HL Deb 26 May 1966 vol 274 cc1490-3

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to make a Statement similar to that which my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour has just made in another place about the seamen's strike. I will use his own words, which are as follows: I have appointed a Court of Inquiry under the Industrial Courts Act 1919, with the following terms of reference: — 'To inquire into:

  1. 1. the immediate causes and circumstances of the present dispute between the shipowners and members of the National Union of Seamen;
  2. 2. terms and conditions of service of seamen, taking into account the 1491 national interest, technological change and the need for an efficient and competitive shipping industry;
  3. 3. relations between shipowners, officers and seamen;
  4. 4. the law, including the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, relevant to paragraphs 2 and 3 above; and to report.'
"Lord Pearson has agreed to serve as Chairman of the Inquiry. Other members are Mr. Hugh Clegg, of Nuffield College, Oxford; Mr. Stephen Brown, Vice-President of the Confederation of British Industry; Mr. J. O'Hagan, General Secretary of the National Union of Blastfurnacemen and Chairman of the General Council of the T.U.C.

"The Court will begin its work as soon as possible. Both the Employers and the Union have promised full cooperation. I have discussed with Lord Pearson the possibility of the Court making an Interim Report dealing with the immediate issues in the dispute. He will be considering this possibility with his colleagues as a matter of urgency.

"As the House knows, the Government's intention that there should be a full and searching inquiry into all the issues affecting this dispute has repeatedly been made clear to both sides. The appointment of this Court of Inquiry is a further demonstration of the Government's determination to help the two sides to reach a prompt and equitable solution of their differences and so put an end to the serious damage which the strike is causing."


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating this Statement to us. I am sure that all your Lordships will welcome very much the setting up of this Court of Inquiry to deal not only with the present distressing situation, but with the longer-term issues—the terms and conditions of service; relations between shipowners, officers and seamen, and the law governing these matters. I am sure we are all glad to hear that both the employers and the National Union of Seamen have pledged their full co-operation.

There is only one question that I should like to put to the noble Lord, and it is with regard to the making of an Interim Report. Do I take it that the Government have in mind that if it is found possible to make this Interim Report, then the Commission will sit more intensively than is normally the custom of Royal Commissions and will make their Report at the earliest possible moment? With this sole question, I am sure that your Lordships will all wish Lord Pearson and his colleagues Godspeed in their difficult and important task.


My Lords, I should like to echo what the noble Lord has just said. I am sure your Lordships will all welcome the setting up of this Committee under Lord Pearson. I may add that some of us find it extremely gratifying that the problems we put to the Government nearly thirty minutes ago have been so quickly settled and answered.


My Lords, after the speech that I have just made, I think I must say what clearly would be anticipated—namely, how profoundly thankful I am to hear both of the setting up of the Court of Inquiry and also of the terms of reference the Inquiry has been given, and to add my wish of God-speed to the outcome.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord for the Statement that has just been made, and for the comprehencive terms of reference. I should like to ask one question, and it is this. Did either of the parties to this dispute show opposition to the appointment of a Court of Inquiry prior to the outbreak of the dispute? If they did not show such opposition, why did the Government leave it until the dispute had actually started before appointing the Court?


My Lords, I should like to thank the House for the welcome that this Statement has received. The first question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, was as to the urgency with which this Court will be going about their task. Clearly, as the Statement says, on the immediate issue we shall want to get an interim statement as quickly as possible and an Interim Report from which we might be able to urge on the parties to the dispute an immediate acceptance. So far as the wide-ranging nature of the inquiry that they have to undertake is concerned, clearly this cannot be done in a hurry. This is a matter of great complexity. It has been going on, and the difficulties have been building up, to some extent, I suppose, since the Merchant Shipping Act 1894.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, said that we have acted with tremendous promptitude as a result of some remarks that he made earlier. We are always glad to accept his advice, and on this matter I will take unto myself some of the kudos which must naturally flow from the speed with which we acted on his advice. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his welcome.

I think it has been made clear throughout (this is in answer to my noble friend Lord Citrine) to all the parties that this Inquiry was to be set up. We hoped that both parties would realise this, and that any action such as the one from which the country is now suffering would not have taken place. We hope that this may be, to some extent, the answer to the problem which the industry on both sides has been facing. There is no more that I can say on it at the moment, except to pray with everybody else that we shall soon get an end to this disastrous dispute.