Mr. Speaker, with your permission, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement.
As the House will know, I have during the last week been holding intensive discussions with the National Union of Railwaymen on the opening of freightliner terminals to all road haulage vehicles. The dispute between the National Union of Railwaymen and the Railways Board over open terminals was a longstanding one which had prevented the full use of freightliner services, and the opportunity to discuss it further arose when the Union asked to see me on 16th February about the completion of the Transport Holding Company's acquisition of the Tartan Arrow Company.
I am happy to be able to tell the House that, in the light of the discussions and of the assurances given, the N.U.R. Executive withdrew its objection to open terminals and agreed to co-operate in the full expansion of the freightliner network.
It is a primary aim of my policy to exploit to the full the railways' ability to transport large flows of freight in containers with maximum efficiency; this will be a vital element in developing the new railway.
The Railways Board will shortly be putting forward for my approval proposals for the investment of about £7 million in Stage 2 of the freightliner project. Expenditure of this order could not have been economically justified without open terminals. The Board will also be seeking my approval for further investment in cartage vehicles to service the freightliners, and this is expected to total about £2 million. With the establishment of open terminals, I confidently expect that these proposals will prove to be soundly based.
I am anxious that the railway workshops should share in the benefits of the expansion of the freightliner network, and I have just approved the setting up of a modern and efficient container production line which will enable the Derby workshops to manufacture up to at least 4,000 containers a year. The removal of the present restrictions on the Board's powers of manufacture which I shall propose in my forthcoming Transport Bill will also help to ensure that the railway workshops in general, on whose modernisation about £17 million has been spent in the past few years, are used to their fullest extent.
As I said in the House before Christmas, the British Railways Board and the Transport Holding Company have already taken the first steps to create an integrated freight system by establishing joint machinery to promote interworking in the parcels and sundries field. As a further step towards integration it has now been agreed between the Railways Board and the Transport Holding Company that the Board will take a 50 per cent. holding in Tartan Arrow, and so become joint owners with the Transport Holding Company.
The Board and the Holding Company will make an immediate start on securing the mutual benefits to be derived from joint ownership of Tartan Arrow even before the legal formalities are completed. Discussions will cover means of integrating the use of trains and job opportunities. There will be full consultation with all the unions concerned. The Chairman of the Railways Board has reaffirmed the assurances already offered to railwaymen that there will be no redundancies among cartage or other railway workers as a result of the opening of the terminals to private hauliers and that earnings will be suitably safeguarded. The Board will shortly be starting discussions with the trade unions with the aim of translating these assurances into an agreement which will meet specific points raised by the N.U.R. Executive.
The service planned by Tartan Arrow will be starting between its own depots at London and Glasgow next month with one train daily in each direction. The Railways Board also intends to add further trains to its own London-Glasgow service in the near future as traffic expands with the establishment of open terminals.
In these ways we shall continue to work towards the fullest use of freightliners. I look forward to the continuing expansion of this traffic, in which I am confident that all sections of the railway industry will share.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that we on this side of the House are very relieved that at last all these terminals will now be opened to the majority of lorries wishing to deliver goods to them instead of just the minority in public ownership? At this moment, are all the terminals open to all free enterprise lorries, or will there be need to await the detailed agreements which the right hon. Lady mentioned? Has the Transport and General Workers' Union now changed its former position of agreeing to their drivers' delivering to only three of the terminals for an experimental year? Will it now allow its drivers to deliver to all the terminals?
Can the right hon. Lady also assure the House, as I gather that there is some delay in the programme due to a shortage of containers, that before the railway workshops' production line comes into operation private enterprise will be used to provide such containers if necessary? Does she now believe that the original estimates in the Beeching Report that with open terminals £100 million invested in the freightliner train project could reduce the railways' deficit by as much as £50 million a year?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares my delight at our success in opening the terminals. The agreement to open the terminals came into operation automatically. The National Union of Railwaymen's Executive was speaking on behalf of the whole membership.
On the hon. Gentleman's second question, one of the unions in Manchester—not the Transport and General Workers' Union—had some difficulty about allow-in B.R.S. vehicles to use the terminals, but the Transport and General Workers' Union is certainly not raising any objection to the decision.
The hon. Gentleman raised so many points that I have forgotten his third.
The Railways Board is expanding its manufacture of containers as rapidly as possible and is confident that shortages will have been met by the end of April.
