HC Deb 14 October 1991 vol 196 cc1-3
1. Mr. Ian Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent representations he has received from commuters about the difficulties of travelling into London.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

I receive a large amount of correspondence on a variety of issues from commuters who travel into London.

Mr. Taylor

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend had an enjoyable and active recess. Does he sympathise with those in my constituency and elsewhere in the south-east who spend a great deal of time each day trying to get into and out of London and who face blocked roads and the M25 bulging at the seams?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give the management of British Rail yet another kick in the pants, in the hope that it will try to overcome the problems faced by constituents who commute, such as cancellations, overcrowding, delays, lack of information and uninterest-ed staff? Perhaps, then, more of the 58 per cent. of people——

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a rather long supplementary.

Mr. Taylor

It has been a very long journey for some of my constituents, Mr. Speaker.

I hope that British Rail will get its act together and make my constituents a great deal happier in their daily journeys into and out of London.

Mr. Rifkind

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's remarks. We must recognise that life is extremely difficult for commuters. The Government are seeking to do what they can to ease the position, both through the major improvements to the M25 that we have announced and through the heaviest investment programme that Network SouthEast has enjoyed for 30 years. I agree with my hon. Friend that there are other ways, which do not involve the use of resources, in which the service to the travelling public can be substantially improved.

Mr. Fearn

The Secretary of State will know that the inquiry into the Clapham rail crash in 1988 recommended that there should be no more than 10 per cent. more passengers than there are seats. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that Network SouthEast continually breaches that recommendation? What will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do about that, in view of the safety considerations?

Mr. Rifkind

As the hon. Gentleman knows, safety is one of the most important considerations for British Rail and it is involved in major investment to improve safety levels both on Network SouthEast lines and lines throughout the country. Currently, a large number of passenger vehicles and other forms of rolling stock are being manufactured and they will come into service with Network SouthEast. That will make an important contribution towards solving the sort of problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Sir David Mitchell

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that where there has been new investment, the service is acceptable, but that where new investment is still awaited, the service is often wholly unacceptable? Will he assure us that the Treasury's external financing limit will not restrain BR from pressing forward with its investment programme?

Mr. Rifkind

The level of the external financing limit is bound to have some effect—it all depends what level is set. The programme on which British Rail has already embarked is massive and certainly the largest since before the days of Dr. Beeching. On Network SouthEast alone, more than 800 passenger coaches and other rolling stock are with the manufacturers and when they come into operation over the next two years they will have a dramatic impact on the quality of life for the travelling public.

Ms. Walley

Is the Secretary of State aware that the annual report of the Transport Users Consultative Committee published last week showed that the number of serious complaints has doubled? Given the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement last week about the channel tunnel and the extra strain that it will place on Network SouthEast, will he tell the House whether it is his intention to bring some public service obligation investment to that line?

Mr. Rifkind

PSO grant for Network SouthEast and for other services in receipt of PSO has been substantially increased and was increased during the financial year as part of the £400 million additional package that I announced some time ago. Although the Transport Users Consultative Committee referred, quite properly, to the level of complaints, it also acknowledged that the level of investment permitted by the Government is higher than it has been for generations.