HC Deb 05 December 1967 vol 755 cc1136-40
Mr. R. Carr

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour if he will make a statement regarding the threatened strike by B.O.A.C. pilots.

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

Since I reported to the House on 13th November the British Air Line Pilots' Association has called a strike on 9th and 10th December of its members in B.O A.C., who have been working to rule since 1st November.

I have discussed the situation with representatives of B.A.L.P.A. and with both sides of the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport. From these discussions it appears that both B.A.L.P.A. and the organisations represented on the N.J.C. are willing in principle to take part in a working party to consider changes in the procedure and structure of the N.J.C.

B.A.L.P.A. is, however, prepared to do so only if it can have immediate and direct negotiations with B.O.A.C. outside the National Joint Council. The Corporation, on the other hand, while willing to negotiate with B.A.L.P.A., feels able to do so only within the N.J.C.

The B.A.L.P.A. representatives, at my last discussion with them, while reaffirming this attitude undertook to give further consideration to their position. I am meeting representatives of the Association later this afternoon.

Mr. Carr

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that a dispute so damaging to the national interest ought not to be allowed to escalate because of a procedural wrangle about who talks to whom and where? Would not this be perhaps even more silly than a dispute about who sits where?

Secondly, could not the right hon. Gentleman take some initiative, on the understanding that it would be without prejudice to the future position of hte N.J.C. and B.A.L.P.A.'s membership of it, for B.O.A.C. to meet B.A.L.P.A., perhaps under independent chairmanship?

Mr. Gunter

The last point is what I want to talk to B.A.L.P.A. about this afternoon. However, the position is a little more difficult than merely procedure. The great fear of the National Joint Council, of both the unions and the Corporation, is that if one union breaks away there w ill be another 15 who will be able to say that they will all fight their separate battles in their separate ways. They are afraid of anarchy. However, at 4 o'clock I shall be talking to B.A.L.P.A.

Mr. Doughty

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the pilots left the National Joint Council as long ago as last June, having acted perfectly properly in giving six months' notice, that Mr. Scamp inquired into their action and said that there was nothing illegal or wrong with it, and that now although they are not members of the Council, the pilots are asked to rejoin to negotiate? Could there not be terrible damage if B.O.A.C. insists on negotiating with a body of which the pilots are not members? Would it not take years to recover from the results of the worldwide damage to the goodwill of this important airline?

Mr. Gunter

That is true, but it must be remembered that although Mr. Jack Scamp and his committee said that the pilots were entitled to leave the Council if they wished there was a striking paragraph in their report which was almost a desperate plea to B.A.L.P.A. to rejoin it, because the difficulties which would arise with the other unions were foreseen. There is another point to which Sir Giles Guthrie has drawn attention. If direct negotiations, with all the dangers which could arise, were permitted with all the other unions, there would be no rules on which to negotiate, no arbitration and conciliation machinery. There would be what Mr. Scamp has called a complete absence of ground rules. That is one of the arguments which the Chairman of B.O.A.C. advances.

Mr. Mikardo

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, when he considers suggestions put to him by hon. Members opposite, that nothing would be gained for the Corporation or the national interest if it came about that the Corporation talked to the pilots outside the machinery of the National Joint Council and then found, as a result, that it was not able to talk to any of its other employees?

Mr. Gunter

I am well aware of the dangers. I do not know what B.A.L.P.A.'s reactions would be, but any informal talks at this stage could not have anything to do with pay. I am much struck by the phrase used by B.A.L.P.A. which says that it is unable to talk about talking. If the deadlock is to be broken—and I do not know what B.A.L.P.A.'s reactions would be—it is possible that it might get something off its chest on the subject of labour relations which has been there for a very long time.

However, I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no question of discussing anything to which the National Joint Council could take exception. There will be informal talks and there may be discussions about labour relations which, in the opinion of the Association, have been bad.

Mr. Rankin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that until the moment when B.O.A.C. declared that it would close down the airways if the pilots came out on strike, the pilots were not thinking of any definite strike? Could he not get B.O.A.C. to rethink that disastrous statement?

Mr. Gunter

I do not want to be put into any difficulty. I can only reflect that unfortunate statements have been made.

Mr. Bessell

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this strike will draw attention to industrial disputes in this country in a wholly undesirable and very dramatic way and that it could do a great deal of damage to our prestige abroad? Will he now intervene personally because, by comparison with the pilots of other airlines, the pilots have a genuine grievance which should be met?

Mr. Gunter

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means by intervening personally. I am a bit fed up with intervening. I have a lot of meetings to go to.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend take the view that this strike is part of an international conspiracy to destroy the British economy? Is there any evidence that the pilots' policy is dictated by the Communists?

Mr. Gunter

That is one thing I am sure of—it is not.

Mr. Onslow

Is it not deplorable that this strike, which is wholly against the national interest, should apparently be provoked in part by the pressures and jealousies of rival unions? Will the right hon. Gentleman represent that point of view to Mr. Clive Jenkins, among others?

Mr. Gunter

I do not think that that is true. I do not think that this is a matter of rival unions. It is a fact that national machinery has been built up over 20 years. It has its faults, as Mr. Scamp has said, but there is no reason why its defects should not be gone into. The fear of the unions and of the employers is the disintegration of that machinery.

Mr. Onslow

indicated dissent.

Mr. Gunter

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I know.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is not the support which the pilots are receiving from hon. Members opposite somewhat sinister? Is it not the case that hon. Members opposite are always ready to support claims for more money for those who have a lot already and still less for those who have very little?

Capt. Orr

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is not a matter of money, but of negotiations? Can he say whether the other unions, who appear to be so keen to remain within the N.J.C., have threatened to leave if the Corporation talks directly to B.A.L.P.A.?

Mr. Gunter

Statements have been made about the three-year agreement which has already been discussed. I do not want to pursue that.