HC Deb 29 November 1978 vol 959 cc432-3
17. Miss Fookes

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen.

Mr. William Rodgers


Miss Fookes

Can the Secretary of State elaborate? When he meets the general secretary, could he make a point of discussing improved productivity, since it is probably more important to talk to union representatives than to talk to the chairman of the British Railways Board on this matter?

Mr. Rodgers

By"soon"I mean either before Christmas or after. As for productivity, I agree with the hon. Lady that the trade unions have a part to play. However, as I said earlier, discussions are taking place between the trade unions and the BRB about the productivity scheme, and I hope that they will succeed

Mr. Channon

When the Secretary of State next meets the general secretary of the NUR and other leading figures in the rail unions, will he see whether he can take any initiative that will prevent the type of action that took place today which has led to thousands of my constituents being unable to travel to work on the Fenchurch Street line, which has been shut by the action of a small number of men?

Mr. Rodgers

A number of the stoppages, particularly in London and the South-East, have caused much inconvenience to the travelling public and have been unnecessary. I expect that that is the view of the leaders of the trade unions concerned. Industrial relations are difficult, but the record is a great deal better than is sometimes suggested.

Mr. Bagier

Will my right hon. Friend ask the general secretary of the NUR to meet the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) so that he can explain to her that a considerable number of productivity agreements in the rail industry have led to a massive reduction in manpower on the railways and to increased efficiency? Would it not be a good thing if credit was sometimes given for this improvement?

Mr. Rodgers

My hon. Friend is right to draw the attention of the House to this. There has been a substantial reduction in manpower. It is generally agreed that only through the increased efficiency of the railways—and there is always room for improvement—can we secure their future.

Mr. Bowden

When the Secretary of State is good enough to meet the general secretary of the NUR, will he tell him in no uncertain terms that unless the industrial action in the South-East is settled and my constituents and many others can be sure of a regular service they will look for alternative means of travelling, which will have a catastrophic effect on the railways?

Mr. Rodgers

If the hon. Member knew more about these matters, he would know that it would be unwise of me to talk to the general secretary of the NUR about matters which concern ASLEF.

Mr. Cohen

Will my right hon. Friend repeat what he said earlier about the NUR not being involved? Will he tell Opposition Members who raised the question of consultation with trade unions that the vast majority of trade unionists in the industry behave in a responsible fashion and provide a tremendous service for the country but that they are referred to in the House only when difficulties arise? They are ignored when things are going smoothly.

Mr. Rodgers

My hon. Friend has paid a fitting tribute to the majority of railwaymen who do a first-class job and who are representative of an important and worth. while national tradition.