§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Sir John Anderson (Scottish Universities)
I am very glad of the opportunity of opening this Debate, for there are certain points which, I think, need clearing up in connection with what I can only describe as a most deplorable muddle. I have no intention of going in detail over the events of the last few weeks. There are, however, certain considerations of a general character which I want to put to the Committee and I 2264 shall refer to incidents of the recent stoppage primarily for the purpose of illustrating the points I want to make.
The first general consideration that I wish to put to the Committee is this: that the Emergency Powers Act and the regulations made thereunder are not to be regarded as in any sense a strike-breaking mechanism. That point, which seems to me from time to time to have been lost sight of, is absolutely fundamental. The organisation is not concerned at all with the merits or demerits of any dispute that may have been the occasion of bringing it into being, and it is exceedingly important that that should be realised for this reason, that an emergency may have to be declared in connection with disputes of widely varying characteristics.
There may be a dispute in which one of the parties commands very wide sympathy, but, nevertheless, if the essentials of life of the country are threatened, an emergency organisation may have to be brought into being. It would be most unfair to patriotic citizens who might wish to render service in that connection and it would be most unfair, for example to the troops whose services may have to be employed, if, by giving assistance to the country in such circumstances, they were in any way to fall under the stigma of acting as blacklegs. That is a point of fundamental importance which ought to be clearly recognised in the form of the emergency organisation set up and in the manner in which that organisation may be used.
The whole purpose of a Proclamation under the Emergency Powers Act and of the connected regulations is to secure the maintenance of vital public services. Action taken to deal with an industrial dispute may be vitally important, but it brings an entirely different function into play. An emergency organisation cannot be established on the basis of conciliation. Conciliation and all that goes with it, everything that is within the sphere of the Minister of Labour, is very important, but it should not be allowed to dominate the situation.
That fundamental distinction, to which I have called attention, appeared to have been recognised at the outset of the recent dispute when responsibility was placed squarely on the shoulders of the Minister 2265 of Transport. It was he who had the responsibility for appointing the Emergency Committee.
It was he, and he alone, who, under the regulations, had the right to give general or particular instructions to the Emergency Committee. But, is it not a very odd circumstance that, apart from the fleeting visit of the Minister of Transport to the House of Commons when he announced the appointment of the Committee, the Minister of Transport appears to have faded completely out of the picture? We had no statement from him between that date and a brief statement he made in the House yesterday. We have had statements by the Prime Minister, statements by the Home Secretary, but, predominently, we have had statements by the Minister of Labour; never the Minister of Transport.
May I remind the Committee that it was the Minister of Labour who tried to tell the House, in terms which I have here but will not quote, what the Emergency Committee were doing. It is true that later he disclaimed responsibility. On the following day he said, I think quite rightly, that he was not the Minister to whom such questions should be put. Nevertheless, he appears to have been forced, either by his colleagues, or by his Ministry, or both, into a central position in this matter which he ought never to have occupied.
The right hon. Gentleman deserves a good deal of sympathy and I do not want to use words too strong in criticism of his appearances and observations in this House, but the facts I have just brought to the memory of the Committee seem to suggest very strongly that the vital distinction, on which I laid stress a moment ago, between the purposes of the emergency organisation and the whole question of negotiation and conciliation, which is in the sphere of the Minister of Labour, has been overlooked. I hope to make clear to the Committee that the failure to maintain that vitally important distinction has been responsible for a great deal of the deplorable muddle and confusion which has characterised the handling by the Government of the situation which was brought to an end by the declaration made in the House today.
The next point I make is, again, of a general character. In setting up an emergency organisation of the kind we 2266 are now discussing, it is of fundamental importance that the fullest possible use should be made of existing organisations. That also seemed at the outset to have been recognised, for, on Friday, 8th July—several days before the Emergency Proclamation—in my capacity as Chairman of the Port of London Authority, I received a message from the Ministry of Transport asking whether I would make arrangements for representatives of that Ministry to discuss with officers of the authority and others concerned the kind of emergency organisation that should be set up in the probable event of an emergency having to be declared.
There and then arrangements for consultation and discussion were made, and a port emergency committee was set up without statutory authority, on lines on which similar bodies functioned during the war, at the offices of the Port of London Authority. I heard nothing more until the announcement of the appointment of what is called the Maxwell Committee. I wonder why the Government thought it right to depart from the original conception and to place responsibility for the working, of all the services connected with the Port of London in the hands of a committee so constituted.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I make no reflection whatever on the members of the Committee, most of whom are known to me to be men of the highest competence, but I think they were given an impossible task if they were to discharge that task as defined in the regulations. Fortunately, as soon as they appeared on the scene, they discovered that the port emergency committee to which I have referred was already in existence and, very wisely, they decided that the fullest use should be made of that committee. But I think that the appointment under the Regulations of an Emergency Committee of the kind that was set up under the chairmanship of a former Under-Secretary of State in the Home Department was a blunder—and a blunder which might have been quite disastrous.
That brings me to the third point I wish to bring to the notice of the Committee. In a matter of this kind—and, as hon. Members know, I have had some experience—it is absolutely essential to 2267 have the clearest definition of responsibilities and to provide a simple and direct method of obtaining clear and authoritative decisions on any point of difficulty or any point of policy that may arise. I say quite deliberately that none of those essential requirements was met in the organisation that has just been brought to an end. I have no clear impression of what the Maxwell Committee, if I may so describe it, was expected to do. We—by which I mean my officers in the Port of London Authority and those associated with them—were told that the business of the committee was to run the port—just like that. The port has been run and was in fact run perfectly well without them. They were the only channel provided through which advice and, if necessary, decisions from the Government could be obtained.
We were left completely in doubt as to whether the committee had any responsibility whatever in relation to the Dock Labour Board. For example, their position in relation to the Ministry of Transport was, as I have said, clearly laid down in Regulation 1, but Regulation 2, which deals with the allocation of labour, established no clear relationship between the Dock Labour Board and the Port Emergency Committee. I have heard it argued that the Port Emergency Committee had authority over the Dock Labour Board. I do not believe it. I do not think that they had any authority over that body. That body was set up under statute—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I think that we are now getting into a confusion of terms. There was a Port Emergency Committee which the right hon. Gentleman says he appointed. He will recollect that he asked that the regulations should be so worded as not to call the other committee the Port Emergency Committee, but the Emergency Committee. That is the committee which he has since called the Maxwell Committee. I think that he is now using the term "Port Emergency Committee" and applying it to the Maxwell Committee.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am greatly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. In point of fact, when, on learning that it was proposed to set up such a committee as the Maxwell Committee I asked that it 2268 should be called the Emergency Committee, I did so precisely for the purpose of avoiding any confusion of that kind, because I knew and others knew that the Port Emergency Committee, informally constituted but nevertheless an effective organ, was already in existence. If I inadvertently referred to the other committee as the Port Emergency Committee I was giving it the title which has frequently been given to it in the House and in the Press although it is termed the Emergency Committee. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.
The point which I was making was that I do not believe that under the regulations that Emergency Committee had any authority over the Dock Labour Board. If others take a different view I think that the Committee ought to be told and to be given the grounds on which that different view is taken because that was one of the causes of the extraordinary confusion which culminated in a communique on the night of Tuesday last. As I have said, I do not believe that by the regulations the Emergency Committee were given any functions in the sphere of the Dock Labour Board. I do not know what was the extent of the authority of the Emergency Committee. I was told, and I accept it, that there was behind them some organisation of a co-ordinating character to which they were entitled to go, to which they perhaps had to go, in order to obtain authoritative guidance from the Government. Although we were promised a statement showing clearly what that higher organisation was I think I am right in saying that we never received anything of that kind.
Despite the existence of the Emergency Committee, which was supposed to be the repository of executive authority in relation to the affairs of the port, it came to my notice from time to time that something which I can only describe as being in the nature of a departmental veto was still operating. For example, the resources available in the later stages of the stoppage would have enabled meat to be unloaded at the rate of about 7,000 tons a day, but those concerned were informed that the Ministry of Food objected to the unloading of meat at a greater rate than 1,000 tons per day. That may have been a perfectly right decision; I am not suggesting that it was not. What I am sure was not right 2269 was that those concerned should have had that decision conveyed to them on the basis of a veto by a particular Department.
Then again, when the responsible people in the port were in a position to undertake the unloading of grain, they were told that the Ministry of Food objected and for a time grain was not unloaded. I say again that I am not laying it down that that was necessarily a wrong view. Many considerations had to be taken into account including the risk of an extension of the stoppage. What I say emphatically is that it was absolutely wrong that such a decision should have been conveyed on the basis of a veto by a particular Department. Co-ordination is of the most vital importance. After 24 or 48 hours that embargo on the unloading of grain was withdrawn by those who had imposed it. I mentioned these merely as illustrations to show how jerkily and unsatisfactorily the emergency organisation was working.
Before I leave the topic with which I am dealing I would make the point that that kind of confusion and lack of co-ordination is calculated to create a sense of frustration and impotence, and must have been exceedingly encouraging to the strike leaders. I hope that the Committee will be given by the Government spokesman clear answers to the points I have raised. I hope that we shall have a clear explanation of how the Government intended their emergency organisation to work. It is most important that this should be known because the recent stoppage in the Port of London is the third unofficial strike we have had within a comparatively short period. As the Minister of Transport well knows, we may have another before very long. I wish to return to that subject in a moment.
To recapitulate, do the Government agree or do they not as to the distinction which I have drawn between the operational problem, which is the business of an emergency organisation, and the Ministry of Labour function of negotiation and conciliation? Why was the original idea abandoned of concentrating responsibility in the hands of existing authorities, subject only to effective liaison with the Government? What steps were taken to make the functions of the Maxwell Committee and the limits of their discretion 2270 clear to all concerned. In particular what, in the view of the Government, was the extent of their responsibility in the sphere of the Dock Labour Board? These are all matters which need to be cleared up.
There are two other points which I feel bound to raise before I conclude. They are of a more detailed character. The first concerns the extraordinary action which was taken by the Government last Tuesday night. It amazed me. I believe that it was the direct result of the muddle and confusion which I have been describing. I wish in that connection to put three questions to which I hope we shall have clear answers because a very serious situation is arising. The credit and the authority of the Dock Labour Board have really been undermined.
The first question is this: was the Prime Minister aware when he issued his communique in the early hours of last Wednesday morning of the words used by the Minister of Labour on 4th July? I quoted them myself a few days ago. I assert that I am confident he was not aware of them. The second point is this: the Minister of Labour, when he was dealing with this matter on 20th July, hinted rather obscurely that there were delicate negotiations in progress affecting lightermen, I think, which made the pronouncement of the Dock Labour Board inopportune and possibly mischievous. Were any steps taken to warn either the Maxwell Committee or the Dock Labour Board of the existence of those negotiations? The third point is this: did the Prime Minister, when he issued that communique, realise that the action taken by the Dock Labour Board—whatever view one may take of that—was clearly within their function as defined in the statute under which they were set up?
§ Mr. Mellish (Rotherhithe)
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government had to bear in mind that there were 11,000 dockers still at work and that the suggestion of the Dock Labour Board, appointed without any consultation or authority, might have had the consequence of involving many of those people who were still loyally carrying out their jobs? Was it not opportune that the Government should say that they, as a Government authority, repudiated it?
§ Sir J. Anderson
With great respect, that has nothing to do with the point I am making. I expressly stated that I was expressing no view on the advisability or otherwise of the pronouncement made by the Dock Labour Board. I am not in a position to pass judgment on the Dock Labour Board; and I am strongly inclined to suggest that the Government were not in a position to do that either. The point which I am putting to the Government is quite clear. Was the Prime Minister aware of the statutory position of the Dock Labour Board? In Section 2 (7) of the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1946, under the authority of which the Dock Labour Board functions, this position is created; I quote the exact words:A scheme"—that is to say a dock labour scheme—may be revoked by order of the Minister made in accordance with the provisions of the Schedule to this Act either on the joint application of such bodies of persons as are mentioned in subsection (1) of this section"—which are the bodies from which a dock labour board is constituted—or otherwise.Therefore the Dock Labour Board had the right to initiate action, and believe me, there had been several attempts made before that announcement was issued to obtain some clear indication of the views of those in authority on the whole subject. That is a matter on which I do not wish to comment.
I have put three questions to which I think we should have answers, because I take the view that the flat-footed repudiation by the Government of the pronouncement of a responsible statutory authority which was not subject, either under general law or under Emergency Regulations, to control or direction by the executive Government, was most ill-advised. It might have had, and may well yet have, the most unfortunate consequences. I put that in all seriousness. I am not trying to make points against individual Ministers, or to indulge in recriminations; but we have been confronted with a very serious situation, and the considerations to which the hon. Member who interrupted called attention, I am sure, were very much a matter of concern to those working at the port during this unfortunate stoppage.
I said at the beginning, and I repeat, that the function of conciliation and 2272 negotiation is vitally important, but it must not be allowed to dominate the administration of Emergency Regulations which have nothing to do with the merits of the dispute. It may, and should, be taken into account, but we should not be in the position that we have had throughout this stoppage, with the Minister of Labour appearing in the centre of the picture as though the whole thing pivoted on him. That was a position which, in my view, the Government should not have allowed to arise. In fact, I think it was very unfortunate from the point of view of the Minister of Labour himself to whom I extend my sympathy for what it may be worth.
