HC Deb 21 June 1982 vol 26 cc31-71

4.6 pm

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

I beg to move, That this House deplores the Government's refusal to respond to the Opposition's proposals to intervene to avert a rail strike, and, recognising the contribution of the rail unions to manpower savings and productivity increases in British Rail, regrets the Government's failure to match this with the increased investment urgently necessary to re-equip and modernise Britain's railways; and calls upon the Government to authorise a corporate plan for investment including mainline network electrification.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Booth

The threatened strike by the National Union of Railwaymen is not the cause of the rail crisis that the country now faces. Rather, it is the result of a conviction among a large number of people who work on British Rail that the Government are pursuing a course that will result in a collapse of the railways and that that course is being pursued at a time when it is clear to anyone who studies the railways that major investment is needed to reequip and modernise if there is to be a future for our railway network.

That view has been represented to the Government time and again. A significant example of that occurred in March last year when the British Railways Board decided to publish a rail policy document in which it submitted that it was crucial that a decision should be taken soon. It did so following the submission of a paper in May 1980 which called upon the Government to recognise what was needed for the renewal of equipment on the railways, if only to maintain the operational reliability and safety of British Rail.

That rail policy document pointed out that the physical effect of continuing the level of investment that then existed would be that about 3,000 track miles of British Rail would have to be taken out of operation within the decade, that there would be a fall in main line locomotive availability of about 50 per cent., and that the availability of diesel multiple units, which cater for many of our feeder lines as well as some of our main lines, would fall to about 60 per cent. In other words, there was no prospect of maintaining our existing post-Beeching rail network without an increase in the amount of investment expenditure in British Rail. The Government have yet to reply to that rail policy document submitted by British Rail last year.

More notably, on one of the major investment propositions—electification of the main lines—the Government expressed no willingness to adopt any of the five options that were unanimously agreed by the Department of Transport and British Rail. Instead, British Rail has been subjected to a series of changes in the Government policy on electrification, told that the basis of the five options is no longer acceptable, told to do its calculations again line by line and told to calculate on the basis that the proposals apply only to those parts of the mainline network that will be viable by 1985. It was told to do the calculations again because there had been an ASLEF strike. Some people at British Rail's headquarters must be sick of doing new calculations on investment proposals for electrification.

The proposals did not ask for something vastly ambitious. Even the largest of the five options would have resulted in only about 80 per cent. of passengers and 70 per cent. of freight being electric hauled. That would have brought our railways up to the standard that the French attained in 1970, the Belgians in 1947 and the Italians in 1940. Our electrification is inadequate by any of the standards accepted by our European partners.

If we are to bring about a major improvement there must be a commitment to choose one of the options. To do it line by line makes nonsense of attempting to plan an intelligent, long-term investment programme for British Rail. A decision to go for one of the options would mean much work for Scotland and South Wales. It is clear that if we do not electrify our mainline network we must replace our diesel locomotives with engines that are heavier, less economic and more costly to maintain than the electic locomotives in which we could now invest if we were modernising our railways.

Irrespective of whether we electrify, it is necessary for operational, safety and efficiency reasons to spend more on the railways. The Secretary of State and the Government know that. Their response was not even to sustain the existing inadequate expenditure on investment, but to reduce it. Expenditure by the British Railways Board on investment in 1979, at mid-1981 figures, was £379 million. This year the board forecasts investment to be £265 million, which is a drop of £100 million in expenditure on what was held to be a level inadequate to maintain our railways in their present state.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

The right hon. Gentleman is chastising the Government for not getting on with electrification. Does he agree that it is difficult to press ahead with more spending if, for example when we have a brand new electrified line between Bedford and St. Pancras, management and unions still cannot agree on manning and new expensive stock is unused because of the inability to reach agreement?

Mr. Booth

I am well aware that that excuse will be canvassed frequently during the debate. I assure the hon. Gentleman, whose sincerity I respect, that I intend to deal with the point in some detail.

The present investment level bears no relationship to the investment ceiling. The combined effect of the external financing limit set by the Government and the restriction of investment approval, coupled with the public service obligation, is that there is no possibility of British Rail spending up to the investment ceiling. To say that we have had a constant investment ceiling does not show what is happening with railway investment. If the Government wish to attach any importance to the ceiling, they should realise that it now stands at £100 million a year below the assessed requirement of investment expenditure for renewal of the essential assets. It is £160 million a year below what would be required to renew the essential assets and to proceed with main line electrification.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to be saying that what is limiting investment is not the Government's investment ceiling but the actual investment being carried out by British Rail? That is restrained because British Rail has spent far too high a proportion on current expenditure.

Mr. Booth

The right hon. Gentleman does not understand me correctly. The investment ceiling has become irrelevant. What determines how much British Rail can spend on investment, in so far as there is Government control, are the external financing limit and the number of investment schemes that the Government are prepared to approve. Without a properly structured EFL and a proper programme of improvement investments it is impossible to spend up to the investment ceiling. The amount spent on railway investment is half of what is needed for essential renewal. Therefore, we are heading towards the breakdown of our railway service.

Against that background, I wish to come to the point made by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel). Trade unions are negotiating about pay, productivity and conditions in the clear knowledge that their industry is running rapidly into a crisis. Those unions have a good record of working with management to adjust manpower to investment in their industry. Between 1970 and 1979 the number of staff required to run British Rail was reduced by 30,200, not at a time of negative productivity because of curtailed services, but when there was an investment programme that was making some headway. I do not say that it was an adequate or generous programme, but it enabled the railways to be run with 30,000 fewer employees and with no threats of strikes.

Such was the record of co-operation between the trade unions and the British Railways Board that the board put forward a corporate plan for 1981 to 1985 in the belief that railway staff could be reduced by a further 38,300, if the investment programme was commensurate with that. The unions tried to formalise that understanding with the board. There was an agreement, known as the "Balance Sheet of Change", between British Rail and the trade unions in November 1980.

The balance sheet of change was a significant document, because it listed in detail, on the left hand side, a series of commitments by the trade unions to make considerable changes in manpower levels and working practices and, on the right hand side, a series of investment proposals and financial arrangements with the Government which the board was prepared to back. That document was put to the then Secretary of State in January 1981. It was discussed by the Secretary of State and the Rail Council in June 1981 and I am assured by those who were at that meeting that they were given to understand by the Secretary of State that he recognised the need to synchronise the improvements in productivity with investment approval coming forward from the Government. In other words, the productivity delivery would be geared to the investment decisions. That is a simple and common sense proposition which can be understood by anyone who looks at the relationship between manpower levels and investment.

Those who suggest that the unions have not responded or are standing in the way of progress should look at what happened in the two financial years up to April 1982. A further 15,510 posts were eliminated from the industry. How long can unions go on sacrificing jobs against a promise of investment to enable the industry to perform better with fewer men when that investment is not forthcoming?

In a speech 11 days ago the Secretary of State accused the unions of being Luddites. He was not only unjust, but insulting, to men who have tried hard to work with the board so that we may have a modern railway system. They have achieved savings of £74 million on staff costs and £25 million on fuel and track and equipment maintenance.

Over the longer term of staff savings, during a period when we did not see the crisis in the present terms, there was a reduction of 41,300 posts on British Rail between 1970 and 1981.

Mr. Reg Prentice (Daventry)

The right hon. Gentleman refers to the unions collectively. Does he not make a distinction between the relatively constructive attitude of the NUR and the TSSA, and that of ASLEF? What comments will he be making on ASLEF's refusal even to consider Lord McCarthy's latest proposals?

Mr. Booth

I do not propose in this debate to try to draw a distinction between the approaches of the three rail unions. If the present Government policy continues, the unions will have to rise up one after another and object to what has happened. It happens to be the NUR that is threatening a strike; it happened to be ASLEF that was involved in strikes a few months ago.

The background against which the unions have negotiated and the way in which they have done so shows two things clearly. They appreciate, first, the need for investment in the industry and, secondly, the great contribution that they have to make to productivity. They have been able and willing to deliver considerable staff reductions in persuit of that policy.

Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfield, North)

So that the country may be in no doubt about where the right hon. Gentleman stands, will he tell us whether he supports the action being promised by the NUR and whether he supported the action taken by ASLEF?

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

What a silly boy the hon. Gentleman is.

Mr. Booth

My comments in the House about the ASLEF dispute are on record and I defend them. I objected to a number of comments by Tory Members about that strike. We should be anxious, not to decide whether we will support disputes, but to take steps to avoid them and to improve the performance of British Rail.

When I talk about increases in productivity, I am not talking about a mere head count. That is silly and it is far too crude a yardstick of productivity. Productivity improvements can be seen in the more efficient marshalling yard arrangements, the more efficient modern signalling introduced on some lines, the better use of a loco and traction fleet and, in particular, in British Rail's use of fleet wagons.

If the terrible worry that existed in the railway workshop plans as a result of the proposed workshop closures did nothing else, it at least caused the Secretary of State and myself to look carefully at what determined the work load of those workshops, particularly the one at Shildon. I am sure that the Secretary of State is as aware as I am that one reason for the closure proposal was that there is a much more efficient use of freight wagons following the introduction of modern technology and the use of computers in freight wagon location. Wagon utilisation was improved by 25 per cent. last year.

When we talk about improving productivity we are not talking only about putting people out of jobs. The bitter attitude that has developed among the rail unions has been caused by their belief that the Government have reneged on their part of the balance sheet of change. The unions believe, justifiably, that on the Government's side of delivery of investment and the financial framework there is precious little to suggest that the Government will keep their side of an investment bargain. Of the six specific investment proposals on the right hand side of the balance sheet of change, one has had full approval, another has received partial approval, but the other four have been lost or put aside.

I put it to the House that the pay offer, which is ostensibly the cause of the strike threat by NUR, is only part of a much broader picture. An offer of 5 per cent. five months after the annual pay date could hardly be said to be a tempting offer, even if it had not been linked to productivity. The offer means that the rail unions are being given a choice: they can accept the offer and deliver the improvements in productivity, without a guarantee of investment, in which case the fall in their standard of living will be equivalent to the inflation rate minus 5 per cent., or they can turn down the offer and face a fall in their standard of living equivalent to the inflation rate. I do not believe that the unions can be asked to accept that they are seeing real benefits from the savings that they worked with the board to achieve.

The strike threat has followed the long period of crisis. My right hon and hon. Friends and I recognise that the ability of British Rail to pay railwaymen decent wages and to deliver the service required by industry and passengers depends vitally on a proper investment programme. A railway system starved of investment is bound to deteriorate, leading inevitably to closures.

The NUR states, through its general secretary, that it has delivered on all the commitments into which it has entered and has honoured all its agreements. I thought that I heard a Conservative Member say from a sedentary position that that is not true. If the Secretary of State or any Conservative Member says that that statement is not true, or, to put it in a milder form, that it is contentious, he has an obligation to say where the union has failed to deliver and to what extent that has been linked with the Government's failure to deliver on investment. Unless the Secretary of State is prepared to tell us which failure to deliver by the unions has led to the Government's massive withholding of investment, there is no basis on which an understanding can be reached and no basis for negotiations leading to an effective working of the railway system.

What has happened to the idea of synchronising and moving stage by stage on improvements in productivity and investment? What has happened to the gearing of the investment decisions? The Opposition do not call upon the Government to fund or to improve investment without getting a combined commitment from the British Railways Board and the unions. On the contrary, we welcome that approach. Our whole commitment to industrial democracy and to planning agreements carries with it, implicitly and explicitly, the belief that if investment is to make sense, it is not only those in management who will determine whether it makes sense, but those who have to work it and who should be party to the agreements.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

I have followed with great interest the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. He speaks all the time about investment. Indeed, the motion speaks entirely in terms of investment. As the immediate issue is pay, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is in favour of an increased pay offer by British Rail? If so, will he say where the money is to come from to meet the increase? This, after all, is the immediate issue confronting the railways.

