PAY INCREASES (BIRMINGHAM CORPORATION)
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Temporary Restrictions on Pay Increases (20th July 1966 Levels) (No. 5) Order, 1967 (S.I., 1967, No. 424), dated 20th March. 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th March, be annulled.
This is yet another Order under Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act, the compulsory part which we have consistently opposed, the part which was to be temporary. This Order concerns 80 employees of the Birmingham Corporation. The facts of the case are as follows. In 1962, Birmingham Corporation asked management consultants for a report on the working of its transport department. That report recommended that an incentive bonus system for manual workers should be adopted. The recommendations were followed, and consequently the department saved a net amount of about £37,000 a year. The success of the scheme was dependent on the quality of supervision, and differentials between the manual workers and supervisors were to be maintained. Consequently, an award was made to the supervisors. During the three years which followed, the differentials between the manual workers and the supervisors narrowed very considerably. I should, perhaps, say that the supervisors had a basic rate of only between £17 and £26 a week. By the time we reached April, 1965, the supervisors' pay in some cases had fallen below that of those they supervised.
This is a typical case of differentials and of the difficulties, in the absence of adequate differentials, of getting people to take on extra responsibility. In April, 1965, therefore, negotiations began between A.S.S.E.T. and Birmingham Corporation and between N.A.L.G.O. and the Corporation to restore the differential. The negotiations began 15 months before Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister's statement of 20th July. It was admitted that the differentials should be restored. By 20th June, 1966, increased pay was agreed between the Corporation and A.S.S.E.T. and the Corporation and N.A.L.G.O.—that is to say, the pay agreement was concluded [column 218]one month before the July statement. It was agreed that it should be back-dated to 10th August, 1965.
At the point in time, just a month before the Prime Minister's statement of 20th July, these people had a vested right to that increased pay, which could amount to as much as £80. At that time they were entitled to this nest egg, and they could have altered their legal position in many ways because they had that vested right. For example, they could have taken on an increased mortgage payment because they were entitled to that back pay and to that increased pay. They could have altered their legal position in many ways because at that stage they assumed that any right which they had would be upheld in a court of law.
On 20th July, 1966, came the Prime Minister's statement, which, in effect, said that they ought not to have that pay in his and the Government's view. We therefore had the position that before 20th July the men said that they had a right to the extra pay, the employers agreed that they had a right to the extra pay, the courts would have upheld that right and did, but the Government said that they could not have it and attempted to move so that they did not get it. The right was, in fact, tested in the courts in a case between Weaving and Birmingham Corporation on 27th February, 1967. The courts upheld the rights of the man concerned and the money was paid. But the Government did not happen to think that a right which had been tested in the courts was enough to prevent them from making an Order countermanding the payment.
May I refer Roy Hattersleythe Parliamentary Secretary to a great dictum of Thomas Erskine, which, I think, has been completely and utterly abandoned. He was later one of Britain's great Lord Chancellors. He said to a jury, in a very famous case:
“If I were to ask you, gentlemen of the jury, what is the choicest flower which grows upon the tree of English liberty, you would answer, ‘Security under the law’. If I were to ask the whole people of England what return they looked for at the hands of the Government, I should still be answered ‘Security under the law’.”
That is one thing for which the people cannot look under the present Government. Security under law has gone, and [column 219]this cases is proof positive of that statement. Thomas Erskine was a great Lord Chancellor and one would have hoped that the Law Officers of the Government would have attempted to prevent the Government from passing Part IV of the Act, at any rate as it applied to contracts which had already been settled.
On 3rd March, 1967, Michael Stewartthe First Secretary gave notice that he would make an Order under section 29. Naturally, A.S.S.E.T. and N.A.L.G.O. made representations. He decided that there were no factors causing him to modify his Order and on 21st March, 1967, the Order took effect. What that Order attempted to do was to establish the Government view that the men should not have had the increase. There was no justification whatever for any Government to go back on a contract which had already been completed and under which the right had vested one month before the statement of 20th July. Therefore, the A.S.S.E.T. and N.A.L.G.O. members had to suffer under the Order.
The effect on N.A.L.G.O. was even more far-reaching than the effect upon the A.S.S.E.T. workers, because in the meantime N.A.L.G.O. workers in other towns had been enjoying the benefit of certain other increases. There had been a 7 per cent. pay increase which had already been deferred under the stand-still arrangements, but which had come into operation and became payable on 1st February, 1967. The Order stops that increase as well. Therefore, under the terms of the Order, the Birmingham Corporation employees are not entitled to an increase which is in accord even with Government policy.
Further, it means that under the terms of the Order members of N.A.L.G.O. are not entitled to the increments which they should have got even though it is within the Government's policy to allow increments to go through. The Government have drawn up an Order which not only denies those people the increase to which they were entitled at law and to which the Government objected. It denies them the increase to which other members are entitled—the 7 per cent. N.A.L.G.O. increase—and the incremental increases.
I understand that representations were made to the Government, who in the [column 220]first place said that they would look at individual cases. Therefore, the law was displaced by a Government who said, “We might give it back in individual cases.” This morning, in the Birmingham Post, there was an article entitled, “Move to annul an ‘unfair’ pay order” , which made it clear that in the case of the officials the Order denies both the increments and the 7 per cent. as well.
I understand that a letter has gone from a Minister to the Town Clerk of Birmingham to say that the 7 per cent. and the incremental increases can be paid. Under the terms of the Order, however, they cannot be paid, because the Order states that no amount over and above that paid immediately before 20th July can be paid. Therefore, in the first case, the Government violated a contract. Then, they made a new Order. Now, they say that the Order can be disregarded if a letter goes from the Government to say so. There is no security under the law under a system like that.
If the Government continue to operate this kind of Order, we shall be praying heaven knows how many times a week for as long as we can see. The Government are absolutely wrong. We believe that the Order was wrong in the first place and that its terms are wrong. We shall vote against it because we are completely against compulsion. We are completely against any Government who gerrymander with the law in this way and think nothing of the liberties of the people.
Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
At the outset, I must declare an interest in this matter, in two respects. First, I am a member of A.S.S.E.T., which is one of the unions involved, and I think that the Order is a bad one and would have been a bad one whatever union was involved. Secondly, some of the people involved are my constituents, and, they have been dealt with harshly, unfairly and unreasonably.
The hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has set out some of the circumstances and history of the case. I believe that this is about the tenth Order which has been introduced in the House. I find it difficult to understand why the Government continue to introduce these [column 221]Orders. In all, they <??> a few hundred workers. If the Government had not taken these measures, involving only a few hundred men, I do not believe that the prices and incomes policy would have been affected. Having examined most of the Orders which have been introduced——
Order. The hon. Gentleman must speak only about this Order.
Mr. Speaker, I am speaking about this Order. However, I must consider it in relation to the Government's prices and incomes policy, because the Order is part and parcel of it and of the Act under which it is introduced——
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think the Chair unreasonable, but we cannot discuss the Government's prices and incomes policy on this Order, except in so far as it is exemplified by the Order.
Mr. Speaker, I am quite sure that you would not be unreasonable. I have never found you so. All that I am trying to do is to consider the Order precisely in relation to the Act under which it is made, in relation to Part IV, and in relation to the Government's policy.
