HC Deb 11 February 1992 vol 203 c783
5. Mr. David Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many days were lost in strikes in the 10 years prior to 1979 and the 10 years since.

Mr. Forth

There were 72 million working days lost in the 1980s, nearly one third of which—22.3 million werelost in the 1984 miners' strike alone. The total for the 1970s was 129 million, nearly twice that for the 1980s.

Mr. Evans

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and for those sensational figures. Does he agree that that improvement has occurred because we—the Government—have given the unions back to their members? Does he further agree that the Labour party wants to sign up to the social chapter only in order to regain its power by having beer and sandwiches at No. 10? Is that what the past is all about—the 156 Members sponsored by unions who are turned on by that prospect?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out what is blindingly obvious to Conservative Members but escapes Opposition Members—our reforms have been to do with giving power to individual trade union members and restoring accountability and responsibility to trade unions and their leaders. Much though my hon. Friend may dream about the days of beer and sandwiches, I should have thought that the Opposition were so besotted with Europe that it would have to be café and croissants, if that change ever came about.

Mr. Speaker

I call Mr. Dennis Skinner. Happy Birthday!

Several Hon. Members

Happy Birthday.

Mr. Skinner

For the first 10 years of the Government, the cry that used to come from the Dispatch Box was that the economy was in a mess because of strikes by workers. Who is causing the slump now?

Mr. Forth

I do not recall any such incidents, but the economic difficulties that we inherited between 1979 and 1980 were indisputably due to the winter of discontent, which was a direct result of the relationship between the then Labour Government and the then trade unions. We now have a different trade union movement and a different Government, with the result that the figures show an all-time record of peace in industrial relations. That is the difference.