HC Deb 04 December 1950 vol 482 cc22-4
46. Mr. Grimond

asked the Prime Minister whether he intends to take any further steps to prevent the Durham County Council enforcing membership of an association or union on doctors and teachers in Durham county.

47. Miss Irene Ward

asked the Prime Minister whether he will undertake an immediate inquiry into the action of the Durham County Council's action in regard to its employees with a view to protecting their contracts of service.

Mr. H. Morrison

I have been asked to reply.

Parliament has left the choice of officers and their conditions of service to the county council except for very limited classes where ministerial approval is needed for appointment or termination of appointment. The county council have already been informed that the Government strongly deprecate the council's proposal to make membership of an association or union a condition of service. The Government or individual Ministers have no authority to take further action unless and until approval, where such approval is necessary, is sought to the termination of some appointment, or there is a breakdown, or threat of breakdown, in services for which the council have statutory responsibility, in which event Ministers concerned have powers to intervene in order to secure the proper maintenance of the service, and will, if necessary, do so.

Mr. Grimond

In view of the strong disapproval which has been expressed by the Government of the action of the Durham County Council, does the right hon. Gentleman intend to introduce legislation to prevent public bodies enforcing a closed shop in that particular form on their employees?

Mr. Morrison

I think that there are possibly peaceful ways of resolving this difficulty, and I do not think we had better make declarations about legislation at this point.

Miss Ward

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that if the county council does not respond to the representations of His Majesty's Government, action will be taken in accordance with the promise which was given by the Minister of Education when a similar Question was addressed to him last week relating to the teaching profession? Are we to understand from the right hon. Gentleman's answer this afternoon that the policy of His Majesty's Government has changed from the policy which was announced last week?

Mr. Morrison

No, Sir. The Government adhere to the statement which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education made last week, but there are various ways of promoting wisdom, and we think that the method we are pursuing is better than engaging in threats and coercion at this stage.

Mr. Ralph Morley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that members of the National Union of Teachers will appreciate the fact that His Majesty's Government have deprecated the action of the Durham County Council, since we believe that the record of the National Union of Teachers will ensure membership without any compulsion on the part of employers?

Mr. Morrison

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend I entirely agree with what he has said.

Dr. Hill

Does the reply mean that in the event of an officer of the Durham County Council being dismissed because he refuses to produce the necessary information—

Mr. Speaker

This Question has nothing to do with the London County Council. Mr. Eden.

Dr. Hill

With great respect, Sir, I said "Durham County Council," not "London County Council."

Mr. Eden

Are we to understand from the right hon. Gentleman's earlier reply that some forms of discussion are proceeding between the Government and the Durham County Council? May we expect a further statement on the matter before the House rises for the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Morrison

I think that is possible, but I think the House would be wise to leave it to the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If I may say so, I know something about the psychology of County Durham. If the House wants to head for a first-class row, that is one thing. I do not think it is wise. It is far better to settle this matter by kindness and persuasion rather than otherwise. If necessary, however, another statement will be made.

Dr. Hill

In view of the fact that the Durham County Council has reiterated its decision, despite the advice of His Majesty's Government, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman's original reply means that in the event of a dismissal of any officer the Government will vigorously intervene?

Mr. Morrison

I think that if it gets to the point of operative action in that direction, the hon. Member is entitled to assume that the Government will take serious notice of that situation.