HL Deb 19 February 1990 vol 516 cc5-6

2.48 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the role and the future of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, the role of ACAS is to promote the improvement of industrial relations. There are no plans to change the role or functions of ACAS.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that since its inauguration 17 years ago ACAS has been successful in either stopping strikes or preventing strikes in more than 90 per cent. of cases referred to it? Does he not recall that the London Underground unofficial strike was resolved by ACAS and that the Post Office strikes were resolved by ACAS? What is more, the very serious police dispute was resolved by ACAS. Why do not the Government refer the ambulance dispute to ACAS?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, if the noble Lord wished to ask about the ambulancemen's dispute, why on earth did he not table a Question in those terms on the Order Paper? This Question quite obviously refers to ACAS. Therefore, perhaps I may answer the part of his supplementary question which I think is appropriate. Yes, ACAS has been successful. The noble Lord said that the service has helped to settle 90 per cent. of disputes, but I think the figure is about 80 per cent. However, that is still a very high success rate.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, every organisation and trade union in the country can consult ACAS. The only time they are stopped from doing so is when this Government prevent an attempt to settle a dispute which could be resolved by ACAS. Therefore is it not time that they changed their wretched policy?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord knows perfectly well the answer to that accusation. There is an adequate method of negotiation for the ambulancemen and that is what is taking place. There is no such thing as compulsory conciliation.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is the Minister not aware that ACAS has a panel of very distinguished mediators and arbiters? Would it not, therefore, be a good idea to make much more use of their services than appears to be the case in current circumstances? Finally, what is the Government's attitude to arbitration?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the Government's attitude to arbitration and conciliation is an extremely good one. Indeed, the number of inquiries received has increased from 303,000 in 1987–88 to 360,000 in 1989–90. Therefore this is something which we fully support.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that the obstinacy of the Government has proved to be extremely expensive? They have now spent £20 million on employing police to undertake extra work, whereas £ 10 million would have resolved the dispute. How stupid can the Government get?