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Ms Short rose--

Sir George Young: I shall not give way to the hon. Lady as I have already done so--I have given way for the last time.

It is no wonder that neither the travelling public nor the City has taken much notice of the Labour party's rail proposals. Indeed, The Sunday Times reported last week:

A lot of people want to know about the Labour party's policies on fares, services, public subsidy and investment. The Labour party talks glibly of higher levels of

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investment, but it does not say where the money would come from--perhaps from higher taxes on Members of Parliament?

We are the only party with a clear strategy to bring more investment into the railways--from the private sector, not from the taxpayer. Perhaps the hon. Lady would rather have higher borrowing. Or would she do what Labour did before and close branch lines and stations? The hon. Lady clearly admires the French railways. I read a flattering article that appeared in The Guardian today, in which she stated:

I wonder whether she is aware that the French railways announced earlier this year that they are £27 billion in debt. Is that a model that we should seek to emulate? Perhaps her investment pledge would be paid for out of higher fares. The Labour party has never said what it would do about fares. Does the hon. Lady think that fares should be higher, to finance more spending on the railways? Or should they be lower, to encourage more people to travel by train? Or will she admit--as she has done with much of the rest of our privatisation policy--that we have got it about right? We hope to get an answer from the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North(Mr. Wilson), a man of less ambition than the hon. Lady--while she wants my job, he just wants hers.

I strongly believe that the railways should have a more important role in tomorrow's transport world, and I believe that our policies will secure that role. I have no confidence that the Labour party knows what to do with the railways. The Labour party is ashamed of its past, silent on its future and not fit to govern. I urge my hon. Friends to join me in voting tonight to ensure a better future for the railways, for taxpayers and for Britain.

4.51 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): I shall concentrate on one narrow but desperately important aspect: the future of the Forth bridge. It is not just any bridge--it is the greatest monument to engineering of the 19th century. The whole railway network depends on the Forth bridge--to Fife, Dundee, Aberdeen, the North sea oil industry, Inverness and points north. This is not a trivial matter.

I am glad to have the Secretary of State's attention because I do not put this issue forward in a partisan way. I recall that it was action in the House that shamed the Health and Safety Executive and Ministers into having a report that was conducted under distinguished engineers. I shall make my points from the results of the report. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), the former Secretary of the National Union of Miners, Scotland, who knows a good deal about engineering, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South(Mr. Donohoe), who was a steel worker before he came to the House of Commons, and I were cautiously taken over the bridge by Paul Prescott, the director of Railtrack. One just cannot wander on to the bridge--the up trains and the down trains have to be stopped. We were treated most courteously in being taken over to see for ourselves.

I have loved the bridge since childhood and I was shocked by whole globules of paint coming off and by rust setting in--after all, rust never sleeps. I was shocked when I went up to the Jubilee, or South tower to examine the mess--which is called the guano in the report--in

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many of the nooks and crannies. It may be that no damage has been done yet, but cosmetic damage soon ceases to be cosmetic.

First, I shall concentrate on the condition of the bridge. The report states:

I do not want to be alarmist--and here I share the view of the Secretary of State--but

The expression "being painted like the Forth bridge" has crept into the language but there is a problem. For 90 years, painting was done in the traditional way with slings. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) will know that several families around South Queensferry, which he knows well, for generations devoted their lives to the maintenance of the bridge. The Marshall family of Dalmeny station lost both husband and son on different occasions in painting the bridge. A good deal of blood has been spent, not only by the builders but by the maintainers.

I am the first to say that the Health and Safety Executive was justified in introducing new regulations but, of course, they make maintenance of the bridge more difficult and more expensive than when it was done by the old ways. My reply is that, with modern materials--especially fibreglass materials--it should, with money, be possible to conduct that maintenance. I must impress on senior Ministers that once rust gets a grip of any of the major structures, heaven knows what the cost would be of repairing it or whether it could even be done. If ever a domino theory were to operate, it would be in that complicated structure.

Mr. Dover: Does the hon. Gentleman accept from me, as a civil engineer and Chair of the Select Committee that considered the Severn second bridge, that much more extensive repairs were necessary on the Severn bridge? They were done by Laing-Entrepose, a private sector UK-French joint consortium, at a cost of tens of millions of pounds which was obtained by charging river crossing tolls. That paid not only for the repair work but for a new crossing, which is to be handed back to the Government after 20 years. Is there any difference between that and what the Government propose for the Forth bridge? A privatised company will levy the Railtrack charges to make sure that the repairs are done more than effectively.

Mr. Dalyell: The hon. Gentleman rendered a service to the House in his studies of the Severn bridge. The Severn bridge is not unlike the Forth road bridge. I am told by Professor Paul Jowett of the department of engineering at Heriot-Watt university and some of his colleagues that it would be much easier to repair the Forth road bridge--and, therefore, a bridge of the Severn type--than it would be to repair a structure of the 1880s and 1890s, when techniques and materials were very different. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is a different problem. It is certainly an exceedingly expensive problem.

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The report also referred to the problem of access to the tubes, which is through small inspection hatches. It continues:

the firm that carried out the work--

I gather that removal would be quite expensive.

I have a greater concern, which has arisen since publication of the report. Rightly or wrongly, Scottish Power had the idea of floodlighting the bridge. A number of holes had to be bored in the old structure to arrange for floodlighting. I have not seen the holes because access is impossible, but I am told by John Watson, the ferryman, who has an honourable record of campaigning for the maintenance of the bridge, and his successor Colin Aston that it is likely that rust is forming in the holes drilled for the wiring of the floodlights. Since I have this unexpected opportunity, I ask the Government formally to produce within a month or two at least some considered opinion from the Health and Safety Executive on that new development.

Paragraph 94 of the report continues:

In his reply, I want the Minister to make it clear who will be responsible for that work in the short term.

I am not in the habit of criticising individuals on the Floor of the House and I will certainly not criticise Paul Prescott, who is well known to Ministers, for saying so, but he told my hon. Friends the Members for Midlothian and for Cunninghame, North, "If money is available, you had better understand that the Forth bridge is my third or fourth priority. My top priority is the signalling system outside Bearsden and the bridge is rather far down the list". If that is Railtrack's view, given the HSE report, where do the Government think that the bridge should come in the list of priorities?

I will list a few of the HSE's conclusions.

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