HC Deb 26 January 1954 vol 522 cc1586-8
16. Mr. Lewis

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware of the number of workers who are awaiting the results of wage applications made on their behalf by their respective trade unions and the growing industrial unrest that is being experienced in industry generally; and what plans the Government have to bring about a reduction in the cost of living and thereby peace in industry.

Mr. Watkinson

Yes, Sir. My right hon. and learned Friend and I are aware that important wage negotiations are in progress. We are confident that the employers' and workers' representatives concerned are fully conscious of their responsibilities and will take full account of the national interest.

We are also aware that industrial unrest can most successfully be avoided by effective joint negotiation. As hon. Members know, much is being quietly achieved in this field. During 1953, the cost of living has been steadier—[Hon. Members: "Oh."]—than in any recent year and, indeed, the index number of food prices has shown a decline in the past few months. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] May I get on? But the cost of living is not the only factor which enters into industrial negotiations, although it is important that the facts should be known to the parties about this as about all other relevant matters. It is my right hon. and learned Friend's hope, and that of Her Majesty's Government, that, with good will from all concerned, fair settlements will be arrived at that will ensure the maintenance of normal close and friendly relations in industry. Such relations are essential if we are to attain higher levels of productivity and efficiency.

Mr. Lewis

Can the Minister honestly, sincerely and truly believe that statement that his officials have given him? If so, will he go out and meet some of the workers and the trade union leaders, and particularly housewives, because they will tell him that he has got all his facts and figures wrong and that the price of food is continually rising. [Hon. Members: "No."] That is the reason for this Question. Will he consult with the Trades Union Congress to get some correct facts on the position?

Mr. Watkinson

This is a very important matter, and I hope that this House will not try to play party politics—[Hon. Members: "Oh."]—about matters of fact. It is the duty of my Ministry to state the facts, and I have taken steps to see that they are facts. I hope that no hon. Member on either side of this House will accuse the Ministry of Labour of partiality on the part of its officials or, I hope, on the part of its present political heads. I am satisfied that the statement I have made is fair and correct. The food part of the Index has fallen in the last six months from 113.8 to 109.6. I am not trying to make any party political point out of this but to state facts, and they are still facts whether hon. Members like them or not. The last point I want to make is that the Interim Index of Retail Prices was started in 1947 under the Socialist Government and that the wages of three million people depend upon its accuracy.

Mr. Stokes

Whatever the hon. Gentleman may say about the effect of the drop in the price of eggs, is it not a fact that, in the case of bread, butter, cheese, rice and tea, what cost 10s. in October, 1951, now costs 15s., having gone up 50 per cent.?

Mr. Watkinson

It is not the duty of the Ministry of Labour to pick out separate items in order to try to prove or disprove any particular case. It is our duty and my duty to give the figures. I have given the figures of the 42 per cent. of the Index which is devoted to food pro- ducts, the widest range that goes into the normal shopping basket. It is that part of the Index which has declined.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We cannot go on debating these matters at Question time.