HC Deb 14 December 1953 vol 522 cc33-6
Mr. Isaacs

asked the Minister of Labour and National Service (by Private Notice) whether he has any statement to make about the threatened stoppage of work on the railways

The Minister of Labour and National Service (Sir Walter Monckton)

Yes, Sir. In August last the National Union of Railwaymen, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association made a claim for a general wage increase of 15 per cent. No agreement was reached either in direct discussion or on the Railway Staff National Council, and the matter was referred to the Railway Staff National Tribunal.

On 5th December the Tribunal issued its award, which granted an increase of 4s. per week for adult male workers with proportionate increases for other workers. This award proved unacceptable to the three unions concerned and discussions followed between those unions and the British Transport Commission. I regret that so far as the National Union of Railwaymen are concerned agreement has not been reached, and the union have instructed their members to cease work at midnight on Sunday next, 20th December.

In this situation I have invited representatives of the unions and of the British Transport Commission to meet me later today in order that I may be fully informed of the position at first hand. All parties have accepted my invitations.

Mr. Isaacs

If, at the meeting this afternoon, the Minister finds himself fully informed of the position, will he then offer immediate service from his own Ministry and, if necessary, his own personal service in an effort to reach an early settlement?

Sir W. Monckton

I propose to meet the three unions and the British Transport Commission myself this afternoon, and if further talks will be useful I shall certainly continue to have them.

Mr. Isaacs

If necessary, would the Minister be good enough to make a further statement to us tomorrow?

Sir W. Monckton

Certainly, Sir. I am fully aware of the anxiety of the House.

Mr. Collick

Will the Minister bear in mind that the joint application of the three unions in this matter was for a percentage increase, and that any flat rate increase—at least such a miserable one as this—is bound to aggravate the problem rather than to cure it? Would he further keep in mind the loss of highly skilled railway staff which has occurred since the war, and further remind his Cabinet colleagues that during the war the Government netted well over £100 million of profit from the railways?

Sir W. Monckton

I think I shall do better for the moment to say no more than this, that I want to get my information from those who have found difficulties in the negotiations and that I had better wait until I have seen them.

Mr. Popplewell

The Minister will appreciate that all the House will be with him this afternoon if he can bring about a satisfactory settlement of this dispute, and that railwaymen, more than any section of the community, do not want an industrial stoppage at this time. But will he bear in mind that railwaymen as a whole have received an advance in wages approximately only two-thirds of that of the rest of industry, and that they have subsidised industry for many years? Would the Minister, when he has met the Transport Commission later today, inform the Commission that so far as his Government are concerned they are prepared to give a directive for a just settlement of the just demands of the men concerned? In any case, the Minister will realise that it was part of the policy of his Government, immediately they came to power, to stop the British Transport Commission meeting its obligations. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, when the B.T.C. submitted a case to the Transport Tribunal for increased fares, and it was agreed by that body, the Government refused to allow it to put the increased charges into operation.

Sir W. Monckton

I think it is my duty to say that I go to this meeting with these various bodies without expressing opinions here or elsewhere in advance. I am much more likely to serve the purpose we all have at heart if I go there with comparatively clean hands.

Mr. J. Hynd

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I had it in mind, in view of the public importance of this question, to ask your indulgence to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, but in view of the statement made by the Minister, and the negotiations that are to take place, which we all wish success, I ask you to say that, in not asking to move the Adjournment of the House today, pending the outcome of those negotiations, I shall not be prejudiced from moving it later if those negotiations are not successful?

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member does not move his Motion, I cannot express any opinion as to whether it could be accepted or not. What may happen on a further day must await that day.

Mr. Paget

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point which I think my hon. Friend had in mind was, supposing these negotiations break down tomorrow, could it be said that the opportunity to raise the matter under Standing Order No. 9 had been lost because it had not been raised today?

Mr. Speaker

The contingency which the hon. and learned Member mentions has not occurred. If it does occur it will be one of the factors that will be before me if the Motion is then moved.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

Would it be in order, Sir, to suggest to the Minister of Labour that the best service he could render—[HON MEMBERS: "Not a point of order."]; hon. Gentlemen have not heard it yet so how do they know?—the best service he could render to British transport and to the community as a whole is to advise the Prime Minister to reverse entirely the Government's transport policy?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Thomas

But I have not put the point of order yet, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Selwyn Lloyd.