HC Deb 19 December 1960 vol 632 cc889-91
Mr. Strauss

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Transport whether, following the explosion and fire which has led to the withdrawal from service of Scottish electrified lines, he will initiate an immediate investigation into new electric rolling stock in other Regions as a safeguard against similar occurrences.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

An inquiry is being undertaken into the explosions which have led to the withdrawal of the Glasgow suburban electric services. This inquiry will be opened at Glasgow on 22nd December by the Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways, whose report will be published. I am informed that the particular type of equipment involved in these particular incidents is not used elsewhere on British Railways. To reassure the travelling public, however, certain precautionary measures are being taken on other electrified services. The lessons learnt from the inquiry will be applied in Scotland and in other Regions as necessary. I am discussing with the Commission whether a wider investigation is needed.

Mr. Strauss

That is acceptable as far as it goes, but as British Railways are frequently and often unjustly blamed for everything that goes wrong with its services, will the Minister state categorically that they can be in no way held responsible for the faults which have occurred in the transformers, which were delivered to British Railways by private firms?

Secondly, as during the period when these lines were electrified they carried about 400,000 passengers a week, compared with an average of 170,000 previously, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that this regrettable setback will not be used as an excuse for holding up any of the electrification schemes in the modernisation plan?

Mr. Marples

The answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is that I do not think it would be right to pre-judge the issue of an independent investigation. I advise hon. Members to await the result of the investigation. When the conclusions are published, we shall see where the fault lies. I assure the House that the conclusions will be published. In answer to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I do not think that one would allow this incident to prejudice one unduly against modernisation.

Mr. Cooper

The specification for this equipment was issued by British Railways. What tests were undertaken by British Railways before they accepted the equipment?

Mr. Marples

The equipment was tested exhaustively over a long period. When it came to be put into everyday use accidents happened. I believe that we should wait until the investigation has been completed.

Mr. C. Pannell

In view of the wide publicity this matter has received, does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that his answers just will not do? Why did equipment which appears to have run perfectly well on railways abroad fail at home? Will the right hon. Gentleman make it crystal clear, in answer to my right hon. Friend, that this is no fault of a nationalised industry? This is something which has gone wrong in the firm which provided the equipment. We appreciate that inquiries must be made, but the right hon. Gentleman should at least come clean on the matter of principle and indicate whether it would not be better to have a wider inquiry, bearing in mind international experience in this matter.

Mr. Marples

I am discussing with the Commission whether there should be a wider inquiry. On the narrow issue of the Glasgow electrification services, which is the subject raised in the right hon. Gentleman's Question, it would be wrong for anybody to prejudice or prejudge the issue. It will be investigated independently, and I do not think that anything more than that can be satisfactorily done at the moment.

Mr. Popplewell

Is the Minister aware that this is not the only incident? Is he aware that the failure of locomotive-building firms to produce correct motive power units capable of doing their job is having a serious effect? I instance the failure of the G.E.C. in its supply on the Eastern, the North British supply, and now the A.E.I. supply. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the British Transport Commission that, whatever loss it sustains, he will support it in a claim for compensation against the firm involved?

Secondly, will not the Minister now agree that this presents him with an opportunity to insist that the Commission shall carry out its own tests and research, instead of being dependent upon the six private concerns which build motive power units? Is he not ayare that this is history repeating itself and that his policy is preventing the Commission from building its own units, as was done when the railways were in the hands of private enterprise?

Mr. Marples

I am not sure that these questions will help either the Commission or private industry. Having the Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways to go into this in greater detail and take evidence from all parties, including any hon. Member who wishes to present it, is as much as can be done safely at the moment.

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