I now come to a detail of great importance. May I ask what is to be done about those who have been responsible for fomenting the recent trouble? I am quite sure that no one would wish to penalise the masses who have been betrayed by an appeal to their traditional loyalties; not for one moment. But what about those who exploited them? Are those unofficial strike leaders, who have defied the trade union leaders and the Government, and who, as I have said, have exploited the loyalties of the mass of the workers, to go back with cries of triumph, which is their present attitude of mind? Are they to be allowed to resume positions in which they can carry on this insidious undermining of loyalties, and prepare for a further stoppage?
Or will the Minister of Labour, within whose sphere this sort of thing certainly does come, instruct his people to sit down with the Dock Labour Board—and I have no doubt that in the public interest the board would be willing to let bygones be bygones—and work out some arrangement which will offer us some hope that we shall not have this trouble all over again in a few months. I hope we shall have a clear statement on all these practical points which I have endeavoured to put, I hope with sufficient brevity, but with adequate emphasis.
§ Mr. Mellish
In view of the position he holds as Chairman of the Port of London Authority, will the right hon. Gentleman clear up this point, which is very important? He talks about the unofficial strike leaders, but I hope he does not mean those people, ordinary dock 2273 workers, who were acting in an unofficial capacity and who were duped just as much as anyone. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman made that threat about what might happen to the unofficial strike leaders he did not mean those people.
§ Sir J. Anderson
If the hon. Member will read what I have just said he will realise that I made two points quite clear. I think that the masses whose loyalty is not in question should not be penalised. In regard to the others there should be a process of examination, which implies discrimination.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I had not intended to intervene until the end of the Debate. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour was proposing to intervene at this stage, but I think it will be agreed that from the outset of his speech the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) was dealing with questions which he quite rightly stated were outside the scope of the duties of the Minister of Labour. During the past few weeks the Minister of Labour has been subjected in this House to a number of questions from all parts of the Opposition benches which clearly were not within his sphere. The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities has said that somebody else ought to have answered, but day after day the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) put down Private Notice Questions to the Minister of Labour.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
If this is to be a complaint to the Opposition, of course it is open to the Government—as has been known for generations in this House—if any other Minister is considered to be responsible to allow him to answer the question. I made this arrangement with the Minister of Labour, and he never suggested any one else. I should have been delighted if the Prime Minister had taken part in the business.
§ Mr. Ede
The first question from the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington was directed, I think properly, to the Minister of Labour, for he was concerned in the first question with this strike, or lockout, or stoppage or 2274 whatever term one cares to put to it. But supplementary questions on that which were of the widest possible character, were added, and my right hon. Friend, perhaps with a generosity for which his colleagues must be grateful, undertook to answer. A question was put to him last Thursday by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown). That was followed by a question to myself from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) after my right hon. Friend had said that it was a matter within the competence of the Home Secretary. I at once intervened when the question was put to me. Had questions been put to other Ministers, they would have been answered.
I accept fully the preliminary words of the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities. The Emergency Powers Act expressly precludes from its operation the breaking of a strike or the prevention of peaceful picketing. Neither of those two things is an offence, nor can they be made offences under the Emergency Powers Act.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
The right hon. Gentleman should not raise that, because that is a very important matter. It conflicts with the Army Act. I hope that he will not insist on the point even if he makes it only frivolously.
§ Mr. Ede
I am not saying anything frivolously. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is mischievous."] Neither is it mischievous. I am dealing with a situation that has arisen and that may arise. It is clear that action under the Emergency Powers Act is confined to serving the vital needs of the community and to keeping going the nation's life. That was the situation that we had to confront in the London Docks.
At the time we issued the Emergency Proclamation there were some 300 ships idle. That was a situation that we could not allow to continue. It is true that we were informed that this Port Emergency 2275 Committee—established on an informal basis, I think the right hon. Gentleman said, by the Port of London Authority—was in existence. The suggestion was made to us that some such body should be the Emergency Committee which we proposed to appoint—not necessarily the same people, but a body constituted on similar lines. We gave very serious consideration to that suggestion. We came to the conclusion that that was not the proper body to handle such an emergency as this. [Interruption.] I was thinking of a dispute which developed later, to which the right hon. Gentleman gave some attention. This was not the proper body because it might result in a cleavage of opinion with no power, as far as we knew, of ending the cleavage in the national interest.
§ Sir J. Anderson
When I urged that such a body as the informal Port Emergency Committee should be used, I added the words, "with proper provision for liaison with the Government so that authoritative decisions could be sought and conveyed with the minimum of delay."
§ Mr. Ede
Yes. We contend that the arrangement that we ultimately made achieved that end. Until the Emergency Powers Act was brought into force by the Proclamation, the ordinary commercial practices of the port would prevail and the order of the ships being brought to the dockside might be those which would satisfy the commercial needs of the port, but they might not, of necessity, meet the national requirements. The matters mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman were cases in point.
We were concerned to see that the various commodities in the rations of the people should be maintained. It appeared at one stage that one firm, which actually issued a statement, thought that because we would not let ships carrying cargoes—
§ Mr. Ede
Yes. One firm thought that because we would not let ships carrying their cargoes come to the dockside we were jeopardising that particular commodity. We had to decide, in the light of the situation from day to day, how we were to secure that the proper ships were in fact brought to the dockside.
2276 We decided that it was better that there should be a small committee of five distinguished people of considerable experience in administration and in the handling of affairs, who would be able to convey to the various interests concerned, and to the shipowners, in what order the ships should be handled. The right hon. Gentleman says that he thinks that there was muddle. We started on 13th July with 340 ships idle. Last Saturday, the last day on which troops were employed, we had reduced that number to fewer than 20, and we had ensured that the ships should be brought to the dockside in the order that was required to meet the national emergency which had arisen.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman unduly, but this matter is very important. The business of settling in what order ships should be handled is a matter which has to be dealt with in the ordinary course of port working every day. The port authorities have to inform themselves as best they can as to orders of priority. This does not work automatically. An emergency organisation is not required to run the port in order to ensure that priorities are properly handled.
§ Mr. Ede
I am bound to say that is exactly what we did find.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who is 'we'?"]—The Government. Clearly, it is understood that when I use the word "we," I am referring to the Government. The task which confronted us was to ensure that this great port should work, and should work with priorities which would meet the national needs. We had to be assured that when we required a certain priority to be met, that priority would be met. When the Minister of Food said that one commodity was more important than another, it was essential that steps should be taken and the information conveyed to the people concerned. That was why the Committee, presided over by Sir Alexander Maxwell, was set up.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Emergency Committee had power over the National Dock Labour Board. We took the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown and they advised us that that was so and that the Emergency Committee was charged with the duty of securing the loading and the unloading of ships—and, as far as I know, the loading and unloading of ships cannot 2277 be accomplished without labour. The statutory body for dealing with the Port of London is the Port of London Dock Labour Board, which is one of the subsidiary bodies under the National Dock Labour Board. Under the scheme, it is impossible to employ anyone other than a registered dock worker without breaking the scheme which the right hon. Gentleman quoted. It was essential, in view of the fact that we were considerably short of labour, that other people should be brought in, and I hope I shall not be accused of being frivolous when I say that it was essential that we should establish the position that the people we proposed to bring in were, in fact, eligible to work in the docks, and if we had not taken the steps which we did there might have been the greatest doubt about that.
The right hon. Gentleman addressed to me three questions. He asked if the Prime Minister was aware of the words used by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour on 4th July. He was quite aware of them, but the statement of my right hon. Friend and the statement of Lord Ammon differed in this—that Lord Ammon fixed a deadline. Unless the men returned to work at 7.45 a.m. on Thursday, 21st July, certain drastic consequences were to follow. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Might follow."] No, he did not say that.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
May I quote the passages for the right hon. Gentleman?The men must realise that by their present conduct they may be imperilling the future of the Dock Labour Scheme …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July, 1949; Vol. 466, c. 1797–8.]That was the Minister.Failure to return to work will jeopardise the very existence of the scheme.That was the board.
§ Mr. Ede
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much, and I want the Committee to realise that that follows the imperative instruction to return to work at 7.45 a.m. on Thursday, 21st July. It was their duty under the scheme, just as it is supposed to be the duty of hon. Members of this House to attend while it is sitting, and do not let us be too certain about condemning other people. It was their duty under the scheme, but it is one thing to deal with it in the general terms that were used by my right hon. Friend, which were intended to be a grave warning, and to fix a deadline in the way that was done by Lord Ammon in his communication. May I just read two consecutive sentences?:In view of the foregoing statement, the National Dock Labour Board orders all dock workers now on strike to return to work at 7.45 a.m. on Thursday, 21st July. Failure to return to work will jeopardise the very existence of the scheme which former dock workers in the present organisations have struggled to achieve.
§ Mr. Ede
Yes.The Board urges them to respect this loyalty to the workers of the past, and thus help to secure the benefits of the scheme for their sons.In the debate which took place on the reply to the Gracious Message from the Throne, I used rather different words. I pointed out the great advantages of the scheme and said that I thought it was the duty of the dock workers to organise such a scheme responsibly; and I deplore as much as anyone else the irresponsible behaviour which has from time to time lost for these men some of the benefits which this scheme should have brought to them.
2279 But the Government, who had not been consulted by Lord Ammon about the issue of this document, had every reason to know that the two sentences in juxtaposition in his document would have the most widespread effect on the dockers, not merely in the Port of London, but in every port in the country, and we could not allow it to go out that the irresponsible action of the 11,000 or 12,000 men, that were out in London, should jeopardise a scheme which brought security and a sense of some pride in their calling to something like 120,000 dock workers throughout the country. We were assured that that was the position.
May I say that, before we took the decision to issue our statement in reply, we called in the Chairman of the Emergency Committee to inquire whether he had been consulted about it. It is known that, in the week prior to the issue of his statement, Lord Ammon was detained at home owing to a fall which he had had, and, during that week when he was not there, there was daily consultation between the Emergency Committee and Sir Douglas Ritchie, who was the acting Chairman of the National Dock Labour Board in the absence of Lord Ammon, or with his chief officials, including the Secretary of the Board.
On the Monday, Lord Ammon saw the Chairman of the Emergency Committee, and I think some of the other members, and he showed them a document which he proposed to issue. They criticised it and said they did not think that it would be helpful, and they suggested that certain words might be introduced. Lord Ammon took his document away with the suggested words, and the closing courtesies between Sir Alexander Maxwell and Lord Ammon indicated that Lord Ammon would be expected at the Emergency Committee's offices next day with a revision which they could consider to see whether it could be safely issued. Instead of doing that, the document which we believed was likely to precipitate a serious nation-wide crisis was issued without further consultation. We felt, therefore, that it was essential, in the interests of the nation, that the statement which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister caused to be issued should be sent out.
§ Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the 2280 House whether that document was issued with or without the amendment suggested by the Maxwell Committee?
§ Mr. Baxter
Did the Government take any exception to the board ordering the dockers to return on a certain date and at a specified time, quite apart from the later implied words? Was any exception taken to that, or do the Government approve it now?
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I am not quite clear just what was the discussion which took place between the Maxwell Committee and the National Dock Labour Board over this document. Was the objection to the deadline alone, or to the deadline coupled with some other phrase about jeopardising the scheme.
§ Mr. Ede
I am doing my very best to be quite frank with the Committee, and if there is any point I have not made clear I welcome the opportunity of doing so. The suggestion which Lord Ammon first brought to Sir Alexander Maxwell was that the whole 15,000 men should be declared outside the dock scheme. I ask anyone who knows the clan spirit which exists between dockers in all the ports of this country what the effect of that pronouncement would have been. I have no doubt what would have happened, and I do not think that anyone who has a constituency in which this type of labour is employed has any doubt either. I regret that the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) was not prepared to leave the question where it was because I do not want, unnecessarily, to make future working with the National Dock Labour Board difficult. I would not have disclosed what was the first proposal had I not been pressed.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
That is an extraordinary excuse for the right hon. Gentleman to put forward. I was asking about the conversation which took place between the Maxwell Committee and the National Dock Labour Board. I thought that was a perfectly proper question to ask because the right hon. Gentleman was discussing the point, and I wanted to know what it was to which the Maxwell Committee took exception. Then the right hon. Gentleman came back with some other suggestion made by Lord Ammon.
§ Mr. Ede
I now have the document and I apologise to the House that, having been advanced in the batting order beyond my usual lonely position as wicket-keeper, I was not fully prepared with the documents. I will read from the minutes of the meeting of the Emergency Committee for the Port of London held on Tuesday, 19th July, when Lord Ammon reported that the following resolution had been passed:That this Board authorises the chairman together with Mr. Arthur Bird and Sir Douglas Ritchie, after consultation with the Emergency Committee, to inform the London Board that the National Board considers that all men who are in breach of the scheme should be given notice that unless they make themselves available for full resumption of work by a date to be fixed they are summarily dismissed under Clause 16 (2, d) of the scheme.I hope that makes it quite clear that we knew the temper which lay behind the document that was, in fact, finally issued.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
I appreciate the information which the right hon. Gentleman is giving to the House, but I wish to put to him two points which I think are of some importance. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of the document issued by Lord Ammon, I take it that it was the document of the board. Is that so? My second point is, was the Board within its legal rights in issuing that document on its own authority, or, if in the Government's view it was not, had it ever been so informed?
