HC Deb 10 February 1966 vol 724 cc607-10
Q1. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken to co-ordinate Government action on the basis of contingency planning regarding the national rail strike which has been called.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

All necessary steps, Sir.

Mr. Marten

Can the Prime Minister explain why there has been delay in announcing any plans which the Government might have, bearing in mind traffic congestion, because conditions now are very much worse than they were last time that there was a threat of a railway strike? Secondly, is he aware of the anxiety of many firms about trying to organise means of getting staff to their offices on Monday? They cannot get on with it until a national plan is announced. Is this a measure of the confidence of the Prime Minister that he will be able to settle the strike himself?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will realise that the situation is in a very delicate state and that any words of his or mine might make the situation more difficult. We have prepared the necessary steps. We propose to announce them, probably today, so that those who might be affected, if there is a strike, will be able to take all necessary action.

Sir J. Rodgers

If a strike should take place, will the Prime Minister consider suspending the road traffic regulations to permit privates bus and coach operators to run services into London and allow private cars to operate and carry passengers without incurring any insurance liabilities?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman had better wait for the statement that we shall be making, probably later today. As I say, we have to concentrate our efforts at the moment on trying to avoid this strike taking place.

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

Is the right hon. Gentleman going to treat this national emergency as an excuse for making yet another party political broadcast this weekend, well read, as usual, off the teleprompter?

The Prime Minister

I had not thought about the question of broadcasting. I am more concerned, as I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman is, with trying to avoid what I agree with him would be a national emergency.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Prime Minister say whether the measures which he says he has in mind include advice to motorists in the event of a strike, because otherwise it will result in chaos throughout central London?

The Prime Minister

The traffic problems are being fully considered in this connection.

Q4. Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

asked the Prime Minister which Minister is responsible for making the emergency arrangements, including parking, for the London commuters to deal with a railway strike.

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has general responsibility for transport matters, but detailed arrangements are for the particular authorities concerned.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Is the Prime Minister aware of the absolutely chaotic conditions which will occur throughout the London area in the event of this strike? Will he ensure that a statement is made at the earliest possible moment giving the fullest possible particulars, because people have to make arrangements for their staff?

The Prime Minister

No one appreciates better than I do the serious situation which would arise. As the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) said earlier, as against the previous railway strike 10 years ago, there have been many changes which will intensify the difficulties. I have said twice this afternoon, but I will say it a third time, that we intend to make a statement almost certainly today.

Mr. A. Royle

Can the Prime Minister tell the House which Minister will take the publicity if a settlement is reached with the unions over this strike—himself, or the right hon. Lady the Minister of Transport?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry that I missed the second half of the question, but if it was no better than the first I am not sorry.

Sir M. Redmayne

Has the Prime Minister taken note of some sensible suggestions made by a joint committee of the Commuter Organisation in the southeast of England, which were published in The Times yesterday, and which have formed the subject of a letter both to the Home Secretary and to the Minister of Transport, and will he act on some of them?

The Prime Minister

Full note has been taken of them, but there are even wider problems than those raised in their suggestions.