HL Deb 18 February 1982 vol 427 cc648-50

3.19 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the comparative figures for the productivity of train drivers employed by British Rail and those in other western industrialised countries.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the comparative figures range from plus 12 per cent. in West Germany to 50 per cent. in the Netherlands. I can say, however, that the productivity, based on train miles per annum of train drivers and drivers' assistants in nine European countries for which comparisons have been made, is, with the exception of Italy, lowest in Britain. Statistics are not available for other western countries; different operating conditions would make comparisons of doubtful value.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that information. But is it not true, as shown in The Times survey on 5th February, that, with the possible exception of Italy, all European countries have a much more flexible rostering system and single-man operation, and that this results in the much higher productivity that they all enjoy? Do not recent events underline the need now to restructure the basic working arrangements, which were drawn up 63 years ago, and which are really totally out of date with the present need to make our railways as efficient as those of our competitors in Western Europe and elsewhere?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, as a result of the negotiations which terminated this morning, the focus is now on achieving higher productivity, and I am sure that the negotiations will produce that objective speedily. Single manning would of course make percentages much more comparable with those of Europe. The Government are very glad, as I am sure is the whole House, that ASLEF's strike action has today been called off.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, is it not a fact that the corporate plan submitted by British Rail, with I think the approval of the unions, proposes substantial reductions of manpower in the next five years? Have there not been reductions of 6,000 jobs during 1980 and another 6,000 in 1981, and have not the Transport Ministers in thois Huse and in the other place complimented British Rail on the way that it is tackling the problem? In view of the fact that this matter is now the subject of very important negotiations, as the noble Earl has said, would it not be best to leave it there?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I find myself in a large measure of agreement with the noble Lord.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend give an assurance, and indicate to both sides of the railway industry, that there can be no question of further substantial Government investment in the railway industry until some progress has been achieved in improving productivity?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, only a limited amount of the potential for productivity gains is dependent on investment. The Government have maintained the Railway Board's investment at exactly the same level in real terms. We do not believe that investment should proceed at a pace beyond that which the railways can afford. Improved efficiency and cost containment offer the best prospect.

Lord Bruce of Donington

But, my Lords, if we are talking about productivity, is it not also a fact that subsidisation of the railways in the United Kingdom is at a much lower level than it is in any other European country?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, as I said in response to my noble friend, only a limited amount of the potential for productivity gains is dependent on investment, and the statistics that I have just given remain my case.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it not very depressing—and is the noble Earl not aware—that on the wireless at one o'clock today Mr. Buckton said that the 8-hour fixed day was sacrosanct and was not negotiable? Is that not what the strike has been all about? If that was going to be accepted by the British Railways Board, what on earth was the point of having a strike to make sure that no one would agree to a change in the fixed rostering day on the railways?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I do not think that it would profit anyone to go into the points that my noble friend has mentioned. I have just finished reading the report of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and I certainly have not digested it.

Forward to