Rolling Stock

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 2:35 pm on 29th November 1993.

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Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York 2:35 pm, 29th November 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how soon the train leasing companies created as a result of the passage of the Railways Act 1993 will be in a position to order the construction of new railway rolling stock.

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

The new companies will assume responsibility for the provision of rolling stock from April 1994.

They will be able to order new stock proyided they can make a sufficiently attractive investment case.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

Does the Minister accept that if no work is done by the leasing companies to prepare for giving orders early next year, some of the important manufacturing companies in Britain will have unacceptable, and possibly fatal, delays in their order books? The Minister gave a press conference in my constituency a couple of months ago, at which he looked forward to a time when rail rolling stock manufacturers could look ahead over 10 years, see what sort of work was available, and decide how they could gear up for it.

What will the Government do to create those conditions in railway rolling stock manufacturing, and stop making companies go from hand to mouth and from one order to another? Will not the industry go from crisis to crisis if the Government approach continues?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that orders totalling £400 million have been received for new rolling stock in the past few weeks, made up of £250 million for the Jubilee line and £150 million for Networkers. That is an excellent start.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must move from a situation of companies going from order by order to one in which they can look forward 10 years. The best way to achieve that is to put the rolling stock companies and the train operating companies into the private sector. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) laughs, but his hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley) does not share his mirth. It is important that those decisions are taken by the private sector, not the public sector.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

May I thank my hon. Friend for the considerable encouragement and support that he has given to the case of providing new rolling stock for the Kent coast line? May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team on securing the order for that line? Will he continue to give every possible encouragement to other private companies to produce the kind of rolling stock on the coastal services that we used to expect, and hope to expect again?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It was a British Rail decision, but the House should be aware that the rolling stock supply industry has been delivering stock not wholly free from defects. If there is to be an improvement in the frequency and quantity of orders, the rolling stock industry must play an important role. The Kent link Networkers are already 12 months late, the class 323 Regional Railways electric trains are 18 months late, and the class 158 Regional Railways diesels were two years late. That is not good enough, and an improvement by the railways supply industry will help to instill confidence into the private sector.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

Does the Minister not realise the extent of the crisis in the private sector railway manufacturing industry, where tens of thousands of jobs are now at risk because of the blight on investment created by the run-up to privatisation?

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

The hon. Gentleman may say, "More scaremongering," but he should go to speak to the private sector Railway Industry Association to find out what it thinks of the Government's performance, rather than mouthing nonsense from behind the Minister.

Could the Minister tell us why, while every airline in the world uses leasing to acquire new planes and every European railway uses leasing to acquire new railway stock, we are still talking about a single leasing contract being authorised by the Government, while the west coast main line is starved of investment and, all over the country, local authorities want to be involved in new rolling stock deals?

Will the hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that, before we have anything of the new leasing companies, there will be a more positive approach to leasing to acquire new rolling stock, thereby saving jobs? There is no need for the fragmentation of the railways or privatisation to get leasing schemes going and investment in railway rolling stock.

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

We should have orders for new rolling stock to serve the passengers, not to protect jobs. The jobs will be protected automatically if two conditions are met—first, that the railways can prove that they need rolling stock on a particular line—one does not order it simply to keep the production line going, as I am sure that the hon. Member for York will agree—and, secondly, the order can be classified as an operating lease. There is no need for British Rail to wait until 1 April 1994 to place another order. If both the major manufacturers step forward and make an attractive offer to British Rail between now and then, I am sure that such an offer will be well received and carefully considered.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning , Tiverton

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, once small lines such as the Tarka line, part of which goes through my constituency in Devon, are privatised, when there is a need for new rolling stock, those franchisees will not be precluded from providing the rolling stock and, contrary to the scare tactics of the Liberal Democrats of the south-west, those small lines will continue to be run and to be well stocked?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can assure her that the Tarka line, like many other small branch lines, has an excellent future. I am not aware of any proposals for closure. She is right. We look to the private sector— [Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) seems to find that funny. If the hon. Gentleman did not hear it, I will repeat the answer. That branch line and other branch lines are not under threat. Members of the Labour party and Liberal Democrats put about those scare stories unnecessarily.