HC Deb 06 June 1972 vol 838 cc223-4
17. Mr. John D. Grant

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will seek to amend the Industrial Relations Act to eliminate the requirement for compulsory ballots to be held.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

No, Sir.

Mr. Grant

Does the Minister accept that the result of the ballot was not only a resounding vote of confidence by the railway men in their union leadership but also a demonstration of their utter contempt for his bumbling brand of bravado which has bedevilled this dispute throughout? Does the right hon. Gentleman not think, in view of that and in view of the waste of time and public money that this ballot involved, that the best contribution he could make to industrial peace would be to shut himself off in a siding somewhere?

Mr. Macmillan

The ballot fulfilled its purpose in showing clearly that industrial action in this case was not being taken except with the agreement of the majority of the workpeople concerned, who were willing to take industrial action, despite the inconvenience to the country and damage to the economy, to obtain a wage settlement on which they had insisted from the beginning of the negotiations, rather than to accept the arbitrated award.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Is it not the task of this House to make it clear, arising from the ballot, precisely what the position means? Is it not a fact that it means in this case that there is proof of the bona fides of the leaders of the unions to talk for their members, which is helpful and good? Is it not also a fact, however, that that in no way alters the basic situation, which is that a settlement must be based on fairness and on a sum which the railways can pay and which is fair to the general public? Is not that the real basis behind the ballot?

Mr. Macmillan

I would not disagree at all with my hon. Friend about that. Perhaps the House would like to reflect on how happy it would be if we could have polls of an equally high percentage in other elections, in local government for one and in respect of union leadership for another.

Mr. Bagier

Whatever the right hon. Gentleman says about the railway men having voted for further industrial action, may I ask him whether he is unaware that the real issue centres on the question which was asked in the ballot, a question which was compiled by himself with the collusion of the National Industrial Relations Court—with the result that the only answer that the railway-men could give was the one that in fact they gave? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman simply to agree that the vote of the railway men was one of overwhelming confidence in their leadership?

Mr. Macmillan

The hon. Gentleman must not get his facts wrong. My Department and I suggested, as we do under the Act, a form of words for the question, but the actual form of words was changed and the question was made by the Court. It asked the people concerned whether, in the light of the most recent offer, they wished to take industrial action. They gave the clear answer, "Yes, we do".

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order. Is it not unparliamentary for it to be suggested in this House that a court of law has acted in collusion, to the detriment of the nation?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should be careful in the terms they use when referring to a court of law.

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