Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd November 1973.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , East Ham North 12:00 am, 2nd November 1973

In Newry the figure is 14·2 per cent. The human tragedy which those figures represent should be acknowledged. The Government seem to be saying by implication that they are now resting on the total of over half a million. It seems that they will claim credit because the figures are better. They are not proposing any fresh measures to deal with the problem.

I do not retract anything I said a year ago. The industrial countries of the world face complex problems in maintaining full employment. The problems are much more difficult in the 1970s than in the past. After the great outlay of public expenditure and deficit financing, Britain should have unemployment figures closer to the post-war average, which was much lower than half a million. The fact that the figure is not down to 300,000 or that kind of level is a sign of the problems which we face and which the Government are not meeting. If the Government are complacent about the figures, the Opposition are not. We shall return to the matter many times this year, particularly with reference to the regions of high unemployment.

The second major omission from the Gracious Speech is the absence of any proposal to repeal, amend or modify in any way the disastrous Industrial Relalations Act. I was intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's attempts to defend the Act. Even by the standards of Ministers in this debate, his was a feeble performance. I do not blame him personally because I think he had an impossible task. The only thing he could say which was in any way constructive was that the provisions for unfair dismissal were useful and beneficial to the workers concerned. Of course they are. That was why they were the proposals of the last Labour Government. That was why a measure to bring about such a system of appeal against unfair dismissal was in front of the House before the last General Election.

The hon. Gentleman knows that when we repeal the Industrial Relations Act we shall retain and radically improve the provisions relating to unfair dismissal. He referred to the Con-Mech case. It seems that that case is the latest set-piece example of the last 18 months which demonstrates the futility and absurdity of this piece of legislation. The CIR report which emerged yesterday will, I hope—I agree with the hon. Gentleman about this—provide the basis for a return to work. It is a recognition of the union and, I hope, the end of the dispute.

We should pause to reflect the quite unnecessary and excessive damage which has been caused to industrial relations in Britain once more by a dispute arising in a small factory. In the days before 1971, what happened at Con-Mech would hardly have rated a mention in the local newspaper on the inside page. As it is, it has been blown up into a national crisis by the absurdity of the Industrial Relations Act.