§ 2.47 p.m.
§ LORD BLYTON rose to move, That this House, calling attention to the situation in the coal mining industry, expresses its disapproval of the Government's policy towards incomes which made inevitable industrial action by the miners. The noble Lord said: My Lords. I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The last three weeks have been grim for the mining community and also for the people of this country. As the House knows, I have been a member of the Miners' Union for 59 years. I was in the big strikes of 1921 497 and 1926 and I worked as an underground miner for 32 years. The strike of 1921 and the lock-out of 1926 were a fight to protect our living standards against the attacks made on us by the mine owners. The strike of 1921 was of 13 weeks duration and the 1926 lock-out was of 27 weeks. In both these disputes we had not only the private owners to fight but also the Tory Governments of those days who used all the forces of the State to crush us into submission. This left behind a long legacy of hate and bitterness, not only against private enterprise in the mines but against the Conservative Party as well. In the years that followed. miners wages were as low as 6s. 6½d. a day; unemployment was very high and many of us were still in debt from the 1926 lock-out. As a matter of fact, when I was an M.P. in 1947 I got a letter from the South Shields Borough Treasurer informing me that I still owed £ 10s. for the guardians' relief for my wife and children that I received in the 1926 lock-out. During all those years I had been paying 6d. a week off my payment.
§ When the mines were nationalised by the Attlee Government through the Bill piloted through the other place by my noble friend Lord Shinwell (then Emanuel Shinwell) the miners looked forward to a better future. We decided to work with the Coal Board to make it a viable industry, to reorganise it mechanically and, at the same time, to produce all the coal possible to meet the needs of the post-war years. There were then over 700,000 men in the mines, and the miners' economic power after the war was tremendous. Let me say at this juncture that Mr. Arthur Horner, the then secretary of the Miners' Union, told the miners that it would not be right to use that economic power to get all they could, regardless of others in the industrial field. Rather he urged us to build up good relations and get the pits mechanised. It was under his leadership that the conciliation agreement was reached and operated— although a few years ago the miners decided not to accept the arbitration issue in it.
§ So, my Lords, for 46 years we never had a national strike. We have faced terrible changes in our industry, such as closures, the transfer of men from pit to pit and making miners redundant at 55 498 years of age to keep younger men in work. In all this process we have had to carry the men with us in the face of great criticism. In 1962 we were producing 340 tons per man year. In 1970 production was increased to 456 tons per man year in the pits. So to-day the miners can say, "We have worked with the Board and done all they wanted. We have faced up to the plans of Governments with their fuel policies which have had such a disastrous effect on us, and at the end of the day our wages are slipping behind those of other industrial workers who have not been so conciliatory as we have been."
§ The possibility of closures, depicted by the Chairman of the National Coal Board as a result of the strike, does not strike fear into the hearts of the men. When men have faced closures like the miners have over some 700 or more pits from 1947, and when some 410,000 men have gone for ever from the industry, making its manpower 290,000, they become cynical. The miners say that if the industry cannot afford to pay a decent wage like other industries pay, the best thing to do is to close all the pits. Why is it that patient, hardworking men of the calibre of the miners, to whom many right honourable gentlemen in another place and many newspapers have paid generous tribute for their long years of co-operation, reasonableness and loyalty to their work, are now feeling not only a sense of outrage but also that all are against them; and that their years of co-operation have resulted in the realisation that the only way they can be recognised in the wages field is to strike?
§ Why have we a strike on our hands after half a century of conciliation and negotiation? Why is it that to-day our more affluent society has brought the miners to a position where there is a strike in every pit in the land? The speech by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in another place two weeks ago reminded me very forcibly of the speech made by Evan Williams in 1926 when he was the Secretary of the Coal Owners' Association. It was a case of the velvet glove with a horseshoe inside with which to hit us.
§ Before the last Election the Government made great play with the high rate of unemployment and the high cost of living not being met or compensated for 499 by wages. Their offer to-day, via the N.C.B., does not even compensate the men for the 10 per cent. increase in the cost of living in the last 12 months. The intended increases of rent in the near future under their fair deal for rents has not even been considered in this deal. The Board's offer is 2.3 per cent. less than the rise in the cost of living last year. On top of this, the Coal Board's Housing Association has already issued notices to the miners living in Association houses that the rents are to go up by £1 a week very soon. In advance of their legislation, the Government are pressurising local councils to put up rents by 50p per week in the next three months. In my own home town the public has been told that if rents do not go up by 50p soon, the rise will be £1 in October of this year. Many miners, my Lords, live in council houses.
