HC Deb 05 December 1972 vol 847 cc1076-8
3. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he now has to amend the Industrial Relations Act.

23. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has arranged with unions and employers about the operation of the Industrial Relations Act; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Maurice Macmillan)

As I told the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) on 7th November, I have no immediate plans for amending the Act but I am fully prepared to discuss with unions, employers or any other responsible bodies constructive proposals for improving its operation.—[Vol. 845, c. 108.]

Mr. Jenkins

Was the Act introduced, among other things, with the idea of curing strikes? Is it the case that this country, which once held a low position in the international strike league, has gradually been creeping up that league since the Act was introduced and is now reaching one of the top positions as one of the countries with a higher number of strikes? In the circumstances, is it not the case that there is no cure for this situation other than to repeal the Act?

Mr. Macmillan

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's deduction that the increase in the number of days lost through strikes is due to the Act. It is very largely due to the miners' strike, which happened before the Act came into operation, and the building dispute, which added to the total number of days lost. The trend of the number of disputes is downwards.

Mr. Waddington

Is it not irresponsible of certain unions not to make use of those parts of the Act which everybody would agree are in the interests of their members—namely, the provisions which grant compensation for unfair dismissal?

Mr. Macmillan

I am happy to say that despite the reluctance of some unions to use those parts of the Act which benefit the individual, the industrial tribunals and the National Industrial Relations Court in dealing with appeals from tribunals have succeeded in helping a large number of individual workpeople.

Mr. Heffer

Is it not clear that redundancy payments and unfair dismissal could equally well have been dealt with in a separate Act? There was no necessity to have the Industrial Relations Act as a whole. As the trade union movement will not accept the whole of the Act and as even Eric Jacobs of the Sunday Times, who is not renowned for his complete support of the trade union movement, is now saying that the time has come to get rid of the Act, is it not clear that the Government should wake up and get rid of it and bring in a small Act to deal purely with redundancy payments and unfair dismissal?

Mr. Macmillan

The Government will continue their position of saying that industrial relations is not a matter which can be conducted by law. Like other types of human relations, however, it has to be conducted within a framework of law. It is that framework of law which the Industrial Relations Act provides. It is right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition side who have denied that, both when in government and in their words in opposition, and it is their surrender to the concept that industrial relations can be conducted outside the principles of law that has caused a good deal of our present difficulties.