HC Deb 03 December 1975 vol 901 cc1660-2
2. Mr. Moate

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what will be the effect on British Rail finances of the proposed cuts in rail services; and if he will make a statement.

Dr. Gilbert

British Rail is still discussing the proposals with the rail unions and others, so no firm estimate can yet be made, but the Board tells me that the savings should amount to over £3 million in 1976.

Mr. Moate

Is it not clear that these proposals will cause major inconvenience to the public and have a minimal effect on British Rail's mounting losses? I recognise the difficulties of British Rail, but is it not enormously unsatisfactory for such proposals to be carried through with little heed being paid to the views of the public, trade unions and Members of Parliament? Will the hon. Gentleman endeavour to have these cuts deferred until adequate consultations have taken place on the overall strategy for British Rail?

Dr. Gilbert

The Railways Board has discussed these cuts with the unions involved and reached agreement with them on measures designed to avoid the need for compulsory redundancies, at least for the next seven months. British Rail is exercising its best commercial judgment on the way in which to make the reductions in services so as to impose the least inconvenience on its passengers. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that an overall review of transport strategy and policy is being prepared in my Department. Any comment on it had better wait until it is published.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend referred to the convenience of passengers. Have studies been made of the proportion of expected travellers by the trains that are being cancelled who will either go by other services or not travel at all? Is it not important that this should be done, so that the effect on the travelling public can be properly gauged before the cuts are confirmed?

Dr. Gilbert:

I do not believe that the inconvenience to the public will be as great as my hon. Friend may surmise. Most of the cuts fall on services with relatively low usage—and that applies even to peak services. On some of the peak services involved about half the seats are unoccupied. I can say with some confidence that many cuts in service will have little impact on the public's travelling needs.

Mr. Fox

Will the Minister accept our congratulations that the White Paper on an overall transport policy is still circulating in his Department? We are desperate to have it before us. Will the Minister say when that is likely to be?

Dr. Gilbert

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, we are not yet committed to publishing a White Paper. [Interruption.] We have always made that clear. We are not yet committed to publishing a White Paper, but we expect to publish the results of the study. Whether that will be in the form of a White Paper or a Green Paper remains for decision. These matters involve the Department in a considerable amount of research and a great deal of consultation—which is only at the initial stage—with the unions, operators and various parts of the transport industry. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish us to produce not a rushed study but a fully comprehensive one.

Mr. Tom McMillan

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is more desirable to develop the railway services than to cut them back? Is he aware that on 16th December thousands of railwaymen will invade the House to tell him so?

Dr. Gilbert

I am well aware of the concern expressed by my hon. Friend about the need to preserve as many as possible of the present services and as much as possible of the railway network, but clearly one has to take a view on the size of the deficit. As I have said before at this Box, my concern is that the amount that we are spending on revenue subsidies is approaching the amount which all my hon. Friends and I would like to put into additional investment in the railways.

Mr. Moate

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

8. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement about the effects of public expenditure cuts on rail services in Scotland.

Dr. Gilbert

Any cuts in Scottish rail services that may be decided on will be announced by British Rail.

Mr. Canavan

Does my hon. Friend agree that any cuts in rail investment in Scotland would cause great inconvenience to the public and also have a devastating effect on an integrated transport policy, as well as on matters like road safety, employment prospects for workers in the rail industry, and the conservation of energy? In particular, does my hon. Friend know that in some parts of central Scotland some of the multiple-diesel units operating are 15 years old? Will he consider giving grant aid in order to replace or refurbish these units?

Dr. Gilbert

I take my hon. Friend's point. Some of the considerations that have to be borne in mind in setting investment levels for British Rail have to be determined also in relation to the volume of resources available for investment in transport facilities generally in the country. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, future investment ceilings have already been set for next year, and British Rail has a commitment figure for the year after that. Future ceilings beyond that date will have to await the outcome of the present public expenditure review.

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