In opening this debate on the Hants and Dorset Omnibus Company dispute, I cannot hope that all I say will be uncontroversial, but I hope that no charge from this side of the Committee will be considered provocative. Above all, I hope that nothing that I shall say will be considered to be a wilful attack on the National Union of Railwaymen. Indeed, I want to set the remarks I make entirely in relation to two extracts from their official paper, "The Railway Review." Both of them are from fairly recent issues. The first, on 2nd February, 1951, said:
The larger the organisation, the more the less enlightened among us get lost in it and I feel that we count very little more than due paying members.
The second quotation is from the issue of one week later, when the paper said:
What has to he emphasised is that the problem is not fundamentally one of amalgamating the unions but of amalgamating the individual members of the unions, of bringing together in one union men and women who work together in one industry or service. Only in such a union is it possible for all who are railwaymen, or all who are agricultural workers, or all who are miners, or all who are local government employees, etc., freely and democratically to express their desires and views. It is the only type of organisation …
and I draw attention to this—
… that permits them to confer and decide collectively on their common problems and to act collectively in dealing with them.
I hope we shall bear in mind this sentence during this debate and also this, which follows:
Dispersed in different unions, those who work together are denied the possibility of joint decision and joint action.
Those two quotations cover all that I shall say.
I am afraid that we have to go back a number of years to see the origin of the troubles which have broken out so clearly in the Hants and Dorset bus dispute. The roots of the trouble go back to 1932 when the National Union of Railwaymen and the Transport and General Workers' Union made an agreement under which they divided between themselves the road passenger transport services. Some 10 companies were allocated to the National Union of Railwaymen. With two exceptions, the remainder came under the influence of the Transport and General Workers" Union. The test for the division was whether the ownership of a company was in the hands of a private road passenger undertaking or whether it was a subsidiary of a railway company.
At the moment I do not wish to enter into any discussion as to whether such an agreement between two unions to divide an industry between themselves is a good thing or a bad thing. Obviously that must, in the first issue, be a matter for the unions concerned to decide. It would be rash for anybody outside to try to form a judgment. But in the light of those two quotations from "The Railway Review," and the many other comments that we have seen by leaders of the trade union movement recently, it may be that in such decisions many dangers are involved, especially if it is true— as I hope it is— to say that the interests of the individual trade unionist are the real test of the union's worth. If an individual feels that in any union he cannot get his voice put forward and his grievances remedied, then that union is not fulfilling its function.
I would also say that when we think of the size of some of the modern unions, we must realise that it must take ability almost beyond the capability of man for anybody to fulfil properly the functions of general secretary. Equally, it would tax almost any group of men properly to form a national executive, when we consider all the varied interests and occupations which must be covered.
Leaving that aside, we come back to the true test of a union, which is that the individual must not suffer from any of the decisions made between unions: or that a minority, however small, which because of one of these decisions is attached to a major union, can feel that it has proper representation at headquarters and knows that its views are adequately expressed in the executive committee and at annual general meetings.
This is very true in the case of busmen attached to the National Union of Railwaymen. That union is some 420,000 strong, of which some 8,000 are busmen. That shows that they are a very small minority. With such a small minority it is difficult for them to become elected to any union office, either as a member of the executive committee or as a delegate to the annual general meeting.
In fact, to get elected they must get railway votes. I understand that, since 1945, only one busman has been elected to the executive committee, and he got in because he was able to secure railway votes. But he was the only one. Recently there was an examination for organisers for the National Union of Railwaymen. A busman passed the test very well. Of the five candidates for election he, I think— I would not put it any higher than to say that I think— would have become an organiser if it had been a question of worth. In fact, the railway members who passed the examination received about 20,000 votes and the busman received only 3,000.
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that, as a railway signalman, I passed an examination, and was the third highest out of 39 but got less than 3,000 votes? That is not unusual.
If it is not unusual, it makes my case even stronger. Since 1945 the busmen in the National Union of Railwaymen have made every effort, through their grade conferences, to bring their complaints to the notice of the annual general meetings. I am afraid that I must weary the Committee with the gist of resolutions which they have passed, because I think they will show how much these busmen wish to use the machinery of a powerful union like the N.U.R. in order to follow up their own case. In 1945, they passed this resolution:
That this Conference requests the National Executive Committee to have the Head Office Road Passenger Organiser in attendance at all conferences and negotiations
affecting the wages and conditions of busmen members.
In 1946, they passed another resolution:
That this conference deplores the method adopted by Head Office for the election of delegates to the Annual General Meeting whereby the possibility of Busmen being represented thereon is very remote.
In 1947, they passed this further resolution:
That this conference demands direct busman representation on all national bodies of our Union, and that the Rules of the Constitution be so amended as to provide such effective representation and the setting up of Area Councils on a national basis.
At that same conference in 1947 another resolution was passed:
That this conference urges the National Executive Committee to consider the appointment of bus worker members to Organiser's posts for dealing with Busmen's Negotiations.
It is not at all clear how the hon. and gallant Gentleman relates his remarks to the matter of a dispute, which, as I understand it, is the subject of the debate, and is a matter for which the Minister bears some responsibility. I cannot see how the Minister bears any responsibility on this question of the organisation of trade unions.
I apologise, Major Milner. I should have said that this really concerns the position of the National Bus Workers' Association, which was set up because of its failure to secure recognition from the National Union of Railwaymen, and consequent on that, its failure to secure recognition by the responsible Ministers through the omnibus industry. I have felt that it was necessary to take this course so that the Committee should understand why the National Bus Workers' Association was set up.
I apologise, Major Milner. I thought it was better to make my speech in this way, but. if you like, I can certainly bring the Ministers in now. I thought these matters were very relevant. I will only add that in 1949, 1950, and again in 1951, similar resolutions were passed.
During these five years, it was clear that these men, because of the action of the Minister of Labour, were not able to secure representation on the National Council for the Omnibus Industry. Within the N.U.R. the men were deprived of the full-time services of a permanent officer to assist them in their representations, and they were deprived of any representation with one exception on the Executive of the N.U.R.
They also made an alternative proposal that a joint committee should be set up by the Transport and General Workers' Union and the N.U.R. to form one body to meet the requirements of all busmen in this country. This too was turned down and it is in consequence that the National Bus Workers' Association was formed.
I will, indeed. This Council was set up by a previous Minister of Labour. It is true that it is a voluntary one, but the Minister is responsible in seeing that the terms agreed upon by his Ministry are carried out. That is the first charge. If he is a proper Minister of Labour his first responsibility is to see that the conciliation machinery set up under the auspices of his own Department actually works properly. That is his first charge, and it is no good the Minister pretending that he can just wash his hands and say that it has nothing to do with him.
I do not want to mislead either the hon. and gallant Gentleman or the Committee. Nor do I want to wash my hands of any legitimate responsibility which I have, but is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that I, as Minister of Labour, should interfere with the voluntary machinery agreed upon between employers and workpeople as to its constitution and as to how they shall set up their councils?
I am not saying that the Minister should interfere with that machinery. I am making a vital point in regard to the first charge against the Minister, and it is that he should see that the machinery set up by his Ministry is honoured and that it works.
I would ask the Committee to consider the constitution of the National Council for the Omnibus Industry. Article 6 states:
The Council shall consist of not more than 32 members, who shall he appointed, as to one half, by organisations of employers in the industry who have agreed to be party to this constitution, and, as to one half, by trade unions which have membership in the industry and have agreed to be party to this constitution.
It is quite clear that the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows very little about trade union organisation. When employers and workpeople get together to set up their machinery, and when they believe in voluntary machinery, they probably provide machinery for arbitration arrangements, and, if so, it is their business, and it is their business to see that their arbitration machinery works. If there is any failure of that machinery to work, they would then invite the Minister to give advice, but it is not for him to interfere with the setting up of their industrial organisations.
The Minister is now saying something in anticipation of my remarks. What I was saying was that, where he is a party to the setting up of machinery of this nature, it is his duty to see that it works well. I quite agree that he should not interfere unnecessarily, but we come now to the next point—
Would it not be better if the hon. and gallant Gentleman were to follow the terms of the Motion, which, as I understand it, deals with services connected with the Hants and Dorset Omnibus Company dispute? If he would state the facts of that dispute, and show how the Minister's responsibility arises, that would be a better way of dealing with the matter, rather than by introducing this question of organisation, on which it is very doubtful whether the Minister has any responsibility or not.
I must apologise again, Major Milner. I have been caught up in an argument with the Minister, who has anticipated something that I was going to say. The point is that the National Bus Workers' Association was set up after the failure of negotiations either through the N.U.R. or by asking for joint consultations with the T. and G.W.U., and that it is an Association which quickly secured 90 per cent. of the membership of the union in Dorset, and, therefore, they applied to the National Council for the Omnibus Industry for recognition under Article 6 of that Council's constitution. I think you will agree, Major Milner, that the terms of that Article of the constitution of the National Council for the Omnibus Industry are perfectly clear, showing that it is the duty of the National Council to recognise any union, which has membership within the road passenger transport industry.
I hope the Minister will not interrupt me on small points. The Association has applied for membership, and the matter is before the Registrar at the moment. The Association was founded only nine months ago, and its application is now before the Registrar, so that I think that interruption is unworthy of the Minister. The Association has done everything it could be secure recognition.
Now, perhaps, I may return to what I was saying. I do not want to be led astray again. This union, with 90 per cent. membership in Hants and Dorset. apply to the National Council for recognition. The Council refer the application to a sub-committee of the Bus Federation, which is composed of unions who already have recognition in one way or another— I am not certain how. The Bus Federation turned down the application. The union then applied to the Minister of Labour, who says that it has nothing to do with him. They then took the course of saying that there was a dispute between themselves and the management of the Company, because no recognition could be secured. Four matters have been referred to the Minister—
Let me finish this point. Four matters have been referred to the Minister as matters under dispute. He has accepted one and refused three. I ask him this simple question. If all that he has been saying is true that this union is not registered and all the rest of it—why did he accept representations from them as a matter under dispute?
I leave it to the Committee, Major Milner. We have heard all these remarks which have been made about the union and the statement that they may only make representations to the Minister if they are recognised. But the Minister recognised them once and refused them three times.
Then there are other matters which have been referred to the Minister. The Minister of Transport, also, is very much responsible, because under Section 93 of the Transport Act any alteration in schedules has to be reported to him and he has to be satisfied that those alterations are correct. If he is not satisfied, then under Section 122 of the same Act he may order an inquiry. I ask the Minister of Transport why, when the schedules which led to the recent dispute were received by him, he did not consider it necessary to use his powers and institute an inquiry.
Let us not think that this is a light matter. It is one of considerable importance. Recently employees in the road passenger transport industry were granted an increase of 7s. 6d. a week. Under the new schedules now being operated, the men in Hants and Dorset find that that 7s. 6d. a week has been obliterated, and in an extreme case they are losing 12s. 6d. a week in addition. Is that anything which hon. Members opposite feel is right under a trade union agreement?
Why did not the Minister of Transport inquire into the matter? We have many depots in which there is no representative of the N.U.R. In one case, the schedules at Winchester are referred to a member of the National Union of Railwaymen who comes from Poole, 30 miles away. What can he know about conditions in Winchester? [Interruption.]
