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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 227: debated on Monday 28 June 1993

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Railway Rolling Stock


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what action the Government are taking to ensure that the United Kingdom retains the ability to build railway carriage body shells.


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects the British Railways Board to announce the result of the tender process for new trains under the recent£150 million leasing facility.

The Government are providing record levels of financial support from the public purse. In 1992–93, British Rail investment stood at the highest level for more than 30 years. Investment of more than £3 billion is planned over the next three years, £2 billion of which will be on the existing railway. Later in the summer, British Rail will place the order for the £150 million leasing facility for new rolling stock, which we proposed in advance of privatisation. We have also recently announced measures to encourage the development of a rolling stock leasing market.

Is the Secretary of State aware that there have already been 532 casualties of railways privatisation, in terms of the number of jobs lost at the York carriage works because of lack of orders, and a further 364 redundancies at other Asea Brown Boveri factories around the country? Is he further aware that ABB is the last surviving rail company in Britain which manufactures railway bodyshells, and that unless the Government ensure that the company receives orders extremely quickly the York works will close? We shall then have to import railway bodyshells from abroad—at huge cost to our balance of payments—and commuters in the south-east will not get the decent, modern trains that they are looking for, deserve and want.

First, those redundancies have nothing to do with privatisation. Even if we had not put forward our reform proposals, the position, which is largely to do with the recession and the switch in priorities in British Rail investment, would be the same. I am aware of the situation at ABB, and have had recent discussions with the company. I hope that British Rail will proceed as soon as possible with the decision to be taken on the £150 million leasing proposals, and I have urged it to do so. It is for British Rail to decide where that order should be placed.

Will my right hon. Friend urge British Rail to get its act together and place the order for the new trains for the Kent link line with ABB York as quickly as possible? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the future of the ABB York workshop depends not only on that order, but on the new leasing market for trains and an increase in orders from overseas railway operators? Would not it help ABB's export drive if British Rail were to place the order now and demonstrate its confidence in the excellent ABB work force?

I know of, and pay tribute to, the interest that my hon. Friend has taken in ABB. I also pay tribute to the huge improvements in ABB's productivity since it went into the private sector. The prospects of ABB securing overseas orders are greater now as a result of that improvement in productivity. It should be asked why it was unable to compete in international markets much earlier.

I hope that British Rail will reach its decision as quickly as possible. The choice of where investment lies is, however, for British Rail. The tendering process is now under way. I hope that the tenders will be in very shortly and that British Rail will make its decision as speedily as it can. I entirely agree about the importance of moving to a private sector leasing market. That will be concentrated on rolling stock, and we have been developing our plans for that.

The Minister knows that £150 million is less than half of what is needed for new rolling stock and that it will not meet the cost of existing orders that British Rail is ready to place. Why does the Minister not admit, honestly, that other nations that have privatised their railways, like the Swedes, have accepted that they can do so only with massive investment in new rolling stock? How does the Minister think that his shadow organisations will create one penny more for investment when he knows that only more money will create new jobs and better rolling stock?

By attracting private sector capital to the future leasing market. Current investment is at record levels. British Rail investment is more than 50 per cent. greater in real terms than it was in 1979, and one and a half times greater than in 1969. British Rail has given priority in its current programme to infrastructure and signalling, but in recent years there has been a substantial investment in rolling stock—something like 90 per cent. of rolling stock in the regional railways is less than eight years old—and that must be taken into account when looking at the priorities.

My right hon. Friend may be aware that go-ahead is anxiously awaited for the leasing scheme for rolling stock on the Leeds-Bradford, Airedale and Wharfdale lines. Will he note that the go-ahead for that scheme would provide a valuable boost for the British train manufacturing industry and anxiously awaited new trains for a line, which is well used and would otherwise have to use 30-year-old stock?

I am aware of the situation. My right hon. friend the Minister for Public transport has taken a very close interest in the matter. There is to be a debate on the subject on Wednesday and my right hon. Friend will give a full reply then.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the blame does not lie with British Rail or the engineering company but with the Government, because they have accepted a tendered contract for the north-west line and Network SouthEast, which finished in December last year? The Government ordered a review and re-tendering. That delay has led to hundreds of workers being put out of work. Perhaps he will tell us how much more the re-tendering will cost the Government. Will it be between£10 million and£100 million?

