asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity if she is aware that the dispute between the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union and the British Steel Corporation has been extended, and that a large number of clerks in Scotland are on strike, many of whom have been locked out by Stewart and Lloyds, Glasgow, and that a number have been suspended by the same firm in Birmingham; and if she will now intervene, with a view to bringing about an early settlement of the dispute.
About 1,200 members of the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union and 89 members of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Management Staffs have been on strike at plants of the British Steel Corporation since 21st June. I am keeping a close watch on the situations.
May I declare my interest in that I am a member of the C. & A.W.U.? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the members of this union in the industry concerned will in no circumstances give up their basic fundamental right to recognition by the employers? Is it not possible for my right hon. Friend to arrange a top-level meeting—a meeting at the highest possible level—to seek an end to the dispute once and for all on the basis of recognition; otherwise I warn her that strikes will continue in this industry?
I think that my hon. Friend knows that I have seen both the two unions referred to in the Question as well as the British Steel Corporation and representatives of the T.U.C. I have tried to examine the issues implicit in this and to see whether there is any basis for conciliation. I can only say to my hon. Friend that I do not think that a top-level meeting at this stage would help matters forward. In any event, there is some doubt about whether some of the parties would be willing to attend.
Would the right hon. Lady assure the House that she is not intending, in connection with this strike, to wait until the last minute, when the matter is settled, and then have a tea party?
Is she aware that some of us believe that while the Government may not be willing to enter into these matters, it is vital that they maintain the conciliation machinery of the Ministry? Will the right hon. Lady assure the House that this conciliation machinery is permanently active and is not something that comes into existence when it is too late?
Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the position and re-examine the question of whether this is not the time for top-level talks? Is she aware that most of those who belong to the C. & A.W.U. joined that union because of a circular sent out by the British Steel Corporation in which the Corporation advised them to get into their appropriate unions? Is she aware that these union members are, therefore, feeling very bitter because they consider that their democratic rights are being taken away from them?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend appreciates that the Government cannot issue directions to the British Steel Corporation in this matter. The question of recognition is, in this connection, not a matter for the Government but for the Corporation, which went out of its way to consult the T.U.C. and tried to go through the appropriate procedure. These inter-union matters are extremely difficult to handle and they must be handled within the trade union movement in consultation with the Corporation.
Does the right hon. Lady think that these sort of recognition problems are likely to increase rather than decrease in the next few years? Might it not be wise to conduct an inquiry into this and other systems—for example, the American bargaining agency system—so that workers are given an opportunity to show by vote which union or unions they would like to represent them?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as a steel trades unionist, I welcome her cautious approach to what is essentially an inter-union dispute and which, I believe, can be more favourably resolved by the T.U.C?