§ It cannot be said that the Government were taken unawares by this strike. The claim was made last September and the strike started 16 weeks later. There was a considerable period in between when something effective could have been done. But that did not happen and so the Union was forced to this inevitable strike. My Lords, this is a strike that no one wanted. The Union saw that this was the only way out in the struggle for a decent wage for the vast numbers of men working in this industry. At the time of nationalisation, the miners were top in the wages league. Now they are 16th. There has been a large reduction in the relative earning position of miners in the last few years. It has been so great that pay increases of over £5 per week would be needed just to restore the position of four years ago; and all this was known to the Government.
§ The attitude of the Government has been to try to be silent, but the N.C.B. made one of the biggest blunders that I have ever witnessed in industrial relations. On the night of the strike the Coal Board told the miners that the meagre offer it had made would not remain open if the strike took place. If ever there was anything calculated to stiffen the backs of the men it was that. It was telling the men that if they did fight they would not get what the Board regarded as a minimum fair deal. It 500 was a call for unconditional surrender. That, my Lords, is the reward for 25 years of co-operation, and the miners have suffered for it.
§ The Labour Government attempted to introduce an incomes policy. I was not enamoured of it because there was no control of prices. The Conservatives attacked every attempt at an incomes policy on every occasion in another place, and voted many times against it. Now they are operating an incomes policy without bringing in legislation or controlling prices in any other way than by saying to the nationalised sector that there shall be a 5 per cent. increase in price and no more; and a 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. increase in wages, and no more. In such a situation this dispute arises. Pressure is being exerted on the public sector, where the Government are the employers, backed by the Treasury. At the same time they cannot pressurise the private sector, except by the creation of a million unemployed. In effect, my Lords, it is saying to those in the nationalised industries, "You must give up making claims for a decent wage as we want to protect prices and the community."
§ If the Government cannot control wages in the private sector, is it just to expect a response from those in the nationalised sector like the miners, the electricity and steel workers and public servants'? The Government cannot expect that people will just sit quiet under a policy that expects people in the State industries to make one-sided sacrifices when they are not protected. This is what is happening. The Government may try to deny it, but there is no doubt in our minds that the Coal Board were told that 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. was the extent to which they could go in a wages settlement. We saw this last year during the postmen's strike. To-day, it is the miners. Most likely the railway-men, electricity workers, steel workers and others will be the next, but there is no doubt that the Government ensured that the N.C.B. had not the freedom to negotiate a realistic wage settlement.
There is evidence that this happened. On December 21, 1971, the Miners' Executive met the Coal Board, and the Union deliberately asked the Chairman, "What about the Government's
involvement?"I now quote from the minutes of that meeting:
The Board said they had carefully considered the N.U.M. claim on the basis of the Board's operations and looked at every possible means of improving the situation. It was for this reason that they devised their latest package offer. In so doing they had, of course, to take account of what was happening externally.
Mr. Eric Jacobs, writing in the Sunday Times on January 16, 1972—this is not a newspaper which supports Labour—said:
The National Coal Board's proposals were dictated far more by a sense of what was appropriate within the current bargaining situation, the limits of which had been set by the Government, than by what was appropriate to the future of the Industry itself.
It is no good the Government keeping up the pretence that they offered no guidance to the Board. We all know that the Government are deeply involved and have been for quite a while now. The Government bear a great responsibility for this dispute and it is their responsibility to help to bring about a settlement. I know that in this debate the questions will be raised: where will the money come from, and what about the increase in the price of coal? I shall deal with these two issues in my speech. What is needed, first, is a capital reconstruction of the mining industry. The last capital reconstruction was in 1965, but since then some 200 pits have closed. It was said in another place that we have reached the extraordinary position in which the N.C.B. can win an operating surplus of £100 million a year without the industry's accounts showing a profit. If this matter were looked at again—and it will have to be—it would give the Board greater financial flexibility and room foræ. The Coal Board was saddled with the cost of taking over the mines. I thought at the time that we paid far too much and gave compensation to coal owners for assets which were worth very little.
