HC Deb 10 April 1975 vol 889 cc1406-9
Q3. Mr. Golding

asked the Prime Minister when last he met the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress.

Q4. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the TUC.

The Prime Minister

I met the General Secretary of the TUC yesterday and further meetings with the TUC will be arranged as necessary.

Mr. Golding

Will my right hon. Friend say whether he discussed with Len Murray the undoubted improvement in industrial relations that has taken place over the past 12 months?

The Prime Minister

It is, of course, a fact that the figures for the number of days lost through strikes in the first two months of this year are better than for any year since 1969, when we were previously in office. It is also a fact that what has happened under this Government compares with the 24 million man-days lost in 1972—with the full support, I have no doubt, of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. I mentioned to representatives of the TUC last night that industrialists are coming to this country from the United States on a mission, which the Government will assist and facilitate, to try to persuade more Americans to invest in Britain and to start factories here. The reason they gave to me—this happened yesterday afternoon—was that there was much greater stability in industrial relations in Britain than in the United States.

Mr. Pardoe

Did the right hon. Gentleman ask the TUC leaders to study the latest report of the OECD on the British economy? Will he make clear whether that report, based as it is on the figures and calculations of the British Civil Service, represents the views of the Government? Will he confirm that the report shows that, apart from industrial relations, in every other respect the British economy is now far more dangerously placed than it was at the time of the November Budget or of the last election?

The Prime Minister

I did not discuss this with the General Secretary, who of course is very well briefed on all international and national documents about the economic situation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Including the Common Market."] Like everyone else in this country, the General Secretary is free to form his opinion on that. But whatever opinion he forms is not based on a lack of briefing.

With regard to the OECD figures, which the Conservative Party in the last election said were "cooked" by the British Civil Service, these are the organisation's extrapolations of historical figures produced by the Government for the time being, whichever party is in power, and they are indeed gloomy. They reinforce certain warnings we have given, although unemployment, while the unemployment situation causes great anxiety in this country, has increased considerably less than in most of our competitor countries. We have to do all in our power to keep it that way.

Mr. McNamara

Does my right hon. Friend realise that, although we welcome foreign investment which is likely to come to this country from the United States and we recognise the stability and hard work of the British working class and their ability to make goods, we resent any industry doing what Litton Industries did in putting 1,400 people out of work in Hull without notice and leaving them completely on the scrap heap?

Mr. Greville Janner

And in Leicester.

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. That firm, both in Hull and in Leicester, behaved deplorably. and not in accordance with the best standards of British industry. For whatever reason, the firm decided to close its factories without consultation with the workers. The purpose of current legislation before the House is to get the highest possible standards for all industrial firms in this country in relation both to consultation and to accountability, not only to those who work for them but to the nation as a whole.

Sir David Renton

Will the Prime Minister discuss with the TUC the question of avoiding in future the deplorable damage done to our economy by the recent dock strike? Is he aware that a small body of activists was able to keep out of work thousands of men who wanted to return to work? Why was no Minister prepared to intervene to help to bring that strike to an end and so avoid that damage to the economy?

The Prime Minister

I referred to the dock strike a few minutes ago. I agree about the damage. In common with other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I also represent a considerable number of dockers. One has to recognise that dock workers are extremely anxious about the posiiton. With the closure of docks and the development of the container trade inland, it is natural that they are anxious and can be worked on by militants. In this case, I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would pay tribute to the courage shown by Mr. Jack Jones, the general secretary of the union—

Sir D. Renton indicated assent


The Prime Minister

—who also visited me last night. It is true that for a time the militants got control dishonestly and deceptively and gave false tallies of the numbers who were voting. As for a Minister intervening, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman realises the deep sensitivity in the docks at present because of the ludicrously dangerous policy followed by the previous Government when they put five dockers in gaol on ideological grounds.