HC Deb 25 February 1981 vol 999 cc874-5
17. Mr. Fitch

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has any further plans to increase transport investment.

Mr. Fowler

My plans for transport investment will be published next month in the public expenditure White Paper.

Mr. Fitch

Will the Minister include in his proposals financial support for the 225 route from Orrell to Bolton?

Mr. Fowler

The 225 route is a local government road. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about it. I was deprived of the opportunity of giving him a substantive reply last night in his Adjournment debate.

Mr. Foster

Has the Secretary of State seen the reports of the statement by the manager of the Eastern region of British Rail to the effect that, inevitably, over the next 10 years, 34 branch and rural lines will close unless further investment takes place? Is it not true that trains and track urgently need replacing? Its it not also true that the public service obligation has reduced in real terms since the right hon. Gentleman came into office? What does he intend to do about it?

Mr. Fowler

I have seen the statement to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I am bound to tell him that there are a number of notable inaccuracies in that statement. The passenger manager, Mr. Patteson, says that support from the taxpayer was less in 1979 than in 1975. If, by that, he means passenger support, which is the support that the Government give, he is totally incorrect. I do not believe that he has set out a fair or objective statement. I shall be making a full response to the passenger manager's statement.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that capital investment is extremely good for employment? Will he indicate what priority he gives, for instance, to aiding British Rail or the other projects that have been submitted to him to proceed with the Channel tunnel? Does he further agree that this would undoubtedly provide the hard-pressed construction industry with valuable work and reduce unemployment in that industry?

Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend is right to concentrate on, and to stress the importance of the Channel tunnel. The Government have tried to get the tunnel programme moving again with the aid of private investment. This is a matter that the Government should be examining at this time. If we can get private investment and private risk-taking into this area, we can get some of the investment that this country so badly needs.

Mr. Cook

Has the Secretary of State noted the interesting initiative of the steel workers, the mineworkers and the railwaymen to press jointly for increased investment in their industries? Has he noted that, since those initiatives, his colleagues have announced substantially greater funds for the mines and the steel industry? When does he hope to come to the House to announce proposals for increased funds for the railways?

Mr. Fowler

I am seeing representatives of the rail unions and the other two unions—the triple alliance to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I do not think that if I were the hon. Gentleman I would jump to any conclusions just yet.