HC Deb 29 June 1987 vol 118 cc239-41
5. Mr. Evennett

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether there are any plans for further investment by Her Majesty's Government in the Network SouthEast of British Rail.

Mr. David Mitchell

It is for British Rail to bring forward investment projects.

Mr. Evennet

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, although I am a little disappointed with it. Is he aware of the aging stock in use on suburban services to my constituency of Erith and Crayford and of the growing anger and frustration of regular commuters at the decline in service on those routes?

Mr. Mitchell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to his particular anxieties. On Network SouthEast, British Rail's latest plans envisage spending no less than £969 million in the next five years on new rolling stock, signalling and electrification. The plans include a new design of electric multiple unit train—the Networker.

Mr. Spearing

Is it not true, however, that British Rail will only bring forward proposals agreed by him on some privately communicated criteria? Does he recall that a few months ago I asked whether he had been approached about the cross-rail project, a long standing British Rail project whereby, for a few miles of standard gauge tube tunnel, the mainline railways could be connected across London? Does he agree that that would bring dividends to London and to the community as a whole? Does he know of any reason why that plan should not be put to him formally?

Mr. Mitchell

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I do not interfere in the detailed operations of British Rail. If the proposition that he has in mind is so desirable and attractive, he should put it to British Rail, and if British Rail agrees I have no doubt that it will put the proposal to me.

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to suggest that I cook up with British Rail what will and what will not be accepted. In this context, I should point out that I turned down the Royston-Cambridge electrification proposal when it was first put up because it was not a viable proposition.

Mr. Steen


Mr. Speaker

I trust that the question is about the south-east, not the south-west.

Mr. Steen

Before any further investment is made in the south-east or anywhere else, will the Minister ensure that British Rail catering cars stock English mineral water, not just the French variety? What does he suppose the chairman of the French railways would say if he were instructed by the French Minister to stock exclusively English, not French, mineral water? Will the Minister speak to the chairman of British Rail about this?

Mr. Mitchell

In these commercial matters it is for British Rail to decide how to satisfy its customers, but, in view of my hon. Friend's vehemently expressed views, I shall draw the matter to the attention of the chairman of British Rail.

Mr. Snape

Will the investment proposals for Network SouthEast be subject to the same marketplace mechanism as proposals for other sectors of British Rail? If so, what consolation can he offer passengers on Network SouthEast and elsewhere who have to stand on one another's heads at great expense annually so that he can expound to the House the preposterous nonsense that he and the Department are in no way responsible for the congestion and overcrowding on Network SouthEast and elsewhere on our railway system?

Mr. Mitchell

The quality standards to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention have been accepted by the chairman of British Rail as those that can be reached within the financial targets set for British Rail. The standards that have been set are higher than they are now. Indeed, Network SouthEast has set particularly high quality standards for itself. For example, last year, in terms of punctuality, the standard was 91 per cent. of trains within 5 minutes. This year the figure is up to 93 per cent. I look forward to those standards rising even higher throughout the whole of Network SouthEast on average.

Mr. Gregory

Does my hon. Friend agree that greater resources would be available to Network SouthEast if it were to press ahead with the privatisation of Travellers Fare and with British Transport Advertising Ltd.? Will he discuss the matter with the chairman of British Rail at an early opportunity?

Mr. Mitchell

The matter of British Transport Advertising Ltd. is already proceeding. British Rail has been asked to ensure that the private sector is involved, wherever possible, in catering services.