HC Deb 23 May 1968 vol 765 cc867-70
Mr. Tilney (by Private Notice)

asked the First Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity whether she will make a statement on the report of the Prices and Incomes Board on the pay of the Liverpool busmen.

The First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (Mrs. Barbara Castle)

I informed the House on 13th May that as soon as I received this report my officers would intervene to try to get a settlement of the Liverpool strike. The Report was published this afternoon and while I am speaking officers of my Department are meeting representatives of the Liverpool Corporation and the Unions.

In the circumstances, I would not wish to make any further statement at this moment. I sincerely hope that there will be a return to work on the basis of the Report.—[Vol. 764, c. 830–2.]

Mr. Tilney

Since the Board appears to find that the agreement between the Corporation and the busmen, referred by the Government to the Board, meets the criteria laid down by the Government, have the people of Liverpool walked for three months unnecessarily, at great hurt to the old and infirm?

Mrs. Castle

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that the Board finds that the settlement fitted in with the criteria of the prices and incomes policy. The Report puts forward an entirely different basis for a settlement and I hope that that settlement will now be reached.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her prompt action now in intervening to get a settlement of the strike will be very welcome to the people of Liverpool? Is she further aware that the Report clearly outlines the fact that the busmen had a case, that they were not in line with other cities on comparability and that there is the possibility of an increased productivity agreement?

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that there could have been a separation of the Liverpool position from that of Glasgow and Belfast and that we should have had an earlier report to get an earlier settlement? Will she give an assurance—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] This is very important to the people of Liverpool—that under no circumstances will we ever be placed in this sort of situation again?

Mrs. Castle

The Report reveals clearly that there was no need for the strike to have taken place and that the Board has studied the busmen's claim with great objectivity and has produced an analysis of the situation which is completely fair to their position. I only regret that the busmen of Liverpool, contrary to their union's advice, came out on strike instead of waiting, as the busmen of Glasgow did, to see what the Report produced. If they had done that, they would have saved the people of Liverpool a lot of inconvenience and expense.

Mr. Fortescue

The right hon. Lady stated that the Board had not said that the original claim and agreement were justified. I draw her attention to paragraph 40 of the Report, which 1 have just received. It says: The Board cannot report adversely on the agreement reached at that stage. What does that mean if the right hon. Lady says that the Board did not accept it?

Mrs. Castle

The hon. Gentleman is quoting a sentence out of the context in which the Board said that there was no productivity basis for the original scheme. It has studied the claim on a different basis—that of stress and strain and the rewards for stress and strain. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The Board points out that it hopes that a settlement on a tiered system can now be worked out on a national basis, and if the hon. Gentleman makes the point that different cities and towns require to be treated differently, then, clearly, that is a new basis on which we want to have national talks. I am initiating such national talks as soon as possible with the N.J.I.C. for the industry.

Mr. Alldritt

May I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on her speedy intervention? Would she do one more thing? When the delegations return to Liverpool, can senior officials return with them so that, if there are difficulties, these can be ironed out there and then?

Mrs. Castle

Certainly, if it should prove necessary following this afternoon's talks, we: would do that—I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. But I am hopeful that it will not be necessary.

Mr. John Hall

In view of the strict criteria which had to be taken account of in arriving at wage claims, can we now add one of stress and strain?

Mrs. Castle

It entirely depends on the conditions in a particular industry. If we are to get a rational relationship between wage claims, and not merely a system of endless leapfrogging, there must be a study of the factors that are subject to each type of work. That is the job of the Board and it is doing it very well.

Mr. Ogden

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that public comments in the House at this stage during a very complex dispute might put a settlement back many days or weeks? Will she at least give an assurance that, over the weekend, this matter, if necessary, will not go into cold storage and that the facilities of the Department will be available for a settlement for as long as may be necessary?

Mrs. Castle

I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that nothing will be said or done in the House which might interfere with the possibilities of a settlement, which are now very great. I give my hon. Friend the assurance for which he has asked.

Mr. R. Carr

Will the right hon. Lady amend the current White Paper on Prices and Incomes Policy to enable stress and strain to be one of the new criteria?

Mrs. Castle

I think that we shall— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We want to hear the answer.

Mrs. Castle

—have to get a new criterion for supplementary questions, including an allowance for deafness.

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