Mr. Booth

I am sorry that I have not made the point clear to the hon. Gentleman. I was saying that I recognise that the ability of the British Railways Board to pay railwaymen decent wages and give them decent conditions depends upon proper investment in a railway network so that it can earn money and provide services. The extent to which the cost is met by the taxpayer, and the extent to which we choose to fund a social railway, as opposed to other means, is a separate issue. What we recognise is that if men are to be paid good wages to provide a good transport system, it is possible in modern terms only if there is investment in a good transport system.

There is a limit to what can be done by men alone in an era of high technology. If we now run into a bitter and protracted strike that is damaging to our economy and to British Rail, it will be a strike that could have been averted. It could even now be averted by a Government initiative to bring about a tripartite form of agreement in which the British Railways Board, the unions and the Government understand what is meant by the balance sheet of change and by entering into an agreement to invest in the railway industry. This is necessary so that those whose jobs have been changed and whose jobs have been sacrificed to give Britain a modern and efficient railway will see that the aim is realised.

4.32 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Howell)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'this House supports the efforts to achieve increased productivity on the railways, welcomes the substantial support the Government provides for the system, deplores the threat of strike action which will undermine the railway's future and calls on the unions to recognise the vital need for modern work practices.'. I must tell the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) that I agree with him at least on one point. If there are more strikes in the rail industry, this will be a disaster for the railways and an appalling setback for all hopes which, I believe, are widely shared, of a modern and efficient rail system. Most of the right hon. Gentleman's remaining remarks seemed to be a mixture of misplaced facts and opinions. I think, therefore, that I owe it to the House to put on record the realities. On these serious issues affecting the future of the industry, clarity is vital.

I appreciate the feeling and the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues. But sincerity and feeling do not make wrong facts right. I wish to establish clearly what are the facts, what they have been, and where they are leading. I should first like to deal with the main contention of the Opposition motion and the subject to which a great deal of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was devoted. It is claimed that there has been a failure to increase investment in the railway system. I have to ask the right hon. Gentleman how he is able to maintain that propostion and how it lives alongside some of the facts about the money that has been, and is, going into the railways.

As the right hon. Gentleman and, I believe, many people in the rail industry know, there is an enormous list of projects. I have one set of examples in front of me. We are coming to the end of the high-speed diesel train programme amounting to £200 million. There is the St. Pancras-Bedford electrification, alas, unused at the moment, costing £150 million. There is the five-year rolling programme of freight engines and wagons now taking place. Most of British Rail is equipped with air brake freight wagons. Vast resignalling projects are going ahead. There is the building of 200 new electric coaches a year now coming on to the railways. There are 210 new sleeping cars being built. Anglia electrification has been approved.

In the pipeline, before me for approval, are proposals for new diesel coaches, for a resignalling project at Leeds and for the electrification of the East Coast main line system. The Government are committed in principle to a 10-year rolling programme of electrification. I have to ask the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues if this squares with the proposition that there has been a lack of new equipment or new investment going into the industry.

It is not merely a question of new projects. The right hon. Gentleman commented on the overall level of resources going into the industry. The social grant to the railways is running £100 million up in real terms on the levels of 1980 and the levels originally sought for 1981. That is a massive increase, only marginally reduced this year. It is still in record terms. On top of that, there is the commitment by the Government, through the Serpell review, to examine the long-term future of the railways constructively, the finances that will be needed and the nature of the railway that we can afford over the next 20 years. I do not believe, when one looks at the picture objectively, that a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman states about the railway being allowed to fall into decay, together with the other emotive words that he used., stands besides the facts.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

The Secretary of State does not have to consider only what is stated by the Opposition. It is manifestly clear from the chairman's report last year that the railways are very much under-invested and that a massive increase is needed.

Mr. Howell

Of course, it is recognised that a substantial increase in investment is needed. It is also recognised that the investment has to come not only from the taxpayer — from whom it does come in substantial amounts — but from resources generated in the railway system. The difficulty over shortage of investment funds arises not from the ceilings set by the Government but from the amount of resources that the railways can generate.

These are difficult issues. Part of the problem is that the membership of the rail unions and, certainly, the National Union of Railwaymen, are not hearing the correct story. The right hon. Gentleman had a good deal to say about "the balance sheet of change". The NUR listed a number of items on which it expected change from the Government. The right hon. Gentleman's speech, I fear, confirms and entrenches these points that, I believe, are not substantiated.

The union is telling its members that none of the items expected were delivered by the Government. If one looks at the latest "Transport Review" issued by the National Union of Railwaymen to its members, one sees a list of what it expected from the Government. The union says that it expected an increased grant for passenger services to realistic levels. Against that, in large red letters, appears the word "No". It has not been forthcoming. The word, of course, should be "Yes". The right hon. Gentleman knows that. There has been a £100 million increase in real terms in the PSO grant.

The union talks about the endorsement of the rolling programme of electrification and asks if this has been forthcoming. According to the paper, the answer is "No". But the Government have, of course, endorsed the rolling programme of electrification and believe, depending upon productivity and business performance, that it should go forward.

Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton)


Mr. Howell

I should like to finish my remarks, because the mis-information aspect is important. It is incumbent upon both sides of the House to put the facts across. The list asks whether the Anglian electrification has taken place. Against that the word "No" is written in large red letters. However, electrification has been authorised. It is important that the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness and the House should know the facts and the commitments that have been given.

Several other substantial items on the investment list that were put forward by the NUR are items that the British Railways Board is not yet ready to undertake for business reasons that are quite unrelated to the availability of funds. It is wholly misleading to suggest that the Government have been holding back. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use his influence to get over the facts—rather than the non-facts—about what has been done, and is being done for our railways.

Mr. Huckfield

When did the right hon. Gentleman approve an increase in the public service obligation in real terms?

Mr. Howell

I cannot give the precise date, but I believe that I approved an increase towards the end of last year. The Government and I approved a £110 million increase in the public service obligation. Furthermore, the uniquely high level raised last year in response to arguments that particular circumstances faced British Rail was maintained this year, or only marginally decreased. Therefore, approval was given both last year and this year.

I turn to another claim running through the speech made by the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness. He said that that the agreed levels of productivity had been delivered, but that there had been nothing in return. The House is familiar with ASLEF's atrocious record on the signed agreements on productivity. I do not know how that record can be defended. I should like to know whether any hon. Member intends to defend it this afternoon. The inquiry by the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service pointed out what should be done about flexible rosters and hours. The railway tribunal under Lord McCarthy said how that should be done. It has not been done. The pay increase—the extra 3 per cent. last year — has been taken, but the restrictive practices have not been surrendered in return.

We all know what happened. The industry was bled of over £80 million during the fruitless and pointless disruptions earlier in the year, thus severely constraining the amount that can be offered for pay in 1982. It may be argued that there is an alternative, but what is it? The alternative is that the taxpayer picks up the bill for ASLEF's behaviour. The Government are not prepared to contemplate that alternative.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the McCarthy report fully vindicated the NUR's policy?

Mr. Howell

I was about to refer to the NUR, but I was referring to ASLEF and to its refusal to accept McCarthy's findings. However, I say to those who are associated with the NUR that I am the first to concede that its record is far better than that of ASLEF. There has been co-operation in the demanning that has taken place in the face of falling demand. It is true that pilot schemes are now in operation with open stations. Indeed, that was one of the six agreements signed last year for which additional pay — 11 per cent.—was taken. It is also true that 80 per cent. of guards' depots are now working to flexible rosters. Incidentally, the board has rewarded that flexibility with an extra payment of 50p per turn worked.

The right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness issued a challenge, asking when the NUR had not delivered. However, the NUR has not delivered despite the fact that the agreement was signed and the pay increase taken. First, progress has not been made on the proposal to withdraw guards from some freight trains. The NUR has not agreed to the one-man operation of modern electric trains with sliding doors. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) reminded us, NUR opposition to single manning has delayed the introduction of the new electric trains to Bedford.

Therefore, although the NUR has been more responsible than ASLEF, progress has been painfully slow, to say the least. It is wrong to suggest that in six out of seven cases the NUR has delivered last year's productivity increases, although it undertook to deliver them in return for the pay increases that it received last year. The position facing us cannot be defended.

The central problem of productivity remains. The right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness has given us his prescription—more money. However, more taxpayers' money is being spent on the railways than at any time during their history. The tragedy is that even now overall productivity is back only to the 1979 level. Indeed, it may be slightly below that level. That means that when the railway industry talks about ending restrictive practices, it cannot talk about a bargaining game with the taxpayers in which restrictive practices are surrendered in accordance with some voluntary timetable, in line with this or that huge new commitment of taxpayers' money. It might be nice to talk about that, but the point is that restrictive practices must be ended if the railways are to survive in their present form.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Is it not also true that more taxpayers' money than ever before is spent on the railway systems in Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands? Is it not true that among modern countries that need railway systems that is a common phenomenon?

Mr. Howell

The Bundesbahn also covers the interest on the capital debt that has not been written off, as it has been for, British Rail. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned countries in which the new work practices have been adopted. Flexible rosters are used, just as they are used by the guards in the NUR. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on one of the obstacles that stand in the way of developing a modern railway.

In the railway industry and its unions there are many dedicated people who badly want to provide a good, safe and reliable service, despite all sorts of difficult conditions. They strive to do that. I know that to be so from my experience and from conversations with many of those who have spent a lifetime in the industry. However, it does no service to them to continue to imply — as the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness did — that someone else is to blame and that the crisis facing the industry can be somehow pushed aside by demands for more taxpayers' money. I beg the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to tell the industry, which is in a very dangerous condition, that its future is in its own hands. The demand for more taxpayers' money merely promotes the delusion that there is an easy way out of the difficulties. There is not. Such a demand postpones recognition of the railways' vital need to keep and win customers. It is worth bearing in mind that customers can and will go elsewhere. Indeed, some have already done so as a result of the futile interruptions earlier this year in the rail service. The customers cannot be taken for granted, and may not — possibly will not—come back if the railways are constantly interrupted.

Whatever the right hon. Gentleman's feelings on the matter, his motion raises false hopes. Those false hopes have for too long nourished false beliefs and false goals inside the industry, and have led for too long to the postponement of decisions that ought to have been taken within the unions and within the industry. This sort of motion serves only to try to delay the day when our rail industry must face squarely the reality from which there is no hiding place.

I hope that the House, having debated the motion, will reject it decisively in favour of the amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Wealtherill)

More than a dozen right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in this very important debate. As the debate is due to finish at 7 pm, I hope that contributions will be brief.

4.50 pm
Mr. William Rodgers (Stockton)

The railway industry is certainly facing a crisis. I agree with the Secretary of State that the real question is whether the crisis turns into a disaster.

As we all know, ever since the development of road transport for passengers and freight, the railways have faced an increasingly difficult problem. However else we may attribute the blame, it is only fair to say that what we see now is partly the result of a cumulative process. Successive Governments and both sides of industry are in part responsible for the fact that the prospect is now so bleak. Certainly the prospect of industrial action in a week's time is only one element in that crisis.

I have great sympathy with the unions in their rejection of the 5 per cent. offer, which, in effect, is only 3 per cent. per annum. I understand how it is that the members of all the unions feel that they are the victims of the Government's economic policy and their arbitrary treatment of the public sector.

Mr. Sid Weighell of the National Union of Railwaymen has been a persistent advocate of a pay policy, and he is right. Only a pay policy for the public sector can, in the long run, ensure the avoidance of the dilemma that we now face. I am sure that that is the best hope for railwaymen, to whatever union they belong. I also agree with the remarks made by Mr. Bill Sirs on the radio this morning relating to his painful experience in the industrial dispute in the steel industry.

The board has very little room for manoeuvre, but I hope—maybe we all hope—that it will be able to massage the offer in some way, although its case for being unable to do so is very strong. There is no hope for railwaymen in a strike. I believe that is the majority view of railwaymen themselves. It is a matter not of justice—I wish it were—but of reality.

I have no doubt that other hon. Members will pay tribute to the chairman of the board, Sir Peter Parker. I want to say a word about his period in office, and in particular about the period in which his time in office overlapped with mine as Secretary of State. In my view, he has been an outstanding chairman of the board. It is tragic that this cumulative crisis should have occurred during his time in office.

