Trade Unions

Oral Answers to Questions — Civil Service – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th February 1979.

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Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Stirlingshire West 12:00 am, 12th February 1979

asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects next to meet representatives of the Civil Service trades unions.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what recent meetings he has had with Civil Service trade union leaders; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Charles Morris Mr Charles Morris , Manchester Openshaw

My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal and I met last week with representatives of the non-industrial Civil Service unions. Frequent contact is maintained with representatives of all the Civil Service trade unions.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Stirlingshire West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many civil servants and, indeed, other public service workers, such as nurses and teachers, are complaining that their wages have fallen behind those of comparable workers in the private sector mainly because of the excessive wage restraint of recent years? In view of the fact that their complaints are backed by the independent findings of the Pay Research Unit, is it not a dishonest farce for the Government to have agreed to reconstitute the Pay Research Unit unless they also give a firm commitment to implement its findings from April of this year?

Photo of Mr Charles Morris Mr Charles Morris , Manchester Openshaw

The Government's position in regard to the pay of the Civil Service has not been wholly ungenerous. In 1975, on the basis of a Pay Research Unit report, we conceded pay increases of up to 30 per cent. In all stages of the Government's pay policy since then—in 1976, 1977 and 1978—civil servants have received the maximum available under those phases of Government pay policy. We have reactivated the Pay Research Unit. We are now processing the reports emanating from the unit.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Does my right hon. Friend accept also that those civil servants who form the bulk of the Civil Service trade unions are in the relatively low-paid category, such as those who serve behind DHSS counters, some of whom receive less in wages than they are paying out—and that is not to make an argument for reducing unemployment benefit, but rather the other way? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is talk of industrial action? I suppose that that is the last thing the Government want at present.

Photo of Mr Charles Morris Mr Charles Morris , Manchester Openshaw

Let me take up one phrase that my hon. Friend used. He described certain groups of civil servants as "low paid". This will be established only when we have processed the Pay Research Unit reports. There are 450 of those reports, the last of which was updated on 7 February. We are only in the process of examining those reports at the moment. This is by no means the time to be talking of industrial action.

Photo of Mr Barney Hayhoe Mr Barney Hayhoe , Hounslow Brentford and Isleworth

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear when next he meets Civil Service trade union leaders that Government public relations officers are not available to them for the purpose of advising them on ways of busting the Government's pay policy? Does he regard this as a suitable opportunity to comment on the most disturbing press reports which have appeared about the activities of a certain public relations officer in the DHSS?

Photo of Mr Charles Morris Mr Charles Morris , Manchester Openshaw

I appreciate the point which the hon. Gentleman is making about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, who has responsibility for the decisions which were taken in that case.

Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend

Although my right hon. Friend needs more time to process the reports, is he not in a position to say what broad level of pay increases is represented by the PRU findings? Will he give us an assurance that he will accept the findings and not try to tie the Civil Service to a 5 per cent. limit, which would be totally out of line with the findings of the PRU?

Photo of Mr Charles Morris Mr Charles Morris , Manchester Openshaw

My hon. Friend suggested that I was seeking more time to process the reports. I am not. We are going through the normal process of negotiation. We reactivated the PRU towards the end of 1978 and it has been collecting the evidence of fair comparisons. We are now processing that evidence. The operative date for the next pay settlement is 1 April. Let us complete the negotiations before anyone suggests a mad leap into industrial militancy and conflict.