HC Deb 05 July 1978 vol 953 cc430-4
2. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next expects to meet the chairman of British Railways.

8. Mr. Ron Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he plans next to meet the chairman of British Railways.

9. Mr. Shepherd

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends next to meet the chairman of the British Railways Board.

19. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will next meet the chairman of British Railways.

21. Mr. Crawford

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends next to meet the chairman of British Railways.

29. Mr. Clemitson

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends next to meet the chairman of British Railways.

31. Mr. Gould

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends next to meet the chairman of British Railways.

Mr. William Rodgers

I saw him this morning, but I expect to see him again soon.

Mr. Canavan

Will my right hon. Friend tell the chairman that we do not all agree with Lord Boyle's recommendation that he is worth £40,000 a year and that it is about time that the Board members were seen to be earning even their present salaries by fighting for more public investment in the railways, including the speeding up of the railway electrification programme in Scotland?

Mr. Raphael Tuck

The chairman made a £68 million profit this year.

Mr. Rodgers

The chairman is fully aware of the fact that there is a certain amount of controversy surrounding the Boyle report and its acceptance, but hon. Members on both sides of the House have paid tribute to Sir Peter Parker, who is doing a first-class job for British Rail.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered with Question No. 2.

Mr. Shepherd

Is the Secretary of State aware that in the chairman's report this year reference is made to the need for decisions to be taken on financing and replacing the assets of heavy loss-making rural services? What general advice will the Secretary of State be giving the chairman on this matter and, in particular, how does he see the future of the Hereford-Malvern-Worcester link in the light of the development of Worcester Parkway station?

Mr. Rodgers

I have not lately discussed with the chairman that passage of his report and I do not have in mind giving him any advice. I know the hon. Gentleman's concern about the Hereford-Worcester line. Improvements are being made and I think that they will make the service better for people travelling to and from Worcester. There is certainly no proposal to reduce the service or, least of all, to close the line.

Mr. Jessel

Is the Secretary of State aware that trains passing at speed through Twickenham at night and carrying heavy loads of stone for the building of the Thames barrier are excessively noisy, wake people, and shake their houses? Will he ask the chairman to take urgent action to deal with this nuisance?

Mr. Rodgers

I am aware of the problem. As always, the hon. Gentleman has drawn it to my attention on behalf of his constituents. There is a genuine dilemma here. The whole House wants British Rail to carry more freight that is suitable to it, and there are some penalties involved, particularly on lines that are heavily used by day. I shall draw the chairman's attention to what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Crawford

Will the Secretary of State ask the chairman to give us an assurance that the first Motorail service —between London and Perth—which was threatened with closure last year, will be maintained next year and in succeeding years, because it is vital to the interests of railwaymen in my constituency?

Mr. Rodgers

I shall draw that matter to the chairman's attention.

Mr. Clemitson

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with Sir Peter Parker the future of the railway network—particularly the commuter network— in the South-East of England and how much-needed capital investment in that system is to be funded, remembering that the benefits will accrue not only to the commuter but to the community as a whole?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that Sir Peter Parker is fully aware of the considerable concern that exists because of the deterioration—that is what it has been—of these services in the London commuter area. I am sure that he is anxious to improve the convenience and comfort of such services. It is not easy to do so, but certainly investment must be provided for this.

Mr. Gould

Will my right hon. Friend raise with the chairman the need for further electrification in the Southern region? Will he point out to the chairman that there has been no major electrification in the South since 1964 and that the Southern region is very much the poor relation in this respect? Many major lines, such as the one between Southampton and Portsmouth, urgently need this improvement.

Mr. Rodgers

There is a later Question on electrification. The Board of British Rail has the matter much in mind. I have no proposals before me at present, but within an investment ceiling I am happy to consider them.

Mr. Rost

Has the right hon. Gentleman yet discussed with British Rail the new plans for a Channel rail link, possibly with the assistance and co-operation of the European Community?

Mr. Rodgers

I have not discussed that matter with British Rail because the Government's position remains as I have stated previously. However, I am aware of the studies that British Rail is undertaking. The matter was raised with me during the course of the visit of the German Minister of Transport, Herr Gscheidle, last week.

Mr. Bagier

When my right hon. Friend meets Sir Peter Parker will he ensure that he asks him, in spite of the Boyle report, whether he has had any difficulties arising from the fact that he accepted a £40,000-per-year reduction in his salary when he took on the job? Secondly, will he ensure that in his considerations of the running of the business of British Rail and all its subsidiaries he has no ideas about hiving off the more profitable sections of British Rail to private enterprise?

Mr. Rodgers

First, I do not believe that the chairman has any plans to hive off any part of British Rail. I should be strongly against any such plan. Secondly, it is recognised that when we get first-class men running nationalised industries it is good for the industries and good for the country. Quite often they take a considerable reduction in salary.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the most welcome trends has been the reduction of the deficit on the freight and parcels business of British Rail? Do the Government still agree with the Opposition that the deficit should be totally eliminated? If the right hon. Gentleman still agrees with that proposition, does he expect that to take place during 1978?

Mr. Rodgers

I always hesitate to say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I prefer to say that my position has always been that freight must pay its way. There has been no change in the policy and no change in the targets. I believe that British Rail is making good progress towards ensuring that there are no deficits after the end of this year.

Mr. Speaker

I shall call one more hon. Member from either side of the House on this Question.

Miss Boothroyd

Will my right hon. Friend tell the chairman of British Rail that while we recognise the efforts made to win back business by special offer fares, those efforts should be matched by bringing forward catering plans, especially the buffet saver, which I know he has in mind, so that that may be made use of during the summer by those making use of the special fare plans, including families and the elderly?

Mr. Rodgers

My hon. Friend is right to draw my attention to the fact that when people use the railways they go to them because they provide a complete service. That includes adequate catering facilities. I shall make the point to Sir Peter Parker.

Mr. Gow

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the chairman of British Rail, will he discuss with him the fate of the 42 former employees of British Rail who were dismissed either because they declined to join a trade union or because they retired from a trade union after the closed shop agreement had been introduced? If he will not do that, are we to interpret his attitude as meaning that he is careless and callous about the fate of the 42 men?

Mr. Rodgers

I do not think that the House would generally interpret my attitude to be that on any subject. I discuss matters of urgent business with the chairman and he is fully aware of the discussions that we have had in the House on the matter that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.