HC Deb 03 July 1995 vol 263 cc2-3
2. Mr. Hoon

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is his Department's policy in relation to British Rail being invited to tender for rail franchises. [30116]

The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts)

Under section 25 of the Railways Act 1993, the franchising director has the discretion to exclude the British Railways Board or any wholly owned subsidiary of the board from tendering for rail franchises.

Mr. Hoon

The Prime Minister says that Conservative Members of Parliament should vote for his sound management, his years of experience and, above all, his track record. Why do those principles not apply to British Rail's tendering for franchises?

Mr. Watts

The franchising director has decided that British Rail should not be allowed to bid for the first three franchises. He fears that other bidders would be deterred if British Rail were allowed to bid. I emphasise, however, that British Rail management teams—to which I think that the hon. Gentleman was referring—will not be excluded. Indeed, a number of management and employee teams have expressed an interest in becoming franchisees.

Sir Alan Haselhurst

Has not my hon. Friend made the exact point that, if British Rail is allowed to bid for each and every one of the franchises, the management teams will effectively be precluded from so doing—thus denying the possibility of innovative approaches?

Mr. Watts

My hon. Friend is entirely right.

Mr. McLeish

Is it not a scandal that British Rail should be excluded from seeking franchises on political grounds? More important, does the Minister accept that his policy of ensuring that 51 per cent. of train operators held franchises by May is now in tatters? Will he concede that, having spent £1.25 billion on privatisation, the Government have not managed to bring any of the train operators into the private sector? When will the Minister give up this meaningless exercise—or must we wait until the Secretary of State has been moved to another Department before someone will have the guts to abandon this crazy, lunatic idea?

Mr. Watts

The answer to the last part of the question is never. I would never wish to abandon a policy that I believe would be of benefit to passengers and freight users. I must emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that there is no political involvement in those decisions. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is specifically prevented from giving the franchising director objectives, instructions or guidance on the exercise of his powers under section 25 of the Railways Act 1993.

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