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Employment

Volume 888: debated on Tuesday 18 March 1975

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Equal Pay

2.

x asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now refer those organisations he considers have not made sufficient progress towards the implementation of equal pay to the Industrial Arbitration Board.

I expect to refer a number of collective agreements to the Industrial Arbitration Board very shortly.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many thousands of women are suffering considerable loss of income because of the tardy implementation of equal pay by employers and the failure of the previous Conservative Government to activate the order under the Equal Pay Act? Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that he will refer those collective agreements which still contain discriminatory references to women to the Industrial Arbitration Board in the near future rather than at the end of this year?

I share my hon. Friend's regret that the Conservative Government did not make an order under Section 10 of the Equal Pay Act. Subject to the latest state of progress on equal pay, I hope to refer up to four agreements within the next week or so.

Industrial Dispute (Rail Services)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what records his Department keeps regarding the extent of disruption of rail services by industrial disputes.

My Department keeps no records of this kind. Details of any disruption to rail services are given to the Government by British Rail.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a good thing if a record were kept of the extent of the inconvenience and the loss of working hours caused to commuters who suffer from endless go-slows, work-to-rules and inter-union disputes which occur on the railways during the winter months almost every year? Would it not be a good idea to institute an inquiry into industrial relations in this nationalised industry before embarking on the nationalisation of other industries and bringing them down to the same level?

I do not think that the kind of inquiry which the hon. Gentleman suggests would be helpful. I deplore the inconvenience and trouble which so many commuters were put to in the recent dispute. I would not describe that as an inter-union dispute. The results of the attitude taken by the Government, the National Union of Railwaymen and the board show that we were taking the right course. I know that there were earlier disputes on the railways, and I hope that the general restructuring agreement reached last year will contribute to ensuring that we do not return to difficulties of that kind.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that thanks to the efforts of the NUR and the sensible approach of his Department to the signalmen's dispute the matter was concluded satisfactorily and fairly speedily? Will my right hon. Friend ignore the nonsense uttered by Opposition Members who would not know a railway signal box from a greenhouse?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the NUR deserves congratulations for the effort it made to bring these difficulties to an end. I believe that the signalmen have taken the right course in seeking to settle the matter through the machinery of the NUR.

Social Contract

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of pay settlements, in the public and private sectors, made since 1st October 1974, were in breach of the social contract.

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of pay settlements, in the public and private sectors, made since 1st October 1974, were in breach of the social con- tract; and which of the TUC pay guidelines, apart from the 12-months' rule, was breached most often.

We do not have comprehensive information of this kind about pay settlements which would make possible sufficiently precise answers to these Questions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that apart from the lack of availability of the figures the Government, on that rather sad and miserable day just before Christmas, blasted the biggest hole in the social contract when they announced a massive increase in the salaries of judges and top civil servants? Why, therefore, does my right hon. Friend get terribly het up over the low-paid workers like the pickets outside the House of Commons—who take home less than £30 a week—because they might be breaching some terrible guidelines?

On the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, we had a debate on this subject some weeks ago in which I gave my views on the subject, and I do not wish to add anything further to that. On the dispute to which my hon. Friend refers, the guideline of the 12-months' rule was not laid down by the Government but by the General Council of the TUC and was approved at the congress of the TUC. We regard that guideline as being of great importance. Moreover, we believe that observance of that guideline can assist low-paid workers, because the Government have done their best to carry through and to assist in carrying through any guideline in the social contract accepted by the TUC designed specifically to assist low-paid workers.

With regard to the dispute that my hon. Friend mentioned, an answer to the claim is coming from the Government this week, and I hope that it will assist the situation.

Is it not outrageous that the right hon. Gentleman cannot give factual information to the House about the difference between public sector and private sector settlements? Why cannot he give information about the guidelines which are breached most often? If he does not have the information, or is not prepared to share it with the House, how can he go no pretending that the social contract is doing anything to help sustain a policy against inflationary wage settlements?

