HC Deb 10 December 1970 vol 808 cc640-1
1. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the Government's future use of individual industrial arbitrators.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Paul Bryan)

Before I answer this Question, may I, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, apologise for the fact that he is unable to attend Question time today, for reasons which I think the House will recognise? He will be here to make a statement later in the afternoon.

The Answer to Question No. 1 is as follows: There has been no change in the Government's policy towards this form of arbitration.

Mr. Ashley

Now that the Government have destroyed confidence in arbitration in the public sector, may I ask the Minister to recommend the appointment of a man acceptable to both sides to inquire into the electricity dispute?

Mr. Bryan

I could not accept the implication of that supplementary question. The statement which my right hon. Friend made last night and his interview with the trade union leaders will, I hope, convince them that arbitration is still available and is still fair. As to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary, about an individual arbitrator, I suggest that he addresses that question to my right hon. Friend when he attends later this afternoon.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Would my hon. Friend agree that the lesson of experience suggests that any arbitrator, if he wishes to stay in business, is bound, in effect, to split the difference between the last offer of the employers and what the employees are demanding because if he does not do that he will not be acceptable to the union side again? Is it not evident, therefore, that the sole purpose of arbitration is to provide an alibi to both sides for an inflationary increase?

Mr. Bryan

That may or may not be so, but the Government's role in arbitration is to be fair and to be outside the actual negotiations; and that is the role which we shall follow.

Mrs. Castle

While it is most unusual for the Secretary of State not to be present for Questions, even in the present situation, may I inform the hon. Gentleman that if his absence means that he is at last engaged in genuine conciliation, we shall be the first to excuse him?

Mr. Bryan

I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend is continuing his admirable conduct in this most difficult strike, as he has been doing in the last few days.

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