HC Deb 10 February 1992 vol 203 cc646-7
10. Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement as to the effect of the citizens charter on British Rail's operations.

Mr. Freeman

The citizens charter is about raising standards and making public services more responsive to their customers. The British Rail passengers charter will set out a number of initiatives to give greater impetus to the efforts that BR has already made in this direction.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

For passengers from Carlisle to London, is not the reality of the passengers charter likely to be that rail fares will increase, that journeys set out on the timetable will be cancelled and that some journeys will be lengthened, all this being part of a desperate attempt by British Rail to claw back the £40 million that they will probably need to pay compensation to passengers? Given the way that the charter has been presented to Parliament, is not it a political gimick?

Mr. Freeman

As for £40 million, that is the hon. Gentleman's figure. British Rail paid out between £6 million and £7 million last year in compensation. We have no plans to be associated with any scheme that involves significant costs. That would not be sensible. It is sensible to have performance targets that British Rail will strive to meet, and there will be proper compensation where those targets are not met. The hon. Gentleman adopts a negative approach to improving the quality of service that is provided by British Rail. Indeed, there have been no positive proposals from the Opposition about improving the quality of British Rail services.

Mr. Butler

Is not it indicative of British Rail's problem of being too producer-oriented that it confronts the problem of compensation by floating the idea that it will have to increase fares rather than increase efficiency?

Mr. Freeman

Quite right. We want British Rail to take very much further some of the initiatives on which it has already embarked in trying to be more responsive to customer demand. It should be not a producer or engineer-led industry but one that is responsive to what passengers want in terms of price and time of service.

Mr. Prescott

Is the Minister aware that British Rail's charter was promised by the Prime Minister in August for December, and that it is now two months late? The Government are hardly setting a good example for British Rail. Will he confirm that the definition of lateness adopted by British Rail and the Government, which was changed from five minutes to 10 minutes in the 1980s, is already being considered and that compensation will be paid only to those whose trains are over one hour late? As the Government have made it clear that compensation will be available only to season ticket holders and those who book their seats, six out of 10 passengers on a train will have no entitlement to compensation. That shows that there will be first-class and second-class compensation schemes. Surely it would have been better to use the compensation moneys—the Government have pinched another idea of ours, leasing trains—and lease the 40-year-old north Kent trains, it being clear that the passengers prefer a new and reliable train rather than being paid compensation

Mr. Freeman

The hon. Gentleman has not read the charter, so I am not sure how he can criticise it. The reason that the Government, together with British Rail, have taken great trouble over the passengers charter—and why, therefore, it is later than originally forecast—is that it is now better than was forecast in the White Paper last summer. The hon. Gentleman should wait and see what it says.

On leasing, BR has been leasing wagons, locomotives and other services for years, and where it is appropriate it will continue to do so.

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