HC Deb 18 February 1992 vol 204 cc184-280
Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.49 pm
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)

I beg to move, That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its success in reforming industrial relations; recognises the importance of these reforms to the improvement in the underlying strength of the British economy; notes that the number of working days lost last year is provisionally estimated to have been the lowest total since records began in 1891; welcomes the Government's proposals to prevent abuse of union 'check-off' procedures and to give members of the public the right to seek protection of the law against unlawful industrial action in the public services; notes that the main Opposition party has refused to indicate whether it supports or opposes these proposals, despite frequent invitations to do so; recalls that it has opposed every stage of the Government's highly successful industrial reforms, and remains committed to reversing them; notes that it would put trade unions in a uniquely privileged legal position, giving them rights they did not have even in the mid-1970s; notes that it would allow the return of secondary action and flying pickets; notes that its other policies, particularly the minimum wage, would encourage industrial unrest; believes that its proposals would wreck the competitiveness of British industry by making it impossible for many British firms to deliver goods and provide services to their customers at the time when they are required; and further believes that its policies would destroy employment opportunities, threaten public services, and cause inward investors to take their investment and jobs elsewhere.

Last Thursday, the statistics on industrial relations for the calendar year 1991 were published. They showed that the number of days lost through strikes fell below the million mark, to 800,000. That was the lowest figure for a hundred years—the lowest, in fact, since records began.

In 1979, by contrast, more than 29 million working days were lost through industrial action. Some 3 million working days were lost in the single month of January alone. In that period, children were denied access to their schools, patients were denied access to their hospitals and the dead were denied access to their graves. That was the legacy of the previous Labour Government.

Last week, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) criticised the fact that this debate was going to take place. He said: we should be talking about employment". Nothing could more vividly show the depth of the hon. Gentleman's failure to understand how a free enterprise economy works, the depth of his inability to appreciate how a market economy operates and the depth of his ignorance of how private enterprise functions than that observation.

The truth is that the industrial relations reforms which this Government have introduced over the past 12 years and which have created the strike-free climate of industrial relations which we now enjoy have been crucial in improving the underlying strength of our economy over that time and are critical to our prospects for the future. The self-styled party of industry is as ignorant of the views of industry on this issue as it is on everything else.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

In the past year, how many days have been lost through unemployment?

Mr. Howard

Does the hon. Gentleman think that the way in which to improve the prospects for unemployement and for the creation of jobs is to go back to the industrial relations climate that his party and his Government bequeathed to this country? The hon. Gentleman should listen and learn. We look forward to hearing what he has to say in the debate.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

If the Minister cannot answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), can he answer this one? If we have had fewer strikes in the past year than has been the case for the past 50 years, who is responsible for the slump?

Mr. Howard

I should have thought that even the hon. Gentleman, having seen the figures from Germany, would now accept that there is a worldwide recession. Even the hon. Gentleman cannot think that we could be immune from that worldwide recession.

Opposition Members will not escape the views of industry on the important issue for debate today. The CBI's manufacturing advisory group, for example, has said that—thanks to the Government's reforms— employee communications and industrial relations have been transformed. The industrial relations turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s is now a distant memory".

The Institute of Directors has, in its words, supported the successful step-by-step reform of industrial relations over the past twelve years. We believe that the latest statistics on strike action … amply demonstrate the success of the policies which have been pursued". The Invest in Britain Bureau found that 96 per cent. of foreign firms believed that British industrial relations had improved significantly in recent years. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has said: labour legislation has been introduced to modernise industrial relations". These policies, it added, have had major effects on United Kingdom productivity and potential output performance".

A survey by the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, published only last month, found that 91 per cent. of German firms operating in Britain regarded British industrial relations as being either "good" or "excellent". The same survey found that Britain is now the favourite location within the European Community for German overseas investment. Across the world as a whole, the United Kingdom is second only to the United States as the preferred location for German firms investing abroad.

Those two findings—on investment and industrial relations—are inextricably linked. Without the improvement in our industrial relations, that investment—and all the associated jobs—would undoubtedly have gone elsewhere. Instead of looking to leave Britain, as in the strike-prone seventies, inward investors are queuing up to come here.

Good industrial relations are essential if we are to continue attracting such a high proportion of inward investment from European Community and other countries. The importance of such inward investment should not be underestimated. A recent survey by the Nomura Research Institute showed that, over the next four years, Japanese investment in the United Kingdom would create 447,000 jobs, contribute £4 billion to our balance of trade and add 2 per cent. to our gross national product.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Howard

The Trades Union Congress regards that investment as "alien". Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is rising to defend that description by the TUC of inward investment.

Mr. Flannery

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that, on 26 November last, I asked him how many unemployed were newly on the list throughout Europe and what percentage were in Britain. He refused to answer the question, even though it had come through the Table Office. The next day, he was asked the same question in the Employment Select Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton). Again, he refused to give the figures, so my hon. Friend gave them. They revealed that, in Europe, 972,000 people were put on the unemployment list and that, of those, 777,000 were from Britain. That means that over 80 per cent. of unemployment in the whole of Europe came from Britain.

Mr. Howard

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain how any of that justifies the description by the TUC of Japanese inward investment as "alien", when such investment contributes so much to our economy, creates jobs and will remedy the evil about which the hon. Gentleman claims to be so worried.

Many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches are sponsored by trade unions who voted for that resolution. Have they rushed forward to disassociate themselves from those views? Have they condemned the TUC for that resolution? Have they been keen to disown the dinosaurs of the trade union movement whose views are so damaging to the future of our country? Not a bit of it.

The Opposition spokesman on trade and industry, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), has been challenged time and time again to disassociate himself from that "alien" remark. So has the hon. Member for Sedgefield. On each occasion, they maintain a deafening silence. But perhaps the hon. Member for Sedgefield will prove willing at last today to speak up on the subject. Perhaps today he will utter a word of condemnation of the TUC in respect of that resolution. I will gladly give way to him if at last he can bring himself to commit himself to the faintest criticism of his TUC paymasters.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The Secretary of State tells us that all these companies from abroad have been investing in the United Kingdom. I have one in my constituency called Volvo Bus Company. It invested many millions of pounds. The minute that it was in trouble at home, it pulled out. Now it intends to export buses from Sweden to the United Kingdom, despite picking up an order on 7 February in Singapore for £12.5 million and picking up an order only a couple of months ago for £4.5 million from London Transport. It hid all those orders from the work force, because it did not want them to challenge the decision to close the plant.

How can we possibly rely on industry from overseas if firms which locate in the United Kingdom take that attitude when they get into trouble? We cannot trust them.

Mr. Howard

I wonder what point the hon. Gentleman seeks to make. Does he suggest that it would have been better if that company had never come to his constituency in the first place?

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman's constituents will mark well his attitude to inward investment. Does he suggest that we should turn our back on all inward investment in case at some future date the company changes its mind? Is that what the hon. Gentleman recommends for the future of our country?

The huge increase in inward investment is only one of the benefits that we have reaped from the transformation of our industrial relations in the past 12 years. Industrial peace has been crucial to our economic performance in terms of growth, productivity and overall investment.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Although we hear a great deal from Opposition Members about wanting to go back to the good old days when trade union bosses organised our industry, is it not true that members of trade unions have no desire to return to the old system, under which they lost control of their trade unions, but that they support the trade union legislation that we have introduced?

Mr. Howard

I agree. My hon. Friend is right, and that is reflected in the strike statistics. It is because union members have to be consulted that there are so few strikes and so few days lost as a result of industrial action.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

In case my right hon. and learned Friend did not hear it, there have been loutish sedentary interventions from the Opposition Front Bench. It has happened about six times. They have been saying, "Jobs, jobs, jobs." My right hon. and learned Friend is talking about investment from the Federal Republic of Germany. He will know that the boss of Mercedes Benz has said that Germany is about to export jobs because wages are too high and because of the curse that Delors and the social contract have imposed on the Germans. The Opposition want to introduce the curse of Delors to this country, with its socialist contract. They talk about jobs, but what impact would that have on jobs?

Mr. Howard

It would have a devastating impact on jobs, as would the range of policies advocated by the Labour party. My hon. Friend will know that Mercedes Benz announced—I think that it was last week—that it was likely to make 20,000 of its workers redundant, no doubt partly in response to the social costs and the burden which those costs impose on German industry.

The truth of the matter is that, after lagging behind other European Community countries in the 1960s and 1970s, the British economy grew faster than all of them, except Spain, during the 1980s, when our growth rate averaged more than 3 per cent. a year.

Business investment grew faster in the United Kingdom in the 1980s than in all other major industrial countries, except Japan. It rose by an unprecedented 45 per cent. in the three years to 1989. During the 1980s, manufacturing productivity increased at an annual rate of 4.7 per cent. —more than in any other major industrial country, including Japan.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that many firms in my constituency would have been adversely affected had the Prime Minister not succeeded in keeping us out of the social chapter at Maastricht? I went round a waste paper processing factory in my constituency last Friday. It is a continuous process, with only two days off a year—Christmas day and new year's day. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Workers work two 12-hour day shifts and two 12-hour night shifts and then have four days off. Staff like it that way and like the amount of time at home, employers like it that way, and the company is paying for and providing more jobs. Would it not have been a disaster if we had succumbed at Maastricht? They would not be allowed to make those arrangements, which thoroughly suit them.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend's experience is typical. Employer after employer has congratulated my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the outcome of the Maastricht agreement. The alternative would have been truly disastrous for British industry, yet the Opposition seem totally oblivious to the consequences, which would have been deeply distressing to employers and employees and would have had devastating consequences for jobs —the word to which my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) drew attention, saying that it had been repeatedly mouthed in a 'loutish' manner by Opposition Members, from a sedentary position.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

The Secretary of State has been telling us about the evils of trade unionism in the 1960s and 1970s and that so much has been done to improve the situation through legislation. How is it that, since 1979, under this Government, 2.5 million full-time jobs in manufacturing have disappeared, which is almost 36 jobs for every hour that the Government have been in office? Why have there been two major recessions, and why is this recession even worse than the last one in the early 1980s?

Mr. Howard

I find it difficult to believe that even the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the fact that employment in manufacturing has declined in this country since 1966, in common with almost every advanced industrial country. The difference between this Government's performance and that of the Labour party when it was in government is that, under us, manufacturing output, manufacturing exports and manufacturing productivity have increased. We have laid the base for the future of our manufacturing industry.

In the past two years—and for a third year when the figures become available—we have seen an increase in our share of the world trade in manufactured goods for the first time in decades. That is the truth about manufacturing industry.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)


Mr. Howard

If the hon. Lady still wishes to intervene, I shall give way.

Mrs. Mahon

The Minister will be aware of the details of what happened to the workers at Coloroll in my constituency, because we have exchanged letters on the subject. The workers were productive, but they were made redundant two years ago. Perhaps the Minister can tell me where in the glossy document there is anything to help that work force to obtain the redundancy payments that they were awarded at a tribunal 16 months ago.

Is it not time that the Minister put his own house in order and helped the staff in Manchester who are responsible for that case? They have told me that they are having to work overtime and at weekends to deal with that case. The Minister denied that in a letter to me, but the staff have confirmed again to me that they cannot cope.

The workers at Coloroll have had to wait 16 months since the award was made—they still have not received their redundancy payment. Why does the Minister not sort that out instead of making a mess of other Departments?

Mr. Howard

We have increased the number of staff dealing with redundancy payments, and we are anxious to make those payments as quickly as possible. In the case that the hon. Lady has mentioned, it has been explained to her that there are particular complications, but we very much hope that the workers concerned will receive their payments as quickly as possible.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)


Mr. Howard

I must get on.

None of the improvements in our economic performance to which I have referred could have been secured without stable industrial relations and without a sharp fall in the number of strikes and working days lost because of strikes. Industrial relations peace is, always has been and always will be fundamental to economic recovery.

If there is one lesson that everyone should have learnt by now, it is that industrial peace cannot be achieved with an unbalanced framework of industrial relations law. The collapse of the previous Labour Government's economic policies in the winter of discontent was rooted in the trade union laws that they had introduced. Those laws gave trade unions greater privileges and fewer obligations than at any time in the history of this country.

Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is an amazing achievement to have the lowest level of strike days lost for a hundred years? There are two reasons for that. The first is the change in the law on trade unions which the Government have introduced in the past decade. The second is the programme of denationalisation, which has brought more competition and discipline to bear in our industrial sector.

In 1981, unemployment was considerably higher than it is now, but so were the number of days lost in strikes. The Labour party's idea that the unemployment level determines whether we have industrial peace is complete garbage.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right. We have yet to hear that argument this afternoon, but no doubt it will be forthcoming.

Mr. Blair

Since the Minister announced employment action last June—an emergency programme to help the unemployed—at least another 300,000 people have become unemployed. Can the Minister tell us how many people are on employment action?

Mr. Howard

The figure is in excess of 10,000, and it is increasing by about 1,000 a week. When the hon. Gentleman succeeds in persuading the shadow Chief Secretary that a scheme such as that forms one of her two immediate spending priorities, we might listen more seriously to the hon. Gentleman on such matters, but not until then. The hon. Gentleman would do well to wait a while before he says anything else, as one or two questions may be put to him.

We do well to remind ourselves that, under Labour's legislation, trade unions enjoyed virtually unlimited protection for calling strikes and other industrial action. It did not matter how remote a strike was from the original dispute. It did not matter how many jobs and businesses were put at risk. It did not matter how much hardship was inflicted on the community as a whole. The only test of the lawfulness of a strike was whether a union official thought it would help to further his dispute.

It was as a result of those laws that flying pickets were free to spread disruption far and wide and unions were free to discipline and even expel any member who crossed a picket line or refused an instruction to strike. In the words of the then Attorney-General, the trade unions were free to practice "lawful intimidation" against their own members.

No wonder the world then believed that Britain's industrial relations problems were insoluble and that the descent into industrial chaos was inevitable. Our programme of trade union law reform showed that those who had written the British economy off as permanently crippled by strikes were wrong.

We set ourselves three objectives. The first was to safeguard the democratic rights of trade union members and to make union leaders accountable to their members. The second was to establish a fair balance of bargaining power. The third was to protect employees and employers alike against the abuse of industrial power.

As a result of our legislation, all employees have escaped the tyranny of the closed shop and are now free to decide for themselves whether or not to join a trade union. All union members have the right to vote in a secret ballot to elect their leaders and before they are called on to strike. All union members have the right to decide for themselves whether or not to strike, free from the threat of disciplinary action if they cross picket lines. Businesses and jobs are protected against the flying picket, against secondary action, against wildcat strkes and against all the other abuses of trade union power that so disfigured British industrial relations in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mr. Graham

Is the Minister aware that a young constituent of mine under the age of 21 was forced to work seven days a week and was told that, if he did not work the seven days, he would be fired? He was given £8 a day for working on Saturdays and Sundays. In other words, that young man has had all his rights taken away by the Conservatives. There is no one to whom he can turn for support. The Government have consigned millions of young folk to a life of poverty and a life without any say whatever.

Mr. Howard

I do not know the age of the hon. Gentleman's constituent.

Mr. Graham

He is nearly 21.

Mr. Howard

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that his constituent would be helped by the introduction of a national minimum wage, which would destroy the jobs that might be availabe for his constituent. The hon. Gentleman genuinely cannot see that those jobs would not be available.

Mr. Graham

My secretary worked for £2.45 an hour in the catering trade and was obliged to work all the hours of the day. The Minister's daughter or wife would never think of working such damned hours for that sort of money.

Mr. Howard

The figures show how wrong the hon. Gentleman is. They show that the introduction of a minimum wage would benefit the richest 30 per cent. of the population by more than it would the poorest 30 per cent. The figures show how many miles away is the hon. Gentleman's understanding of the issues involved.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Howard

Labour Members sometimes try to pretend that they would have achieved all that we have achieved as a result of our reforms and that they would have put our reforms on the statute book. Indeed, they sometimes give the impression that almost as much credit is due to them as to the Government for the transformation that has occurred in our industrial relations.

The Labour party has opposed every trade union Bill that we have put before the House. It campaigned in the 1983 and 1987 general elections on a promise to repeal each and every one of our reforms, and it has continued to promise wholesale repeal.

In April 1988, the Leader of the Opposition, with uncharacteristic succinctness, said of our legislation that his commitment was "to clear it". In 1990, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said: It's going to repeal all of it, there's no little bits you can keep of it. There's nothing you can keep of this legislation … It all has to go. When the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East made that admirably clear statement, he was doing no more than echo the words of the current shadow Chancellor and current Labour Front-Bench employment spokesman in the debates on the 1984 Act. Both the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and the hon. Member for Sedgefield made clear their implacable opposition to strike ballots.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman described that measure, which for the first time gave union members the right to a strike ballot and to elect their leaders by vote, as "an irrelevant effrontery". He went on to describe a statutory requirement for ballots as "intellectually dispreputable" and he said that ballots would gravely undermine the effective pursuit by unions of their members' interests".

The hon. Member for Sedgefield attacked the same Bill as a "shabby, partisan stratagem". He described ballots as a scandalous and undemocratic measure against the trade union movement."—[Official Report, 8 November 1983; Vol. 48, c. 170, 210.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity today at least to tell us why he changed his mind. Or when he changed his mind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Has he changed his mind?"] Or whether he has changed his mind.

Hon. Members

Come on.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With fewer interruptions, we might get on, because several hon. Members wish to participate in the debate.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)


Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady is speeding to the rescue of her hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield.

Mrs. Fyfe

Has the Secretary of State changed his mind on whether people should be free to join trade unions at places like GCHQ? Does he still think that Rupert Murdoch has the right to impose his idea of rights on his work force in The Sun in Glasgow and elsewhere? Perhaps the Secretary of State has changed his mind about that since Rupert Murdoch decided to support the Scottish nationalists instead of the Tories.

Mr. Howard

I invite the hon. Lady's attention to the 1990 Act that enshrined the right of workers to join trade unions as well as not to join them when we abolished the closed shop. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about GCHQ?"] We know about GCHQ and the security implications. If that is all Opposition Members can continue to parrot, the country will take them even less seriously than they suppose.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State, as he has given way several times so far in this debate.

The Secretary of State has become notorious for his slippery use of statistics and he is at it again today, with half-baked assertions and selective quotations. One of the facts to which he has not referred is the remorseless and frightening rise in industrial injuries. We now have a low-wage, low-skill economy in which workers are not protected. Is that the kind of down-market economy that he is trying to create? If so, we shall go into the new Europe with our hands tied behind our backs.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for making that allegation. As it happens, earlier today I met the Health and Safety Commission, which is a tripartite body with trade union representatives on it. Those trade union representatives told me how much better our health and safety record was than that of any other member country in the European Community. It is an absolute disgrace that the hon. Gentleman should make such unfounded allegations about health and safety in this country.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Howard

I have already given way far too often. I must get on.

Opposition Front-Bench Members will not say whether, when or why they have changed their minds. They are now much more reticent. They are reluctant even to mention the words "trade union" lest people remember the chains that bind the Labour party to the trade union bosses who are their paymasters. Yet, if one reads the small print of their policy documents, it is clear that they are just as firmly committed to repealing the legislation of the past 12 years as they were when their intentions were proclaimed so loudly and boldly by their own Front-Bench spokesman as little as two years ago.

I challenge the hon. Member for Sedgefield now to deny that his proposals would make it easier to strike, to deny that his proposals widen the scope for picketing and secondary action, to deny that his proposals would make it easier to call wildcat, unofficial action. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to deny that his proposals would make it harder—indeed, impossible—for employers to seek the protection of the law against unlawful industrial action if, for example, there had been a no-strike ballot.

Mr. Blair

What the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying is absolute nonsense. Every time that he has made those allegations about Labour party policies, they have been refuted. For example, yesterday, and also last year, the Government alleged that, during an interview on the "On the Record" programme, I was forced into an admission that miners would be able to picket power stations and other such places under Labour's proposals for industrial law. I shall read from the transcript that I have obtained. Mr. Dimbleby put the—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State gave way, so I think that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) should be allowed to continue.

Mr. Blair

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Is it not strange that the Secretary of State is suddenly not so keen for me to meet his challenge?

Mr. Dimbleby said: If there were a miners' strike and the circumstances that you talk about apply, the power station tries to get coal supplies, for instance, from elsewhere, the miners would presumably be able therefore to picket the docks, picket the T and G drivers, picket the railway-drivers? The document yesterday alleged that I admitted that that was the case. However, I actually said: Absolutely not, no, absolutely not.

Mr. Howard

I can understand how sensitive the hon. Gentleman is about that interview. He did not read on further; when pressed by Mr. Dimbleby, the hon. Gentleman was forced into the statement that, if there was a loophole, the Labour party would look at it.

Mr. Blair

The Secretary of State should tell the truth. He has just alleged that I said that if there were a loophole, we would simply look at it. However, I said: I can't actually see that that could happen under the present set of proposals that we've got and if there is a loophole there, [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] we will make sure that it does not occur".

Mr. Howard

I can understand how sensitive the hon. Gentleman is about that interview, but I never even mentioned it, as I have far better points to make than that.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some moments ago the Secretary of State made an allegation against my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) which has now been comprehensively rebutted by the transcript of the interview to which reference was made. Should not the Secretary of State withdraw those scurrilous remarks?

Mr. Speaker

I have heard nothing out of order in this rather excited debate, but would it not be a good idea to address ourselves to the motion?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree that that would be a good idea. When the hon. Member for Sedgefield, to whom I had issued a specific challenge, rose, I thought that he was going to respond to that challenge. However, he treated the House to an account of an interview about which he is understandably sensitive. We respect his sensitivities and do not want to infringe them, but it is a pity that he did not reply to the challenge that I issued to him.

I challenged the hon. Gentleman—as it is an important matter—to deny that his proposals would give trade unions protection against the normal consequences of breaking the law. Such protection was not available to any other organisation. I also challenged him to deny that he would once again allow trade unions to intimidate their members into striking by threats of fines and expulsions. That is the avowed policy of the Labour party—it is all in the small print of its policy documents. The effect of that small print would be exactly the same as the effect of the headlines in Labour's previous policy statements: the repeal of all our important reforms of the past 12 years and a return to the licensed anarchy of the 1970s.

When these matters are raised, the Labour party adopts an attitude of lofty distain—none of this, it implies, matters. We have, Opposition Members imply, and sometimes say, other policies that will make these changes irrelevant. So let us look at some of those policies.

Let us examine, for example, the Opposition's policy, or lack of one, on public sector pay. Their Treasury spokesman, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), has warned of a flood of public wage claims. Why, after all, are the National Union of Public Employees, the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the National and Local Government Officers Association spending so much money in support of the Labour party if not to secure their post-election reward?

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)


Mr. Howard

Has not the hon. Lady noticed NALGO's £2 million advertising campaign?

Mrs. Golding

NALGO is not affiliated.

Mr. Howard

I know that. What effect does the hon. Lady think the £2 million advertising campaign is intended to have?

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, in his efforts to secure a yes vote to the political fund, the now general secretary, Mr. Alan Jinkinson, said in an interview in the Municipal Journal that NALGO will not get involved in party politics"? Is it not clear that that is exactly what NALGO is doing right now, and that Mr. Jinkinson and the NALGO hierarchy misled their members when they were pushing for a political fund three years ago?

Mr. Howard

Everyone can form his own view of the advertising campaign that NALGO is running, but it is difficult to see that it has more than one objective.

To complete my important point about public sector pay, have we been given any clue by the Labour party about how it will respond to this flood of wage claims from the public sector? No, we have not. The answer from Labour has been a deafening silence.

Then we have the Opposition's determination to introduce a national statutory minimum wage, reiterated only last Friday by the Member for Sedgefield. At least the hon. Gentleman's support for the minimum wage has had one happy result. It has an almost magical ability to bring people together. The leader of the CBI has found himself agreeing with the leader of one of our biggest trade unions. Economists at the university of Liverpool have found themselves at one with those noted monetarists at the Sunday People. Goldman Sachs is now in agreement with the famous free-marketeers at the Guardian. All are united in their criticism of the minimum wage, and are unanimous in disbelieving the claim of the Labour party that a minimum wage would have no impact on the level of unemployment.

Of course, the hon. Gentleman does not really believe that claim himself. That was why he came out with his famous formula, in a letter to The Independent last June: I have not accepted that the minimum wage will cost jobs … I have simply accepted that econometric models indicate a potential jobs impact". My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister desribed those as weasel words. My right hon. Friend was, as usual, being kind. It has often been said that one man's pay increase can be another man's redundancy notice. Under Blair's law, one person's pay increase would be another person's econometric jobs impact.

The truth of the matter is that independent study after independent study has confirmed the devastating job loss that would follow the introduction of the national statutory minimum wage. The hon. Gentleman has become desperate. Asked by Sir Robin Day last Friday if he was able to cite one independent report that confirmed his view, he dredged up a report published by the Institute of Public Policy Research.

A look at the report's inside cover tells us everything we need to know about the independence of that particular institute. Its chairman is the Labour party's education spokesman in another place. Its deputy director has worked as the personal press officer to the Labour party leader and indeed was a Labour candidate at the 1983 general election. One of its trustees was the head of the Downing street policy unit in the last Labour Government. Another was not only a member of Labour's policy review team but is on the party's national executive committee. The Institute of the Public Policy Research is about as independent as someone standing on the Kop at a Merseyside derby.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

That is something that you would not know about.

Mr. Howard

I have spent more hours on the Kop than the hon. Gentleman would know about—probably more hours than he has ever spent there.

Mr. Wareing

I want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to deal with another matter that concerns Liverpool—contributions by both sides of industry to political party funds. Is he aware that a company in my constituency last week received a letter from the Conservative party chairman asking for a contribution to Conservative party funds? That firm is Hexagon Community Ltd. which, because it is being begrudged funds by the Government, is being told by Merseyside TEC that it will have to fold up. Does the Secretary of State know about that? Without using four-letter words, will he tell us what sort of answer the chairman of the Conservative party received from the management of that company?

Mr. Howard

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is an assiduous letter writer, and his letters receive a favourable response from all parts of the country.

The point about the Institute of Public Policy Research is that anyone relying on any future assurance of independence from the hon. Member for Sedgefield has been well and truly warned. The importance of a national statutory minimum wage is not simply the foolishness of the policy itself or the damage that it would cause, although both would be enormous: it is the extent to which it illustrates the extent of Labour's economic illiteracy.

Faced with incontrovertible evidence from employers in the textile industry about the job losses that would result from a minimum wage, the hon. Gentleman came out with a new refinement when he said some days ago that the minimum wage could include bonus payments. Hon. Members should think about that. Under this latest refinement, an employer could say to employees, "I'll pay you £3 an hour, and if you earn it, I'll pay you a 40p bonus. Mind you, if you don't earn it, I'll pay it to you anyway, because if I don't I'll be breaking the law." There was not a glimmer of recognition from the hon. Gentleman that the whole point about a bonus is that it has to be earned. He just does not understand how a free enterprise economy works.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Howard

I shall give way for the last time.

Mr. Rowe

Is not it even more surprising that such a doctrine should come from a party whose most recent policy document contained, in a damning paragraph about Conservative party policy, the statement: Unit labour costs in the United Kingdom have gone up while those in Germany, Italy and France have fallen. That is an extraordinary statement.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right. The policies advocated by Labour would undoubtedly drive up those costs to heights that we have not seen.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield does not recognise either the importance of differentials. As Eric Hammond said: We will oppose any restraint on differentials by any government and we will do all we can in our power to increase the reward for skills, qualification and productivity, not just because it is in the interests of our members, but more importantly, because it is in the interest of our economy and country".

