HC Deb 13 February 1973 vol 850 cc1135-8
Q1. Mr. Simon Mahon

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an early official visit to the county borough of Bootle.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

I have at present no plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Mahon

I am sorry about that, Sir. The Prime Minister recently chided the people of Merseyside about their poor industrial relations. Did he do so in the full knowledge of the contribution made in recent years by the county borough of Bootle, and in the full knowledge that there are 50,000 unemployed on Merseyside? Will he bear in mind that not every strike on Merseyside is caused by a Liverpudlian or a person from Bootle? Many strikes, such as the IRO strike, are caused by outside interests and recalcitrant management. I appeal to the Prime Minister, as I have done once before, to give us the full co-operation of the Government in bringing 3,500 jobs, which are badly needed, to my constituents.

The Prime Minister

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the influence of some outsiders. Far from chiding the people of Merseyside, what I did in that speech was to congratulate them on the immense amount they had already done to help themselves in the development of Merseyside in every possible way. I went on to say that the best thing they could possibly do for the future would be to improve the image overseas of their industrial relations. Far from this statement being questioned or myself being rebuked at the luncheon attended by representatives of Merseyside, it was applauded. I believe it genuinely to be correct. If the people of Merseyside can do more in this direction, they will be able to make more jobs available.

Mr. Redmond

If my right hon. Friend visits Bootle, will he bear in mind that not far away is Bolton, where industrial relations are excellent? I should like to introduce him to members of the AUEW, including shop stewards, who are fed up with the union's policy and tired of being told to go on strike when they do not want to.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Perhaps I had better stick to not going to one place at a time.

Mr. Heffer

Is the Prime Minister aware that there are no figures for strikes on Merseyside and there never have been? When one takes into account the strike statistics for the whole of the North-West, is it not wrong for the Prime Minister or anyone else to charge the workers of Merseyside with being irresponsible and strike-bound when there are no figures to prove it one way or the other?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there is nothing he can do to improve industrial relations on Merseyside, all I can say is that there cannot be a single person on Merseyside who believes that. Anyone who has any acquaintance with Merseyside—I know Merseyside intimately and have done so for the last 30 years—knows that there is much to be done to improve industrial relations on Merseyside.

Mr. William Clark

If my right hon. Friend goes to Bootle, will he make a statement of Government policy on the payment of supplementary benefits to strikers? Is he aware that taxpayers, including those who live in Bootle, are heartily sick of subsidising strikers and think that trade unions should pay strike pay and, if they do not, that there should be a notional deduction for it from supplementary benefits?

The Prime Minister

I realise that there is evidence of public feeling about this matter.

Mr. Prentice

The Prime Minister is fond of lecturing other people on industrial relations. Will be hear in mind that perhaps the biggest recent contribution to industrial unrest was the Government's monumental blunder yesterday in refusing to agree to a court of inquiry into the gas dispute? Does he realise that this comes on top of his unhappy handling of this question in recent weeks and that he therefore bears heavy responsibility for whatever consequences fall upon the nation as a result of this policy?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong, and if he wishes to improve industrial relations he might adopt a more responsible attitude towards the subject. The gas board was asked, as were the gas workers, to wait until the guidelines for stage 2 were published. The guidelines have been published, and the gas workers are now protesting, at a time of standstill, against the prospect of having considerable increases in wages within a national policy. The responsible attitude of any right hon. or hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench should be to suggest that the law as passed by Parliament should be obeyed.

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