HC Deb 12 November 1970 vol 806 cc571-7
1. Mr. John D. Grant

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what consultations he has had with the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry on his proposals to reform industrial relations; and if he will make a statement.

51. Mr. John Page

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will make a statement about the discussions he has had with the Trades Union Congress, and individual Trades Unions and the Confederation of British Industries and individual employers associations about the Consultative Document on Industrial Relations.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Robert Carr)

I met the Finance and General Purposes Committee of the T.U.C. on 13th October, and representatives of the C.B.I. on 22nd October and 11th November. I also met representatives of the Engineering Employers' Federation on 3rd November. Officials of my Department have also met, or have arranged to meet, representatives of a number of other organisations that have submitted comments. All the comments received are being carefully considered.

Mr. Grant

I do not wish to embarrass the Secretary of State by asking him how his proposals might have applied to the local government manual workers' stoppage, but does he believe that he has carried out meaningful consultation, particularly since he imposed restrictions on what the trade unions could usefully talk to him about? Even at this eleventh hour, will he not consider the appeal made this morning by Mr. Victor Feather and extend the period of consultation so that consultation may be uninhibited and of value instead of pursuing the fraudulent exercise in which he has so far been engaged?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Long questions mean fewer questions.

Mr. Carr

I have not restricted what the T.U.C. may come and talk to me about, and it is important that that should be made absolutely clear. The T.U.C. could have come and had valuable discussions about the whole scope of the Bill. I thought it only right and fair to make clear to the T.U.C. what was already well known to the country, that the Government were firmly committed to and had received a mandate for the introduction of a framework of industrial relations law. I also thought it right to indicate to them that within that framework there were certain main principles which were essential to the framework, although we could usefully have talked about the shape.

Mr. John Page

Did my right hon. Friend receive any representations from individual trade unions rather than from the T.U.C., and would he be willing to receive such representations if they were made, even at this stage?

Mr. Carr

I have received some representations from individual trade unions, and I would, of course, still be prepared to consider further representations from individual trade unions, the T.U.C. or any other quarter. Although, to give Parliament adequate time to debate this important Bill, it was necessary to put a final date prior to the production of the Bill, there will be a Committee stage in which, I trust, sensible, constructive proposals can be considered.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that the T.U.C. has made it indelibly clear that his proposed Industrial Relations Bill is a nonsense, and that the C.B.I. has certain reservations about it? On that basis, will he now do the correct thing for the good of the economy of the country and depart from his proposed legislation?

Mr. Carr

The answer to that question is "No", because the propositions on which it is based are entirely false. There is a large measure of support in many quarters of the country, and overwhelmingly amongst the people, in favour of the principles of our proposal.

Mr. Awdry

In view of the serious allegations made recently by Lord Robens about victimisation and violence in connection with the unofficial miners' strike, will the Minister arrange an immediate inquiry into the whole situation?

Mr. Carr

That is a different question, but I hope that the whole House will join Lord Robens and the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers in condemning tactics of this kind.

Mrs. Castle

Does it not make a mockery of consultation to say, "I am perfectly prepared to receive you and to listen to what you have to say, provided that it is clearly understood that I do not intend to vary any of the major proposals, the only ones in which you are interested"? Is not the right hon. Gentleman here repeating his mistake in respect of conciliation, and will there not be some worsening of attitudes as a result?

Mr. Carr

If I had said that, it might have been a mockery, but I did not say it. I never have said it. Let me repeat what I said to the T.U.C. so that the House may be absolutely clear. I said that we were committed to introducing a new framework of law in this field, and that there were certain principles which we regarded as vital to that framework, but I made it clear—if I may use the pillar analogy which I used then—that the shape and size of the pillars could be the subject of consultation.

17. Mr. Holland

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has completed his consultations with industry about the proposed Industrial Relations Bill; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. R. Carr

Comments on our proposals are still being received from organisations and industries. Full consideration is being given to them and meetings are being held where necessary.