Those are the other policies that would come to fruition in the first weeks of a Labour Government. There would be a flood of public sector pay claims and a determined attempt to maintain differentials in the wake of the national minimum wage. What will be the response of that Government? It will be repeal of the laws affecting trade unions to make it easier to strike. There would be a flood of public sector pay claims, a determined attempt to maintain differentials and a relaxation of the laws limiting strike action. That is the hat trick of horrors that would occur in the first weeks of a Labour Government. That is the deadly cocktail that they would administer to the British people.

That is Labour's recipe for recovery, its route out of recession. That is how it expects to create growth and prosperity for our people. What a disaster it would be. Leave aside the sharpest ever peacetime tax increase and the high interest rates that expert after expert predicts would be the consequence of Labour's economic policies. Leave aside the higher inflation which Labour Governments always bring. Hon. Members who look at this hat trick of horrors, for which the hon. Member for Sedgefield is directly responsible, will see with total clarity how ruinous a Labour Government would be for our people.

We have been through difficult times. We are not being helped by world recession, but we are on the point of reaping the rewards for low inflation, and for our strike-free industrial relations. We are uniquely well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that will become available to us as we emerge from recession. One thing, and one thing alone, would wreck these prospects—the election of a Labour Government. It is because the people of our country understand this very clearly that that disaster will not occur and we shall see, under a Conservative Government, jobs created in the 1990s as they were in the 1980s. I commend the motion to the House.

4.34 pm
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: condemns the Government for the depth of the recession, rising unemployment and the nation's skills crisis; and calls on the Government to cease its irrelevant attacks on trade unions and instead adopt a modern agenda for industrial relations which should include action on jobs, training, equal opportunities and fair treatment for people at the workplace, and support for the European Social Charter".

The figure for the increase in last quarter's long-term unemployed were announced today. At 93,000, it is the largest increase since records began. It follows on last Thursday's increase of 53,000 in the unemployment figures for the month, taking the total to over 2.6 million. I say that that is a cause for debate in the House today.

On the same day, last Thursday, the Council of Mortgage Lenders told us that home repossessions reached record levels last year and that they will continue rising through this year. I say that that is a cause for debate in the House.

This Thursday, the output figures for 1991 will be released. They are expected to show the longest fall in output since the 1930s. That has taken place under this Tory Government. I say that that is a cause for debate in the House.

Yet today, for the first time in five years, the Government have arranged a Supply day debate on the economy, adopting the procedures of an Opposition shortly before they become one. And to do what? To debate the long-term unemployment figures? No. To apologise for having created the longest recession for 50 years? No. To confirm that they were wrong about its length, its depth and its breadth, or even to announce some new measures or policies to bring the country out of recession? No.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair

No. I shall give way in a moment.

Faced with the mounting problems to which I have referred, with the country beset by a rising tide of redundancies and closures and with families and businesses in real fear of what is yet to come, the Government call for a Supply day debate after 13 years in office to deal not with the problems but to shift the blame on to somebody else. They attack the trade unions today when we say that they should have been attacking the recession, rising unemployment and business failures. That is the Tory response to these problems, and let no one from now until polling day forget it.

Mr. Nicholls

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marlow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair

I shall give way in a moment. I see that I have a reception party, which is flattering.

As the Secretary of State has raised his agenda of industrial law, let me repeat that we have made it clear that there will be no return to the trade union legislation of the 1970s. There will be no mass or flying pickets. There will be ballots before strikes and for trade union elections. Trade unions will be entitled to the same rights, but subject to the same responsibilities, as their counterparts in other European and western countries.

Mr. Howard

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair

I shall give way in a moment.

Britain now has the fastest rising unemployment in Europe, a crisis in the nation's skills and a recession that is claiming new victims every day. It wants a Government who will meet those responsibilities and will not refight the battles of the 1970s because they have no answers to the problems of the 1990s.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman talked about ballots. Will he confirm that, in the terms of his party's published policy documents, an employer would have no remedy in respect of a strike called without a ballot, and an employee would have no remedy until he had exhausted his internal trade union procedures? That is what the hon. Gentleman's party's published policy documents say. Will he confirm that?

Mr. Blair

I shall not confirm that, because it is entirely untrue. The right hon. and learned Gentleman keeps making the allegation. He put the allegation in the policy document that he issued yesterday. Over the past year, in correspondence with the newspapers that has been published in response to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's allegations, we have stated time and again that there will be pre-strike ballots and that employers will have to gain access to the courts if there is a breach of the ballot provisions. We have said that on many occasions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman keeps repeating the same old fallacies because he does not want to debate the issues for which he has responsibility.

Mr. Howard

Will the hon. Gentleman now answer the question that he was asked, and refer us to the passage in his policy document in which that is stated? The fact of the matter is that that is not what the documents say.

Mr. Blair

That is complete nonsense. I have before me correspondence with the Secretary of State, into which I entered nearly two years ago. In that correspondence, I repeated the words that appear in our policy review: To qualify for legal protection, industrial action requires the support of a properly conducted ballot.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with great interest. He is attempting to put over the message that the Labour party, in its new guise, will now accept some of the crucial elements in our employment Acts which it bitterly opposed when we introduced them. For the avoidance of all doubt, will the hon. Gentleman now state clearly and specifically which of our employment and trade union Acts he proposes to repeal, and which he proposes to retain?

Mr. Blair

I have just been answering the Secretary of State's questions. I answer them every time that they are raised, and I have answered them again this afternoon. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that what people want to know today are the answers that the Government have to the problems that confront the country.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Blair

I shall take the interventions in turn. First, I give way to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls).

Mr. Nicholls

Will the hon. Gentleman name a single major strike that the Labour party has condemned over the past 10 years?

Mr. Blair

We have made it absolutely clear that we want a fair and balanced framework of law and good industrial relations. If I were in the hon. Gentleman's position, I should be answering and asking questions about the 1,000 or more additional people who have become unemployed in his constituency over the past year.

Mr. Janman

People want the answers to two questions. First, if—in the unlikely event of Labour's being elected to govern, and in the unlikely event of the hon. Gentleman's occupying the post of Secretary of State for Employment —a number of people take strike action in a company without going through the balloting procedure, or infringe some other part of what now constitutes the definition of a trade dispute, will their employer be able to obtain an injunction from the courts requiring the union to stop its action? Secondly, if the injunction is granted, will the court still have powers to sequestrate the funds of a union that ignores it?

Those are the questions that people are asking, and they want to hear the answers from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair).

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Interventions should be brief.

Mr. Blair

Let me answer both those questions. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) speaks as though they had not been answered before. Let me repeat what I stated in published correspondence, referring to our policy document: To qualify for legal protection, industrial action requires the support of a properly conducted ballot. It could not be put more clearly than that. As for the courts' powers to implement matters, we state that they will have the full powers of enforcement and damages.

What I would expect from the hon. Gentleman is some hint of apology for having promised his constituents that there would be no recession, given that more than 1,000 extra people have lost their jobs in his constituency over the past year. We have heard no such apology from him.

Mr. Marlow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair

I will give way once more, but then I must get on.

Mr. Marlow

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. At the outset of his speech, he said that what we should be talking about is how we are to get out of the recession. How are we to get out of the recession, if the hon. Gentleman and his party want to impose a tax on savings and a tax on investment; if they want to impose the social charter—the curse of Delors—on industry; and if they want to revise the law on secondary picketing, allowing secondary pickets of Wagnerian proportions to run up and down the country? How will that get us out of the recession?

Mr. Blair

The hon. Gentleman will know, if he reads The Independent—perhaps he does not—that even the Democratic group in the European Parliament, which his party is seeking to join—he may not know that—has just issued a statement in which it deplores the Prime Minister's attitude to the European social charter. That is what sensible people think.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair

No. I am sorry, but I wish to get on.

Today, we will set out a modern agenda for people at the workplace. That, surely, should start with their having a workplace to be at; but, since March 1990, nearly 1 million extra people have become unemployed. Every region of Britain has been affected. In the south-east, 400,000 more people have become unemployed; in the midlands, 200,000 more; in the south-west, 100,000 more; in the north-west, 80,000 more. Tens of thousands more have become unemployed in Wales, Scotland and the north-east.

According to figures published today, youth unemployment—which the Secretary of State did not even mention —has risen by 35 per cent. in the past year. Nearly 800,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are now unemployed. According to the figures on long-term unemployment—also announced today—three quarters of a million people in this country have now been out of work for over a year. We did not hear a single mention of that from the Secretary of State.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

I agree with my hon. Friend. These are the questions that our people are asking—2.6 million of them, including 800,000 young people. They will be amazed at the nerve and cheek that the Government have displayed in arranging such a debate at such a time. In so far as the Secretary of State and his right hon. and hon. Friends have any expertise at all in this regard, it is expertise in job destruction.

Mr. Blair

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Is it not staggering that the two subjects that the Secretary of State did not mention were unemployment and training? Those, surely, are the subjects that we should be debating nowadays.

Men in their 50s have been made redundant, and are unlikely ever to work again. Young people now roam the streets of our cities without work, hope or welfare. On the radio today, we heard of a new initiative launched by food companies to help people who are suffering from malnutrition—not in eastern Europe or in the developing world, but here, in today's Tory Britain. That is the scandal that we should be debating.

We should be debating the plight of young couples who were promised an economic miracle, who budgeted, borrowed and planned on that basis, and who now find that one partner—if not both—is without work and without the means to pay the mortgage, while their wealth is tied up in a house that is a declining asset.

We should consider those who were encouraged to go out and spend, and who are now being told that they should not have been so reckless. Those people are not the authors of their own misfortune; the authors are a Government, and a Prime Minister, who first promised them that there would never be a recession, who then said that the recession would be shallow and not deep and who, for the past year, have pretended that recovery was under way when they must have known that it was not.

Mr. Hain

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State should apologise to the House, not only for the misdemeanours of his office over the past year but for the answer that he gave me earlier when I raised the question of industrial accidents?

The Secretary of State cited a meeting of the Health and Safety Commission at which he was present. I have since spoken to a TUC representative on the commission, Mr. Alan Tuffin of the Union of Communication Workers. He flatly denies the representation of the facts that the House were given this afternoon.

The Secretary of State said that the TUC had admitted that regulations of operating elsewhere in Europe were not necessarily as good as those operating in the United Kingdom. The fact is, however, that the number of industrial accidents is increasing. That is the fact that the Secretary of State refused to concede. The TUC put the point to him this very morning. Why did he not mention that in his reply to me?

Mr. Howard


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We do not have intervention on intervention.

Mr. Blair

My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) has made a telling point. It has to be said that it should not entirely surprise us in regard to the Secretary of State, since, whatever qualities he has, the keen pursuit of the absolute truth is not one of them.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) is wrong in what he said. The specific point raised at the meeting of the Health and Safety Commission that I attended was that recent research has taken place on the level of industrial accidents across Europe. The clear conclusion is that we have a lower rate of accidents than practically any other member state of the European Community. The fact that they are increasing is a different point, and certainly not a point which I made earlier. It has nothing to do with what I said earlier. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his entirely unsubstantiated and unjustified remark.

Mr. Blair

We can study the record. I did not think that that was quite the point which my hon. Friend was putting to the Secretary of State earlier. Perhaps they can have correspondence. It would be a relief if the right hon. and learned Gentleman was writing to someone other than me.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that industrial accidents are increasing? Is it not also a fact that under the Employment Act 1990, individual employees are not allowed to walk off a job even when the job is unsafe and dangerous? Is my hon. Friend aware that this morning I attended a memorial service, organised by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, at the Westminster Roman Catholic cathedral, in respect of the 129 UCATT members who lost their lives in industrial accidents in Great Britain last year? Does my hon. Friend agree that industrial accidents are increasing in Tory Britain partly because of the legislation that the Secretary of State put through the House?

Mr. Blair

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is extraordinary that in a debate on industrial relations the Secretary of State does not deal with these points.

I was talking about the predictions of recovery that used to be made by Ministers. For example, the Prime Minister said: Britain's position is strengthening month by month". That is what he told us in the middle of last year. The Chancellor, back in May said: Things are starting to go rather well for the economy. The Prime Minister again: I am confident that in the second half of the year the economy will begin to take off. Of course, there was the famous statement by the Chancellor: The green shoots of economic spring are appearing once again. The Secretary of State himself was never outdone by the Chancellor or the Prime Minister. He said last year: There is abundant evidence our policies are working extremely effectively. He also said that there were unmistakable signs of the end of the recession. He finally outdid himself when, on the eve of bad unemployment figures, he talked about a golden decade about to break upon the economy.

The Government's incompetence in giving us the recession was bad enough, but what people will not forgive or forget is the deception that sought to persuade people that the recession was over when, in truth, it was only entering its second phase. Why were they telling us in June, July and October last year that the recession was over arid the economy was getting better? It was so that they could have an election in November before the country discovered the truth.

Of course, the country has discovered the truth, so they have moved on and they tell us that the problem is all to do with the world recession. We should look at the Department's own figures for employment and unemployment over the past year in Europe. No other country has suffered as great a rise in unemployment as us. The same is projected for next year. The Secretary of State's ultimate excuse was that the three-monthly trend in unemployment was at least down. Last Thursday, that also failed. Every day in Britain, thousands more join the dole queue as a result of the errors of his Government.

Let us be clear: it is not over-powerful trade unions which have made redundant those people and hundreds of thousands more, but a Government who had the power to help them and now have deserted them.

Mr. Nicholls


Mr. Blair

No, I want to press on.

It is eight months since the Secretary of State announced his emergency programme, employment action, to help the unemployed, in particular in the south. Since then 300,000 more have become unemployed, to add to the 700,000 extra since the recession began. May I tell the House how many people are on the unemployment action programme? It is around 10,000, as the Secretary of State admitted today. That is only a fraction of the increase in the numbers of unemployed, let alone digging deep into those who were already unemployed before the recession began. Instead of attacking the trade unions today, why did not the Secretary of State announce a proper programme for the unemployed?

Mr. Nicholls


Mr. Blair

No, I am not giving way.

It is just like that other great initiative of Majorism—the proposal for the homeless announced last November. I understand that the so-called emergency package has not yet stopped a single repossession. It is not trade unions which have made the people homeless. It is not strikes which are making businesses bankrupt. The people made redundant know that their problems are caused not by their employers but by a Government who have betrayed both them and their employers during the recession.

Mr. Rowe

Any objective observer has to accept that there may have been some rashness in cutting interest rates at the moment the Government did, which may have helped to worsen the economic position. What the hon. Gentleman has to explain is why, when that possible misjudgment was made, the shadow Chancellor demanded that much more of a cut should have been made in interest rates.

Mr. Blair

As we have told the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends many times, the fault was to combine interest rate cuts with a tax-cutting Budget in 1988 which ruined the economy. [Interruption.] Hon. Members need not take our word for it. Even the Chancellor the other day was saying that the deregulation of the financial markets was a major factor in the recession.

Mr. Janman


Mr. Blair

No, I will have to get on; I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already.

The downfall of those people has not been poor industrial relations but incompetent government. Good industrial relations are vital. What is more, there is a virtual consensus, including unions and employers, about a modern agenda for industrial relations. The damage in continually harping back is not just that the difficulties of the 1990s lie unaddressed but that the solutions to those difficulties become obscured and even obstructed.

After unemployment, the single most important issue facing the country is the need to improve radically and urgently the education of our work force. It is only in the past few weeks that new and profoundly worrying evidence of the skills gap between Britain and our main competitors has emerged. The school of education at the university of Manchester, within the last few weeks, has said: Because schools in effect dismiss a large proportion of the population as unacademic rather than developing their talents for making things, designing things and working with people, Britain lacks the range and level of developed skills that other countries have at their disposal.

A study by Professor Rose at Strathclyde university just a few months ago indicated that we are falling behind Germany even as a proportion of those getting access to decent training and education.

Mr. Nicholls


Mr. Blair

I have given way a great deal.

The number of apprentices in the United Kingdom stands at 350,000. In Germany it is 1.5 million. Is it any wonder when, over the 13 years of Conservative Government, Germany has been investing 50 per cent. more in employees to make sure that those apprenticeships happen? What is the Government's response to that crisis? After black Thursday came black Friday last week; according to the Department's own spending figures, £170 million in real terms will be cut from training next year. There will be cuts of £60 million in youth training and £50 million in employment training.

Since March 1990, when unemployment started rising, even on the Government's own figures 130,000 places have gone from training for young people and the unemployed. All over the country, training places are collapsing, training providers are closing and trainers are being made redundant. In those circumstances, it is the height of irresponsibility for the Secretary of State to fail even to mention today the training problems that this country faces.

When we raised the matter last November, the Secretary of State told us that the information that had been given by training and enterprise councils to the Select Committee on Employment about their problems in meeting the youth training guarantee was all out of date. We were told that the letters had been written before there was a settlement. I defy the Secretary of State to say now that there is not widespread concern and anger throughout training and enterprise councils and training providers at what is being offered in both youth training and employment training.

I defy the Secretary of State to tell us that TECs have not been in touch with his Department to complain bitterly about the cuts that he is currently forcing through. Indeed, since last November, the very time when he told us that these problems had been sorted out, Fullemploy has collapsed, as have Apex Trust, Hexagon—which was mentioned during the speech of the Secretary of State—Jobstream, and Sefton Dale training centre. Training providers up and down the country who could be skilling our work force for the 1990s are going out of business because of the policies that the Secretary of State is pursuing.

Over the past four years, £1 billion in real terms has been cut from training provision. Nothing could be more irresponsible or more incompetent. In our view, there is nothing more important than investment in training and in skills. In manufacturing, the key will be the application of ever more sophisticated technology by ever more highly trained people. In services, public or private, the consumer will demand ever higher levels of choice and satisfaction from employees, who must be able to supply them. In our view, a modern framework of industrial relations should start with the training and education of our work force.

If the quality of the work force is the key to transformation of our industrial relations we shall not get the best out of our employees by treating them like the worst. Fair treatment at the workplace today is not only a question of justice but an essential part of a modern economy. That is why we and every other party—Labour or Conservative—in Europe support the European social charter and the idea of basic employment standards across Europe.

Let us consider the declaration made by the very group in the European Parliament that the Secretary of State's party is trying to join. That group supports the European social charter. When, over the past few weeks, we had discussions in the capitals of Europe, even from conservative Employment Ministers we heard ridicule of the plans of the Secretary of State for Employment. Those people said that the social charter was an essential aspect of a decent, modern, productive work force.

Why should not we have decent maternity leave benefits across the Community to enable women to raise a family and work? Why should not part-time employees have equal status with full-time employees so that they may have the benefits to which they are entitled? There should be a right to decent information about the decisions that affect employees and to participation in those decisions. And, of course, we need health and safety legislation to protect employees against the short-cut to profit that puts them at risk. Then there is the need for action to eradicate poverty levels of pay and to stop the taxpayers' subsidising of the low-pay employer. On top of that, why should not a work force have the right to membership of a free and independent trade union and to the benefits of that membership?

Every other country in Europe and in the rest of the western world gives those rights to people. Why cannot such rights be granted to our employees? Why not, as part of the start of a fair system of work, reverse the ban on free and independent trade unions at GCHQ, as any sensible Government would do?

The Secretary of State talks about abuses at the workplace. Let me tell him what many people believe to be the abuses at the workplace in 1992. I refer, for instance, to some of the salary increases granted to utilities chairmen under privatisation. What about the golden goodbyes, golden parachutes, given to people leaving firms, even when those firms have failed?

Mr. Lawrence Cooklin, chief executive of Burton—a group showing a loss of £165 million, which represents a halving of the value of its stock—gets, as the penalty, a £1 million golden goodbye. Mr. Warman and Mr. Bannister, of Saatchi and Saatchi, have received over £1 million. The finance director of British Aerospace received a pay-off of £500,000 days after the company had made 2,000 people redundant. I say that those are some of the abuses at the workplace today.

Surely these are the issues of the new agenda for industrial relations: unemployment, training, better opportunities for women, and fairness at the workplace. Those will address the new challenges. Britain cannot compete in the 21st century as a low-skill, low-tech economy, trying to undercut the low wages of the developing world. That way—the Tory way—has been tried for 13 years, and it has not worked. Our competitors, not just in Europe but even in the developing world, know that. It is not just France, but now even Hong Kong, which has recently adopted a training levy; it is not just Germany but now South Korea, which has a higher proportion of its school leavers in full-time education than does Britain; It is not just Italy, but now Indonesia, which is making investment in high-level manufacturing production a priority.

These new challenges cannot be met either by turning the clock back or through the old and familiar litany of bigotry and prejudice that we heard today. A Conservative party, faced with the profound problems of recession—rising unemployment, a crisis in the nation's skills and training—has as its sole response, stripped of its pretentions, simply an old-fashioned rant about trade unions. Such a party does not deserve re-election as the Government of Great Britain. People do not want to go back. That is agreed and accepted. I say that in this decade they want to go forward, and under Labour they will be able to do so.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear!

5.6 pm

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

If I am allowed to interrupt this orgy of self-congratulation from the Opposition, I should like to try to be a little emollient in what has become a somewhat heated exchange. The Labour party deserves encouragement. It has come a long way since it opposed strike ballots; it has come a long way since it fought to retain closed shops; it has come a long way since its Members of Parliament revelled in the publicity that they could achieve by standing on bloated picket lines. I hope that I may encourage it to move a little further. We might sometimes even see some of its spokesmen prepared to condemn strikes, rather than consistently encourage them. We might get Opposition Members to understand a little of the basic economics of employment and pay.

As I pointed out in an intervention during the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, it is a remarkable fact that the Labour party, in its most recent policy document, attacks the Conservative party's record. That attack includes the following sentence: Unit labour costs in the United Kingdom have gone up, while those in Germany, Italy and France have fallen. A little later in the same policy document, the Opposition emerges with its solution to that problem. Its solution is, of course, the statutory minimum wage.

I am not clear how the statutory minimum wage which is to be introduced immediately Labour takes office will resolve the problem of unit labour costs in the United Kingdom being higher than those of our competitors. One of the remarkable achievements of recent months has been the fall in those costs—a necessary prerequisite for our economy to start on the recovery for which it is extremely well prepared.

I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) glorying in the fact that he would return to a compulsory training levy. I wonder how many employers—especially smaller employers—will welcome that commitment. The compulsory training levy was one of the burdens on industry which employers were anxious to remove. The consequence of its removal has been a dramatic shift from the position in 1979 when everyone looked to central Government to provide all the training budget to one in which the vast majority of training expenditure now falls, quite properly, on employers.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

The hon. Gentleman talks about unit labour costs. Is he aware that unit labour costs might fall if labour were given more capital to spend? One of the problems in this country is that we have not had the same manufacturing investment as Germany, France and Italy. We noticed that the Secretary of State refused to answer any questions about the comparison with other countries in the Community in terms of manufacturing investment since 1979 because we are near the bottom of the league—only Greece has been lower in that league table.

Mr. Rowe

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The more investment there is per employee, the greater the opportunity to make a profit; but by far the soundest basis for investment is the profitability of a company, and it is the reinvestment of profits which makes the difference. If taxation and compulsory basic wage regimes make it harder for companies to make and retain their profits, they will have less to invest. If the hon. Gentleman wants to see the truth of that, he has only to consider two British companies—British Gas and Glaxo—to see the amount they invest in providing not only technology but training for their employees. They are very successful companies, but there are dangers if one is also trying to increase employment in the short term.

There is no doubt that the more technology that is given to individual employees, the fewer employees one requires in the short term, but I realise that, in the medium and long term, that is the only way in which to proceed. I hope that we shall rapidly return to a position in which companies make very large profits so that they can invest those profits in the training and new machinery that they require.

Another terribly important change that has taken place in recent years is that companies have ceased to do all their innovative work in house. They have decided—quite properly—that it is more flexible, efficient and rewarding to put the work out, often to small specialist subcontractors, who are quicker on their feet and more in touch with the cutting edge of technology, and who can adapt what they do more quickly than many large companies can in house. As a consequence, not only is the number of employees employed by large companies falling, but smaller firms cannot survive if they are bound by such regulation as the European Community would like to force on us.

It was a courageous step by the Prime Minister at Maastricht to refuse to sign the European social charter. There are already clear signs that Germany in particular, but other countries too, are beginning to think very hard about the rigidity which will be forced on them by that charter.

It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Sedgefield talk with such passion and fervour about the interview in which he said that he would in no circumstances encourage the sympathetic strike action which his interlocutor was trying to elicit. From the Labour party's latest policy document—I think that it is the latest, but it might be the second latest—it is clear that, if an employer is deemed in any way to be assisting the employer against whom the strike action is being taken, it will allow, indeed encourage, secondary action.

From the example that the hon. Gentleman quoted in his interview, I should have thought that, if a power station or something similar were being picketed, the chances of secondary action against anyone who attempted to supply it or to offer any other supportive action would be very great. In that case, we would be straight back to the destructive industrial action from which the Government have mercifully released us. I hope that members of the public will remember what it was like in the days when such sympathy action and secondary picketing was paramount.

Even though at present there is a lamentable number of people out of work—I certainly understand the cost to people who lose their jobs—we should congratulate ourselves that 2 million more people are in work now than in 1983. That is a direct consequence of the expansion in the economy which we have managed to secure since the Conservatives came to power in 1979.

I am not entirely surprised that the Opposition react so fiercely to any criticism of trade unions. Their Benches are probably the only sector of the economy in which trade union membership has held up. There has been a remarkable fall in the number of trade unionists, and it is clear that unless they are provided by a Labour Government with a number of the privileges which they so grossly abused in the bad old days, they will find it very difficult to recruit and keep members. I believe that they see themselves slipping into an inexorable decline.

Where do the priorities of the trade unionists lie? I do not blame them for this, because it is part of the nature of trade unionism, but it is no more sensible to ask them to change their ways than to ask a leopard to change its spots. Their priorities lie with what they perceive as the—usually short-term—well-being of their existing members. If one considers the opposition that they have put up to every change in the national health service and to every proposed change in the education service or any of the public services, one sees that their preoccupation is with their members' vested interests. It has little if anything to do with the state or the expectations of the consumer or customer of those services.

The motion represents a sound and basically excellent statement about what we have seen and about what we have achieved. If the Labour party were ever to be returned to power, we should instantly see a return to the greedy, self-serving trade unionist closed shoppery which we have fortunately got rid of.

5.19 pm
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

As someone who has been a member of a trade union for 30 years, I do not recognise the description of trade unionists given by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe). He seems to be wholly unaware of the fact that, far from being interested only in current members, trade unionists throughout the country were serving, until the Government had their way, on health authorities, local authorities and school governing bodies. Trade unionists are involved on behalf of young people who are not even old enough to work, let alone to be members of trade unions. It is not true to say that trade unionists are involved only with trade union members.

I am a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and I am sponsored by that union. I make that point before it is raised by Conservative Members. I know that the Secretary of State is fond of pointing out such sponsorship.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)

So am I.

Mr. Clelland

So is the Minister.

My union does not pay me any money, and no sponsoring union pays money to individual Members. My constituency party receives the magnificent sum of £150 every three months to help in the administration of the work that I do on the union's behalf. We also get help with election expenses. That is a far cry from the thousands of pounds that Conservative Members put in their own pockets every year when they represent private interests in this place.