I have taken the care to check up, and on many of the occasions when the representatives of some 40 men have been dealing with the interests of over 2,000, they have gone to see the management and they have never talked to anybody else whatever in the depôt. Again, why did not the Minister of Transport, when he knew of these facts, institute an inquiry to see that the rights of the people employed in his nationalised industry were properly protected?
I notice that hon. Members opposite are apt to say, "Here is a breakaway union. Here is the treatment that can be expected if people do this sort of thing." I ask those hon. Members to think again before they say that too loudly. Recently. there has been an example from the National Union of Public Employees,
who have 4,000 members in the electricity industry. I should like to read three sentences from the Executive Council's recommendations, because they form a guide, I suppose, to what has happened in the present dispute:
That over 4,000 trade unionists in the nationalised undertaking should be humiliated, victimised and denied the right to have any say in matters affecting their wages and their working lives appeared to be of no concern to the Trades Union Congress General Council.
I shall not weary the Committee with the other remarks in the same vein, but the Report finishes up—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who is saying this?"]—the Executive Council in the Report of the 37th National Conference of the N.U.P.E. This, again, is relevant to the position of the Minister of Transport in the dispute. The Report goes on to say:
To our members it was apparent that the Unions that had grabbed the Trade Union Side seats were thwarting the intentions of the 1947 Electricity Act and preventing the Electricity Authority from exercising the powers and duties which Parliament had conferred upon it.
That is another union which, it cannot be claimed, is a breakaway union; but as with the National Bus Workers' Association, they are unable to get any remedy through their Minister the Minister of Fuel and Power. These people of whom I am speaking have had no chance of getting a remedy through the Minister of Transport. Their case has simply been dismissed, and they have been left without any remedy whatever. That is something which hon. Members opposite should bear in mind when they consider all these facts.
I come now to a meeting that six Members of Parliament—four Conservative and two Labour—had with the Minister in his room during the time of the strike. I am glad to see that the hon. Members for Southampton, Itchen (M. Morley) and Southampton, Test (Dr. King) are present, because if I say anything wrong they can correct me. At the end of that meeting an agreed communique was issued between the Minister and the Members. Here is the vital passage in it:
As a result of the meeting, Mr. Roberts stated that if the men would return to work, he would advise the Schedule Committee of the Hants and Dorset Bus Company to receive representations from any of the men affected and that he trusted that through such representations any grievance felt by employees of the Hants and Dorset Company would be remedied.
I hope hon. Members will notice the phrase "any of the men." As I understood it, and I hope I shall be corrected by the two hon. Members for Southampton if I am wrong, that phrase meant that two or three of the men in any one depot could go together to see the Schedules Committee. That is what I understood to be the Minister's undertaking. That was turned down flatly by the Company, and the Minister has since tried to make out that that phrase "any of the men" merely meant that any one man could make his own private representation.
I charge the Minister with not being frank at the meeting or keeping to the undertaking that he gave in order to remedy that strike and which we as a joint body, Labour and Conservative M.P.s, passed on to the men in all good faith as a means whereby they could get their injustices remedied. [Interruption.] I have given the facts.
I leave the Committee to judge.
There is only one other statement which I would bring forward. Do not let hon. Members opposite think that this dispute is something in which local trade union opinion is against the National Bus Workers' Association. At a recent meeting of the Southampton Trades Council, the National Union of Railwaymen tried to pass a vote of censure on the National Bus Workers' Association. That vote of censure was opposed by the Transport and General Workers' Union, the E.T.U. and the A.E.U. Perhaps the most illuminating remark was made by a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union who said:
Both the mover and the seconder work at the docks, and cannot claim to be authorities on things concerning bus drivers and conductors. It is not fair to say that, just because a person has been in a union for two years, he is, or must be, satisfied with what he is getting from that union.
We feel that real harm is being done to trade unionism by Ministers who are not prepared to stand for three simple things—the fundamental rights of a trade unionist, the fundamental rights of a man to join a union which he thinks will best serve his purpose—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about 1926?"] In the Minister of
Transport we have a man who has shown his inability in a public concern, of which he is the political head, to see that men receive proper treatment and proper consideration.
As to the Minister of Labour, we cannot feel that he has acted either as a Minister, in the sense of his wide duties regarding the necessity of seeing that conciliatory machinery is properly used, or that he has stood by the terms of a communiqué issued with his full authority. We feel that great issues are at stake, and that where matters like these arise justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. Trade unions have a great part to play in the life of this country, as hon. Members in all parts of the Committee know, but that will not happen if one small union is sacrificed to one which is stronger, or if we have a Minister of Labour or Transport who will not see that justice is truly and properly done.
The men affected by the dispute we are supposed to be discussing—we heard very little about the dispute from the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre)—were all employed by the Hants and Dorset Bus Company. That company formed a part of the Tilling group, and over a year ago the shares of that group were purchased on behalf of the nation. But though those shares were so purchased, the Hants and Dorset Bus Company has not yet been integrated into the National Transport system. Indeed, to all intents and purposes, the company is still a private company, and its administrators today are exactly the same men who administered it when it was under full private ownership.
Surely the hon. Gentleman must know that the administrators are now under the direction of the Transport Commission and must obey their orders in every respect.
Yes. but they are exactly the same people who administered the concern when it was still a private company.
The bus industry is a new industry. Forty years ago there were very few buses carrying passengers on the roads of this country, and until quite recently the industry, from a trade union point of view, was very badly organised. Very few bus drivers or conductors were members of any trade union. In fact, a considerable number of private bus companies did all they could at that time to discourage their men from becoming members of a union, and most of the men were afraid to join a union for fear of possible victimisation.
It was not until just before the Second World War that any real attempt was made to organise the bus workers of this country on any considerable scale. The two unions who made that attempt were the Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Union of Railwaymen. In the course of their organising activities they came to an agreement that the National Union of Railwaymen should organise the men employed by those bus companies in which the railways held a large number of shares, and that the Transport and General Workers' Union should organise the men in the other companies.
That seems to me to have been a very fair and reasonable arrangement. It prevented overlapping and rivalry between two great unions. In any case, those were the only two unions at that time which were attempting to organise bus workers. They were both large and powerful unions who were able to give full protection to such workers as joined them. Actually, so far as the Hants and Dorset Bus Company is concerned, real trade unionism did not start in it until the years 1940 and 1941. The man who organised the majority of the workers in the company was Mr. Figgins, who was than an organiser for the National Union of Railwaymen.
Will my hon. Friend allow me to make a slight correction? The first man to organise the men in that company was a Mr. Platt who was dismissed by the company for his activities.
But the man who effectively organised the men in that company in the years 1940 and 1941 was Mr. Figgins who was then the General Organiser and not the General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen. Of course, during the war years a large number of bus drivers and conductors employed by that company were engaged on active service. When they returned to civil employment, they all joined the National Union of Railwaymen, and for some years up to last year were enthusiastic members of that union.
The men who are now members of the National Bus Workers' Association were for six years very keen members of the National Union of Railwaymen. Indeed, it was those men who negotiated an agreement with the company that the only union to be recognised for purposes of negotiation on behalf of its employees should be the National Union of Railwaymen. I am personally acquainted with most of the local union leaders employed by the Hants and Dorset Bus Company. For the most part they are young, able and enthusiastic men. They threw themselves very eagerly into the work of the National Union of Railwaymen. They had a somewhat difficult task because some of them were new to the trade union movement and expected results to be obtained more quickly than in fact occurred.
There is no doubt that for the first five or six years after the war these men were enthusiastic members of the National Union of Railwaymen. Then certain doubts began to creep in. They began to assert that the National Union of Railwaymen was more concerned with looking after the interests of railwaymen than with those of busmen, although it must be stated that at the time this was being said there was a busman on the Executive Committee of the Union.
There was a busman on the Executive Committee of the National Union of Railwaymen in 1947 and 1948, and he was not, as the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest said, the only busman who had ever served on the Executive of that Union. A busman had been elected to its National Executive before him. In fact, he succeeded that busman who had been on the National Executive of the N.U.R. because that particular busman had been given an organising job inside that Union.
The man elected was elected with a large majority, and a large number of railwaymen voted for his election to the Executive Committee of the N.U.R. In addition, the N.U.R. had two organisers whose concern was the interests of the busmen. This second busman was a Mr. Baker, and it appears that Mr. Baker, who was a member of the Executive of the N.U.R. was intriguing behind the backs of that Executive, without the knowledge of the members of the Executive, to form a breakaway organisation—the National Busworkers' Association. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member approves conduct like that.
He was a member of the Union while the National Bus Association was being formed. He was instrumental in forming this National Bus Association whilst he was still a member of the Executive Committee of the National Union of Railwaymen. The hon. and gallant Member had a very distinguished Army career and rose to the rank of a full colonel. I wonder what he would have thought if, when he was in command of a unit, his adjutant had made arrangements to take a platoon over to the enemy. That would not be in the best traditions of the Marines.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he has made this charge against this man saying that he was a member of the National Executive of a great union and at the same time was planning to form a breakaway union. Will he please give us proof of that statement?
I have not brought with me for the purpose of this debate the particulars of the dates and times, but if my hon. Friend is fortunate enough to be called he will furnish the hon. and gallent Member with all the dates necessary to confirm the statement I have just made.
The men concerned made the mistake of breaking away from the National Union of Railwaymen and forming themselves into a new organisation. In doing that, of course, they put themselves in the wrong entirely with the whole trade union movement of this country. The trade union movement is very strongly opposed indeed to breakaway organisations, for very clear and obvious reasons. If every section of a trade union which has a grievance breaks away and forms a separate trade union the movement will be split up into warring factions. They will be more concerned with fighting one another than with obtaining improvement in the wages and conditions of their members. In those circumstances it would be impossible to set up proper negotiating machinery.
One could not have a negotiating body on one side of which there would be representatives of employers all united on the course of action they wished to pursue, and on the other side a number of different trade unions representing the industry but more concerned with scoring points over one another in the course of the negotiations and defending specific claims than with improving the conditions of their men.
Apart from that, the wages of busmen are decided by national negotiation. They are determined by the National Bus Council, and this breakaway organisation has no representation on that Council. As it comprises only about 5,000 members at the most out of over 100.000 bus workers in this country, it is not very likely that it would be given recognition by the National Bus Council. As the integration of our transport system proceeds, the railway system and the bus system will become more closely integrated and the fortunes of railwaymen and of busmen will be more and more closely knit together. They will rise and fall together. What will affect the fortunes of the railwaymen will affect the fortunes of busmen. Therefore, it seems to me there is a very strong argument for one union comprising both railwaymen and busmen.
So far as I was personally concerned, and as far as my colleague in the representation of Southampton my hon. Friend the Member for the Test Division (Dr. King) dispute we did not take sides as between the National Union of Railwaymen and the National Busmen's Association. But of course we were extremely anxious to bring this dispute to an end as rapidly as possible, because the dispute was causing extreme inconvenience to the general public of Southampton and the surrounding districts, and especially to working-class people who were unable to get to and from their work. It was also lowering the takings of the shop-keepers in the district.
