HC Deb 17 October 1994 vol 248 cc1-3
1. Mr. Alex Carlile

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what assessment he has made of the performance of rail operations as part of the Welsh transport infrastructure; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood)

I welcome to the Dispatch Box my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. I extend heartfelt thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) for all his assistance in the past. He, of course, knows the real questions to ask, so I shall keep a particular eye on him during our proceedings.

The rail network in Wales is in excellent order and is extensive. We need to encourage more people and businesses to use it and therefore run more trains. This evening I shall make a longer speech on ways in which rwe might do that.

Mr. Carlile

In the light of the Government's own evidence of the damage caused to the environment by the increasing use of roads for freight, what specific proposals will the Secretary of State be able to present to the House in the next Session to ensure that more freight is carried by rail in Wales, and that some freight is carried by rail in central Wales?

Mr. Redwood

I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's aims. I shall point out this evening that our breaking of the British Rail monopoly will open up a great opportunity. Where formerly only whole trainloads of freight were wanted, there are already businesses which are prepared to offer 50-tonne load haulage, and that is a major move forward. I shall add to that with freight grants and I hope that freight proposals will be included in strategic development schemes. I have asked the Welsh Development Agency to make sure that, where possible, a rail freight option is opened at industrial parks.

Mr. Murphy

Does the Secretary of State admit that the privatisation of railways has been the most unpopular of all privatisations so far and that rural, valley and off-peak services may be threatened by no fewer than seven competing train companies in Wales? Cannot he see that the money that is being squandered on that privatisation would have been much better spent on improving and expanding our railway network, which has been subject to years of neglect under his incompetent Government?

Mr. Redwood

Labour has made that claim for every one of our privatisations, and every one has increased investment, profits and business opportunities and has strengthened competition. The hon. Gentleman does not say that the monopoly business in the post-war period was not prepared to take the rail freight of most businesses in Wales because it wanted trainload traffic. I notice that he did not refer to the fact that we have already broken through in that crucial respect, now that our new policies are being introduced. In terms of passenger traffic, I suspect that our subsidies will go much further and will mean more trains and more satisfied passengers than if we had continued the monopoly.

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