Orders of the Day — Civil Service (Dispute)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 8 May 1981.

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Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West 2:45, 8 May 1981

Because the civil servants' action is unpopular, there is a tendency to overlook the background to it. The public should understand that that background is a clear betrayal of commitments given by the Prime Minister during the election campaign. It is no good the Minister of State's referring to an earlier speech by the present Secretary of State for Employment. In the letter that I produced in the House recently, sent out from the Prime Minister's office during the election campaign, there were no provisos and no qualifications. There was certainly no references to the "ifs" and "buts" in an earlier and not all that well reported speech by the Secretary of State for Employment.

It is no good, either, the Minister's telling us that the system is out of date, because only two years ago the Prime Minister herself welcomed the return to the pay research system. She did not consider it out of date then.

It seems strange for the Minister to berate the civil servants who are in dispute on the grounds that some 2 million people in the public sector have already settled within the 6 per cent., when the Government are saying that a wider comparison—the established method of comparison, based on statistics about the pay of everyone—must be abandoned. The Government say, "For this pay round the only comparison that we want you to consider is one with those who accepted the lowest pay settlements of this round." There is no way in which that can be presented as justice.

The Minister may say that the system has been abandoned before. It has been suspended, but always in the context of a proper incomes policy applying to everyone. This is a limited incomes policy that applies only to part of the public sector—what is thought to be the weak part. Because the Government have played down the effect that the dispute is having on defence and the Government's financial resources, they are stimulating the pressures within the Civil Service unions for escalation, as we saw at yesterday's conference. There is a risk of an all-out strike for one week. There is also a risk that in the Department of Employment and the Department of Health and Social Security there could be action affecting the payment of benefits to those most in need. None of us, including the civil servants, wants that to happen.

If the Government think that they have a case, the honourable thing for them to do is to arbitrate, in keeping with their commitments to the International Labour Organisation and the agreements that have so far existed between them and the Civil Service unions. If the Government's case is right, they have nothing to fear from arbitration.