HC Deb 20 June 1988 vol 135 cc826-7
2. Mr. Fearn

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his Department's policy towards quantifying the relative environmental, energy and safety advantages of rail transport and road transport in formulating transport policy.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

The Government's policy is to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness by increasing choice and competition and by removing distortions between transport modes so far as possible.

Mr. Fearn

Is the Minister aware that some local authorities are now conducting studies to bring back rail links that were cut in the Beeching era? They include West Lancashire, Sefton and Lancashire county councils. If the hon. Gentleman is aware that they are endeavouring to carry out such studies, will the Government help with these initiatives, and if so, how?

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman is referring to the Burscough curves, which are the subject of a report that has been commissioned by the Lancashire county council from British Rail. The first part of that report has been delivered and the balance will be delivered early next month. It is a matter between British Rail and Lancashire county council.

Mr. Adley

Does my hon. Friend recall telling me some time ago that he was satisfied that the investment criteria for rail were the same in this country as in France'? May I assume that he has studied article 14 of chapter 3 of the French Internal Transport Act 1982, with its stress on social and environmental issues as major factors in decisions on rail investment? How does he square his statement with that legislation?

Mr. Mitchell

If my hon. Friend looks carefully, he will see that on that occasion I was referring to the TGV line which is proposed from Paris to the Channel tunnel mouth and to the Belgian border. It is a requirement of the French Government that it should be a commercially viable proposition.

Mr. Cousins

Does the Minister agree that the advantages of rail depend upon long hauls without transhipment and without delay? In that respect, why does he not commit himself to through travel from the north of England to Europe via the Channel tunnel with customs clearance en route for both freight and people?

Mr. Mitchell

That is a requirement of the Act for people and it will be implemented in due course. Under section 40 of the Act, British Rail has embarked on a series of consultations designed to discover the best places for assembling freight for the very purpose about which the hon. Gentleman speaks.

Mr. Key

Will my hon. Friend look carefully at the complex decision-making processes of investment in British Rail, such as apply to the line from Waterloo to Exeter via Salisbury? Is he aware that I and some of my hon. Friends discussed this matter with British Rail and were astonished to discover that when considering matters such as double tracking British Rail is not required to undergo any kind of cost-benefit analysis for investment criteria?

Mr. Mitchell

I agree with my hon. Friend. Like him, I have a constituency interest in the circumstances affecting that line, which is below the standard that British Rail wishes to achieve. I am assured that an investment proposal will be put to me later this year. I look forward to it and hope that it will arrive as quickly as possible.

Mr. Snape

Does the Minister accept that if environmental, energy and safety advantages of rail transport were accepted we would have a railway system as well financed as that in the rest of Europe? As our railways suffer from a supine and incompetent management, and a sponsoring Department that is largely indifferent to rail's advantages, the Minister's Department will continue to squander billions of pounds on supposed road improvements which will have the effect of moving a traffic jam a few miles further up the road.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman alleges that the environmental benefits are not recognised by the Government. They are recognised through section 8 freight facilities grants. Rail transport can bring substantial environmental benefits, and section 8 is designed to get regular flows of unsuitable goods off the roads. Since 1983 there have been 62 grants worth over £26 million, and they have removed about 1 million lorry journeys a year off the roads. That is worth while and is an example of our recognition.