HL Deb 16 May 1973 vol 342 cc812-5

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can now make a Statement on the proposals made by British Railways for further electrification; and whether they will name the lines proposed for closure as part of the same overall plan.


My Lords, I do not know what projects the noble Lord has in mind. The question of electrification, and the separate question of the future size of the rail system, are at present under consideration as part of the rail policy review. My right honourable friend the Minister for Transport Industries will report to Parliament as soon as the review is complete.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. I admit that I do not know exactly what the Railways Board had in mind, except that they made proposals in January for electrification. Is my noble friend aware that many enthusiasts of railways hold the view that further electrification of railways is quite vital to their competitiveness in the future? Can the noble Lord also say whether in future local authorities will be consulted before, rather than after, the publication of the line closure proposal, in view of the damaging effect it often has in a locality?


My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for his remarks. I accept—and I think it is generally accepted—that electrification is more efficient, but equally it bears a heavy capital cost and before undertaking further electrification one has to be certain that the demand will be sufficient to justify it. That is what the policy review will consider. With regard to local authorities being consulted, I will report what my noble friend has said to my right honourable friend and I will endeavour to ensure that his wishes are met.


My Lords, will the Minister be a little more forthright as to when he expects to report to the House upon the proposals that have been under consideration by the Ministry for very many months? Would he not agree that the electrification already undertaken in the North-West Region has increased traffic by 150 per cent.? Will he also agree that the proposal of the Railways Board for further electrification in the G.N. section of rails coming into London will provide an estimated saving of £19 million? Is it not a matter of urgency that the nation should know the reaction of the Government to that proposal? Furthermore, is not the noble Lord also aware that electric locomotives cost only two-thirds in maintenance charges compared with diesel locomotion? Are these not matters with which the Government should deal with great urgency in the interests of the nation?


My Lords, I appreciate the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, and I know his interest in this subject and his great concern for the welfare of the men employed on the railways. For over two years the Department has been considering intensive studies on this subject and I am certain that the noble Lord will be the first to wish that when this policy review is submitted to Parliament the answer will be right. There have been too many policies of "Stop-Go" on the railways. I accept what the noble Lord has said about electrification being more efficient and cheaper than diesel locomotion in regard to maintenance costs, but the initial cost is very high. However, these points are being looked at.


My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government cognisant of the general policy outlined by Mr. Rippon, and reported in The Times to-day, in favour of a traffic policy which aims at reducing car use and encouraging the use of public transport? If the Government are cognisant of that policy is it not foolish to spend large sums of money on electrifying an inter-city service, such as London to Bristol or London to Manchester, and at the same time building extremely expensive motorways to encourage the use of cars?


My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, makes the case for the reason for the Department of the Environment. It is a Department to co-ordinate various Ministries and various interests in the general interests of the nation.


My Lords, I sense that my noble friend is friendly to this Question, perhaps unlike the first Question, so may I ask what is the latest estimated date for the publication of the review?


My Lords, I am sorry, but I cannot give any date at this moment.


My Lords, May I ask the noble Lord whether he realises that if the old railway companies in the early 1930s had only spent the capital sum necessary to electrify the railways then, the whole future of the railways would have been different and the capital costs would just have been forgotten.


My Lords, I accept that: and if all Governments could govern with hindsight they would all be very clever.