HC Deb 04 November 1959 vol 612 cc1027-30
23. Mr. F. Noel-Baker

asked the Minister of Transport what general direction he has given to the British Transport Commission regarding the proportions of carriage, wagon and locomotive building to be allocated to British Railways factories and to private firms, respectively.

Mr. Marples

None, Sir.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

Is not the Minister aware that in all railway towns there is very grave anxiety about the position of the railway workshops? A great deal of work that could have been, and should have been, done in these shops has been sent to private firms, including one firm which, during this year, has got money from the taxpayer to the amount of £1½ million and which is now in process, or appears to be, of going bankrupt—the

* See OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1959; cols. 78–79.

North British Locomotive Company. Will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to have a very close look at the Transport Commission's policy with regard to repair and building work, and also take an early opportunity to reassure railway men that it is not the Government's intention gradually to run down the railway workshops and, in the end, sell them off?

Mr. Marples

The construction and repair of locomotives and rolling stock is entirely a matter for the Commission, and I think that it ought to rest there. The Commission has the responsibility for control, and I do not think that I should interfere.

Mr. J. T. Price

Is the Minister aware that at the great Horwich locomotive works in Lancashire, which I have the honour to represent, the fabrication of railways was the stock employment of these people for generations, and that we are now in a position in which railway workshops, including those at Horwich, are to be relegated to doing the care and maintenance work of British Railway services? Further, is he aware that this transfer of the fabrication of the new railways is demoralising the people who work in the railway workshops, who have long railway traditions behind them? Is it not time that the Government should now take up the promise given by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the modernisation scheme in 1954, who gave a pledge to me and to other hon. Members that the railway workshops would be given a fair share of the new work being done under that scheme?

Mr. Marples

The Commission inherited from the four main-line railway companies more workshops than the integrated scheme needed, and now has, somehow or other, to solve the problem. The Commission having been set up—and it was not this side of the House that set up the Commission—I do not think that we should take the responsibility from it.

Mr. Gower

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that throughout the changes in the arrangements for the making of wagons and the like, the Transport Commission has worked in the closest touch with the railway trade unions?

Mr. Marples

I am quite certain, having visited the Transport Commission and having seen the trade union representatives there, that there is great harmony between the Commission and the trade union leaders.

Mr. Popplewell

The Minister says that he has given no directive at all, but I hope that he will have another look at this matter and give some directive. Is he aware that the policy of the Commission now is to close railway workshops and to hand this type of work to private enterprise? Is he aware that some members of his area boards have deliberately said that the British Transport Commission is doing too much of its own work, and that that work should go to private enterprise? In the meantime, as many thousands of railway shop men are wondering where their jobs will be in the next week or so, will the Minister have another look at this, bearing in mind the suggestion that was put to his predecessor when we had our last debate on this industry, that these workshops should be used to meet other railway requirements?

Mr. Marples

I will certainly look at the last debate in the House. I will also see that the chairman of the Commission has a note of these present exchanges, and when I next meet him I should like to discuss this question with him.

Mr. Strauss

The right hon. Gentleman says that this is a commercial matter, and one realises that, to a large extent, it is. It is also a very difficult matter. Will he bear in mind, however, that it is also a matter with very wide social implications, and will he discuss these with the Commission at the first opportunity, when meeting its chairman?

Mr. Marples

Yes, I will discuss it with him, but I maintain that, primarily, this is a matter for the Commission, and not for the Minister.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

On a point of order. In view of the very unsatisfactory answers that the Minister has given—[Interruption.]—I am sorry but, indeed, we do think that they were unsatisfactory—and in view of the present unsatisfactory position whereby we are not able—[Interruption.]—under the present rules to press him on this kind of subject—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member must pursue the proper usage if he is seeking to give notice that he proposes to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Then. Mr. Speaker, I beg to give notice that, unless we are given some other opportunity to discuss it, I shall seek to raise the question on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

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