HL Deb 11 May 1993 vol 545 cc1173-6

Lord Geraint asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their plans to ensure the future of regional railway services in Wales.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, our policy is for all BR's existing services to be franchised to private sector operators. We recognise the value of rail services in rural areas and have given a commitment to provide subsidy to support the provision of socially necessary services where necessary.

Lord Geraint

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer but I am sure that he is aware that there is still a great deal of anxiety in Wales about the future of our railways. Is it possible for the Minister to persuade his honourable friend the Minister responsible for public transport to visit Aberystwth in West Wales, to meet representatives of the local authorities to discuss the Government's strategy for the railways in Wales?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I cannot give that commitment on behalf of my honourable friend in another place, but what I can say to the noble Lord is that I know that my honourable friend is going to Wales later this year to look at the railways. I am sure that he will take the opportunity, if possible, to go to Aberystwth.

Baroness White

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware of the most ambitious development programme, Wales 2010, published today by the Institute of Welsh Affairs? Has his attention been drawn to the study just completed by the Council for National Parks on the benefits to our Welsh national parks and coastline of rail rather than road transport? If he is not fully briefed on such matters, how can he reply adequately to the noble Lord, Lord Geraint?

The Earl of Caithness

Because I am adequately briefed, my Lords.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, will the noble Earl tell the Minister that if he goes to Aberystwth, he should go by road because it is much quicker?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my honourable friend might miss seeing some of the joys of the Welsh countryside if he did not go by train.

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, when my noble friend's honourable friend visits Wales, will he go to the heart of Wales line, which is extremely important as a link between Swansea, mid-Wales and North Wales? It is an important rail link to keep going. Is he also aware that many years ago the railway station at Aberdare was closed? Is he further aware that it has now been reopened and is an important link from the Cynon valley to Cardiff, with great implications for employment in the Cynon valley area? There is a lesson here that it is better to keep the lines open rather than to close them.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that my honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for railways will be visiting the heart of Wales line. My noble friend may rest assured on that. With regard to keeping stations open, of course similar procedures will apply under the franchising arrangements that we propose as exist under the present statutory duty.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that on the heart of Wales line which has just been mentioned, the rolling stock is to be cut by half in October, the timetable no longer allows connections to be made with main line trains from Swansea and that no one living north of Llandovery can go to Cardiff for the day? The new limited maintenance rules mean that if something goes wrong it can only be investigated during office hours. So if something breaks down on a Friday, it cannot even be investigated until the following Monday. In the light of those facts, would the Minister care to comment on the widely held belief in Wales that British Rail is intent on closing the heart of Wales line?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord said, I am sure that he will support us on our proposals for franchising the railways.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a number of well informed people outside the railways believe in the context of the need for better regional rail services in England, as much as in Wales, that the proposal to split the responsibility for the track from the responsibility for running trains is a poisoned pill against privatisation, devised by British Rail management, and that by swallowing it the Government will have done their own health no good? Legislation on that proposal will be as wasteful of parliamentary time as it will be commercially unsuccessful.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend is extremely adept at turning a Question about the future of regional railway services in Wales into a question on rail track. However, I look forward to discussing that with him on another occasion.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, while the Question refers to regional services in Wales, is the Minister aware that similar anxiety was expressed on regional services in general, including Scotland? The assurance which he has given is that the regional services, while they will be uneconomic and unattractive to a private investor, will be made attractive by Government subsidy so that they will be maintained. Is that a general assurance affecting regional railways?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord listened very carefully to my Answer in which I spoke in general about the question of support for rural areas.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that my great grandfather built the Wrexham, Connah's Quay and Mold railway in North Wales? Is he aware of my hope that the railways in North Wales will also be kept open?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend's ancestry has done her proud and done Wales proud too.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the concerns that have been expressed about this matter in the House today reflect the deep disquiet that was expressed by the electors in the county council elections only the other day, which led to that debacle for the Conservative Party? Does he agree that the cuts currently taking place, which are designed to make the railways more profitable before privatisation, and the lessons learned from bus privatisation, augur badly for regional and rural services and the railways?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, what cuts is the noble Lord talking about?

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, if the Minister is not aware of the cuts that are already taking place on the railways, should he not learn his brief better?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, clearly the noble Lord cannot substantiate his question.

Lord Cochrane of Cults

My Lords, can my noble friend say what consultations have taken place between the Welsh Office and the regional railways, three divisions of which cover Wales, as to their future and present policy and development?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the ultimate responsibility for the railways in Great Britain rests with the Secretary of State for Transport. However, I can assure my noble friend that the Welsh Office is consulted. It provides credit approvals and supplementary credits under projects of regional and national importance.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, in the light of the short, abrupt and entirely unsatisfactory answer given to my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris, in which the Minister hoped he would support the Government's franchising proposals, will the Minister give an absolute guarantee that all the problems outlined in my noble friend's question will be solved by franchising and how soon that will happen?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, clearly the noble Lord and I will have an interesting discussion on this matter when the Railways Bill comes before the House. It is quite clear that British Rail needs the private sector to bring benefits to the traveller.

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