HC Deb 25 November 1996 vol 286 cc11-2
9. Lady Olga Maitland

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on privatisation plans in relation to rail services. [4010]

Sir George Young

Rail privatisation is progressing extremely well. About 70 per cent. of the rail industry has been transferred to the private sector, generating some £4.5 billion in proceeds for the Exchequer. Thirteen passenger rail services are now in the private sector, the Cross Country franchise is expected to be awarded shortly and the remaining 11 are all on course to be awarded in this financial year. All British Rail's former domestic freight businesses are now in the private sector. The international freight operation, Railfreight Distribution, is expected to be sold at the turn of the year.

Lady Olga Maitland

I hope that my right hon. Friend's plans include a scheme to privatise London Underground. That would provide an opportunity for investment to extend the line from Morden to Sutton in my constituency, which would be widely welcomed. Is he aware how successful the privatisation of Network SouthCentral has been and how popular it is with my commuters, who find that 90 per cent. of trains now arrive on time? Is it not a pity that Labour so bitterly opposes privatisation, putting ideology before passenger interests?

Sir George Young

I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend of the success of privatisation in her constituency. She is right to remind the House that punctuality on South West Trains mainline services has improved by more than 3 per cent. since franchising. As The Daily Telegraph commented last Friday: Privatised trains run on time more often". My hon. Friend will recall that our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Bournemouth that we are seeing whether the principles behind privatisation can be applied more widely, in particular to London Underground.

Mrs. Dunwoody

We are all delighted to know that the Secretary of State, like Mussolini, wants to make the trains run on time. Is he aware of the great disquiet in my constituency because the new director of Opraf is allowing tenders for the line on the basis of the existing timetable, which has been shown to contain more than 100 errors? If the tendering is going ahead before the consultation exercise, how genuine is his commitment to the interests of those who use public transport?

Sir George Young

The consultation on the draft passenger service requirements is genuine. As the hon. Lady knows, following consultation, changes have been made to the draft PSRs and improvements have been made. I have no doubt that when the west coast main line is franchised, her constituents and the constituents of Chester and of other constituencies on that line will experience the benefits of our privatisation policy.

Mr. Rowe

Having spent several years dismally failing to persuade British Rail to provide any new rolling stock on my local railway, may I say how delighted my commuters are at the promise in the new owner's franchise agreement that they will shortly enjoy the benefits of new rolling stock?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right to point out that there has been some £400 million of new investment in rolling stock in that franchise—further evidence that privatisation will allow higher investment than a public sector railway would have. Given his efforts to persuade British Rail, he will be interested to learn that the latest figures show that rail complaints fell by 25 per cent. in the first half of this year, I hope that that means that he will get fewer letters of complaint in his postbag.

Mr. Llwyd

On Wednesday last I travelled on the 9 am train from Paddington to Cardiff. I arrived 45 minutes late on a two-hour journey—which is typical, I suppose. When I arrived, I was told that there were sheep on the line, and I subsequently heard that the same sheep had delayed the 8 am service. When I went to catch the 4.25 pm return, I was told that it had been cancelled five minutes earlier. I asked whether the sheep were still active and was told that there had been no interference by sheep that week. That is a newly franchised service, and it is not very good, is it?

Sir George Young

It is a better service than was provided by British Rail. Great Western is already refurbishing several trains, and privatisation will result in more services from Paddington to Cardiff. Therefore, there is less risk of being delayed by sheep.