HC Deb 06 June 1972 vol 838 cc232-5
Q4. Mr. Strang

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech made by the Secretary of State for Employment in London on 13th May concerning trade unions represents Government policy.

Q7. Mr. John D. Grant

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for Employment to Conservative trade unionists in London on 13th May on industrial relations represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Q19. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech delivered by the Secretary of State for Employment to a Conference of Conservative trade unionists in London on 13th May, 1972, on the subject of trade unions represents the policy of the Government.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, and particularly when he referred to the overriding need for a common purpose to defeat inflation, with all sectional interests subordinated to the wider interests of more stable prices, increasing real earnings and faster and sustained growth.

Mr. Strang

Is the Prime Minister aware that that policy has already done immense damage to industrial relations? In particular, does he accept that the Government's use of the National Industrial Relations Court has had the effect of severely prolonging and exacerbating the railway dispute?

The Prime Minister

No, I certainly do not accept that. It has produced a cooling-off period which has saved the British public from a great deal of inconvenience and has saved the British economy from damage.

Mr. Grant

Does the Prime Minister recognise that the outcome of the railway pay ballot demonstrated clearly just what trade unionists think of the patrician approach of the Secretary of State for Employment to industrial problems? Would he not make a real contribution to industrial peace if he now allowed the wind of change to blow through the Department of Employment?

The Prime Minister

I have had two very important discussions with the Trades Union Congress in the past two months. During that time we have discussed fresh means of conciliation. Certainly the Government have shown their desire to find a way of avoiding disruption and damage of the kind which can be caused by these strikes. I understand that both the Confederation of British Industry and the TUC have produced their plans and are discussing them together—rightly so.

Mr. John Page

Was my right hon. Friend informed that his absolutely excellent speech was received with great enthusiasm by a packed audience of Conservative trade unionists?

The Prime Minister

Yes, it received whole-hearted support, but by far the greater part of the speech dealt with questions of training, redundancy and other matters affecting employment, which I believe also have the support of the whole trade union movement.

Mr. Clinton Davis

How does the Prime Minister square the assertion he made during the course of that speech—that what he wanted was not confrontation with the unions but co-operation with them—with the calculated decision today of the Secretary of State for Employment not to disclose to the House the grounds upon which he asserted that the railway trade unionists were not behind their union leadership?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman knows the Act perfectly well and he knows that that is not required by the Act.

Mr. Waddington

In spite of all that has emanated from the other side of the House, is there not already good evidence that the National Industrial Relations Court is making a very useful contribution to the solution of industrial relations problems?

The Prime Minister

I am prepared for this point to remain a matter of controversy in the House. But the trade unions themselves are now co-operating in working the Act and in appearing before the Court and putting their views to it. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman is so sceptical about the matters that we have discussed, he might at least acknowledge that during the first three months in which the unfair dismissals provisions have been in force more than 1,600 cases have been taken by individual employees to tribunals. This is the part we always emphasised—that industrial tribunals could help individual employees.

Mr. Prentice

Does not the Prime Minister realise that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) will not do, nor will the replies that the Secretary of State for Employment gave earlier? Although the Solicitor-General was not required by the terms of the Act to present evidence to the court why the Government thought that the rank and file of the unions did not necessarily support their leaders, surely the Government owe an explanation to the House and to the country why they took this extraordinary view which has been proved absolutely wrong by the result of the ballot?

The Prime Minister

I do not in the least accept that, nor did the court which heard the application, nor did the Court of Appeal. The House is governed by the Act, in the same way as are the court and the Court of Appeal I believe that if—I emphasise "if"—there is to be disruption on the railways, the nation had better see that it is the determined will of those in the unions who voted for it.