HC Deb 12 February 1979 vol 962 cc794-7
Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

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 total paralysis of local government services in the Winchester area. The words "total paralysis" are not mine; they are those of Mr. Shaun Hilliard, the area organiser for NUPE, in a press statement on Wednesday last, printed in the Hampshire Chronicle of last Friday. His statement said that an all-out strike was to be held in a particular part of Hampshire, that it would be designed to "paralyse and totally disrupt" the area, and that no prior warning would be given.

The matter is specific, as anyone who visits Winchester can see. We have had our fair share of disruption during the last few weeks. Our garbage has been stacking up in the streets, and there have been difficulties with hospitals, ambulances, schools, and so on. By and large, it has not been unreasonable and not as bad as in some other places. The Winchester people, after all, are decent and reasonable people. But from a statement by the union this morning it is apparent that Winchester is to be the chosen area for the all-out strike action, and disruption is now a great deal more widespread.

The situation is rapidly getting worse. The streets are ungritted, and we have this morning had a sudden and considerable snowfall. The gravediggers have joined the strike, as have many other council manual workers, although I am glad to say that at present the housing maintenance people have not. There is an increasing health risk from rotting garbage.

I had a telephone call this morning from the warden of an old people's home in Winchester. When she looked out of the window she was horrified to see one of the elderly residents out on the slippery pavement with her walking stick and a big bag of garbage, trying to get the garbage down to the end of the road to dispose of it.

On Sunday, the local branch of the National Federation of Self-Employed mustered beside King Alfred's statue at 9 a.m. With 40 or 50 volunteers and privately owned trucks, they spent the whole morning clearing away rotting garbage from the commercial premises in the centre of town, where it was most expensive and offensive. They did a good job, and shifted about 10 tons of the worst garbage to one of the emergency dumps that had been arranged by the council outside the city. This action was used as a pretext by the union spokesman to escalate the strike and cause total paralysis in the words that I have quoted.

A great many of my constituents are confused and bewildered. The members of the National Federation of Self-Employed who carted the rubbish away yesterday are asking me whether they did the right thing. People concerned with the cathedral are asking me whether I saw the television broadcast by the Archbishop of Canterbury over the weekend and also know of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham) about the Archbishop being a hypocrite. Many people heard the Prime Minister recently saying that strikes should be a weapon of last resort, and are asking how this situation can occur in Winchester.

The Winchester council workers are also confused. They are reasonable people. I am as much their Member of Parliament as I am of any others in Winchester, and I am sorry that they feel that they have a sense of grievance. But I am even more sorry that they should be led into taking militant action, which I believe is foreign to their instincts and contrary to their interests.

Other groups of volunteers are seeking to help in the hospital—

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member, but he must not make the speech that he would make if I had granted his application.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Thank you, Mr. Speaker; I shall take a short cut. Above all, the National Federation of Self-Employed and the volunteers who yesterday joined them ask whether there is any reason why their action should be considered provocative, and whether there is any obligation on private citizens to seek the approval of NUPE before clearing the streets of their city. Yesterday's events have had wide publicity, and constituents and people from other areas have telephoned to ask me the same question.

In conclusion, the matter is specific, urgent and important. The public, not only in Winchester but over a wide area, are asking how much longer they have to be pushed around like that.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) gave me notice this morning that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, the total paralysis of local government services in the Winchester area". I listened with anxious consideration to the facts outlined about the circumstances in Winchester. After careful consideration, I cannot submit the hon. and gallant Gentleman's application to the House. I am not saying that it shall never be discussed; I merely have the right to say whether it should be discussed tonight or tomorrow.

Mr. David Price

Following your ruling, Mr. Speaker, would it be an abuse of a point of order to ask, in view of what my hon. and gallant Friend said, whether the Government would indicate that within the next day or two they would make a statement about the position of volunteers in this difficult time? We are all being asked the same question as my hon. and gallant Friend, and it would be an enormous help to have guidance from a Minister.

Mr. Speaker

I have had no request, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's words will have been heard.