HC Deb 22 February 1988 vol 128 cc10-1
8. Mrs. Fyfe

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether his Department has commissioned any studies on the economic impact of the provision of rail commuter services; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Mitchell

The Transport and Road Research Laboratory has published or collaborated in a number of national and international urban transport studies.

Mrs. Fyfe

What did the Minister tell the Bank of England's City commuter services group, which reported to him that a survey of 5,250 employers revealed that more time was lost from work because of delays and cancellations than through sickness or any other cause?

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Lady is complaining about delays.

Mr. Snape

There have been delays here.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Lady has complained about delays and the reliability of trains. There is great interest at the moment in Network SouthEast, and reliability on these services has improved from 98.5 to 98.8 per cent. of trains running. Reliability and punctuality have improved. If the hon. Lady can give me a specific area of anxiety in Scotland, I shall write to her.

Mr. Snape

This is not fair on the Government. Is the Minister aware that groups as diverse as the transport users' consultative committees, the Railway Development Society, Transport 2000, the Confederation of British Industry, the TUC—I wonder whether the Minister has found the right page for this answer yet—the Evening Standard commuter club and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission have complained recently about the "inadequacy, strain and danger" and overcrowding on British Rail services? Why is it that when Ministers find the right page, we receive only platitudes written by civil servants? Why has the chairman of the British Railways Board received a knighthood for being the most incompetent public servant in the country? Why is the ever-greedy road lobby the only group to be delighted by the incompetence of the hon. Gentleman and his fellow Ministers?

Mr. Mitchell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary to question 7. New quality standards were set and accepted by British Rail last July. Punctuality, reliability, cleaning, overcrowding, inquiry delays and queueing for tickets are all covered by the standards. Those matters have been accepted by the chairman of British Rail. In the last six months of last year there was an improvement in punctuality and reliability on the Network SouthEast commuter services.

Mr. Yeo

Is my hon. Friend aware that the commuter service from Manningtree is very important? Despite a rather erratic record of reliability, that service is used by an increasing number of my constituents and others elsewhere in East Anglia. Is he further aware that a great shock was caused when, following the construction of a large new car park at the station, British Rail announced its decision to eliminate most of the InterCity services? At the next meeting with British Rail's management, will my hon. Friend prevail upon it, if he can, to adopt more business-like practices and not to treat its customers as an inconvenience?

Mr. Mitchell

I shall be seeing the sector director of Network SouthEast this evening, and I shall draw that point to his attention.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

If the Minister seriously wants to receive complaints from Scotland, is he prepared to accept dossiers from Scottish Members of Parliament, who can all cite extensive cases of the problems faced by our commuters? Does he accept that one of the major problems facing commuters in Scotland is the poor quality of the rolling stock and the fact that the upgrading, being so slow as to be ineffective, is hindering economic recovery?

Mr. Mitchell

I am aware of the improvements that have occurred in ScotRail. If the hon. Lady is referring to section 20 services, she must refer to the passenger transport authority concerned.