Without taking sides between the Union and the Association we did our best to see if we could not find some means of getting the men back to work on terms which would be satisfactory to them. First of all, we saw officials of the Hants and Dorset Bus Company and suggested to them that they should receive a deputation from the men on strike— a deputation not representing the breakaway union but representing the men as individual strikers. The Hants and Dorset Bus Company's administration refused to accept that idea.
Then we applied to the Minister and asked if he would see us. He arranged a day and time upon which he would do so. When that day and time arrived we found, somewhat to our surprise, that present at the interview in addition to my hon. Friend and myself were a number of Conservative Members of Parliament who, having heard of this interview, had come to join us.
The hon. Member can speak later on. [An HON. MEMBER: "If he catches the bus."] As a result of our interview the Minister stated that if the men would return to work he would advise the Schedule Committee of the Hants and Dorset Company to receive representations from any of the men affected. He trusted that by such representations any grievances felt by the employees of the company would be remedied. The Members of Parliament thanked the Minister and hoped the men would accept that offer.
This offer was telephoned to the men concerned who were holding a meeting, and they accepted the offer as being sufficient on which they could return to work with a reasonable prospect that their grievances would be dealt with. I do not think the Minister could have made a better offer than that. I think it would have been quite impossible for the Minister to have made an offer which implied the recognition of this breakaway union as the negotiating body. If he had made an offer of that kind he would have had the whole of the trade union movement throughout the country against him. No Minister of Labour, whether a Conservative or a Labour Minister, who upset the whole of the trade union movement of this country would hold his office very long.
It is true, as the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest said, that we did understand from what the Minister said that it would not be a case of one man going to see the Schedules Committee of the bus company but two or three men could go together or even, if necessary, half a dozen men, so long as they went as individual employees of the bus company and not as representatives of this new breakaway organisation.
I should like to know from the Minister— because this is very important—if he still stands by that assurance which he gave us on the occasion of that interview. If he does still stand by that assurance there is no reason why the men should not go in twos and threes, as employees and not as members of any trade union, and discuss their grievances about the schedules. That was the assurance given to us by the Minister and that is how we all interpreted it at the time. So long as the union is not recognised as a negotiating body there can surely be no harm in two or three men going and seeing the Schedules Committee of the Hants and Dorset Bus Company.
They would go to report about their grievances concerning the schedules. Of course, I do not know what will be the future of this dispute. I should imagine, and the advice that I would give to the men concerned would be. that they should return to the membership of the National Union of Railwaymen, having received a guarantee beforehand from the National Union of Railwaymen that a bus section within that union would be set up with a fair degree of autonomy. If they do not do that it means that they will go on trying to add to their membership and incurring the hostility of the trade union movement throughout the country. Perhaps it will be years before they will have sufficient membership to justify having any seat upon the National Bus Council or upon any negotiating or representative body.
I must say that the freedom of trade unionism seems to have gathered some very strange and unusual champions here this afternoon. The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest supported the freedom of trade union action, and he belongs to the party which passed the Trades Dispute Act, 1927, which tried to cripple the freedom of trade union action as much as possible and forbade trade union members in the Civil Service to join the T.U.C. even if a majority of the members desired to do so.
I realise that hon. Members opposite are ready to use any stick to beat the Government or to weaken the trade union movement, and they believe this dispute provides a good opportunity for them to do so. I should imagine, however, that when the bus workers of Hampshire read the report of this evening's debate in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow they will say to themselves:
… I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.
Recognition of the trade union movement in this country was won through years of intensive effort. I imagine that after the Minister has replied this evening hon. Members opposite will find that the stick which they thought they could use against him has been applied to their own backs.
I hope that the Minister will stand by his statement which he made at that interview and will so offer a method, temporarily at least, of finishing this dispute, and of bringing about circumstances which will allow the men to return to the National Union of Railwaymen and again to be active members of that union as they were in years past.
The hon. Member for the Itchen Division of Southampton (Mr. Morley) drew a poor sort of picture when he spoke of the breakaway union and asked how we could put up with that sort of thing, with a lot of unions all over the place. The National Union of Railwaymen is a railway union, and these busmen want to have a union of their own.
If it were intended to start a breakaway union of railwaymen I could understand the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but since they want to start a union for busmen I cannot see the relevance of his remarks.
The hon. Gentleman also asserted that we on this side of the Committee are showing a strange interest in trade unionism. It may interest him to know how I became involved in this question. The reason was that the strikers in three depots invited me, through the Labour agent in my constituency, to go and see them. Having failed to get any help from their own union, they turned to their local Member of Parliament because they thought they would get more justice.
I want to confine my remarks to the narrow question of the dispute. I do not want to go into the whole history of trade unionism. I was brought into this at the request of the men themselves. I attended a mass meeting held by three depots and discussed the matter with them. I made it clear that I was not there as a politician. I was there as the Member of Parliament for the division in which this is the only operating bus company, and naturally when there is a dispute like this causing a great deal of distress and hardship to my constituents it is my business to do my best to see whether this dispute can be brought to an end. That was my only aim. There was no question of breaking up the union. I did not discuss with them the question of the breakaway union. I discussed how we should get them back to work and the buses on the road again.
I discussed it with them—they were extremely grateful for the opportunity—and it was agreed that I should go to see the assistant general manager in Bournemouth. Here I would cross swords with the hon. Member for Itchen; my experience was entirely different from his. The assistant manager was quite willing that his officials should meet informally representatives of the bus workers. I went back again to see the executive committee of the workers. They were quite agreeable to that suggestion, but said they must first call a bigger meeting of more depots. To them, however, that seemed a way in which they could get the men to go back to work.
Of course, at the bottom of the whole dispute, quite apart from this business of a breakaway union, is the question of their being able to explain their attitude to the company as they did, they said, in the old days before they had any trade union. They were then able to deal direct with the managers and get their grievances attended to.
That is the history; I know it personally. Hon. Members opposite are jeering because they think I am talking against trade unionism. I am not. I am in favour of trade unionism.
After that, arrangements were made, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Itchen. Other hon. Members also talked to the men on the same lines. It was, of course, the only reasonable way of getting the men to go back to work. After that, we met the Minister, who was very sympathetic and tried to help. He made suggestions himself. He said, "I will instruct my representatives in Winchester to suggest to the schedules committee of the company not to have too much red tape, but to see these fellows if they come in two or three at a time, and if the men talk about other routes in the schedules with which they are not personally concerned, I will suggest that the company should not turn them down."
Then came the telegram which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre} has read, and eventually the men went back to work. They never met a schedules committee because there is no schedules committee of the bus company. What happens is that any man in a depôt. has the right to go to see the superintendent of that depot and voice any grievance he may have. The men have not gone on strike again at the moment. As my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, these schedules cut down their earning power. As they put it to me, "The bus company officials have had instructions from above that they must cut down expenses." The men say that the officials started by cutting down their pay—not cutting down their basic pay but cutting down their chances of getting overtime.
The reason why the men are now working the schedules is that they are able to get their overtime, even on these schedules. That is principally because at least 200 men left the bus company as a result of the strike and went to earn higher wages in surrounding industries. Moreover, the summer services are now operating. It has been suggested that the men will come out again on strike in the winter, when the summer services are ended, but I am told that the great difficulty of getting platform staff will continue and that there will still be the opportunity to work overtime.
As I see it, it is the duty of the Minister of Labour, whatever the rules and regulations may be, to leave no stone unturned to see that the grievance of these men is properly heard. It is no good going through these lengthy channels and introducing the question of breakaway unions. Somehow he must get down to the reasons for this dispute. Here we have 2,000 men or thereabouts who are dissatisfied. There is no doubt about that; they are obviously dissatisfied and unhappy. I have heard from both sides —from men who have remained in the National Union of Railwaymen and from men who have joined the Bus Workers' Association, and they have all said that they fear persecution from one side or the other. They both make the same accusations. It is clear to me that they are really unhappy and anxious.
I cannot dismiss from my mind a feeling that the Minister, with all his resources and all his anxieties to put an end to this sort of dispute, must be able to find a way to deal with it. There is no doubt that this sort of dispute will arise in other parts of the country. Indeed, it already has arisen. There must be some way in which, if the Minister puts his mind to it and employs all his resources, he can find out the cause of the trouble. When one knows the cause one is able to find some way of overcoming the problem.
Perhaps I can epitomise the men's feeling in a remark made to me by the secretary of one of the depôts. He said, "You know, Sir, I still believe in nationalisation as told to me. But the present set-up is no good to the worker." He said that to me after I had had my discussion with them. That is what they are feeling and why they are unhappy. The men do not want to strike; there was no viciousness about them; they were only too anxious to accept any sort of solution I might suggest as being possible. The public, too. suffered a great deal as a result of the dispute, for all the transport in my constituency stopped when the men went on strike. The men were only too willing to give me an assurance while the strike continued that they would end those stupid practices of picketting in which one man has already lost his life.
I want to make it quite clear that the men are not vicious; they want to get on with their job. The Minister is the only person to whom they can appeal now. They have no intermediary; there is nobody near at hand to whom they can appeal, and it seems to me that that is where the responsibility lies. From the Minister's sympathetic attitude when we saw him, I feel confident that if he puts his mind to it he will find a solution to this difficulty.
If the creators of the modern trade union movement, with all the difficulties they had, were to rise in their graves and see the new champions of trade unionism advocating breakaway unions in the House they would not be amazed. When I saw this subject down for discussion I wondered whether the Conservative Central Office had had anything to do with it. At the present moment, evidence about that is staring me in the face.
May I say, to begin my remarks, that the N.U.R. constitution has contained these words ever since 1930:
The objects of the union shall be to secure the complete organisation of all workers employed on or in connection with any railway or transport undertaking in which any railway company has a financial interest in Great Britain or Eire.
When the hon. and gallant Member for Poole (Major Wheatley) says that the N.U.R. is purely a railway organisation, it seems that he does not understand the situation in which he has taken an interest. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) made a very sound point a moment ago in his suggestion when he suggested that every Member taking part in the debate ought to declare his interest. I do so willingly. I have been— and still am—a member of the National Union of Railwaymen.
For a number of years in my spare moments I attempted to organise some of the unorganised bus workers of this country, against very much hostility on the part of the employers. Indeed. I have recollections of attempting to organise the unorganised bus workers into the National Union of Railwaymen because the bus company concerned was one in which the railway company had a financial interest and the men were eligible for membership.
Therefore, I suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that he is quite wrong when he suggests that the N.U.R. has not had a busman for a long period within its membership. If the argument which the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) sought to advance is that it is only busmen who understand bus conditions, I wonder how he, who probably has never seen a bus except as a passenger, dares to come here and talk about busmen's conditions.
He went on to say that there is only one busman who has ever been on the Executive of the N.U.R. That is quite untrue. In the last three or four years there have been two. One of the prime movers in this Hants and Dorset Company dispute was one. He replaced the bus driver who had been elected an organiser by ballot vote of the whole of the membership of this Union. How then can it be argued that the bus workers of this country have not had representation on the Executive Committee and at the annual general meeting? The annual general meeting is meeting at the present moment in a town not far away. It will be found that a number of bus workers are in fact representing their bus areas at that annual conference.