The hon. Gentleman's fourth question was about the Beeching investment programme. As I have said, I shall shortly have before me the request for the second stage of investment, £7 million plus £2 million on cartage vehicles. We must wait and see what the response is to the use of the terminals in the new situation before we consider the investment for the third stage.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that we congratulate her on her personal success in ending the dispute? Many of us know that it would not have been possible to have had a solution except in the context of her policy for integrating road and rail freight traffic, thus offering a new deal to the railways and the railwaymen.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. I think that he is quite right. As I have said time and again, the railwaymen had legitimate anxieties and fears which it would not have been possible to meet except in the context of my wider policy.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that we on the Liberal bench welcome her statement? We congratulate her upon her success in the negotiations, which is part of the realistic programme she has adopted towards British Railways, and which we thoroughly applaud. Has she any idea of the amount of increased tonnage that the agreement is likely to result in British Railways carrying?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind and generous remarks. It is impossible for me to say what increase there will be in tonnage as a result of the present agreement. All we can say is that the way is now open for a rapid expansion of the tonnage which can be carried by our freightliners. I am sure that the Railways Board is determined to go out and get as much business as it can.
Mr. J. T. Price:
Is my right hon. Friend aware that her statement will give unqualified pleasure to every hon. Member on this side of the House—which is something in these days? Does not she agree that the removal at long last of the artificial restrictions on making the fullest use of our national resources in the railways, both in rolling stock and in the new design to relieve the enormous congestion on the roads, plus her desire to give greater freedom to the railway workshops, will increase the morale of the industry and of all of us on this side who have advocated this policy for so long?
I thank my hon. Friend. I know that he will agree—I am sure the whole country agrees—that in our railway system we have a valuable national asset which must be used to carry an increasing share of the traffic which threatens to congest our roads. Therefore, this agreement marks an important break-through.
While congratulating my right hon. Friend in a very broad sense in taking the political poison out of this subject, may I press her more strongly about the capital investment she mentioned, totalling £9 million? Is this based on a market survey of the next five years or does she expect the railways to take their courage in their hands and look forward in terms of 10 years, in which case the investment is not by any means enough?
I would not like my hon. Friend to think that this stage will be the final stage of investment in the freightliners. On the contrary, I am hoping that, when the stage 2 investment comes into play, leading to the opening of eight more terminals, we shall begin to get manufacturers accustomed to using the freightliners and that this will merely be paving the way for still more investment in future, which I shall certainly welcome and accept if it can be economically justified.
Since the right hon. Lady is making the railways go into the manufacture of containers, will she allow private enterprise to go into the running of railways?
I did not think that it was ever the policy of right hon. and hon. Members opposite to take away from the nationalised industries the manufacturing powers they already possessed. What I propose to do, however, is to expand those powers so that the railways can compete fully and fairly with private enterprise for the home market and in the export trade.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that railway workshop men throughout the country, not least in Swindon, will wish to join us in congratulating her and thanking her very warmly for what she said about the workshops? Can she give an unqualified assurance that they will be given a fair crack of the whip in container manufacture and in all other work when her legislation goes through?
Yes, I can. It has always been the basis of our policy that the railway workshops must be able to manufacture and produce commercially. There is no intention of having any subsidy here. I am confident that, with modernisation, the workshops will be able to compete fully and fairly. Indeed, I visualise the manufacture of wagons in the workshops increasing from the present figure of 280 a year to more than double —about 600 a year—and container production in Derby, Glasgow and Horwich reaching 6,000 containers a year compared with 1,500 at present.
When the right hon. Lady is framing her Transport Bill in relation to these manufacturing powers, will she consider the wisdom of introducing provisions for the availability of figures comparable with those that were introduced by the Minister of Power into the Iron and Steel Bill? Unless these figures are available regularly, we cannot take her assurance that these are intended to be fully commercial ventures.
I appreciate that it is important to have separate costing of workshops. I do not think that the railwaymen want a hidden subsidy here. My purpose is to enable the railwaymen to hold up their heads. They do not want to get any hidden or secret advantage. The exact way in which we shall interpret that concept in the new Bill is being discussed in detail with the C.B.I. and the unions.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that every hon. Member on both sides of the House with the well-being of British Railways at heart will heartily and sincerely congratulate her on the agreement she has attained? Is she further aware, however, that if hon. Members opposite had continued in office, there could have been no decision to go ahead with liner train terminals until there had been full agreement with the unions, and that this would have held us back for many years?
I think that it is true that the railwaymen—the N.U.R., in particular—had many fears and anxieties as a result of years during which our railway system was allowed to run down under unqualified commercial considerations and during which "integration" was a dirty word. Now they know that they are to collaborate with a policy that will give railwaymen a fair deal.
On a point of order. I regret very much that I was not called —and it is quite in order that I should not have been—but I would have liked someone to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser) for the work that he has done in respect of the project which we have been discussing.