HC Deb 27 February 1984 vol 55 cc10-1
17. Mr. Snape

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is satisfied with conditions of travel for peak period train commuters in London and the south-east.

Mr. David Mitchell

This will be covered in discussions we shall have with British Rail about further development of objectives for London and south-eastern services. These include such matters as load factors, punctuality, reliability and cleanliness.

Mr. Snape

Will the Minister concede that the latest reductions in train services in London and the south-east are the third in less than seven years and that southern region has already made it plain that, given those further reductions, the occupancy of peak hour trains will be up to 135 per cent.? Is that not a step backwards for most commuters?

Mr. Mitchell

The fact that it is the third change simply reflects changes in travelling patterns. The hon. Gentleman labours under a misapprehension about British Rail's intentions for maximum loading. They are that there should be 100 per cent. in compartment stock, 110 per cent. in gangway slam-door stock and 135 per cent. in sliding-door stock, which has been specially designed with additional standing room. All of those peak loads are designed for the busiest part of the route at peak time only.

Mr. Forman

Is my hon. Friend aware that the vital need for commuters travelling from my constituency to inner London and elsewhere is that British Rail trains should not be cancelled at short notice, without warning? Is he aware that in many cases it means that commuters must wait a whole hour between services instead of half an hour, which is clearly economically damaging and socially disrupting to them?

Mr. Mitchell

I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of the chairman of British Rail.

Mr. Barnett

Will the Minister reconsider the answer that he has just given after travelling on some suburban trains in south London, where in many cases commuters are totally dependent upon those services, and where there is precious little standing room anyway?

Mr. Mitchell

The special modern rolling stock with sliding doors to which I referred has additional standing room provided within it. It is not operating in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I must tell him that trains often arrive—this is especially so at central London stations—jam-packed in the front compartments but nearly empty in the rear compartments.

Mr. McCrindle

Is it not likely that the conditions in which commuters travel at peak hours will be improved substantially by the privatisation of commuter railway lines into central London where possible? Will my hon. Friend confirm that, as it appears to be a self-contained route, he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would consider favourably any move towards the privatisation of the line between Shoeburyness and Fenchurch Street?

Mr. Mitchell

Proposals for the privatisation of various routes will be of interest and will certainly be encouraged by us, but they must be commercially attractive to British Rail. We have set British Rail stiff targets, and it would be wrong for us to undermine them by insisting on things that are not commercially attractive to the board.

Mr. Stephen Ross

May I welcome that statement by the Minister and say that before any privatisation takes place we should have a debate in the House? Is he aware of the position on the Portsmouth line, where many trains have been reduced to only eight coaches and are consequently grossly overcrowded? Will he ask the chairman of British Rail, southern region, to return to 12-coach operation as soon as possible?

Mr. Mitchell

I shall draw those detailed matters of management to the attention of management, where they rightly belong.

Mr. Gregory

Will my hon. Friend deprecate any action by railway staff that would jeopardise the transport of passengers, especially tomorrow, in defence of the illegal action in connection with GCHQ?

Mr. Mitchell

Any such action would damage the improving image of British Rail and its attempts to attract passengers to use train services, which is the real justification of the railway, and the way ahead for its successful promotion.

Mrs. Dunwoody

When the Minister talks to the chairman of British Rail, will he ask him whether he has given an instruction to railwaymen in the south-east similar to that which he has given in other regions to the effect that they should not lobby their Members of Parliament or any other person for extra investment in British Rail? Will he explain to the chairman that, despite the Government's attitude, railwaymen still have civil rights?

Mr. Mitchell

There would be no point in railwaymen lobbying Members of Parliament for extra investment in British Rail, since the Government have fully allowed all of British Rail's requests for investment.