Oral Answers to Questions — Cbi and TUC (Meetings)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 1974.

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Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping 12:00 am, 5th February 1974

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his most recent meetings with trade union leaders concerning current industrial disputes.

Photo of Mr Raymond Carter Mr Raymond Carter , Birmingham, Northfield

asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to meet the CBI.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Bristol North East

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his most recent meeting with the TUC.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the outcome of his latest meeting with the TUC.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher , Oldham West

asked the Prime Minister what further meetings he plans to hold with the TUC and CBI.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

My colleagues and I had a further discussion with TUC leaders for over four hours yesterday evening. Our purpose was to seek their views on and to clarify the proposal put to the TUC in my letter of 30th January.

As the House will recognise, that proposal was essentially what the Leader of the Opposition put forward in his letter to me of 29ths January and in line with the suggestions which have been made by the Leader of the Liberal Party for using this report straight away as a basis for reaching a settlement in the miners' dispute. It has the further merit of building on the suggestion made earlier by the TUC for regarding the miners as an exceptional case.

The House will therefore share my regret that the TUC, while not ruling out the report's recommendations as a longer-term method of dealing with pay problems, has not offered its co-operation in the Government's proposal. Nor has it offered any acceptable alternative means of reaching a settlement of the miners' dispute.

I am meeting leaders of the CBI on the same matter later today.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be right to remind trade union leaders that over half the members of the TUC have now settled under stage 3 and that, therefore, the Government are in essence in a contract or have an understanding with those who have already settled that no one will be allowed to breach stage 3?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

That is undoubtedly so. Many unions in their negotiations on behalf of these 6 million workers have settled on the basis that they will negotiate what is possible for them under stage 3 and that others will do likewise. Therefore, it is not only important for this phase of the incomes policy but it is essential for any future phases of the incomes policy that it should be accepted in the country as a whole that when people make negotiated contracts under a stage, such as stage 3, the rules will be kept by everybody and that that will continue with future policy.

Photo of Mr Raymond Carter Mr Raymond Carter , Birmingham, Northfield

When the Prime Minister meets the CBI this afternoon, will he ask how representative it is of British industry? Is it not a fact that the majority of Britain's major industrial firms want the Government to come to an early settlement with the miners?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

It is unnecessary for me to ask the CBI that question in the same way as it is unnecessary for me to ask the TUC, because in both cases there are considerable numbers outside their ranks. That is well understood. The plain fact is that the CBI represents a very large cross-section particularly of the larger British industry. I do not accept the view put forward by the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Bristol North East

While recognising that the result of the miners' ballot might indicate that if there were a General Election Labour Members would be returned for Ebbw Vale and Barnsley, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that most fair-minded people would recognise that the Government have bent over backwards to try to reach an accommodation with the miners without betraying those 6 million people to whom he has referred and who also have votes which they might wish to register at the appropriate time?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I have already spoken about those who have settled. Throughout we have offered to the miners that, in addition to their stage 3 settlement, they could have a review of their pay structure beginning at once in the same way as other industries have had it. Moreover, we have offered them the alternative of setting up the relativities machinery straight away and of putting their claim forward if they believe it to be justified. These are both absolutely fair offers in addition to what has been offered by the National Coal Board under stage 3. It is open to them to negotiate either of those offers in addition to what has been offered by the Government regarding special help on health and pensions, but neither of those matters has ever been discussed by the NUM.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher , Oldham West

Since the Prime Minister has also discussed the huge increases in oil prices, may I ask why he has not gone on to draw the obvious conclusion, which is now true, that even if miners' wages were doubled coal would still be two to three times cheaper than oil for most purposes? In those circumstances, is it not the economics of Bedlam to go on holding down the miners?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's figures. If he looks at the amount which is already being paid by way of subsidy to the coal industry and works this in on an economic basis, his figures will have a very different appearance indeed. This is entirely overlooking the impact on other industrial groups in the country who have equal or similar power to that of the miners over our economy and their attitudes to the incomes policy and to future negotiations.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

What conclusion must the public now inevitably draw from the fact that fewer than 200,000 workers, admittedly in a key sector, are prepared to jeopardise the welfare not only of the 6 million workers who have accepted stage 3 pay awards but of the entire working population of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The whole House must regret that, as I have said, the NUM was not prepared to discuss matters further with me or with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and has never discussed the question of the miners' pay structure being reviewed, of going to the relativities machinery, which could be set up immediately, or of dealing with health and pensions. We have repeatedly and constantly offered all these matters.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

The Prime Minister has made a great deal of the fact that 6 million workers have already settled within the limits of stage 3. Is he aware that the trade union leaders who negotiated those settlements have without exception supported the TUC's view that the miners deserve a settlement outside the limits of stage 3 and, further, that Mr. Frank Chapple, representing the electricity supply workers, whose bargaining power is at least equal to that of the miners, in accepting such a settlement last week said that he did so explicitly in order to make it easier for the Government to meet the miners' claim?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I am well aware of that and of what the TUC again confirmed to me yesterday evening—that there are still at least two major groups of workers who have to settle and that it could give no undertaking that if the miners achieved their aims as a result of industrial action—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—those other groups would not use industrial action either. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] The TUC could not give me any undertaking on that issue, and that is what matters.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King , Bridgwater

