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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 35: debated on Wednesday 19 January 1983

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Order. Questions and answers have been getting much longer recently. I appeal to the House for briefer questions and therefore briefer answers.


Goods-Only Railway Track

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many miles of goods-only railway track have been opened to passenger traffic since May 1979.

I understand from the Railways Board that 35 route miles of goods-only lines have been opened to passenger services since May 1979.

In view of those appalling figures, will the Minister take this opportunity to reject some of the more lunatic suggestions in the Serpell report? Does he agree with the principle of opening some lines for passenger traffic? If so, will not the opening of the Walsall to Rugeley line have enormous economic and social benefits?

Reopening the Walsall line is entirely a matter for the Railways Board and the local authority concerned, which has power to make grants to public transport operators. The Serpell report is important and its handling will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend in answer to a later question. There has been wild and deplorable speculation on aspects of the Serpell report, with which my right hon. Friend will deal.

Motorway Repairs


asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with the speed with which motorway repairs are undertaken.

In general, yes, but we are always trying to do better.

Why does so much motorway seem always to be under repair? Why does it always seem to take so much longer to effect repairs here than in other countries?

Perhaps my hon. Friend has not been in other countries as much as he has obviously been at home. I assure him that we do not take longer than other countries to effect repairs. To some extent we are the victims of our own success. We have 20-year-old or more roadways that have taken far more traffic than they were designed for. We must make the best use of our investment in motorways by maintaining them regularly and carrying out our rolling programme of improvement. We are renewing 70 miles of motorway each year. As soon as we have finished restructuring and resurfacing work, it will be easier to do that.

Is the Minister aware that it is pleasing to know that the British are pretty quick at improving motorways and getting repairs completed? Is she further aware that the Prime Minister keeps lecturing and telling us that the Germans and the Japanese are better than us at everything?

The speed of restructuring and resurfacing work depends entirely on the type of roadway being dealt with. Speed varies considerably from country to country. We do not do at all badly by international standards.

Why are miles of the M1 and M6 coned off when there appears to be no work going on?

Cones are required for several reasons, as I think my hon. Friend knows. They are used to protect concrete which is still setting. That can take some time. They are used to mark off excavated areas that must settle before more work can be carried out. They are also used so that damage to safety fences can be repaired. Sometimes weather conditions following the first stage of repairs or reconstruction do not remain suitable for the next stage to take place. Cones are not used unnecessarily on any motorway.

Road Works (Acton)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the progress of trunk road works and compensatory arrangements for those adversely affected in Perivale, Greenford and Northolt.

The three contracts on this length of the A40 are progressing satisfactorily. Negotiations on compensation for loss of land and property are either completed or under way. Noise insulation is being provided for eligible dwellings.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and for the care that she and her Department have taken over road works in that part of my constituency. Is she aware that many people are suffering to the point of having to take tranquillisers to steady their nerves? Will she assure me that people and their property will be looked after and completely protected from the effects of the road works?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about the help that he has received from the Department. There are three quite separate elements to compensation. The first is for loss of property, the second is to help with noise prevention and the third is for loss of amenities. All those matters will be dealt with. Negotiations are proceeding for the double glazing of about 200 properties, and we have completed about three-quarters of the qualifying properties about which my hon. Friend has been so concerned.

Diesel Multiple Unit Fleet


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what investment approval he has given for the replacement of the diesel multiple unit fleet of British Rail.

My right hon. Friend has approved the construction of 40 light-weight vehicles as the first stage in a major construction programme. We look forward to receiving the Railways Board's proposals for medium-weight vehicles in due course.

Is the Minister aware that, because of the Government's continued delays and refusals to pump cash into British Rail to replace the ageing diesel multiple units, staff and passengers on lines such as the north-east Lancashire and many others must endure discomfort, or even worse? When does the Minister expect the fleets to be replaced not only by the light-weight but by medium-weight units? What funds will the Government allocate to the project?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his allegations about Government contributions. British Rail's investment ceiling has been maintained in real terms, and public support is at a record level. The hon. Gentleman should understand that everyone wishes the ageing fleet of diesel multiple units to be replaced. British Rail has brought forward plans for light-weight vehicles, and will produce plans for medium-weight vehicles. Decisions on placing further orders will rest with the Railways Board, subject to any investment approval that it may need from my right hon. Friend.

