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9.52 pm

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : I shall begin uncontroversially, I hope, by saying what a pleasure it was to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan- Smith) making a characteristically fair speech. He paid tribute to the biggest single electrification which has occurred--on the east coast main line. I know that he is right, and that British Rail is in discussion with groups such as CREATE about electrifying the railway line north of Edinburgh. I remind him that British Rail is going to put 90 mph diesels with air conditioning--I am not sure whether that is necessary in Scotland- -on that line. The InterCity 125s are the fastest diesels in the world. None the less, I shall draw his remarks to the attention of British Rail.

I notice my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) in his place. I am sure that we all sympathise with his constituents, whose railway line has been cut off by floods, and we look forward to that service being restored.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) made a realistic speech, as well he might have, because he knows that there has been £100 million worth of investment at Liverpool Street and in the new station at Chelmsford. He has seen the work going on. He also knows that, since 1987, 428 new coaches costing about £150 million have been approved for the Anglia and Great Eastern Services. Therefore, despite the complaints that he has made on behalf of his constituents, he knows that the investment is going in.

I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) was less fair. He might have mentioned the fact that the Uckfield line has just been resignalled, saving his constituents 10 minutes on their journey time. He also might have mentioned the fact that we have ordered 676 coaches for the inner suburban services in Kent--that has been approved or agreed in principle--that platform lengthening is under way and more orders for the outer suburban services will come through shortly. Mentioning those facts would have given a fairer impression of what is going on.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : When my hon. Friend next speaks to the chairman of British Rail, will he convey to him that commuters on the north Kent line would have been much happier if the fares had increased after the promises had been fulfilled, rather than now?

Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend has been a lion roaring on behalf of his constituents. He has been to see me and I know how seriously he takes the matter.

In reply to the hon. Members for Southport (Mr. Fearn) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), and my hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks and for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), who talked about foreign comparisons, I must point out that the subsidy per route kilometre in the last figures we have was £49,000 in the United Kingdom and £47,000 in France, which is less. I have always said to my hon. Friends that what matters is not subsidy but investment. Let me give the figures for that. Last year we invested £67,000 per km, while France invested £49,000.

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I was asked whether we would use cost- benefit analysis. It was used to justify the Thameslink services, the Manchester Metrolink and the Jubilee line, which will do so much to open up docklands, a new area of London.

There was great rejoicing at part of the speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). Although he will deny it, I believe that this is the first time that he has acknowledged that investment is at a record level. Before tonight I had the impression that he had the greatest difficulty distinguishing between subsidy and investment, but he has now put on record his recognition of the facts. I am sorry that he was unable to convince the hon. Members for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) and for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), who still seem to doubt the truth.

I was also asked what was our commitment to investment in the railway. I am pleased to be able to announce an increase of £220 million in British Rail's external finance limit for 1989-90. This year's EFL goes up from £415 million--after taking account of grants from the European Community--to £635 million. That large increase will enable BR to press ahead with its investment programme, including plans for the Channel tunnel rail services and the new trains for those services which we authorised in December.

Investment in British Rail will be £3.7 billion over the next three years. The chairman of British Rail has described that as being about as much as "we can physically manage". It will be financed not just by passengers but by asset sales, the higher revenues that are available, huge amounts of borrowing made available by the Government at preferential rates from the national loans fund and some very small reductions in grant. Today 60 per cent. of the provincial sector's costs are met by the taxpayer, and the passenger pays only 40p in the pound.

On the London Underground, the enormous increases in investment are directly attributable to an increase in Government grant : it will increase by 115 per cent. over the next three years. The result--if we take LRT and Network SouthEast together--will be a rise in subsidy for public transport in the south-east from £387 million at today's prices to £669 million in 1992-93. Investment in London Underground has doubled over the past five years, since we wrested control from the GLC, and it will double again over the next three years. No wonder the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East referred to the role of the Treasury under various Governments. Let me quote from the Labour Government's consultation document of 1976 :

"For the time being, the decision to stabilise rail investment at present levels should form a basic input to railway planning. This level is lower than that envisaged in 1973 But the 1973 programme was criticised in the Socialist Commentary Report as being too high In our present circumstances".

said the Labour Government,

"we cannot afford more than this."

Although rail fares had doubled in the previous two years, said Labour,

"in the present situation further increases in fares must form part of the long-term strategy. There can be no question of a general increase in Government subsidy".

That was the Labour party in office. That would be the Labour party again. The fact is that the Labour party has no place in this debate. If it had remained in power the railways would not have the opportunities that they have today. Opportunities derive from economic prosperity. I

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admit that, under Labour's failing economic policies, congestion might be less severe than it is today. But congestion is also the product of economic success. Under this Government the problem of congestion can be tackled by vast new--

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to. Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question :--

The House divided : Ayes 212, Noes 259.

Division No. 75] [10 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald

Archer, Rt Hon Peter

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashley, Rt Hon Jack

Ashton, Joe

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Beckett, Margaret

Beith, A. J.

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)

Bermingham, Gerald

Blunkett, David

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)

Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)

Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Buchan, Norman

Buckley, George J.

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Canavan, Dennis

Clark, Dr David (S Shields)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clay, Bob

Clelland, David

Cohen, Harry

Coleman, Donald

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cousins, Jim

Crowther, Stan

Cryer, Bob

Cummings, John

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Cunningham, Dr John

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Doran, Frank

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth

Eadie, Alexander

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)

Fatchett, Derek

Faulds, Andrew

Fearn, Ronald

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)

Fisher, Mark

Flannery, Martin

Flynn, Paul

Foot, Rt Hon Michael

Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)

Foster, Derek

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galloway, George

Garrett, John (Norwich South)

Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Gould, Bryan

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Hardy, Peter

Harman, Ms Harriet

Haynes, Frank

Healey, Rt Hon Denis

Heffer, Eric S.

Henderson, Doug

Hinchliffe, David

Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)

Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howells, Geraint

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hughes, Simon (Southwark)

Illsley, Eric

Janner, Greville

Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)

Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Mo n)

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)

Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald

Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil

Kirkwood, Archy

Lambie, David

Lamond, James

Leadbitter, Ted

Leighton, Ron

Lestor, Joan (Eccles)

Lewis, Terry

Litherland, Robert

Livingstone, Ken

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