British Railways (Pay Claim)

Oral Answers to Questions — Board of Trade – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th February 1966.

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Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes 12:00 am, 17th February 1966

asked the Prime Minister what assurances were given to the National Union of Railwaymen Executive, their Chairman or their General Secretary on Friday, 11th February, with regard to the suggested negotiations about pay and conditions of service, that had not been given previously.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

Is the Prime Minister aware that two very different versions of what took place on Friday have been given? Is he aware that Mr. Sydney Greene has made it absolutely clear that the strike would have been called off on Saturday in any case, whereas Mr. Jones, a leading member of the N.U.R. Executive, made it equally clear that it was only the Prime Minister's undertaking, which changed the whole financial structure of the railways and would give different terms of reference to the Chair man, that led to the withdrawal of the strike notice? Which is the correct version, the version implied by Mr. Greene, the "put-up job"—

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I am well aware of what was attributed to Mr. Greene in a certain newspaper. I am well aware of his views on that statement which was attributed to him. The position is that it was very much touch and go and that the likelihood was that there would have been a strike but for what happened on Friday evening.

As to the pay review and the Prices and Incomes Board, nothing was offered that evening that had not been offered in the previous discussions with Ministers earlier in the day and on the previous day. This was one of the big issues, because they thought there might be more to offer, and there was none to offer.

We have suggested that there should be a fresh look at the whole system of wage negotiations, its structure and, ultimately, the wages structure arising from that, in order to link productivity much more directly with pay and also to take account of the other factors which have been mentioned, including the lower-paid workers.

Photo of Mr Ernest Popplewell Mr Ernest Popplewell , Newcastle upon Tyne West

Is the Prime Minister aware that the allegation made about the statement of Mr. Sydney Greene is a gross distortion and the worst possible example of Press misreporting, and would it be my right hon. Friend's opinion that this type of grossly distorted reporting would be a suitable matter to refer to the Press Council for investigation?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I very much doubt that. What I think Mr. Greene was saying was that it was not a simple vote whether to go on with the strike definitely or to call it off. But the minority here, after all the discussion—and certainly not before—took the view that there should be further negotiations on the Saturday in the hope still of extracting a little more money on this pay offer. I had made it clear that that was not forthcoming, and that is what I think Mr. Greene meant in his statement.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Leaving aside the question of Press interviews, the official resolution passed by the N.U.R., after listing the special arrangements that were being made, said that the strike notices were being withdrawn on the understandings given by the First Secretary and the Prime Minister. What were those precise understandings, and do they include increases in wages as a result of the review of the structure next autumn?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The understanding, so far as my right hon. Friend was concerned, was the point that I confirmed, namely, the proposal to bring the pay increase forward by a month from October to September. On that, no change was made. The understanding that was referred to when they referred it to me was that there should be discussions—a long cool look now at the whole basis of negotiations—to relate productivity to the other things that I have mentioned. It was in the light of that that I think this reference was made. It did not involve any undertaking at all. Indeed, I categorically rejected the idea that this would affect any pay settlement in process between now and next September. If we can get a new structure and relate pay to productivity, that would create a different situation in a later round, but not for the present.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Rather than squeeze the economy of the railwaymen, many of whom are taking home less than £11 a week, would it not be better to squeeze our overseas arms spending, since it is the latter that is causing our economic and balance of payments difficulties, and not the railwaymen's wages?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I think that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity of seeing what is being done in that directtion when he sees the White Paper which is to be published next week. Though I yield to none in the House or anywhere else about the very low pay that some railwaymen get, I still believe that higher wages could be paid on the railways if we linked pay settlements to productivity more than we do.

Photo of Mr Martin Redmayne Mr Martin Redmayne , Rushcliffe

Did not the Prime Minister give a promise that he would undertake that the British Railways reshaping plan would either be abandoned or preferably modified?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

What my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport said was that the whole question of the integration of transport which had been destroyed ten years ago is very much to the fore in our work at the present time. I did say what I believed to be right, that fundamental changes will have to be made in the 1962 Act for which right hon. Gentlemen opposite are responsible.

Photo of Mr Martin Redmayne Mr Martin Redmayne , Rushcliffe

Are we to assume that " integration' means that the reshaping plans are to be abandoned?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

If by "reshaping plans" the right hon. Gentleman means the closure policy, the position on that has been announced several times from this side. There is no abandonment of the policy as enunciated by us—not as enunciated by the previous Government. But by "integration" we mean that the system under which the railways have been driven unnecessarily into a position where they cannot pay their way while other sections of the transport industry are very profitable and not brought into the same reckoning, must be ended at the earliest opportunity.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. We must get on. Mr. Heath, business statement.