HC Deb 22 May 1978 vol 950 cc1094-7
6. Miss Joan Lestor

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether his Department is prepared to meet the combined shop stewards' committee of Lucas Aerospace.

9. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for Industry why his Department has consistently refused to meet the Lucas Aerospace combined shop stewards' committee in connection with job maintenance and job creation.

10. Mr. Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for Industry why his Department has not directly discussed the Lucas Aerospace combined shop stewards' committee's corporate plan in relation to the recent redundancy announcement of Lucas Aerospace management.

Mr. Kaufman

I met members of the committee in a delegation brought to see me by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Tierney) in December 1975. The recently announced proposals of Lucas Aerospace are being discussed with the proper negotiating body representing the interests of the Lucas Aerospace workers in all unions and at all sites, namely, the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, with which Ministers are in frequent contact, and with which I have discussed the problems of Lucas Aerospace. Either side can propose topics for meetings and it is for the confederation to decide who will attend on its side.

Miss Lestor

Will not my hon. Friend agree that, since the management of Lucas has consistently refused to meet the shop stewards' committee, it would be a good idea and also in the interests of industrial democracy if he could intercede and meet them directly himself?

Mr. Kaufman

As I have explained to my hon. Friend, I have already met them myself. I have also interceded several times via the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. The confederation, having met Lucas Aerospace last month, is due to meet it again next month. If it is appropriate for the combine to be represented there, of course the confederation will decide to do so.

Mr. Hoyle

Will not my hon. Friend agree that there is some difficulty with the confederation in relation to this? Will he not try to bridge the gap by getting the Lucas directors to meet the shop stewards and perhaps implement this socially useful plan? Does this matter not also point to the need for workers' democracy, when the workers can produce such a useful plan which can be faulted by no one?

Mr. Kaufman

I accept that these matters have not proceeded as satisfactorily as they might. However, my hon. Friend says that there are difficulties with the CSEU. He himself is an officer of one of the leading unions in the CSEU. The confederation has made it clear to Ministers time and again that it would very much resent it if its normal trade union machinery were bypassed. Indeed, only a short time ago, AUEW (TASS) issued a statement to its officials, in which it said: It is not in the interests of our common objectives to ignore the democratic procedures of our movement. Members of unions can win policies if they are prepared to use the democratic structures which exist in various forms, in every union.

Mr. Thorne

Will not my hon. Friend recognise that, with the continuous threat of redundancy affecting the workers in Lucas Aerospace, it is the Government's responsibility to intervene, in spite of the usual institutional arguments that he now puts forward—that it might offend certain union leaders in the confederation?

Mr. Kaufman

The "usual institutional arguments" are the normal procedures of the trade union movement. Although my hon. Friend may feel that he can set those procedures aside, I, as a member of the Government, have to work every day with the confederation. It is not possible for me to set aside its procedures in favour of any body which wishes to set them aside.

Mr. Tebbit

Does the Minister understand that we do not want to intrude on this bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo of an argument between him and his trade union friends but that we would like him to come to the point behind these Questions? Does he think that the Lucas directors are perversely or malevolently throwing away the chance to enter into good business and make profits—or does he think that the truth is that those ideas are nothing more than another mare's nest dreamt up by his hon. Friends?

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Member seems, like his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), to believe that private industry in this country operates in a state of perfect competition. If that were so, the kind of intervention for which his hon. Friends constantly ask would not be required from this Government. As it happens, when it comes, for example, to the question of proposed redundancies in Lucas Aerospace, we do intervene. I myself called in the management on that matter and made it clear to it that propoer consultation with the confederation and the work force was essential.

Mr. Skinner

Will my hon. Friend concede that there are some occasions—perhaps not too many; some would argue about the balance—when the rank and file are just marginally in front of their progressive leadership? Looking at the matter from that angle, will he not concede the argument in regard to the Lucas proposals?

Mr. Kaufman

I know that my hon. Friend might take that view with regard to the NUM. I prefer the progressive leadership.

Mr. Adley

Is not the Minister aware that these proposals have nothing to do with the level of productivity achieved by the work force over the years at Lucas? If the workers want to produce a new range of supersonic caravans, surely it is up to the Government, who are so profligate with taxpayers' money, to give them everything they want.

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Gentleman's derision does no justice to a series of very constructive proposals put forward by the Lucas work force. The problem is to ensure that those proposals are considered within the proper structure between the union and the trade union movement. His derision of those plans does him no credit