HC Deb 10 February 1926 vol 191 cc1035-9

asked the Minister of Labour if he will state the fundamental difference or differences between the functions, adequacy and powers of a special court of inquiry and the industrial court; and whether, as a special court of inquiry would serve a better purpose in the interests of the nation in regard to the marine wireless dispute, he will reconsider this matter?

55. Lord APSLEY

asked the Minister of Labour whether an industrial court of inquiry will be granted to inquire into the shipowners' and wireless operators' dispute?


asked the Minister of Labour whether, seeing that he has been requested by the Association of Wireless and Cable Telegraphists on three separate occasions to set up a court of inquiry into the facts of the marine wireless dispute, and has thrice refused to do so, and seeing that he has powers under the Statute to set up such a court of inquiry at the request of one or either party concerned, or at his own discretion whether requested by one or either party or not, he will state on what grounds he still refuses to set up such court?

94. Mr. HAYES

asked the Minister of Labour whether, seeing that no sort or kind of negotiations are at the moment taking place between the parties to the marine wireless dispute, that no meeting between them has taken place since 22nd December, that the employers were to have been at the Ministry of Labour on 3rd February to meet the employes and failed to present themselves, and that his Department have failed to bring the parties together, he will say what steps he proposes to take?


In this dispute and in others the main object of the Department is to assist the parties to find terms upon which the dispute can be settled. If the parties cannot themselves arrive at a settlement of the questions in dispute, but are willing to allow an impartial tribunal to decide between them, the Industrial Court is in a position to make a definite award. A Court of Inquiry, which may be appointed without the consent of either party, is not in a position to give a decision binding upon the parties. Negotiations have in fact been proceeding up to the present, and the Ministry of Labour has arranged a meeting with the two parties at the Ministry this afternoon. I do not propose to take any further action until I know the result of that meeting.


asked the Minister of Labour whether, in view of the fact that the employment of wireless operators on board ships is the subject of competition between the various wireless com- panies and the shipowners, he will take steps to regularise such employment in the interests of this national service?


asked the Minister of Labour whether he can give the House any information as to the arbitration in the wireless operators' dispute; and whether he proposes to take any steps to alter the present arrangements whereby the services of these wireless operators are farmed out to the shipowners and to arrange that they shall be paid direct under agreement with the shipping companies whom they serve?

93. Mr. T. KENNEDY

asked the Minister of Labour whether the marine wireless operators, through their representatives, have now agreed to submit all points at issue in the marine wireless dispute to a court of arbitration; whether he has conveyed this to the employers; whether the employers have agreed; and, if not, what steps he proposes to take to bring about a settlement?


I have no power to lay down the conditions of employment in the wireless service, but the terms of settlement offered by the wireless companies, in conjunction with the shipowners, include the discussion with the men's representatives of more uniform and mutually satisfactory conditions of service, including wages. They proposed that if agreement is not reached by a date to be fixed, any question at issue shall be referred to the Industrial Court for settlement. This offer provides an opportunity for all the parties concerned to agree upon a more stable and satisfactory basis of employment. The Association of Wireless and Cable Telegraphists have since also proposed arbitration, but only on certain points other than wages, which were under discussion when the dispute began. I understand that these points could all be raised on the basis of arbitration, proposed by the employers.


The right hon. Gentleman has just said they are meeting this afternoon. Suppose they fail to agree, what steps does he propose to take?


I have already said that proposals for arbitra- tion have been made on both sides beforehand, but not what I should call complete proposals. The proposals of the men are not proposals for general arbitration on all the points. I hope they may come to an agreement this afternoon. I cannot say they will do so. Do not let anyone think it is certain they will do so. But I am trying the whole time to get them to come to an agreement on the matter and I only hope they may. Of course, it is open to Members of the House after to-day to ask me what the issue has been, but I trust hon. Members will let me say this, that as far as one can see no obstacle is put on any side to the two sides meeting together.


I can see that some shipowners are restive on the other side. Is the Minister aware that a non-party meeting of all the Members of this House was held in one of the rooms last week and that the men there by their representatives agreed to submit all points to arbitration?


I take it from the hon. Member and some other hon. Members who were present at that meeting that that is what was understood, but I find it very difficult answering in detail questions on the dispute because, as hon. Members on all sides know, it is difficult to carry in one's mind the precise terms of letters which have been exchanged and of which one has seen copies, and I do not wish to make a slip which may cause further trouble in the dispute. Subject to that, I would say that from my remembrance of the copy of the letter I saw from the wireless telegraphists, it did not contain a complete offer of arbitration on all points.

Major-General Sir NEWTON MOORE

On a point of Order. May I call attention to the fact that the answer is of such length that it will preclude other Members from putting questions.


As the House is aware that the parties are meeting this afternoon, it would be wise to let the matter rest for the moment.


Have the shipowners, in agreeing to arbitration, given any indication that they are prepared to submit to arbitration the cause of the dispute—the reduction in wages?


I do not think the wages question will be excluded from the whole consideration or reconsideration under the shipowners' offer.

Lieut.- Commander KENWORTHY

With regard to the point of Order raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Richmond (Sir N. Moore), may I put it to you, Sir, that it is to be encouraged that Ministers should give information?


The hon. and gallant Gentleman often gives us information under cover of a question.


It is all very well for you, Sir, to say that, but it is the only means we have here, and I am astonished at you.