HC Deb 23 October 1973 vol 861 cc974-6
Q6. Mr. Redmond

asked the Prime Minister if he will invite the National Chamber of Trade to join him in his consultations with the CBI and TUC on the Government's counter-inflation policy.

The Prime Minister

The National Chamber of Trade is a member of the Retail Consortium which has played a full part in the consultations on the counter-inflation policy.

Mr. Redmond

Yes, but will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the Retail Consortium consists mainly of large firms whereas chambers of trade consist of small shopkeepers who are more directly in touch with the housewives who know what it is to try to meet the rise in the cost of living? Could there not be direct negotiations with the chambers of trade?

The Prime Minister

The chambers of trade always let us know their views, but I think they have found that their membership of the group that came to see us, dealing with the whole of the retail area, was satisfactory.

Mr. Orme

When the Prime Minister next meets the TUC, will he discuss with it the operation of the Industrial Relations Act and the court decision yesterday regarding the AEUW, under which, in a simple matter of trade union recognition, affecting 33 employees, a major trade union is being persecuted by the Industrial Relations Court? The simple justice of trade union recognition in this country does not need the Industrial Relations Court. Has the right hon. Gentleman read Sir John Donaldson's one-sided statement on his judgment? Will the Prime Minister inform the TUC that the Government have now decided to drop the Act, because it could lead to real industrial trouble this winter arising out of cases such as Con-Mech?

The Prime Minister

I have always told the TUC delegation whenever it has had talks with us that it can raise any matter it wishes, and that I am prepared to discuss amendments to the Industrial Relations Act. We have not had any specific amendments or proposals for amendments put to us by either the TUC or, I think, the CBI in any of our talks. That remains the position. We are perfectly prepared to consider amendments to the Act.

Mr. Ridsdale

Will my right hon. Friend consider discussing with these bodies the abolition of the earnings rule in areas of high over-employment, as 100 extra workers in factories in North-East Essex would mean £1 million of extra exports a year?

The Prime Minister

The matter of the earnings rule has been raised indirectly, so to speak, not as a major item, in the talks. This is a matter that the Government certainly can examine.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government have not dared to use the Industrial Relations Act, which is now a dead Act since the disastrous failure of its use in the rail strike, on major issues—for example, last spring with the National Health Service employees, the gas workers and many others—and yet it is continuing to poison industrial relations? Does he not feel that, whatever amendments may or may not have been put forward—the amendment that we and the TUC would put forward would be a simple one-clause Bill—in the grave situation facing the country, both as a result of internal Government policy and now outside threats to the economy, it would be an act of leadership on his part to give notice either that the Act is to be repealed or, as we have often urged, that it is to be put on ice?

The Prime Minister

It will certainly not be repealed. I have said that we will consider amendments. A very large part of the Act is being operated the whole time by both employers and trade unionists, I believe to their great satisfaction.

On the particular matter that has been raised today, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would also like to urge that a union should observe the decisions of the court according to the law passed by Parliament. It is a very simple issue indeed. Methods of conciliation are available both to employers and to unions through the court, and I suggest that they be used.

Dame Irene Ward

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Northern area we have had some really marvellous decisions by the Industrial Relations Court? I hope that there will be no attempt to destroy the basic fabric of the Act.

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. C. Pannell

Is the Prime Minister aware that one of the basic freedoms in this country is the recognition of trade unions where employees desire that recognition? No law should be manipulated in such a way as it has been against the union to which both my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) and I belong to mulct it of great fines. The judge himself, who has been particularly unimaginative in this matter, has suggested that there ought to be amendment of the Act. I suggest that we had better start on it now.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has used phrases about a judge of the court upon which I do not propose to comment. I have always understood that judges in this country are not criticised in Parliament, except on a substantive resolution.

I have already said that a very large part of the Act is being fully operated. I could not possibly accept an accusation that it has been manipulated against a union.