HC Deb 21 December 1925 vol 189 cc1940-4
43. Mr. W. BAKER

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether since 26th November any ships carrying His Majesty's mails or subsidised by the Government have proceeded to sea without wireless operator; whether any have proceeded to sea with an incomplete complement of wireless operators; if so, will he give details; whether he will further state what salaries the operators in these ships were signed on at; the nature of the contracts between His Majesty's Government and the shipping companies concerned: whether such contracts contain a fair wages clause, and whether that clause is being complied with?


Since 26th November about 24 ships conveying mails to destinations overseas have proceeded to sea. without wireless operators, and about 14 others were without a full complement of wireless operators. I have no official information as to the salaries paid to operators on these ships. The question of subsidies does not arise in connection with any of these ships. Six of them are sailing under a formal mail contract with the Postmaster-General which provides for a mail service under specified conditions in return for a fixed annual payment. These contracts do not contain a fair wages clause.


Is it not the duty of the Minister, in these circumstances, to endeavour to bring this dispute to an end?

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)

Perhaps I may answer that supplementary question. The parties are already meeting to-day, and in these circumstances I think it far better that it should be left to the parties to see if they can arrive at an agreement.


Arising out of the Minister's answer, is this House to understand that certain contracts are entered into by the Government with outside firms which do not contain the fair wages clause with respect to the workpeople employed by those firms?


That does not arise out of the question.


Yes, it does; I am asking a question arising out of the original question.


I am informed that these contracts do not contain that fair wages clause.


That is not my question. Are we to understand that it is the policy of the Government to enter into contracts with outside firms without insisting on the fair wages clause being observed which has to be observed in all other Government contracts?


Failing agreement between the parties in this case, what action do the Government propose to take?


There are other questions on the Paper with regard to that.

60. Mr. BARNES

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the increasing utility of wireless on ships, he will take steps to secure a settlement of the present dispute and, in the event of the employers refusing to co-operate in any policy of conciliation, enforce the Regulations with respect to the use of wireless on ships?

61. Mr. COVE

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in order to prevent loss of life and ships at sea through inefficient wireless signalling or through the absence of wireless operators, he will take any steps within his power to compel those responsible for seeking to enforce a reduction in the wages of seagoing wireless operators to follow the example of other employers who are paying, and are willing to continue to pay, the present rates?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the fact that his decision to waive the Regulations relating to the use of wireless on ships is acting to the prejudice of marine wireless operators, who are resisting a reduction in wages, he will consider the advisability of enforcing the Regulations in question in the event of the employers refusing to co-operate in any efforts to settle the dispute?


The Board of Trade are in close touch with the Ministry of Labour, who are taking such steps as they can to secure a settlement of this dispute. As regards the Board of Trade, I do not at present see any reason for altering the attitude described in the answer given to the hon. Member for Hull Central on 30th November.


Does not the action of the Government so far make them parties to the dispute on the employers' side by waiving these Regulations? If the employers refuse to admit their obligations, which affect the safety of life at sea, what do the Government intend to do in the matter?


Can the hon. Gentleman say whether his Department have satisfied themselves, before waiving these Regulations, that the employés did not have a good case?


I do not think that is a matter for my Department. The Department is dealing, as far as it can, with a position in which it is really not directly concerned. It is not causing ships which have no operators to go to sea without them.


Has the Board of Trade considered the question of the time limit during which these Regulations should be waived?


I do not think that arises out of the main question.


If the hon. Gentleman has been defending the waiving of these Regulations in the interest of the employers, can ho quote a case where the Regulations have been waived in the interest of the workers?


I do not for a moment admit that the Board of Trade have taken either side. It would be a very serious matter, when operators are not available, if the Board of Trade were to insist on ships remaining in port until they get them.


This has a very important bearing upon safety at sea, and I want to know from the hon. Member's reply whether he is putting it to this House that there is not a sufficiency of operators available for the shipowners for wireless services on board and that, in consequence, he has had to waive these Regulations, or whether there is an ample supply of wireless operators and the shipowners will not employ them because they wish to enforce the reduction.


We had that a fortnight ago.


asked the Minister of Labour whether, in the interests of the public, seafarers in general, and ship passengers, he will institute a court of inquiry to ascertain the facts, and to express an opinion, upon the merits of the dispute in which sea-going wireless operators are at present concerned.


asked the Minister of Labour whether the employers con-corned in the dispute of the marine wireless operators have been approached by his Department; if so, with what result; and whether he can state any further developments in the efforts of his Department to settle this Dispute?

91. Mr. VIANT

asked the Minister of Labour whether he has further considered the advisability of instituting a court of inquiry, under the Industrial Courts Act, with respect to the dispute arising out of which marine wireless operators are out on strike, and ships are going to sea unable to transmit or receive wireless messages?


I hope that a meeting of the two parties to the dispute will take place this afternoon, and in the circumstances it is not desirable that I should reply definitely at present to the point raised by the hon. Members.

Colonel DAY

If there be not a successful issue, will the right hon. Gentleman invoke his powers?


It would obviously be entirely undesirable to make any statement as to what one would do in a hypothetical case, in view of a meeting which one hopes will be successful.


May we take it that it is not a matter of indifference to the Board of Trade that British vessels should be allowed to go to sea without wireless operators?


I am not empowered to speak for the Board of Trade, but I am quite certain that there is no one either in the Ministry of Labour or in the Board of Trade who would regard this as a matter of indifference.