HC Deb 17 January 1989 vol 145 cc162-72
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement concerning BREL (1988) Ltd., formerly known as British Rail Engineering Ltd.

As the House knows, the Railways Board has selected a consortium of the management and employees of BREL, Trafalgar House plc and Asea Brown Boveri Ltd. as preferred bidder for the purchase of its engineering subsidiary BREL (1988) Ltd. The board's choice follows a competitive tender for the business. Bids were received from two groups.

The board and its advisers, Lazard Brothers. have undertaken extensive negotiations with both bidders over the past three months. The board's evaluation of their final offers showed that the bid from the consortium was the more attractive in financial terms, and that it also offered clear financial advantages over the option of the board retaining ownership of BREL. The board has also secured fair arrangements for the BREL staff, who will be transferring to the new owners, including provisions for pension rights and concessionary travel facilities.

The Government have taken independent advice from Lloyds merchant bank. We are satisfied that the board has followed normal commercial procedures in reaching its decision and has fully tested the market for potential purchasers.

At this stage, there are no grounds on which the Government wish to interfere with the board's commercial judgment. Subject to the final terms of the sale and purchase contract being satisfactory to the Government, we would expect to give consent to the sale in due course. Final clearance is also subject to approval by the European Commission and to the decision which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will take once he receives advice from the Director-General of Fair Trading. Subject to those points, I would hope that the sale could be completed as soon as possible.

BREL has been through a period of major change, reflecting the new investment being made in modern rolling stock and the reduction in repair work which follows from this. BREL has made good progress towards a modern, competitive railway engineering business. The people who work at BREL have played a major part.

The time is now right for BREL to move on into the private sector. BREL will now have more opportunities to diversify and compete for new business. The company should derive technological and commercial benefits, and access to the advanced engineering techniques of a world leading manufacturer.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in November 1987, when he announced the decision to offer BREL for sale, privatisation will be good for the railway, good for the railway supply industry and good for BR EL itself. I hope that the House will join me in wishing the company and its work force every success for the future.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Does the Minister accept that almost 20,000 jobs have been lost in British Rail Engineering Ltd. in the past five years and that the work force has been reduced by approximately 75 per cent., that the company has been systematically run down and starved of orders, that the state has picked up the financial bill necessary to achieve such a massive reduction and now the private sector is to gain all the assets?

Does the Minister accept that four railway Bills are due to come before the House in the current Parliament; that great interest has been expressed in many of our cities in developing light railways as the people-movers of the future; and that at a time when people are increasingly looking to the railways to help solve the problems of traffic congestion and overcrowding, the Government continue to contract our capacity for railway building and to sell off what is left? What guarantee do we have that the new company will be able to cope with the orders that are likely to emerge in the next few years?

The Minister referred to the deal being "attractive in financial terms" and he talked about the "final terms of the sale". What do those two phrases mean? Has a price been agreed or has it not? If so, what is it? Is that a final statement about the future of BREL or just an interim one? What happens if someone else, whether GEC or a third party, makes a better offer? When does the Minister expect the sale to be finally completed?

Does the Minister accept that his statement today could lead, within two or three years, to the end of all railway engineering in this country? How can that be good for anyone other than our industrial competitors? How will that help us to meet the transport needs of the 1990s? What effect will it have on our balance of payments problem? Does it mean that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will castigate us all for overspending and hike up mortgage rates once again in an attempt to remedy our balance of payments problem?

We reject the idea that privatisation will be good for the railway industry or for BREL. On the contrary—[Interruption.] Conservative Members may think that this is funny, but the Labour party does not. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) would not know a railway if he fell on the tracks. We believe that, once again, the Government have made a major costly error that in time the railway industry and the nation will reject.

Mr. Portillo

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman could not be a bit more fulsome in his welcome for the announcement.

The hon. Gentleman began by saying that many jobs have been lost. I recognise that, and it is a serious matter. We are now trying to address the question of how the company can have a future. I hope that he will join me in trying to find the best solution.

