HC Deb 05 June 1924 vol 174 cc1466-8

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether an unofficial strike of railway shopmen employed by the Great Western and London Electric Railways commenced at midnight and whether he can state what steps he is taking to maintain the public services affected?


It is the case that an unofficial strike of certain sections of railway workers employed by the Great Western and London Electric Railways has occurred. I have been in touch with the employers and the National Union of Railwaymen. As the executive of the latter have indicated in a. public statement, the stoppage of work has occurred without the authority of the union and against their advice and instructions. It is also in contravention of the arrangements which exist for the settlement of matters in dispute. The companies are taking all possible steps to carry on their services, and my Department will remain in close touch with developments.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that great public inconvenience has been caused all through London to-day, and will he tell the House exactly what steps he has taken to restore the services?


Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, may I ask the Prime Minister whether this House of Commons or the Minister of Labour has any more responsibility for the maintenance of transport in the City of London than they have in the Highlands of Scotland?

Viscount CURZON

May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman whether Hi Majesty's Government will be able to pro vide protection for those who are willing to work, and whether they will give such protection?


In answer to the first question as to what steps His Majesty's Government are taking to maintain the services, as the railways are not nationalised, obviously it has scarcely become our business yet to maintain those services. It will be the business of the Government to do what is humanly possible to bring this dispute to an end. That can best be done, I think, by using common-sense methods and not by taking steps which might inflame feeling rather than subdue it. With regard to the second supplementary question, all arrangements have been made in that connection which the necessities require.


Are the arrangements for conciliation, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred as having been set aside, statutory provisions which have not been comp4ed with by parties to this dispute?


Perhaps a little explanation will put the House in possession of the facts. There are two bodies, the railway companies and the union. In this case there is no body which is affected which has taken part in those arrangements. The union has no responsibility and has counselled its members not t take part in it. We know that the railway companies have never negotiated with any body that is carrying on the strike. Consequently no negotiations are taking place at the present moment between the actual strikers and the railway companies. The position is very involved. There is no body which can be said to be at the head of the men who are out on strike. The National Union of Railwaymen is not responsible for it in any way and has not sanctioned it, and the railway companies will not meet any body who want to meet them on behalf of the men on strike. There you have a situation which is, for the moment, very obscure, and in which it is very difficult to say what is the best step to take.


If this dispute had occurred in a city like Birmingham, would the House of Commons on the first day be pestered with questions, and would the Minister of Labour be asked to give his reasons?


On a point of Order. I desire at the end of Question Time to ask your leave to move the Adjournment.