HC Deb 10 February 1992 vol 203 cc645-6
9. Mr David Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many people were employed by British Rail in (a) 1979 and (b) 1991.

Mr. Rifkind

The total number of British Railway Board employees at 31 March 1991 was 136,277. The number employed at 31 March 1979 was 244,084.

Mr. Evans

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Does he agree that greater efficiency and more taxpayers' money still produce a rotten service? When will the taxpayer and the paying public get better value for that money? When will the Secretary of State sack the chairman of British Rail and his management for incompetence? The nation wants to know and, frankly, so do I.

Mr. Rifkind

British Rail has improved the quality of its performance over the years in many ways, but at the same time other parts of the railway network require considerable further improvement. I have full confidence in Sir Bob Reid as chairman of British Rail. He has an enormously difficult task to do, to turn around an organisation that, over the years, has been bureaucratic and not sufficiently sensitive to the needs of the travelling public. The reforms that he has introduced and the further reforms that the Government will bring forward will transform our railways. I am delighted that, even in recent years, it has been possible to say, once again, that the railways of the United Kingdom are expanding, contrary to the experience under a Labour Government.

Mr. Snape

Does the Minister accept that the figures that he has given to the incoherent hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) amount to a reduction in staff of 28 per cent? The key factor on which he should concentrate is that British Rail's external financing limit has been reduced under this Administration by 32 per cent. since 1979. The only area in which there has been an increase since the Conservatives were elected, other than productivity is that of fares, where there has been an increase in real terms of 18 per cent. I ask the Secretary of State to assure the House that he has no plans to offer the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield a job as a station announcer at any railway station in the area which I represent.

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about investment in our railways, he will hear today, and again and again, the following figures. Between 1951 and 1964, under a Conservative Government, rail investment increased by 29 per cent. Between 1964 and 1970, under a Labour Government it fell by 57 per cent. Between 1970 and 1974, under a Conservative Government, it rose by 48 per cent. Between 1974 and 1979, under a Labour Government it rose by only 13 per cent. Under this Government it has risen by no less than 85 per cent.