HC Deb 06 November 1969 vol 790 cc1159-62
10. Mr. Barnett

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity if she will make a statement on the current level of industrial disputes.

Mrs. Castle

It is provisionally estimated that during the first nine months of this year in industry, including mining and quarrying, there were 2,181 recorded stoppages of work, involving the loss of 3,989,000 working days at the establishments where the disputes occurred.

Mr. Barnett

Is there not a lesson to be learnt from what happened in the exhibition contracting industry, where an increase was frozen until February, 1970, and eventually allowed but only after there was an enormous number of unofficial stoppages? Is not that a good reason, once again, for allowing the prices and incomes powers to lapse rather than bridge them as is the present plan?

Mrs. Castle

I cannot accept my hon. Friend's premise that it has been undue delay in settling pay applications that has been the cause of the strikes. Rather the issues go wider and deeper than that. We shall need to consider those increases in a far more serious context.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Would the right hon. Lady not agree, referring again to the exhibition contracting industry, that the sole effect of her Ministry's intervention is to increase the percentage increase in average wages which had originally been agreed and which her Department then froze?

Mrs. Castle


11. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity how many days have been lost due to strikes and stoppages, unofficial and official, during the 12 months to the end of September, 1969 ; what were the comparable figures for the 12 months ended, respectively, 30th September, 1967, 1965, and 1963 ; and what are the reasons for the progressive loss increases due to these causes.

Mr. Harold Walker

It is provisionally estimated that in the 12 months to the end of September, 1969, stoppages of work due to industrial disputes resulted in the loss of 4,772,000 workingdays at the establishments where the disputes occurred. The comparable figures for the 12 months ended 30th September, 1967, 1965 and 1963 were 2,106,000, 2,898.000 and 2,083,000, respectively. A major reason for the high level of the latest figure is that the institutions and methods of collective bargaining are not being reformed and extended quickly enough to meet the needs of industrial change.

Sir G. Nabarro

Do not these figures reveal that stoppages have increased by about 2½, times compared with six years ago? Whereas there are widespread and diverse causes for this calamitous state of affairs, is it not evident that hastening inflation as a result of Government policies and increasing stoppages are marching hand in hand?

Mr. Walker

It is time right hon. and hon. Members opposite stopped playing around with figures to suit their convenience and to help them make political capital out of industrial unrest. The hon. Gentleman referred to six years ago. Why did not he refer to seven years ago, when, over the same period, the number of days lost was not in the region of 3 million or 4 million but 5½ million? Indeed, one could go back to the first nine months of 1957. During those nine months, 8 million days were lost. The continual use of "phoney" figures both by the hon. Gentleman and by the Leader of the Opposition is doing a tremendous amount of harm.

Mr. R. Carr

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept, as the Donovan Commission accepted and as the White Paper "In Place of Strife" accepted, that the number of strikes outside the coal mining industry is doing vital damage to the country? Does not he realise that the figure is five times as high as it was in the 1950s?

Mr. Walker

Yes, Sir. But I repeat that the continued use by the Opposition of selected figures which distort the situation, far from finding a solution to what we all accept is a situation fraught with serious problems, and one in which we cannot afford to be complacent, only exacerbates the situation. It certainly does not help to find a way of diminishing the number of strikes.

24. Mr. David Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity whether she is satisfied that the Trades Union Congress have complied with the undertakings given to Her Majesty's Government on 18th June, 1968 ; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Castle

The Government welcome the manner in which the T.U.C. General Council has set about using its new powers to attempt to settle or avert serious disputes.

Mr. Mitchell

I pay tribute to the valiant efforts of Mr. Victor Feather, but would not the right hon. Lady agree that the serious disruption suffered by industry and the public in recent weeks suggests that the T.U.C. is not as effective as her own proposals would have been had they been enacted last summer?

Mrs. Castle

I am very glad to hear hon. Gentlemen's support for my proposals instead of those of hon. Gentlemen opposite, which would certainly have been totally ineffectual in dealing with the issues we faced, because what we have had in the last few months—and it should be remembered that we are only at the beginning of a great new attempt by the trade union movement to help us solve the problem of inter-union disputes and unconstitutional strikes—has been a series of successes by the T.U.C. We certainly have not had success in every case, but I think that the Port Talbot strike is proof that there the unions as well as the T.U.C. used every possible endeavour to solve the dispute. It showed that the solutions are slightly more difficult than the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Moonman

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it is because they are a new responsibility to the T.U.C. that they are working reasonably well ; and that this is still a far better procedure and practice than would be the case if the party opposite ever got into power and introduced aggressive trade union legislation?

Mrs. Castle

I certainly think that the proposals of hon. Gentlemen opposite would have been irrelevant to a situation such as, for instance, the Port Talbot dispute, where the union was clearly using its best endeavours, and when Jim Barry, the General Secretary, was howled down as a result of his trying to get the chaps back to work. We have here a deep-rooted problem for which we shall have to have slow and constructive solutions. No pat answers will meet the day.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Can the right hon. Lady quote some other successes that have been achieved, particularly in the car industry?

Mrs. Castle

There are a whole number of cases where T.U.C. interventions has been remarkably effective. There was the Joseph Lucas strike last summer. There was the Newspaper Proprietors' Association dispute with the N.G.A. There was the Bemrose dispute. There have been a series of inter-union disputes where the T.U.C. has set up a disputes committee which has made an award which has then been accepted by the parties.