No. If the hon. Gentleman is talking about the two alternatives for the£150 million rolling stock—the ICC 225s for the west coast main line and the Networkers—that is a new order. If the hon. Gentleman has in mind the decision on the ICC 225 or 250, the 225 was chosen. That reflects the fact that there has been a substantial decrease in British Rail's revenue as a result of the recession, which is probably more to do with present rolling stock investment than anything else. But there are also advantages in going for the ICC 225, because it has been impressed on me by rolling stock manufacturers that long runs of existing locomotives can often be a much more cost-effective way to deliver new orders.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm reports that his Department sees a strong economic case for both those contenders for the£150 million in the Network SouthEast programme and the west coast main line and that the 150 million is to be seen as the first stage of a continuing ordering programme, because that is what travellers on British Rail want and what the industry needs?

Of course, one would wish to undertake several areas of investment, and my hon. Friend is right that one would wish both to be done as soon as possible, but for the£150 million it will be a choice between the two tenders. My hon. Friend must realise that I cannot predict the outcome of future public expenditure rounds. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) must realise that one has to take into account overall public expenditure when making any decisions where public money is involved. However, we shall have to consider whether there would be an opportunity to repeat that kind of leasing operation or whether we should look entirely to the private sector which will finance future orders.

Air Pollution (Ferrybridge)


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has received details of the study to measure air pollution in the Ferrybridge area along the roads of the AI and M62; and if he will make a statement.

The air pollution study has been commissioned to start later this summer when traffic flows will be at their peak. It will last for several weeks and preliminary results should be available before the end of the year.

May I welcome the Minister to his new post and hope that with a new Minister we shall get some fresh ideas on highway development in the Ferrybridge area? The study to which the Minister refers is very important because there is a plan for a 16-lane motorway to go through a conurbation 250 yd from a large junior and infant school, with a large mixed estate of council and private houses to the east, and a large housing estate to the west, less than 200 yd from the motorway. Does the Minister accept that an in-depth study is needed, and will he agree that that study will be made available for public consultation? If the proposals put forward by the Department of Transport are allowed to go ahead, we shall have the most polluted mile of motorway in the United Kingdom. Will the Minister assure me that the consultation document will be made public?

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. It is a pleasure to do business with him again. It takes us back to the golden days of the Local Government Finance Bill, when we enjoyed so many happy hours.

The hon. Gentleman would expect me to have done my homework on this matter. He has been a strong advocate on behalf of people on the Darrington and Limetrees estate in that corner of Pontefract. There has already been substantial investigation into the matter and the air pollution study is yet another investigation. We expect to publish draft orders in the next 12 to 18 months, which will give another opportunity to look at the matter. The preferred route, which has been announced, provides the best value for money, the least environmental impact, the greatest traffic relief to residents of Ferrybridge and Brotherton, and is supported by the majority of residents there.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, on the general point of controlling and reducing air pollution, the Government's commitment to catalytic converters, the greater use of unleaded petrol, and new proposals to get more freight off the roads and on to the railways is absolutely clear?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has catalogued a number of the Government's successes. He may have omitted one or two, however. I remind him of the tighter emission limits for new heavy duty diesels from 1 October 1993. Neither should we forget noise pollution which, from new motor vehicles, has been reduced by up to 10 decibels through tighter standards between 1980 and 1990. That is just for starters.

Merchant Fleet


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proposals he has to encourage the growth of the British merchant fleet; and if he will make a statement.

The Government remain committed to creating a trading climate in which the United Kingdom shipping industry has the opportunity to compete fairly. In support of that, in the recent past we have taken a number of initiatives within the European Economic Community and in the International Maritime Organisation.

Does my hon. Friend accept that many of us involved in the British shipping industry welcome the recent initiatives taken by him and his colleagues? At the same time, does he accept that the British merchant fleet is still at a significant fiscal disadvantage compared with many of its competitors? Will he make representations to the Economic Secretary about such matters as first year capital allowances and rollover relief?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks about the sterling work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has undertaken, and I am sure that the Economic Secretary will have noted his remarks about capital allowances and rollover relief. When one considers the economic framework within which British shipping has to compete, it is worth noting that corporation tax rates in Britain are the lowest of all the G7 countries and that low interest and inflation rates contribute towards creating a climate in which British shipping can compete.

Does the Minister realise that the British merchant fleet is now as low as 291? For all the commercial reasons to which he has referred, is there not also a strong defence reason for keeping a merchant fleet? Instead of paying lip service to stopping the merchant fleet from sinking, will he join us, and ensure that his colleagues join us in Committee, to ensure that something will be done to stop the merchant fleet sinking?