I was rather amused at the reference of the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest to grade conferences. These grade conferences had been sanctioned by the Executive of the N.U.R. How, therefore, can it be argued that the bus workers inside this union were not being given reasonable representation when the actual conference at which the resolution which he quotes was passed and actually sanctioned and in part paid for by the central funds of the organisation.
What I am pointing out to the hon. and gallant Gentleman is that this annual conference at which the resolution was passed was a conference of busmen inside the N.U.R., sanctioned by and paid for in part by the contributions of the ordinary workers. Indeed, we have a large number of grade conferences, but the final arbitrator as to whether the resolutions are in the general interest of the membership of the Union is left to the Executive. I have taken part, as have many other hon. Members on this side, in grade conferences in other cases. I was a railway signalman and attended and took part in the signalmen's conferences. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) represented the passenger guards. We did not vote for a separate organisation because every resolution passed by these grade conferences was not immediately implemented by the Executive Committee. All this shows the complete lack of knowledge of the hon. and gallant Gentleman of trade union work.
He then went on to talk about the National Bus Council. What he did not say was that the Bus Federation, which is the employees' side of the National Bus Council, has upon it representing the N.U.R. two working busmen, one of whom was the main leader of this breakaway union, elected by the whole of the membership. Indeed, the gentleman referred to actually represented me on the Executive Committee because I happen to be a member in the district for which he was elected. He and another bus driver from the north of England actually represented the N.U.R. on the Bus Federation. How, therefore, can it be argued that bus men were not given a fair opportunity?
Let me come to a most important point on which the hon. and gallant Member sought information. My hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) said that the gentleman who is now the general secretary of the new bus workers' association actually took part in the formation of this breakaway union while he was still a member of the N.U.R. Executive. On the 25th of September, 1950, on the information of a letter written by the gentleman himself within the last two or three days, the National Bus Workers' Association was formed. On 30th September that gentleman wrote a letter to the General Secretary of the N.U.R. intimating that he desired to resign from the Executive Committee. The letter, which was submitted to the Executive, was dated 30th September, five days after, on his own admission, the National Bus Workers Association was formed.
But even that is not all the story. As a result of information received by the Executive Committee that the gentleman referred to had resigned some eight days before the information was received, that he was responsible primarily for the organisation of this new union, the General Secretary, on 9th October, wrote to Mr. Baker— there is no reason to hide his name; he has misled too many people in Hampshire to hide his name at this stage— telling him that information had come to hand suggesting that he was the prime mover in setting up a rival organisation to enrol bus workers. He was asked to give an assurance that his activities would cease.
The Executive met on 14th October and no reply had been received from Mr. Baker. They then decided to suspend him from office, and asked him to appear before the Executive Committee on 18th October to give reasons why he should not be expelled from the Union. On 17th October, 22 days after the formation of the Union, a letter was written by this gentleman to the General Secretary intimating he was no longer a member of the N.U.R. In other words, he resigned from the membership 22 days after he took an active part in forming the organisation, which attempted immediately to wean members from the N.U.R. He would have been paid up to the 30th September for any work he did. There is no doubt that this gentleman was actively associated with the formation of this breakaway Union at least five days, if not earlier, before he left the Executive Committee.
Is the hon. Member aware that there are still 18 or 20 N.U.R. men in the bus undertaking with a dual membership? They do not seem to find it incompatible with their duty to the N.U.R. to belong also to the National Bus Workers' Union.
They were not members of the National Executive, and for the information of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the membership of the N.U.R. in the Hants and Dorset Company on 16th June was substantially in excess of the figure he has mentioned now. I can give him the figures, if he cares to have them.
Let me turn to something else. The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest had something to say about schedules. I wonder if he knows what a schedule is. He alleges that the new schedule would reduce the wages of the workers of the Hants and Dorset Company by 7s. 6d. per week. What did the schedule seek to do? It sought to include in the daily working time of the drivers and conductors of the Hants and Dorset Bus Company work which had formerly been paid for at overtime rates. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] All right, I will prove it.
What the Hants and Dorset Bus Company sought to do was what hon. Gentlemen opposite have frequently thrown across the Floor of the House, namely, to increase the efficiency of their industry. According to the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends, the men complained that the new schedule sought to rob them of over time which they had formerly worked. In other words, the new schedule sought to incorporate in the daily work that which had previously been paid for at overtime rates. The company were seeking to make themselves more efficient by getting a greater proportion of the working time out of the men, rather than allow so much standing at bus terminus. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite object to that, providing that it is within reason and that a reasonable time is allowed?
The hon. Gentleman talks about schedules. Is he aware that, taking the Lymington schedule, a bus on a busy route may be asked to make a turn-round in one minute.
I will give the hon. and gallant Member the figures for Lymington. Under the old arrangement, drivers were asked to work 46 hours 28 minutes per week, on an average, for which they were paid in respect of 50 hours, 31 minutes. Under the new Schedules they would work 46 hours, 31 minutes per week, for which they would be paid as for 50 hours, 31 minutes. I will concede the point that we might find one particular duty in this Schedule which reduces the wages further but, taking the whole of the drivers schedule at Lymington they simply lost the difference between £6 14c. 4.1. and £6 13s. 9d. on an average. If the details are wanted for conductors they are: from 46.37 to 40.31 and 50.31 to 50.27, or a reduction from £6 8s. to £6 7s. 5d.
By 7s. 6d. I wish the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not mix wages, dates and earnings. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are fond, in their propaganda in the country, of talking about wages and earnings being different. Let us stick to that point tonight. We are talking about the wages which the bus workers received on an average from the schedule of duties which they are called upon to undertake and to which they said they objected. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants any other data I can give it to him. I have it all here.
The hon. and gallant Member for Poole argued that this trade union—and the National Bus Workers Association made no bones about it at all—were out for their members to obtain all the overtime pay they could outside the schedule. In other words, they wanted as little duty as possible put in the schedule and the remainder of the work paid for as overtime.
I am not complaining about the schedule; I am only telling what the men's grievance was. The way they spoke about it was that they are losing their overtime, and they also said that they were losing the 7s. 6d. which had been granted to them. They said that the 7s. 6d. was "washed out." It does not matter whether the money is ordinary pay or what it is; they say they are losing 7s. 6d.
I gather now that the Conservative Party is arguing that as little work as possible ought to be done in the working day so that the men can get as much overtime as possible at the end of the day. I do not deny that as a result of working less overtime some of these men did not have as much in their pay packet after the introduction of the new schedules as before, but that is a different proposition. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman now suggesting that if an industry can make itself more efficient by reducing overtime it ought to pay its workers for the time they do not work? Will he advise his friends in private enterprise to that effect? Is that his argument?
That is not my argument at all. I never used that argument. The hon. Gentleman is saying that the Conservative Party has used an argument and then he proceeds to knock it down; but we have never said any such thing. We have only explained the grievances of the men. It is the men who are aggrieved. We do not say that they should be paid for nothing. We should be the last to suggest that. What we say is that the labourer is worthy of his hire.
I concede that point immediately. Neither do I desire that any man should not be paid his worth. I suffered from that sort of thing far too long. I was a member of the railway staff when plate-layers were getting £2 a week. There is no point in telling me about low wages, for I know all about them. What I am saying to the hon. and gallant Gentleman is that when a company seeks to increase the efficiency of its undertaking by incorporating overtime work in its daily schedule it is not the job of Tory hon. Members for Hampshire to get the Tory Central Office to organise an agitation.
I cannot give way again. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has had a fair innings. I have been subjected to a far more rigorous cross-examination than would have been the case if our positions had been reversed. The whole burden of his speech was that the small body of busmen had not been given an opportunity to express themselves.
In 1941 an agreement was reached, through the National Bus Council, between the Hants and Dorset Company and the N.U.R., and that agreement has since been improved on a number of occasions. Mr. Baker, who has been the subject of so much examination, was the local secretary of the N.U.R. branch at Bournemouth for many years and he basked in the sunshine of a good deal of the credit for these improvements and he increased his stature amongst the Hants and Dorset busmen as a result of his work in the N.U.R. He was, indeed, the chairman of the Central Committee of the Hants and Dorset Bus Company, and the influence of his position enhanced his reputation a good deal with his fellow workers, and he then took the steps I have already described to form the breakaway union.
The first step after the formation of the breakaway union was to endeavour to get recognition. They were informed by the management that there was an agreement between themselves and the N.U.R., that they were subject to the decision of the National Bus Council and that, therefore, their application for recognition could not be granted. They then applied to the National Bus Council. That application was declined because the view was taken by the Council, on which there were other trade unions represented as well as the employers, that the Hants and Dorset busmen were already adequately represented.
Then they started a nuisance policy—slow working for short periods at a time, mass booking on late at depôts, scores of drivers and conductors coming in up to an hour late—in the hope that victimisation would result and that they could start a row before this strike on schedules had started. I wonder if the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest was told all this of using service buses to drive staff to union meetings and taking them off the schedule?
Of course he has not been told about it. The simple fact is that the schedule at the depôt where the dispute took place was posted on 1st May, and there is a regulation that complaints against the schedule must be made within a stipulated number of days, which is less than 14. None of these complaints against the schedule at this depôt was made until 14 days had elapsed and, remarkably enough, all the complaints appeared on stencilled forms identical in character—a most remarkable coincidence. The Secretary of the Central Committee, Mr. Dare, was seen by officials of the N.U.R. on 22nd May. He identified the schedule J as the one agreed to by the Schedules Committee.
I say to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that it does not fall very satisfactorily from their mouths, or very intelligently either, now to pose as the champions of trade unions. I hope the Hants and Dorset busmen will remember what the party of the hon. and gallant Gentleman did when they were on this side of the House, and what they have threatened to do again if the people of this country send them back here. I hope they will remember it. Whatever complaints the Hants and Dorset busmen may have—they probably have hundreds in the course of a year. I want them to remember that the Tory Party are interested only in using anything and everything that arises to attempt to beat this Government.
The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones), whose speech I enjoyed very much, started by telling us that he had spent his life in trade unionism, and he even intervened earlier in the debate to tell us how successfully he passed his examination, on which we on this side, I am sure, congratulate him. Then he chided my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) for taking part in the debate because he did not have the same profound knowledge of trade unionism.
What I sought to point out was that if the theory being advanced in support of the strike was sound, neither the hon. and gallant Member nor the hon. Member himself ought to take part in the debate because their case is that only busmen understand bus conditions.
The hon. Member confirms what I was about to say. If it were the case that nobody should take part in a debate in the House unless he could claim to be an expert in his subject, it would be a poor look-out for our constituents. I shall have occasion to be very severe on the hon. Member if I find him taking part, for example, in a colonial affairs debate or in any debate on other than trade union topics.
It seems to me that this House is a quite unsuitable place for us to try the issue of the suitability or unsuitability of schedules, to indulge in an examination of the relative merits of one union or another, or to go into the character and record of Mr. Baker or of any other person. The reason why I intervene in the debate is because the dispute and the strike broke out in my constituency. It was at the Winchester depot that the principal part of the strike occurred.
