HC Deb 27 October 1982 vol 29 cc1024-5
2. Mr. Temple-Morris

asked the Secretary of Stale for Transport what discussions he has had with the chairman of the British Railways Board on productivity and investment.

19. Mr. Les Huckfield

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when next he plans to meet the chairman of the British Railways Board to discuss investment in the industry.

Mr. David Howell

I meet the chairman frequently to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Mr. Temple-Morris

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman, will he make it clear to him that he is behind the board in its efforts, with the backing of Lord McCarthy, to ensure that any future pay deal is related to productivity? In that regard, does my right hon. Friend welcome the recent pronouncements and decisions by the National Union of Railwaymen? Will he doubly welcome them if ASLEF shows signs of similar co-operation?

Mr. Howell

I welcome recent developments. I welcome the NUR's response to the McCarthy decision. The British Railways Board is negotiating with the unions, and it would not be proper for me to comment on that matter. Clearly, it is desirable that restrictive practices be removed and productivity increased so that the path can be cleared for a better railways future.

Mr. Dobson

Does the Secretary of State recall that on innumerable occasions during the recent disputes on British Rail he said that if the unions agreed to productivity arrangements additional capital investment would be forthcoming? Now that those agreements have been reached, when will the Secretary of State honour the undertakings that he gave time and again in the House?

Mr. Howell

Agreements have not yet been reached. It is important that negotiations take place so that the undertakings on productivity given by the unions both last year and this year are honoured. I want future investment in British Rail to take place, but this year British Rail lost £240 million through industrial disputes. Frankly, I did not notice that the hon. Gentleman, or his right hon. Friends, did much to oppose the strikes. Indeed, they did their level best to encourage them. If it is a question of money, that is where £240 million went.

Mr. Major

In view of the productivity improvements, when does my right hon. Friend expect to approve capital investment in the electrification of the east coast main line scheme, which is of immense importance to East Anglia and places further north, especially between Hitchin and Peterborough? Many of my constituents would welcome that investment.

Mr. Howell

It is an important scheme. We are considering it currently against the background of British Rail's latest figures for the future of the inter-city business.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the Secretary of State recall that during the rail disputes Len Murray, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) did everything possible to try to resolve the difficulties? The only person who did nothing, but who provoked the dispute even further, was the Secretary of State.

Mr. Howell

The hon. Gentleman's memory is short. Some of the speeches by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did nothing whatsoever to shorten the strike or make its resolution easier. I repeat: this year £240 million was lost by British Rail on strikes. That money could have been used for the type of investment that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Major) want.