HC Deb 05 November 1974 vol 880 cc868-71
7. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is in a position to make a statement on the Government's policy on employee participation in industry.

12. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will introduce legislation to provide for workers' control in the publicly-owned sector of industry; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Foot

The Government are committed to a far-reaching extension of industrial democracy in both the private and the public sectors. We are considering how this can best be achieved.

Mr. McCrindle

Has the Secretary of State seen the suggestion that, in return for a reduction in corporation tax, private employers might be encouraged to set up trust funds for the purpose of enabling employees to buy equity shares in the company in which they operate and that they would be entitled to elect trustees, with the possibility of one trustee being on the board of directors? Assuming that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government believe in a continuation of a mixed economy, will he seriously consider this move?

Mr. Foot

We shall give due consideration to the proposal suggested by the hon. Gentleman. However, I do not believe that any proposals in that respect could be coupled with anything that might be done about corporation tax by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They are two separate questions. We believe that this is a highly important matter in the development of industrial democracy and we wish to have the fullest discussions in preparing for the legislation which will be brought forward in this Parliament.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend accept that since 1945 worker control has been an important basic purpose of nationalisation? Will he also accept that the publicly-owned industries should be the pacemakers in worker control? Therefore, should not the Government take the earliest opportunity to ensure that appointees in these top-heavy organisations are got rid of and to see that shop floor workers have a real say in decision making? Will he assure the House that the trade unions and the Institute of Workers Control are consulted in shaping any future legislation?

Mr. Foot

I agree that the discussion and public debate on the subject of industrial democracy has in recent months taken on a much wider and broader aspect than in years past. I greatly welcome this development, which will help the Government in preparing legislation. I cannot say that we can introduce legislation immediately because I do not think that would be the best way of going about the matter. We want to have discussions, but that does not mean that there cannot be developments in industrial democracy before legislation is brought forward.

Mr. Cyril Smith

When the Secretary of State considers this matter, will he take account of the fact that millions of workers are not members of trade unions? Therefore, when he speaks of employee participation will he think of employee participation in the widest terms as opposed to mere trade union participation?

Mr. Foot

I know that proposals for works councils have been put forward by the Liberal Party, and we do not believe that in the way in which they have been put forward they would contribute much to our consideration—in other words, we do not think that those proposals will help in any special way. One of the best ways in which we can encourage industrial democracy generally is to encourage trade union recruitment, and we are doing all in our power to assist in that purpose.

Mr. Prior

On the subject of employee participation, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this is a topic on which the whole House would like to proceed with as much agreement as possible and that there should be widespread consultation before a Bill is introduced? Secondly, on the question of worker control in the publicly-owned sector, in terms of the mining industry would the right hon. Gentleman prefer worker control to be exercised by Mr. Gormley or Mr. Scargill?

Mr. Foot

On the first part of the right hon. Gentleman question, if he is now a convert to industrial democracy I am sure that there will be rejoicing in Heaven and everywhere else where these matters are celebrated. On the second part of his question, it would be invidious and unhelpful of me to reply to a question that was not intended to cause national unity, not even unity in the mining industry. The right hon. Gentleman should try to catch up with his election perorations.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a good start could be made in the publicly-owned steel industry, which is badly in need of a shake-up? In view of its deplorable industrial relations record, does he feel that at present it could benefit from an infusion of employee representatives into the boardroom? They could hardly do worse.

Mr. Foot

I understand my hon. Friend's deep concern, which I share, about the situation at Llanwern. We wish to see a much better atmosphere created there and will do everything we possibly can to assist in that direction. In regard to the steel industry and the other publicly-owned industries, it is part of our proposals to develop industrial democracy in the public sector as well as elsewhere.

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