Real hardship and inconvenience is caused in a country district by a strike of this sort. The Minister is not, I think, a countryman and he may not, perhaps, appreciate the difference between a breakdown of transport in urban areas and in rural areas. In the rural areas of my constituency which are served by the Hants and Dorset company a strike of this description has most serious consequences for people who do not have private means of transport. Not merely is it inconvenient to them, but their livelihood, which often depends upon this form of transport, is seriously interfered with. I think it is right, therefore, that today we should ask the Minister to take serious notice of the matter, because we do not want a recurrence of this difficulty.
I think that no serious stoppage took place in the company until this inter-union dispute arose, and if we are to avoid the danger of future stoppages and disputes the question of inter-union trouble must be tackled. The speech of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley) bears me out in that. I think there is general agreement among all Members whose constituencies are served by the company that we want to be assured that the Minister is taking every action open to him to safeguard our constituents against any repetition of this difficulty.
I turn now to the position of the men in the two depôts in my constituency; one is at Winchester, and the other at Eastleigh. These men allege that they were never adequately represented in the N.U.R. I do not pretend to say whether that is true. It is, obviously, as the speeches so far show, a very controversial question, and certainly not one into which there is any profit in our entering here. The important point is the one made in a broader sense by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Poole (Major Wheatley) that that is what the men think. They think that they did not get proper representation in the N.U.R.
I understand that at the Winchester depôt there are only two N.U.R. members, and at the Eastleigh depôt, none. It may be more accurate to say that all the men at the Eastleigh depôt belong to the N.B.A. and that at Winchester all but two belong to it. There may be some who belong to both.
I think those figures prove conclusively that these men did not think they had proper representation in the N.U.R., or would get it, and that difficulty has to be tackled. The broad answer given by people who take the view that the position is quite satisfactory seems to be that the machinery for negotiation exists and, therefore, it ought to be made use of. It is not, in fact, made use of. The fact is that from a psychological point of view we have reached a point where the machinery of the N.U.R. will not be made use of by these men—
—not in the present circumstances, whatever the hon. Member likes to call it. Those are the hard facts of the case and why the strike came about. I hope it will be generally agreed, as I think it should be on both sides of the House, that we have a thoroughly unsatisfactory position in this industry.
Will the hon. Member agree that it has only been unsatisfactory since last September, when the breakaway union was formed? Before that there was peace in the industry in that area.
I am not going to be drawn into the question of why it is unsatisfactory, nor the reason it came about. It really is not profitable to start a trade union war here. We have to deal with the situation as we find it and the situation is that the machinery for negotiations is not working.
Has the hon. Member taken the usual precaution taken by trade union officials, when difficulties arise, of satisfying himself that there was some justification for and some facts behind the alleged grievances, instead of trotting out those grievances without any supporting evidence?
I tried to make clear to the Committee that these men think they have a grievance. They may be wrong. I do not know, but as long as they think that, the machinery of consultation will not work, somehow or other it has to be put right. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is there."] It is there, but it will not work; that is why we had a strike.
I can only see three ways in which consultations can be started again in this industry. One way is to try to get these men back into the N.U.R. The second way is to recognise the other union, and the third way is to try to get them into some third union, the Transport and General Workers' Union, or some other organisation. I certainly do not think we ought to try to pronounce on that tonight, but in this highly technical matter there is only one person who now can intervene and help and that is the Minister. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Poole made that clear.
I see the hon. Member shaking his head but if the Minister cannot solve the difficulty, what is the solution? Are we to go on with a most unsatisfactory state of affairs, a sort of local civil war going on and public transport having a breakdown? If there is a solution and some magical way in which the difficulties can be got over other than by recourse to the Minister, I shall be glad to hear of it.
I come to the conduct of the company. I think the company is in some ways open to censure. I am not concerned with the merits or demerits of the schedules. Probably on examination quite a good case could be made out for the new schedules, but I think the company handled this matter extremely clumsily. Their attitude has been that this machinery for negotiation exists, that it has been used, and therefore the schedules are agreed. Of course, according to the letter of the law, if I may so put it, they are correct, but they have been concluding this agreement with what is, in effect, a tiny minority of the men. To take that attitude is, I think, a very ostrich-like posture on the part of the company and I do not commend it.
At the Winchester depot, where the strike broke out, there were several complicating factors. The Winchester depot men were promised that the schedules inspector (from the company's office) would see them and discuss their schedules with them. He never came, and subsequent inquiries revealed that he was busy elsewhere. They waited until the Friday before the Sunday when the schedules were due to come into operation and, when they had not had this visit, when they were as they thought faced with the alternative of working the schedules without having discussed them, or else striking, they struck.
There is one other point in connection with the outbreak of this strike which, I think, ought to be criticised here. I understand that the other depots in the area were at this point given a week's grace before the schedules were put into operation, but the Winchester men were required to work them immediately. The men believe, rightly or not, that this was an attempt on the part of the company to break the resistance of the men at the Winchester depot in the belief that all the others would then follow. If that was so, I think it was a very clumsy and tactless thing for the company to do. It put the men on the spot. They felt they must strike, or otherwise they would be letting down their brethren in other depots, and it was one of the contributory reasons for the strike.
Whether they were justified in thinking that, I do not know, but sure I am of this, that if this matter had been properly handled the general manager of the company would have come over to that depot and talked to those men—let alone send his schedules inspector—and the thing could have been settled and there need never have been a strike at all. That is my belief. I was invited into this matter by the men, who, as a matter of fact, took me out of the annual civic dinner at the Guildhall, such was the urgency of the occasion. I think this difficulty could have been avoided by the company.
Now I come to the part of the Minister in this because, so far as I am concerned, the Minister is the central point in this matter. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen said we had a meeting, and he inaccurately said that he was surprised that we all turned up. He will remember he was asked whether he had any objection to my coming and he said he would be glad for me to come along.
It was a private conversation. The hon. Member came to me and said, "I hear you are meeting the Minister today with the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King). What time are you meeting him? "I told him what time we were meeting the Minister and he said, "Can I come along?" I replied, "Since the strike started in your district, I suppose you can." But then the hon. Member went out and gathered three or four other hon. Members and brought them along with him, and we held a meeting; a procedure to which I rather objected.
I do not know why the hon. Member should object. There was general agreement as to what took place in the meeting, and general agreement as to the result of it having been satisfactory. The communique of the Minister which was put out afterwards and agreed by him has I think several very significant points in it. The last paragraph has not been read to the Committee. It is not in the text which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest read to the Committee. It reads:
The Members of Parliament present thanked Mr. Robens and said they hoped the men would accept this offer.
That was the offer of the Minister to which I will come in a moment. My point is that the Minister made an offer to these men and on the strength of that offer we six Members, from both sides of the Committee, advised the men to go back to work. That is why they went back to work. They were so advised.
I am concerned to see that the Minister has really implemented his undertaking. There were several features about this communique. First, there was the Minister's opening phrase—"… if the men would return to work." He was asking them to go back to work in return for what he was about to promise. Then he said that he would advise the Schedules Committee. He did not use the word, "consult," or any other phrase. The word is precise. He said that he would advise. I take it that advice takes the form of writing a letter or sending some personal message from the Minister to this committee.
I think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Poole was mistaken when he said that there is no Schedules Committee. As I understand the position, the Schedules Committee consists partly of officials of the company and partly of members of the N.U.R. That was the committee to whom representations were to be made. The representations were that this Committee should receive representations from any of the men affected. It is clear that what the Minister was undertaking to do was to communicate with this Committee and ask them to see these men, not as representatives of their union but as individuals.
I recall the conversation clearly, and it is borne out by the text of the communique. I should like to ask the Minister to make it clear that he has in fact implemented his undertaking. Unfortunately, almost immediately, doubt was thrown upon it in the local Press. On 2nd June the "Hampshire Chronicle," printed the Minister's undertaking, and then said:
Upon this statement, the strikers agreed to resume work for a fortnight—and then to reconsider the position. But the matter was almost immediately complicated by the issue of a statement by Mr. Robens on the results of the conference which differed quite materially from that put out by the Members of Parliament.
I have never been able to find out that there ever was any such statement put out by the Minister. Does he confirm that there never was any such statement?
The article continued:
Contact was made between the strike leaders and the two Southampton M.P.s, and Mr. Crouch, who took the matter up with the Ministry of Labour. The chief industrial adviser there interpreted the Minister's statement as meaning that the men's collective representation to the management would have to he made through N.U.R. channels.
That was something quite different to what we understood the Minister to undertake. It was not, of course, acceptable to the men.
I should not have interrupted on a point of argument, but I should like to inform the hon. Gentleman that it was made clear at the meeting, and in the original statement, that the men would have to make their application to the Schedules Committee on which were N.U.R. men.
I agree. The men themselves had no objection whatever to going before that Committee with the N.U.R. members of the Committee there. There is no objection to that. But this reference to N.U.R. channels very nearly wrecked the chance of these men returning to work, because they assumed that it simply meant that they would have to go through the regular N.U.R. channels and not direct to the Minister.
If the hon. Gentleman had told me that this was a statement made by an officer of my Department, I would have taken steps to find out whether the statement had been made. Then I should have been able to tell him, but obviously I am not able to say tonight.
I think we ought to know whether the Minister's official really said this or not, and I do not think that it is an unreasonable request. However, I pass from that point, as I do not wish to labour it.
The result of the last interview, when there was a further discussion of the matter, provided an assurance which was satisfactory to the strikers, and they went back to work. When they had gone back to work, the article continued:
A statement was made by the general manager of the bus company that no official intimation that the men would negotiate on the new schedules had yet been received by the management.
That, again gave a very bad impression, because it undermined the good effect of the Minister's undertaking, and I therefore made inquiries of the men at my depot, and they informed me that there was no change in the position and that they had been referred to the station inspectors. I got in touch with the general manager of the bus company, and, a week
after the Minister's original undertaking, asked him if he had received any advice from the Minister about the dispute. The general manager replied that he had not, and that all he had seen were the newspaper reports.
I therefore felt it right to put down a Parliamentary Question to the Minister to clear up the matter; I asked him quite precise Questions which he dealt with in the following way. To the Question as to the nature of the representations which he had made, he gave no answer, but merely said that officers of his Department had been in close touch. He did not say whether he had written letters or sent a personal message or what he had done, and I think we should have been told that. To the question on what date the representations took place, he merely replied that he had been in close touch on several occasions since the beginning of the recent strike, so that, really, that did not tell us very much either. Finally, as to the promise to give advice to the company, he did not say that any advice had been given to the Schedules Committee, but only that inquiries had been made, which does not seem to me to be a fulfilment of the Minister's promise both to the hon. Members concerned and the men who went back to work.
If I may sum up, what I want to put to the Minister is this. It appears to these men, and it certainly appears to me, that the Minister has not implemented his undertaking. We have confidence in the Minister. We think he is an honourable man, and I hope that he has implemented his undertaking. I hope that he will make clear to the Committee and to these men that he has, in fact, done so. If he were to give us some information as to the way in which he has implemented this undertaking, I think it would do a great deal of good in this local and I hope temporary trouble.
