HC Deb 07 February 1972 vol 830 cc947-8
1. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to meet representatives of the Electricity Council and trade union representatives in the electricity supply industry.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. John Davies)

I have no such plans at present.

Mr. Cox

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should try to make some plans because he is surely aware that, despite the efforts of trade unions, there could well be a ban on overtime in the electricity industry tomorrow. Against this background, in view of the effect which that will have, plus the bitterness that the men within the industry feel over the present wage negotiations, surely it is the right hon. Gentleman's duty to become involved in this dispute as quickly as possible in the hope that a satisfactory settlement can be arrived at.

Mr. Davies

I understand that the parties are meeting today. I think it is much better to leave the matter in their capable hands.

Mr. J. H. Osborn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if there are to be cuts this week, particularly in the Sheffield area where there are steelworks, it is most important that the steelworks should be notified of all likely cuts as it would be very costly and inconvenient if steel were to grow cold and solid in, for instance, electric arc furnaces?

Mr. Davies

Yes. I assure my hon. Friend that the electricity supply industry has the problems of industries of that kind generally very much in mind and will do all that it possibly can to mitigate any difficulty which might arise.

Mr. Palmer

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate just how serious is the public electricity supply system at this moment? It is balanced on a knife-edge. Does he not think that the Government bear some responsibility for the situation by their foolhardy policy of discrimination against the nationalised industries in the matter of pay setlements?

Mr. Davies

No, I do not agree with that remark at all. The Government keep the matter under very careful consideration and attention to ensure that the maximum is done to limit any damage which may occur.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is my right hon. Friend aware—I am sure he is—that under the Act the electricity supply industry has a special obligation to serve the public and not to take extreme action? Will he make it clear to all the parties concerned that they ought not to take action which will cause disruption of supplies to the general public?

Mr. Davies

Yes. I am sure that all the parties will be aware of what my hon. Friend has said. It is true that the electricity supply industry has not only a moral but a statutory commitment in this respect.

Mr. Benn

In view of the gravity of the crisis, to which reference has been made, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the Government cannot stand aside from this matter, particularly as they are known to be a major factor in the background of all the negotiations? Will the Minister tell the House whether the response which he has given today is merely in reference to the present situation or whether he intends to maintain it if the dispute develops?

Mr. Davies

The Government are keeping the whole issue under careful and continuous attention and will take any action which they deem necessary in the light of any development.