HC Deb 23 June 1986 vol 100 cc6-7
5. Mr. Ron Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received concerning the level of maintenance of British Rail rolling stock in the light of the proposed reduction in staff; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

Since British Rail's announcement on 20 May about its future plans we have received seven letters from members of the public about the general issue of rolling stock maintenance. The level of maintenance of British Rail's rolling stock is entirely a matter for it.

Mr. Davies

Will the Minister comment on the statement made a few days ago by the president of ASLEF, Mr. Tom Clarke, that British Rail could not be trusted to put safety before cost cutting? In the light of the 50 per cent. reduction in the staff employed in wagon maintenance, and the thousands of jobs that will he lost in railway workshops in the coming months, do the Government not think that they should reconsider their priorities and start investing not only in stock but in the railway network?

Mr. Mitchell

It seems that the hon. Gentleman has not been following what has been happening in British Rail's world. Since 1979, no less than £2,500 million has been invested by British Rail. Moreover, in the past two years, I have given specific approval for the provision of 1,351 new passenger vehicles. The problem is that the new vehicles require a great deal less maintenance, which is why British Rail has reduced the range of its maintenance facilities.

Mr. Coombs

Will my hon. Friend take every possible step to ensure that he discourages actively any attempt by British Rail to seek foreign tenders for railway maintenance work?

Mr. Mitchell

I know of no proposal by British Rail to seek foreign tenders for maintenance work on British Rail.

Mr. Freud

Is the Minister satisfied that when the Channel tunnel brings about an increase in road and rail transport the recently announced closure of British Rail workshops will not jeopardise an adequately trained work force?

Mr. Mitchell

British Rail has an investment plan for the Channel tunnel involving the expenditure of about £380 million. There is no reason to believe that there will not be adequate maintenance facilities for servicing all that investment.

Mr. Bagier

Is the Minister not aware of the great number of breakdowns that take place, even of east-coast main line Intercity trains? He has made the rather complacent statement that a large amount of new equipment is being introduced, but does he not recognise that that equipment will not remain new for ever and that it will require some maintenance at some stage? Will he review the massive cuts which his Department is planning for railway workshops?

Mr. Mitchell

My Department is not planning any cuts in maintenance workshops. It is for British Rail to match demand with the facilities that it provides. The hon. Gentleman will know that the east coast main line is the subject of the largest electrification project that British Rail has undertaken for 25 years. It has been approved by the Government and it is going ahead. In the meantime, the HSTs are being serviced as is necessary.

Mr. Waller

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to refute as strongly as possible the suggestion by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) that British Rail has put safety after its efforts to reduce costs? Is it not a fact that investigations into accidents which have taken place on British Rail's network show clearly that there is no pattern of reductions in safety having contributed to the accidents which have occurred?

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend is right. That is borne out by the reports of my Department's inspectorate. The massive new investment which British Rail has been undertaking involves more modern rolling stock, which tends to be safer anyway.

Mr. Snape

What percentage of British Rail's locomotives and rolling stock has been constructed in the past decade? Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the percentage is satisfactory? Does he agree that the recently announced reductions in construction and maintenance staff at British Rail Engineering Ltd. will mean that British Rail will continue to have, in more ways than one, the oldest railway in Europe?

Mr. Mitchell

I do not have in my head the precise percentage of rolling stock that has been constructed over the past decade. If the hon. Gentleman cares to table a question about that, I shall be happy to answer it for him. I can — [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman gives notice of that question, I shall be prepared to give him an answer. I do not have the statistic in my head and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should be surprised at that. We have considered every one of British Rail's proposals for investment in locomotives and not one of them has been turned down.