Orders of the Day — Economic and Energy Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th December 1973.

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Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border 12:00 am, 19th December 1973

I do not think so, but I accept that the right hon. Gentleman and I have the same interest, namely, that now that negotiations have started we wish them to come to a successful conclusion.

I now turn to the ASLEF dispute, which arises in different circumstances. It is not, as Mr. Buckton has made plain, a dispute about stage 3 at all. It arises from a series of complex negotiations on a pay restructuring involving all the railway unions and British Railways. Two of the unions, the NUR and the TSSA, are still in negotiation on the employers' proposal and only ASLEF has taken industrial action.

Attempts have now been made from three quarters to get this action stopped. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition appealed to ASLEF not to inconvenience the public during the Christmas period. I saw the ASLEF executive last week and told its members that, in my view, the right course was to refer their difference for arbitration by the Railway Staffs National Tribunal whose chairman, Dr. McCarthy, was recently appointed with their approval. This is the next step in the procedure to which they have long been a party.

Over the weekend the General Secretary of the TUC, Mr. Len Murray, intervened in this dispute, and I welcome his intervention. As I understand it, he was seeking to bring the parties together in informal discussions under Dr. McCarthy's chairmanship. In preliminary discussions, the Railway Board indicated its willingness to accept such a proposal, but made clear its position that, since the industrial action by ASLEF was in breach of the agreed procedure, that action should cease and normal working be resumed before such talks took place. As I understand it, that was the proposition which Mr. Murray put to the ASLEF executive. In the event, the executive refused to accept that its action should be called ofi before such discussions took place.

The right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) was reported in The Times on Monday as saying: I feel there is no justification at all for the action they are taking. They have arbitration machinery available to them under a new chairman, who was nominated by the unions, and if they have confidence in their case they ought to take it to arbitration. I share the right hon. Gentleman's view. I sincerely hope that the ASLEF executive, which explained its position plainly and reasonably when it came to see me, will review its position in the new circumstances, cease its action and return to put its case within the procedure available to it.