HC Deb 16 February 1983 vol 37 cc276-7
2. Mr. Stott

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will discuss with the chairman of the British Railways Board the prospects for the manufacture in British Rail Engineering Ltd. workshops of rolling stock for overseas railways.

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

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend and I have made it clear that we will do everything we can to encourage the railway engineering industry to seek and win overseas orders.

Mr. Stott

No doubt the Minister is aware that British Rail Engineering Ltd. has issued compulsory redundancy notices to quite a lot of people, particularly in Westhoughton. At the same time, that company is farming out work to private enterprise. Will the Minister comment on that, particularly as the situation is so difficult? As British Rail has now secured an important order for the Congo, will the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State state categorically that they reject the options in the Serpell report about the future of British Rail Engineering Ltd.? Will the hon. Gentleman approve the investment programme for British Rail, so that the sleeper coaches on the London-Midlands line can be refurbished in British Rail workshops instead of being withdrawn from service, as currently planned?

Mr. Eyre

The hon. Gentleman raises a number of questions, but he knows that the problems of over-capacity that have arisen in BREL, which have been given active consideration during the past year, throw upon BREL and BR the responsibility to organise their affairs to the best advantage.

The Government have strongly encouraged exports. They have helped through ministerial visits, support for financial arrangements, and grants for the development of an international standard coach. We were delighted when the Congo recently placed a £23 million order. Overseas orders worth £75 million were won by BREL last year.

Mr. Bagier

The Minister says that BREL is suffering from over-capacity. Will he tell British Rail that it is wrong in principle to farm out the breaking up of old wagons to private enterprise, such as Dobbins of Chester and others? Will he instruct BR that if there is over-capacity, the capacity of the workshops should be fully utilised before work is farmed out?

Mr. Eyre

British Rail must make its commercial decisions about the allocation of work. The Government want to see more investment in the railways, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that alone will not solve the problems of BREL. We must take account of the technical changes that have taken place in the running of the railways—for example, wagon loads, the new style of wagons, their more efficient use and, therefore, the reduction in the number of wagons built and the reduction in repair work.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Does the Minister not realise that the Government are intervening in the affairs of British Rail? Does he not also realise that over the heads of British Rail there hangs the threat of cutbacks? How does he expect any part of British Rail to build up an efficient and viable industry not only for internal use but for exports? When will he help the nationalised British Rail to be more efficient and viable?

Mr. Eyre

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government want an efficient, competitive railway engineering industry that can supply British Rail and win overseas orders. His question relates to the responsibility of BREL and BR in conducting the affairs of the company to its best advantage.