§ Many of the pits concerned in that compensation operate no longer, yet we are burdened with payment for assets which have gone. Every time the miners seek to increase their pay they are faced with these burdens in the accounts as the reason for their not being given a decent wage. The debt is already too high in the light of the assets and it is a declining industry. Our assets—that is, the pits 502 which have closed—have gone, and now we are paying for and servicing debts on machinery which is no longer in use at pits which have been closed. The Government ought to be aware that the charge per ton in interest on the debt is higher to-day than it was in 1965 when the Chancellor knocked off £415 million. Therefore the burden on the miners and the industry is the weight of debt which is greater to-day, as the industry has contracted, than ever before. There is no doubt that there ought to be a write-off of a substantial part of the debt interest, which would help to meet the miners' case for an increase in wages. If the Government made a serious attempt to reduce this debt, some millions would be available to make a response to the miners without increasing the price of coal.
§ What has happened since the last write-off of capital in 1965? Annual coal consumption has fallen by some 40 million tons, and it continues to fall. As a result, fixed capital charges have to be borne on a diminished sales volume. This fall is partly due to the rapid development of natural gas, which was not foreseen in 1965 at the time of the last capital reconstruction. Since that time borrowings by the N.C.B. have been at high interest rates—averaging 7 per cent.—and consequently interest payments have risen rapidly as a prior charge on the accounts. In consequence, the 1970–71 interest payments per ton were already higher than before the last capital reconstruction, and the depreciation provision in the N.C.B. accounts is also rapidly increasing per ton. After the last capital reconstruction the net assets of the N.C.B. considerably exceeded the liability in terms of loans from the Secretary of State. By 1970, these reserves were eliminated as the fixed assets diminished by closures and indebtedness increased.
§ In 1970–71 loans from the Secretary of State exceeded the net assets. Probably some noble Lords will say that we are asking for a subsidy. Yet in recent years very large sums have been extended to private industry, some to market rivals of the N.C.B., such as the oil industry. Despite the massive problems of adjustment which the coal industry has had to face, in four years current account subsidies totalled only £57 million. On the other 503 hand, employment premiums to manufacturing industries totalled £635 million. Had the N.C.B. even been given the regional employment premium, that would have added some £40 million income to the Board in the last four years. Take the position in the public sector. In the last four years subsidy for transport undertakings on current account amounted to £634 million. Those subsidies to manufacturing and transport were well over twenty times as great as subsidies extended to the coal industry.
§ On capital account the N.C.B. has received very little help since the write-off of 1965. Yet in the four years, 1967 to 1970, nearly £1.700 million was handed out in direct subsidy to manufacturing industries as investment grants and only a small amount went to the N.C.B., and that only on activities other than coal production. During these years the coal industry, as I said, has had to finance at high rates of interest. Since the industry's partial write-off, over £2,000 million has been written off the debt of other nationalised industries, and on top of this figure is the recent write-off of £350 million of debt for the British Steel Corporation. Elsewhere in the British economy over £4,000 million of capital subsidy and capital write-off has been provided by the State since our last write-off. Yet the special industrial situation of this industry, with its problem of long-term decline on the scale we have seen and the regional employment problems associated with that, demands and merits an early major reconstruction.
§ Since the mid-1960s the coal industry has been denied investment grants which were extended to manufacturing, and thereby to the oil industry. As I have said, it has had to borrow at fixed interest. I hope that what I have said will be taken to heart by the Government. We have had no further reorganisation of capital debt, despite a contraction of above one-quarter of our market for coal and all the closures of mines.
§ Therefore this nation cannot expect miners to allow this vast imposition of debt and the denial of financial aid to the industry to operate as a denial also of adequate pay and conditions. The accounts of the N.C.B., to which the Government continually refer, have been severely affected by this artificial con- 504 tinuation of a massive debt burden, and we see a large operating surplus of the industry concealed by the massive interest and depreciation provision. This is not a normal problem of ability by an industry to pay adequate wages. It is a damaging game of manipulation of the accounts that is being played by the Treasury against the fair wages that the miners are entitled to receive. If the Government reduced this burden by capital reconstruction and write-off, which will have to be done, there would be money in the kitty to pay the men a decent wage.
§ Let me for a moment or two refer to the Secretary of State's statement of a rise of 15 per cent. in price if the men's request for increased wages were met. There is no doubt, as I have stated, that if the capital reconstruction took place and reduced the massive debt, for which the miners are not responsible, there need be no increase in the price of coal to meet the miners' demands. The Secretary of State could not have been referring to the price that the miners get for the coal. Last year, there was produced 133,315,000 tons of saleable coal and the proceeds work out at £5.84 per ton. He must have had in mind the end product of a ton of coal, which sells to-day to the consumer at £15 a ton in the country and £20 per ton in the South. The industry itself has been subsidising other industries with coal below cost price at the expense of our miners' wages.
