HL Deb 04 February 1980 vol 404 cc1087-9

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether when major industrial disputes occur they will issue at the earliest practicable moment an authoritative statement of the relevant facts involved in terms which can easily be understood by the public.


My Lords, it is doubtful whether such statements could be prepared, since the facts relevant to a particular dispute are usually complex and often involve subjective judgments. Statements by the Government or other bodies not directly involved in the dispute tend to exacerbate the difficulties and make it harder for them to be resolved.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for that Answer, may I ask him whether the Government would not reconsider this matter in view of the vital importance of the public's being properly informed of the facts in any major dispute? How many people know that a process worker in the steel industry today has a basic pay of £112 per week or nearly £6,000 a year? How can we find out what could be earned by the new productivity agreement? How can we find out what difference a new productivity agreement in such a dispute, if fully implemented, will make to the reduction of costs in the industry? Is it not about time that the Government did something to make the public aware of what is really at stake?

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, I am in very considerable sympathy with what the noble Lord says, and I think it is particularly regrettable that we are tending to think of wages at the moment only in percentage terms—which are not always very meaningful—and not in money terms, which is the sensible way to proceed. Nevertheless, I still have some hesitation as to whether the Government is the appropriate body here. It could easily be represented that the Government were parties to the dispute or had direct interests in the dispute, and that, as I said in my original Answer, could exacerbate the situation.


My Lords, if the Government are not prepared to take the responsibility, would it not be possible to ask ACAS to do this so that we could get an independent and authoritative view?

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, I will certainly consider that. However, ACAS might be in the same difficulty in that they have a vital function as arbitrators and it might be thought that they were coming down with some subjective interpretation of the situation. But I have said to the noble Lord that his point will be taken most seriously. I will see what can be done.


My Lords, where there is a difference of opinion about the value of a particular offer so that the interpretation of it is, as the noble Earl said in his original reply, subjective, would it not be possible either for the Government or for ACAS to publish the estimates both of the employers and of the trade unions, with a very short statement giving the reasons for reaching such conclusions, so that the public could evaluate the offer for themselves?

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, there is much in what the noble Lord has to say. I see no reason, on the face of it, why employers or unions should shrink from publishing or releasing to the Press the information themselves. My only query is as to whether ACAS or the Government directly should be involved in that process.


My Lords, should not the Government at least urge the parties to a dispute to come together and themselves issue an agreed prepared statement on the dispute?

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, the Government have an enormous interest in getting the parties in any dispute together and that is what we are continually seeking to do; so I take the noble Lord's point.