HC Deb 25 March 1971 vol 814 cc859-62
10. Mr. Harold Walker

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many days' production have been lost by strikes in protest against the introduction of the Industrial Relations Bill.

25. Mr. John Page

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about the strikes called or proposed by certain trade unions against the Industrial Relations Bill on 1st and 18th March.

31. Mr. Kenneth Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what estimate of the cost to the economy he has made of the one-day strike by the Amalgamated Engineering and Foundry-workers Union which took place on 1st March.

33. Mr. J. H. Osborn

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people were on strike on Monday 1st March and again on 18th March in protest against the Industrial Relations Bill, how many turned up to work in factories which were unable to start production and were paid datal rates; how many were locked out by their employers because of inability to start production; how many companies were involved; and how many agreements were broken.

34. Mr. James Hill

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the estimated number of days lost this year through strikes called in protest against the Industrial Relations Bill.

39. Mr. David Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is his estimate of the number of working days lost in strikes during 1971 where the cause of strike action was attached to political objection to the Industrial Relations Bill.

Mr. R. Carr

Just over three million man-days have been lost in one-day strikes, including 1.2 million on 1st March and 1.26 million on 18th March. It is not possible to estimate the cost of these strikes or how many other employees were prevented from working by them.

Mr. Walker

Is it not an extraordinary indictment of a Measure which is put to the country as being designed to bring about an improvement in industrial relations that, before it gets on the Statute Book, it is itself directly responsible for losing almost as much production time as we should lose in the course of a normal year?

Mr. Carr

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should ask that question, in view of the part which his union played in calling this political strike.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to follow the usual practice of first calling to ask supplementaries hon. Members who have put down Questions.

Mr. Page

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many reasonable trade unionists must have gone on strike because they were hoodwinked by the misrepresentations of the Bill presented to them by right hon. and hon. Members opposite?

Mr. Carr

I believe that that was one factor. I also believe, and on accumulated evidence, that many people went on strike unwillingly.

Mr. Lewis

Will my right hon. Friend tell us exactly what will be the effect on exports of these two strikes?

Mr. Carr

No. It is impossible to quantify. It will be of interest to the House to know, however, that the engineering Employers' Federation, which represents the industry most seriously affected, estimates that on the first of the two days, namely, 1st March, some 80 per cent. of its 4,500 member firms were affected and lost output to the value of approximately £70 million. One must presume that at least the equivalent happened on 18th March. The engineering industry includes our most important export industries.

Mr. Osborn

Will my right hon. Friend tell us what were the consequential layoffs as a result of the strike, which was for political motives, and what was the adverse effect on cash flow, therefore undermining the security of future employment?

Mr. Carr

As to the numbers who did not work, I cannot give a better estimate than the three million man-days lost which I gave in my original answer. This, of course, is no more than an estimate.

The effect on cash flow, too, must have been serious, but it is equally impossible to estimate.

Mr. Hill

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this form of strike is adequately covered by the Industrial Relations Bill and that it shows only too clearly how a militant minority could bring this country to its knees?

Mr. Carr

I very much hope that we have now heard the last of political strikes of this character. I am encouraged at least by this part of the T.U.C's. recommendations of last week.

Mr. Mitchell

Is my right hon. Friend able to advise the House whether these politically motivated strikes are lawful under existing legislation? If not, am I right in assuming that there is a right of redress for those who have been victim- ised and disciplined by their unions for working?

Mr. Carr

The power of a trade union to discipline its members derives from its rules. Whether a particular strike is an industrial dispute or a political act and whether, and if so to what extent, the rules apply if it is a political act are matters which can be decided only by the courts. Any members of unions who feel aggrieved will be well advised to seek legal advice.

Mr. Bidwell

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, according to his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, in answer to a contribution made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran), it is quite plain that a purely political strike is outside the scope of the Bill? Does he further agree that if workers are prevented from having the cherished freedom to strike in normal circumstances, we might see a growth of political strikes as opposed to those which arise from industrial disputes proper?

Mr. Carr

That would not make political strikes lawful. Certainly the Bill does nothing to do so. But whether a strike is or is not political and what follows from it is, as I said, a matter which can be determined only by the courts.