HC Deb 05 December 1989 vol 163 cc144-5
8. Mr. Wallace

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many working days have been lost through industrial disputes in the period January to September 1989; and what was the figure for the comparable periods in 1987 and 1988.

Mr. Fowler

It is provisionally estimated that 3,237,000 working days were lost through industrial disputes in the period January to September 1989. In the corresponding period in 1987, 3,284,000 days were lost, and in 1988 the figure was 3,427,000.

The annual average of days lost through industrial disputes in the 1970s was almost 13 million.

Mr. Wallace

As recent figures are clearly much lower than those for the 1970s, and as the figures that the Secretary of State gave appear relatively stable for the past three years, why does the right hon. Gentleman see a need in this Session for further hostile measures designed to put even more restraint on people in employment in relation to the right to strike? Is it not time to seek more constructive ways to improve industrial relations through partnership in industry?

Mr. Fowler

I certainly agree about the importance of partnership in industry, but our proposals concern unofficial action, as a result of which we still lose a tremendous number of days each year. We are also putting an end to the pre-entry closed shop. I hope that the hon. Member will support us and that the Labour party will get its act together and support us, too.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that whereas in 1979 private sector strikes accounted for three quarters of all strikes, today private sector strikes account for only 50 per cent. of all strikes, showing that the public sector is becoming more irresponsible as the private sector becomes more responsible? Has he also noticed that unofficial strikes are now a third of all strikes and is not that why we need the proposals contained in the Green Paper and a Bill as soon as possible?

Mr. Fowler

What my hon. Friend says about unofficial strikes is undoubtedly the case. We are losing far too many days through unofficial strike action. I believe that when the House sees the legislation that we propose it will have the support of the great majority of Members.

Ms. Short

Does the Secretary of State agree that the industrial dispute that concerns everybody in Britain is the ambulance workers' dispute? He will know that overwhelmingly the people of Britain think that the Government are wrong and that the dispute should be settled. Will he now use his office, in the spirit of the approaching period of Christmas, to agree to arbitration so that we can obtain a settlement and get the ambulances back on the road? That is what the people of Britain really want.

Mr. Fowler

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but the position on the ambulance dispute has been set out only today by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health in one of the national newspapers. Arbitration has never been inserted into the Whitley council procedure in the Health Service—

Mr. Cryer

As ordained by God and Mrs. Thatcher.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Fowler

—and it would not be right to set such a precedent now.