§ 3.45 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT WOOLTON
My Lords, with your permission, I should like to read a statement which my right honourable friend, the Minister of Labour and National Service, is making at this moment in another place. He says:
"As the House knows, on the 16th April the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, the union which represents the bulk of the footplate men employed on the railways, announced their intention of calling their members out on strike as from the 1st May, in protest against the award of the Railway Staff National Tribunal which was announced the previous day. This award has the effect of confirming an agreement providing for general increases in rates, including increases for all footplate grades, which had been reached between the British Transport Commission and the National Union of Railwaymen, to apply from 10th January. It resulted, however, in a narrowing of the differentials for all footplate men arising from last November's award of the Tribunal. The sums involved are comparatively small (ranging from 1s. 6d. to 5s. 6d.), and the Society's case, as their representatives have made plain to me, is based not on any claim of hardship, but on their concern to prevent any shrinkage in existing differentials enjoyed by the footplate grades.
"The decision to strike involves throwing overboard the award of the industry's own Tribunal confirming an agreement to which the other union involved, namely the National Union of Railwaymen, is a party. That union has men in every grade concerned.
"In these circumstances I did not feel able to intervene. As the issue had already been before the industry's own Tribunal, I could not set up an independent body, such as a Court of Inquiry, to look into it. Nor could I invite the British Transport Commission to reconsider the footplate men's 616 rates, as this would involve jettisoning an agreement which the Commission had concluded with the National Union of Railwaymen and which had been confirmed by the Tribunal. I have seen the Chairman of the British Transport Commission, who takes the view that the agreement and award should stand.
"The Trades Union Congress, with which I have kept in close touch throughout, has been giving much consideration to the dispute. Their appropriate Committee has been in touch with the Society. I have this morning received a notification from the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, of a resolution in the following terms:'That the General Council'—of the T.U.C.—'ask the Minister of Labour to arrange a meeting of representatives of the British Transport Commission and the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, with the object of discussing the possibility of ending the present deadlock.'"In response to this request, and in view of the widespread unemployment and dislocation of our national economy which would result from a railway stoppage, I have thought it right to invite the Commission and the Society to take part in discussions at my Ministry during this afternoon. These discussions, of which I am quite unable to predict the outcome, are about to take place. I am sure that in these circumstances the House would not wish me to add to my statement at this stage."
I thought it would be convenient to your Lordships to hear that statement now.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, we are all much obliged to the noble Viscount for this statement. I would only say this: that ultimately this dispute must be settled as a result of discussions. How much better if it should be settled by discussions before a strike, rather than after a strike! I am sure we shall all join in wishing good luck to all sides concerned in the settlement of this problem as soon as possible.