§ Mr. Olner
The Minister's answer will disappoint many commuters in my constituency of Nuneaton. My local railway station is served by trains from Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Holyhead; if there is no through ticketing agreement between the various operators, all the stations on the route are likely to be closed. Will the Minister undertake to get involved to ensure that the network and my constituents are protected?
§ Mr. Watts
The hon. Gentleman's constituents should not be disappointed. The licence condition is that train operators should maintain the current service at the 1,300 stations that are capable of issuing through tickets. The regulator will permit variations from that only if he is satisfied that a higher, not a lower, standard of service will result. The hon. Gentleman's constituents should be reassured: through ticketing can only become better on the privatised railway than it was on the so-called publicly owned and publicly accountable railway.
§ Mr. Mans
Now that the Opposition transport spokesman, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short), has made it clear that she prefers nationalised railways and wants those that have been moved into the private sector moved back as soon as possible, will my hon. Friend ensure that the west coast main line moves into the private sector as soon as possible, so that, at the next general election, people can see the benefits of privatisation as they are already seeing the benefits of the Stagecoach service to Weymouth?
§ Mr. Wilson
Does the Minister share the Prime Minister's surprising view that fraud involving hundreds of thousands of pounds represents no more than misbehaviour which should not be allowed to stand in the way of the privatisation dogma? Does he recognise that problems with through ticketing are part and parcel of the same problem that gives rise to fraud by one operator against the others—the fragmentation of the railway network? Will he join the Rail Regulator in at least apologising for the near collapse of the national rail inquiry system? Fraud, the collapse of the information system and the near collapse of through ticketing are all the results of fragmentation. Which of the three does the Minister defend?
§ Mr. Watts
I note that the hon. Gentleman adds a good few noughts on to the end of any figures that have been quoted as the possible cost of the irregularity on the London-Tilbury-Southend line, which was discovered very rapidly as a result of the routine procedures that were put in place for the privatised structure.
§ Mr. Watts
I was referring to the hon. Lady speaking through the broadcast media. What I have said is true and fair comment.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) speaks of fragmentation, but even he should understand that the network, in the ownership and operation of Railtrack, remains integrated. Fragmentation, in the way in which he uses the term, means nothing more than the provision of services by a number of dedicated train operating companies.