Capital Investment Programme

Oral Answers to Questions — Railways – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th December 1957.

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Photo of Mr Ernest Davies Mr Ernest Davies , Enfield East 12:00 am, 18th December 1957

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation which of the British Railways modernisation schemes will be postponed or delayed in completion as a result of the restrictions placed on its capital investment programme.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

It will not now be possible to accelerate by as much as was hoped the programmes for main line diesel locomotives, for some rolling stock and for station improvements. The programme for the fitting of continuous brakes to some mineral wagons has also had to be slowed down. The Commission still hopes, however, that by maintaining and if necessary accelerating its plans in subsequent years, it will be able to complete the programme by the published date.

Photo of Mr Ernest Davies Mr Ernest Davies , Enfield East

In view of the Government's record in regard to capital investment on the railways, what chance does the Minister think the Commission will have of accelerating this scheme after 1957, for 1958 and 1959? Is it not a fact that the statement now made by the Minister is in contradiction of the assurance he gave on 30th October, when he said that it was not then necessary to depart from the Command Paper "Proposals for the Railways", that is, the modernisation plan?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

That does not seem to me to come very well from a member of a party which has played politics with the railways, without bothering to modernise them. At least, this Government have devoted very large sums of money to the improvement of the railways, and over the next two years we are giving the Commission £170 million each year.

Photo of Mr Ernest Davies Mr Ernest Davies , Enfield East

Is it not a fact that the Government have cut down on the railway modernisation programme, and that that is endangering the possibility of the British Transport Commission paying its way by 1961, as was forecast in this Command Paper?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

As I have just said, the Commission has advised me that it hopes to be able to complete the programme by the published date, and that is what I said in my Answer.

Photo of Mr Ernest Davies Mr Ernest Davies , Enfield East

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation the expenditure on its railway modernisation programme that had been planned for each of the years 1958 and 1959 by the British Transport Commission immediately prior to the restriction on capital expenditure for all the Commission's undertakings to £170 million a year.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

The planned programme against which restrictions were made included £151 million for railway investment in 1958 and £148 million in 1959.

Photo of Mr Ernest Davies Mr Ernest Davies , Enfield East

Is not this evidence of the effect of cutting down on this programme, and does the Minister really believe that if the Government cut down the programme, it will be possible for the Commission to fulfil its estimate? Is it not a very short-sighted policy, in view of the very large deficit which is now accumulating?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I do not think this is the case. I think the railways have to play their part in the national scheme of things, like everybody else, and I am quite satisfied that if they get the utmost value out of the present capital investment programme, as I am quite sure they will, we shall complete the programme as we planned.

Mr. Gresham Cooke:

Is it not a fact that the railway modernisation programme is progressing very well, and that, in some instances, it is ahead of schedule?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

In a great many instances, it is ahead of schedule.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

May I ask the Minister whether, in fact, in spite of the assurances and the hopes which he has expressed, the cut in capital expenditure on the railway modernisation plan has not done enormous damage and caused enormous retardation to the whole scheme? Is it not a fact that any talk of being able to overtake that in subsequent years is really not accepted by anybody who knows what is really happening?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I think the right hon. Gentleman should keep a sense of proportion. The facts are that what the Commission wanted to do would cost roughly £180 million each year and what we are giving it is £170 million a year. If it cannot make do with £170 million, I think it will be lacking a sense of proportion about its capital expenditure.