HC Deb 17 February 1976 vol 905 cc1120-2
11. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to deal with inbuilt overmanning in the nationalised industries.

Mr. Booth

Manning levels and the effective use of manpower are the responsibility of the management of the industries and enterprises concerned, and improvements are best sought by management and unions acting together. My Department, however, does have a rôle in seeking to ensure that where redundancies are inevitable regard will be paid to the interests of the workers concerned and effective arrangements made for their speedy redeployment.

Mr. Renton

Does the Minister accept that his answer is all waffle? Will he and the Secretary of State call a conference of all the chairmen of nationalised industries to report within the next six months on how they propose to deal with the problem of long-term overmanning, which is, alas, endemic in nationalised industries?

Mr. Booth

I totally reject the implication of that question, which is clearly that these problems are somehow peculiar to nationalised industries. Over the last 10 years, the coal industry has reduced its labour force by 245,000 and increased output by 25 per cent. per man, the steel industry has reduced its labour force by 29,000 and the gas industry by 17,000—while increasing the amount of gas sold by 270 per cent. Over the same period, the electricity supply industry has reduced its manpower requirement by 58,000 and British Rail's manpower requirement has been cut by 168,000. We accept that it is important that the most efficient possible use should be made of manpower in the nationalised industries, but we do not accept the proposition that only nationalised industries are overmanned.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that demanning in the public sector is infinitely greater than in the private sector? Is he aware that his hon. Friends would prefer capacity to be increased in the public sector to maintain existing employment of the workers who frequently have to be dismissed when the State takes over inefficient private industries to keep them going?

Mr. Booth

Of course, we would prefer nationalised industries to increase output and services without any reduction in manpower.

Mr. Marten

The right hon. Gentleman did not answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) about calling a conference. If he does call such a conference, will he raise with the leaders of nationalised industries the proposition that wage settlements in those industries should all be arrived at on one day of the year, in order to prevent leapfrogging? Does he agree that when wage increases are granted for productivity, they should be paid only when the productivity has been achieved, and not before?

Mr. Booth

In the majority of cases, the possibility of making payments on the basis of productivity in the nationalised industries is curtailed, if not completely prohibited, by the existing pay policy. We have no reason to suppose that we would want to use different tests between the public and private sector in this matter. There are matters which are discussed with the chairmen of all nationalised industries, but I do not think that the idea of a common date for pay increases would take first place on the agenda.

Mr. George Rodgers

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this problem is largely caused because nationalised industries are labour-intensive? Does he further agree that if we took into public ownership banking and investment industries, this problem might not arise?

Mr. Booth

My hon. Friend will see from the figures that I have given that nationalised industries are now less labour-intensive. Where labour-intensive industries are brought within the public sector, the Government and this House have more control over the overall employment effects on industries and services in this country.