HC Deb 14 May 1970 vol 801 cc1443-8
Q1. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of the public speech he made in Oban to the Scottish Trades Union Congress on Wednesday, 22nd April on industrial relations.

Q5. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech to the Scottish Trades Union Congress on 22nd April on the subject of industrial relations.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

As I said in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) on 24th April, I did so, Sir, on 23rd April.—[Vol. 800, c. 165.]

Mr. Winnick

Is it not clear that the recent newspaper dispute would not have been solved by the Opposition's plan for industrial relations? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the Tory plan, reaffirmed yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition, amounts to legal restrictions and shackles on the trade unions which would bring Britain near to industrial civil war?

The Prime Minister

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, certainly what is put forward by the Conservative Party would not have averted a newspaper strike. So far from that, the action taken by Mr. Feather and the T.U.C. would not have been possible except under the Downing Street agreement of last year. As for the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I have not yet had an opportunity to read the right hon. Gentleman's speech, though I hope to do so.

Mr. Davidson

If my right hon. Friend feels disposed to read that speech at some stage, is he aware that he will detect in it a shifting of emphasis on the part of the Leader of the Opposition and that, if he felt disposed to read it again, he would possibly also detect in it a recognition on the part of the right hon. Gentleman that the legal enforcement of collective agreements is not and never has been a panacea for the improvement of industrial relations?

The Prime Minister

Not having read it, it is difficult for me to say what I would detect in it if I read it. But on what was trumpeted in the headlines on the front page of every newspaper a few weeks ago and last year—namely, the enforceability of agreements—it is now clear that the Conservative position seems to be that these are enforceable, provided—[Interruption.] I will satisfy hon. Gentlemen completely in a moment.

For 13 years nothing was done. I am about to say what we have done. While the Conservative position is that these are enforceable unless one side disagrees, our position in the Bill now before Parliament is that these are enforceable if both sides agree. If anyone apart from a Conservative lawyer can find a real difference there, he is better than I am.

Mr. Heath

Will the Prime Minister tell the House how many strikes there were in the first three months of this year compared with last year and compared with 1968?

The Prime Minister

The House has already been given the figures, and I have also given the figures for the past five years, compared with the higher figures in the last five years of the period of office of the party opposite. Even when the right hon. Gentleman was at the Ministry of Labour, they were higher than they have been in the last five years. The answer is, as confirmed by a Conservative newspaper, that they are two million man days less than they would have been but for Mr. Feather.

Mr. Heath

If the Prime Minister has the information, will he now answer my question?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. The figure is 2.126 million, if that is the figure that the right hon. Gentleman needs, man days lost through strikes. The number of strikes was 1,134—Unterruptionl-1,134—[Interruption.]—1,134—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let us get on with Questions quietly.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman must not be so hysterical. I have just given the figure for which I was asked.

Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

The number of strikes, I have just said three times, was 1,134.

Sir Knox Cunningham

And the year before?

The Prime Minister

I should be glad to give the figures for the year before. I will also be very glad to give the right hon. Gentleman the figures which show higher figures in the Tories' last five years than under us—[Interruption.] Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite can afford the irresponsibility of opposition, and they will have many more years to get used to it. But if we are concerned with what I said at Oban, I said then that the right hon. Gentleman's policy, by claiming to solve the strike—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I have just answered the question—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The right hon. Gentlemen's policy is a specific for more strikes.

Mr. Heath

May I offer to help the right hon. Gentleman? There were 1,134 strikes in the first three months of this year, 718 last year, and 512 the year before. The Government have abdicated all power of responsibility in the face of those figures.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the figures that he has so diligently dug out. I am sure that the House, as he would wish, will ponder them.

I will now answer the last part of his question, though it sounded more like an assertion. The distinguished speech which he made yesterday, together with the no doubt less distinguished speech that I made yesterday—[Interruption.]

An Hon. Member: Wait for it.

The Prime Minister

—would not have been there for any of us to read today in the newspapers if it had not been for the intervention of Mr. Feather. Conservative policies could not have stopped that strike. Mr. Feather could not have intervened against the background of Conservative policies. He would not have had power to intervene except for what was conceded in the Downing Street talks last year. The right hon. Gentleman can ask Mr. Feather if he wishes. After all, he settled that strike, where the right hon. Gentleman's system would not have done.

I conclude with this answer—

Mr. Ridsdale

On a point of order. Surely this is Question Time, not speech time?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a question, not a point of order.

Mr. Faulds

Further to that point of order. Is there nothing that you can do, Mr. Speaker, to restrain the graceless reiteration of the Leader of the Opposition and also to comfort the poor miserable berks on the other side of the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is very little that I can do at the moment.

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman's question was not a question but an assertion, I conclude briefly that, in addition to the fact that his speech and mine could not have been reported, the Conservative Press, which has so faithfully supported him on strikes and now knows where the facts really lie, would not have been in production today, and some would not have survived.

Dr. Winstanley

Does the Prime Minister agree that, while strikes and absence from work are desperately serious matters, what people do when they are at work is also relevant to the economy? In this connection, when he is next giving advice to the Conservative Front Bench on this topic, would he care to remind them that there are at present no strikes in Czechoslovakia, but that Czechoslovakian productivity is the lowest in Europe?

Mr. Shinwell

Referring to the settlement of the newspaper strike, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is true that, since publication of the public opinion polls in the newspapers, the Tory Opposition no longer believe what they read in the newspapers?

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

Has the Prime Minister heard the rumour—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—then I shall inform him—that the country wishes to return to yesterday's men—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yesterday's prices, yesterday's taxes and yesterday's unemploment situation? Is the Prime Minister aware that yesterday's men never devalued and never fiddled by boundary rigging?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The original Question is about Oban and the Trades Union Congress.

Mr. Archer

On a point of order. I apologise, Mr. Speaker. But the expression "yesterday's men" was used by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech. It was the first time that that expression was used.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That does not bring the hon. Gentleman's question into this Question.

The Prime Minister

Since the question was put, I must say that I have not heard any such rumour, or any rumour that the people of this country want to return to yesterday's deficit either. For myself, I just feel saddened that a once great party has nothing left to feed on but rumours.