HC Deb 03 June 1981 vol 5 cc924-6
59. Mr. Adley

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if she will make a statement on the current Civil Service dispute.

61. Mr. Canavan

asked the Minister for the Civil Service whether she will make a statement about the Civil Service pay dispute.

62. Mr. Woolmer

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if she will report the latest position on the Civil Service pay dispute.

63. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what progress has been made in talks with the Civil Service unions concerning future machinery for the conduct of pay negotiations.

Mr. Hayhoe

Discussions with the Civil Service unions to see whether a basis can be found on which the present dispute can be brought to an end are continuing. The Government hope that they can be brought to an early and successful conclusion. I am sure that the House will understand if I do not go into any detail about the discussions at this stage.

Mr. Adley

Is my hon. Friend aware that the tactics of the unions have alienated rather than gained public support? Is he aware that most people recognise that it is the unions that have gone on strike or are taking industrial action, not the Government? Will he therefore accept a brief message from my constituents which would sum up the position, namely, "Don't give 'em the money, Barney"?

Mr. Hayhoe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that message from his constituency. It is not an entirely novel comment, but at least it is the first time that it has been used in the House on an occasion of this kind. I believe that the House would probably wish to express its concern about reports that militants within the Civil Service are proposing extended action. I hope that they will desist.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call first the three other hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Mr. Canavan

In view of the 18 per cent. increase for Members of Parliament—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Six per cent."]—how can the Minister possibly expect lower paid civil servants to settle for 7 per cent., which, with inflation still at 12 per cent. because of the failure of the Government's economic policies, is a reduction in real terms? Will the Government stop being so intransigent and stubborn and make a fairer offer to the civil servants that will help bring an end to the dispute, which is causing a great deal of inconvenience to the general public?

Mr. Hayhoe

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that in the instance of the pay of Members of Parliament there is 6 per cent. new money on the table, compared with 7 per cent. new money on the table for civil servants.

Mr. Woolmer

Are the Government prepared to negotiate genuinely, to reach an honourable settlement and to avoid a further escalation of industrial action and a worsening of industrial relations? Bearing in mind the origins of the dispute—the unilateral tearing up by the Government of a pay agreement and the right of arbitration—and the deep and genuine anger among hundreds of thousands of civil servants, will the Government now give an assurance that they will negotiate properly and show a degree of flexibility so as to avoid the escalation and a severe worsening of industrial relations that will be the result of the Government's obduracy?

Mr. Hayhoe

The hon. Gentleman makes part of the case deployed by the union leaders. As I said earlier, genuine discussions are going on with the unions at present. I do not propose to say anything here today which could jeopardise the results of those discussions.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that two-thirds of the civil servants involved receive less than two-thirds of average earnings? In those circumstances, does he think it reasonable to ask those men and women to accept a vicious cut in their standard of living by taking a 7 per cent. wage increase when we all know that inflation is about twice that rate? If the hon. Gentleman believes that his case is justified, why does he not refer it to arbitration?

Mr. Hayhoe

I do not accept that two-thirds of those involved in the action are earning what the hon. Gentleman claims. I have said before in the House that two-thirds of civil servants receive less than average earnings.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

In the interests of fair play, I will call one more hon. Member from each side of the House.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Will my hon. Friend draw to the attention of the striking air traffic controllers that RAF people working alongside them at West Drayton and other places earn about two-thirds of the wages of air traffic controllers and are not allowed to strike?

Mr. Hayhoe

I do not want to say anything that could be interpreted as intervening in the discussions that are taking place, but I am certain that the point made by my hon. Friend will be noted by those concerned.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is it not clear, three months into the dispute, that it was absurd for the Government to enter negotiations with a position of such rigidity that the only options available to the Civil service unions were to capitulate—which their members would not permit—or to fight the Government? Since next Monday's escalation to affect the Departments of Employment and Health and Social Security and the intensification of action at airports will result in a more direct impact on the public, will the Government accept at this late stage that arbitration offers an honourable way out for both sides, and a way out that has been accepted by the unions? If the Government are so convinced of the validity of their case, why are they afraid to argue it before an impartial body?

Mr. Hayhoe

The Government have made it clear from the start that the 6 per cent. cash limit for Civil Service pay will not be breached. I am sorry that in referring to the possible extension of action to affect social security and unemployment benefits the right hon. Gentleman did not ask those concerned not to take such action, which will cause considerable hardship to people in great need.