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Bus Strike, London

Volume 478: debated on Thursday 14 September 1950

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On a point of order. May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a matter which I think is of great importance to all Members of the House? As you know, I endeavoured to ask the Minister of Labour a Private Notice Question on the London bus strike. Had you ruled on the question of urgent public importance, I should not be addressing you now, Sir, but I understand that your Ruling was that the Minister was not responsible because the dispute had not been referred to him under Order 1305, the National Arbitration Order. It is on that point that I wish to bring certain matters to your attention.

Apart from the mandatory duty imposed on the Minister under that Order to use conciliation machinery if a dispute is reported to him, the Minister of Labour, under the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, inherited the powers of the Board of Trade under the Conciliation Act, 1896. Under Section 2 of that Act, the Board of Trade had, and the Minister now has, the right and power to use steps of conciliation—first of all, to make inquiries into a dispute or difference; and secondly, to bring the parties together in a meeting.

My point is that when the House of Commons gives important powers to a Minister, then there is, of course, a duty on the part of the Minister, and a responsibility to this House, to use such powers if he thinks that the occasion is a proper one. Therefore, I respectfully put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that there is a right on the part of Members of this House to ask the Minister whether he has employed those powers, and if not, why not. He might have a perfectly good answer, but what I submit to you, Sir, is that at a time like this, when great numbers of the population of London are suffering great hardship and discomfort, it would really be derogatory to the dignity of Parliament if we did not know whether the steps and powers which we have entrusted to the Minister to exercise have been carried out.

I was anxious that you, Mr. Speaker, should have these points brought before you, because in an age of legislation by reference it is very difficult for the most acute minds to trace all these statutory provisions.

It is a somewhat long argument which I find it difficult to answer, but I am prepared to say that one must establish Ministerial responsibility. If in every unofficial strike there should be Private Notice Questions put down by right, well, I come from the North of England where we have many unofficial strikes in the mines, and I know it would never end. Therefore, there must be some discretion. It is not a legal matter on which I am prepared to give a Ruling at the present moment; that was the answer I gave. But I am quite prepared to say that it is in my discretion whether or not to allow a Private Notice Question, and having considered all the facts, and incidentally having heard them confirmed by what I heard on the wireless at one o'clock. I feel I was quite right in not allowing that Private Notice Question, on my own prerogative and on my own responsibility, which is mine, and mine alone.

As a London Member, may I ask whether it is not astonishing that the Government should not volunteer a statement on that subject when so many of the London travelling public are suffering such hardship?

I did not allow that Private Notice Question on my own responsibility, and any question on it must be an attack on me and on nobody else; and I cannot allow any further questions on this matter.