The hon. Gentleman said that the company has been starved of orders, but its order book is at present worth £400 million and it was awarded a new order only last Wednesday, which I announced then. Recently, it has been gaining about 70 per cent. of the orders which it has been offered by British Rail.

The hon. Gentleman wanted to know what was the sense of the sale. The best thing that I can do is to refer to the managing director of BREL, who said that there would be considerable management continuity during a very important phase of the company's development. I think the other factor is the technical strength of the technology package which ABB is going to bring with it. We also have sound financial backing and good marketing opportunities. This sale represents an injection of major technology into BREL. Now there is the opportunity for BREL to join a European consortium and bid for orders not only in this country but elsewhere.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether this was an interim statement. I am not prepared to reveal to him the price—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because it is a commercially confidential matter. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the price was superior to the other bid, but negotiations will continue.

I do not believe that there should be any bid from any other person now because I regard the bidding as closed. If for any reason the negotiations could not be completed satisfactorily, it would be a different matter.

The problem in which the hon. Gentleman finds himself, which I appreciate, is that it is difficult for him to welcome a privatisation. I believe that, in his heart of hearts, he recognises that the news that I have given today is good news for BREL. I believe that he should welcome, as the trade unions have welcomed, the fact that the bidder has been successful.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

My hon. Friend should ignore the twitterings of Labour Members, who, in the words of one of their hon. Friends, could not run a whelk stall.

My hon. Friend's statement will be extremely welcome in Derby, where we already have a magnificent example of a privatised engineering company that has gone on to beat the world. Does my hon. Friend agree that the consortium could do a Rolls-Royce job on BREL and that its future will be far sweeter in the private sector than it ever would have been with British Rail?

Mr. Portillo

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right to say that the statement will be broadly welcomed in Derby. My hon. Friend recognises, as I do, that it is a combination of BREL with the expertise of Asea Brown Boveri—which sees scope for extensive co-operation with BREL in product development marketing and production technology—that gives the group tremendous strength for the future.

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

Is the Minister aware that the work force in Derby and throughout BREL remains opposed to its privatisation? It shows how little the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) has to do with the work force that she is unaware of that opposition. Is the Minister further aware that the work force certainly hopes that his announcement signals a period not only of stability but prosperity, since, in the past few years, BREL has substantially suffered as a result of the Government's policies?

Does the Minister intend to take cognisance of the fact that the work force strongly believes—as it made clear to him only last week—that its past loyalty to British Rail is not being recognised in the terms of sale and agreement between the buy-out team and British Rail? It remains of the view that the new company could start at a disadvantage because of that.

Mr. Portillo

I was grateful to the hon. Lady, to her hon. Friends and to my hon. Friends who accompanied the delegation who came to see me last week. That was a useful opportunity for me to hear the concerns of the work force.

As I said on that occasion, the fact that the workers are taking with them their present contracts is a substantial guarantee to them of the terms and conditions under which they have worked and of the fact that those terms and conditions will continue. That relates to such things as terms of redundancy, travel conditions and pensions—subject to any negotiations that may take place with the new management.

The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) said that the sale is opposed in Derby. I am surprised she said that, because, on television in reply to the question would BREL … operating as a private company … actually stand a better chance? the hon. Lady replied: Unfortunately, in the climate of this Government that may even be so.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that his excellent decision will be greeted with pleasure and enthusiasm by the majority of my constituents, who believe that his choice is in the best interests of the Derby works? His decision will be welcomed by those up and down the country who want to see BREL succeed in private hands and be capable of grasping all future opportunities.

Is my hon. Friend aware, however, that there is some confusion among the work force about the two matters he mentioned in his statement? Therefore, will he reiterate the fact that, at the point of sale and under the terms of sale, existing pension rights will be maintained on no less favourable terms and that travel concessions, which currently exist on British Rail, will continue?

Mr. Portillo

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I thought that I would hear another opinion from the city of Derby having heard the comments of the hon. Member for Derby, South.