The hon. Lady will want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport because it was during his presidency of the Transport Council that resolutions were put forward allowing the Council to reach agreements on a common policy on safe shipping at the Luxembourg meeting on 7 June. That is a major step forward because sub-standard shipping is an urgent problem in terms of the safety of human life and the environment. That is where important results will occur, not least in narrowing the gap between the cost currently borne by the British shipping industry in enforcing high standards and the lower costs currently borne by countries that enforce regulations less rigorously. The hon. Lady may like to pay a little more attention to that.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for spelling out the successful actions that the Government have taken to ensure safety in the merchant fleet. Does he agree that, however right it may be in principle, the policy of trying to achieve a level playing field with our European competitors has not yet delivered that for our merchant fleet? That is why Conservative Members also support fiscal measures to give the British merchant fleet a competitive position.

If we followed my hon. Friend's argument and offered as much state aid to our fleet as is offered elsewhere, we would enter the inevitable spiral of ever-increasing state aid to industry. That would not benefit our economy or any other economy. The answer must be to eliminate the state aids in other countries which currently distort the market.

East Coast Main Line


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent discussions he has held with local authorities in north-east Scotland relating to InterCity services on the east coast main line.

I last discussed InterCity services on the east coast main line with representatives of Grampian regional council on Wednesday 23 June.

Is the Minister aware that a spokesman for Richard Branson recently announced that Virgin is investigating the cost of purchasing the east coast main line service between London and Edinburgh? Does he agree that that confirms, first, the private sector's complete lack of interest in the other part of that service—the through diesel service between London and Aberdeen—and, secondly, that companies such as Virgin are interested only in running fast trains, with few stops, for the cream of the customer load? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that if he persists with the market testing of railway services, the only and inevitable result will be fewer trains, worse services and the break-up of the national railway network?

The hon. Gentleman well knows that we are not intending to franchise the east coast main line on the basis of only the service between London and Edinburgh. I have made it abundantly clear that all British Rail's services to Inverness and Aberdeen will be franchised. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman would do a great deal more for the cause of electrification of the east coast main line to Aberdeen if he started supporting the economy of Scotland and stopped supporting the job wreckers at Timex in Dundee.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fears expressed about privatisation of the east coast main line are precisely the sort of fears that were expressed about other industry privatisations—yet those have led to better services, not worse—

Order. The question is about what discussions the Minister has had with local authorities in north-east Scotland.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the local authority in Aberdeen has even privatised its bus service? Is it not clear that local authorities in Scotland recognise that privatisation leads to better services at less cost to the consumer?

I confirm that those local authorities to which I have spoken welcome the prospect of improved quality and quantity of services that our reforms will bring.

Does the Minister accept that as well as meeting representatives of Grampian regional council he must also meet representatives of the Highlands regional council and the surrounding districts? The lines to which he referred are vital to the economy of that area, given that Aberdeen is the oil capital of Scotland and Inverness is the tourist and whisky capital and the fact that there are also fish and food processing exports? The freight aspect of the line is vital to the area's future economy, and no doubt it is also of importance to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I hope to meet representatives of Highland regional council in September to discuss our proposals for the railway industry in its part of the world. The prospect of introducing additional private sector capital means that there is an opportunity to enhance rather than reduce services in the hon. Lady's part of the world.



To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proportion of drivers (a) regularly use motorways and (b) never use motorways.

Surveys indicate that about half of drivers never or rarely use motorways.

That interesting statistic illustrates why it is important that the 50 per cent. of drivers who use the motorways regularly should be asked to contribute more so that those roads can be improved. Our experience of the success of the Dartford crossing, where private venture capital was used, shows that private finance in motorway construction can play a great role in ensuring that we get the roads that people want and that traffic moves properly and does not go on to the side roads.

As my hon. Friend knows, I am canvassing those issues in relation to the Green Paper on better motorways and the possibility of charging a toll. My hon. Friend is right in the sense that no decision has been taken, but one of the issues put forward is whether we can accelerate the improvement in motorways. That is not least because, in this country as in others, we run the risk of greater congestion with an increase in traffic. Therefore, we wish to accelerate the improvement by widening motorways and improving the services on them through additional finance raised by a modest charge.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the charge needs to be modest to avoid diversion on to local roads. One of the arguments for that is the fact that about half of all motorists hardly ever or never use the motorways.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his absurd policy of cutting the investment level for both British Rail and underground services by nearly£1 billion, and the reinvestment of that money on the M25, will result in that road being widened to 14 or even 20 lanes to cope with the extra cars created by that stupid transport policy?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong to describe the policy as stupid. Presumably he means that he wants to restrict people's use of cars and heavy goods vehicles by fiat from Whitehall. That does not make any sense. Otherwise, what does a centralised transport policy mean?

