HC Deb 19 May 1986 vol 98 cc5-7
4. Mr. Martin

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he last discussed with the management of British Rail the effects of British Railways Board procurement policy on BREL.

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

My right hon. Friend has discussed this with the chairman, but the BR Board's procurement policy and its specific effect on British Rail Engineering Ltd. remain matters for management decision.

Mr. Martin

I have met the Minister, the deputy director of BR and of BREL, all of whom have stated that there will always be a presence in the Springburn railway engineering workshops, small though they are. Will the Minister help to dampen the rumours recorded in newspapers since Friday that there will be complete closure of the Springburn workshops, which, if true, means that people have been telling me lies for the past 18 months?

Mr. Mitchell

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that proposals which affect employment should be discussed first with the unions. There is to be a meeting tomorrow between British Rail and its unions to discuss its proposals as they affect BREL.

Mr. Coombs

Will my hon. Friend give an estimate of the number of new jobs that have been created as a result of the Government's major investment programme in British Rail? Will he also say whether any jobs have gone overseas as a result of the programme?

Mr. Mitchell

I do not know the precise number of jobs, but I can tell the House that £2.5 billion has been invested by British Rail since the Conservative party came to office. Virtually all that money has been spent in the United Kingdom, thus creating a large number of jobs. I do not have the specific number. I shall write to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Bagier

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that Ministers know nothing about the contents of the statement to be made tomorrow? Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to admit that the weakend's rumours are based on facts and that there are to be massive cuts in BREL? How much of that has been brought about by pressure from Ministers in order to get rid of the part of the industry that is not paying, and to get the other half ready for privatisation?

Mr. Mitchell

The changes that British Rail proposes to make about BREL are matters for discussion between the management and the unions. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a good trade unionist, recognises that it is right that the proposals should first be disclosed to the unions that represent the men involved. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes to make a statement in the House tomorrow.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Minister aware that the Springburn works have a reputation not only in Scotland and the United Kingdom generally, but world wide? Is he further aware that, quite apart from the hundreds of jobs that might go, its closure would be a black mark against engineering in the United Kingdom throughout the world? Will he come clean with the House and say what the Government intend to do about the works?

Mr. Mitchell

The distribution of work between one rail works and another is entirely a matter for the BREL management. As BR announced earlier this year. it intends to change the pattern of its maintainance work so that works, including Springburn, will be associated directly with the maintainance work of the areas and regions in which they operate.

Mr. Sackville

Is my hon. Friend aware of the recent announcement of substantial and unexpected losses at the BREL foundry at Norwich'? Will he confirm that he is aware of the foundry's importance to employment in the town and that he is keeping the situation under review?

Mr. Mitchell

I can assure my hon. Friend. I have been to Horwich and seen what has been happening there. I have also been involved in the increasing effort to provide employment there and at Shildon, where a major part of the rail works has been closed. I shall of course keep what my hon. Friend said in mind.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the Minister have the honesty to admit that it is his policy that is causing BREL to retract at this speed? Can he give the House any idea how many of the BREL workshops have to close before he will lift a finger to protect the thousands of jobs involved in this engineering industry?

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Lady is quite wrong to say that that is my policy or the Government's policy. Let me make the cause absolutely clear. It is the result of massive investment in new rolling stock that we have acceded to BR's request to make. If there is investment in new rolling stock, less maintainance is required. There is no point in keeping maintainance capacity when there is no demand for it.

Mr. Adley

Although I acknowledge the investment that the Government have authorised in BR, will my hon. Friend nevertheless look at the legislation was passed as long ago as 1929 under which the Government authorised expenditure to alleviate unemployment by the acquisition, by Britain's then private railways, of locomotives and rolling stock and by vast numbers of schemes to improve the permanent way and safety? Is my hon. Friend convinced that social circumstances today are any different from social circumstances then with regard to these jobs?

Mr. Mitchell

The resources that BR devotes to rolling stock and track maintenance are a matter for BR. It wants to achieve the most cost-effective service possible to persuade passengers to use the railways rather than the roads. It can attract passengers only if it runs an efficient and cost-effective service. That must be a management decision.

Mr. Snape

Does the Minister agree that the Department of Transport's policy of minimum resources for BR means that the existing intercity fleet is not big enough to meet demand, that the excessive demands on BR rolling stock are leading to the bad punctuality figures that are filling our newspapers, that in Wolverton, Eastleigh, Doncaster and Glasgow up to 4,000 people will lose their jobs as a result of an announcement that is to be made tomorrow, and that tomorrow we expect to see the organ grinder at the Dispatch Box accounting for his bankrupt philosophies rather than hiding, as he usually does, behind the jacket, if not the skirts, of the Minister of State?

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman has rather overrun himself. I have never worn a skirt in my life. What the hon. Gentleman said about minimum resources for BR is arrant nonsense. The maintenance requirements are down because of the massive investment in new rolling stock.

Mr. Martin

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.