It is a question of what figures are available and what kind of figures should be kept by the Government in dealing with the situation. We do not believe that we should keep figures on the basis that, say, the Pay Board did, or previous Governments did, when they were carrying out a statutory policy. We do not think that that would be the right course. As I told the House on 23rd January, my Department is reasonably well informed about settlements covering two-thirds of the working population, but that information relates to only a small proportion of the total number of settlements concluded. As I have repeatedly made clear, it is neither necessary nor appropriate for me to say in every case whether it is inside or outside the TUC guidelines.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the guidelines established by the unions provide priority for lower-paid workers, that the guidelines are imprecise, and that it will never be possible to determine whether each and every settlement is within the social contract or outside it?

My hon. Friend is correct on both points. Certainly, as soon as the guideline referring to low-paid workers was passed and accepted by the congress last September, the Government indicated that they would do their best to ensure that it would be observed. We regard it as one of the most important guidelines of them all, but we want all the guidelines to be accepted and observed.

As the Government look like running into difficulty with the electricity supply workers and the National Union of Railwaymen, should not they and the TUC sit down together again and decide how much the country can afford in pay settlements, rather than have the priorities first and the resources second? They should reverse that, otherwise they will have another year of great difficulty.

There are certainly some difficulties around. I am not seeking to deny that, or obscure it. But the nego- tiations of the electricity supply workers are still proceeding, and it would be most unwise of me to make any comment about them. The same applies to the railways. There is a meeting on Friday at which discussions will take place. One of the things which the Government have done as part of the social contract is to say that we should restore free collective bargaining, and we wish that to proceed in both those cases and in others.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman can give us the figures for the public sector, even if he cannot give us the figures for the private sector. How can hon. Members or people outside the House who are interested in the matter gain any idea whether the social contract is working if the right hon. Gentleman refuses even to give figures which are within his control?

I have had lengthy discussions with the right hon. Gentleman on this subject. I do not believe that it would assist in carrying through a sensible wages policy or in seeking to resist inflationary claims if the Government were to publish the results of each claim and pass their verdict on it. That would have the opposite effects to those which hon. Members might desire. That is the answer I have given the right hon. Gentleman on many occasions. It does not mean that we are concealing any figures, or anything of the sort.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had with the TUC regarding the implementation of the Government's side of the social contract.

I and other Ministers have had frequent discussions with TUC leaders on the social contract, including the implementation of the Government's side.

Did the right hon. Gentleman read the article in the previous week's issue of the New Statesman by Wilfred Beckerman? Will he now admit that the trade unions, whatever their intentions, are no longer able to deliver their part of the social contract, however imprecisely it may be formulated? Instead of pretending that the emperor has some clothes on, will the right hon. Gentleman not give some thought as to how the unions can be enabled to take some of the power. and some of the responsibility which should go with that power, and how they can be given an interest in maintaining the degree of wage restraint which is necessary to ensure full employment?

I read the article by Wilfred Beckerman in the New Statesman. I attach a due amount of importance to any article I read in that journal. I have also read—and I attach even greater importance to it—the economic review produced by the General Council of the TUC. If the hon. Gentleman will read that document he will see how responsibly the members of the General Council and other trade unions have taken their responsibilities under the social contract. They are now seeking to observe the guidelines. We wish to see the guidelines observed as strictly as possible because we think that that can make a major contribution to overcoming our inflationary problems. Anyone who reads the economic review of the TUC will see how that organisation approaches the matter in a way that can be helpful to the country as a whole.

My right hon. Friend has just said that the trade unions are carrying out their part of the social contract. He will be aware of the considerable concern that is felt due to the rising level of unemployment. Will my right hon. Friend say whether he regards a total of 1 million unemployed as a breach of the social contract on the part of the Government?

I think that the present level of unemployment is too high. I think that the level of unemployment that prevailed when we came into office last February was already too high. I do not accept in any sense the statements made by leading Opposition spokesmen that these are dubious statistics and give a false impression of the dangers of unemployment. Of course we wish to guard against unemployment. That is one reason why we are asking everybody to observe the guidelines as strictly as possible. The more strictly those guidelines are observed, the better we shall be able to overcome our unemployment problems, as well as some other problems.

In view of the firm reference made by the Secretary of State to advice recently tendered by the TUC suggesting an increase in public spending of over £900 million a year, may we assume that he would regard an increase in taxation in the Budget as a breach by the Government of the social contract?

