§ Sir Bernard Braine
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the continued threat of traffic chaos on commuter lines in the Eastern Region and in the South-Eastern Division of Southern Region by unofficial 24-hour strikes which have been condemned by both British Rail and the National Union of Railwaymen.I submit that this matter is specific because of deliberately planned but sporadic industrial action by signalmen in defiance of appeals by their union. Last month, one-hour stoppages not only created chaos during the rush hour but, coming as they did, so soon after the Birmingham bomb disaster, caused acute anxiety to commuters tightly packing the station concourse, because of fears of what might happen if a bomb alarm had been given in the area. I drew the attention of British Rail and the National Union of Railwaymen specifically to the fact that the strikers by their action were causing considerable risks.
Last Friday the unofficial action was stepped up and more than 200,000 commuters from Essex were without services for 24 hours. A spokesman for the strikers was reported to have said,There will be a one-day strike next week and every week until our pay proposals are met.He went on to say that he did not know which day the strikers would choose this week.
It was also reported that signalmen on the South-Eastern Division of the Southern Region, which controls the busy Kent and South-East London commuter lines, would strike on the same day. According to the Press, the strikers' leaders have since confirmed that such stoppages will continue.
54 Clearly the matter is of the utmost importance and within the purview of Standing Order No. 9 because these stoppages are being deliberately engineered and are causing and will cause acute discomfort and distress to thousands of innocent people who have no part in the dispute between British Rail and the signalmen. They interfere with people's work, disrupt family life, and cause appalling congestion on the roads and so on. Many of my constituents have written to me in despair over this matter and ask who is going to put an end to the growing anarchy which disrupts their lives.
I submit that they are entitled to know what view the Government take of these stoppages and what action they propose to take, in conjunction with British Rail and the railway unions, to deal with the situation.
I sought to raise this matter last week in the hope of persuading the Government to make a statement. No statement was made, and as far as I am aware there is no sign of any statement being made, unless Parliament asserts itself. It is for that reason that I beg to ask leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) gave me considerable notice of his intention to make an application under Standing Order No. 9 on the following matter:the continued threat of traffic chaos on commuter lines in the Eastern Region and in the South-Eastern Division of Southern Region by unofficial 24-hour strikes which have been condemned by both British Rail and the National Union of Railwaymen.The House will recognise that this is entirely a procedural matter for me. I have to decide whether I am willing to interrupt the business to allow the House to discuss this matter. I am afraid the answer is, "No".
I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman said will have been heard by those in authority, but as far as I am concerned, the answer is "No".
§ Mr. Channon
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Nobody is challenging your ruling, but this is a matter of great public importance and concern to many hundreds of thousands of people. Would it be in order to ask you, Sir, to draw this matter to the attention of the right 55 hon. Gentleman the Patronage Secretary so that he may ask his right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport to make a statement if this situation on the railways persists?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)
I shall convey what has happened to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport.