HC Deb 18 October 1966 vol 734 cc36-7
Q7. Mr. Mikardo

asked the Prime Minister what is the result of the consideration he has given to the possibility of an inquiry into the forces behind the seamen's strike; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

I have given considerable thought to this matter and have discussed it with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. My conclusion is that there is no case for a separate inquiry into this episode. As the House is aware, once I made the facts known in this House, the strike immediately ended.

Mr. Mikardo

I am grateful, as will be many other people, to my right hon. Friend for the decision he has just announced, but does he not realise that it will be widely interpreted as indicating his opinion that an investigation would reveal no justification for the way in which he smeared the executive of the Seamen's Union?

The Prime Minister

I should be very surprised if it were so interpreted, except in some rather strange quarters. As I made clear then, when I made my statement—and the question I had to decide for myself was whether it was my duty to make that statement—there was no reflection on the members of the executive, except their failure to face up robustly to some of the pressures being put on them. In fact, as my hon. Friend will be aware, following the public interest in this, when I did give details, some of the people who were smoked out by this question disported themselves on television and some very damaging admissions were made about their interference with industrial disputes, and I believe that the country will have formed its own view about whether or not my statement was justified.

Mr. Ridsdale

Is it not a fact that the old Merchant Shipping Act was one of the causes of this dispute? Will early legislation be introduced to amend it?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Merchant Shipping Act has been one of the causes of the festering feeling in the shipping industry for many years. Progress was made up to last November in discussions between my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and both sides of the industry. They were then broken off because of the wage dispute. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, a Committee of Inquiry presided over by Lord Pearson has in its terms of reference a full investigation of all the changes that ought to be made in the Merchant Shipping Act. I do not know exactly when he will report, but I know that the Board is very hard at work looking at the reforms that will be needed with a view to legislation.

Mr. Kelley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are certain circumstances connected with labour disputes which entitle a person to withdraw his labour because he thinks that the price that is being paid for it is not sufficient, and that that has nothing to do with Communism?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, and I believe that that has been stated in the various debates and statements in this House. I said many times that the seamen had had a very raw deal in the past and were entitled to their views about their wage increase, although there was a big wage increase in 1965, I would remind my hon. Friend. It was very big indeed, as the official inquiry showed. They were free to pursue that or to withdraw their labour. What I was concerned with was the action taken to cause a perpetuation of the dispute long after the original causes has been referred to a tribunal of inquiry and dealt with and with very great harm to the economy—pressures for perpetuation which had nothing to do either with the wage question or any other seaman's grievance but which reflected the struggle for power within that union.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker