HC Deb 18 July 1979 vol 970 cc1762-3
9. Mr. Garel-Jones

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is satisfied with the present standard of service on British Railways commuter lines.

Mr. Fowler

No. There is undoubtedly room for improvement.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I am grateful for that reply. In view of the difficulties and hardships suffered by commuters in the past five years, will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be no autumn rise in fares this year?

Mr. Fowler

The board announced that it plans to freeze rail fares for the remainder of this year provided that fuel prices remain reasonably stable. The chairman of British Rail has paid tribute to the Budget measures in helping him to come to that conclusion.

Mr. Walter Johnson

Does the Minister agree that what is required is greater investment in British Rail to enable it to build new rolling stock and carry out a programme of modernisation? That is the way to improve the lot of the commuter.

Mr. Fowler

Yes. Obviously, investment is one part of it, but service is another part. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of the railway industry, welcomes the initiative of Sir Peter Parker in working to develop a commuters' charter in which a standard of service is laid down for railway passengers.

Mr. Burden

Will my right hon. Friend take a closer interest in the problems of commuters, the failure of trains to run properly to time, the dirty condition of trains and sometimes the cancellations that cause great anxiety and difficulty to commuters? Will he try to do something about the matter together with the chairman of British Rail?

Mr. Fowler

Yes. I certainly shall do all that I can to encourage better commuter services because I recognise the importance of what my hon. Friend has said. A common and useful way forward is the commuters' charter, which was put forward by the chairman of British Rail.

Mr. Spriggs

Is the Minister aware that arrears of repairs on the railways are considered to be the main cause of many delays to commuter passengers? Will he take into consideration what my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) said about investment? If we are to run trains on time, we must get investment right.

Mr. Fowler

Clearly, investment is part of the key. We are now spending £45 million on new signalling equipment on the lines into Victoria, new rolling stock for commuter services is being built and the St. Pancras-Bedford line is being electrified. I agree that investment is a part, but it is only one part, of improving the service for the railway passengers, which is the common aim of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Forman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, while many of my commuting constituents will be delighted with his robust and critical attitude concerning British Rail services, he would please them even more if he would make it clear that it is the Government's view that there should not be a bias in British Rail's finance against the captive inner London commuter as compared with the longer-distance traveller?

Mr. Fowler

Pricing is a matter for British Rail, but I am sure that the chairman of British Rail has my hon. Friend's point particularly in mind.

Mr. Spearing

Is the Minister aware that last May I had the good fortune to travel from an entirely new station in my constituency on a new service, from North Woolwich in Docklands to Camden Road in North London? Is he aware that since the oil crisis British Rail has withdrawn some of those services? Will he assure the House that there have been no withdrawals from British Rail's commuter or other services due to shortage of fuel?

Mr. Fowler

In the main, commuter services have not been affected in any way by the fuel shortage, but I will look into the hon. Gentleman's point.