HL Deb 04 December 1967 vol 287 cc388-91

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, with permission I will now answer the Private Notice Question that was put earlier this afternoon in terms of the ASLEF work-to-rule.

It is too early to make a full assessment. The situation this morning was that over 100 passenger trains were cancelled on Southern Region, and there was some late running. In other regions the effect has not so far become serious.

In London and other conurbations a series of special arrangements was made in advance to facilitate the inflow and outflow of rush-hour car traffic such as freeways for tidal flows. Extra car parking space was made available and many parking meter restrictions were relaxed. Any necessary relaxations of licensing and other restrictions on freight and passenger traffic by road will be introduced as demanded by the situation as it develops.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for his statement about the ASLEF work-to-rule. Whilst I am sorry to hear of the dislocation in the Southern Region this morning, may I welcome the news that most ASLEF members are evidently continuing to work and serve the public, and ignoring the unwise advice of their union. Is the noble Lord aware that there is a growing awareness that continuous concessions by British Railways management in the face of union pressures eventually lead to worsening service and higher cost; and even if greater hardship and inconvenience are temporarily involved, the Government should avoid the line taken in earlier disputes and firmly support the management in taking a stand this time?

There are two other small points that I should like to put. Would the noble Lord tell us what the traffic conditions were in London to-day in the light of the emergency arrangements? Secondly, have the Government asked employers for any special arrangements for the staggering of hours in order to ease peak-time movements? Finally, would the noble Lord tell us whether he can give any prediction as to the future course of the dispute?


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord for the statement he has just made. There is one minor question that I would put. Are the Government considering urging some kind of relaxation of the "no-standing" rule in buses?


My Lords, I am not quite sure whether the earlier remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, were meant to be helpful. This is one of those difficult industries, in the sense that it is contracting and there has naturally been concern amongst the workers. Efforts have been made in the past by Governments—Governments before the present Government—to find ways of seeking a solution. But at least I agree with the noble Lord to this extent; that it is argued that the present dispute is unnecessary, and the sooner it is over the better, not only in the interests of the commuters but in the interests of the country as a whole.

In regard to traffic conditions, I understand that in London the traffic flow was no greater than on a normal Monday. This is perhaps due to the increased car-parking facilities and the very strict rule about off-loading of vehicles. In regard to what employers can do in London, clearly if we could get an increase in the staggering of working hours, particularly in terms of the evening, so taking the pressure off the railways at peak period, this would be of very great assistance.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, asked me about the "no-standing" rule on buses. I am sorry that is a piece of information I did not seek, but I will find out what I can on it. As to predictions, I only hope that the workers who are involved will see that a solution can be obtained fairly and honourably across the table and that there is no need to hold the country to ransom.


My Lords, can the noble Lords say whether these drivers who are working to rule are entitled to receive full wages all the time?


My Lords, the problems involved, as I understand it, arise basically at the moment from exercising what are called rest days. It is interesting to note that 20 to 25 per cent. of our present service is carried out by drivers who work on their rest days. A driver who refuses to take out a freight train, and is sent home for the shift, clearly does not receive the pay for that shift. He will have an opportunity of reporting to-morrow, and if he then wishes to take the train out he may so do; but there is no question of his receiving pay for duty not carried out.


My Lords, I came up from East Kent this morning and the train was completely on time, but almost empty. I am wondering whether perhaps the papers, in all good faith, have rather caused unnecessary panic over this matter, because, so far as I could ascertain, the Ashford—London line trains are apparently running on schedule.


My Lords, I am rather like the noble Viscount. I came up by car at 6 o'clock this morning in order to miss the rush hour, and found I could get across London Bridge a good deal easier than on any day last week. The noble Viscount may be right. While there may have been some wild speculation, I think one must not assume that what have been relatively easy conditions will be the same later in the week when the full effects of the work-to-rule are felt.


My Lords, in view of the Minister's statement that the railway industry is a difficult industry, and indeed one that is riddled by industrial disputes at the present time, can he assure us that something will be done soon to end the present state of uncertainty and disarray that surrounds leadership in the industry?


My Lords, I would think that that goes well beyond the Question that I was asked earlier this afternoon.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his replies to my questions. Is he aware that the first part of my question was entirely intended to be helpful, and that of course I am aware of the complexities of a shrinking industry? Is he also aware that it really is in the interests not only of the national economy, but also of the majority of; the workers themselves, if management can stand firm and be backed by the Government in doing so?


My Lords, it has been this Government's intention, and particularly that of my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour, who is a railway man, to see that the railways are put on to a economic basis; and the sooner that can be done the sooner we can get the true standard of labour which this industry so desperately requires.