Mrs. Thatcher (by Private Notice)
asked the Minister of Transport whether he will make a statement on the strike affecting London underground services today.
The Minister of Transport (Mr. Fred Mulley)
An unofficial one-day strike by London Transport guards took place today. I understand from London Transport that during the morning peak between a third and half of the normal train services were operated and that this improved later in the day.
Near normal services were operated on the main Metropolitan Line, the East London Line, the Northern City Line and on the Woodford-Hainault branch of the Central Line.
On the Victoria Line, which was not affected by the strike, a defective train unfortunately caused services to be suspended for over an hour between Warren Street and Victoria during the morning peak. On other lines only restricted or skeleton services could be run.
I am sorry about the situation and the inconvenience it has caused. The action by the men is, I understand, against the advice of their unions, who are trying to prevent a repetition of the stoppage.[column 762]
First, I congratulate F. Mulleythe Minister. I believe that this is his first appearance in his present capacity. I wish him a happy, but short, spell of office. Apart from any electoral considerations, a short spell is all that anyone on that side of the House gets at the Ministry of Transport.
Is the Minister aware that this is the third occasion during the last few months on which I have had to put down a similar Question affecting commuters into London, that the Reply we get is always the same, that the Minister is always sorry, but unofficial strikes recur?
In view of the chaotic conditions this morning, may I ask what action the right hon. Gentleman proposes to take on behalf of the travelling public?
First, I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks. I should, indeed, have wished to make my debut on a happier occasion.
I must point out that responsibility for the running of transport in London is that of the London Transport Board, and that I certainly do not propose to undertake or seek to undertake to manage it myself. Indeed, the House has already passed a Bill, which we hope will shortly come into effect, whereby the Greater London Council becomes responsible for London Transport.
Unhappily, negotiations between the unions and the board on wages questions have given rise to these unofficial strikes. Although they are totally unofficial, at this moment the unions are having meetings with a view to getting the earliest possible resumption today and to trying to avoid any repetition.
Sir B. Janner
I should like to add my unqualified felicitations to the Minister and to the House on his occupying this post, and to wish him many years' occupation of it—unless he gets something better, which I hope he will.
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will ask the Home Secretary, on occasions like this, to see that traffic wardens and others do not serve tickets on motorists at the various parking places where they do at present and whether parks and other places will be open for parking so that the smallest inconvenience is caused to commuters?[column 763]
One of the difficulties is that this kind of lightning strike takes place without due notice. We shall be keeping the parking arrangements under review, but it is not normal to bring in special arrangements where, as I hope this is, there is a strike for one day only.
My hon. Friend asked the Minister what he intended to do apart from saying that he was sorry about these repeated problems facing commuters to London. Do we take it from the Minister's reply that the answer is, “Simply nothing” ?
The right hon. Gentleman has a constituency responsibility in the London area. He knows that I have no statutory power to intervene. It would be wrong to do so in negotiations between the management and the unions. Second, the right hon. Gentleman knows that the House has decided that the new arrangements for London Transport will shortly be brought into effect.
I regret the inconvenience caused to passengers by these sporadic disputes; I have suffered, too. But is my right hon. Friend surprised that men earning relatively low wages seek further increments of income when the Government have been responsible for allowing the salaries of high-ranking civil servants to be increased by nearly £1,000 a year, and the chairmen of nationalised industries to receive even more than that? In view of those increments of wealth to those sections of the community, is it any wonder that these men go on strike?
I do not altogether accept my right hon. Friend's analysis, but there can be no dispute that what he has said goes rather wider than my responsibility.
Mr. Gresham Cooke
Will the Minister bear in mind that these London Transport strikes cause tremendous inconvenience to thousands of commuters, many of whom come from the area that I represent, and also waste millions of gallons of petrol because of congestion, all of which will add to the smog that we expect tonight? As an example of the inconvenience, is the Minister aware that it took me 2¼ hours to get from London Airport to Westminster today, using three gallons of petrol instead of the usual half gallon?[column 764]
I do not know to what extent the men concerned will be moved by learning of the inconvenience caused to the hon. Gentleman, but it is right that the House should make quite clear the enormous inconvenience and economic loss that is caused by this kind of unofficial action.
Arising out of the Minister's reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), may I ask whether he is aware that there are steps which as Minister of Transport he can take personally to help London's thousands of commuters to get home tonight, such as radio announcements, the relaxation of licensing restrictions, and so on? Does the Minister's original statement, which contained no reference to that, mean that he proposes not to raise a finger to help these people get home?
I think that the most effective way of trying to improve the situation tonight is by the action being taken by the unions concerned which are now in talks with the men who are on strike. Getting the men back to work is by far the most useful thing to do. Relaxing licensing and insurance arrangements for people who left their cars behind this morning will not help them to get back to the cars in their garages at home.
Is it not a fact that all those who are being inconvenienced, or at any rate a large majority of them, are in receipt of much higher incomes than those who have gone on strike? If all the inconvenience and expense which have been mentioned are facts, is not the sensible thing to do to ask my right hon. Friend to recommend to the chairman of London Transport that he should meet this reasonable request by the guards who are on strike?
I do not think that it would be right to go into the merits of this dispute, which is a highly technical and complicated one about the relationship between the efficiency payments system and higher mileage bonuses. The important thing is to leave this where the main responsibility lies, namely, with the unions, who are doing all they can to get the dispute resolved.