HC Deb 25 November 1981 vol 13 cc876-7
10. Mr. Straw

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the investment programme for the replacement by British Railways of the current diesel multiple unit fleet.

Mr. David Howell

I expect to receive proposals from the British Railways Board early next year for the construction of replacement diesel multiple units.

Mr. Straw

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while he has been passing the buck on this and other investment plans the diesel multiple unit fleet, already 25 years old in many areas, has been deteriorating further? Is he further aware that unless more cash is given urgently to replace these fleets the services that they cover will simply grind into the dust? How much money will be made available to enable British Rail to replace these DMUs?

Mr. Howell

The hon. Gentleman talked about passing the buck, but British Rail has been trying out prototypes. When it reaches a conclusion, it will make a submission and the matter will then come before Government. That is the reality of the matter. It is not a case of passing the buck. The hon. Gentleman and many of his hon. Friends spend so much time selling British Rail short and emphasising how difficult things are that they forget that considerable investment is taking place through partnership between the Government and the British Rail management and unions. We would do better if we heard a little more of the positive side and less of the constant and inaccurate criticism.

Mr. Hicks

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the railbus would be a meaningful and effective investment, and could help reduce the operating costs of the DMUs on branch lines in rural areas?

Mr. Howell

The railbus is an interesting development. I am convinced that the best future for the branch lines lies in low-cost developments and operations of this kind.

Mr. Booth

How can British Rail make a sensible proposal on the size and design of future DMU stock unless it knows what option will ultimately be chosen by the Government for main line electrification? Obviously, that option controls British Rail's ability to cascade main line diesel locos on to feeder lines. It also controls the number of lines on which British Rail will have to run DMUs in future.

Mr. Howell

There is some validity in the right hon. Gentleman's comment. However, British Rail has been trying out prototypes. No doubt it will make a submission soon. When it does, decisions will have to be taken.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that this programme of replacing obsolete units is not carried through by transferring those units to the lines serving North Wales?

Mr. Howell


Mr. Cook

Will the right hon. Gentleman respond to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth)? It is impossible for British Rail to know how many DMUs it requires until it knows how many track miles will be electrified. With that in mind, will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question that he previously avoided? Why can he not now give a decision on the East Anglia electrification—a decision that has been required for two years—when the whole point of his predecessor's statement was that each case would be judged on its merits?

Mr. Howell

I am replying to a question about DMUs. Other questions appear on the Order Paper relating to broader matters. In this case, the issue is the type of DMU that should be ordered by British Rail. British Rail must first reach that decision before making proposals for the amount that it would like to order.