Sir Peter Parker, whom I did not appoint, took office on 16 September 1976—the same day as I did. I believe that he wanted to give the railways a stable future—and so did I. He identified himself immediately with the railway community and set about what was, I think, a new form of very positive leadership.

One of the earliest steps taken by Sir Peter Parker was to make the board more strongly executive. I supported him in that, and he was supported at the time by both sides of the House.

Secondly, Sir Peter wanted to find a more imaginative approach to marketing. That he has done, although it has produced some complications for us all. I welcomed his intention.

Thirdly, Sir Peter supported a demand from the unions for a much higher level of investment. I believe that it was £150 million at 1975 prices. In my view, and in the view of the Government of which I was a member—including the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth)—that was not possible in the post-IMF period, but I understood the chairman's approach. He wanted to build a relationship of confidence within the industry between the board and all those who worked in the industry. He would be the industry's champion; he would take on the Government and he would demonstrate—that was his intention six years ago—that the industry could deliver its part of any bargain.

For two and a half years I worked with Sir Peter Parker. Looking back, I think that the record was good. I say that in relation to the problems that we face today, without for the moment attributing blame for them.

In November 1976 I gave approval for the Bedford to St. Pancras electrification. It is one of the ironies now—I share the anxiety of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) in this respect—that, although that electrification was completed, there are still problems. Reluctantly, I have to say that I think in this respect the NUR is at fault.

In April 1977 I announced a programme for EMUs for the Southern Region of British Railways worth £33 million at current prices.

In November 1977, after a long debate in the House and a great deal of lobbying, I arranged for Freightliner to go back to British Rail. That was, in my view, a vote of confidence in the railways. In that respect, I was leaning again towards the argument that Sir Peter Parker was building a new relationship within the industry and that in due course it would bear fruit.

In turning to main line electrification, I should like to claim credit for setting up the review in May 1978 It seemed to me then that the case for main line electrification was building up very strongly, and that it was right that representatives of what was then my Department and British Railways should examine it very closely.

When I think of the changes in the summer timetables for this year, I recall that in June 1978 I authorised the go-ahead for the high speed trains between Edinburgh and Newcastle at one end, and the South-West of England at the other.

Those are examples—there are many more—of an investment programme, amounting to more than £400 million, at 1975 prices, in major projects alone, designed by the then Government in good faith, and in support of the board, to give the railways a new future. I am sorry that Sir Peter Parker has been disappointed, and that the efforts made at the time by the Government of which I was a member have borne so little fruit.

Looking round the Chamber, I recognise a number of hon. Members who were present at the time when we debated the 1977 White Paper for which I was responsible. It was prepared in the aftermath of the visit of the IMF, which had been made towards the end of the previous year. Anyone who has had ministerial experience will not be surprised at the very strong pressure from the Treasury against commitment to any new investment. I was lobbied very hard by Sir Peter Parker and, in particular, by Mr. Sid Weighell of the NUR. In the light of their arguments, I decided that the door should be kept open.

There is a sentence in the 1977 White Paper that I remember writing. It was: The Government hope that the developing prospects (that is, for the railways) will justify the case for some increase in railway investment as the plans for public investment are rolled forward. That may sound a very small thing, but at the time it was a major victory. I know that the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), with his Treasury experience, will understand how much argument there could have been over that small group of crucial words. As Secretary of State I said that there should never be another Beeching. I meant it, and I meant it as someone who had been elected to the House about the time that the Beeching report came out.

Mr. Fry

On that particular point, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the great problems facing British Rail is its inability to create sufficient capital from its resources for investment and that, because of the enormous amount of money required for the public service obligation on uneconomic lines, there is a strong case for looking at the size of the rail network to see whether public money could be better used in investment rather than in subsidising uneconomic routes?

Mr. Rodgers

I was never against the examination of particular lines where there may have been an overwhelming case, in terms of the cost of maintaining them, for finding an alternative service. As the hon.

Gentleman may recall, the argument on both sides of the House—an argument in which he joined—was whether it was possible, in the light of previous experience, even to examine single branch lines and hope to maintain a form of public transport once a railway had been taken away. I have never been against some modification, but I was then, and have so far remained—I put it that way—against another swingeing cutting of the rail network of the type undertaken by Lord Beeching. I wish to make it clear that that was a view adopted by the new Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), when he came to office. I had tried to give the railways stability, and it seemed to me at the time that he wanted much the same thing.

Time has passed and bitterness has replaced much of that good will. There is great anxiety. More and more people are beginning to despair about the future of the railways. I am glad that British Rail has succeeded in reprieving the railway workshops. I was one of the many who made strong representations, particularly about Shildon. It would have been a hammer blow for Shildon had closure gone ahead. I hope that deferment will lead to a long-term solution. That is the only bright spot, and how bright it turns out we shall have to wait and see. Everything else is critical.

A stoppage on the railways can still cause chaos. We have seen that in London today. I agree with the Secretary of State that in the long run there is no doubt that increased industrial disputes on the railways will frighten away traffic. The Freight Transport Association has already advertised the advantage of road haulage, as it is entitled to do. Passengers will certainly find other ways to travel. The Government have relaxed the licensing of both freight traffic and passenger transport by road. Many people will be willing to pick up any traffic from the railways.

Mr. Snape

Will the right hon. Gentleman point out that the Freight Transport Association is part of the road lobby? There was an extremely misleading news report in The Guardian on Saturday morning which made it appear that an impartial organisation was saying that freight was likely to be diverted from rail to road. That is, of course, exactly what that organisation wants. I would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would make that clear.

Mr. Rodgers

I entirely agree. That is what the organisation wants and that is what it will get. It is entitled to make it clear that it provides a service. I have always wanted more freight traffic to go by rail, but the hard reality is that every dispute on the railways frightens some freight traffic away. It is a great pity. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue, a strike will guarantee that the crisis will go much deeper.

As I said earlier, I set up the review of main line electrification four years ago. I welcomed the final report in 1981, and I welcomed the recent report of the Transport Committee. Electrification could be a significant factor—I and my colleagues have made that plain—in the reflation of Britain's economy and in bringing down unemployment some way from its present intolerable level. Despite what the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness said earlier, unless there are solutions to the railways' productivity problems, electrification must be in doubt.

I strongly commend the report of the Transport Select Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) with a number of distinguished Members of the House who are here today who have spent a long time in the railway business. I note the presence of the hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans) and Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier).

I shall give three quotations from the Committee's report. It said that the Government must inevitably consider developments in productivity when drawing up the Board's financial targets and spending limits. I agree. The report goes on to mention the need, in relation to electrification and modernisation generally, for all involved in the future of the railway industry to accept the challenge … in the spirit of co-operation rather than conflict. Perhaps that is anodyne, but it needed saying again. The Committee also said: we believe that it is essential that the negotiations on productivity … should reach a successful conclusion. Improvements in efficiency are essential to the case for further investment. That is the precise point. I hope that electrification will go ahead, but it cannot go ahead unless there is a stable era of industrial relations and rising productivity to ensure that there will be traffic left to attract when electrification takes place.

I have one final comment about plans for the railways. Three years ago I had a conversation with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. I hope that he will not be embarrassed. I thought that the time was coming for a new initiative on the Channel tunnel. I made it privately known, in the way that Ministers do, that I would benefit from the views of the House in that respect. The present Government have moved in slow motion—I am sorry about that—but no Government could commit themselves to a Channel tunnel and a new lifeline to the Continent if that lifeline could be cut off at any time by industrial action or by an inter-union dispute. Nor could they commit huge investment if all their calculations were likely to be thrown out by resistance to whatever level of manning and forms of rostering made best commercial sense. In both those respects—electrification and the Channel tunnel—the railway industry and all those who work in it are in a position to determine their own destiny by their behaviour and intentions.

I share the board's view on flexible rostering. As I said earlier, I hope that the board will be able to find, even among the present gloom, some prospect for the railways' future.

The railway industry started in Stockton-on-Tees more than 150 years ago. It is now in a position to save or to destroy itself. I hope that the Government—even this Government—in the person of the Secretary of State will still offer it a genuine partnership. The industry will have to demonstrate that it can live at peace, with the separate trade unions working together in a way that they have not done in the past and working with management to abandon out-of-date practices of every possible type. Unless there is industrial peace and rising productivity, there can be no further investment. Without major investment, the industry as we have known it will die.

The amendment standing in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends accurately reflects the balance of arguments in these matters, but, as it is not to be called, we shall reluctantly vote for the official Opposition motion, despite its one-sided wording, its call for intervention, which is not the right course, and the tone of much of what the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness said and the absence of much of what he ought to have said. We regret the necessity to do so, but our amendment stands on the Order Paper. The Government—this is an important final thought—cannot abandon their obligation to seek a partnership with the industry, despite all the present frustrations and difficulties. Only a partnership between the Government and the industry can lead to any prospect of stable conditions for the future.

5.10 pm
Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

As the time available for the debate is limited, I do not propose to take up the remarks of the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rogers) on autobiographies or on self-congratulation. I fear that I may have to recount some of the history of recent matters in bringing the debate into perspective. I hope not to go back as far as the opening of the Stockton-Darlington railway, although it is difficult not to believe that some of the restrictive trade practices that are adopted within the railway industry may not date back that far.

Only last week during Prime Minister's Question Time the Leader of the Opposition asked whether the Government would stand idly by in the face of the threat of a national rail strike. That seemed a singularly inappropriate expression, since those who were standing idly by were, to a large extent, members of ASLEF, who, because they will not accept flexible rostering, are standing idly by for considerable periods when a more efficient system could help them considerably.

Secondly, if the threat of the rail strike comes to pass, those who will be standing idly by rather than getting on with the work that they would like to do will be the passengers of British Rail, especially commuters, including those from my constituency.

The dispute that is likely once again to come to a head—it seems to have come to a head on a number of occasions over the past year—has a considerable history. Only last July we had a dispute and British Rail offered a 7 per cent. pay increase. The unions demanded 15 per cent., despite the fact that British Rail was making losses and clearly could not afford any increase. The McCarthy tribunal split the difference but gave a little more in favour of the unions—8 per cent. plus the controversial 3 per cent., which was linked subsequently to productivity.

The House will recall that in the subsequent month discussions took place at ACAS on productivity, pay and the length of the working week. There was considerable controversy over whether the two agreements reached—one on productivity and the other on pay—were part of the same agreement or whether they were separate but related agreements.

As a result of the dispute that followed we had a considerable period of industrial action, or inaction, by ASLEF in January and February. Many were put to great inconvenience. I understand that the cost was over £80 million. That was almost exactly the same amount that the general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen tells us in his letter has been saved because of the manning reductions that have taken place. At all events, it was a damaging industrial dispute.

I share many of the views that were expressed by the right hon. Member for Stockton about Sir Peter Parker's considerable abilities. However, I think that throughout the dispute the British Railways Board has tended to be somewhat over-optimistic. It is clear from the press releases that it issued in February following the industrial action that it thought that the issues of productivity and pay had been linked and that there would be a satisfactory conclusion. The reality is that that issue has still not yet been resolved. That is not because of the technicalities of the dispute but because British Rail cannot afford to pay more unless there are increases in productivity and progress on the six points that were clearly set out and specified in last year's agreement.

In his opening remarks the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, said that British Rail's offer was derisory. It is worth stressing that the 3 per cent. for productivity improvements has already been paid. However, the increases in productivity, certainly from ASLEF, have not materialised.

Mr. Les Huckfield

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that the outcome of the dispute to which he constantly makes reference was an inquiry, and that the specific finding was that the 3 per cent. was not related to the productivity items?

Mr. Higgins

I thought that I had made that clear. Whatever the formalities—in my view Ray Buckton went back from what he had signed—British Rail does not have the money and will not have it unless it gets the increases in productivity that flexible rostering would achieve. Flexible rostering has not been introduced, productivity, therefore, has not increased, and British Rail does not have the money to pay the 3 per cent. That is the economic reality.