The present Order affects about 60 people, and all the Orders introduced up to now affect only a few hundred people. For the most part, these measures have no merit, and I cannot believe that to take them against a few hundred people will threaten the existence or implementation of the Government's prices and incomes policy. Nor do I believe what is urged, that if these men are not treated in this way other people whose wages are restrained will feel a sense of injustice.
It cannot affect other people to implement a contract which was made well before Part IV was conceived. It was already agreed in August, 1965, that the settlement which was eventually arrived at between A.S.S.E.T., N.A.L.G.O. and the Birmingham Corporation should be retrospective and should apply as far back as August, 1965, which was almost a year before the freeze came into operation.
In view of the Government's Order, after the legal decision of the courts was [column 222]made, Birmingham Corporation decided to dock these people's wages during the period between August, 1965, and January, 1966. That was a period well outside the freeze and well outside the operation of Part IV. The result is that their wages have been reduced for a period nearly six months before Part IV came into operation. This shows the complete illogicality and unreasonableness of this Order and applying it to cases of this character.
It was contemplated this this agreement, which nobody can say was not a fair and rasonable one, should operate from 10th August, 1965. I agree with the hon. Lady when she says that these men based their calculations, their commitments, and their cost of living on an agreement which it was expected would operate in August.
There is another factor on which I must comment. It is true that the Birmingham Corporation was prepared eventually to pay up, but it was not prepared to do so in the first place. When the Government announced their policy, the Tory-controlled Birmingham Corporation said, “We will be patriotic. We will co-operate with the Government and see that nobody in our employment gets a rise” , but when it was suggested that the rents of Corporation houses should also be restrained, the Corporation said “No” . It was suggested that the Corporation should freeze the rents of its houses, but it said that it could not do that.
Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
On a point of order. Are we, on this Order, entitled to discuss the whole question of rents in Birmingham?
Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)
Further to that point of order. This Order arises out of a case in the courts. The plaintiff in that case was a tenant of Birmingham Corporation. His circumstances must, therefore, be relevant to the matter before us tonight.
Order. It is only relevant if he is one of the men affected by this Order.
I was about to say that Mr. Weaving, in respect of whom the court case arose, was a council tenant, and I have received many letters not only from him, but from other people [column 223]concerned with this Order who are also council tenants. Some of them reside in my constituency, and they are faced with the position that their wages have been frozen, but their rents have been increased by 11s. In these circumstances, one can appreciate that they are suffering from a burning sense of injustice. They believe that they are being cheated by the Birmingham Corporation.
They cannot understand why the Government are prepared to take measures which affect a few hundred men, and in some cases only 20 men, and in this case only 60 men, while they are not prepared to take action against an increase in the cost of living which involves 100,000 people.
Order. This is quite out of order. The hon. Member must come back to the Order.
I would not have raised this matter except that it applies to some of the men dealt with by this Order, and this issue is, therefore, relevant to my case.
Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
I am a little confused now. Do I take it that the hon. Gentleman is opposing the Order which inflicts an injustice on these men, or is he opposing the Tory-controlled Birmingham Corporation? At the moment, we are discussing an Order. I am trying to follow what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I have a great deal of sympathy for the case he is making. Is he criticising and objecting to this Order, which has been issued by his Government?
If the hon. Member had listened he would have heard me say that this is a bad Order which I do not propose to support. I emphasise things as I choose and not as the hon. Member thinks fit. In this case, there is not the slightest doubt that the Tory-controlled Birmingham Corporation deserves——
Order. The hon. Member must not be tempted to stray out of order again.
I should not have been tempted but for the intervention, Mr. Speaker. [column 224]
One of the problems is that too many people believe that this is symptomatic of the Government's policy in respect of the element of compulsion—that while the Government are prepared to introduce Orders imposing restraints on various sections of the workers they are not prepared to do the same in respect of prices——
The hon. Member must take note of what the Chair says. We are discussing an Order. The rules of the House in connection with the discussion of a Statutory Instrument like this are very formal and formidable. The hon. Member must conform to them.
I am trying to keep within the rules of order. I cannot take the Order in complete isolation from the rest of what is happening.
I am trying to help the hon. Member. He may discuss the rest of what is happening on another occasion.
What I have said about other matters I have said in passing. I believe that this is a bad Order. I find difficulty in discussing the question of what is happening to wages in complete isolation from what is happening to dividends, incomes and prices. Those are not the subjects of my speech, but they are connected with the subject matter of the Order. I mention them only in passing. But in deference to you, Mr. Speaker, I shall not pursue that aspect.
I hope that the Minister will tell me something about the 7 per cent. Was the question overlooked by the Ministry when the Order was formulated? If the Order is so ill-digested as it appears to be cannot it be withdrawn? Has the Minister authority to withdraw it and reconsider the situation? If this Order had not been made would there have been statutory authority under the Act for the payment of this 7 per cent.?
People feel aggrieved. They wonder whether this is a vindictive action by the Government. I do not believe that it is. It is probably a mess-up or a mistake. If it is a mistake, and the Order has been misconceived, it may still not be too late for the Government to reconsider the position and to withdraw it. [column 225]
The men affected by the Order feel cheated and wronged. If the Government wish their prices and incomes policy to operate it will have to be accepted by the people concerned as reasonable and fair. This is a bad Order which gives little augury of success for the Government's prices and incomes policy after 20th July. I therefore ask the Government, even at this late stage, to reconsider the Order and whether they must proceed with it. I ask them to withdraw it.
Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)
At this late hour I shall speak only briefly. I rely upon the account of the facts as given by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). I would also accept the version of the facts given by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman). I would differ with him on what he said about the rents policy, which he related to the Order. Birmingham Corporation's rents policy accorded with the Government's prices and incomes policy as subsequently published. I emphasise to the Parliamentary Secretary the strong sense of bitterness and unfairness felt by these men, and their skill and responsibility. Every one of them has risen from the ranks of the manual workers. Their skill entitled them to their special responsibility and it is unfair to treat them in this way.
They have lost their plussage, which was intended to compensate them for the percentage bonuses which the manual workers have been receiving since 1961. With the special responsibility of supervising craftsmen, they naturally expect their position to be kept proportionately fair. They have also lost the 7 per cent. increase, even though it is permitted by Government policy, and their increments.
It would not be enough for the hon. Gentleman to offer to restore the 7 per cent. and the increments. I want him to agree to forget about recouping any arrears from sums paid to these men under a court order. The Parliamentary Secretary has said on previous similar occasions that the Government's best legal advice is that arrears like this would not be recoverable. The special meanness and vindictiveness of the Order is that it specially prejudices the senior men, superintendents of larger garages, who [column 226]are paid little enough for their responsibility at £1,340.
If the Government do not forget about it there will be serious bitterness which will prejudice the running of Birmingham's city transport. These men's skill, knowledge and experience would enable them to move to other jobs often at much better pay in a city like Birmingham. The hon. Gentleman knows the importance of their job and will recognise their skill and responsibility. I hope that he will clear away the mistakes of the past and treat them fairly and justly.
Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
It is a pity that the otherwise good speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) was marred by sneering at the Birmingham City Corporation, when we are supposed to be discussing the Order. The Corporation obeyed this Order. There have always been good relations between the Corporation and its employees and everything said tonight shows that the negotiations were fair and reasonable on both sides. It is a pity that the Government interfered with such good relations that had existed between this Corporation and its employees.
