HC Deb 28 January 1971 vol 810 cc796-8
12. Mr. Hayhoe

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many strikes occurred in 1970; and by what percentage this figure exceeds the comparable figures for 1969 and 1964.

Mr. R. Carr

There were 3,888 stoppages of work due to industrial disputes in 1970. This was an increase of 25 per cent. over 1969 and a 54 per cent. increase since 1964.

Mr. Hayhoe

Will not these startling figures provide strong supporting reasons for the legislation which is now passing through the House in Committee? Could my right hon. Friend say what proportion of these stoppages were unofficial and what proportion official?

Mr. Carr

I cannot offhand give the exact figures, but I am sure that I should not be far wrong if I said that about 95 per cent. of all industrial disputes were unofficial. As to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, the present situation does stress the urgent need for some action. The previous Government recognised that over two years ago but they did nothing about it.

Mr. Pavitt

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that over the same period of time the number of days lost through illness rose from 280 million to 312 million— that for every one day's strike, 30 days were lost through illness? Would he not apply the same energy to industrial health as he seems to be applying to industrial relations?

Mr. Carr

That, too, is an important question in terms of industrial effect and we must do all that we can to improve the situation. In terms of industrial effect the loss through illness and voluntary absenteeism is not comparable with the loss through strikes because whereas places can be kept going when one or two people are away, they cannot keep going when the whole place is shut down.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

To what extent does my right hon. Friend think that the alarming increase in disputes is attributable to the steep increase in the taxpayers' subsidy of strikes through the supplementary benefit system? Is he aware that if there is any truth in this morning's reports that the Government may be thinking of continuing this curious practice, this might be unlikely to reduce the continuous proliferation of strikes?

Mr. Carr

Any question of legislation in the social security sphere must be for my right hon. Friend to deal with. Evidence on this subject is not so easy to come by. The cause for the increase in strikes is difficult to analyse, but we are in no doubt that one of the reasons is that they have been a side effect of a statutory incomes policy, one which we forecast many years ago.

Mr. Harold Walker

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that we should get a more balanced picture if we looked at the statistics over a period? Is he aware that if we look at the period from 1964 until May, 1970, and compare it with the preceding comparable period from 1959 to 1964, no matter whether we calculate it in terms of number of days lost, number of workers involved or the number of strikes, the figures almost exactly match?

Mr. Carr

As the Donovan Report pointed out, in June 1968, the serious and urgent problem was the number of strikes and their increase in all industries other than coalmining.

14. Mr. J. H.Osborn

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what were the number of days lost from stoppages due to strikes in 1970; how this figure compares with those for the previous five years; and what percentage of both were due to unofficial strikes.

Mr. Bryan

As the answer consists of a table of figures I will, with permission circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Osborn

Is it not a fact that the vast increase in the number of strikes, as given in the previous Answer, causes disruption in other industries? What evidence has my hon. Friend that the increasing number of strikes is the cause of rising unemployment?

Mr. Bryan

I do not think that I have any evidence on paper to prove that point. I can but reiterate what has been said previously, that undoubtedly the number of strikes causes great disruption. By any standards, whether by days lost or by number of strikes, the situation is getting progressively worse. The table which will be published as an answer to the Question shows that in 1965 the total number of days lost was just less than three million, while last year it was over ten million. The escalation has been very rapid.

Mr. Orme

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with Donovan that while the majority of strikes investigated by Donovan were unofficial, they lasted only two or three days, while official disputes were three or four times longer? Will not the Government's legislation bring about the development of official disputes which may last for weeks and months, as happens in America and which will damage the British economy more than anything that has happend before?

Mr. Bryan

We certainly and sincerely do not believe that that forecast will prove to be correct. It is worth underlining once again that all these unofficial strikes, short or long, are, relatively speaking, more disruptive than official strikes.

Following is the information:

Working days lost in all stoppages in progress in year (000's)
Total(1) As a result of stoppages Known to have been official(2) Column (2) as Percentage Column(1)
1970* 10,970 2,734 24.9
1969 6,846 1,613 23.6
1968 4,690 2,199 46.1
1967 2,787 394 14.1
1966 2,398 1,171 48.8
1965 2,925 607 20.8
* Provisional.
Separate estimates are available only for stoppages known to have been official.