asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met the general secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation.
I last met Bill Sirs on Saturday 19 January.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has now come to meet Mr. Sirs again and to advise him that after 12 weeks of a strike the work force in BSC has had no opportunity of expressing its view, except on a ballot about a ballot? Does he not agree that he should raise with Mr. Sirs the question whether he should instruct his executive to hold a ballot among his union members? Does he not further agree that, if Mr. Sirs disagrees, there is a case for the Government bringing forward legislation to compel unions to hold a secret ballot in these circumstances?
I am always prepared to meet Mr. Sirs if he wishes to come to see me. I understand that the chairman of the British Steel Corporation has said that BSC will hold a further ballot if the unions refuse to hold their own ballot and also refuse arbitration. With regard to making ballots compulsory, it would be better, and would be likely to lead to greater success, if we could hold more ballots by voluntary means. In that way, we would be more likely to get people voting on the issues than if the ballots were compulsory.
When the right hon. Gentleman next meets Mr. Bill Sirs, will he ask him whether he has carried out any negotiations with the chairman of the British Steel Corporation, who up to now, according to the press, has not been present at any of the negotiations? Will he also tell Bill Sirs that the men in the various areas—particularly my area—are standing firm behind their union, and it would take very little to move them to get a satisfactory solution? Will the right hon. Gentleman, who obviously has some sympathy with the problem, try to do his utmost within the Government to get the matter speedily resolved?
The parties to the dispute will have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I hope that the two sides will get together and settle this dispute quickly. They may use arbitration, accept a ballot or simply reach an agreement.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that an official of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation made a statement last week to the effect that his members had been well behaved on the picket lines but that the time had come to exert more pressure? Will my right hon. Friend take the first opportunity to tell Mr. Sirs that he deplores such incitement to breaking the law?
I certainly deplore any incitement to break the law. However, on the two occasions that the courts have become involved in the dispute, the trade unions and Mr. Sirs have obeyed the law. Trade unionists are basically law-abiding. I hope that they will remain that way.