HC Deb 14 February 1977 vol 926 cc1-5
1. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what representations the Government have received so far from trade unions against the majority report of the Bullock Committee.

11. Mr. MacGregor

asked the Secretary of State for Trade how many representations he has received to date on the Bullock Report.

13. Mr. Forman

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what representations he has received regarding the report of the Committee of Inquiry on Industrial Democracy.

The Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Edmund Dell)

To date I and my Department have received 17 letters about the Bullock Report. None of these has been from a trade union.

Mr. Miller

Representations need not necessarily be made by letter. Would the Secretary of State agree that the work force has become demoralised by the continuation of pay restraint, by unemployment and by the manifest failure of the Government to adhere to any consistent industrial or commercial policy, and that they are therefore unlikely to be bought off with a couple of seats on the board?

Mr. Dell

I take it that the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is a valuable comment at this point. I think that it is necessary to have a third phase. I regret the level of unemployment. I think that it would be desirable to have a system of worker directors.

Mr. MacGregor

In the context of representations, has the right hon. Gentleman seen the text of the speech last week of the Chairman of the National Enterprise Board, in which he pointed out the serious dangers of leaving middle management out of the participation process, describing them as "the odd men out"? In view of the recent Opinion Research Centre survey showing the serious decline in morale and motivation of middle management, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the interests of middle management are properly and fully taken into account in the process of consultation?

Mr. Dell

Yes, the position of middle management in the German system is one of the things that I discussed fully while I was there. It is certainly an important aspect of this matter. It is not necessarily true that a special constituency is the right approach, but it is certainly something that we shall consider.

Mr. Forman

Is the right hon. Member also aware of the considerable public hostility towards the idea that worker representatives on boards should be there by trade union appointment? Did he see the MORI survey reported in The Sunday Times some time ago, which showed that over 87 per cent. of all those polled opposed this method and that even 84 per cent. of trade unionists favoured election by all the employees of the company concerned?

Mr. Dell

I have seen that survey. I made it clear in my original statement when the Bullock Report was published that the method of selecting or electing worker representatives was a matter for consultation.

Mr. Parkinson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us feel that this important long-term decision should not be part of any short-term wage deal with the trade union movement? Will he assure us that he will do his best to make sure that it is not?

Mr. Dell

Certainly, and I notice that Mr. Murray said on television—I think I am quoting him correctly—that he did not regard this as any part of a shortterm deal. What we are going for here is a long-term settlement. That is why we are engaging in serious consultation.

Mr. Skinner

Would my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever our views about the Bullock Report and industrial democracy generally, we would both agree, would we not, that a general tradeoff, with Bullock on one side and wages on the other, is highly unlikely when one remembers that some of the trade unions and their leaders are against Bullock and also against pay restraint? The argument is a fallacious one, to say the least.

Mr. Dell

I think that my hon. Friend's comments are very wise.

9. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what differences he has discovered, at recent meetings he has had with EEC colleagues, between their machinery for worker participation and the majority proposals in the Bullock Report.

Mr. Dell

Most of our EEC partners have developed systems of worker participation suited to their own particular needs and traditions. Naturally there are many variations in the systems adopted in each country and between these and the majority proposals in the Bullock Report.

Mr. Adley

Is there any other country in the EEC where those who are allowed to vote on the principle of participation are subsequently specifically denied any say in the choice of who their representatives shall be? Will the Secretary of State understand that many of us who are interested in the successful outcome of the negotiations on industrial participation believe that this particular aspect of the Bullock Report makes a mockery of the phrase "industrial democracy"?

Mr. Dell

As far as I am aware, there is no other country which makes this particular provision in respect of the selection of worker directors. I have said that this is a matter which we must consider and consult about. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman wishes us a successful outcome to the discussions.

Mr. Cronin

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in countries which have had Socialist government over the past few years the combination of industrial efficiency with worker participation in direction and Government help has been uniquely successful?

Mr. Dell

As a result of my visit to Germany, I certainly think that my hon. Friend's remarks are correct and that industrial democracy as operated there has been a significant element in the success of the German economy.

Mr. Nott

As the Secretary of State has said, there are a wide variety of different schemes in operation on the Continent. Is he aware that the Conservative Party cannot see why it is right to lay down a legislative framework? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that by proposing legislation he cannot ensure the flexibility that is available on the Continent and which we wish to see in this country? Why does he wish to propose a legislative framework? We are against it.

Mr. Dell

I wish to propose a legislative framework because I think that there is no other basis upon which we are likely to have success. I am by no means certain that the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that a legislative framework is inconsistent with flexibility. On the contrary, we would hope to work out a legislative framework which was consistent with flexibility.

Mr. Robinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, since his predecessor pushed hard to have a report by 14th December last year, we on this side of the House would be very dismayed if the Government were now to back off in respect of the early implementation of at least the essential elements of the Bullock Report?

Mr. Dell

I note what my hon. Friend has said. There is no question of backing off. We have said that we will provide legislative proposals to the House by the summer.

Mr. Bulmer

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the part of the TUC side of the Bullock Report which suggests that two to six weeks on a TUC residential course will qualify an employee to discharge the main line responsibility of a director of ICI when, as he will know, it normally takes 25 years, or does he accept the view of Commissioner Gundelach that employee directors function best on the stem of proven structure and that this normally takes up to 10 years to operate successfully?

Mr. Dell

If the hon. Gentleman is telling me that we cannot have worker directors who have not benefited from 10 to 25 years' training on the board, I do not agree. It is a feature of the experience of many people that they learn while working within their company. We are proposing to elect to boards, or to select for boards, people who have worked in the company and have experience in the way that it operates. I would not accept any of the types of bar that the hon. Gentleman has suggested.

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