HC Deb 29 November 1993 vol 233 cc769-71
2. Mr. Rooker

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent representations he has received from industry and commerce in the west midlands in respect of infrastructure and investment requirements on the London to midlands rail links.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor)

I have received a number of representations about upgrading rail links to the midlands. We announced in July the appointment of advisers to work on a joint venture to renew the west coast main line infrastructure.

Mr. Rooker

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand the importance of that line to west midlands manufacturing and to all the constituencies there, including yours, Madam Speaker? Does he also understand that the signalling belongs to the last century, trains regularly have to slow down to 20 mph, it is faster to get from London to York than it is to get from London to Wolverhampton, and that it is a disgrace that even the public and private sectors, meeting in Birmingham today, which want to put forward joint schemes, see the opportunities diminishing as the Government stick to their dogmatic policies?

The line needs upgrading, and if the Secretary of State wants to win any support for himself, to show firm support for manufacturing, and to prove that not all the infrastructure goes to the south-east, he must come forward quickly, rather than shovelling the matter off to one list of consultants after another.

Mr. MacGregor

The infrastructure is not all going to the south-east. I fully recognise the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am sure that he knows of the £550 million of investment that has been made in the east coast main line. I recognise the need to get on with improving the infrastructure of the west coast main line and I recognise that it will be a massive undertaking, costing on infrastructure alone probably up to £600 million. The priority is the older part of the line south of Crewe. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the appointment of advisers to investigate the possibility of a joint venture between the public and private sectors is not a postponement of consideration of the matter. We have been getting on with it very quickly and we are making good progress. He will recognise, however, that, given the need to keep the line running, it is probably a 10-year project.

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is acute anxiety in the west midlands not only about the main line, but about ancillary lines because the local service is a disgrace? Will he give me a real and realistic time scale within which my constituents will have a service that compares with the east coast line?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that my hon. Friend recognises the £6 billion of investment that British Rail has made in the past five years. There has certainly been no shortage of investment; the question has been priorities. I assure my hon. Friend that we have been getting on with the study by the financial advisers and I hope to be able to make an announcement shortly. The extent to which we are successful in making the west coast main line infrastructure programme a joint venture involving private finance will determine whether we shall be able to release more of the available resources for other parts of the BR infrastructure.

Mr. Dobson

When will the Minister recognise the deplorable and declining standard of service on the line from London to the west midlands and on to the north-west and Scotland, which connects Britain's major industrial centres and most centres of population? Aside from all the waffle about joint projects, further inquiries and guest studies, when will work start on the ground to provide the service that the people of the west midlands, the north-west and Scotland want and deserve?

Mr. MacGregor

I hope that, first, the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge the £6 billion of investment that has been made in the past five years. British Rail has been conducting some study work on the infrastructure requirements and all the detailed assessments that must be made before final decisions can be taken about the west coast main line. I assure the hon. Gentleman, who does not seem interested in the answer, given the way in which he is looking around, that there is no question of waffle. We are getting on rather rapidly, with the prospects of a joint venture study—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman seems to think that guffaws are a substitute for serious thinking. We shall then get on with the further technical work that will have to be done on this major infrastructure project, bearing in mind that it is a busy line and that trains will have to pass over it all the time. I assure him that we are getting on with it rapidly.

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