The new owner has given the undertaking that the overall package for the compulsory pension scheme will be no less favourable than at present and that travel concessions are to be continued as now, subject only to renegotiation that may occur.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Is the Minister aware that, since he is handing over a large package of assets to a private company, the work force wants much better guarantees than his bland assurances that the moment that BREL is sold, the work force will be able to maintain its existing terms? That is not the case.

The Minister will be aware that, in Crewe, about £7 million of taxpayers' money has gone into new machinery. If, in two years' time, we have paid for that machinery in terms of jobs, asset-stripping and the deliberate running down of BREL, I hope that there will be an urgent investigation of the Government's responsibility, given they have no commitment to the railway industry or to the future of manufacturing.

Mr. Portillo

I am surprised at the hon. Lady's remarks because we are dealing with a reputable consortium that has come in to buy the company. It is 60 per cent. in British ownership, 20 per cent. held by the management and 40 per cent. by Trafalgar House. The other 40 per cent. of the consortium is represented by one of the world's leading electrical manufacturers. There is little doubt of that grouping's commitment to BREL's future. ABB can offer BREL the most tremendous opportunities. Trafalgar House is also heavily involved in the transport business now and is preparing to put in bids for the Manchester light railway, the Channel tunnel link, and has also made a proposal to Olympia and York for the railway from Waterloo to Docklands. I believe that there is every sign of the consortium's strongest commitment to the company.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

My hon. Friend will be assured that the vast majority of the work force in York will be delighted by today's news and I am sure that its delight is shared by the majority of the work force in Crewe and at the two sites in Derby. It is a further step towards denationalisation. There will be some regret, however, that it has taken so long to get to this stage.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight), I have already received representations about concessionary travel and pension rights. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will devote particular attention to those matters in the coming weeks.

May I ask for my hon. Friend's assurance—if he in turn has had it from the consortium—about employment in York and how far it will depend on the Swiss-based subsidiary? Has he received assurances that, within weeks of finalising this, Trafalgar House will not sell part of its equity to the Swiss, thereby ensuring that more than 50 per cent. of the company falls to a non-EEC engineering company?

Mr. Portillo

On pension rights, perhaps I can reassure my hon. Friend and others by saying that a part of the surplus in the British Rail pension fund is intended to be transferred to the new owners, subject to the approval of the trustees of the BR pension fund.

As I said in answer to the last question, there are now such strong signs of Trafalgar House's commitment to transport that I hope that that provides reassurance. Again, I refer to remarks made by Mr. Holdstock, the managing director of BREL, as quoted in the Financial Times of last Saturday: The link with Trafalgar House will strengthen Brel's project management, which might be important in the growing market for turnkey contracts to develop light rail systems.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I represent a community in which 10,000 people were once employed in railway engineering. Three years ago the Government reduced the work force of 3,000 to 300. The work force got to work and created the BREL maintenance depot, the only one left in Scotland.

The Minister must know that we in Scotland have had a painful experience, with so-called reputable companies coming in, taking over and sacking the work force—and it is just as painful to be sacked by a reputable employer as by a disreputable one. Surely the Minister owes it to the work force in my and other constituencies to keep a hand in this company to ensure that the asset-strippers do not move in, as they moved in three years ago in my constituency.

Mr. Portillo

If, when he talks about asset-stripping, the hon. Gentleman is concerned about property sales, I reiterate all the points I have made before about what appears to me to be the strong commitment of all the people involved in this bid. The hon. Gentleman himself makes the point that nationalisation is no guarantee of jobs. Not just in BREL, but in a whole series of different companies, nationalisation has offered no guarantee of employment. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends know that the changing market for repair and maintenance of railway wagons and locomotives lies behind the loss of jobs. We are trying to find—and I believe we have found—a way of providing a secure future for BREL.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

I welcome my hon. Friend's statement, which is good news for the people of Derby. When he met the unions last week, they expressed two main concerns—pensions and concessionary travel, as my hon. Friends have said. I believe that his statement goes a long way towards sorting out some of the problems and fears described in that initial meeting last week. Bearing in mind that the negotiations are still taking place, when does my hon. Friend expect the sale to be completed?

