HC Deb 28 January 1981 vol 997 cc907-8
1. Mr. Stott

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will estimate the value to the private sector of those outstanding British Railways investment proposals which are currently awaiting his agreement, in particular rail electrification in East Anglia, new signalling in the West of England and new Jumbo ferries.

6. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what investment provision he intends to make for British Railways.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Norman Fowler)

I have maintained the ceiling on investment at the level set by the last Government, that is, £325 million in 1980 survey prices. The estimated value to the private sector of the board's investment overall is 75 per cent to 80 per cent. The House will wish to know that I am today approving the important scheme for resignalling in the West of England. This project, which is estimated to cost £28 million, is another big step in modernising the passenger railway and will produce faster and more reliable rail travel to and from the South-West.

In addition, I have told the British Railways board that I welcome in principle the proposals for new train ferries. I hope that this can go ahead this year, but it is dependent on progress to recovery in the freight business. The electrification proposals in East Anglia were submitted in November and are still being studied.

Mr. Stott

We welcome the Secretary of State's proposals about the West of England electrification. Is he aware that the package of proposals is worth more than £50 million to the private sector? Is he further aware that the companies in the private sector are very anxious to get this business because they want to maintain their levels of employment? When will he announce that he intends to back British Rail's proposals and introduce this package of measures immediately?

Mr. Fowler

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have listened very hard to what I said. I have just told the House about the proposals. A decision can now be reached on the time scale. Those are the proposals on which I am making an announcement. I am sure that the private sector will welcome what I have said, as the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Minister note the comments in paragraph 30 of the last annual report of the chief inspector of railways, in which he expresses concern about the deterioration of maintenance standards due to British Railways' problems with the permanent way? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do about that? What does he intend to do about the deteriorating standard of British Railways' diesel multiple units? Is he aware that many branch line feeder services are experiencing an increasing rate of failure—for example, between Keighley and Leeds—due to the age of the stock and the difficulties of maintaining it?

Mr. Fowler

Obviously, we appreciate that British Rail has problems, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out. I remind him that the investment ceiling to which we are working is, in real terms, exactly the same as that set down by the previous Government, namely,£325 million per year. In that, there is a very substantial programme of building new vehicles. Track renewal, of course, is extra to the investment ceiling. A great deal of resources is therefore being devoted to British Rail. I think that anyone who looks at the facts will agree with that.

Mr. Neale

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the gratitude that will be felt in the West Country for his part in the efforts to improve passenger rail services to that part of the country, and also the great pleasure with which his announcement today will be received, in reaffirming his intentions for the West Country service?

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that both sides of the House would wish to welcome this important measure, because the improvements will help passenger services between Taunton, Exeter, Yeovil and Torbay. Moreover, some of the signalling equipment that we are replacing was installed 70 years ago.

Mr. Foster

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is wide agreement in the country at large that further investment in British Rail would be very wise and opportune, not only in electrification and in the replacement of DMUs, but in a wide range of other measures? Is this not just the kind of constructive intervention that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister keeps talking about?

Mr. Fowler

Again I remind the hon. Gentleman of what was announced a few moments ago. Of course, we accept that. But what the hon. Gentleman has to accept is that the kind of resources that we are making available are very substantial, and, as I have said, the investment ceiling has not been cut by this Government. It has been maintained in very difficult economic circumstances.