HC Deb 06 February 1984 vol 53 cc592-4
11. Mr. Snape

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is satisfied that the timetable changes proposed on British Rail southern region will not adversely affect the interests of commuters.

Mr. David Mitchell

Timetable decisions are a matter for the Railways Board. It is seeking to improve the match between supply and demand.

Mr. Snape

At a recent meeting between the general manager of British Rail southern region my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and myself, the general manager conceded that the reductions — the third in eight years in the south of England—are caused by having to match his potential for providing services with the finance available. He also went on to say that the reductions will lead to an occupancy rate of 135 per cent. in many commuter trains running into London, that it is southern region's intention to increase fares in real terms by 1 per cent. each year and that southern region's commuters, under this Administration, will face paying Pullman prices for cattle truck conditions.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman has failed to take into account the fact that substantial improvements have been made in some areas of the southern region as the board of British Rail has sought to match supply and demand. For example, there are the services to East Croydon, Reigate, Horsham, Portsmouth, Hayes, Tonbridge and Dartford, and there is the new non-stop service to Gatwick. The hon. Gentleman insists on concentrating on the reductions. If one is to balance supply and demand, there will be improvements and reductions in service at the same time.

Mr. Higgins

Does my hon. Friend not agree that press reports during the Christmas recess about the adverse effects of changes in the timetables were grossly exaggerated? Furthermore, is it not unfair for Opposition Front Bench spokesmen to refer to remarks made by people with whom they have had discussions, when those people are not necessarily in a position to confirm what was said?

Mr. Mitchell

I confirm that there have been some scaremongering stories in circulation about the extend of cuts in services. In London and the south-east the cutback amounts to only 2 per cent. of loaded train miles. Across the country it amounts to only 1 per cent.

Mr. Cartwright

Will the Minister explain why so many of the planned cuts in southern region fall on southeast London, the forgotten corner of the city in public transport terms, which has no London Transport tube links to the centre and has congested road links? Why should people who depend so heavily upon British Rail find their services so seriously cut?

Mr. Mitchell

Because of the changes in the pattern of travel to work. There have been considerable changes in the movement of people coming to and from work, and the railways have sought to match their services to it.

Mr. Sims

Is my hon. Friend aware that although I have criticised British Rail in the past for failing to consult local Members of Parliament when changing the timetables, I am now satisfied that it has gone out of its way to consult local authorities and passenger organisations and is at least trying, as my hon. Friend said, to match demand with the new timetables, with at least a degree of success, save that it seems to think that life in London, including the Houses of Parliament closes at 11.30 pm?

Mr. Mitchell

Some of us might wish that it did. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks about the consultation processes that British Rail has been going through. After the knocking copy that we have had from the Opposition, I am sure that when I pass those remarks on to the chairman of British Rail he will be grateful.


Mr. Snape

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In my supplementary question to question No. 11, I repeated certain figures appertaining to the future of British Rail. I was attacked for doing so by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), who implied that I had acted improperly in repeating a conversation between myself and the general manager of the southern region of British Rail. The figures that I gave to the House—on the third cut in eight years in the rail service—are accurate and can be found in the 1983 corporate plan of British Rail. The 135 per cent. load factor for southern region trains — [HON. MEMBERS: "This is not a point of order."] Yes, it is. The load factor figure and the 1 per cent. increase in rail fares can also be found in the plan.

If, Mr. Speaker, hon. Members on either side of the House—this certainly applies to Front Bench spokesmen —were not allowed to repeat conversations they have had with senior management of a nationlised industry to ascertain the facts for themselves, the reputation of the House would be diminished. I hope that, on reflection, the right hon. Member for Worthing will accept that I in no way acted improperly and that he will withdraw his allegation.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is more of an explanation than a point of order.

Mr. Higgins

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) to say that he was quoting from a meeting that had taken place. It seemed to me that if those remarks were not verifiable they could be unfair. If the facts are as were stated, I accept that, but we shall wish to look at Hansard.