HC Deb 23 April 1980 vol 983 cc430-4
2. Mr. Temple-Morris

asked the Minister of Transport when he intends to meet the chairman of British Railways.

6. Mr. Colin Shepherd

asked the Minister of Transport when he plans to meet the chairman of British Railways.

20. Mr. Hicks

asked the Minister of Transport when he intends meeting the chairman of British Railways; and if he will make a statement.

24. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

asked the Minister of Transport when he expects to meet Sir Peter Parker.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Norman Fowler)

I plan to meet him soon.

Mr. Temple-Morris

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman, what will he say to him about the recent 20 per cent. pay settlement for British Railways employees, which was claimed to be a major commitment to change, not least in regard to productivity, upon which the future of British Railways depends? What is my right hon. Friend's view about productivity in British Railways in view of the recent wage settlement.

Mr. Fowler

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that productivity is basic to the whole question. What has been offered is a basic increase of 16 per cent., and 4 per cent. once—and only once—productivity improvements have been achieved. Such productivity improvements must be achieved because it simply cannot be a question of loading further fare increases on to the commuters.

Several Hon. Members rose


Mr. Speaker

I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Mr. Shepherd

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of British Railways, will he discuss the subject of further railway electrification? Does not he agree that it is vital that there should be a continuous programme of investment so that the United Kingdom traction industry can maintain its position in the United Kingdom market as well as develop its position in the wider and more important overseas markets? Will he encourage British Railways in that respect?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, we shall try to give British Railways as much encouragment as we can. A report of a joint working party between British Railways and the Department will become available later this year. Yesterday, I met the Railway Industry Association. We shall bear in mind the importance of exports in any decision that we make.

Mr. Hicks

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that more than 90 per cent. of the freight entering and leaving Cornwall is china clay? Can he give an assurance that the application which is now being made jointly by British Railways and the companies concerned for financial assistance for new rolling stock will be given sympathetic consideration.

Mr. Fowler

Yes, I can give an assurance to my hon. Friend that we shall give the application every consideration. Clearly, it is part of our policy to try to get as much freight of that kind as we conceivably can on to the railways.

Mr. Townsend

When the Minister meets the chairman of British Railways will he raise with him British Railways' support for the pressure group " Transport 2000 " which is campaigning against the roads programme decided by this Parliament? Does the right hon. Gentleman think it appropriate that taxpayers' money should be used in this way?

Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend tempts me into a general essay on the question of pressure groups in transport. I sometimes wish that the common interests of more groups were recognised but I am sure that the chairman of British Railways will take note of what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Spriggs

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us remember the pledge that he gave to the House that there would be not cuts in rural transport while he was Secretary of State? Will he renew that pledge today?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir. I am not prepared to see any substantial cuts in the passenger network. I have made that clear in this House and in a letter to the chairman of British Railways. No Minister of Transport has ever said that there would be no closures of any kind, but I wish to make it absolutely clear that we are not prepared to see wholesale closures of local services. Our position is exactly the same as the position of the previous Government, which is that there will be no further round of Beeching cuts. Opposition Members should accept that assurance and not look for mischief where there is none.

Mr. Bagier

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Sir Peter Parker says in the annual report of British Railways published today, that, in spite of the operating surplus achieved by British Railways, unless the stringent cash limits are lifted his industry will not, in the long term, be able to provide the kind of service provided by railways in Europe? What action is the Secretary of State taking to lift those cash limits?

Mr. Fowler

We hope that the chairman of British Railways will be able to manage the railways within the external finance limits. I have had talks with him and he has given me assurance that it will be possible to operate within those limits. The hon. Gentleman would do well to consider in detail what the chairman of British Railways said.

Mr. Bob Dunn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the annual report of British Railways published today indicates that—[HON. MEMBERS: " Reading ".] Of course I am reading.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Though that confession is an admission of guilt, the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) must at least look as though he is not reading his question.

Mr. Dunn

In the annual report of British Railways for 1979 it is made quite clear that a deterioration in rail services took place in 1979 compared with 1978. As most of the decline in service seems to have taken place on the Dartford loop line, will my right hon. Friend express urgent concern to the chairman of British Railways, when he next meets him, about the level of service provided in the South-East area?

Mr. Fowler

I am not sure that all the late arrivals can be affecting my hon. Friend's constituency but I shall certainly take up the question of the quality of service with the chairman of British Railways when I next meet him.

Mr. Geraint Howells

In view of what the Secretary of State has just said about railway closures, will he give an assurance to the people of Wales that no further lines will be closed in the Principality during the next five years?

Mr. Fowler

I can certainly give an assurance that there is absolutely nothing in front of me at the moment proposing that any lines in Wales should be closed. Nor, may I add, is there any report in the Ministry of Transport—as was alleged by one newspaper recently—saying that further lines should be closed. It is all a myth and I ask the House to accept my assurance on that.

Mr. Booth

Will the Secretary of State discuss with the chairman of British railways the extent to which the cash limits which he has set for British Railways have led to British Railways replacing their assets more slowly than any other railway service in Europe at a time when there is a big increase in passenger mileage and to British Railways having to turn away £10 million to £15 million worth of profitable freight traffic due to the lack of locomotive power?

Mr. Fowler

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the PSO grant for 1980–81 was reduced by £22 million of which £13 million was decided on by the previous Government? Investment in British Railways is being maintained at exactly the level decided upon by the previous Government. As for freight locomotives, permission was given for 25 such locomotives to be built though 16 only were built. That is not a matter for Government, it is a matter for British Railways.