§ Mr. Ede
We had taken the opinion of the Law Officers which was to the effect that the National Dock Labour Board and anyone else concerned with the working of the port were, by the emergency regulations and the appointment by the Minister of Transport of the 2282 Emergency Committee, placed under that Emergency Committee.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
It is on that point that I wish to ask a question. Whoever was responsible for this clash between the National Dock Labour Board, on the one side, the Emergency Committee on the other, and Ministers at a still later stage, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that clash was extremely unfortunate from the public point of view. When the Emergency Committee was set up at the beginning, were steps taken to acquaint the dock people as to the relative areas of authority to be exercised by the Emergency Committee and the Dock Labour Board?
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South) indicated dissent.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
Were the Dock Labour Board informed that they were under the authority of the Emergency Committee? That is the question that was asked. If they were not, they ought to have been.
§ Mr. Ede
No, I do not think they were. In our view, the emergency regulations are quite clear. We were astounded at the action of Lord Ammon in issuing this statement. Ships cannot be loaded and unloaded without labour, and, in the ordinary course, the only people who can supply labour to the London docks are the London Dock Labour Board. Inasmuch as the Emergency Committee was charged with the loading and unloading of ships, it is clear that the National Dock Labour Board, who would supply the labour, had to be responsible to them for the way they discharged their duties, whether they were statutory or not.
2283 The next thing that I am asked is whether the Maxwell Committee were informed of the negotiations with the lightermen. Certainly they were; they were informed of the negotiations with the lightermen.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I only want to make it clear that the view that was taken in the port was that the Dock Labour Board were not in any way made subordinate to the Emergency Committee. The right hon. Gentleman says they were.
§ Mr. Ede
I have given the Committee my reasons for thinking they were. They may be good, bad or indifferent reasons, but they were the reasons that caused us to accept the position that the Emergency Committee were in complete control of the Board.
I now come to the third question that was put to me. I apologise for the length of time that I am taking. I do not know whether a computation can be taken of what percentage of my time has been taken up by my own speech and how much has been taken up by questions from various quarters of the Committee. The third question was: Was the Prime Minister aware of the National Dock Labour Board's special statutory position? Certainly he was. We discussed this matter; I hope I am not doing anything that is contrary to the Official Secrets Act if I say that the Attorney-General was present at the interviews at which we discussed this matter, and advised us as to the proper position.
I am now leaving the question of the emergency. I hope I have established the fact that so far from there being any 2284 muddle, the policy of the Government was consistent throughout. They asked Parliament for emergency powers so that they could work this Board. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport appointed an Emergency Committee. It is true that he committed the sin of not appointing the kind of Committee that the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Port of London Authority wanted. For that we accept responsibility; the responsibility is ours and we accept it. I have endeavoured to show to the Committee that, in our view, it was essential that on that Emergency Committee there should not be represented any one of the interests whose particular position might become the matter of controversy on the body that was actually issuing the orders.
There have been other strikes and industrial disputes in the London Docks. They have lasted far longer than this. They have left behind them bitterness on both sides which, I hope, will be absent from this. But I do not want to delude anyone into thinking that I do not share the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman about the irresponsibility and, to my mind, the wickedness of some of the people who have been engaged in this enterprise. This matter originated in people coming to this country from Canada towards the end of last year, before this voyage of the "Beaverbrae" took place, and opening a London office which they closed the day after the men decided to return to work. I had the advantage of picking up three gentlemen of alien blood, and none of them, apparently, even of English descent—for there are some people of alien blood who are of English descent and who generally hold the kind of views about these matters which are generally shared in this House of Commons.
Those men had been attending the Communist International—a dockers' conference at Marseilles. On one of them we found an invitation from the London unofficial lockout committee inviting him to come to this country. Really, they should instruct their agents not to be so careless about the preservation of incriminating documents. There has been a final episode. It was announced in Victoria Park that the Assistant Minister of Labour in Canada had apparently, some time towards the end of last week, decided that he would do 2285 something in Canada to end the dispute in England. I can get no confirmation of that from any quarter. What settled the dispute was the decision of the corn porters, English trade unionists, that they were not going to be made the cats-paw of these people any longer, and they decided to return to the "Beaverbrae" and to work it on Monday. It was then necessary to find some face-saving device for the people who had misled these men to use at the Victoria Park meeting.
I do not believe that the 15,000 good, honest dockers who came out in accordance with their long-preserved tradition of solidarity, which is a thing which is to be welcomed when it is used reasonably, feel that they have had a triumph. A few leaders who escaped from Victoria Park got away with it. But two of them will not get out of the country just yet. I do not want to say anything more, because there is a case pending, but I feel myself, in view of the depth of the feelings that are aroused in dockers when this appeal to international solidarity is made, that to have brought this dispute to a conclusion—and this is a matter with which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will deal more fully—in so short a time, in view of the history of this calling, is a matter of which the Government need not be ashamed.
We asked the House to give us emergency powers to work the Port of London; we worked it. We are sorry we have not earned the admiration of the Chairman of the Port of London Authority. We may well have made some mistakes for, unlike him, we are merely human.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
These are sombre matters which we are discussing this afternoon and I am bound to say that, as I sat and listened to the very short speech made by the right hon. 2286 Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), I thought I had never heard a more devastating indictment of the Government. I want to follow up a few of the points he made and to deal with one or two of the points which the Home Secretary made in his reply. But I would like to say at the outset that I think it is important not to forget the background against which that dock strike took place. That background was a national crisis in which the whole future of the dockers and everybody else in this country was at stake. I think it is indeed a sad thing, to put it no higher, that at that moment the crisis had not been sufficiently brought home to such large sections of the community.
The second thing I want to say is that, while we can examine what happened in the dock strike, what I think we have to bear in mind is the future just as much as the last three weeks. What we have to be concerned about is whether, if the same sort of situation should arise again, in the docks or on the railways or in the coal mines, we shall find ourselves in the same kind of position; because I do not think any Government or any country could very often go through the sort of exhibition we have been going through in the last few months.
I thought the Home Secretary was a little unhappy in the speech he made. He started by what I thought was a most astonishing charge. He tried to say that, at some time or another, the Opposition, by putting their Questions to the Minister of Labour, had somehow compelled the Government to concentrate responsibility upon that unfortunate Minister. If that is not what he meant, then it did not seem to me that his statement had very much relevance to the Debate.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I heard most of those Questions and I saw the Front Bench opposite at the time. The Prime Minister was there most of the time, and if there was ever an occasion upon which the Prime Minister ought to have taken charge of the situation, that was such an occasion.
2287 That was the right hon. Gentleman's opening gambit in reply. The next thing he said was that the Maxwell Committee had been appointed for a specific purpose, and that specific purpose was to lay down the priority in which the ships were to be unloaded. I am not concerned to argue whether that is a wise thing or not a wise thing, but it did not seem to me that at that stage, if I had been running the National Dock Labour Board, I should necessarily have assumed that a body designed to decide the priorities in which ships were to be unloaded necessarily had any command over the National Dock Labour Board; nor I think, as events showed, did the National Dock Labour Board think so.
§ Mr. Ede
If the hon. Member will permit me to interrupt again—and, after all, I did not make an uninterrupted speech—I may say that I have just received a message from Sir Alexander Maxwell which enables me to deal with the point. I have received it since I sat down. On the second day after the committee's appointment, Sir Alexander Maxwell met the Dock Labour Board and told them they were subject to the Emergency Committee on questions of policy. He met representatives of the Board.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am afraid I did not quite follow that. Would the right hon. Gentleman repeat it?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I do not want to put it unfairly because I am most anxious to be fair, but it appears that there was considerable doubt—to put it no higher than that—about what were the relations of those two bodies, and the best evidence of that is the fact that the Government themselves had to take the opinion of the Law Officers to find out. Surely the right way to deal with a matter of that kind is quite simple: it is to have the chairman of the National Dock Labour Board and the head of the Emergency Committee in the room with the Prime Minister, or whoever is in charge, and to 2288 say exactly what are the relations one to another. That is the simple way. It is not right and it is not proper to leave it in such doubt that the opinion of the Law Officers has to be taken.
The next point that the right hon. Gentleman made was with regard to the emergency powers. I simply ask for information upon this subject. I understood him to say that the emergency powers were taken in order to make it possible for the troops to work in the docks. I may have misunderstood him—I am not an expert in this matter—but I did not previously understand that it was necessary to have emergency powers to enable the troops to work in the docks; and if that was not the purpose, we should like at some stage in the Debate someone from the Front Bench to say exactly why the emergency powers were, in fact, asked for.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with the statement made by the Dock Labour Board and the negotiations with the Emergency Committee or shall we call it the Maxwell Committee. I would repeat a question which was asked by my right hon. Friend: Did the Prime Minister know, or did he not know, at the time he repudiated the statement of the Dock Labour Board, what the Minister of Labour had previously said? When the right hon. Gentleman repeated all those statements today—on the one hand, from the Dock Labour Board about the jeopardy into which this labour scheme would be placed and, on the other hand, the peril to the scheme according to the statement of the Minister of Labour—it still did not appear to me that there was any substantial difference whatsoever between the two statements which had been made.
I think the questions which we ought to ask ourselves in this Debate are as follows, and the test of whether the Government have handled this matter properly must rest upon the answers to these questions. Did the Government make sure that some one person or body was really in charge of what was happening, or did they not? That is the first question. However generous one wants to be, I cannot believe that one could answer that question in the affirmative. There were two Emergency Committees, a fact which I did not appreciate until I came to the House this afternoon; and 2289 there was even some mysterious body in the background of the second Emergency Committee. If I am wrong, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply will correct me, but I understood quite clearly that two Emergency Committees were appointed, one which we know as the Emergency Committee and the other which we know as the Port Emergency Committee.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I quite appreciate that the Chairman of the Port of London Authority is not in the Government and I do not think he would wish to be in a matter of this kind, but the fact is that there were two Emergency Committees, an unknown body in the background, the National Dock Labour Board and the Government—all of them having some say in these proceedings.
The second question I think we ought to ask ourselves, if separate, new bodies were created for the purpose of the emergency, would be: Was it made absolutely plain what were the relations of one to the other? Were the responsibilities of those who were dealing with conciliation and those who were responsible for dealing with the emergency and the running of the port clearly parcelled out? To my mind it is perfectly obvious from the right hon. Gentleman's own speech that nothing of the kind, in fact, happened.
The third question is: Did the Government do their utmost not only to collect all the known facts about the thing but to make those facts known to the dockers and to the National Dock Labour Board and to the House of Commons? I shall have a word or two to say about that in a few moments. The fourth question is: Did they take the minimum of the extraordinary powers and use them with the maximum vigour? They took the emergency powers, but up to the present time I am not at all clear that they have used them at all. The fifth test is: In the outcome of this strike is it plain who, in fact, was in control of the situation? Was it the Government or was it the unofficial strikers? I regret to have to say that it was perfectly plain in the 2290 last stages of the strike where that answer lay.
I want to say a few words about who was in charge of this dispute. I understand that the National Dock Labour Board quite early on consulted the Government as to whether the dockers should be put to work in the two Canadian ships or not This is the statement of the Chairman of the National Dock Labour Board. It may be right or it may be wrong. It will be answered, no doubt, by the right hon. Gentleman who replies to the Debate for the Government. However, according to Lord Ammon, the Government were consulted upon that matter. I dare say they should have been. Later on we find the Chief Industrial Commissioner to the Ministry saying on 5th June:We do not wish to influence the Board in their judgment as to the steps they should take in connection with the Canadian ships, the "Beaverbrae" and the "Argomont." It must, of course, be clear that the Board and the employers take full responsibility for any decision in the matter and for any action which may be taken.We could not have a better illustration of the uncertainty about who, in fact, was in charge. Either the Government had to make that decision or the Board had to make that decision. I emphasise this, not only in relation to this strike, but because, in the unhappy world in which we live, it may be relevant in the future in another dispute in another industry.
§ Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)
Will the hon. Gentleman give us the date of that? Was that before the men actually came out, or when?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Yes, in the "News of the World." Lord Ammon, after all, held a responsible office. [HON. MEMBERS: "He still does."] He said:Early on, at the request of the Ministry of Labour, the Board agreed to isolate the Canadian ships for a time in the hope that some agreement might be reached.I am not saying whether it was right or not. I am saying that at that stage in the proceedings it was the Ministry of Labour that was taking the initiative. On 15th June, Sir Robert Gould wrote the 2291 other letter to which I have just referred, which passed the responsibility back again to the National Dock Labour Board. What I am saying is that one or the other must be right. The responsibility for a matter so important, cannot be in two places at the same time.
The next point I wish to raise is on this question of the information. According to Lord Ammon, a statement had been made available by the High Commissioner for Canada to the Minister of Labour. The Minister of Labour had acknowledged it and said it had been most helpful and was enabling him to approach the problem here with confidence as regards the facts—which is a very courteous reply when criticism is made that he put that document in a pigeon hole and did not make it available to the National Dock Labour Board. I want the right hon. Gentleman to say whether that is so or not. I also want to know whether the Minister of Transport, who, after all, has considerable responsibilities in this matter, was informed of that statement at that time.
