HC Deb 08 March 1993 vol 220 cc649-51
6. Sir Roger Moate

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received about the levels of investment in British Rail.

Mr. MacGregor

I have received several representations about the levels of investment in British Rail. This year is the highest in real terms since 1960.

Sir Roger Moate

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in contrast, the very worst years for railway investment were in the 1970s, under a Labour Government? Did not a Labour Government close more railway miles than any Conservative Government? Nevertheless, new capital investment is still urgently required for Network SouthEast. When might an order be placed for the new, urgently needed Networker express trains for the Kent coast?

Mr. MacGregor

I take my hon. Friend's point. I note that it is always when Labour is in opposition that it calls for higher investment in British Rail and that it is when the Conservatives are in government that that is achieved.

As my hon. Friend will know, British Rail is now examining our proposal for a £150 million leasing scheme. I cannot say yet what projects it will implement to fulfil the orders, but it is for British Rail to decide whether one of them will be the project for which my hon. Friend has pressed. He will also know that we are carrying out substantial resignalling projects, which, although currently causing disruption, are designed to improve the service in the longer term.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Can the Secretary of State confirm or deny reports—particularly in the weekend press—that crossrail and Thameslink will not go ahead, and that the channel tunnel rail link will end at St. Pancras rather than King's Cross? If he is not prepared to make a statement today, will he make one later this month and will it include a final announcement about the Jubilee line?

Mr. MacGregor

There is no change in our position on the Jubilee line, which I have expressed frequently. The Government have made their full provision of £1.4 billion and are waiting for the administrator to complete his talks with the banks and London Underground. I recently received from British Rail two reports in two stages on the channel tunnel rail link. I received the second very recently and I shall make an announcement when I have considered it. There is no change in our position on crossrail, which was outlined in the public expenditure plans for the next three years. The hon. Gentleman will know that Thameslink is not provided for in those three years.

Mr. Adley

What, expressed as a percentage of rail investment, will be the investment figure two years hence, compared with the figure for the current year? Does my right hon. Friend realistically expect any private sector investment to be made in rail infrastructure in the next decade and is not Railtrack the creation of yet another nationalised industry, which unlike British Rail, will not be answerable to passengers?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not have a calculator in my head, so I cannot give my hon. Friend the precise percentage figures now. High investment continues to be made in British Rail and investment this year is the highest in real terms since 1960. I cannot say exactly how much investment will be made in two years' time, not least because that will depend on revenue, but we expect it to be about £1 billion a year, which is a substantial amount indeed. I do not agree with my hon. Friend about Railtrack. Our proposals will create a more efficient track infrastructure and administration. I very much hope that private investment will be made in track over the next 10 years.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Why is the Minister being so coy about investment in British Rail? He knows very well that, without the amount that has been set aside for the channel tunnel and its infrastructure, investment this year would be very poor. It is clear that investment would drop in ithe next two years. I am sure that he would like to make it clear to Conservative Members that, far from getting better rail services from franchising, they will lose on every count.

Mr. MacGregor

I disagree totally with the hon. Lady's last point. It is fascinating that she suggests that certain aspects of capital expenditure can be ignored as though they did not need financing. British Rail's capital investment in the channel tunnel is good investment indeed. It is a priority for a priority market and it is therefore right to make that investment. The hon. Lady must acknowledge that that requires money, which can not be spent twice.

Mr. Dunn

Does my right hon. Friend agree that British Rail's ability to invest will improve as revenue grows? Will he therefore welcome BR's decision to introduce a penalty fares scheme on the Kent link sector of Network SouthEast from 5 April next, which will improve its revenue significantly in the years ahead?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that as revenue improves so do the prospects to increase capital investment over and above the Government's major contribution. As he rightly said, revenue is up as a result of such schemes.

Mr. Wilson

Instead of blustering with bogus statistics, will the Secretary of State confirm the reality that is set out in his own expenditure papers, which shows that investment in the existing railway is already at the lowest level for a decade and that overall investment in British Rail next year will be at its lowest level since nationalisation in 1948? Is that a record of which he is proud? What does he see in a railway? [Interruption.] There is no point is asking the Minister for Public Transport because it is true; it is at its lowest level since nationalisation in 1948. Is it the west coast main line that justifies that figure, or the cancellation of Thameslink and crossrail and the loss of other major infrastructure projects? Why are the Government continuing to run down the railways in advance of privatisation, particularly on routes such as the west coast main line? We shall be left with the rump of a privatised railway while the rest is left to wither on the vine.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman manipulates the statistics. He strips out of the figures what does not suit his case. He ignores the fact that substantial investment is being made elsewhere and refers merely to certain areas as lacking investment. Investment is currently running at levels that have not been higher since 1960 and it will continue at a high level next year. Investment in regional railways will mean that by the end of the year nearly 90 per cent. of rolling stock will be less than eight and a half years old, a change caused as a result of investment. Since the mid-1980s, about 2,500 new passenger vehicles and locomotives have been brought into service. More than 900 are on order and will come into service in the next two years. Such massive changes in rolling stock investment have been made possible because of the capital expenditure that British Rail has incurred and to which the Government have made a substantial contribution.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

My right hon. Friend will understand that many people are interested in the future of the existing railway. Stripping out the plans for the channel tunnel means a cut in capital investment from £1,000 million a year to £500 million a year.

Will my right hon. Friend argue with his colleagues that, if we want to protect employment, some of the money that might otherwise go in transitional aid to the coal mines should be used for rail capital investment for greater long-term benefit and benefit in terms of jobs?

Mr. MacGregor

I argued the case for British Rail this year and secured £250 million on top of existing plans, in addition to the extra £150 million leasing scheme.