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Employment Bill

Volume 23: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is planning to hold meetings with members of trade unions to discuss aspects of the Employment Bill legislation.

As I have made quite clear, I am of course always ready to meet appropriate representatives of trade unions to discuss matters relating to the Employment Bill.

What is my right hon. Friend's estimate of the degree of support for the legislation among trade union members?

It is clearly very high, as has been shown for a long time by successive surveys by a large number of opinion survey companies, independent of the Government.

As the Engineering Employers Federation has come out against the Bill, is there not now the clear impression from both sides that it would lead to confrontation and disturbance in work places rather than to the reverse?

The right hon. Gentleman's question is based on a false presumption. At the Financial Times conference the director general of the Engineering Employers Federation stated:

"The Federation broadly supports the Government's step by step approach to the reform of industrial relations. The proposals now going through Parliament will introduce several valuable reforms for which the EEF pressed"
when responding to the Green Paper.

Is it not a matter of great regret that the TUC, while using £1 million of its members' money to conduct a leaflet war against the Bill, has failed to consult the Government on matters of detail within it? Even at this late stage will my right hon. Friend press trade union leaders to consult him on such matters as the definition of a political dispute to see whether the Bill can be further improved before Report?

My hon. Friend is correct. The trade unions have not even consulted their members or given them the choice about contributing lop a head to the campaign. I have certainly done what my hon. Friend asks. On the last occasion, as recently as 25 February, I stated in writing to Mr. Murray:

"I would like to repeat the offer I made in my letter of 23 December to discuss these and any other matters you may wish to raise with me."
That was referring to the issues in the Employment Bill. He has not accepted my invitation.

Has the Secretary of State not made it absolutely clear by his behaviour and that of his Ministers in the Standing Committee that concluded last week that he is not prepared to listen to reasonable argument? Can one wonder that the TUC is not prepared to waste time on a dialogue with the deaf? Is it not clear that the Engineering Employers Federation is not alone in having serious reservations about the consequences of the measure for industrial relations? It is joined by the General Council of British Shipping and the Institute of Personnel Management in expressing serious concern.

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman chooses to continue on the Floor of the House his Committee filibuster. My invitation to Mr. Murray on 23 December to talk to me about the matter was brushed aside. It could not have been brushed aside because of our proceedings in Committee, as they had not then started. I entirely refute what the right hon. Gentleman says about our unwillingness to listen to reasoned argument. The problem was that there was not much reasoned argument.