§ Miners are tired of being told that if they do not heed their exhortations the employers will close the pits. The miners have co-operated for 25 years, and what has it got them? Pits have been closed by the hundred. The miners are immune to the threat that they cannot be paid a decent wage for the job but must accept depressed wages or the industry will lose markets. The price that they have already paid for their co-operation is that their wages have been depressed, markets have still gone and pits have closed. When we talk of coal price, in some areas coal goes to the power stations at £4 per ton. There is to-day a huge margin between the average that the Board receive for their coal and what the consumer has to pay. The price of coal to the consumer, which trebles in price from the pithead to them, is not the fault of the miner. If the Government really want to tackle 505 prices—and up to now I have seen nothing that they have done to keep them down; they went up 10 per cent. last year—then they ought to hold an inquiry into how a pithead ton of coal proceeds in the Board's accounts so that £5.84 becomes the fantastic figure of £15 to £20 per ton to the consumer. This, as I have said, cannot be blamed on the miner.
THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but is he not forgetting in his proposition about prices that the main pressure on coal prices is coming from competition with oil and other energy media?
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, that does not help the argument. We recognise the economics of what is happening. What I have been trying to illustrate is what has been the result of these economic developments, and what is the position of coal when we study the accounts and are asking for increased wages. Natural gas is a competitor, and so is oil. We recognise that. So there is no argument in this.
Here is a field where, if the Government take action, they will have the full-hearted support of us all. We have been bombarded since 1957 with the statement that mining is a dying industry which must accept the inevitable development of nuclear power, North Sea gas, oil and the products of technology. Everyone knows that the miners are getting a raw deal. Now the Government and the nation must decide whether they want a coal industry, and what kind of industry they want; and if they do, whether to get the coal they are prepared to give a decent wage, one comparable with other industries. The men cannot accept a basic wage level for the industry which, in effect, compels workmen to seek overtime in order to raise their wages to an acceptable level.
The earnings survey for 1971 on mining reveals that 10 per cent. of adult workers have earnings of less than £20 per week—that is, before deductions and taxation—and many of these are only taking home £14 a week. Under the family income supplementary scheme run by the Government a family with one child and gross earnings of less than £18 a week is entitled to a supplementary 506 payment, and a family with two children can qualify if the gross earnings are less than £20 a week. In the coal industry there are in this category, earning less than £20 a week, more than 46.000 adult workers employed underground and 39,000 surface workers: that represents a total of 85,000 men. Many of these men have two children. I say, quite honestly and sincerely to the Government, that a breadwinner working in this industry, in dangerous, unpleasant conditions, cannot earn enough to support a family; and to have to rely on a Government subsidy through the family income supplementary scheme, after working for a week in the bowels of the earth, is really putting hard-working men in an undignified and humiliating position. Where is the industry outside the coal industry that pays its craftsmen so little? In mechanised mining of today you cannot work a pit without fitters and electricians. What are the wages of these other craftsmen? 5,800 craftsmen get a wage of £21.70, another group of 7,400 craftsmen get £23.62—and this is their gross weekly wage. Another 10.000 craftsmen get £22.75. These men had to serve their time to become craftsmen. Modern mines cannot work without them. yet their wages are well below those of outside industries, and if they could get other jobs they would leave. Many craftsmen do leave and some of our young men are emigrating.
I have a pay note here—this is just one: I could have brought many of them—for the week ended December 18 last year. This note that I hold is in respect of a man who went to the pit at fourteen, is now forty-nine years of age and has worked at the surface for thirty-five years. He is in a very responsible job; he is an engine driver who takes all the coal from the pit to the staithes to be loaded into the colliers, bring back the empties and handles all the supplies to the mine. And what is his wage? He is married and pays £3 a week rent. There are no savings because he cannot save on his pay. His earnings for five days are £15.31 and his total pay is £18.62 (his bonus shift for working five days is £3.63). After deductions he takes home £14.30. Is there a Member of the House of Lords who would do this? His wife has to take a part-time job to help out, and 507 there are thousands of my people in that situation to-day. There are thousands of underground men who are taking home only £14 per week. These men are not face workers but they work on the roads and on the conveyor belts, to keep them in good working order. There are others who work around the shafts. These men are as essential to coal production as are the face workers, yet the differential between them is immense, and something will have to be done to give these men more than the Government's policy allows.
