HC Deb 05 November 1980 vol 991 cc1281-2
20. Mr. Cryer

asked the Minister of Transport when next he intends to meet the chairman of British Railways to discuss investment.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

My right hon. Friend has regular meetings with the Chairman of British Railways at which matters of policy and investment are discussed. He is meeting the chairman again in two weeks.

Mr. Cryer

Is not the reality that British Rail needs a great deal of investment to refurbish passenger and other rolling stock and railway equipment, that it is so short of cash that it is seeking to reduce the 11,000-mile passenger network and that already the Woodhead route is under scrutiny for closure? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that he will in no way insist to British Rail that investment must be reduced to increase productivity if safety standards will thereby be reduced?

Mr. Clarke

We have not reduced British Rail's investment ceiling. The investment ceiling must be related to the ability of the railway business to afford and make a contribution to it, and of the Government and the country to afford it.

As regards the closure of the Wood-head tunnel, the railway business will be in a better position to make a contribution to its own investment needs if it improves the financial performance of its business. A firm proposal has already been made to save £2½ million on operating costs, without any loss of traffic, and that seems to me to be very well founded.

Mr. Forman

I recognise the Government's efforts to defend British Rail's capital programme, but when my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of British Rail, will he urge him to give a higher priority in future capital investment to the needs of short-haul commuters, especially in London and the South-East, as these have been somewhat neglected in the interests of long-haul passengers?

Mr. Clarke

We have been looking at the problem in the light of the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. That report showed that about 23 per cent. of British Rail's capital programmes were being devoted to commuter services over the period 1970 to 1979. I hope that something of that level will be maintained.

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