British Rail

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st December 1982.

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Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough 12:00 am, 1st December 1982

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is the proposed level of Government subsidy for British Rail in each of the next three years.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I am at present discussing the appropriate level for 1983 with the Railways Board. Decisions on later years will be taken in the light of the review of railway finances under Sir David Serpell, whose report I expect to receive shortly.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Whatever conclusions he may reach, the sums involved will be very large. Will he ensure that there is no possibility of public money being wasted in the way that has occurred on the St. Pancras to Bedford line, where £150 million worth of rolling stock has lain idle for nearly a year due to union manning disputes?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. It is a matter of great concern. We all welcome the prospect of more investment in new equipment and rolling stock for British Rail, but it is essential that when the investment takes place the equipment is worked with proper manning levels and without restrictive practices. Until there is a change in the present situation, it is difficult to win public confidence and support for further improvement of the British Rail system and the investment that we all want.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

What conclusions does the Minister draw from the fact that on the London-Midland line, which serves the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and me, revenues have dramatically increased since the belated introduction of high-speed trains between London and Sheffield? Does the Minister agree that such investment raises both morale and revenue, and that that is what we need, rather than carping and sniping at British Rail?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

Yes, I agree with that. The HST programme has been particularly successful, although in some senses internationally underrated. The 125 mph high speed diesel trains are a remarkable railway achievement.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch and Lymington

Will my right hon. Friend confirm yet again that in terms of finance there are two railways—the one that British Rail is able and willing to run profitably, and the social railway that the nation demands? Does he agree that there are far too many questions about the British Rail subsidy and far too few about the subsidy for the M1 motorway, the cost of repairs, police, accidents and time lost? Is it not time that a fairer comparison was made?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

Yes. I hope that the results of the Serpell committee inquiry will help to disentangle which parts of the railway are run for social reasons and which parts are or should be run commercially.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Does the Secretary of State recall that during the industrial dispute earlier this year both he and the chairman of British Rail constantly said that if the railway unions accepted the productivity package it would result in investment in the railways? How many investment schemes has he approved since the productivity agreements were reached?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that final agreement has not yet been secured. It is the subject of current negotiations. I am anxious that British Rail should be able to move forward on all the agreements that were signed in 1981 but have not yet been delivered. Those agreements are a precondition for the successful working of existing investment, let alone new investment.