HC Deb 08 May 1967 vol 746 cc1057-9
53. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Labour what is the total number of employees affected by orders restricting income increases under Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act at the most recent convenient date; and if he is now in a position to estimate what percentage of these employees are trade unionists.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Roy Hattersley)

The number of employees directly affected by orders restricting income increases was approximately 35,000 on 28th April, 1967. I cannot give any estimate of the percentage of these employees who are members of trade unions, as the orders relate to all employees in a particular group and no distinction is made between union members and others.

Mr. Biffen

Is the Minister aware that this Answer is myopic even by the standards of the Ministry of Labour? Is he aware that something like 60 per cent. of the employees in the country are non-unionised and that there is widespread belief that the 35,000 are overwhelmingly unionised? Is he asking the House to accept that the prices and incomes policy has been infringed overwhelmingly by unionised labour?

Mr. Hattersley

I know the belief is abroad in some quarters and that the hon. Member has done his best to foster it, but I am equally aware that the Government's policy is to apply prices and incomes orders where they think they should be applied, irrespective of whether or not the group is overwhelmingly unionised.

Mr. Iain Macleod

But would not the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the main arguments in the many debates we have had is that, whether by design or not, the Government's policy does mainly affect trade unionists? And would he not agree that, overwhelmingly, something like 90 per cent. or more—if not 100 per cent.—of those 35,000 are trade unionists?

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is difficult to conduct Question and Answer against this background.

Mr. Hattersley

I would agree that the majority of the orders we have debated in this House have referred to agreements signed by unions and managements collectively, but I reject the figure that the orders apply to 90 per cent. of trade union membership and only 10 per cent. to people who are not organised.

Mr. Mikardo

Is there not the implication that the people unaffected by the prices and incomes policy and most likely to have increases without Government interference are those who are not members of unions? Is not this a direct incentive to people not to join unions, or to leave unions, and is not this a rather strange posture to be adopted by the Ministry of Labour of a Labour Government?

Mr. Hattersley

The real implication of my Answer is that the majority of wages, whether paid to members of unions or not, have been limited voluntarily, and that there have been few orders because only a few have been necessary, irrespective of trade union membership.