HC Deb 07 February 1983 vol 36 cc622-3
14. Mr. Grist

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will detail the effects of the water workers' strike in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

A large number of people in Wales have been made to suffer anxiety and inconvenience by this strike. Currently, almost 1 million people in the Welsh water authority's area are having to boil water, while 3,700 properties—that is, about 10,000 people—are without a piped supply. A substantial offer—7.3 per cent. over 16 months—is on the table and is available immediately, and the independent mediator's report presents clear opportunities, given genuine improvements in productivity, for increased earnings. The way is open, and I hope that the water workers will return to work immediately so that negotiations may continue and bring to an end a needless dispute that is causing great distress to the sick, the disabled, the elderly and the general public.

Mr. Grist

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Wales is the area worst hit by this shameful strike, that the position is getting worse, and that private contractors and, if necessary, troops will be used wherever necessary?

Mr. Edwards

I am not sure that it is right that the position is getting worse, although the number of those having to boil water has certainly increased. The number without piped supplies has been reduced. The right way forward at the moment is to deal with each problem as it arises. I am sure, however, that it is right to urge workers to go back to work and to continue to negotiate in those circumstances, and not while they are still causing so much widespread inconvenience, on the arrangements that offer the genuine possibility of further increases.

Mr. Alec Jones

Has the Secretary of State seen today's Western Mail, which shows that a grade I waste inspector who produced a pay packet of £85.85 is expected to believe from the television and wireless that his £85.85 has mysteriously become the much publicised figure of £135? Does the Secretary of State agree that the use of average figures does not help the average worker understand the problems? Does he further agree that the best place to settle the strike is around the negotiating table and not on television chat shows?

Mr. Edwards

The figures that are being quoted are from the new earnings survey, which is being used by the unions in their comparisons in support of their claim. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, however, that the proper place to settle is around the negotiating table. As there is a very reasonable offer on the table of 7.3 per cent. for 16 months, and as paragraph 8 of the mediator's report has revealed the opportunities that are available for further increases, I hope that workers will go back to work, will negotiate and will not continue to cause inconvenience. They will, apart from anything else, of course, be losing substantial earnings so long as they remain out.