Why has the new investment on the St. Pancras-Bedford line not yet been utilised, even though £150 million of taxpayers' money was spent on the project a long time ago?

I very much regret that ASLEF is stopping that important investment being brought into proper use. My hon. Friend's question emphasises the tremendous importance of improved productivity to the future of the railways system.

Does the Minister agree that the investment ceiling to which he referred has become absolutely irrelevant for British Rail, and that the combined effect of the external financing limit and lack of Government investment approvals has been to reduce the real investment expenditure in every year since the Government took office?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a great deal of resources, which would have been available for investment in British Rail, have been lost because of the enormous cost of strikes—no less than £240 million last year.

Rural Areas (Transport)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to improve public transport in rural areas.

I shall continue to encourage county councils to use their transport co-ordinating and revenue support powers judiciously. I shall also continue to encourage small private operators, which can sometimes provide services which larger operators find no longer economic, and the development of less conventional modes of transport.

Is the Minister aware that in some rural areas, such as Northumberland, increasing efforts have been made to co-ordinate rail and other forms of transport to provide a network of rural services, including having post buses meeting trains? Will not all those efforts be entirely destroyed if major railway lines, such as those between Newcastle and Edinburgh and Newcastle and Carlisle, are closed?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber earlier when I made it clear that wild, speculative statements had been made about the railway system. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will deal with aspects of the Serpell report in reply to a later question.

Will my hon. Friend, for the encouragement of others, publish information about the participation of private operators for the benefit of rural areas, including Essex and Epping Forest?

My hon. Friend makes a good suggestion. My Department is extremely active in encouraging county councils to consider various modes of unconventional transport arrangements to assist in dealing with problems in rural areas. We shall give serious consideration to my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Can the Minister give information about one rural area—Suffolk? What is the result of the Department's opinion on the inquiry into the western section of the Ipswich bypass? Will there be an announcement in the near future?

That is a road matter for which my hon. Friend is responsible. She will write to the hon. Gentleman.

Serpell Report


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the Serpell report.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what action he intends to take on the recommendations of the Serpell report on British Rail finance.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will publish in full the report of the independent committee to review British Rail's finances, chaired by Sir David Serpell.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will now publish the Serpell report on British Rail.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the Serpell committee's report on British Rail's finances.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what action he intends to take on the recommendations of the Serpell report on British Rail finances.

The full reports and detailed supporting work of the Serpell committee will be published tomorrow at 2.30 pm and will, of course, be available to all hon. Members at that time. I also hope to make a statement to the House then.

Order. I propose to call first the six hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is thoroughly unsatisfactory that the press has analysed, and the British Railways Board has discussed and apparently rejected, the contents of a report that the House has not seen? My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has this afternoon said that the speculation has been wild and deplorable and wild and speculative. Is my right hon. Friend aware that that is because we have not seen the report and have had to rely on rumour to know what has been happening? Before the recess I suggested that it would be in the Government's interest to publish the report, without comment, so that all hon. Members could have an equal opportunity to read it. May we look forward to a change in procedure?

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend that the alleged leaks and speculation have been deplorable. The comments have been speculative and grossly distorted in many cases. As soon as the manuscripts of the report were received, I informed the House and authorised publication. There are many maps in the supporting documents and publication was not physically possible before tomorrow, when the full documents will be available to hon. Members.

Manuscript copies were sent to the British Railways Board on a confidential basis as soon as I received them. It was right to do that, as the report obviously concerned British Rail and its operations. Those were the only manuscript reports circulated outside the Government.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the wide revulsion in all sections of the community towards the contents of the Serpell report so far leaked, especially the part that recommends wholesale closures by British Rail? Will he confirm his predecessor's view that Beeching-style cuts in British Rail would be a disaster and give the House a clear undertaking that he will loyally uphold his predecessor's decision?

I repeat that the speculation is, in many cases, wholly and wildly inaccurate. I ask the hon. Gentleman to await the report and documents, which will be published in full tomorrow, and also my statement, and not to make the mistake of some right hon. and hon. Members, who rushed to condemn the report before they could carefully study the substantial work involved.