Mr. Snape

Without discussing the rights and wrongs of ASLEF's case—the NUR does not wish to do that—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that total train crew costs for British Rail—drivers and guards alike and taking ASLEF and the NUR together—amount to slightly less than 5 per cent. of its total outgoings. It is nonsense to say that British Rail's financial future depends on an agreement being reached. We are talking about a small proportion of British Rail's outgoings.

Mr. Higgins

Having given way respectively to ASLEF and the NUR, perhaps I can take a balanced view. The important issue is not whether train crew costs are 5 per cent. of British Rail's outgoings. The important point concerns that percentage in relation to profit and loss. That is the relevant percentage. We shall not get the extra investment in British Rail that we all want to see unless new equipment can be operated efficiently. It is absurd to introduce new trains on the St. Pancras-Bedford line, for example, without getting the changes in operating practices that are justified by that change in technology and that expenditure. That is the reality of the problem that we are facing.

There has been a difference in attitude between ASLEF, which is clearly determined to preserve restrictive trade practices, and the NUR. Mr. Weighell's letter concentrates on the balance sheet of change and dwells rather less on the specific extent to which the NUR has implemented the six points in last year's agreement. Deadlines have been set time and time again for manning, for example, but the extent to which there has been any significant material implementation of these policies has been substantially delayed and is not yet in sight.

I intervened in the speech of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness to say that it is not the ceiling that has been set by the Government on investment that is proving effectively to be the financial restraint. External financing limits may to some extent have inhibited it, but the split between investment and current expenditure has been wrong. We are all familiar with the reasons why current expenditure has increased. That has been caused to happen by pay claims that are not justified in terms of British Rail's profitability or by the return on investment. The level of investment in British Rail in real terms is £100 million higher than it was two years ago. There was a bulge last year for special reasons but the Government have taken a constructive attitude.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon


Mr. Higgins

The NUR is putting considerable stress on synchronisation, but it cannot be reasonably argued that British Rail's investment has not been somewhat ahead of the productivity improvements that have taken place. There is a distinction between changes in practice that have taken place in relation to market conditions and the abandonment of restrictive trade practices.

The gruesome prospect for my constituents and others is of a national rail strike that apparently will be related to pay. Against the background of the past year or so and the failure of both unions to implement the productivity improvements that are required, it cannot be argued that any such strike is justified now.

If, as we did in the earlier part of this year, we lose £100 million there and £100 million somewhere else as a result of industrial disputes, can we expect that any Government will provide the finance that is necessary for the modernisation of the railways? The tragedy is that because of the intransigent attitude, particularly of ASLEF, and the way in which it has procrastinated time and again, as Sir Peter Parker has rightly said, the future of the railways is at stake. It is not just a question of investment and jobs, important though that is, but whether we can maintain a railway of the present size. That is a very important matter. I profoundly hope that it will be possible to do so.

We must rely to a greater extent than we have in the debate on the Opposition setting out clearly what the facts are and doing all they can to avert a national rail strike.

5.21 pm
Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)

I shall try to follow your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and be as brief as possible. I know that many of my colleagues wish to take part in the debate.

In the last 20 years I have been involved in negotiations with the British Railways Board, and as I have sat on the Rail Council, which is the top consultative body for the railways, I should like to give the House the benefit of my experience and try to issue some advice to the railway unions, the British Railways Board and the Government. If the strike goes ahead, we are in for probably the worst-ever crisis in the railway industry. That is my view.

We have had such crises before. We have lived with them on and off for 10 or 15 years. We have managed to resolve them fairly well during that time, but there is no doubt that in this crisis there is a real danger of the railway network closing down, which will affect those who work in the industry and the railway industry generally.

The debate is about whether the strike will take place. We have debated transport over and over again, but today we are debating the effect that the strike will have both on those who work in the industry and on the customers.

During the ASLEF strike earlier in the year British Rail lost many customers who will never come back. Fare-paying passengers on the railways found alternative ways of getting to and from work. We must face those facts of life. That will be the situation once again if the strike takes place, only it will be over a longer period, because I believe that the British Railways Board means what it says this time. There will be no fudging. If the strike takes place there will be a complete shut down of the railway network, with all the consequent effects. Passengers and freight will be lost. That is unfortunate, because the freight side of the business was picking up. All the signs were that we would have had a much more effective system.

I am one of those who share the view of the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) that Sir Peter Parker is a first-class chairman of British Rail. He is doing a good job in difficult circumstances. Having worked with him during discussions and negotiations, I know that he is enthusiastic and keen to make a success of his job as chairman. That is my personal experience of how Sir Peter Parker has been dealing with his job.

The only people who will rub their hands if the strike takes place are the road hauliers and the bus companies, who will get additional business. At present they are doing nicely anyway.

What concerns me more than anything else is the effect that a strike would have upon those who work in the industry. There would be massive redundancies on a scale that we cannot envisage. If the British Railways Board does not have the money to deal with the current pay claim, it will not have the money to deal with severance or redundancy payments. That is another factor which I hope will be taken into account.

It is only a few weeks since there was the threatened closure of the railway workshops. Many of us are concerned about that. There was a magnificent lobby of the House of Commons. The enthusiasm shown by those who work in the railway workshops, coupled with the help and support that they received from my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) and others, was responsible for keeping open the railway workshops.

What will happen to the railway workshops if the strike takes place? They will be closed for good. There is no question about that. The British Railway Board was helpful about the workshops. It handled the situation badly in the first place, but when it was faced with dealing with the situation, it was helpful.

I have outlined what will happen to the industry if the strike takes place next Monday, which will be absolutely disastrous for many commuters who had a rough time during the ASLEF dispute. Against that background, surely it is not too late for something to be done to try to assist. I hope that the Secretary of State will find it possible during this week, before the strike takes place, to get together the unions and the management, talk to them and try to find a way around the dispute. That has been done in the past, time and again, and there is no reason why it should not be done again.

The unyielding and tough approach of the British Railways Board has been brought about largely by the dispute earlier in the year by ASLEF. I shall not go into the pros and cons of that dispute. It was wrong. The union did not measure up to the full requirements on productivity. That is a personal view. That dispute has led to the tough line that has been taken by the British Railways Board in the current set of pay negotiations.

The British Railways Board's offer of 5 per cent. from September was provocative and ridiculous. It knew that the anniversary date was towards the end of April. To make an offer of 5 per cent. from September, which has been estimated at 3 per cent. during the year, is unfair and unreasonable to the vast majority of railwaymen, who are doing a first-class job. It annoys me that the two unions that have met the productivity deals right, left and centre—the National Union of Railwaymen and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association—are now having to pay the price of what took place earlier this year. The British Railways Board is taking a tough stance. Something can be done about that.

I hope that a meeting will take place this week between the railway management and the unions concerned. I hope that Sir Peter Parker and the British Railways Board will come off their high horse and realise that a more realistic offer than 5 per cent. must be made. The offer must be sensible and one that the unions can recommend to their members. I know the problem. I realise that the obvious question is: where will the money come from? My answer is: if any other industries, whether gas, electricity or oil, are in financial difficulty, what do they do? They put up their charges. I do not want fares or freight charges to go up. However, if that is the only way in which the British Railways Board can make a realistic pay offer, that should be done if the board needs the money.

In addition, the Government should play their part. I hope that a meeting will take place between Sir Peter Parker and the railway unions this week. If there is still difficulty, the Secretary of State should intervene and call the parties together. If the Government do not intervene to stop the disastrous strike, it will be a disgrace. They want the railways to continue. It is nonsense to let them decline.

I have friends in the NUR, including Sid Weighell. I know them well and have worked closely with them. I ask them to use the machinery to the utmost. If all else fails this week they must go to the Railway Staff National Tribunal. That will see that the issue is properly aired again before an independent body that will make recommendations. It will put the ball in the Government's court. I hope that the NUR will use that mechanism as a last resort. It will delay the dispute to allow wiser counsels to prevail.

I hope that the Government will take on board the suggestions that have been made. The NUR and the TSSA have played the game on productivity. In just over one year 15,000 railwaymen have left the service, saving £74 million. Not many other industries can measure up to that. The will is there. Railwaymen want to make a success of their industry and to provide a service. I ask the Government to give them the opportunity to do so.

5.31 pm
Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson), who emphasised the danger that a possible strike poses to the railway industry and those who work in it. People in the industry must be aware of the damage that a strike will do to their future.

In the aftermath of the oil crisis of 1974 a British Rail advertisement showed a decayed motorway garage and stated that this was the age of the train. It was to show that the car was on its way out and the railways were the answer to the fuel crisis. Unfortunately, it has not worked out that way. A more realistic picture is of decaying railway plant of all kinds as the roads are used more and more for personal travel and the movement of freight.

We have three sorts of railway. The first is the freight railway, which can be profitable, and which was improving before last year's dispute. Secondly, we have a passenger railway, which can be run economically. Before last year's problems and the recession, the intercity railways were improving greatly in their service and attraction to passengers. The third type of railway is what the chairman of British Rail describes as the social railway—the lines that will always require Government support. They fall into two categories—the rural lines and the commuter services.

The Government should continue to subsidise the railways. No railway system in the world can run without subsidies. We should compare Paris's developing commuter services with London's decaying services. One reason for the improved Parisian service is the much higher subsidy. That was made possible because of a healthier economy in the past than in Britain and, as a result, better co-operation between management and unions in implementing modern work practices.

Mr. Dalyell

More money has been put into the railways of Paris by the Government and the city than has been given to the whole of British Rail.

Mr. Wolfson

The hon. Gentleman makes my point. Subsidies will continue to be necessary. I support higher levels of subsidy for London commuter services but only if I am confident that the management and work force can effectively use them to produce a modern system.

The new rolling stock lying idle for the service between Bedford and St. Pancras, which has been referred to many times, cannot encourage us to support higher subsidies. Those who work in British Rail and want a secure future must move with the times and accept more effective work practices. If they do so, they will get increased support from myself and my colleagues.

The travelling public, who will be seriously inconvenienced by a strike, is in no mood to pressure British Rail management or the Government to make further concessions to the unions. They are out of sympathy with the reason behind the projected strike. In mid-winter last year they put up with great difficulties.

Mr. Harry Cowans (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

So did the railwaymen.

Mr. Wolfson

I accept that.

The users and the taxpayers pay for the railway. They hoped that the apparent good faith of the management in paying the increase under duress would be rewarded by ASLEF accepting flexible rostering. That has not happened. The people inconvenienced by strikes, including firms whose earning ability will be cut because they cannot move freight, feel that it is essential for the future of the railways and of the country that the apparent inflexibility and out-dated attitude that prevents railway workers adopting modern productivity methods must be changed to achieve a sensible future. Therefore, I cannot support Government intervention. I support the management of British Rail in taking a stand after having made every effort to achieve changes in productivity. The public will support that stand and a strike can do no good to those who work in the railway system.

5.39 pm
Mr. Harry Cowans (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

I am sorry to follow the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson). I should have been delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson). My hon. Friend was right to say that no one in the industry wants a strike, and I hope that the Minister will take note of what my hon. Friend said and intervene to bring the parties together.

I shall now reveal one of the best known secrets in the House. I am a Member sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen. Perhaps it is less well known that I worked in the industry for 30 years before coming here. I can therefore claim to have a little knowledge of what goes on in the industry.

Much attention has been paid to how the problem might be solved. Perhaps it would be useful to examine what caused it. The first item is the miserly offer of 5 per cent. that was made by the British Railways Board. In effect, the 5 per cent. means a wage freeze. In real terms its value is only 3.2 per cent., which is lower than any offer that has been made to any other industry in the present pay round. Moreover, it is lower than the offer made to any other group of workers in the public sector.

The Government try to absolve themselves from blame, but they cannot get off so easily. They have helped to cause the problem. They talked of a tripartite agreement between the board, the trade unions and themselves. The trade unions believed that the Government would synchronise investment with productivity deals.

Despite what the Secretary of State says, there has been a chronic lack of investment in the industry. Nowhere is that better highlighted than by the unique occasion when the ten major organisations that represent the road and railway industries—management and unions—got together and agreed to submit a document to the then Secretary of State. It is a different tale from that of bad trade unions opposing management.