The motion talks about success in reforming industrial relations". It also recognises the improvement in the underlying strength of the British economy". I am not sure whether the emphasis there should be on "under" or on "lying". The claim that the economy is improving will come as a surprise to the 6,000 people a week who are losing their jobs and to the 1,000 businesses a week which are going under. If that is an improvement in the economy, God help us if we ever see a downturn. As evidence of the improved industrial relations, the motion says: the number of working days lost last year is provisionally estimated to have been the lowest total since records began in 1891". That statement is backed up neither by statistics nor by facts.

The number of working days lost last year was about 160 million. If unemployment is taken into account, the figure is a massive 780 million, which is hardly something to brag about. We know what the motion means, although it does not say it, which says something about the confidence of Government draftsmen. The motion is talking about the number of days lost because of industrial disputes.

That reduction would be welcome if it truly meant that industrial relations had improved, and if the number of disputes had fallen because of a happy and contented work force. I have no doubt that, in some sectors, industrial relations have improved with the passage of time, and with more enlightened employers and trade unions. It would be surprising if that were not so. That has happened in spite rather than because of Government interference in relationships between employers and employees.

It is interesting that the Government interfere with such regularity in the affairs of trade unions, when in every other aspect of life, their hands-off approach has led to the neglect of huge swathes of industry and public services. That has happened to such an extent that respected organisations such as the Builders Merchants Federation, with which I had lunch today, are expressing concern that the lack of Government input in the ills of the nation's economy is leading to problems in industry.

No one likes strikes, and if there are fewer of them for the right reasons, I welcome that. However, Conservative Members continually wheel out the argument about strikes, blow it up out of all proportion and then use it as a political weapon rather than as an argument for improving industrial relations.

Even during the 1970s, to which Conservative Members often refer, in the worst year that Conservative Members can dig up, the total number of days lost through strikes amounted only to 0.2 per cent. of the total days worked in that year. That figure compares with 130 million days, or 2 per cent., lost because of illness—10 times the number lost through strikes. It compares with 30 million days lost because of accidents at work every year—more than twice the figure for the worst year for strikes. As we have heard from construction workers visiting London today, 139 workers were killed in the industry during 1990–91. Tragically, there have recently been deaths and injuries in Monkwearmouth colliery to add to the sorry list. Some 50 million days were lost through smoking-related diseases.

Why do the Government do nothing to cut those lost days if the days lost have so severely affected the British economy? When was the last time the Government legislated to improve health and safety at work, and on the prevention of illness? The answer is that they have never done that because their legislation is based on bigotry and dogma, and not on the interests of the economy.

Mr. Forth

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) who worked with me to see through Committee the Offshore Safety Bill. It was designed precisely to improve health and safety at work for workers offshore.

Mr. Clelland

That was a welcome move, and I accept the Minister's point. However, I am talking about the bulk of British industry. The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, to which the Secretary of State referred, was introduced by a Labour Government. Since then, this Government have cut the number of inspectors working for health and safety at work which has led to an increase in accidents at work.

What about unemployment? If lost working days are important to the economy, what can we say about the 624 million days lost every year as a result of Tory Government policies? Unemployment has played a part in making people fearful about standing up for their rights at work. To reduce the number of days lost by strikes from the 0.2 per cent. level, the Government have deliberately increased the number lost by unemployment by more than 50 times that figure. They then have the arrogance to say that that is a price worth paying. When the election comes, we shall see whether the loss of their own jobs is considered in the same light.

The Secretary of State asserts that all that has led to an improvement in the economy. His only piece of evidence for that is that productivity has improved. In the present circumstances, with manufacturing industry devastated by 13 years of Tory neglect and mismanagement, such a statement is frightening, but revealing. It is evidence of the ignorance of the Secretary of State about industry. Let me educate him about the meaning of the statistics on productivity which he trots out as evidence of recovery. Unfortunately, he seems to have gone off for his tea break. If he were running industry, I have no doubt that he would not allow his employees to have a tea break.

Let us suppose that the Secretary of State ran an industry. Let us suppose that he employed 100 people who produced 100 articles a day. A Tory Government recession comes along and 75 people have to be made redundant. The 25 people left may begin to produce 30 articles a day, which equals a 20 per cent. increase in productivity.

That is what the Secretary of State means when he talks about increasing productivity. What he does not say is that it has led to a 75 per cent. unemployment rate and to a 70 per cent. drop in output in the same company. That is what has happened to manufacturing industries under this Government. That is a sign not of recovery but of collapse. If the Secretary of State does not understand that, it is no wonder that we are in the middle of the second recession under his Government.

The Secretary of State tells us that another indicator of recovery is the number of people in employment. That point was repeated by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent. But they do not tell us that 60 per cent. of the new jobs created in the past 10 years were part-time, low-paid and low-skilled. But, of course, that represents a considerable constituency of people who will welcome the Labour party's proposals for a minimum wage.

Another hardy annual in such debates is the winter of discontent. I am surprised that it has not yet been raised, but I am sure that it will be. Yet another is the slogan "Labour is in the pockets of the unions". But Conservative Members cannot have it both ways. The strikes of the winter of 1978–79 were against the then Labour Government's pay policy. So Conservative Members must answer the simple and obvious question. If Labour is in the pockets of the unions, why was there a winter of discontent?

For over 100 years, the trade unions have fought for the interests of people who work. They have raised people's standards of living, improved their conditions of work, extended their holidays, shortened their working week and, most importantly of all, given them dignity in work and ended the sweatshop exploitation that gave rise to the birth of trade unions in the first place. Every step of the way, the Tory party has opposed and denigrated the trade unions. It was Tory legislation which caused trade unions to realise that they had to become involved in politics to prevent them from being legislated out of existence. The past 13 years have reinforced that necessity.

The people of Britain, whether they are in a trade union or not, would have been far worse off without the trade unions. That is why, in polls, the majority of people believe that the unions are still necessary, despite the lies and propaganda rained down upon them.

The debate is entitled "Industrial Relations", but Conservative Members have said nothing about industrial relations. Where they have skirted round the edges of the subject, they have displayed the extent of their ignorance. They know that they will lose the election, so they are wheeling out all the old bogeymen to frighten the electorate. I can tell them that the electorate are terrified of the thought of another five years of prejudice, bigotry and mismanagement. That is why, despite Conservative Members scare tactics, they will be sitting on this side of the House after the general election.

5.31 pm
Mr. Lewis Stevens (Nuneaton)

I listened to the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) with interest. He criticised us for not talking about industrial relations and for skirting round the subject. But he and his hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) also avoided the subject of what industrial relations used to be like in Britain and how they have changed. They concentrated on unemployment, as if industrial relations were a secondary matter which had little to do with how industry performed. As the Government's motion shows, we have seen a remarkable change in the industrial relations climate in Britain, especially in engineering industries.

The Labour party has frequently turned its back on reform of industrial relations. I recall the 1960s when industry in the midlands, especially the car industry, was perpetually subject to strike threats. A Labour Minister at the time considered a document called "In Place of Strife". Many of us who were not inclined towards the views of the Labour party thought, nevertheless, that it had recognised that some action needed to be taken about the industrial climate. It was noticeable that the party turned its back on that and has turned its back on most of the trade union and industrial relations reforms that were so necessary.

When the Labour party returned to office in 1974, it changed the industrial relations legislation that had been introduced. That is the threat to Britain today. Even after 13 years out of office, if the strange occurrence that the Labour party formed a Government arose, Labour would again turn back and give the trade unions a power which is neither necessary nor good for industry or the country.

In the car industry and general engineering industry of the west midlands during the 1960s and 1970s, the industrial relations climate and the bias towards the trade union movement and its power was such that the threat of strike was almost farcical to the press and television, both locally and nationally. Strikes were almost expected. The threat of strikes also created a climate in which management was almost incapable of managing as it should. I do not blame all that happened in those industries in the 1960s and 1970s on the trade unions. I accept that much of what happened was the responsibility of management.

The way in which the power bases in the car and general engineering industries were formed meant, in effect, that decisions were made to go nowhere. There was a reluctance to make the changes that were necessary on both sides. The consequence was stagnation. Let us consider the level of car production for the home market in about 1971, the way in which the market was penetrated by foreign manufacturers, how our proportion of the home market dropped, how the car industry performed and what state it was in. It is clear to me that industrial relations within the industry were a major factor in its lack of development and the eventual demise of a great deal of it.

As a result in large measure of the industrial relations changes brought about by the Government, a different approach to the needs of industry has developed between employees and trade unions. I am not one who suggests that there is no place for the trade union movement in industry and in white collar sectors. I believe that unions are an important aspect and that they have an important role to play. I do not believe that we should move anywhere near the arrangement in Europe where employees automatically sit on the board of directors, but trade unions have an important role to play.

As a result at least in part of the changes that have taken place in industrial relations, the relationship between employers and employees is now on a much more realistic basis. That is to the benefit of all in the company. One of our great weaknesses as employers and industrialists has been our inability to manage change, yet business is always about managing change, however one looks at it and whether in manufacturing or the service industries. We now see much more willingness by employers to involve employees in the management of that change and development. That takes us forward.

Mr. Clelland

If industrial relations have improved in the past 13 years to the degree that the hon. Gentleman describes—he seems to describe improvements in industrial relations purely on the basis of days lost through strikes—can he explain why that improvement in industrial relations is matched by a decline in manufacturing industry to such an extent that it is at its lowest level in its history?

Mr. Stevens

I have not mentioned the reduction in days lost in strikes. I have deliberately avoided mentioning that. The hon. Gentleman asked why the present production level has declined. It is because we are in recession. I also remind him that the unit production of people in industry has increased substantially in the past 13 years. The hon. Gentleman earlier did a simple calculation to show that, if one produces less with fewer people, there is automatically an increase in productivity. That is absolute nonsense. It is not a fact. It is a fact that one can reduce the unit cost by not having the surplus labour that we introduced into some industries in the 1960s and 1970s. To a large extent, the market will demand that increased productivity. It will determine what one can sell and how much one needs to make to fill the market. Unless we ensure that unit costs continue to decrease compared with those of our competitors, we shall not be able to compete.

In many industries, we have a better relationship between employer and employee and, as a result, there have been substantial productivity gains and improvements in the control of unit costs. After 13 years of Conservative government, we are more competitive and industrial relations have had a part to play. If we dismiss industrial relations and do not recognise that they have had a substantial effect on how we manage change and develop our industries, we shall be cutting out an important aspect of our industrial life.

Mr. Clelland

I was not dismissing industrial relations or saying that they had not been an important factor in the performance of industry. 1 accept that they have been. I was referring to the emphasis that the hon. Gentleman placed on what he described as the "improvement" in industrial relations during the past 13 years. That has not been matched by a similar improvement in the performance of our industry.

Mr. Stevens

In many places it has been matched by a distinct improvement in our competitiveness abroad. For example, consider the state of our machine tool industry in the 1970s. Consider how what had been one of the strongest industries in the country was allowed virtually to disappear, not because of the trade unions but because of what happened in the industry. We have now built up a machine tool industry which can compete with the best in the world, especially in specialist areas.

Mr. Clelland

It is much smaller.

Mr. Stevens

It is smaller, and it is able to compete in technology, on price and because of the relationships within the industry.

The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge is in danger of talking down British industrial units, which are not inferior beings, although Opposition Members often give that impression. They are able to compete and they will be able to compete even better provided that we maintain a balance in the industrial relations climate.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

The hon. Gentleman is talking about the west midlands. He must know that 37 per cent. of manufacturing capacity has been lost there, and that 300,000 skilled engineering jobs have been wiped away. He is talking about what he considers the bad old days of the 1970s. In my area, there was an unemployment rate of under 2 per cent. in the 1970s and today it is 20 per cent. How can the hon. Gentleman argue about that? To many of my constituents, the good old days were in the 1960s and 1970s, when they had jobs and we were producing at home and exporting abroad.

Mr. Stevens

The hon. Gentleman is right. In the 1960s, we were producing and exporting in the west midlands —my home area. I worked in several industries in that area. However, we were not improving our productivity to match that of our competitors abroad. They came in and took our markets, at home and abroad.

Mr. Turner

Because of lack of investment.

Mr. Stevens

One may criticise investment, which brings me back to something I said earlier about the attitude of management and unions in some of our engineering companies. There was a reluctance to change and the same reluctance to invest. Management and employees are now much more willing to accept change and to go forward. We must look to that in the future.

Some of our old industries in the west midlands—especially in the black country, near the constituency of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner)—were not the type of steel industries which would develop. Some were old industries.

Mr. Turner

We could debate that.

Mr. Stevens

We can debate it. However, some of the methods used in, for example, some rolling mills in the 1950s and 1960s had to be changed.

Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)

Does my hon. Friend agree that a combination of bad Government policies in the mid-1970s, bad practice and bad management contributed to our losing our markets and our world share, with the result that we have had more unemployment and less industry?

Mr. Stevens

We did not do ourselves a lot of favours in many different directives—[HON. MEMBERS: "Directives?"] I am sorry, I meant directions. I am so used to being in the European Standing Committees that the word "directives" comes readily to mind.

There have been important developments which are to be welcomed and they have been encouraged by legislation. Changes in manufacturing industries have been dramatic. We could not have envisaged the step forward in technology 10 or 15 years ago. The speed of change is faster than anything that we had previously recognised, and that makes good industrial relations concepts—which I hope we now have—even more important.

There has been a change in industrial relations and the emphasis is now on the white collar side. Opposition Members may correct me, but I think that there are now probably more people in white collar unions than in the blue collar unions that we used to accept as the main force.

Industrial relations are also required in white collar unions. In the 1960s they were not renowned for going on strike or bringing everything to a halt, but they are an important aspect of legislation. Some white collar unions have a direct relationship with industry, but many others are involved in the public sector and service industries.

We have introduced legislation, such as doing away with the closed shop. I hope that we shall take a decision about allowing people to join the union of their choice. I was disappointed that we did not introduce legislation to make contracts legally binding. I do not think that many European systems of industrial relations are better than ours, but I should have been happier if legally binding agreements had been introduced. We have not done so in the latest proposals, but we are moving towards giving people more freedom of choice when joining unions and that is correct, especially for white collar unions.

White collar unions and some other unions in the public sector do not pose the same threat to industry and to production, but, should they wish to take action under the old legislation, they would pose a threat to services. That was what happened in 1979 in the winter of discontent. I would not have mentioned that, but the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge asked why it happened if the Labour party was supposed to be in the pocket of the trade unions.

If there is enough scope, if enough pressure is brought to bear and if the Government react to that pressure time and again, the point is reached eventually when even a Labour Government cannot continue in that vein. There comes a point when it is too much and the Government must say enough is enough. In the 1970s, there were pressures not only from the trade union movement and other such groups but from other areas, such as the International Monetary Fund, as I recall. One cannot divorce the two; I do not believe that we should blame the trade unions for all the decisions made by the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979. That Government managed to make enough decisions during that time to stand on their own feet.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

In the hon. Gentleman's explanation of the winter of discontent, would he apply the same logic to the spate of scandals in the City and the sleaze and corruption in the private sector that we have seen recently? Would he apply the same logic to the major accidents and disasters that have taken place? Would he agree that the Government are totally indifferent to such matters and have allowed them to happen?

Mr. Stevens

The Government are certainly not indifferent. We have introduced more measures to regulate the City than any Government I can remember. No Conservative Member supports the activities that have come to light in the City in the past few years. Measures have been taken to try to close the loopholes and to stop abuses.

Situations change, and one must consider them and what controls them. The City could not cope with a changing situation and that allowed some people to take advantage of and abuse the system, to the disadvantage and deprivation of others.

Mr. Clelland

I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to get away with his explanation of what happened during the winter of discontent. He contends that the trade unions got away with everything that they wanted under the previous Labour Government, but that does not bear any relation to what happened. He will recall that a two-year pay policy operated, in which the trade unions and the Government co-operated to keep down pay in order to beat inflation. It was a successful policy. It was only when the Labour Government wanted to extend the policy for a further period that there was an argument between the Government and the trade unions. The trade unions did not get their own way. The reason for the winter of discontent was that the Labour Government were not willing to give the trade unions their own way.

Mr. Stevens

The hon. Gentleman forgets that, by the time the Conservatives came into office in 1979, we had bills to meet and commitments to honour as a result of the policies of the previous Labour Government. In addition, we had to honour the promises that we made at that time.

An industrial relations revolution has taken place and our attraction to inward investors, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State mentioned, is of enormous importance. In 1990, 350 decisions were taken by companies to invest in this country, bringing 62,000 jobs here, adding to the 240,000 jobs already created by inward investment. Our specialised manufacturing industries have been relatively successful over the years and are still, but we are also attracting some of the mass production industries from abroad, in particular from Japan.

Some countries are much more skilled and adept at mass production industries than ourselves. However, if we have freedom to develop new relations in industry, we can look forward to those industries encouraging technology, investment, and exports and meeting the demand in the home market.

In the 1960s, we had the worst industrial relations possibly of the century. The morale of the work force went down. If there was a strike, there were neither winners nor losers. Instead, discontent prevailed within industry and that generated the possibility of another strike. Not all conflicts were strikes: many were disputes and arguments. Of course that did not apply to every industry—some industries worked quite well—but we experienced apathy towards change and development.

Today, there is an absence of confrontation between employers and employees in industrial relations. We have co-operation such as involvement in training and the Government have taken more initiatives on training and put more money into that than any previous Government. Co-operation is the way forward and that comes from trust and not from the enforcement of the will of one party on the other.

The motion applauds the Government's policies and their proposals for the future. That is the way forward for industrial relations, rather than returning to a system in which the trade unions had almost total control over the business. Mutual interest between management and employees, and between the country and the Government, is the key. That is what the Government have laid the foundations for, but that strategy will not succeed if our policies are reversed by any future Government.

5.54 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

In many respects, this has been a somewhat depressing debate. My heart sank when I heard the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) announce that he intended to talk about the car industry of the west midlands, because all he did was pause and then talk about the situation in the 1960s and the 1970s. That summed up just how backward-looking so much of this debate has been.

To his credit, the hon. Gentleman eventually introduced a ray of sunshine and a glimmer of hope when he praised increasing employee involvement in decisions affecting the management of change. It is a pity that he then allowed himself to be sidetracked to the 1970s and the winter of discontent of 1979. The hon. Gentleman concluded with a flourish when he announced that it was necessary to reconsider the 1960s. Too much time today has been spent looking back rather than looking forward.

I do not believe there will be any prizes for those who guess the purpose of today's debate. Those who were present during the clamour of the Secretary of State's speech will be aware that it had little to do with industrial relations. The language used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman was, at times, profoundly depressing—for example, he described the trade union leaders of today as dinosaurs. Even the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who is usually one of the more modest and moderate of Conservative Members, totally dismissed all trade unionists and tarred them with a very black brush.

My party has never had any mandate to argue the case or to defend the actions of those trade unions, which, at times, have been extremely irresponsible. However, this debate has done a great disservice to the hundreds of thousands of trade union officials, at all levels, and trade union members who have worked so hard for their fellow workers by promoting health and safety ideas and negotiating decent deals. To allow such an important debate as this to be conducted in terms of seeing those on the opposite side of the argument as the enemy does nothing constructive for industrial relations.

It is clear that the Secretary of State's strategy was to reawaken the anxieties and fears that the Government believe are deeply buried in the national psyche about the historic financial ties between the Labour party and the trade unions. In the bygone age of the winter of discontent and the like, it was easier to point an accusing finger at certain trade union activities and the public dislocation caused by them.

The Government are seeking to buttress their attack with the largely irrelevant Green Paper that was published last year. That document and this debate show that they are bankrupt of positive ideas about what to do regarding industrial relations. They have found it necessary to create a smokescreen to hide the real issue—for more than 3 million of our fellow citizens, it is not a question of whether we have good or bad industrial relations, because they do not have a job in which to experience an employer-employee relationship.

We are now faced with the deepest recession since the 1930s and the problem of unemployment is getting worse, not better. There have been a record number of business failures and home repossessions, but the Government's sole response has been to cite a record about the lowest number of days lost through strikes. Some might conclude that, given that economic activity is at a snail's pace, it is hardly surprising that those who are fortunate enough to be in work are reluctant to go on a go-slow or to strike.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends speak much about centralisation. They believe that, for example, the public services should be decentralised down to the lowest denominator in terms of local government. If the hon. Gentleman supports regional pay bargaining, will he explain why he opposes the concept of trust hospitals negotiating local pay agreements?

Mr. Wallace

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that regional pay bargaining is happening in the private sector. We believe that it will continue and that it would be artificial to try to return to a system of centralised pay bargaining. Our policy on regional pay bargaining in the public sector is very much related to our policy to set up regional assemblies throughout England, with national parliaments for Scotland and Wales, which, if they are to have any meaningful powers, must have the power to determine pay in the public sector over the areas for which they are responsible.

We have objected to trust hospitals in many areas. We do not necessarily oppose local management, but we strongly oppose the lack of local accountability and taking hospitals away from the accountability of local health authorities in England and Scotland. I fear that, if I delved further into health matters, I would be called to order.

The occupants of this Bench have been willing in the past to support a number of measures for changes in employment law. We supported the Government's moves to erode the effects of the closed shop, the limitations placed on secondary picketing and the need for greater accountability. Indeed, we were ahead of the game in promoting the greater accountability of trade union leaders to their members through secret postal ballots. We also supported the Government in the abolition of the dock labour scheme.

Equally, we share the analysis that higher unemployment would be an inevitable consequence of a national minimum wage, although the Secretary of State's hyped-up figure of 2 million more unemployed did not help the credibility of that argument.

Mr. Forth

In defence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, I should make it clear that our range of estimates of job losses as a consequence of a statutory national minimum wage, range from as few as 100,000—[Interruption.]—up to 2 million if full differentials were restored on top of a statutory national minimum wage. So there is a range of possibilities of job losses, depending on the circumstances, although I am surprised that Opposition Members seem satisfied that only—I emphasise "only"—100,000 jobs might be lost at the lower end of the range.

Mr. Wallace

That was an interesting clarification. I have always found the figure of 2 million incredible at the top end. It was interesting to hear the Minister's explanation and the premises on which the range of figures were calculated. As I said, my hon. Friends and I fear that unemployment would be a consequence. If the purpose of a minimum wage is to combat poverty, regrettably, unemployment is perhaps the most direct route to poverty.

We believe that a social dimension of the European Community is an essential part of the development of the EC, yet we have not been uncritical of the form in which some of the proposals have come forward. For example, we were sceptical of the provisions of the social chapter in the draft Maastricht treaty. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said in the debate last December, our chosen course would not have been unilaterally to opt out, but we would have wished to see those clauses altered. Indeed, they could have been altered if the Government had not wasted their bargaining power in attempts to defend the indefensible, attack the trivial and obtain the illusory".— [Official Report, 18 December 1991; Vol. 201. c. 303.]

Against that background, we have supported many changes that have occurred. The latest set of proposals were announced by the Government last month and are referred to in the motion. But the Secretary of State's speech was so negative that he did not even mention some of the positive changes that he is suggesting.

The positive proposals, trailed in the Green Paper and announced last month, seem more an attempt to play the union card and, with such a confrontational approach, they are more likely to damage industrial relations than to tackle the real issues and the crisis facing industry. We are retreating more and more into the rhetoric and battles of the 1970s and early 1980s, rather than setting an agenda which is relevant for radical action in the 1990s and beyond.

Mr. Evennett

The hon. Gentleman said much about what he claims to be the negative aspects of our proposals. We are left in doubt about his party's positive policies for industrial relations. Does he agree that to return trade unions to their members and to have secret ballots is not negative but the way forward?

Mr. Wallace

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, he will hear what my party has to propose. Given that my party has been proposing co-ownership and partnership in industry since the days of David Lloyd George, the hon. Gentleman is displaying considerable ignorance if he does not know what our policies are. My hon. Friends and I voted for the concept of postal and secret ballots. Even the Minister will acknowledge that we supported those measures. I said that we had had a negative approach from the Secretary of State today. Although he announced some proposals last month, he did not even refer to them today.

The Financial Times, referring to the Green Paper published last July, wrote: it is hard to detect a groundswell of opinion that further legislation is needed at all. And there is a case—the more telling because it is made by the right-wing Adam Smith Institute—that the government has gone too far in interfering in unions already cut down to size by a decade of reforms. The government has frequently insisted that its aim is to reform the unions, not destroy them. Mr. Howard's green paper will not destroy the unions, but nor will it improve industrial relations nor enhance the competitiveness of the British economy. There is also some polling evidence that the public's tolerance is being strained by the present negative approach. In an NOP poll last July, only 18 per cent. felt that more legislation was needed, while 66 per cent. thought that enough had been done already. By contrast, 84 per cent. wanted action to tackle unemployment and 80 per cent. wanted initiatives to improve training.

For most people, better industrial relations is more about improved co-operation, partnership and consultation than about court injunctions and whittling away some remaining employee rights. The Minister spoke about the rights of employees, and we have heard him on about that in the past. Although we agree that an employee should have the right not to join a trade union, just as he has the right to join, that right to join must not be unduly emasculated by the emasculation of trade unions. For the right to union membership to mean anything, employers should recognise the right of unions to negotiate on behalf of their members. That is not a recipe for lightning strikes or the exploitation of union members; it is simply a guarantee of the fundamental right to union membership.

Liberal Democrats also see employees' rights as going far beyond the realms of trade union affairs. To avoid disputes in the first place, substantial alterations must be made to our working practices. In spite of the employment legislation of the last decade, in many places of work, industry is trapped in old thinking and old practices. In that, as in many other areas, Britain has fallen behind the common practice of our European neighbours and the requirements of a modern economy for a flexible, highly skilled and highly motivated work force.

As the Prime Minister constantly reminds us, this is the age of the citizen and citizens charters, but lacking from all the glossy literature and ministerial statements has been any effort to define the rights of the citizen at his or her place of work. If the Secretary of State really wants to propose something worthwhile and radical in industrial relations, he should examine proposals to invest the citizen with real rights of decision-making at the place of work.

Liberal Democrats, and our predecessors, have a long history of advocating more rights of participation and partnership. As long ago as 1928, David Lloyd George identified industrial confrontation as a drag on economic efficiency and performance and charted a vision of better industrial co-operation. Today, we identify the fact that patterns of work have become more diffuse. Even the Government point to an increase in part-time working. Advances in technology open up the prospect of more home working, but we must not forget the home working that already occurs and that at times leads to the exploitation of some people who cannot defend themselves.

A new charter for the citizen at work must guarantee individual rights in his or her workplace—a right to demand access to participation in decision-making, a right to consultation on matters affecting employee interests, a right to share in the profits and ownership of the firm and a right of access to relevant information.

Those who were present during the intervention of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) in the Secretary of State's speech will recall that he mentioned a closure that took place in which the management concealed from the employees orders worth £16 million or £17 million. Those employees should have had a right to that information. One wonders whether the Government recognise that employees should have such rights. If they do not, why not? Employees should also have the right to join or not join a trade union and the right to a contract that guarantees equal opportunities.

I accept that, in times past, our formula would have been to impose appropriate structures. However, given flexible work patterns, a far better approach for the 1990s is to endow employees with statutory rights and let employers and work forces together work out how best they may be implemented.