As has been said, the retrospective effect of this Order is particularly serious. I should have thought, from what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) said, that we soon will not be sure whether we are Praying against an Order or a letter from a Minister. I am equally not certain whether it is fortuitous that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) finds himself on the Front Bench to reply to this debate. He is, no doubt, well informed on this subject, of what I have said in the past, and aware of the good relations that have existed between employer and employed in Birmingham. Perhaps it would have been better had the Government placed a different Minister on the Front Bench to answer the debate. However, it is to be hoped that the Parliamentary Secretary will have some good news for us tonight, even if it is to tell us that another letter will be going out from the Minister.
This situation cannot go on. The Government are picking out a very small [column 227]number of people for treatment which they ill deserve. I trust that careful note will be taken of what is being said tonight.
Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)
I support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) and oppose this Order, which—along with an Order made recently in respect of the limb fitters of Roehampton—is possibly among the least defensible of the indefensible Orders made by the Government under the Prices and Incomes Act, a Measure which was conceived in sin and nurtured in folly.
I have an interest to declare in that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Aston, I am a member of A.S.S.E.T.
So is the Parliamentary Secretary.
And I gather that a number of other hon. Members are members of A.S.S.E.T., too. I am a member of the national executive of that Association.
I take up the historical background to this matter which was outlined in an entertaining way by the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). The history goes back to the early part of 1962, when Birmingham Corporation's transport department, after an extensive survey by a work study team, introduced an incentive bonus scheme applicable to manual workers which was designed to increase the productivity of groups of workers through a reduction in the numbers employed, such a reduction being based on the anticipated natural wastage of workers who would not be replaced upon retirement.
On 17th April, 1962, A.S.S.E.T. requested information about the manner in which it was proposed to compensate the supervisory staff for the additional effort that they would be required to make following the introduction of the scheme. This was followed by discussions, but there was no definite outcome and the Association therefore made formal application—that was on 18th September, 1962—for a compensatory payment for supervisors. [column 228]
On 12th December, 1962, the general manager informed A.S.S.E.T. that the Establishments Committee had approved, as an interim measure, that engineering foremen should have a £50 plusage on their annual salaries to take effect from 1st April, 1962. This was granted, but pending further examination of the introduction of a bonus scheme for foremen.
The next stage was that lengthy negotiations ensued on the question of an incentive bonus scheme for these employees. Eventually, agreement was reached in November, 1962, to the effect that the temporary plusage of £50 be revised to 15 per cent. of the basic salary. On 15th April, 1965, a claim for improvement in the plus payment was made. On 10th August, 1965 a decision was taken in negotiation that there would be further discussions between representatives of the unions and of the Transport and Establishment Committees with a view to devising an incentive bonus scheme, and an undertaking was given by management that any agreed scheme should be effective from a date not later than 10th August, 1965.
Further negotiations took place, and eventually the general manager submitted proposals, which were dated 3rd May, 1966. These were accepted on 13th June of the same year and on 13th July, 1966, the Association requested information as to when the agreed new scales would be implemented. On 18th July, 1966, the general manager stated that every effort was being made to include the agreed increases in the August salaries. On 10th August of the same year the general manager intimated that, owing to the terms of the Government's White Paper on Prices and Incomes, it did not seem possible to implement the increases in the percentage plus payment to non-manual staffs in the transport department.
As will be seen from this short history of events, the agreement on percentage plus payment had been won only after several years of bargaining. In the meantime, the members concerned had been performing the additional duties required of them. Birmingham Corporation itself appears to have recognised this, because the agreement, when reached, had retrospective effect to August, 1965. During the whole of this period the differentials were unsatisfactory. Acting on behalf of its members, the Association [column 229]accordingly refused to waive the members' rights under the agreement. Proceedings were therefore commenced in the Birmingham County Court on behalf of A.S.S.E.T. member, Mr. Frank Weaving, for money due under contract.
Early in 1967, the Birmingham Corporation announced that it had decided to pay all the money owing to the members under the agreement, backdated to 10th February, 1966, so that members would lose money for the period from August, 1965 to February, 1966, despite the fact that this was outside the period of the salary standstill.
It was decided, therefore, to proceed to the county court on the claim that this six months' pay had been arbitrarily withheld in defiance of the agreement. As many hon. Members will know, the case was heard in the Birmingham County Court on Monday, 27th February, 1967, and the judge decided in favour of Mr. Weaving and ordered the Corporation to pay the costs of the action.
One can only express surprise that the First Secretary should have considered making an Order in a case like this. In the first place, the frozen six months' payment for which Mr. Weaving successfully sued, related to a period prior entirely to the period either of standstill or of severe restraint. A judgment has been given that the Birmingham Corporation is due to pay these amounts, and the Corporation has 28 days in which to appeal if it so wishes.
Secondly, according to the White Paper, during the period of severe restraint employers are advised to honour existing commitments. An Order, if applied, would prevent the employer from doing so in this case. Thirdly, there is in existence a national wage agreement covering all local government staff, which was negotiated through the National Joint Council for Local Government Services and which provided for two national increases, one in August, 1965, and another in August of last year.
There has already been a deferment of six months in respect of the national agreement increase due in August, 1966, and the Corporation has just begun to pay this following the six months delay. It appears that an Order under Section 29 would have the effect of halting this increase which is due under the percen[column 230]tage plus scheme despite the fact that there has already been a six months' deferment. This, of course, would be grossly unfair and would be interpreted by A.S.S.E.T. members as a vindictive action. If the Order had the effect of causing the Corporation to withdraw the increase, A.S.S.E.T. would have no alternative but to return to the county court and sue for the six months already lost.
Finally, a word about the pay of these employees. The work they perform is responsible and calls for considerable experience of their trade in addition to supervisory skills, yet their salaries range from £800 per annum to £1,340 as a ceiling for a superintendent. Our members of A.S.S.E.T. total a few more than 60. It can hardly be argued that the national interest would be injured if a few employees were allowed to enjoy the benefits of an agreement which took so long to negotiate and the effective date of which was 11 months prior to 20th July, 1966.
Moreover, Birmingham Corporation, while wishing to support Government policy as it sees it, did not feel so inclined over the matter of municipal rents.
Would not the hon. Member agree with the Birmingham Corporation policy on rents?
Order. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) must not ask the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr) to agree, because if he agrees or disagrees he will be out of order whatever he says.
I regret not having the opportunity to answer the hon. Member. The Corporation did not feel so inclined on the matter of municipal rents——
Order. No further reference to rents, please.
Despite recommendations made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government to the contrary—although I must not say this—the Corporation increased the rents of its tenants. As previously mentioned, one of these was our good friend and A.S.S.E.T. member, Mr. Weaving, whose rent was—I am quite out of order in [column 231]saying it—increased by 11s. a week at the same time.
For all these reasons, I submit that this is a very ill-considered and ill-advised Order. I regret, and I say it with a heavy heart, that I for one will not find myself able to support the Government in the Division Lobby tonight.
Mr. Charles Fletcher Cooke (Darwen)
Once again, I must ask the Parliamentary Secretary to address his mind to what will happen when this Order expires in two or three months' time. This is for the third time of asking. On each occasion when we have had one of these Orders the Parliamentary Secretary has asked me to wait until, first, one statement was made about Government intentions, and I waited for that, and then to wait for the second stage of the Government's announcement, which was made today. I am hoping now that I shall not be asked to wait for yet a third occasion, for that would be too much.
