HC Deb 25 February 1981 vol 999 cc866-7
8. Ron

Lewis asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has had any proposals put to him for the closure of rail services.

Mr. Fowler

British Rail has made proposals for the closure of two passenger services in passenger transport excutive areas, one following the withdrawal of PTE support; and three other proposals, involving the termination of a short shuttle, the closure of a station in south London and the re-routeing of some services in East Anglia. London Transport has also put forward one closure proposal.

Mr. Lewis

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that British Railways are forecasting about 3,000 miles of track closure by 1990, unless more investment is forthcoming? How does the right hon. Gentleman expect to live up to his earlier reputation and assurances of no substantial cuts in British Rail services unless he makes more money available for investment?

Mr. Fowler

We are talking about expenditure of less than £20 million a year on the 3,000 miles that the hon. Gentleman mentions. That comes within the £1,850 million budget of British Railways. With collect and deliver parcels British Rail is losing £40 million a year. There is considerable scope for providing the sort of investment of which the hon. Gentleman speaks. That is clearly one of the things that we want to achieve.

Mr. Iain Mills

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there has recently been speculation about widespread closures and, if possible, deny such speculation?

Mr. Fowler

The Government's policy on this matter has not changed in any way. We are not prepared to see the sort of Beeching cuts that took place in the 1960s. That decision rests with me and I am glad to affirm it.

Mr. Beith

Does the Minister realise that British Railways have warned the local authorities quite specifically about a number of lines that they will not be able to maintain if they have no additional investment? Is he aware that those lines include the Newcastle to Edinburgh local services? Does he share the fears of British Railways?

Mr. Fowler

I imagine that those lines are within the 3,000 miles mentioned by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis). I understand the fears. There are ways in which we can find the investment within the existing provision. I shall talk to British Railways about that. It is part of the whole review of British Rail policy that we are conducting.

Mr. Snape

Will the Minister consider the future of the Manchester-Sheffield-Wath electrified line scheduled for closure on 1 June this year? Will he, even at this late stage, agree to an independent public inquiry to investigate the future of that line, bearing in mind that a precedent was set some years ago when one of his predecessors set up a public inquiry into the future of the Waterford-Fishguard steamer freight-only service? Does the Minister agree that it is not good enough for him to say that the matter does not concern him?

Mr. Fowler

I understand the concern about the matter. The public must be clear that this is a freight line and not a passenger service. British Rail must have total discretion. Closures will save British Rail £2½ million a year. That will be achieved without traffic loss. Given those figures and the present position, it is extremely difficult to argue with British Rail's judgment.

Mr. Stanbrook

Will my right Friend make a close study of any proposals from Southern region for the closure or rescheduling of commuter services in south-east London, where we have no alternative public transport facilities?

Mr. Fowler

All closure proposals have to come to me. There has to be a hearing of the Transport Users Consultative Committee; and, as a result, the committee makes proposals to me. It is in that context that a decision would be made.