§ Mr. Peter Rees
(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress made by his Department towards the settlement of the industrial dispute at the Shell refinery on the Isle of Grain.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Foot)
The Conciliation and Arbitration Service is continuing to do everything that it can to assist the company and the unions concerned to resolve this dispute. The service has, I understand, held a number of joint meetings at which possible solutions have been explored and remains closely in touch with all the parties. I can assure the hon. and learned Member that it will continue to make every effort to help reach a settlement.
§ Mr. Rees
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. However, I did not notice any great sense of urgency in it. Is he aware that the interruption of supplies of liquid gas threatens the livelihood of many poultry farmers in my constituency and throughout the South-East and that, if the dispute is not settled and supplies of butane are not resumed, the Hammill brick works will have to close on Monday and lay off its work force?
§ Mr. Foot
I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that there is no lack of a sense of urgency in wishing to see the dispute settled. The Department wishes to see it settled as speedily as possible, as I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman does. That is why the Conciliation and Arbitration Service has been working hard and will continue to do everything possible to secure a settlement of the dispute. I understand the feelings of the 754 hon. and learned Gentleman about the threat to employment in his constituency. That is a further reason why we are eager to see the dispute properly settled.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Is the Secretary of State aware that the refinery is being picketed by strikers, to the extent even of preventing food getting through for the canteens? This is bound to have a rapid effect on the production of the refinery—[Interruption.] There may be Government supporters who find this amusing, but people cannot work without food. Is this not yet another example of a tiny handful of men able to cause wide disruption across a whole sector of industry throwing hundreds and possibly thousands out of their jobs at short notice? What has the right hon. Gentleman to say about the impact of the social contract on this kind of dispute?
§ Mr. Foot
If I were to answer the right hon. Gentleman's second question in the way that he has invited me to do so, I should hardly assist in getting the dispute settled speedily, which is our paramount desire.
As for the social contract, the claims made in the dispute do not raise any question about the guidelines of the TUC on the social contract. That aspect of the matter does not enter into the dispute, which is one primarily between the company and the craftsmen.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a question about picketing. I think that it would be most unwise for me to comment on allegations made about the nature of the picketing.
§ Mr. Jenkin
The right hon. Gentleman said that the dispute was one between the company and the craftsmen. I understand that it is a dispute which arises out of a matter concerning differentials between the general workers and the craftsmen. I should have thought that this was a matter within the social contract and that it should be settled by peaceful means rather than by strikes, pickets and blockades.
§ Mr. Foot
I do not think that that kind of language is likely to produce a way to assist in getting the dispute settled, which is what we are primarily concerned to do. The issue in the dispute is primarily one between the craftsmen and the company. That is my 755 understanding of the position. For that reason, I do not think that the way in which the right hon. Gentleman states the matter in dispute is the best way to approach it. But if it is necessary to do so, let me underline the fact that, ever since the dispute arose, the Conciliation and Aribtration Service, which is an independent body, has done everything in its power to secure a settlement. That is what we wish to see. We wish to see a settlement come as speedily as possible.