Certainly I regret that the last-minute effort of the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded the House, has not succeeded.
I have studied the proposals of the British Railways Board and ASLEF. There was no sign in the ASLEF proposals of a change of heart, or of a firm commitment to flexible rosters. If there had been a sign that it would lift the strike and accept the introduction of flexible rosters, I believe that the British Rail Board, and the Government, would have been extremely anxious to accept, and would have welcomed the consequent discussions that could have lead peaceably to the introduction of flexible rosters.
However, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is not the position that ASLEF has taken. If there had been a genuine change of heart, ASLEF would have lifted the strike and made a firm commitment to flexible rosters. It would have taken up that position before calling the strike on the railway system. It did none of those things, and the difficulty now is that under the shadow of the strike the ASLEf offer would postpone and delay again an issue that has been fudged and delayed for a long time. That would not be in the interests of the railway, the nation, or the vast majority of workers on the railways who have adopted the new practices and who want to get on with building a modern railway.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about an initiative. I believe that a good initiative by the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Labour Party would be for them to go back on their bizarre statement at the weekend and the announcement at Durham racecourse—which apparently was not given because the right hon. Gentleman ran out of time—which gave comfort and support to ASLEF and instead to listen to the wise words of Mr. Sidney Weighell, who urged the Leader of the Opposition to behave like a leader. When I hear the right hon. Gentleman apportioning blame for the railway crisis, I feel that we should all refer to the words of Mr. Sidney Weighell:
We have grave doubts about you and Albert.