HC Deb 14 March 1988 vol 129 cc845-7
7. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will set up an inquiry into the potential benefits of electrifying railway lines to south Wales and the west of England in the light of the Channel tunnel development.

Mr. David Mitchell

No. It is the responsibility of the British Railways Board to bring forward proposals for investment in the railways.

Mr. Flynn

Will the Minister confirm that under present plans there will be no possibility for the people of Wales or the west of England to have a direct rail link through to the continent of Europe after the Channel tunnel is constructed? Will he reconsider the possibility of such a link for the benefit of business, commercial affairs and tourism in south Wales? Is he content for the Channel tunnel to be a further deepening of the east-west divide between the claustrophic, overheated and overcrowded south-east of England and the vast acres of opportunity in Wales and the west of England, which increasingly will be on the periphery of the Common Market?

Mr. Mitchell

In parenthesis, I should say that I believe that TSB has moved from my constituency to the hon. Gentleman's, but I do not think that that is an exact illustration of the point that he is seeking to make.

Freight and overnight passenger services can be provided on non-electrified lines by changing the locomotive to go through the Channel tunnel. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is wrong to assume that that cannot be done.

Mr. Adley

Will my hon. Friend accept that the reality is that the British Government's attitude to electrification and investment in Channel tunnel-related expenditure is "How little can we get away with?", while the French Government's attitude for SNCF is "What do we need to make the most of this splendid facility?" Will my hon. Friend please do everything that he can to persuade his ministerial colleagues to change their attitudes? Is he aware that if he does not do so we shall find ourselves with a Cinderella railway on this side of the Channel and a modern railway on the other side?

Mr. Mitchell

The French and ourselves regard investment in Channel tunnel-related lines as a commercial matter. The French's line for the Channel tunnel will ride on the back of the expenditure on the Paris-Brussels-Cologne-Amsterdam line, as my hon. Friend will well know. We are investing roughly comparable amounts, when that is taken into account.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will my hon. Friend look at the electrification which has already been authorised by the Government for the line to Weymouth to ensure that British Rail uses that wonderful asset to the best advantage? It appears from BR's plans that it is looking backwards rather than forwards.

Mr. Mitchell

I was pleased to approve the electrification of the line to Weymouth. If my hon. Friend is not happy with the way in which British Rail proposes to manage that service, perhaps he will write to me.

Mr. Snape

Will the Minister concede that there must be a case for an inquiry into the electrification of British Rail nationally as a result of the Channel tunnel opening, the matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) referred? Does the Minister agree that if such an inquiry does not take place and, to adopt the phrase used by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), Britain remains the Cinderella of Europe because of its railways, the south of England in particular will drown under a tidal wave of largely foreign-built lorries and coaches?

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. As he well knows, British Rail expects more than 1,500 juggernaut-sized lorries a day to be taken off the roads and put on rail as a result of the Channel tunnel. Modern diesels have a similar performance to electrics. In any case, 20 electrification schemes have been approved since 1979, including the biggest that there has ever been on the east coast main line. If the hon. Gentleman wants to have it with both barrels, I should tell him that the average annual spend on electrification under this Government is £72 million, compared with only £41 million under the Labour Government.

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