HC Deb 22 February 1967 vol 741 cc1697-701
14. Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will ensure that local government officers in Scotland will be paid the 7 per cent. salary increase agreed upon, as from 16th March next in order to put them on a par with local government officers in England and Wales.

68. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a further statement as a result of the representations concerning the Government's decision to forbid payment of the wage increase due to local government employees in Scotland.

69. Mr. Monro

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a further statement on the pay award to the national and local government officers in Scotland, following representations made to him.

70. Mr. MacArthur

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now make a further statement about the withholding of the properly negotiated pay award from local government officers in Scotland, following recent representations made to him.

Mr. Ross

I have nothing to add to the answers given to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) on 15th February, and the hon. Members for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) and Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) on 2nd February.—[Vol. 741, c. 104–5; and Vol. 740, c. 159–60.]

Mr. Mackenzie

In view of the widespread dissatisfaction and even anger caused by the decision to withhold the increase, and the comparatively small saving involved, would the right hon. Gentleman not consider having another look at the question with a view to reversing the earlier decision?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that it is not quite so easy as that. Where we have specific criteria laid down for a particular period, any departure from it affects not only those people immediately concerned but those other millions who have been caught in the same way in Scotland, England and Wales. The matter is just not so easy as the banging of the nationalist drums we have heard over the past days suggests.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that any local authority which decides that it is obliged to pay the increase on 16th March is legally entitled to do so unless and until the Government take powers under Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do the powers available to the Government under the prices and incomes policy, a policy which was accepted by the House. I hope that hon. Members opposite will do nothing to encourage local authorities to flout the wishes of the House and the country generally.

Mr. Monro

Has the right hon. Gentleman been to see the First Secretary of State about this grave injustice, and if so why have his representatives been so ineffective?

Mr. Ross

Decisions by the Government are decisions by the whole Government.

Mr. MacArthur

Is the Minister aware that the decision is very bad, and is inexcusable discrimination against Scotland? Will he not agree that to honour the Scottish wage claim, as the English claim was honoured, could not possibly be regarded as a breach of the prices and incomes policy? Will he reconsider the question as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that, and he should read the White Paper covering the period of severe restraint. The notification of the claim came to our Department a long time after the notification of the English claim. The English one was on 4th March and the Scottish one on 27th May. The employers suggested that we might require further information, and we did. That was supplied on 17th June. We gave them the answer on 8th July and told them that it was unsatisfactory. The claim was thereafter caught by the standstill and, because there was no commitment before 20th July, fell into the same category as hundreds of thousands of other people whose wages were frozen—railwaymen, miners and all sorts of other workers. It would be quite wrong for the hon. Gentleman to say that we could single them out and give them special treatment without creating comparative injustice to others.

Mr. W. Baxter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer would seem to indicate that he is splitting hairs in the matter? The facts are simply that other national agreements are put into operation on a national basis. While there were certain delays in the Scottish claim being put forward and approved, which puts local authorities in Scotland at a grave disadvantage compared with their counterparts in England, we cannot tolerate that any longer and the position must be rectified as early as possible.

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend is wrong to say that the claim was put forward late by the Scottish employers, and that they were the people who indicated to us that it was exactly the same as the English one, because it was entirely different. It is a very complex grade and it implied an increase of 5½ to 6 per cent. for a one-year period, with no guarantee that it would last any longer. It was not the same as the English one.

Mr. Dempsey

Is the Minister aware that it is openly alleged that the reason for the lateness in the presentation of the Scottish claim was advice of officials of his own Department? Can he say if that is true?

Mr. Ross

I think that the dates I have given demonstrate that there was no delay on our part. The notification came to us on 27th May, and the authorities suggested in their letter that we might require further information, which we certainly did, because one thing in it was misleading. Further information came on 17th June and they were notified that the claim was unacceptable, for the reasons I have given, on 8th July.

Sir F. Maclean

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake not to take any retaliatory action against local authorities which go ahead and pay their employees the increase due to them on 16th March?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Conservative Government and he can answer that question himself. No responsible Minister could give any such guarantee.

Mr. Dewar

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that concern has been expressed about this difficult matter on both sides of the House? Does not he also agree that the situation is not being helped by the hysterical competition among hon. Members opposite to produce the most eye-catching headline possible, irrespective of the merits of the case? Does not he agree that this does nothing to help N.A.L.G.O.'s case but merely creates the wrong kind of atmosphere in which consultations and discussions can be held?

Mr. Ross

More than N.A.L.G.O. are concerned. There are other unions as well. I do not think that the intervention of hon. Members opposite were ever intended to be helpful.

Mr. Noble

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that, whether he is right or wrongs there was some delay in the presentation of N.A.L.G.O.'s case? This may or may not have been due to his Department or to the Department of Economic Affairs or to some other Department, but does not he think that this is a first-class case for the increase to be allowed, if any increases are to be given? Does not he recall that, in a shipbuilding case, the Government—and I agreed—changed their rigid rules?

Mr. Ross

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the circumstances were entirely different in the adjudication of that case. We have to appreciate that in this case the difficulty stems from the fact that, traditionally, there have been different and separate negotiations. I do not blame N.A.L.G.O. for that, but I do blame the Scottish employers, the local authorities, which have always insisted on having separate negotiations in respect of these workers.

Several Hon. Members rose


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Buchanan—Question No. 15.

Mr. MacArthur

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the replies and the insulting comment in one of them—[Interruption.]—I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman should give notice in the conventional way.

Mr. Mackenzie

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.