HC Deb 10 February 1992 vol 203 cc638-40
2. Mr. McCartney

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he will next meet the chairman of British Rail to discuss the future development of rail services in the north-west region.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I regularly meet the chairman to discuss current issues. I attended a meeting on 9 December last year of the north-west local authorities to discuss transport issues in the north-west.

Mr. McCartney

Will the Minister of State confirm today the Government's unwillingness to provide the £800 million necessary to upgrade the north-west main line link to ensure through trains to the channel tunnel and the continent, as requested by business men in the north-west? If he can confirm that, is he prepared to allow British Rail an arrangement similar to that agreed last December with the TGV for a leasing arrangement so that British Rail can get on with upgrading track and machinery to ensure that the north-west can take advantage of the channel tunnel link?

Mr. Freeman

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that all three types of channel tunnel trains have been ordered—the inter-capital trains between London, Paris and Brussels; the night trains that will run up through the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and the day trains north of London. They are being purchased for cash—

Mr. Prescott

They are leased.

Mr. Freeman

That is because the purchase is being made with other countries. British Rail is leasing the deep-sea container wagons.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I am delighted to know how many trains have been ordered. However, it seems to me sometimes that discussions with British Rail are like the chicken-and-egg when it comes to places like Lancaster. British Rail wants us to prove that there are passengers before the trains are run. How on earth can we plan ahead if we do not know whether trains will be there? I hope that BR will have a little faith in the rapidly expanding business in the north-west—we are doing remarkably well up there—and show that faith by allowing more trains to stop at Lancaster.

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend will know that BR has plans to re-equip the InterCity service on the west coast main line. I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) on the Opposition Front Bench would share the view that InterCity services are commercial and should remain unsubsidised.

Mr. Fearn

When the Minister next meets the chairman of British Rail, will he discuss the fact that BR is about to reduce the InterCity service by 30 per cent? Cutting the trains by 30 per cent. will have a disastrous effect on the north-west. Does he agree that industry, and in particular the tourist industry, will suffer if that happens? Does he also agree that the resort of Southport along with Preston and Liverpool may suffer because of that?

Mr. Freeman

The exact timing of InterCity services is a matter for BR and not for Ministers. However. BR's investment programme under this Government has been significant. Investment is up 85 per cent. BR's investment programme is the highest for 30 years. Under Labour, BR's investment fell between 1964 and 1970 and rose by only a very small percentage between 1974 and 1979.

Mr. Burt

Will my hon. Friend congratulate all those involved with the east Lancashire railway which, with the help of £1 million worth of derelict land grant from the Government, recently concluded a deal with BR to ensure a link between its own successful enterprise and the main rail network? With the anticipated completion of the metro light rapid transit link to Bury, does he agree that the future for rail lovers and rail transport services in my constituency is very good indeed?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government have provided section 56 grant and credit approval cover to the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority for completion of the Manchester metrolink. That is solid evidence of the Government's support for urban transport schemes.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Minister aware that unless the Government take action before the general election it is likely that France will have a very large transit point on its side of the channel while on the British side there will be very little planning either for modernised rail services from London to the north-west or around London, which is vital for the north-west? If there is even further privatisation, the north-west will be left with an inferior service and very little advantage to the channel tunnel.

Mr. Freeman

British Rail's plans for channel tunnel services when they open in late summer of next year are totally financed and well advanced. If the hon. Lady's colleagues were to form the Government after the next election, the first step that they would take would be to postpone the decision on the channel tunnel rail link by setting up a commission to take six months to review a decision that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has already taken.