Now, if I may turn to the discussions which took place on 19th July and 20th July, it seems, according to Lord Ammon, that closer liaison was asked for between the National Dock Labour Board and the Emergency Committee. It does appear that, in fact, discussions did take place between the two, and that in that respect the earlier statement of Lord Ammon, at least, did not convey the impression which was the correct one. He suggested that no liaison took place between the two sides. That was not true, I understand. They did, in fact, meet. They met on 19th July, the day when the document was discussed. The right hon. Gentleman has given us some partial account of what took place upon that occasion. He has told us so much that I really think we ought to know the full account of what took place. Lord Ammon, still under the impression—and we must take his view about this—that he was not subordinate to the Emergency Committee, arrives there with the document. According to the Home Secretary, that document in its original form—that is, if I understood him aright—contained some very tough propositions, that the men should go back, or if they did not, that they would have some period of notice, or be dismissed. 2292 The exact terms can be given us by the right hon. Gentleman when he replies.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I did not write down what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I was not attempting to give the terms verbatim. However, they were stern measures which Lord Ammon proposed at that stage. He then talked them over with the Maxwell Committee. The Maxwell Committee then made certain suggestions, and suggested one or two Amendments which, in fact, were incorporated, as I understand it, in the final document which was then published. Did the Maxwell Committee suggest any alternative course? Did they suggest what other steps should be taken? Did they say that any instructions ought to be given to the men as to when to return?
I read Lord Ammon's statement, the statement of the National Dock Labour Board, upon this matter, and it seemed to me to be eminently sensible—that there was considerable confusion in the minds of the dockers as to what the position was, and that unless some particular date was given—I am leaving aside the other matter about jeopardy—unless some particular date was given about return, it would be probable that no one would, in fact, return in time. Was some other suggestion made? Was there opposition to a fixed date at all? I think we ought to be given a much clearer account of what the Emergency Committee were really trying to put over at that particular moment. The Dock Labour Board then issued their statement and a meeting took place at an early hour on the morning of 20th July. I am talking about the meeting of the Government.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am much obliged—at a late hour on the night before. At that stage it was decided to repudiate the statement of the National Dock Labour Board. Now, that was a very serious decision indeed, not only for its immediate effects, but for its effects in the future on the whole prestige of the National Dock Labour Board. Was Lord Ammon invited to attend that meeting? Was any communication held with him as to the wisdom or otherwise of the decision?
§ Mr. Ede
I can answer that straight away. During the meeting he was communicated with by telephone and a conversation of some minutes took place. Lord Ammon lives at Brixton, it was late at night, and if a statement was to be issued it was impossible to get him from Brixton to Downing Street in time for the statement to be made, so the Prime Minister had a telephone conversation with him.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Really. That is, if I may say so, the most astonishing statement we have yet had.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am not suggesting it was an unfair answer. I said it was an astonishing one, which is a very different matter. There is Lord Ammon, the head of this most important National Dock Labour Board, who in the middle of a great dock strike issues a statement, which I think everybody agrees he was perfectly entitled to issue under the terms of the Board—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There is a dispute about that. Anyway, he issues that statement, and he is head of the Board. Indeed, it is not only he who issues it; it is not a personal statement of his own; it is a statement of the National Dock Labour Board, having on it trade union representatives, men of life-long experience in this industry. Is it impossible to get him from Brixton, or to get some of the other members of the Board, before the decisive action is taken completely to turn this down, and with it to denigrate the authority of the Board, not only for this time but perhaps for a long time to come? That does seem to me to be the most astonishing way for any Government to treat any board with which they are concerned in a matter of this kind.
§ Mr. Mellish
I think the hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that time was the important factor. Surely the point is that this statement issued by Lord Ammon could have had, and if I know my London docker, would have had the effect of spreading the dispute. The Government stepped in, and because of the time factor, in making the position 2294 clear they issued that statement before they had time to see Lord Ammon.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
How long does it take for a car to go to Brixton and to come back with Lord Amnion? A Government which gets into the position where it has in a matter of minutes to make up its mind on issuing a statement about a dock strike which has been going on all this time, is not a Government to be trusted. There are always Ministerial cars available; Brixton is not very far; and people are always available in situations of this kind, and can always be brought into town.
The only people, I regret to say, who have come out of this with their colours flying appear to be the unofficial strikers, who suddenly come along and say, "These ships are now 'white' instead of 'black'." I want to say this about the dockers. I do not think that much useful purpose is served by finding many excuses for the dockers in this matter. We all have respect for the dockers; we all know they do a fine job; but there is no doubt—and it had better be said—that on this occasion they behaved very badly indeed. It is no good glossing over it. That had better be stated openly and bluntly.
What has to happen for the future is that an education programme must be carried out. The trade unions have got to try to persuade the dockers what the meaning of solidarity really is, and how badly it can be misapplied upon occasions. The dockers have got to be shown that incidents of this kind, where a dispute in a foreign port is called in aid so that a ship here is labelled "black" and everybody comes out on strike, just will not work—not if the trade union movement is to go on holding the reputation it did in the past. Looking at the history of these disputes and at what has happened, we see that the faults are not all on one side, by any manner of means. But it is not very easy to try to distinguish between the "Jolly George" and the "Beaverbrae"—certainly not in the minds of the dockers. What is needed in the immediate future is some very clear and plain speaking by, amongst others, hon. Members who are very well qualified to speak in this matter, and I very much hope they will do so.
2295 I now want to say a word about the troops. The troops behaved magnificently, as they always do in incidents of this kind. But might we have an answer to the question asked by my right hon. Friend: Why was the unloading of meat cut down from 7,000 tons a day to 1,000 tons a day? Was it done so that the meat should not flow through Smithfield and possibly bring about another strike there, or what was the reason? Why was it that, at a moment when we were desperately short of food, and when the whole object was to get the food out quickly, a halt was called in the unloading of grain? I think we ought to be told those things in the House of Commons, and I think the country ought to know why things of that kind are going on.
Then there is the National Dock Labour Board. It is vital that the reputation and prestige of the National Dock Labour Board should be built up as rapidly as possible. After all, this goes very much farther than some quarrel between Lord Ammon and the Prime Minister. It is much more important than that. This Board is the responsible employing authority of these dockers, and if its members are to be held in disrepute, if their reputation is to be pulled down, we shall have nothing but one industrial dispute after another in this industry. Boards of this kind must have full authority to act, and when they do act they must be backed up by the responsible Minister. We cannot have a Ministry and a board fighting each other on a matter of this kind.
Finally, there is the Government. Well, I do not propose to say much more about the Government, but I do say just this. I think that the history of this dock strike in these last few weeks has shown a quite deplorable muddle. Nobody has known who is in charge of what, whose the decision ought to be, who is doing this or who is doing that. In such circumstances there is an inevitable invitation to industrial unrest. It has often been said that if the Conservative Party were returned to power they would find themselves in a head-on collision with organised labour. Let us have rather less talk of that kind. I believe it to be the duty of all parties 2296 in the House of Commons to do their best to see that the authority of Parliament is maintained, and that we go on governing from this House of Commons and not from some body outside.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
Anyone unacquainted with the history of the Opposition would be convinced by the arguments we have had this afternoon that they had never been involved in an industrial dispute, or that if they had been they had come out of it with flying colours, and with satisfaction to the country and to the men concerned. That is quite wrong, and I wish to say something about the methods adopted by the Tory Party in the past in conducting industrial disputes, and what they would have done in these circumstances had they been in power.
Last week I asked the Minister of Labour to exercise his patience and perseverance in an endeavour to bring about a satisfactory settlement of the dock dispute. After hearing the whole of the facts today from the Home Secretary, I congratulate the Minister of Labour on exercising his patience and perseverance, and on not being persuaded to take precipitate action which, in all probability, would have brought about a stoppage over the whole country. According to the statement of Lord Ammon on 22nd July, the Dock Labour Scheme was in jeopardy. What would that have meant? It would have meant bringing into the dispute every port in the country which was operating under a dock labour scheme, so that instead of 15,000 men there would have been 120,000 men on strike. My impression is that some of the Tory Party as well as the Communist Party wanted that, in order that they could make political capital out of what the dockers were doing. I therefore congratulate the Minister of Labour for his patience and perseverance.
I listened very carefully to the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), who followed the same line as that taken by his right hon. Friend on a football field in Wolverhampton last Saturday. It was a general attack upon the so-called ineptitude, the inefficiency, the muddle and confusion of the Labour Party, the same attack which was made by the Leader of the Opposition 2297 at Wolverhampton last Saturday. How did the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) deal with strikes in the past? We in the industrial areas have very vivid recollections of the Tonypandy strike and the men being shot down. No, they would like to have the men shot down in the London Docks, and no doubt if they had been on this side of the House they would have done it. But we are a party that deals with industrial problems in a new way. We cannot forget the methods adopted in the Sydney Street raid, or the general strike, or the Arcos raid which brought about the trouble between Russia and ourselves.
§ Mr. Awbery
I am trying to bring forward the facts of the past in order to show that if the Conservative Party adopted these principles for the settlement of industrial disputes, then we have every reason to believe that if they were in office and there was trouble in the London or in any other docks, they would adopt the same methods they used in the past. That is our conviction. I do not want to justify the dock dispute.
The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities suggested that the Dock Labour Board had power to revoke the dock labour scheme. He did not say that they should have done so, but the inference behind his statement was that if that had been done the strike would have been settled. He then asked what is to be done to penalise those who exploited the dockers. I know the character of the dockers, and I know how easy it is to get them to take action. One of my first experiences as a lad was seeing a Chilean training ship come into port and the dockers going on board to discharge the ship. When they got on board they saw two lads in irons because they had committed some offence. The dockers never asked what the offence was. All they could see was that an injustice was being done to these two lads. They simply stopped unloading the ship. That is characteristic of the dockers.
§ Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)
How did they know an injustice was being done if they never asked what was the offence?
§ Mr. Awbery
The dockers saw the two lads in irons on the ship, and the impression was that these lads were suffering an injustice. There was no question of what they had done. Because of that, they decided to take action, which is what the dockers did a few weeks ago when these people came from Canada to exploit their generous hearts.
This dispute started in my home town last December, when we had two crews standing by the ships for seven weeks. The trouble shifted from there to Liverpool and from Liverpool to London. The dockers have not committed a crime or done anything illegal. They have not incited anyone to disturb the peace. It is purely a constitutional business. I know what the dockers have suffered in the past, but what they are suffering now is nothing compared with what they endured under the Tory régime before decasualisation was introduced. The dockers know where their friends stand, on the political as well as on the industrial side.
I appeal to the dockers from this the greatest forum in the world—and I have spoken to dockers in the holds of the ships, in their branch rooms and at their call stands; I have appealed to them in the middle of the day and in the middle of the night—to let reason and common sense play a paramount part. I say that this Labour Government, which has been in power for four years, deserves something better from the 120,000 dockers for whom we have done so much which the Tory Party refused to do before we came into office. This is one of the finest agreements in the world so far as the dockers are concerned, and I want them to hold on to it. That is why I plead with them at this moment.
The Home Secretary mentioned the time lost in this dispute. I have taken the trouble to find out what has been lost in the past. I estimate that we have lost during the strike in London 450,000 man days, which is approximately 30 days' strike for 15,000 men. But in 1922 we lost 3,300,000 days in industrial disputes, and in the same year 81 million days as a result of unemployment. Therefore, what we have lost recently is comparatively small compared with what happened in 1922.
The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) last week 2299 criticised the trade union movement. I regret that throughout the whole of this dispute a deplorable lack of understanding has been shown regarding the internal workings of the trade union movement. Members do not seem to understand either the policy of the trade union movement or its functions. We were told that the men at the top had no full understanding of the men at the bottom. Our trade union movement is a democratic organisation. It is not a question of the men at the top dictating to the men at the bottom. The men at the bottom are represented at all levels. It is not a dictatorship but the men deciding for themselves.
It was suggested that big unions were the trouble. The Transport and General Workers' Union had a comparatively small number of men involved in this dispute—about 3,000 to 4,000. The numbers from other smaller unions were 8,000 or 10,000. Members opposite have asked what action the Government would take. One hon. Member said last week, "We do not want to see these emergency powers put into effect," yet, in spite of that, he wanted to know what action the Government would take. He said that the position was going from bad to worse, and that if the Government wanted greater powers and asked for them the House would grant them. I am convinced that precipitate action would have led to an extension of the dispute.
§ Mr. Awbery
That confirms my argument. Members opposite wanted the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Transport to exercise all the powers given to them by this Parliament and, at the same time, asked them not to exercise those powers. I do not say that the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) said that, but it was said by a Member opposite. The Minister of Labour showed restraint and patience and refused to exercise the powers, with the result that the men are now back at work. I hope the position in the docks will be far better than it has been in recent weeks.
2300 The trade union movement and its machinery was established 50 or 60 years ago to deal with circumstances and conditions which existed at that time. I feel that it has outgrown these circumstances and conditions, and that it is necessary for the movement to re-design its organisation to provide for the rapid changes that have taken place during the past few years. There is need for the men in the trade union movement to exercise self-discipline; that is one of the things which must be learned. Discipline shown by men themselves is more powerful than when it is imposed from outside. I appeal to the dockers and other members of the trade unions to exercise this self-discipline.
§ Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)
Will my hon. Friend say a word about his attitude to the trade union officials on the Dock Labour Board who, apparently, supported Lord Ammon's proposal?
