HC Deb 01 April 1957 vol 568 cc34-6
Mr. Robens (by Private notice)

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will make a statement about the disputes in the shipbuilding and engineering industries.

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

As I told the House last Thursday, the engineering employers informed me of their willingness to enter into direct negotiations with the unions and a meeting took place between them on Friday. The employers offered a wage increase, subject to certain conditions, which was not acceptable to the unions and on being informed of this, I decided to appoint a court of inquiry to inquire into the dispute in the engineering industry. The composition of the court will be the same as that of the court which I have set up in the case of the shipbuilding dispute.

I sent letters to the Confederation on Friday asking it, in view of the situation which had been reached in both disputes and the appointment of courts of inquiry, to bring the strikes to an end. The representatives of the Confederation informed my officers on Friday evening that they were calling meetings tomorrow of their executive and of representatives of the executives of all the affiliated unions to consider my request.

I hope that, as there are now to be full and impartial inquiries into both these disputes by the courts of inquiry I have set up, the unions will agree to call off the strikes.

Mr. Robens

As the unions are meeting at 11.30 tomorrow morning, perhaps it would be as well if we did not pursue any ideas as to solutions, but I would like to ask the Minister of Labour whether he considers that the courts of inquiry will recommend terms of a settlement in respect of wages or conditions?

Mr. Macleod

I would have thought is likely that they would. The first court of inquiry is to meet on Wednesday afternoon. The recommendations will, of course, be just that—recommendations—which one would hope, but cannot be absolutely certain, both sides will accept.

Mr. Collick

Can the Minister explain why, when the differences between the parties had been narrowed down as between the 5 per cent. offer by the shipyard owners and the 7½ per cent. which the unions were willing to accept, negotiations were not continually pressed then, so that a settlement could be reached? Would [...] the right hon. Gentleman, even now, try to bring the parties together to ensure that a settlement on some such line as that, which must ultimately be the settlement, can be reached? Further, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Birkenhead a large number of workers who had been stood off by the shipyard employers have been refused unemployment benefit? Will the Minister give consideration to the issues involved in that?

Mr. Macleod

I did succeed, with my officers, in bringing the parties together in both these different disputes, and on both occasions negotiations broke down. It was just because of that breakdown, which I assure the hon. Gentleman it was impossible to bridge, that the courts of inquiry have been set up. The position seems to me to be this, that there have been talks in both disputes and in both there has been some preliminary agreement on conditions and a period of stability. In both, wage negotiations followed, and in both, different figures were put forward and, therefore, there was a breakdown. It seems to me quite clear that in those cases that is an issue which can properly be resolved by the two courts of inquiry, and that there is no further need, if there was a need, for the strikes to go on.

As for the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I will look into the matter.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Heath.]

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