Mr. Portillo

In answer to my hon. Friend's last point, I hope that it will be a matter of weeks. It is for the European Commission to satisfy itself on the financial arrangements; for my right hon. and noble Friend the Secreary of State for Trade and Industry to take advice from the Office of Fair Trading; and for all the parties to bring the negotiations to a speedy resolution.

I recall my hon. Friend's contributions in previous statements. I am sure that he will be pleased that it is the intention of the new grouping to establish an employee share ownership plan, which I know is an especial concern of his.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

I welcome the statement, and the fact that it involves the management and employees of the company, as we recommended in November 1987, when the House first examined this issue. Nevertheless, can the Minister reassure the employees and those concerned in the affected areas that the company's investment plans will be maintained and that there are no present plans for job losses? I also hope that he can tell the House that the funds realised from the sale will be reinvested in British Rail, which could very much do with such a cash injection.

Mr. Portillo

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's welcome. I have observed that it has been the consistent position of his party, or parties.

At the moment, the company has about £400 million worth of orders. There are substantial new opportunities ahead, so there is everything to play for.

The proceeds of the sale are for British Rail, which can use them to reduce its indebtedness or to invest, as it thinks appropriate.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Does my hon. Friend accept that his statement will be warmly welcomed by both the workers and the management of BREL, who will now have far more control over their own business? Does he accept that any job losses of the past few years have been the result not of privatisation but of inefficiencies inherent in a state-run industry that existed solely on the basis of cosy, guaranteed, cost-plus contracts from an organisation that owned BREL?

Does my hon. Friend also accept that the only way to ensure no job losses in future is to keep the customers happy?

Mr. Portillo

I thank my hon. Friend for his words of welcome. The remarkable thing about the future of the company now is that it can compete for orders in a European market. I do not see much long-term future for a company in nationalised hands existing only on orders handed down by a single railway company in this country without access to technology from abroad.

Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)

I note the Minister's great enthusiasm when he uses the words "financial advantages". Why is he not prepared to reveal the price to the House, given that public money is invested in these companies? The taxpayers are entitled to know how their money is being used.

Can the Minister give some guarantee that if this transaction goes through there will not be asset-stripping such as took place with the royal ordnance factories—when factories were closed to sell the land off for other uses?

Mr. Portillo

I cannot talk about the price because the negotiations have not been concluded—I hope they will be shortly. I have outlined how I hope matters will proceed. I have also said how I believe that the commitment of the companies involved in this purchase is strong and clear. As it happens, in the event of any property disposals, there are clawback arrangements in the terms of the contract.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Is it not up to Ministers and the House, not the European Commission, to decide whether the financial terms of the sale are acceptable or unacceptable? Can the Minister confirm that today's most welcome announcement will be the prelude to the privatisation, in whole or in part, of British Rail in the next Parliament?

Mr. Portillo

On the first point, I agree with my hon. Friend because I believe there has been a misunderstanding between us. The European Commission concerns itself with whether there has been state finance which could constitute unfair competition in the setting up of a new company.

My hon. Friend knows that the Government are certainly looking with great interest into the privatisation of British Rail as a whole, but I am afraid that I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend has already said about that.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

Pursuing what the Minister said earlier about travel concessions and their possible negotiation, will he do what he can to ensure that any changes as a result of these negotiations are made only if they have not only the support of the new BREL management and British Rail, but of the employees? When he answers that question, will he bear in mind the fact that it is because of the Minister and the Government that BREL is being privatised?

Mr. Portillo

The workers who transfer to the new ownership take their contracts with them. The contracts clearly maintain the present terms and conditions of employment. A contract can only be subject to a renegotiation: it cannot be subject to unilateral abrogation on the part of the management. If there is to be renegotiation, it will be a mutual process between the two parties—exactly the same as might occur if the ownership were unchanged.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

Was a stock market flotation or, perhaps more probably, a management buy-out considered for this company? Can my hon. Friend say what effect the decision will have on some independent United Kingdom suppliers that are able to meet British Rail's requirements?

