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Railways (Investment)

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 11 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has received any representations from the British Railways Board on the need for increased investment in the railways over the next five years.

Yes, Sir. Investment levels are among the matters I have discussed with the Board.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the paper from the Board stating that the present level of investment means that it will have higher maintenance in the future, speed restrictions on perhaps as much as one-quarter of the track, and fewer high-speed trains—in other words, a less reliable service covering a smaller part of the country? Does my right hon. Friend have any basis for rejecting the professional judgment of British Rail management?

I have seen the paper to which my hon. Friend refers. There has to be a sense of proportion both about the extent to which there is bound to be a dialogue between the Board and the Government over matters like investment and about the Board making its best case. We also have to look for a cost-effective railway. Obviously, we have to have a higher level of investment in it. But we must not assume that it can in every way and at every point be maintained to the standards which may be appropriate on certain lines.

In considering the investment programme, will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the plans for the provision of food on journeys lasting a considerable number of hours? Is he aware that, on recent journeys which my hon. Friends have made from Scotland to England, there has been no food—not even a mini-buffet and not even a glass of lemonade for thirsty children?

I am sorry if there has been neither lemonade nor any other refreshment on trains recently leaving Scotland. They must be very poverty-stricken if they are not able to provide the minimum sustenance for their people leaving the country to come to happier places. That having been said, although we can all criticise food on British Railways—and I do it regularly—and although there are occasional lapses, the Board is doing its very best. But I am sure that the chairman will note what the hon. Lady said. Indeed, if she and her hon. Friends care to send a letter to the chairman of the Board setting out exactly where the railway is falling short, I am sure that he will take action on it.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the lack of investment on many branch lines, especially the one up the Calder Valley, is seriously damaging the morale of employees and seriously inconveniencing the public? Will he ensure that in the next investment programme many of these branch lines are brought up to scratch, and will he secure in that programme a guarantee that the line to which I have referred will remain open?

This is not the occasion to give a specific undertaking about any one line. I note what my hon. Friend said, and I appreciate the importance attached by his constituents to that line, as I do the importance attached to many lines of British Railways throughout the United Kingdom. I have not doubted the need for a high level of investment. On 26th April I announced very important new plans for high-speed trains to the West Country and for new electric multiple units for the London commuter area. The level of investment in British Railways is high. It could be higher. This is a matter which I discuss regularly with the Chairman of British Rail, and I shall continue to do so.