HC Deb 05 December 1983 vol 50 cc9-11
13. Mr. Robin Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has any plans to visit the railway workshops at York, Shildon, Derby and Swindon.

14. Mrs. Dunwoody

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has any plans to visit the railway workshops at York, Shildon, Derby and Swindon.

19. Mr. Cowans

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has any plans to visit the railway workshops at York, Shildon, Derby and Swindon.

Mr. Mitchell

I have visited Crewe, Eastleigh and Derby and am visiting York and Swindon in response to suggestions from my hon. Friends the Members for York (Mr. Gregory) and for Swindon (Mr. Coombs).

Mr. Cook

When the Minister visits the York and Swindon workshops, will he discuss the emerging crisis in their order programmes? Is the Minister not aware, despite his answers to the previous question, that in the past nine months the programme for electrical multiple units intended to service the Essex area has been cut to one third of its previous level, and that the programmes for inter-city coaches and for engineering and freight wagons have been scrapped in their entirety? Does the Minister realise that if the orders are cancelled and the capacity to meet such orders is shared there is not a hope of British Rail providing either passengers or industry with the modern rail network enjoyed by the rest of Europe?

Mr. Mitchell

Orders for the workshops of British Rail Engineering Ltd. depend on the investment that British Rail identifies as worth while. Orders are not an end in themselves. They have to be justified on investment grounds.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The Minister must be aware that BREL can more than justify its work programme. As only 300 of the 1,800 diesel multiple units have been completely stripped of asbestos, will the hon. Gentleman have urgent talks with the management of BREL to ensure that the stripping of asbestos continues? Is the Minister aware that if a bad accident occurred and the skin of a coach is split, as could have happened at the recent Paddington derailment, many members of the public would be at risks from asbestos?

Mr. Mitchell

An agreement exists between the management and the unions to the effect that asbestos stripping will be completed by 1987. There is no reason to believe that the programme will not be completed exactly as planned. The BREL programme is geared to the investment submissions that we receive from British Rail. There are later questions about that on the Order Paper.

Mr. Cowans

I am grateful to the Minister for linking these questions, but I feel that he would have shown courtesy to the hon. Members who asked them had he informed them of his intention. I notice that Shildon, for some strange reason, is missing from the list of workshops that he is to visit. Is the Minister aware that BREL has recently won a £2.5 million contract to supply electrical multiple units to Northern Ireland? Is he further aware that if Government approval is forthcoming further orders can be won in Northern Ireland? When the Minister eventually visits Shildon, will he explain to the workers how the policy that he outlined to me in November of accelerated redundancies and factory closures will help them? Before it is too late, will the hon. Gentleman reverse that policy, and instead of speeding up the rate of closure, will he speed up Government approval, which will produce work, and investigate—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the Gentleman has had a very good run.

Mr. Mitchell

I discerned two questions in what the hon. Gentleman said; one involving my visit to Shildon and the other involving investment. Shildon is not on my visiting programme. An announcement has been made that the works will close and agreement has been reached between the management and the unions on the closure programme. It would raise false hopes and be grossly unfair to the people involved if, by visiting Shildon, I gave any hope that there would be a return of British Rail work there.

We have recently announced the approval of the electrification of the Tonbridge-Hastings line. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has today approved British Rail's proposal to purchase 149 electrical multiple units.

Mr. Gregory

In trying to get back on to the right tracks, may I say that I am mindful of the quality and importance of BREL at York. However, has my hon. Friend made a decision on British Rail's submission for electrical multiple units, which I know was made in April?

Mr. Mitchell

I have announced that we have approved the purchase of 149 electrical multiple units and I understand that they will be built at York.

Mr s. Beckett

When the Minister visited the workshops in Derby and elsewhere, did he not see a skilled, well-equipped work force, successful in winning orders from overseas? The threat of redundancy hangs over its head only because of the Government's obstinate refusal to invest properly in the future of the industry. Will the Government reconsider their investment programme when considering improving the services of British Rail?

Mr. Mitchell

On my visits to the various BREL, workshops I have been most impressed by the skill and dedication of the work force. British Rail has had to carry out closures not because any blame rests with the work force or management, but because of overcapacity within the railway engineering industry. As to the refusal to sanction investment, I announced today the approval of a second major investment programme. It is for British Rail to propose investment and for the Government to agree or disagree when they receive the proposals.

Mr. Coombs

Will my hon. Friend accept that news of his impending visit to the Swindon railway works on 16 January 1984 is keenly welcomed, not only by management but by the unions? Does my hon. Friend agree that the Opposition's approach this afternoon, which is designed deliberately to create scare stories, is totally unhelpful to the future of the work force at those works?

Mr. Mitchell

I deplore the way in which the workers at many BREL workshops have been frightened by the suggestion that the Government are not prepared to approve investment proposals made by British Rail. In the past month we have announced two major investment approvals, and I look forward to more proposals being made.

Mr. Snape

Is it the Government's intention to run down BREL as far as posssible so that they can sell off the remnants of the industry to the private sector at the lowest possible price? Is it not sadly typical of Tory Britain that an industry with which, as with many others, we once led the world is being destroyed to prove the virility of the Secretary of State?

Mr. Mitchell

No, Sir. There is no intention to run down BREL. The rundown is due to past investment proposals being carried out successfully, resulting in there being less of a requirement for heavy maintenance work, because of the efficiency of modern equipment.