British Rail

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 5:31 pm on 21st June 1982.

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Photo of Mr Mark Wolfson Mr Mark Wolfson , Sevenoaks 5:31 pm, 21st June 1982

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson), who emphasised the danger that a possible strike poses to the railway industry and those who work in it. People in the industry must be aware of the damage that a strike will do to their future.

In the aftermath of the oil crisis of 1974 a British Rail advertisement showed a decayed motorway garage and stated that this was the age of the train. It was to show that the car was on its way out and the railways were the answer to the fuel crisis. Unfortunately, it has not worked out that way. A more realistic picture is of decaying railway plant of all kinds as the roads are used more and more for personal travel and the movement of freight.

We have three sorts of railway. The first is the freight railway, which can be profitable, and which was improving before last year's dispute. Secondly, we have a passenger railway, which can be run economically. Before last year's problems and the recession, the intercity railways were improving greatly in their service and attraction to passengers. The third type of railway is what the chairman of British Rail describes as the social railway—the lines that will always require Government support. They fall into two categories—the rural lines and the commuter services.

The Government should continue to subsidise the railways. No railway system in the world can run without subsidies. We should compare Paris's developing commuter services with London's decaying services. One reason for the improved Parisian service is the much higher subsidy. That was made possible because of a healthier economy in the past than in Britain and, as a result, better co-operation between management and unions in implementing modern work practices.