HC Deb 28 March 1955 vol 539 cc37-40
Mr. Alfred Robens

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour and National Service whether he has any statement to make about the dispute which has caused a stoppage in the newspaper industry.

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

This dispute arose out of a claim for increased wages by the maintenance engineers and electricians employed by members of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association. The Association made an offer to the trade unions concerned, namely, the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the Electrical Trades Union, similar in amount to an offer made to the printing trade unions. This offer was rejected and, in furtherance of their claim, the union chapels concerned gave two weeks' notice of withdrawal of labour to expire on the morning of Friday, 25th March. Further discussions took place between the Newspaper Proprietors' Association and the unions on Monday, 21st March, the notices having been lifted, but no progress was made and the notices were reimposed to take effect on the original date.

My Department was kept informed of the position and as soon as the notices were reimposed by the chapels, my officers arranged a joint meeting on Friday, 25th March, between the Newspaper Proprietors' Association and the unions. At this meeting, the Association declined to increase their offer but said that it was willing for the claim to be referred to arbitration and undertook to abide by the result. The unions, however, were not prepared to go to arbitration on their claim.

I am keeping in close touch with the situation. The services of my Department continue to be available to the parties at any time, and my Department will not hesitate to call the parties together again if such a course appears helpful.

Mr. Robens

First, I should like to express the pleasure of the whole House at the return of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hope that his enforced rest has fully restored him to health and strength.

While it affords, perhaps, a little relief for many people not to have to read the national Press for a day or two, the non-publication of the national Press over a continued period would be a very grave matter indeed. May I, therefore, ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he will continue to keep the House fully informed about the progress he is making in the negotiations?

Sir W. Monckton

May I express my gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind reference to me. I will, of course, keep the House informed of a matter which closely concerns the public.

Mr. Braine

Could my right hon. and learned Friend clear up two points? First, is this strike official or unofficial, and, secondly, has the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend been drawn to a statement made by the Newspaper Proprietors' Association that the average earnings of the strikers are £15 2s. a week, that they are asking for at least £2 18s. 6d. extra, and that it was on that basis that the newspaper proprietors were prepared to submit the whole matter to arbitration and to accept the verdict?

Sir W. Monckton

As to the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary, I think that the figures which he has quoted are accurate, but the exact figures I cannot carry in my mind. As to the rest of the matter, it is a little difficult to say how far this is an official strike. Technically, at any rate, it is not official at the moment, and I am not going to say anything, I hope, to make it more so.

Mr. Gower

Has my right hon. and learned Friend any information about a voluntary agreement which obtains in Sweden where, apparently, the regular publication of news is regarded as of such transcendental importance that the unions and the newspapers have arrived at an agreement which is calculated to lessen the danger of strikes in the industry?

Sir W. Monckton

I do not know the scheme which works in Sweden. I am sure that all the parties concerned will have a good look at it when this is over, but I am afraid that I have to get this dispute over without that help.

Mr. Collins

Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not able to give a definite reply to the question addressed to him about earnings, can he make it clear whether, in these negotiations, earnings or basic rates are being dealt with?

Sir W. Monckton

The offers have been concerned with basic rates, but, of course, in all inquiries of this sort those who have to deal with them look not only at basic rates but at earnings as well.