If the Secretary of State is so certain that the comment has been wild, will he give an absolute guarantee that no suggestion that in any way damages British Rail Engineering Ltd. will be accepted by him? Does he accept that it must not be privatised or sold, and that the degree of engineering expertise available to it is one of the strongest cards held in Britain? Should we not do everything possible to encourage it and its export markets?

The hon. Lady will have the full report in her hands soon. I ask her to await it and to study it. She will find much valuable information in it on that subject.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I share the disappointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) at the manner in which publication of the report has been handled, because any leakage of whatever dimension would seem to have come from the railways side? In view of the great uncertainty that the leakage has created about the future of rural railways, electrification and many other matters, does my right hon. Friend agree that it behoves British Rail to work in conjunction and co-operation with the Government rather than to seek to box them in.

I have expressed my strong feelings about all the speculation that has taken place. Some have described it as "astute", but I believe that it is counterproductive and highly damaging to the future interests of the railways and their users.

What useful purpose has been served by delaying publication of the Serpell report until tomorrow? As the right hon. Gentleman has said that many reports have been inaccurate or misleading, will he tell us whether the reports that one of the options was a 40 per cent. increase in commuter fares and that options for substantial cuts in the network were inaccurate? If those reports were inaccurate, will the Secretary of State give a clear assurance that the Government have no intention of proceeding with any proposals on those lines?

There has been no delay in the publication of the substantial reports and detailed supporting work. They are to be made available to Members of the House at 2.30 pm tommorrow, which is the first time that it is physically possible for them to be made available in printed and published form. There has been no delay at all in these matters.

As for inaccuracies, of which the right hon. Gentleman has just repeated one or two, I repeat what I said earlier. To go on record condemning a report before there could possibly he time for it to be published and studied seems to me to verge on silliness.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if the Government carry out any part of the leaked report—I stress "leaked", because none of us has seen the printed report—or instruct the railway authorities to carry out its recommendations, it will be a virtual death sentence for the railway system as we know it? In view of the intense interest of the nation in this matter, will he give an undertaking today that, following publication of the Serpell report, there will be a full day's debate on the subject in the House?

I ask the hon. Gentleman, who has considerable experience in these matters, to await the full report and the supporting detailed analysis, which I believe he will find extremely interesting and valuable. I have no doubt that he will have the opportunity, which will be welcomed by many, to participate in the invormed public debates and discussions everywhere on the issues involved when the report has been published.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one aspect of the Serpell report that has leaked out is that commuters in the south-east, several thousand of whom are my constituents, will have to pay as much as 40 per cent. more to get to work in London? I hope that when my right hon. Friend has had a chance to study the report he will quickly scotch that rumour.

That is among the many speculations that have been made. As I have said, they are widely inaccurate. I assure my hon. Friend that when he has the opportunity to study the report fully—it will be published in full very shortly—he will discover that many of the so-called leaks are not leaks at all but manufactured speculations bearing no relation to what is in the report.

Will the Secretary of State incinerate the minority Goldstein report, which proposes that track product orders from British Rail be diverted to overseas producers, especially as the existing track producer in the United Kingdom in my constituency is highly competitive in international markets and exports more than 60 per cent. of its total production? Is he aware of the resentment that this has created in BSC towards the Serpell report and its findings?

I do not think that burning reports is a healthy course to follow. As I have said before, the hon. Gentleman should await the full report and detailed supporting work, which will be in his hands very shortly, and then make his comments, rather than follow the foolish course of condemning the report before he has even seen or had time to study it.

When my right hon. Friend considers the options in the Serpell report, will he bear in mind that many Conservative Members have branch lines in their constituencies, such as the Harrogate-York line, which now carries 900,000 people and which, although loss making, we regard as crucial to the economy and to society?

I ask my hon. Friend to await the report. I am sure that he will find what it says about all these aspects valuable and useful.

Order. It is clear that there will be an opportunity for questions on the report after the statement tomorrow. I shall call one more hon. Member from each side and then move on.

Is the Minister aware that it is not our fault that today we can discuss only the report's antecedents and not its contents? Why was it thought appropriate for the firm of Travers Morgan to produce the report on British Rail Engineering Ltd. which would apparently decimate all the rail workshops in this country, in view of the malign influence of Mr. Goldstein on the committee?