In discussions with the TUC is it not vital that both sides should have confidence that any agreements reached should be honoured? In that connection may I ask whether the TUC has discussed with my right hon. Friend the fact that the National Union of Mineworkers took industrial action while its existing agreement was still in operation, that it has broken a standing agreement reached in 1947 that essential safety work would be done on overtime and that it is now proposing to move to a total strike in breach of the law that due notice should be given?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I am aware of these facts and I greatly regret them. The new settlement is not due to come into operation until 1st March. We are therefore at least three weeks away from such a settlement and yet the country has been subjected to industrial action for some months and, unless reason prevails, will now be subjected to an all-out strike from this weekend. Despite all this, we have carried on and tried to carry on further talks with the NUM in order to get it to agree to a settlement.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Will the Prime Minister agree that the main points of difference at the moment are that the Government insist that a settlement must be within phase 3 but that, having given general support to the relativity proposal, they are prepared to go beyond stage 3 if specific cases are made out by the examining body? The NUM is anxious to have further discussions only if there is money on the table. If this is so, does the Prime Minister agree that if an honourable compromise between these two extreme positions could be reached, nothing would be more in the interest of the country?

Has the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, considered the comparable situation which exists in regard to money paid into court when a dispute takes place? Have the Government considered—[Interruption.] Those who are interested more in a settlement will perhaps have the courtesy to listen to what I have to say. Have the Government considered the possibility of referring the case of the miners within the meaning of paragraph 60 of the Pay Board's report to an examining body, for the Government to declare what they believe to be an appropriate sum for that body to pass adjudication upon, with the firm understanding that if it is not generous enough the Government will be prepared to increase it and that if it is too generous the Government reserve the right to reduce it?

Finally, does the Prime Minister agree that any reference to an examining body on relativities in a special case would be purely academic unless the Government themselves thought that there should be a settlement which went beyond phase 3?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Of course I shall consider what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. However, the proposal for the setting up of relativities machinery —we have accepted that it could be set up at once—is not an extreme position but is a perfectly sound central position. If particular groups feel that their relativity is wrong, they should present their cases to whatever machinery is established, and those who believe that they are affected by any decision should have the opportunity to put their views as well. This is not an extreme position.

However, on first hearing I do not see what advantage the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of putting money into court can offer. The Government asked the Pay Board to report on anomalies. We accepted the board's report and more than 90 per cent. of anomalies have been removed and satisfactorily settled. The Civil Service was the biggest case and the Government have fully carried out ther obligation to the Civil Service unions. The relativities commission can operate in exactly the same way and it is right that it should do so. The Government will carry out their proper obligations. However, some important differences about relativities are now so deep-seated, and the amount is considerable taken across the whole field, that obviously they have to be taken into account from the point of view of an overall incomes policy in exactly the same way as the amount that was estimated by the Pay Board for anomalies was taken into account in stage 3.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Is it not of paramount urgency in this grave situation that meaningful negotiations should begin at once? Is it not a fact that the unwillingness of the NUM to sit down with the Prime Minister stems from the fact that he insists on always laying down in advance what they will be free to discuss? Did he not seek last week in the concluding words of his letters to the TUC and the CBI to say that if they agreed with all that he said in those letters they could have a meeting? In the end he was good enough to concede a meeting without their so agreeing.

But since the issue here—the Leader of the Liberal Party has tried to deal with it in a convoluted way but he has obviously—

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I suggested a Royal Commission to deal with special cases last February and the Prime Minister turned it down. Since this is the position, will the Prime Minister put his authority, as it is a question of money at the end of the day, if not next week, behind the words of the Lord President last Sunday that the miners will get more money? Will he now confirm that and that the money will be back-dated?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The Leader of the Opposition suggested setting up a Royal Commission a year ago. We set up the Pay Board straight away in its proper form under statute by Parliament. That board has done its work effectively and has produced an anomalies report and now a relativities report. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether I would be willing to set up at once the machinery to deal with relativities. I accepted that and I told the TUC and the CBI that I hoped they would cooperate. The CBI will co-operate but I regret that the TUC is not so far able to do so. If the Leader of the Opposition will support this effort and suggest that the miners should put their case, if they consider they have a claim, to the relativities machinery, he will be doing good. It is the NUM which is refusing to come to a meeting with myself or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment unless, to use its phrase, cash is placed upon the table. That is the real position.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Will the Prime Minister answer the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) about the Prime Minister's misleading statement concerning the electricians and others? Will he also answer my question about whether he agrees with what the Lord President said on Sunday?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The relativities board will have to make its recommendations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] The right hon. Gentleman would be the first to attack me for carrying through a nonsensical process if I were to say that groups in industry should go to a board when I had already taken a decision.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The Leader of the Opposition is absolutely wrong in suggesting that I must tell an impartial board what it has to do. The right hon. Gentleman asked for the machinery to be set up. I am prepared to set it up and I wish that he would support it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."].

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. We must move on.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. From time to time it becomes necessary for a back bencher to remind you that, when you administer rebukes or whatever you may wish to call them to back benchers who speak for, say, more than 30 seconds during Question Time, you should administer those same rebukes to the Leader of the Liberal Party. On the last two occasions he has spoken for more than two minutes each time. In view of that and since I was cut off in mid-stream, Mr. Speaker, will you ask the Prime Minister to answer the second half of my question?

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

No. I am grateful to the hon. Member for his help. He does quite a lot of navigation himself and, of course, I shall take into account what he said.