HC Deb 29 June 1987 vol 118 cc241-2
6. Dr. Moonie

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with the chairman of British Rail about the electrification of the east coast mainline north of Edinburgh.

Mr. David Mitchell

None, Sir.

Dr. Moonie

What assurance can the Minister give for the future development of rail services north of Edinburgh?

Mr. Mitchell

Rail services north of Edinburgh, among other places including Aberdeen, are currently served by the superb HST125 services which now operate on the east coast main line, with a number of them going well north of Edinburgh. As to the form of traction on those routes in future, it is a matter for British Rail to bring forward proposals such as it thinks fit. It is not for Ministers to interfere or to initiate. British Rail proposes, Ministers dispose.

Mr. Adley

Nevertheless, following the point made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), does my hon. Friend agree that the Government would be doing nothing less than their national duty if they assisted British Rail to recognise that commercial criteria are not the only criteria by which new electrification schemes should be judged?

Mr. Mitchell

Electrification schemes should be judged on whether they provide the quality of service required most economically. That is a matter for management, not for me.

Mr. Madden

Because of widespread concern about electrification north of Edinburgh, and indeed between Bradford and Leeds—

Mr. Speaker

Order: Let us confine it to north of Edinburgh.

Mr. Madden

Will the Minister, when he gets back to his office, telephone the chairman of British Rail and ask him when he is to meet deputations who want to discuss electrification schemes, especially as, over the past two years, the Minister has urged all and sundry in Bradford to ask for such meetings? It would greatly help if the Minister would put some pressure on other Ministers to agree to the meetings that he himself is proposing.

Mr. Mitchell

There are other senior staff in British Rail besides the chairman who have responsibilities in this respect. I think I am right in recalling that one such meeting has already been held.

Mr. Madden

indicated dissent.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head. If I am not correct, perhaps he will write to me with further details.

The electrification of the east coast main line as far as Leeds is a year ahead of schedule. I expect it to commence services in October 1988. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in congratulating British Rail on that achievement.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the Minister agree that his dictum that British Rail proposes and he disposes is not the whole of the story? Is it not true that he also encourages and discourages? In that event, will he encourage British Rail at least to do a feasibility study of electrification north of Edinburgh?

Mr. Mitchell

The House and the hon. Gentleman well know that I have encouraged British Rail to bring forward viable investment propositions. Indeed, I have a track record of approving them, and approving them in a quick and businesslike way, which would be the envy of any of his predecessors in Labour Governments.

The electrification approvals that were given between 1974 and 1979 amounted to £71 million; and between 1979 and 1987 they amounted to £474 million. When the hon. Gentleman can emulate our record, I am sure that he will be very pleased with himself.