HC Deb 09 May 1972 vol 836 cc1124-6
Q4. Mr. Ashley

asked the Prime Minister if, at his next meeting with officials of the Trades Union Congress, he will discuss the measures the Government have taken to reduce the number of strikes.

The Prime Minister

I expect that there will be further discussions about what has been done and what more could he done to promote the peaceful and rational resolution of industrial disputes.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Prime Minister aware that the irrational handling of the railways dispute will result in an increase in the already high number of working days lost under this Government since they took office? Is he further aware that the Government and the Board are responsible for creating confusion about which offer has been made, when it will be paid and who is speaking to whom? Would it help the Prime Minister if Sir Sidney Greene were to invite him and the Chairman of the Railways Board to a beer and sandwiches session to help them sort out the confusion?

The Prime Minister

I do not think there is any confusion among those dealing with this difficult matter. The hon. Gentleman spoke about reducing the number of strikes. It is to be noted that in the first three months of this year there were 448 strikes and in the first three months of 1970 there were 1.212. If the hon. Gentleman is asking about the railway negotiations, these were not discussed at my meeting with the TUC. It was not appropriate to do so.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not a scandal—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—that the ordinary citizen is being required[" Reading."]—through his personal taxation to finance and enable strikers—

Mr. William Price

Go hack to reading!

Mr. Churchill

—to be in a position to hold the nation to ransom? Will the Prime Minister seek to take measures to redress the balance of misery as between the community as a whole and the strikers so that it is not always the community that suffers most?

The Prime Minister

Under existing law the families of those who require assistance can obtain supplementary benefit. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is not justifiable, through a work-to-rule, to put the community to the inconvenience that we have seen, or to cause economic dislocation to the country as a whole.

Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of the many speeches the right hon. Gentleman made before the Election pledging himself to reduce the toll of man-days lost through disputes, will he tell the House the total number of man-days lost under this Government in the 21 months up to 31st March, 1972?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman wants figures for specific periods which he selects, I am prepared to send them to him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer"] What is true is that the major loss in man-days has been due to two very large strikes, the Post Office strike and the miners' strike. What is also noticeable is that in the rest of industry the number of strikes is approximately one-third of what it was when the right hon. Gentleman was in power.

Mr. Wilson

If the right hon. Gentleman either does not know the figures for his own period of office or has not the guts to give them in the House—[Interruption.] Will he confirm that man-days lost from all causes add up now to 35,225,000—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman used to offer to help me with figures when he was on this side of the House. I am helping him. Would he agree with that figure and agree that it represents 150 per cent. of the total man-days lost during the whole period of the Labour Government?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned about it, why did he not pass his own industrial relations legislation and get something done about it?