I come now to the other and longer term implication of the dispute, and I will simply say that the situation remains most unsatisfactory. Everybody in my constituency, both the public and the men, want to see the dispute settled. The men are not unreasonable in their outlook, and they are not by any means demanding everything that they can think of. I think that any settlement which any reasonable man outside this dispute would approve of would be approved by the men as well.
I therefore suggest to the Minister that the prime duty resting upon him in this case is to get these people together, to try to get the trade union elements in this dispute to have some sort of round table conference to see whether they can- not work out, as I believe with good will they can, a method whereby these men will have fair representation which will work well and which will satisfy them, and which, at the same time, will assure that this important public service is kept running.
Certainly not. I thought I had been quite clear in what I said. The right hon. Gentleman must have been talking to his hon. Friends on the Front Bench when I said it. I gave three solutions which seemed to me to be possible. I said it appeared possible that these men might be got back into the N.U.R., that the union might be recognised, or that there might be a home for them in the Transport and General Workers' Union. I also said that this House was not the proper place to decide that issue.
This must be an historic occasion and the first in the history of this Parliament in which a strike has been considered with sympathy or even fairness by a group of hon. Members opposite. Whenever there is a strike, it is an indication of some deep malaise, and I only wish that Members of the Opposition had treated the great strikes of the miners and railwaymen in the past, fighting for a decent living, with half the sympathy they appear to have for strikers today. I very sincerely welcome what I hope is a change of heart on their part.
Southampton has a remarkable post-war record of industrial relations. That is a tribute to men and management alike. It is a tribute to give-and-take on both sides, and for the purpose of this debate it is worth noting that it is also really a tribute to the great and responsible leadership of the great trade unions which represent the bulk of the workers in that town.
Therefore, when we recently had a strike in Southampton and area, the people were genuinely distressed. It was almost a unique strike. The natural resentment of those citizens who found themselves stranded on that first Sunday and of those who could not get to work, especially in the countryside, was tempered with very real sympathy for the busmen. The civic authorities attempted to mediate. I was quite genuinely impressed by the fact that Members of Parliament of both parties endeavoured to offer their good offices during the strike. Above all, the strike was conducted with restraint and dignity on the part of the busmen.
The Hants and Dorset Bus Company has recruited a fine body of drivers and conductors, and whatever one's views on the merits of the strike may be, a tribute is due to the orderly and restrained behaviour of the strikers. It was a strike with a real case on both sides, and I want to examine the issues involved.
The bus companies of Britain were the last section of British transport to receive the benefits of trade union organisation. Speaking before the Royal Transport Commission in 1929, leaders of the Transport and General Workers' Union and of the National Union of Railwaymen said:
The public omnibus service of this country, excluding London, is the only branch of the passenger service that will not accept machinery for dealing with wages and conditions and for the settlement of disputes.… We find amongst certain of the companies very strong opposition to the trade unions having anything to do with the regulation of conditions of these men, or even organising them Into a trades union.
Only powerful trade unions already existing could have undertaken the difficult task of organising the bus workers. The men were in small groups, with the managements hostile, and with conditions often approaching sweated labour. The Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Union of Railwaymen undertook the task.
Then the railway companies were given power, by a Conservative Government, to buy enough shares in the bus companies so as to acquire an interest in them of up to 49 per cent. They did not believe in free competition with road transport in those days. The unions agreed that in those companies in which the railways had bought substantial shares, the organisation of the workers should be by the National Union of Railwaymen. It was, perhaps too logically, assumed that the interests of bus workers coincided more or less with those of railwaymen. They faced the same employers. The employers were banded together ever and ever more powerfully and the men thought their interests prompted the same kind of action.
Most decent employers in the country welcomed such arrangements. Others who did not were opposed to trade unionism in any case. The railways bought a 49 per cent. interest in the Hants and Dorset Bus Company. The rest were owned by Tillings who have no good record of a kindly attitude towards the organisation of the workers in their industry. The N.U.R. came down to Hampshire and built up the trade union organisation in the company and gave them an instrument by which they secured improved conditions and wages in common with bus drivers everywhere.
But with the growth of bus services throughout the country there have been signs of a desire by busmen to get together. At the moment the problem does not seem to affect the Transport and General Workers' Union but rather has emerged in the N.U.R. where there are two different kinds of work in the railways and the buses; and there is a desire on the part of some busmen to break away. Incidentally, I believe this desire is emphasised by the fact that we as a people still do not pay decent wages to busmen or railwaymen.
Most of the busmen are loyal to the N.U.R. It is true that year after year they have moved resolutions inside the N.U.R. to give them more autonomy. But they appreciate the gains secured by united action in improved rates of pay, conditions of work, and national scales and standards for bus workers. Most of all, they appreciate securing national and local bodies for dealing with wages and conditions of work on which the workers are represented.
In 1929, again before a Royal Commission on transport, trade unionists expressed the dream of those days that they might have some sort of Whitley Council for British transport where they might have some say in the control of their industry. Now they have secured such an instrument, and both sides of an industry which has such an instrument would not wish to see it either jeopardized or thrown away. The cry of "Back to local agreements, to independent local negotiations "may be attractive in time of full employment when the workers are very powerful. It may be very dangerous indeed in a locality or a situation when the shift of power is the other way. Only the worst reactionaries in the country want a large number of little unions and they want them for the worst possible reasons.
During the past year Hants and Dorset busmen in large numbers have walked out of the N.U.R. and set up a separate busmens' union. Although this breakaway union is not strong nationally as yet, it has had tremendous success in the Hants and Dorset Company where over 90 per cent. of the men have joined it. It is this local strength which gives Hampshire men in this company a strong local case and a sense of justice in their demands. Their strength in one company make them inclined to overlook the national picture and the implications of their attitude. Moreover, when they left the old union they abandoned the old negotiating machinery and only a handful of men loyal to the N.U.R. were left to represent the workers' side in negotiations.
One of the matters negotiated is the schedules of duties. The duty of the management is to see that as little time as possible is lost by buses at each end of a journey, and to dovetail together the individual duties of men in the most economical way. The duty of the men's representatives is to see that the tightening up of schedules does not impose hardship or injustice on any of the men. These opposing interests are fought out at a schedules committee at national and local level on which both sides are represented.
As the bus workers' union has grown, it has naturally wished for the right to elect representatives of its own on the Schedules Committee to negotiate schedules rather than have those appointed by men belonging to the old parent union. On the other hand, the N.U.R. regard this company as being part of a great national system and they see grave dangers to the vital interests of hundreds of thousands of men they represent if the national instrument of negotiation were broken down in one corner.
Most trade unionists remember how, for what would appear locally were quite good reasons, many Notts. miners were led to break away from the National Mineworkers Union by a former Member of the House subsidised by our political opponents, with disastrous results for the Notts. miners and the miners of the country as a whole. This view is not only the view of the N.U.R. but also of the Trades Union Congress. It is also the view of the Southampton Trades Council, representing most trade unionists in the town, and it is the view, I believe, of British Transport. The new Busworkers' Union has not secured recognition either by the T.U.C. or by the management or by the vast majority of workers in British Transport.
It was against this background, with 90 per cent. of Hampshire bus workers having quitted their parent union and seeing no reason why, since the bulk of them are in the new union, the new union should not be recognised, and the N.U.R. and N.U.R. men responsible for hundreds of thousands of British Transport workers standing by national agreements and nationally agreed methods of consultation, that some weeks ago new schedules were drawn up. These make the service more economical, and cut down waiting time. No responsible trade union leader would object to an industry making itself more efficient, always provided no injustice was done to individuals.
The schedules were approved by the Schedules Committee on which N.U.R. men, as always, but not representatives of the new Busworkers' Union, were represented. There was some conflict of opinion as to the effect of the schedules on the men's time and wages, but I think everybody agrees that by rearranging duties and shortening waiting time the effect is to bring into normal working hours which had previously been counted as overtime and had been paid for at overtime rates. Men suffered a reduction in their wage packets for the same number of hours of duty. Nobody in these days of rising prices welcomes a reduction in the wage packet even if the case for increased efficiency is logically proved, and I understand there were bad cases of a drop in wages particularly in the Fareham depôt.
The mass of the men regarded the new schedules as having been imposed on them. They had formed their own schedules group of experts—men who until they left the parent union had been serving as N.U.R. men on the Schedules Committee—but as far as I am aware they made no attempt to use the N.U.R. members on the Schedules Committee to press the grievances they had against the schedules. They felt strongly and as a matter of deep principle that they should be consulted as a body, and it was this feeling which later brought them out on strike. The management said they were prepared to receive individual objections to the schedules, but most of the new union members refused to make individual complaints as they wanted the right to make their complaints to their organisation.
Matters reached a head at the Winchester depôt. Here practically every man was a member of the new union, so that the N.U.R. man who negotiated the schedules for Winchester was not a Winchester man at all. It seems that the management wished to make a test case of Winchester, and whereas the schedules were deferred a week elsewhere they were put into force in Winchester on Sunday, 20th May. The men offered to work the old schedules, but refused to work the new schedules, and came out on strike. I am told the strike might have been confined to Winchester but for one or two serious incidents, the most serious being that, although the bus workers from other depôts had decided that they would not blackleg the Winchester men by going into Winchester, one of these men, picketing in the traditionally accepted way, was interfered with by a Hampshire policeman. News of incidents like this flashed back to the various depôts, and that Sunday the men came out on strike almost all over the area, stranding thousands of Sunday passengers.
The strike began as a strike against the new schedules, but all the background has made it clear that whether the men wished it or not, this was a strike for the recognition of the breakaway union. I am certain that the hulk of the men were genuine in their declarations that they did not mean this as a strike for recognition of the union, although their leader must have realised from the start, and certainly all must have realised before it ended, that griev- ances against the schedules had become involved in the question of recognition.
Indeed, on Monday, 21st May, the Southampton strikers placed as number one of their grievances:
Lack of facilities for contact with management on a collective representation basis… no individual allowed to act as spokesman for the staff except N.U.R. members who were not acceptable to staff as a whole.
This demand was very soon dropped, but it crossed every effort we made in the next few days to secure an end to the strike. My hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) and myself took an offer to the management on the third day that the men would return to work if the management would meet elected representatives of the strikers. The management took the view that this meant recognising the new union and they reaffirmed that men could make individual, but not collective, representation against the schedules.
A similar result occurred when the Mayor of Southampton made a similar effort to intervene. At the end of the week we conveyed to the Minister of Labour the men's repeatedly affirmed statement that they would return if he would undertake to investigate, and in an interview on Monday, 28th May, he said he would urge the schedules committee to receive not only individual representation but also a group of individuals presenting not only their own grievances but also those of their fellow workers. These men would be as employees and not as representatives of the Busworkers' Union.
Despite the confusion which later arose, the men accepted this. We interpreted it to them the next morning in the Lobby of the House of Commons. They accepted it, but it is true that they did so under protest. They had not secured recognition of their new union and they had not secured appointments from the new union to the schedules committee. They had still to take their grievance to the officially elected committee on which were N.U.R. members. However, they could make some sort of collective representation as busmen against any wrongs in the schedules.