Whilst denying a decent wage to miners, the Government are importing coal to the tune of £55 million—that was the figure up to last December: I do not know what the figure is now. They are paying £19 per ton to West Germany, over £20 per ton to Belgium. £33 per ton to South Africa and £10.39 per ton to Poland. This is really fantastic. We now import coal to this island, which is built on coal, at these prices: yet at the same time we say to the men in the pits, "You can get no more than 7 or 8 per cent. increase and only a 5 per cent. increase on your prices."
You cannot expect that men to-day will accept this kind of living standard. Even women and girls, such as typists who work in factories, take home more pay than some of the men at the pits. The men in the mines are embittered, and I would ask the Chairman of the National Coal Board to refrain from making stupid remarks that antagonise the men and make matters worse. The statement by the Chairman of the Board was one of the main causes of much of the difficulty we have faced in the coalfields on the question of safety work. In spite of this, I would appeal to my colleagues in the pits to respond to their national union's recommendation on the matter of the safety men.
This strike is now in its fourth week. The Board's hands are tied by Government policy. The strike is costing the miners, the Board and the nation a great deal of money, and there is much hardship to my people. The danger that costly machinery, chocks and conveyors will be lost increases day by day, as does the possibility of forcing closures on some of the existing collieries. And the miners realise all this. Men do not 508 face great sacrifices, such as they are facing now, for the fun of it. This strike is by men who have a wonderful record of co-operation with the Board, and their recompense is that their wages have been depressed in the way that I have tried to illustrate. Their battle to-day is to achieve a fair wage for the dirty and laborious work they do, and in order not to have to work for a week and then become applicants for family supplementary schemes. We have to remember that men still have some pride.
There is no desire on my part to make a difficult situation worse than it is, but unless the Government change the inflexible views that they have held up to now we face a long and bitter struggle. One thing is quite clear: the trade unions in the public sector are to have their wages determined by Government dictates where they are the employers, and the private sector is to be left free to negotiate freely with their men. There is the risk of grim strikes, poverty and the ruin not only of the mining industry but of other industries as well. This is not a policy for incomes but it represents discrimination against the men who are employed by the State. I am sure that that is a policy which we on this side of the House cannot accept.
What can be done? Are we to go on listening to sermons from the Government, or are the Government going to get the contestants round a table and talk flexibly with the miners in a real effort to understand why the men are bitter, what has incensed them and why they are prepared to face a long and bitter struggle for a decent standard of life? Surely between the men's demands and the Board's offer a settlement can be reached if the Government want a settlement. If it is the Government's intention to break the miners into submission—and I sincerely hope that this is not the case—and so give notice of similar action with other wage claims in the nationalised sector, the intention will not succeed. The Government will recreate the bitterness of the 1930s and will cause considerable harm to British industry as well as considerable misery and hardship to the working people of our nation. The men in the coalfields feel that their cause is right. They feel themselves subjected to a humiliating dictation by a Government who look as 509 though they could not care less about their grievances. The men consider that the Government's attitude towards them is identical with that of the 1926 Government.
This strike has resulted in the dove of peace and co-operation flying out of the window so far as the N.C.B. is concerned, and it has let in again the tiger of bitterness that we thought we had killed during the last 25 years. I ask the Government to change their ground, and I say to them that my Party stands four-square behind the miners and supports them in their efforts to get justice, and so does the trade union movement. In conclusion, 1 believe that the nation will not stand idly by to see the miners crucified as they were in 1926, nor watch men, women and children go through the terrible experiences of that time which were inflicted upon us by the Tory Government of the day. On that note, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House, calling attention to the situation in the coal mining industry, expresses its disapproval of the Government's policy towards incomes which made inevitable industrial action by the miners.—(Lord Blytott.)
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ BARONESS SEEAR
My Lords, I rise with the greatest diffidence to speak on this subject after the speech that we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Blyton. As your Lordships will be well aware, I totally lack the personal and professional knowledge of the great mining industry which he so plainly possesses. The best I can do is to claim that I am at least the daughter of a mining engineer, and in my youth was brought up with a profound and enduring respect for the men who work underground and who at any time in the day's work, or the night's work, might face a fallen roof or fire in the pits.
