HC Deb 28 January 1971 vol 810 cc788-91
7. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many meetings were held by his Department in which they acted in the rôle of conciliators in the recent power dispute.

Mr. R. Carr

I and my conciliation officers held eleven meetings with the unions and the employers during the course of the dispute affecting industrial staff in the Electricity Supply Industry.

Mr. Eadie

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, which outlines that the Government are using the conciliation officers at their disposal. At what stage did he decide to use conciliation? Was there a time lag?

Mr. Carr

No, Sir. It would have been inappropriate for me to have intervened before the industry's own machinery had broken down. The moment it did break down, I was informed of the fact by both employers and unions, who both asked to come to see my Department, and meetings were fixed up immediately.

8. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many working days were lost as the result of the work-to-rule in the power workers' dispute.

Mr. Bryan

Statistics of working days lost through industrial disputes relate only to stoppages of work and not to other forms of industrial action such as working to rule, nor are statistics available of days lost in establishments other than those in which the disputes occurred.

Mr. Eadie

Will not the hon. Gentleman concede that working days were lost during the power strike and that there was considerable disruption in the economy? If he will concede that, can he inform us, in the light of experience, what future steps he is taking to ensure that there will be the minimum disruption as a consequence of any power strike if, for example, the unions reject the Wilberforce recommendations?

Mr. Bryan

I do not think that the House will underestimate the number of hours lost in industry generally as a result of the work-to-rule. Everyone will concede that. Obviously, the Government look forward to every sort of eventuality and are ready for it. We hope that we shall not have to put these steps into action.

Mr. Scott

Has there been any assessment of the total impact on national production caused by the work-to-rule? Is it not a nonsense, and a contradiction in terms, that action which causes danger to health and, indeed, to life is called a "work-to-rule"? Should not the rules in these circumstances change?

Mr. Bryan

We have given a good deal of thought to the whole question of the amount of disruption and the hours of production lost in industry as a whole. It is impossible to get anything like an accurate figure in this respect without literally requiring a return from employers, and so on, which would not be possible. One can do no more than make one's own judgment.

Mr. Thomas Cox

Bearing in mind the recent power dispute and statements made in the House about it by hon. Members opposite, is the hon. Gentleman aware that many station superintendents in the electricity supply industry have since spoken in glowing terms of the co-operation they received from their workers during the dispute? Is it not time that the Government acknowledged this fact, which is contrary to the statements they were making during the dispute?

Mr. Bryan

I do not think that the Government have made any derogatory remarks about power workers.

4. Mr. Ashton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of days lost in industrial disputes was lost by power station workers in 1969; and how this compares with the national average.

Mr. Bryan

Separate figures are not available for power station workers but working days lost in the electricity industry accounted for just under 0.2 per cent. of all working days lost through stoppages in the United Kingdom in 1969. This represents about 45 days lost per 1,000 employees in the electricity industry compared with about 300 days lost per 1,000 employees in all industries and services.

Mr. Ashton

As the hon. Gentleman's Answer shows, very great disruption can be caused in the power industry without workers going on strike. Can he tell us how his Industrial Relations Bill would have affected the dispute that took place before Christmas?

Mr. Bryan

The question of how the Bill affects a single disruption of any sort is not a helpful way to approach it. As has been explained time and again in the debate on the Bill, its whole purpose is to provide a background that will in good time supply better negotiating machinery and more orderly collective bargaining. If we start from that, over a period of time we expect disputes to decrease in number and in severity.

Mrs. Castle

If, as we are constantly told, it is essential to put industrial relations within a framework of law, surely the hon. Gentleman can tell the House how that framework would impinge on a particular, concrete situation. If not, what are we all wasting our time about?

Mr. Bryan

May I then ask the right hon. Lady how—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—"In Place Of Strife" would have affected that dispute?

Hon. Members


Mr. Fernyhough

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, I have heard your predecessors inform Ministers on several ocasions that it is not a Minister's privilege to ask questions but that it is his responsibility to answer them.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I join my predessor in deprecating points of order during Question Time. The content of an answer is not a matter for me. If a Minister chooses to put his answer in the form of a question, that is not a matter for me.

Sir G. Nabarro

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the position for the future with power workers is greatly aggravated by the fact that the chairman of the nationalised industry has had an increase from £12,500 to £17,500 a year, being a 40 per cent. advance, and that the leader of the union, Mr. Chapple, has now given himself an advance of 42 per cent., after deprecating advances for senior civil servants? Is not that sheer, naked aggravation in an already difficult situation?

Mr. Bryan

I do not know whether this information is relevant——

Sir G. Nabarro

It is relevant.

Mr. Bryan

If it is relevant, it will undoubtedly be considered by the Wilberforce Court of Inquiry.

Mr. Orme

Does the Minister agree that the difference between the Treasury Civil Servants and Mr. Chapple is that the Treasury was opposing the 10 per cent. increase while Mr. Chapple was in favour of getting proper reward for his members?

Mr. Bryan

I do not think that that has anything to do with the Question.