HC Deb 10 December 1970 vol 808 cc648-51
8. Mr. Adam Butler

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many working days have been lost due to strikes taking place in opposition to or in protest against the Government's proposed industrial relations legislation.

10. Mr. Hayhoe

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what estimate he has made of the numbers involved in the unofficial stoppage on 8th December in protest against the Government's proposals on industrial relations.

74. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many different industrial establishments were affected by the 8th December demonstration against the Industrial Relations Bill.

Mr. Bryan

It is impossible to make a close assessment, but my Department estimates that some 350,000 employees may have taken part in the one-day stoppage on Tuesday. Information on the number of establishments affected is not available.

Mr. Butler

I am sure that the majority of right hon. and hon. Members will join in condemning the Communist-directed political strike on 8th December, but, in view of the questions and views expressed in the Lobby on Tuesday, may I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the need for even greater publicity to explain what the proposals in the new Bill are?

Mr. Bryan

I do not know exactly what my hon. Friend means by the expressions in the Lobby, but all sections of opinion had better get used to the idea that we intend to press on with industrial relations legislation. The House cannot tolerate attempts to dictate by industrial action what it should do. I hope that those concerned will quickly realise the futility of further industrial action.

Mr. Hayhoe

Does my hon. Friend agree that our parliamentary democratic system is just as much under attack by those who seek to use industrial action to censor the contents of newspapers as it is by those who foment strikes in order to frustrate the will of the House?

Mr. Bryan

I think that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree with what has been said.

Mr. Orme

No, they do not.

Mr. Bryan

I was about to add that, to be fair, I think that that expression of view had been put from both Front Benches.

Mr. Skinner

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it was probably more criminal for some doctors to refuse to sign medical certificates last May than it was for some workers to take part in a peaceful demonstration against a reprehensible Bill?

Mr. Bryan

Both actions were misguided.

9. Mr. Hayhoe

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many strikes have occurred since 1st July, 1969; and in how many the Trades Union Congress has intervened in accordance with its agreement with the previous Government of June last year.

Mr. Bryan

It is provisionally estimated that 5,118 stoppages of work due to industrial disputes began in the period 1st July, 1969, to 31st October, 1970. The General Council's report to this year's T.U.C. records that over 180 disputes were reported to the T.U.C. in the 12 months ending June, 1970, and I understand that a further 27 disputes have been reported to the T.U.C. since June.

Mr. Hayhoe

I welcome the efforts which the T.U.C. and Mr. Victor Feather, in particular, have made in seeking settlement of some of these disputes, but do not the figures show beyond a shadow of doubt how wrong the previous Government were in June last year to climb down and run to ground beneath the skirts of the T.U.C.—a somewhat indecorous position in which, so far as I can see, right hon. and hon. Members opposite still are?

Mr. Bryan

I think that the answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's question is, "Yes, Sir". At the same time, having said that, I acknowledge that the T.U.C. has tried in good faith to do its best to carry out the Croydon undertaking of June, 1969. Obviously, we welcome its efforts, especially in inter-union disputes. However, the very figures on this question show that the task is beyond what the effort of an organisation of that sort can achieve.

Mr. James Hamilton

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that in the United States, where a system is operated similar to that under the Bill now before the House, there are three times more strikes than we have in this country? Second, does he agree that the T.U.C., on the basis of the White Paper introduced by the previous Government, has now accepted responsibility, which it did not previously take, and will he acknowledge that the T.U.C. is the appropriate body to deal with its own members, not the Government of the country?

Mr. Bryan

As I have said already, I do not accept that we are introducing so-called American legislation. We are introducing legislation tailor-made for this country. As for the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I can only repeat that the size of the problem—we are now running up to 4,000 strikes per year—must call for stronger measures than can be supplied by the Trades Union Congress.

Mrs. Castle

Is not the Minister of State aware—of course he is—that two-thirds of the strikes are over in three days or less, and, therefore, intervention by anybody is impossible? Second, is his sudden and rather belated tribute to work of the T.U.C. not connected with the fact that the Government are at this moment deeply thankful for the intervention of the T.U.C. in the power dispute, and that they are pinning their hopes to the thought that Mr. Victor Feather will be successful in breaking the deadlock which they have created? Is it not a fact that, following the agreement with the Labour Government, Mr. Feather and the T.U.C. have done more conciliation in a matter of hours than the Government have done in six months?

Mr. Bryan

The fact remains that there has been a greater escalation of strikes during this period than ever before. We cannot get away from that.

As to the first part of the right hon. Lady's question, I take it that she has been reading the Guardian, which, I must explain, is entirely in error. My right hon. Friend, in his task of trying to do his best to move towards a settlement, will welcome help from the Trades Union Congress or anyone else who is willing to help effectively.

21. Mr. David Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many strikes have occurred between 1st July, 1969 and 31st October, 1970; and by how much this figure exceeds that for the previous 16 months.

Mr. Bryan

The number of stoppages of work due to industrial disputes which began in the period 1st July, 1969 to 31st October, 1970 is provisionally estimated at 5,118. This exceeds the figure for the previous 16 months by 1,589.

Mr. Mitchell

In view of those very serious figures, may I ask my hon. Friend whether his right hon. Friend has made any estimate yet of when the legislation he is introducing will reach the Statute Book and be able to start its vital work?

Mr. Bryan

As my right hon. Friend has said before, we expect to get the legislation through Parliament by the end of this Session. We shall certainly do everything we can to do so.

Mr. John Fraser

Would the hon. Gentleman carry out some research among the employers concerned in those 5,000-odd strikes asking them how many would have sued the unions or organisers of the strikes for damages, and would he secondly say in respect of how many strikes the Government would have applied for an injunction under their proposed legislation to restrain the strike from taking place for 60 days?

Mr. Bryan

The answer to the question, I would estimate, is "Very few." We do not expect a flood of litigation to follow our Bill. We do expect that the standards it lays down will be effective in producing the sort of atmosphere which will lead to more order, better procedures and better industrial relations.