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British Rail Engineering Ltd

Volume 35: debated on Wednesday 19 January 1983

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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.