HC Deb 01 July 1981 vol 7 cc851-2
4. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what percentage of British Railways' operating costs is represented by Government subsidies.

Mr. Fowler

In 1980, British Rail received £591 million from the Government in support payments and £57.8 million from PTEs. That represents 29 per cent. of rail operating expenditure.

Mr. McCrindle

On the relationship of the Government to British Rail, while I wholly welcome the electrification programme announced recently, is it not a fact that unless there is a substantial investment programme over the next 10 years to replace signalling and track, about 15 per cent. of British rail services, including especially the commuter services around London, will become unusable? Are these facts being taken into account in all the difficult negotiations which the Secretary of State is undertaking in relation to British Rail?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir. They are being taken very much into account. Investment is one side, and we have shown already that some improvements can be made without extra investment. But I should like to see dealt with the investment needs about which my hon. Friend talks. However, I emphasise that we must deal with the problems of productivity and efficiency as well.

Mr. Dobson

Since the right hon. Gentleman is so smart at quoting European comparisons, will he give us comparisons on operating subsidies between British Rail and the French and German railways?

Mr. Fowler

There is no doubt that the operating subsidies in both France and Germany are greater than they are here. However, it is up to the Opposition Front Bench to say whether it thinks that that is a policy which is worth pursuing.

Mr. Prescott


Mr. Fowler

The way that I put it is that the British taxpayer has a more cost-effective deal from the railways than is the case in either of those two countries.

Mr. Adley

Will not my right hon. Friend accept that it is a significant statistic that British Rail covers a far higher proportion of its operating costs with fares than do other European railways? Does not he agree that quoting statistics, as he did in reply to the last question, takes no account of the enormous density of traffic on our commuter and suburban routes, compared, for instance, with Switzerland? Can my right hon. Friend say when anyone asked him to provide a statistic showing how much subsidy or profit the M4 or the M6 motorways made last year?

Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend would do well to listen to my answers. I was answering a question on freight services, not commuter services. I might also point out to my hon. Friend when, by implication, he criticises what I say about the efficiency and productivity of British Rail, that I am echoing what the chairman and board of British Rail are saying.

Mr. Newens

Is it not fair to recognise that a great deal of public money is going into road communications as well as into the railways and that when people criticise developments on the railways they could equally criticise investment in roads? If we are to have a decent system of communications we need a great deal more investment in our railways for commuter services and many other purposes, as well as in roads.

Mr. Fowler

I reminded the House just now that the external finance limit for British Rail this year is £920 million. That is a substantial sum. It must be pointed out that over the last decade road investment has been virtually halved, and that that was done by the last Government.