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Bakery Industry (Dispute)

Volume 721: debated on Thursday 25 November 1965

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(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he will make a statement on the dispute in the bakery industry which is threatening bread supplies over a wide area.

It has been decided to refer the claim by the Bakers Union to the National Board for Prices and Incomes. I am seeing the president and general secretary of the union later today.

What effect does the right hon. Gentleman expect from any recommendations of the Prices and Incomes Board? Will he be telling the unions when he sees them this afternoon that the Government expect the strike to be called off now that the dispute has been referred to the Board?

I have forestalled the right hon. Gentleman by 24 hours. I told them last night that the Government expected the strike to be called off, and I shall repeat it to them tonight. May I take this opportunity of saying that this is a completely unnecessary strike and that they now have the opportunity of having the merits of their case discussed fully before the Prices and Incomes Board—and there they ought to take it. I am not here disputing the merits or demerits of the case. They ought to take the case to the Board and let it be heard. I have promised them that it will be dealt with as a matter of great urgency.

The right hon. Gentleman says that it will be treated as a matter of great urgency. When does he expect the Board to give its views?

I think that we should expect that some time before the end of the year.

In the course of the present dispute there has been an assurance by the bakers that hospitals will not be deprived of their supplies. Is my right hon. Friend aware that a hospital in my constituency is in the situation that for tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday they will receive only 50 per cent. of their supplies? Is is doing anything to help in this situation?

I shall be bringing all these facts, which are being collated in respect of hospitals and canteens and the rest of it, to the notice of the trade union leaders this afternoon. I repeat: it is their duty to call off the strike.

Are not these strikes openly organised like a military action against housewives, a gross misuse of collective action?

I would not care to reply to that question. Whatever be the mistakes of the present time, let us at least concede that the Bakers' Union have had nearly half a century of peace.

Will my right hon. Friend remember, when an issue such as this arises, that there are two sides involved and that it would be helpful if matters of duty and responsibility were not laid always on one side? Secondly, in view of the difficulties would he not agree that the end of the year is not early enough to give as a date to men who have already been driven to strike?

Of course there are two sides to any dispute. Why I said, and I repeat, that the Bakers' Union ought to consider it a matter of duty to call off the strike is that their case may now be heard properly and reflected upon. While we are prepared to open the doors for that to be done they should agree to hold their hand for a short time and save all the unnecessary hardship which occurs. They can do nothing but gain in the long run. This is what I am trying to say.

Is the Minister aware that there are important principles involved in the action which has been taken? Is it not an industrial dispute which is continuing today and has not the Minister of Labour a statutory responsibility to deal with it? Is it correct that only an hour was spent last night in trying to deal with this problem in the usual way? Has he not now passed his statutory responsibilities over to the First Secretary and then to the Board for Prices and Incomes? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] These are very important principles. By referring to the Prices and Incomes Board what, in fact, is an industrial dispute, is he not responsible for a compulsory reference to arbitration, which was always so strongly challenged by himself and his hon. Friends?

The right hon. Gentleman has not got it right. I have not passed any statutory authority to the Prices and Incomes Board or to the First Secretary of State and the Department for Economic Affairs. But the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do—in fact better, because he was a long time at the Ministry—that under the Industrial Disputes Act one could offer a court of inquiry. That would be the normal course for arbitration. But the right hon. Gentleman would not allow a court of inquiry under the conditions with which I have been faced over the last week, when it was clearly said that there would be no negotiations with anybody until there was an interim award before any court of inquiry could start its work. In other words, it is said that there will be no calling of the strike off unless there is an interim award which, in effect, is about an 8½ per cent. increase. How can we use the powers vested in the Minister in respect of industrial disputes when we have that situation? We have never told the Bakers' Union that there was not another way open for them if they preferred it, but we could not act in that way with a pistol at our heads.

The right hon. Gentleman did not answer my first question. What effect does he expect any recommendation of the Prices and Incomes Board to have?

It is bad enough for an Englishman to be a prophet, but when a Welshman tries to become a prophet it is impossible.