HC Deb 05 May 1955 vol 540 cc1885-6
29. Mr. Page

asked the Minister of Labour how many stoppages of work through industrial disputes in the United Kingdom during the last three and a half years came to an end after, firstly, a hearing by an arbitration tribunal appointed by him, secondly, a report of a court of inquiry appointed by him and, thirdly, the use of existing negotiating machinery without recourse to the first two methods.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

Arbitration proceedings aim to provide a peaceful means for the settlement of differences rather than to bring stoppages of work to an end. From the beginning of 1952 till the end of April, 1955, 1,019 awards were issued by arbitration bodies appointed by my right hon. and learned Friend. In the same period 10 reports of courts of inquiry and six reports of committees of investigation were made in connection with actual or threatened disputes, and helped to promote a settlement. Statistics of stoppages terminated through voluntary negotiating machinery are not available, but a very large number are averted or brought to an end by negotiations between the parties with or without the assistance of conciliation officers of my Department.

Mr. Page

Would my hon. Friend make clear at what stage his right hon. and learned Friend is constitutionally entitled to intervene in industrial disputes? Would he say whether there have been many occasions when the unions and the Trades Union Congress have asked for intervention before that stage has been reached? If so, would he care to pay a tribute to the unions and the T.U.C. for their co-operation in that respect?

Mr. Watkinson

In answer to the first part of the supplementary question, perhaps fortunately the Ministry of Labour does not have a lot of written rules about industrial negotiations. If we had, our task might be even more difficult than it is. I should like to take the opportunity of saying—what I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend would wish me to say—that in those disputes in which another union is involved we are grateful to the T.U.C. when it can help. It is in a special position to help in that kind of dispute.

Mr. Awbery

Is not this an indication that the present industrial machinery for settling disputes is not quite adequate to the situation? Will the hon. Gentleman consult the T.U.C. and invite it to revise the machinery and make proposals to him so that we can prevent disputes in future?

Mr. Watkinson

It might be a very good idea.

Mr. W. R. Williams

Are the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that there is not rather too much delay in regard to arbitration tribunals in bringing these disputes and claims before them? It seems to me that if we could expedite the working of the tribunals recourse to other forms of arbitration would not be quite so necessary.

Mr. Watkinson

That is a very practical suggestion, which we have looked at. We will expedite the matter, where possible, but it is not always possible.