The rail and road operators in transport unions joined forces in a call for more transport investment. I shall give the Minister a copy of the document if he does not have one. It should be in the archives of the Department of Transport, because it was sent to the Department. The ten said: It is not an understatement to say that the whole transport industry is deeply concerned at the continuing decline in public investment in transport. We believe that the transport industry is vital to Britain's industrial development and that it is essential to restore the proportion of the nation's income devoted to transport investment to the levels of the mid-1970s. That is vastly different from what the Secretary of State said: They continued: In collaborating in this way we are making it clear that we are concerned not simply with the comparative claims on resources of road and rail but with the fundamental need to maintain and develop the necessary infrastructure to enable road and rail to make the most of what each has to offer. There is no sign of disagreement within the transport industry there. Only the Secretary of State disagrees.

They further stated: We would wish to press on the Government, therefore, the view that failure to increase the level of investment in transport is deterring the economic recovery which the nation is seeking. We see action in this area not only as supportive of national recovery, but it is a forerunner of it. They went on to deal with what the Secretary of State had said. The views are not mine; they are those of management and trade unions throughout the transport industry. They pointed out that, compared with investment in transport infrastructure in the rest of Europe, Britain lags behind. In 1977 Germany devoted 1.3 per cent. of its gross domestic product to rail and road investment. France devoted 1.2 per cent., Italy 1 per cent. and the United Kingdom 0.8 per cent. Yet both France and Germany already have superior road and rail networks to our own. That is a different picture from that painted today by the Secretary of State.

Two other documents, "The Challenge of the 80s" and "Balance Sheet of Change", were presented to the Department of Transport. What was the response? As we have heard about the nasty trade unions, we should analyse their response. They were committed to the documents. Little has been said about that. The six areas of productivity that were agreed under the ACAS agreement have been delivered by the NUR and most other railway unions.

No one expected the Minister to describe the results, and he did not do so. Had he done so he would have painted a different picture. The result has been a saving of £74 million in staff costs on an annually recurring basis. Operating costs have been reduced by £25 million and staff numbers were reduced in 1980–81 by 17,000. That is not a long time. Since December 1981, just prior to the present Secretary of State being appointed—I congratulate him, although he faces many problems—jobs were being lost at a rate of 1,000 a month. When I was in the industry, during a much longer period jobs were reduced by 250,000.

The trade union movement can hardly be accused of taking a Luddite approach. It was hardly the approach of a trade union movement that did not want to contribute to the industry that it served. The Secretary of State's own Luddite approach does no good for conciliation. He is faced with undeniable facts.

The Government have not synchronised productivity and investment. The facts that I have quoted demonstrate that the Government's reaction was completely different. Where has investment been synchronised with productivity? Even if one accepts that only half of the productivity was agreed—a premise which I cannot accept—one would have thought that half of the investment would be forthcoming. Productivity can be generated only if investment is made. Productivity cannot be regenerated by constantly reducing investment, but the Government have done just that. Whatever the Secretary of State may say, investment is half that required by the board in its 1981–85 corporate plan, and half of what it was 10 years ago, and the external financing limit has been set so low that actual investment is less than half what is required.

The Minister mentioned the public service obligation. There was an increase before he took office, but there has been a £15 million reduction in the current PSO, and even that is £80 million less than the board asked for merely to retain and maintain rural and commuter services. The board's total investment in 1982 was £265 million. In 1978 it was £351 million. The Opposition have been accused of not being able to add up. One does not need to be a bachelor of mathematics to know that that is not an increase, but a substantial decrease. It is equally easy to calculate that it is only 47 per cent. of the investment required. Where is the synchronisation? Where is the Government investment to balance the unions' productivity?

It has been said on many occasions that nobody wants another Beeching. I submit that the Government's policy is Beeching by stealth. It is a travesty. The Government's record is one of broken promises and commitments. If the Minister challenges that, I refer him to the commitments made by his predecessor. As those statements have not been withdrawn, we are entitled to assume that the new Minister is bound by them.

When he met the Rail Council on 29 January 1981, the then Minister stated that many of the problems of the industry were the inheritance of a lack of investment over a long period of time and that there was a need for a sensible bipartisan programme. On 22 June 1981 he said that he recognised that the recession had hit British Rail very hard and that measures were needed to overcome the shortfall. He stated that the Government were concerned not only with the present but with the long-term future of the industry. He recognised the need to synchronise moves to meet the objectives of the rail industry and said that steps taken by the railways to improve productivity had to be geared to investment decisions taken by the Government. There has been a distinct lack of any such investment.

The chairman of the British Railways Board—I hope that he is still of the same opinion—said on 17 December 1981 that the industry had made significant strides in productivity during the past year to 18 months, but that there was a feeling that while the industry had delivered on its side of the balance sheet the Government had not moved at the same pace. In his view, there was a need to bring forward the vital decisions on investment required by the industry. He also stressed very strongly that the industry had delivered on every target set by Government in the past five years.

That is a vastly different picture from that painted by the Minister. The Government have tried to make out that on their side everything in the garden is lovely and that they have done all that they can. The truth is very different. The Government talk about investment from within and then blithely hive off to the private sector every profitable or potentially profitable subsidiary, often at knock-down prices so that the full value does not go back to British Rail to generate the required investment.

The trade unions have delivered, but have the Government delivered their part? Can they truthfully say that five of the major investment schemes laid down have been delivered? I suggest that they cannot. It is no wonder that morale is low and that people in the industry are discouraged. Many productivity deals have been delivered, and many workers are no longer in the industry, yet every day, due entirely to the Government's policies, the industry has to rob Peter to pay Paul. Spare parts have to be taken from locomotives and rolling stock to service other units.

Many workers in the industry had to give up their jobs for advantages such as high-speed trains, modernised signalling and such electrification as there is. They now see all that being eroded through inability to maintain the track on which the trains run, due to Government cuts in the financial allocation for track renewal. In Newcastle alone, there is more than a year's backlog in track maintenance and more than 50 speed restrictions resulting directly from track conditions.

Lest it be thought that that is merely the unnecessarily gloomy view of a potentially biased NUR-sponsored Member, I quote the best authority in the world on the subject—Mr. R. B. Reid, chief executive of British Rail. Mr. Reid said: Initially investment is urgently needed to catch up on the backlog of renewals and repairs to BR's network to make it suitable for electrification. There will be little benefit from electrifying a worn-out railway. Even he agrees that it is worn out. Again, that is a very different picture from that painted by the Minister.

Time and again BR workers have to bear the complaints of passeengers about delays and clapped-out rolling stock. How can there be any morale among people suffering those conditions? Even if every trade union in the industry agreed tomorrow morning to every productivity deal that has ever been thought of, is there any guarantee that that would be met by Government investment in the future of the industry? I submit that there is not. How does one explain the position to men who have given their best when the workshops at Shildon and Swindon are simply to be hammered into the ground, with no thought whether they are viable or profitable?

The Government cannot opt out of this. If they really believe in the industry and wish it to continue, it is of paramount importance that they agree—as, allegedly, they previously agreed—to provide investment to meet the productivity. They must show some belief in the industry and bring the parties together to make those agreements. If they would do that, we shall not have this dispute. If they will not do it, I can only conclude with regret that they desire a confrontation, regardless of the effect on the industry. That is a sad charge, but the Government can disprove it tomorrow morning by convening a meeting such as I have suggested.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I call the next speaker I should advise the House that the wind-up speeches are due to start at 6.30 pm. Six hon. Members are still anxious to be called in this important debate and if the speeches are limited to five minutes each I can call them all.

6 pm

Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfield, North)

I hope that the horn. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans) will forgive me if I do not follow his speech. I recognise that he felt he had to earn his official sponsorhip fee in the debate.

Mr. Snape

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) is very much a new boy. Could you point out to him that sponsored Members of Parliament, at least in the Opposition, do not receive a fee from their sponsoring unions? Most of us are sponsored because of our connection with an industry—in this case the railways—and we are proud to speak because we believe in it. That certainly applies to my hon, Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans). The hon. Member for Enfield, North should immediately withdraw his silly imputation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I heard the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans) declare his interest.

Mr. Eggar

I accept the motivation of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central, but I speak from a different perspective. I represent a constituency that has no fewer than three commuter railway lines running through it. One of them has earned the description from the eastern area regional director of being the worst line in his area. Another line can be best described as giving a declining standard of service for an increase in real fares. The third line has been the subject of considerable capital investment by British Rail. I believe that it was the first suburban line to be electrified by the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) in his capacity as Secretary of State for Transport.

I draw attention to that line because the investment has not resulted in any improvement in manning levels. It has not been rewarded with any flexibility from the unions and the same manning levels exist that we had before the significant capital investment committed by the Labour Government.

I do not buy the argument that increased capital investment will improve the railway service, and improve cost and operating levels. I strongly believe that if we are to have a modern, flexible and well-run railways we need the co-operation of the unions, freely given.

I understand the reluctance of railway unions to change. They are, after all, part of what is, through an accident of history, a declining industry that has been declining for many years. Jobs have been lost because there has been a lack of demand for the services and because technology has changed. The unions are naturally anxious to preserve their membership because it gives them political and other power.

There is another factor that all hon. Members should admit. Governments of both parties have been trying to buy off trouble on the railways beause trouble has meant political and economic difficulties. Governments of both parties—despite the attempt by the right hon. Member for Stockton to rewrite history—have grudgingly given the minimum amount of money to the railways that would result in the minimum disruption. The British Railways Board has consistently run away from reality. It has not been prepared to use the money that it has been given to reduce current costs, to tackle the problems of manning levels and to invest in schemes to produe a better service. We must admit that that is partly due to backward looking conservative unions and, generally speaking, to poor management at all levels on British Rail—and I except Sir Peter Parker from that criticism.

A further fact needs to be considered. As we come out of the recession and go for economic growth, one of the major points to be addressed is whether we shall allow nationalised industries, and public enterprises of all kinds, to squander that growth in current expenditure—particularly in increased wages—or whether we are to make sure that it is channelled into investment that provides for the future, I accept that the railways need more money, but I honestly do not believe that we can justify giving that money without a clear awareness that the money allocated is specifically used for investment and that increases in wages are earned through productivity improvements. I could not support my right hon. Friend if he sought to undermine the board in its determination to make the unions live up to the productivity agreement that they signed over a year ago and that has still not been fulfilled. I go further. Should the unions meet that commitment and be willing to accept the offer and work for productivity improvements, I would be the first on the Conservative Benches to argue, with my right hon. Friend, that we must go ahead with the electrification, and other schemes, that have been mentioned by the Opposition. The choice rests with the unions. My right hon. Friend is right to support the board and I am sure that my commuting constituents agree.

6.8 pm

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

On the positive side, and as someone who lives a considerable distance from the House and uses the railways every week—I sometimes feel that I am a one-man attempt to make British Rail pay—it strikes me that we still have a national network. It is a system that is clean, comfortable to ride in and, by and large, delivers one to one's destination on time. It is a massive asset that we fritter away at our peril.

British Rail has a network that could become—I do not suggest that it is now—as good and useful a network as any available in similar countries in the Western democracies. There are many assets and positive aspects in British Rail, despite Beeching. I say that as a member of a part of the country that was hit particularly hard by the Beeching cuts. I do not claim, as many Opposition Members do, to have spent years working in the industry, although by training I am an engineer. There is undoubtedly a massive and sustained reluctance by the unions in the industry to accept new productivity deals. The simple truth is that there is a fear by this Government—it has existed in previous Governments and will, I suspect, exist in future Governments—that to increase the rail subsidy will be to invite yet more reluctance to improve productivity. One suspects that a substantial proportion of the existing subsidy is paying for over-manning and lack of productivity. Clearly the Government must fear that more money will mean more over-manning.

We are on the verge of a major strike that could rapidly escalate. If one section of the rail unions strikes, British Rail will be forced to lock out the rest of its employees because it has no money. Within a short time there would be a major strike that would last for a considerable time. I appeal to those who work in the industry, particularly in areas such as my own, to ask whether the position now being adopted by the unions is logical. The people who will get the sack or will be made redundant, or the stations that will be closed, will be in the remoter parts of the country, where there are already weak economies.