There are, as I said before, three possibilities about the exact nature of this Order as it affects existing applications. The parent Act says quite clearly that this money shall not be paid. It does not say that the debt or obligation is extinguished for all time, although I know the Parliamentary Secretary has taken legal advice and come to the conclusion that that is the case. I ask him to reflect on the similar wording in the trading with the enemy legislation. This is a very similar state of affairs. One cannot pay the enemy during wartime, but that does not extinguish one's obligation and the custodian of enemy property usually makes one pay one's debt into a blocked account.
So if the hon. Gentleman compares the wording in this case he will see that, even on that interpretation, it is not beyond a peradventure. If that may be right, it should be settled, and the hon. Gentleman should say definitely one way or the other, otherwise Birmingham Corporation may not be putting aside, as it should, money to meet existing obligations in that way.
Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the final issue in this situation is that it is not [column 232]for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to say one way or the other, but that a further reference to the courts after expiry will settle the matter? Is it not possible, irrespective of the advice my hon. Friend has had, that the Government may find themselves with another shock on their hands from the courts?
I do not disagree with that, coming from another member of A.S.S.E.T., a distinguished member who is obviously sharpening his legal weapons for another battle.
Assuming that my proposition is wrong, there are two other possibilities, and they are very relevant. They are not just hypothetical and here the Joint Parliamentary Secretary must give us some indication. Is it the view of the Government and their Law Officers that these obligations, so laboriously negotiated, have been killed permanently by the Order and are not revived in any way even in the future by expiry of the Order? Or is it the view that, when the Order expires, say, on 1st August or whatever the right date is, from that date onwards Birmingham Corporation can pay these plussages and all the other things we are discussing?
These two are fairly stark and reasonable alternatives to put to the hon. Gentleman. When I put them on the last occasion, he said that we would have a statement that would take care of the point. I listened carefully to today's statement and it did not seem to me that the point was taken care of at all. Perhaps he will take care of it now.
Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
After looking at Section 29 of the Prices and Incomes Act while the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) was speaking, I would advise the members of the Birmingham Corporation transport department who are affected by the Order that, when the period expires, they can not only claim the increases to which they would have become entitled had it not been enforced but can claim back payment for the whole period to August, 1965, when the claim was first intended to come into operation if the agreement made in July had gone through. [column 233]
Section 29(4) of the Act only says that
“An employer shall not pay remuneration to which this section applies for work for any period while the Order is in force …”
So, as soon as the Order has expired, I have no doubt that the 60 people affected by it will feel inclined to take legal action on the advice, perhaps, of the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) and recover the amount which they have lost during this period.
Sir Harmar Nicholls
This is the fourth speech we have heard. The main burden of the points put are based on legal interpretation by the Government. Should we not all ask for a Law Officer to be present, so that we may feel that the points can be properly considered?
That is a good suggestion.
It may well be that the reluctance of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to answer the questions put previously by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen is because he knows what the answer is and is not eager to disclose it to people who have been affected by previous Orders and are affected by this one. He may not be disclosing the answer because he knows that every one of these Orders is piling up trouble for the Government during the period after the freeze ends. I am glad that that is so. I object strongly to this Order and to the others that we have discussed. But this one is perhaps the most objectionable of all since the Prices and Incomes Act came into force.
Perhaps I should declare that I, too, am a member of A.S.S.E.T. But I hope that my views on the Order are in no way coloured by knowledge that members of my union are affected by it. I should be just as strongly against it were the persons affected members of any other union.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) brought the letter to the Town Clerk of Birmingham to light. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will describe its contents in some detail. The hon. Lady put her finger on a defect in Section 29 of the Prices and Incomes Act. In Section 29(4), it is provided that one must not pay remuneration at a rate higher [column 234]than that which obtained before 20th July, 1966, unless
“the appropriate Minister has given his consent in writing to an excess of that amount or of a greater amount …”
The Minister is entitled under the Act, therefore, to write to the Birmingham Corporation and say that it may pay increases which have since come into effect other than the one which has been claimed by the members affected by the Order.
What is highly unsatisfactory, however, is that the House has no knowledge of the contents of this letter, unless the Parliamentary Secretary deigns to explain it later. If the House is to debate this matter properly, not only should we have copies of the Order in the Vote Office but we should have copies of any letter which the Parliamentary Secretary has written to the Birmingham Corporation. It is monstrous that we should have to depend on the diligent researches of the hon. Lady, although I am delighted that she has revealed the matter to the House before it is too late, giving the Parliamentary Secretary an opportunity to reply when he winds up the debate.
If the Government are to use this piece of machinery under Section 29(4), they have an obligation to see that all the facts are laid before the House when it debates Orders such as this. It could easily happen—I do not suggest that it will in this case—that the view which hon. Members take of an Order would be coloured by any variation of the levels which operated before 20th July last that were put to the employers in a letter. The Parliamentary Secretary would do well to bear this in mind if there are to be more such Orders put to the House before the Summer Recess.
I agree with those who have spoken in the debate so far that it is utterly wrong and unfair that we should spend a lot of our time here in Parliament discussing the affairs of 60 people. Why should it be that many people who are granted increases by their employers without knowledge of the matter coming to light can get away with it? The Parliamentary Secretary knows very well that this is so. If an employer does not choose to make a song and dance about an agreement which he has reached with his staff, the hon. Gentleman has no knowledge of it and people get away with it.[column 235]
The overwhelming majority of the many cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers, when the thing does not come to light and people get their increases without interference, are of workers who do not belong to trade unions. It follows, therefore, that what the Government are up to is giving an enormous incentive to workers to stay out of trade unions, a strange posture for a Labour Government.
Perhaps that is what the Government want. They seem to be more anti-trade union even than their Tory predecessors. I agree that this is one of the effects of the present prices and incomes policy.
With this Order, we are considering a Corporation whose employers are members of trade unions, so that any increases paid to them come to light almost automatically. I understand that in this case it was Birmingham Corporation which drew the Government's attention to the fact that these increases were being demanded by its transport department supervisors.
Then there is the vast number of employees who, as the hon. Gentleman says, are not members of trade unions and who ask the bosses for a small rise, saying, “If you do not tell the Government about this they need never know” , and the employers connive at that breach of the prices and incomes policy.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is entering into discussion on the prices and incomes policy. He knows that he must return to the Order.
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I would not wish to depart from the Order in any way.
I was only pointing to that disparity and the enormous gap in the Government's prices and incomes policy to contrast the position of these 60 workers with those of their many thousands of fellows who are not affected by the Prices and Incomes Act, and saying that that is why I consider that Orders of this kind which apply to only 60 workers are so monstrously unfair and unequal in their effect.
Here we have not only an agreement freely arrived at between employers and workers in the transport department, but one that has since been reinforced by a [column 236]decision of the courts. I absolutely agree with every word the hon. Member for Finchley said. It is a sorry day for the country when Parliament can overturn not only agreements freely arrived at between trade unions and managements, but the decisions of the highest courts in the land.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
It is very welcome to have the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) speaking on this subject. I understand that this is the first time the Liberals have appeared on this question. Most of us are rather familiar with each other on these Orders, and it is very welcome that they have added their voice on these questions.
Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
I wonder why.