Mr. Holland

Bearing in mind the mandate to which my right hon. Friend referred earlier for the speedy implementation of all the main proposals in the consultative document, may I ask him to think again about the possibility of including the code of good industrial relations, which I consider to be one of the most important proposals, as a Schedule to the Bill?

Mr. Carr

In our opinion the code of industrial relations is extremely important and an integral part of what we are doing, but I am afraid that time considerations do not enable me to accept my hon. Friend's suggestion. I assure him and the House, however, that it is my intention to introduce this at the earliest posible moment.

Mr. Heffer

Was not the right hon. Gentleman trying to mislead the House when he told my right hon. Friend that he was prepared to meet the Trades Union Congress to discuss all aspects of the Bill? Is it not quite clear that when the right hon. Gentleman says that he is prepared to discuss only the framework of the Bill, he is saying that the main principles are settled and that only the details can be discussed? In those circumstances it is impossible for the T.U.C. to have a meaningful discussion with the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Carr

May I first extend a warm welcome to the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench and wish a certain amount of good luck to this new and interesting partnership on the Front Bench opposite.

On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, it is not true to say that I have refused to discuss these matters with the T.U.C. I must repeat again that I have made clear what the Government are committed to, and I think that that is the only fair and honest way to start consultations. The Labour Party has often been elected on firm commitments and therefore has been prepared to discuss only the details of those commitments and not the principles of them. That is the way we work in our society.

19. Mr. Moyle

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he intends to publish his Bill on Industrial Relations Reform.

21. Mr. Golding

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he now intends to present legislation governing industrial relations; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. R. Carr

I intend to introduce the Industrial Relations Bill before the end of the year.

Mr. Moyle

Will the right hon. Gentleman change his mind? Does he not agree that inflation is the most serious problem facing the nation, and that the Bill makes no contribution to dealing with it? Will he withdraw the Bill as a contribution to getting all parties to work together to solve that problem, particularly as the only effect of the Measure will be to make life difficult and complicated for everybody?

Mr. Carr

I agree that inflation is the country's current most important problem, but I do not believe that the Bill will make it worse. The Government believe that the Bill is essential to the future improvement of industrial relations on a voluntary basis.

Mr. Golding

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill is inflationary because legally enforceable contracts will lead inevitably to higher wage claims and to bitter and prolonged disputes before settlements on a higher plateau than would otherwise be achieved are reached?

Mr. Carr

No. Sir.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the Bill is published it takes note of the present situation in Somerset, where miners are being intimidated by their colleagues—if one can use the word—from Wales, and being threatened with reprisals if they do not come out on strike?

Mr. Carr

The Bill will introduce important new safeguards for individual workers, although it is not particularly directed at the sort of problem to which my hon. Friend referred, important though that may be.

Mrs. Castle

How does the right hon. Gentleman expect to win the co-operation of the trade union movement in tackling the basic problem of this country, namely, inflation, if he alienates them by the introduction of this provocative and antitrade union legislation? Will he get his priorities right and drop these irrelevancies and drop the Bill?

Mr. Carr

One questions the credentials of the right hon. Lady to lecture me about priorities or provocation. Perhaps if she, with her right hon. Friends, had had the courage to stick to doing what they told the country was essential in the national interest, we might have been better off today.

20. Mr. Golding

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will consult the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry on the question of industrial relations legislation.

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

My right hon. Friend has received comments from the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry which warmly welcome the Government's proposals. These comments are being carefully considered.

Mr. Golding

Is the Minister aware that those employers, together with many others, have serious reservations about details of the Bill? Is he aware that in the Midlands the proposal to end the closed shop is a cause of great concern not only to trade unions but also to employers?

Mr. Bryan

I can only say, as I said at the start, that the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce warmly welcomes our proposals. I do not think that I should go into the details of its comments now. On the other point raised by the hon. Gentleman, our proposals in the consultative document on the agency shop are on a voluntary basis. They are that an individual is free either to join or not to join a trade union, and an agency shop is possible if it is voluntarily wanted, and is produced by a voluntary system.