I do not intend to dwell, as the noble Lord has dwelt, on the rights and wrongs of this particular mining dispute, but rather to concentrate on the second part of this Motion which:… expresses the disapproval of the Government's policy towards incomes which made inevitable industrial action by the miners.Whether it made inevitable such action I do not know; but I do know that the Government's present policy on incomes 510 is totally inadequate, and that what is needed at this present time is a profound rethinking about the whole question of policy for incomes, and not, let me hasten to add, a return to the policy for incomes under which we suffered during the previous Administration. Of course, all Governments have a policy for incomes; they can no more manage without one than they can manage without a policy for foreign affairs. The question is, what sort of policy? On what should it be based, and how should it be operated? The present Government's policy, so far as we can understand, is based on the objective, with which I suppose most of us would be in sympathy, of attempting to control inflation and rising prices. But the way in which they are trying to do this, so far as we can see, is, as the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, said, by leaning heavily on the nationalised industries, on those employees over whom they have direct or indirect control. It is not surprising that the unions representing those men, and the men themselves, bitterly resent what seems to be discrimination against one particular sector of the working population.
My Lords, what I should like to do this afternoon on this admittedly exceedingly difficult and important subject is to put forward a few short propositions about the way in which we may be thinking about this subject, and very tentative proposals as to the process that might be adopted. It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Blyton—and it is very frequently suggested—that to deal with prices is the first step in dealing with the problem of incomes. I agree that any proposition to deal with incomes must also look at the problem of prices. I would at the same time assert that if prices are too vigorously held down it is not possible to get the return on capital on which a really healthy economy depends. There are, however, a number of particular cases in which the Government might with advantage look much more closely at what is happening in the field of prices. Particularly should this be done where a price increase is in an industry which is well protected by a tariff wall, or where the industry is in a monopoly or near-monopoly situation. I did not believe that controls in these two areas would make a substantial difference to the total problem, 511 but they would make a useful, if minor, contribution to its solution.
I turn to the major question of the kind of policy that we need to have towards incomes, not leaving prices out of account. The first point I want to make is that the question of a pay increase on an industry-wide scale in a large industry is obviously a matter which concerns and affects not only the employers and employees in that particular industry but also a wide range of the public as a whole, both as consumers and as members of the economy. There is a public interest to be protected in wage negotiations of this type. As your Lordships will have noticed, over the past year our industrial relations difficulties are once more arising most acutely over industry-wide negotiations, threatening industry-wide strikes and not, as over the previous 25 years, through short, sharp so-called "wild cat" strikes of a totally different order. The public have an interest because, of course, in the long run, the public pay. They have an interest in increasing costs; an interest in the increase in purchasing power which follows a settlement on an industry-wide basis. The public also have a concern in a somewhat different way. Men and women up and down the country outside the industry, directly affected by the negotiations, are apprehensive, worried, sometimes guilty, at the thought of the kind of reward that is being given to people doing essential, necessary and often very unpleasant work. The public want to believe that the kind of pay being given is a justified and fair settlement. In this way also the public have an interest in these settlements.
The second point I want to make is to challenge a proposition frequently put forward from this side of the House, in trade union negotiations and in Government discussions on these matters. It is often said that nothing must be done to disturb established differentials. I think that this is the greatest nonsense, and the sooner it is challenged and exploded the better. I would remind Members on this side of the House—indeed, on both sides —that it was none other than Sir Stafford Cripps, who, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, said, in a White Paper of 24 years ago on the subject of prices, wages and incomes, that the maintenance of differentials was not in itself the justi 512 fication for a wage increase. So long as we go on arguing that nothing can be done to alter existing differentials, we shall get deeper and deeper into the mire. Of course it is nonsense: differentials are in fact being altered all the time.
I took a look at what had happened to differentials in a two-and-a-half-year period in the 1960s. Of 18 industries in the standard industrial classification during that period, no fewer than 14 had changed their position in the league table. Differentials are and must be in a constant state of flux. Any other argument assumes that the particular relatives at which we happen to have arrived at any given moments in time are for some reason to be permanently frozen; and this is plainly nonsense. Whatever other arguments can be put forward for determining relative levels of pay, let us try to explode this out-of-date argument that nothing must be done to disturb differentials.
