§ 6. Mr. Favell
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent representations he has received on the proposed Manchester airport rail link.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)
Officers of the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority and Executive discussed the matter with my officials on 1 November. Ministers will be happy to approve such an investment if there is a sound case.
§ Mr. Favell
Manchester airport is the fastest growing airport in Europe. Is not the pedestrian way in which British Rail is reacting to this wonderful investment opportunity typical of a nationalised concern? Is my hon. Friend, for whom I have the greatest regard, able to assure me that Manchester airport will be privatised as quickly as possible, so that this kind of thing is not repeated in the future?
§ Mr. Portillo
My hon. Friend knows that the privatisation of British Rail is under consideration. If, however, the discussions go well, my hon. Friend should not have to wait for privatisation, if that is to occur. If there is a strong commercial case for it, as he believes, I shall be happy to approve the investment.
§ Sir Fergus Montgomery
Is my hon. Friend aware of how important economically Manchester international airport is to the north-west region? Is he aware that today important talks are taking place in America about the prospects of more inter-continental flights into and out of Manchester airport that would be of great help to us? May I have his assurance that the Department is doing all that it can? If the flights into Manchester airport are approved, the rail link will be of even greater importance.
§ Mr. Portillo
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the discussions. United Kingdom and United States negotiators are meeting today and tomorrow to discuss these matters. We had hoped to be able to bring the discussions to a conclusion this week, but apparently the United States Government have said that they believe that the two teams may need to meet again, perhaps in December. We shall continue to press for progress to be made. Final agreement will depend partly on whether the United States Government are prepared to be flexible and are anxious to press for progress.
§ Mr. Snape
Is it not strange that the rail link into Stansted airport, which carries a fraction of the traffic carried at Manchester, has already commenced? Despite years of debate in the House, no work has yet been done on a rail link to Manchester airport. What has happened to the proposals? Have they been put forward for ministerial approval, and if not, why not?
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that no work has been done on the rail link. An enormous amount of work has been done. I expect proposals to be put to me fairly soon, but they have not yet come before me. We are waiting for advice on the extent to which the additional revenue on the British Rail network will be offset by costs incurred in earning that revenue on the network. We shall consider the possible private sector role. We shall ask British Rail for a statement of its investment case. We shall also ask for a joint statement by the Passenger Transport Executive, the Passenger Transport Authority, British Rail and the airport on how the costs are to be shared. I believe that we are making good progress on all those matters.