HC Deb 16 January 1989 vol 145 cc8-10
7. Mr. Teddy Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he next plans to meet the chairman of British Rail: and what matters will be discussed.

Mr. Channon

I shall be meeting the chairman of British Rail on 23 January to discuss a variety of rail matters.

Mr. Taylor

If there is time, could my right hon. Friend tell the chairman how honoured Southend-on-Sea is that one of its Members is now Secretary of State for Transport? Will he explain that we feel that this might provide an appropriate opportunity for early action to be taken on the modernisation of the Fenchurch street line, which has been neglected for such a long time?

Mr. Channon

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and it is a great treat to answer his question, especially as it concerns something about which I feel very strongly and with which I completely agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and I are very pleased that British Rail already has in hand a large programme of resignalling, new rolling stock and new electrical equipment. I am determined that there should be progress on the Fenchurch street line and I am glad to say that the chairman of British Rail agrees with me.

Mr. Spearing

When the Secretary of State next sees the chairman of British Rail, will he convey to him the strong feelings on both sides of the House about the access of freight from the Channel tunnel to the north of London? Will he ask the chairman of British Rail whether the existing links across London, namely the west London line and recently re-opened Thames link line, which will have to go through the proposed King's Cross terminal, will be adequate for that traffic? Would it not be wise to consider a tunnel under the Thames further east, connecting the proposed freight traffic interchange at Stratford to the Channel tunnel as an additional link across London?

Mr. Channon

I have no doubt about the widespread feeling in the House about that matter. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman's suggestion will be the final solution to the problem, but I will draw the attention of the chairman of British Rail to his remarks.

Mr. Gregory

As the Government have invested £3,000 million in British Rail since 1979, and I understand have plans for the same sum for the next three years, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State next meets the chairman of British Rail will he raise the point that with such sums behind it, British Rail should at least keep accurate timetables? Should we not be informed how many trains arrive on time? My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport has been unable to give that information to the House.

Mr. Channon

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend about that. Of course, we have standards for quality of service. Punctuality and reliability, particularly on Network SouthEast, have improved during the past year. Quality varies between lines. It is excellent on some lines, but on othe lines there is still a considerable way to go. I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Will the Secretary of State also ensure that some of his discussion is devoted to vital questions surrounding the continuation of services in the northern region? Is he aware of the widespread concern in my area about proposals to close the Aberdeen to Inverness rail line in preference to bus routes? That is a totally unacceptable development in our area. Will he assure us that he will discuss those matters and the need to electrify the lines north of Edinburgh and Glasgow?

Mr. Channon

I have seen no such proposals. I have an awful feeling that this may be a case of self-inflicted rumour.

Mr. Bowis

Will my right hon. Friend impress on the chairman of British Rail the urgency, for reasons of comfort and safety, of providing longer trains and therefore longer platforms? Will he also stress the fact that if there are good reasons for having rules about the number of standing passengers in excess of the number of seats for people travelling beyond 20 miles, there are equally good reasons for such rules for people travelling less than 20 miles?

Mr. Channon

We must make progress in that matter. I hope that the large investment programme in British Rail will enable improvements to be made on inter-city lines, provincial lines and Network SouthEast. My hon. Friend has raised some very important points, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). The large investment programme, at record levels since the 1960s in real terms, will lead to major improvements in British Rail as time passes.

Mr. Prescott

When the Secretary of State meets the chairman of British Rail, will he discuss the conclusion of the report produced by the central transport consultative committee that the Government's policy of reducing the public service obligation by £270 million has reduced the quality of rail service? Will he reconsider further cuts of £200 million in the PSO which will mean a railway system with the highest fares and the lowest quality in Europe? Is it not time that the fare structure met the needs of the travelling public and not the Treasury?

Mr. Channon

As usual, the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I have explained to the House that major improvements are being made to British Rail and that massive investment is being undertaken. Right hon. and hon. Members who are reasonable know that great steps are being taken to improve British Rail. The PSO is being reduced because British Rail is more efficient—[Interruption.] It is the level of investment that is important. The hon. Gentleman never questions me about the investment level—and I am not surprised, because he has good reason to be ashamed of his party's record.

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