HC Deb 27 November 1973 vol 865 cc190-1
2. Mr. Ashton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what estimate he has made of the number of working days lost in strikes on 5th and 12th November 1973.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. R. Chichester-Clark)

My Department has estimated that approximately 264,000 and 59,000 working days were lost on 5th and 12th November, respectively, as the result of protest stoppages called on those days.

Mr. Ashton

Is the Minister aware that the National Industrial Relations Court is costing trade unions thousands of pounds and industry millions of pounds? Will he send a message to the president of the court to tell him that his job is supposed to be to settle disputes rather than to make them worse? When will the Minister take action instead of sticking his head in the sand?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

The cost of these stoppages is reflected in the wages of those affected and the production of the country. As more than three-quarters of the AUEW members did not strike, it could be said that they consider their union's policy of not defending itself before the court is the wrong policy.

Mr. Tebbit

Will my hon. Friend remind the House of the advice given by leading Opposition spokesmen on defiance of a legal High Court order?

Mr. Chichester-Clark

As my hon. Friend will understand, there has been some confusion in these matters. The right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) said that the law should be obeyed, whereas the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said that he would support the engineers in defending the basic rights of trade unionism. [HON. MEMBERS : "Reading."] I am not reading. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that it was not the job of the Labour Party to go round advising people to obey the law. That leaves the Leader of the Opposition in an uncomfortable dilemma, of the sort he found himself in when he abstained during the vote in his National Executive on the question whether the Labour Party should support the May Day strike.

Mr. Prentice

Is not that a perfect example of Ministers using the controversy on the AUEW action as a smoke screen for their own responsibility?