Does my hon. Friend agree that the Industrial Relations Act has been a remarkable piece of House of Commons history, since it was introduced with a view to settling disputes and yet probably has cost this country several hundred million pounds in disputes which have arisen out of its provisions? Now that that Act is at the end of its tether, does he not also agree that we are witnessing not merely some members of the CBI coming out in favour of removing that legislation from the Statute Book but back-bench Tories protesting about a pittance of £10 million while, at the same time, the Conservative Front Bench wants to forget all about it?
The results of the Act have been most remarkable, in the light of the high claims made for it when it was introduced as a Bill. The figure given in my original reply took no account of the extra costs attributable to disputes over the Act. No fewer than 840,000 workers have been involved in stoppages resulting from the operation of the Act, whilst 1·6 million workers took part in the TUC's day of protest against the legislation, and the TGWU and the AUEW have together already lost £190,000 in fines and other costs incurred by them.
Much work has been done by the tribunals. We had this very much in mind in considering our repeal Bill. We propose to re-enact the unfair dismissal provisions, with considerable improvements. If the money spent since 1971 in connection with that Act had, instead, been spent on improving conciliation and arbitration procedures, we should be in a much better position than we are now.
Will my hon. Friend consider the costs incurred by the trade union movement as a whole—particularly by the trade union to which I belong, the National Union of Railwaymen—which has had to fork out many hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs as a result of the Industrial Relations Act? Will he examine the situation to see what reimbursement can be made to those trade unions?
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has demonstrated to the House that he is not unsympathetic to any proposals for reim- bursement so far as that is possible, but it is only fair to point out that we cannot reimburse the total adverse costs and undo all the adverse effects of that piece of legislation.
I hope that there is no suggestion that we have not considered this a serious point. We are looking very carefully at the effect that our proposed change in the legislation will have on the staff involved.
Surely the Secretary of State and the Minister of State are aware that this code has been very widely welcomed and seen as a useful and valuable contribution to industrial relations generally. Do they agree that it seems wrong now to throw away that valuable contribution merely because it is linked with the Industrial Relations Act?
I have indicated already that we regard the unfair dismissals provision as a very valuable one, which we shall seek to improve with the repeal Bill. But that is an exception to the general view that we take about the 1971 Act. The repeal Bill includes certain essential provisions about legal immunities for workers in unions. But our substantial proposals for legislation to replace the Act must await the Employment Protection Bill. We can consider the code of practice idea at that stage. The form that it might take will need closer examination.
The code will have no statutory basis and no statutory connection with the legislation from the time of the repeal of the Act, but, as I have said already, we shall be quite happy to examine the idea and concept of a code in connection with a later piece of legislation for employment protection.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares the desire of so many others that the Bill should be brought forward with the utmost speed. I have always understood that the proper time to discuss particular clauses in a Bill is when the measure is brought before the House. In that sense, we shall proceed according to normal practice.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the real concern in trade union circles about the actions of the NIRC, thrashing around in its death throes, in the sequestration of union funds? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to put those adversely affected by the actions of that unacceptable court in the position that they would have been in had the court never been brought into existence, and so take the heat out of the potential frustration between the court and the AUEW?
There is a clause in the Bill which it would not be proper for me to divulge in detail because the measure is being presented today. There are clauses which deal with the transitional arrangements, and we shall discuss them in the House. Those clauses tackle some of the issues that my hon. Friend has raised, but I must acknowledge not all, because we have not found it possible to deal with some issues by the method suggested by my hon. Friend. I assure my hon. Friend that there is no subject to which I have given more attention than the danger that the Act will go on poisoning our industrial relations, even in its dying days. This is a matter of great concern and we are doing everything that we can to see how we may overcome the problem.
Will the right hon. Gentleman keep in mind that his real contract ought to be with the British people as a whole, and that a large number will look critically at the Bill tomorrow to see whether it will be a case of one law for trade unions and another for everyone else?
If people look at it searchingly for such a conclusion to comfort them they will find nothing of the sort. They will find that we are repealing the 1971 Act and making some improvements in the situation, and not creating the position that there is no law governing trade unions. In one sense we shall be reverting to the excellent laws that prevailed in this country for quite a long time, some of them having been introduced in 1875 and some in 1906. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may say that those are distant dates, but they were better Acts than the 1971 measure.