In my own area, a rail strike at this time of year will mean that tourists will not be able to use the railway service to Cornwall. That will give another boost to the coach operators and will be a further reason for not keeping open the railway line in that part of the country. Goodness only knows the Cornwall economy is weak enough already and cannot afford to lose British Rail services.

In my view, the Government should intervene. Conservative Members have often said that they want a positive commitment from the unions towards productivity. I accept that. Indeed, I understand the arguments and the reasons why Conservative Members advance that proposition, but I am not convinced that as yet there is a positive commitment by the Government to invest the money required if such a commitment from the unions were forthcoming. We are in a ludicrous situation, one that is almost akin to asking "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Even at this late hour, the most logical thing would be for the Minister to call all the parties together so that at that level there could be a major attempt to resolve the problem. Unless the Minister is prepared to do so, I shall not be able to support the Government in the Lobby. If the Government are unwilling, even at this late hour, to negotiate and put a deal together, come the final analysis they will have to pick up the major political burden, because in general stations will be closed in the constituencies of Conservative Members.

I notice that the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) is present. I am sure he will agree that the stations threatened with closure are not those in the large cities but those in the remoter parts of the South-West, North-West, South-East and Scotland, which by and large are represented by Conservative Members.

Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

What the hon. Gentleman has said is entirely correct. It is interesting that in the remoter regions the representatives of the railway unions are voting against strike action because their jobs are in danger. As the hon. Gentleman has said, the workers in the large cities are voting for strike action because their jobs are safe in the long run.

Mr. Penhaligon

There is a fair element of truth in what the hon. Gentleman says, although I doubt whether jobs in the big cities are safe in the long run, given the state that British Rail is now in.

I ask the Minister seriously to consider taking the initiative and calling all sides together. He would lose nothing if he did so.

6.12 pm
Mr. John Major (Huntingdonshire)

It seems likely that we are within a few days of a damaging national rail strike from which, I suspect, no one will benefit. If it starts, I fear that it will be a long strike. I am sure that it will have a predictable and gloomy outcome. It will certainly weaken the railway system, end fresh investment, and cost British Rail an enormous sum of revenue that it cannot afford to lose. It will probably cost jobs that might otherwise be saved and leave a lengthy and unnecessary legacy of bitterness. Once again, the railway customers, both commercial and private, will bear the principal burden of the rail dispute.

I support the railway system and wish to see it improved and become successful. Therefore, I very much regret that what I fear will come about. I have always regarded the NUR as an admirable union that has been well led and well represented in this House. The hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans) and Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) illustrated that well this afternoon.

I regret that the NUR finds itself in this dispute at this time, but I cannot accept that it has responded in terms of the productivity agreement that it signed about a year ago. I cannot accept that it has responded adequately to the concept of driver-only passenger trains or the necessary reduction in overmanning on freight trains. Nor has the NUR been prepared to contemplate removing guards from freight and non-passenger carrying trains. However, in the interests of brevity, I shall not elaborate on those points.

I understand the NUR's commitment to preserve its members' jobs, but the inevitable effect of preserving unnecessary jobs that really do not exist is poor wages and poor wage offers. It will mean that a loss-making railway system will continue to make losses, and that will result in unsatisfactory future investment for British Rail. That is the certain result if the strike continues and if unnecessary and unreal jobs are sustained in the railway network. That is the reality that the NUR must face. I suspect that it knows that is so. I regret that in present circumstances it will not accept that view.

When one considers the present pay offer, it must be understood that British Rail's current financial situation is bleak in the extreme. There simply is no more money in British Rail's hands. Despite high fares that have driven people off the railways, and despite £800 million of grant subsidy in the current year, British Rail will probably make a loss this year in excess of £160 million—£100 million of which will be the direct result of the ASLEF strike in January.

In those circumstances, this year's pay offer was bound to be lamentably small. I regret that, but it is inevitable. Given those circumstances, it would not be proper for the Government to provide more money. The Government have provided £2.7 billion in grants between 1979 and 1982. They have shown their willingness to commence and to continue electrification. They have increased the external financing limit and have made exceptional grants to cover the losses due to the recession. There comes a time when the community demands a better return on that investment from the British Rail unions, and I believe that we have now reached that time.

I therefore hope that the British Railways Board will stand firm on its pay offer. I expect that the Government will fully support the board during the currency of any industrial dispute that may take place. That may lead to inconvenience for many commuters and many of my constituents, but it is better that they face that inconvenience now in the hope of achieving a properly run railway system with adequate investment in the future rather than continuing with out-dated industrial practices and consequential inadequate investment.

There is a general wish in the House to see a modern and efficient railway system that offers a good service to industry and the traveller. There is a wish to see rising investment, modern rolling stock and electrification, wherever possible. There is also a wish to see secure and well-paid employment of the professional railway men who, I hope, will man a professional rail service once we have managed to secure satisfactory industrial relations. None of those things will be possible without the introduction of modern industrial practices. If we must now withstand a damaging industrial dispute to secure the introduction of those modern industrial practices, it is a price that we should be prepared to pay.

6.19 pm
Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton)

I do not think that I would like to follow the hon. Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Major). The Secretary of State made a not very convincing speech in which he tried to disclaim all responsibility for what was now taking place on the railways. He tried to say that he had done everything to keep his part of the bargain, had provided the investment and that if things were now going wrong it was the fault of the unions. Most of my hon. Friends and I would totally dissociate ourselves from that view and say that the Secretary of State cannot escape his responsibilities. An article in The Times on 4 February this year stated: The 1982–83 cash limit is only £950 million—only 3% more than 1981 despite 12% inflation. Unless this limit is eased, real investment will virtually cease. Cash limits at the present level could only be achieved by dramatic action like closing down the railway completely at weekends. The article later spoke of the finances of British Rail disappearing into a black hole of dwindling services and revenue that could have only one logical end: disintegration of the national rail network". That article was written by Richard Hope, editor of the Railway Gazette International, who is reputed to be one of ASLEF's biggest critics. He was not blaming ASLEF but the Government and the Secretary of State for completely failing to provide adequate external financing limits and an adequate PSO grant. The main faults of our railway system are that the Secretary of State has reduced in real terms not only the external financing limit but the public service obligation grant.

Even in the 1981 corporate review which was made a year ago—well before any of the disputes that we are now discussing—an overshoot of £200 million from the external financing limits was forecast and an overshoot of £202 million was planned for the PSO forecasts. In those figures there was a forecast loss of about £197 million. That forecast had nothing to do with the previous dispute and is entirely isolated from any of the disputes we have been discussing today. I hope that hon. Members will read the history and recognise that the figures show that it is not ASLEF or the NUR that is at fault but the Secretary of State.

Conservative Members have been trying to give the impression that one cannot run a modern railway system without train crews working flexible rosters. Intrigued by those oft-quoted assertions from the British Railways Board, I checked the tribunal report. I refer to page 40, paragraphs 140 and 141, which provide the estimated savings from the introduction of flexible rosters as estimated by the tribunal after taking expert evidence from the assessors. It says: We are told that the figure arrived at"— we are talking of a saving of £9.1 million aggregate during the next three years represents about 2% of present footplate costs". If that is the magical ingredient that the railways must have before the system can be run properly, if all that it represents is a 2 per cent. saving on present footplate costs and if one examines the increased costs that will be accounted for by the 39-hour week and the fact that footplate staff must presumably share in some of those savings, it would appear that the board will hardly make any savings. Yet we are being told that, unless some kind of agreement can be found on flexible rosters, the railway system will be unworkable. I hope that hon. Members will take into account the 5 per cent.—the overall train costs as a percentage of the total operating costs—and the mere 2 per cent. figure that could be gained if the board got what it wished on flexible rosters. If we examine the flexibility that is already enshrined in present agreements, the average overtime that drivers work is about 58 minutes and 45 per cent. of footplatemen work about 45 hours. The important figures are that since 1950 footplate staff have fallen by 73 per cent., traffic carried per footplateman has increased by 150 per cent., yet railway investment per year in real terms decreased by £100 million. I can quote more figures that show that it is not productivity but the diminution in investment that is the real problem.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Huckfield

No, I am trying to be brief.

When the Under-Secretary of State replies on behalf of the Secretary of State he cannot dodge responsibility. Had there never been a dispute over flexible rosters with ASLEF or the forecast present dispute, those figures would not have been very different. The real problem is that the Secretary of State has failed to provide an adequate external financing limit, an adequate public service obligation grant or an adequate financial base for the railways. He cannot stand back, put the blame on the trade unions and say that it is up to the railway unions and management. If the dispute is to be solved and the railway system saved, the Secretary of State must intervene.

6.25 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Conservative Members alleged that the railway unions in general, and especially the National Union of Railwaymen, failed to honour agreements and obligations entered into during the past year. The Bedford-St. Pancras line is in a similar position to that outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield). To listen to Conservative Members one would imagine that the future prosperity of the railway industry depends on the 60 guards at present employed on that line signing on the dole. That was the implication. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) makes a sedentary intervention. Early in his speech he said that he did not wish to delve into history. If one considers his history as a Minister, that is not surprising. We need no lectures on railway productivity and finance from a man who, as a senior Treasury Minister, created some wonderfully efficient monoliths in local government such as regional water authorities, which was one of his better medallions.

Mr. Higgins

The hon. Gentleman says that it is not important whether the Bedford-St. Pancras route is brought into line with modern practices. The crucial point is that there will be an incentive to invest more in electrification if the railways are prepared to adjust their manning procedures accordingly.

Mr. Snape

It is not a question of the railway unions not being prepared to adjust manning procedures. On the Bedford-St. Pancras line, one signal box at West Hampstead controls the entire line. Forty signal boxes, with at least three signalmen in each, have gone.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon


Mr. Snape

My hon. Friend tells me that it is 80. That was with the full co-operation of the National Union of Railwaymen. The union does not believe that it is sensible to rush into a system of one-man train operations. We all know what has happened with one-man operated buses. Conservative Members seem to believe that we are defending jobs that are relics of the Victorian age just for the sake of it. However, we know what happened with the bus services. Perhaps Conservative Members do not know because I do not suppose that many of them travel by bus. However, there has been a massive vote by the passengers with their feet against such operations, because they are inherently slow and inefficient.

The board already has one signal box to control the Bedford-St. Pancras line. It has the agreement of the NUR to the open station concept, thus doing away with railway staff, and in addition it wishes to have one-man train operation. The cynic would say that the driver, who must do every other job, would benefit from the strategic positioning of a brush so that he could sweep the platform on his way.

The de-humanisation of the railway system proposed by the board has not yet been agreed to by the major railway union, for very good reasons. It is not a case of our being Luddites. The NUR and ASLEF co-operated wholeheartedly in the Kings Cross-Hitchin electrification scheme. It was a slightly different type of rolling stock and a guard has to be present to operate the doors, but the number of signal boxes on that line has been reduced from 57 to one, with the full co-operation of the major union, the number of signalmen has been reduced from 220 to 30 and there has also been a reduction in the number of station staff. That is an illustration of the wholehearted co-operation that the unions have offered to the board.

The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) made perhaps the silliest comment in the debate when he said that trains between Liverpool Street and Enfield are manned as before. It would be surprising if they were not, since they are the same trains that have been running since the 1930s and the signal boxes are the same.

Mr. Eggar

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Snape

No. The hon. Gentleman gave the impression that his railway expertise was confined to collecting engine numbers when he was a schoolboy. If he wants to dabble in these matters he ought to do the House the courtesy of learning something about them.

Mr. Eggar

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There cannot be a point of order arising from what has been said. Perhaps the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) has a point of argument.

Mr. Snape

If we are to have the sterile argument from Conservative Members that railway unions are interested only in preserving Victorian jobs, the collapse of the industry will come about sooner rather than later.

The kernel of the dispute is ostensibly the derisory 3.2 per cent. pay offer, but we all know that we are talking about far more than that. The railways have been an "if only" industry for too long. For the Secretary of State and his colleagues to promise a land of milk and honey, or at least a land of steel rails, on slim financial margins is absolute nonsense.

