesterday, as was my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
I am sure the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) will agree that it would be inappropriate for me to rush in and make comments on individual disputes which he mentioned, though I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment noted what he said.
May I make three points about the right hon. Gentleman's speech? I thought it was somewhat surprising that he felt able to criticise the present level of unemployment while totally ignoring the figures of job vacancies which my hon. Friend mentioned and also ignoring the highly critical remarks that the leader of his own party made recently about the lack of manpower in the service industries. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was standing logic on its head when he suggested that if a group of people threatened disruption because they claimed violently to oppose an Act or the action of a court, that was in some way the fault of the court.
Perhaps I should say "the Act" rather than "the court". The right hon. Gentleman's point was that disruption which occurred following certain incidents before the court was somehow the fault of the Act. I suggest it is turning logic on its head to say that those who use disruption as a means of expressing violent opposition to democratically enacted Acts of Parliament are not at fault but that it is the Act which is at fault.
The right hon. Gentleman specifically asked about the recent action of the court and referred to Section 154 of the Industrial Relations Act. He will appreciate that I cannot give an authoritative legal answer on the interpretation of the law. I understand, however, that if he looks at Section 154(3) he will find that the restrictions refer to cases involving awards of compensation or damages whereas the fine recently imposed upon the AUEW was a fine for contempt of court. There are no statutory restrictions on the funds that can be seized from an organisation in contempt of a court order.
It will be acknowledged that we are not concerned simply with a narrow legal point, although it probably requires greater study and a more authoritative ruling than the Minister has been able to give at short notice. Does the Minister accept that it was not the intention of the Government—or was it—that the political fund of an organisation could be raided in this way?
Section 154 makes it clear that certain funds are exempt from being "raided", to use the right hon. Gentleman's word, for orders dealing with compensation or damages. It does not in any way inhibit the powers of the court in reclaiming sums representing fines ordered for contempt of court. I am not a Law Officer and it would be wrong for me to give an authoritative answer. Since the right hon. Gentleman specifically raised this matter I think I can say I have reason to believe that his concern is misplaced.
Whatever was said by the right hon. Gentleman at the end of his speech about Scipio, we would none of us begrudge him his little bit of day-dreaming when he referred to future possible Acts of a Labour Government—so long as we all accept that he was day-dreaming.
I turn now to the speeches dealing with discrimination against women. May I say to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) that his speech scarcely accorded even to his own normal standards of objectivity in many of the comments he made about the Government document. Legislation to make unlawful sex discrimination in employment, enforceable through industrial tribunals, and for the setting up of a permanent commission to promote equal opportunities for women is consistent and, I suggest, follows naturally from much of what the Government have done in the last three and a half years in removing unfair discrimination against women. This is reflected in many of our laws.
I remind the hon. Gentleman, as I mentioned when I spoke in the debate on his Bill last year, that before the last election my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when Leader of the Opposition, set up a committee, of which I had the honour to be a member, the purpose of which was to review the existing law with a view to deciding what changes would be desirable to remove discrimination against women to enable them to participate equally with men in the political, economic and social life of the community and to remove discrimination concerning their rights and obligations within the family. A substantial number of the recommendations of that committee have been carried into effect during the lifetime of this Government. One or two of the hon. Member's sweeping remarks about the present position concerning rights over the matrimonial home and matrimonial policy showed a lack of appreciation of some of the changes which have been made.
We have removed substantial areas of discrimination against women which existed in the law. We removed the tax discrimination, by which many married couples were paying higher tax than they would have paid as single people. We have improved the position of the widow concerning estate duty. We have passed an Act—this is a vitally important matter referred to in the Labour Party pamphlet of which we have heard—providing for the first time for equal rights of guardianship over children to both men and women. We have provided for the first time the right of women to a separate domicile from that of their husbands. We have imposed upon women similar duties and responsibilities for jury service as those which apply to men. We have removed the provision under which damages for a widow could be reduced on the prospects of her remarriage. We have assisted deserted wives and helped in various matters over the payment of maintenance and the imposition and enforcement of maintenance orders.
One matter which has been raised by many hon. Members—the question of discrimination in the granting of credit—will be dealt with in the forthcoming Bill on consumer credit. The comments of the hon. Member for Fife, West about the fairer distribution of matrimonial property, none of which I dispute, have been largely overtaken by certain decisions of the Court of Appeal and are dealt with in recommendations recently produced by the Law Commission.
It is therefore appropriate that we should bring forward legislation to deal with another definable aspect of discrimination, namely, that which exists in employment—and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Robert Taylor), although critical of some of the proposals, conceded that there was clear evidence of unfair discrimination against women in employment merely because they were women—and at the same time set up an Equal Opportunities Commission to keep all these matters permanently under review whose purpose will be to investigate where discrimination appears to exist, where opportunities do not appear to be equal, to have an educative rôle towards the public—with respect to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), a rôle both to educate and to attempt to break down out-of-date barriers of prejudice—and to advise the Government on action where such action is necessary.
The consultative document makes it clear that the Equal Opportunities Commission will not have a rôle of enforcement. Its rôle will be that merely of inquiring and reporting. The rôle of enforcement, when it comes to discrimination in employment, is carried out by the industrial tribunal. The enforcement of any recommendations which the commission may make will depend on the recommendations and the legislation on those recommendations.
