HC Deb 23 July 1956 vol 557 cc33-6
Mr. G. Brown

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any statement to make about the British Motor Corporation strike.

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

On 27th June the British Motor Corporation announced its intention to issue redundancy notices to about 6,000 workers in its factories in Birmingham, Oxford and South Wales, to take effect on 29th June. On 4th July, representatives of the unions concerned met the employers in local conference which was adjourned. On the same day the unions and the management had informal discussions at which the unions demanded the reinstatement of the dismissed workers while further negotiations took place and also claimed that in cases where dismissal was unavoidable some compensatory payment should be made. These demands were not acceptable to the management.

On 9th July the national representatives of the unions recommended their executive councils to call an official strike of all the Corporation's employees from 23rd July in certain circumstances and the decision to strike was confirmed by the unions on 14th July. Following a request by the unions for my intervention my officers met representatives of the employers and the unions on 17th July. At these talks the employers expressed the view that questions about the dismissals should be pursued through the normal negotiating machinery whilst the unions considered that the procedure of the industry was not applicable in the circumstances of the dispute.

On the question of compensation, the unions insisted that it should be pursued in relation to the specific case of the British Motor Corporation whilst the employers regarded it as a matter which should be dealt with by the National Employers' Federation as a general issue and not in connection with a particular firm and under threat of a strike. These views were so fundamentally opposed as to make it clear that there was then no prospect of agreement being reached.

As the House is aware the strike began this morning. I shall, of course, continue to watch the position closely and shall be glad to help the parties towards a settlement as soon as the opportunity arises.

Mr. Brown

Will the Minister bear in mind that this situation follows some heavy inactivity on his part? Is he aware that the longer this strike continues the more dangerous the situation is likely to get, quite beyond the confines of B.M.C.? Has he in mind any particular step to help towards a settlement? Has he considered a court of inquiry, or has he in mind any idea which he can offer? Will he be willing to give the House a further report in the next day or two?

Mr. Macleod

On the last point, I will, of course, keep the House informed, as it wishes. On the question of what action could have been taken, it was to see what common ground there was that the preliminary meetings were held last Tuesday. When it was made clear that the position appeared irreconcilable, as I have outlined in my statement, it became obvious that no purpose, at that stage at least, would be served by further meetings. As to the future, the position, as I have always made clear, is that if the situation should ease in any way, the services of myself and my Ministry are at the disposal of both sides.

Mr. M. Lindsay

Can my right hon. Friend confirm the reports that, in spite of picketing, more than 50 per cent. of those concerned reported for work this morning? If that is so, does it not show that this is a highly unpopular strike?

Mr. Macleod

I am informed from the 12 factories affected that of the 51,000 people concerned, 28,000, or 55 per cent., are at work. I think that that goes some way to bear out what my hon. Friend has said. I do not believe that anybody wants this strike. I do not believe that the unions want it for a minute. I am certain about that. In theory, such a strike should be easy to settle, but, in practice, at present there is no room for manoeuvre between the two parties. If that becomes available, I exclude no solution.

Mr. J. Hynd

Since it has been found desirable or necessary, because of the recession in this firm's production, to dismiss a number of the men who have invested their labour in the industry, has the firm dismissed any of its shareholders without compensation?

Mr. Ellis Smith

It made £23 million last year.

Mr. Chapman

Last week the B.M.C. and, I believe, the engineering employers said, in consultations with the unions, that they insisted on deciding the size of the labour force—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—I am quoting—and that that was a matter for the management. Can the Minister confirm that that was said? If so, does it not show how very dangerous it was for the Minister to make that statement last March and to provoke so much of the trouble in the industry?

Mr. Macleod

It is difficult to reply patiently to the hon. Member, whose interventions from the beginning have, for months past, been ill-informed and mischievous. If he would for a moment stop trying to pull motes out of my eye and look at the beam in his own, it might help.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Mr. Speaker, I desire to ask your permission to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, a serious strike and its effect upon our economy caused by the action of the British Motor Corporation and the Minister's refusal to intervene. I ask the House to treat this matter as one of definite and urgent public importance.

Mr. Speaker

I can shorten matters by saying that, quite apart from the merits of the hon. Member's submission, there is very shortly to be put the Question, "That this House do now adjourn." On previous occasions I have pointed out that if that is the case, it is impossible to have an Adjournment on the Motion for the Adjournment. The matter to which the hon. Member refers can be raised on the Motion for the Adjournment.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Before Labour Members start laughing, they should listen. I had not been forewarned that the Adjournment was to be moved, Mr. Speaker. I thank you for your advice. I will be able to raise the matter on the Adjournment later in the evening, provided that I catch your eye, Sir. As this is such an urgent matter, which has such a serious effect upon our economy and upon labour relations throughout the country, I hope that that will be borne in mind.