HC Deb 14 November 1983 vol 48 cc592-3
3. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what were the respective amounts of funding to the British Railways Board in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982; and how much money has been allocated for the current year.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

As the answer contains a number of figures, I shall, with permission, arrange for them to be circulated in the Official Report.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Minister accept that his reply does not help me in asking my supplementary question? Does he accept that we all know, because we hear by various means, that the funding in real terms is insufficient? Does the Minister further accept that on the routes to the north, particularly the line to Sheffield, which I know, fewer trains are running? Although they are faster, the interval between them is twice as long. There are fewer carriages on each train and fewer staff than there have ever been for many years. That is resulting in chaos. The queues at St. Pancras are horrific. The Minister should see for himself, especially on Fridays. Many people say that more money is needed if we are to run the railways, especially to Sheffield, properly.

Mr. Ridley

I shall give the hon. Gentleman a fascinating insight into the figures. The total grant from the Government and local government at 1983 prices was £831 million in 1979 and £929 million in 1983, which is a considerable increase. I hope that, through increased efficiency, we shall be able to reduce that figure. If the hon. Gentleman has problems about any line, he should write to the chairman of British Rail.

Mr. Parris

As a regular user of the St. Pancras-Sheffield line, may I ask my right hon. Friend to accept that the service on that line has improved greatly in the past couple of years? I think that all passengers acknowledge that fact.

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful for that remark. I hope that my hon. Friend will also write to the chairman of British Rail to inform him of that fact.

Mr. Leadbitter

Does the Secretary of State realise, following his statement about policy on 24 October, that there is considerable alarm and concern in the transport industry? Does he agree that such a policy will involve many redundancies, in addition to those already calculated, between 1983 and 1986? Does the Secretary of State accept that his policy goes further and harms the prospects for electrification of the eastern line?

Mr. Ridley

We have tried to separate the issues of the size of the network, fares and service standard levels and concentrate on efficiency in running the railway. Let me give an example of efficiency. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) has no portfolio in the Shadow Cabinet, yet she is demanding £5,000 of taxpayers' money for research assistance. It would be efficient to cut that out.

Mr. Adley

Does my right hon. Friend accept that most of the funding for British Rail is provided to enable it to maintain services at the behest of central and local government and others? To lump together all of the funding for British Rail and use the word "subsidy" to describe it is no fairer than to use the word "subsidy" to describe the money that is used for building roads or maintaining the armed services.

Mr. Ridley

I sympathise with my hon. Friend. The public service obligation grant for this year is £819 million, subject to possible adjustment, and an extra £110 million comes from other grants, especially from local government, to assist specific passenger services. Those extra grants are aimed at providing services that would not otherwise be provided by the specific grant. I hope that that answers my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Snape

Instead of making cheap jibes about some of my hon. Friends, will the Secretary of State consider examining the Appropriation Accounts of his Department, which were published on 31 October and gave a glittering example of the efficiency of his Department. It refers to road fund licensing on page 7, where the Secretary of State will see——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question relates to the funding of British Rail.

Mr. Snape

I realise that, Mr. Speaker, even if the answer did not relate to it. If we are talking about efficiency for our respective modes of transport, and available funding for British Rail, we should discuss the funding that has not been made available from road fund licences because of the right hon. Gentleman's incompetence.

Mr. Ridley

I agree, Mr. Speaker, that the supplementary question can hardly be said to arise from the question on the Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman is referring to last year, since when my hon. Friend the Minister of State has made enormous improvements in respect of compliance.

Following are the figures:

Central Government PSO Grant Total Grants From Central and Local Government
Out-turn prices Constant 1983 prices Out-turn prices Constant 1983 prices
£ million £ million £ million £ million
1979 485 736 547 831
1980 576 732 653 831
1981 749 852 833 948
1982 817 862 913 963
1983 *819 *819 *929 *929
* Subject to adjustment for certain predetermined factors.