HC Deb 28 January 1981 vol 997 cc920-1
16. Mr. Leadbitter

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on safety standards performance in British Railways operations within the context of the investment programme and the current financial provisions.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I am glad to tell the House that the provisional results show that in 1980, for the third time in five years, not a single passenger was killed in a train accident. The incidence of potentially serious accidents was the lowest ever recorded. This is a fine achievement, on which I congratulate all concerned.

Mr. Leadbitter

Does the Under-Secretary recognise that my question refers to safety in relation to investment and financial provision? Is not the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that Sir Peter Parker has expressed the gravest concern? Is not the hon. and learned Gentleman further aware that as recently as yesterday, the Newcastle divisional manager of British Rail addressed Members of Parliament representing northern constituencies and said that there was a desperate need for more investment in order to catch up with the backlog of work on both track and equipment? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman realise that the general secretaries of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen and of the National Union of Railwaymen have expressed concern? Will he respond?

Mr. Clarke

In reply to other questions my right hon. Friend stressed the importance that he attaches to investment in the railways and to the way in which we have maintained the investment ceilings at previous levels despite the economic crisis. We have taken track renewal out of those investment ceilings. Of course, we are anxious that investment should continue to maintain this satisfying high level of safety on our railway network.

Mr. Flannery

Despite the fact that British Rail has a proud record—I believe the best in the world—for safety, is the Under-Secretary aware that many of the lines are in great difficulties? For example, the Sheffield to St. Prancras line is a disgrace. Trains are late and lack refreshment facilities, and so on. Is not lack of investment bound to make the situation more difficult? Ultimately, will it not have some effect on safety standards?

Mr. Clarke

My constituents and I use the line from Nottingham, Midland to St. Pancras, which involves the same route as the hon. Gentleman mentions. My right hon. Friend has just announced that he is about to publish the results of the electrification survey, which was carried out by British Rail and our Department. That will have a bearing on the future modernisation of the line from Sheffield to St. Prancras.

Mr. Bagier

Although the House welcomes the fact that British Rail has that safety record, is not some of the track in great need of repair and of the finance to carry that out? As we were told yesterday, the Eastern region still has 416 miles of jointed track with wooden sleepers. Many of those sleepers are rotting away. In addition, 63 speed restrictions are in operation on those sections of the line. Does not that call for the Government to make desperate attempts to find finance to speed up safety measures?

Mr. Clarke

As I said, we have taken track renewal out of the investment ceiling. We have also had reports from British Rail about its track maintenance needs and the present state of the track. My right hon. Friend intends to discuss this matter with the Rail Council tomorrow. We are satisfied that within the range of resources that are realistically attainable it will be possible to maintain our rail system to the standard that we all desire.