Nobody will know better than the hon. Gentleman that I cannot anticipate the Chancellor's Budget Statement. If I were to answer the hon. Gentleman's question now, I should be doing so in some respect. I do not intend to be tempted in that direction at all. What I was saying was in reply to a question which was put to me about reading matter, and I was giving some advice on that score. On this occasion the hon. Gentleman would do better to read the TUC economic review than the New Statesman.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if in the next year we have the levels of wage settlements which we have seen in the last year, the increase in unemployment will be an inexorable process which we shall not be able to halt.

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct, in the sense that if wage settlements are at much too high a level they may increase the dangers of unemployment. If wage settlements in particular industries are based at too high a level, that again could cause unemployment. But there are many other causes of unemployment—world-wide causes—which must be dealt with by other measures. Therefore, the question must be put in proper perspective. I do not accept the idea that in the present situation wages alone are the cause of unemployment.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is now indulging in double talk? On the one hand he says that he deplores the high level of unemployment, but on the other he says that he is perfectly satisfied with progress on the social contract. Does he not realise that in so far as he has failed over the social contract he is now responsible for allowing unemployment to rise? When will he make that clear to the nation?

I did not know the right hon. Gentleman was such an enthusiastic supporter of the social contract. It is a novelty for him to say that the social contract, as he interprets it, would be the salvation of the country.

I was not engaging in double talk. I was stating what surely everybody in the House will accept—namely, that in the present economic situation if wage settlements are pressed beyond the guidelines in the social contract they may contribute to the dangers of high unemployment. I also said that there are other causes of unemployment to be taken into account.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the operation of the social contract.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied that the social contract, as currently interpreted, is not leading to higher unemployment and rising inflation.

31.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the working of the social contract; and if he will make a statement.

A great deal of progress has been made on both the Government's side and the trade union's side in fulfilling the social contract. But firmer adherence to the spirit of the TUC guidelines is vital to reducing the danger of higher unemployment and keeping down inflation.

I sympathise with my right hon. Friend's problems, but will he comment on one basic dilemma? The power workers are now demanding free collective bargaining as part of the social contract but are using that freedom to demand terms which clearly are outside the social contract. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the power workers or any other trade union group pursue this line they will destroy the social contract and seriously damage the Government?

For the same reasons that I have already given, I shall not comment on negotiations now in process in the electricity supply industry. That would be a most foolish course for any Minister to take at such a moment. Those negotiations are not yet concluded. If it is the fact that the restoration of free collective bargaining leads to some other difficulties as well, those difficulties are far more likely to be overcome in this way rather than by returning to the old statutory system.

Why does not the Secretary of State acknowledge what everybody at home and abroad acknowledges, namely, that the social contract as now administered is the cause of inflation and rising unemployment? Why does he not face up to his responsibilities and admit it and do something about the situation, before it is too late?

The hon. Gentleman has not even troubled to examine the facts. I deny absolutely the suggestion that the social contract is in any sense the cause of inflation. We want to secure a stricter allegiance to the guidelines laid down in the social contract. We believe that the social contract, with all its different aspects, still offers much the best way of trying to overcome the danger of inflation.

My right hon. Friend said that the statutory incomes policy led to the conflict and confrontation of last year and that this had been replaced by the social contract. Has any suggestion been made by the Conservative Party as to what should replace the social contract? If the Conservatives have no alternative, will they stop sniping at the TUC's efforts to try to reach an understanding with the workers which will get us out of our difficulties?

I do not think that my hon. Friend is fair to the Conservative Party, which has been far too busy replacing its Leader to undertake the task of replacing its policies.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the failure of the social contract is placing intolerable burdens on retired people? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certain Labour Members may make noises, but that is a fact. Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with Mr. Jack Jones, who displays great sympathy towards the pensioners, and tell him that the best way to help the pensioners is for the Transport and General Workers' Union to observe the terms of the social contract?

One of the most essential parts of the social contract was the raising of pensions. The Government undertook that course. It was an integral part of the social contract.

Factory Inspectorate

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment why he is re-organising the Factory Inspectorate.

This is a matter for the Health and Safety Commission and executive and I am asking the chairman of the commission to write to my hon. Friend.

Will my hon. Friend convey to the commission the fact that the factory inspectors appear to be deeply unhappy about the proposed changes, which involve not only specialisation—of which they approve—but an excessive degree of centralisation? Is he aware that the number of officers would he reduced from over 100 to 18, and that this would lead to inefficiency, excessive travelling and loss of support staff? Does he agree that what we need is to devote more resources to the service, on which workers' lives depend. and not to make people subservient to a bureaucratic and cheeseparing system?

