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Strike, London Docks

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 14 April 1949

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44.

asked the Minister of Labour to what extent he has exercised, or proposes to exercise, his statutory powers with a view to terminating the recent strike at the London docks, or in connection therewith.

The question of legal proceedings is under consideration.

As the law has been challenged and defied by officials of a powerful union, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that those officials will be brought to justice forthwith?

Is it not the duty of the Minister to enforce the law or relinquish power?

It is also the responsibility of the Minister to see that he says nothing to disturb the course of events as they are proceeding. The hon. Member has a right to ask the question and I have a right to decide on the terms of my answer.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information whether the position is any easier? I also understand that the lightermen, to their credit, refused the advice of their executive to join in the strike. Is it not a fact, therefore, that the advice of the executive was a direct incitement to their members to break the law?

I think the right hon. Gentleman might have given me a little notice about that latter point. It is very difficult to answer "off the bat." I do not know whether the circumstances are as stated or not and it is impossible to answer. As to the position at the moment, the situation this morning is somewhat confused. Some docks are working normally, while at others men are presenting themselves for work, but on changed conditions, not acceptable to employers. The meeting of stevedores, which started at 10.30 this morning, is still in progress and, in the circumstances, I am afraid I am not able to give any more accurate assessment of the position.

In view of the fact that the Easter Recess is coming on, and that we cannot question the Minister again until the House reassembles, can we have a further assurance that the food supplies of the country will in no way be held up during the Recess?

I can only confirm the assurance I gave the other day that it is the intention of the Government that food supplies and other necessary goods will be kept moving.

May I also say that the broadcast of the right hon. Gentleman last night was very acceptable?

As every single strike since the war, except the one at the Savoy, has been illegal and there have been only three prosecutions out of the thousands of disturbances of this kind, will the right hon. Gentleman see that no action likely to discriminate against these dockers is taken while we are in Recess, or at all, and will he consider discouraging the attempts coming from the other side of the House to abuse and threaten the dockers?

I can only answer that I will read the hon. Member's Question carefully when I see it in the OFFICIAL REPORT and, in making up my mind, will bear in mind the bias of the hon. Gentleman who asked it.

On a point of Order, is it in Order for an hon. Member, or a Minister of the House, to refer to another hon. Member's remark as biased?—[Interruption]—behave yourselves.

A Minister of the Crown—you behave yourself. Is it in Order for a Minister of the Crown particularly to refer to the remark of another hon. Gentleman as being biased and to say that when taking the question into consideration he will also remember his bias?

I should have thought there was nothing in the point of Order. From a party point of view, I suppose we are all slightly biased.

In view of that Ruling, may I be allowed to claim great credit for the bias I hold in favour of the dockers of Great Britain?

Is it in Order, Sir, for the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) to tell you to behave yourself?

I take it that the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) may have noticed that while my expression included the pronoun "you," my eyes were directed to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter).

May I ask whether the Minister is aware that the policy pursued by him in similar cases has led to this country having a better record in respect of strikes than any country in the world?

Is he also aware that the policy the Minister pursued in respect of the last dock strike is one of the instances which led the Prime Minister to move his next constituency a little further inland?

Later

May I ask for the indulgence of the House in order to make a statement?

I have just been informed that, at a meeting now in progress, the General Secretary of the Stevedores' Union has explained the illegality of the strike and has instructed the members to return to work to enable the Executive to give the 21 days' notice of a dispute, as required by the National Arbitration Board.

I am sure the whole House will be glad to hear that the Executive of the Stevedores' Union do now realise the illegality of their action and are taking steps to see that the law regarding industrial disputes, which has been of such great value to all parties, is upheld and obeyed.