HC Deb 23 October 1953 vol 518 cc2295-7
Mr. Robens

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he has a further statement to make on the steps the Government are taking to meet the situation arising from the strike of petrol and oil distribution workers in the London area.

The Minister of Labour (Sir Walter Monckton)

Yes, Sir. As I said in answer to the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, Her Majesty's Government are aware of their duty to minimise the hardship imposed on the public by this strike and to provide for the maintenance of essential services. The strikers have not acceded to my appeal or to the appeal of their own union to return to work. Serious difficulties have already arisen in respect of public transport, the baking of bread and in many other fields of activity. In addition, the public services in water and sewage would be affected if the distribution of petrol were held up much longer. Deliveries of milk will be seriously interfered with. Foundries and other industrial concerns are also experiencing serious difficulty.

In the circumstances Her Majesty's Government have felt bound to arrange for the distribution of petrol in the area affected by providing troops who are arriving today for such distribution as from tomorrow, Saturday morning.

Nevertheless there is bound to be hardship and inconvenience to many members of the public if the strike continues, and a system of priorities has been approved and will be applied as effectively as possible. The Government will keep the House and the public informed of developments and of the action taken to deal with the situation.

Mr. Robens

The use of troops on an occasion like this is a very grave and serious matter, but I am perfectly certain, in view of the situation, that there were no other steps which the right hon. and learned Gentleman could possibly have taken. It is quite impossible that the whole of this great area should find its life ebbing to a close because of the unconstitutional action by these workers.

I wish to take the opportunity provided by the Minister's statement again to appeal to the men in their own interests, the interests of the union to which they belong, and the interests of the community as a whole, to realise the futility of this irresponsible action and to use the negotiating machinery which is available and ready for them. It would be entirely in their own interests and those of the community if they took the sensible course of using that machinery.

Sir W. Monckton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman—and not for the first time—for taking on this matter, which is not a party matter, the responsible national attitude which he has adopted, and further, I thank him for co-operating with me in urging the strikers to go back to work in the interests of the country as a whole.

Mr. J. Jones

Is the Minister aware that, while regretting the need for troops to be used in this instance, the statement he has made will be received, not with approbation, but will give satisfaction to all decent-minded trade unionists in this country? May I ask the Minister, further, whether he has any knowledge whatsoever that this strike has any indications of being Communist-inspired, and if so, or if he comes into possession of any such information or proof, what action he proposes to take against the individual or individuals concerned?

Sir W. Monckton

I should like first to thank the hon. Member for the approval he has given to the course which I have taken. Next I should like to say this, that proof is of course one thing-but if the question is directly put to me, then I must answer, and say that actually, on such information as I have, there is serious ground to think that those who are inclined to the Communist view, and members of the Communist Party, are taking part in keeping this strike alive.

Mr. Awbery

In the Press the other night there appeared the names of several men who are leading this strike and among them was the name of Mr. Bert Slack. I should like to ask the Minister whether he has any information that this is the same Mr. Slack who was referred to by Mr. Arthur Deakin on 16th September, 1950, when Mr. Deakin stated that the Communist Party had set up a committee to carry on mischievous propaganda in road haulage, passenger transport and at the docks, and that the people principally engaged, either openly or behind the scenes, were Jones, Slack and Dickens. Can he inform the House whether this is the same Slack who was the instigator of the strike in 1950?

Sir W. Monckton

I can only say for the moment that I have no reason to think that there are two Mr. Slacks who have been engaging in these matters and therefore, though I do not want to assert it, I should be surprised if it is not the same man.

Mr. T. Brown

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether the maintenance of food supplies to our hospitals and the general public is number one on the list of priorities?

Sir W. Monckton

Yes, Sir, I think I can say it is at the very top.

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