The hon. Gentleman is also wrong about the balance of Government expenditure. Although 90 per cent. of all inland passenger and freight traffic goes by road, we are spending about 56 per cent. of Government expenditure on roads and 44 per cent. on public transport—including rail—this year. That is a clear indication that Government expenditure is, if anything, skewed heavily towards public transport and rail.

Selby Bypass


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what scope exists for expediting the publication of the necessary draft compulsory purchase orders for the construction of the Selby bypass.

Bearing in mind the total amount of work in hand, preparation of this scheme is progressing towards publication of the draft compulsory purchase order as quickly as possible.

As there has been some slippage in the Selby bypass project, will my hon. Friend confirm that that project is now irreversible and will not be subject to either cancellation or postponement due to any internal departmental budgetary reassessment?

I certainly hope that it will not, as the scheme has been in the programme since about 1984. I well understand my hon. Friend's concern, but we are continuing preparations for the scheme. I shall use my best endeavours to keep up the momentum and I look forward to discussing the matter further with him when we meet on 12 July.

West Coast Main Line


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the chairman of British Rail to discuss services on the west coast main line.

I met the senior management of the west coast main line in Birmingham on June 18 and I reaffirmed my support for improvement of the west coast main line, infrastructure and rolling stock for the whole of the route.

The managing director of the west coast main line, Mr. Ivor Warburton, has told the west coast main line all-party group that without substantial investment during the next 18 months there will be a "catastrophic failure" of track and/or signalling on that route. In the light of the Minister's letter of 23 June to the chairman of the all-party group, how does he propose to maintain the rail links to and from Europe for the industrial heartlands of the west midlands, the north-west and as far as Glasgow if the private sector fails to provide the necessary capital investment to effect the improvements?

The hon. Gentleman will know that British Rail is to start design work for improving the signalling on the west coast main line this year, and will commence the work next year.

I agree with both the hon. Gentleman and Mr. Ivor Warburton about private sector investment. A satisfactory formula for private sector investment—particularly in signalling, which does not count as public expenditure—would be welcome. I hope that by early autumn we shall have resolved a correct formula for the introduction of private sector capital. British Rail and Railtrack will then be able to place a contract for investment in the line. That will advance the date on which we can say truthfully that the west coast main line is the premier route in the country.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that in bygone years the Great Western railway was the very best in the country? If one travelled on the Great Western, one travelled first class in every department. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we mean business about attracting the Olympic games to Manchester, we need a good west coast main line with good rolling stock? Does he agree that it is important that the InterCity 225 rolling stock is obtained for the western line? Will my right hon. Friend continue his good work and ensure that the money comes to the west coast main line?

Clearly, some of the rolling stock on the west coast main line—in particular, that which is now 30 years old—is badly in need of replacement. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, British Rail is considering placing an order. Whatever the results of that exercise, my hon. Friend knows that I am committed to work with British Rail for further orders so long as they comply fully with the Treasury guidelines on what is an operating lease. The Treasury gave the criteria for such operating leases in the latter half of last month. I hope, therefore, that it will be a question not of Networkers or 225s but of both.

Given that we know that west coast main line passengers must expect franchised services at some stage, will the Government take this opportunity to clarify the welcome but rather ambiguous undertaking given during the Report stage of the Railways Bill that franchise agreements will require

"participation in discount schemes for senior citizens, the disabled and young people"?
Is that not in marked contrast to the specific commitment that railcards for disabled people would be
"on broadly similar lines to present arrangements"?—[Official Report, 25, May 1993; Vol. 225, 762–63.]
Given the worries that have been expressed since then by British Rail and other groups, will the Minister clear the matter up for us? Will participation be at about the same cost and bring about the same benefits as existing schemes and will the schemes be universal?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made it plain on Report—[Interruption.] He did. My right hon. Friend made it plain that the franchising director would require all franchises in Great Britain to include discount railcards for the disabled, young people and elderly people. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should be in no doubt that the great advantage of those discounts—which we firmly believe that the market will provide—will be retained. We decided to require the franchising director to write that requirement into each franchise.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the excellent letter of 23 June to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) alluded. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, among many important points, the letter says that when cross-subsidisation between rail lines no longer exists, there will be revenue support for such main lines, as required?

I can certainly confirm that routes—for example, possibly the west coast main line—will qualify for support by the franchising director if they require subsidy. At present, InterCity has a commercial remit. Profitable routes such as the east coast main line cross-subsidise others such as the west coast main line. The Conservative party believes that where public money is to be used, we should all know precisely where that money goes. We have given every assurance that whether the service is InterCity, Regional Railways or Network SouthEast, it will continue to receive support if it is socially desirable.

