HC Deb 13 May 1968 vol 764 cc830-2
2. Mr. Tilney

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity whether she will make a statement about the busmen's strike in Liverpool.

45. Mr. Fortescue

asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity whether she will make a statement on the strike of Liverpool bus crews.

Mrs. Castle

This strike is causing serious hardship to the people of Liverpool. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has seen a deputation from Liverpool and has urged that there is nothing to be gained by prolonging the strike. I expect to receive the Report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes next week and in the meantime I understand that the Corporation and the trade unions are seeking a basis for a return to work. It is up to the men. I strongly advise them in their own interests and in the interests of their fellow citizens to go back now.

Mr. Tilney

But since this strike is in its tenth week, is the right hon. Lady aware that many people feel that, as it is the result of the Government's policy, the Government should have taken more action in the past than they have until now? Can she not do something about arranging for a secret ballot of the bus men?

Mrs. Castle

Of course, the Government have referred this to the Board and the whole of the time scale and the reasons involved have been thoroughly ventilated on previous occasion. We certainly stand ready, as soon as the Board reports, to get in touch with the parties and to do our utmost to get a settlement in the light of the report.

Mr. Fortescue

In view of the right hon. Lady's much-publicised intention to pursue an interventionist policy in industry, should she not have intervened long before now in the interests of the ordinary people of Liverpool who have been without buses for nearly ten weeks?

Mrs. Castle

I came into a situation in which intervention had already taken place in the form of a reference, and since the Board is examining the matter and we are in the middle of the very inquiry for which a number of hon. Gentlemen asked, it is only common sense for us to await the outcome of that inquiry. As I said, as soon as we receive the report, which will be in the near future, we intend to intervene to get in touch with the parties and try to get a settlement on the basis of the report.

Mr. Heffer

Is it not clear that the ten weeks which have elapsed since the reference to the Prices and Incomes Board, on which no decision has yet been reached, is far too long a period and is not acceptable to the people of Liverpool? But is my right hon. Friend also aware that, although a certain amount of blame rests on the Government, the Liverpool City Council Transport Committee has been making the people of Liverpool the political playthings of the Conservative Party in relation to the municipal elections?

Mrs. Castle

I am aware of the continuing interest which my hon. Friend has taken in this matter and the way that he has fought for the interests of his constituents. The Board has done its utmost to speed up the publication of the Report. We have been in constant touch with it, pointing out how urgent it is and asking for a report as quickly as is conceivably possible. I repeat, my hon. Friend will not have to wait long for the report now.

Mr. R. Carr

But if there is any truth in the allegation made by the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Heffer), was not that an added reason why the right hon. Lady's Department should have intervened in its conciliatory function? Can she give any other example of a strike causing so much hardship and inconvenience to so many people which has been allowed to drag on for so long without action?

Mrs. Castle

The right hon. Gentleman should appreciate that, when the Board is looking into the situation—we were asked for an inquiry and an inquiry is taking place—even on the most traditionalist interpretation of the former Ministry of Labour's function, this would not have been the moment for the normal conciliatory procedure to operate. I repeat again that we stand ready to intervene constructively as soon as the report appears.

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