asked the Secretary of State for Employment in how many disputes the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has been involved since the beginning of January.
I am advised that during January the service was involved in providing assistance by way of conciliation in 199 cases throughout the country.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that ACAS is well qualified to deal with difficult and complicated disputes and that we should not rely on the intervention of Ministers or Prime Ministers over coffee and sandwiches at No. 10, as so often happened during the previous Administration?
I certainly agree that the resolution of an industrial dispute is best left to those party to it. However, it is wise to invoke the expert and impartial assistance of ACAS.
Can the Minister tell us how much more money has been put aside for the development of ACAS since the change in the law on picketing that has been announced today will exacerbate industrial disputes?
Changes in the law on picketing are embodied in the Employment Bill that was published on 7 December. It is expected that those proposals will considerably reduce the disruption and abuses to which picketing gives rise. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the budget for ACAS.
Has my hon. and learned Friend received any request from the BSC or from the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation to act as an arbitrator in the current dispute?
No, Sir. I have received no such request. ACAS has been involved in the steel dispute. It has held several meetings, the most recent of which was held on 13 February. Unfortunately, no progress was made.
Does the Minister realise that the information requested by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Needham), relates to the lack of Government interference in the steel industry? Why do the Government refuse to intervene on behalf of an industry for which they are greatly responsible? Is it not time that the Minister used his good offices, together with the Prime Minister, to ensure that the steel dispute is settled as it should be, and not according to the attitude of the Prime Minister?
The pay dispute in the steel industry is extremely painful and serious. However, it is the same in character as any other pay dispute. It will be best settled by those who are party to it.