The House will recall that during the passage of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act I outlined the Government's plans for a substantial expansion of the inspectorate and substantially increased resources for the purpose. I understand that some discontent has been expressed by some inspectors. It is not clear how much this is part of wider and more complex issues of pay, grading and other matters, which are the subject of negotiations which are not yet concluded.

Does my hon. Friend agree that law without punishment is only advice? Will he give an indication when he will be able to recruit the qualified staff to administer his Act?

I have referred to the negotiations which are taking place, a central part of which is about pay and grading. I am confident that the outcome will be much more attractive terms, which will encourage faster recruitment of inspectors.

Picketing

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the current working of the law on picketing.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House the assurance that whatever changes are made in the law of picketing he will not give pickets the legal right to stop people who do not wish to be stopped, as the overwhelming majority of people think that that is a right that should be reserved to the police?

The hon. Gentleman raises a question that we have discussed on previous Bills, and no doubt will discuss again when the Employment Protection Bill is before the House. I ask him to wait for that Bill. I hope that he will not have to wait very long.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many Labour Members are disturbed about the law on picketing? Does he further agree that any law which allows unlimited sentences, even life sentences, on pickets, is necessarily bad. and that it is time we had legislation that set right the entire law on picketing in favour of the pickets?

The important question that my hon. Friend raises is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is considering possibilities of a change in the law on the subject. The aspects of picketing law which would fall within the Employment Protection Bill are the provisions which would protect peaceful persuasion on picket lines. That is what we shall discuss when we have the Bill before us.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answer to the supplementary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) will cause considerable alarm, because the implication is that the Employment Protection Bill will contain measures to change the law on picketing, and a change along the lines described earlier would be wholly unacceptable to many people?

My reply did not say what the hon. Gentleman attributes to me. I asked the House to await the Bill. I do not know why that should cause such alarm.

Redundancy

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with redundancy procedure arrangements in industry.

No, Sir. I am far from satisfied. The Government will be introducing measures shortly in the Employment Protection Bill to require employers to consult the trade unions concerned before deciding on redundancies and to notify my Department well before they take effect.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he appreciate that there is concern amongst my hon. Friends? We have not yet seen the Bill but our attitude towards it is the attitude of the Opposition to the social contract, namely, that it does not exist. Will my hon. Friend give a categorical assurance that the Bill will be before us before Easter?

We hope that it will be before the House before Easter. It will probably be before us during next week.

Scotland (Departmental Functions)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will list the functions of his Department in Scotland.

As throughout Great Britain, my Department in Scotland provides manpower intelligence and participates in economic planning, collects statistics of employment, earnings, industrial disputes, and retail prices, and collates statistics of unemployment and vacancies. It administers regional employment premiums, deals with claims for rebate and guarantee payments in connection with redundancy payments, and provides the Wages Inspectorate, the Race Relations Advisory Service, and the Unemployment Benefit Service. It also provides lay support staff to the industrial tribunals and is responsible for supervision and inspection of the careers service provided in some areas by education authorities and in others by the Employment Service Agency.

It collaborates with the Scottish Office and other Departments of State with the employment service and training services agencies of the Manpower Services Commission, the Health and Safety Executive of the Health and Safety Commission and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, which also have the same functions in Scotland as in England and Wales.

Whew! What would be the benefit either in terms of better service or of return to the Scottish taxpayer if these functions were hived off to a Scottish Assembly?

That is a different matter, which is already being discussed in the devolution discussions that are taking place. I know that at this stage my hon. Friend would not expect me to intrude in those discussions. I thought that he and the rest of the House would like to know how much work we are doing in Scotland.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he may be assured that we are most impressed by the long list of functions that his Department carries out? At least we are impressed, although it appears that the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend, the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), is not. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a dominant feeling in Scotland that there is a need for a service which is much closer to the Scottish people? Is he aware that the Scottish people are becoming increasingly concerned that the social contract is not providing enough for them, in that costs in Scotland are comparable to those in the South-East of England but there is no London weighting for the people of Scotland? Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the need to redress the balance and to bring social justice to the working people of Scotland?

