HC Deb 24 November 1971 vol 826 cc1312-4
4. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what requests he has received from the Chairman of the British Railways Board for greater financial aid and support, the absence of which would result in rail closures; what total subsidy is being given by the Government in 1971–72 and for what length of railway routes; what estimate he has made for 1972–73; and whether he will make a policy statement on rail closures.

The Minister for Transport Industries (Mr. John Peyton)

None, Sir. Grant in 1971–72 will be about £58 million for unremunerative rail passenger services on 8,450 route miles. No estimate can yet be given for 1972–73.

Sir G. Nabarro

In cases in which there is no social grant and British Rail announce their intentions to close, will my right hon. Friend consider selling or leasing these railway lines to appropriate private companies, under light railway orders, in order that the services may be continued? Would he espouse denationalization—more Thomas Cooks—and condemn more Giros, which are anathema to Tories like myself?

Mr. Peyton

My hon. Friend will not expect me to follow him into Giro, but I will content myself today with saying that if he makes a proposal to me I will look at it most carefully.

Mr. Maclennan

Would the Minister give an assurance that at this time of high unemployment he will look with a favourable eye upon proposals to extend the uneconomic railway social grant and bring forward no proposals for closures of the lines in the North of Scotland particularly, both in view of their likely employment factor and of the need to develop the economies of those parts of the country?

Mr. Peyton

I am aware of the considerations raised by the hon. Gentleman. I could not give quite the blanket undertaking for which he asks, but I assure him that the needs of the North of Scotland in particular are constantly borne in mind and treated with the utmost consideration.

Mr. Bradley

Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the views of all those Conservative Members who sought to harry the previous Labour Government on the need to preserve branch lines running through their constituencies?

Mr. Peyton

I had no idea that any Conservative Members ever harried the previous Labour Government.

23. Mr. Roger White

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what applications he has now received from the British Railways Board for additional infrastructure grants for the London and south-east network; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peyton

I regularly receive such applications. £40 million of infrastructure grant has already been committed this year to British Railways Board projects.

Mr. White

Following the announcement of the Borough Market project recently, it was also stated that train services in the South-East—in Kent in particular—would be subject to delay during the construction period. Can I have my right hon. Friend's assurance that the discomforture to passenger services will be minimal, since already both passengers and services are at breaking point?

Mr. Peyton

I am very conscious of the discomfort endured by commuters day after day, which was one of the reasons which led the Government to back the Borough Market project. I assure my hon. Friend that the Chairman of the Railways Board is also sharply aware of these problems and will do his best to minimise the inevitable inconvenience.

Mr. Spearing

But does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that priorities for expenditure are also a matter of responsibility to this House? Does he recall that when I asked him in correspondence what priority was being given to various schemes, he said that it was only schemes which were presented by the Railways Board which he could consider? When I asked the Board to inform me of the whole range of schemes it had in mind, it said that it was not prepared to let me have them. Would he look into this?

Mr. Peyton

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has grounds for discontent. If I can remove them, I will.

Captain Elliot

Commuter services generally have done very badly in recent years in respect of capital expenditure compared with inter-city services. Will my right hon. Friend look into that and see whether he can facilitate increased expenditure on these lines, which carry many millions of passengers?

Mr. Peyton

I am not sure what my hon. and gallant Friend means by "recent years". I do not think that he can be referring to the last year.