HC Deb 28 April 1970 vol 800 cc1024-6
2. Mr. J. H. Osborn

asked the Minister of Transport what has been the turnover, profit, value of exports, and value of turnover to outside customers of products manufactured by British Railways workshops in the current year.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

Since 1st January this year British Railways' main workshops have been under the control of British Rail Engineering Ltd. The company is subject to the requirements of the Companies Act, 1967, and will disclose information about present activities in its report and accounts for 1970, in accordance with normal commercial practice.

Mr. Osborn

Would the right hon. Gentleman explain, first, why this year the Chairman of British Railways issued a Press release in advance of the annual report, which has not been published, about the performance of British Railways as a whole, and, secondly, why he did not refer specifically to the activities of British Rail Engineering Ltd., which is reputed to have taken on a container contract for Germany which is likely to cost the taxpayer £1 million and which is seriously affecting the private sector, which is in competition with British Railways' workshops in this matter?

Mr. Mulley

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is that it would be quite wrong if I were to follow him in that comment, because he is trying to steal a later Question which appears on the Order Paper in the name of one of his hon. Friends.

The answer to the second part—the hon. Gentleman's highly colourful version of the fact that British Railways have put in a tender for a contract and have got it—is that it does not follow that any other private firm would have got it. Nor does it follow that this contract will be carried out at a loss. British Railways will have to present their accounts, not only under the Companies Act but to this House, and I am sure that this is a proper commercial transaction.

Mr. Hooley

Would my right hon Friend agree that it is a wholly admirable and desirable policy that public corporations should have the same right to diversify their activities as private corporations have?

Mr. Mulley

I agree, and I also agree that they should not be asked to provide to this House, and elsewhere, information which we would not ask a private company to produce. I happened 10 days ago to be in the locomotive and carriage works at Derby and I was delighted to see that they were successful in obtaining a number of contracts in competition with private interests.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

Did the right hon. Gentleman inquire whether those competitive tenders were secured at a price which could be reasonably expected to return a profit? Has he examined reports in the Press that the container contract is likely to result in a substantial loss of British Railways?

Mr. Mulley

I am naturally concerned that British Railways should not take contracts which are likely to make substantial losses, but I get my facts and figures from official sources and they are different from some of the highly prejudicial statements which sometimes appear in the Press.