British Railways (Manpower)

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st July 1981.

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Photo of Mr Stanley Thorne Mr Stanley Thorne , Preston South 12:00 am, 1st July 1981

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has discussed with the chairman of the British Railways Board the future manpower requirements of British Railways.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

Yes, Sir. Neither of us is in any doubt that the future of the industry and of employment in it depend on securing the maximum efficiency and productivity.

Photo of Mr Stanley Thorne Mr Stanley Thorne , Preston South

Can the Minister guarantee that those who lose their jobs arising from electrification or proposed productivity agreements will be provided with alternative work within the industry?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

I cannot give such a guarantee, but that is one of the factors that the chairman and the board of British Rail will take into account. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that improvements in productivity inside British Rail are the best guarantees for the future of the industry and therefore for those working in it.

Photo of Mr Michael McNair-Wilson Mr Michael McNair-Wilson , Newbury

Did my right hon. Friend see a recent statement by Sir Peter Parker that British Rail had lost £15 million of freight business because it was required to carry guards on freight trains, although those guards no longer have a useful function'? Is that not a typical example of overmanning which makes it so difficult for British Rail to be profitable?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend has put his finger on a real issue. The speech by the chairman of British Rail at the NUR conference yesterday pointed out that if the two or two-and-a-half men on average on each freight train shift came down to only one we should make real progress in productivity and, incidentally, in securing the future of rail freight.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East

The Secretary of State will be aware of the Leeds university study comparing European rail systems, which showed that the British Rail worker worked longer hours for lower pay and yet maintained a higher level of productivity. Even the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on railways in the South-East showed that productivity had increased between 1960 and 1975 by almost 95 per cent. Is not it about time that the right hon. Gentleman stood up to the Prime Minister and got the proper resources and investment for the industry, as other European Ministers have done, instead of whining about his problems and blaming workers?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

I should should remind the House that the resources going to British Rail in terms of its external finance limit for this year are £920 million.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler The Secretary of State for Transport

Of course, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is one of the big spenders in respect of railways policy. But an improvement in productivity is an issue on which I feel strongly. It is one on which the chairman of British Rail feels strongly.

The hon. Gentleman referred to European comparisons. In terms of freight crew, British Rail needs 185 staff per million train kilometers compared with Germany's figure of only 101, Sweden's, Belgium's and France's, of only 70, and Holland's 58. That shows the scope for improvement.