HC Deb 09 April 1984 vol 58 cc3-4
3. Mr. Prescott

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is the total amount of investment in British Rail sanctioned by the Government since May 1979; what is the total amount of investment withdrawn by the board, excluding the advanced passenger train; and what amount of investment he has presently before him for consideration.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

The Government have sanctioned well over £2,000 million for British Rail's investment programmes. BR has withdrawn requests for approval of specific projects worth about £300 million. The only project currently before me is electrification of the east coast main line, worth £240 million.

Mr. Prescott

Will the Secretary of State now recognise that over one third of the investment that has been withdrawn by British Rail, according to its request, has exposed it to the charge that it has sufficient funds? Will he now accept that the British Rail system is under-invested and under-funded compared with Europe, and that this is likely to lead to a reduction of 3,000 miles of track, as suggested in the 1983 report? Is it not time that he ended his complicity with the British Rail management and looked to the support of the railway system?

Mr. Ridley

I am very happy with my relationship with British Rail whereby any investment projects that it proposes are approved or refused very quickly. That has enabled British Rail to proceed without delay with all the viable investments that it wants to make. The fact that BR is not investing more is not a sign of absence of virility. Investment is proper to be made only when a viable project is identified which can benefit from investment.

Mr. Haselhurst

Does not the fact that the Government have been willing to sanction electrification of a number of rail lines, including in particular the Cambridge and Norwich lines, presage an altogether happy future for the modernisation and electrification of British Rail?

Mr. Ridley

Whenever a good case is put to us for investment by British Rail, as on the Cambridge line, to which my hon. Friend rightly refers, we deal with it as quickly as possible. I think he will agree that, in that case the decision was right and was speedily arrived at.

Mrs. Beckett

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that it is widely believed, not only in British Rail but by people interested in transport, that he has brought pressure to bear on BR to withdraw some of the projects that it had put forward previously, projects that it had defended over the years? Does he not accept that most people believe that his complicity with British Rail, to which he referred so complacently earlier, is leading to the rundown of our rail system?

Mr. Ridley

If it is widely believed, it had better be quickly widely disbelieved, because it is not true.

Mr. Soames

Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that many of my constituents are delighted with and congratulate British Rail on the very substantial investment that it has made on the Victoria to Gatwick line? Many hon. Members are very grateful for the services provided by British Rail and much enjoy travelling on them.

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He brings up another example of a major investment speedily agreed to, to the benefit of travellers to Gatwick. My two hon. Friends seem to me to speak the truth about this matter. Opposition Members are simply lamenting that what they thought was a good case has ceased to be one. I am very sorry for them, but I cannot help them.

Mr. Ron Lewis

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House the complete list of electrification schemes submitted by British Rail and say what pressure he has brought to bear on British Rail to withdraw those schemes that he has mentioned?

Mr. Ridley

I have the complete list before me, but it would take a long time to read out all the investment approvals that we have had, particularly for electrification. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has had the list. If the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) wishes me to send him the full list, I shall make sure that he gets it.