HC Deb 06 February 1984 vol 53 cc588-9
7. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what were the amounts of Government subsidy to the British Railways Board for the years 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983, respectively.

Mr. David Mitchell

Central Government public service obligation grant was as follows: 1979, £485 million; 1980, £576 million; 1981, £749 million; 1982, £817 million; 1983, £819 million, subject to adjustment.

Mr. Flannery

When the Minister talks about the chairman of British Rail doing his best to pull the railways together, will he and his colleagues bear in mind that the attitude of the general public is that the chairman is doing his best to pull the railways apart? Is the Minister aware that, no matter how much it sounds as though investment is increasing, the reality is that lines are ready to close, people are fearful of their jobs, fewer trains run, there are fewer coaches per train and many lines such as that from St. Pancras to Sheffield are now regarded by railway men and the public as in grave danger of disappearing because of the Serpell report being introduced by the back door, the Bow group report which was published today and many other reports, which seem to be emerging simply to destroy our railways?

Mr. Mitchell

I resent the continuing attacks upon British Rail. Far from the chairman doing his best to pull the railways apart, the hon. Gentleman's constituents will find that no major changes in the timetable are anticipated this year and that there will be consolidation. Moreover, there have been substantial improvements as a result of the introduction of high-speed trains last year.

Mr. Gregory

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the British Railways Board has secured the right amount of external financing limit? Will my hon. Friend encourage the board to invest up to that level, which it has not done previously?

Mr. Mitchell

I do not expect that the external financing limit will impose any constraints on British Rail's investment intentions this year.

Mr. Maxton

Will the Minister tell British Rail that it must not go ahead with its proposal to close Ardrossan harbour station as that would clash very heavily with the Government's policy to help island communities? The closure of that station would adversely affect the tourist trade and local business men on the island of Arran.

Mr. Mitchell

I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's views to the attention of the chairman of British Rail.

Mr. Moate

Do not the figures that my hon. Friend has given indicate that, far from cutting the railways, the Government have increased support from the level of £485 million under a Labour Government to £819 million under this Government? Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to remind the Opposition that the railway mileage was cut far more dramatically under the last Labour Government than it ever was under a Conservative Government?

Mr. Mitchell

The increase in constant prices has been some £83 million since 1979. I can say to my hon. Friend that we do not regard subsidy as a virility symbol and we are delighted that British Rail anticipates being able to operate with less.

Mr. Prescott

Will the Minister, with some of his Back Benchers, look at the reality for British Rail, which is the adding together of its revenue returns and the PSO grants? If the hon. Gentleman adds those figures together he will realise the difficulty that British Rail has in raising sufficient money to meet its investment requirements. The EFL is not the requirement, it is the amount of money available for investment. That is the reality for British Rail, and it is about time the Government recognised it.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The problem is not the limitation on money, but finding viable investment projects that are worth while.