I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to believe everything that he reads in the press. I hold him in higher esteem than that.

Experienced consultancy back-up was required by the committee, and it was considered by far the most efficient arrangement to appoint consultant firms which could work directly with the distinguished committee members.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the availability of the report to hon. Members at 2.30 pm rather than 3.30 pm tomorrow is greatly welcomed by Back Benchers, but will he go the whole hog and make it available at 1.30 pm?

The volumes concerned are substantial. I wish to be absolutely sure that they are available in the Vote Office so that hon. Members may have the first opportunity to see and examine the considerable work involved.

Trunk Roads


asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many miles of non-motorway trunk roads will be resurfaced in the current financial year, following the transfer of another £20 million to the trunk road maintenance budget.

The resurfacing of non-motorway trunk roads involves a great number of individual schemes every year. The lengths and widths of road resurfaced vary widely. It is not therefore possible at reasonable cost to express those schemes in terms of a single mileage for 1982–83. However, as a result of the transfer of the £20 million to the trunk road maintenance budget, a total of £56 million will be spent in 1982–83 on non-motorway trunk road structural repairs.

What proportion of the total road budget does that represent? As non-motorway trunk roads carry a far greater proportion of traffic than motorways, does the hon. Lady envisage any further transfer in the near future?

The increase from £36 million to £56 million is more than 50 per cent. for the non-motorway trunk road budget. I believe that with current spending the figure is now about 40 per cent. I shall let the hon. Gentleman have the exact figure.

Will the modernisation of non-motorway trunk roads provide an opportunity to improve the general facilities on those roads, which are at a very low level compared with those of our European counterparts?

I am aware that facilities on many non-motorway trunk roads are lacking. I have been considering for individual roads schemes for the provision of toilets and safe stopping places in addition to parking areas. I emphasise, however, that, especially where a road is not a dual carriageway, the safety aspects of exit and entry must be considered.

Metropolitan Counties (Public Transport)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next expects to meet representatives of metropolitan county councils to discuss public transport.

My right hon. Friend and I are open to further meetings and have welcomed the useful discussions that have already taken place, including those with West Yorkshire.

When the Minister meets those representatives, why does he not take notice of what they say? Does he understand that all the metropolitan county council representatives are totally opposed to the imposition of the transport guidelines in the Transport Bill, wish to see local authority democracy retained and thus have the right to determine their own public passenger fare levels? Does he not understand that when the metropolitan county councils are forced by the viciousness of his legislation to increase fares, it will be entirely because of the Conservative Government imposing their jackboot heel policies on local authorities?

Arrangements for services and fares are the responsibility of the PTAs. It is good that the wider allegations that we used to hear are being made much less frequently now. Furthermore, the final decisions on services and fares that are to be charged in these areas will be made by the local authority, which contradicts the allegations that the hon. Gentleman has constantly made.

In any discussions on public transport with representatives of the metropolitan counties, will my right hon. and hon. Friends bear in mind that this year London Transport will receive subsidies totalling no less than £290 million, which represents 36 per cent. of its total costs? Will he also bear in mind that many Londoners believe that the capital city, in receiving 45 per cent. of the total transport supplementary grant next year, is being fairly and favourably considered?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning those favourable factors affecting London. Central Government provides 40 per cent. of the total subsidy that my hon. Friend mentioned. That is equivalent to 15 per cent. of the total cost. That shows how grotesquely wrong is the 3 per cent. figure which the GLC has quoted in some of its misleading propaganda.

The Minister will accept that it is vital that discussions take place with the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. At least that is a bonus, whether the Government take notice or not. Nevertheless, rail is an important part of public communications and concerns these county authorities. If the Minister is discussing these matters with them, is it not right and proper that his right hon. Friend should say today that we will have a full debate on the Serpell report?

I have already given a full answer about the Serpell report. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to emphasise the importance of discussions with the metropolitan authorities. Those discussions are proceeding wherever possible and we welcome them. My right hon. Friend and I are quite prepared to receive further evidence which is relevant to the calculation of the protected expenditure levels.

