HC Deb 23 November 1964 vol 702 cc908-10

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

80. Mr. GODBER

To ask the Minister of Labour if he will make a statement about the Report of the Devlin Committee on the Docks Dispute.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. R. J. Gunter)

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 80.

The First Report of the Committee of Inquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Devlin was published as a Command Paper on Friday last.

I have sent copies of the Report to both sides of the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry expressing the hope that it will assist them in reaching an early settlement of the present dispute. The Council is meeting on Wednesday morning.

In the circumstances, I am sure that the House will not wish me to comment further at this stage. I should, however, like to say how grateful I am to Lord Devlin and to the members of the Committee for the speed and urgency with which they have dealt with this part of their inquiry.

The Committee will now proceed to consider the other matters referred to them, such as decasualisation, and will be presenting their report on these matters in due course.

Mr. Godber

I am grateful to the Minister for answering the Question. In view of the fact that the Council is meeting on Wednesday, I would not wish to ask him any detailed questions and I am sure that the whole House wishes him success in bringing this potentially dangerous dispute to a satisfactory conclusion.

I should, however, like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the future timetable from now on, since he will, I am sure, be aware, as the House will be aware, of the need to get better relationships in the docks generally, to get a better understanding and to find ways of trying to overcome any increased cost that may result from any settlement?

On a specific point, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether anything can be done to get rid of the difficulties and restrictions on weekend working which have ca used considerable delays in the London Docks?

Mr. Gunter

In reply to the first point, the timetable is a little difficult to lay down in a matter of this character. I can inform the House, however, that Lord Devlin and his fellow members of the Committee are fully aware of the need for urgency in now coming to grips with what are, perhaps, the real and underlying causes of the trouble in the docks. I am sure that Lord Devlin will proceed with a sense of urgency.

As to the second point concerning the timing of removing the difficulties which exist, I would hope to have talks with the unions, particularly about easing the position.

Mr. Emery

Will the Minister say whether, in his view, if this settlement is given, it will necessarily increase the costs of our exports? Secondly, will he say exactly when and with what urgency he will urge Lord Devlin to complete the second part of his Report and to ensure that the question of the productivity of the docks, which will be dealt with in the second part of the Report, does not demand another quid pro quo by a wage increase, but should be dealt with on this wage increase?

Mr. Gunter

I would only say to the hon. Member that important discussions and negotiations are to take place on Wednesday morning. It would be foolish for me to commit myself here and now. I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman, in view of his knowledge of affairs.

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