Skip to main content

London Docks (Resumption Of Work)

Volume 467: debated on Friday 22 July 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

12.46 p.m.

I desire to make the following statement to the House.

The dock workers' meeting at Victoria Park has this morning decided on a full resumption of normal working on Monday morning next. I am getting into touch at once with the Emergency Committee as to the arrangements for resumption.

The House and the country will be glad to learn that the strike is over. The Opposition, as I hope I showed again this morning, has been prepared to support stern and unusual action where the Government have claimed the necessity for it. However, we could not disguise doubts, which were not confined to any political party, about the conduct of the Government at the beginning, when the information given and the light let into the difficulties was totally insufficient; and later the unfortunate disagreement between the Government and the Dock Labour Board added an element of confusion and indecision which was most unfortunate. Despite these profound doubts, however, we have endeavoured in every way not to hamper the chances of settlement, but we must reserve our right to a discussion of the matter should we think fit.

I am anxious at the moment to say this: there are many lessons to be learned from our experience of the past few weeks, and these must be learned by everyone, including the Government. We must ask for the greatest watchfulness, in the light of our experience, over other fields of industry where similar dangers may arise. At the moment, as we are so constantly told, our economy is precariously balanced and we cannot afford such losses as have been sustained owing to the strike. Therefore we feel that the call should go out to everyone to make up in the days that are now upon us, for the losses that have been sustained.

Finally I am sure the House would wish again to signify its gratitude to the Service personnel whose vigour, enthusiasm and characteristic cheerfulness demonstrated a combination of qualities which are truly worthy and which will long be remembered. In that spirit we hope everything that will be done in the next few weeks will not only make up for our losses but will demonstrate the determined spirit of everyone to do their utmost for this country in this difficult hour.

As one who has been associated with many strikes, unofficial and otherwise, and encouraged in all my doings by leaders of the Labour movement, I should like to say that, in the circumstances that exist, I am glad that this decision has been taken. However, I ask the Minister if he would not pay a tribute to the sterling character of the dockers, and if he can tell me of any body of men who would stand so firmly and so loyally against such a barrage from officials, the Government, the Press, the radio, and others. I think the dockers have shown characteristics in this event similar to the characteristics shown by them during the war.

I hope the House will forgive me if I say a word, and put a question to the Minister. First, I want to say that, while I like the emotion to which the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has given expression, I think when the whole story of this dispute is known, it will show what many of us have been saying for a long time—that wherever a Communist holds an official position in the trade union movement there is a constant spot of danger against which we have to be on guard. From that I would go on to say that there is a need in this country, either through a Government agency or through the trade union movement itself, to seek out these spots and expose them, so that the workers of this country cannot be deceived.

The question I want to put to the Minister is this. Is he satisfied that the action taken by the Government in repudiating the threat to terminate the Dock Labour Scheme did, in fact, save the country from widespread strikes in other ports?

When will the troops cease work? Will it be today or tomorrow? What is to be the future of the Maxwell Committee in the new circumstances?

I should like to answer that question first. That is in the hands of the Emergency Committee. We have at once contacted them to see that the necessary arrangements are made to resume the normal working of the port. The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) said he hoped we had learned the lesson of this dispute. I hope that my fellow-workers amongst the dockers will realise that their loyalty has been played upon. Nobody respects their loyalty to trade union traditions more than I do, having known them and lived near them and had dealings with them for so many years. I hope they will listen to their trade union leaders and not to outside people. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned thanks to the Service men. The Minister of Transport yesterday sent out a message to them, and I can give the assurance that at the proper moment that will more definitely be placed on record.

On a point of Order. In view of the statement made to us by the Home Secretary yesterday about the investigations that were made, and about the consultations with the Director of Public Prosecutions, and about the fact that there was no evidence of any kind of anything that could be charged against anyone, is it permissible for an hon. Member to get up and make such loose, unfounded charges in connection with the matter? May I further draw attention to the fact that the district that has the finest record for output of coal is a Scottish district under Communist leader, ship?

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, as a result of this very welcome announcement, the Emergency Regulations will lapse, or whether he will think it necessary to keep them in force to take any necessary steps as a result of the inquiries that have been made during the last few days?

I think the House will appreciate that we must really wait until Monday, and until we can see what is the effect of the decision, before we decide what other steps are necessary.