Essential Supplies and Services

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th January 1979.

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Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South 12:00 am, 29th January 1979

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a further report to the House on the effect on the United Kingdom as a whole of the current industrial disputes in the haulage industry and elsewhere on supplies and services and on the Government's arrangements for ensuring the maintenance of essential supplies and services.

Over the last two weeks we have seen a rapidly changing situation. The road haulage strike has been made official and the code of practice has been agreed with the Transport and General Workers' Union for maintaining essential supplies and services, I emphasise that the other union concerned, the United Road Transport Union, is also operating the code. Whilst the forecasts of shortages for food made two weeks ago have proved wildly pessimistic, there remain a number of problem areas. However, the situation is being closely monitored so that any necessary action can be taken at short notice, and I can report that generally supplies and services are at present being maintained.

I and my colleagues are remaining in daily touch with the situation as it develops and are taking urgent steps to deal with problem areas, whether brought about by the road haulage dispute or by other disputes.

First, with regard to food, generally speaking supplies of goods in the shops are adequate. Housewives have shown great common sense. There have been problems of supply with some commodities, particularly salt, fats and sugar, and these problems have been greatest in the northern parts of the country. The position on salt and fats is now improving, and the Government are endeavouring to ensure a better distribution of sugar so that supplies will be better in the North-West. The position elsewhere appears to be reasonable.

On the question of animal feed, farmers and feedstuff manufacturers are successful in maintaining supplies to livestock despite difficulties, and there has been no slaughtering of stock.

As to the road haulage dispute itself, the House will be aware that since my statement last Wednesday various settlements of this dispute have been reported from a number of regions.

As to the supply of essential and other goods, we have now told the TGWU and the URTU that in the light of growing public anxiety about the threat to supplies and employment and, in particular, the effect on exports, it is essential that the code of practice should be applied strictly at the docks and at the inland container terminals. This means that there should be no hindrance to any movement out of the docks or terminals of priority supplies whether or not carried by Road Haulage Association vehicles, and no hindrance to the movement of other sup- plies of all kinds when carried by vehicles which are not party to the present dispute.

We have emphasised to both unions that it is vital that pickets should not obstruct these movements and must not victimise those drivers. This is fully in keeping with the code of practice and the instructions given by the union to its members. The Government hope that in this way firms not involved in the dispute having business at the ports will find it possible to resume their normal operations.

On Friday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry gave the House a report on the serious effect that the road haulage dispute is having on industry. Figures that have since become available show that production in manufacturing industry has suffered a further decline to less than 85 per cent. of normal and that the number of workers laid off was, by the end of last week, probably around the quarter-million mark. Certain key industries such as chemicals and metal manufacture, have been particularly hard hit.

In my statement to the House last Wednesday, I referred to the action taken to ensure that there should be no delay in the movement of priority medical and pharmaceutical supplies, having previously made clear to the leadership of the TGWU that we expected action on this in accordance with the code of practice. Although there remain one or two difficult areas, the problems are now much reduced and the National Health Service is receiving adequate supplies.

While there has been concern about all-out industrial action by the ambulance services in certain places, this has not materialised and emergency cover continues to be provided throughout the country. However, the situation remains fluid, and should emergency cover be withdrawn in any area the Government will, as before, provide alternative arrangements.

As to burials, I understand that union officials are reviewing the problem today following representations by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Dealing with the water industry, in particular in South Lancashire and South Wales, the number of properties still relying on standpipes has substantially declined, to a position where about 800 households are without piped water supplies and a further 800 are suffering from low pressure or intermittent supplies. However, the Government are ready to deal with these and other problems as they arise, and will continue to keep the House informed. The Government hope that those concerned will avoid action that causes further damage and hardship to the public.

I now turn to the question of picketing. I understand that there has been a reduction in secondary picketing in many parts of the country, and the operation of the code of practice has alleviated many of the major difficulties.

As to the task of the police, I think it necessary to emphasise again that it is no part of the function of the police to go beyond their proper business of enforcing the criminal law of this country. I am confident that they are discharging this responsibility fully. I have not interfered in that function in any way, nor would it be right for me to do so. The reports that I have had from the police continue, as before, to suggest that, in general, picketing continues to be peaceful.

