HL Deb 14 May 1980 vol 409 cc264-6

2.57 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 any industrial dispute exists between them and their employees which would legally justify the latter in withdrawing their labour on 14th May.

The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Lord Soames)

My Lords, there are some trade disputes between the Government and their employees. The existence of such disputes does not, however, legally justify employees in withdrawing their labour. Civil servants who have been absent without authority today will be in breach of their contracts of employment. They will lose pay as a result. But I am pleased to tell your Lordships that it seems that only an extremely small proportion of civil servants have not reported for work today. I think that noble Lords would like to join me in expressing appreciation for the attitude which the vast majority of civil servants have shown and for the efforts made in overcoming the transport difficulties which faced some of them.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, which it is quite clear has received great approbation in this House. Is he aware that the tradition in this country is a very precious one— namely, that it is part of the pride and stability of the country that the civil servants serve Governments of all complexions without distinction, and that they ought not to withdraw their labour on political grounds?


My Lords, yes, and I think that this is a good example of that. I do not know the exact figure or proportion, but I believe that less than 2 per cent. of the total, in fact, did not turn up for work today.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that, in thanking the civil servants for the effort that they have made to come in, we would like specially to mention the staff of your Lordships' House?


Yes indeed, my Lords.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that there have been meetings throughout the country in factories and depots which have decided what free action the individual trade unionists will take today? Would he not also agree— and this does not apply to him— that the levity, cynicism and jocularity with which this matter has been discussed in your Lordships' House might have made many people change their views as to what they would do today if they had heard those remarks previously?


My Lords, on the contrary, it is not only in this House that this particular proposal has met with a general feeling of dissent and a conviction that it is not in the national interest.


My Lords, will the Minister not agree that the function of the Civil Service trade unions is to defend the standard of life of their members? As today between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. of family standards are due to public services, is it not inevitable in the circumstances that civil servants should protest against the cuts in those public services?


My Lords, as I said, there are some trade disputes going on at present between various Civil Service unions and the Government. But that does not mean that they should think it advisable— and in the event, I am glad to say that they did not think it advisable— to pursue those disputes on this particular day in the particular manner proposed.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, does the Minister not think that it is particularly depressing that the Labour Opposition has not condemned not only the general day of action but, above all, civil servants, who are supposed to be totally non-political and servants of all of us, going on strike on this occasion?


My Lords, I do not think that it is for me to say what effect the attitude of the Opposition is likely to have on the political thinking of our fellow countrymen. That is for them to judge. Personally, I do not think that today they have increased their standing.