HC Deb 16 December 1949 vol 470 cc3053-5
Mr. Eden

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any further statement to make about the situation in the electrical power industry.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)

Unfortunately the difficulties to which I referred yesterday still persist. The men at the power stations of Brimsdown, Taylor's Lane and Littlebrook have not yet resumed work. Exception is being taken to the notice issued yesterday by the Authority which reads as follows: In view of the statements that have been made, the British Electricity Authority must make it clear that all men returning to work do so entirely unconditionally. The notice was issued by the Authority to remove any possibility of misunderstanding in view of last minute attempts by unofficial strike leaders to impose conditions for a resumption.

The dispute arises over the use of the word "unconditional," but a statement made yesterday evening by the Authority makes it clear that no question regarding the existing terms and conditions of employment arises. I am satisfied that in the discussions between the Authority and the trade unions no conditions for resumption were imposed or promises made. There is no ground for doubt on this point. I sincerely hope that the trade unions will co-operate with the Authority in getting the men back to work without delay.

Mr. Eden

We all feel that we do not want to comment on that statement, because it is difficult to comment usefully in the present state of negotiations. I should like an assurance from the Prime Minister or the Deputy Leader of the House. There is this difficulty, we are rising this year earlier than usual, and the situation in respect of this matter is still anxious. The assurance I should like to have is that if the situation should deteriorate, which we all pray it will not, would the Prime Minister take into consideration any representations which we may make or which are made on his side of the House for an earlier resumption of the meetings of the House?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

Certainly, Sir.

Lieut-Commander Gurney Braith-waite

Could the Minister of Labour clear up one point? Was this notice, which appears to have caused this difficulty, signed by anybody, and if so, by whom, and if not, on whose instructions was it posted?

Mr. Isaacs

It is only right to say that it was put up on the authority of the Authority. I want to be careful about using words but the point is this—the word "unconditional" means "unconditional." It means that no conditions were imposed by either side, exacted or demanded, and no promises were made. In other words, the men go back to work as if there had been no trouble arising, so far as conditions of any kind were imposed on them.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Could the right hon. Gentleman say what is the situation today at the three power stations affected? Are they being operated by Service personnel or brought to a standstill?

Mr. Isaacs

No, Sir, the Government are quite determined to maintain the services as far as it is within their power.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is it possible that the men are thinking of the word "unconditional" in the same way as it was used in "unconditional surrender"? In view of the unfortunate background of that slogan, would the Minister use his influence to persuade the men that there is no victimisation?

Mr. Isaacs

I hope the main result of the statement I have made will be that that will be the men's interpretation of it. I have made personal inquiries, and I am quite satisfied that no conditions of any kind were imposed, and no promise made that this or that will or will not be done.

Mr. Butcher

Can the right hon. Gentleman find some means of conveying to the large number of workers who have remained at work and faithfully performed their duties, the appreciation of a large number of their fellow citizens?

Mr. Isaacs

Yes. Appreciation has already been expressed and it can be repeated now.

Mr. Wilson Harris

Does the right hon. Gentleman's statement mean that the men go back quite plainly on the terms of employment existing before the strike?

Mr. Isaacs

That was made quite clear, and I am glad that there is an opportunity again to emphasise it. There is no intention at all of interfering with any of the existing conditions, and the constitutional machinery will be used in all circumstances.

Sir Waldron Smithers

Will the Minister look again at the root cause of all this trouble—Communist infiltration—and take very strong steps?

Mr. Pannell

What was the purpose of the British Electricity Authority posting the notice at all at that stage?

Mr. Isaacs

The more questions are put, the more difficult things are made. If the hon. Gentleman reads my answer carefully, he will see that it was because the unofficial strike leaders wanted to impose conditions which had not been discussed at all by their officials.

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