I am very much opposed to the Order because, having been a member of an establishment committee in Liverpool, I fully understand the tortuous negotiations and discussions that go on before local authority workers can arrive at their awards. I can understand the fact of 11 months having elapsed. We all know what happens—the passenger transport committee discusses the matter first. Then it says that the matter is not finally for it and that it must place it before the establishment committee. That committee then possibly wants to see representatives of A.S.S.E.T. or N.A.L.G.O. A number of people discuss the matter, which then goes back for further negotiations and discussions and ultimately, after a long period, it comes before the city council, which finally ratifies the decision.
In the meantime, that group of workers is patiently waiting for the negotiations to go through that tortuous, lengthy process. The workers naturally think that at the end of the day it will all be worth while, because they think that they will receive additional money for the responsibility they carry. The individual worker thinks, “I shall be able to get that new television set I was thinking of getting. Perhaps my wife will be able to buy the couple of new dresses she wanted. Perhaps the children can have some more shoes, or I may even be able to put down the deposit on a car.” [column 237]
I can understand the feelings of those workers when, after the lengthy negotiations of 11 months, the matter was finally settled one month before 20th July, and they were told that they could not receive the increased payments because of the Government's prices and incomes policy. How would we feel? I can fully appreciate the bitterness that those workers must feel and the anger and antagonism they have to the policy which has caught them in its net. This is a very serious situation.
I can understand the position of these supervisors for another reason. On many occasions I have helped to negotiate bonus and productivity agreements. The problem always is to make certain that the supervisory staff are an essential part of the productivity agreement which is reached. They are always an important part of the productivity agreement. Otherwise, one gets the position that the workers who carry out the manual tasks are able to increase their productivity and, therefore, increase their remuneration, but the supervisor, if he is not part of the agreement, naturally remains at the same level of pay and the men on the shop floor come up almost to his level.
It also means that if the supervisor is not involved in the agreement, after a time the agreement fails in any event because the supervisor has no interest in assisting in the productivity because he is not participating in the increase. The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said that Birmingham Corporation had saved a considerable amount of money as a result of the productivity agreement which was finally introduced. I would add that it was a Labour administration at that time which was far-seeing enough to introduce that sort of productivity agreement.
The supervisors are assisting in the productivity, helping to save money for the Corporation and, at the same time, ensuring that the workers' wages increase in the productivity arrangements. All the time that this is going on, the one thing which sustains them is the knowledge that their two unions are now involved in negotiations which will lead them ultimately to extra plussage payments because they are not actually part of the productivity arrangements. [column 238]
I can understand the bitterness of these men when, despite their added responsibility and their assistance to make the scheme work, they finally reach the situation that they will not get the increased payment which has been properly negotiated by the trade unions and the Corporation over a period of eleven months.
It is because I have a lot of experience in these matters that I am opposed to this type of Order which is being introduced into the House of Commons. The only good thing about this, if there is any good thing, is that for the first time, possibly, many hon. Members opposite, and, I hope, some of my hon. Friends on this side, are now beginning to learn about differentials, plussage rates and what tradesmen actually do, which they never knew about before. That is a positive gain to our society as a whole. I would, however, prefer them to have learnt it in other ways. It would have been far better to have learnt this without discussing Orders of this sort.
We often hear talk about rogue elephants. I suppose these supervisors are not the most militant of men. I have never yet found them to be so. After all, there is an old saying that if a man keeps his nose clean he may get up the ladder, but if he is militant he might get the sack. Normally, supervisors are not the most militant of men, and yet these, I assume, are the rogue elephants. It is ridiculous to think that these men, who are doing a first-class job, are rogue elephants and should be treated in the way that this Order proposes to treat them.
I am not joking about this. I am not making a stupid speech. I say in all sincerity that it is high time the Government stopped introducing these ridiculous Orders. We have an important job to do in this House, namely, to discuss ways and means of solving our economic problems. This is something in which I would like to participate. Somebody says, “This is it” . If this is the way to solve our economic problems, all I have to say is, “God help us” .
Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I think that the whole House has listened with great interest to the speech of the [column 239]hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). The hon. Gentleman speaks as an expert. He has been on the Liverpool City Council for many years, and he has dealt with this problem from A to B, or perhaps I should say from A to Z. I accept what he said, that because of these Orders this House is becoming a little more expert on what goes on in these negotiations.
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said. It is true that negotiations with a local authority inevitably take about four times as long as any similar negotiations with an industrial concern. The committee meets only once a month; the chairman is absent; a meeting is cancelled because it is the August bank holiday, and so on. All this causes delay, and therefore any decision by a local council is bound to be long delayed. The 60 people involved with this Order are so hostile to it because if they had been dealing with anyone other than a local authority they would have got this thing through long before the statutory freeze started on 20th July.
I understand why there is this great feeling of hostility. What I do not understand is why this union, from the Government's point of view, has the unfortunate title of A.S.S.E.T. Night after night the Parliamentary Secretary who, I understand, is a member of this union, comes here and tries to reply to these absurd Orders, and each one is worse than the one before. I suppose that the hon. Gentleman would like to alter the union's title by deed poll to “The Organisation for Embarrassing the Government.” I would not be surprised if, at the next annual general meeting of the union, he was expelled for his activities on the Government Front Bench.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. The hon. Member is getting a little way from the Order.
Sir D. Glover
I thought it was relevant to say that because the hon. Gentleman will soon address a number of members of this union and say a number of things with which they disagree.
I think that in this Order there is something more fundamental than there has been in a lot of the others. In this case, the wage increase was agreed to [column 240]and supported by a court of law. The county court said it was justified. I know that on other occasions this House has passed retrospective legislation, but never has either side accepted such legislation without a great deal of questioning in their own minds about the wisdom of doing so. What this boils down to is that the Government, because they have some temporary, I hope, financial difficulties, are carrying out a policy, exemplified by this Order, which is contrary to the ruling of the courts of law in this country.
I do not want to take this too far, but it is a very dangerous thought to get into the mind of a Government. Once they begin to say, “Because of difficulties with our policy we will override the rulings of the courts” the Government are adopting a very dangerous mental attitude. It was Benjamin Franklin who said that a nation that was prepared to give up freedom and justice to overcome a little temporary difficulty was worthy of neither freedom nor justice.
Here there is a real point of substance. The Government have some difficulties, and they are under some pressure and difficulties, but they are going as far as overruling a judgment of the county court to carry out their policy and when only 60 people are affected—and when every speech tonight has overwhelmingly shown the justice and fairness of this wage award.
I do not think that the Minister will try to justify the argument that these men are not entitled to the award. I agree with the hon. Member for Walton that once we have these differentials, and once the supervisors feel that they have no advantage in making a productivity agreement work, there is not much point in negotiating such an agreement. Somebody has to try to make it work.
The Minister will probably seek to justify the Government's action by saying that the Government have to adopt a line right across the board, with no exceptions, in order to make the prices and incomes policy work. But we are too old hands in the House; there are far too many Members with experience of industry and local government, on both sides, who know that this argument is as watertight as a colander. The hon. Member for Walton said that this was hitting at the trade [column 241]unions, and that if these men had had no trade union they could have got their increase.
Many of these cases are going on. The 60 members of A.S.S.E.T. have taken 18 months to negotiate this agreement, and have been supported in the courts, and if the Government are now to bring in the whole power of Parliament to say that this increase cannot be granted they will make a nonsense of the whole democratic process. The fact they are to overrule a judgment of the courts should fill the House with suspicion about the thinking that is going on within the Government as to the way in which to make their prices and incomes policy work, not only in respect of this Order but for all awards for the future. I view the prospect with great alarm.
