HC Deb 02 April 1957 vol 568 cc239-41
Mr. Robens (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any statement to make about the disputes in the shipbuilding and engineering industries.

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

The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions met this morning to consider my request that they should call off the strikes in the shipbuilding and engineering industries so that the Courts of Inquiry, which I have set up, could proceed in a strike-free atmosphere. I am happy to be able to tell the House that they have agreed to this and decided that there will be a resumption of work in both industries on Thursday morning.

Mr. Robens

The whole House and the nation will join in approaching the statement that the right hon. Gentleman has made. This is a triumph for common sense and calm reasoning. At the same time, would he agree that we should not lull ourselves into a state of complacency, as this is only another stage in the dispute? Therefore, could he say when the Courts of Inquiry are likely to report and whether it is within his power to speed up that part of the work?

Mr. Macleod

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and, indeed, to the House for the courtesy that they have shown while we have been putting up what I think is a record of 15 consecutive days in answering Private Notice Questions. I am sure that it has been worth while to keep the House as closely informed as we have tried to ensure.

I quite agree with the right hon. Member that we should not be complacent about the present situation. Indeed, after the Courts of Inquiry have reported there will be many matters which, when the dust has settled, it would be right for the country to look at very closely indeed.

The work of the Courts of Inquiry is a matter for them. It will help them a great deal that they will be able to work in an atmosphere free from strikes and I know that they realise how anxiously the country will be awaiting the results of their investigations.

Mr. Robens

I have refrained from referring to events at Southampton up to now and only now ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his officers could use their good offices in Southampton, in view of this statement, to enable the "Queen" ships to dock at Southampton and allow the 1,200 members of the crews to visit their wives and relations when they are in port?

Mr. Macleod

I am sure that as a result of this statement all these matters will be cleared at once. Any help that my Ministry can give will be given.

Air Commodore Harvey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on this side of the House, and many people in the country, are grateful to him personally for his devotion and the way in which he has handled these matters during the last few weeks?

Mr. Grimond

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us a little more about the terms of reference of the Courts of Inquiry? How far will they be able to go into the question of profitability and productivity and the economic state of the country generally?

Mr. Macleod

Those matters are largely for the Courts themselves, but the general position in each industry is that a document was agreed—in neither case has it yet been made public—which related both to productivity in the widest sense and also to a period of stability in wage claims. There were then, also, the breakdowns on wage negotiations. I have no doubt that the Courts of Inquiry, although presumably they will make special recommendations on the wage claims, will take into account the contents of the two previous documents to which I have referred.

Mr. P. Williams

May I ask my right hon. Friend, first, how soon is the strike to end, and, secondly, whether the Court of Inquiry is to go further into the problem of productivity and the whole problem of demarcation disputes, which make such difficulties in the shipbuilding trade?

Mr. Macleod

I am sorry if the end of my statement was not clearly heard in the House. The unions today have agreed on a resumption of work in both disputes on Thursday morning.

The second part of my hon. Friend's question is, I think, covered by the answer that I have just given to the Leader of the Liberal Party. I do not want to define the tasks of the Courts more closely than that.