Would not the people who use the west coast main line and, indeed, those who use other main lines in need of investment be better served if the Government instructed or allowed British Rail to invest in the future of those lines instead of constantly spending money on restructuring? Will the Minister confirm that, by next April, having recently undergone a major reorganisation, British Rail will have to divide itself into no fewer than 65 companies comprising 26 train companies, 10 rail track companies, 16 infrastructure companies, three train leasing companies and 10 commercial service groups in order to meet the Government's privatisation plans? How much will all that cost? Will the right hon. Gentleman express that figure as a percentage of the£170 million that British Rail has apparently lost in the last year? Will the Minister bear in mind that whereas workers at Timex face a£60 a week loss, he has just given Railtrack's three-day-a-week chairman a£100,000 increase?

The chairman-designate of Railtrack, Mr. Bob Horton, is excellent value for money. He is already planning with his staff for the commencement, subject to Parliament's approval, of Railtrack on 1 April next year. As to British Rail's organisation, the hon. Gentleman should realise that British Rail already runs its passenger operations on the basis of 26 profit centres; there are another nine freight profit centres, and so on. That is how modern industry is organised. As I travel the country—sometimes ahead of the hon. Gentleman, sometimes behind him—visiting profit centres, I find that morale among senior British Rail managers is excellent now. They are getting on with the job of preparing the rail industry for its reorganisation and improvement.

Trunk Roads (Maintenance)


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to reduce delays caused by maintenance work on the trunk road network during the summer months.

All our programmed maintenance work is carefully planned and co-ordinated to minimise delays, using lane rental contracts wherever possible.

Is my hon. Friend aware that those of my constituents who use the M40 and Western avenue have to tolerate extremely long delays caused by major and minor road works? Will he do everything in his power, including using lane rental and other incentives, to ensure that delays are kept to the absolute minimum?

Yes, I certainly will. Contractors must display signs explaining the presence of cones where no work appears to be in progress. My hon. Friend's constituents can help to achieve the objective that both he and I want to achieve. Under the citizens charter, a system exists for cone hotlines, whereby if members of the travelling public see lengths of motorway or road coned off unnecessarily, they have only to telephone 071 276 3000 and a written explanation will be available.

Although there have been some improvements in the way in which road works are undertaken, misleading signs still appear and, despite the Minister's remarks, many motorists will be unable to act in the way that he suggested. The appearance of signs giving misleading information leads to genuine speed limit and other warnings being disregarded. It is the Department's responsibility to ensure that accurate speed limit and other restrictive signs are used and that it is made clear when they no longer apply.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and we are here to help. If the hon. Gentleman's constituents and other members of the travelling public see misleading signs, I hope that they will contact us. I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman imagines that the travelling public do not have access to the telephone system—although not necessarily from their cars. It is important to work on the problems together. It is no use blaming someone else. Let us try to sort out those problems sensibly.

Jubilee Line Extension


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when a start can be expected for the Jubilee line docklands extension.


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects that work will be completed on the Jubilee line extension.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will authorise the start of construction once negotiations between London Transport and the parties involved with the financing of Canary Wharf on the basis of their contribution to the Jubilee line extension have been satisfactorily concluded. It is planned that the line will be operational 53 months after the start of construction.

Will my hon. Friend confirm the Government's commitment to the scheme and urge all the parties involved to reach agreement on the funding package so that the start can be brought forward to the earliest possible date, for the obvious economic benefit of docklands and of my constituents, who hope to be involved in the line's construction?

Yes, I can confirm that the Government are fully committed to their contribution, once negotiations with the private sector on its contribution are complete.

It is not much use the Minister saying when he thinks that the line will be finished when he cannot even tell us when he thinks that work on it will start. We have been waiting for that for ages and ages. It is about time that the Minister got his finger out and gave a date for the actual start.

Is the Minister aware that there is a phrase for people who always tempt but never get around to delivering? They are called political teasers. The Minister should stop dangling the prospect in front of us and tell us when work on the Jubilee line extension will start.

That is yet another inviting prospect from the hon. Gentleman, but in all seriousness he knows the answer to the questions that he poses. The Government have clearly stated that the private sector should contribute a substantial amount of money towards that line because of the considerable value that is conveyed by it to those property owners who are contributing. I think that the whole House will accept that that means that about£400 million, which is to go into the scheme, is coming from those who will benefit as developers of property rather than from hard-pressed taxpayers.

