Serpell Report

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th March 1983.

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Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 12:00 am, 16th March 1983

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to announce his formal decisions on the recommendations contained in the Serpell report.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

The Serpell committee identified potential cost savings worth more than £200 million a year by 1986. I am giving the British Railways Board my full backing in achieving these improvements as soon as possible. I shall announce decisions on the longer term issues when all the facts have been considered and the necessary public debate has been completed.

Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Although there may be good electoral reasons for postponing a decision, the continued uncertainty is bound to affect adversely both customers and morale in the industry. Will the Secretary of State consign the report to the dustbin once and for all, thereby putting hon. Members and others out of their agony?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

To do so would be shortsighted from the point of view of the railway and its customers. The Serpell report illustrates the costs of different parts of the network and of the business. If the Government are to preserve and develop the railway system in the best possible way, it is important that they should know the costs of the different parts. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman shares my objective of preserving and developing a high quality national railway. If he does, he should welcome the illustrative nature of the cost analyses in Serpell and the shorter term proposals that a high-quality service can be provided with cost savings.

Photo of Mr Anthony Fell Mr Anthony Fell , Yarmouth

What does my right hon. Friend mean by "the necessary public debate"?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

My hon. Friend will recognise that the debate has moved fairly substantially since the publication of the Serpell report. Indeed, a debate has already taken place in the House. In the next few months I would expect to hear a further expression of views on the future potential and development of railways. That is the type of debate that I have in mind. I hope that that helps my hon. Friend.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

In view of all the worries expressed throughout the country, as exemplified in questions from both sides of the House, and in view of the number of jobs at stake in the railway industry, would it not he advisable for the Minister to say that the Government reject the variant suggestions and conclusions in the Serpell report?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

The Serpell report illustrates the costs of the system. The Government do not regard the Serpell report as offering a programme for closures. It has to be emphasised that the report is not a blueprint for closures, but an illustration of how much the system costs to run. That is the first move towards developing new methods of preserving the system. If the hon. Gentleman wishes the railway system to rot from neglect——

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

It is the right hon. Gentleman's neglect.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

—because people refuse to face the costs, his method of turning a blind eye to the facts in the Serpell report is the best way to do that.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

Does my right hon. Friend recall that one of the recommendations of the Serpell committee, and an alternative that British Rail management has examined, is the replacement of trains by effective bus services where great losses are being incurred? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sooner that aspect of the report is examined the better it will be for the finances of British Rail and its future and that of the travelling public?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

That is one of the alternatives raised by Serpell for making good use of transport support and transport resources in providing local transport needs. Another option to consider is the use of the bus and other new technologies on the existing railway system. These sorts of possibilities must be immediately examined. They were promoted by the Serpell report, and the sooner they are examined the better.

Photo of Mr Albert Booth Mr Albert Booth , Barrow-in-Furness

Does the Secretary of State accept that the Serpell report shows a great drop in investment expenditure by British Rail since the Conservative party came into office? How can the high quality rail service, which the Secretary of State said he wished to see, be brought about without some steps being taken to restore the level of investment expenditure that existed when his party came to office?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

If the existing investment in new high quality equipment was being properly used, if the Bedford-St. Pancras railway equipment, which is £150 million worth of investment, was being manned and operated instead of lying idle, and if there were no repetition of the disputes that took place last year, which drained more than £170 million out of the railway system, it would be easier to see how resources could go into investment. I do not remember the right hon. Gentleman being critical about that. If he had been, perhaps the railways today would have more resources for the investment they need.