Vehicle Testing Stations


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has now concluded an agreement with Lloyd's Register on the future of heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles test stations.

Discussions with Lloyd's Register of Shipping are at an advanced stage but we are not yet in a position to announce final agreement. I hope to be able to come to the House with further news soon.

Is the Minister aware that she is in grave danger of tedious repetition by coming to the House month after month saying that she hopes to announce agreement soon? Why are the discussions taking so long, especially since the most recent Transport Act was passed only because it was said that agreement would be reached soon? Will she give a categoric assurance that the terms and conditions for staff, including the entitlement to any redundancy payments, will be fully protected with regard to the state of those conditions as and when the Bill passed through the House?

If the hon. Gentleman continues to ask me the same question when he knows that proceedings will take a little longer, he will receive the same answer. However, I wish to reassure him that the terms and conditions available to vehicle testing staff are still under discussion. I firmly believe that it is important to get this right, which is perhaps why it has taken longer—since November when the Bill received Royal Assent—than the hon. Gentleman hoped for. We have made it clear that we shall consider the possibility of special compensation if, in the event, terms for transferring are significantly less favourable than those at present available. The question of redundancy procedures and payments should not thus arise for those who transfer.

Is the Minister aware that when she has to come to the House to give the same answer each time she does a great deal of damage to the morale of all those who work in the vehicle testing centres, who do not like and are unhappy about all the uncertainty? Is it not high time that she improved their morale by letting them know now where they stand rather than promising reports in the future?

This is the second month in which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has asked his question. I have said that we are proceeding thoroughly with these discussions because they are fundamentally important. I am afraid that I must disagree with the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). Morale is good in the heavy goods vehicle testing stations. We look forward to a continuation of their good work under the new system when the transfer takes place.

Rail Services (Privatisation)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what consideration he is giving to privatisation of any of the services provided by British Rail on passenger trains.

I understand that the Railways Board is considering the scope for private involvement in train catering on a number of services. I welcome this.

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the removal of sleeper cars from the intercity services to Liverpool and Manchester has not been done as a first step to their privatisation? Does he not realise that handing over Britih Rail catering to private firms will only provide a service as efficient, cheap and wholesome as that provided at the motorway service stations?

The operation of sleeper car services is a matter for the chairman of British Rail. With regard to British Rail catering, it would be fair to say that, like the curate's egg, it is excellent in parts.

Will my right hon. Friend not only welcome British Rail's examination of privatising catering but encourage it to proceed more quickly?

Will the Secretary of State urge British Rail to look seriously at the privatisation of southern suburban commuter services? We understand from the Serpell report—albeit the leaked Serpell report—that there is massive feather-bedding of commuters living in the south of England, to the detriment of those living everywhere else in the country.

The hon. Gentleman has been feeding himself with inaccurate speculation. I advise him to await the report.

Is it not the case that motorway catering and service standards have improved enormously since privatisation?

Yes, it is. We have many instances where privatisation has greatly increased the efficiency of the service provided.

Will the Secretary of State accept that any privatisation consideration within British Rail is entirely a part of the economic consideration of British Rail's future?

Against the background of the economies and economic considerations of British Rail, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to have the Serpell report, which is an economic consideration of British Rail, debated in the House?

The final decisions on debates must be for the Leader of the House. He will have noted what has been said. It is an immensely important and valuable report, which will be available to us shortly. I am sure that it would be right for the House and the public to have full opportunities for debate. My right hon. Friend will take note of what has been said.

Motorways (Traffic Flows)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport which sections of motorways have average daily traffic flows in excess of their design standards.

As I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) on 30 April 1982, we no longer work to design standards which are fixed in relation to traffic flows; so I cannot specify the degree of excess flows in the way requested. We recognise that delays can occur when traffic flows reach a certain level, which varies according to local circumstances, and traffic flows can attain these levels for short periods during peak hours on certain sections of MI, M4, M5, M6, M62 and M63.

Bearing in mind the high cost of disruption that repairs of these motorways cause, is any consideration being given in the design of future motorways to extend the design life, which at present is, I understand, about 20 years?

