HL Deb 06 May 1974 vol 351 cc312-7

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I will with permission repeat a Statement which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment about the use of his consent powers. The Statement is as follows:

"We want to see a smooth transition from statutory controls to voluntary methods, using the limited powers of consent available under existing legislation to ease the most exceptional difficulties. An essential part of that transition is that those who have made settlements on the basis of the present arrangements should stick to them and others who have yet to settle in this pay round should do so at much the same level as those who have. In this we have received the full cooperation of the T.U.C. who have honoured their pledge not to press any special case beyond the miners and who have issued guidance to member unions which is fully in accord with the Government's approach. And this approach, I must emphasise covers the vast majority of people affected.

"However, it is borne in on me daily how many difficulties are created by the present controls, and I have to make clear that I have no power to issue a consent except where the circumstances are truly exceptional. Nevertheless, I am anxious to do my utmost to relieve grievances and inefficiencies wherever this can be justified in accordance with the legislation; so I have considered carefully the many representations made to my Department.

"Most cases inevitably have to be rejected, but I have, after due consultation with the Pay Board, intervened in the case of Glasgow firemen and Hull freezer trawlers where the conditions created were exceptional. I have one or two other cases of this particular nature also under consideration and, as my right honourable friend has indicated, in reply to Questions to-day, I would be prepared to intervene as necessary in the case of the Government scientists in the light of the recent Pay Board report on the determination of their pay.

"As my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Social Services and Education are announcing to-day, the Government wish to advance their social policy in two areas; education and training for nurses and improved staffing for schools in stress. In order to carry through the new pattern of education and training for nurses in line with the Briggs Report we have decided to implement immediately certain preparatory measures which have pay implications and the Government also propose that the present arrangements for additional pay for teachers in schools in areas of social deprivation should be extended. In addition I have been convinced that there are some minor aspects of Post Office operations with pay implications which have a strong case for consideration for exceptional treatment and I am in consultation with the Post Office management and unions, although I must stress at once that this is not a proposal for meeting the main claim of postal workers for a special review. In all these cases I believe that the circumstances are of an exceptional character and, if the outcome of the negotiations related to the implementation of these policies, leads to improvements in pay and conditions out of line with the current controls, I shall be prepared to take the necessary steps, after consultation with the Pay Board, to enable them to be brought into effect.

"I am still considering the extremely strong case put to me last week by London Transport and the various unions involved. This raises urgent questions in the light of the necessity to sustain the public transport system in the Capital city. I am also conscious of the more general problem of the London situation and that many unions are anxious to open negotiations on this question. On this I can assure the House that the Pay Board are fully aware of the urgency which attaches to their awaited report on London weighting.

"Many other cases have been brought to my attention, and those who have presented them naturally feel that they too have good grounds for special treatment. But I have had to say 'no' to a number of representations from those who have asked for a full-scale review—and this includes the teachers and the postmen—because I have not been able to say that these are truly exceptional circumstances and general reviews in each case would run the risk of reopening the whole pay round. Meantime, I have tried to exercise the extremely limited power as fairly as I possibly can."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends, I should like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement of his right honourable friend. It is a long Statement, and we shall need to study it with the greatest care, since control of wage claims—whether voluntary or statutory, within the Parliamentary domain or established by the trade unions themselves—is surely critical to the ability of this country to contain inflation and so preserve our social institutions and relations at what I think we should all agree is their still unparalleled and high level.

My Lords, it is a little difficult for us on this side of the House to attend to the Statement without a wry smile of irony, particularly at the reference to the Pay Board and the importance of its decisions on London weighting. The Secretary of State, as recounted by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has given us a long list of exceptional, or possibly exceptional, or potentially exceptional cases which may make pleas to his powers of consent. The noble Lord even made use of the rather give-away tautology "very exceptional"—or was it "truly exceptional"? It is the essence of cases in this area of life to be exceptional, and that is why I believe the Government have been fortunate in being able to try to forge their social contract against the background of a continuing and coherent counter-inflation policy. This policy is framed by law, and has a very considerable overall record of success behind it. We understand the desire of the Government to achieve a voluntary policy, and we share their feeling of the need for a smooth transition to that policy.

