HC Deb 23 October 1961 vol 646 cc567-70
Mr. Morris

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he will make a further statement on the strike situation and payment of unemployment benefit at Port Talbot.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. John Hare)

Yes, Sir. Since I replied to the hon. Member last week my officers have continuously met representatives of the union and of the company and both sides met my Industrial Relations Officer for Wales again on Saturday in a further attempt to reach a settlement. I regret, however, that this was not found possible although it is true to say that the issues have been substanially narrowed.

About an hour ago I saw the General and Assistant General Secretaries of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers, at their request, and I have now arranged for senior representatives of the company to meet national officials of the Union tomorrow morning at the headquarters of my Ministry to consider how the present deadlock can be removed.

As regards unemployment benefit, payment will be made from Thursday next, 26th October to about 8,000 men not directly concerned in the dispute. The claims of about 2,050 men represented by test cases have been disqualified by the Statutory Authorities under the provisions of Section 13 (1) of the National Insurance Act, 1946.

Mr. Morris

May I express my appreciation of the fact that the Minister is moving in this way? Do I understand that he himself is now intervening personally? If so, I express to him and his officials at Ministry headquarters, in London, my best wishes and hopes of an early settlement of this dispute, which has lasted for more than five weeks.

Is the Ministry aware that it is contended by the A.E.U. that the union is not in dispute with the Steel Company of Wales, but that its members have in effect been locked out and as a result are now refused unemployment benefit?

In fact, all A.E.U. members are being refused benefit, even though some are still doing safety and maintenance work. This benefit has been refused to A.E.U. members who are not even employed by the Steel Company of Wales, but are employed by contractors. Will the Minister inquire into this aspect of the matter as urgently as possible?

Mr. Hare

I am grateful for the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. On the second part, this, as he knows, is a matter for the statutory authorities. An appeal against a decision of a local tribunal can be made to the National Insurance Commissioner.

Mr. Lee

Is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House would hope for an early and successful settlement? On the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) about A.E.U. membership, will the Minister see to it that the authorities realise that the obvious way out of this is for the A.E.U. to declare an official strike in order that it can pay its members strike pay? Does he really want unions to declare official strikes as the only way to get their members any money?

Mr. Hare

I have already explained the position.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Does the Minister now confirm, as I understood him to confirm, that there is only one point remaining in dispute between the men and the company, and that that does not concern wages so much as health? In view of that, will he make strenuous personal efforts to secure a settlement of this dispute very soon before it extends to other works like Trostre and Velindre, which may be affected by continuous pressure?

Mr. Hare

I would not say that there is only one point now in dispute, but the right hon. Gentleman is quite correct in saying that the difficulty has been to find an agreement on the continuance of what is known as the job and finish system. It is related to that particular problem.

On the general point, I think that what I have just said shows that I am taking a very personal and particular interest in this matter.

Mr. Morris

Will the Minister confirm that he is intervening personally? Will he be available for talks with the various people involved?

Mr. Hare

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am always available. He must leave it to my judgment as to whether my officials can do their job and when I should intervene personally. I spent a fairly considerable time during the latter half of this morning discussing this personally with the general secretary of the union concerned.