HC Deb 01 November 1954 vol 532 cc32-4
The Minister of Labour and National Service (Sir Walter Monckton)

The House will have learned with relief that the dock strike has ended and that work in the ports affected has been resumed today. This is the result of negotiations which followed the publication last week of the Interim Report of the Court of Inquiry which I set up. I understand that the final Report will soon be available.

As the House knows, the strike started in London a month ago and was followed by sympathetic strikes in other ports. The injury to our economy has been grave and the effects will be felt for a long time to come; indeed, some of the loss can never be made good. The total value of imports and exports which have been held up is in the region of £200 million.

We can only hope that all those concerned in this regrettable affair will now do their utmost to repair the damage which has been done.

I have just had disturbing reports of fresh trouble at some of the London wharfs where the dockers are refusing to load lorries, the drivers of which do not produce proof of union membership. I have as yet no details, but I am sure that the House will join with me in urging all concerned to show moderation and a sense of responsibility and so avoid any occasion for fresh conflict.

Mr. Robens

I am sure the House will join with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in relief that this dispute is over, but at the same time I am bound to say that, if non-union labour is introduced into the docks, there will be a recurrence of the trouble, and I do not think that any of us on this side of the House could support such action.

Mr. G. Jeger

May I join with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in saying that I am glad the men have returned to work, but is it not clear that the terms on which they went back to work this morning are identical with the terms which were offered to them months ago and that there was no need whatever for the strike? Is it not also true that the claim of the unofficial strike leaders that they have won a glorious victory is just a hollow mockery?

Sir W. Monckton

I do not want to qualify anything that has been said, except to state quite clearly that the terms which were accepted differ in no material respect from those available nine monhs ago.

Mr. Mikardo

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman extend to the Lord Mayor of London his injunction to moderation and to do nothing that will exacerbate feelings?

Mr. Speaker

The Minister is not responsible for the Lord Mayor of London.

Mr. Silverman

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain one point to the House? In view of the findings of the Interim Report that the point in dispute between the two sides was a very narrow point which was easily capable of being rapidly settled by the constitutional conciliatory machinery, could he explain why that machinery failed to settle it for a period amounting to nearly two years?

Sir W. Monckton

I can assure the House the point was a narrow one from first to last, but I think it is best to wait for the final report, which will be available in a few days' time, to see how narrow it was.

Miss Ward

Is it not rather a pity that the Press headlined the statement of Mr. Barrett's union without giving a really clear-cut exposition of how hollow that victory was, and would my right hon. and learned Friend not consider asking the Press to give an objective account, so that the public will not be confused? May I have an answer?

Sir W. Monckton

You have excused me, Sir, from responsibility for the Lord Mayor of London. I am not sure that I would not prefer that to responsibility for the Press.

Mr. Elwyn Jones

Can the Minister say what is the present position with regard to the ship repairers' strike?

Sir W. Monckton

That strike is still going on, and I have no further news to give about it, but if a Question is put down, I will deal with that.

Mr. Hastings

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he is using his good offices to try to settle the ship repairers' strike, which has been going on, as he well knows, much longer than the dock strike?

Sir W. Monckton

As I said in the answer to the last question, if a Question is put down about that, I shall be glad to answer it, but I do not want to reply offhand.

Miss Lee

The Minister said that the point of dispute was a narrow one. Is he aware that, since January, over 80,000 men have been reported because they refused to accept compulsory overtime, and that among those men there was one of over 70 years of age?

Sir W. Monckton

I did not want in any way to be misleading when I said the point was a narrow one. I did not mean that it did not affect a great number of men, but the issue was a narrow one—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why was it not settled?"] An hon. Member asks why it was not settled. If he had been in this place, as I have been for three years, he would know that the narrow issues are not always easily settled, although they ought to be.