HC Deb 13 November 1967 vol 754 cc15-8
18. Mr. Dobson

asked the Minister of Labour what further steps are to be taken by his Department to avoid a strike of British Overseas Airways Corporation airline pilots.

44. Captain Orr

asked the Minister of Labour if he will make a statement concerning the dispute between the British Airline Pilots Association and British Overseas Airways Corporation.

Mr. Gunter

The House will recall that the Report of the Inquiry under Mr. Scamp (Cmnd. 3428) recommended that the British Airline Pilots Association should reconsider its decision to withdraw from the National Joint Council and that changes should be made in the Council's procedure to meet criticisms voiced by the Association. Following publication of the Report, intensive discussions took place at my Ministry with the employers and unions represented on the National Joint Council and with the British Airline Pilots Association. In these discussions, a proposal emerged for the establishment under independent chairmanship of a working party to consider the changes recommended in the Council's procedure. I very much regret that the Association declined to take part in this working party the purpose of which was to meet the criticisms it has made of the Council. In the meantime, the Association has continued to press for direct negotiations outside the Council with B.O.A.C., and from 1st November, the Association's members employed by the Corporation have been working to rule. The Corporation has indicated that it remains willing to negotiate with the Association within the National Joint Council. I am keeping in touch with developments.

Mr. Dobson

Did not paragraphs 78 and 79 of the Scamp Report clearly indicate that B.A.L.P.A. had a right to negotiate directly and to withdraw from the N.J.C.? If B.O.A.C. would negotiate with B.A.L.P.A. direct, as it has been doing in many other fields, could not the reduction of working by the pilots and also the possibility of a very difficult strike be avoided?

Mr. Gunter

The Scamp Report specifically drew attention to B.A.L.P.A's right to withdraw. B.O.A.C's attitude is that it cannot negotiate unless it is done within N.J.C. limits. This is the matter with which I am now proposing to deal.

Captain Orr

Surely the pilots' position is that they are quite willing to join the Minister's working party and accept the general proposals of the Scamp Inquiry? The trouble is that the Corporation will not negotiate with the pilots direct in the meantime about some very pressing and urgent matters other than pay, and the whole trouble is caused by the intransigence of the Corporation. The Minister should use his best endeavours to bring this silly situation to an end.

Mr. Gunter

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has outlined the situation as it actually is. The last sentence of my Answer informed the House that I am keeping in touch with the position.

Sir A. V. Harvey

While declaring my interest as a vice-president of the British Airline Pilots Association, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that for many years B.O.A.C. has been very remote from its aircrews? Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the pilots of the Corporation are averaging only 40 hours flying a month when they would be willing and able to fly 70 or 80 hours? Is it not wrong that pilots should spend five days sitting on the beaches at Bombay as members of a slip crew en route to Tokio?

Mr. Gunter

I agree with the hon. Gentleman when he talks about 70 hours a month. But I was asked how much redundancy was involved.

Mr. William Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend say how far the claim for some thousands of pounds increase in salary per year conforms to the prices and incomes policy?

Mr. Gunter

I have not got that far yet. All I know is that there is, as we say in the trade union world, an application for a very substantial increase. We shall have to look at it when we come to terms.

Mr. Onslow

Can the right hon. Gentleman see any good reason why direct negotiation between the pilots and B.O.A.C. should not take place?

Mr. Gunter

No, do not bait me like that.

Mr. R. Carr

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we do not want to bait him but that there is a threat of a serious dislocation of very important public service which earns a lot of foreign currency for Britain? Could not he take a somewhat stronger initiative in making the Corporation unbend a bit?

Mr. Gunter

The right hon. Gentleman knows that if I were to answer "yes" or "no" to that question, it would be wrong. If I had said "yes" I would have come down immediately against B.O.A.C. If I had said "no" I would be in conflict with the others. All I am telling the House this afternoon is that there is right on both sides in this matter. I am performing the usual task of a Minister of Labour, and I am saying "Leave it to me for a bit longer."

Captain Orr

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.