§ 3.39 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I will now, in reply to the Private Notice Question put down by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, read the Answer which my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour is now making in another place in reply to a similar Private Notice Question—namely, whether he has any statement to make about the threatened rail strike.
"The House will be aware that on the 29th January the National Union of Railwaymen gave notice to the British Transport Commission of a national strike of their members to take effect on the 15th February. The National Union of Railwaymen had previously asked the Commission for an immediate interim wage increase in advance of the Report of the Guillebaud Committee which has been studying railway wages in relation to those obtaining in other comparable employments; but the other two railway unions, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, wished to await the Report. In these circumstances the Commission felt itself unable to make an offer.
"During the past week the Trades Union Congress have been trying to resolve these differences between the National Union of Railwaymen and the other unions, but yesterday evening they decided that they could not render any further assistance. I, therefore, immediately invited the representatives of all three unions to talks at the Ministry this morning. I expect to see representatives of the British Transport Commission later to-day. I am bound to stress that this is a difficult and complex situation and I hope that I will not be pressed to say more to-day. I will of course keep 1128 the House fully informed of developments."
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am sure we are grateful to the noble Earl for having let us know what the right honourable gentleman, the Minister of Labour, is saying in another place on the very regrettable position in which we find ourselves to-day, with such a large threat to our employment, convenience and business. In view of what the right honourable gentleman has said, I feel that it would not be well to ask for any further assurances in this House until there has been a further announcement in another place; but I do ask Her Majesty's Government to bear in mind the sense of grievance from which the largest of the three unions concerned is suffering at the very long delay—fifteen months—since this matter was referred to the Guillebaud Committee. In view of the enormous upset that would result if what is threatened were to take place, even for a short period, I hope something can be done to come to a settlement on a much more urgent basis than would be the case if it were left to the operation of a strike.
§ LORD LAWSON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that the bulk of the people throughout the country have given their very deep sympathy to the railway men in this claim, and that there is a general feeling that fine points are being used in order to evade meeting a claim? Before I sit down I want to say, as one who has lived his life (and lives it now) in an industrial area, and who, like some of my friends here, has been"through the mill" in matters like this, that I have never known an industrial dispute which has given such concern to the people and raised such general feelings and for which there has been less reason than this present instance. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will convey to the noble Earl the Leader of the House and to the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister the view that it is time this dispute was settled, because we are getting into an atmosphere which is very dangerous in this area.