HC Deb 24 October 1983 vol 47 cc5-6
6. Dr. Marek

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will announce his decisions on the Serpell report.

12. Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received concerning the Serpell report.

18. Mr. Kirkwood

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what further representations he has had on the Serpell report; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Mitchell

My right hon. Friend has today written to the chairman of the British Railways Board setting out the Government's objectives for the railways. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend will make a statement about this later today.

We have received a large number of representations about the Serpell report from hon. Members, the British Railways Board, the railway trade unions and others.

Dr. Marek

If the Minister agrees that both roads and railways have a part to play in serving the country, will he give an assurance that the development of the railway system will not suffer as a result of the building and development of the road system?

Mr. Mitchell

The railway system will be maintained according to the level of consumer demand. That is the overriding factor in the prosperity and success of the railways.

Mr. Madden

Will the Minister support bodies, such as Bradford district council, which oppose the butchery of the railway system? Will he accept that expansion of the railway system is vitally important in combating unemployment and in promoting economic recovery, tourism and other social factors? Will he also have a word with the courteous Neanderthal who has recently been appointed his boss and ensure that even courteous Neanderthals are prepared to consign the Serpell report to the wastebin of history?

Mr. Mitchell

It is unfortunate when hon. Members use inflammatory language such as butchery of the railway system in referring to the Government's position as it frightens many people unnecessarily, especially the elderly who have retired and rely upon the railway line in the district in which they live. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government have no programme of major route closures in mind.

Mr. Kirkwood

When the Minister receives views on the Serpell report from representative bodies, will he note the views of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), who said on 25 August when opening the Glasgow railcentre that the Government's view was that there would be no substantial cuts in the rail network?

Mr. Mitchell

I repeat what I have already said. The Government have no programme of major route closures in mind.

Mr. Fry

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind in determining his conclusions on the Serpell report that some of the hysterical opposition was deliberately whipped up pre-publication by the public relations advisors to British Rail, as was admitted in a recent article in The Sunday Times? Will he judge this issue on what is the best service to consumers rather than on any sectional interest, be it British Rail or any other?

Mr. Mitchell

When my right hon. Friend makes his statement, I think that my hon. Friend will be well satisfied.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Minister give an assurance that when the Secretary of State discusses the Serpell report and its recommendations with the chairman of British Rail the discussion of Government policy will not be restricted to the options contained in the report but that the Government will constructively and positively consider considerable public investment in the electrification of the railway to serve the next century?

Mr. Mitchell

Investment in the railways depends upon the projects concerned. If a viable proposition is proposed by British Rail, we shall be interested.

Mr. Harris

Will my hon. Friend reject wild allegations by Opposition Members about the butchery of the railways? Does my hon. Friend agree that, post-Serpell, the railways are being kept intact? Does he agree also that perhaps the Serpell report has done some damage by confusing options with proposals in the public's mind? In that context, may we have an assurance that services in the far west of England, for example, are absolutely safe, as has already been made clear in previous statements?

Mr. Mitchell

The diagrams attached to the Serpell report were for illustrative purposes. They were not part of the proposals by Serpell, in spite of what has been said in the campaign of distortion. They are not proposals by British Rail or by the Government. I am happy to give the assurance that no proposals which involve railway lines in my hon. Friend's constituency are in front of me.

Mr. Stott

I shall try not to use words such as "butchery", but will the Minister confirm what his predecessors have told the House—that the Government do not intend to reduce the existing 12,000 track miles? Does that remain the Government's policy today?

Mr. Mitchell

"We cannot expect that the network existing at the time of the 1974 Railway Act should remain unchanged for all time." The hon. Gentleman will recognise that extract from Labour's Programme 1982. We agree on this matter. There are no proposals for a savage cut in the route network.