HC Deb 11 May 1950 vol 475 cc581-3
Mr. Eden (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Labour what steps he is taking to set up a full inquiry into the working of the docks, including the Dock Labour Scheme, in view of the recurrent stoppages in the industry.

Mr. Isaacs

In view of the stoppages that have taken place in the London Docks, the Government have decided to appoint a committee to investigate the problem fully. It will be the duty of the committee to consult representatives of both sides of the transport industry with a view to reporting what steps can be taken to avoid further unofficial action of the type that has taken place during the last three years and which has proved injurious to the trade of the country. The names of the persons appointed to the committee will be announced in due course.

Mr. Eden

While the House in general will welcome that statement, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will tell the House the names of the committee when they have been decided on; also, whether the committee will have full power to send for persons and papers and, finally, whether the committee will sit in public or in private?

Mr. Isaacs

I can give the House an assurance that I will give the names as soon as they are known. The other two points have not yet been decided. They are under consideration. All I am able to say now is that it will be a very full inquiry and that a duty will be placed upon the examiners to deal with those questions as soon as we reach a decision.

Mr. Porter

As I have no personal interest in this, and in view of the fact that certain people have been held responsible for the actions which have brought about strikes, may I ask whether those people may be given the right to make their statements before this committee so that the whole situation can be determined?

Mr. Isaacs

It will be the duty of the committee to consult representatives of both sides of the industry. They will be free to make such inquiries and investigations as they think fit. Their terms of reference will be as wide as possible, so that they can hear all the evidence they think they ought to hear.

Mr. Porter

The question I am asking is on the statement that the two organised sections of the industry will be consulted. The point I am making is that people who are not inclined to accept those organisations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who are they?"]—ought to be brought into this matter, so that they can give their own opinion as to why they disagree and what brought about the strikes.

Mr. Maclay

Is it quite clear from the answer of the Minister that the terms of reference will be wide enough to include consideration of the actual working of the Dock Labour Scheme itself, and to make recommendations on it? Is that within the scope of the committee?

Mr. Isaacs

The terms of reference are sufficiently wide to enable them to take into consideration all matters. Nothing will be restricted from the inquiries that the committee will make.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway

I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether those concerned in this strike, other than representatives of the organisations on the two sides of the industry, will have the right to appear before this committee and to give evidence?

Mr. Isaacs

I am not saying whether they would have the right or not. It will be for the committee to determine. It is difficult for me to see how anyone can claim to represent unorganised people.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Will the Minister make it clear whether this committee will hear evidence or not at all; or whether it will make inquiries without hearing evidence?

Mr. Isaacs

I have given an answer to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who asked a question on that point.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft

May I ask the Minister to clear up this matter, because it is of some importance? As I understand it, he is saying that only representatives of both sides may be heard, and obviously they should be heard. But does he mean that anybody else, who cannot claim to be an official representative of an organisation—trade union or employer or whatever it may be—cannot come along and, at least, give evidence? It seems to me it is narrowing the opportunities of the committee for getting full information.

Mr. Isaacs

I think it would be best to await a further statement, but I did not use the word "only." I said it would be for the committee to decide exactly what evidence they will take. As we have laid it upon them to investigate the problem fully, we hope they will cover all the ground. The only other observation I made was an expression of opinion.

Miss Jennie Lee

In view of the fact that there is some uneasiness about the point of view that has been expressed in public, that the trouble has been caused because men expelled from their union were also in danger of losing their right of employment, is it not within the power of the Government to make sure that the terms of reference are wide enough to cover issues of that kind, although they may not be raised by the official representatives either of the employers or the workers?

Mr. Isaacs

If it did appear that a man had been deprived of his employment, the committee would not hesitate to hear him, but so far as I am aware no man has been deprived of his employment.

Mr. George Jeger

Will this inquiry be confined to the London Docks, or extend over the whole dock system of the country?

Mr. Isaacs

Most definitely the trouble is in the London Docks, and the inquiry will relate to the London Docks.