HC Deb 05 November 1974 vol 880 cc858-61
2. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make available the assistance of his Department for improving the consultation between the TUC and individual unions concerning the TUC guidelines on increases in incomes; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands both the nature of the advisory services of my Department and the rôle of the TUC towards its member unions. The General Council of the TUC has made provision for consultation with individual unions as set out in paragraph 34 of its document "Collective Bargaining and the Social Contract". It would not be appropriate for me to intervene in the internal affairs of outside organisations.

Mr. Madel

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the 12-month guideline on pay increases continues to be breached, employers in the private and public sector will be placed in a very difficult position? Should not his Department hold a series of meetings to remind employers and unions that if the 12-month guideline is breached it will have a serious effect on the country's economy?

Mr. Booth

There have been breaches of the 12-month guideline in both the private and public sectors mainly to remove some of the anomalies and imbalances produced by two years of statutory wage control. There is a provision in the TUC guidelines requiring unions which find difficulties in honouring this guideline to consult the TUC. We are, of course, in consultation with the TUC on any broad problem arising from the implementation of this part of the social contract.

Mr. Skinner

Does my hon. Friend agree that free collective bargaining is free collective bargaining and that the Government would do well to understand that it would be better for them, despite the panic noises we hear from the Tory benches and from some other quarters, to keep at arm's length in the negotiations that take place daily between trade unions and employers? Would he further agree that in that way we can restore the free collective bargaining for which we all campaigned in the election?

Mr. Booth

The Government recognise that day-to-day settlements in industry are the responsibility of negotiators on the employers' and trade union sides. We expect that these negotiations will take place against a background increasingly influenced by the carrying through of the social contract obligations which the Government have accepted.

Mr. Prior

So that the country can judge the effectiveness of the so-called social contract, may I ask the Government to publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT the details of every settlement, the time between each settlement and the previous one, and whether in the Government's estimation the settlement comes within the social contract? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that at the moment no none, inside the House or outside it, believes a single word that the Government say?

Mr. Booth

The Government are not aware of every settlement that takes place. Some employers might think it an unwarrantable intrusion if we asked them to report on every settlement that took place. The Government accept a direct responsibility for settlements in the public sector. In this area we make available to Members who require it information about the terms of the settlements.

8. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what advice he will tender to employers and employees who, after free collective bargaining, reach an agreement which he deduces to be in breach of the social contract.

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

One of the purposes of the social contract has been to restore free collective bargaining. In this situation it is not the function of the Government to issue specific advice about the conduct of individual negotiations, but we certainly urge that trade unions and employers should respect the guidelines for negotiation accepted by the TUC.

Mr. Adley

When the guidelines are put before the House I am sure that we shall all enjoy looking at them. Is it not a fact, however, that the social contract is not stopping inflation? Although the Secretary of State may be a great parliamentarian, he also has a responsibility in his present position to help to stop inflation. Therefore, now that the election is over, will he stop playing games and get down with employers and employees to taking positive steps to bring inflation under control?

Mr. Foot

The guidelines proposed by the TUC General Council, which were the subject of discussions in this House at the end of July at the time of the abolition of the Pay Board, were subsequently approved by the TUC. They have not been submitted to this House for approval but they have played a considerable part in the debate on this topic. I do not believe that any legitimate criticism can be made about the fact that we have not discussed these matters in this House. As for seeking to combat inflation, the Government are passionately eager to do all we can to assist towards that end. That is one reason why we support the guidelines. If the guidelines are persistently breached, the prospect of overcoming inflation will be greatly injured. These are matters which, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, are perhaps more fitted for general discussion in the debate which is to follow today and in the other debates which will follow the introduction of the Budget.

Mr. Tugendhat

How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that answer with the answer he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) who asked about Mr. Scargill and Mr. Gormley? The union apparently reached agreement in the morning, the vote went the other way in the afternoon, and then the Secretary of State for Industry appealed to the miners to respect the future of the industry. Surely this, above all, is a matter in which the right hon. Gentleman, wearing a National Union of Mineworkers' badge in his lapel, ought to feel constrained to throw his weight behind the Government's efforts.

Mr. Foot

I am extremely proud to wear the miners' badge in my lapel. I was sent to the House of Commons partly by miners, and I hope that I shall never forget that.

I am certainly eager that everything possible should be done to encourage success in the mining industry. That is why the Government have put forward far-reaching proposals for the industry which I believe will be welcomed more and more by miners throughout the country the more widely they are understood. I believe that as they are understood we shall secure more effective support for the social contract, which was also carried at the last miners' conference.

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