HC Deb 13 July 1965 vol 716 cc280-2

Mr. Lubbock (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement about the disruption of services on the Southern Region of British Railways.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Tom Fraser)

Yes, Sir. I much regret the inconvenience at present being suffered by so many users of the Southern Region services.

The operation and timekeeping of railway services are, of course, the responsibility of the Railways Board. The Chairman had an informal meeting this morning with the full Executive Committee of the Association of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen at which the subject of productivity payments was further discussed. Another meeting with all the parties concerned has been arranged for next week.

In the meantime, I appeal to all concerned to do everything in their power to see that the full normal service to the public is provided.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I am most grateful to him for his appeal to all parties to see that normal services are restored pending the result of these fresh negotiations between Mr. Raymond and A.S.L.E.F.? Does he realise that the lives of millions of people have been thrown into complete chaos by the go-slow on the part of the motormen?

On the other hand, does he also realise that they have a grievance, in that these negotiations have been in progress for many months and that, since the dispute blew up last November and there was a similar episode, apparently there has been no progress whatsoever? Have we to wait until there are riots and perhaps people are injured on the platforms before the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will take any part in the settlement of this dispute?

Mr. Fraser

I hope very much that there will not be riots on the platforms. I mentioned the meeting which the Chairman had with the full Executive Committee of A.S.L.E.F. this morning. The other union concerned—the N.U.R.—is in conference and it will be available next week. The two unions concerned are anxious to proceed with the discussions in a responsible way. I have appealed to all concerned to play the game and not to impose quite unnecessary suffering on the travelling public.

Mr. Deedes

Is the Minister aware that a disagreeable and unusual feature of this dispute is the fact that relationships between travellers and members of the railway staff who have no part in this dispute are deteriorating? For this reason alone, although appreciating his difficulties and those of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, there is urgent reason for the right hon. Gentlemen to consider this dispute very seriously and do all in their power to bring influence to bear on the parties concerned.

Mr. Fraser

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. However, I think that he would not wish either my right hon. Friend or myself to intervene, unless we were sure that we were intervening for the better. I have discussed this matter rather fully both with my hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and with the Chairman of the Railways Board. They are at present satisfied that it would be better to leave the discussions to be carried through between the Board and the two trade unions principally concerned.

Meantime, I think that it would be better if we could all of us do our utmost to ensure that the members of the respective trade unions support their own union, because in that way we are most likely to get the right answer to the problem.

Mr. Goodhart

Will the Minister of Transport bear in mind that the frustration of the commuters is compounded of the fact that new official schedules have been introduced by British Railways in this region and that they have severely cut the services?

Mr. Fraser

I do not think that the discomfort suffered by the commuters at present arises from the imposition of the new schedules. I think that it is quite well known to be due to another cause, and that we would all be missing the target if we were to attack the Railways Board for the introduction of new schedules.

Mr. Monslow

While welcoming the Minister's statement and his appeal, may I remind him that this is a longstanding dispute and that the decision ought to be expedited?

Mr. Fraser

It is a longstanding dispute, but I understand that it is the wish of the unions to get a national and not a regional settlement. That is what they are trying very hard to achieve.

Mr. Hunt

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as many of ray hon. Friends have said, the Southern Region of British Railways is fast approaching a state of complete anarchy? Thousands of my constituents and many others are being subjected to insupportable inconvenience and delay day after day. Before the right hon. Gentleman next takes over the control of an automaticaly driven train on the Central Line, as he did yesterday, will he please come to my constituency and take the controls of a train from Bromley, North to Cannon Street on any morning of the week and see whether the new schedules are workable as he has suggested?

Mr. Fraser

The House, I think, wishes the responsibility for the operation of the railways to remain with the Railways Board and not to be passed over to the Minister of Transport. I think that the wish of all of us at the moment is to get the differences between the unions and the management resolved. I do not wish to say anything at present that would in any way make this more difficult.