As I have said, my colleagues and I will continue to keep the House informed of the situation.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that since his last report industrial disputes are affecting even more seriously the interests of patients in hospitals and the public services generally? Secondly, as the essential movement of goods is being disrupted by pickets and picketing, as he admits, with serious effects for industry, employment and the export trade, is it not time for some clear leadership to be given from the Government? Why in these circumstances—

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

The right hon. Gentleman has the wrong week.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I have the wrong week, he should have listened to what his right hon. Friend said about the serious effects on industry. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the laying off of 250,000 people is not serious, he had better say so. In all the circumstances, why is it that the right hon. Gentleman continues to refuse to give advice, within his powers, to chief constables on the enforcement of the law? Has he at least sent them a message explaining the concept of lawful intimidation of his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General? If not, why not?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I have sent by telex to all police forces what my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said in the House. The chief constables are aware of the criminal law of the land. They do not need instruction on that. Chief constables need to be advised about the criminal law only when it changes. The police find it offensive when Opposition members keep on talking about advising and instructing the police. I am not a Minister of the Interior and I am not prepared to be one.

Chief constables know their job. It Opposition Members think that something is wrong, they should bring it to the notice of chief constables. If chief constables think that there is a criminal charge to be brought, it is their job to do so. Last year during other disputes I was told to be a Minister of the Interior and to tell the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis how to act at Grunwick. I was not prepared to do so. I am not prepared to do that now. Chief constables make their decisions on these matters.

I have said what I have to say about the ports. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the deteriorating situation and picketing. In East Anglia, at the haven ports—Felixstowe, Ipswich, Colchester and Harwich—I understand that it is expected that there will be a return to normal operations. I understand that there is practically no picketing at Avonmouth. As for Humberside, I understand that movement is beginning at Hull. I shall check that later. If I had acted in the way that right hon. and hon. Members wanted a week ago, I should have been wrong. They were taking small pieces of information and building them up, not realising that we have a system to improve the situation. The supply of food and animal feedstuffs is better than anybody considered it would be a week ago. There is a problem in the ports, but it is getting better. What I have said in the House about that I have said to the unions.

There is a growing problem in industry, but it is not nearly as serious as practically all Opposition Members said that it was a week ago.

Photo of Mr Sydney Bidwell Mr Sydney Bidwell , Ealing, Southall

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the major requirement is to get the road haulage industry strike settled? When that is done, much of the other stuff will become an abstraction. Is my right hon. Friend aware that some road haulage employers have been sufficiently progressive to agree a £65 minimum wage for drivers of 20-ton lorries and accept a shorter working week? Many of the employers who have not agreed to those terms are being egged on by the Tories to resist a settlement.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

If everybody gets this settlement, nobody will be better off at the end of the day. The settlement is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. We have no status in that, because Opposition hon. Members wanted free collective bargaining. Free collective bargaining they have, and our status is small.

Photo of Mr Emlyn Hooson Mr Emlyn Hooson , Montgomery

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is the function of the police to maintain the criminal law, but is he aware of any summonses issued in any constabulary arising from secondary picketing? Does there not appear to be a tacit agreement between chief constables not to intervene? Is there not abundant evidence available of money being obtained by certain pickets, even though it is sometimes paid to a named charity? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that even local authorities have had to pay money to obtain salt for the roads? What does he intend to do about that?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I understand that there have been nine arrests on the picket lines. I shall endeavour to find out whether they are for secondary picketing, with all that is involved. I have discussed these matters with the police. If the hon. and learned Gentleman believes that more has taken place and that the police should have arrested people, it ought to be reported. I know that in the London area there has been a policeman present at every picket line. The Commissioner told me this. The evidence relating to any incidents ought to be given to the police, and it is for the police to decide whether a criminal charge is to be brought. It is not a matter for me or for anyone else in this House.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , South Antrim

Does the Home Secretary agree that Northern Ireland industry, particularly export industry, is particularly vulnerable, as there is an additional set of docks? Will he and his colleagues do their best to persuade the unions concerned to put an end to the confusion that exists within their own ranks, as this is already doing permanent damage to jobs in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I shall certainly pass that request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is concerned with the problems of docks, whether at Belfast or Larne. It is a difficult problem, although the hon. Gentleman will know that there is very little picketing of any sort taking place in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that the Conservative Party is more than eager to inflame an already difficult position? Does he further agree that the Conservatives dread any good news from the picket lines and never pay any tribute to the massive restraint of the vast majority of the pickets? Will he accept from me that there has been hardly any mention from either side in this House of the fact that a fortnight ago a picket was killed at Aberdeen? Each side seems to have kept its mouth closed about the fact that that poor man was run over by a lorry. That is the reality. There has been not a word in the media about that death or from the Conservative Members.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I regard it as very bad news that, in the instance referred to by my hon. Friend, a man was killed on the picket line. If it had been the other way round, no doubt we would have heard a good deal more about it.