§ Mr. Awbery
It seems that Members opposite want to hold a post-morten into the London dock strike and determine beforehand what the result will be. The Dock Labour Board will deal with the matter, not Parliament. The board are the employing body for the whole of dock labour. They have powers which Parliament has given to them. Whether Lord Ammon exercised those powers with discretion, or exceeded them, will be settled later, elsewhere; it cannot be settled here.
The workers want increasing control in industry and with this control they will be prepared to take increasing responsibility. It is not only the workers, however, who have to show responsibility; employers must bear their share of responsibility, too, and treat men as human beings rather than cogs in a machine. Some of us on this side felt last week that the London dockers were striking at their friends. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the dockers know where their political friends are. Sometimes they see the shadow and jump for it, rather than the substance. When they have a real or imaginary grievance they saddle and 2301 bridle it and gallop away at great speed. The dockers have done a great job in the past and will do a great job in the future, but I want to see self-discipline and self-control exercised by the men in the industry.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
I do not want to pursue the type of argument to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery), or to attempt to apportion blame or suggest where it rests. No doubt that argument will be continued by those who will follow me in the Debate. What I am much more concerned about is whether, having regard to the unhappy experiences with which we have been faced during recent weeks, there are not lessons which can be drawn and which will be to the benefit of all of us if we can profit by them.
As an employer of labour—and I believe that most of the employees who work with me are members of the Transport and General Workers' Union and Amalgamated Engineering Union—I attach, as, I am sure, every sensible employer does, the greatest importance to the trade union machinery which exists for the orderly settlement of disputes and the conditions in which men should serve managements in the country's industrial concerns. But what is of vital consequence to the nation, to the trade unions and to employers is that when agreements have been freely negotiated and have been entered into on both sides, employers can absolutely rely on those agreements being faithfully implemented. The fact that the agreements entered into in recent weeks have not been honoured is gravely disturbing to employers in all parts of the country.
I think I am voicing the opinions of many of my colleagues in industry when I say that we are anxious about two things: First, that the trouble which occurs so frequently is created by a few extremists, Communists or otherwise, and by the constant ignoring by trade unionists of their leader's advice. That is what troubles us today. The second is that it would appear from such information as we can gather that when meetings are called in the various trade unions they are attended by a small handful of members of those unions. In other words, 2302 perhaps 15 or 20 per cent. of the trade union strength turn up at these meetings, and the rest do not seem to bother about what goes on, with the result that the majority are too frequently led by decisions reached by minorities.
In recent weeks, members of the T.U.C. have been advising the trade unions to take steps to remove from office men who are known to have Communist beliefs. So far, very little action appears to have been taken. I earnestly appeal to trade union leaders to face the trouble which is being created for them, and to take the one action which seems likely to be effective—to take the advice of the T.U.C. leaders and remove from the possibility of further mischief those known men whose sole object is to foster discontent and create trouble.
I also wonder whether the trade unions always receive support and guidance from the Government when troubles arise, and, what is equally important when the necessity requires, prompt action which would strengthen the hands of the trade union leaders. I very much doubt whether this Government have always acted as promptly and as wisely as they might, and they are responsible for prompt and wise action. That is a duty which must fall upon any Government no matter from what party it is drawn, and I think a special responsibility, if I may dare to say so, falls upon the Labour Government in times like these.
I and others like me, as I have said, are very much concerned with the amount of unrest which exists in so many industries of this country at the present time. Not only are Ministers gravely concerned, but I believe that leaders in the T.U.C. are as anxious about it, and I am quite sure that many representative employers are equally concerned. What we want in the grave crisis which confronts us is peace in our time, if I may use that old phrase. We do not want a kind of disturbance like that of the London dockers going on, which is such a disaster to the nation, to employees and to managements. Those of us who have had materials lying in ships in London docks in these last few weeks know full well the consequences of that, because we have not been able to send our products to dollar and other countries. It is in the national interest that we should get together if we can.
2303 I have a definite proposal which I should like to put to the Government. If we are to operate at high level in these troubles I should like to see a representative body set up. I do not mind an informal body, but one consisting of representatives of the Government, the trade unions, and the employers, who would sit down and see what could be hammered out between the three of them to avoid and avert such troubles as we have experienced in recent weeks, and such as we are threatened with in the weeks and months to come. I throw that suggestion out to the Government and I hope they will seriously think about it and if possible act upon it.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
If this committee were appointed would it be able to direct employers who had caused a dispute?
§ Sir A. Gridley
I do not think there has been any lockout by employers for many years. On the other hand, the employers have observed the agreements, but recently we have seen those agreements broken on the trade union side.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Piratin (Mile End)
When the Home Secretary was speaking he might have done a service if he had taken up some of the points put by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). The right hon. Gentleman promised to develop one point but failed to do so. As an early part of his contribution, the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities said there were likely to be further disputes. He added that he would develop that later, but he did not do so. It may be that he overlooked it in his notes. As a matter of fact, the Chairman of the Port of London Authority told the House that he expected future disputes. Apparently he has been informed of details which have not been given to this Committee, nor has he conveyed them to the Minister of Labour or to the Home Secretary. If we went right to the point of who is responsible, 2304 we might ask how is it that at this stage, the dockers are now working full out?
The Chairman of the Port of London Authority is a Member of this House and already in a position to warn this Committee when he thinks there will be a further dispute. This Committee, therefore, is entitled to know what it is all about, because the right hon. Gentleman also said that he would like to see action taken against the leaders of the dispute. When he was challenged by an hon. Member on this side of the House he made it quite clear that he expects discrimination. Another hon. Member on this side described that word as "victimisation." It is true that the Home Secretary did not take up that point, some of my hon. Friends and I would have liked to see the Home Secretary challenging him and not allowing himself to be challenged throughout the whole of his speech by hon. Members on the other side. It is not merely the Government who are playing a part. Other forces are playing a part. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite are rattled.
The Home Secretary also said something about Lord Ammon which was rather startling. He said Lord Amnion had proposed the immediate dismissal of 50,000 workers unless they returned by a certain date. Of course, the Members of the Government are responsible; it is not only a matter for the Dock Labour Board. I must take this point further. The hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery) interrupted the Home Secretary, who admitted that it was not Lord Ammon speaking for himself, but it was Lord Ammon as chairman and with the authority of the Dock Labour Board. I take it that the Board has an equal number of representatives from both sides.
The Home Secretary said there was a unanimous decision supporting the proposals which Lord Ammon made and which the Government wisely rejected. We want to know if this is the frame of mind of the Dock Board. If we want to look for responsibility we have to look in that direction. Anyone can blame the dockers or the Canadian seamen. It is the easiest thing in the world to blame Communists. When we had a Debate nearly two weeks ago upon the Emergency 2305 Powers Regulations the Home Secretary was followed by the Leader of the Liberal Party and by more than one hon. Member on this side, who said, "Don't blame the Communists for everything." We have to look in other directions.
We see the attitude of the Dock Board. Lord Ammon has got the stick for it. It is the Dock Board which purported to be handling the dock dispute in London and throughout the country. It the dockers have a grievance it is against the Dock Board. Hon. Members opposite do not understand the working men. When the dockers, or any other workers, come out on strike, it is not always simply because of a particular dispute. There may be an accumulation of all kinds of grievances and irritations. That is what is happening in the London Docks. It may be happening in other docks. I do not know anything about them. I know a little about the London Docks. I would remind the Committee of what "The Times" said on 22nd July. It is worth quoting. If I were to quote the "Daily Worker" there might be riots.
§ Mr. Piratin
Yes, or even a breach of Privilege. The Labour Correspondent of "The Times" said on 22nd July:There is little doubt that if the Canadian ships had been allowed to remain idle until the dispute in Canada was settled, or if they had been dealt with by troops, the wide stoppages of work would have been avoided.… The alternative was to insist that the dockers should unload the ships, and to take strong measures to impress upon them that they must carry out their obligations.He goes on:The actual course of action taken by the Government was a compromise.It was a compromise on those alternatives. He went on to say:In London for some six weeks the dockers were allowed to refuse to handle the ships with impunity. It was tacitly accepted by everybody that they were 'black' and the men got it firmly implanted in their minds. Then it was insisted that the dockers should work the ships, and a stoppage inevitably followed.That is how the Labour Correspondent saw the dispute as late as last Friday, on the day when the dockers decided to return to work. It was the employers who suddenly changed their minds. The 2306 dockers did not change their minds. Who is to be blamed? Questions were asked in this House two weeks ago of the Attorney-General with regard to the responsibility of the port employers, and whether the Government would take action against them, as the Emergency Powers Regulations were brought in against the port dockers.
Let us look at the effect of the Emergency Powers Regulations. The Home Secretary thought that the Government had done very well, and that the dispute might have been much longer but for the steps which the Government had taken and which helped to reduce the length of the dispute. As a matter of fact, from the time the powers were introduced until last Friday, the number on strike increased from about 8,000 to about 15,000. Every day there was an increase of thousands, or at the least of a few hundreds. If that causes the Government gratification on the ground that they were succeeding in ending the dispute, it is very peculiar gratification. The Emergency Powers Regulations might have had effect last year when the Prime Minister made his broadcast the same night, but this year they had no effect whatever. The dockers went on coming out every day until they decided en masse to return. That fact should be remembered. The hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) asked: "What will be the outcome of the Emergency Powers Regulations? Will they help to end the dispute."
The dockers decided to go back and work those two ships not because of any effort the Government made but because they were informed that those two ships were no longer "black." At that meeting last Friday in Victoria Park they made the decision. I quote again from "The Times" report of that meeting, published on 23rd July. In a summary of what Mr. Harry Davis, president of the Canadian Seamen's Union said, the Labour Correspondent wrote:He brought thankful and deep appreciation for the splendid support of the London dockers, the British dockers as a whole, the British housewives, and the British people. But the C.S.U. realised the great hardships that were being suffered by the London dockers and the serious consequences which the continuation of the dispute might have on the great national effort to recover from the war. The last thing they wanted was that England should suffer as a result of the treatment meted out to Canadian seamen. So 2307 they would terminate their dispute in Great Britain and accept the promises that had been made that there would be no victimisation against Canadian seamen.
§ Mr. Daines
If the hon. Gentleman claims that Mr. Davis called off the dispute will he also claim that Mr. Davis called on the dispute?
§ Mr. Piratin
Mr. Davis is president of the Canadian Seamen's Union and was standing in that respect as a personification of that union as Lord Ammon personified the Dock Board. Mr. Davis is responsible to his executive for the Canadian seamen's strike and the Canadian seamen were in dispute.
§ Mr. Piratin
Please. I am answering this question. The Canadian seamen were in dispute. The London dockers, and formerly the Bristol and the Merseyside dockers, regarded this issue as one which they ought to support by treating the ships as "black."
So far as the mood of the men was concerned, I agree with the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) who said that the men had gone back and that it was not merely the unofficial strike committee who were feeling elated. The report in "The Times" said on Saturday, 23rd July, about Friday's meeting:It was not a meeting of defeated or repentant men which took the decision. They cheered every reference to international solidarity—and there were many—and fiercely insisted that they would strike again immediately"—the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities should remember that one, if he is going to provoke any trouble—if the conditions they made were not carried out,particularly in regard to victimisation. The dockers stood firm on principles which hon. Gentlemen even from the other side of the Committee profess to acclaim. The hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) was actually giving fatherly advice to the unions on what they should do. What a pass we have come 2308 to when the trade unions have to listen to that great employer of industry using his position as a Member of Parliament to tell the trade unions how to conduct themselves. Too many trade unions are listening to that advice. Some of the responsibility for loss of trade falls not on the dockers but on those who provoke them into those "black" ships. It was not the Communist Party which provoked them. It was the port employers who provoked the men to work the "black" ships.
If the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities is able to tell the Committee this evening of some anticipated dispute in the docks of which he is aware, the sooner we know of it the better, because we shall not be able to blame the Communists, the Canadian seamen or "any other foreigner,"—the expression which the Home Secretary likes to use. There will be difficulties if they are provoked again by the port employers. If the Labour Members of this House knew what was really to the benefit of the working class movement, they would acclaim the solidarity of the workers and not condemn it.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
I hope that, on the whole, the Committee will feel that the Opposition did well to ask that we should have this discussion. We felt that after this dispute had closed was the moment when the House should review the situation. I was a little surprised when the Home Secretary complained about questions to the Minister of Labour. The Minister knows that at least once or twice when he said that questions would be embarrassing, we deferred questions altogether. We have tried very much in this dispute not in that way to make things more difficult. I think that the Home Secretary, as a very old Parliamentarian will agree that on Wednesday last—I can praise my colleagues because I was not here—there must have been considerable temptation to anybody who understood the House of Commons to move the Adjournment in view of the incredibly confused situation with which Parliament was presented. My hon. Friends did not do so because they felt that in that situation it might make the dock dispute more difficult, since there were signs that the dockers were going back. That ought to be said in fairness to the Opposition.
2309 I want to say a word or two to the Minister of Labour about one or two matters concerned with the earlier stages of the dispute. We have heard nothing about that until the observations which fell from the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin). I propose briefly to review what has happened and then to try to draw a lesson as to what is to be done in the future. I do not think that anybody will dispute—I think the Government will agree—that they could see this trouble coming from quite a way off. The Home Secretary referred this afternoon to one of these clubs being first opened in London last December.
