HC Deb 18 June 1958 vol 589 cc1075-91
7. Mr. L. Thomas

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will now make a further statement on the economies being effected by the British Transport Commission in the light of the railway wages settlement.

Mr. Watkinson

The principal economies being made are:

Reduction of train mileage: The first cuts, which will be announced within the next 48 hours, represent about 9 per cent. of present passenger train mileage on the Western Region. Other Regions will follow.

Reduction of overtime or weekend working: This has been eliminated in a number of railway workshops.

Reduction in repairs and maintenance expenditure: The scrapping of 100,000 freight wagons is to be completed by the end of the year. The rate of withdrawal is now 4,000 wagons a week.

Restriction of recruitment: At this time of the year recruitment normally rises. This year it is being severely reduced and normal wastage is not being fully replaced.

Elimination of unremunerative services: The Chairman of the Commission and I have each had talks with the Chairman of the Central Transport Consultative Committee. Over 30 branch line services have been earmarked for withdrawal and will be submitted to the Transport Users' Consultative Committees within the next few months, in addition to the proposal to close the old Midland and Great Northern line, recently announced.

Mr. Thomas

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that very full reply, may I ask him if he is satisfied that the fullest consultation is taking place between the British Transport Commission and the trade unions involved in the railway world? Secondly, can he say when this decision will be implemented in a form which will inform the travelling public exactly how and when they will be affected?

Mr. Watkinson

The first point which my hon. Friend has raised is a most important one, and I have been assured by the Chairman of the Commission, and I know that it is true, that every possible consultation is being held with the trade unions so that they are fully informed and can play their full part in these necessary closures. As to the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, as I have said, announcements of the actual cuts, changes in train time-tables and the like will start to be made within the next 48 hours.

Mr. Strauss

May I ask the Minister two Questions? Can he tell us how much these economies will amount to, above the amount which would naturally have been put into operation as a result of the general review of its affairs by the Transport Commission; and, secondly, while everyone agrees that it is perfectly easy to cut down expenditure in any organisation, can he assure us that the public service of the railways is not being seriously damaged by the cuts he has told us about today?

Mr. Watkinson

As to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, that was made plain when I answered previous Questions on this matter. It is that the extra cost of wages settlements has to be recovered by economies, and they were all set out quite clearly in the previous Answer which I gave. As to the second part of the supplementary question, which is a very important one, this is not an attempt just to slash the railway services quite regardless of the general modernisation plan and the future of the railways. It is carefully dovetailed into that plan, and we are trying to make the railways fit the present day, when there are 7 million road vehicles available. That, therefore, necessitates great changes from previous days, when there were no road vehicles at all.

Sir I. Fraser

May I ask my right hon. Friend if, while obviously in some cases the local interest must give way to the national interest in this matter, he and the authority concerned will bear in mind that the local people will take such a drastic thing as the closure of a local line much more readily if two criteria are borne in mind; namely, first, that real economy is effected by the closure, and, secondly, that there is adequate alternative transport?

Mr. Watkinson

Both these things have to be considered by the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, but I say again that I hope that hon. Members of this House will, as far as they properly can, help in this necessary work of making the railways modern and efficient.