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Volume 480: debated on Tuesday 14 November 1950

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Industrial Disputes


asked the Minister of Labour whether, in view of recent and widespread industrial disputes in the nationalised industries and services, he will set up some form of inquiry to ascertain the cause or causes and suggest suitable remedies.

No, Sir. There have not been widespread disputes in the nationalised, or in the other, industries.

May I suggest an inquiry as to whether these disputes, of which there are many, are really due to Communist inspiration or whether they are just due to lack of leadership in the unions or lack of courage in the Government?

I would point out that 1950 had nearly the lowest number of strikes on record.

Would not such an inquiry show that the percentage of total time lost in the nationalised industries has actually decreased since they have been nationalised?

Is it not a fact that of the disputes which have occurred, more than two out of every, three have been in the nationalised industries, and is not that a clear indication that, far from public ownership improving the relationship between employers and employees, it has had the opposite effect?

The hon. Gentleman has made a statement as well as asked a question. He is quite wrong. The disputes in the nationalised industries are fewer now than they were before they were nationalised. Further, as the reflection is generally against the coal miners, the House may be interested to know that so far as the mines are concerned, less than one day per man per year is lost in strikes.

Is it not a fact that industrial disputes in the mining industry since nationalisation account for only 5 per cent. of the number of days lost, which is less than when the mines were under private enterprise?

Distributive Trade Workers (Pay)


asked the Minister of Labour if, in view of the resultant loss of pay, he will reconsider his recent ruling that people working in the distribution trade, who are paid under Wages Councils orders, should be entitled to an average minimum weekly rate of pay, and reinstate the minimum weekly rate of pay.

No, Sir. I am advised that the Wages Councils Act does not enable wages regulation orders to require wages to be paid at particular times and that, so long as the contract between the worker and the employer provides for the payment of not less than the statutory minimum remuneration, the provisions of the Act are satisfied. Any interpretation of the Act is of course subject to the authoritative ruling of the courts.

Will my right hon. Friend modify the terms of the Act so as to make rulings and interpretations of the Act by the courts unnecessary, and so that each employer and employee shall know, before the practice actually commences, what is expected of him in this direction?

It would be much more helpful if my hon. Friend made clear to me the points upon which he wants an answer.

Dockers, London (Welfare)


asked the Minister of Labour if he will make a statement concerning the inquiry conducted by his Department into the welfare conditions of the docks in the London area.

Many improvements in the welfare conditions have been made, particularly as regards sanitation and washing arrangements, and many more improvements are in hand. Steps have been taken to provide drinking fountains and improve the feeding facilities, and additional canteens are being provided. On the social and recreational side a recent improvement has been the provision of a recreation room near West India Dock Gate, with reading room and snack bar. Many improvements at wharves are also reported.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if we are to avoid trouble in this industry in future now is the time to remove some of the disabilities, particularly with regard to welfare? Is he also aware that the dock workers of London, at any rate, are demanding now that these industries shall be nationalised so that they can get what they could not get from private enterprise?

It is quite true that many of the conditions in the docks were very bad.

I agree that they still are, but it is only fair to say that the Port of London Authority, the Dock Labour Board and various employers are very cordially co-operating in trying to bring about an improvement.

Vacancies, Birmingham


asked the Minister of Labour what is the present number of unfilled vacancies in all trades, and in the building trade, respectively, at employment exchanges in Birmingham.

The number of unfilled vacancies in Birmingham at 25th October was 15,733, including 1,234 in the building industry.

In view of the very large number of vacancies outside the building trade, will my right hon. Friend see that all possible influence is used to get as many building trade workers into the building trade, and to see that the attractions of these other industries will not be allowed to cause a further dwindling of the building labour force?

I shall be glad to look at my hon. Friend's question. We are doing the best we can to encourage building workers to go into the area.

In view of the statement made by the Minister about exemptions, and the need for housing in the country, will he consider exempting from call-up young men, of whom there are 15,000 in one city alone, to enable them to carry out house building for the next three or four years instead of going into the Army?


asked the Minister of Labour the number of persons unemployed in Birmingham in October, 1938, and October, 1950, respectively; and the number of building trade workers unemployed during the same period.

The numbers at 17th October, 1938, and 16th October, 1950, were 34,758 and 2,227 respectively, including 2,870 and 211 in the building industry.

In view of the virtual non-existence of unemployment in the building trade, would not the Minister agree that these figures show that it is practically impossible to step up the building of houses in Birmingham? Will he consult with the Minister of Works to see what can be done?

The labour situation in the country is very difficult at the moment. Most of these vacancies in Birmingham are for skilled workers and, as a consequence, they bring about a great deal of unemployment among unskilled workers. The problem we have is to get more people in skilled trades. I am meeting representatives of the industry this afternoon to discuss the problem.

Civil Defence (Class Z Reservists)


asked the Minister of Labour when he will be able to give direction as to Class Z reservists being allowed to volunteer for Civil Defence duties.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) on 18th September, in which I pointed out that, as already announced, Z and equivalent reservists aged 40 and over may enrol for Civil Defence duties and that those between 30 and 40 may, with some exceptions, enrol for the more active branches of Civil Defence.

Is the Minister aware that a large number of these men would also like to serve in the special constabulary? Can he arrange with his colleague the Home Secretary that they should have that privilege?

I cannot arrange that. But if the hon. Gentleman will look at the very full Question put by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), which was fully answered and set out the whole facts, and also get a copy of the Civil Defence leaflet which is available, he will get all the particulars.

National Service Men (Call-Up)


asked the Minister of Labour whether he is now ready to make a statement regarding the position of National Service men who were due to enter universities and training colleges in October, 1951, but who will now be unable to do so owing to the recent extension of the period of service.

I would refer the hon. Member to my reply of 7th November to the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood). The arrangements cover training colleges as well as universities.


asked the Minister of Labour how many National Service men have had their call-up deferred since 1st January, 1950; what is the length of their period of deferment; and what proportion of these deferments were for educational reasons.

The number of deferments granted between 1st January, 1950, and 31st October, 1950, is approximately as follows: Apprentices, articled pupils, etc., 61,000; university students, 8,500; other students, 5,500; all other deferments (coalmining, agricultural workers. etc.), 26,000.

In the case of apprentices and university students, the period of deferment, subject to annual review, is until completion of training or studies, normally about three years. In the case of other students, deferment is for a short period only, usually to enable boys to stay on at school until the end of the school year in order to complete their studies or sit for an examination. In the case of industrial deferments, call-up is in general suspended so long as the man continues in that employment.