My third point is that the factors which go to determining what is at any moment in time an appropriate reward for a given type of work are diverse and are themselves in a continuous state of change. Market demands for particular products, shortages of particular kinds of skill, the value added to the end product by work of a particular kind—all these things are continuously changing. There are the technological developments which alter what should be paid at any given time. This means that in wages and in settlement of rates of pay and incomes generally there is no absolute answer and no finality. Such techniques as job evaluation can help to clarify within a limited area relativities which appear to have gone astray. But it is not a scientific instrument and does not give a final and lasting answer to the question, "How much am I worth, against how much are you worth?" This is at the heart of all questions of pay.
This I think means that attempts to lay down from the centre what it is appropriate that people should be paid, and then to enforce it, are bound to fail. I believe that we should have done a great deal better if we had stopped talking about norms, and I believe we should do a great deal better if we abandoned once and for all the idea that there is what somebody once called a "huggermugger of invisible experts at the centre" 513 who can work out what it is right we should all get and attempt to enforce it. I am sometimes, if I may say so without offence, astonished at the mixture of arrogance and naïvete which one finds in certain administrators and certain intellectuals in believing that they can work out these sums and then have them accepted. There are 25 million of us at work; there are, I believe, something over 40,000 different jobs. There is an unlimited opportunity for getting round what any centrally determined policy tries to impose. It is difficult enough to enforce minimum wage controls, but it is a hundred times more difficult to enforce maximum wage controls, for a very simple reason which seems always to be overlooked. If the minimum wage control is not kept there is an injured party, but if a maximum wage control is exceeded —if you offer more than you are legally required to do—then most of the time one says "Yes" and does not complain about it. It is this very simple fact which makes enforcement of maximum wage control, on which any centrally controlled policy must depend, virtually impossible.
What I am saying, my Lords, is this. Essentially, the fixing of pay and relativities in pay, which are always, and always will be, in a state of flux, is a matter for negotiation. It is not a matter for diktat and for central settlement, but a matter for negotiation between all the interested parties. And, as I said earlier, one vitally interested party in these industry-wide settlements is the public itself. Surely it would be better if, urging as we must that the Government should get together with the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry, instead of thinking so much about norms and figures, we thought about the process through which this tripartite negotiation should go on—tripartite between the employers, the unions and the Government.
I believe that in every major industrywide negotiation a representative of the Government speaking for the public interest should be there as a negotiating party, and that before a settlement is reached those three parties, working through all the problems that arise in any negotiation, should arrive at what to all three parties is a satisfactory settlement. This is the kind of point which has been put forward by my old mentor and 514 friend (whom many of your Lordships will know), Professor Hope-Brown; and the idea of introducing the third party representing the public interest into the national negotiation seems to me to be much the best hope of a way forward in settling wages on the industry-wide basis in a way which is satisfactory not only to the employers and unions but to ail the rest of us who also are involved. It may be very difficult to get this agreement and—I do not think it is asking too much that this should be done—strong measures should be taken to ensure that before negotiations break down at this level there should he resort to arbitration. If there is one matter on which I would criticise the miners in this dispute it is their refusal of arbitration, because if there is not to be a diktat from the centre then there can be as the only alternative a process of negotiation with a second stage of arbitration.
I, who am a profound voluntarist in this matter, would then suggest at the end of the arbitration process, when that stage has been gone through and when the problems have been worked over by all the interested parties, and when the public have had the opportunity to be really informed, as so often they are not, about the issues that are involved in a particular dispute—when this has been done, then if at the end of the day the parties concerned cannot accept the arbitration findings (and many of you may think this illogical) I would say then let them strike; let the situation fall apart. This, after all, was the way in which the Industrial Court operated from 1919 until the recent changes; and your Lordships will remember that it was only four times, I believe, in the 3.000-odd cases that went before the Industrial Court that the final arbitration findings were not accepted.
There is in this country in our industrial relations, thank God, a great constitutionalism. When we can revive confidence in the process of arbitration, there will once again be a great desire to accept what an arbitration board will find. It has been one of the tragedies of mistaken incomes policies of the past that, because, rightly or wrongly, the arbitration machinery was seen in the eyes of far too many people to be an instrument for Government policy to enforce the established norm, confidence 515 in arbitration has failed. If we could turn away from the idea of norms and turn instead to a new process for arbitration, bringing the Government and third parties in at all stages of the negotiation, I believe that we could revive confidence in arbitration. And then, I believe, we should to a very large extent re-establish the kind of procedures we had before, and should obtain, not final, satisfactory answers—there are no final answers—but a settlement with which we could live.