Industrial Relations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th December 1973.

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Photo of Mr Paul Rose Mr Paul Rose , Manchester, Blackley 12:00 am, 4th December 1973

There are many. The hon. Gentleman knows them full well, because he introduced them in the legislation. I could give a whole list for the next 10 or 20 minutes, but it would be tedious.

My point is that a union is not breaking the law by not registering, though it cannot have the agency shop and loses the protection of sections that would otherwise give some protection. It is a measure of the feeling of the trade union movement that it is willing to forgo those so-called privileges because of the unions' feeling about the Act.

During the passage of the Act I said of the creation of the NIRC that it challenged the sovereignty of Parliament, that judges would assume responsibility for the interpretation of some very imprecise definitions, that the court would have the remarkable task of interpreting 140 pages of legal mumbo-jumbo. The only difference today is that there are many more than 140 pages. Their number has expanded much faster than the economy, almost as fast as the rise in prices. We forecast then all that has happened since. I did not sign the motion, but the passionate feeling of my hon. Friends who did sign the motion in the name of my hon. Friend for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) are a result of the fact that, as I said then, so much of the legislation to be enforced by the NIRC is unenforceable that it will severely damage the prestige and reputation … that our courts of law have".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January 1971 ; Vol. 809, c. 940.] The irreparable harm we then forecast has been done. Sinister things are happening. The Registrar has been registering spurious unions with curious credentials. I am told that the county courts are enforcing judgment debts against funds that are protected under Section 154 of the Act, on the basis of actions in respect of a judgment debt. If that is true, it is an attempt to avoid the protection of the section and it must eventually be reversed on appeal.

There are times when I believe that the unions should go to the NIRC, expose its fallacies and put the Government in the dock. The results of the railway-men's ballot and the miners' ballot have exposed that piece of nonsense.

In a free society, unions have the right, even if they are ill advised, to be as bloody minded as the Government have provoked them into being. They are victims of a doctrinaire and arid imposition of a legal straitjacket that is subject to one interpretation after another, and a marked tendency, which is worrying many of my hon. Friends, to make a new law ad hoc as the need arises.

The result of the use of a wrong instrument to deal with human relations in industry is the Government's singular failure to cut down the number of days lost in strikes. Instead, they have taken it to record proportions, beyond anything we have known since the year of the General Strike. They have brought about a confrontation at a time when the nation can least afford it. Sometimes I wonder whether that is not precisely what they intended.

I only wish the Government would stand by their allies abroad in the fuel crisis, just as they stand by the decisions of the NIRC ; that they showed the same unyielding resistance to blackmail elsewhere as they do in respect of those who risk their lives every day in this country by going down the pits, risking silicosis and other hazards, destroying their health in the pursuit of coal. The Government are willing to stand up to like men to them, but not to blackmail from abroad. A prescription for the Government might be a month at the coal face.