Minor British Institutions: Acas

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The idea of getting bosses and trade unionists round a table to discuss their differences in a calm, constructive atmosphere is a very British one, working on the principle that, given enough time, tea and sandwiches, reasonable men and women ought to be able to work together.

The first, voluntary arrangements for the amicable settlement of trade disputes date back to 1896. Today's Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service grew out of those, and is in fact the lasting political legacy of Michael Foot, who put it on a statutory basis in 1974.

Since then we have had some bitter disputes, notably the 1984-85 miners' strike, where Acas seemed a rather quaint irrelevance, but it seems to be making a bit of a comeback in our more compromising, coalition-minded times, and British Airways is a regular flyer there.

Acas also goes about the low-profile but important task of getting recalcitrant employers to recognise legal trade unions for bargaining purposes, and much else. One quango that is surely worth preserving.