HC Deb 29 January 1962 vol 652 cc705-8
Mr. Strauss (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Transport whether he can make any statement about the dislocation of transport services in London and the Southern Region.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

This morning there was heavy congestion on the approach roads to London and also in the centre of London. Probably this was partly due to the travelling public's uncertainty about the extent and effects of unofficial stoppages.

This morning reports which I have received indicate that bus and coach services were operating at full strength, subject, of course, to inevitable traffic delays. Railway working in general was normal, except in the South-Eastern Division of the Southern Region, where about 40 per cent. of normal services were run during the peak hours.

On the Underground, this was the position: on the Central Line about one-third of the services were running; on the Northern Line, one-fifth; on the Metropolitan, Bakerloo and Piccadilly Lines, about one-seventh. On the District Line, there were only a few limited local services.

This afternoon the position on the Underground has detriorated to some extent. Arrangements are being made by British Railways and London Transport to notify the travelling public, through the Press and the B.B.C., of the position and prospects for this evening.

Mr. Strauss

I am grateful to the Minister for that information. Is he aware that we on this side of the House very much regret this unofficial strike and the hardship which it has caused to the travelling public? Will he agree, however, that the railwaymen who have come out on strike were impelled to do so by the mood created throughout the railway service by the Government's interference with their long-established and deeply cherished negotiating machinery? Does he propose to take any action, possibly in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and trade union leaders, to prevent a similar traffic dislocation from taking place next week?

Mr. Marples

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman associated himself with deploring these unfortunate strikes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The right hon. Gentleman has associated himself with deploring these unofficial strikes. The men who came out on strike did so against the advice of the union leaders and of the Leader of the Opposition. They were not compelled to come out on strike. The advice which they were given both from the Opposition and from the Government, as well as from the union leaders, was that they should not do so.

We ought to express our appreciation to those workers who came to work and obeyed the instructions of their union. I do so on behalf of both sides of the House. The Government will watch what happens today very carefully, because an unofficial strike for one day provides an opportunity of studying what effective remedial measures can be taken.

Mr. Strauss

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the last part of my question. In view of the very serious degree of responsibility for these unfortunate happenings which rests on the Minister, I asked him what action he proposes to take, possibly in conjunction with others, to try to prevent a similar occurrence next week.

Mr. Marples

These matters are being discussed at union level today and it would be inappropriate for me to express any view now. The Opposition know this as well as anybody else. However, if the right hon. Gentleman or any hon. Members wishes to raise this during the course of today's debate, he is free to do so and my right hon. Friend will be able to reply.

Mr. J. Hynd

The Minister made great play with deploring unofficial strike action by trade unionists and the action of trade unionists in ignoring the instructions of the unions. May we take it that, in the case of the railway unions calling an official strike, they would have the support of the Minister?

Mr. Marples

We had better wait and see what happens.

Mr. Thorpe

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that since the arbitration machinery has been interfered with by the Minister there are some hon. Members who have a very great deal of sympathy with those who are on strike? Does he realise that until the independent arbitration machinery is restored to its full position this sort of thing will inevitably happen under this Government?

Mr. Marples

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong, because the arbitration machinery has not been interfered with. The Government have suggested that it should be used.

Mr. Rankin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many servants of the House whose services are indispensable to the running of this place? Is he aware that many of those in the catering department reached the House this morning only with extreme difficulty? Can he take any steps to ensure that they are able to return to their homes, perhaps late tonight, with his help or the help of somebody else?

Mr. Marples

I will certainly look into that, especially if this strike is renewed next week.