HC Deb 28 May 1968 vol 765 cc1566-8


Mr. Stainton

I beg to move Amendment No. 150, in page 53, line 37, at end insert: (5) The report of the Railways Board under the Act of 1962 for any year shall include details of the grant, if any, made under this section. The theme underlying the Amendment is very similar to that which we discussed on Amendment No. 149, but there is a critical difference. In Amendment No. 149 we were concerned about individual amounts paid for the services the first year they become grant-aided. Under this Amendment, which seeks to insert a further subsection in Clause 37, which deals with grants pending the elimination of surplus track and signals equipment, it is proposed that the Railways Board report for any year should state the amount received under this Clause until that grant expires.

The proposal under Clause 37 is to allocate a maximum sum of £50 million for the elimination of surplus track and signals equipment. We need not get involved this afternoon in arguments about when the decision to eliminate surplus equipment will come to an end. We decided in Committee that this is a continuing process. We are not talking about standby equipment. All I am concerned about is that we should pin down the £50 million which is to be given on a tapering basis over five years.

My reason for suggesting the Amendment is that in the round we should watch this kind of figure. It is a very large figure and elimination of this surplus equipment will play a critical part in the future financial wellbeing of British Railways. It is a complex problem. We can see that from the White Paper issued by the Steering Group dealing with identification of surplus equipment, let alone its removal. We should know that the Railways Board is getting on with the job within the orbit of £50 million and within the time scale postulated in the Bill.

The second reason for suggesting that the figure should be reported annually is the obscurity which surrounds this figure and which became evident in Committee. The Steering Group referred to £11 million and £60 million. When talking of these kind of details it behoves the Railways Board to report to the public and to this House about the progress being made. The Steering Group said that £60 million might be an under-estimate.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Neil Carmichael)

My right hon. Friend has a great deal of sympathy with the points made for this Amendment by the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton), but one or two points are perhaps not quite analogous to the previous Amendment.

For instance, on the amount of any grant, Clause 37 says: The amount of any grant under this section shall be determined by the Minister after consultation with the Railways Board, and the amount of the grant for each of the said years shall be so determined before 1st January 1969 in such manner that—

  1. (a) the amount for each year after the first is less than that for the preceding year; and
  2. (b) the aggregate amount of the grants does not exceed £50 million."
The hon. Member was correct in saying that a figure should be given annually, but since the Minister will be so consulting the Railways Board on the question of how much and for what the money will be used, there are certain difficulties in the wording of the Amendment in that details are asked for and the amount of detail is very difficult to determine.

The Railways Board will submit to the Minister proposals for the removal of surplus equipment, which will be in its own interests, but the actual programme may change, even within a year, because of other factors. For instance, with a four-track line the Board may opt to remove two tracks and then it might be found better to hold the process over from one year to another. My right hon. Friend agrees with the spirit of the Amendment and we shall take steps in another place to put forward an Amendment analogous with the Amendment previously moved referring to the conditions of Clause 36(5).

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) will be delighted at the signal success he has had in this matter. We are concerned that the report, without going into unnecessary detail, should give a true, full and accurate account of the financial position. It is obvious that the information asked for would be vital. We are grateful for the decision which has been made and to the Parliamentary Secretary for the pleasant way in which he dealt with the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

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