As my hon. Friend knows, we have been operating a monitoring system on a seven-day week basis. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry knows that it is working extremely well—far better than under any state of emergency. I should like at some stage to hear from the Opposition a word of praise for this, and particularly following what I announced about medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. There was plenty of shouting last week when I said that there was a problem, but not once has an Opposition Member said how good it is that the position has now changed.

Photo of Mr Maurice Macmillan Mr Maurice Macmillan , Farnham

Will the Secretary of State tell the House to what extent, when day hospitals are closed down because of industrial action, the health authorities are discouraging voluntary workers from filling the gap, on the ground that this might exacerbate the industrial situation? Will he also confirm that it is not necessary to have a state of emergency in order to enable voluntary workers to carry out services for old people and others who are debarred from getting that help at the moment by reason of the closure of day hospitals?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in saying that it does not need a state of emergency to enable this sort of thing to be done, or many other things about which there was misunderstanding by some people last week. I shall be having a meeting this afternoon on this, and the up-to-date position will be reported to me. I know where I stand on this issue in my own constituency and in the country as a whole. The sick, the aged and the dying need to have attention, they should have attention, and there has been a very sympathetic approach to us on this from the unions. We need to translate it into action.

Photo of Mr Leslie Spriggs Mr Leslie Spriggs , St Helens

Will my right hon. Friend accept that, regardless of some of the remarks which have been made this afternoon, we thank him for his statement? Will he also accept from his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Labour Benches that he has a duty to perform, and that is to deal with the low-paid workers? Will he undertake to make representations to his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Cabinet, so that they understand clearly that Labour Members want a settlement of the issue?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

As I represent a low-paid area, I can say "Hear, hear" to that. If, in addition, my hon. Friend were to suggest that the higher-paid workers would not want extra pay to restore differentials, perhaps we would be in business.

Photo of Mr William Clark Mr William Clark , Croydon South

As the Home Secretary has sent the Attorney-General's speech to chief constables, has he followed it up with a clear explanation of what it meant? Possibly chief constables are even more confused now than they were before they received it.

It is obvious that in many parts of the country trade unionists on picket lines are not observing the code of practice. Will the Home Secretary, with his colleagues, use the special relationship that they are supposed to have with the trade union movement in order to get the movement to take disciplinary action against the members of the trade unions who are not observing the code of practice?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

Chief constables are intelligent men. They understand what my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General said, even if the hon. Gentleman does not.

Regional officers of the Transport and General Workers' Union have met in London and officers from the union have gone to other parts of the country. The dispute became official about a fortnight ago. These officers are going round the country, trying to deal with the position and to unlock matters. When the history of the dispute is written I am sure that it will be agreed that this was a far better way to deal with it than by declaring a state of emergency, on an emotional spasm led by the editors of newspapers who do not know what they are talking about.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

Will the Home Secretary look again at that part of his statement which dealt with burials? Will he make it clear to the trade unions concerned that merely to offer to review the position is quite inadequate? Will he further make it clear that it is a matter of deep personal repugnance to all hon. Members that those who have suffered bereavement are being used as a political football?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

That is absolutely right. There is no justification for this. I want to be informed of the full extent of it, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is looking into it. There have been meetings over the weekend.

The figures from local authorities have varied, as have the views about what is wanted. We are prepared to do something. We are not prepared to stand idly by. It would be easy enough, for example, to decide, in these circumstances, to bury someone in the middle of an old cemetery, when it is not clear how many people are buried there, and where problems of damage to nearby graves can arise. It is not a matter, either, of burying people in a new field, as might be the case with a war cemetery. We have to look very carefully at this question. We shall do something, because something will have to be done. But I am not prepared—neither is my right hon. Friend—to have dead bodies kept in a disused factory in Speke. I spoke to trade union leaders about it this morning and they are not prepared to accept it either. Clearly, something has gone wrong and we must put it right.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Since it is clear, as it should have been from the beginning, that the drivers will win considerable wage increases, would it not be better to encourage the Road Haulage Association to settle and not to prolong the dispute, as the Opposition want? This point applies equally to the low-paid municipal workers whose dispute is now coming to a head.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

Both the union and the RHA want the negotiations to be on a regional basis, because the union is organised regionally, as is the RHA. My hon. Friend will enjoy what I am about to say. It is a matter of free collective bargaining, in which we have no say. Even with primary picketing, somebody gets hurt. I do not like the system very much.

