HC Deb 26 November 1990 vol 181 cc602-4
3. Sir Anthony Meyer

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the current rail electrification programme.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)

British Rail is making good progress with its electrification programme. The electrification of the east coast main line will be completed in late spring next year, and other projects such as Tonbridge-Redhill and Birmingham cross-city are being implemented.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Does my hon. Friend think that British Rail is responding with the necessary courage and imagination to the challenge and opportunities of the channel tunnel and 1992? In particular, is it considering the ultimate necessity for an electrified link all the way via north Wales to Ireland?

Mr. Freeman

I shall take the latter point first. It is for British Rail to come forward with investment propositions. We shall certainly look at InterCity propositions that are presented as being financially viable. The French Minister responsible for transport, to whom I recently spoke, said that when French railways appraises inter-city trains, it uses exactly the same basis as we use—the 8 per cent. financial rate of return. British Rail will invest some £1.4 billion to prepare this country for the opening of the channel tunnel. When it brings forward proposals for a high-speed rail link, the Government will look at them favourably, constructively and urgently.

Mr. Anderson

Is the Minister seriously saying that, for example, on the Paris to Strasbourg TGV route, French railways is employing the same restrictive criteria as British Rail? Surely it is the Government who are responsible for regional policy and who should therefore look at ways in which regional rail investment can be fitted into overall regional policy. Will the Minister look as positively as French railways at areas such as the south Wales route for electrification, to ensure that Britain can benefit from the channel tunnel?

Mr. Freeman

I confirm what I said earlier about the attitude and approach of French railways and the French Ministry of Transport to the provision of rail services between capitals. In terms of the basis of proposals for provincial services, the hon. Gentleman may know that only 50 per cent. of total rail investment over the next three years has had to meet the 8 per cent. real rate of return test. The other 50 per cent. has been justified for largely non-financial reasons. That is to say, it takes into account the benefits to non-users and, certainly, the economic and social benefits to the cities, regions and towns that such rail projects serve.

Sir Marcus Fox

In thanking my hon. Friend for his answer, may I tell him that there will be despair not just among my constituents but among those throughout the Bradford metropolitan area and all hon. Members involved if electrification stops at Leeds? If one city has benefited under the Government it is Bradford, and we need electrification to encourage the further development of a thriving economy.

Mr. Freeman

I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that the Government will reserve the appropriate resources to permit the electrification of the railway line between Leeds and Bradford and between Skipton and Likely. I am happy to confirm the electrification to my hon. Friend and to others who have pressed me on it—my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), for Keighley (Mr. Waller) and for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who is not in his place.

Mr. Speaker

Ms. Ruddock.

Ms. Ruddock

indicated dissent

Hon. Members

What about me?

Mr. Speaker

Then I definitely call Mr. Robert Hughes.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the Minister please get his facts right? The east coast main line electrification will not be completed at the time that he states, because it goes only as far as Edinburgh. There can be no confidence either in British Rail or in the Government if they persist with such misinformation, especially when British Rail is cutting services and seems to be about to cut freight services to Aberdeen.

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the advent of the electrification of the east coast main line to Edinburgh. That will cut substantially the journey time between London and Edinburgh. As I have told the hon. Gentleman before, it is for British Rail to present a case on the extension of the electrification of the line to Aberdeen. We shall look carefully at any case that it presents, but InterCity services must meet the test that I outlined of an 8 per cent. real rate of return. We shall look at other factors, including regional and social benefits and alleviation of congestion for services other than those that we call the commercial railway, and take them into account.