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Ship-Repairing Dispute, Liverpool

Volume 639: debated on Wednesday 3 May 1961

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Minister of Labour whether he will make a further statement on the Liverpool ship-repairing dispute.

On a point of order. In view of the importance of Question No. 41, and as we have heard today that this strike may well spread to many thousands of other people in Liverpool, I wonder whether the Minister of Labour could be allowed to make a statement on it?

If the Minister asks leave to answer the Question, I will deal with the matter, but I have not received any such request.

I am perfectly willing, Mr. Speaker, with your permission, to answer the hon. Gentleman's Question.

Representatives of the District Committee of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions met the Employers' Association on 27th April, but failed to reach agreement. The District Committee met yesterday and recommended its affiliated unions to withdraw all labour from Merseyside ship-repairing yards after Friday. My regional industrial relations officer is endeavouring to arrange an early joint meeting under his chairmanship.

I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for making that statement. In view of the very serious turn which has taken place, and as this strike has gone on for 14 weeks, will the Minister now consider referring it to the executive councils of the unions concerned, so that we may hope for arbitration at a very early date?

I am in some difficulty with this matter. I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that, if possible, the best thing would be to arrange a joint meeting. If that is not successful, then I will certainly consider other methods of dealing with the situation.

As the senior Member of Parliament for Liverpool, may I say that I am not at all satisfied with the manner in which the question of unemployment in Liverpool has been dealt with. We have had men out on strike for 16 weeks. If it takes 16 weeks to negotiate with able administrators of the House of Commons, I do not know how long it would take the ordinary individual to reach conciliation in this matter. In view of the loss of £800,000 to the dock-workers of Liverpool, and since the employers would not negotiate or see the men, may I ask what steps the Ministry of Labour proposes to take to bring matters to a satisfactory conclusion?

In view of the danger that the men at the dockside faced during the war, risking their lives, when many of them were injured and killed, do the shipowners of Liverpool think that an appropriate reward to the workers is to keep them out of work for 16 weeks and to let their families want? I do not think that they are aware of their moral obligations. I have represented the people of Liverpool for thirty-one-and-a-half years. Is it not time that something was done for these men? I want to know—[Laughter.] I am pleased to see hon. Members on the Government benches smiling, for whenever I meet them in the Lobby they have the most ugly faces. [Laughter.] It is pleasant to have a small diversion in the life of the House of Commons at times. When the Shipping Federation asks for a subsidy for a new liner for Liverpool, will the right hon. Gentleman say to the Government that it should not get it until it makes good the wages which have been lost by the men who have been out of employment?

I think that the whole House is aware of the passionate feeling which the hon. Gentleman has for the people of Merseyside, and for Liverpool in particular. I am grateful to him for his suggestions. I will certainly do all I can to help in this matter.