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Midland Main Line (Electrification)

Volume 82: debated on Monday 1 July 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he last discussed with the chairman of British Rail plans for electrification of the Midland main line north of Bedford.

The British Railways Board is responsible for planning its own investment. If the chairman wishes to raise this project at one of our regular meetings, I shall be glad to discuss it.

When my hon. Friend next sees the chairman of British Rail, will he convey to him two simple points on behalf of my constituents in Kettering? First, they want to see the Midland main line electrified from St. Pancras through Kettering to Yorkshire—the whole line. Secondly, they want to see Kettering retain its status as an inter-city interchange station. That is important for my constituents.

I shall keep my hon. Friend's points in mind. British Rail has not submitted to Ministers a proposal to electrify to Kettering, and I understand that it has not come to any decision to do so. My hon. Friend will be aware that it is only three years since British Rail demonstrated its commitment to the Midland main line by introducing HSTs on the route. That has meant a 20-minute saving on the run to Sheffield and has resulted in a substantial increase in customers.

As for electrification generally, I assure my hon. Friend that British Rail is not held back on its requests. Today, I have given British Rail consent to reopen and electrify the Snow Hill tunnel in London.

Does the Minister accept that all those who live in communities served by the midland line support the call for electrification and hope that the Government will encourage British Rail to make such a proposal? Does he also accept that many of us would like to see British-built stock running on the line? Will he consider lifting the ban on BREL's ability to compete in tendering for locomotives so that orders do not end up being placed abroad?

It is not for Ministers to twist the arm of British Rail about the priority that it should give to individual investment projects. It is for management to put forward what it believes to be best to achieve the purposes and objectives that it has been set.

Given the history of investment in the Bedford-St. Pancras line, does my hon. Friend agree that future investment must depend on reasonable productivity being obtained? If so, to what extent have the promises of improved productivity in earlier negotiations, which were the subject of much industrial dispute, been delivered by the unions concerned?

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of productivity, especially when it is part of the appraisal on which the decision to carry out the investment is based.

My right hon. Friend referred to a specific matter concerning productivity. This is a sensitive topic on which there are continuing negotiations, and I should not like to make them more difficult.

Is not the Minister dodging the basic question when he says that it is not his concern if British Rail does not go to British Rail Engineering Ltd. for its locomotives? Has he not worked out that it is a lot cheaper and more efficient to keep the BREL workshops fully occupied than to insist on open tenders from at least five foreign competitors?

I understand that British Rail Engineering Ltd. is involved as a sub-contractor in more than one of the potential bids for the contract about which the hon. Lady is concerned.