I have looked at the figures which compare wage rates in Scotland with those in the rest of the country. The figures that I have seen do not bear out what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. Indeed, I think that he is making a wrong deduction from the figures. As he knows very well, the organisations to which I have referred confer great benefits on the people of Scotland. I think that the hon. Gentleman fully appreciates that.

In the collection of unemployment statistics to which my right hon. Friend referred, has he come across any employment exchange which has more registered unemployed than the 4,023 so registered at the Brixton employment exchange?

My hon. Friend travels a long way to get to his own question. I am happy to look at the situation in Brixton even if I have to get there via the North of Scotland.

Earnings

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest annual percentage increases in average earnings, for the public and private sectors, respectively.

I regret that the information is not available.

If, as seems likely, constraints on high wage settlements in the private sector are now beginning to apply and will increasingly apply over the coming months because of the economic situation, what action will the Department take to reinforce the Prime Minister's recent comment that the money is not available for excessive settlements in public industries? If those exhortations prove to be insufficient, what practical steps will the Department take to reinforce it?

Both the Government and the TUC would like to see a closer adherence to the social contract wage guidelines than there has been in some recent cases. Both sectors will be using the influence that is open to them to keep future settlements in that area. In both the private and public sectors economic and financial constraints are operating at the moment which will be borne in mind by negotiators on both sides when determining the level of wage increases. That would have to apply whether or not there were social contract guidelines.

Even if, last year, the annual increase in the public sector were greater than in the private sector, does my hon. Friend agree that that increase is against the trend of experience in the past 10 years, during which time private sector earnings were generally very much higher than public sector wages?

It has been the case that public sector negotiators have represented to us that the general constraint over the past 10 years has been adverse to the public sector as compared with the private sector. I think that the position under the social contract guidelines has reversed that, particularly in the low pay area, where public sector manual workers have gained enormously from the TUC low pay target. To that extent we can find a large part of the explanation of some of the larger percentage increases that we find in the public sector over the past few months.

A few minutes ago the Minister of State said that he did not have the information to be able to give the House average earnings in the public sector. In a subsequent reply, almost immediately afterwards, he said that they were far too high. If he does not know what they are, how can he say what judgment he has made?

I did not say what the hon. Gentleman attributes to me. I said that in the public sector a number of the higher percentage increases were largely attributable to the fact that there were many low-paid people in the public sector —especially public sector manual workers —who have benefited particularly from the low pay guidelines. This can be determined by examining the published figures which are available to all hon. Members as regards settlements in the private sector and as to the number of manual workers in that area.

Public Service (Ilo Conference)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment who will represent Her Majesty's Government as the ILO's technical tripartite conference on the Public Service from 7th to 18th April in Geneva.

Mr. R. W. Williams of the Civil Service Department will represent the United Kingdom Government at this conference.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that the delegate supports absolutely a charter to give protection to public servants throughout the world and also to ensure that he shows sympathy towards the demands of trade unions in the underdeveloped countries?

I am sure that whoever the gentleman is he will be adequately briefed. My hon. Friend will be aware that the TUC is sending not only a delegate but two advisers, one of whom is a member of my hon. Friend's union.

Employment Agencies

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he expects to receive the Manpower Services Commission's study of private employment agencies.

32.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has yet discussed with the Manpower Services Commission the making of a study into the effect on employment and the mobility of labour of fee-paying employment agencies and the Employment Services Agency.

I have not yet discussed with the commission the possibility of its undertaking such a study. The matter is still under consideration, since it raises important questions as to the scope of any study and the most appropriate thing.

Is it not time that the Manpower Services Commission was asked to undertake such a study? Is my hon. Friend aware that private employment agencies are rapidly increasing and are now supplying anything from secretaries to lorry drivers to airline pilots? Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government still intend to enable the commission to be the only employment agency in the country?

My hon. Friend is no doubt aware that we are proposing to introduce regulations consequent on the Employment Agencies Act, but this will be delayed because of our announced intention to transfer the responsibility for administration and enforcement of regulations and licensing provisions to my Department. We do not rule out the fact that following experience gained it may ultimately be possible to transfer this responsibility to the Manpower Services Commission.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction with this Act on the Labour side of the House? Does he appreciate that there would be almost unanimous, if not unanimous, support for the complete abolition of profit-making within this area? Is he aware that the sooner it is brought into public ownership the better it will be?