Photo of Mr Terence Higgins Mr Terence Higgins , Worthing

Will the Home Secretary confirm categorically the statement that all supplies to the pharmaceutical industries are now getting through the picket lines? As the Attorney-General's statement last week was a little opaque, will the Home Secretary say whether an individual who has nothing to do with a particular dispute and joins a picket line is or is not acting in furtherance of that dispute?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I am not seeking to avoid answering the hon. Gentleman's last question, but it is not for me to say. It is not part of my role as Home Secretary to do that. I realise what the hon. Gentleman is driving at, but it is a matter for the chief constable concerned. In many cases, where chief constables have their own prosecuting authorities with them, it is for them to decide what they do in that respect.

As for the movement of pharmaceutical supplies, the great majority of cases have been dealt with through our monitoring unit. If there is one that has not been dealt with, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me know about it. In some instances, where supplies cannot be produced in one area, supplies to that area have been arranged through the monitoring unit. In general, the system has worked extremely well. A few weeks ago, on the oil issue, we had the same co-operation in terms of essential supplies. The purpose of our monitoring unit is to produce essential supplies. If it is not achieving that purpose in any instance, please let me know.

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

In view of the Opposition's smears last week on the Attorney-General's statement, did my right hon. Friend notice that Mr. Justice Ackner acted on the remoteness principle set out by the Attorney-General? Will my right hon. Friend confirm, quite contrary to the comments in the press, that that decision did not finally dispose of the issue of secondary picketing, but was a decision based on a set of facts which are highly debatable and in relation to which the union has not yet had an opportunity to put its case?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I do not wish to get involved in the last point; I am not quite sure whether it embraces the sub judice rule. My view on the matter is simply a personal one. I think that the matter should be left to take its course.

My hon. Friend is right in his comments about Opposition smears. One usually finds that smears emanate from those who do not understand what is going on.

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

Is the Home Secretary aware that in the operation of the code to which he referred, extortion is rife on the picket lines throughout our ports? Is he also aware that in my constituency in the area of Southampton I have had complaints following his advice but that when I have asked people to give evidence to the police they have told me that they are not prepared to do so because of their fear of the consequences?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

Anybody who goes to his Member of Parliament with a complaint on these matters and then draws back from taking action deserves all he gets—certainly if he is British.

Photo of Mr Ioan Evans Mr Ioan Evans , Aberdare

As discussions are now taking place between the Government and the TUC, will the House be given a statement in the near future on the outcome, because it is obviously most important for good government that there is co-operation with the trade union movement? When taking part in these talks, will my right hon. Friend draw attention to the constant Opposition attacks on the trade union movement and make clear that trade union members and their families constitute 12 million people?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I would be attending that meeting if I were not here answering questions. I have no doubt that that aspect of the matter will be reported to the meeting.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

Will the Home Secretary stand on the doctrine that those who are frightened by intimidation, whether lawful or unlawful, deserve all they get? Since the Home Secretary has sent to chief constables the Attorney-General's statement, is he prepared to comment on that statement in a calm rather than in an excited way? Is it not the case that, whereas unions may in certain circumstances be justified in removing a union card, that can occur only after a full and fair hearing of the member's case? Do the Government believe that it can be lawful for that position to be threatened by a picket standing at the factory gate?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

On the topic of threats to withdraw union cards, I wish to point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman that there are procedures that must be followed. Even in the closed shop, where procedures have been laid down in the last two years, I understand that under the present arrangements set up by the TUC the plaintiff—if I may so call him in these circumstances—has always won. However, that is not what I was referring to. My view is that if a person believes that he has been wronged, he should go to the police with the evidence and stand by it. That is the important issue, rather than that we should have to suffer from allegations that are thrown across the Floor of the House but are not taken to the police. If people are afraid in that way, I can only tell the House that I would not be afraid to take such action in this country. I trust the police, and that is my message to people who feel strongly about these matters.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I propose to call those hon. Members who have been on their feet.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The hon. Lady would not have said that if she had been on her feet.

Photo of Mr Roderick MacFarquhar Mr Roderick MacFarquhar , Belper

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Labour Members welcome his exposure of exaggerated predictions by the Opposition? In view of the seriousness of the statement made by the Secretary of State for Industry on Friday, is the Home Secretary able to make a sober prediction of the impact on industry by the end of this week if the dispute continues?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

We are worried about the exaggerations to which my hon. Friend draws attention. Last week statements were being made on those lines which are now seen to be exaggerations. Therefore, it is important to examine the situation carefully. Of course there are problems, particularly in regard to exports. Last week we bent our minds to dealing with the pharmaceutical supplies and other important aspects of the code. As from last Saturday we have been dealing with other matters. We hope that the problem will be solved. Since there are now no pickets at Avonmouth, I hope that that will be seen as an improvement in export prospects.

