HC Deb 16 January 1984 vol 52 cc11-2
12. Mr. Knowles

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what recent discussions he has had with British Rail about its programme for replacement of rolling stock.

Mr. David Mitchell

Following recent meetings with the chairman, we have today written to him giving approval to the board's proposal to build 150 new lightweight diesel multiple units.

Mr. Knowles

Can my hon. Friend quantify how much extra work this will mean for British Rail Engineering Ltd?

Mr. David Mitchell

British Rail will be putting this matter to competitive tender. Whether BREL gets the work will depend on its competitive tender quotation. I have visited several BREL workshops and I was impressed by the high standard of skill.

Mr. Foster

The Minister has complimented the British Rail engineering works on its skill, but if he is not prepared to lift a finger to prevent the redundancies in railway communities throughout the country, such as Shildon in my constituency, will he at least urge the chairman of British Rail to set up a job-hunting agency, which will give some chance of prosperity to those communities?

Mr. Mitchell

At each closure of a BREL workshop special arrangements have been made by British Rail, generally in co-operation with local enterprise agencies, to help create new jobs in those areas.

Mrs. Beckett

Does the Minister recognise, welcome though his announcement may be, although there are no firm orders for specific shops that the lack of sufficient firm orders, which would allow the workshops to plan, is leading directly to the redundancies affecting constitutencies such as mine? Will he accept that until the Government go ahead with a proper programme of electrification and build within the workshops we shall experience more and more redundancies, until the workshops that he has praised are finally closed?

Mr. Mitchell

Orders for British Rail's requirements are determined by its needs and not by the capacity of its workshops. It is nothing new for any factory or industry not to know years and years ahead what its orders will be. That depends upon its competitiveness and ability to win orders.

Mr. Gregory

Does the Secretary of State know whether the present level of rolling stock is the highest that any Government have funded?

Mr. Mitchell

I do not know whether it is the highest number. The Government have approved in the past four months major investments — the Tonbridge-Hastings line, new electrical multiple units, the DMUs, which were announced today, and the Cambridge-Bishop's Stortford electrification. There have been several other projects which British Rail has carried out which did not require the Government's consent.

Mr. Snape

Will the Minister accept that BREL has already produced an acceptable prototype of the light railbus in conjunction with British Leyland, and that BREL is equipped to complete the order in the required time? Is it not a fact—the Minister should convince his hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) among others of this — that the uncertainties in the placing of orders with BREL arise from the Government's Serpell-inspired directive to BRB to put tendering for railway construction on to the open market, whether or not it makes commercial sense? Will the Minister appreciate that what we want are not honeyed words about the efficiency of the work force of British Rail Engineering Ltd., but jobs for those men?

Mr. Mitchell

British Rail must get the best value for money for the purchases that it makes.