HC Deb 18 June 1984 vol 62 cc10-1
11. Mr. Ron Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next expects to discuss industrial relations in the railway industry with the chairman of British Rail.

Mr. Ridley

I next plan to meet the chairman of British Rail on 2 July as part of our regular schedule of meetings. There is no formal agenda for these meetings, but if the chairman wishes to raise the subject of industrial relations I will, of course, be happy to discuss it with him.

Mr. Lewis

Is the Secretary of State aware that as much as 70 per cent. of railway workers still receive basic rates of pay that are well below the levels advocated by the low pay unit? Is he further aware that, even after his helpful intervention with British Rail, a railwayman's basic rate of pay is now about £76? When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the chairman, will he do all he can to try to sort out the scandal of low pay in British Rail?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman knows that the precise nature of the pay agreement between British. Rail and its employees is for the board to negotiate. Moreover, in this particular instance, the total of the cost of the pay award was proposed by the British Rail chairman, and the Government did not intervene. I am not saying that that is a rule on all such occasions, but in the particular instance to which the hon. Gentleman refers, there was no interference by the Government.

Mr. Gregory

In his forthcoming discussions with the chairman of British Rail, will my right hon. Friend look into the possibility that four of the six points relating to productivity that were discussed and agreed in principle with the unions in 1981 have still not been complied with and were not made a contractual part of recent negotiations?

Mr. Ridley

Despite reports in the press, the recent settlement included four points on productivity. The unions accepted the principle of driver-only operation on the Bedford-St. Pancras line. They accepted that British Rail would bring forward extensions of driver-only operation on passenger trains within the negotiating machinery with the aim of introducing them from 1985 onwards. They agreed to resume driver-only operation trials for freight trains between Willesden and Garston. They also agreed to resume negotiations on the extension of single manning on the footplate. Those substantial improvements in productivity were included in those negotiations.

Mrs. Dunwoody

As the Prime Minister has shown herself only too willing to intervene in the affairs of British Rail, will the Secretary of State ask her whether she would like to insist that, in future, railwaymen will not be required to work on average 12½ hours' overtime because of their appalling rates of pay, but that they should be paid at a rate that makes that unnecessary?

Mr. Ridley

We do not on the whole interfere in the details of pay negotiations. Such a question is rich from the hon. Lady, when the Government of whom she was a member controlled every detail through a statutory pay policy, with pay clauses, and who controlled pay in the nationalised industries by statute enacted by the House.

Mr. Forman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not only industrial relations questions that he is right to discuss with the chairman of British Rail? Will he also discuss with him the apparent shortage of guards in that part of south London covering my constituency, which has caused many problems for rail travellers to and from my constituency?

Mr. Ridley

I note what my hon. Friend says, but perhaps he will agree that it would be better if he were to discuss that with the chairman of British Rail rather than me, if we are to maintain the proper relationship between the railways' responsibility and mine.

Mr. Prescott

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that he has just laid before the House an order giving the chairmen of the nationalised bus and rail industries an increase from £50 a week to £95 a week, which should be compared with the average of £5 a week that he intervened to give British Rail workers?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman will know that that is a simplistic point. He must discuss each increase on its merits. For instance, the chairman of British Rail had no increase at all. Some of the members of the boards to which he referred are working more days a week and others are being given an increase on merit because they perform very satisfactorily.