HC Deb 02 December 1985 vol 88 cc1-3
1. Mr. Gregory

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many major investment applications by British Rail he has approved over the past year.

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

Since 2 December last year we have approved seven major investment applications worth £272 million in all.

Mr. Gregory

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that impressive record, which clearly gives the lie to Opposition parties who suggest that we are not investing in the infrastructure. Has my right hon. Friend refused any applications during the period under consideration?

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks and I agree that British Rail is going through a high-level investment period, with beneficial results. I have not refused any schemes that BR has put forward, but two schemes—the Bournemouth-Weymouth electrification and the Stansted airport rail link—are still under consideration.

Mrs. Beckett

Will the Secretary of State tell the work force and management of British Rail Engineering Ltd. how they can sensibly plan to fall in line with these investment decisions when they can beat the competition hollow yet still see that competition win the contracts that BREL should have?

Mr. Ridley

The winner of any competitive bid is decided by British Rail, and the hon. Lady should address her inquiries to BR. I do not see any harm in keen competition developing to supply the railways. It means that we shall get better and cheaper stock.

Mr. Adley

While perhaps sharing with the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) the view that the railways face unfair criticism in terms of safety and in some other respects, is it not a fact that my right hon. Friend's record on rail investment is impeccable? Indeed, is it not a fact that that record is the best of any Government for the past 20 years? Will he continue to keep me happy by giving an early yes to British Rail about the Dorset electrification to which he referred?

Mr. Ridley

I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that my record is impeccable on all transport matters. I am delighted to accept that the Government have endorsed a high level of investment in BR. I shall not be able to give my hon. Friend an answer about Bournemouth-Weymouth until the studies have been completed.

Mr. Madden

While I am in agreement with and welcome the electrification of the east coast main line, does the Secretary of State appreciate the widespread concern in Bradford about the refusal so far to electrify the line between Bradford and Leeds? Will he consider meeting representatives of Bradford city council on the matter? Will he read the report recently published by the city council and British Rail and sympathetically consider the proposal? Is he aware that if it does not proceed the efforts of the city to overcome the unemployment and economic crises facing it will be that much harder?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman knows that either I or another Minister will always meet hon. Members who wish to see us. Investment in the railways is decided not by political pressure but by whether the investment makes good sense in terms of the return that is likely from it.

Mr. Coombs

Will my right hon. Friend explain why this investment has meant the inevitable closure of the Swindon railway works in my constituency—[Interruption.] For the benefit of Opposition Members who still fail to understand the point, will he confirm that even if all the investment to which he referred had been awarded in the form of contracts to BREL, it would still not have made any difference to the Swindon works?

Mr. Ridley

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that there are growing signs that British Rail Engineering Limited is likely to begin obtaining substantial orders overseas. It has already obtained some. I think that there is still much business to be hoped for. It should be able to compete for and win orders in world markets as well as in domestic markets. A high level of investment in British Rail has the effect of reducing the need for maintenance and repair, because the new stock is better built, lasts longer and requires less maintenance. Indeed, that is why some of BREL's workshops have had to be slimmed down or closed. The higher the level of investment in the railways, the more that has tended to happen.

Mr. Snape

Will the Secretary of State accept that the recently announced British Rail fare increase of between 8 and 10 per cent. is higher than the rate of inflation, that the workers at Swindon and York could well be employed in building rolling stock for BREL and thereby improve the quality of cross-country rail travel, and that, instead of listening to some of his Back Benchers, who are more anxious to curry favour than to defend the interests of their constituents, he should talk to regular passengers, who are fed up to the teeth with paying higher fares for a declining service?

Mr. Ridley

I do not quite know what the hon. Gentleman can mean by that, since BREL has already won orders to build 170 DMUs and 184 EMUs, and the amount of work at York is certain to keep the staff occupied for at least two years.

There is no question but that the Government's high investment policy is providing jobs for newbuild in BREL, but, as the hon. Gentleman seems to be completely incapable of understanding, the result is that there is less repair and maintenance work, such as was carried out at Swindon.

Mr. Pawsey

Is my right hon. Friend able to say how much of the £272 million is being spent on rolling stock, particularly passenger rolling stock? Could he also say how much of that investment is likely to find itself on the London Midland region?

Mr. Ridley

In reply to my hon. Friend's first question, in the past 18 months, £590 million has been spent by British Rail on investment. Nearly half, £272 million, was devoted to passenger rolling stock. I cannot give details of stock to be used on the line that my hon. Friend mentioned, but I will ask the chairman to give my hon. Friend the information that he seeks.