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
Critics of the Order on both sides of the House have repeatedly said tonight that the Instrument applies only to 60 workers, that it is a fleabite and that we should not bother when so many other people have been getting increases to which the Government's attention has not been drawn. But that was not the opinion of the General Secretary of A.S.S.E.T., who was present in the county court when the judge gave his judgment in this case. Clive Jenkins was reported in The Times of 28th February last as having said:
“This is the first time that an employer's deduction of six months' pay increase has been challenged. It restores that six months and shows that thousands of employers who have withheld six months' increase are acting illegally and in defiance of the law. Those employers have been pocketing six months of their employees' increases in wages, and they ought to be made to pay up.”
We are, therefore, discussing not 60 workers but thousands. We are, in other words, discussing a basic issue of principle; of whether the Government should apply the prices and incomes policy as fairly as possible or whether they should give up trying to apply it because of what has happened in one case involving 60 people.
I have been astonished at some of the remarks made tonight by hon. Members who have talked about the Order being unfair to 60 workers. Consider the un[column 242]fairness of not applying it to those 60 workers, when other workers have had their increases deferred for six months or more. Although the prices and incomes policy cannot be so refined as to ensure perfect justice—there could not be absolute justice without there being an army of arbitrators to enforce it—the Government must act as fairly as possible, even when only 60 workers are involved in a case. That is particularly so when the union concerned, the most militant opponent of the prices and incomes policy, is treating this as a test case. The Government were bound to apply this Order if they were to demonstrate that they wished to be fair to all workers in the operation of the prices and incomes policy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), in an interesting speech, suggested that we should be more concerned with getting the country out of its present economic mess. I intervened to remind him that that was what the Government were doing by their prices and incomes policy. After all, the policy was successful during the period of freeze, so much so that wages increased by only .65 per cent. during that period. This has meant that we have established a base from which we can move forward towards continued growth, provided we can keep that growth at a sustained rate. If we continue to increase growth and do not let rip by breaching the prices and incomes policy, we will have steadily increasing wages and all workers, not just 60, will benefit from the increased standard of living that will follow.
It has been suggested that these 60 workers are not being paid enough for the responsibility they shoulder. That may be so, but they are certainly being paid a great deal more than many other workers, many of whom have, either voluntarily or compulsorily, had their wage increases restrained. If large numbers of workers have voluntarily accepted the prices and incomes policy, including the period of freeze, why should 60 men be allowed to get away with it? That was the reason for the Order. It is ultimately a matter of social justice, and I believe that social justice would be best served by applying the Order. [column 243]
Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)
I was delighted with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) for two reasons. The first is that while I am a supporter of the Government—although I disagree with them in this matter—I would not have been happy if there had not been one voice raised during this debate in favour of them. If my hon. Friend's speech did nothing else, it at least relieved the monotony and perhaps lessened the tension on that account. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary was as delighted with it as I am.
My hon. Friend's speech also pleased me because it let the cat out of the bag in a way that the Parliamentary Secretary will not do. The key phrase in which my hon. Friend said in justifying the application of the Order to this group of people was that it was a matter of principle about which action had to be taken, particularly because they are members of the most militant organisation opposed to the prices and incomes policy.
That is exactly what these chaps believe. They may be right or wrong—I would not know. I do not know what is in the mind of the Government. I can judge as well as the next man what people do, but I cannot judge their motives for doing it, because that is a matter between them and their consciences. So I do not know what has motivated the Government in picking on this particular group as the subject of this Order. I do not know whether these men are right in their belief that they are being picked on precisely because they were militant and because they initiated a court action. But believe it they certainly do, and their belief will be enormously reinforced by my hon. Friend's observations.
If I might suggest it to the Parliamentary Secretary with great respect, if that is not the reason for the Order being made, he should say so and do what he can to lessen the damage that might have been caused in the minds of this group of workers, and perhaps some other groups of workers, by those observations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and one or two [column 244]hon. Gentlemen opposite have referred to the way in which this problem was accentuated because these chaps were employed not by a company—or even by a nationalised industry for that matter—but by a local authority which, because of the democratic processes, inevitably moves in these matters a good deal more slowly than anyone else.
If, Mr. Deputy Speaker, within this debate, which I know has very narrow terms of reference, I may be permitted one observation about the general problem of industrial relations, I would say that the one thing I have learned most in all the years I have been involved in these matters is that in industrial relations it is not the soft answer but the quick answer which turneth away wrath. The thing that causes the most trouble—I would say the great part of industrial trouble—is the slowness of the negotiating process. I say at once that I do not blame only the employers' side in the negotiating machinery for this, because sometimes trade unions are terribly slow as well.
In this case, because of the facts mentioned by my hon. Friend out of his experience with a great local authority, this wage increase was the result of negotiations spread over a period of no less than four years. Just think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the attitude of chaps who have had these negotiations going on, arising out of the very good productivity agreement for the men whom they supervised, in the firm belief that there was no division of view about the fact that in time there would be repercussive effects on their own earnings, and that these would be made retroactive.
That was their firm expectation, and they had every right and reason for that expectation. Suddenly, when the employers are agreed about it, the thing is chopped off. I do not believe that there is one hon. Member who if he were in that situation would not feel, as these chaps feel, that he was being picked on. These workers do feel that.
My hon. Friend the Member for York said that one has to operate an incomes policy which is as nearly as possible just and is seen to be just. I agree that one could not possibly have an incomes policy which was 100 per cent. just without an administrative apparatus [column 245]which would be absolutely impossible. Therefore, because there must be marginal departures from theoretical justice, it becomes terribly important that each of these departures should look and smell clean.
It becomes terribly important that there should not be in any of these inevitable departures from a strict level of justice, any case in which one might think that the wrong motives were activating action against particular groups. I say to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and to the Government that nobody could say of this Order that it is and appears to be absolutely clean in its motivation. That is why it is so bad that we should have this Order, and I agree with those who have said that it is possibly the worst of all these Orders which have come before the House.
I do not suppose that the Parliamentary Secretary is authorised to say this evening that he will take back the Order and ask his right hon. Friend to have a look at it. I have half a feeling that if he were authorised he would be highly tempted to do that. But I am afraid that we are going to have to go through the agonies of decision on that account. When those agonies transpire, I for one shall contract out of them.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Roy Hattersley)
I begin by confirming the facts of the case as outlined by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). As we have been led to expect by the last eight debates, the Opposition deploy their factual case with great clarity and accuracy. On this occasion, however, the hon. Lady did two things which have not been done on a previous occasion. She produced two rabbits from the hat which at least astounded her hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock).
These were the revelations, as they were taken by the hon. Members to be, of the issue of consent letters by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour agreeing to the proposed 7 per cent. increase and the question of the dates of back dated increases in dispute between the union and the Government.
I will deal, first, with the fact quoted often by the hon. Lady, and still more [column 246]often by following speakers. The six months in dispute, for which the Government originally asked for postponement, were before the incomes policy was announced and long before 20th July, 1966; 18 months before the Government's first White Paper and eighteen months before the Bill, as amended, was passed by the House.