In the current year we have reduced the delays due to motorway repairs. Our current practice is to adopt a design life of 20 years for new bituminous roads and 40 years for new concrete roads. In determining the strength of a road we take into account the level of future traffic, which is always uncertain, and the capital cost of provision. Varying strengths of roads have been monitored over the years by the TRRL and this work provides a good basis for decisions. We are considering the design life criteria, because I believe that it is high time that they were reviewed.

As traffic flows on Britain's motorways have consistently failed to match those projected by her Department's civil servants before construction, will the hon. Lady consider referring these sections of motorway to Sir David Serpell with a requirement that he treat them in exactly the same way as he treated the railway system, and close them down?

The hon. Gentleman is requesting detailed knowledge, for which I must ask him to give me notice. Problems have occurred when flows have been higher than those anticipated 20 or 30 years ago. Where possible, hard shoulders have been strengthened so that they can take running traffic during repair periods. This is already being done. Many new developments that are available through new technology are being carried out very well and efficiently by officials in my Department as well as by many British construction companies, of which we are proud.

When my hon. Friend arranges for surveys to be undertaken on trunk roads and motorways in the west country, will she please ensure that the times and dates upon which the surveys are conducted take proper account of the abnormal seasonal traffic flows to the west country? Will she ensure also that these statistics feature in her deliberations on whether further extensions are necessary?

We shall do that, because no survey is correct unless it views an entire year. Traffic flows in different areas peak at different times.

If design factors are not related to traffic flows, is that why we have at the beginning of the M1, which caters for the Midlands, a motorway network that is continually in a state of repair, with one-lane traffic causing tremendous confusion and accidents?

First, there have not been a tremendous number of accidents, but there have been far more than any of us would like. We must remember that the most southern part of the M1 is the oldest motorway in Britain, having been in use for more than 20 years and therefore requires restrengthening. The two-lane section is being brought up to three-lane standard and three lanes are now open on the southbound section. I assure the hon. Gentleman that where there is great peaking of traffic we can build to the best standard for the costs involved. We do not take traffic flows into account in isolation. We take into account, for example, the cost of widening. A good example is the M4 elevated section, which has extremely high traffic flows. The cost of widening that section would be so prohibitive that it would not make sense.

British Rail Engineering Ltd


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will meet the chairman of the British Railways Board to discuss the future of British Rail Engineering Ltd.

This is among the matters the chairman and I will be discussing in the light of the Serpell committee's reports.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the British Railways Board withdrew the closure notices that were placed on Shildon, Swindon and Horwich in my constituency last year. Will he make a clear and unequivocal statement that he will ignore the leaked recommendations in the Serpell report to close down or to sell off British Rail workshops, especially those in Shildon, Swindon and Horwich? He must be aware that the closure of these workshops would represent a disaster for those towns, which depend on the workshops for what little employment still remains.

The problem of British Rail Engineering Ltd.'s costs and capacities is one that has worried hon. Members and there has been concern in the industry for some time. The problem remains. In the light of the Serpell report and the debates that will follow, there will be important new information and important matters to discuss. I ask the hon. Gentleman to await the full report, which will shortly be with him, when he will find that he will be able to make a full contribution on the issue that concerns him.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the problem of the workshops is not that there is insufficient work to be done? There is much work to be done on the railways to renew the clapped-out system and those who are employed in the workshops are only too ready and willing to undertake it if the right hon. Gentleman will only make it possible financially for them to do so.

I wish that were so, but in some instances there is no longer a demand for equipment that was manufactured in the past on any of the world's railways, including British Rail. I want to see more investment in British Rail. The external financing limit that has already been announced for next year will allow an increase in the scope for investment, which I welcome. The higher the investment the more effective British Rail will be in cutting costs. The draining away of vast sums on futile strikes last year has not set a very good position for the future.

As I come from Shildon—I was born there—may I ask my right hon. Friend whether the product line in Shildon is good enough for most of the markets around the world? If it is not, are there any means by which a new line of development can be started in the Shildon works?

These are matters which I know the chairman and board of British Rail have been considering carefully. There are problems of capacity and of making the equipment that is now needed. I know that British Rail's staff and chairman are considering these matters closely.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Glasgow, Springburn workshops are the only British Rail workshops left in Scotland? In the community that I represent the unemployment rate is over 30 per cent. If anything happens to the workshops, a community will be destroyed. The only area in which apprentices are being taken in at present is that of the British Rail workshops. If they close, we shall be destroying the future for young people in the community that I represent.

