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1951 Cabinet memorandum on ending restrictions on unions

Cabinet Memorandum 20 July 1951. The Future of the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order
Cabinet Memorandum 20 July 1951. The Future of the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order
CAB 129/46               CP (51) 221

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During the war years industrial relations were controlled by the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order, usually known as Order 1305. The Order effectively banned strikes and forced any side in a dispute (usually the trade union) to bring their case to an arbitration panel rather than to go on strike.

By 1951 the Order was still in place and some dockworkers were prosecuted for not following it. Trade unions were anxious to have this restriction removed and put pressure on the government to that effect. The Act was replaced by a new measure called the Industrial Disputes Order. This new measure was accepted with little or no opposition in the House of Commons.

Questions to consider

  1. Why was the Order being reviewed in 1951?
  2. What can you infer from this source about the attitude of the trade unions?
  3. Do you think unions and employers would be prepared to accept points 3a-c?
  4. Is the fact that this was a Labour government significant?
  5. Does this source support the view that the period 1950-64 was one of consensus?


C.P.(51) 221
20TH JULY, 1951

Memorandum by the Minister of Labour and National Service
In C.P. (51) 8 the then Minister of Labour and National Service drew attention to certain practical difficulties which had arisen in the administration of the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order and indicated various possible methods of dealing with them. He concluded by saying that he proposed to seek the advice of the Joint Consultative Committee of the National Joint Advisory Council on the whole matter and to report back to his colleagues as soon as possible.

2. In the subsequent discussions which my predecessor and I have had with the Joint Consultative Committee, the representatives of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) made it quite clear that they were not prepared to agree to the continuance of the present Order for more than a very short time, but that they would welcome a new Order preserving some of the existing provisions so long as it did not contain any form of penal sanction directed against strikes. The attitude of the employers' representatives was that the withdrawal of the present restrictions on strikes and lockouts would, in their view, be inopportune, but that if the Government felt that these could no longer be retained they were prepared to consider proposals for a new Order on the understanding that it was to be experimental and that the position would be reviewed at any time on the request of either side. (This is the same condition upon which the agreement of the two sides of industry was obtained to the continuance of the existing Order at the end of the war.)

3. Accordingly, I put forward heads of proposals for a new Order in place of the existing one and these have now been accepted by the Committee. The main differences between the new proposals and the present Order are as follows:-

(a) The prohibition of strikes and lockouts would be entirely removed.

(b) The scope of the Order would be confined to disputes concerning wages and conditions of employment and would exclude disputes arising from such matters as the employment of non-unionists and claims for re-instatement. Experience has shown that such matters are not susceptible of settlement by compulsory arbitration.

(c) "Compulsory arbitration" - in the sense of one party to a dispute being able to take the other party to arbitration even against their will - would be retained and a tribunal like the present National Arbitration Tribunal would continue to function as at present, though under a different name, but the right to report disputes would be limited on the one hand to employers and employers' organisations and on the other to trade unions as defined in the Trade Union Act, 1913. This would exclude trade union branches acting without the authority of their union, groups of unorganised workers and also professional associations whose principal objects are not the regulation of the relations between workmen and masters or any of the other statutory objects referred to in Section 1(2) of the Trade Union Act, 1913. Furthermore, in the case of trades or industries with voluntary machinery for dealing with wages and conditions, a valid report could only be made by the parties habitually taking part in that machinery so that in practice unrecognised or break-away unions would be excluded. The general effect of these provisions is to strengthen existing voluntary machinery in industry.

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