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Budget Proposals and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th April 1957.

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Photo of Mr Frederick Lee Mr Frederick Lee , Newton 12:00 am, 11th April 1957

That is perfectly true. I agree with what my hon. Friend says. I am trying to put it to the Committee that it is not possible to achieve the objectives we all have in mind unless we first make it possible for these things to happen.

I hope that the Chancellor will take note of this, because I believe that without it we cannot make the necessary progress and get away from the stagnation about which he is concerned. As to arbitration, frankly I am getting to the point when I am very much afraid of arbitration, although not for some of the reasons advanced. I think that in many industries collective bargaining has long since broken down. I do not blame those who have to negotiate in industry for putting a kind of blanket of mysticism around collective bargaining. It is a secret. I can tell hon. Members, fiat this is just horse-dealing and it has no relation to skill and ability. It is sheer horse-dealing and we cannot afford fiat at this stage.

We must get to the point where we must have a wages policy that can reflect effort, industrial skill and that kind of thing. I am not thinking about the problems just past. The very fact that both sides know that a dispute will finally go to arbitration has resulted in slipshod negotiations without any real effort to get a settlement.

One can think back to the railway disputes which fortunately did not come to strikes though they looked like doing so. I counted the number of stages which the unions and the Transport Executive went through. They failed to agree when they had their general discussions. First, there was voluntary arbitration. then a court of inquiry, then a court of conciliation—all of which were no good—and finally a referee was decided upon. Is that collective bargaining? Five stages along the road from collective bargaining had been followed and yet we say with awe-stricken voices that the' sanctity of collective bargaining must be maintained. I do not want to go further with that argument; but I believe that, if we are to get through the great industrial crisis which we face, the necessity for refurbishing our industries, modernising them and doing all the things necessary for survival will fail unless we make it possible to have a wages structure within those industries which can satisfy the men that they will get a fair deal for the work which they produce.

I should have thought that these were matters which both sides of the Committee, and certainly the trade union movement and the employers as a whole, could now be getting round a table to analyse. I may be biased, but I feel very strongly that if we are to witness many more of the rather disgraceful things which we have had, from the engineering employers recently, I see no hope of increasing production in Britain and of establishing a firm economic foundation. There was provocation at its very worst. There was the attempt to refuse to discuss the issues even before they were posed. What I felt to be a terribly bad thing was the suspension of the whole of the agreements under which those vast industries function—industries covering more than 3 million people.

I am not saying that I think the "York Memo." as it is called, is adequate in the days in which we live, but deliberately to suspend it and to leave the industries without any form of discussion was almost criminal and tragic. Certainly it was quite irresponsible. I hope it will be realised that it is not enough in this Committee to discuss all the finer issues of dollar balances, import-export prices, terms of trade and the like. We have to get into this some of the flesh and blood and some of the guts which are reflected in industry and get down to analysing how we can help industry to get through the terrific change-over period we now face. If we do not do that there will be a desire by people who are worried about the future to hang on to old methods and practices of the past. We should try to remember that these men who have given years to apprenticeship have suddenly seen what they thought was their security disappear.

We can help by trying to analyse their problems sympathetically and with understanding and by trying to get them to realise that. far from going back to the old phase of cut-throat competition between the parties, or between employer and trade union, Britain can gain if we get together and solve these problems.