Mr. Portillo

On my hon. Friend's latter point, it was the clear view of British Rail that apart from the financial advantage of this offer there was the advantage that it would increase competition in the railway supply industry. British Rail believes that that is also an important factor. On my hon. Friend's first point, the consortium that is taking over BREL is to the extent of 20 per cent. a management buy-out and it says that it plans to have an employee share ownership plan. That will be broadly welcomed in the House.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Has the Minister noted that, for a statement vital to the industrial future of Scotland, no SNP Member is present to ask questions, let alone to protect the future of industry in Scotland, which that party keeps shouting about north of the border? Will the Minister say precisely what guarantees he has received that Sprinter maintenance will continue in Glasgow, and that all other operations in Glasgow will not be subjected to the process of rationalisation that we are now used to that moves operations to the south or, indeed, abroad, thus jeopardising the 300 jobs that remain for the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) and those of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), who does not seem to have the time to turn up occasionally?

Mr. Portillo

The hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly right to say that a matter that affects the railway supply industry should be of interest to hon. Members from every part of the country. As I understand it, my statement about BREL affects only Crewe, Derby and York, because the plant that the hon. Gentleman refers to was taken out of BREL prior to the sale and now operates within British Rail. Nothing in the statement affects that.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Does the Minister understand that many of my colleagues feel concerned that by not revealing the bid price offered by the consortium and Trafalgar House he has prevented Parliament from measuring whether the taxpayer is getting a fair return? Is it not true that at some stage all that information will be revealed to the Public Accounts Committee? It could be asked for by shareholders at annual general meetings of the acquiring companies and could also be published in the annual reports of the companies. Why can we not be given some indication now? Does the Minister want once again to hide these matters from Parliament because someone has picked up a £400 million order book company on the cheap?

Mr. Portillo

No. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, in due course this information will become available, not least to the Public Accounts Committee representing Parliament. I do not want to give the price now because I do not want to give the half-time score.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

In welcoming this statement and especially my hon. Friend's two answers about employee share schemes, may I ask him whether he can give any more information about the scope that there will be for individual employees and managers to participate in shareholdings and in profits? Does he agree that a generous scheme would be one of the best guarantees of a prosperous future for the new company?

Mr. Portillo

I am as delighted as my hon. Friend at the plan of the management to offer an employee share ownership plan. It is too early to say what the conditions of that might be, but I share my hon. Friend's wish that it should be as good and as attractive as possible, because that will be a good way to motivate the work force under the new circumstances.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Where does the Minister get his confidence in Trafalgar House? Is he not aware that Trafalgar House has an appalling record in the buy-outs in which it was involved? There is evidence of that at Scott Lithgow on the upper Clyde.

May I be nosey and ask the Minister a nice, friendly and gentle question? Has he noticed that one of the features of Government privatisation is that the Secretary of State responsible for the privatisation usually finishes up as a non-executive director of the company that buys the privatised company? In view of the Secretary of State's recent troubles, may we have a guarantee that this is not likely to happen in this case?

Mr. Portillo

I had not noticed that trend. I have already said in answer to other questions that it seems to me that Trafalgar House has a substantial interest in transport matters covering the Manchester light railway, for which it is a bidder, the Channel tunnel link and the proposal for a railway line from Waterloo to Docklands. I have also alluded to the fact that the management of BREL sees the contribution of Trafalgar House as being especially important in trying to win turnkey contracts, which can be important in the export field.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

For greater clarity, will my hon. Friend place in the Official Report the precise details of the works covered by these deals so that there is no doubt that maintenance works that were previously owned by BREL and that have reverted to railway ownership, such as our railway works at Eastleigh, are not covered? It is important to get clear what is and what is not covered by this deal.