The Government have a duty to intervene. If they do not do so there will be a railway strike from Monday, with all the recurring consequences.

6.32 pm
Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)

I apologise for not being able to deal with this subject adequately, because of the constraints of time. I shall not have time to say much of what I wanted to say.

The debate has clearly demonstrated that there is a mounting crisis in the railway industry which could result in a fundamental and strategic diminution of the rail network, which would be to no one's advantage and would be devastating to the nation.

The reasons for the current crisis cannot simply be attributed, as the Secretary of State and some of his hon. Friends have implied, to the Luddite approaches of the trade unions. The problem is far more complex and it ought to be treated with the seriousness that it deserves.

We ought at least to attempt to set the debate in its proper context and to rebut some of the absurd charges that have been made against the work force. I can do no better than quote from Sir Peter Parker's speech to the NUR's annual conference in June last year: We had a four year track record of success until we slammed up against the buffers of the recession. It was that track record which held our case generally intact as we ran through the gauntlet of the last few months of analysis and debate. Without being able to say we had delivered on the financial objectives of recent years, we would never have come through. Over four years we made sweeping improvements we cut down the freight losses, we pushed up passenger traffic. We cost the taxpayer 14 per cent. less in real terms than five years ago, even at the end of the grim 1980. Passenger journeys were the highest for nine years, and passenger miles were only 1 per cert. down on 1979 and still in the high levels near the 20 billion mark last reached in the early '60s, pre-Beeching. And by a neutral study of international comparisons we have been shown to be the most cost effective railway in Europe. Those are the words of Sir Peter Parker, the chairman of British Rail, a man who is universally acknowledged to have done his best for the industry.

On any objective analysis it is clear and, in my opinion, beyond dispute that over the past few years the railway community has contributed to productivity improvements, demanning and the loss of more than 30,000 jobs. In many areas, particularly the BR engineering workshops, one of which I have the honour to represent, demarcation disputes have become a thing of the past and craft interchangeability has resulted in vast improvements in productivity and output, contributing to vast savings for the industry.

I readily concede, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), that there are still important differences of opinion on outstanding productivity issues which will have to be resolved by negotiation in the best interests of the long-term future of the railways, but, by and large, the industry's record on productivity over the past few years has, as Sir Peter Parker and I have outlined, been remarkably good.

The complex nature of the current crisis arises from a number of causes, including the growing arrears of replacements, the rundown in coaching and infrastructure, the continuing trading losses and, I regret to say, the financial cost of the industrial dispute earlier this year, as well as the Government's refusal—despite what they say—to allow adequate levels of investment spending and their continued obstruction of the modernisation and electrification programmme.

The storm clouds have been on the horizon for some time, but the extent of the crisis is comparatively recent. It is rooted, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness said, in the breakdown during 1980 of the understanding that existed within the railway community about its immediate and long-term aims and its approach to the Government.

The experience of the economic recession and the imposition of an unsupported financial regime by the Government were bound to generate tensions and disagreements in the industry about how to weather the political and economic storm, yet, even in that unfavourable climate, BR management and unions began the 1980s with an agreed agenda—the balance sheet of change—which involved radical adjustment of the railways' operations and acceptance by the unions of considerable changes in manning and in working practices.

However, those changes could be possible only if faith existed in the long-term future of the railways, and that faith has been tested to the point of destruction by the Government's constant sniping at the industry's performance, by the new powers they have given themselves to hive off the successful parts of British Rail's subsidiary businesses and by the torpedoing of vital investment and modernisation.

Without firm Government backing change seems less worth while and the railways are in disarray. The work force is disillusioned because it sees inadequate returns to the railways for demanning and changes in working practices. The management feels obliged to insist on further changes to justify greater investment, but it feels let down by the Government when agreement on changes is secured. I regret to say that there is, once again, a breakdown of trust on all sides.

Over the past three years the Opposition have been pressing the Government on the need for greater investment in British Rail. The warnings have been signalled by the Opposition, but the Government have failed to heed them. British Rail management and trade unions, in addition to politicians in the House, including some on the Conservative Benches, have long recognised that the future of the railway business depends upon investment in equipment to renew the system and in new technology to develop its potential.

The trade unions committed themselves to this approach. Their commitment was shown in their serious consideration of the board's paper "The Challenge of the Eighties" presented in 1979. In addition, the trade unions endorsed "The balance sheet of change" in 1980. In 1981, the British Railways Board published its rail policy document—a statement of its policies and potential for the 1980s. This included and looked beyond the items in "The balance sheet of change". It made a strong case for an entirely new financial regime for the railways.

The Board has stated, as we on the Opposition Benches have argued continually, that if major expenditure on replacement is not started by 1983, the inevitable consequence will be a rapid rundown in the whole of the railway system. The year of decision to authorise the necessary planning, design and ordering for the replacement programme was 1981. In graphic terms, the board described the consequences of failing to increase investment during the next 10 years. Its view can only be described as extremely alarming—track miles withdrawn from traffic, 3,000 and rising; miles carrying temporary speed restrictions, 800; annual failure of mechanical signalling systems now at 40 per cent., rising by 10 per cent.; resultant annual duration of train delays, currently at 5,000 hours, going up to 8,500 hours and rising; availability of locomotives, now at 75 per cent., reducing to 50 per cent.; availability of electric multiple units, currently at 85 per cent., reducing to 70 per cent. The dismal tale goes on and on.

The rail policy document also indicated that electrification was one of the major planks of British Rail's policy. In 1981, the Department of Transport and British Rail jointly produced a document that showed that the internal return from a substantial electrification programme would be about 11 per cent. in real terms. What has been seen since that document was issued in 1981? There has been continued vacillation by the Government over electrification. They are doing the very reverse of what was recommended in their own document. They are acting on a piecemeal basis, and every agreement is subject to tortuous academic scrutiny. The Guardian, in a recent editorial, stated: What a way to run a railway?". What a way to run a railway indeed. To compound their vacillation on a sensible decision over electrification, the Government have continued to prevaricate over the amount of money that they are prepared to invest in British Rail. It is hardly surprising, I regret to say, that the railways have now become the plaything for that neolithic bunch of crackpots in the Centre for Policy Studies who seem to have a major influence upon the Prime Minister. In an apposite article in The Observer a few weeks ago, Mr. Robert Taylor said: The omens are not good for British Rail. A new Cabinet committee of hardline Ministers to cover the nationalised industries was formed recently. Mrs. Thatcher is chairing it and she has Parker and the railways firmly in her sights. This is unquestionably why British Rail and the Secretary of State cannot now proceed in the way in which they wanted to proceed initially in regard to investment in the industry. My right hon. and hon. Friends have indicated the extent to which the investment has been lacking. I wish only that I had the time to underpin what they have said, but I fear that time is not available.

None of us who uses the railways extensively or even occasionally can have failed to notice the deterioration in rolling stock and the rescheduling of timetables. Those who have to use certain rural commuter routes will recognise the inordinate number of speed restrictions that have been placed upon them. Conservative Members should recognise that the only solution to those problems is investment. It has nothing to do with short-term productivity increases. If a track needs to be renewed because it is falling apart, it needs to be renewed. If an engine needs to be replaced, it needs to be replaced. We have whole fleets of clapped out diesel multiple units trundling round the countryside long after their life expectancy has run out. Never has the demise of British Rail been more clearly shown than in a recent BBC programme called "Brass Tacks", which illustrated graphically the insurmountable problems that British Rail has to face and the difficulties and hardships placed on the travelling public. Sir Peter Parker called it the crumbling edge of quality. The crumbling edge of quality has accelerated to become the declining core of the network.

It is a sad commentary on the state of a great and strategically important industry when, out of desperation, the National Union of Railwaymen, which has not been involved in an official stoppage of any significance on the railways since the General Strike of 1926, has to resort to this kind of action. The only way that the log-jam can be released is through an investment initiative by the Government. It is for the Government to deliver their part of the bargain. That is a necessary first step in breaking the deadlock. If they fail, they will rightly be condemned as one of the main perpetrators of the dispute.

6.46 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Reginald Eyre)

The situation now facing British Rail is critical. The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson), whose understanding of the railways I respect, emphasised the seriousness of the situation. I believe also that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are saddened by this state of affairs. Crucial decisions that could affect the whole future of the railways in this country will be made within the next few days. It seemed to me a pity that during a responsible and serious debate there should be a degree of misrepresentation of the facts that apply economically to British Rail and the crisis that it now faces. I realise that those misrepresentations of the economic situation can be based on misunderstanding. Nevertheless, they cause misunderstanding of the problem with which we are striving to grapple.

Many Opposition Members appear to argue that if only the Government made more money available all the problems would magically disappear. The Railways Board more accurately recognises what needs to be done. It has been struggling for two years to achieve some of the changes in working practices needed to bring the railways into the second half of the twentieth century. Without productivity improvements, no amount of investment in new equipment will enable the railways to compete and survive in the years ahead and to provide the modern and efficient railways service that all wish to see. Investment and productivity must go hand in hand.

In the short time available to me, I wish to explain what the Government have been doing to help the railways in recent years. Opposition Members argue that there is a feeling among the unions that the Government have not been playing their part. While I understand those feelings, I have to say that the Government have been playing their part. This is borne out by the facts. It is totally false to suggest that the level of Government support for the railways has been cut or that we have imposed impossible cash limits. On the contrary, the level of support and the total of external finance in 1981–82 were at their highest ever levels in real terms. This exceptional support has been repeated in the current year. Taking account of the total support from the PTEs and for railway crossings, the figure for last year was £907 million and the figure for this year £902 million. The change is insignificant since the figure is virtually the same as that for last year. In recognition of the sudden decline in passenger travel we agreed last year to increase the public service obligation grant by £110 million. Taking local and central Government resources together the grant in 1981 was £829 million. That is £2.3 million every day. In 1982 the grant will be £902 million, which is virtually the same in real terms, although the railway has now had time to respond to the fall in traffic.

These grants are intended to meet British Rail's costs in providing its unremunerative services, including the maintenance of track and structure. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans) expressed anxiety about the track, but the allocation of such considerable resources is intended to enable British Rail to discharge its liability in that respect. As I have said, the figure is £2.3 million per day. To ensure that these items are not neglected because of the pressure of short-term financial problems, my right hon. Friend has decided that part of the grant in 1982 should be specifically earmarked for repair and renewal expenditure.

We are providing a great deal, but we cannot go on indefinitely increasing the resources that the railways preempt from the economy. Private businesses and, indeed, other nationalised industries have to live within the financial resources available to them and we all know that there is a limit to what the country can afford.

It is misleading in the extreme to suggest that the railways have been starved of investment in recent years. About £200 million has been spent on 95 high-speed trains. About £150 million has been spent on the electrification of the St. Pancras-Bedford line. There have been five-year rolling programmes for freight locomotives and wagons at rates of 25 locomotives and 1,550 wagons a year respectively. There are major resignalling projects in the West of England, one costing £28 million. The Brighton line resignalling will cost £45 million and the investment in 200 sleeping cars will cost £52 million. In addition, investment in the Anglia electrification—on which work is due to start in 1984—will cost £30 million. Literally thousands of millions of pounds have been put into railway investment in the past 10 years.

Overall, the board's investment ceiling has remained at roughly the same level for the past 10 years. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) conceded that the investment ceiling was irrelevant to the main question of investment. In this financial year the ceiling stands at £462 million. Of course, the Government would like to see more investment in the railways, but the investment ceiling is not to blame. It is the failure to reduce costs and improve productivity that has eaten into the funds available for investment. On this, as on everything else, we return to the problem of productivity.

I turn to the question of future investment, including electrification. It is totally mischievous to suggest that the Government are not working for a modern railways system. On the contrary, we were delighted to approve the electrification as far as Norwich, shortly after the NCR accepted the new agreement on flexible rostering for guards, which we strongly welcomed. We have endorsed in principle the rolling programme of mainline electrification, subject to the necessary improvements in productivity and business results. We have not received proposals from the board for rolling programmes of locomotives, freight wagons or electric multiple units, nor proposals for the advanced passenger train. Clearly we cannot approve things before the board puts them forward as being justified by the business results. But we have before us, and are urgently considering, the first proposals for the long awaited start for programmes to replace the diesel multiple units and we also have proposals for further resignalling and for East Coast main line electrification. But it would be irresponsible of any Government to bring forward such major decisions on investment while the prospects for productivity and industrial peace on the railways are so uncertain.