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is inviting us to forget that and simply to say that the Government will find the entire contribution. That is lamentable. No Government can act so irresponsibly. These negotiations have taken time, but I trust that they will be satisfactorily concluded. When they are, the Government are committed to making their contribution, to ensure that the line can be constructed.

Duchy Of Lancaster

Market Testing


To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what comparisons he has made between the costs arising from the implementation of market testing over each of the last two years and the savings arising therefrom.

Annual returns from Departments indicate that in previous years savings arising from market testing have typically been around 25 per cent. of the original cost, even when the activity has remained in-house.

I shall report on the costs and savings arising in the current period, which runs until September 1993, as soon as possible after that date.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his helpful answer. Does he not think it extraordinary that although certain Labour-controlled councils take on competitive tendering with great gusto, which results in enormous savings, the Opposition Front Bench has no enthusiasm whatsoever for market testing?

My hon. Friend is right. Labour authorities thoughout the country have found, after resisting a great deal at the beginning, that there is great benefit for their local taxpayers and for those who use local services in buying in services that can better be provided by the private sector.

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to market test the jobs of grades 1, 2, 3 and 4 civil servants, or is market testing a mandarin-free zone?

I look forward to discussing those matters with the hon. Gentleman in the Select Committee. No one knows better than the hon. Gentleman that an increasing number of grade 1 and 2 jobs have been put out to open tender. We have thrown it open to competition. Two people, of permanent secretary rank, have come in by that route.

Could my right hon. Friend extend market testing to ensure that when civil service jobs are about to be moved from one constituency to another area, the civil servants who are doing those jobs are given the opportunity to bid for them under private management?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting and constructive point. It is part of the policy that we should enable civil servants to show, as they often can, that they can do the jobs very well, both by management buy-outs, which sometimes they have achieved, or by straight in-house bids, and sometimes by transferring successfully—as, for example, at Devonport dockyard—to private sector contractors and working very well with those private sector employers.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has announced that he believes that there is a cost saving of about 25 per cent. in the civil service as a result of market testing. Can he confirm that there is no evidence to suggest that that 25 per cent. cost saving is the result of internal efficiency—as would be the case with many Labour local authorities, if they were allowed to make the decision at local level, as opposed to being dictated to by central Government at Westminster—but that it is solely as a result of cutting wages and changing the terms and conditions of civil servants? That is the result of the right hon. Gentleman's market testing. There has been no increase in the quality of service.

I think that the hon. Lady has got her brief back to front. The wages issue is normally raised by local authorities. Labour local authorities have got used to compulsory competitive tendering. can give the hon. Lady one example. It happens to be the latest. RAF Finningly has stated that it expects to achieve savings of£3·5 million in the first year, 1993, and£29 million over 10 years through efficiency savings, including market testing of the technical maintenance of aircraft. That represents between 20 and 25 per cent., which is exactly the point that the hon. Lady does not understand. She will find that it has nothing to do with pay. It is the result of greater efficiency in the organisation of the function.

Citizens Charter


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is the total number of civil servants engaged in activities subject to citizens charters.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science
(Mr. David Davis)

The charter approach is integral to the delivery of public services. Many civil and other public servants are now involved with the charter programme as part of their normal duties. The citizens charter unit in the Cabinet Office has 32 staff.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he, perhaps like me, concerned that our business community will soon need its own charter to protect it from the growth in the inspectorates that are now visiting it almost daily: environmental health inspectors, agricultural inspectors, safety at work inspectors and weights and measures inspectors—you name it, there is an inspector for it? Does he agree that it is very important that we as a Government, and he as a Minister, keep an eye on the growth of that sector of the civil service, because otherwise we shall kill the goose that lays the golden egg?

I agree entirely about the need to reduce the regulatory burden, especially on small companies. The citizens charter and deregulation go hand in hand; they are not alternatives. They are both about providing a better quality of service to users and improving efficiency. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must ensure that unnecessary regulation is avoided and that new regulations are not excessively onerous for the business community. In that context, it is no coincidence that the policy to deregulate London Buses was mentioned in the citizens charter White Paper.

Instead of wasting civil servants' time on these useless public relations exercises that are called charters, why does not the Minister do something sensible for a change and transfer civil servants to the disability living allowance unit at Blackpool, where applications for mobility allowance and attendance allowance are still weeks behind? People are living in great difficulty because of the delays, which result from the Government not providing enough civil servants for the job.

That is an extraordinary statement. The hon. Gentleman should have read the ombudsman's report on the disability living allowance, in which he identified the charter as a very important tool in achieving better terms, improvements and recompense for people who had suffered under the scheme.


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how much has been expended on citizens charters since their inception.

