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Advisory Conciliation And Arbitration Service

Volume 884: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he remains satisfied with the work of the Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

Yes, Sir. The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service continues to receive an increasing number of requests for advice on a range of industrial relations matters and for assistance in settling disputes. We have received tributes from all quarters—employers and trade unions—on the splendid way in which it has started its work.

In view of the Secretary of State's desire to give the House the fullest possible information on these matters, will he say how many settlements assisted by the ACAS have been in breach of the social contract? If he is serious in maintaining—he has done so constantly this afternoon—that strict allegiance to the guidelines is his main purpose, should he not instruct the ACAS to withdraw publicly from any negotiations at the point where the parties begin to discuss proposals which are in clear breach of the guidelines?

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands what we believe to be the purpose and possibility of success of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service. The chairman of the service, Mr. Mortimer, has publicly said that in present circumstances the service must have regard to the broad conceptions of the social contract and that it is right, when called in to assist, for it to inquire whether the parties to the dispute have taken account of the social contract. However, the responsibility for settlements rests with employers and unions. The service is absolutely independent of the Government. It is entitled to make up its mind on the basis of the facts put to it. If we interfered with that independence in the way the hon. Gentleman has suggested we would destroy the effectiveness of this body as a conciliative and arbitrating body. We have no intention of doing so. I believe that many disputes have already been settled because of the intervention of the service. Many more will be avoided because of the service, and I advise the hon. Gentleman, if I may be presumptuous enough to do so, to assist us in making the service work instead of attempting, by this kind of question, to undermine its independence.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that even before negotiations reach the stage where the service he has mentioned is called in, the whole atmosphere at shop-floor level is shrouded by the evil penumbra of the legislation introduced by the Conservative Party? Does he realise that this makes it terribly difficult for unions and management, which have not been at all assisted by the absurdities of the Industrial Relations Act which has done so much damage? May I say—

In response to my hon. Friend's question, I assure him that we are seeking to do our best to get rid of all the evil penumbra of the 1971 Act. We have not long to wait before that is achieved. Even before the abolition of that Act we have got this service into operation. It is not yet operating on a statutory basis. This will come in our later legislation. We believe that the service is in working order, and the House ought to pay tribute to the way in which Mr. Mortimer and his colleagues are doing the job.