British Rail

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th March 1983.

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Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North 12:00 am, 16th March 1983

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will discuss moves towards public and worker shareholding and participation in a developing range of British Rail activities with the chairman of the British Railways Board.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I shall be glad to consider any worthwhile proposals.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

In view of the success of the privatisation of the National Freight Corporation and the apparently intractable problems between the British Rail management and unions about the Bedford-St. Pancras line, might the line not be a candidate for privatisation, just as the National Freight Corporation was? Would not something on those lines, with perhaps terminal rights at St Pancras, be a good idea?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

The first task is to get the new equipment operating on the Bedford-St. Pancras line. Certainly British Rail has been encouraged to look at new ways of harnessing private capital and to mix public and private enterprise wherever possible. My hon. Friend is wholly right to refer to the success of the National Freight Company, which was a buy-out by the employees. It is an excellent example of the right way forward. The only thing that is missing from the scene is the sound of any approval from the Labour party for such an excellent development for the workers and public involved.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Have not all the privatisation proposals that the Government have brought forward been in those parts of the industries that have been most profitable, as exemplified by the hotel side of British Rail? May we be assured that if there is further privatisation of parts of the railways industry the Government will look closely at the commuter territory, where the subsidy is the greatest?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

The hon. Gentleman has forgotten that the National Freight Corporation was making a loss before it was privatised and that, for the most part, so were British Rail hotels. Now that they are in the private sector, I believe that they have a good chance, with new investment, of making a profit and bringing better benefits to the employees.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , Liverpool Wavertree

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the chairman of British Rail is proposing to withdraw its sleeper services from the principal cities of the north-west in a month's time—from Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Barrow-in-Furness, and all stations to Holyhead? What will my right hon. Friend do to stop that?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I know that my hon. Friend has railed this matter previously in the House. It is, of course, for British Rail to work out how best to provide a service where there is demand and where there is profit. The matter has been brought to the attention of British Rail, and I assure my hon. Friend that his remarks and the remarks made in the House have been called to the attention of the board.

Photo of Mr Stan Cohen Mr Stan Cohen , Leeds South East

If the Government are to press privatisation, will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that the conditions of service and the rates of pay of those who are employed under the present system will be protected?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

Careful attention is always given in these cases to the interest, conditions and circumstances of the staff concerned. In a number of cases it is clear that considerably better conditions and better prospects are available especially when, as in the case of the National Freight Corporation, the earners became owners.