HC Deb 11 January 1993 vol 216 cc595-6
8. Mr. Janner

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what consultations he has had with the chairman of British Rail about the effect on performance of recent proposed redundancies.

Mr. Freeman

This is a commercial matter for the board. The redundancies concern staff positions where, judged by British Rail, loss is not expected to affect performance.

Mr. Janner

Does that answer mean that there were no consultations with the Minister? If not, why not? Surely matters of commercial interest and concern in public bodies such as British Rail should be considered by the Department. Do not they lead to great public expenditure in redundancy pay and other benefits? There should be consultation not only with the Minister concerned, but with the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. Freeman

Of course there were consultations between British Rail and the Department of Transport about the need to reduce the work force in line with falling demand. On Network SouthEast alone, during the 12 months to the autumn of 1992 patronage fell by about 8 per cent. Ministers were certainly aware that British Rail was discharging its functions correctly by planning to reduce services—and therefore employment—at the margin. The precise number involved and the timing of the announcement were rightly matters for British Rail. We do not believe in interfering in matters that are not our direct concern. Until our reforms are in place, the management of British Rail is a matter for its board.

Mr. Couchman

My hon. Friend has assured the House that the redundancies will not affect performance. Is he aware that several thousand of my constituents commute daily on the Kent coast and Kent link lines in filthy, awful and old rolling stock, with unreliable services and little hope of any improvement? Is he further aware that British Rail has proposed cutting the already unacceptably bad service from May and is offering my constituents no hope of any improvement? When will my hon. Friend offer them some hope of improvement for their almost £2,000–a-year season ticket?

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—[Interruption.] I usually concentrate on listening to the question rather than turning away from Madam Speaker.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his very detailed support of the urgent need to improve rail services to his constituency. I repeat my earlier assurance that the 5,000 redundancies principally affect management and will not affect the safety of the railways.

My hon. Friend is aware of the £800 million programme of improvements now being made on the Kent link line, which serves part of Kent. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will turn his attention to the Kent coast service as soon as British Rail has completed improvements to the Kent link line.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Minister aware that already British Rail has removed all staff from a number of stations in my area? If that trend continues, many women will cease to travel by public transport because it will become even more dangerous and difficult for them. When does the hon. Gentleman intend to reconcile his supposed care for the safety of women passengers and the constant and increasing destaffing of British Rail stations?

Mr. Freeman

I share the hon. Lady's concern. However, that matter has nothing to do with the 5,000 redundancies announced by British Rail. The destaffing of stations has been taking place for some time. I firmly believe that with the introduction of franchising, which is a positive idea that will be welcomed by the House when we debate it tomorrow, there will be an improvement in the quality of services, including an improvement in the number of staff serving passengers both on platforms and on trains.