Mr. Barry Field

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wallace

No, I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman, who made a rather irrelevant point. I do not wish to give way again.

We should propose a new industrial partnership agency to offer advice and assistance and, ultimately, in the event of an employer defaulting, to step in and ensure that employees' rights are respected.

The Government's latest proposals amount to a rag-bag of measures, some worthwhile and others not. They scarcely add up to an agenda for a constructive approach to industrial relations. A three-year check-off will not motivate employees or foster a shared commitment to success.

Plans to improve financial accountability of unions to their members, although not objectionable in themselves, do not amount to a strategy for enhancing industrial relations in the 1990s. It would be far better for the Secretary of State to consider proposals that enable every individual to be not a subject at work but a citizen at work, with rights of citizenship in the place of work.

6.13 pm
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield)

I have no problem about reminding the House or the nation what it was like in the late 1970s, and I have no compunction about reminding the House what it is like in Liverpool, Lambeth or Newham today. The Opposition want to return to power, and people should know what is coming up the track if they are foolish enough to put them back in power.

For generations, industrial relations were dogged by an "us and them" mentality—workers versus management, shop floor against boardroom. A festering culture of distrust and hostility had developed, in which team work was viewed as collaboration and productivity ran a poor second to the work to rule. Confrontation had replaced co-operation, and militancy had overshadowed compromise.

At the heart of that industrial ghetto sat the Labour party and the trade unions, each ensuring that Britain continued along the dismal path of structural economic decline. In return for block votes and campaign funds, the Labour leadership sat on their hands while the Luddites of the trade unions wrecked efficient working practices and obstructed industrial democracy with methods that would have done the KGB proud. That was all carried out in the name of the class struggle.

Who will ever forget the Grunwick picket line—a rabble of louts irresponsibly egged on by members of the Labour Cabinet? Who will ever forget the Wapping dispute, where the police were subjected to unacceptable violence? Everyone will remember the miners' strike, especially the day when a sickened nation was told how striking miners had killed an innocent taxi driver with a slab of concrete. His only crime was to ferry a miner to his place of work. Yet, in all the years since then, I have not heard one Labour Member or prospective Labour Cabinet Minister condemn the strike. I do not suppose that they ever will.

The Labour party, as it did then, tries to portray itself as a modern and progressive party, yet it will not reform the donkey and cart of trade unionism. We have done that. Twelve years of Tory Government have put a stop to restrictive practices, the closed shop and flying pickets. As in all other areas of policy, whether education, local government or the national health service, we have devolved power back to the individual. The trade union movement, despite entrenched and often violent opposition, was to prove no exception. Our measures have ensured that unions exist for their members, not the other way round. Consequently, working men and women have now been given the freedom to decide for themselves whether to take part in industrial action.

It is an impressive record of achievement. In the past 12 years, we have provided financial assistance for union ballots; removed the legal immunity for picketing, secondary action and civil damages; required unions to elect their principal executive committees by secret ballots at least every five years; ruled that ballots are to be held before industrial action; and restricted the scope of unofficial action. None of that restricts the rights and freedoms of the individual. That raft of reforms curbs the influence and activities of the pocket dictators who used to run this country.

It is not surprising that, in "Competing with the World's Best", the CBI welcome the Government's reforms. That is hardly surprising, given that they redress the balance between management and unions. Managers are now free to run companies in the interests of employees and shareholders alike.

In January 1979 alone, during the infamous winter of discontent, 3 million working days were lost. In January 1991, there were only 26 stoppages, the lowest January figure since 1929. In 1979, 29 million days were lost, but in 1991, 3 million days were lost. Those sensational figures are there for all to see.

Reading Labour's coffee-table policy documents gives the impression of watching a horror video in rapid rewind. Images from the past flash before the eyes, until one is, once again, confronted by a scene that we shall never forget—rats running around Leicester square and tourists incredulously seeing the rubbish piled as high as Leicester square cinema. That is what a Labour Government means. The dead could not be buried, while the unions and the Labour leadership said nothing. Dying cancer patients and supplies were refused entry to hospitals because the National Union of Public Employees and the Confederation of Health Service Employees said so.

Where were the Labour Government then? The then Prime Minister was in Barbados having a damn good holiday. When he returned he asked, "Crisis? What crisis?" He soon found out, and found himself sitting on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Clelland

It may come as news to the hon. Gentleman to know that, only today, I have had to intervene on behalf of 26 cancer patients needing radical and life-saving surgery in my constituency because they could not get admitted to hospital under this Tory Government.

Mr. Evans

I have plenty to say about that. This Government have invested £37 billion in the national health service. They have introduced 65,000 more nurses and 16,000 more doctors into the health service, and 30,000 more patients every week are treated by the national health service than in 1979. That is my answer.

In 1979, the Government of the day did nothing. The nation simply heard the silence of the lambs, and the only head above the parapet was that of Jim Callaghan. All he could mutter was "Crisis? What crisis?" Meanwhile, his Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who was off to Heathrow to borrow more money from the International Monetary Fund to bail out a bankrupt country, was called back by the official receiver —the IMF. He was in his Jaguar and nearly on the plane when he was told to come back. When he got back, he was told "You've had your £50 to take on holiday. You haven't got enough money to go." Hon. Members should realise that, in those days, people could take only £50 a year abroad.

That shows the state of the country when the Labour party was running it. Who will ever forget it? It was no wonder that we became the laughing stock of Europe. It was said that, while the French had 100 different cheeses and the Germans had 100 different beers, Britain under Labour had 100 different ways of going on strike. So much for the social contract—it clearly blew up in the face of the Labour Government.

The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) talked about inflation. The Labour Government achieved an inflation rate of 9.7 per cent., which they thought was wonderful—it seemed so after the experience of 27 per cent. inflation, but it was never down to 4.1 per cent. The Opposition talk about co-operation with the unions, and suppressing wages, but inflation was still 9 per cent.

Mr. Graham

What good does it do to bring down inflation, when the terrible poverty in this country means that many people cannot buy goods, and cannot eat or heat their homes in winter? Does the hon. Gentleman think that that is right? The Government drive to bring down inflation but increase unemployment levels by literally millions.

Mr. Evans

Talk about inflation comes rich from the hon. Gentleman. If one does not have low inflation, the cost of goods means that they will be priced out of world markets, which is what the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

Although we quickly learned the painful lessons of the 1970s, the Labour party clearly has not. Opposition Members would, without a blush, restore the right to take secondary action, weaken the power of the courts to punish law-breaking unions by preventing the total sequestration of trade union incomes and assets, and abolish the procedure under which unions face injunctions if there is any evidence of an intention to break the law. On top of all that, the unions will gain two privileges previously denied them even by past Labour Governments: a legal right to enforce recognition, regardless of membership, and absolute protection from dismissal for strikes.

The Labour party would refer industrial disputes to a new industrial court with no effective power to enforce the law and no authority to sequestrate funds. However, experience shows that unions obey the law only when their own funds are at risk. Therefore, the Labour party would effectively draw the teeth of the law, and to hell with the consequences. Once again, the unions would be above the law, and would doubtless act like the poll tax dodgers of the Labour party. In short, Labour's plans would be as effective as allowing a French referee to referee a French rugby match.

On reflection, it should come as no surprise that the Labour party is prepared to roll over and play dead for the unions, as theirs is the most indiscreet of love affairs. Far from being conducted in the back bedrooms of hotels, it is enacted on the stage of conference halls, under the full glare of television lights. At its conference in the summer, the Transport and General Workers Union voted to boycott youth training, employment training, and the training and enterprise councils. It dealt with more boycotts than the South African trade mission and, for good measure, voted for the repeal of all trade union reforms.

Who should be present at Blackpool to listen to the tripe and rubbish, and speak to the TGWU but the Leader of the Opposition. When it was his turn to speak, he did not utter a word of criticism, but stressed how proud he was to belong to the TGWU. He said: It is the Labour party in so many ways. Who would dispute that? Certainly not the 32 Labour Members who are supported by the TGWU or the 120 Labour Members supported by other unions, who include in their numbers no less than the Leader of the Opposition himself, the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), and the shadow spokesmen for employment and for trade and industry. The TGWU later promised to give £3 million to the Labour party's election coffers—surprise, surprise. The Labour party is not so silly as to bite the hand that feeds it.

Many years ago, I had the fortunate opportunity to privatise the rubbish and street collecting services of Southend. It was my first confrontation with the TGWU. I found that its members were aggressive and biased towards employees. I was supposed to have inherited 230 workers, but in fact I only ever had 195. The management of the local authority were frightened to go to the yard, and when I went down I had to have police protection.

The rubbish of residents living in houses built after 1970 was not collected during the week, as TGWU shop stewards wanted to arrange for overtime working on a Saturday morning. It was no surprise that the overtime of the eight shop stewards meant that they earned more than one third more than the rest of the work force. In addition, the dustmen would not collect shopkeepers' rubbish. They kept a black book, and any shopkeeper who did not want the rubbish collected when overtime would be paid did not have his rubbish collected. As a result, the shopkeepers either had to give money to the TGWU shop stewards to bolster their private income, or their rubbish was not collected.

I also had a confrontation with Mr. Ted Knight, who then ran Lambeth council. In an argument, it was revealed that rubbish was being collected from houses that had been flattened in the war. Rows of houses had been flattened in the war, and dustmen were getting paid for doing nothing, as the houses no longer existed. That is the sort of thing that happens when the unions go mad. The worst part of it was that the TGWU and the Labour party condoned such action and thought that red Ted Knight was a good sort.

Opposition Members face a conundrum. The corporate social charter experiment of the 1970s was seen to be a dismal failure, but the unions want a return on their investment—I do not blame them. They expect the keys to the back door of No. 10, and a direct input into economic decision-making. How does the Labour party get round that? It is easy: it sets out plans for a national economic assessment to involve unions and employers in annual talks to help pay bargaining, and regular talks on the economy that will inform collective bargaining. In ordinary language, that means beer and sandwiches—or croissants—at No.10. We could place a bet that the views of industry will be drowned by the rustling of dirty, used banknotes.

It is inevitable that business costs would be dramatically increased, so putting jobs at risk. A foretaste of the sort of schemes that would come out of the official think tank is the national minimum wage, about which we have all heard.

Mr. Forth

At a cost of 100,000 to 2 million jobs.

Mr. Evans

A cost of 100,000 jobs—my hon. Friend must be joking: it would be more like 2 million.

Opposition Members do not know what it would cost. They just plunge headlong towards Europe and a national minimum wage, mindless of the fact that women arid the thousands of young people who like part-time work will not be helped by the proposals, but will be dumped on the unemployment market.

Even some Opposition Members are trying to wriggle out of that commitment. The minimum wage is another product of the common room economics that the Labour party would impose on industrialists and businessmen competing in world markets. The shadow trade and industry Front-Bench team have never done a day's work in industry between them. The team is made up of social workers and television people who do not have a clue about business, yet they expect the country to let them run our businesses. Can we believe it? Nobody can believe it.

The Labour party's "Where do I sign?" attitude to the social charter is further evidence of its inability to grasp the realities of the marketplace. The Commission's dogmatic proposals for working time, workers' councils and maternity leave should be the product of negotiations between employer and employee, not of centralised imposition. Socialists cannot grasp the fact that, in a modern economy, new working practices require a flexible industrial relations environment that is not dominated by the dinosaurs of the trade union movement.

To this end, I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's further proposals for reform—that unions in the public sector should give seven days' notice before taking strike action, and that consumers of public services should be able to seek injunctions against unions if they are threatened with unlawful industrial action. I also applaud his decision to require strike ballots to be conducted by post and to be subject to independent scrutiny. It is also right that legislation should be introduced to give employees the right to join the union of their choice, and that no worker should have union subscriptions deducted from his pay without consent.

The Government have shown that they want to build on the formidable achievements of the past 12 years; Labour wants to return to the barricades of the 1970s by implementing policies that reek of the collectivism of that decade. Our reforms have shown that the individual is paramount; socialists persist in viewing the worker as just another face in the crowd of card-carrying brothers. Industrial relations should be about people, not cattle, which is why the Labour party would once again fail the people and drag the nation back into the gutter where it was before we took over in 1979.

6.31 pm
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham North-East)

The motives for this parliamentary pantomime and for the speech of the Secretary of State are transparent. The Government tabled a motion on industrial relations, but they are not interested in industrial relations. Rather, this debate is a measure of the desperation of the Conservative party, which knows that quite soon, possibly on 9 April, it will be punished by the British people and by the millions who have suffered the ravages of this recession. All who have lost their jobs, all who have had their houses repossessed, all who have had their businesses fold under them will have their say quite soon.

The Government are desperate because they face electoral defeat and they want to divert attention from the recession. The Secretary of State mentioned an increase in manufacturing output. In the past 13 years, manufacturing output has increased by 4.9 per cent. That compares with the figures for Germany at 26.6 per cent., the United States of America at 33.3 per cent. and Japan at 60 per cent. Manufacturing investment has fallen in Britain over the past 13 years by more than 6 per cent., as against increases in Germany of 47 per cent., in France of more than 51 per cent. and in Italy of more than 72 per cent.

We are bottom of all the league tables. The Conservative Government inherited the bonanza of North sea oil; it has all been squandered, mainly to pay for unemployment, which has increased by 1 million since this Prime Minister took office. He it was who said, "If it isn't hurting, it isn't working," and it was the present Chancellor of the Exchequer who said that mass unemployment was a price well worth paying.

We have had record business failures. Last year there were 80,000 house repossessions, and this country is experiencing homelessness on an undreamed of scale. The Government's reaction has been pathetic and demeaning. They have put on this debate to bash the unions and to try to divert attention from the real issues and garner a few votes by raising a few bogeys from the trade union world instead of looking to the future.

The Conservative party has nothing to offer this country for the future. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) spoke of his exploits many years ago in Southend. The Conservatives want to go back to the past, back to the old agenda. They talk about the confrontations of the past instead of looking to the future. It is a rather squalid manoeuvre, based on malice and on hatred of the trade unions. Hatred of the unions is written all over the faces of Conservative Members. People with that attitude are unfit to hold office in the Department of Employment.

Conservatives should be reminded that trade unions consist of British people and British voters—more than 8 million of them. They are not the enemy within; they are our people. Yet the Government's policy is to make war on our people. That is an antediluvian approach; it is self-defeating, and it is a recipe for strife and confrontation.

In no other advanced country do we find this attitude. The successful countries all regard the unions as valuable partners with which to co-operate and work—that is one of the reasons why they are successful.

We must establish a proper balance between working people and their employers. That balance cannot be sustained without trade unions, which is why they are an essential part of our industrial relations scene. When I worked in industry and was in the trade union movement, I found that it was the very best people who gave their time to the unions to help their fellow men. After six anti-trade union legislative measures, the Government cannot blame the unions for this economic crisis—they cannot claim that strikes are to blame. It is entirely their own fault.

One of the main proposals in the Green Paper is that there should be new rules for deducting union dues from members' pay—what is known as the check-off, which is mentioned in the Government motion. When I was in industry, I paid my contributions every week. Because I admire the work of my union, I now pay by bankers order. But the check-off is the modern way of collection—a widespread and uncontroversial practise. I know of no demand from anyone—not even from the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield—for a change, yet the Government propose to meddle in this system. That is entirely uncalled for. There is certainly no demand for it from employers. The Government's motives are mischievous and malicious.

The Government hope that their proposal will cause problems for the unions—that it will damage and weaken them. They propose that authority to deduct contributions must be renewed each year or when the amount is altered. They hope that the unions will have difficulty collecting all the signatures on paper. The Government gleefully think of all the extra work, and hope that the unions will lose some of their members.

As with the rest of the Green Paper proposals, this one is one-sided. If the check-off system needs annual renewal, why, in equity, should not all direct debit arrangements need it? Why should not a person belonging to the National Trust have to renew annually? We have give-as-you-earn schemes and save-as-you-earn contracts. We have payments into benevolent funds. Some people pay their poll tax in this way; some pay their gas bills in this way. Why should not the same system apply to all?

The Government are clearly not interested in the principle. The proposal is merely a stick with which to beat the unions. Check-off takes place only if both sides agree to it, so what is wrong with it?

The next idea is a seven-day cooling-off period that has to follow a strike ballot. There must have been plenty of notice even before the strike ballot, but the Government propose another seven days. That might have some merit and could be examined. Perhaps the Government are thinking of that idea, because so far the overwhelming majority of strike ballots have been in favour of a strike. The Government legislated for ballots because they thought that strikes were caused by union officials. They did not understand that union officials spend most of their time trying to stop strikes. In my union we have always had ballots and we would have them anyway.

Ballots have turned out to be powerful weapons in the hands of the trade unions. We have just seen that in Germany, where there was an overwhelming vote for a strike and the employers thought it wise to make a much better offer. The Government now say that, after a ballot, there must be a seven-day cooling-off period. That should apply to both sides and should not be one-sided. Most precipitate industrial action is caused by hostile action by employers. There should be a seven-day period before either side can take action.

I now deal with the Bridlington arrangements. The British trade union movement grew up in an untidy way. We can contrast that with the situation in post-war Germany where there is one union for each industry. We have multiple trade unions. That could lead to disruptive inter-union rivalries and splinter unions and would have a destabilising effect, but the Bridlington rules bring some sort of order.

Everybody, including employers, agreed that the Trades Union Congress had a responsibility to ensure that anarchy was avoided by means of a set of sensible ground rules. I am not aware of any sensible practitioner in the field who takes a contrary view. I have no doubt that the rules are not necessarily perfect and that from time to time they should be reviewed, but the Secretary of State, uninvited by anybody, is now proposing to interefere in his hobnailed boots. He proposes to scrap the lot, to make the ground rules unlawful, and proposes nothing to replace them. There will be a vacuum, a free-for-all. That is highly irresponsible, and I am certain that it will receive little support.

The Government are schizophrenic: in one breath they say that they favour single-union agreements, while in the next they want to give free rein to splinter unions and inter-union rivalries. It should be noted that no one has to be a member of a particular union or any union, and that no union has to be a member of the TUC and subscribe to its Bridlington arrangements. The idea that anybody suffers a loss because he cannot join a union which refuses to recruit him is absurd. It is ludicrous.

The Government rhetoric is that an employee should have the right to join a union of his or her choice. Again, that is one-sided. I would believe the Government if they said that an employee had the right to be represented by the union of his choice. The Government say nothing about unions having the right to be recognised or about the employee's right to be represented. The motion contains nothing about citizens' rights at the workplace. Perhaps that is not surprising, because the British employee has lower pay and fewer holidays, works longer hours, has less job security and enjoys fewer trade union freedoms than employees in any comparable European country.

Mr. Clelland

My hon. Friend gives some interesting statistics. Would he care to speculate on why British employees are so much worse off, given that the trade unions had the terrific power that the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) described?

Mr. Leighton

That is a complete myth. It is a sort of bogey which Conservatives in their present difficulties are trying to raise up to frighten everybody, and, of course, it is complete and utter nonsense.

The Government have advanced another idea—an amazing new proposal on training. We all know that training is one of the Government's biggest failings. The country can compete only if it has an educated and trained work force, but there is a huge skills gap between Britain and its competitor nations, and it is getting bigger. What is the brilliant new idea that is being seriously advanced about training? It is that there should be new contracts, so that the worker who leaves his company prematurely—perhaps the Under-Secretary of State in his winding-up speech will tell us what "prematurely" means—has to pay a penalty. That is the new idea to get training going.

That was precisely the argument of the people who erected the Berlin wall. They said, "We are spending money on training people in East Germany, but when we have trained them they go to West Germany. We cannot tolerate that. We must put up a wall." Does the Under-Secretary think that all British companies should build a Berlin wall around themselves and that a penalty should be paid by people who have the temerity to leave?

The proposal tries to address the real problem of poaching, which causes problems in British industry. The good employers train and the bad employers poach. Therefore, we must look after the good employer. How do we do that? Do we build a Berlin wall around companies? The Government are taking the wrong approach. We do not want to build walls or abolish civil rights and freedoms, and surely no one wants to abolish the free movement of labour—or is that what is being suggested? The right answer is to ensure that all employers contribute to training and that none is allowed to dodge the column. That is the argument for what is called the levy. This is an old chestnut.

We all know what has to be done. It is said that a levy would lead to big bureaucratic training boards, which we do not want. But there is a way to do it without bureaucracy; it is done in France, where every company has to contribute a percentage of turnover to training. Companies that do not subscribe in that way have to pay a levy. Companies that train pay nothing, but the bad employer who seeks to poach has to pay. That is the way to do it. I shall be interested to hear the Under-Secretary's response to that, because the Government are wrong in their approach to training.

The Under-Secretary cannot deny that the Government are having the most awful row with the TECs, the training and enterprise councils. They are cutting the money to the TECs, which are demoralised, and many people in the private sector are saying that they will not participate any more. Some of the TECs will not sign a contract with the Government because the contracts are not good enough.

The so-called training guarantees to young people are the means by which the Government say they are committed to youth training, and that every young person leaving school at 16 will get a job or a training place. That is untrue. In borough after borough and area after area across the country, there are hundreds of young people with no job, no training place and no benefit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) told us that he had lunch with an employer's organisation today, and I have met many groups of employers recently. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are all putting on weight because we are dining so often with employers. Employers have the idea that the Government will lose the next election and that there will be a new Labour Government. Who is to say that the employers are wrong?

Therefore, they want to meet the Labour party and to learn from its representatives of the party's policies. They want to know how they will fare under the Labour party. Surely that is wise.

Having met many employers, I have had the opportunity to discuss with them their many worries and concerns. No group, however, has talked of the need for more trade union legislation. I do not know whether a Conservative Member can refer to an employers' association that is saying that it wants more trade union legislation.

As I said, employers have problems and worries. They have told me that they are worried about the recession. They are worried also about lack of demand. Some of them who are exporters are worried about the high value of the pound. All of them are worried about high interest rates. The CBI and the Engineering Employers Federation —I understand that some Conservative Members are dining with members of the federation this evening—want investment tax incentives. The federation tells me that it wants the Government to put more money into training. It reports that firms are struggling to survive and that with the low unit costs of youth training they cannot afford to take on trainees. As I said, not one group of employers has said that it wants more trade union legislation.

It is not only employers who take that view. I shall try to be helpful to the Government by saying that the public do not want more trade union legislation. If the occupants of the Treasury Bench think that when electors go into polling booths they will be swayed in choosing where to put their cross by a commitment to anti-trade union legislation, they are barking up the wrong tree. In other words, they are wasting their time.

Opinion polls show that fewer than one in five people, including Conservative voters, want more trade union legislation. The public are not asking for it, because they do not want it.

It is interesting also that 93 per cent. of the public want the law to entitle people to be represented by trade unions when they have a problem. We know that more and more people are involved in problems in industry, and that is why trade unions have become popular. Employees are facing redundancy. There are those whose contracts are being torn up unilaterally and who are having foisted on them new contracts that offer worse pay and conditions.

Mr. Forth

If, as the hon. Gentleman alleges, trade unions are so popular, why is their membership falling?

Mr. Leighton

I should have thought that a Minister in the Department of Employment would know about these matters. He has asked me the question, however, and as I happen to know the answer, I will tell him.

There are two reasons for declining membership, one of which is that the industries that employed trade unionists have disappeared. The coal-mining industry is one example. At the end of the war, it had about 1 million employees—1 million trade unionists. It now employs about 100,000. The motor car industry is another example. Industry after industry is collapsing. That is obviously the main reason for the declining memberships of trade unions.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Does the hon. Gentleman draw any conclusion from the fact that the most highly unionised industries have disappeared or declined, while the less unionised have thrived and expanded?

Mr. Leighton

That used to be the position. When the hon. Gentleman and his party caused the previous recession, unemployment was mainly in the heavy industries, which in many instances were in the north of England. Almost all of them were in constituencies that were represented by Labour Members, so it did not matter to the Government. They were Labour seats in any event.

The hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) should know—I understand that he is a big wheel in the City and is familiar with the financial world, including the banking sector—

Mr. Flannery

The hon. Member is a farmer in Lincolnshire.

Mr. Leighton

I have heard about the hon. Gentleman's sheep farm, but I do not want to go into his farming activities. He farms in his spare time. He is a gentleman farmer. He does not look after his sheep himself. I do not complain about the way in which his sheep are cared for because, as I said, he farms in his spare time. He has an allotment, as it were, of about 4,000 acres. His large country estate—his vast acres—is financed by his work in the City and in public relations, for example. He knows that many of those wearing red braces and driving Porsches in the city who bought up all the property in docklands are not doing so well nowadays. I see that he is nodding his head. That is where unemployment is to be found now. Conservative constituencies are being affected.

As I said, 93 per cent. of the people believe that employees are entitled to be represented by trade unions when problems arise in their industry. The squeeze is now being felt by white collar workers, many of whom are not members of a union. This week I dealt with the case of 19 employees who had had their contracts changed unilaterally. If anyone wants me to give chapter and verse, I shall. The 19 were not members of a union, so they decided to come to me. I wrote to their managing director and persuaded him to change his mind. Is that not good? They were not trade unionists but they asked me which union they could join and from where I could get help for them. I repeat: 93 per cent. of the people would like to be represented by a trade union if they were facing problems.

I warn the Under-Secretary of State that I am about to say something that will upset him. It might give him palpitations. I ask him to steel his nerves. If he wants to be really popular—

Mr. Forth


Mr. Leighton

—and wants his party to win the next election, he and it must stop barking up the wrong tree. The policy that is truly popular and commands the support of 85 per cent. of the population is the national minimum wage.

If the Government changed their policy and stole the Opposition's clothes—if, in other words, they said that they were in favour of a national minimum wage—they would probably sweep the country. The Secretary of State's campaign against a national minimum wage has been an appalling flop. The idea behind the debate of bashing the trade unions and grubbing around for a few votes will similarly fail.

6.58 pm
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

If 93 per cent. of the population want trade union representation when there is a problem, and if we bear it in mind that during the 1980s the number of people with jobs increased by 2 million, it is rather curious that, during that decade, the number of people who were members of trade unions declined from 13 million to 10 million. That does not say much for the perception that the public have of trade unions and for the marketing that trade unions are engaging in to attract a potential membership that is growing all the time.

There is no point in the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) saying that only in traditional industries is there trade union membership, and to end the argument there. If trade unions are seen as the power houses of industrial relations, as the hon. Gentleman would like to portray them, and if the work force overall is expanding, surely even those industries not traditionally associated with trade unions would see an increased membership rather than a declining membership.

Mr. Clelland

The hon. Gentleman may not have been in the Chamber earlier, when I explained that the increase in employment to which he has referred was overwhelmingly in the part-time, low-paid and low-skilled sectors, and overwhelmingly in occupations in which—regardless of the Government's legislation—people are still being intimidated into not belonging to trade unions.

Mr. Coombs

When we examine the facts, that is revealed to be arrant nonsense. Of the 2 million extra jobs created between 1982 and 1990, just over 50 per cent. were full-time jobs. Over the same period, the real take-home pay of a man on average earnings, with two children, increased by around £41 a week. Ipso facto, it seems likely that the section of the population on which the unions should have concentrated their recruitment drive was increasingly affluent—although the workers concerned were not those with whom the unions had been traditionally associated.

