HC Deb 09 August 1972 vol 842 cc1718-20
28. Mr. David Stoddart

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment to what extent he took into account, before agreeing to provide British Railways with £50 million to £60 million and to their proposals about their field organisation, the statement made by the Board's Chairman that Great Britain was in danger of losing its present railway system and the need to prevent further contraction in the railway network; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

My right hon. Friend could not on 27th July take account of something which the Chairman of the Railways Board did not say until 1st August. But the financial and organisational measures referred to in his statement of 27th July should be helpful in reducing the dangers mentioned by the Chairman of the Board.

Mr. Stoddart

Am I to understand that the Minister is so out of touch with the thinking of the Railways Board that he was not aware of the situation set out by the Chairman on 1st August? Will he say, now that he has heard that statement, what action he intends taking to see that the Chairman's prediction that the present railway system will not exist in 10 years' time does not materialise?

Mr. Griffiths

My right hon. Friend is well aware of the thinking of the Chairman of the Railways Board—indeed, he has frequent and useful talks with him. The hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House about what the Chairman said. He did not suggest that the railway system would not exist within 10 years and I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman imagines he said that. He said that it was necessary to rethink the rôle of the railways and that is precisely what my right hon. Friend is now engaged in doing with the Railways Board.

Mr. Mulley

While we welcome the recent decision to provide funds for the railways to help with their cash flow, as well as the other measures which the hon. Gentleman has announced, may I ask whether he and his colleagues realise that what is wanted is a clear statement by the Government that since, for a number of reasons, the expectations of the 1968 Act have not come about, it is a matter of policy that the railways must be given the finances to remain a viable system? Otherwise, with all the opposition to and difficulties of extending roads, if we do not get as much traffic off the roads as we can by using the railways, we will allow decisions now which we will regret in 10 or 15 years' time.

Mr. Griffiths

My right hon. Friend is well aware of the points which the right hon. Gentleman very fairly puts. He is currently engaged with the Railways Board in seeking to identify those services which can be run commercially and, in the light of studies, to consider what action needs to be taken about those services which are not strictly commercial.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Does my hon. Friend agree that the future of the railways depends a great deal on the capital investment programme made available to them? Can he say whether this pro- gramme has been increasing or decreasing over the last five years and what he anticipates it will be in future?

Mr. Griffiths

Not without notice.

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