HC Deb 18 February 1924 vol 169 cc1316-8

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether, in view of the serious position at the docks, he can give any information to the House whether he will take steps to set up a Court of Inquiry to consider the question of the additional is., which alone remains in dispute?


In view of the public interest involved in this dispute, I will, with the permission of the House, make a brief statement in reply to the hon. Member

The negotiations between the employers' and men's representatives continued until Monday last. I was informed on the evening of that day that a settlement had not been reached. I accordingly at once invited representatives of the parties to meet me the next day. My invitation was accepted, and I held a series of meetings extending throughout the whole of the remainder of the week. The negotiations included some discussion of the very important question of decasualisation, but attention was necessarily concentrated on the claim for an increase of wages. On Thursday the employers informed me that they were willing to concede an advance of 1s. per day as from the 3rd March, with an adjustment of piecework rates; as to the further 1s., they felt themselves unable to meet the demand, but they were willing to refer that question to immediate arbitration. The men's representatives stated that they were unable to accept this offer.

The negotiations continued throughout Friday and Saturday, without, I regret to say, leading to a settlement. In the circumstances, I have decided to appoint a Court of Inquiry under Part II of the Industrial Courts Act, to inquire into the causes and circumstances of the dispute and to make a report thereon. I am pleased to say that Mr. Holman Gregory, K.C., has consented to act as Chairman.

I may add that I have seen representatives of the parties this morning and have been informed that it is understood between them that, apart from the Court of Inquiry, every facility exists for a joint meeting if at any moment such a meeting seems likely to be advantageous. I intend keeping in touch with the parties, and they have assured me that if at any time think it would be beneficial to convene a further meeting, they will be willing to attend it.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the Court of Inquiry will assemble?


I hope that the Court will meet to-morrow afternoon, and at once begin its work.


May I ask the Minister of Labour whether he himself made any suggestion for a settlement of this dispute? If so, would he kindly communicate it to the House?


When I saw that a deadlock had arisen, I asked both sides if they would take into consideration a third party suggestion. Both sides agreed they would, on the condition that the suggestion should be without prejudice to either side, should be considered as private, and not be used in discussion. Consequently, I feel unable to state to the House what it was.


Will the Minister of Labour endeavour, as far as possible, to see that work is resumed pending this Court of Inquiry.


I cannot give any undertaking of that kind. The only undertaking I can give is that I will try my level best to get the parties to meet again, with a view to coming to an agreed settlement.

Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication how long the Court of Inquiry will be in taking the evidence, before coining to some conclusion upon the subject?


Obviously, I cannot form any estimate I have, from personal knowledge, asked a gentleman to serve as chairman whose qualifications are well known. I believe that he will be able to conduct the inquiry in such a way that at the earliest possible moment this House and the public may have the facts.


Is the Court entitled to inquire into the possibility of de-casualisation of labour?


This Court will have to inquire into the dispute, and I take it everything included in the dispute will be subject to this Inquiry.