The hon. Lady will understand that policy towards existing commitments formed a very substantial part of Government incomes policy. By definition existing commitments must involve steps taken and decisions made, considered and approved by the parties before the policy was put into operation. I refer hon. Members to the White Paper on the Standstill (Cmnd. 3073) which talks, in paragraphs 19 to 23 about the Government's attitude to existing commitments, and to Cmnd. 3150, paragraphs 32 to 36 which is also about the Government's attitude to existing commitments. To have any attitude to existing commitments means that the Government must have an attitude towards decisions already taken, to obligations already accepted and to arrangements already approved between the parties to the agreement.
Therefore, I do not think that the hon. Lady should deal with these matters as if they were a great surprise to her. The Government's incomes policy requires an attitude about commitments entered into before 20th July. I must say to her that, in principle, I can see no difference between the Government having an attitude and taking action upon a commitment entered into six days or six weeks, or six months or 18 months, before the policy was put into operation. The Government required that existing commitments entered into before 20th July and confirmed in terms of the times, date of operation and amount should be deferred by six months and that no payment even for the period after the six months deferment should be made before 1st January, 1967.
There are substantial numbers of employees in the country who voluntarily, if not willingly, accepted that deferment, who voluntarily, if not willingly, agreed that the operative date should be postponed by six months and that no payment should be received by them until after 1st January, 1967. By the nature of retrospective claims and by the nature [column 247]of long postponements, these are, by and large, in the public service, because retrospection is largely unknown in private industry. As an example, I take the 40,200 civil servants in certain professional grades who had an operative date of 1st January, 1965, six months before the A.S.S.E.T. operative date. They agreed voluntarily to the deferment of that date for six months. They agreed voluntarily to receive no payment till 1st January, 1967. They voluntarily conformed to all the Government's policy on existing commitments—entirely, completely and on a voluntary basis.
I am sure that, in economic if not in legal terms, the hon. Lady would have no objection to the action of those unions—there are many of them, but I will not read out the list now—which, with dates and periods similar to the A.S.S.E.T. agreement, nevertheless agreed to a six months postponement and agreed to payment being made only on 1st January, 1967. What the hon. Lady should try to do, if she catches your eye again, Mr. Deputy Speaker—as I believe she is entitled to do under the rules governing a debate on a Prayer—is to tell the House what she would have had my right hon. Friend say to those 40,200 civil servants who agreed voluntarily to the six months postponement, who agreed voluntarily to the payment being deferred till 1st January, 1967, and the many other categories whom I could quote, if they had said “Why should 80 members of A.S.S.E.T. and N.A.L.G.O. be allowed to press their claims forward whilst we have made a voluntary deferment in what we believe to be the national interest?”
Sir D. Glover
Will the hon. Gentleman say how long these 40,000 civil servants had been negotiating, and how long is it since they had their previous increase?
Sir Harmar Nicholls
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We cannot have an intervention in an intervention.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. While Mr. Speaker was in the Chair he stopped the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) from discussing Orders [column 248]other than the Order which is before the House. Is there to be a special exemption to this ruling for the Parliamentary Secretary?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have been listening carefully to the debate, and I assumed that the hon. Gentleman was coming to this Order and was laying the foundation for his argument.
Sir Harmar Nicholls
Let me explain what I believe to be the relevance of that point to the Order which we are discussing. The Government's policy about the few Orders that we have debated—nine in all—and certainly about this specific Order tonight, is that in a sense it is necessary to demonstrate the fairness of the Government policy. If Orders like this were not made, people who adopted and accepted the Government's policy on a voluntary basis would feel themselves misused.
Sir Harmar Nicholls
The examples that I have given are to demonstrate that there are substantial numbers of people who would be entitled to think themselves misused had they not seen a comparable group—A.S.S.E.T. foremen in Birmingham—required to operate the same deferments as they voluntarily operated themselves.
The second revelation, to which I will now move on because of the rules of order, is the suggestion that there is certainly something surprising and possibly something sinister about the——
Sir Harmar Nicholls
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to call “Order” , but they were not in the House when hon. Members on this side were deploying the case and were not allowed to make some points. Now the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in defiance of the rulings given against my hon. Friends and others, has brought out examples on which he should be cross-examined if he is basing his answer on them.[column 249]
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member, of course, must keep within the rules of order. The question of interventions in the Minister's speech is not a matter for the Chair if he is not disposed to give way.
I propose to move to the second revelation of the hon. Lady. If the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) has something cogent to say, I will answer it.
My right hon. Friend sent letters to Birmingham Corporation giving consent to certain arrangements. The hon. Lady said that this was surprising, if not sinister, and the hon. Member for Orpington echoed that. If the hon. Member would do me the courtesy of looking at the Prices and Incomes Act, he will see that under Section 28(2) my right hon. Friend or any Minister designated is entitled to write to any party who is subject to an Order under the Act and give his consent to additional payments being made. This should not come as a surprise. Three weeks ago, when we debated the Press Association Order, I said that my right hon. Friend was in the process of writing letters to some of the parties in that dispute allowing them to make payments even though Section 29 of the Act was in operation.
The Order in relation to Birmingham is very simple and precise. Hon. Members who have said that the 7 per cent. increase is acceptable under the Act are certainly right. A 7 per cent. increase was deferred for six months in conformity with our policy. For reasons best known to them, although they were not revealed this evening, A.S.S.E.T. did not dispute that deferment. That 7 per cent. was deferred for six months and, therefore, can legitimately go on in terms of prices and incomes policy, but Section 29 requires remuneration of all sorts to be limited to the level before July 1966. Because it is an all-embracing and omnibus provision, my right hon. Friend has the power and responsibility to make exceptions to it.
The hon. Member for Selly Oak asked why it was my misfortune—his description, not mine—despite my association with the union and the city, to speak against the Prayer on behalf of the Government. The reason is very simple. My right hon. Friend is the appropriate [column 250]Minister designated in the Order to give his consent to additional payments above the level of 20th July, 1966. That is exactly what he has done in this case. There is no doubt about it. He wrote to Birmingham Corporation giving that permission on 3rd April and the Corporation replied on 5th April.
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my speech he would have known that I did not in the least complain about his laying the letter, but I drew attention to the powers he had to give remuneration higher than the levels of 20th July, under Section 29, not Section 28(2). If he had laid that before the House at the same time, we could have had greater opportunity to discuss the Order.
The hon. Member will understand that when there is an Order to which a Prayer has been put down and my right hon. Friend has written to the parties saying that some payments can be made, it is unlikely——
In connection with the word “parties” , will the hon. Gentleman confirm that when the Minister wrote to the Town Clerk he also wrote to the parties—that is to say, N.A.L.G.O. and the other people involved? According to my information, he did not.
I cannot confirm that my right hon. Friend did it on the same day, but I can confirm that N.A.L.G.O. at least knows the position.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly when the Minister wrote to Birmingham Corporation and when N.A.L.G.O. and A.S.S.E.T. were informed?
I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Lady that information, but I can certainly say that parties have been informed.
I turn now to the point I was making in reply to the hon. Member for Orpington. I say again—and I am sure he understands—that any Government spokesman replying to a Prayer against an Order of this sort is unlikely to keep from the House the fact that the Minister of Labour has written letters agreeing that some payments shall be made. It is inconceivable that in the circumstances he would want to hide the fact that some [column 251]payments were going forward. If a Government spokesman on any future occasion reflects and enjoys the same feelings I do, he will be only too happy to remind the House that payments legitimate under the prices and incomes policy can and do go ahead.
