HL Deb 21 December 1966 vol 278 cc2087-90

12.15 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, when my great oration was torn in twain by the Royal Commission I could not help feeling that this was the first time I have ever seen it happen in this House; but I have seen it happen so often in the other place, and I can well understand how Members feel when this does happen there, and why the whole matter of the Royal Commission is now being looked at.

I return to what I was saying. On the third question that I posed at the outset about upheaval in the life of the staff, I know that this is an aspect of the problem that has greatly exercised the mind of the Minister, for she, too, realises the difficulties which staffing removals and possible redundancies cause to the men and their families, the people who will be involved. This is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, stressed, and rightly so in this connection. As I understand it, it is likely that between 1,100 and 1,800 employees will be required to move to York, and while the Board have a system of allowances incorporating payment of disturbance allowance, additional allowance for redundant staff, the reimbursement of legal charges in connection with the sale and purchase of houses and loans to redundant staff to assist in house purchase, I am, as is the Minister, well aware that these allowances cannot compensate for the family upheavals involved.

In addition to the figures I have just given, of between 1,100 and 1,800 required to move, there will be in addition some staff savings, expected to be of the order of some 1,500 posts. But this number of people will not be put out of jobs, for about half of the posts represent unfilled vacancies at present and the Board will be able to absorb some of the remainder in other places.

There has been a fear that because of changes of structure within the railway industry some of the men involved will perhaps be concerned in a double move, first to York and then subsequently to somewhere else. I am assured by the Railways Board that no more than a score are likely to be affected in this way, and any staff whose place in the York headquarters is not immediately clear will be kept in London. Perhaps I ought to add that, before taking her decision, my right honourable friend the Minister met representatives of the T.S.S.A. and the N.U.R. to hear their views—this, of course, in addition to the normal joint consultation which would take place about this sort of proposal.

My noble friend Lord Lindgren asked me about housing at York. Pending the Minister's decision to make the Order, the Railways Board have felt constrained not to enter into official discussions with the York Corporation on possible housing problems. They intend, however, to get into touch with the Corporation formally quite soon, and they intend to maintain close liaison with York City housing authority, other adjacent local authorities and the private building industry. The Board's impression is that there is no chronic housing shortage in the York area, and they do not expect any serious problems to arise. An approach has already been made by the local building firms to the General Manager, Eastern Region, offering their services. I hope that these moves, which are projected and are taking place, will help with the difficulties of housing, which of course are always a problem to a shifting family.

Viewed in the light of the railway finances and the necessity for relieving the taxpayer of the burden of subsidising the railways to the greatest possible extent, consistent with providing uneconomic services where the national and local situation demands it, and of bringing about, what I have always felt should be aimed at (though this has at times brought me into conflict with some of my own trade union colleagues)—that is, a streamlined railway system employing more and more highly skilled, and much more highly paid, workpeople—it seems to me that we ought to allow the Order to pass this House and that we I should reject the Prayer.

I can well understand my noble friend's motives in bringing forward this matter to the House and putting his point of view so forcefully. I felt that the House agreed with him that these moves should be kept to the absolute limit, consistent with producing the sort of railway system about which I have been talking. I appeal to my noble friend to withdraw his Prayer, although I understand completely, as I am sure do most Members of this House, his motives in tabling the Motion.


My Lords, first I would thank my noble friend for his reply. One point I should like to make is that I am not against the dispersal of staff. In fact, I spent a lifetime in the New Towns movement, and in any movement of staff surely the first thing that is necessary is to move with the staff the housing, the schools, the church and social facilities. My noble friend has had to admit that, in regard to this move of 1,500 staff—which was the figure he mentioned, though my information is that the number who will be moved is 2,800—negotiations have not yet started, although the Order comes into effect on January 1.


The move will not take place straight away.


My noble friend says that the move will not take place straight away, but in fact the moves have already started. Some of the staff have undertaken preliminary arrangements to move very early in the New Year.

Then not one word was said about educational facilities for the children. The upheaval of a child's education is perhaps not so vital a matter as the loss of the breadwinner's earnings, because he has to maintain the home, but for parents who care about their children's future the educational opportunities available are very important, and any interruption of them is a vital matter. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, for his contribution, with his extensive knowledge of the railway world. So far as my noble friend Lord Popple well is concerned, I do not propose to enter into an inter-union dispute. I would, however, tell him that, in spite of what he said, not a single member of the N.U.R. is affected by this.


My noble friend is wrong. There are quite a number of N.U.R. members involved.


There is not a single N.U.R. member affected. The N.U.R. caters for porters, platelayers, signalmen; and so far as clerical, professional and technical staff are concerned, the N.U.R. membership is nil. Equally, I would say to my noble friend Lord Popple well that, while I appreciate all that has been done, perhaps we could have had a little more co-operation on liner trains. But, this being the last day before the Christmas Recess, and finding myself in a Christmas mood, I will, in order to facilitate the business of the House, beg leave to withdraw the Prayer.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.