Railways (Rolling Stock)

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st November 1994.

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Photo of Mr John Gunnell Mr John Gunnell , Leeds South and Morley 12:00 am, 21st November 1994

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when the companies set up to supply the railway industry with rolling stock will be ready to place their first orders; and what total capital is being made available to the companies at the outset.

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

British Rail, the present owner of the three passenger rolling stock leasing companies, is assessing the business requirements for new passenger trains. After the companies enter the private sector, they will base their investment and capital funding decisions on commercial judgment.

Photo of Mr John Gunnell Mr John Gunnell , Leeds South and Morley

I believe that it would be in order to compliment the Minister on his new position. This is the third time that I have put the first question to a new Minister; each of the other two has been promoted. [Hon Members: "Third time unlucky."] Yes—he has certainly taken over the railways at a critical juncture.

Will the Minister speed up the orders being placed, because the railway engineering industry is dying as a result of the uncertainty about rolling stock caused by the privatisation proposals and the lack of progress with the rolling stock companies? These companies—there are four of them in Yorkshire—need help now. Will the Minister speed up the orders, so that capital is provided to get our industry going again?

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous welcome and for his predictions about my career.

British Rail is assessing the business case for further passenger rolling stock. I expect it to reach its conclusions early next month. I will certainly do anything that I can to assist with ensuring that packages which are suitable and which fit into the private finance initiative are brought forward.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway , Ryedale

I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box for his first Question Time, and I thank him for the reply that he has just given to the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell).

Is my hon. Friend aware that, unless the ABB carriage works in York has a new order for rolling stock in place by early next year, the carriage works could close with the loss of a further 750 jobs? Will he continue to do all that he can to press British Rail, which is responsible for placing those orders—with the approval of the Treasury under the private finance initiative—to order the trains that Network SouthEast customers want?

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

I had a meeting last week with ABB. The firm explained to me the concerns that my hon. Friend has just described to the House again. I commend his consistent support for the industry. It is, of course, for British Rail to decide whether there is a business case; it is then for Ministers to see whether a proposal can be put together which fits the criteria of the private finance initiative.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

Is the Minister aware that 850 people at the York carriage works have already been made redundant since the blight on further orders that resulted from the uncertainty over privatisation? The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) is right. Unless there is an order within the next few weeks, the York carriage works will close and we in Britain will end up having to import trains rather than building them ourselves. On 1 December, the Minister and I will be at a meeting of the York Rail Forum. Will the Minister give a commitment to bring to that meeting confirmation that British Rail has made its business case and timetables for future orders for suburban trains and for the Government's decisions thereafter? If he does not do that, it is likely to be too late.

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

I do not accept that there is a connection between the privatisation process and orders for rolling stock. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the age profile of rolling stock he will see why, in any event, there would be some reduction in the flow of orders at this time. It is for British Rail to decide whether there is a business case. As I said earlier, I expect British Rail to reach those decisions early next month. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that will not be by 1 December when he and I, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), will meet the York Rail Forum.