HC Deb 10 July 1956 vol 556 cc199-201
Mr. G. Brown

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether his attention has been called to the decision of the trade unions concerned to call a strike at the British Motor Corporation's factories from 23rd July, as a result of the company's refusal to negotiate, and whether he has any statement to make.

The Minister of Labour and National Service (Mr. Iain Macleod)

I am, of course, aware of the resolution passed yesterday by representatives of the unions concerned recommending to their executive councils that notice be given to the British Motor Corporation that in certain eventualities all labour will be withdrawn on and from 23rd July. I have not been approached by either of the parties and, as I understand it, there is machinery available within the industry for dealing with the matter which has not yet been fully used.

I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to make any statement at this stage.

Mr. Brown

Does the Minister realise that, in the light of the more serious news today of the decision by the main unions concerned, that sounds a rather complacent statement? I am sure he would agree that not to use the fortnight which is at our disposal to bring about a settlement of what could be a very threatening dispute would be a major tragedy.

Does the Minister realise that the question of compensation to these men who were so hurriedly put out of work is emerging as a real major issue? Will the right hon. Gentleman put himself at the disposal of the parties concerned with a view to convening a joint meeting, with himself in the chair if need be, at which a solution to this problem might be the major issue?

Mr. Macleod

My statement is an exact account of the facts as they were yesterday, and, indeed, as they still are today. Of course, we must use the time that is available to us to seek any means of a solution—and I exclude no solution—to this rather difficult issue.

I should make it clear that machinery is available in the industry. It has been the policy of Ministers of Labour, of all parties, that they do not in any way attempt to weaken such machinery and that intervention is called for only after that machinery has been fully used and exhausted. Subject to that, however, the services of myself and of the Ministry will, of course, be available to anybody who seeks to make use of them.

Mr. Shurmer

Is the Minister aware that not only is there discontent among the men who have already been dismissed, but that there is great discontent among those who remain at work because there is no certainty about the position of the industry and how long it will be before they are dismissed, at practically a moment's notice, like the others? Cannot the Minister ask his right hon. Friend to set up an inquiry into the motor industry at once to find what the future holds, instead of leaving the men discontented and uncertain from day to day, as many of them are in the Austin and other motor factories in the area?

Mr. Macleod

The Question relates to the recommendation taken by the different unions yesterday. On the wider question of a Government inquiry into the motor car industry, that is, as the hon. Member indicated, a matter for my right hon. Friend, who has replied on it in the House and to whose statement I have nothing to add.

Mr. Gower

Does my right hon. Friend consider that there is sufficient recognition in the country generally that the British motor industry is fighting for its life against the motor industries of other countries?

Mr. Ellis Smith

Will the Minister bear in mind that, owing to the cruel action taken by the British Motor Corporation, the unions will be fully justified in any action they take? Will he bear in mind that that action was equivalent to a repudiation of the National Agreement, Clause 12 of which states that when a depression in trade arises systematic short time shall be worked where practicable in preference to discharging men? In view of the fact that we have had full employment for 15 years, when all these men have given of their best, surely different treatment is called for than that meted out by the British Motor Corporation.

Mr. Macleod

I recognise the sincerity with which those views are very widely held. As to the wisdom of this action, that is a matter on which, as the hon. Member knows, Ministers of Labour do not comment.