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Mr. Eadie : Perhaps my hon. Friend will let me carry on. The Minister is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. If he is concerned, as I and my hon. Friends are concerned, about having orderly industrial relations that have been thought out and developed, he will take back his proposition, re- examine it, rectify its imbalances and force the employers to indulge in consultation and conciliation following the result of an industrial ballot.

11.38 pm

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : I wish to speak only briefly. The whole House has listened with attention to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) talking about Weil's disease and rats in mines, but tonight we are debating the danger of us once again having the "English disease" and becoming the sick man of Europe. That is why I am so disappointed that the Opposition intend to divide the House and to vote against this code of practice which can only help to improve industrial relations.

It is important that the country should have good industrial relations. The Labour party should remember its record when it was in power, when every year millions of days were lost through strikes. Between 1974 and 1978 in the private sector, some 390 working days were lost per 1,000 employees. Since then, the figure has dropped to 236 per 1,000. That shows that the legislation is working and that we should encourage its use.

I have today received a report from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce about a survey of the north-west chambers of commerce. It shows that there is confidence in future profitability. How on earth could exporters continue to have confidence in their profitability were it not for employment legislation that enabled them to run their businesses properly? The report states :

"One heartening result is an increase in orders for local exporters. Nearly half of those involved in foreign trade reported an increase in both deliveries and orders overseas."

That shows that the north-west is performing well. I do not want it to return to the days when there was a Labour Government, when industries were riddled with strikes and there was no hope of manufacturers and exporters looking forward with confidence. I hope that Labour Members will stop and think before they divide the House tonight. I want to hear from them exactly what policy the Labour party has on such legislation. What position, in law, do they expect the unions to have? Do they expect real sanctions? Does the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who has spoken about sanctions for the courts? Where does the Labour party stand on sequestration?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman should stick to the motion before the House.

Mr. Thurnham : The Labour party's policy on points of the law is relevant to this motion, and I should be pleased to hear more about that policy.

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11.42 pm

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central) : I speak in this debate with some experience of the issue as I was a trade union official for 12 years and during recent years have been involved in industrial ballots. I am not opposed in principle to ballots, but I am opposed to the one-sided nature of codes of practice such as the one before us tonight. It has nothing to do with democracy or with improving industrial practices. The section headings in the code include : "Whether an industrial action ballot would be appropriate. Preparing for an industrial action ballot.

Holding an industrial action ballot.

Following an industrial action ballot."

Assuming a vote is in favour of industrial action, that then takes place. Where is the code for when a dispute is resolved? Where is the democracy and the good industrial practice when it is possible to end an industrial dispute with only a show of hands? I accuse the Minister of sheer hypocrisy in peddling this shoddy little document as an act of democracy. It is as undemocratic to return to work on a show of hands as it is to strike on a show of hands.

The code has nothing to do with democracy. It is a further step down the road of anti-trade union action. It makes it as difficult as possible to strike and as easy as possible to return to work. It should be rejected for those reasons, if for no other.

11.43 pm

Mr. Patrick Nicholls : With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I say that, in such a short debate, it is not possible to do justice to all the points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I shall try to extract the common themes in what has been said.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) opened the debate for the Opposition on the basis that the code could be criticised for what it was not, not what it was. He said that it had nothing to say about employers' roles in these matters. The important point to remember is that this is not a code about employers calling strikes. It is not a code about what employers might be doing. It is a code about strikes and about the trade unions that call them. It is surely right in a situation such as this that there should be a ballot. The argument that the code can be criticised simply because it does not address the role of employers in the situation seems to me not to be tenable.

The hon. Member for Stretford also seemed to be criticising the code for the fact that it would not automatically solve the problem of strikes. Quite obviously no code will do that. It is impossible to outlaw strikes and it would not be right to attempt to do so. At the end of the day there will always be situations in which working people will feel that they have to withdraw their labour. So criticism of the code on the basis that it will not stop strikes does not seem to me to have any validity whatsoever.

The code addresses a very important principle. Withdrawal of its labour by a work force is obviously a serious step that should not be taken lightly. All the working people involved ought to be able to ensure that they are given a vote and that it is conducted in a proper way. That is the purpose behind this document.

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Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : I thank the Minister for giving way when time is so short. Does all this mean that the Government are to put forward a code for employers in industrial disputes?

Mr. Nicholls : The hon. Lady misses the point. We are not dealing today with a code about employers ; we are dealing with a code about the conduct of strikes. The hon. Lady will have to make a decision in due course--very soon, indeed--about this code, not some code that her party would introduce in the somewhat unlikely event that it was ever called to govern.