I was struck by the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), towards the end of his excellent speech, that Labour Members who talked of trade union reforms that would tend to return us to the black hole of Calcutta represented by the industrial relations of the 1970s did not recognise the way in which the new industrial society was evolving. The firms that succeed are flexible: they operate in small units and carry out their collective bargaining on a local rather than a national basis. In such firms, there is plenty of flexibility in the performance of tasks and relatively little demarcation. Those are the companies that succeed in today's market —which is not a mass-production market, but a market that relates to ever-increasing changes in taste.

The dramatic decrease in the number of days lost through strike action represents a great achievement of the industrial relations legislation that the Government have produced over the past few years. We have heard about the reduction from 29 million to 1 million in the number of days lost through industrial action; last year, only 759,000 days were lost for that reason. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield mentioned the accompanying fall in the number of stoppages: the number has dropped from 2,500 a year—the 1970s average—to only 650 in 1990, and only 354 last year. Of course that is an achievement—and of course, given the changes in industrial society that I have mentioned, it constitutes an advance that only 34 per cent. of workers now decide their wages on a national collective basis, as opposed to 47 per cent. in 1983.

However, although all those developments represent dividends from the important industrial relations changes introduced by the Government, the most valuable advance is the recognition that the most successful firms are the most flexible: firms that give the work force an individual sense of purpose, and treat them as individuals rather than as part of a mammoth mass collective. That, too, was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield.

Those are the companies which have achieved the largest increase in productivity. A company in my constituency manufactures parts for the motor industry. After it had been involved with the industry for some time, Toyota came along and said, "We should like to purchase from you, but as part of the process we will give you some lessons on man management and industrial relations. This is how we increase our productivity, with exactly the same capital equipment as you."

In a single year, that company achieved a productivity improvement of no less than 70 per cent., with exactly the same work force. The carpet industry is another example of the improvements that have been made: there is no doubt that, over the past 10 years, the work force have been much more flexible and the old demarcation lines have gone. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish. We have seen, for instance, the introduction of CADCAM—computer-aided design and manufacture. All that has happened because the trade unions have got rid of the old-fashioned, confrontational "us and them" attitude and have begun to realise that successful companies proceed from the premise that they are sitting on the same side of the fence as their work force—that the only enemy is competition, both at home and abroad.

It is therefore not surprising—although the fact is easily glossed over by the pseudo-industrialists on the Opposition Benches—that, between 1984 and 1990, in-house training increased by 90 per cent. According to the CBI, companies are now spending some £20 million a year on their own training. Those changes in industrial culture, and in industrial relations structure, are the reason why this country has gained 40 per cent. of the European total of Japanese investment, nearly 50 per cent. of United States investment in Europe and 40 per cent. of investment by other OECD countries. As I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) mentioned earlier, in 1990 alone 62,000 jobs were created by no fewer than 350 individual decisions on foreign investment.

Let us contrast all that with the appalling circumstances of 1979. So far, no hon. Member has mentioned the fact that—sadly—we were known throughout Europe, and especially in the industrial world, for what was described as "the British disease". We were known for that, possibly, more than we were known for anything else. Why? Because the British worker was—probably wrongly—thought by our foreign competitors to be prepared to down tools at the slightest provocation. Red Robbo at Longbridge certainly gave them ample evidence for that supposition.

That is why, in the 1970s, we were losing 13 million days a year through strikes—last year, only about 750,000 were lost. That is why we then had to rely on income policies. The collective bargaining system did not operate effectively and we had to keep the lid on inflation by means of national, centralised control. That is why we experienced demarcation disputes, rigidity and an appalling productivity record.

The villain of the piece—if there was one—was the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974. Section 14 gave trade unions in the course of trade disputes immunity from tort and conferred on them unique privileges that were not shared by anyone else in the country when they broke contract. Section 13 made trade disputes non-actionable in tort, even where a union interfered with the contract of employment of someone who was not party to a dispute. In other words, in furtherance of a dispute, a union could interfere with the way in which someone else was doing his job and get away with it scot free.

Section 29(c) of the Act defines trade disputes as allocation of work or the duties of employment of one or more workers. Given that sort of detail, it is small wonder that the demarcation rigidity that was endemic in the 1970s came about.

That was the underpinning of the fossilised state of industrial relations and productivity that we experienced in the 1970s. Again, it is small wonder that, as recent studies have shown between 1974 and 1976, there were no fewer than 5 million jobs from which non-union members were excluded. That does not include all the other jobs where there were not closed shops but nearly effectively closed shops.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Does my hon. Friend agree that these were the very contentions that were struck down by the European Court of Human Rights because they were such a fundamental denial of the liberty of individuals to pursue employment?

Mr. Coombs

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. That is why the Government were right to make a priority of the trade union legislation which they enacted in 1980, 1982, 1984, 1988 and 1990 to loosen those inflexibilities and to give individual members more control of their trade unions and more control over how they went about their legitimate business of making a living for themselves every day of their working lives.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-East said that the one thing employers do not want is more trade union legislation. The one thing that a Labour Government, God forbid, would give them is more trade union legislation. That legislation would not make it easier for them to manage their businesses but would have precisely the opposite effect.

It is no wonder that the Labour party takes that line. When 90 per cent. of the votes at its annual conference are controlled by the trade unions and when 23 members of the shadow Cabinet have trade union sponsorship, it would be staggering if the party acted in any other way. The party is acting in its own interests, as we see from its policy documents. In "Opportunity Britain" it says that it will restore the right to take sympathy action. That is secondary picketing. The trade unions will have a legal right to enforce recognition subject to a certain ballot. We know what the TUC regards as an appropriate ballot, because it said so in a consultation document issued only last year. According to the TUC, if only 40 per cent. of people in a workplace vote for trade union recognition —we can forget about the 80 per cent. now associated with closed shop legislation—trade union recognition will have to be accepted.

The working charter put forward by the Labour party would restore trade union immunity, and all contractual rights of employers and employees would be suspended during industrial action. Although the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) brazenly talked about his support for pre-strike ballots and ballots for union elections, it does not square very well with his comments in the debate on the Trade Union Act 1984 in November 1983, when he said that pre-strike ballots were a scandalous and undemocratic measure against the trade union movement. Either he is turning his back on his trade union friends, in which case he will have something to explain to them, or he has something to explain to the public, who would not be wise to give credibility to someone who can change his mind so easily and in such a slippery way on a fundamental question.

The problem with the trade union reforms likely to be adopted by the Labour party is that the ones that I have mentioned so far, although probably the most far-reaching statutorily, would be but the tip of an unpleasant iceberg in their effect on small businesses and everyday life.

What else has the Labour party in store for people who are trying to run a business and make a living? The first thing is an annual audit of the labour force, with all the bureaucratic administration which that involves. The work force would have to be analysed according to sex, race and disability at least once a year. Firms would have to account to a regional equality tribunal—I thought that we had gone past 1984—which would oversee their personnel policies.

The Labour party also has proposals against race and sex discrimination. It wants positive discrimination—the poppycock talked about in "Meet the Challenge: Make the Change": We must also change the passive nature of our sex and race discrimination laws to require positive action to promote equal rights for women, the black, Asian and other ethnic minority British, and incorporate those EC Directives, (including the obligation to provide parental leave) which promote greater equality".

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

In scorning Labour policy on equality of treatment for employees at work, is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is permissible to discriminate against people on grounds of race or sex? Is he aware of, and does he find acceptable, the lamentable levels of black and Asian workers in skilled jobs and the equally lamentable number of women in senior management posts in industry? If he finds those unacceptable, how would he propose to address the problem?

Mr. Coombs

Of course it is unacceptable to discriminate against people on the grounds of race, sex or the colour of their skin. That goes without saying. What is grossly condescending, and what the Labour party seems to be specialising in increasingly, although there arc pockets of resistance among more moderate and sensible Labour councillors, is to say as is its policy that we must take positive action to ensure that one person gets a job ahead of someone else with equal or better qualifications, purely by virtue of the colour of that person's skin or his race. That would be likely to lead to a backlash among people who did not get jobs because of positive discrimination. In addition, it would probably lead to ever more administrative interference. Surprise, surprise—companies would have to report on their positive discrimination policies to something called the women's regional advisory commission.

We would also have a payroll tax which would centralise and bureaucratise training and increase costs. There would be social audit of what the Labour party regarded as major investment decisions, which would further delay the investment which the country so badly needs. There would be enterprise training councils, apparently to be set up not on an industry basis but on a firm-by-firm basis, with all the bureaucracy, additional administration and lack of competitiveness that they would involve.

We would also have the social charter and what my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield referred to as the "Where do I sign?" attitude of the Labour party. The social charter would have a devastating effect on medium-sized carpet companies in my constituency, because it would ultimately contain restrictions on working hours of the 48-hour-week kind, which would remove the flexibility they need to compete in world markets.

My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield dealt with the minimum wage proposal. Like him, I think that it would tend to force out 6 million part-time workers, of whom 90 per cent. want to work only part-time, and would increase costs to British industry enormously, so driving us out of world markets.

I support the improvements planned by the Government. Most of all, I urge the Government to continue, as they have been doing over the last 12 years, to create an environment which would allow more local bargaining and agreements. Some 34 per cent. of agreements are still made nationally, and that percentage is too high. I urge the Government to investigate the activities of pay review bodies which, almost by definition, cannot relate to the circumstances of local labour markets and are therefore inflationary. The Government want to do more for women, who make up 1.7 million of the 2 million extra jobs created over the last 10 years.

Most of all, the Government must recognise that good industrial relations are about Government non-intervention rather than Government intervention, and about leaving employers and employees to bargain with each other and co-operate with each other constructively. This flexibility, which goes with the grain of the new industrial society, is one of the great achievements of the Conservative Government. The Labour party's so-called Pauline conversion in respect of industrial relations policy is paper-thin. It is pretty transparent and unconvincing.

For evidence of that, one has only to look at the testimony of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prestcott), the Labour party's transport spokesman, who, referring to Conservative trade union legislation, said: There is nothing you can keep of this legislation … It all has to go. That is the real face of the Labour party. If—God forbid —it should ever get into power, it would have so many bills to pay to its trade union sponsors that anybody who thinks that, in terms of trade union legislation, it would act responsibly is living in cloud cuckoo land. Well, I believe that the British electorate does not live in cloud cuckoo land, and that people will see through the Labour party's blatantly transparent and hypocritical policies.

7.20 pm
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Tonight we are talking about industrial relations. I should like to refer to the industrial relations of some of the companies in my area. In the case of the ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne, the Secretary of State decided that the board should be changed and the possibility of privatisation considered. The first threat to be levelled at the work force was that the company's headquarters at Gourock, in my constituency, should be moved to Oban.

Was there any attempt to discuss the matter with the local work force? None whatsoever. The managing director of the company was appalled, and I understand that even the board appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland was appalled. The trade unions contacted me as their parliamentary representative and asked me to do all in my power to prevent such a stupid move. I am glad to say that common sense prevailed.

My point is that such behaviour does not encourage good industrial relations. Debate in society is hardly encouraged when the Secretary of State rides roughshod over workers—in this case, the people who made Caledonian MacBrayne a very good ferry operator. The approach that the Secretary of State adopted was utterly wrong.

Some time ago, British Aerospace announced that the royal ordnance factory in Bishopton, which is also in my constituency, would close and that the decision was irreversible. Closure would have resulted in the loss of 800 jobs. I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland and many other Ministers to intervene to try to make the company see common sense. On the grounds that it was a commercial decision, they declined. Ministers would do nothing to prevent the loss of 800 jobs in my constituency. We put up many arguments to the effect that closure would be nonsense, as the company's products were still very necessary.

I am glad to say that the management and British Aerospace listened to the sensible, loyal, well-organised and disciplined work force, which co-operates through the trade union movement. In fact, the workers in that factory —all of them—are the trade union movement. They work hard. Indeed, they showed the company that they were prepared to work all hours of the day at the wages on offer. They pleaded with the company to reverse its decision. They showed that they had more commitment to the country and to the company than do some of the members of the board.

I am delighted at the sensible steps taken by the trade union leadership. At that time, the factory convenor was Jimmy Burns—an admirable exponent of the right to work and of the right to defend this country. Jimmy Burns believed that closure of that factory would have removed part of the country's defence. The workers put up a magnificent case. In the Falklands war and in the Gulf war, they proved their worth, working 24 hours a clay for the country, despite this threat. They did not walk away. Good trade union relationships and a sensible work force produced the result which I described. Through industrial relations legislation such as have been described today, the Government want to throw much of that away. I am delighted to have backed these workers in their fight for their jobs.

I should like now to refer to Reid's, a famous furniture making company in the Renfrewshire area. That company is certainly one of the finest furniture manufacturers in Great Britain, and there is no doubt that its trade union relations are excellent. The company pays good wages and provides very good conditions. All its workers are paid more than £3.45 an hour. The firm does not argue against paying a minimum wage. It believes that we must get people back to work and that the only way to restore their purchasing power is to give them the opportunity to work. Reid's is the Rolls-Royce of the furniture industry, and it competes with the best.

I worked in Rolls-Royce for 14 years. It is another company that pays very decent wages. I do not know many of its employees who work for less than £3.45 an hour —perhaps the Minister has access to such information. Because of the recession, Rolls-Royce is paying workers off. I understand that there are to be 2,000 redundancies —300 of them in Renfrewshire. Workers are sick to the gullet of the continual job losses resulting from the Government's inability to manage our economy. The trade union movement in the Rolls-Royce factory is very responsible. It has made it clear that there is no desire to deal with oddballs here and there. The management find it easier and better to operate in conjunction with the trade union movement.

I have mentioned four companies where the trade union movement has shown more responsibility than have the Government or Ministers. The Opposition amendment asks for support for the European social charter. I have spoken to local Tories about the Government's rejection of this charter. They cannot understand why the Government refuse to support it. As the refusal appalls me, it appalls them. This country's unemployment is rising to record levels; we have record bankruptcies, rising poverty and record house repossessions; we have record and rising crime too. Why? Why? Why? I can give the reason: we have a Government who are bankrupt when it comes to caring and blind to the suffering of our people—a Government living in a fool's paradise.

The Minister's cohorts in Scotland promised every school leaver a training place. It was to be an absolute guarantee. There was no possibility that young people would go on to the dole; they would go straight into training places. What happened to that promise? As with so many other things, what the Government said has proved to be totally false.

What did the Government do in my area when the local enterprise companies were set up? I shall tell the Minister. They cut the training budgets of nearly all the local enterprise companies in Scotland by 33 per cent. I do not want to greet and cry over the job losses which the Government have inflicted on our people, but I do cry and worry when they cut the right to give our people hope for the future by not allowing them to be trained.

The whole country, especially Scotland, faces a dire crisis, but the Government have cut the budgets which give our young people hope. By making those cuts, they also ensured that the training agents and companies went to the wall, thus ensuring that trainers and supervisors—the skilled men and women who were training the young people—also went on to the dole. Their skills have been scrapped and they are no longer contributing to gearing the country for the future. That is what happened in Scotland.

Education gives hope to young unemployed people—indeed, it gives hope to many people. Training gives young people dignity and the hope that they will have the right to a job, but the Government have completely taken away the employment rights of young people in Scotland by savagely reducing the money allocation by 33 per cent.

I heard the Minister say earlier that one man's wage award was another man's job loss. What does the Minister say about redundancies? Law Tex, a company in my area, was closed or liquidated and 120 jobs were lost. Some women had worked there for 11, 13 or 19 years. They worked wholeheartedly and enjoyed their job. Now, through no fault of theirs, the company has gone to the wall. The company says that it went to the wall because of the recession, high interest rates and competition.

That was in August last year. What has happened to the workers since? They have not been given a penny of redundancy money. Letters were sent back and forth between them and the Minister, but all they got was a negative reply, to the effect that the Government were doing this and that with regard to legalities. In those circumstances, when people lose their jobs and are put into poverty, the Government should provide money immediately and then try to get it from the people who should have been paying the workers. The Government should make a positive effort to provide the redundancy money now, not in six months from now. That six-month delay has been a further damaging blow because of the recession caused by the Government. I plead with the Minister to give these people their redundancy money now.

Let us consider companies which are into not golden or diamond but platinum handshakes, while the poor workers in Law Tex cannot get their redundancy money through no fault of their own. The Law Tex employees worked to give that company a future. They hear about people making millions of pounds out of failures. Burton's Cooklin was paid about £1 million for running the company. The sum at Granada was £580,000, while Saatchi's Warman received £1.1 million and Isosceles' Smith more than £1 million. They are platinum handshakes for failures. It is unbelievable and it makes me want to greet, but they have cried all the way to the bank while my people starve in poverty and misery.

Let us consider another company in Scotland. The chairmen of the privatised Scottish Power awarded themselves a rise of £47,000. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that rise, because there was an article about it in a Glasgow newspaper. The chief executive of Scottish Power was given a rise of £96,000. These are mind-boggling sums. I have never seen £96,000 in my life, except written down. In 1991, the chief executive of Scottish Hydro-Electric gave himself an extra £89,000 —a 120 per cent. pay rise. By the way, the Secretary of State for Scotland has done nothing.

These levels of pay awards are obscene when people in Scotland are dying of starvation. I can give the Minister the facts and figures. There are people on the streets of London who are dying from hypothermia, of drug taking and of general deterioration caused by their inability to get a job in Scotland and being forced to come down here, desperate for work. They are dying in the streets and I should like to know how many have died during the cold weather that we have suffered in the past few days. When unemployment is raging and rocketing, it is obscene that some people are awarding themselves wages rises which are unbelievable and belong to a fantasy world—it is like getting that one in a million coupon.

I worked at a factory bench for Rolls-Royce for 14 years. Many times I suffered financial hardship, even though I had a wage. I found it difficult to pay electricity and gas bills and rent. I had the pipe dream that everyone has of buying a coupon and having it come up. I used to think about winning £75,000. What would I do with £75,000? I would instantly buy myself a nice wee house and go on holiday to Benidorm, which would be fantastic. I would buy myself a wee car. That was the dream. Is the Minister listening? Some people are already living in the dream world for which other people have worked, and they are ripping off the workers. Companies are going bankrupt and failing, yet people are taking money from them. By doing so, they are putting jobs in jeopardy.

I could go further. The Government have made many blunders, but the biggest was trying to hoodwink the people of Britain by saying that the social charter was not good for them and that everything in it was bad news. They should tell that to one of my constituents who worked for Coulport and Faslane as a security guard earning £1.85 an hour. That would not buy a pint in London, but that man was expected to bring up his family on it. In addition, he had absolutely no rights—when his partner did not turn up for work, perhaps because of illness, he was asked whether he wanted to do a double shift. If the next partner did not turn up for work, he was told to work a treble shift. All that had to be done for £1.85 an hour.

That man had absolutely no rights—it was a matter of "take it or leave it—get out of the factory now." He had no rights and no wages. None of us here could call £1.85 an hour for a man who had a family and who had served for 20 years in our armed forces a proper wage. It is unbelievable that any Minister could condone working on such poverty wages. That man had no trade union rights; he had nothing.

I met that man and he was a bag of nerves. He eventually had to give up his job because he was mugged in Faslane. The company running the security guards broke every rule in the book. I will provide the information so that the Secretary of State can check up and perhaps stop the company breaking every rule in the book. The one rule that the company did not break was the low pay rule.

I am delighted that there is one trade union that is bucking the trend—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. It is getting new members, and it is one of the unions in the forefront of fighting against low pay, and of fighting for the minimum wage and for the right of people to be able to eat and to heat themselves in the winter. It is fighting to ensure that the work force have a salary or a wage, and a right to a living. I am delighted to back that union by which I am sponsored. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Ah. For the record, I do not get any money. The money goes to the constituency Labour party. The £700 that the union gives each year is used to ensure that people like us can come here. There are no big bucks coming from the people I spoke about earlier. They get £1 million as a pay-off for almost bankrupting a company.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Given that there is such controversy about the extra-curricular financing of Members of Parliament and given that my hon. Friend has told us that any money he receives, which I imagine is less than £1,000 a year, is passed immediately to his constituency party, can he give me one example of a Conservative Member—my hon. Friend knows that many of them have up to 20 or 30 directorships and earn hundreds or thousands of pounds a year—who passes his money either to his constituency party or to a charitable cause?

Mr. Graham

The Minister may need to set up a training school to instruct Tory Members on how to pass back some of that money. I do not know of any examples. We know that the Greeks have given the Tories money. Although the Tory party tries to deny it, we know that it has received foreign money for years.

Trade unions are a valid part of this nation. If we want to work our way back to full employment, we must work together. The institutions of government, the trade unions and the colleges of education must work their way back to full employment. We must manufacture to survive. We cannot always have the policies of confrontation which the Government advocate. We must invest in manufacturing and we must not use "commercial decisions" as an excuse. We must invest far more in training than the Government have attempted to do, and we must invest in our people. We must ensure that they have a decent health service and decent housing, and we must ensure that they have a right to live.

We must prepare our young people for the worldwide challenge against poverty and homelessness. We must equip them with the tools and education. I shall be glad to give way if the Secretary of State wants to intervene. I believe that this country has not invested in its young people. I ask the Secretary of State to come with me to my constituency and to meet the young unemployed. They are decent young men and women who want the right that the Secretary of State has to receive a good salary, and who want to be able to buy the things that his family can buy. The people of my area are not beggars and they do not ask for charity; they demand their rights. The Government are here to work for the people, not to destroy them.

The other night I met one of the senior citizens of my area. His point to me was clear. He said, "Tommy. I am glad that I have come to the end of my days. My father fought for this country in the first world war, I fought for this country in the second world war and my son fought for this country in other wars. My grandchildren are now unemployed and hospitals have long waiting lists."

Unemployment is a scourge. I am delighted that the battleground of an election is now emerging. It will give the Government a big kick. We shall kick the ball, arid the Government will be right off course. The people in Scotland, in England and in Wales will get rid of this Government—there is nothing surer. By doing that, our young people will be able to fight for a future. We will get them educated and trained, and we will take on the world. This country will beat the world, because our people have the capacity. They will get rid of this Government and, thank goodness, this is probably the last time that we shall hear the Secretary of State speak this term.

7.46 pm
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

I will not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham).

I am sorry that the Secretary of State is just departing. He did not hear the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), who heavily criticised him for going back in history in his opening speech. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman mentioned Lloyd George no fewer than three times. He very much delved into the scrap-book of history when he criticised my right hon. and learned Friend. His speech was like one from an 18th-century edition of Reader's Digest.

When I questioned the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, who is the Chief Whip for the Liberal Democrats, about why they advocated regional pay bargaining, but would abolish the ability of trust hospitals to negotiate their own pay structures, he refused to answer. I conclude that he is not so much a Chief Whip, more a feather duster. The last time the Liberal party formed a Government, Horatio Nelson was still able to clap.

The motion says that the Opposition's policies would destroy employment opportunities, threaten public services, and cause inward investors to take their investment and jobs elsewhere. They could.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment will remember that, under the previous Labour Government, we had to go to the bank to sign a little form on the back of our passports to get £50 with which to go abroad. We were not allowed to take any more. If we committed the heinous crime of booking a holiday in Italy, we had to apply to the Royal Automobile Club or to the Automobile Association for vouchers for petrol. Petrol was so expensive in Italy that £50 was not enough to allow for a motoring holiday there. So the Labour Government had a marvellous arrangement of a voucher system with the motoring organisations.

The Labour party seems to have completely missed the fact that, with the deregulations in 1992, all British people will have the right to reside anywhere in the European Community, and to take their bank balance, their company headquarters and their capital with them. Labour's taxation policies would produce the greatest exodus from Britain that the nation has ever seen, because they would make us an uncompetitive tax regime.

So when Opposition Members tell us about policies of investment in industry, my hon. Friends on the Front Bench should highlight to the British electorate Labour's taxation policies. There would be a great exodus if Labour ever got its hands on the Exchequer purse and raised taxation to the penal levels that it advocates.

However, I have no wish to debate Labour's taxation policies this evening. The motion says that the Opposition's policies would "threaten public services". During the winter of discontent, we saw the greatest breakdown of law and order among trade union membership that Britain has ever seen. A leading part was played by NALGO in that.

I was interested to find that during the 1987 general election NALGO played a part in my election campaign. The union called a public meeting and complained that I was not present at it. That was hardly surprising, because I knew nothing of it. It then wrote to all its members and the councillors of all three councils informing them that I had refused to come to a meeting. By dint of reply to this great debate, I requisitioned a special meeting of the Isle of Wight county council. We held it on a Saturday morning. The chairman of the council complained that I had requisitioned a special meeting of the council to debate the actions of NALGO. That could not have come as much of a surprise because he was also a member of NALGO. However, he said that he had taken no part in the decision of NALGO to write to all councillors and all its members complaining of my action.

I wanted to make that point to my hon. Friends because at that time there was an injunction against NALGO on behalf of several Conservative councillors. Subsequently, NALGO's 1987 election campaign was found to have been out of order. Sir Nicolas Browne-Wilkinson ruled that NALGO posters in 125 marginals breached electoral law. They should have come under the spending of the agent of the non-Conservative candidates in those marginals.

At that time, NALGO did not have a political fund. In 1988, 51.8 per cent. of the members of NALGO voted to set up a political fund. Tonight I hope to speak for the 48 per cent. who did not. NALGO has just launched a £2 million election campaign. I note that, when the office of the Leader of the Opposition was challenged about the part that the Labour party was playing in NALGO's campaign, it retorted that the campaign had as much to do with us as the Institute of Directors". That point is that the Institute of Directors does not pay £2 million for national advertisements which seek to overthrow a democratically elected Government. The Institute of Directors does not run our polling stations. The Institute of Directors does not make decisions about the investment of taxpayers' money. The Institute of Directors is not employed and paid for with taxpayers' and charge payers' money and business rates, whereas, of course, NALGO is.

Recently we have seen two advertisements in the national papers from NALGO. One talks about the classrooms. The one that I have with me is from The Independent. The bottom line of the advertisement says: You can choose a better future. Make sure you do. NALGO. The other advertisement has a picture—

Mr. Clelland

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seem to recall that on one occasion last week when one of my hon. Friends raised a piece of paper in demonstration, he was told by Mr. Speaker that he was out of order. Yet the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) seems to be getting away with it scot free.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

The position is that visual aids have been deprecated by Mr. Speaker, but in this case, if I understand correctly, the hon. Gentleman is quoting from a newspaper cutting. That is in order.

Mr. Field

You are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was quoting from the advertisment which I am holding right here. It shows an elderly lady sitting in front of a fire. In the fire is the citizens charter. She is saying: The Citizen's Charter? Oh yes, very useful. Again at the bottom NALGO says: You can choose a better future. Make sure you do. I also have here a full-page advertisement by the Isle of Wight couty council which appeared in my local press last week. It cost £1,200. It talked about the Government's capping limit. As I hope to demonstrate in a while, there is a definite connection between NALGO and the way in which local government disports itself and the Liberal Democrats who, of course, have never voted against local government trade unions. The reason why the Liberal Democrats have never voted against local government unions, whether in Liverpool or the Isle of Wight, is that they are not a political party but power brokers. That is their role in life. I believe that they are mesmerised by public service unions. They never face up to the unions.

Liverpool is a case in point. The Labour party came to an agreement with the Liberal Democrats about the budget. At the budget-fixing meeting the Liberal Democrats reneged on that agreement because it would have meant redundancies in the public sector unions in Liverpool. They never face up to their responsibilities.

