HC Deb 06 July 1949 vol 466 cc2163-5
The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I want to make the following statement to the House. The situation at the London Docks has not improved. Accordingly, the Government have decided that in order to safeguard the food supplies of the country, and especially the meat supplies, Service personnel will be used as necessary without delay.

Mr. Eden

I do not suppose that any quarter of the House will wish to challenge the decision which the right hon. Gentleman has taken, but may I ask him whether the Government have any other action in contemplation in respect of this dispute? We have just listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement, and nothing could be more serious for our export trade than the continuance of this dispute. Do the Government propose to do anything else in addition to putting troops on board to unload food?

Mr. Isaacs

Other action is being contemplated.

Mr. Henry Strauss

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government propose to make a Proclamation under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920?

Mr. Gallacher

Mr. Speaker, in view of the serious situation——

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members should not address me before I call them. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) gets up and says, "Mr. Speaker." It is for me to choose; I choose whom to call. If the hon. Member addresses me before I call him, then I shall call someone else. Mr. Brown.

Mr. W. J. Brown

While recognising the normal wisdom of the Government's policy of not using troops to shift cargoes except in the case of perishable foodstuffs, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the fact that this dispute centres on something which does not concern a single English docker and is a dispute arising from circumstances in Canada, why he limits the proposed Government action to unloading cargoes of food? Why not unload the lot?

Mr. Isaacs

Because at the moment the necessary thing is to safeguard the supplies of food.

Mr. Gallacher

In view of this very serious situation, why is it that the Minister, instead of sending troops to do the job of unloading these ships, does not order the dock employers to allow the men to unload the ships and leave these two Canadian ships for arbitration or something? The dockers want to unload the ships—is not that true?—and the dock employers will not let them. It is a shameful business. The men want to unload the ships.

Mr. Isaacs

These continued misinterpretations of the facts are doing damage to the country. The fact is this: what the employers said was that they would not employ men to unload other ships coming into the dock until the men had carried out their orders. Following that, men who had accepted work on ships with the insistence of continued employment on those ships until the ships were unloaded, deserted those ships and struck work.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Does my right hon. Friend think it would be any contribution towards ending a very deplorable situation, if the Service personnel he proposes to employ were employed first on discharging the two disputed ships?

Mr. Isaacs

No, Sir. I do not think that that would help the situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] There is not time to deal with that in Question and Answer. The port is being held up because certain demands are made by certain people. Those demands are unreasonable and improper and it is not proper that pressure should be brought on the employers to meet them.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Can the right hon. Gentleman now answer the question put to him by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) as to whether or not the Government intend to exercise the powers vested in them under the Emergency Powers Act?

Mr. Isaacs

I cannot answer that question today.

Mr. Piratin

Would the Minister acknowledge the fact that for about three months these two ships were in London docks and that during that time the Dock Labour Board did not press the difficulties of unloading them, and that pressure was brought upon them only about a fortnight ago, since when the dispute has developed? Would the Minister acknowledge that fact, and give consideration to the point made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), that if these two ships were unloaded by Service personnel—which was his proposal—the whole matter could be finalised in a few days?

Mr. Isaacs

That just proves the case we have been making. This is a deliberate attempt to hold up the business of this country, and we are not going to stand for it.

Mr. Platts-Mills

Does the Minister not see that he is trying to force British workers to act as scabs for the whole world?

Mr. Isaacs

The hon. Gentleman, with his association with scabs, ought to be able to answer that question better than I can.

Mr. Mellish

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that it is a shocking thing that the Communist Party, of all parties, should ask that troops should unload disputed ships?