I am sure that the social implications as well as the economic ones of a changing industry and its problems will be carefully borne in mind, as in the past, by the British Railways Board.

British Rail (Investment)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to discuss British Rail's investment programme with Sir Peter Parker.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next expects to meet the chairman of the British Railways Board to discuss investment in the railways.

I meet the chairman frequently to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Is the Secretary of State aware that rail users can now see for themselves the deterioration in the railways that has been caused by his policies, and that most Members know that railway investment programmes in their regions and constituencies could bring men back to work and improve the service? When he sees the chairman, will he make it clear that for most rail users the only post-Serpell resignation that they will want is his own?

The hon. Gentleman should think also about the colossal contribution that taxpayers make to support the railway system and the concern that the traveller and taxpayer have not necessarily been getting value for money. These were the matters that led British Rail eagerly to seek the Serpell review and to welcome the members of the committee when it was set up. These were the factors that led it to take the view that the review was needed. In the light of the review, I believe that the debate will be carried forward.

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the chairman, will he please receive sympathetically the application that British Rail Sealink has made to him to be given sufficient money to put in an order for the replacement of passenger boats on the Rye-Portsmouth route? He will be delighted to know that next month, for the second or third year in succession, we shall go back 50 years when we start to go over to the island on a car ferry on which we shall be exposed to all the elements. May we please have priority given to our replacement boats so that some business is given to us on the Isle of Wight?

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman, will he urge him, whatever else he does, to sell Sealink?

It is the present intention of the board to try to sell the Sealink subsidiary.

Serpell Report


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with the railway trade unions on the report of the Serpell committee on British Rail finances; and if he will make a statement.

None. I shall welcome the views of all parties when the reports are published.

Am I indulging in idle speculation in saying that the Serpell report proposes a reduction in the railway network of 1,600 miles, a reduction in safety standards for British Rail, the parcelling up and selling of British Rail Engineering Ltd. and substantial fare increases for commuters, especially in London and southeast? Am I speculating, or is that what is contained in the report?

Civil Service

Civil Service Unions (Meeting)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what subjects he proposes to discuss at his next meeting with trade union representatives of the Civil Service.

Plans for my next meeting with the Civil Service unions have not yet been made.

Will the Minister discuss the need to improve staffing levels, especially in the Department of Health and Social Security and in employment offices, so that a better standard of service can be provided to the increasing number of unemployed who must often queue for ages for the payment of benefit to which they are entitled? Why is there a shortage of staff to help the unemployed, while extra staff seem to be recruited to special investigation squads that simply hound and harass the unemployed?

Extra staff have been employed both in unemployment benefit offices and in the DHSS, but the detailed arrangements are the direct responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Has progress been made in the consideration of no-strike contracts in the public service?

My hon. Friend may remember that those matters were dealt with in the Megan commission report. He will also know that negotiations with the unions on the basis of the recommendations of that report are now starting.

When the Minister meets the trade unions, will he discuss the unfortunate position whereby civil servants cannot take complaints to the ombudsman? One example is the recent case in my constituency of Mr. Alastair Dewar, where there was an admitted failure by the Department. Mr. Dewar asked the ombudsman to consider his case, but the ombudsman could not do so. Does that not restrict the civil rights of some of our citizens by not allowing them to make complaints to the ombudsman?

I am prepared to discuss the matter with the unions if they so request, and I shall examine the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

When the Minister meets the unions, how will he reconcile his assurance that there will be genuine negotiations in this year's pay round with the Government's even stronger commitment to a 3½ per cent. cash limit? Will he admit to the House that the Government are operating an incomes policy for the Civil Service and that since the previous pay comparison in 1980, whereas prices have risen by 32 per cent., Civil Service pay has risen by 14 per cent., which is a shortfall of 18 per cent.?

The Government have made it clear, for this year's pay negotiations with the Civil Service, that the 3½ per cent. figure is part of the public expenditure planning process for this year. The Government believe that to be a reasonable provision. Rateable inflation is already much lower than it was at this time last year. There is no reason why the announcement of the 3½ per cent. figure should preclude genuine negotiations. It is neither a pay norm nor an entitlement.

