HC Deb 03 December 1974 vol 882 cc1331-3
6. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether the Conciliation and Arbitration Service intervened during the dispute at the Scottish factories of Rolls-Royce 1971.

16. Mr. Nigel Lawson

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what steps his Department took to prevent the industrial action which preceded the recent wage increase at Rolls-Royce (1971) Ltd.

Mr. Foot

It is not customary to reveal all the contacts made by me or my Department with the parties concerned during an industrial dispute. The assistance of the Conciliation and Arbitration Service was not sought in this case and the service did not judge that its intervention would be helpful.

Mr. Rost

Does the Secretary of State think that it was fair or honest of him to hurl abuse at the management of Rolls-Royce over the breach of the social contract to which it was not a party, yet not offer a word of rebuke to those who, by a militant strike, forced the management to breach the social contract?

Mr. Foot

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman was misinformed about any comments that I made on the matter. Perhaps that was due to the fact that he took at face value the headlines that appeared—for example those in The Guardian. I did not hurl any abuse at the head of the Chairman of Rolls-Royce on the matter. What happened was that when the settlement was made and when questions were put to my Department that afternoon about whether we considered it to be within the social contract, my Department, with my authority, issued a statement saying that it believed that it was not in accordance with the social contract, and my Department was quite right in saying so. That was authorised by me. That was a criticism of the settlement altogether and not of one part of it. But it was sensationalised, particularly in The Guardian, and then Sir Kenneth Keith rushed in with some extremely ill-advised comments, in my view, and misrepresented the situation as it had occurred over the previous days. I noted that the hon. Gentleman proposed to put down a Private Notice Question on the Monday, so we could have dealt with the matter. I am sorry to say that he did not go forward with that proposal.

Mr. Whitehead

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while most of us regret some of the aspects of the settlement in Scotland, the strictures of the Opposition would be taken more seriously if there were occasionally a word of acknowledgment from them on the responsible negotiations that are going on in Rolls-Royce (1971) as a whole, particularly at Derby, where the work force are negotiating not only in the spirit of the social contract but with an eye to the investment in the firm of their own skills and their life's work?

Mr. Foot

I fully understand—and I fully understood during the negotiations that took place over Rolls-Royce—the difficulties which faced the management. These were very great difficulties, which the management had to contend with in deciding what course to adopt. It is also a fact that in Scotland, however, the proposals for a settlement were outside the social contract, particularly on the question of the 12-months' rule, and therefore when a settlement was made we thought it right to make the comment we did, particularly in view of the discussions we had had previously. I do not think that the Chairman of Rolls-Royce had any right to complain about what was said by my Department. What the newspapers may have said is something different.

Mr. Lawson

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the affair of Rolls-Royce (1971) Ltd. and the pay award which went outside the social contract is the sort of case which might be appropriate for the special alternative methods for dealing with rogue employers mentioned by the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection yesterday? Will the right hon. Gentleman further indicate what sort of measures the Government have in mind?

Mr. Foot

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to this matter yesterday, and I thought that she underlined afresh how tentative was any proposal for dealing with the matter in this way. I think that has been made clear now in our statement. We have also made clear that we would not consider introducing such a proposal in any form without consultations with the TUC and the CBI, and that stands. I believe this is a very important factor in the situation.

Dr. M. S. Miller

In view of the recent agreement reached in Scotland, will my right hon. Friend give an opinion on whether the pay of Rolls-Royce employees in my constituency at East Kilbride and Blantyre is now on a par with their equivalents in England?

Mr. Foot

I should certainly be careful before I made that comparison, without making all the other comparisons, because it could be misleading. I know that it is often said that in Scotland pay lags behind pay in England, but there are notable cases when the reverse is the case. I believe, therefore, that it would be much wiser for me, in response to my hon. Friend's invitation, to discuss this in a more general way. I shall be quite happy for the Department to publish, if my hon. Friend wished, some comparisons between wage rates in Scotland and England. I do not believe that that would bear out altogether his suggestion of Scotland's lagging behind.