HC Deb 20 May 1980 vol 985 cc226-8
2. Mr. Renten

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is his estimate of the number of people (a) who voluntarily refused to work on 14 May, and (b) who were unable to get to work, and thus involuntarily lost a day's pay, through political action taken by others.

18. Mr. Needham

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many working days were lost on 14 May.

Mr. Prior

My Department's statistics of industrial stoppages relate only to terms and conditions of work, and exclude political action such as that on 14 May. We cannot make a close estimate of numbers of people involved, but such information as is available suggests that more than 90 per cent. of the work force went to work last Wednesday.

Mr. Renten

Bearing in mind that the day of action certainly did not help to save any jobs or help to sell a single ton of British steel what consultation or measures of co-operation has my right hon. Friend in mind to discuss with trade union leaders in order to put over the point that jobs will be created in Britain only by new industry or will be saved only by higher productivity or more competitive output?

Mr. Prior

I am always ready to talk to trade union leaders and trade unionists at any time. One of the points that I constantly make, whether in the National Economic Development Council or in other places, is similar to the point mentioned by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Needham

In the light of what my right hon. Friend has just said, will he consider instituting a new category of days lost in furtherance of political disputes as distinct from days lost in furtherance of trade disputes? Would not that enable the country to tell the difference between real and bogus industrial action?

Mr. Prior

I should prefer no days to be lost from either occurrence. I certainly hope that the experience of 14 May will mean that we do not have political strikes, which are new to this country. We should seek to solve our political differences in the House and not outside.

Mr. James A. Dunn

Does the Secretary of State agree that the people who stayed at work by no means wanted their action interpreted as a confirmation of their support for the Government's policies? Does he accept that people who make such an interpretation do a disservice to the solution of the problems which must be on the Secretary of State's mind?

Mr. Prior

The sooner we put 14 May behind us as a nation and learn to live and work together the quicker the country will emerge from its problems.

Mr. Lawrence

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some bus drivers in the West Midland were warned by the local branch of the Transport and General Workers Union that if they turned up for work on 14 May they would lose their union cards and, therefore, their jobs? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that the Employment Bill does not really protect anybody from losing a job and that until something is done about that the tyranny about which most of the country is complaining will continue?

Mr. Prior

I do not agree with my hon. Friend about that. One must ask whether people did lose their union cards. In any case, they should look carefully at their rule books because expulsion under such circumstances is probably not in accordance with union rules. Under the Bill, as it is to be presented this afternoon in another place, there are at least unfair dismissal provisions for people who are excluded or expelled unfairly from a trade union. I believe that they will do a great deal to put the matter right. One of the main practices of extremists, when they want to take people out on strike, is to say that union cards will be taken away. We must refute that under all circumstances.