HC Deb 30 April 1974 vol 872 cc914-7
4. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what progress he has made in creating a social contract with the trade unions.

11. Mr. Duffy

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had with the TUC about incomes policy.

25. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what recent discussions he has had with the TUC on the creation of a social contract; and if he will report what progress has been made.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Foot)

Good progress is being made in these discussions with the TUC, and I would particularly direct attention to the statement issued by the General Secretary, Mr. Len Murray, on 11th April.

Mr. Ashley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that millions of trade unionists appreciate how busy he has been chopping down the dead wood of the Industrial Relations Act? When will he find time to create the new conciliation and arbitration machinery, and will he assure the House that the legal profession will have no part in it?

Mr. Foot

I assure my hon. Friend that we are seeking to proceed as fast as possible with the establishment of the conciliation and arbitration service. We would have included it in the repeal Bill if it had not been for the fact that it would have made that Bill hopelessly long. That means that we shall have to proceed with the work partly on an administrative basis, but we hope that the parts of the proposals that require statutory form will figure in the second Bill—the Employment Protection Bill—which we shall introduce in the autumn. In the meantime, I assure my hon. Friend that we are proceeding to set up this service as fast as we can and to have the necessary consultations. We want to see it in good working order very soon.

Mr. McCrindle

Is it the Government's intention that the social contract should continue only during the present high rate of inflation, or is it rather intended that it should be a permanently qualifying factor on the Government's policy? If the latter is the case, does not the Secretary of State agree that he is elevating the trade unions to a level comparable to the monarchy and Parliament, and does he expect to introduce a constitutional amendment Bill to this effect?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman should not be so disgruntled at the progress we are making in establishing much better relations between the Government and the unions. It is one of the essen- tial parts of restoring the economy of the country generally and getting it on a better basis. We think that this social contract will go on not merely for a short period of crisis but for many years ahead under the auspices of this Government or their successors.

Mr. Duffy

I thank my right hon. Friend for the impressive manner in which he is giving content, substance and credibility to the social contract. In the grant of tax relief to unions against the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act, is he aware that there is some analogy with retrospective action in the Finance Bill to deal with a tax measure that has turned out differently from what was intended?

Mr. Foot

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that when our proposals are properly understood they will be universally welcomed by everybody of good will.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Does the Secretary of State agree that in the last few weeks he has been engaged in providing concessions to the trade unions, in terms of policy and money, on a most massive scale? Has he noticed that at least one or two unions have indicated that after a short time they will be coming back for more and more? Where will the social contract be then, and what will he do about incomes policy when that situation arises?

Mr. Foot

I wish that certain Conservative Members—I am not, of course, referring to the Opposition Front Bench —would cheer up on these matters. We have improving industrial relations, and I thought that that was what the country wanted. It is certainly what we on the Labour benches want, and I thought that there were some Conservatives who wanted to see improving relations with the unions. We are carrying out what, before the election, we said we would do, and I do not think anybody should complain about that.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Will my right hon. Friend use his best efforts to persuade a certain union to take no action whatever, whether by strike or otherwise, which will postpone by even one day the new increases which the old-age pensioners are to receive?

Mr. Foot

We understand the difficulties, and I assure my hon. Friend that we are inquiring into them. We are discussing the matter and seeking to overcome the problem.

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