HC Deb 06 February 1984 vol 53 cc586-8
5. Mr. Corbett

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next plans to meet the chairman of British Rail; and what subjects he proposes to discuss.

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

I shall be meeting the chairman of British Rail later this week to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Mr. Corbett

Will the Secretary of State tell the chairman that he does not think much of his attempts to muzzle the criticism of railway managers about the appalling level of investment in the industry? Does he not accept that it is ludicrous to claim that the railways have enough investment, when he has lopped £200 million off what they wanted, and when in 1981–82 the British Railways Board called for more investment? Does he accept that hon. Members, the railway unions and the travelling public know that more investment is needed for a proper service, and that we shall go on arguing that case?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The external financing limit, at £953 million this year, is unlikely to be reached by the railways. The level for next year, of £936 million, is exactly what British Rail asked for. We have not reduced the figure it sought. With regard to the future, the hon. Gentleman can be assured that there is no constraint upon investment by BR provided that that investment is viable.

Dr. Mawhinney

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to reach agreement with the chairman of British Rail, and quickly deal with any obstacles that may remain, so that the electrification of the east coast line can proceed as quickly as possible?

Mr. Ridley

I am still awaiting the final details of the inter-city strategy, which it is necessary to have before we can take a decision on the east coast main line electrification project. As soon as we receive them we shall move as speedily as possible to a decision.

Mr. Pavitt

When the right hon. Gentleman meets the chairman of British Rail, will he undertake, if the subject of the possible change of the Marylebone railway to an express bus route is discussed, to receive at the same time a deputation, led by me, of the transport committee of the London borough of Brent, because its roads and services would be badly affected?

Mr. Ridley

The first question in relation to Marylebone will be whether British Rail puts in an application to close the station and the line, in which case the matter will probably come to me on appeal. Therefore, it would be wrong for me to say anything in advance of those submissions. However, I am always absolutely delighted to see the hon. Gentleman and his friends on any subject at any time.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is my right hon. Friend aware of any intention by British Rail to promote a private Member's Bill for the construction of a rail link to Stansted, ahead of any decision by the Government to develop that airport further?

Mr. Ridley

I am surrounded by such questions. I would be in a quasi-judicial position if I answered them. I cannot comment on anything to do with Stansted either. However, I confirm to my hon. Friend that no such application has reached me.

Mr. Ron Lewis

In view of the letter which the chairman of the British Railways Board is supposed to have sent to the top brass and others, when the Secretary of State meets the chairman this week will he tell him that his services are no longer required because he has let the railways and railwaymen down?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman does less than justice to the chairman of British Rail. He has done a remarkable job since becoming chairman to pull the railway together and to improve its efficiency without restricting services in any way. The hon. Gentleman would further his cause a little better if he stopped taking such a negative and critical attitude.

Mr. Soames

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of British Rail, will he congratulate him on the excellent investment that is being made in the Gatwick line? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that that investment will be able to continue further down the line in future?

Mr. Ridley

I shall be happy to pass on my hon. Friend's congratulations. Considerable efforts have been put into improving the service to Gatwick in every respect. As for further down the line, I suggest that my hon. Friend writes to the chairman. Especially after the kind words that he has said about him today, he might give my hon. Friend a favourable answer.

Mr. Snape

With regard to the original question whether the chairman of British Rail was right to attempt, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said, to muzzle railway management, will the Secretary of State concede that Mr. Bob Reid has been a senior executive of British Rail for many years and presumably put his name to the 1981–82 corporate plan, which demanded more investment, and that for him now to say that there is sufficient investment in the railways shows that either he did not do his sums properly in the first place, or that kowtowing to the right hon. Gentleman is one of his conditions or terms of employment?

Mr. Ridley

That allegation is also totally unworthy. It is not necessarily the case that the more investment the better. The hon. Gentleman should cast his mind back to ground nuts. That was not necessarily a good thing. The investment with which the railways have been provided under the Government and the investment that it wants for the future will be provided, provided that the investment is sound.

Forward to