The remarkable advertisement in the Isle of Wight County Press last week, costing £1,200 of Isle of Wight charge payers' money, has a remarkable similarity with the NALGO advertisements in the national press. That shows the definite connection between the Liberal Democrats and NALGO in their anti-Government propaganda.

Later tonight we will debate a motion on the additional grant report for England. I hope that I shall have the opportunity to draw my hon. Friends' attention to the advertisement to which I referred and some literature presented by the Isle of Wight county council. It appears to offend against the Local Government Act 1986 on the prohibition of political publicity. If I have been informed correctly, it might be possible to prosecute Isle of Wight county council for distributing such literature.

We have heard a great deal tonight from hon. Members on both sides of the House about trade unions and their role in modern society. I believe that the Government have given trade unions back to their members. The Government have allowed trade unionists to take part in ballots to choose their leaders. We now have much healthier arrangements for organised labour than Britain has ever had before. However, particularly in the public sector, some trade unions are still organised for political purposes and not for the defence of their members' interests.

I shall give the House an illustration of what I mean. I attended a protest meeting organised by the Liberal Democrats in conjunction with the National Union of Public Employees, the Confederation of Health Service Employees and NALGO outside our new £30 million stainless steel national health service hospital, which was built by a caring Conservative Government on the Isle of Wight. The NALGO representative turned up. I asked him whether he believed in national pay bargaining. He said, "We have always defended national pay bargaining in NALGO." I asked him whether he could tell me, if that was the case, why he had never once criticised the Liberal Democrats for having a regional pay bargaining policy. With that, the deputy leader of the Isle of Wight county council put his arm around him and said, "We are not here to discuss that," and moved him off.

There ought to be a health warning with NALGO membership. As has been clearly demonstrated by those quite nasty advertisements in national newspapers, when one joins NALGO one is joining a political party and not an organisation to defend one's interests.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) told us one of the reasons why we have fewer industrial disputes and fewer days lost. Opposition Members said that it was a result of unemployment. I do not believe that. One of the principal reasons why we have fewer industrial disputes is the success of the Government in privatisation and allowing employees of privatised industries to purchase shares, often at an advantageous rate, and to invest in the companies in which they create the wealth.

When I heard Liberal Democrats say tonight that they believe in a partnership between employees and employers, and greater disclosure among the work force, I remembered that they opposed every privatisation issue in the House. They opposed workers obtaining a shareholding in the capital of the companies which employ them. It is disgraceful that they should try to make political capital out of the reforms that the Government have introduced.

I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State decided to convince the Government that we should hold this debate, because I know that he knows of my concern about the role that NALGO played in my election in 1987. I am pleased that my representations have led to the debate so that we can mention those matters on behalf of the 48 per cent. of NALGO members who did not vote for a political fund and on behalf of many council employees on the Isle of Wight who have been disturbed about NALGO's actions. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will take a personal interest—

Mr. Watson

The hon. Gentleman has been talking at great length about NALGO. It is a great shame that he did not make his remarks earlier when Mr. Max Smith, the Scottish regional secretary of NALGO, was in the Gallery. Perhaps he could have had a discussion with him afterwards about those events. Will he confirm that, although 48 per cent. voted against the political fund, presumably 52 per cent. voted in favour? Will he give his view of what constitutes a majority—is it the Churchillian version, or has it something to do with the Isle of Wight which the rest of us do not know about?

Mr. Field

I am interested to hear that the hon. Gentleman wanted me to make my remarks when the Scottish secretary of NALGO was present. I know that the Isle of Wight moves about a bit in a heavy gale and it tends to rock, but it has not yet come under the Scottish Office. Who knows—there may be a little movement yet. Perhaps that is what the Labour party has in mind for devolution for Scotland—perhaps it includes the Isle of Wight. Who knows?

Mr. Watson

What constitutes a majority?

Mr. Field

To answer his question, the hon. Gentleman is not quite correct. I rounded the figures up, in favour of NALGO—51.8 per cent. of NALGO members decided to have a political fund. I wonder how many of them will be voting for a political fund when they see these advertisements—which I quoted earlier—which say that the British electorate should be looking for a change of Government. Those are advertisements on behalf of a publicly funded trade union. Money is paid to it by the charge payers and taxpayers of the country. That is political propaganda at the taxpayers' and the electors' expense.

Mr. Anthony Coombs


Mr. Field

It is disgraceful. I cannot tell the House how pleased I am that the Government have acceded to my request to hold this debate, so that I could air my concerns about the part which NALGO played in my election in 1987. I look forward to hearing what plans they have for the forthcoming election.

8.4 pm

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

First, it is appropriate that I should declare my membership of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, from which I receive no sponsorship. I am proud to be associated with that union, as a member, because of the skills and talents of its work force in the steel industry. We know that that industry has recently been devastated by the further loss of many jobs because of the decision on Ravenscraig.

I am supported in my endeavours in Parliament through the Labour and Co-operative party. I am a co-operator and therefore I receive support, not for myself, but for my constituents, who also believe in the world of co-operation.

A comparison between the Secretary of State's speech at the beginning of the debate and the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), speaking for the Labour party, showed clearly that the Government have run out of ideas and have to resort to the old and outdated confrontational argument of the 1970s—in the modern idiom, bashing the trade unions. That finds no resonance in this country now.

If we contrast the Secretary of State's speech to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield, we realise that modern, progressive ideas on employment, training and industrial relations emanate from the Labour party. I have some sympathy for the Secretary of State for unemployment, since it is a difficult task to persuade us of the success of his employment and training policies when he reigns over a real unemployment level of 3.25 million, by his own admission. If one takes into account the changes which have been made—there have been so many in the past decade—

Mr. Tony Lloyd


Mr. Turner

The Government have made 30 changes to manipulate the true level of unemployment. Training and enterprise councils are struggling to respond to training demands identified in most parts of the country. They are suffering as a result of insufficient resources.

A further practical difficulty arises for the Secretary of State. A recent survey of his popularity, which I took among employers in my constituency shows—if the results are widespread—that his credibility is in need of a gigantic boost, since he ranks at the bottom as the most unpopular member of a most unpopular Cabinet, who look ever more washed out and tired compared with the freshness, the energy and the ideas emanating from my Labour Front-Bench colleagues. There they are, to be seen and to be heard.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

What is the hon. Gentleman reading?

Mr. Turner

I am not reading.

Mr. Barry Field

Talking of dynamism, I understand that 156 of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues are sponsored by trade unions, unlike him. One wonders where the other 150 are tonight, if they are so dynamic and so incensed at the Government's trade union reforms.

Mr. Turner

I imagine that, like Conservative Members, they are busy in Committees or working on behalf of Parliament, as we would expect. However, my hon. Friends to whom the hon. Gentleman referred are all very proud to belong to trade unions.

The Prime Minister appears to have adopted the maxim "make the world go away" or, at least, "let it take the blame". It is worth repeating, because it has been referred to in the debate, that it was the Prime Minister who said, "If it isn't hurting, it isn't working." In Wolverhampton, unemployment is definitely hurting. In parts of Wolverhampton, it stands at more than 20 per cent., with all the misery and hardship that that brings.

I do not wish to be patronising, but unless Conservative hon. Members have experienced unemployment, they cannot begin to understand the feeling of lack of confidence that unemployment brings. They will not be able to appreciate the demands of living in a society without the independence that a wage packet or a salary cheque provides. One needs to experience that to understand what it means. Millions of people are suffering those problems. I hope that the Government will recognise the heartlessness of their policies and the damage that they have done to those human beings who are unemployed.

Much has been said in the debate about the 1970s. To many people in my area, the 1970s were halcyon days. Then, unemployment stood at 2 per cent.; today it stands at more than 20 per cent.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Turner

Yes, in a large part of my constituency, 20 per cent. of the work force are unemployed.

In Wolverhampton and Bilston, the Government have put great store on the training and enterprise councils, TECs, to deliver the youth and adult training programmes. In Wolverhampton, 20,000 young people and adult citizens are waiting to receive training or retraining. Our TEC is knocking on the door of the Government or the central Exchequer to obtain more money to fulfil the training demands of the unemployed. The Minister smiles when I tell him that, in large parts of my constituency, unemployment is 20 per cent. but it is more than that in some areas. That is also true in the neighbouring constituency of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks).

The trade union movement in Britain has actively represented the aspirations of working people for longer than the inaptly termed "modern" Conservative party has governed. Trade unionism still remains a central pillar of a democratic society such as ours. Trade unions have been attacked and undermined by this reactionary, Conservative Government in the 1980s, who would continue such attacks in the 1990s if they had their way. But the Government will not have their way.

I have a few chosen words of which it is worth reminding the unemployed and the employed: Shall you complain who feed the world—who clothe the world, who house the world of what the world might do? Then rise as you have never rose before or dared before or hoped before and show as you have never showed before—the power that lies in you! The power lies in the people the Labour party speaks for. They will be shown how to use that power on 9 April, at the general election.

The Government's direct policy of unemployment, which has been used against working people in the 1980s, will be swept away. We shall replace this Government with a Government who care and who will build up the economy. We will give people the confidence to believe that they will have a real job and a wage packet and the confidence and the belief that they have a Government who want to look after their interests. In a few weeks, the people of this country will sweep away this Government and replace them with a Labour one.

8.14 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner). I found that I agreed with at least one thing he said, when he referred to the obvious contrast between the speeches of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair).

Hon. Members are aware that they are both exceedingly intelligent, eloquent and able Members of the House. The hon. Member for Sedgefield is the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on an enormously important subject—we all recognise its importance. One might have expected that the hon. Gentleman would have rejoiced in the opportunity today to spell out to the House, and through us to the electorate, his policies for the forthcoming election. He could have explained those policies in great detail, and the consequences of their implementation. Instead, exactly the reverse occurred. Since I became a Member of the House, I cannot recall a speech on major policy delivered with less confidence by a spokesman of the two major parties than that from the hon. Gentleman today.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not present, but he left the Chamber when I began to speak. On reflection, he might be pleased that he was not here to listen to my remarks. The hon. Gentleman seemed to run away from every opportunity to refer to the Labour party's policies on industrial relations. He notably failed to begin to address the several challenges which were thrown at him by my right hon. and learned Friend.

The hon. Gentleman evaded my question about which specific employment Acts or trade union Acts passed by this Administration since 1979 he would repeal and which he would retain. He seemed to find that question an extremely embarrassing one, and he failed to answer it. He also failed to answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who wanted to know which strikes the Labour party had either disowned or failed to support in the past 13 years. Answer came there absolutely none. We were met by a blank silence or by a stream of immediate irrelevancies. The hon. Gentleman evidently wanted to speak about anything but anything, rather than the Opposition's policies on industrial relations and trade union law.

As we are all in the politics business, we can feel some sympathy with the hon. Member for Sedgefield in his obvious discomfort and embarrassment this afternoon. He finds himself in an extremely difficult position, for Labour Members know that not only were industrial relations in the days when they were in office a shambles, but they were a byword throughout the globe for industrial anarchy. They recognise that that shambles played no mean part in the deserved defeat to which the Callaghan Government went down in 1979.

Hence, the hon. Member for Sedgefield knows that there can be no political mileage in saying frankly, "We did that in the past. Vote for us this time, electors, and we will reproduce that shambles for you again." No doubt there is also an element of wounded personal pride, but there may be another, more sinister, element. The close links between trade unions and Labour Members have been referred to many times in the debate. Whatever the reason, it is clear that Labour Members find it impossible to put a brave face on it and say, "We recognise that the Conservatives have solved what was becoming an insoluble problem and a major incubus on the economy in the 1960s and 1970s."

Mr. Tony Lloyd

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is a director of Dewe Rogerson Ltd. My hon. Friends and I are up-front about our relationship with trade unions. I am sponsored by the Graphical, Paper and Media Union, the printing trade union, and I am not in any way, shape or form ashamed of that. But I derive no pecuniary advantage or direct personal interest from that relationship.

I believe that, as a director, the hon. Gentleman derives some paid interest. Will he explain how that influences his behaviour in the House? Given the large amount of corruption that we have witnessed in the City recently—the number of firms involved in the most dubious, even criminal, practices—may I ask if his relationship with the private sector has led him to fail to put pressure on the Government to do something about that kind of sleaze?

Mr. Davies

I hope that I did not detect in that intervention a slur against Conservative Members in general. I have continued to practice, albeit on a part-time basis, the profession that I exercised before joining the House. This place has always consisted of people of all trades and professions elected by their peers to represent them, at least for a time. Far from there ever having been any reason why people elected here should not continue —at any rate, in the limited time possible once they were elected here—to practise those professions, they contribute greatly to the wealth of the experience and variety of knowledge on which the House can draw.

I would not dream of using the word "corruption"—the hon. Gentleman used that word—in relation to a trade union retaining Labour Members. When the Labour party began, hon. Members were not paid and it was essential, if there were to be Labour Members here, for trade unions to raise political funds. Until Members were paid, Labour members were often remunerated directly by trade unions. Since then, that money has often gone not into the individual Member's pocket but to the constituency. Even so, the interest of the Member is served by those payments being made, and it is right for Labour Members, on feeling that their relationship with a trade union is relevant to the debate, to have mentioned that.

I have often declared my interest. I do not feel that there is any private business interest of mine that is specifically germane to this debate. I have never been an employee or director of a unionised company. The companies with which I have been associated have, generally speaking, had extremely happy labour relations and have been successful, not least because of that.

I well understand that I may have touched some delicate and sensitive nerves, and I happily give warning to Labour Members that I shall proceed on that course, because certain things need to be said, some of which may not be pleasant for them to hear. Labour Members find themselves in an impossible position. They cannot defend their record on industrial relations when they were in power. They cannot tell the British public that they wish to reintroduce that model of industrial anarchy and have the slightest chance of being elected.

But whether out of wounded pride or because of their attachment to the interest of trade unions—or for some other reason—Labour Members find it impossible to recognise the tremendous achievement of the Conservatives since 1979, even though it is recognised internationally. There is no doubt that we have moved forward from the industrial shambles which was a pre-eminent example of chaos and bad industrial relations, to the remarkably happy strike record that we have had since then, and to the substantial advances in productivity throughout industry that have been at the basis of the prosperity and growth which we enjoyed during the 1980s and which, under Conservative rule, we shall continue to enjoy in the 1990s.

What are Labour Members to do in those circumstances? They pretend that there is some third course, that they have a valid and coherent alternative to the other models. They are also anxious to ensure that nobody looks too closely at the new model, because it is fundamentally flawed and fraudulent. So whenever people ask detailed questions about it, the technique of Labour Members is to deflect them with irrelevancies. Anybody reading the Official Report of the debate must reach that conclusion.

I appreciate that my remarks may not be welcome to Labour Members, but they are thoroughly deserved, and it is no use them trying to bamboozle the House or the British public into believing that they have a formula for industrial peace when they are committed to restoring secondary picketing and secondary strikes. They cannot possibly bamboozle people into believing that they have a commitment to secret ballots, as the modern Labour party pretends it has, if employees and employers will be deprived of any effective redress in the event of the secret ballot being abused or its results being ignored.

An important aspect of Labour's proposals must be underlined in this debate. I refer to the plan to remove the redress of ex parte injunction from suits that arise as a result of some future putative Labour party trade union law. Anyone with knowledge of industrial relations knows that the damage done by a strike occurs rapidly. As each day, even hours, proceeds, millions, even hundreds of millions of pounds may be lost. It is therefore essential that, if people are to have an effective means of redress, they are able to get an ex parte injunction so that a court can order that the dispute be suspended, that the strike be called off and that normality be restored while the court is examining the substantive issue before it.

If one says, as the Labour party is now saying, that it will remove that possibility of seeking an ex parte injunction, it is a nefarious attempt to subvert the effect of accepting secret ballots. Once people are deprived of a redress against the breach of the law, they may as well not have had that law in the first place.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

The hon. Gentleman is arguing that all strikes are unlawful or illegal. Will he define the circumstances under which he sees a strike to be lawful and valid?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman has not been following my argument. I am saying that the Labour party pretends that is is now committed to the principle of a secret ballot, and that that claim is nothing but a pretence. If the Labour party intends to remove the only effective redress for employees or employers—if there were no secret ballots or if that secret ballot procedure were abused —and if a strike was called, it would be essential that an employer, or employee who did not wish to strike and whose rights were thereby being threatened, could go to a court and say that that was unfair and against the law and obtain some effective redress. If he were deprived of the ex parte injunction route, he would be unable to have a redress because, by the time the court had considered the substantive issue, days, weeks or even months may have gone by and the damage would have been done.

I shall repeat my argument because some Opposition Members may benefit from the repetition. To deprive a citizen of redress if the law is breached is tantamount to depriving him of that law in the first place.

The situation is even worse. The Labour party will never succeed in bamboozling the House or the country if it pretends that trade unions are to be brought under the law, like every other citizen, but then set up a separate special court to judge trade union disputes, or disputes involving trade unions. If trade unions are to be brought within the ambit of the law, why set up a separate court? Why not subject trade unions to the same courts of the land as the rest of us? There is mischief in that proposal.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman obviously has a deep fixation with the trade union movement. The employer would also have access to the same courts. Furthermore, it may surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that a range of existing legal processes do not rely on the ordinary court mechanism. For instance, industrial tribunals, mechanisms for conciliation and even small claims courts are all low-cost processes outside the ambit of the normal legal process.

When the hon. Gentleman was making his interesting point about the incompetence of the legal system and the fact that it takes so long for ordinary people to obtain justice, he should have referred his question to the Lord Chancellor rather than using it to criticise the trade union movement, which is one of the victims of that incompetence.

Mr. Davies

Here we go again—I ask a question and the hon. Gentleman intervenes not to answer my question but to ask me a series of questions on an unrelated topic. He has not answered my fundamental question: if trade unions under a putative future Labour Government would be subject to the law like other citizens, why would they not be subject to the same courts? Why set up a separate court? Why should one court deal with matters involving trade unions, and other courts deal with everyone else?

Mr. Ian Bruce

I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not get an answer from the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), because he could have read from his document that sets out Labour's options for Britain. The Labour party does not want to use the same courts because those special courts will not be allowed to sequestrate the assets of a trade union if that interferes with the trade union's normal operation, like paying members' benefits. As we know, the funds are being used fully for that purpose. Nothing in the document says that that special court will not be able to put total punitive damages on an employer and perhaps even put him out of business.

Mr. Davies

My hon. Friend has anticipated the next point in my speech. While I am always sorry to lose a few good sentences in a speech, I am more than grateful to my hon. Friend, because he put that point with greater eloquence than I could have done.

Not only is there a separate court but, as any intelligent man or woman would guess after a few minutes' reflection, there is a mischievous and nefarious purpose behind that facade. The intention is precisely as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce). It is that the special court would not have the same powers as ordinary courts of the land to enforce contracts—contracts that would be enforced on the hon. Member for Stretford or me should we have a dispute under the law of the land.

Mr. Illsley

We are having difficulty in following the hon. Gentleman. If he thinks back to the 1970s, he will remember that a Conservative Government brought in the Industrial Relations Act 1971 which provided for industrial courts. Those were special courts at which large fines were imposed on trade unions during that period. Did that Conservative Government during the 1970s have the same nefarious purpose?

Mr. Davies

The obfuscation is becoming more sophisticated. We are now being led back into history. We are being led back to before the threshold of my political memory. We shall soon be discussing Ramsay Macdonald, George Lansbury, Keir Hardie or the Tolpuddle martyrs. We shall soon be back in ancient Rome, and we shall be here all night as a result. I am sure, Madame Deputy Speaker, that you would not wish me to return to those historical matters. Suffice it to say that that way of dealing with my question and avoiding the essence of my argument was particularly ingenious, and I happily pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for that.

Mr. Illsley

Conservative Members have been referring throughout this debate to an era of industrial relations from 1976 to 1979–13 years ago. There is not much difference between the Industrial Relations Act 1971 and that era of 1976. Therefore, I am not going far back into history.

Mr. Davies

I have already referred to the antediluvian period before 1979 as having represented a model for an anarchy in industrial relations. That model was noted around the globe, because everybody and anybody interested in designing a modern system of industrial relations wanted to avoid the mistakes that Great Britain had made during that period.

Mr. Illsley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman two or three times, and I must continue with my remarks, discomfiting and unwelcome though they may sometimes be to Opposition Members.

Another question on which Opposition Members have no chance of bamboozling Conservative Members or the electorate is how anyone could claim to have the faintest understanding of industrial management and yet propose a policy that would make it illegal to sack a striking worker. That would lead to manifest absurdity. Anyone who felt that he would be dismissed, even for the best reasons, would presumably immediately go on strike. [Interruption.] Opposition Members do not seem to like that assertion, but I refer the hon. Gentleman to page 34 of the Labour party's document, "Looking to the Future", with a Labour rose on the cover, which expounds that ill-conceived policy.

Most importantly, there is no way that anyone can sustain a claim to be commited to economic sanity if, at a time of unemployment, he or she takes the crazy course of devising and introducing new policies, the only certain effect of which—as night follows day—is to increase unemployment still further. Recessions always bring high unemployment, and I assure Opposition Members that I feel just as much for my constituents who face the horror of losing their jobs and the enormous anxiety about how long they will have to wait before they find new ones, as do Opposition Members for their constituents. A further increase in unemployment would be the certain effect of a national minimum wage.

Opposition Members are shaking their heads, but if they took a correspondence course in elementary economics, they would discover that, if one increases the price of anything, one reduces demand for it. If we increase the price of labour, we shall reduce demand for it. The introduction of a national minimum wage will abolish a range of jobs. In this country, people are particularly conscious of wage differentials. That may be good or bad— we could argue about it—but it is one of the institutional and cultural facts of this country. The knock-on effect—wage inflation—of a national minimum wage would be particularly disastrous.

If Opposition Members do not want to take the time or trouble of doing a correspondence course in basic economics, I can suggest something that may be more congenial to them. They should take a short trip to France—a civilised country which I am sure all hon. Members enjoy visiting. It has had a socialist Government since 1981, who operate a national minimum wage, called the SMIC. It has resulted in France having one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe. Hon. Members have already commented that we entered the recession earlier than the French, but the French have had a higher unemployment rate all the way through. If Opposition Members took a few trips to France, they could ponder the subject.

Not content with wanting a national minimum wage, Opposition Members continually urge Ministers to subscribe to the social chapter which came out of Maastricht. Once again, such action would reduce employment in this country. It would reduce the employment of people working overtime or longer hours, and reduce the number of part-time employees, who play such an enormously important role in the economy and for whom part-time employment is often the ideal way of working and meeting family commitments.

What, Madam Deputy Speaker, would you make of a party which, at a time of high unemployment, could do nothing better than devise policies designed further to increase unemployment? I know what I make of such a party, and I know what the British electorate will make of such a party in a few weeks' time.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to my hon. Friends who I know wish to tear to pieces the arguments that we have just heard. I waited for a natural break in the speeches.

You, Madam Deputy Speaker, have special responsibility for aspects of parliamentary democracy in the House and a special responsibility to ensure that the procedures operate correctly. There are other aspects of parliamentary democracy, such as the franchise, which I have pursued many times. I have collected from the board an answer from the Department of Health. I asked for the size of the 1992 electoral register which came into operation on Sunday. An answer to one of my previous questions stated that electoral registration officers were asked to submit information by Sunday to the Department of Health so that the figures could be collected. The answer stated: The size of the 1992 electoral register is not yet known.

I shall not receive a holding answer until the figures given have been calculated. However, as a Member of Parliament, I have been informed that the information is not available. This is a matter of great urgency because soon, perhaps within a matter of days, a general election might be announced, and we must know, at least the total number of the electorate in England and Wales, if not the figures constituency by constituency. I seek your advice on the ways in which the Government can be made to give information to the House, as hon. Members and, indeed, the nation require those facts.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

That is hardly a point of order for the Chair now, but I have noted the matter, as, no doubt, have those on the Treasury Bench.

8.45 pm
Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

It would be inappropriate to begin my speech without reference to the rather confused ramblings of the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) who gave, inter alia, a selective view of history when he referred to the 1970s. He made much reference to the Labour Government of that period, but he refused to mention the industrial relations legislation introduced by the Conservative Government between 1970 and 1974 which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) said, made provision for the special courts that the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding seems to find so distasteful now.

The hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding suggested that his view of history would go back as far as the Tolpuddle martyrs. He has perhaps stirred the feelings of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce), who is waiting to speak, and who might tell us what his constituents feel about the grand traditions of those men who, 150 years ago, went to prison—some even to Australia—for their attempts to form trade unions.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Those people were not quite in my constituency, but they do represent a great tradition, followed by the Conservative party. It is interesting that the industrial relations of the previous Conservative Government of whom we have talked were almost as had as those of previous Labour Governments, which is why the present Government have been so staunchly correcting matters step by step. It is also why Conservative Members are so amazed that Opposition Members should want to interfere in the current industrial peace in this country.

Mr. Watson

It is a matter not of interfering but of re-establishing a balance within industrial relations—which we are supposed to be debating.

I was referring to the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding and his selective view of history. He used a technique that his hon. Friends consistently employ—he referred to the 1974 to 1979 period, but never to earlier industrial relations, which also have relevance to the debate.

One aspect of the hon. Gentleman's speech that I did not understand was that he seemed to think that the Labour party's proposals on industrial relations—that someone cannot be sacked for going on strike—would be used as a device by employees who felt that their jobs were threatened and who would simply walk out of the door. Britain is the only country in western Europe whose people do not have, and never have had, a legal right to strike. The only right that has existed is a collective one. An individual cannot be dismissed for taking strike action; all employees have to be dismissed. As we have seen at Wapping and other places, if an employer chooses to dismiss all employees, he can get away with it. He could not get away with that in other countries of western Europe.

I will not accept lectures on unemployment from the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding when he says that a national minimum wage would help to create unemployment, a hoary old chestnut that we now regularly hear from Conservative Members. What about other countries in western Europe and the Economic Community that have national minimum wages and are prepared to defend them? He gave the example of France, but there are many reasons for the difficulties experienced with the French economy during the past 11 years or so —[HON. MEMBERS: "The socialist Government."] There are many benefits of a socialist Government. Many other countries, including Germany, have a national minimum wage.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding would like to comment on the German economy, which has basic minima built into its payment structures. Why is it that only the Conservative Government have felt it necessary to object to the proposals of the social charter in terms of the protections offered? The Conservative Government are swimming against the tide, and the hon. Gentleman's remarks show that he is doing so as well.

I resent comments on unemployment when we should have given greater thought in this debate to unemployment. After all, the debate was opened by the Secretary of State for Employment and recent figures have shown the current state of unemployment. In my constituency, unemployment is running at 19 per cent. In the bad areas of inner-city Glasgow it is 26.8 per cent. In the Bridgeton-Dalmarnock area, which contains many young people, it is over 25 per cent. One of the Secretary of State's other responsibilities is training. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) talked about cuts for TECs in England and Wales. Their equivalent, the local enterprise companies in Scotland, have also suffered cuts—£110 million and more has been cut from training budgets at a time when young people in particular desperately need more training. That aspect of industrial relations and employment has not been given adequate consideration today.

Unemployment in my constituency is even higher than the figures that I mentioned among those under 24— especially among 16 and 17-year-olds, whom the Government claim are guaranteed places on youth training schemes. That guarantee is a sham and a farce. It is well known that many young people who do not choose to stay on at school and who cannot find regular employment are unable to get the YTS place that the Government claim is available for everyone.

