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Volume 163: debated on Monday 4 December 1989

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for increasing spending on the railways over the next three years.

This Government are making possible investment in the future of our railways on a scale not seen for 25 years. Investment in British Rail is planned to rise to £3·7 billion over the next three years, a 75 per cent. real increase over the previous three.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great concern in Ipswich about the service on the railway to London—both the overcrowding and the bad timekeeping? Can he assure me that a reasonable proportion of the welcome increase in spending on railways that he has announced will be devoted to improving the standard of service on the Ipswich to Liverpool Street line?

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. The programme includes £60 million to be spent on improving the signalling system on that very line.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that although improved investment in British Rail is welcome, his responsibility relates to the whole country? Will he give particular attention to the electrification of the east coast line between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, especially in view of the need to develop industry and commerce because of the Channel tunnel?

Yes, I want to see that fast east coast link electrified from London straight through to Aberdeen. The electrification to Leeds has already been a great success and we wish that to be carried further.

No one with the interests of the railways at heart could do other than warmly welcome the Government's investment in the new railway, and in railway modernisation. Will my hon. Friend confirm, however, that cleanliness, punctuality, safety, the length of trains and, indeed, the overcrowding to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine) referred, must all be dealt with through the public service obligation grant, which the Government have cut in half—and boast about having cut in half—since 1983? Should we not look at PSO grant and investment in new railways simultaneously?

I am sorry if my hon. Friend is going to join the Opposition in measuring the Government's commitment to the railways by the amount spent on subsidy. We believe that our objective should be to have not the most subsidised but the most efficient and modernised railways, and that is what we are seeking.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he does not know what he is talking about? He has no plans to increase spending on the railways; indeed, as his hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) has just told him, he plans to reduce the public service obligation grant—already reduced by 50 per cent.—even further in the next three years. All that he is doing is allowing the railways to borrow more money, which will have to be repaid through higher fares, more overcrowding and even wider passenger dissatisfaction. The Secretary of State should stop trying to kid his hon. Friends that anything has changed.

It is a great disappointment to the hon. Gentleman that we are making sure that our railway system is modernised. Last year more money was invested in modernising the railways than for 25 years. In the next three years we shall spend 75 per cent. more in real terms. That is bad news for the hon. Gentleman, but good news for the railways.