Photo of Mr Robert Rhodes James Mr Robert Rhodes James , Cambridge

What will happen if the unofficial industrial actions now being taken by the municipal and public sector employees are made official? What will the Government do then?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The GMWU dispute is official.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Does the Home Secretary share my view that now that the road haulage dispute has been settled, if only on a regional basis, the Tory Party is getting a little anxious, because it would like to see the trouble continued? Now that my right hon. Friend is becoming a little more expert in these matters, will he turn his mind to another industrial dispute, namely, that at the Nottingham Evening Post, where the Tory management has locked out 28 journalists? Despite the fact that the Newspaper Society—no Marxist outfit by any yardstick—suggested that those journalists returning to work after a seven-week strike should not be subject to victimisation, and since that advice does not appear to have been followed, will my right hon. Friend use his officers and urge ACAS to resolve the dispute to get these men back to work?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I am against victimisation by any side in a dispute. I lived in Nottingham for a while at the beginning of the war. I cannot honestly say that the Nottingham Evening Post is an essential service.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

Does the Home Secretary accept that his remarks about food supplies were somewhat more realistic than was the statement made to the House last Thursday by his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, who, among other things, said that there were adequate supplies of sugar and margarine in the shops? That was certainly not the experience of far too many housewives last weekend. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in addition to the commodities he mentioned there are major problems in the supply of cooking oils and New Zealand lamb—commodities of importance in pensioner households? Does he accept that all these shortages of essential food commodities are directly attributable to continued secondary picketing? Does he think that this is still occurring because the pickets remain blissfully unaware of the code of practice, or is the voluntary code of practice not effective?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

The code of practice, or, indeed, a state of emergency, relates only to essential supplies. In regard to cooking oil and New Zealand lamb, I shall examine the position. My feeling, speaking metaphorically, is that many shop owners last week had signs outside their establishments which said "Panic buy here".

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby

My right hon. Friend referred to settlements being reported. In which regions have settlements been reached, will the Home Secretary give his estimate as to the number of lorry drivers who have resumed normal working, and in which regions are further negotiations taking place?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

We are not party to these negotiations. We receive the information via the monitoring unit. The figures seem to indicate about 10,000 out of 40,000 or 50,000, but I shall check that this afternoon. Because it is being done bit by bit—and I use that phrase advisedly, as it is used in the trade—it is difficult for us to get accurate figures.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

Is the Minister aware that the strikes that are seriously affecting the Queen Elizabeth hospital at Birmingham have widened and now affect other hospitals, including the general hospital and the East Birmingham hospital? These hospitals are sending patients home or refusing admissions, thereby causing serious personal distress. Is the Secretary of State aware that extra measures, such as the stopping of sterilisation, raise the threat that emergency hospital services cannot be maintained? Will the Secretary of State undertake that the Government will take the necessary steps to ensure that emergency hospital services are available to the people in Birmingham?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I shall certainly do that. I shall soon be having my afternoon meeting with the Secretaries of State, and I shall bring that to their notice immediately, just as I did last week.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that although there is an underlying difficulty, the position is not really as serious as that described by The Sun last week in its usual inaccurate, vicious and partisan way, when it referred to 3 million unemployed? Will he also confirm that it is interesting to note that the Tories think that workers are important only when they are on strike? Any effort by the Government to improve the position of workers by industrial democracy or planning agreements is fervently resisted by the Opposition. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that contempt for workers is illustrated by the fact that not one Member of the Opposition has formally expressed regret for the death of a picket at Aberdeen?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I agree that last week and the week before many journalists and others got it wrong, because in many cases they wanted to get it wrong. But there are problems for exports at the ports. There is no doubt about that, and I would like to solve that problem. There must be a better way than free collective bargaining, or even primary striking. The best way is to involve the workers in the running of industry.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

The Home Secretary keeps telling the House that chief constables are in no doubt about the legal position. This simply is not so. Not all chief constables are clear about what constitutes secondary picketing or the extent to which it is legal or illegal. From what the right hon. Gentleman has heard this afternoon, surely he will admit that there is an element of doubt about all this. Will he therefore now send further advice defining this to chief constables, and redefine it for the public and for the House?

