HC Deb 13 May 1968 vol 764 cc854-6
33. Mr. Kenneth Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity how many working days were lost during 1967 due to unofficial strikes.

Mr. Harold Walker

Certain stoppages are known to have been official, but it is not known whether all the remainder were unofficial, though the great majority would have been. Stoppages known to have been official accounted for a loss of about 394,000 working days out of a total of about 2,787,000 days lost during 1967 through stoppages of work due to industrial disputes.

Mr. Baker

Does the Minister agree that unofficial strikes are one of the most grievous self-inflicted wounds on the British economy? What powers would he consider taking to mitigate their effect?

Mr. Walker

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the harm done by industrial disputes and strikes that ensue from them, but we must not get the picture out of perspective. The House should bear in mind that the total time lost from strikes, either official or unofficial, is only a very small fraction of the total lost through industrial injuries and diseases. When we talk of the effect of unofficial strikes we should bear in mind that some of them arise not from the people directly involved but from outside influences.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my hon. Friend agree that in a country where relatively few strikes take place, one way to deal with unofficial strikes is to make them all official, and that the right to strike is fundamental to a democratic society?

Mr. Walker

I do not know who would have had the responsibility of determining whether the London dock strikes in the past few weeks were official or otherwise.

Mr. R. Carr

Does not the Minister realise that what matters is not whether the strike is official or unofficial but whether it is in breach of agreement?

Mr. Walker

In earlier Answers I pointed out the difficulty of determining whether a strike is in breach of an agree- ment and gave the example of the engineering industry, where the procedural agreement itself gives rise to disputes.