My Department's officials have offered on several occasions to assist in the present dispute but the company considers that no useful purpose would be served by a meeting at this stage.
Is the Minister aware that the mainspring of the firm's attitude-following a decision on a meeting with his conciliation officer and an agreement to recognise the union—is that the firm discovered a difference of £6 per week between its rates and the rates paid to comparable grades by its competitors, Littlewoods and others? Is the hon. Gentleman also aware that there is considerable local concern and that the Lord Mayor of Blackpool has intervened because of the likely effect on trade union conferences in the town? Will he try to get the firm to keep to the recognition agreement that it has concluded with the union?
I understand the local concern but, while officials can be of help by way of negotiation, there is no statutory power to impose conciliation upon parties. Although from the Government's point of view, as has always been made clear, reference to the National Industrial Relations Court is a matter of last resort, this is a classic case in which the union itself could have gone to the NIRC had it been a registered union but, unfortunately, it is an unregistered union.
Is the Minister aware that this dispute presents an excellent opportunity for the Government to put into practice the Prime Minister's pronouncement that he believes in the trade union movement and wants to be conciliatory to it? The employers are being very obstinate. Would not this be an excellent opportunity for the Government to put a little pressure on them? Does the Minister realise that it is a question not purely of wages but of recognition, and will he bring pressure to bear on the employers?
I do not wish to comment on the merits of the dispute except to say that it is a pity that this case could not have been taken to the NIRC by the union. Unfortunately the union disbarred itself by being an unregistered union. I hope that the parties will consider afresh the whole possibility of joint talks under the Department's chairmanship.