If the strike was not a strike for recognition of the N.B.U., I think the matter might now be said to have ended, provided there is good will on both sides. But the deep issue remains. I believe the great unions concerned will have to look at this question—this question put by the 'busmen; but I think the place to fight out the 'busmen's problems is by 'busmen fighting them inside the unions to which they belong.
The immediate task is to convince the Hampshire and Dorset busmen that their interests are bound up with those of their fellow busmen who do not share their views on breaking away from big unions, and that a local majority, no matter how big or how universal, must be weighed against the national majority and the views of busmen elsewhere in the country. Even the strike itself reveals the weakness of a small union—the danger of embarking on strike action without realising its implications and its effects on the community, without reserves for strike pay, and, above all, the danger of splitting the workers into factions, weakening each other in a struggle where unity is strength and disunity is a gift to the enemies of trade unionism.
I understand that I have spoken a little too long. May I make one plea to both sides? I would ask that they look at this question of the schedule grievances in a spirit of goodwill on both sides. I am informed—I hope I am wrong—that Mr. Rogers, one of the strike leaders, has been demoted because of his activities in the strike. I hope that is not true or, if it is true, that the management will put the matter right. I hope that the men, on going back to work, will look at the matter in a reasonable way and that there will be neither flaunting of authority on the one hand or victimisation or unwillingness to meet the men on the other hand. There I would end. I would say that the biggest contribution to good feeling will be a willingness by the management to give real consideration to the impact of the schedules on individual cases of the kind which have been quoted in this debate, for it means real injustice and real hardship to a number of men.
I think that the Committee can congratulate itself that, taking the debate as a whole, the approach has been to a serious difficulty of workers' representation and not a search either to make political or union points. The obvious difficulty which I have mentioned has been pointed out most emphatically in the speeches of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King).
I think that anyone, whatever his union background, who has heard these hon. Members expressing the difficulty would share my regret that Mr. Figgins thought it necessary to make an attack upon them for what they had done. I want to make my position perfectly clear, and I think I should get a great deal of support for it, if hon. Members would think out the question dispassionately and objectively. In the ordinary way what should be the representation of any grade or section of workers is a matter for the ordinary machinery that exists.
I think that an exception to that rule must be made when the following three conditions co-exist. First, when there is grave dissatisfaction in a grade or section of workers with its present representation; second, when those workers affected have exhausted their claims and rights in existing union machinery without success; and, third, when there is a clear likelihood of further trouble and injustice to the workers. If these three conditions co-exist then I feel that we, as Members of Parliament, would not be doing our duty were we not to bring up the existing situation for discussion in the House and consideration of ministerial responsibility regarding it.
I hope that hon. Members will, at any rate, consider that point of view, because it is our existing difficulty. This is only one example which I am not going into further in detail, but I want it to illustrate the difficulty. Concerning the three points I have put forward, I do not think that anyone can deny, having heard the speech of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, that this is a case where there is grave dissatisfaction in a section of workers with its present representation. No one who heard that speech can deny that, and that must be the indisputable point from which we start.
On my second point, I am not going into details and will simply give my own view. I have read all the resolutions which the annual bus workers' conference have passed year after year, from 1945 to 1951, inclusive. I have tried to read them fairly. I do not want to attack the N.U.R. or to make enemies of anyone outside this Committee. Although we are strong political opponents here, we do not make enemies on the representations made inside the House. I do not want to do that, but I find that there we have representatives of a section of the union expressing, year after year, dissatisfaction in the union and failing substantially to get their grievances dealt with. Therefore, this is the result of a feeling that has been growing over the whole period since the war.
It is very difficult, when two great unions divide up the territory of human souls, to maintain absolute loyalty from the smaller sections, who consider that they are outside the main stream and interest of the work of the union. That is the problem, and it is very difficult. Some of the men were told they could not transfer to the Transport and General Workers' Union as some of them would have liked to do because an agreement had been made. In those circumstances it is difficult to write such men off as a scab or breakaway union. The question has to be considered further.
I just want to make one point. The new breakaway union has not only recruited its members from the N.U.R., but it tried to wean the workers from the Transport and General Workers' Union, so that the point of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not valid.
That did not apply in the Hants and Dorset Company, and the difficulty in Scunthorpe was that the members of the Transport and General Workers' Union wanted to remain members of it, and it was only because they were transferred from the Transport and General Workers' Union to the National Union of Railwaymen that they became dissatisfied and entered the breakaway union.
The hon. Member may not agree, but it is bound to be a matter of opinion. I can only say that the view I have given is very widely held as being the explanation of the Scunthorpe manifestation.
I want to keep to the three points which I was making. Having, in their view, been unable to get what they wanted, these bus men decided to form a new union. Explanations of that have been given from both sides of the Committee. I am not going to re-hash the matter, but they made application to the National Council of the Omnibus Industry and were refused. What is the position to be there? Article 6 is the kernel of the whole business, and it lays down that at least half of the membership in the industry must be in the union. The membership here, put at its lowest by one hon. Member, is 5,000, and there are only about 8,000 members who are bus workers in the N.U.R. This union has only been going since last November.
That is the first difficulty we meet. We have a constitution, and we must try to get proper representation on both sides. The test is "membership in the industry." They are excluded there. With regard to the company, of course they took the same view. That was the position, that the application for consideration of their position, from both the National Council and the local company, was refused.
That is the background in which this trouble started. I want to take an example, and I am sure that the Minister will remember it well, of the second occasion when he refused to refer the matter as a dispute under Order No. 1305. I am not troubling with the first one, because it involves a particular person, and I do not want to discuss particular persons' positions across the Floor. The second one, which was put to the right hon. Gentleman on 24th January and again on 8th February in the House, was that the staff employed by the Hants and Dorset Company at the Lymington depôt claimed the right to consultation with local companies' superintendents on
matters of local interest without the obligations of belonging to a particular union.
That was the matter which was in dispute.
The right hon. Gentleman then said that that was not really in order, and he refused to refer it as a matter coming under Order No. 1305. I believe that Order No. 1305 has outlived its useful- ness and that the time is coming when the sanction by threat of imprisonment or fine must go. We have not got to that stage at the moment. If we have any hope—I believe all of us have a great deal of hope—that compulsory arbitration with a sanction of imprisonment behind it is to be replaced by acceptance of voluntary arbitration, how can we expect it, if the Minister is not going to refer to arbitration a claim for joint consultation without the obligation of belonging to a particular union? It is a most serious matter.
The next application which was made to the right hon. Gentleman was on 14th April and was refused on 27th April as not coming within Order No. 1305. According to the "National Railway Review" the dispute started on 20th May, and that publication has never hesitated to call it a "dispute" even before the strike action. Order No. 1305 refers to
disputes in being or anticipated.
The third application for reference was made within six weeks of the strike and, if the "National Railway Review" is right, within just over a month of the dispute arising. In this case these two serious points have arisen before the action of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to this dispute arose and that arose on the development of the trouble with regard to the schedules.
This has been an "Alice Through the Looking Glass" debate. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) has been taunting me and my hon. Friends for supporting workmen in asking for more overtime and has been stalwartly saying that employers must do everything they can to increase efficiency even if it means a lower pay packet. Well, the hon. Gentleman said it and it is a good thing that views should be expressed which are somewhat out of line with those which I am sure he had been expressing for the greater part of his long and distinguished career in trade unionism.
But my point is that whether the hon. Member for The Hartlepools is right in saying that the bus workers in the Hants and Dorset Company are unreasonable men or whether the men are right in saying that they have suffered hardship as a result of, in effect, losing their 7s. 6d. increase and in some cases by losing 12s. 6d., there is no doubt, as the two hon. Members for Southampton made it clear, that in this matter there is an issue and a difference of opinion and something which is worthy of inquiry.
The Minister of Labour saw the Members of Parliament on 29th May. As has been made quite clear, there is, fortunately, no doubt that he said he would advise the Schedules Committee of the Hants and Dorset Bus Company to receive representatives from any of the men affected. That is important. It is clear from what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. P. Smithers), in what hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree was a most moderate, objective and closely-reasoned speech, that a week after that statement was made by the Minister the manager of the bus company told him that the company had received no advice. It is also quite correct that, in replying to a question as long afterwards as 15th June, the right hon. Gentleman simply said that his people had made inquiries.
That is the other point. What is the advice that he has given? What has he done to ensure that the management has been advised that any of the men—be it in groups of one, two, three, four or five or whatever it is—should see the Schedules Committee? The right hon. Gentleman's qualification was not really helpful. In answer to a Question he referred to "the Schedules Committee or the N.U.R. representatives." It is very natural that the N.U.R. representatives should be unhelpful. For example, the Southampton No. 5 Branch said, "We will only deal with members of the N.U.R. and not deal with other people." So it is the Schedules Committee or nothing. What we want to know—this will be one of the matters which will determine our action tonight—is what has been done—
Yes. It is quite clear. I did not want to read it in full because of the time, but I summarised it quite fairly in stating that they said they were only available for members of the National Union of Railwaymen.
There is no question about that. My right hon. Friend has just handed me the original. It says:
I wish to advise you that the services of the National Union of Railwaymen are available only to members of this Union or an affiliated Union.
That was about the schedule. I think the hon. Member will agree that I put it rightly.
That is the position with regard to the immediate dispute. Of course, it goes further than that. We have, first of all, the immediate dispute, which I have mentioned. We have the case of the N.U.P.E. Nobody can say the N.U.P.E. are a breakaway union. They are a union affiliated to the T.U.C. with a membership of 150,000. They have 4,000 electricians. Everyone knows the dignified but intensely bitter language of the executive of the N.U.P.E. because their men were not allowed representation in view of the dispute with the E.T.U. We have the position at Scunthorpe which I have mentioned generally. We have the counter position near Stroud.
In these circumstances, I say that the right hon. Gentleman should not refuse an inquiry. He asked what he should do. He must do two things. He must, first of all, give that advice, if he has not given it already, that they will see these men individually. Secondly, he must use the powers, which he undoubtedly has, to have an inquiry into a situation which, if it is allowed to fester, will damage not only individuals but this great trade union movement— let us forget for a moment about trying to manœuvre for position—which is one of the bulwarks upon which the prosperity of our country will depend. Therefore, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do those two things, and I say that our action will depend on the answer we get.
I cannot help but feel that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) was very uncomfortable in the case he was making, because he was forced into the position of pleading for the breakaway union and into the position of bringing anarchy into the trade union movement. I tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if he were to go to the most responsible employers' associations they would not share his view that it was a wise thing to encourage breakaway organisations within the trade union movement.
This debate has been distinguished by two speeches from the back benches, one from the hon. and gallant Gentleman who opened it, the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) and the other from my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones). They were two important speeches. One was delivered with great authority, with great power and with great knowledge. That was from my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools. The other was delivered with great hestitancy. I have never seen the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest to less advantage than I have seen him tonight.
The reason is not far to seek. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools knew what he was talking about. The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest had to rely upon being briefed by Mr. Baker the secretary of this breakaway union, who has been assisted by a Central Office official of the Conservative Party. They have been sitting together not 100 miles from where I am standing.
