HC Deb 02 December 1969 vol 792 cc1298-300

Mr. R. Carr (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity what action she is taking over the unofficial strike of B.R.S. workers which is threatening delivery of Christmas parcels.

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

Negotiations on pay are continuing between the parties, and it would not, therefore, be appropriate for me to take any action at the present time. I am, however, keeping closely in touch with developments and deplore the effect unofficial action may have on the delivery of Christmas parcels.

As negotiations are continuing, I would urge the trade unions to advise their members to resume normal working.

Mr. Carr

It is all very well for the right hon. Lady to deplore this. Is she aware that Christmas is now only just over three weeks away? Should she not take, by special inquiry or other urgent means, specific action to try to insure that the public gets its Christmas parcels in time?

Is the right hon. Lady also aware that, while she is urging the trade unions to advise their members to resume normal work, if correctly reported—and I emphasis "if"—the secretary of the union concerned seems to be making remarks which are not in keeping with the binding obligation given to the Prime Minister in June?

Mrs. Castle

If the right hon. Gentleman means that he wants me to take "urgent action" to get this dispute settled, my reply is that negotiations are continuing. B.R.S. is currently giving consideration to a new claim that has been put in and the procedure has not yet been exhausted.

As to action to get parcels distributed in time for Christmas, we have not reached the point where there is any serious threat. However, any alternative methods of distribution would be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.

As to the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I am not responsible for Press reports.

Mr. Bessell

Will the right hon. Lady make personal representations to the workers concerned, because a good deal of suffering and a great deal of disappointment will be caused to people who would otherwise receive their Christmas gifts?

Mrs. Castle

I hope that the Answer I have given is a form of personal representation to the workers concerned. I am negotiations are continuing, it is to be deplored that this unofficial action should continue, thus endangering the safe distribution of parcels.

Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Lady confirm or deny reports that road haulage leaders were flabbergasted at the extent of the demands? Is not this a development of the situation we have seen ever since the dustmen's strike, that the cry of "Give us a dustmen's rise" is the epitaph on the whole of the Government's policy?

Mrs. Castle

I cannot confirm the reports to which the hon. Gentleman refers. B.R.S. is in the middle of negotiations and should be given the opportunity to Conduct them.

Mr. John Page

Is the T.U.C. in its new rôle intervening in this unofficial dispute?

Mrs. Castle

Mr. Feather has been informed of the situation—

Sir Knox Cunningham

Too late.

Mrs. Castle

—and he takes the view that, as negotiations are still continuing, there is no point in his intervening at this stage.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Why does my right hon. Friend take action against the lower-paid workers, but refuse to take action when I send her details of dozens of cases of company directors increasing their salaries consistently by as much as 50 per cent.? Why act only in the case of the nurses and the dustmen and not in the case of company directors?

Mrs. Castle

I do not know what action I am accused of taking with the dustmen. I thought that there was a slight difference of view between the two sides of the House as to what had happened in the case of the dustmen and the action taken there.

I am not reporting action in this case. I am telling the House that negotiations are continuing. In that situation it is totally wrong that unofficial action should take place. I think that the workers ought to get back to work to allow the negotiations to continue.

Mr. R. Carr

Will the right hon. Lady answer my second question? Is she satisfied that this union is publicly, and behind the scenes, taking positive action which is in tune with the undertaking that it gave to the Prime Minister last June?

Mrs. Castle

As I said in reply to the right hon. Gentleman initially, I urge the trade unions to advise their members to resume normal work. The union is officially engaged in negotiations. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the unofficial action is to be deplored and I hope that the trade unions concerned will join me in deploring it.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker


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