HC Deb 12 February 1960 vol 617 cc817-9
Mr. Robens (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any further statement to make about the threatened rail stoppage.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Edward Heath)

Yes, Sir. Since I made a statement about the railway dispute in the House yesterday I have had a further talk with the Chairman of the British Transport Commission and discussions with members of the T.U.C. General Council, which ended at a late hour last night.

A meeting has now been arranged between the Chairman of the B.T.C. and the three railway unions which will take place later this morning under my chairmanship. Meantime, the members of the T.U.C. General Council are holding themselves available for further talks, and I expect to see them, also.

I can assure the House we are devoting all our efforts to finding a solution to this dispute.

Mr. Robens

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we very much welcome this joint meeting under his chairmanship? As the matter is obviously at a stage of very great delicacy, it seems to me that we might release the right hon. Gentleman to attend these very important discussions.

Mr. J. Hynd

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is likely, in view of the further meetings today, that a further statment may be made to the House before it rises?

Mr. Heath

Naturally, if there is anything to convey to the House, I would be only too glad to make a statement, but I cannot undertake it, particularly if the discussions are still going on.

Mr. Shinwell

If the right hon. Gentleman will not be in a position to make a statement which is of a favourable character before the end of today's sitting, would it be possible for the House to give consideration to the matter, or are we to separate, and is the strike to take place, without the House expressing an opinion on what can be done and on what Government action is desirable?

Mr. Heath

I think that the question of further consideration by the House. Mr. Speaker, would be a matter for yourself and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Shinwell

May I, then, ask the Leader of the House?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I think that the best line I can take, as Leader of the House this morning, is to give my right hon. Friend an opportunity of pursuing these discussions during the day. I have investigated very closely the various opportunities afforded to us under our procedure. It is very rarely possible to interrupt business, but it is possible. It is also possible to make a statement later at the end of business, and it is possible still to take some action if the House wanted to consider the matter. I would rather hope that we might leave the opportunity to my right hon. Friend to continue meanwhile, and the best thing that I can do is to keep a watch on it during the day.

Mr. Grimond

I am sure that the House will welcome that statement, but surely it would be very strange if the negotiations broke down and the House of Commons could not discuss this very important public matter. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there has been any contact with Mr. Guillebaud, as it was suggested yesterday that he has not yet taken any part? I was wondering whether there has been any change in the situation.

Mr. Heath

There has been no change in that situation.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

May I ask if, when my right hon. Friend sees the parties today, he would, with all the force at his command, make absolutely clear to them that one certain result, unfortunately, of strike action would be that a large number of manufacturers would send their goods by road; that once this traffic is lost it would be very difficult to get it back, that nobody wants to see that, and that it would make the prospects of employment less good on the railways, which, surely, should be a very strong argument against a strike?

Mr. Heath

The meeting this morning is an opportunity for the two parties to the dispute and the other parties affected, who have not met together since last Monday evening, to come together again.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It is no use trying to discuss this matter without a Question before the House.

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