This is the point I would like the Minister of Labour to explain to us. Lord Ammon said that early in May he told the Ministry of Labour of the Canadian Government's warning, which explained all about the implications of the dispute. According to Lord Ammon—I do not know whether this is right or not; it is what he has written in the newspapers—the Ministry of Labour considered the document was not important and so they pigeon-holed it. Is that so, or is it not? The Committee ought to know.
The original stoppage at Avonmouth was as long ago as 16th May, and the whole gamut of strike was run through up to 14th June, when it collapsed following the broadcast of the right hon. Gentleman. The period between the resumption of work at Liverpool, which was the following day, and the London dockers coming out seems to have been the crucial period. For all this, Canadian and other information was available. Yet, as far as the public have knowledge, between the collapse of the Liverpool dispute and the breaking out of the London dispute, no action appears to have been taken either by the Government or by the unions concerned to follow up the end of the Liverpool dispute. Yet they must have known that the two Canadian ships were lying unworked in London and that there was, therefore, very great danger that what had happened at Avonmouth would happen again in London. I want to know whether that action synchronised with how the Government saw the position at the time, and if it made them see it, what did they do about it before the dispute broke out in London?
I must make one comment about the position of the Canadian Seamen's 2310 Union. It is a very remarkable thing—the Communist hon. Members will agree—that the Canadian Seamen's Union appealed for the support of local labour wherever their ships were in port, and yet their appeal met with very little success except in this country. Can it be that there was less information about this story and this dispute in this country than there was in other places, and how did that come about? At any rate, the strike collapsed in Canada itself in a very few days. It is even more remarkable that as long ago as last April, the International Transport Workers' Federation, to which most transport unions belong, decided that there was no occasion for the unions abroad to take any action and described the dispute as an entirely inter-union conflict. That was endorsed by our own Transport and General Workers' Union, and yet, despite that, the Canadian Seamen's Union had no difficulty, or little difficulty, in persuading the British dockers to refuse to handle the ships.
When it is said that we are being critical of the unions in that respect, that is not really our position. The Committee and the country must take note of a situation where the unions definitely make one statement, with which I personally agreed, and following on that statement, which was as clear and definite as English language can be, exactly the opposite action is taken by a large number of the dockers. However we look at that, it is not attacking the trade unions to say that that is a situation about which everybody must do some hard thinking. Nobody can deny this.
§ Mr. Awbery
The Liberal Party is split in two. The same thing happens in unions and other organisations. Splits and breakaways take place even in political parties.
§ Mr. Eden
I do not want to discuss the position of the Liberal Party or any other political party. What we are discussing is an organisation which is of the first importance in this country. I should have thought that everybody would have accepted the lesson in all this and would have said that there is a problem to be met if we are not to have a repetition of this sort of thing over and over again.
Lord Ammon tells us that he warned the Government on 13th June that the 2311 stoppage was likely to spread to London. I want to know whether that is true? It is certainly true that, as far back as last January, Mr. Deakin warned the country that the Communists would attempt to create confusion in the transport industry. He actually gave the month of August as the critical date. In the light of this, I should have thought that the Government would have done certain things. I should have thought they would have taken extra pains to make sure that the dockers understood exactly the real facts of the Canadian dispute and taken immense pains to assist the unions. I see the Home Secretary apparently shaking his head. I should have thought that they would have tried to bring the facts home to the men. I do not say that the Government should have gone down and distributed leaflets, but I should have thought that they would have been concerned to see that the information was made available.
§ Mr. Eden
That is what I would like to hear because, according to Mr. Ammon, they did not do it. We want the evidence of what they did. According to Mr. Ammon—[An HON. MEMBER: "Lord Ammon."]—I am sorry, I should have said Lord Ammon, but he was a colleague of mine here for many years under that name—the Canadians gave that information and it was not used. If not, why was it treated so cavalierly?
The other action I should have thought the Government would have taken was to keep in the closest touch and to work in the closest co-operation with the Dock Labour Board. But after the dispute had been going on for some time, the Government suddenly announced that they would ask for emergency powers, and immediately Parliament granted them those powers. I have been listening carefully to the Home Secretary this afternoon, but I am still by no means clear what powers the Emergency Committee have used which would not in any case have been available to the Government without the granting of these emergency powers. So far as the use of troops is concerned, there was no need for emergency powers at all because troops were used at Avonmouth and elsewhere without such powers. So far as the order of 2312 the unloading of ships was concerned, I cannot believe that emergency powers were needed for that either. Certainly we were told they were not by my right hon. Friend, so I would still like to be told what these emergency powers have done for us which could not have been done in any other way.
When we get to the final days the position becomes even more confused and chaotic, if that is possible. One could have thought that once the Emergency Committee was set up, the Government would have kept in the closest contact both with the Emergency Committee and with the Dock Labour Board. There might perhaps have been a Cabinet committee, whose special task it would have been to watch the dispute and co-ordinate the efforts of both those authorities. Maybe we had one. I am not asking, for Cabinet committees are never revealed to the House. If, however, there was such a committee it appears to have failed signally in its task. On the contrary, the Dock Labour Board appears to have issued a statement, read out to us this afternoon in various forms, amended at various times. However, the point is that the Board issued that statement clearly under the impression that in issuing that statement—whether we approve of it or not—it was well within their powers.
The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon was very severe with the Dock Labour Board. If their action was as precipitate as he implied it was, that is most disturbing. After all, it is a Government-appointed board. It is no use the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Awbery) saying that this is just the sort of thing the Tories would want to do. That is not a Tory board, and it has been presided over until recently by a Member of the Government. It consists of four distinguished trade union representatives from different parts of the country, one from the North-East Coast, one from the Clyde and two from London, two being representatives of the Transport and General Workers' Union. Mr. Deakin described them, if I remember aright, as representatives of the unions, as indeed they are. So this is a formidable body and one to be respected on the face of it. Yet the Home Secretary treated it pretty roughly this afternoon.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? The Government disapprove of the action of the Board. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he individually, or on behalf of the Opposition, approved of the action which Lord Ammon took, and whether that is the action which he would have supported if he had been handling this affair, because we have a right to know.
§ Mr. Eden
I shall make my own speech, The point I am dealing with is this: Here is a body, as authoritative as the Government could set up, under one of their own colleagues who is their Chief Whip in the House of Lords, and with the strongest possible trade union representation. It is no use hon. Members opposite saying that this is the sort of thing the Tories would do. If this thing is functioning as badly as the Home Secretary says it is, it is a serious thing for the nation.
We can go from that to the next point, which I hope will answer what is worrying the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland). What about the powers of this Dock Labour Board? The Home Secretary said this afternoon that it was absolutely clear that the Emergency Committee had all the powers. I must say, listening to his own account of the statement of the Dock Labour Board that it seemed clear enough to me that they thought what they were saying was within their powers.
§ Mr. Ede
I think the right hon. Gentleman was out when I interrupted the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) to read a document that was handed to me after I sat down, in which Sir Alexander Maxwell said that on the second day of the appointment of the Emergency Committee he had a consultation with the Dock Labour Board, and pointed out to them that they were under the Emergency Committee. There is no doubt as to what their position was.
§ Mr. Eden
I can understand that may have been the view of Sir Alexander Maxwell, but I want to put this point to the Home Secretary. It was his speech 2314 I quoted, and the right hon. Gentleman said that it was quite clear to everybody that the Dock Labour Board must be under the Emergency Committee from the emergency powers themselves. I should have said that exactly the opposite was clear—if anything at all was clear—from the emergency powers themselves. I cannot find a single passage in that document, which I have here, that places the Board under the Emergency Committee. The first big sub-heading, "Control of Traffic at Ports" concerns the Ministry of Transport, which does not control this Board and, presumably, where one would find instructions to the Board is in a passage which says "Employment of Workers in Ports." There is absolutely nothing in that which shows that the Dock Labour Board is to be placed under the Emergency Committee. What it does show is that the Emergency Committee would handle the military labour parallel with the other labour.
That I accept, but I would like the Minister of Labour to tell us where it is so crystal clear in this document that the Emergency Committee have control of the Dock Labour Board, because in my reading of the document there is no evidence at all of that. Even if, in arguing to and fro, there is a little more balance of assumption one way or the other, surely it would have been wise to make a matter of that kind clear beyond the possibility of doubt and not leave it to the Chairman of the Emergency Committee to argue it with the Dock Labour Board.
§ Mr. Ede indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Eden
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head but I thought I had seen a public statement that the rest of the Board had agreed. Is not that so? Perhaps the Minister of Labour will tell us, because it is important that we should know. After all, we can only read what is said in the papers; we are not in the secret relations of the Government Chief Whip of the House of Lords and the Government Front Bench here. We ask to be told what those facts are, and if the whole of the Dock Labour Board are in agreement with Lord Ammon, there is a situation of real seriousness for the Government to handle in that respect. I ask when was the power of this Emergency Committee laid down and by whom? Presumably by the Government. It is a pity they did not make it clear in their own emergency powers.
Another question I should like the Government to answer is whether they consulted the Emergency Committee before they issued this statement contradicting the statement of the Dock Labour Board? Was the Minister of Transport a party to all those discussions? After all, he was directly concerned and, technically, the docks are under him. Further, if the Government found that this statement upset them so much, could they not have got hold of the Dock Labour Board and tried, with them, to work out some other statement, some corrective which they could have put out to stop a headlong collision between a Government-appointed Board and the Government, because nobody can deny that the effect of this, whatever else it may be, is to damage very much the authority of the Dock Labour Board. It could not be otherwise.
§ Mr. Eden
No, I do not. I made it quite clear last week that I thought the Communists would make the maximum amount of mischief but that they should not be given credit for more mischief than they could make. Whatever may be felt about this business, there does seem, to us at any rate, from the evidence so far given, to have been a very lamentable failure to co-ordinate the activities of these various bodies from a very much earlier stage.
2316 I turn now to something which is more important than controversy about the past, and that is, what of the future? I do not believe that this action in the docks was due in the main to Communist sabotage or agitation. I think we must look a little deeper than that. The Committee knows how many unofficial stoppages of one sort or another we have had in the last two years. It is not criticising the trade unions to say that. I hope that the Government in their sphere, the unions in theirs, the employers so far as they are concerned, and the Board in their sphere, will now make an effort to see that there is no repetition of the events of these last few weeks. "The Times" made what I thought was a fair comment when it said:More fundamental … is the loss of confidence of the worker in his official leaders.The Minister of Labour the other day said an interesting thing, which I hope he will be able to follow up. On 20th July he said:… We are collecting a very interesting little dossier of the steps leading up to the dispute and what has been done since, and at the appropriate time it will be released."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1949; Vol. 467, c. 1387.]I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the appropriate time is the earliest possible moment—tomorow, if he can do it. He has the dossier; let us see it. If there are some charges or evidence of Communist activities, let us know what they are. It is much better that we should know, for two reasons. First, it will help the Government to establish the case they have made against the Communist Party in respect of which the Home Secretary was challenged a little while ago; and secondly, it will also, surely, warn the dockers of the kind of activities they have to meet in the future.
§ Mr. Eden
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us tonight when we may expect its publication. I repeat, the sooner the better.
2317 There is one other comment which I must make. The hon. Member for Central Bristol asked why we ever criticised the trade union leaders. All through this dispute we have had at stated intervals very optimistic statements—I am not quoting them, but I have them here—as to how soon the whole business would collapse. Unfortunately, they never turned out to be true. Events of that sort must make everybody feel a little uncertain about how the future is going to develop, and that is putting the whole matter very mildly indeed.
There is another matter to which I can only refer indirectly. Whatever our views of this dispute, we must all be particularly disgusted—indeed, I think, outraged—by the account of the beating up in the dock area of the two loyal members of the crew of the "Beaverbrae." I cannot say more about that because the matter is sub judice, but there is a very great deal more I should like very much to say.
I hope that the Minister of Labour will tell us what steps he is going to take to deal with the future, and what are to be his relations now with the Dock Labour Board. It is hard to see that they can be very close or cordial after the exchanges which have just taken place, but they must clearly be rebuilt as rapidly as possible. Everybody must try to play a part in making sure that the whole trade of the country is not once again held up by some sudden event which has not even taken place in this country at all, and which the Government, trade unions and the public alike deplore, but which for many anxious weeks nobody was able to remedy.
At times during these past weeks I have been reminded of some words of Burke:Invention is exhausted; reason is fatigued; experience has given judgment; but obstinacy is not yet conquered.There seem to be three things that must now be done. The realities of the situation must be grasped by the Government. They have to get to grips with the problem and not think that just because the men have gone back to work their difficulties are in any sense over. Secondly, the Dock Labour Board, I suggest, should review what has happened and decide upon what recommendations, if any, they want to make in the light of what has happened. Thirdly, 2318 the trade unions also must consider what effective steps they can take to recover control of their members. All these things have to be done, and they have to be done rapidly if the nation is not to be at the mercy of another such event as we have suffered in recent weeks.
I submit that the whole position is deeply serious. Nobody can be content, not even the Government, with the way in which it has been handled so far. I hope that the Minister of Labour this evening will be able to give us some indication that the stern realities have at last been understood. For ourselves, I have deliberately said not a word tonight about other problems which we know the Minister is handling and has before him. But there is an interconnection, to some extent at least, which cannot be denied, and I hope that the Government will be fortunate in their handling of this matter, because in it there is something far more than the Government's reputation—Governments can rise and fall—there is the future prosperity of our State.