I must remind my hon. Friend that when the Employment Agencies Bill—a Private Member's measure—was before the House it was not opposed but enjoyed a large measure of support from hon. Members on both sides. I made it clear on 18th February, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huck field), that we have by no means ruled out the possible ultimate abolition of private fee-charging agencies.

Health And Safety Commission

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he expects to make an announcement on the location of the office of the Health and Safety Commission.

The Health and Safety Commission has informed me that it proposes to put in hand a study of the question of its ultimate location. I am not yet able to say when the advice of the commission will be available.

Is my hon. Friend aware that even after a period of national growth in service employment the Yorkshire and Humberside Region's percentage of workers in the service sector is more than seven points below the national average of 56? Does my hon. Friend realise that it is devoutly hoped in Sheffield and district that the choice for this office will ultimately fall upon that city and its surrounding countryside?

Since I travel with my hon. Friend to and from Doncaster every week I am sure that he will not allow me to overlook the powerful case which Sheffield has. I am sure that, equally, he will recognise the strong claims of other areas.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the Sheffield travel-to-work area, in practical terms, includes many constituencies like my own and that in the Hemsworth constituency there is an almost total lack of service employment facilities? Does he further accept that in the South Yorkshire coalfield area there is a desperate need for this type of service employment?

I assure my hon. Friend that the needs of South Yorkshire in this respect are least likely to be overlooked by me. I shall certainly bear in mind what he has said and will draw his remarks to the attention of all those concerned.

Advisory, Conciliation And Arbitrationservice

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the criteria for the intervention of the Conciliation and Arbitration Service in an industrial dispute.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service can help in a dispute only if both parties accept its assistance. In most cases, the service becomes involved following a request by one or both of the parties, but it will sometimes take the initiative by offering assistance. In determining whether to intervene a major consideration is often whether the appropriate procedures for resolving disputes have been exhausted, or whether procedures have conclusively broken down. In all cases the decision rests with the service.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he tell me whether the criteria he has laid down would be sufficient to justify the early intervention of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service in the dispute now going on at Westminster Hospital? In the meantime, will he take this opportunity to deplore the use of the sick, rich or poor in the interests of an industrial dispute?

We are always concerned that the sick and the poor should not suffer as a result of any activities. Trade unionists who take action have this very much in mind. The criteria I have outlined do not of themselves prevent the use of the ACAS in the case mentioned, but in any case where the dispute is unofficial the official union machinery has to be consulted because the conciliation officers of ACAS have to maintain a proper relationship with the official machinery if they are to be able to help in a great number of official disputes.

Does the Minister not feel it appropriate to go rather further than that with the Westminster Hospital? Is it not absolutely outrageous that the working of this great hospital should be interrupted because of an unofficial dispute of this kind, apparently with no consideration whatever for the well-being of the patients? Is the Minister aware that there is a grave threat to National Health Service patients as well as to private patients? Does he not recognise that if the arbitration service is to carry some credibility we must have a rather stronger statement from the Government about such behaviour?

I am always willing to examine any dispute and to get in touch with ACAS to consider with it whether the service can be of assistance. I readily give an undertaking to do that in this case. I must, however, insist that discretion must lie with the ACAS conciliators on the question whether they can help, once they have examined all the circumstances. There are particular difficulties applying to unofficial disputes. It would be bad for the service as a whole and for industrial relations generally if, by intervening in certain unofficial disputes, ACAS totally disrupted its relationship with unions, with the result that it could not help in future official disputes.

President Ford

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if he has any plans to invite the President of the United States of America to Great Britain.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will invite President Ford to make an official visit to London.

Q9.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will issue an invitation to President Ford to visit Great Britain.

President Ford knows that he will always be welcome in this country but I am not aware that he has any plans at present to visit Europe.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would go to the United States Embassy to see the new American Ambassador, Elliot Richardson, who told the Foreign Relations Committee on 12th February that the CIA was working closely with its British colleagues. When my right hon. Friend got to the embassy he might bump into Cord Meyers, who is heading a number of CIA men operating with diplomatic immunity at the American Embassy. Will he do something positive, such as set up a commission of inquiry to investigate these appalling affairs?

