HC Deb 24 January 1979 vol 961 cc403-4
4. Mr Spriggs

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will authorise increased investment for British Railways.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)

The Government have so far been able to maintain a substantial provision for investment in renewing and improving the railway but this will have to be kept under review in the light of the business performance.

Mr. Spriggs

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government should not freeze investment in British Rail to £312 million, when the International Railway Journal reports that there is an 18 per cent. increase in expenditure in world railways outside the Communist bloc and the United States, and that in America alone £2.5 billion is being spent on the railways? Even the Italian investment in the railways, whose network is much smaller than ours, is far higher than ours. What is my hon. Friend prepared to do about that?

Mr. Horam

The figure of rather over £300 million as a ceiling for investment for the railways is a very large sum in any circumstances. We have maintained it over the past few years and intend to maintain it over the next few years. We have made a positive approach to railway investment, but, in the final analysis, as Sir Peter Parker himself said recently, it depends on the performance of the business.

Mr. Gow

The House will agree with the Secretary of State that the present dispute has nothing to do with the Government's pay policy, but will the Minister confirm that there will be no question of the Government's making good the losses that British Rail sustains as a result of the current dispute and that the present policy of cash limits will be adhered to most rigidly?

Mr. Horam

Certainly I can confirm that there will be no way out of the present set of problems through extra money coming from the taxpayer.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Has my hon. Friend studied the unfortunate advertisement that is being displayed on British Rail stations at present showing the low level of subsidy from the British taxpayers to British Rail compared with the massive subsidies to their railways by other European countries? Does he agree that the reason why West Germany is spending so much more—I think over £2,000 million—on subsidising its railways is that it regards them as an essential part of industrial growth?

Mr. Horam

I take my hon. Friend's point, but I do not think that that is a valid comparison of like with like. As I said in answer to an earlier Question, we have taken a consistently positive view on railway investment and we shall continue to do so. However, it is clear that in the end the amount of investment must depend on the efficiency and performance of the business.

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