HC Deb 10 December 1980 vol 995 cc920-1
13. Mr. Dobson

asked the Minister of Transport if he will take steps to provide additional capital to improve rail services in London and the South-East.

Mr. Fowler

Almost a quarter of British Rail's investment programme is being devoted to London's commuter network, enabling major improvements to be made. The board decides its priorities within the investment ceiling, which, as I have already said, has not been reduced.

Mr. Dobson

As the Minister has not approved a capital application from British Rail since May of this year, does he accept as a plain fact that it is simply claptrap for him to talk about retaining or improving the services in the South-Eastern region unless the Government do their duty and provide public funds for capital investment?

Mr. Fowler

What the hon. Gentleman has said turns the true position on its head. He cannot have been listening to what I said. The Government are financing a rolling programme of 220 EMUs. The investment level that the Government are working to is exactly the same as the one that the last Labour Government worked to, updated in real terms.

Mr. Sims

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, far from improving rail services, British Rail is planning to reduce the quality of service in the London suburbs? Does he agree that it does not make sense to propose to close down suburban stations in the evening—stations which are often unmanned in any event—and that this will produce minimal economies but cause the maximum of inconvenience?

Mr. Fowler

I have just been given the press notice from the board, which says: The fall in demand and excess capacity together mean that, like any other business, the railway must take action to bring supply more into line with demand. Clearly, that will affect passengers, and to that extent I regret it. But, like any other business, British Rail must live within its budget.

Mr. Pavitt

Following the last question, will the right hon. Gentleman at least examine the Broad Street-Richmond line, which serves my constituency, and find the small amount of cash necessary to keep the stations open after 7 o'clock at night? Is it not a scandal, in view of the great congestion of roads in North-West London, that this major line will be closed from 7 o'clock in the evening?

Mr. Fowler

My hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary knows that line. I shall look at the position, But I do not want to interfere with the management decisions of British Rail.

Mr. Forman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the short-haul commuter services provide a much-needed social service for many of my constituents? Will he press the British Railways Board to reconsider the way in which it proposes to deal with the matter, in view of the threat to the ordinary lifestyle of many of my constituents?

Mr. Fowler

There is a duty on the board, and I am not prepared to make promises about what I can achieve with the board on this matter when what it is saying is that it is seeking to match supply and demand. That is something that any business must do. I shall, of course, talk to the chairman about the position, but I must repeat that British Rail must live within its budget.

Mr. Prescott

Is the Minister aware that the report of the Monopolies and Merges Commission on South-Eastern services made it clear that productivity improvements would not be enough to meet the problems of reducing services? If the right hon. Gentleman believes that the demand is falling and that British Rail will have to adjust to that, does he maintain the commitment that the wholesale closure of lines will not take place at the present level of investment?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir. I keep to the commitment that the wholesale closure of lines will not take place. It is not I who am saying that there is a fall in demand and excess capacity; I was reading from a statement by British Rail that was issued today.

Mr. Cohen

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not discourteous to the House that, in answer to a question, the Minister did not give a ministerial answer but quoted from a press notice? We are entitled—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall make a ruling about points of order on questions at the end of Question Time.