HC Deb 09 November 1987 vol 122 cc9-10
8. Mr. Anderson

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what action he proposes to take on the findings of the inquiry conducted by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into Network SouthEast.

Mr. David Mitchell

I am discussing the report with British Rail, which will be making its formal response in the new year.

Mr. Anderson

The Minister must be aware of the report's key recommendation that substantial new investment is required to resolve the chronic problems of overcrowding, cancellations and unpunctuality which plague 400,000 daily commuters in London and the southeast. Does he propose to ignore the recommendation or sweep it under the carpet?

Mr. Mitchell

It is not for Ministers to propose investment to British Rail; it is for British Rail to propose investment to Ministers. There are no proposals from British Rail that I have turned down that it has not been able to re-present in any acceptable form. The hon. Gentleman may like to know that the average annual investment in British Rail at 1985–86 prices was £112 million in 1970–79, £153 million in 1980–86 and the projected level is £175 million.

Mr. Moate

Does my hon. Friend agree that he has considerable influence with British Rail? Does he accept that there is serious concern about deteriorating standards in the south-east after many years during which services had improved progressively? Will he talk to British Rail about the need to implement some of the recommendations of the report to ensure decent travelling standards for hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens?

Mr. Mitchell

Yes, I shall discuss the report with British Rail and, of course, take account of my hon. Friend's points. However, we are sometimes a little unfair to British Rail and its staff, especially in the Network SouthEast area, because punctuality has increased from 84 per cent. of all trains arriving within five minutes in 1979 to 91 per cent. last year. Reliability has also increased with cancellations decreasing from 4.9, to 1.6 per cent. Several other quality standards have been improved.

Mr. Snape

Does the Minister accept that this is the second such inquiry in seven years and that, like the previous one, the main recommendation of this inquiry has been the need for greater investment in rail services in Network SouthEast? Does he accept that Opposition Members blame, not British Rail and its staff, but the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends?

Mr. Mitchell

It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to seek to do that, but he must know that British Rail proposes investment decisions and that I dispose of them—or, rather, the Secretary of State and I do that—and that in disposing of them I have given approval time after time. I think it is fair to say that no other Minister in a similar period has given as much approval as I have done. For good measure, I advise the hon. Gentleman that I have just approved £59.5 million for new electric multiple units for the great eastern lines.