HC Deb 12 April 1923 vol 162 cc1297-9

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the serious effects which a cessation of all work in house building would have upon the public interests, he will consult the authorities, universities, charitable trusts, and schools, respectively?


The following Table gives the information desired by the hon. Member:

Law Officers of the Crown as to whether such an action would or would not constitute a breach of Rule 18 of the national agreement of May, 1921, in the hope that their pronouncement on this point might delay, if not altogether prevent, a stoppage of work in the building trades at the present time?


I do not think a decision upon the construction of the building trade agreement is a matter which can properly be brought within the scope of the functions of the Law Officers of the Crown. On the general question, I may say that I am informed that the negotiations which were in progress up to a late hour yesterday have not resulted in a settlement. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is in communication with the parties.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the negotiations have broken down on an exceedingly small point, and could not the Government directly ask that a final decision be postponed for seven days in order to allow those of us who are working for peace to get it effected?

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Montague Barlow)

The negotiations of yesterday admittedly have not resulted in the satisfactory conclusion that had been hoped for. I do not think that I could contribute anything useful by dealing with the exact point raised by the Leader of the Opposition, but I can say that I am keeping in close touch with both sides, and I hope that an opportunity will be available for my communicating officially with them, or being communicated with by them, before many hours are over.


I do not want to press the right hon. Gentleman further, but is he not aware that we have now only two days left, that the notices come into operation on Monday, and that if we had two or three days available it is possible that the whole question could be settled, on account of the very small point that still remains unsettled?


One of the reasons, among others, why I am in close touch with the situation, is that I desire to have the most accurate information possible as to what exact point negotiations have reached The Leader of the Opposition suggests that the point of difference is small, but my information at present does not coincide entirely with that of the Leader of the Opposition.


Are we to understand that the Government are not prepared to give any guidance to the House or to the country as to the actual legal interpretation of this particular agreement in the opinion of the Law Officers?


It is not a question for the Law Officers.


Would it not be better for the Government to use their good offices to keep both sides in negotiation than to attempt to act after a breach has actually occurred?


That is exactly what the Minister of Labour is doing.


I did not gather that from his reply, anyhow.