HC Deb 01 March 1978 vol 945 cc454-5
24. Mr. Cockcroft

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of the British Railways Board.

28. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next expects to meet the Chairman of British Railways.

Mr. William Rodgers


Mr. Canavan

In view of the widespread feeling of relief that the rail strike has been, at least temporarily, averted, will my right hon. Friend tell the Chairman of British Rail that a long-term settlement will not be impeded by an inflexible attitude on the part of the Government towards pay policy?

Mr. Rodgers

I do not think that it would be necessary for me to say that to the chairman. The House may not wish to go over the difficult and detailed questions that were at stake earlier this week, but no one has suggested that the threatened strike, which, luckily, has been averted, was due to anything related to the main spread of pay policy.

Mr. Temple-Morris

When the right hon. Gentleman sees the chairman, will he make clear his concern for the transfer of as much heavy freight as possible from road to rail and acknowledge that one of the best ways in which the right hon. Gentleman could accomplish that would be to have a word with Mr. Moss Evans and to tell the Transport and General Workers' Union not to interfere any more, at Didcot or anywhere else?

Mr. Rodgers

I discuss a number of things with the chairman from time to time and I have been concerned with the problems of rail freight. The chairman and I are at one in wanting to see the railways carry as much freight as possible, but the issues involved are much larger than the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. John Ellis

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman, will he discuss the question of Didcot and find out whether the chairman has been consulted by the entrepreneurs who are starting up at Didcot, and also find out exactly who they are? He will discover that this is a murky business. What consultations have these people had with my right hon. Friend, with the British Transport Docks Board, with the interests at Southampton which they are trying to ruin, or with the railways? Will my right hon. Friend also advise Conservative Members that in seeking to attack the Transport and General Workers' Union they are on dodgy ground?

Mr. Rodgers

It is unlikely that I shall speak to the chairman in those terms. My hon. Friend and the House will appreciate that there are strong feelings on this matter. There are important issues to be resolved and the right course is to find out how this can be done, rather than for us to get too excited, because that is not the best way to deal with the problem.

Mr. Norman Fowler

I hope that the Secretary of State will not be bullied by the Transport and General Workers' Union or his hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis). If I may go back to the question of industrial action, we greatly welcome the abandonment of the strike, but can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the parties have agreed to abide by the result of the inquiry?

Mr. Rodgers

I do not think that words of that sort were embodied in the agreement that was reached last night. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it was a difficult and delicate matter. I pay tribute to Mr. Lionel Murray of the TUC, who played a principal part in what were difficult and skilful negotiations. I prefer to say nothing more about the matter today, although I recognise that it is of real concern to the House.