Perhaps that is not surprising when we consider that the real amount spent by the Government on youth training since 1988 has fallen by more than 50 per cent. That is scandalous. It also goes some way towards explaining the unemployment figures.

I want to refer to one statistic pubished in "Strathclyde Economic Trends", a regular report published by Strathclyde regional council. It describes unemployment levels in Strathclyde region, which covers a large proportion of Scotland. The report states: Thirty-five per cent. of Strathclyde's unemployed had been unemployed for over a year—19 per cent. had been unemployed for more than two years. In October 1991, 8.4 per cent. of the unemployed in Strathclyde had been unemployed for more than five years. Strathclyde held 9.6 per cent. of the British total of those unemployed for over five years compared to its overall unemployment share of 5.2 per cent". That is the scale of the problem, and the Minister chose largely to ignore it in his speech.

As unemployment continues inexorably to rise towards 3 million—it has now risen for 23 consecutive months— what does the Secretary of State propose to do? Does he come to the House and talk about job creation or training opportunities or helping those faced with the appalling prospect of being unable to find work? No, he ignores all those aspects; he ignores the fact that each unemployed man or woman costs the Treasury a sum calculated at about £8,000 per man or woman a year in benefits and lost tax revenue. That is a criminal waste of talent and public money.

Instead of dealing with these issues, the right hon. and learned Gentleman chooses to introduce two new attempts at shackling the trade unions. Of course, the public recognise that they are no more than a smokescreen intended to divert their attention, and that of the media, from the real problems associated with the Minister's major responsibilities. The public see through that; at the same time, like Opposition Members, they despair at the Secretary of State's sense of priorities.

In the past four months the Government have introduced their latest plans on top of five major Acts aimed principally at restricting the freedoms of trade unions and their members. The imaginatively entitled documents "Industrial Relations in the 1990s" and "People, Jobs and Opportunity" follow the step-by-step approach begun by Lord Prior when he was Secretary of State for Employment with the Employment Act 1980 and followed by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) with the Employment Act 1982 and the Trade Union Act 1984. They in turn were followed by the Employment Act of 1988, introduced by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), and, most recently, by the present Secretary of State's Employment Act 1990. Five Acts from four Secretaries of State; neither the Acts nor the men who promoted them have had any interest in developing the sort of industrial relations practices which have helped to build successful economies from Stockholm to Bonn.

The last 13 years have told their own story. It is surely impossible to formulate a meaningful response to economic slumps—by building a commitment to full employment, to skills training and to equal opportunities and by promoting better standards of health and safety —without reflecting the role that the independent unions play in promoting those values. The Government's Acts represent a systematic attempt to erase all forms of trade union organisation and to erode the commitment of their members to all forms of solidarity and collective action. The very word "collectivity" has been, in the Government's view, a bad one.

The Minister has claimed time and again that the trade union movement is living in the past. I suggest that he and the Government examine their own record, particularly with reference to the employment legislation put on the statute book in the past decade and more. Workers in dispute being sacked, as legitimised by the 1982 Act, is a return to lock-out bosses, blacklists and the degradation of casual labour which flourished during the depression. Union finances are regulated by ballot under the 1984 Act, but employers can donate their resources at will. That is not redressing the balance between employers and trade unions: it is shifting the balance irretrievably in favour of employers on a scale not seen since the 1930s.

Ballots of members—this is the most amazing feature of all—in pursuit of industrial action can be casually set aside by individuals choosing to opt out of the decisions of the majority. That can be done under the terms of the 1988 Act. The unions face penalties for seeking to uphold the right of their majorities—the people who have voted in favour of industrial action. That is surely a retrograde step; it neither builds good industrial relations nor respects basic democratic decisions.

If these are not attempts to roll back the carpet of industrial history, I do not know what are. It is the Government who are living in the past by turning the clock back to the years when employers could act at will.

All this is the measure of the chasm that exists between Britain and our major competitors. While we move down the path of ever more repressive legislation, the rest of Europe embraces mature work relationships between employers and employees. The social chapter is yet another example of the Government's paranoia about workers' rights. The hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding spoke of the social charter—what are the Government afraid of? Why do they feel that they must swim against the tide when all other 11 members of the European Community believe that they can adopt the social charter with confidence? Those countries do not seem to think that it will wreck their economies, so why should it wreck ours? The social charter includes many items that will benefit the workers of this country, but it will take a Labour Government coming to power before we can illustrate that.

Why have the Government denigrated the role of the unions in society at every turn? Unions continue to exercise many vital functions and they continue to attract about 8 million members—a considerable number. Although that number has fallen considerably in the past 10 years, it stands up well by comparison with trade union membership in many other European countries. Unions continue to offer advice to members on a wide range of issues. As a full-time official of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs—now Manufacturing Science and Finance— I was privileged to become involved in collective bargaining on terms and conditions, trading claims, disciplinary hearings and in representation at industrial tribunals.

Above all, trade unions have a moderating influence on employers who want to adopt the manner and the management techniques of the Victorian mill owner. Trade unions play a vital role in industrial relations, which the Government claim the debate is about. They also play a part in influencing events in this Parliament and in the European Parliament. I can quote two good examples of that from my trade union. In the 1960s, employees in the engineering and shipbuilding industries who joined a superannuation fund, which was known as the foreman and staff mutual benefit society, and subsequently joined a trade union, had to resign from the society. They were denied the right to superannuation.

In those days, employers paid 10 shillings a week and employees paid five shillings, but those contributions were lost to employees who chose to join a trade union. A private Member's Bill outlawed that practice and significantly changed the way in which generations of workers consider superannuation and pensions—which, when all is said and done, are simply deferred earnings.

There is another example which occurred as recently as last week, when the Offshore Safety (Prevention Against Victimisation) Bill was introduced as a private Member's Bill in the other place. It was promoted by Baroness Turner of Camden, a former assistant general secretary of the ASTMS. She did so because of the many people in the oil industry who belong to her trade union. No doubt the Under-Secretary will confirm that not only was the Bill well received by Viscount Ullswater and the Government but Government amendments have strengthened it. That is a clear example of the importance of trade union influence on democracy through Parliament.

The Minister should recognise the long and honourable traditions of trade unions and their historic links with the Labour party. We are not afraid of those links, because the trade unions founded the Labour party and the links, which remain to this day, albeit in a changed form, are relevant to modern times. Good industrial relations—if that is what the Government intend to promote—require strong trade unions. If the Minister denies that, he is admitting his lack of concern about promoting or even maintaining good industrial relations. Of course, such relations apply to both sides of industry. That is why employers' organisations such as the Engineering Employers Federation, the CBI and chambers of commerce oppose the two latest batches of tawdry proposals about which I have spoken. They are unwanted, unnecessary and vindictive.

Happily, the Minister and his colleagues will not have the opportunity to place the legislation on the statute book. The people of this country will see to that on 9 April.

9.1 pm

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak after the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson). The hon. Gentleman spoke moderately and well, but he is still looking back, seeking achievements that belong to the past. I do not say that in a partisan way and I hope that my speech will be academic rather than party political.

I am no great industrial or political historian. Harold Wilson, now Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, and his Employment Secretary, Barbara Castle, now Baroness Castle of Blackburn, tried to wrestle with the problems of industrial relations. The whole of industry and even trade unions appreciated the dangers of the terrible breakdowns in relationships. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) also recognised the problem and it could be forcefully argued that his Government fell because they did not get to grips with industrial relationships.

Harold Wilson and James Callaghan would have loved to have few strikes, because keeping down the number of strikes is not just good for employers; the people who suffer most from strikes are employees. One only has to look at the year-long miners' strike and the suffering that that caused to appreciate that fact. Whatever our political party, it is in everyone's interest to have good industrial relations.

The Labour publication "Opportunity Britain" looks back and seeks to find what can be gained from the labour laws that have been passed by a "terrible" Conservative Government. In many ways, the Government's greatest achievement is industrial peace. Labour still advocates 100 per cent. trade union membership. If Labour did not want to sign the social charter it would not be so mealy-mouthed and could say that it supports the closed shop.

The Opposition look back to the taking of sympathy action, which is the most damaging and ridiculous response of all. It means, that employees go to damage an employer who is not in dispute with those who take that action. The taking of action spreads. Instead of local managers and employees getting together to solve their problems, the problems spread and there may be an attempt to involve the Government. Picketing and secondary picketing are backward-looking. We have the industrial court and the wish to stop the sequestration of assets. It may seem harsh that trade unions should suffer sequestration, but the possibility that they might do so has meant that they have sought ways of negotiating through problems instead of putting their assets at risk.

The effect of the Government's legislative changes have been excellent for everyone involved. It is good that the Labour party, despite its protestations, is now advocating free and fair balloting. Obviously I welcome that. However, when people feel that they wish to join a trade union, we must ensure that they are able to do so. I feel strongly that an individual should have the right to return to work even if he is the minority of one and 1,000 others have voted to go on strike. His contract is between him and his employer, and if he does not wish to break it no one should force him to do so.

Mr. Watson

Surely that is a negation of democracy. If a person takes part in a ballot and comes out on the losing side, it should be understood that the essence of democracy is that one abides by the decision of the majority. Someone should not be able to say, "Because it has gone the other way, I shall not recognise the decision. I shall opt out and go my own way." That makes nonsense of democracy.

Mr. Bruce

Surely it is right that the individual should be allowed to continue with his contract if he wishes to do so. If someone found himself in that position, it might be right to resign from his trade union at that stage, or even before the ballot. He must be able to decide, however, whether he will break his contract with his employer. It is extremely important that contract law is understood by all parties.

The Labour party is wrong-headed in thinking that the social chapter will provide it with something that it does not have already. In fact, it would take away from a Labour Government, a Liberal Government or a continuing Conservative Government the ability to decide what is right for United Kingdom industrial relations. We see throughout the European Community the different ways in which people organise themselves. That applies to trade unions, industrial relations generally and codified employment legislation. That shows that it is much better for individual countries to go their own way.

I am not saying that social chapter decisions should not cover the United Kingdom. They must, however, be United Kingdom decisions. In other words, we must take the decisions for ourselves.

Perhaps the most important consideration is the wrong-headedness of continuing to say that there should be a partnership between management, unions and individual employees. I quote from Labour's "Opportunity Britain", but I hear that said by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber.

I believe that the correct partnership is between employers and employees. If they need others to become involved in that relationship, they should be able to bring them in. It is wrong to say that trade unions must be a part of any partnership that involves a working relationship between an employer and his employees. I am not suggesting that trade unions should not be available.

There are those who say, "Fewer people are joining trade unions and we should panic." I disagree. I think that we should rejoice—not because people are being stopped from joining a trade union but because industrial relations are so good that individuals are saying, "I no longer need somebody to negotiate with my employer on my behalf because I believe that I am getting the best deal."

As a management consultant, I was often asked by companies, "How do we stop a trade union from coming into the firm?" I would reply, "It is simple: you must provide for your employees the benefits that they would expect from a trade union." That means talking constantly to employees, negotiating with them and ensuring the existence of a two-way flow of information. I am convinced that the past problems of many British companies were wholly caused by the arrangement whereby the management sat in an office while the employees were down on the shop floor, and, to talk to the employees, the management had to go through the union. That arrangement was nonsense.

According to my definition of management, everyone in a company—from the chairman to the floor sweeper—must be involved in some aspect of managing that company. When a problem needs to be sorted out between an employer and his immediate superior, it is absurd that the employee should have to consult his shop steward first. Shop stewards—and trade unions—do an excellent job when there is a problem, or a breakdown in industrial relations; but we should welcome the present good state of industrial relations. We should set up the mechanisms to deal with failure, but we should be pleased that employees do not constantly feel the need to seek union representatives to look after their interests, and that employers must constantly ensure that employees are properly consulted—that they must talk to them, listen to them and try to secure the best possible deal for individual employees.

9.11 pm
Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)

I disagreed with most of what the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) said, but I agreed with one of his comments. He said that it would be a good thing for hon. Members to declare some of their interests before making their speeches. It seems to me that it is often the Opposition Members who declare their interests; I for one would appreciate it if Conservative Members declared theirs, and told the House who they work for.

Let me place on record my industrial background. I used to be a planning engineer: I worked with turbines, gas engines and machine tools, and in other parts of the engineering industry, and I am proud of that. I mention my background because the Secretary of State intimated earlier—sneering and wagging his finger—that no Opposition Member had ever got his fingers dirty. In my experience, it is often Opposition Members who understand the workers, because they have had to earn a living and therefore appreciate some of the problems.

In my view, today's debate is a complete sham. It is just a little window-dressing job before a general election. I think that Conservative Members are reading the situation wrongly; I do not believe that they will get any mileage out of the debate. The Government have entitled it "Industrial Relations". What does "Industrial Relations" mean? The present Government do not believe in relationships, and, as a consequence, there are no industrial relations. I, with my industrial background, see industrial relations as a two-way process—the process of getting a relationship going. Because the Government have never experienced that process, they are going down and down in the esteem of the people.

Let me remind Ministers that there are 8 million trade union members in this country, and possibly 8 million families attached to them. Those people are highly representative. The Conservatives seem to hate workers and trade unionists, but, as I have said, I believe that they are reading the situation wrongly—especially in view of the approaching general election.

Mr. Ian Bruce


Mr. Eastham

I should like to give way, but I will not.

Mr. Bruce

He cannot take it.

Mr. Eastham

All right; I will give way.

Mr. Bruce

I take exception to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. I worked on the shop floor for five years as I was working my way through college. I was a student apprentice in engineering. I was a work study officer for five years, and I had charge of negotiating with trade unions. No trade union ever called a strike after those negotiations. They felt that I was a professional manager. Then I managed a factory for five years. I take exception to the hon. Gentleman's suggestions about Conservative Members, who were generally selected by their constituents because of their success in business or whatever they had done in their lives.

Mr. Eastham

I am sorry that I gave way. The hon. Gentleman was boasting about being one of the true workers. He is probably one of only about 10 of the 350-odd Conservative Members. I do not think that he did any good in trying to advocate his great sympathy and support for workers.

In debates on industry, reference is often made to other countries such as Germany. The Government often refer to the better relations between management and workers in Germany. It is interesting to note that the trade union structure which Germany has enjoyed for the past 40-odd years was introduced by the post-war British Labour Government. Therefore, it could not have been so bad.

Tory Members always want to go back to the last century, like Luddites. They think that those were the good old days when the way to manage men was to "hire 'em and fire 'em". We are the only country that seems to want to go along those lines.

Let us get back to basics. Why were trade unions formed? The answer is simple. It was not that trade unions were suddenly an act of God. Trade unions were forced on workers because of greedy, brutal employers who did not care about the workers. During the last century the workers were compelled to form themselves into trade unions because of the brutality and complete indifference of some bosses.

During the past 12 to 13 years, the Tories have been busy trying to turn the clock back by reducing the rights of workers. There are no rights to holidays for part-time workers.[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) is tittering; he thinks that it is all a big joke. Let his name go on record so that his constituents may see how he is sneering about the rights of part-time workers.

As to minimum pay, time after time we have listened to Tory Members saying that employers could not afford to pay a minimum wage. If it was left to some employers, they would not be satisfied if they had to pay 50p an hour, never mind £3.40. Some of the most progressive, successful countries pay a minimum wage. The people of Germany, who have produced the great miracle, believe in a minimum wage, and they put their belief into practice.

Some nights ago, I was involved in a meeting in this building with members of the Equal Opportunities Commission. It could hardly be said that those people are political, yet they told us forthrightly that they believed very strongly in a minimum wage and in Labour's proposals to that end. I had said to them that, whether or not they were supposed to be non-political, they might for once say that this proposal was good. Member after Member and Minister after Minister has said how damaging and destructive a minimum wage would be to the country. Nobody else believes that. I do not mind if Members go to the polls saying that they are opposed to the idea of a minimum wage. Whatever they say, the vast majority of people do believe in the idea.

It is dawning on people that, when poor employers pay starvation wages, the employees have to claim a subsidy from the taxpayer. What kind of madness is it that ordinary families should be expected, by way of their taxes, to subsidise the starvation wages that some employers pay? Perhaps the Minister in his reply will again take up the question of the minimum wage. I hope so, as every mention of it brings joy to my heart. On this matter, we shall receive massive support at the polls.

The Government constantly refer to their desire to sue workers. They never talk about suing bad employers. There has been reference to the damaging effects and unfairness of secondary picketing. What about companies, like Hanson and lots of others, that go in for asset-stripping? Employees who are doing a very successful job may suddenly find that their place of work is to close down. It is not a question of performance or of productivity.

Is that not a matter that Conservative Members ought to be talking about? Let them stop being one-sided by talking about how damaging workers' action is to other companies. Scores of companies in this country have been damaged by takeovers and asset-stripping. Hanson is only one of the many cases. The big competition between Hanson and ICI was rather interesting. This was one occasion on which the consequences of Hanson's actions were pointed out by management.

In some quarters, it is implied that workers do not co-operate with management. That is an absolute myth. Reference has been made to Japanese successes. What is the reason for the record of the Japanese? Obviously, it is a question of management. The production rate of one company rose by 70 per cent. with a static work force. The only changes were in management. That being the case, surely whatever was wrong was to be found in the management structure.

Let me give another example of co-operation, this time in my area. I met the managing director of Ferranti, Moston. The company is going through a very difficult patch but says openly that it has had every co-operation from the workers, who have done their level best to make it a success. Why is this firm in great difficulties? The reason is that big business cheated and robbed the company of hundreds of millions of pounds, and, as a result, Ferranti is tottering and jobs are being lost. However, we never seem to talk about it. Let us be realistic. Why cannot the Government be even-handed? Why cannot they see for once that management should be reorganised?

Unfortunately, time has run out for me; it is a good job for the Government, because I was all ready for another hour.

9.25 pm
Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

I intend to be brief, and I shall need to be. I had not intended to speak, but having listened to some of the contributions from Conservative hon. Members and having seen their lack of understanding of the problems and the reality faced by people outside, I felt that I had to make a contribution on behalf of my constituents.

Not only do some Conservative Members not understand the problems: they do not even care. That is perhaps best exemplified by the Prime Minister's comment which was referred to during Prime Minister's Question Time today—to the effect that "if it isn't hurting, it isn't working." What my constituents want to know is why it is hurting but still not working. In my constituency, 76 per cent. of manufacturing jobs were lost between 1979 and 1989, and a further 3,600 have gone since.

I remember, when I started work in the mid-1970s, making a bus journey through what, as it turns out, is now my constituency. The journey took me from Johnstone, where there was a lot of engineering employment, through Elderslie, where there were carpet factories and adjacent to the Talbot car factory in Linley, through to the thread mills of Paisley. None of those companies is still there; it is ironic that, by the end of this year, not a single stitch of thread will be made in Paisley if Coats Viyella is allowed to carry out its closure threat.

The position is best exemplified by a story told to me during the by-election in Paisley, South in November 1990. It was told to me by a newsagent in Johnstone called George Barr. He said that, on the morning that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) became Prime Minister, he was in his shop when he heard a thud. He ran outside and found that a young boy who had been going to work had been knocked down trying to cross the road to catch the works bus. He could not cross the road because it was full of buses and cars taking people to work. The day that he told me that story in 1990—ironically, the day that the right hon. Lady fell from power—two boys were playing football across the same road. That is what the decade has done to the area.

In the minute or so left, I want to deal with the European social charter. Last week, I watched a business programme in which a business commentator clearly expressed the concerns of many managers in British industry. They are worried that, because this is the only country which has opted out of the charter, if there are to be closures in multinational companies that employ people throughout Europe, the easiest places to close will be those in the United Kingdom.

In the past few years, we have seen dereliction, decay and despondency all over the country caused by the Government's economic policies. Fortunately for the people of my consituency and for the people of Scotland and Great Britain, those days are coming to an end; it will not be many weeks before we return to policies of common sense and common decency for the common good.

9.29 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I establish again for the record that I am a sponsored Member of Parliament. That will save the Minister saying it. I also read into the record the fact that among Conservative Members present, there is a grand total of seven directorships, three consultancies and one chairmanship of a pension trust. I assume that that post is remunerated, but I am not sure.

The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) mentioned Maxwell. I begin on a theme that is important to Conservative Members. Their allegation throughout the debate is that there is something basically wrong with the trade union movement. That is why the Secretary of State, on this day of all days, introduces a debate on industrial relations.

We know that the Secretary of State is hostile to trade unions, but we also know that his hostility is wholly synthetic and cynical. When he was first appointed to the Cabinet in January 1990, the BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme reported: Mr. Howard said that when the Employment Bill now before Parliament, became law, the desired balance of industrial law would have been achieved. 'When these reforms are in place we shall have the right framework with which to move into the 90s'. He also said that he planned to make improved training his main priority.

We know what the reality has been since that time. The Secretary of State has been bloodied in Cabinet every time when it comes to money for training. I am glad that the Secretary of State arrives post haste to hear that pronouncement. For his benefit, I repeat that, although when he first came to office, he declared that the industrial relations-bashing exercise was at an end and that training was the priority, he has lost every battle in Cabinet for money for training.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's training programme is already a disaster. There are £110 million of cuts for next year. I assume that that represents one more of his demands to the Cabinet for money having been ripped up and tossed aside to be cast on the fires of a broken yesterday. The Secretary of State is now fighting for his survival.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech today interestingly made no reference to his own White Paper or to his own Green Paper. He had nothing to say about the dramatic events which Conservative Members have tried to persuade the House are the next step in the step-by-step reform of industrial relations.

Not only the Opposition, but the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Personnel Management and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce condemn the Green Papers as irrelevant and hardly worth the exercise involved.

We know that today, unemployment is once again at relatively record heights. Under the stewardship of the Prime Minister, 800,000-plus people have been thrown on to the dole queues. We know that those 800,000 people represent not only human tragedy, but a tremendous cost to the British economy. Those people represent billions of pounds of waste in resources to the economy. When we compare the days lost by those whom the Secretary of State for Employment—as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) called him, the Secretary of State for unemployment—has thrown onto the dole with the days lost through industrial stoppages, we realise that it is little wonder that the Secretary of State wants to talk about industrial relations. He could not come to the House to debate either the human tragedy or the economic cost of the unemployment that he and his Government have created.

The Secretary of State briefly mentioned health and safety after an intervention in his speech by my hon. Friend for Neath (Mr. Hain). I noticed that he was not prepared to give way to continue that debate so that we might have been able to discuss the 30 million days lost in British industry through accidents and industrial illness. We know that most of that is preventable and that, under this Government and after two years of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's stewardship, there has been no effort to prevent it. We know that Mr. Rimington, the chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive, has placed it on record in this year's annual report that he is only now recovering from the understaffing of previous years while the Secretary of State was a member of the Government. That is the reality.

Mr. Howard

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the European Commission's mapping project demonstrated conclusively that health and safety at work in this country was second to none and better than most?

Mr. Lloyd

Let me place it on the record that the Opposition cannot share that sanguine and indifferent view of the plight of real people, when the tide of deaths and serious injuries in industry is rising and the failure to resource adequately and prioritise health and safety puts ordinary people at risk.

In Committee today, we debated the tragedy of those who died in the Piper Alpha tragedy. We could also have debated the tragedies of the hundreds and thousands of families whose lives are blighted when one of their loved ones dies or is injured in the workplace. Today there was a memorial service at Westminster cathedral. Unfortunately, because I was engaged in the Offshore Safety Bill Standing Committee, I could not attend it. It simply bore witness to the tragic waste of the 100 people who died in the construction industry last year. That was a tragedy which could have been prevented if we had had a Government who were prepared to prioritise health and safety. That is industrial relations.

It is also industrial relations when we recognise that in Britain today we are seeing the rise of the part-time worker, the home worker and the low-paid, and that 11 million people now live in families where poverty is a major condition of their life. Those are the people whose plight lies firmly at the doorstep of the Government. They are the people whom the Government have refused to help.

We hear all sorts of pious nonsense about step-by-step reform of industrial relations. That does not detract from the fact that many of our fellow citizens have been plunged into poverty by the direct actions of the Government and the incompetence of the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the present Chancellor and, of course, the Secretary of State for Employment.

The Government have not introduced programmes to do anything about unemployment. We were told today that the employment action programme managed to absorb only 10,000 of the 300,000 people thrown out of work over its period of existence. When my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) made that point, the Secretary of State intervened from a sedentary position to say that my hon. Friend should be careful because he might hear something about it.

I listened carefully to all the speeches that were made subsequently. I will listen carefully to the Minister who replies. I hope that we shall hear some dramatic news that the Secretary of State has a plan of action for the 300,000 made unemployed in that period or for the 230,000 who were unemployed before the extra 300,000 people lost their jobs. The public want to know about them.

Conservative Members have waxed eloquent about their tremendous concern about unemployment, even though they supported the Government on mass unemployment.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

They do not care.

Mr. Lloyd

As my hon. Friend says, they do not care. Of course, we know that. But we also know that an election is approaching and that, for purely political purposes, it is necessary for them to place on record how much they care. They thought, as the Secretary of State did, that they saw a winner in Labour's promises of a national minimum wage.

Conservative Members express anxiety about a national minimum wage creating unemployment. It was refreshing to hear the Under-Secretary of State—I must say, in the Secretary of State's absence—own up to something that the Secretary of State has never said. He disowned the Secretary of State's eccentric claims about the number of jobs that would be destroyed. In his new mood and perhaps moving to the left of the Tory party, positioning himself for the Kenneth Clarke takeover in opposition, the Under-Secretary of State is ready to rat on his Secretary of State, and is already scaling down the unemployment consequences of the minimum wage.

Let me tell Conservative Members why the Labour party has absolutely no intention of recoiling from the minimum wage. When rates of pay exist which are so disfiguring to those who have work on them, the only possibility is to introduce a national minimum wage to guarantee that people have some dignity in work.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd

I am sorry, I do not have enough time. The hon. Gentleman made his speech and there is not enough time for me to give way.

People are asked to work as security guards—a responsible position in society, someone responsible for the guarding of public and private property—for 93 hours a week at a princely pay rate of £2 an hour with no overtime. Conservative Members must know that those wages are an outrage in a society such as ours. That outrage comes to the door of the Conservative Members who are prepared to defend such payments.

People are asked to work as clerks for 39 hours a week for as little as £1.52 an hour. I defy any Conservative Member to bring up a family on a 39-hour week at £1.52 an hour. The Secretary of State then offers the taxpayers' money—our money, public money—to prop up the lousy employer. Will the Secretary of State tell me why, when it comes to public spending on the health service, it is the public's money, but when it comes to propping up the lousy employer, the employer who will not pay a decent rate, as far as he is concerned that is fair and reasonable?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman was not aware of the European Commission's mapping project a few moments ago. Apparently he is also unaware of the report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which states clearly that the way to help people in low-paid work is through the benefits system and not by destroying their jobs. Is the hon. Gentleman entirely unaware of that elementary proposition?

Mr. Lloyd

I am delighted that the Secretary of State is a late convert to international action. The Secretary of State, who has been condemned by the International Labour Organisation for being in breach of his treaty obligations, who turned his back on the process of the social charter because he thought that there were political points to be scored from knocking those vague foreigners, is now praying in aid the OECD. I am interested to hear that.

