HC Deb 04 April 1967 vol 744 cc37-8

Mr. R. Carr (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour if he will make a statement about the railway dispute in view of the threat of disruption to industry and passengers in many parts of the country.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. R. J. Gunter)

The National Union of Railway-men instructed all its British Railways guard members from midnight last Sunday not to undertake certain residual duties formerly carried out by the secondman on the footplate, which have fallen to guards as a consequence of the single-manning agreement of October, 1965. The issue mainly concerns freight trains, but some passenger services have been affected by sympathetic action.

The British Railways Board has offered an additional payment for those guards who, in its view, are actually involved in extra work. The union is claiming payment at a higher rate and for all guards.

Following an informal discussion under my chairmanship yesterday the parties resumed direct negotiations this morning, and I understand that certain suggestions emerged from this meeting which are now to be considered by the N.U.R. executive, which is to meet at 3.30 this afternoon.

Mr. Carr

Will the Minister accept that we all welcome the more hopeful note expressed at the close of his statement, and that I certainly do not wish to press him to express any views which might embarrass the settlement that we all want? I do not wish to apportion blame, either. But will the Minister, for the sake of everybody, bring home to both sides of the railway organisations concerned in this dispute that there is growing public concern about the way in which these negotiations have been allowed to drag on for such a long time, and that there is strong public feeling that it is the duty of both sides to see that this dispute is settled quickly and fairly in the national interest, without the disruption of a major strike?

Mr. Gunter

I understand that the negotiating committee of the N.U.R. executive, present at the meeting which has run on until after lunch, has agreed to recommend to its union executive this afternoon that the rail guards should resume normal work.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I share his concern. Nearly 17 months have passed since a manning agreement was arranged and signed. It has been misunderstood for 17 months. Negotiations seem to have meandered on in a most peculiar way. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have expressed my concern and will continue to do all that I can in the matter.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the Minister also bear in mind that much public concern has been aroused over the apparently slow progress since strike action first began to be taken? Does he agree that the matter is of some urgency, both in the Midlands, where it is primarily a commercial matter, and at St. Marylebone—which includes the line which serves my constituency—where the effect on passenger services is most acute? Will he do what he can to effect the resumption of services, even if the basic dispute cannot be resolved until later?

Mr. Gunter

I can only reiterate what I have said.

Mr. Biffen

At what time does the Minister expect to be able to make a pronouncement on the question whether or not any settlement is consistent with the Government's prices and incomes policy?

Mr. Gunter

I shall have to wait another hour, to see what the boys have been up to.

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