If anything comes out of the official American inquiry that requires investigating in this country I shall not hesitate to set up an inquiry. My hon. Friend may have been concerned about reports of the CIA engaging in industrial espionage here. These reports have been categorically denied and I have no reason at all to think that the denial was inaccurate.

The Prime Minister will be aware that there is another visitor to our shores this year who will be much less welcome than President Ford, namely, Mr. Shelepin. We appreciate the dilemma that the Home Secretary is in when a visa is applied for in such a case, but will the Prime Minister confirm that when Mr. Shelepin comes here neither he nor any of his Ministers will meet him?

I do not think it is likely that he will be coming in the suite of President Ford, who is the subject of this Question. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary answered a question on the subject raised by the hon. Gentleman yesterday. I have never noticed from the Conservative Party the same opposition to the visit of the Fascist Caetano, whom we opposed and whom the Tory Government invited.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the disclosures of Mr. William Colby, of the CIA, to the United States committee investigating this matter, confirming the part played by the CIA in destabilising—as it said—the elected regime in Chile? Can my right hon. Friend say positively that the CIA is not playing the same part in Portugal and that the British agency is in no way responsible? Can he be absolutely certain that CIA agents would not attempt to undermine or destabilise a Labour Government in its pursuit of Socialist policy?

It would take more than them, I think. I have not had the privilege of seeing the evidence to which my hon. Friend refers. I have not been going through that evidence; I have had more important things to do. If my hon. Friend would care to send me a copy or draw my attention to any particular reference I should be glad to look into it. If anything comes out of the inquiry in the United States which suggests the need for an inquiry here, one will be held.

With reference to the last supplementary question, may I ask the Prime Minister to discuss with President Ford if he comes here the situation in Portugal? Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that an extremely disturbing situation exists there, which has grave implication for the interests of this country? Does he not further agree that it would be a great tragedy if a dictatorship of the Right were to be replaced by a dictatorship of the Left?

I share the concern which has been expressed about what has been happening in Portugal in the past few days. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made a public speech urging upon the Portuguese the need to maintain and strengthen the democratic system in their country. I repeat that when there was a Right-wing dictatorship there, the Cabinet of the Conservative Government strongly supported the visit of Mr. Caetano and voted the Labour Party down on a motion saying that he should not be invited, in view of the Portuguese atrocities.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in September 1971 Sir Alec Douglas-Home demanded the recall of 90 Soviet diplomats who were alleged to be engaged on intelligence-gathering activities in this country? Would the activities of CIA agents be equally inadmissible? If those agents were found in the United Kingdom would my right hon. Friend demand their recall, too?

I think that the number was 105. Certainly, if there were any evidence that CIA agents were doing what those 105 agents were alleged to have done, I would agree with what my hon. Friend said. If any evidence comes to my attention, either through the inquiry being undertaken on behalf of the United States Government or in any other way, I shall not hesitate to make all essential inquiries, not excluding an independent inquiry, into the matter.

Eec Heads Of Government

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister when he now next expects to attend a meeting of Heads of Government of Common Market countries.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister when he now next plans to meet the EEC Heads of Government.

Q10.

asked the Prime Minister when he now next proposes to meet the heads of EEC Governments.

At our meeting in Dublin on 10th-11th March, the Heads of Community Governments agreed to meet again in good time to prepare for the International Energy Conference later this year, but no dates have yet been arranged.

Does the Prime Minister recall that at an earlier summit meeting he endorsed a statement by the Heads of Government that economic and monetary union remained their objective and that their will had not weakened? Yet he is now reported as saying that economic and monetary union is either dead or at least on the list of endangered species. Is not it clear that on this issue the Prime Minister is presenting one face to Europe and another face to Britain? Will the right hon. Gentleman say clearly whether he does or does not support the objective of economic and monetary union?

There is no problem. I have told the House that this remains an idea of the Community. After the Paris summit meeting I told the House that we regarded this as a very remote possibility indeed. We were not expressing concern about it. I likened it—as I shall in my statement this afternoon—to our aspirations in favour of general and complete disarmament. But that will not happen by 1980, either. Members of the Community are clear about our views. I shall be referring to the matter in a statement which, with permission, I hope to make after Question Time.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Government supporters, and other hon. Members, are grateful, after the Dublin summit meeting. that there will be no need for another summit before the British people have a chance of making their voice heard on the question whether we remain a member of the Common Market? We congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the work which they did in Dublin, which is also in accordance with the terms of the Labour Party manifesto.