The charter applies to all public services, which is reflected in their individual expenditure programmes. Centrally, the charter unit spent£1·6 million in 1991–92 and£2·14 million in 1992–93.

Would I be right to assume that the global figure is much more than£2·14 million? An extraordinarily large amount of taxpayers' money is being wasted on what most people regard as nothing more than propaganda puffs to give the appearance that the Government are actually doing something, when we know they are incapable of doing anything. These charters are a joke—a very expensive joke. It is little surprise that they give most people the impression that the country is being run by a bunch of train spotters.

Perhaps that would be better than being run by the panel game on which the hon. Member excels. All public services should give clear information to the people who use them. That is a proper use of the resources that are voted by the House for public service. I find it extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman, with his background, does not understand that it is an essential part of public service to let people know what their rights are.


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what representations he has received about complaints procedures in the public services as part of the citizens charter; and if he will make a statement.

I announced the citizens charter complaints task force on 10 June. As part of its work, it will be seeking the views of public service and other organisations and, of course, those of members of the public.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Is he aware that many people still find it a bureaucratic nightmare to make a complaint to and about a public sector organisation? Can he assure me that the complaints task force will draw up a set of principles to make it easier to make a complaint and to encourage public service organisations to treat complaints more positively and as a means of ensuring their own effectiveness?

I am happy to give my hon. Friend just such an assurance. He is right to state that complaints systems must be easy to use and that complaints must be responded to by the people who operate those systems. I cite an example: just such an attitude is engendered in the Department of Social Security's OTIS system. It stands for "opportunity to improve service", and the evidence so far is that improving services is exactly what it has done, precisely because it is simple and quick and enables the service to analyse complaints and to respond to them effectively and speedily.

May I refer the Minister to a complaint that I received About the Cheshire family health services authority, which gave some of my constituents five days' notice that their doctor's surgery was about to close? I checked the citizens charter, which states that patients have a right to be-consulted about their services, but when I checked with the family health services authority, I found that there was no law to ensure that they were. The Cheshire family health services authority closed the surgery regardless of the views of my constituents. Will the Minister take on board my ten-minute Bill, which would amend the law to ensure that in future patients are consulted about doctors' surgeries and the services that they receive?

Naturally, I should be happy to consider the matter if the hon. Gentleman would write to me or give me some notice, rather than bouncing it and trying to score political points. If he cares to write to me, I shall deal with the matter.


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster which other Governments have contacted his Department for information about the implementation of the citizens charter.

At least 15 other Governments have been in contact with me or my Department to find out more about the citizens charter. Last year's service to the citizen conference attracted delegates from 21 countries, and we expect that the next event will attract even more.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he confirm that among the 15 are the new French Government, who are committed to introducing a form of citizens charter? Does not the international interest prove that, just as Britain led the world in introducing private enterprise into tired and inefficient nationalised industries in the 1980s to make them more competitive, Britain is again leading the world in the 1990s by dispelling the myth that the only way to improve the efficiency of public services is by throwing more money at them?

The previous French socialist Government sent a speaker to our conference last year, and I am happy to say that the new French Government retain that interest. Throughout the world, Governments across the political spectrum are having to reassess the way in which public services are run so that people's legitimately higher expectations can be met against the background of very tough resource decisions. Everyone faces the same issues.

Technology Transfer


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what specific measures he will take under the Technology Foresight programme to increase technology transfer.

The Technology Foresight programme will promote technology transfer through a new partnership between science and industry. Improvements in working relationships between academics and industrialists have been a major feature of foresight processes overseas. This programme will help the Government to determine their own priorities for spending on science and technology.

I think that the Minister would agree that the Technology Foresight programme looks constructive on paper, but that, as in science itself, translation from theory into practice is not always easy and requires resources and imagination. In view of the transfer of responsibility from the Department of Trade and Industry to the Office of Science and Technology, can the right hon. Gentleman assure me that funds have followed the transfer and that he has the necessary funds to launch and promote the programme? What measures has he taken to encourage to join his steering committee people with the creativity, imagination and commitment to ensure that the programme translates from theory into practice?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point. It is perfectly easy to describe the process, but what really matters is to get it established well and working well. My Department is now involved in a series of regional visits across the country, discussing how best to take forward the programme—officials have doubtless been to Leeds to discuss it with the relevant players there. It is essential that we have the involvement of those working at the laboratory bench and those in industry who really understand markets.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the more industry is involved in the Technology Foresight programme, the more likely it is that industry will pick up the fruits of that programme and carry them through to the marketplace?

