HC Deb 10 March 1982 vol 19 cc836-7
13. Mr. Bagier

Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to receive British Railway's proposals for main line electrification; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Howell

I hope to do so shortly, but the board will first need to reassess the financial prospects of the inter-city and freight businesses in the light of the recent ASLEF strikes.

Mr. Bagier

Will the Secretary of State not use the recent dispute as an excuse for delay in electrification? Does he accept that it is essential to go ahead with the electrification scheme if we are to have a modern railway system? What is the cause of the delay? When will the important East Coast main line electrification start and be completed?

Mr. Howell

We are looking for progress on the railways, particularly on productivity, not for excuses. The East Coast main line railway is one of the projects that will be at the top of the list when electrification proposals come forward. However, those proposals always assume certain traffic forecasts and progress on productivity. The recent strikes mean that the traffic forecasts will have to be revised. Regrettably, progress on productivity remains outstanding.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

Will my right hon. Friend continue to bear in mind that English companies operating in the valuable overseas market of railway electrification find it difficult to continue to compete without an adequate home base?

Mr. Howell

I am concerned to see that the suppliers to the railway industry have a good home base and make progress in overseas markets. However, the electrification investment, which is large, must stand or fall on its viability and common sense in the United Kingdom context.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The Secretary of State cannot be allowed to get away with that. He has had British Rail's electrification proposals for more than two years. In those two years massive productivity gains have been provided by the unions. People in the industry are fed up with the Government using every excuse to prevent investment in British Rail. The right hon. Gentleman must show some commitment if he expects co-operation from workers in the industry.

Mr. Howell

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is misrepresenting the situation. The Government were expecting British Rail's proposals for electrification and there was some hope that they would reach us before Christmas—certainly after Christmas. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain to members of ASLEF that they are putting a veto on productivity increases in the railway system and therefore on a good, well-invested future for the railways. He may also get a better understanding of what has been achieved so far. Productivity is the key to progress.

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