HC Deb 18 March 1986 vol 94 cc155-6
10. Mr. Gale

asked the Paymaster General how many working days have been lost in industrial disputes over the last 12 months for which figures are available.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

A provisional total of 4.4 million working days were lost through stoppages of work due to industrial disputes during the 12 months to 31 January 1986.

Mr. Gale

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there has been a marked improvement in the industrial relations record of recently privatised industries? Does he further agree that that strengthens the case for the early privatisation of other major nationalised industries?

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The figure that I have cited includes nearly 2 million days that were lost during the miners' dispute in the year in question. I agree with my hon. Friend that when one looks at the number of stoppages in the year to January 1986, one sees that the figure is the lowest that we have had since the comparable period up to January 1936–50 years ago. There has been a welcome improvement in industrial relations, particularly in the private sector of industry.

Mr. James Lamond

Does the Minister not realise that any drop in the figures is not due to workers being more content with their lot under this Government, but rather is due to the fear of unemployment that hangs over the head of every employed person? The trade unions have been so fettered by the Government that they are afraid to bring out their members to exercise the right that they have had for the whole of this century—the right to stop work if they are dissatisfied with their conditions.

Mr. Clarke

A great deal of the improvement has to do with the introduction of democracy into the trade union movement—pre-strike ballots and the free and secret election of those who lead the trade unions. Those improvements are threatened by the proposals being brought forward by he trade union and labour movement, which, I understand, are to be considered by a conference tomorrow.

Mr. Tim Smith

How many working days were lost because of industrial disputes in the last 12 months of the last Labour Government?

Mr. Clarke

Off the cuff, I do not remember the number of days lost in the winter of discontent, but certainly that was one of the worst years most of us can recall and it shows how dramatic has been the improvement since this Government came to power and improved our industrial relations system.

Mr. Prescott

Will the Paymaster General tell us whether he has carried out a comparison between the last six years of the Labour Government and the six years of this Government? I readily concede that the numbers of disputes has fallen by half, but does he not accept that the number of working days lost is almost approximately the same? That means that the average number of days lost per dispute has risen from 5,000 to nearly 9,000. That is a reflection of the bitterness and the length and cost of strikes and is the result of the Government's trade union legislation.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a simple reason why our record is much better on the number of disputes but is almost comparable on the number of days lost. It is because of the huge number of days lost in one dispute, the miners' dispute, which was the last fling of violent, undemocratic industrial action and was supported by the Opposition.

Mr. Stokes

Is it not a great mercy that beer and sandwiches no longer need to be provided at 10 Downing street because strikes no longer take place?

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

We have far fewer disputes and we have long given up the ridiculous process of trying to settle them over beer and sandwiches at 10 Downing street or at the Department of Employment.