Secondly, will he now take the opportunity of answering the question of what exactly is legal intimidation?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

On the first point, the hon. Gentleman represents Bedfordshire. I presume that he is telling me that the chief constable of Bedfordshire does not understand the criminal law. If so, I will pass this information on to the Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I regard what the Home Secretary has just said as an entirely unjustifiable slur.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I can understand that, but I am concerned with the point of order for me.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

Is it permissible for the Home Secretary, with no justification whatsoever, to make such a remark about somebody who is not here to defend himself? Will he now withdraw it?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I have every confidence in the chief constable of Bedfordshire and every other chief constable. They do not need instruction on the criminal law.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I know what I would regard as intimidation. If anybody tried physically to prevent my going in to work or if anybody told me, as I was crossing the picket line, that he would see that I lost my union card, even if that were within the union rules, I would regard that as intimidation, and if I thought that I was being intimidated I would inform the police.

Photo of Mr Ian Lloyd Mr Ian Lloyd , Havant and Waterloo

In the narrower context, the Government have asked the country to have confidence in their capacity to ensure the continued supply of food. More than half of our foodstuffs are imported. Can the Home Secretary say how the Government will finance the continued import of foodstuffs, which can be paid for only by exports? In the broader context, has he seen the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and will he comment on it?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I have not seen that statement. In the long run, if we were not exporting to pay for imports, there would be real problems in this country. But I say again, even if there were only primary picketing there would be problems. No one on the Opposition Benches is saying that primary picketing should not take place.

Photo of Mr Michael Marshall Mr Michael Marshall , Arundel

Is the Home Secretary aware that of the 250,000 people unemployed that he mentioned earlier, 26,000 are British Steel Corporation employees? By the end of this week, unless there is a radical improvement, half of the independent steelmakers—that is, 37,000 employees—will also be laid off. What can he do—indeed, what can the code of practice do—to resolve the problem of getting essential steel supplies to the customers?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

On the code of practice, if the supplies are carried in own-account vehicles—vehicles that are not carrying goods that would normally be provided by an RHA supplier or by the National Freight Corporation—there should be no problem. We are looking at this matter on the industrial side. We have taken it step by step, and this is being looked at this weekend.

Photo of Mr Peter Rost Mr Peter Rost , Derbyshire South East

Will the Home Secretary admit that the Government are running away from their duty to educate our children? Have we not reached a sorry state when the only action that the Government propose to take is for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to advise teachers and children to cross picket lines? Did she cross the picket lines at Grunwick?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

The hon. Gentleman's last point has been dealt with many times before, and he has got it wrong. He is asking for the local education authorities to be run from the Department of Education and Science. As long as we have the system of local education authorities, this problem will arise. Those who live in the areas affected will have to deal with the LEAs.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I shall call one more hon. Member from either side who rose after I had said that I would call only those who had been standing. I shall not be able to follow that course another time if Members rise after I have ruled on how many will be called.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Brigg and Scunthorpe

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are those in the country, the trade union movement and the Road Haulage Association who are pleased that the situation is getting back to normal? It seems that only Conservative Members are displeased at the turn of events. Is my right hon. Friend further aware that individuals in the Road Haulage Association who have spoken to me this weekend are severely critical of the association, in that it is seeking to provide platforms for the Tory Party to make political points rather than getting on with the real job of negotiating a way out of the dispute?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

If my hon. Friend has any examples of intimidation by the Road Haulage Association, perhaps he will bring them to the notice of the chief constable. I am glad that it seems—it is not certain yet—that this dispute is ending, so that I can shut my unit down. But I shall be sad for pay policy.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I refer to the Home Secretary's astonishing observation that if people report true facts to their Member of Parliament but are not prepared to go into court because they do not believe the police can protect them from violence for the rest of their lives, they "deserve what they get". Does the Home Secretary really wish to live with that observation?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I certainly would not want those people to be victims of violence, but I must point out that in this country the police need to be supported at all times. People must not throw around allegations, claiming that something has happened. Instead, they must go to the chief constable, and they will be protected. Of that I am absolutely sure.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

The Home Secretary must realise that it is very easy for him, from the security of the Home Office, with his police protection, to be brave about these matters. Does he realise that he has no right to be contemptuous about the fears of those who are in the front line of this conflict and who are being intimidated?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

My father walked out of Wales after picketing in the South Wales miners' dispute. He suffered for what he stood for. I would not be afraid, because I believe that one must stand up for what one believes in. It is wrong that numbers of cases should be raised by Conservative Members in the House but not brought to the notice of the chief constable.