§ Sir R. Acland
Would the right hon. Gentleman answer the question which I put to him during his speech about his own attitude towards Lord Ammon's statement, and whether the Opposition were in favour of it and supported it, or were against it?
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)
I appreciate the general spirit in which the Debate has been conducted. I should like to deal with one or two preliminary points and then, if the Committee would permit me, I think I can best answer the 2319 questions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) if I give a connected story of events as they have occurred so that we may see how they fit into the pattern in which we now find ourselves.
I appreciate the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) and his references to the need to get co-operation between the trade unions, the employers and the Government. That is done now through the National Joint Advisory Council, whose scope is not at present extended into this field, but who, I am sure, would be quite willing to help us in our investigations in trying to get to the bottom of these differences. I thought I was going to be the first to speak today, but events turned out otherwise, and I think I ought first to express the thanks of the community, and those of the Government and the House also, to the troops for the way in which they undertook the duties imposed upon them, not only for their actual service but for the cheerfulness with which they undertook it [HON. MEMBERS "Hear, Hear."]
I shall ask the Committee to bear with me while I go through the connected history of this matter so that hon. Members may see exactly where we come to the position in which there is this argument, as was set out in the "News of the World" last Sunday. I preface my remarks by saying that I am not going on record as saying that all this or all that is what Lord Ammon said. Lord Ammon is the Chairman of his board and is carrying out, no doubt, the instructions of his board, and we must not ask him to carry all the blame for what his board have decided. On the other hand, I hope that, as the board will continue to exist and their duties will have to be carried on, nothing we say will exacerbate the feeling between the Government and the board.
Let us look for a moment at the story of events. The "Seaboard Ranger" was the first of these ships. It came into Liverpool on 27th March. The discharge of her cargo commenced the following day, but on 1st April it was suspended because of shortage of labour. Thereafter the employers did not requisition labour because of friction with dockers. The Ministry of Labour was not consulted by the employers or the Liverpool 2320 Dock Labour Board as to whether they should or should not carry on with the requisitions.
Then we come to Avonmouth and to the "Gulf Side," which arrived on 28th March. The unloading of the cargo was completed on 2nd April and the crew were discharged by the employers because they went on strike. On the same day, 2nd April, the "Ivor Rita" arrived in London with a crew under British articles. Because of the reluctance of the dockers to accept allocation, requisitions were left in suspense. That was the action taken by the London Dock Labour Board, but without consultation with the Ministry of Labour. On 4th April the "Beaverbrae" arrived in London. Again there was no requisition and again my Department were not consulted. On 9th April came the "Argomont" and again there were no requisitions and the Ministry were not consulted. Similarly, on 29th April, the "Seaboard Trader" arrived in Southampton, dockers indicated they would not accept allocation and requisitions were left in suspense. The Ministry were not consulted.
Although my Ministry were not consulted regarding the non-requisitioning of labour, the position at the various ports was known and the seriousness of the situation which might well develop was fully recognised by the Board and was in their minds. I do not think it should be taken as an accusation against the Board that they hesitated to requisition later in the hope—which I am told "springs eternal"—that they would get the matter adjusted without having to impose penalties and without the risk of the trouble spreading further. I do not think there can be any accusation against the Board for not taking action which would have precipitated further trouble.
On 1st May we had trouble at Avonmouth. I cannot go into details, but it is an important point. As the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington said, we are collecting a dossier and one or two things have come out this afternoon and other things are being checked up. I could not publish it tomorrow, but I hope later to publish a statement to show that the dock workers of London have been "led up the garden."
On 5th May the "Montreal City" arrived in Newport and the dockers refused allocation. On 6th May, members 2321 of the original C.S.U. crew of the "Gulf Side" addressed a meeting of Newport dockers and, as a result, a strike took place stopping the whole docks. At this meeting the following telegram was read out:London Stevedores and Waterfront Workers solid in support of official strike Canadian Seamen's Union. We call upon the Waterfront Workers throughout the United Kingdom to follow our example. Stoppage is our responsibility to wholeheartedly support striking Canadian Seamen in their defence of Trade Union principles.The telegram bore the name Mr. R. Barrett. Mr. Barrett is the Secretary of the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers and not of the "London Stevedores and Waterfront Workers." Mr. Barrett denies that he ever sent such a telegram, or knew anything at all about it. It was a forgery which was telephoned from the barber's shop in Pier Road used as the strike office for the Canadian strikers. So the first thing we get in this mix up was that the men at this port believed they had been called upon by a responsible secretary, an official of a union, who knew nothing about it, to come out on strike, and that official is given the odium of taking those steps. I accept his assurance that he knew nothing about it.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
When did the right hon. Gentleman's Department know of the signing of that telegram?
§ Mr. Isaacs
Not until that telegram came to my notice on about the second day. I was suspicious that Mr. Barrett would do such a foolish thing as that and we made investigations and got the information, but by then it was too late to do anything about it.
§ Mr. Isaacs
Yes, we published this information. Obviously the Government have not published leaflets, but we got the information out. I use it as an illustration of the deceit practised to deceive these people.
On 9th May the Newport dockers passed a resolution that the Canadian 2322 strike was no concern of theirs and work was resumed. The "Montreal City" proceeded to Barry and Swansea where her cargo was handled without difficulty. But, on 14th May, when she arrived in Avonmouth, dockers refused allocation. On the previous day, 13th May, 156 stevedores had refused allocation to "Beaverbrae" in London and on 14th May 26 dockers refused allocation. On 16th May dockers allocated to the "Montreal City" refused to commence work and the Port of Avonmouth stopped completely in sympathy, but work was resumed on 17th May, except on the "Montreal City."
On 16th May, Lord Ammon and Mr. Parkin, of the National Dock Labour Board, called at the Ministry of Labour to obtain advice as to the action the Board should take to deal with the situation which had arisen over Canadian ships in various ports. Up to then they had not proposed requisition because they did not want to cause the dispute to spread among other workers. They said that the Board had not pressed the matter to an issue as they wished to avoid any action that might lead to a more widespread stoppage, and I think that was a proper action. They could not continue to do so without some assurance that the Government concurred in this course of action. It was the first occasion on which guidance had been sought and they were given the assurance on that day and again on the following day.
On 17th May the employers at Avonmouth decided to make no further requisitions for labour until the "Montreal City" was manned and worked. On the following day work stopped completely at Avonmouth and on 23rd May dockers in Bristol and Portishead stopped in sympathy. In view of their duty to the country to take all necessary steps to safeguard perishable foodstuffs, the Government decided to employ Service labour for the purpose, and unloading commenced on 27th May. Thereafter all vessels in the port were unloaded by the troops. On 17th May the "Seaboard Queen" arrived in Leith. The dockers worked the morning shift on 18th May, but at midday the Canadian Seamen's Union representatives from London arrived and the dockers refused to work in the afternoon. This 2323 ship left Leith on 3rd June with a cargo aboard and was discharged in Bremen.
I hope I am not wearying the Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—hon. Members will want to know the truth about the strike as well as the truth about the conduct of those trying to stop it. On 26th May the "Dromore," a British ship, arrived in Liverpool from Avonmouth and, on 27th May, the dockers refused to work it. On the same day the crew of "Seaboard Ranger" were paid off and left the ship. On 28th May dockers in the Liverpool docks stopped work in sympathy. From this date until 13th June there was a widespread stoppage in the Bristol ports and in Liverpool docks. At Liverpool the maximum number on strike at any time was 10,000 but 5,700 remained at work. I mention that so that the Committee may realise that all the people have not been fooled all the time. Strenuous efforts were made at Liverpool to get other dockers to stop work, but those efforts failed.
On 7th June, in the middle of these strikes, the situation was fully discussed by officials of my Department with the London Port employers at their request. The port employers came to the Ministry and discussed the matter. They were concerned at the failure—to that extent they were critical of the Board—to requisition labour for the "Beaverbrae" and "Argomont" in London. Full information was given to them and they expressed themselves as convinced that no action should be taken in London at that time. Even the employers then realised that precipitate action might make the strike worse than it turned out to be.
On 13th June there was a full resumption of work in Liverpool, including the "Dromore," but excluding the "Seaboard Ranger," on which work was resumed on the following day, and subsequently work was resumed at Avonmouth, Bristol and Portishead on 15th June. On this date the National Dock Labour Board were informed by letter—quoted in the "News of the World"—by the Ministry of Labour that the Ministry did not wish to influence the Board in their judgment as to the steps they should take in connection with the 2324 Canadian ships "Beaverbrae" and "Argomont" in London. They had come and asked whether we supported their action in refraining from requisitioning, and to that extent we had influenced their judgment, but we did not wish to influence their judgment further. It was pointed out that the Board and the employers must take the full responsibility for any decision in the matter and for any action that might be taken.
Therefore, on 18th June, the discharge of the "Seaboard Trader" at Southampton was commenced. On 20th June the Board offered work on the "Argomont" to 200 surplus stevedores, but this was refused. On 21st June, the stevedores' executive were seen at the Ministry of Labour and asked what action they were taking to secure normal working. The "News of the World" article said something about inertia in high quarters. If the contacts I have had with the dock labour trouble during the last four weeks is inertia, Heaven help me if I am ever busy. We called in the Stevedores' Union. I have reported from time to time to the House, and Questions have been put to me which I have answered. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's reference to the fact that I asked him one one occasion not to press me that day because I had something moving. Sometimes things move the right way, and sometimes the wrong way, and the hon. Gentleman cannot be blamed for asking a question which he did not ask.
We got them together and said, "It is your responsibility." On 22nd June, as a result of our interview with the stevedores, the executive of that union advised resumption on the "Beaverbrae" and "Argomont." Up to then they had not been very forthcoming in trying to get their members back. I am satisfied that from that point they were forthcoming and did try, but events had got too far beyond them, the leaders were a few paces behind the front rank men and could not catch up again. Two gangs accepted allocation to the "Beaverbrae," but on getting there refused to commence work. That left us in the air again. There was a complete refusal to work the "Argomont." The stevedores' executive were then asked again what action they proposed to take to secure a full return to work, and they announced that they would reiterate their instructions for full normal working.
2325 On 24th June work was fully resumed in the Port of London. On the previous night, the Canadian Seamen's Union, having secured contact with the High Commissioner for Canada, reached an agreement with the Canadian Pacific Railway, owners of the "Beaverbrae" by which the Canadian Seamen's Union crews were employed. On Saturday, 25th June, that is the next day, an allegation began to be circulated that the Canadian owners had "double-crossed"—that was the word which was used—the seamen. This was the very next morning. On Monday, 27th June, as a result of that allegation the strike in London was resumed first by stoppage in the Surrey Docks in the morning, followed later in the afternoon by partial stoppage in the Royal Docks.
I should here like to refer to a circular letter issued to workers in other industries over the signature of Mr. Jack Pope of the Canadian Seamen's Union at about this time. I wish to quote later something from the Canadian Seamen's Union office itself to give some idea of the kind of stories which were started. These circular letters were sent to shop stewards and trades councils throughout the country and showed how efforts were made to inflame the minds of the men. I shall not take up the time of the Committee by reading the whole of the document, but it is available for the perusal of anyone who wishes to see it. Here is part of it:The strike has seen a terrific campaign of terror and violence by the shipowners and the Canadian Government. The latest example of double-dealing by the shipowners is shown by the gross betrayal of an agreement reached with the owners for a settlement of the strike in the United Kingdom.I shall show in a moment that there is not the slightest evidence that either the Canadian High Commissioner's office or the shipowners have gone back on the agreement which they made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) may be interested in this part of the letter:The Port of London Authorities, always on the side of the shipping companies, threatened a lock out of all port workers.I know that there is a Port of London Authority, I know that there are other authorities in the Port of London, but I never heard that they were threatening to lock out all port workers. These are the kind of stories which have been put about.
2326 The circular letter goes on to refer to the agreement made. It says that on the night they negotiated at the Canadian office, 19th June, they received a 'phone call from Mr. Sigvaldersonduring which he assured us that our proposals were accepted greedily by the shipowners.It goes on to state the charges of treachery made against the shipowners.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say when that document first came into his hands, and what steps he took to refute it?
§ Mr. Isaacs
It first came into my hands about four or five days ago; it was very late in coming into my hands. In a moment I shall tell what steps I took to refute it. It will be linked up with the fact that I had to make a statement in the House, I think last Friday, relating to a document issued by the Canadian High Commissioner.
At that point, in order to safeguard the food of the people we brought troops in to unload the ships. Emergency powers were introduced, and on the following day, as there seemed to be some doubt as to whether the dock scheme still operated in London, the National Dock Labour Board, after discussion with my Department, announced that the scheme was still in operation and that the dock workers should continue to make themselves available for work at the normal times and places in accordance with the scheme.
A question has been raised about the Emergency Committee. The job of the Emergency Committee was to run the port. This they did most successfully. They could, of course, have issued directions to the various dock authorities. Instead of doing that they followed the much more effective method of consulting the various authorities and working through them. So far as the National Dock Labour Board is concerned, for example, the Emergency Committee were in frequent consultation with them, seeing either the chairman or officials of the Board.
To revert to my narrative, I had reached the point at which our continued efforts were made to try to get some pressure behind the unions' move to get their members back. It will be appreciated 2327 that to some extent the strike was officially supported by the Stevedores' Union, but the Transport Workers' Union had all along been endeavouring to get their members back. The Stevedores' Union had not done so until I had the conference to which I have referred.