I would be far more convinced if the Secretary of State were to tell the House that he would take cognisance of the European Community's opinion on an equitable wage. The Secretary of State will not accept that that forms a basis. We know that once again Britain is out of step with the rest of Europe, which wants some concept of an equitable wage—a decent wage for all. We want a decent wage for all our people.

Mr. Ian Bruce

How much?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman may read our policy document where that is made explicit.

Mr. Bruce

How much?

Mr. Lloyd

If the hon. Gentleman cares to read that document he will know what it is. His political paranoia, borne of fear of defeat, will bear fruit. He and the Government will lose and we shall introduce a national minimum wage.

We know that the work force in Britain have the worst working conditions of any in the European Community. We know that we have the worst child care in Europe, and that Britain is the only country with no protection for its workers' hours of work, annual pay, annual holidays or for the working week. Part-time workers are uniquely discriminated against in Britain—an achievement which is unparalleled elsewhere. The Government have decided to persecute the part-time worker.

That is why we shall sign up for the social chapter. That will be one of the first actions of a Labour Government. We shall ensure that we implement—in a way which is in keeping with the needs of the British economy—directives such as those on working hours, and atypical workers. We shall make them suitable for the sort of economy that we have in this country.

We shall not use the stand-offish nonsensical approach that has made us the laughing stock of the rest of Europe. If Britain has to adhere to the social chapter—as it will under any Government—under the Government's terms, we shall have to accept someone else's bargain at the expense of the British worker, as we have in the past.

The Secretary of State's employment policies have disfigured our society more generally. My constituency has suffered mass unemployment throughout the Government's time in office. I say that with no pride because it disfigures my constituents and my constituency. I have had problems with crime, with the sale of drugs and there have even been killings in my constituency as a result of mass unemployment. I lay those directly at the door of the Government.

I wish to bring the attention of hon. Members to the headline on the front page of today's Evening Standard, "Crime: Blame the Economy—Yard." The article states that Scotland Yard is putting the blame for the crime wave clearly at the door of the Government. It says: Social deprivation can be linked to most areas of crime —and the Government must address the electorate in terms of a solution. Opposition Members have been saying that for many years. It is time that the Government began to understand it. The tragedy is that, as with every other source of opposition—local government or trade unions—the Government will seek to abolish the Metropolitan police because it dared to raise a voice in anger.

This has been a good debate in at least one aspect. We have seen that nothing divides the parties more sharply than an issue such as this. My hon. Friends have tried to paint a constructive picture of the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield gave a clear vision of Britain with an industrial structure that would provide a future of conciliation and balance for all our people. The Secretary of State and his hon. Friends want to return to the agenda of the 1970s. I do not know whether this is a parliamentary expression, but the Secretary of State's constant reversion to the policies of the 1970s is a form of political necrophilia, which is almost unknown in other circumstances.

The debate has been important because the public will draw its own conclusions about what divides the parties and, when it comes to the general election, I know how the public will judge the Government.

9.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)

I think we have smoked them out now, because the debate has been characterised by a six-hour attempt by those on the Opposition Front Bench to distance themselves from the trade unions. That will not wash. The answer is perfectly simple and the clue behind it all, in common with many other answers, lies in the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). I recommend that all hon. Members should read it, because I regret that they were not present to hear it.

My hon. Friend referred to the fact that the Labour party, in spite of its attempt to give the opposite impression today, is the creature, and in the pockets, of the trade unions. My hon. Friend gave one quotation to back that argument and I shall give two others. The first comes from the Leader of the Opposition who, only last year, said: In every region, in every industry, in every constituency this union"— the union that sponsors the right hon. Gentleman— represents the Labour party. This union is the Labour Party in so many ways. Mr. Bill Morris, the boss of the union which sponsors not only the Leader of the Opposition but the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), said: This union will never part company with the Labour Party, because we are the Labour Party. Despite the best efforts of Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, that is the true position. That is what underlines the debate and what has emerged from it.

Those quotes explain why the unions still have a block vote in the selection of Labour parliamentary candidates; 150 Labour Members—more than half the parliamentary party—are sponsored by trade unions. Some of them had the decency to admit that fact in the debate, but not those on the Opposition Front Bench. I remind the House, if I need to do so, that the unions still control the vast majority of the votes at the Labour party conference. Indeed, they cast 5 million votes at the conference, equivalent to nearly 90 per cent. of the total eligible votes. That sets the tone for the debate.

I need not mention the fact that the unions also contribute the bulk of the Labour party's funds. In 1990, they gave almost £4–2 million to it—two thirds of the party's total income. That also gives the lie to the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour party.

I have given the background to this debate, a background which has had two important results. First, Opposition Members tried to skid over the fact that the Labour party has systematically opposed every trade union reform that the Government have introduced, despite the fact that it is now acknowledged by everyone in the real world, the business world and the international community—if not by the Labour party—that the steady reform of industrial relations has been one of the greatest steps forward and has formed the basis of the revival of our competitive position. It has also attracted inward investment to this country. That is beyond dispute. Despite all that, the Opposition have hardly supported those reforms.

In 1990, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on employment and he was asked about the attitude of a future Labour Government to our legislation. He said: It's going to repeal all of it, there's no little bits you can keep of it. There's nothing you can keep of this legislation … It all has to go. That was said by the hon. Gentleman in a moment of honesty. He now probably deeply regrets saying it.

The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) described the measure which for the first time gave union members the right to a strike ballot and to elect their leaders by vote, as "an irrelevant effrontery" and went on to describe the statutory requirement for ballots as "intellectually disreputable"—that said by a Member who is now regarded as one of the leading lights, if not a future leader, of the Labour party.

What has happened between the time those words were spoken and now that has made the Labour Members so reticent on the subject? What explains the fact that, having been so adamantly opposed to our careful, stage-by-stage reforms, they are now utterly silent on the subject? We cannot get from Labour Members, including the occupants of the Labour Front Bench, their true attitude on these issues. Will they repeal any of our measures? They will not say. They are suddenly coy and silent. Do they stand by them? They will not say, not even during this debate, in which we have given them an opportunity to set out their views. We are as much in the dark now about what the Labour party would do as we were at 4 o'clock this afternoon.

That is bad enough, but let us look further—this develops directly from the incestuous relationship between the trade unions and the Labour party—for having seen that Labour Members have nothing to say about the excellent reforms that we put in place, we must remind ourselves of their record. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield said, "Labour never condemns strikes," although the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) said, rather plaintively, "No one likes strikes." Why, then, did Labour Members not condemn any of the major strikes that occurred in the 1980s? They did not condemn the miners' strike, the seamen's strike or the dockers' strike. Worse still, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), a Labour Front-Bench spokesman, said during the railway dispute in 1989 that the National Union of Railwaymen was in a position to win the dispute and deserved to win it. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East backed the miners from the start of their dispute, saying, "I give my fullest support to the struggle."

Mr. Marlow

I suggest to my hon. Friend that the occupants of the Labour Front Bench did not criticise any of those strikes because the Labour party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the people who organised and prosecuted the strikes, the people who sought to benefit from them.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend must be right. How could strikes that were so damaging to the public go uncondemned by Labour Members if it were not for the fact that the Labour party is totally in hock to the very unions that created those strikes? That can be the only explanation.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)


Mr. Forth

I will not give way further. We deliberately restricted the time available for the final speeches so that more hon. Members could speak.

There is a remarkable coincidence between the policy wish list of the trade unions and what then turns up as Labour party policy. The National Union of Mineworkers wanted the condemnation of nuclear policy and a restriction on coal imports. That turned up next as Labour party policy. The Confederation of Health Service Employees, the union which dominates the NHS, called on a Labour Government to abolish compulsory competitive tendering. That pops up as official Labour party policy. But the real giveaway—Labour Members have been prepared to admit to it—occurred when the conference of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers reaffirmed its support for a statutory minimum wage. The next thing we know is that a statutory minimum wage crops up as a main plank of the policy of the Labour party.

It is worth spending a moment considering the statutory minimum wage because now, at long last—after much prevarication and shilly-shallying—Labour Members have decided that they are stuck with it as a policy and must make the best of it. They are now suggesting—how they are managing to do it mystifies me —that, by waving a wand and saying that by statute everybody will get paid a certain minimum amount, suddenly everybody who now gets less than a certain sum will get more, with no further results.

Anyone who has worked in business or had anything to do with business knows that, if employers are forced to pay a minimum amount or more than they now pay, there can be only one result: many people will have to sacrifice their jobs so that those left in work can enjoy that wage. If Labour Members persist in denying that, they are trying to force an enormous con trick on the public. The public and the electorate will not be fooled. If that is the main policy that the Labour party has in that context, they will get a nasty surprise.

In the Labour party's typical way, it is patronising the electorate and the work force by imagining that people will believe that, simply by wishing on the business community a higher level of pay than exists now, jobs will not be sacrificed. The Labour party stands condemned for not caring about the employment of the very people whom they claim to represent. That is the scandal of what Opposition Members have sought to say during this debate.

Labour Members talk about the social action programme, the social charter and the social chapter and ask us why the Prime Minister so stoutly resisted attempts to lure us into a European Community plot to foist on our economy costs borne by many of our partners in the European Community. When Mr. Delors heard what had happened in Maastricht, he accurately predicted that it would make the United Kingdom a magnet and a paradise for inward investment. We know, and even Jacques Delors knows, what Opposition Members do not yet know—if additional costs are foisted on employers of the Community, the only result can be that we shall become less competitive. We do not want that to happen to our industry, which is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister resisted the siren voices—[Interruption.]

Mr. Ronnie Campbell

Will the Minister give way on that point?

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the Minister does not wish to give way, the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.

Mr. Forth

That is why the Prime Minister resisted the attempts of the European Community to force this country to burden itself with the same overheads on employment as many of our European partners suffer.

Our attitude is clear. If European Governments wish to go down that route, that is for them to decide. We do not want to stop that happening, but if they want to insist that we burden ourselves with the same overheads, we believe that it is our right to resist that because we care about our competitive position. We want to ensure that this country remains competitive in the future and that it will not be burdened in the same way as other European countries. That is the answer to the challenge raised by so many Opposition Members during this debate about how we were able to resist the blandishments of our European partners in going down the route of the social charter and the social chapter.

This has been an important debate because it has given the House an opportunity to judge the different approaches of the Government and the Opposition. The Government have systematically and carefully reformed industrial relations, to the extent that our strike record is the best for a century, inward investment is at an all-time high and this country attracts more than half the total inward investment in the European Community. Workers in the midlands, the north, south Wales and other areas have benefited from inward investment, and they have the Government to thank for that. Opposition Members would jeopardise that investment and those jobs.

The debate has been characterised by the Government being careful about employment prospects now and in the future. It has also been characterised by Opposition Members taking a cavalier and negative approach to employment, both now and in the future. The Labour party will have to answer to the electorate about its policies, which would destroy jobs. The Government want to protect those jobs, and I ask the House to support the motion.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 218, Noes 317.

Division No. 85] [10 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Alton, David Benton, Joseph
Anderson, Donald Bermingham, Gerald
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bidwell, Sydney
Armstrong, Hilary Blair, Tony
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Blunkett, David
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Boateng, Paul
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Boyes, Roland
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Bradley, Keith
Barron, Kevin Bray, Dr Jeremy
Battle, John Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Beckett, Margaret Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Bell, Stuart Caborn, Richard
Bellotti, David Callaghan, Jim
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Ingram, Adam
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Canavan, Dennis Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Kennedy, Charles
Clelland, David Kilfoyle, Peter
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cohen, Harry Kirkwood, Archy
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Lambie, David
Corbett, Robin Lamond, James
Corbyn, Jeremy Leadbitter, Ted
Cousins, Jim Leighton, Ron
Cox, Tom Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Crowther, Stan Lewis, Terry
Cryer, Bob Litherland, Robert
Cummings, John Livingstone, Ken
Cunliffe, Lawrence Livsey, Richard
Cunningham, Dr John Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dalyell, Tam Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Darling, Alistair Loyden, Eddie
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) McAllion, John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) McAvoy, Thomas
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) McCartney, Ian
Dewar, Donald Macdonald, Calum A.
Dixon, Don McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Doran, Frank McLeish, Henry
Duffy, Sir A. E. P. McMaster, Gordon
Dunnachie, Jimmy McNamara, Kevin
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Madden, Max
Eadie, Alexander Marion, Mrs Alice
Eastham, Ken Marek, Dr John
Edwards, Huw Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Martlew, Eric
Fatchett, Derek Maxton, John
Faulds, Andrew Meacher, Michael
Fearn, Ronald Meale, Alan
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Michael, Alun
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fisher, Mark Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Flannery, Martin Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Flynn, Paul Moonie, Dr Lewis
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Morgan, Rhodri
Foster, Derek Morley, Elliot
Foulkes, George Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fraser, John Mowlam, Marjorie
Fyfe, Maria Mullin, Chris
Galbraith, Sam Murphy, Paul
Galloway, George Nellist, Dave
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) O'Brien, William
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John O'Hara, Edward
Godman, Dr Norman A. O'Neill, Martin
Golding, Mrs Llin Patchett, Terry
Gordon, Mildred Pendry, Tom
Gould, Bryan Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Graham, Thomas Primarolo, Dawn
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Quin, Ms Joyce
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Radice, Giles
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Randall, Stuart
Grocott, Bruce Redmond, Martin
Hain, Peter Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Harman, Ms Harriet Reid, Dr John
Haynes, Frank Robertson, George
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Robinson, Geoffrey
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Rogers, Allan
Henderson, Doug Rooker, Jeff
Hinchliffe, David Rooney, Terence
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Rowlands, Ted
Hood, Jimmy Ruddock, Joan
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Salmond, Alex
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Sedgemore, Brian
Howells, Geraint Sheerman, Barry
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hoyle, Doug Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Short, Clare
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E) Wareing, Robert N.
Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam) Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Snape, Peter Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Soley, Clive Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Spearing, Nigel Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Steinberg, Gerry Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Stephen, Nicol Wilson, Brian
Stott, Roger Winnick, David
Strang, Gavin Wise, Mrs Audrey
Straw, Jack Worthington, Tony
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Wray, Jimmy
Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis Young, David (Bolton SE)
Turner, Dennis
Wallace, James Tellers for the Ayes:
Walley, Joan Mr. Jack Thompson and
Wardell, Gareth (Gower) Mr. Eric Illsley.
Adley, Robert Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Aitken, Jonathan Cormack, Patrick
Alexander, Richard Couchman, James
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Cran, James
Allason, Rupert Currie, Mrs Edwina
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Amess, David Davis, David (Boothferry)
Amos, Alan Day, Stephen
Arbuthnot, James Devlin, Tim
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Dickens, Geoffrey
Arnold, Sir Thomas Dicks, Terry
Aspinwall, Jack Dorrell, Stephen
Atkinson, David Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Dover, Den
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Dunn, Bob
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Durant, Sir Anthony
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Dykes, Hugh
Batiste, Spencer Eggar, Tim
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Emery, Sir Peter
Bellingham, Henry Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Bendall, Vivian Evennett, David
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Fallon, Michael
Bevan, David Gilroy Farr, Sir John
Biffen, Rt Hon John Favell, Tony
Blackburn, Dr John G. Fenner, Dame Peggy
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Body, Sir Richard Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fishburn, John Dudley
Boscawen, Hon Robert Forman, Nigel
Bottomley, Peter Forth, Eric
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n) Fox, Sir Marcus
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Franks, Cecil
Bowis, John Freeman, Roger
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes French, Douglas
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fry, Peter
Brazier, Julian Gardiner, Sir George
Bright, Graham Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Gill, Christopher
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Buck, Sir Antony Goodhart, Sir Philip
Budgen, Nicholas Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Burns, Simon Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Butler, Chris Gorst, John
Butterfill, John Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Greenway, Harry (Baling N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gregory, Conal
Carrington, Matthew Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Carttiss, Michael Grist, Ian
Cash, William Ground, Patrick
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hague, William
Chapman, Sydney Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie
Chope, Christopher Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth) Hampson, Dr Keith
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hanley, Jeremy
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Hannam, Sir John
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Colvin, Michael Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Conway, Derek Harris, David
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Haselhurst, Alan
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hawkins, Christopher
Hayes, Jerry Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Moss, Malcolm
Hayward, Robert Mudd, David
Heathcoat-Amory, David Neale, Sir Gerrard
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Needham, Richard
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Nelson, Anthony
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Neubert, Sir Michael
Hill, James Nicholls, Patrick
Hind, Kenneth Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hordern, Sir Peter Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Norris, Steve
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Oppenheim, Phillip
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Page, Richard
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Paice, James
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Patnick, Irvine
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Patten, Rt Hon John
Hunter, Andrew Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Pawsey, James
Irvine, Michael Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Irving, Sir Charles Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jack, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Janman, Tim Portillo, Michael
Jessel, Toby Powell, William (Corby)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Price, Sir David
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Rathbone, Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Redwood, John
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Key, Robert Rhodes James, Sir Robert
Kilfedder, James Riddick, Graham
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Kirkhope, Timothy Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Knapman, Roger Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Roe, Mrs Marion
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Knox, David Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Rost, Peter
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Rowe, Andrew
Lawrence, Ivan Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela
Lee, John (Pendle) Sackville, Hon Tom
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Sayeed, Jonathan
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shaw, David (Dover)
Lightbown, David Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shelton, Sir William
Lord, Michael Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
McCrindle, Sir Robert Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Shersby, Michael
McLoughlin, Patrick Sims, Roger
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Skeet, Sir Trevor
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Madel, David Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Malins, Humfrey Soames, Hon Nicholas
Mans, Keith Speed, Keith
Maples, John Speller, Tony
Marland, Paul Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Marlow, Tony Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Squire, Robin
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stanbrook, Ivor
Maude, Hon Francis Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Steen, Anthony
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stern, Michael
Mellor, Rt Hon David Stevens, Lewis
Meyer, Sir Anthony Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mills, Iain Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Miscampbell, Norman Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stokes, Sir John
Mitchell, Sir David Summerson, Hugo
Moate, Roger Tapsell, Sir Peter
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Monro, Sir Hector Taylor, Sir Teddy
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Moore, Rt Hon John Temple-Morris, Peter
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Morrison, Sir Charles Thompson, Sir D. (Calder Vly)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Thorne, Neil Warren, Kenneth
Thornton, Malcolm Watts, John
Thurnham, Peter Wells, Bowen
Townend, John (Bridlington) Whitney, Ray
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Widdecombe, Ann
Tredinnick, David Wiggin, Jerry
Trippier, David Wilkinson, John
Trotter, Neville Winterton, Nicholas
Twinn, Dr Ian Wolfson, Mark
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Wood, Timothy
Viggers, Peter Yeo, Tim
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William Younger, Rt Hon George
Walden, George
Walker, Bill (T'side North) Tellers for the Noes:
Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester) Mr. John M. Taylor and
Waller, Gary Mr. Tim Boswell.
Walters, Sir Dennis

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 314, Noes 215.

Division No. 86] [10.15 pm
Adley, Robert Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Aitken, Jonathan Chapman, Sydney
Alexander, Richard Chope, Christopher
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)
Allason, Rupert Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Clark, Rt Hon Sir William
Amess, David Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Amos, Alan Colvin, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Conway, Derek
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Arnold, Sir Thomas Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Aspinwall, Jack Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Atkinson, David Cormack, Patrick
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Couchman, James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Cran, James
Baldry, Tony Currie, Mrs Edwina
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Batiste, Spencer Day, Stephen
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Devlin, Tim
Bellingham, Henry Dickens, Geoffrey
Bendall, Vivian Dorrell, Stephen
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bevan, David Gilroy Dover, Den
Biffen, Rt Hon John Dunn, Bob
Blackburn, Dr John G. Durant, Sir Anthony
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Dykes, Hugh
Body, Sir Richard Eggar, Tim
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Emery, Sir Peter
Boscawen, Hon Robert Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Bottomley, Peter Evennett, David
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Fallon, Michael
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n) Farr, Sir John
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Favell, Tony
Bowis, John Fenner, Dame Peggy
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Brazier, Julian Fishburn, John Dudley
Bright, Graham Forman, Nigel
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Forth, Eric
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Buck, Sir Antony Fox, Sir Marcus
Budgen, Nicholas Franks, Cecil
Burns, Simon Freeman, Roger
Burt, Alistair French, Douglas
Butler, Chris Fry, Peter
Butterfill, John Gardiner, Sir George
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gill, Christopher
Carrington, Matthew Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Carttiss, Michael Goodhart, Sir Philip
Cash, William Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gorst, John Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Maude, Hon Francis
Gregory, Conal Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Grist, Ian Mellor, Rt Hon David
Ground, Patrick Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mills, Iain
Hague, William Miscampbell, Norman
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mitchell, Sir David
Hampson, Dr Keith Moate, Roger
Hanley, Jeremy Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hannam, Sir John Monro, Sir Hector
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Moore, Rt Hon John
Harris, David Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Haselhurst, Alan Morrison, Sir Charles
Hawkins, Christopher Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Hayes, Jerry Moss, Malcolm
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Neale, Sir Gerrard
Hayward, Robert Needham, Richard
Heathcoat-Amory, David Nelson, Anthony
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Neubert, Sir Michael
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Nicholls, Patrick
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hill, James Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hind, Kenneth Norris, Steve
Hordern, Sir Peter Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Oppenheim, Phillip
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Page, Richard
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Paice, James
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Patnick, Irvine
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Patten, Rt Hon John
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Pawsey, James
Hunter, Andrew Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Porter, David (Waveney)
Irvine, Michael Portillo, Michael
Jack, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Janman, Tim Price, Sir David
Jessel, Toby Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rathbone, Tim
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Redwood, John
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rhodes James, Sir Robert
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Riddick, Graham
Key, Robert Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Kilfedder, James Ridsdale, Sir Julian
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Kirkhope, Timothy Roe, Mrs Marion
Knapman, Roger Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Rost, Peter
Knox, David Rowe, Andrew
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela
Lawrence, Ivan Sackville, Hon Tom
Lee, John (Pendle) Sayeed, Jonathan
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shaw, David (Dover)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lightbown, David Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Shelton, Sir William
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lord, Michael Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard Shersby, Michael
McCrindle, Sir Robert Sims, Roger
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Skeet, Sir Trevor
McLoughlin, Patrick Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Soames, Hon Nicholas
Madel, David Speed, Keith
Malins, Humfrey Speller, Tony
Mans, Keith Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Maples, John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marland, Paul Squire, Robin
Marlow, Tony Stanbrook, Ivor
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Steen, Anthony Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Stern, Michael Walden, George
Stevens, Lewis Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Waller, Gary
Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian Walters, Sir Dennis
Stokes, Sir John Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Summerson, Hugo Warren, Kenneth
Tapsell, Sir Peter Watts, John
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wells, Bowen
Taylor, Sir Teddy Whitney, Ray
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Widdecombe, Ann
Temple-Morris, Peter Wiggin, Jerry
Thompson, Sir D. (Calder Vly) Wilkinson, John
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Winterton, Nicholas
Thorne, Neil Wolfson, Mark
Thornton, Malcolm Wood, Timothy
Thurnham, Peter Yeo, Tim
Townend, John (Bridlington) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Younger, Rt Hon George
Trippier, David
Trotter, Neville Tellers for the Ayes:
Twinn, Dr Ian Mr. John M. Taylor and
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Mr. Tim Boswell.
Viggers, Peter
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Dewar, Donald
Alton, David Dixon, Don
Anderson, Donald Doran, Frank
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Duffy, Sir A. E. P.
Armstrong, Hilary Dunnachie, Jimmy
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Eadie, Alexander
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Eastham, Ken
Barron, Kevin Edwards, Huw
Battle, John Evans, John (St Helens N)
Beckett, Margaret Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Bell, Stuart Fatchett, Derek
Bellotti, David Faulds, Andrew
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Fearn, Ronald
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Benton, Joseph Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Bermingham, Gerald Fisher, Mark
Bidwell, Sydney Flannery, Martin
Blair, Tony Flynn, Paul
Blunkett, David Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Boateng, Paul Foster, Derek
Boyes, Roland Foulkes, George
Bradley, Keith Fraser, John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fyfe, Maria
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Galbraith, Sam
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Galloway, George
Caborn, Richard Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Callaghan, Jim Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Golding, Mrs Llin
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Gordon, Mildred
Canavan, Dennis Gould, Bryan
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Graham, Thomas
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Clelland, David Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cohen, Harry Grocott, Bruce
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hain, Peter
Corbett, Robin Hardy, Peter
Corbyn, Jeremy Harman, Ms Harriet
Cousins, Jim Haynes, Frank
Cox, Tom Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Crowther, Stan Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Cryer, Bob Henderson, Doug
Cummings, John Hinchliffe, David
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Cunningham, Dr John Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Dalyell, Tam Hood, Jimmy
Darling, Alistair Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Howells, Geraint
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hoyle, Doug Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Morgan, Rhodri
Ingram, Adam Morley, Elliot
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Mowlam, Marjorie
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Mullin, Chris
Kennedy, Charles Murphy, Paul
Kilfoyle, Peter Nellist, Dave
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Kirkwood, Archy O'Brien, William
Kumar, Dr. Ashok O'Hara, Edward
Lambie, David O'Neill, Martin
Lamond, James Patchett, Terry
Leadbitter, Ted Pendry, Tom
Leighton, Ron Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Primarolo, Dawn
Lewis, Terry Quin, Ms Joyce
Litherland, Robert Radice, Giles
Livingstone, Ken Randall, Stuart
Livsey, Richard Redmond, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Reid, Dr John
Loyden, Eddie Robertson, George
McAllion, John Robinson, Geoffrey
McAvoy, Thomas Rogers, Allan
McCartney, Ian Rooker, Jeff
Macdonald, Calum A. Rooney, Terence
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McLeish, Henry Rowlands, Ted
McMaster, Gordon Ruddock, Joan
McNamara, Kevin Salmond, Alex
Madden, Max Sedgemore, Brian
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sheerman, Barry
Marek, Dr John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Short, Clare
Martlew, Eric Skinner, Dennis
Maxton, John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Meacher, Michael Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Meale, Alan Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Michael, Alun Snape, Peter
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Soley, Clive
Spearing, Nigel Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Steinberg, Gerry Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Stephen, Nicol Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Stott, Roger Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Strang, Gavin Wilson, Brian
Straw, Jack Winnick, David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis Worthington, Tony
Turner, Dennis Young, David (Bolton SE)
Wallace, James
Walley, Joan Tellers for the Noes:
Wardell, Gareth (Gower) Mr. Jack Thompson and
Wareing, Robert N. Mr. Eric Illsley.
Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its success in reforming industrial relations; recognises the importance of these reforms to the improvement in the underlying strength of the British economy; notes that the number of working days lost last year is provisionally estimated to have been the lowest total since records began in 1891; welcomes the Government's proposals to prevent abuse of union `check-off procedures and to give members of the public the right to seek protection of the law against unlawful industrial action in the public services; notes that the main Opposition party has refused to indicate whether it supports or opposes these proposals, despite frequent invitations to do so; recalls that it has opposed every stage of the Government's highly successful industrial reforms and remains committed to reversing them; notes that it would put trade unions in a uniquely privileged legal position, giving them rights they did not have even in the mid-1970s; notes that it would allow the return of secondary action and flying pickets; notes that its other policies, particularly the minimum wage, would encourage industrial unrest; believes that its proposals would wreck the competitiveness of British industry by making it impossible for many British firms to deliver goods and provide services to their customers at the time when they are required; and further believes that its policies would destroy employment opportunities, threaten public services, and cause inward investors to take their investment and jobs elsewhere.