This subject—to put it colloquially—has been around for a long time. I intended to say to the hon. Member for Fife, West that he could claim to have been a doughty supporter of this cause for many years and could take some credit for the two Private Members' Bills which he produced, but in fairness I must say that during the debate on the Bill last year I made it clear that the Government had sympathy with its purpose and were anxious to do away with unfair discrimination wherever it was shown to exist. I said that we were anxious to provide equal opportunity for women in employment, training and education, and that we realised that we could not afford to ignore the available reserve of latent skill and ability, but that before the Government brought forward their proposals we wished to await the outcome of the Select Committee then sitting in the House of Lords and of the study set up by the Department of Employment to discover what kind of measures were likely to have an impact on discriminatory activities where they were found to exist.
That is what we have done. We have had the advantage of those reports and of the report of the Select Committee of this House on the hon. Gentleman's Bill. Now we have produced our consultative document. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the fact that it does not necessarily recommend similar means of action to deal with the areas of discrimination referred to in those reports does not mean that it is not of value to the Government in coming to their conclusions. The document certainly covers those areas in which both Select Committees believed action was necessary and on which they recommended action, although I accept that it differs in the kind of action it suggests.
That is where I thought the hon. Gentleman was somewhat unfair in his attack on what he called the "paucity" of the document. He took as one example the failure of the document to say anything about single-sex schools. I
will read what the Select Committee said on this matter:
We accept the principle of parental choice in education, however imperfectly it may be possible to exercise it in certain areas. We are, therefore, not opposed in principle to single-sex education and we would not recommend legislation which would make existing or future single-sex schools and other educational establishments illegal.
It is somewhat hard, when the Government take the same view and do not recommend legislation to abolish single-sex schools because they believe that would be wrong, that the hon. Member, who was a member of the Select Committee and did not dissent from the Select Committee on that point, should criticise the Government for having failed to recommend what the Select Committee specifically said should not be recommended.
I realise that the hon. Gentleman speaks for himself, but I have tried to ascertain the matters on which there had been dissension in the Select Committee, and, as far as I can see from the report, nowhere does it appear that the hon. Gentleman expressed dissension from that recommendation.
I read the recommendations and the conclusions.
I again emphasise what my hon. Friend said, that this is a genuinely consultative document. We are grateful for the comments which have been made during the debate, and we welcome any further comments on the document up to 30th November.
I shall say nothing about the employment provisions, because they were covered by my hon. Friend. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall not deal with the question of the removal of various statutory restrictions which he said that I might have time to deal with, other than to say that we believe that if we are to provide equal opportunity for women it is necessary to remove many statutory restrictions which are no longer relevant to modern conditions in factories.
I want, instead, to say something about the Equal Opportunity Commission. Behind the various specific matters we have recommended we see as an essential background our proposal to create an Equal Opportunities Commission. It is an essential part of our long-term strategy of changing attitudes to identify and create equal opportunities for women in practice and to suggest what more can or should be done.
It is not true to suggest that no mention has been made of the composition of the commission. We have made it clear that its members will be drawn from both sexes, with experience of industry, education, the professions, and women's organisations. It will carry out important and wide-ranging investigations into the relevant positions and opportunities of men and women, and it will make reports to the Government.
Although it is true, as has been said, that the Government will have to approve those matters on which the commission chooses to report, the House will note that it has power to recommend to the Government areas in which it believes such inquiries should be made. We have made it clear that the questions of the professions and of the right to obtain mortgages are two early matters which we regard as appropriate for review by the commission.
The commission will not have enforcement powers. By this we mean, first, that it will not be concerned with enforcing the law making discrimination unlawful in employment and training, and, secondly, that it will not have powers to enforce its findings.
As regards the enforcement of the law, we believe that the industrial tribunals are a better method than the sex discrimination board recommended by both Select Committees. This is because we believe that the industrial tribunals are more readily and freely available and that their make-up has the expertise appropriate in matters of this kind.
The hon. Lady has criticised our choice of the industrial tribunals. The Equal Pay Act was introduced by the Labour Government and provides that complaints about non-equality in pay and such matters should be dealt with by the industrial tribunals. This was one reason which led us to believe that the industrial tribunals would be an equally appropriate means for the enforcement of our regulations in employment.
I have been asked why we have not said anything about education. The Select Committee basically recommended that we should conduct a thorough review of the powers. We have conducted a thorough review of the powers of education Ministers to deal with discrimination in schools and education establishments and have concluded that they are adequate to ensure that discrimination does not occur in establishments under the control of education authorities.
Although there will be no legislation as regards education, it does not mean that no action has been taken. One of the commitments was that there was to be a meeting between the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, representatives of the University Grants Committee and the Department of Education and Science to consider the whole question of entry into universities and colleges of higher education. I understand that that meeting will take place on 9th November and that the question of admission to medical schools will then be discussed.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is satisfied that the powers which she has at present are adequate and can be used to ensure that discrimination does not occur. I really must reject the hon. Lady's strictures about equal pay. I believe that we are moving towards the implementation of equal pay by the end of 1975, as both parties are committed to do and as the Act requires. Indeed, the recent study by the Office of Manpower Economics shows that if one looks at the gap——