HC Deb 29 March 1956 vol 550 cc2338-40
32. Sir F. Medlicott

asked the Minister of Labour if he can now make a statement on the trade dispute between the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, the Ship Constructors and Shipwrights Association, and the Shipwrights and Metal Workers Unions which has been outstanding in the Cammell Laird's shipyards at Birkenhead for some months.

Mr. Iain Macleod

The strike at Cammell Laird's shipyard, which has been in progress since last November, threatens to affect the employment of other workers in the yard and to result in the cancellation or loss of export orders. For some months my Ministry and the Trades Union Congress have made every effort to bring this difficult dispute to an end. When finally the efforts of the Trades Union Congress failed to secure agreement, I appointed, on the 12th March, a committee to inquire into the difficulties which had arisen, and to make recommendations.

The committee has concluded its hearings and its Report has been published this morning. A copy has been placed in the Library. It recommends that the question of which craftsmen should do the work in dispute should be settled through the established procedure and that there should be a resumption of work forthwith.

In bringing this Report to the notice of the parties concerned, I have emphasised that a resumption of work is called for in the national interest, and I hope that this will now follow.

Sir F. Medlicott

Is my right hon. Friend aware that as new techniques and new processes are coming into operation all the time this kind of dispute will become increasingly prevalent? In view of the great damage to the national interest and the possible loss of £6 million of work—of which the workers might themselves some day stand in need—ought not my right hon. Friend to intervene more rapidly when it is apparent that the machinery, or the way in which the machinery is operated, is not becoming effective?

Mr. Macleod

I do not think that in this difficult situation an earlier intervention of mine would have been effective. This remains essentially an inter-union dispute, and it is right that it should be solved, if possible, at first by the trade unions concerned and, if not, then by the Trades Union Congress. The main point which I want to raise is that a committee has now said that this matter should go through the ordinary procedure of arbitration. I believe firmly that it is in the national interest that there should be a resumption of work forthwith pending a settlement of that particular matter.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman again confirm that the established procedure the Trades Union Congress has developed over the years does meet these questions and enable them to be settled amicably? Will he refuse to give way to pressure of his hon. Friends to introduce legislation on this subject which would bedevil the situation? In view of the Report, I join with the Minister in expressing the hope that the dispute will soon come to an end and that there will be a resumption of work.

Mr. Macleod

I welcome very much what the right hon. Member said at the end of his supplementary question. Of course it is true that the dispute machinery in these cases, what is called the 1912 agreement, exists. It could, and I think should, have settled the dispute long ago, but it must be a matter of concern that a settlement has not yet been arrived at.

Sir F. Medlicott

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that the essence of the demarcation machinery is that work should continue while a dispute is being discussed? If we are to have a repetition of six months' disastrous delay, should not my right hon. Friend exercise his power and influence much more rapidly?