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Industrial Relations

Volume 201: debated on Tuesday 14 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will meet the Confederation of British Industry to discuss the long-term improvement of industrial relations.

I have regular discussions with representatives of the CBI on a wide range of issues, including the long-term improvement of industrial relations. I have at present no plans for a meeting on the particular subject mentioned by my hon. Friend.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although the law can help to improve industrial relations, it is not enough in itself? When he next meets representatives of the CBI, will he impress on them the importance of greater employee participation as a means of improving industrial relations in the long term?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, it was for that reason that, together with the CBI, I launched an initiative to increase employee participation in industry. I also launched a similar initiative in the European Social Affairs Council.

It is of the utmost importance that we encourage employee participation to take place on a voluntary basis, in the way that best reflects the circumstances of each firm and industry, and not as a result of some statutory straitjacket imposed by Brussels.

I accept that employee participation should be tailor-made for each industry. Does the Secretary of State accept, however, that, if industries are not willing to act accordingly, a backstop must be provided to prevent some employees from being deprived of their rights of participation?

No employees are deprived of their rights of participation. When it comes to consultation and employee involvement, however, it is very much better for such processes to take place on a voluntary basis. I believe that the best practices of British industry are second to none in the world; our task must be to encourage others to follow the lead that has been set by the best in industry. That was the purpose of the campaign that I launched with the CBI.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the Opposition that the introduction of a minimum wage would harm industrial relations, rather than enhancing them? The sense of self-worth and the demonstration by employers of the value that they place on employees are best created by the existence of true differentials.

My hon. Friend is absoutely right. Not only would a national statutory minimum wage destroy countless jobs; one of the greatest problems that it would cause would be the maintaining of such differentials. Strife would inevitably arise as better-paid workers sought to maintain them. My hon. Friend has identified one of the most damaging consequences of the measures proposed by Labour.

Should not all anti-trade union laws be scrapped if workers are to have a real right to defend themselves—or does that not matter nowadays?

It is interesting to hear the lion. Gentleman explain the reality behind the small print of Labour's proposals in such graphic terms.

When my right hon. and learned Friend discusses industrial relations with the CBI, will he compare the position in the United Kingdom with that in France? France has recently experienced strikes in the rubbish collection industry, the ports, air traffic control and the railway industry—and they have taken place under a socialist Government. Does not that compare dramatically with the present position in this country?

My hon. Friend correctly identified the position in France—a position with which this country would be faced if Labour were ever returned to office. More strikes took place in the last year of Labour Government than have taken place in the past six years put together.