I would just ask the noble Lord two general questions. First, is he convinced that the great trades unions and their leaders are aware of the distinctions that must exist between free collective bargaining and voluntary wage restraint? Is he certain that they are sure that a framework of law may not in fact be helpful here? Secondly, will he make representations to his right honourable friend that the views and needs of the C.B.I. are sought and taken into account during this so important transitional period, a transitional period that surely it is in the interests of the Government to continue, since they must be most sharply aware of what settlements under Stage 3 are doing for the present industrial climate in this country?


My Lords, if this Statement did not come in the middle of a Committee stage, I should be very happy to debate with the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, the merits of voluntary policy and the policy of the last Administration. The noble Earl said, "with a wry smile". Of course, this Government have to operate within the existing Statutes, and that imposes very severe limitations upon the Secretary of State and the Government as to the degree of flexibility by which we can meet the various problems which are bound to arise as we move from a compulsory, statutory pay policy to a voluntary one, which I think most Members of your Lordships' House would want to see.

My Lords, with regard to my confidence in my trades union friends, I think already they have given an indication by their actions not only of their awareness of the national need and national crisis, but of what they can do and what they intend to do again within the voluntary arrangements that exist between the various unions and the T U.C. We on this side of the House have always felt that we needed co-operation. Co-operation needs good will and good faith. I can only say to the noble Earl—and I hope he shares this view with me—that at this moment in time we need co-operation, we need consent; we need confidence. So far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned to-day, we have confidence that the trades union leaders will "deliver the goods", if I may use that phrase, in reference to the question of pay and pay negotiations.

My Lords, with regard to consultation with the C.B.I., I have no reason to believe that consultation between the Government, the Trades Union Congress and the C.B.I. is any less than what it was under the previous Administration. Quite clearly, if it is a question of confidence and consent, one must have the confidence and consent of both sides of industry.


My Lords, may I ask whether the subject of the level of student grants is among the cases which, according to the Statement, are under consideration at the present moment? If so, may we know when a decision will be made?


My Lords, no doubt that question is under consideration by the Government as a whole, but to the best of my knowledge it does not come within the consent powers under the counter-inflation legislation which we are now discussing in this Statement.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord the Leader of the House for this welcome and, if I may say so, courageous Statement, may I ask him whether, in view of the last Government's long delay in dealing with the pay of the Armed Services, he can give us any indication as to when the pay of these long-suffering and deserving men and women will be announced?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Leatherland. I did look at Hansard of last week when this matter was raised, and I thought some of the comments were most unfair. The question of pay and conditions of the Armed Services comes under the Armed Forces Review Board. That Board is at the moment actively considering recommendations to be made to the Secretary of State for Defence. I hope that a report will be in the hands of my right honourable friend very shortly. I cannot anticipate what will be in that report, but clearly the present Government must be deeply conscious of the pressures that are upon our Servicemen, in Northern Ireland in particular. But, of course, the question of consent is for the Secretary of State for Defence. If I may say so, under Stages 1 and 2 the power of consent to go beyond has al-always been available to previous Secretaries of State, but to the best of my knowledge on no occasion has the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, as Secretary of State sought to exercise that consent in respect of settlements beyond what was required by Stages 1 and 2.


My Lords, the noble Lord, in his Statement, used the words "deliver the goods" in regard to pay policy. I wonder whether, without any malicious intent at all, I could ask him to elucidate that phrase a little further. Does he mean that the ratio of the increase of earnings is going to diminish in relation to the increase of national product, or has he some other conception in mind?


My Lords, the words "deliver the goods" was perhaps an unfortunate phrase. What I had in mind was the social compact between what was then the Labour Party in Opposition and the trade unions, and the social compact between Her Majesty's Government and the T.U.C.; it is a recognition by both sides, and particularly by the trade unions, that at the end of the day, if our people are to have a rising standard of living, it means the containment of inflation and recognising the consequences of wage increases on inflation. It is only in this way that the real value of incomes rises. That is what I had in mind. Perhaps I should not have used that phrase, but should have reminded the House of a more favoured phrase, "the social compact".