My hon. Friend makes an essential point. The Technology Foresight programme here must be like the successful programmes abroad and not be dominated by Whitehall; it must be led by practitioners in the field including scientists, engineers and industrialists. We at the centre should simply be the secretariat for the process. That is the intention.

Citizens Charters


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to introduce further charters during 1993; and if he will make a statement.

Thirty-two charters have been produced so far. New charters during 1993 will include the further and higher education charters. In addition, the Benefits Agency charter and parents charter will be updated and improved.

I particularly welcome the further and higher education charters. May I ask for more action on schools charters and particularly the publication of league tables for school attendance, allowing for a proper value added section? Is not it legitimate and right that parents should know which schools achieve high attendance? Is not the charter a good way of achieving that? In my right hon. Friend's opinion, why does the Labour party oppose providing information about schools? The Labour party does not care about parents' right to know.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The proposal to produce league tables will be one of the motivating forces for improving our education service. That is true whether it relates to educational achievement in its academic sense or to truancy. In respect of the latter point, I note that a report was published today which is very helpful.

With regard to my hon. Friend's point about value added tables, of course we believe that they would be the best kind of tables to have. However, as my hon. Friend will understand, it will take time to develop a database for those tables to work. In the meantime, we see absolutely no reason to deny parents the kind of information that would allow them to take the proper action in the best interests of their children's education.

Will the further and higher education charters include the right for students to claim housing benefit and income support during summer recesses? Some of my constituents will have less than£5 a week to live on this summer after they have paid their rent during the college recess. That is an unacceptable imposition of poverty on our youth and on the development of their educational potential in respect of industry. If the further and higher education charters are to mean something, there must be a right of access to housing benefit and income support for students when they are not at college.

Absolutely not. Housing benefit and income support are designed for people who need them because they are in poverty or in poor circumstances of one kind or another. They are not designed as a giveaway for students in our society. I believe that it is a very bad idea to start young people off on a dependent mode as they begin their careers.

Science And Engineering (Wales)


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he last visited Wales to discuss science and engineering issues; and if he will make a statement.

I discussed science and technology issues when I replied to the excellent debate at the Welsh Conservative party conference on 12 June.

I thank my right hon. Friend for corning to Wales to make the first speech on science and engineering at a party conference for many years. Does not that reflect the importance that the Government attach to science and engineering—unlike the Labour party, which attaches very little importance to that subject?

I note that the Welsh Conservative party lead on that matter as, doubtless, it leads on others. I also note that there is no proper spokesman for science and engineering in the shadow Cabinet and that is a matter of regret. I also note that in Wales there are major developments in this area. For example, the Agricultural and Food Research Council is now concentrating most of its work on grassland research in Wales and that is quite proper.

Investors And Risk Takers


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what intitiatives his Department has taken to encourage the investors, entrepreneurs and risk takers of the United Kingdom to produce scientific products for the world market.

Partnership for the creating of wealth lies at the heart of the White Paper on science, engineering and technology. As markers of that—there are too many aspects to go through in one question—each research council will have a mission statement that reflects that aim, and the Technology Foresight exercise will be identifying generic aspects of technology and research that are most useful for the United Kingdom's industrial base, a policy which has already proved to be successful in Japan. In support of that, the Department of Trade and Industry's innovation budget to assist small business will be increased by 15 per cent. this year.

Is my hon. Friend aware that trade and industry are delighted with the emphasis that the Government are now placing on the research councils' drive for wealth creation? That is just what industry and commerce want, and it is just what the doctor ordered.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is supported by several people, not least Richard Freeman, ICI's chief economist, who, referring to science and technology, said:

"A central feature of the White Paper is the commitment to the greater focus of S&T policy on United Kingdom competitiveness and wealth creation. Within more explicit guidelines … research is to have regard to its relevance and potential for appropriation by industry and other users. These are changes to be greatly welcomed."
I agree with him entirely.



To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what discussions he has had with the chairman of Rolls-Royce about his White Paper on science, engineering and technology.

I expect to meet Sir Ralph Robins next month and I am looking forward to discussing the White Paper with him. I was greatly encouraged by the letter from him and 12 other senior industrialists in The Times on 1 June welcoming the White Paper.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Sir Ralph Robins letter was also signed by the chief executives of Glaxo, British Aerospace and many others? Does not that show that the vast majority of British industrialists fully support my right hon. Friend's White Paper on science, engineering and technology?

My hon. Friend is right. There has been a very broad welcome for the White Paper. As sometimes happens, the spokesman for the Labour party in the House of Lords, who had perhaps read the document before responding to it, got it right in welcoming it, whereas its spokesman in this House had not read it and did not welcome it.