HC Deb 09 February 1956 vol 548 cc1808-10
62. Mr. Page

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will appoint a committee to investigate and report upon the demarcation problems of the seventeen trade unions involved in shipbuilding in British shipyards.

Mr. Iain Macleod

No, Sir. Difficulties arising from the demarcation of work between the various classes of craftsmen employed in the shipbuilding industry are essentially matters for settlement within the industry. Agreed forms of procedure for dealing with demarcation disputes are in existence, covering most of the unions in the industry, and many such disputes are in fact settled by negotiation.

It is true that demarcation disputes do from time to time result in serious stoppages of work and loss of production, particularly where there is no recognised procedure. In general, however, the machinery which is in existence or is contemplated for settling these disputes should be adequate, given good will and readiness on the part of all concerned to seek an equitable solution by conciliatory means.

Mr. Page

Have not the many Gilbertian situations which have arisen over demarcation issues, particularly in this industry, got beyond a joke and a private matter between employers and employees? Have not they become a public concern, and cannot the public have some say in the matter, through the Government?

Mr. Macleod

Indeed they are a matter of public concern, and rightly so. I am suggesting that this matter is best left to the industry. There have been and there are going on discussions at the level of the national executive with some of the unions concerned with a view to improving the existing machinery, and I believe that considerable progress is being made.

Mr. Lee

In these days of the substitution of one material for another on a very extensive scale, is it not a matter of congratulation to those concerned in the negotiating machinery of these industries that so few of these issues come in dispute?

Mr. Macleod

Yes, the vast number are settled reasonably and amicably. The number in shipbuilding that come officially to the notice of my Ministry is about ten a year.

Mr. Wade

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that disputes such as that at Cammell Laird's have serious economic consequences, and are therefore matters of general public concern? Has he considered the possibility of setting up special conciliation machinery to deal with this specific type of dispute?

Mr. Macleod

We have been closely in touch with the Cammell Laird dispute since the beginning. I should very much like to see the end of the strike—as I am sure all hon. Members would—but the T.U.C. is concerned with it and everybody wishes it good fortune in trying to bring together the different unions.

Mr. Hobson

Can the Minister state how many days were lost last year in demarcation disputes, apart from the Cammell Laird dispute?

Mr. Macleod

Not without notice.