I want to give a warning to the members of this breakaway union. It is this. The Conservative Party are the traditional enemy of the workers of this country. [Interruption.] The Conservative Party are the traditional enemy of the workers —[HON. MEMBERS: "Is that the Labour Party's official line?"]—and when an official of a breakaway union has to tie up with the Conservative Party, the workers are in for a very bad time if ever that party should become the Government of the country.
They should be well warned, on the evidence of my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools, as to the activities of Mr. Baker. They should be well warned that what they are doing does not improve the strength and organisation of the trade union movement or enable the trade union movement to raise the standards of the workers, but will aid the Conservative Party in their well-avowed and well-known intention of trying to split the trade union movement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The very well publicised and well-known objective of the Conservative Party is to try to split the trade union movement, because they know full well the power of the trade union movement in relation to a Labour Government.
This was a discussion on a particular strike, and I want for a moment to say something—
The hon. Member ought to see the face of the Leader of the Opposition from time to time; he would not like that.
I want to make quite clear the position with regard to this dispute. There is a national agreement covering bus workers, and on the basis of that national agreement there is a local agreement covering the Hants and Dorset Company. One of the parties to that agreement is, of course, the National Union of Railwaymen, of which the men in question were members until Mr. Baker's double activities weaned them away from the N.U.R. The wage standards and all their conditions have been negotiated by the N.U.R. and are contained in that agreement. That agreement is not very old. It was concluded in February, 1948, and is based on the national agreement. There is in those two agreements a well ordered method of procedure between employers and employed, which employers also would not wish to see broken.
All the difficulties that have arisen in connection with the bus company have arisen by reason of the formation of the National Bus Workers' Association. I will not go into detail because of the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools. I hope that the National Union of Railwaymen will reprint that speech and will issue it to every employee of the Hants and Dorset Company so that they shall know the facts of the situation. I believe that when they know those facts they will accept some good advice, which would be to get back into their union.
Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that he disagrees with breakaway unions, there are three conditions upon which he would, perhaps, support a breakaway union. On his first point I submit to him that if there is dissatisfaction among a section of workers with their representatives, the rule book of the National Union of Railwaymen provides, as he will find, that members within that union have all the democratic power they need to make such arrangements as they want to ensure that they get adequate representation.
It is not any use hon. Members shaking their heads in disagreement; it is a fact. The trade union movement is a much more democratic organisation than the Conservative Party organisation, which has its policy laid down for it by a gentleman called The Leader." [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Mr. Horner?"] If hon. Members are asking about Mr. Arthur Horner's health I have not seen him for some time, and the question does not mean anything to me.
I come to my position in relation to this matter. I met six Members of Parliament in my room in this House to discuss the matter and I made it clear then, as I make it clear now, that while I hold the position of Minister of Labour I will do nothing at any time to give any sort of recognition to a breakaway union under any circumstances. I will do nothing at any time that will weaken the strength of the organised trade union movement that has been built up over 100 years of struggle, and I do not propose to undermine the position they have built up.
In all these matters I am ready to do what I can to compose differences and prevent industrial disputes—[Interruption.] It is not any use hon. Members jeering. If, instead of dining or spending their time otherwise than in the House they had been here, they would have heard tributes paid to me by their hon. Friends for the good will I exercise in these matters. I always do what I can. On this occasion I did say that the men would be able to approach the schedule committees as individuals.
I certainly said that they could approach the schedule committees, because there are committees at the different depots, not one schedule committee for the whole company. I said that the men could approach the schedule committees as individuals.
If hon. Members opposite want to take up time, that is ail right. Secondly, I said it did not matter very much if more than one person approached the schedule committees and that it could be groups of one, two, or three. I have checked up with the management on that and I am informed [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] It is no use asking for order at this time of night, they are enjoying it. I have been assured by the N.U.R.— and these schedule committees are composed of N.U.R. members—that there will be no difficulty about more than one individual approaching a schedule committee to cover the case of men working on related routes, providing that the approach is not made in any way which would involve recognition of the N.B.A. as a negotiating body. There will not be peace in this industry whilst there is a breakaway union.
It has been suggested that after I had these discussions with the Members of Parliament I took no action. The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest wrote to me about this and I wrote him a letter, which I will read because I was asked to do so earlier in the debate. I wrote:
I have your letter about the Hants and Dorset bus strike. In order that the position shall he made perfectly clear, my officers have again been in touch with the Management of the Company and with the N.U.R.
This is dated 6th June:
It is confirmed by the N.U.R. that individuals may approach the existing Schedules Committees or N.U.R. representatives with a view to their raising with the Management any question relating to the Schedules, and it is confirmed by the Company that individuals may also make representations direct to the Depot Superintendents or Inspectors.
In view of this confirmation of the position, I think you will agree that adequate machinery is available to deal with any legitimate point of grievance which individual workers may desire to raise.
I should have thought that was perfectly clear, and that if hon. Gentlemen
really wanted to have peace in this industry they would have been joining with us and condemning breakaway unions. There never can be peace in industry if agreements are broken without notice; or if, when agreements are made, and small sections of a trade union are unable to get their own way for one reason or another, they set up splinter unions, breakaway unions, and then try to dominate the situation in a particular area.
All the experience in the trade union movement has proved that that kind of thing can never succeed. This breakaway union my go on with its activities for some time, but it will finally fail. During that period it will be just like the old Spencer's Union in the N.U.M. which caused a great deal of upset and unrest in the industry. The same thing will happen in the bus industry. If hon. Members opposite want industrial strife in the in
|Division No. 165.]||AYES|
|Altken, W. T.||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Mckie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Maclay, Hon. John|
|Ashton, H (Chelmsford)||Gage, C. H.||Maclean, Fitzroy|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Galbraith, Cmdr T. D. (Pollock)||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)|
|Astor, Hon. M. L||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)|
|Baxter, A. B||Gammans, L. D.||Macpherson, Major Niall (Dumfries)|
|Bell, R. M.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Maitland, Cmdr. J. W.|
|Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Manningham-Buller, R. E.|
|Bonnett, William (Woodside)||Grimond, J.||Marples, A. E|
|Birch, Nigel||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Marshall, Sidney (Sutton)|
|Black, C. W.||Grimston, Robert (Westbury)||Maude, Angus (Ealing, S)|
|Bossom, A. C||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Mellor, Sir John|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Maclesfield)||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Monckton, Sir Walter|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. B.||Hay, John||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Brame, B. R.||Heald, Lionel||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencesier)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G- (Bristol, N.W)||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Hirst, Geoffrey||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Hollis, M. C.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P G T.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss P.||Orr-Ewmg, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Bullock, Capt. M||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Howard, Greville (St. Ives)||Perkins, W R. D.|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N)||Peto, Brig C H M.|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinslead)||Hulbert, Wing Cmdr. N. J.||Pickthorn K.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth,W.)||Hutchingson, Geoffrey (Ilford, N)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Colegate, A.||Hylton-Foster, H B.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Jennings, R.||Redmayne, M.|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert (llford, S)||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Kerr, H W. (Cambridge)||Robertson, Sir David (Caithness)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W H.||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Lambert Hon G.||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Crowder, Capt John (Finchley)||Leather, E. H. C||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Cundiff, F. W.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Cuthbert, W. N||Lennox-Boyd, A. T||Russell, R. S.|
|de Chair, Somerset||Lindsay, Martin||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Deedes, W F||Linstead, H. N.||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Digby. S Wingfielo||Llewellyn, D.||Sandys, fit. Hon. D.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E)||Scott, Donald|
|Donner, P. W.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col J. C.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Low, A. R. W.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W E.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S)||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Fisher, Nigel||MoCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Spearman, A. C M.|
|Fletcher, Walter (Bury)||Macdonald, Sir Peter (I. of Wight)||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)|
|Foster, John||McKibbin, A.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)||Thorneycroft, Peter (Monmouth)||Wheatley, Maj. M. J. (Poole)|
|Storey, S.||Touche, G. C.||Williams, Charles (Torquay)|
|Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)||Turner, H. F. L||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)||Turton, R. H.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Studholme, H. G.||Vane, W. M. F.||Wills, G.|
|Summers, G. S.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Sutcliffe, H.||Vosper, D. F.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)||Walker-Smith, D. C.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Teeling, W.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)||Mr. Drewe and|
|Thomas, J. P, L. (Hereford)||Watkinson, H.||Brigadier Mackeson|
|Thompson, Lt.-Cmdr. R. (Croydon, W.)||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Gilzean, A.||Nally, W.|
|Albu, A. H.||Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||Padley, W. E.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Grey, C. F.||Pannell, T. C.|
|Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Parker, J.|
|Awbery, S. S||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Paton, J.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Hale, Joseph (Rochdale)||Popplewell, E.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Porter, G.|
|Baird, J.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)|
|Balfour, A.||Hail, John (Gateshead, W.)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Hamilton, W. W.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Bartley, P.||Hannan, W.||Pursey, Cmdr. H|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Hardy, E. A.||Rankin, J.|
|Benson, G.||Hargreaves, A.||Rees, Mrs. D.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hastings, S.||Reeves, J.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hayman, F. H.||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)|
|Bowden, H. W.||Herbison Miss. M.||Richards, R.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Hobson, C. R.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Holman P.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Brooks T. J. (Normanton)||Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Houghton, D.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Ross, William|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Royle, C.|
|Burke, W. A.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Hynd, J. B (Attercliffe)||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|Champion, A. J.||Janner, B.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Jay, D. P. T.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Jeger, Dr. Santo (St. Pancras, S.)||Snow, J. W.|
|Coldrick, W.||Jenkins, R. H.||Sorensen, R. W|
|Cook, T. F.||Johnston Douglas (Paisley)||Steele, T.|
|Cooper, John (Deptford)||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda (Peckham)||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Keenan. W.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Kenyon, C.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||King, Dr. H. M.||Taylor, Robert (Morpeth)|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Kinghorn, Sqn. Ldr. E.||Thomas, David (Aberdare)|
|Daines, P.||Kinley, J.||Thomas, Iowerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)||Lever, Leslie (Arthurick)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Longden, Fred (Small Heath)||Vernon, W. F.|
|Davies, Harold (Leak)||MacColl, J. E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Mclnnes, J.||Wallace, H. W.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Mack, J. D.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Deer, G.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Delargy, H. J.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Diamond, J.||Mainwaring, W. H.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Donnelly, D.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J. (W. Bromwich)||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mellish, R. J.||Wilkins, W A.|
|Edwards, John (Brighouse)||Messer, F.||Willey, Frederick (Sunderland)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Middleton, Mrs. L||Willey, Ootavius (Cleveland)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Mikardo, Ian||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Mitchison. G R.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Ewart, R.||Moeran, E. W||Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'lly)|
|Fernybough, E.||Monslow, W.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Field, Capt. W. J.||Moody, A. S.||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightsida)|
|Fletcher, Erie (Islington, E.)||Morley, R.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Foot, M. M.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W)||Yates, V. F.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mort, D. L.||Younger, Rt. Hon K.|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Moyle, A.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mulley, F. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Pearson and Mr. Sparks.|