HC Deb 20 July 1977 vol 935 cc1588-90
14. Mr. Robin F. Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what he expects to be the cost to the Exchequer of his proposal in the recent White Paper for a new special replacement allowance for the renewal of the assets of British Railways passenger business.

Mr. William Rodgers

I expect that the new allowance will next year reduce the Board's need to borrow by about£50 million. The net cost to the Exchequer is therefore likely to be the interest on that sum.

Mr. Cook

This new fund is a most welcome recognition of the need for additional investment in rolling stock. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the acid test of the fund must be the amount of money with which he backs it? If the only additional fund to be made available to British Rail is the interest on£50 million—which is about£6 million per annum that will not go far towards renewing the 2,000 diesel motor units now approaching their days of senility.

Mr. Rodgers

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's kind remark about this proposal in the White Paper. I know that the amount of money that may become available to the Board in interest saved is important, and I agree also that it is a small proportion of the sum of money that many people would like for the railways. But it is not the acid test. The object of the proposal is not only to give the advantage of interest not paid to the Board but to provide a degree of flexibility which it has said is very welcome.

Mr. Bagier

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the difficulties that the railways are having with diesel multiple units are critical? I am sure that he is aware even in his own area that the diesel multiple units to which people transfer after travelling in the first-class inter-city trains give a very bad impression of our railways in general. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the opinion of many of those who have to operate these things that they are falling apart, creating a bad image for British Rail? Could he not find something inside this fund which would enable British Rail to move more quickly towards replacing these units?

Mr. Rodgers

I wish that I could hold out a prospect beyond that of the White Paper, although it made clear that whether more money might be available for investment in the 1980s would depend on how events rolled forward meanwhile. I do not disagree with much of what my hon. Friend has said, but he will understand that even if a decision were made today the new design of diesel multiple units would not be available until the early 1980s, and, therefore, the refurbishing of present stock is for the time being the only alternative open to the Board.

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