HC Deb 21 May 1980 vol 985 cc492-4
13. Mr. Temple-Morris

asked the Minister of Transport what was the total number of employees of British Railways at the latest available date; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fowler

The figure at 22 March 1980 for the Railways Board as a whole, including the subsidiaries, was 240,534. Of these 179,076 were employed in the railway business, 2,955 fewer than at the beginning of the year.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Will my right hon. Friend reiterate that the efficient use of manpower with resulting productivity is vital to the effective future of British Rail? Does he recollect that at the time of the last wage settlement considerable optimism was expressed by British Rail on the ground that the rail unions were at last prepared at least to discuss certain matters that hitherto they had not been prepared to discuss? Is my right hon. Friend satisfied, particularly regarding the way in which that statement was received by the executive of the National Union of Railwaymen?

Mr. Fowler

I think that it was Sir Peter Parker, the chairman of British Rail, who said that productivity was the rock upon which the future of British Rail was based. We entirely agree and accept that.

I think that we and the public will expect the improvements in productivity that were mentioned at the time of the statement to be realised.

Mr. Bagier

Will not the right hon. Gentleman give credit to the railway-men? Will he not concede that there has been a tremendous improvement in productivity? The reduction in the number of staff shows that quite clearly. Will he take this opportunity to stop the sniping that goes on at British Railways staff, who have an extremely difficult job to do? Will he accept, for example, that many of the delays are caused because many of the jobs involve unsocial hours in many parts of the country and just cannot be filled at the rates of pay being offered?

Mr. Fowler

There is no sniping at British Rail staff. I am glad to pay tribute to the improvements that have taken place over the years. Between 1960 and 1979 there was a 54 per cent. reduction in staff. Those reductions and improvements in productivity have slowed down over the last few years. It should be common ground, at any rate, not just between both sides of the House but in the railway industry, that further improvements in productivity are essential if fares for the travelling public are to be retained within reasonable bounds. I think that that is also something with which the railway industry must concern itself.

Mr. Gummer

Has my right hon. Friend seen the statement of the editor of the major modern railway magazine that the drivers of freight trains are still insisting, through their union, on the adherence to divisions not just pre-nationalisation but pre-grouping, and that the drivers on British railways do fewer hours a week actually driving than those in most countries in Europe?

Mr. Fowler

Anyone who considers our railway system objectively will come to the conclusion that improvements in productivity are necessary and possible. I hope that that message will be taken on board by those working in the railway industry.

Mr. Prescott

Does the Minister realise that if the same drop in numbers were to occur again, no men would be left to work in the railway industry? Will he accept what the chairman of British Rail said when the latest agreement was reached? He said that British Rail had made one of its best advances and that it was sufficient to justify a request to the Government for more favourable treatment and for extra investment. Is he aware that investment is badly needed?

Mr. Fowler

No advance has yet been made. I agree that if such advances are made, they will represent a substantial step forward. However, it is possible to make economies in freight yards, parcels and in administration. The Government and the public will want those goals to be achieved.