HC Deb 14 October 1991 vol 196 cc9-11
8. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has any plans to encourage public and private transport bodies to refund fares when their vehicles fail to run or are late; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Rifkind

Arising from the citizens charter, British Rail and London Underground are preparing charters for their customers that will set out the level of service that can be expected and what compensation will be available. Private sector transport operators must decide how best to serve their customers in a competitive market.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the time has come to compensate all passengers, particularly my constituents in Ealing, North, when trains and other transport are late? Would not the charter place a discipline on British Rail and other bodies responsible for transport, as they would know that they would have to compensate passengers when trains are late or when passengers are kept sitting in sidings for hours in anticipation of an arrival? Should not something be done, and what will be done?

Mr. Rifkind

It is, indeed, desirable to improve compensation measures, and under the citizens charter that is what British Rail and London Transport propose to do. There is the practical question of identifying the passengers who travelled, or who wished to travel, on a train service, but once those practical aspects can be accommodated the principle of compensation will be irrefutable where the service has been grossly inadequate.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Is the Minister aware that the 7.05 am from Manchester to London was more than two hours late this morning? Does he realise that for many passengers on that train it was the second time in a month that the service had been unsatisfactory? Is he aware that although they would like some compensation for that, what they really want is a train service that runs on time? The only way to achieve that is effective investment in rail stock. When shall we get some new units on the line from Manchester to London?

Mr. Rifkind

As the hon. Gentleman knows, British Rail has a substantial investment programme. I travelled today on the new east coast main line service and arrived within three minutes of the scheduled time of arrival, on which BR can properly be congratulated. We should like such punctuality to apply throughout the service, and the hon. Gentleman's point is well noted.

Mr. Dunn

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the worst railway line is not in Essex but is the Dartford loop line, which serves my constituency? When will British Rail announce its policy to levy only small fare increases on what are deemed to be poorly served lines?

Mr. Rifkind

I understand that British Rail is likely to make its fare increases known in the near future. In determining what those levels should be, it is important that some account is taken of lines that are known to provide an especially bad service. There should be some connection between the two aspects, and we very much hope that British Rail will take account of that.

Mr. Prescott

Did the Secretary of State read the Daily Mail story today which said that the Prime Minister had intervened in respect of British Rail fares, that those fares are no longer British Rail's responsibility and that the Government intend freezing them? How does the Secretary of State intend to provide the capital that is necessary to meet his hon. Friends' complaints about Network SouthEast and about which line is the worst? It is clear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to reduce subsidies for the south-east by 1992. Does he intend to continue that silly policy?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friends have been referring to investment in Network SouthEast lines. The hon. Gentleman should know two things—that investment in Network SouthEast is at an historically high level and that, under the last Labour Government, for three years investment was cut, not increased. It is the practice of Labour Governments, not the rhetoric of Labour spokesmen, to which the House and the country will pay attention.

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