I thank my hon Friend for what he said about this matter. Since the regular three-or-four-times-a-year summit meetings began, the practice has been not to arrange the date of the next summit as the old summit breaks off. On both occasions we have fixed the date by communication afterwards. No decision has been taken about the date of the next summit, whether before or after the referendum.

Since there is no immediate need to meet the other Heads of EEC Governments, will the Prime Minister take steps, instead, to reassure British nationals in those countries—who often do valuable work for this country by promoting our exports—that they will not be disfranchised in what will be a national referendum rather than a constituency party election?

This matter was raised in the debate on the referendum, while my right hon. Friend and I were in Dublin. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council undertook to consider representations relating to points made in the debate. This matter is being considered.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, regardless of how long it takes to bring the Heads of Government together, it need not take three months to seek the views of the British people? Can the referendum take place soon, before everybody is sick to death of the whole business?

I have a great of sympathy with the point made by my hon. Friend. I should like to see this take place sooner, and so, I guess, would the whole House. [Interruption.] I would guess that the House and the country would like to see this matter brought to a conclusion as soon as possible. The Bill will be introduced in the near future. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, provided they are given enough time in which to decide the matters of contention, will co-operate to the full in setting as quickly as possible the earliest date for the referendum.

North-East Lancashire

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to North-East Lancashire.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. However, may I convey to him the disappointment of the people of North-East Lancashire? If my right hon. Friend visits that area he will meet thousands of textile workers who, anticipating the forthcoming debate on textiles, expect action on cheap imports. He will also meet thousands of footwear employees who are suffering from short-time working as a result of cheap imports from Eastern Europe. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give those footwear workers that action will be speedily taken to reduce the level of imports and to give those workers a secure future in the industry?

I visited my hon. Friend's constituency early last September and met the representatives of the neighbouring local authorities on the North-East Lancashire Development Association. As regards this Question, my hon. Friend will recall the answer— I hope he feels it was a positive answer—which I gave to a Question by the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) last Thursday. A debate on this matter is now arranged for Thursday. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will meet the Members of Parliament representing the affected areas. I know the Rossendale footwear project very well, and I agree that the footwear, textile and other industries are threatened by the kinds of imports to which I referred the other day.

Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he plans to suspend the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility on the important question of import controls?

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that one of the problems in North-East Lancashire is the decline in the population, and that we need more white-collar jobs and new industries in the area?

I am well aware of that point. My hon. Friend will know that I discussed the matter, our hope in the future to obtain a redeployment of civil servants into that area, and the present difficulties about doing that. In case there is any doubt about the answer I gave while I was dealing with a minor liquidity crisis here—I spilt my glass of water—I meant that there will be no suspension of collective responsibility. That is a once-and-for-all answer in relation to the referendum, whereas every week there is a retrospective dissociation by the present incumbents of the Opposition Front Bench from the actions of the previous Conservative Government.

Is the Prime Minister saying that on Thursday the Secretary of State will make an announcement about stopping footwear imports dumped by East European countries?

The hon. Gentleman had better await the statement by my right hon. Friend and the debate on it. He is giving urgent consideration to the matter, and we have been in touch. Many hon. Members representing North-East Lancashire have had much experience of this in the past. However, I cannot foreshadow what my right hon. Friend will say in the debate.

Will my right hon. Friend accept my approval of the fact that he has listened to back benchers, and will he accept also that I should like him to do it a good deal more over forthcoming weeks? Is he aware that import controls are needed as a matter of urgency to protect the West Riding wool and textile industry, and that in order to do this he should show our independence of bureaucrats in Brussels and impose import controls freely and independently, as he has the right to do?

Apart from the general question of import controls as a means of safeguarding our balance of payments, my hon. Friend is now referring to protection against unfair competition. Over the years, successive Governments have taken action in that direction. There is nothing in principle against it, and we are examining these matters for evidence of unfairness, subsidies or wrong pricing. My hon. Friend will be aware that as part of the Lom é Convention, which has been welcomed in all parts of the House, we, in common with other European countries, are providing increased access for the products of primary producing countries. I am sure that my hon. Friend is not against that.