HC Deb 27 November 1995 vol 267 cc917-8
10. Mr. Hall

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the condition of Britain's railways. [652]

Sir George Young

Recent high investment and increased efficiency have brought real improvements to our railways. Privatisation will build on this and stimulate further improvements in the quality of infrastructure and services.

Mr. Hall

The whole focus of the Tory party's transport policy has been on disfranchising the travelling public through deregulation, fragmentation and privatisation. The policy has been driven by the desperate search for tax cuts and by Tory party ideology. Railtrack is not sure whether it or the contractor is responsible for safety on the railway lines. When the Government sold off the rolling stock earlier this month for £1.3 million, they did not place it under the control of the Rail Regulator. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking this afternoon to intervene to ensure that the rolling stock comes under the control of the Rail Regulator so that we can have proper investment in the railways in the future?

Sir George Young

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's allegations. The consumer now has two guarantees that he never had before: first, key fares will not rise in real terms in the next three years; and, secondly, the services spelt out in the passenger service requirements will not be withdrawn during a seven-year period. Those are guarantees to the customer that were never given by the Labour party.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what we have heard from the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) is the authentic voice of the trade union-dominated Labour party, which is far more interested in the concerns of the rail unions than in those of the travelling public? Opposition Members may suggest that things were good in the nationalised railway, but the Government have produced a customer and passenger-centred railway.

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is quite right. Under Labour, rail fares rose by more than 22 per cent. in real terms. One may contrast that with our guarantee that, from January, there will be no increase in real terms in key fares.

Mr. Wilson

I was amused to hear the Secretary of State quoting earlier from the all-party Select Committee report on rail privatisation. Will he recognise now that the central finding of that report was that it would cost an extra £700 million a year to maintain the same level of service as exists at present—not one extra service or one extra train? Can the Secretary of State explain to the House—including his own increasingly sceptical Back Benchers—why on earth, when everything else is being cut, he is prepared in the name of dogma to pay an extra £700 million a year for no improvement in service? Before he does so, will he answer the question that he avoided earlier? Will he give an undertaking that no franchises will be let to failed double-glazers or anyone else in advance of the High Court ruling?

Sir George Young

As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would expect, the Government will reply to the Transport Select Committee's report in the normal way. I will forward our response in the next day or so. It will then be up to the Select Committee to publish it in the normal way. The hon. Gentleman will then get a response to the first point that he raised. For the record, the Government have never accepted that figure of £700 million. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain at some point exactly what he meant in The Daily Telegraph when he said: Nobody should be in any doubt about our commitment to a publicly owned and accountable national railway network. There is considerable doubt on the hon. Gentleman's own side, among ASLEF and the RMT, as to whether that commitment means anything. Until we hear from Opposition Front-Bench Members what they intend to do to deliver their conference resolution to renationalise the railways, nothing that they say on the railways will be taken with any seriousness whatever.

Dr. Spink

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the condition of British railways will be improved by the Government's comprehensive policies? Does he agree that it will be improved in particular by the policy to privatise rail, which will bring forward rolling stock orders, thereby helping the travelling public, environmentalists and our industry, and by the policy to stabilise and reduce rail fares, which will bring more passengers on to the rail service and bring in more income, which can then be used for investment?

Sir George Young

I agree with my hon. Friend, particularly about investment. Last week, I opened the RailTex exhibition at Wembley, at which there were more exhibitors this year than last. There were more new products and there was a real appetite among train operators and those in the railway industry for privatisation. They see it as unlocking fresh investment in an industry which is now ending decades of decline, and which will be revitalised under privatisation.