§ Mr. Godber
(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he will make a statement about the trade dispute of maintenance workers at the B.M.C. works, which is causing loss of employment to a large and increasing number of workers not directly connected with the dispute.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. R. J. Gunter)
I am in close touch with developments. Action by the Ministry would not be appropriate and I do not think that it would he helpful to say anything further at this stage.
§ Mr. Godber
I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's concern about this, that further discussions are taking place in the industry and that these should proceed. But would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this dispute is a serious disappointment and potentially disastrous both to industry and to our export trade, with which we are all concerned?
Will not he also agree that it would be serious to undermine the three-year agreement in the engineering industry? Is there machinery under that agreement for dealing with anomalies such as this that could be used? It is an official strike and, therefore, when the present discussions are completed I hope that he will not hesitate, if he thinks it helpful, to move in.
In particular, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the appointment of an independent arbitrator as being a way out of this difficult stoppage?
§ Mr. Gunter
It is because of the implications which the right hon. Gentleman has touched upon that I do not consider it appropriate, at the moment, for the Ministry to intervene. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the three-year agreement. There are implications in that which are serious in this dispute. As to his suggestion about an independent arbitrator, I would only say "One step enough, one step at a time". I would not care to answer that point fully at the moment.
As for the machinery within the three-year agreement, I would not venture any 35 observation at this stage, save to say that it would be possible, with a little patience, for the three-year agreement to work satisfactorily.
§ Mr. Chapman
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the 14 other unions involved have asked for a meeting to discuss this matter? This is in addition to the three unions involved in the immediate dispute. Does he agree that, after this meeting of all the unions and when they have fully examined the situation, and if they ask for his intervention, he may find it possible to intervene and help towards a solution?
§ Mr. Gunter
The Ministry would always be prepared to help. I hope that the 14 unions, which are not so closely identified with the dispute as the other three, will have a very successful conclusion to their talks.
§ Mr. Kershaw
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the country will be disappointed at this lack of action? Is he further aware that the Prime Minister has shown absolutely no interest in strikes since the General Election? Does not this show that the Prime Minister's public reaction before the election to industrial disputes was for party political purposes, with no regard for the national interest?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The House should remember the rules about Questions. Ministers are not to be asked to express opinions. That type of question is wholly out of order.