§ 1. Dr. Kim Howells
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the chairman of British Rail to discuss rail links between Wales, the west of England and the channel tunnel.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)
The Secretary of State and the chairman of British Rail meet regularly and channel tunnel services from the regions, including Wales and the west of England, are often discussed.
§ Dr. Howells
Is the Minister aware that just before Christmas, Wales and the nation lost the Powell Duffryn wagon construction works in Cardiff and with it the expertise of a century's trading and the ability, among other things, to construct low-axle rail freight wagons which would have enabled areas such as south Wales and the west of England to trade directly with firms on the continent? Why does not the Minister recognise that the lack of orders from British Rail is doing incalculable damage to firms such as the one that used to operate in Cardiff? When will he do something to offer protection to the British rail industry?
§ Mr. Freeman
I regret the announcement by Powell Duffryn. I had the opportunity to visit its French subsidiary about two years ago and saw the value of its work. But under the rules for open procurement the responsibility rests with British Rail; its decision about the procurement of freight wagons and the special axles and wheels required for them has nothing to do with the alleged dearth of orders.
As for the future for rolling stock orders, I am pleased that progress has been made on the new leasing arrangement of £150 million for British Rail. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will shortly make a statement on that.
§ Mr. Adley
In wishing my hon. Friend and his colleagues—and you, Madam Speaker—a happy new year, may I ask whether my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend would prefer the chairman of British Rail to be a man who was willing, regardless of his own views, to accept whatever the Government produced by way of plans for the future of British Rail—in other words, a yes man—or would they prefer someone who gave, publicly if 590 necessary, his honest appraisal of the Government's proposals and stated how he saw the future for Britain's railways under those proposals?
§ Mr. Freeman
I can confirm that the chairman of British Rail discharges his duty with distinction and enjoys the confidence of the Government. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants a chairman of British Rail who will speak his mind, not someone who will meekly agree with any statement made by a Member on either side of the House. I can also confirm that the chairman of British Rail agrees with the broad objectives of the Government and I feel quite certain that he will help fully to implement them.
§ Mr. Wilson
Is not it becoming increasingly clear that these ill-thought-out and unworkable plans for privatisation are a blight on jobs, on safety and on the future of the railways in general? Has a route finally been advised to the Government for the rail link with the channel tunnel? If so, will the Minister undertake today to publish it in the near future as a basis for full public discussion?
§ Mr. Freeman
I can confirm that my right hon. Friend has received a report from British Rail on the route for the channel tunnel rail link from Folkestone to King's Cross. It will be for him to consider that report carefully; but I can give the House the assurance that I gave on 14 December—the last time we debated this—that the Government will move as quickly as possible to commence the procedure of public consultation.