We reach, on 13th July, the point at which some delicate negotiations were undertaken. On that date Mr. Barrett, General Secretary of the Stevedores, and Mr. Lindley, General Secretary-designate of the Lightermen, came to the Ministry of Labour, at their own request, and requested the services of the Ministry to arrange a meeting between the High Commissioner for Canada or his representative and representatives of their respective executives, to hear at first hand an explanation of the recent agreement between the Canadian shipowners and the Canadian seamen. We arranged that. We asked the Canadian High Commissioner, who readily consented, and put off other engagements and met these men. At that meeting a representative of the Ministry of Labour was present merely to introduce the deputation so as to assure the High Commissioner that they were the people they purported to be—responsible executive officers of those unions.
Let me take up one or two points. On this occasion I will use the document accompanying my statement printed in HANSARD of 15th July, in column 1933. I am only giving one or two dates. I wish to show how impossible it was for the Canadian shipowners to have repudiated the agreement which had been made, even if they had any intention of doing so, in the time set out. On Thursday, 23rd June, the London newspapers carried a news item stating that the High Commissioner was calling the strike leaders in to discuss the dispute. That was absolutely untrue. Later in the day he responded to a request to meet them. The two people who went there were called Arland and Doucette. In the issue of HANSARD to which I have referred the points on which understanding were reached are set out. The strike leaders said they were anxious to know the same evening whether their terms were acceptable, in view of the critical meeting of the London dockers called for the next morning.
2328 It was agreed that they should telephone the High Commissioner at 9.30 the same night. Captain MacMurray, General Manager of Canadian Pacific Steamships was contacted and agreed to accept the conditions on behalf of the owners of both the "Beaverbrae" and the "Argomont." As announced in the papers the next day, Doucette telephoned to Canada House and was informed that the owners of the "Beaverbrae" and the "Argomont" would accept the four-point solution. He stated he was satisfied. At 11 p.m. Mr. Pope, the strike leader, telephoned to say that the Canadian seamen were satisfied and that they would all be back at work. On Friday morning a statement was issued by Captain Mac-Murray that the owners accepted it and subsequently there was a meeting on board the "Beaverbrae." It is entered in the log book of the "Beaverbrae" on the 29th June that the terms were accepted.
The purpose of making this detailed statement is to make it clear that when the men went back to work on 24th June they were going back to work whether the Canadian seamen had got their settlement or not. The Canadian seamen were clever enough to step in and get a statement of this kind and then there is no doubt that they at once deliberately spread the statement about double-crossing and got the strike moving, again.
So far as the Canadian High Commissioner is concerned this is a document which has been printed, but I think it important to bring to the attention of the Committee a paragraph in the document which we did not print with the HANSARD statement, because it had nothing to do with the dispute. I ask the committee to notice the bit about double-crossing. On 24th June Mr. Pope, who spread the story that the agreement had been violated on that day was at the Canadian High Commissioner's office seeking to get those same terms extended to another ship. The High Commissioner informed me on 24th June that Pope telephoned and was informed that the crews could be taken back on the "Seaboard Trader" but not on the "Seaboard Ranger" but that as a condition the "Tridale" in Wellington, New Zealand, would have to be cleared. Pope said that this condition was not 2329 satisfactory and he would have to consider strike action in Southampton and Liverpool—
§ Mr. Mellish
Before my right hon. Friend answers that question, is he aware that the information he is giving is of vital importance to dock workers whose future is a lot more important, if I may say so with respect, than the Tory Opposition.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman considers the statement involved; it is an involved statement because it is an involved position. I have been asked to give the Committee all the facts. This document came into my hands just a matter of an hour or so before I brought it to the House of Commons, realising the value of it. I shall not go into the details but various steps were taken and the real end of this dispute occurred when the 300 corn porters decided to resume work on the following Monday and informed all and sundry that they were going back on the "Beaverbrae" to unload. Their resolution was:We recommend an orderly and unanimous return to work on Monday because we honestly believe this is an international political attempt to break the economic structure of this country.It took a long time to get the facts over, but at the finish they were got over by those members of the Transport Workers and other unions who continuously attended meetings of their members and tried to put the facts over to them. Then came the meeting at Victoria Park. There was a lot of ballyhoo and a meeting of the Port Joint Committee on 23rd 2330 July arranged for a full resumption of normal working in the port on Monday morning. The resumption was arranged through the trade unions on the basis of the existing national and local agreements.
The charge has been made, and a question has been put to me about an important statement by the Canadian Government on the seamen's position which had been pigeonholed at the Ministry of Labour under the impression that it was of no great importance. This is not true. The document in question was a highly involved statement concerning the legal position regarding arbitration in Canada and the causes of the Canadian dispute. It had nothing to do with the dispute in this country and its publication could not possibly have made any contribution whatever to the settlement of the dispute here if its terms had been made known. We had continuously and incessantly taken the line that we could not negotiate a return to work on the understanding that we should settle the strike in Canada.
§ Mr. Isaacs
Let me finish my statement and then if there is time the hon. Member can ask a question. I do not wish to be charged with having failed to answer any question put to me. The reason why the Government issued a statement on 19th July was that the previous week the National Dock Labour Board passed a resolution that, after consultation with the Emergency Committee the Board should inform the London board that the National Board considersthat all the men who are in breach of the scheme should be given notice that unless they make themselves available for full resumption of work on a date to be fixed they are summarily dismissed under Clause 16 (2) (d) of the Scheme.The Emergency Committee discussed this with the Chairman of the Board on 19th July. The Emergency Committee took the view that the strikers would not be induced to return to work by a threat of dismissal at that stage, and that the probable effect would be to bring the whole port out on strike. After discussion, the Emergency Committee suggested that the board should issue a statement about not using the Dock Labour Scheme 2331 to force the workers to work disputed ships, and leaving out anything in the nature of a threat, The Chairman of the Board agreed to put this suggestion to the Board.
On the same afternoon as the Emergency Committee had the consultation with them on the proposed statement, the Board issued a statement without any further consultation, and they never informed the Minister or the Emergency Committee of its contents until after it had been placed in the hands of the Press. I have already explained to the House that in view of the fact that the Dock Labour Board had no authority to make any announcement about the future of the scheme the Government decided to issue a statement to the effect that there was no intention of taking any steps to bring the scheme to an end.
I wish to say one other thing. The right hon. Member for the Scottish University (Sir J. Anderson) asked whether the Minister would sit down with the Dock Labour Board and work out some arrangement to prevent these events in the future. I would say that the Minister of Labour will co-operate with all authorities.
§ Mr. Gallacher
On a point of Order. May I ask you, Colonel Ropner, in view of the malicious accusations—[Interrup-
§ tion]—wait a moment—where are the relevant—
§ Mr. Piratin
On a point of Order. May I, with great respect point out that my hon. Friend—I do not know what he wanted to say—was raising a point of Order.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I heard what the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) said, and I rule that it is not a point of Order.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Surely, Colonel Ropner, it is a little difficult to gather whether a point of Order is a legitimate one or not on half a sentence, and I submit to you—
§ Question put, "That Class V, Vote 5, Ministry of Labour and National Service be reduced by £1,000."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 185; Noes, 245.2335
|Division No. 241.]||AYES||[7.31 p.m.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Cuthbert, W. N.||Granville, E. (Eye)|
|Anderson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. (Scot Univ.)||Darling, Sir W. Y.||Gridley, Sir A.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Davidson, Viscountess||Grimston, R. V.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Davies, Rt. Hon. Clement (Montgomery)||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||De la Bère, R.||Harden, J. R. E.|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Donner, P. W.||Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.|
|Birch, Nigel||Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Haughton, S. G. (Antrim)|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Drayson, G. B.||Head, Brig. A. H.|
|Boothby, R.||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.|
|Bower, N.||Duthie, W. S.||Herbert, Sir A. P.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Eccles, D. M.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Hogs, Hon. Q.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Cot. W.||Erroll, F. J.||Hope, Lord J.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||Howard, Hon. A.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S.(Southport)|
|Carson, E.||Fox, Sir G.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.|
|Challen, C.||Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Hurd, A.|
|Channon, H.||Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Hutchison, Lt.-Cdr. Clark (Edin'gh, W.)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Gage, C.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Jeffreys, General Sir G.|
|Cole, T. L.||Gammans, L. D.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Gates, Maj. E. E.||Keeling, E. H.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Kendall, W. D.|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Kerr, Sir J. Graham|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Glyn, Sir R.||Lambert, Hon. G.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Langford-Holt, J.|
|Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (C'ne'ster)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Mullan, Lt. C- H.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Linstead, H. N.||Nicholson, G.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Nield, B. (Chester)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Low, A. R. W.||Nutting, Anthony||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Lucas, Major Sir J.||Odey, G. W.||Teeling, William|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Osborne, C.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|McCallum, Maj. D.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Pickthorn, K.||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Macdonald, Sir P. (Isle of Wight)||Pitman, I. J.||Touche, G. C.|
|McFarlane, C. S.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Turton, R. H.|
|Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Raikes, H. V.||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Ramsay, Maj. S.||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Rayner, Brig. R.||Wheatley, Col. M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Renton, D.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Marples, A. E.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Robinson, Roland||Winterton, Rt. Hon Earl|
|Maude, J. C.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||York, C.|
|Medlicott, Brigadier F.||Savory, Prof. D. L.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Mellor, Sir J.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Morris-Jones, Sir H.||Smithers, Sir W.||Mr. Drewe and Commander Agnew.|
|Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Acland, Sir R.||Crossman, R. H. S.||Hardman, D. R.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Daggar, G.||Hardy, E. A.|
|Albu, A. H.||Daines, P.||Harrison, J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V.||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Haworth, J.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Herbison, Miss M.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Holman, P.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)|
|Attewell, H. C.||Deer, G.||Horabin, T. L.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Diamond, J.||Houghton, Douglas|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Dobbie, W.||Hoy, J.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Dumpleton, C. W.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Dye, S.||Hughes, H. D. (Wolverhampton, W.)|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)|
|Balfour, A.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Battley, J. R.||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Benson, G.||Evans, A. (Islington, W.)||Janner, B.|
|Berry, H.||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Jones, Jack (Bolton)|
|Binns, J.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Ewart, R.||Keenan, W.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Farthing, W. J.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Fernyhough, E.||Kinley, J.|
|Boardman, H.||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Kirby, B. V.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Follick, M.||Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Forman, J. C.||Lavers, S.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Freeman, John (Watford)||Levy, B. W.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)|
|Bruce, Major D. W. T.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Burden, T. W.||Gibbins, S.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Burke, W. A.||Gilzean, A.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Callaghan, James||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Carmichael, James||Gooch, E. G.||Logan, D. G.|
|Champion, A. J.||Greenwood, A W. J. (Heywood)||Longden, F.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Grey, C. F.||McAdam, W.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||McAllister, G.|
|Coldrick, W.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Collins, V. J.||Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Gruffydd, Prof. W. J.||McKinlay, A. S.|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||McLeavy, F.|
|Cook, T. F.||Guy, W. H.||MacPherson, M. (Stirling)|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.)||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Macpherson, T. (Romford)|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Cove, W. G.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)|
|Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Timmons, J.|
|Marquand, Rt. Hon H. A.||Rhodes, H.||Titterington, M. F.|
|Mathers, Rt. Hon. G.||Richards, R.||Tolley, L.|
|Mellish, R. J.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Messer, F.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Middleton, Mrs. L.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Mikardo, Ian||Rogers, G. H. R.||Walkden, E.|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Royle, C.||Walker, G. H.|
|Monslow, W.||Scollan, T.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Moody, A. S.||Scott-Elliot, W.||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Morley, R.||Segal, Dr. S.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Sharp, Granville||Watkins, T. E.|
|Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Shurmer, P.||Watson, W. M.|
|Mort, D. L.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Weitzman, D.|
|Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Simmons, C. J.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Noel-Baker, Capt F. E. (Brentford)||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Noel-Buxton, Lady||Skinnard, F. W.||West, D. G.|
|O'Brien, T.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh)|
|Oldfield, W. H.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Orbach, M.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Snow, J. W.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Sorensen, R. W.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Steele, T.||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Pannell, T. C.||Stross, Dr. B.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Parkin, B. T.||Stubbs, A. E.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Pearson, A.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith||Willis, E.|
|Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Sylvester, G. O.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Popplewell, E.||Symonds, A. L.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Porter, E. (Warrington)||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||Wyatt, W.|
|Price, M. Philips||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Yates, V. F.|
|Pryde, D. J.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Randall, H. E.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Ranger, J.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Rankin, J.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Mr. Collindridge and Mr. Wilkins.|
|Reeves, J.||Thurtle, Ernest|
Question put, and agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum not exceeding £65,419,372 be granted to His Majesty to complete the sums necessary to defray the charges for the following services connected with Fuel and Power with particular reference to Coal, Gas and Electricity for the year ending on the 31st March, 1950, namely:
|Class VI, Vote 6, Ministry of Fuel and Power||4,683,000|
|Class IX, Vote 4, Ministry of Fuel and Power (War Services)||500,000|
|Class VI, Vote 18, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research||3,164,717|
|Class IX, Vote 1, Ministry of Supply||51,292,000|
|Class VII, Vote 1, Ministry of Works||5,779,655|
|—[Mr. Glenvil Hall.]|