Efficiency And Effectiveness (White Paper)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what role the Management and Personnel Office is playing in assisting other Departments in preparing responses to the White Paper on efficiency and effectiveness in the Civil Service.

As explained in the White Paper, the Management and Personnel Office is directing the financial management initiative jointly with the Treasury. MPO staff are fully involved in the joint steering machinery, which has issued guidance to Departments and which will examine the responses. The MPO is also helping Departments directly through the joint MPO/Treasury financial management unit, and has directed the 1982 review of running costs, the report of which will be available shortly.

In the direct assistance that the financial management unit is giving to Departments, can my hon. Friend confirm that special importance is attached to ensuring that Departments have proper management information and accounting systems? Is that not much more important than the rest of the financial management initiative?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the two matters to which he referred. I also welcome the constructive comments and encouragement in my hon. Friend's recent Bow group memoranda, which dealt with many of those matters.

Is the Minister aware that the real test of efficiency and effectiveness is what the public think about a service and the effect of that service on the public? Is he aware that, for example in my constituency, staff at the DHSS office has been reduced by three while the work load has increased by 50 per cent., thus hurting many people, especially claimants, in Swindon? Will he try to ensure that the Civil Service is effective at the point of use?

As I explained in answer to an earlier question, the details of DHSS offices are clearly a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I do not agree that one should exclude cost effectiveness and value for taxpayers' money from considerations of efficiency in the Civil Service.

When replying to the White Paper, will the hon. Gentleman, as a Treasury Minister, outline how many of the savings claimed by Treasury Note 5 to the Select Committee have been lost to the Government in the form of tax that is no longer collected, national insurance contributions that are no longer collected, unemployment benefit that is paid to those who have been left in the dole queue instead of being recruited to fill the vacancies, and payments that are made to contractors who are carrying out the work that was previously done by civil servants? Is it not true that the net saving to the Government is a minute fraction of that which the Government claim?

I repudiate that statement. The reduction in civil servants has meant a net saving to the Government of about £½ billion a year on the pay bill, which is a substantial sum. Although extra expenditure is involved in some privatisation arrangements, overall the entire exercise has been good value for the taxpayer.

Ethnic Monitoring


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects to publish volume II of the survey in Leeds on ethnic monitoring in the Civil Service.

The results of the job applicant part of the Leeds survey, which ran from 1 May to 30 September last year, should be ready for publication in March.

Does the Minister recognise the great urgency with which the work should be completed, along with the approval of the CRE code on ethnic monitoring, which awaits the approval of the Secretary of State for Employment, and the need for safeguards against misuse of the information, as recommended by the Select Committee on Employment? Will he assure the House that he is receiving the full support not only of the unions but of all communities such as those in Leeds and Leicester, where community relations have been remarkably good, although the ethnic minorities are very large?

I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the work carried out in the Leeds survey followed consultation with the unions and was carried out in cooperation with them and with their full support. The code of practice issued by the Commission for Racial Equality is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who hopes to announce his decision on the matter soon. I agree with what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about the necessity to safeguard the confidentiality of information collected as a result of ethnic surveys and to ensure that it is not improperly used.

I am pleased to hear the Minister's reply. Will the Government take note of the experience of the city of Leeds, which has adjusted itself to absorb immigrant communities—Irish, Jewish, Italian, Central European and Asian—and which has had no problems? I hope that as a result of the inquiry conducted by the Minister, his colleagues and the Department, other British cities will learn from the experience of Leeds to absorb those communities without serious problems.

The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question goes somewhat wide of the survey of civil servants in Leeds, but I am delighted to hear what he has said and I am grateful to all in Leeds who made the carrying out of this survey so effective.

Does the Minister agree that the high participation rate shown in volume I of the report shows that it is feasible for widespread ethnic monitoring to take place throughout the Civil Service? How soon will the Minister be having meetings with the unions to ensure that the successes of Leeds can be repeated throughout the country?

As I explained in the answer to the main question, we are awaiting the second part of the survey, which, I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree, is an important element in it. It would be wise to await decisions and considerations of what should be done in the future until we have the full information.