Much has been made about the fall in the number of British Rail staff in recent years. The hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central and for West Bromwich, East touched on the figures. It is true that in the past two years there has been a reduction of 17,000 in the number of staff. However, the reductions—all, incidentally, obtained by natural wastage and voluntary redundancies—have been brought about by adjusting resources to meet lower demand and by withdrawing from loss-making businesses. Those are the sort of negative productivity gains that every business has to face up to during a recession, but they are not of the same order as the reductions that British Steel and British Leyland have had to accept. Moreover, they are not the result of the major changes in working practices sought by the British Rail Board.

At the same time, railway pay increased by 20 per cent. in 1980 and by a total of 11 per cent. in 1981—and the board is still owed productivity for the 1981 agreement. It is the productivity shortfall from last year that the board is now trying to secure as part of the 1982 pay negotiations. The House must support the efforts of the board in seeking to persuade the railway unions that their best interests will be met by serving the customers rather than by beginning a disastrous strike that will certainly lead to fewer jobs in the industry.

The NUR claims to have delivered all it can on productivity. It is true that of the six items included in last years' package it has delivered on two—open stations and flexible rostering. On some of the other items it has been in difficulty because of ASLEF's wholly unreasonable attitude. But that said—having leaned over as far as any reasonable man could to see its side—the degree of "delivery" is seriously disappointing. It has not made any real progress on the proposal to withdraw guards from freight trains. It has not agreed to one-man operation of modern electric trains with sliding doors. In those areas where ASLEF would also need to co-operate—the single manning of traction units and the development of the trainman concept—there has been little real progress. Of the six items mentioned so often in the debate for which the board agreed to pay in last year's wage settlement, only two are yet offering it any returns, even from NUR members.

Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)

Will the Minister please reply to the most important point in the debate? Will the Secretary of State and the Minister try to get the sides together round a table to avoid a strike?

Mr. Eyre

The hon. Gentleman well knows that the British Railways Board and the unions have been talking together. The British Railways Board is in charge of the negotiations and well understands the details of the matter. It would be wrong and weakening for the Government to intervene in such a dispute.

Against that background, how can it be justifiable to demand that the taxpayer should foot the bill? That was the main reason given by the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) for the SDP's vote in support of the Opposition. Employees in other industries, in both the public and private sectors, have to live with the consequences of their actions and the actions of their fellow employees. Inevitably, that applies to British Rail. If one group of workers insists on damaging the prospects of the industry, fellow workers cannot hope to escape unscathed.

I am sorry that I cannot refer to all the points that have been raised in the debate but, in the words of the Government amendment to the motion, I ask the House to support the efforts to achieve increased productivity on the railways", to welcome the support the Government provides for the system", to deplore the threat of strike action which will undermine the railway's future", and to call on the trade unions to recognise the vital need for modern work practices". Referring again to Lord McCarthy's report, that is the only way in which British Rail will remove what he referred to as the shadow of a bleak and unpromising future which now hangs over it.

The BRB is clear about what has to be done. We in this House must support its efforts to create a modern, efficient and competitive system. I urge the House to reject the motion and to support the amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 238, Noes 288.

Division No. 229] [7 pm
Abse, Leo Dubs, Alfred
Adams, Allen Duffy, A. E. P.
Allaun, Frank Dunn, James A.
Alton, David Dunnett, Jack
Anderson, Donald Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Eadie, Alex
Ashton, Joe Eastham, Ken
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,) Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)
Bagier, Gordon AT. Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) English, Michael
Beith, A. J. Ennals, Rt Hon David
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Bidwell, Sydney Evans, John (Newton)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Ewing, Harry
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Faulds, Andrew
Bottomley, Rt Hon A. (M'b'ro) Field, Frank
Bray, Dr Jeremy Flannery, Martin
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Ford, Ben
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Forrester, John
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & p) Foster, Derek
Campbell, Ian Foulkes, George
Canavan, Dennis Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Cant, R. B. Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Carmichael, Neil George, Bruce
Carter-Jones, Lewis Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Cartwright, John Ginsburg, David
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Golding, John
Cohen, Stanley Gourlay, Harry
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Graham, Ted
Conlan, Bernard Grant, John (Islington C)
Cook, Robin F. Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Cowans, Harry Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g) Hardy, Peter
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Crowther, Stan Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Cryer, Bob Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cunliffe, Lawrence Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Cunningham, G.(Islington S) Heffer, Eric S.
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Hogg, N. (EDunb't'nshire)
Dalyell, Tam Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Davidson, Arthur Home Robertson, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Hooley, Frank
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Horam, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd) Howell, Rt Hon D.
Deakins, Eric Hoyle, Douglas
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Huckfield, Les
Dewar, Donald Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Dixon, Donald Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Dobson, Frank Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Dormand, Jack Janner, HonGreville
Douglas, Dick Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
John, Brynmor Race, Reg
Johnson, James (Hull West) Radice, Giles
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda) Richardson, Jo
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Kerr, Russell Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Robertson, George
Lamborn, Harry Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Lamond, James Rooker, J. W.
Leadbitter, Ted Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Leighton, Ronald Rowlands, Ted
Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW) Ryman, John
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Sandelson, Neville
Litherland, Robert Sever, John
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Sheerman, Barry
Lyon, Alexander (York) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'dW) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McCartney, Hugh Short, Mrs Renée
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
McElhone, Frank Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Silverman, julius
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Skinner, Dennis
McKelvey, William Snape, Peter
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Soley, Clive
McMahon, Andrew Spearing, Nigel
McNally, Thomas Spriggs, Leslie
McNamara, Kevin Stallard, A.W.
McTaggart, Robert Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
McWilliam, John Stoddart, David
Magee, Bryan Stott, Roger
Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton) Strang, Gavin
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Straw, Jack
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Martin, M (G'gow S'burn) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
Maxton, John Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Maynard, Miss Joan Tilley, John
Meacher, Michael Tinn, James
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Mikardo, Ian Wainwright, E. (Dearne V)
Mlllan, Rt Hon Bruce Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Watkins, David
Mitchell, R.C. (Soton Itchen) Weetch, Ken
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Wellbeloved, James
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw) Welsh, Michael
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) White, Frank R.
Moyle, Rt Hon Roland White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Whitehead, Phillip
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Whitlock, William
Ogden, Eric Wigley, Dafydd
O'Halloran, Michael Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
O'Neill, Martin Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Williams, Rt Hon Mrs (Crosby)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H. (H'ton)
Palmer, Arthur Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Park, George Winnick, David
Parker, John Woodall, Alec
Parry, Robert Woolmer, Kenneth
Pavitt, Laurie Wrigglesworth, Ian
Pendry, Tom Wright, Sheila
Penhaligon, David Young, David (Bolton E)
Pitt, William Henry
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Tellers for the Ayes:
Prescott, John Mr. George Morton and
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Mr. Frank Haynes.
Aitken, Jonathan Banks, Robert
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Beaumont-Dark, Anthony
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Bendall, Vivian
Ancram, Michael Benyon, Thomas (A'don)
Arnold, Tom Benyon, W. (Buckingham)
Aspinwall, Jack Best, Keith
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne) Biffen, Rt Hon John
Atkins, Robert (Preston N) Biggs-Davison, Sir John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th, E) Blackburn, John
Baker, Kenneth (St. M'bone) Blaker, Peter
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert Haselhurst, Alan
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Hastings, Stephen
Bowden, Andrew Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hawkins, Sir Paul
Braine, Sir Bernard Hawksley, Warren
Bright, Graham Hayhoe, Barney
Brinton, Tim Heddle, John
Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon Henderson, Barry
Brooke, Hon Peter Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Browne, Jonn (Winchester) Hill, James
Bruce-Gardyne, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Bryan, Sir Paul Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A. Hooson, Tom
Buck, Antony Hordern, Peter
Budgen, Nick Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Bulmer, Esmond Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Burden, Sir Frederick Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Butcher, John Hunt, David (Wirral)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Irvine, Bryant Godman
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Jessel, Toby
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Chapman, Sydney Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Churchill, W.S. Kaberry, Sir Donald
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Clegg, Sir Walter Kimball, Sir Marcus
Cockeram, Eric King, Rt Hon Tom
Colvin, Michael Kitson, Sir Timothy
Cope, John Knight, Mrs Jill
Cormack, Patrick Knox, David
Costain, Sir Albert Lamont, Norman
Cranborne, Viscount Lang, Ian
Critchley, Julian Langford-Holt, Sir John
Crouch, David Latham, Michael
Dickens, Geoffrey Lawrence, Ivan
Dorrell, Stephen Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Lee, John
Dover, Denshore Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Durant, Tony Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Dykes, Hugh Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Loveridge, John
Eggar, Tim Luce, Richard
Emery, Sir Peter Lyell, Nicholas
Eyre, Reginald McCrindle, Robert
Faith, Mrs Sheila Macfarlane, Neil
Farr, John MacKay, John (Argyll)
Finsberg, Geoffrey Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Fisher, Sir Nigel McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Fookes, Miss Janet McQuarrie, Albert
Fox, Marcus Madel, David
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh Major, John
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Marland, Paul
Fry, Peter Marlow, Antony
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Marten, Rt Hon Neil
Garel-Jones, Tristan Mates, Michael
Glyn, Dr Alan Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mawby, Ray
Goodhew, Sir Victor Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Goodlad, Alastair Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gorst, John Mayhew, Patrick
Gow, Ian Mellor, David
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Greenway Harry Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Griffiths, E. (B'y St. Edm'ds) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N) Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Grist, Ian Miscampbell, Norman
Grylls, Michael Moate, Roger
Gummer, John Selwyn Monro, Sir Hector
Hamilton, Hon A. Montgomery, Fergus
Hamilton, Micheal (Salisbury) Moore, John
Hampson, Dr Keith Morgan, Geraint
Hannam, John Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Smith, Dudley
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Mudd, David Speed, Keith
Murphy, Christopher Speller, Tony
Myles, David Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Neale, Gerrard Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Needham, Richard Sproat, Iain
Nelson, Anthony Squire, Robin
Newton, Tony Stainton, Keith
Normanton, Tom Stanbrook, Ivor
Nott, Rt Hon John Stanley, John
Onslow, Cranley Steen, Anthony
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Stevens, Martin
Osborn, John Stokes, John
Page, John (Harrow, West) Stradling Thomas, J.
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Tapsell, Peter
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Parris, Matthew Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Patten, John (Oxford) Temple-Morris, Peter
Pattie, Geoffrey Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Pawsey, James Thompson, Donald
Percival, Sir Ian Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Peyton, Rt Hon John Thornton, Malcolm
Pink, R. Bonner Townend, John (Bridlington)
Pollock, Alexander Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Porter, Barry Trippier, David
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Trotter, Neville
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Proctor, K. Harvey Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Viggers, Peter
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wakeham, John
Rathbone, Tim Waldegrave, Hon William
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Rees-Davies, W. R. Walker, B. (Perth)
Renton, Tim Wall, Sir Patrick
Rhodes James, Robert Waller, Gary
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Walters, Dennis
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Ward, John
Rifkind, Malcolm Warren, Kenneth
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW) Wells, Bowen
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Rossi, Hugh Wheeler, John
Rost, Peter Whitney, Raymond
Royle, Sir Anthony Wickenden, Keith
Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R. Wiggin, Jerry
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Wilkinson, John
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N. Williams, D. (Montgomery)
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Winterton, Nicholas
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Wolfson, Mark
Shelton, William (Streatham) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Shepherd, Richard Younger, Rt Hon George
Shersby, Michael
Silvester, Fred Tellers for the Noes:
Sims, Roger Mr. Anthony Berry and
Skeet, T. H. H. Mr. Carol Mather.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 32 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House supports the efforts to achieve increased productivity on the railways, welcomes the substantial support the Government provides for the system, deplores the threat of strike action which will undermine the railway's future and calls on the unions to recognise the vital need for modern work practices.

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