British Railways (Financial Assistance)

Oral Answers to Questions — Railways – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1968.

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Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Torrington 12:00 am, 24th July 1968

asked the Minister of Transport what estimate he has made of the value of the grants, subsidies, capital write-offs and other financial assistance contained in the Transport Bill, to the revenue account of British Railways in 1969 and 1970.

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

About £140 million in each year, inclusive of grants for un- remunerative passenger services and surplus track and signalling expenses, relief of interest and depreciation on capital to be written off, and the transfer of the Board's "sundries" activities to the National Freight Corporation.

Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Torrington

Is this fair competition to the hauliers, bearing in mind that many hauliers in the South-West would like the same facilities and aid being given to British Railways? Will he do something to rectify this unjust competition?

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

No, Sir. With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the position. The figure of £140 million is not a direct subsidy from the taxpayer. It is a capital write-off which recognises that past investment has been unremunerative. The losses were made at the time of the investment.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Members on both sides of the House have asked for financial help to keep branch lines open in their constituencies, including the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills)?

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

This has always been the problem. It seems to me right that when a nationalised industry is asked to undertake financial obligations for social purposes it should be financed separately from the normal revenue of the industry.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

Does the Minister's reply mean that next year the cost of the railways to the taxpayer will be £140 million as against £150 million this year?

Photo of Mr Richard Marsh Mr Richard Marsh , Greenwich

I am sorry to repeat it, but the hon. Gentleman totally misunderstands the position. The figure of £140 million is not a direct burden on the taxpayer. It is recognition of a loss-making capacity which was totally unrealistic, and if this debt were not written off the railways could never have got out of the position in which they have been for so long.