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British Railways

Volume 941: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of British Railways.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of the British Railways Board.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next expects to meet the Chairman of British Railways.

May we have a categorical assurance from the Minister that there will be no further cuts in the railway network north of Glasgow and Edinburgh? May we also have a categorical assurance from him that the London-Perth motorrail link will be maintained?

I can give a categorical assurance that no proposals for rail closures are before me at present. On the second point, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's concern to the attention of the chairman of the Board.

When the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity of seeing the chairman, will he draw his attention to the poor maintenance of both locomotives and rolling stock on the line to Bedford? Will he also bear in mind that high rail fares are totally inequitable if the maintenance is not properly carried out? Will he also try to indicate to the chairman, insistently, that we should have price stability in this matter?

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I accept that rolling stock is not always of the quality that we would like to see. But, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I announced earlier this year an £80 million new scheme for improvements to the St. Pancras-Bedford line. We ought to give the Board credit for the fact that for the past year there has been fare stability. It is very important that the gaps between fare increases should be no less than a full 12 months.

Will the Secretary of State support my plea to the Chairman of British Rail to give special fare concessions to students aged 14 and over who have to travel daily from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth, on religious grounds, because there is no schooling for them on the island, and who are now facing charges, with the increase announced for January, of up to £7 a week? I ask for some special concession for them.

I shall certainly draw the attention of the chairman to that matter. It is for the British Railways Board to determine its fares structure within the framework laid down by Parliament's decisions, and decisions of this kind can be made in a commercial way in the light of the Board's need to raise income from fares, given the level of subsidy that the House has agreed upon.

When my right hon. Friend meets the Board will he convey to it the fact that many people in the House who are paricularly enthusiastic about railways as a form of energy-saving transport view with some alarm the fact that British Railways are introducing a scheme to phase out the carriage of bicycles—another form of energy-saving transport? Will he do so on the impeccable ground that one form of energy-saving transport should help another?

I was not aware that British Rail was intending to phase out the carrying of bicycles. On the contrary, I thought that this was a new and very desirable benefit, which I would personally want to encourage.

Will the Secretary of State impress on the Chairman of the British Railways Board that there are constant fears in certain areas about the possible continuation of rail closures? As an illustration, I refer to the line from Salisbury to Exeter. In those areas, a great deal of uncertainty is engendered by these rumours. Therefore, a positive statement by the chairman about the situation on closures is essential.

If there is any misapprehension, I am sure that the chairman will wish to dispel it, but there are bound to be problems as long as some local railways lose a great deal of money and as long as the House believes that there must be some limit to the amount of money available in subsidy. Those are problems of which which the chairman and the Board are fully aware.

When my right hon. Friend sees Mr. Parker, will he tell him that there is a good deal of feeling in the trade unions because of British Rail's accent on catering for business men and the well-off members of the public who rush from one town to another, thus deserting the social service aspect of British Rail?

I shall remind the chairman of my hon. Friend's views, but they are not wholly fair. It is by running a sensible inter-city service, which is not likely to need subsidy and which is experiencing a growth in traffic, that the available subsidy can be devoted to those lines where need is greatest. I know that my hon. Friend and I share the wish to see that money spent in the best way possible.

If the Government expect inflation to be down to single figures by 1978, will the Minister explain why commuters must face a 16 per cent. fare increase in that period?

The increases in costs which have occurred in the last year, and which are likely to continue, are not related only to the rate of overall inflation, but if we get overall inflation down to single figures, as we must all hope, some of these problems of future fare increases will be a great deal easier to solve.