British Rail (Industrial Action)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:17 pm on 26th May 1982.

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Photo of Mr Gordon Bagier Mr Gordon Bagier , Sunderland South 4:17 pm, 26th May 1982

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific matter of public and parliamentary importance that should have urgent consideration, namely, the Government's responsibilities in the present rail crisis and the threatened stike action. Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you told my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) that no considerations had been raised different from those put to you by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) on Monday. Therefore, you turned down his application. Today I suggest some new points to encourage you to grant a debate under the Standing Order.

The nation is faced with a possible major rail strike. Even in these troubled days, with overseas problems, this is a matter that the House should consider. A decision has been made by the National Union of Railwaymen that, on 7 June, the day before the House resumes on 8 June after the Whitsun Recess, it will decide whether there should be complete strike action. That decision was reached after the closest examination of all the factors that are involved.

In yesterday's debate on the Spring Adjournment my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), and other hon. Members, eloquently put to the House why it should not go into the Whitsun Recess without discussing this important matter. The reply from the Leader of the House was to the effect that, clearly, the closure programme is a matter of great controversy but it is essentially a management decision that will be taken by British Rail.

I hope to show, in the few minutes available to me, that the main elements in the strike threat are not within the province of British Rail's management. There is a proposal to close workshops, involving over 5,000 workmen, in Shildon, Horwich and Swindon, yet no statement has been made by the Secretary of State for Transport. Those cuts are largely because of under-investment in the industry, which is the direct responsibility of the Government.

On the question of industrial action, it is reported that the British Railways Board is being backed by the Government, and that the board is prepared to face up to a two-month stoppage on issues concerning the three rail unions—the NUR is in conflict over the workshop closures, ASLEF is in conflict over flexible rostering and the TSSA is in conflict over considerable cuts in administrative staff.

Those statements are being made outside. There has been no action from the Government and we are entitled to a statement on whether those reports are true.

There has been a Select Committee report on electrification, but no statement from the Government, and nothing from the Secretary of State for Transport. We are advised outside the House—I do not know whether it is true, but it forms the burden of the remarks that we wish to put to the Secretary of State—that agreement has been reached between the Prime Minister and the French President that the Channel tunnel project will not go ahead. These are important factors affecting the future of British Rail. We are entitled to hear the views of the Secretary of State in a debate.

A strike threat has not been undertaken lightly by my union. I speak as chairman of the National Union of Railwaymen group of hon. Members in the House. The union has an exemplary record of co-operation with successive Governments on modernising the railways, but the mood in my union and in the other rail unions is one of extreme anger. For the House to go into recess without the Secretary of State facing hon. Members to explain important and new factors is wrong.

I believe that I have outlined sufficient of the problems, together with clear reasoning, to justify my contention that the Government should be faced with a debate before the nation faces a major disruption of domestic life.