The curious thing about what the hon. Lady has said--and it has been echoed in a number of Opposition speeches--is that it is based on the really ridiculous proposition that if a ballot is conducted lawfully and in accordance with the code that should be an end of the matter. At that stage the employer should be expected to say that the workers have broken their contract of employment but it does not matter ; they all agreed on what they would do, therefore he will not take any further action. That is a bizarre proposition--so bizarre that it was not adopted even by the last Labour Government ; and if it was so bizarre as not to be adopted by them, one would not expect it to be advanced by the Labour party now. But that is the line that is being taken today.

The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the code being one-sided and laying great stress on using only postal ballots. I really wonder at times what it is that so upsets the hon. Gentleman when he considers this code. Surely he will be the first to admit that there are circumstances in which ballots can be conducted in a way of which he would thoroughly disapprove. That has happened before, and it may happen again. It is surely right that there should be some arrangement to ensure that it does not happen.

When the hon. Gentleman says that this is effectively a code which is to be used against working people and not against employers, he simply could not be more wrong. He was supported in that view by a number of other hon. Members. When the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) talks about the Alliance having had a good, consistent and clear record on matters of this sort he takes a highly selective view of history. But I suppose that if one cannot decide what one's own party is called, one cannot decide what its policies are either.

What we have to face is this. In a few moments' time Labour Members will go into the Lobbies and apparently vote against this proposition, against the idea that there should be postal ballots. There are no "Hear, hears" for that, and I am surprised. They will say that they disagree with independent scrutiny, with the idea that a ballot should be conducted secretly. For all their yuppie convictions as espoused by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), they will say at the end of the day that it is the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who still represents the real soul of the Labour party--time warped, locked into the language of the class war and knowing nothing about the world in which we live. We have moved beyond the ragged-trousered philanthropist, but the Labour party does not know it.

Question put :--

The House divided :-- Ayes 204, Noes 142.

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Division No. 43] [11.49 pm


Alexander, Richard

Alison, Rt Hon Michael

Alton, David

Amess, David

Amos, Alan

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)

Ashby, David

Atkinson, David

Baldry, Tony

Batiste, Spencer

Beith, A. J.

Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)

Bevan, David Gilroy

Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Bonsor, Sir Nicholas

Boscawen, Hon Robert

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Mrs Virginia

Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)

Bowis, John

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)

Browne, John (Winchester)

Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Buck, Sir Antony

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butcher, John

Butterfill, John

Carlisle, John, (Luton N)

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda

Chope, Christopher

Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Colvin, Michael

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)

Couchman, James

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina

Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Devlin, Tim

Dicks, Terry

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Dunn, Bob

Durant, Tony

Dykes, Hugh

Evennett, David

Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas

Fallon, Michael

Favell, Tony

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

Fishburn, John Dudley

Fookes, Dame Janet

Forman, Nigel

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Forth, Eric

Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman

Franks, Cecil

Freeman, Roger

French, Douglas

Garel-Jones, Tristan

Gill, Christopher

Glyn, Dr Sir Alan

Goodhart, Sir Philip

Goodlad, Alastair

Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles

Gorst, John

Gow, Ian

Greenway, John (Ryedale)

Gregory, Conal

Grist, Ian

Hague, William

Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)

Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)

Hanley, Jeremy

Harris, David

Hayes, Jerry

Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)

Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)

Howells, Geraint

Irvine, Michael

Janman, Tim

Kennedy, Charles

Kirkhope, Timothy

Kirkwood, Archy

Knapman, Roger

Knight, Greg (Derby North)

Knowles, Michael

Knox, David

Lang, Ian

Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)

Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark

Lightbown, David

Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)

Lord, Michael

Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas

Macfarlane, Sir Neil

Maclean, David

McLoughlin, Patrick

McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick

Malins, Humfrey

Mans, Keith

Maples, John

Marshall, Michael (Arundel)

Martin, David (Portsmouth S)

Maude, Hon Francis

Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin

Miller, Sir Hal

Mills, Iain

Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)

Mitchell, Sir David

Monro, Sir Hector

Montgomery, Sir Fergus

Morris, M (N'hampton S)

Morrison, Sir Charles

Moss, Malcolm

Moynihan, Hon Colin

Neale, Gerrard

Nelson, Anthony

Neubert, Michael

Nicholls, Patrick

Nicholson, David (Taunton)

Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)

Norris, Steve

Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley

Oppenheim, Phillip

Page, Richard

Paice, James

Patnick, Irvine

Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey

Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth

Porter, David (Waveney)

Portillo, Michael

Price, Sir David

Raison, Rt Hon Timothy

Redwood, John

Renton, Rt Hon Tim

Rhodes James, Robert

Ridsdale, Sir Julian

Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)

Roe, Mrs Marion

Rossi, Sir Hugh

Rowe, Andrew

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