Mr. Portillo

This concerns BREL (1988) Ltd., but I shall certainly do as my hon. Friend suggests.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

Is the Minister aware of acute anxiety among all the work forces involved, and not only those work forces that have been mentioned so far? They include the GEC workers in Preston, for example, who fear that this will lead to foreign control of this vital sector. Their fears are based on the fact that 40 per cent. goes to a Swiss-Swedish firm and that the rest depends largely on the good will of Trafalgar House. The Minister has said that it seems to him that Trafalgar House has a commitment. Can he tell us whether he has received from it a firm commitment that it will not simply sell and take its profit and go quickly? Can he tell us what he has done to safeguard British jobs and what steps he will take to prevent the involvement of ABB, leading to excessive imports at the expense of British products in rail traction?

Mr. Portillo

The strength of this arrangement is the combination of these works, which have substantial orders and considerable expertise, and the much broader expertise and technology that is available through ABB. I would be repeating myself if I stated again the reason why I think that Trafalgar House is strongly committed. The hon. Lady says that she is worried about foreign ownership. She should recognise that the consortium bid is 60 per cent. British and that the alternative was a 50:50 bid.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Now that the Minister has revealed that the Government do not know the selling price of these organisations and has said that there is no point in giving the half-time score, may we assume that the Government have agreed to privatise on the basis of selling off while not being prepared to tell the country at large? Has it been sold on the cheap? Is it one of those old-fashioned Rover type deals in which the taxpayer hands over large sums of money and a small amount comes back? Can he tell us how many acres of land are involved and how many of those acres are within city centres? What guarantees have the Government received about property and asset-stripping in connection with this sale? If he is not prepared to give the answers to all these questions, including the price, we can come to only one conclusion—that it is a massive cover-up.

Mr. Portillo

It was my judgment that the House would want to know the Government's attitude to this proposed sale at the earliest opportunity. Of course it would have been possible to wait until all the negotiations were concluded before making a statement, but during that period the House would have been impatient to know the Government's attitude. It is right to tell the House the Government's view, even though at this stage there is the disadvantage of not being able to reveal the selling price or to say whether the sale will proceed because there are certain conditions that need to be fulfilled. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the offer from the consortium was clearly superior to the other offer.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the Minister accept that the Government's record on railway matters is disgraceful? They have underfunded and under-invested in the railway system and because of that its performance is inferior to that of any other railway system. Now the Government propose to sell BREL by private treaty to some group, and they have no guarantee that it will not be just an asset-stripping exercise or will lead at the end of the day to a weaker railway system, a lack of expertise in railway technology and an inability to invest in what, I hope, will be a good future for the industry when the Government have finally left office.

Mr. Portillo

The sale was not by private treaty but by competitive bid, as I explained. There were two bids and the superior bid won.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about investment is that, since 1983, £2 billion has been invested in the railways. In the coming five years, we intend to invest £3.5 billion. This is the biggest renewal since the transfer from steam to diesel and by the end of the decade BR will have renewed over 85 per cent. of its diesel passenger trains and electrified 60 per cent. of its inter-city network and 30 per cent. of its total network.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) spoke about the concerns of the employees of GEC lest the consortium bid, if successful, led to GEC and the jobs there being frozen out, as we see with the transfer of supply to ABB. May we be informed what guarantees the Government have obtained from the BREL consortium about continuing to accept supplies from existing United Kingdom suppliers?

Mr. Portillo

Whichever bid had been accepted we would have ended up with an international solution, and that is entirely appropriate because many orders are to be won in Europe and, equally, it is important that groups have access to technology from all European sources. So that would have occurred in either case and, I believe, would have been welcomed in either case. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that, because of the investment programme, the details of which I gave when answering his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), it seems likely that there will be many orders in the offing, and fortunately we shall now have a healthy and competitive situation with a number of bidders in the United Kingdom able to apply for those contracts.

Following are the premises involved in the sale:

  1. Derby carriage works;
  2. Derby loco works;
  3. Crewe works;
  4. York works;
  5. BREL headquarters