HC Deb 28 January 1969 vol 776 cc1104-8
Q5. Mr. John Page

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the recommendation for the setting up of a Commission on Industrial Relations which is to have the status of a Royal Commission; what are to be its terms of reference; and who the Chairman and members of the Commission will be.

The Prime Minister

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the text of the announcement about the setting up of the Commission, the terms of reference and the name of the Chairman which was issued from 10 Downing Street on 17th January.

The names of the other members of the Commission will be announced within the next day or two.

Mr. John Page

In view of the fact that the White Paper states that the new Commission will have no responsibility arising from the prices and incomes criteria when it makes recommendations on any settlements which it proposes to the First Secretary, is the Prime Minister satisfied that there will not be a tussle here—that the First Secretary may find any recommendation from the C.I.R. unacceptable and refer such recommendation to the P.I.B.? If so, who will be the referee in the heavyweight contest between Woodcock and Jones?

Sir Knox Cunningham

The Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister

Mr. Woodcock and Mr. Jones. I recognise the point the hon. Member has in mind. I am satisfied that there will not be a problem here. The hon. Member will be aware that the Prices and Incomes Board is statutory and has statutory duties, and that, indeed, it started its life as a Royal Commission, while awaiting the Statute. I do not think the situation which he fears is likely to arise.

Mr. Bidwell

Will my right hon. Friend not agree that one of the desirable terms of reference of the Commission will be to ensure complete flexibility and deployment of both capital and labour and that, therefore, the weekend speech of the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, relating to the movement of Commonwealth immigrant workers, is completely idiotic in this context?

The Prime Minister

I understand my hon. Friend's feelings in this matter. The Commission on Industrial Relations has no responsibilities in the field described by the hon. Gentleman and therefore, in this context, my hon. Friend's question is irrelevant as the right hon. Gentleman's speech was to the situation he was talking about last Saturday.

Mr. Scott

The Minister appears to be moving quickly in setting up the Commission. Can we have an undertaking that we shall see the Bill on industrial relations in the very near future?

The Prime Minister

We shall certainly produce it with all practicable speed. There are more consultations still to be held. This is, of course, a Bill which, because of its complexity, and because it seeks to legislate in an area in which virtually nothing has been done for the last 60 years, is a difficult one to draft. It is extremely important that the drafting should be right. It will be a difficult one to draft, but we shall produce it as quickly as we possibly can.

Mr. Wyatt

As Mr. George Woodcock, while General Secretary to the Trades Union Congress for nine years, did so little to restructure the trade union movement that the Government now are having to produce legislation to do the job, is it not a great pity that he has been appointed Chairman of the Commission on Industrial Relations, and will the Prime Minister now reconsider this appointment?

The Prime Minister

No. There is certainly no question of reconsidering this appointment because the appointment which has been recommended to Her Majesty is the appointment of the best person for the job. I am sorry that my hon. Friend's study of this matter, no doubt deep and detailed and expert over the years, has led him to the conclusions he has reached. Mr. Woodcock certainly sought to make many reforms in trade union practice and has achieved very many. He can proceed only by democratic agreement by a democratically elected executive. Like many other questions, this is not quite as simple a matter as my hon. Friend thinks.

Mr. Thorpe

Will the Prime Minister agree that, whatever cave men on either side of the House may think, the sooner people such as Mr. Woodcock are able to produce a report on the rights and obligations of the trade union movement in this country the better for the economy of this country and our economic revival?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, absolutely right. The Commission has not only got the duty of producing a report—it is not a committee of inquiry in that sense—but it has also the duty to promote improvements in industrial relations, and institutions and procedure in industrial relationships. I think the whole House, whatever other disagreements we may have on the White Paper, will recognise that the positive side of improving industrial relations, apart from other Measures, is absolutely vital and that it is right that the Commission should be permitted to get on right away.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the House also wishes to be consulted before the presentation of the Bill, and can we be assured of having a debate on the White Paper?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that the House needs to be consulted about this. It is, as I say, not only a question which affects the human relations of the constituents of every one of us; it also deals with a situation which has not been tackled systematically for a period of 60 years.

Mr. Peyton

If Mr. Woodcock is appointed, perhaps the Prime Minister will arrange for as close contact as possible between Mr. Woodcock and the Chairman of the Prices and Incomes Board. Mr. Woodcock will then be able to learn the secrets of activity from Mr. Aubrey Jones, and Mr. Aubrey Jones will be able to learn something about inactivity from Mr. Woodcock.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman began his question with the words "If Mr. Woodcock is appointed". The recommendation of Mr. Woodcock's name has already been approved by Her Majesty, so there is no "if" about it. The hon. Gentleman is always entitled on a serious subject to bring out his little jokes.

The following is the information: The Queen has been pleased to approve that a Commission on Industrial Relations be set up with the following terms of reference: To examine such matters as may be referred to it from time to time by the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity concerning the functioning and development of institutions and procedures for the conduct of industrial relations between employers and their representatives on the one hand and employees and their representatives on the other hand; to promote improvements in such institutions, procedures and relations; and to report. The Queen has also been pleased to approve that The Right Honourable George Woodcock, C.B.E., be appointed Chairman of this Commission