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British Rail (Financial Limits)

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th December 1980.

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Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stevenage 12:00 am, 10th December 1980

asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on the financial limits set for British Rail by his Department.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The British Railways Board's external finance limit for 1980–81 stands at £790 million. This reflects the £40 million increase I announced on 18 September to take account of the board's worsening business position. The limit for 1981–82 is £920 million. Both limits present the board with challenging but realistic targets. I have today announced the ceiling on the grant for passenger services for 1981.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells , Hertford and Stevenage

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Within those financial limits, how much money will British Rail spend on advertising?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I understand that British Rail's advertising budget is running at about £9½ million a year.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the French Government have invested more in the Paris Metro than we have invested in the whole of British Rail? The lack of investment is having adverse effects. For example, the Sheffield to London line is so badly affected that in the railways it is known as the longest railway siding in Britain. Will the right hon. Gentleman do something to remedy the position, because all the towns on that line are desperate for investment?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The position in France, and particularly in Paris, is that the money and revenue for the railways come from a special tax on businesses. That is an option that the hon. Gentleman might support, but it is not an option that many businesses in London would support. I understand the European comparisons, but we have to deal with the situation in Britain today, not with generalised comparisons throughout Western Europe.

Photo of Mr Iain Mills Mr Iain Mills , Meriden

Does my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the bully-boy tactics employed by the Opposition and trade unions in trying to force the Government away from the position that he so clearly outlined? Will he, having privatised the British Rail subsidiaries, consider that one solution to the problem may well be further privatisation of certain aspects of British Rail's business?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Whatever differences there may be between the Government and the Opposition—and clearly there are a number of important ones—I think that the advice from both sides of the House must basically be that it is best to cool the present situation and that industrial action can only harm the railway industry and passengers. I hope that that message goes out from both sides of the House.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson , Camden Holborn and St Pancras South

Does the Minister accept that to talk of the EFL limit in the terms that he has done is ridiculous? Does he realise that it is not accepted as reasonable by either British Rail or the rail unions? Does he further realise that it would not be accepted by any rail user who had a grain of sense? As the Minister does not have a grain of sense, we do not expect a sensible answer from him.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Minister of State (Department for Transport)

That was a pretty pathetic supplementary. I shall try to fill in the hon. Gentleman. The external finance limit of British Rail is £920 million. Taxpayers, and the ratepayers to a lesser extent, are paying £2 million a day in support for rail services. That is a fair deal. As far as I know, that external finance limit is not rejected by the railways board but is accepted by it.