HL Deb 17 January 1979 vol 397 cc957-9

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of recent disruptions of rail services in the South Eastern Region, they will consider, as a condition of their annual grant to British Railways, the maintenance of regular services.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I apologise to the House; there are other people on the Front Bench who speak. No practical purpose would be served by such a condition. I am sure that the British Railways Board are already doing all in their power to maintain regular services. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport said yesterday in another place, the Board have put forward proposals for specific productivity improvements and significant progress has been made in discussion.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness for that disarming Answer, may I ask whether she is aware that on no fewer than six Wednesdays in the past couple of months the services in the Southern Region have been disrupted, so that tens of thousands of commuters have been prevented from getting to London? Is she aware that it is simply not a service, if it is as bad as that? Is she also aware that the drivers who have withdrawn their work are clearly in breach of their contract of employment?

Is she further aware that the general public look to the noble Baroness and to Ministers generally, who take £360 million a year off the taxpayer to support the railways by way of subsidy, in order to ensure that the railways function regularly and reliably? Will she therefore consider, despite her Answer, the point which I put to her, that either the management should strengthen their disciplinary system against the workers, who are clearly in breach of their contract of service, or that they should invent a system of attendance money, productivity bonus or whatever it is called, to ensure that these men do go to work and that the railway system does work?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I accept that there has been disruption on the Southern Region over the past few weeks. It has been unofficial action in that part of the railway system. It is action which has been deplored in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and I am sure that it is deplored by all Members of this House that unofficial action should be taken that causes so much trouble and so many problems to the people who have to commute on the Southern Region. As regards allying attendance money to productivity, it is a matter for the British Railways Board and the unions when they are negotiating their productivity deals as to what kind of strings are attached, or otherwise. This is not a matter on which the Government can interfere. It is a matter for the British Railways Board, and I am sure it is something which the members of the Board will have in mind when they are negotiating the present productivity deal with the railway unions concerned.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that we should be wise to follow the example of several Continental democracies, where, if you work in a public utility company, it is illegal to come out on a lightning strike, though, of course, you can send in your notice according to your contract of service? I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that we should legislate for that.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, we have no proposals at the moment for legislating about trade unions, about strikes or about anything like that. But certainly, if the time came when we had to do anything like that, we should take into account the views that Members have expressed here.