HC Deb 30 January 1973 vol 849 cc1141-6
9. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what was the total number of working days lost through industrial action, including all forms of strikes and stoppages, during 1972 as compared with the four preceding years; and what is the percentum increase in 1972, compared with 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1971.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

As the reply consists of a table of figures I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Sir G. Nabarro

Will not my right hon. Friend lift the corner of the carpet and confess the position as it truly is, namely, that the 1972 figures were the worst in our industrial history, notably on account of the coal mining strike and because a greater number of days were lost in 1972 than in any single calendar year on record? Will not my right hon. Friend confess that fact to the House?

Mr. Macmillan

What my hon. Friend says is perfectly true——

Sir G. Nabarro

That is the point.

Mr. Macmillan

Comparing 1972 with 1968 the figures of days lost are up by 400 per cent. About half of that increase took place between 1968 and 1970 and rather under half took place between between 1970 and 1972.

Mr. Orme

While allowing for those figures, will not the right hon. Gentleman now admit that the Industrial Relations Act is the basis of many of the problems which exist in British industry, that the Government have got the confrontation that they have sought, and that the counter-inflation measure now going through this House will only make the position worse? In consequence, will not he now drop the Industrial Relations Act and get back to real consultation and collective bargaining upon which relations between the trade union movement and the employers are based?

Mr. Macmillan

The great majority of strikes have nothing at all to do with the Industrial Relations Act. Indeed, 90 per cent. of them take place over pay. Of the days lost, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) pointed out, about 45 per cent. were due to the coal mining stoppage, and about two-thirds of the total affected coal miners, building workers and dock workers.

Mr. Adam Butler

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the actual number of strikes was very much down last year?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes. The number of stoppages beginning in a year and the number in progress in a year went down consistently from 1970 to 1972.

Mr. Prentice

Do not the figures confirm two facts—first, that the failure of this Government in industrial relations is greater than that of any other post-war Government and, secondly, that year by year since this Government have been in office the situation has got steadily worse? Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that this has nothing to do with the Industrial Relations Act and with the Government's confrontation policies? If the right hon. Gentleman persists in that view, to what does he attribute this sad decline in industrial relations under his Government?

Mr. Macmillan

The figures do not bear out what the right hon. Gentleman says. Comparing the years between 1968 and 1970, for example, the number of stoppages starting in those years rose by 64 per cent. The number of stoppages starting between 1970 and 1972 fell by 36 per cent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Twister."] I am not twisting the figures. The number of stoppages in progress in the period from 1968 to 1970 fell by 20 per cent. From 1970 to 1972 they fell by 4.8 per cent.

The following is the information: The official series of statistics relates only to stoppages of work due to industrial disputes connected with terms and conditions of employment, and not to stoppages for other reasons.
Working days lost (millions) Percentage increase to 1972
1968 4.7 410
1969 6.8 249
1970 11.0 118
1971 13.6 76
1972 23.9
10. Mr. Ashton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what was the total number of days lost in industrial dispute in 1972; and what was the last year in which this total of days lost was previously reached.

30. Mr. William Price

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many days were lost through strikes during 1972.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

The provisional total of working days lost in 1972 was 23.9 million. This total was last exceeded in 1926.

Mr. Ashton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are surprised at that? We thought that it was the highest number since Wat Tyler and the peasants' rebellion? Can the right hon. Gentleman say what the figures are likely to be on Budget day this year, when the civil servants come out on strike? Is not it about time that we decided to amend this absolutely ridiculous Act?

Mr. Macmillan

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Industrial Relations Act, it has nothing to do with it. The number of days lost were, as I have said, largely due to the coal mining strike and to the building workers' and the dock workers' disputes, all of which were strikes about pay and conditions.

Mr. Awdry

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many strikes are organised not by responsible trade union leaders but by small groups of militants behind the scenes? Why is it that the Opposition will not occasionally acknowledge this, instead of helping the militants?

Mr. Macmillan

The attitude of the Opposition and their delight in the effect of national stoppages is unfortunate. I repeat: this has nothing to do with the Industrial Relations Act or with the Government's industrial relations policy. But the number of days lost last year exceeded the numbers in previous years due to a relatively small number of disputes over pay.

Mr. Frederick Lee

When the right hon. Gentleman's Government were advocating industrial relations legislation, it was on the proposition that it would reduce the number of days lost by strikes in industry? Would he now care to indulge in a little enterprise in this matter—it might even be termed "collective bargaining"—by offering to rescind the whole Act in exchange for an undertaking from the trade unions to look a little more pleasantly at the possibility of cooperation in present policies?

Mr. Macmillan

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other members of the Government have made it plain in our consultations and in this House that we are ready at any time to consider serious proposals for improving the working of the Industrial Relations Act. We are prepared to consider any complaints about the way in which it impinges upon trade unions and their members. Those unions which have used the Act have found it of advantage to their members. If the unions do not use the facilities under the Act they cannot take advantage of it.

Mr. Idris Owen

Do the figures which my right hon. Friend has given include the number of days lost in the recent dispute affecting the building industry? Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of those who were forced to come out on strike did so because of intimidation and not out of desire?

Mr. Macmillan

It is true that the building strike was exacerbated by forms of industrial action which have been deplored by the trade union movement and by both sides of the House.

Mr. Harper

In view of the fact that the miners' strike has been referred to as being one of the main causes of the numbers being so high, is the Secretary of State aware that that dispute was caused by the incompetence of the Government and the arrogance of the Prime Minister in not judging the situation as it ought to have been judged? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if the Prime Minister had judged it aright there would not have been one ton of coal or one day's work lost?

Mr. Macmillan

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the situation.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if one of our freedoms is the right to strike, which can be misused, an equal freedom is the right to resist strikes, and that if there were more resistance perhaps there would be fewer strikes?

Mr. Macmillan

The Industrial Relations Act specifically protects the right of work-people to strike, but it also protects the right of people to get to work if they wish to do so.

Mr. Prentice

Following the question about the miners' strike by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper), does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that either the Wilberforce Report was completely wrong in its conclusions or the Government were fundamentally wrong in the attitude that they took to that strike? It would be more honest of Ministers to look back on that period and to admit that they made appalling mistakes which cost the country dearly.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that it is not good enough for him to say that he is willing to discuss amendments to the Industrial Relations Act? The Government introduced this legislation against all informed advice. Therefore, it is now the Government's responsibility to rescue the country from the mess in which it finds itself as a result of that mistake.

Mr. Macmillan

I do not accept that the Industrial Relations Act is the cause of any mess in which the country may be as a result of industrial disputes or action. Neither do I accept that the proposition initially put forward by the right hon. Gentleman is necessarily correct. Indeed, even if it were, I do not accept that it necessarily justifies the degree of industrial action or the methods of picketing used in the miners' strike.

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