Employment Bill (Allocation of Time)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 20th April 1982.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry 4:10 pm, 20th April 1982

That is an example—it is one that I was going to quote—of the exaggeration in which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends indulge. I was opposed to the Industrial Relations Act 1971. In retrospect, I am still opposed to it. I do not think that we can solve the problems of or improve industrial relations through a special court with the powers that it possessed, including the power to order standstill periods in disputes and the power to order unions to hold ballots of their members. The practical experience of the early 1970s showed that the legislation was wrong. This is a matter on which both sides of the House should reflect.

The document "In Place of Strife" in 1969 contained many of the proposals included in the Industrial Relations Act 1971. I believe that both political parties have learnt the lessons of those years. The present Government are not bringing forward a great blockbuster of an Act of that kind. In 1980, the Government produced a modest step to change the balance of industrial relations in certain ways. This is another modest step. I for one look forward to further steps on such matters as compulsory ballots before major strikes and compulsory ballots for the election of senior trade union officers.

I believe in strong, responsible and democratic trade unionism. I believe that the trade union movement of which I have been a member since leaving school is falling short of the democratic standards that we are entitled to expect these days. It was a gross exaggeration to compare this measure with the Industrial Relations Act of the early 1970s. The right hon. Gentleman went further. He suggested that the objective of my right hon. Friends was to go back to the Taff Vale judgment. What illiterate nonsense that is. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to make statements of that kind, they should be backed by some reasoned arguments. What has been lacking in recent months has been reasoned arguments.

The Trades Union Congress has failed to make its case on this matter. The recent special conference was a nonevent, not simply because it was overshadowed by the Falklands crisis but because everyone, including the people who were participating, knew that they were not speaking on behalf of this country's trade unionists. I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's statement that perhaps half the nation was against the Bill. In other words, perhaps half is for it. Perhaps half Britain's trade unionists are for it. If a representative number of rank and file trade unionists was to be gathered together in a room of this House—I mean the genuine rank and file in the widest sense—to discuss point by point the clauses of the Bill, it would be found that the Bill had the overwhelming support of those trade unionists.