HC Deb 27 October 1980 vol 991 cc13-5
11. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on South-East commuter fares to be published.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

My right hon. Friend presented the report to Parliament and published it on 2 October 1980, The commission has found, as have a great many commuters, that performance could be improved, and has made a number of constructive recommendations for the better running of British Rail's London commuter services, particularly in the key areas of efficiency and productivity, and service levels and standards. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is pursuing with the chairman of the British Railways Board the action to be taken on these and other important areas of the report.

Mr. Durant

Is my right hon. Friend aware that commuters have had a rough time during the past few years because of rising prices and deteriorating services—although not necessarily in my constituency of Reading? Will she discuss with the chairman of British Rail the pricing policy that he is undertaking, and ask him to shift some capital resources towards the commuter area?

Mrs. Oppenheim

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is pursuing with the chairman of British Rail the action to be taken following the recommendations of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in the following main areas—improvements in efficiency and cost control, by which a better service may be provided for no increased cost, the cost and effectiveness of rolling stock and design and the objectives for the board's operation of the London and South-East commuter services. Naturally, efficiency and cost are key questions in relation to future price increases. I have the greatest sympathy with my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. John Fraser

If it is necessary for British Rail to increase public expenditure to meet the objectives of the report, will the Minister support that expenditure?

Mrs. Oppenheim

That is entirely a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.

Sir Albert Costain

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the ordinary commuters who live on the South-East coast were at one time offered special low rate fares by British Rail because the train had to go past Sevenoaks before it turned around? Is she aware that British Rail have now abolished that offer? Is not that sharp practice?

Mrs. Oppenheim

I cannot comment on that instance. However, I am aware that commuters in the south-eastern area, including the area to which my hon. Friend refers, are far from satisfied with the service that they receive, and that may be one aspect.

Mr. Newens

Is the Minister aware that users of the Central line, where it passes through Essex from Debden to Ongar, are subject to a special premium charged as a result of the refusal by Essex county council to make a subsidy available towards the running of the line? When the right hon. Lady is considering the high cost of fares to commuters will she have a word with her right hon. and hon. Friends about that matter because people in my constituency and the adjoining constituencies are subject to a burden which is greater than that imposed in any other constituency?

Mrs. Oppenheim

Essex county council's spending priorities are entirely a matter for that council. They have nothing to do with British Rail.