Sir Harmar Nicholls
On a point of order. Is it not an accepted rule of the House that if a document is referred to from the Treasury Bench it should be laid on the Table? In this instance, since so many people want the actual letter in order to get the date, should not the Joint Parliamentary Secretary arrange for it to be laid on the Table? Is that not a rule of the House?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is only appropriate if it is a State paper. I do not think this letter comes into that category.
Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that protracted deliberations took place in Standing Committee D on this very point in proceedings on the Iron and Steel Act and that, after full consultation, the Chairman of that Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), caused the letter to be laid on the Table? The hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) knows this to be true. It was the famous Winterbottom letter. Cannot we have this letter laid on the Table on the same Parliamentary principle?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The matter only arises, of course, when a Minister refers to the paper. In this case, it was the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) who introduced the matter.
Sir Harmar Nicholls
Further to that point of order. It is within the recollection of the House that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, speaking from the Treasury Bench, has referred to the letter. I submit that this case clearly comes within the rule of the House.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
May I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to give us some guidance? Was he referring to this paper and is it a State paper?
It is a letter and clearly I referred to it. I did so in [column 252]response to its introduction by hon. Members opposite. If I can help the House to make progress by doing so, irrespective of what is required in terms of Order, I shall be happy to make arrangements through the usual channels to enable the hon. Member for Finchley to see it.
Sir G. Nabarro
Further to that point of order. We now have a Ministerial admission that this missive is in existence. The hon. Gentleman has now referred to the missive three times. This is exactly equivalent to the missive I alluded to, the famous Winterbottom letter, and in these circumstances cannot we have the missive laid on the Table tonight before we vote in order that the merits of the case may be fully considered by us?
Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
Further to that point of order. Is it not the rule, laid down by successive Speakers many times, that if a document is quoted from the Treasury Bench it must be laid upon the Table, but that a document can be referred to without that rule applying?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
This is not easy and I would be grateful for the patience of the House. I will quote Erskine May at page 458, where it says:
“A Minister who summarises a correspondence, but does not actually quote from it, is not bound to lay it upon the table.”
The Parliamentary Secretary has not quoted from it; he has summarised it.
Sir John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
I would not desire to contest your Ruling at all, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but there is another rule that if a Minister refers to a State paper he is bound to lay it, and this is a statutory document which is purported by the Minister as having been sent under this Statute. I respectfully submit that as such it should be laid.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is quoting the same rule and, with the greatest respect, he is misquoting it. I must rely on the statement I have made that it is not required to be laid. In the circumstances, I must rule on that and we must make progress.
Sir Harmar Nicholls
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not repeat the same point of order.
Sir Harmar Nicholls
I want to ask if there is a distinction between a State paper and a document. If this is a document, then the Ruling given by the Chair is quite acceptable. If it is a State paper, it comes into a different category. I claim that it is a State paper and should be laid.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understand that the document referred to must be a State paper. I must, therefore, insist on the Ruling I have given. It does not preclude the debate from going on. I call the Parliamentary Secretary.
I feared that the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) would be denied an answer to the question which he so courteously puts to me each fortnight. I turn to that now in the hope that I can satisfy him.
He asked what would happen on the expiry of Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act on 11th August, 1967. He has asked two questions. The first is whether the Corporation on whom the Order is binding is required to pay arrears for the period under review. I can only repeat what I said on 22nd March, namely that on the best legal advice open to us there is no requirement on the Corporation to make a back payment. I subscribe to the view of the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) that the only way one can be sure is by testing it in the courts. The Government's legal advice is that when tested it is unlikely that firms will be obliged to pay money for periods during which Orders have been in force.
The second point the hon. and learned Gentleman made was that, irrespective of legal entitlement to back pay, would the payment—in this case the disputed 15 per cent.—be able to go forward on or after 11th August? To that there are two answers. The first is the legal answer. On the advice available to the Government, the legal contract which required employers to pay 15 per cent. before the Order came into operation will automatically be reimposed and reactivated when Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act lapses. The second point is whether the payment would be allowed [column 254]under the Government's criteria or is postponement possible? That is a matter which could only be decided by the Government at the time. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows well—and I am sorry that I have caused him so much despair—the criteria that the Government have laid down to operate from mid-summer 1967. The Government will have to examine these cases one by one and decide whether they need referring to the Prices and Incomes Board or whether the payment can be made automatically when Part IV lapses.
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) raised again tonight the question of the number of people covered by the Order, as he has raised it week after week, despite the implied rebukes he receives from his own Front Bench, from the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) a fortnight ago, and from the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) six months ago. The hon. Gentleman draws attention to the fact that only 70 people are covered by the Order and says that there is no point in the Government imposing Orders an such a small number.
The success of the Government's incomes policy is demonstrable by the fact that Orders have been necessary in only nine cases, and necessary against only a small number of employees. There is no doubt that, in economic terms, the Government's incomes policy has been a success. If hon. Members opposite will look at wage movements during the period since 20th July, they will see that they have been uniquely small, and they have been uniquely small because of the prices and incomes policy.
The prices and incomes policy has, in general, been voluntarily accepted and voluntarily implemented. The small number of Orders is a measure of our success. The fact that we are making Orders against such numbers as 70 men is not cause for criticism of the Government but for congratulation, in that over the wide field of general industrial policy the Government's principles and proposals have been accepted willingly, if not gladly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar asked, as he has on previous Orders, why these men and this union have been singled out for treatment in this way. I can only give him the answer [column 255]that I gave when we debated an Order affecting this union five weeks ago.
I never asked the question.
My hon. Friend did not ask the question, but he implied an answer, and I was doing him the credit of expecting that he really wanted me to give the Government's view on the subject which he so contentiously raised. The answer to the question which he might have asked but did not is this.
There is no question of discrimination by the Government against this union. What is happening is no more than a statistical inevitability. If the Government are holding the line of their incomes policy and are prepared to make an Order against unions which break it, it is statistically inevitable that those unions which break the line most often are the ones against which Orders are made most frequently. It is as simple as that. It is as straightforward as that. It is no more sinister than that.
Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
A moment ago, my hon. Friend made an important point. He said that this Order will apply until Part IV of the present legislation lapses. Am I right in understanding him to say that, under the new Part II—if the House were to pass the Bill which the First Secretary of State announced today—this same increase could again be held up for a fresh period? Is that what he is saying?
There is no question but that it could be. I am not prepared to hypothesise on whether it will be, but [column 256]there is no question as to whether it could be.
I return to the point I was making. The Government have made most Orders against those parties who have sought to break the line of incomes policy. We have made them irrespective of the parties, irrespective of the unions, irrespective of their militancy. The fact that A.S.S.E.T. has had two Orders made against it is in no way remarkable. A.S.S.E.T. has twice chosen to try to defeat the aims of the incomes policy.
I conclude in this way. Three of my hon. Friends suggested that there was no social justice in this sort of Order and implied—I think that I may say this within the rules governing the debate—that because there was an absence of social justice in the Order, there was an absence of social justice throughout the Government's incomes policy. They have said this today, a day when the Government have authorised payments to lowest-paid workers, in accordance with the criteria, for over 1 million people in British industry. This is a justification of the Government's contention that, where payments should and must in social justice go forward, the Government will approve them, but that where payments would flout the incomes policy, break the line and destroy the economic policy which the Government are building, we have every right to expect our hon. Friends to support us in the Lobby on such occasions as this.
The House Divided: Ayes 148, Noes 217.