HL Deb 25 April 1986 vol 473 cc1378-80

11.10 a.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they consider the policy for London airports should include comparable rail fares from the centre of London.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, rail fares for services to airports, as to any other destination, are a matter for the operators concerned.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I anticipated that Answer. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether, when one is talking of a London airports policy, it is really justifiable that the rail fare to Heathrow—the Underground rail fare—should be one-third of that from Victoria to Gatwick. Can he tell the House what percentage of rail passengers currently use the Gatwick service, which I say straightaway is very efficient?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, there are two different operators. London Regional Transport operates the Underground service to Heathrow and British Rail operates the service to Gatwick. Therefore it is not surprising that one has a slightly different price structure, together with the fact that they are at different mileage points from the centre of London. I am grateful to my noble friend for his reference to the success of the Gatwick British Rail link. I used it recently and I found it very efficient. I do not have the precise figures, but I understand that about 40 per cent. of the passengers use this mode of transport.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the fares to Gatwick are higher than fares to further down the line and that the sensible passenger can save money by booking to a further point and getting off at Gatwick?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is the case, as I understand it, but I am advised—in fact, I have found out myself—that it is possible to do that with other destinations by using saver fares and other such benefits offered by British Rail.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is it not a fact that a similar position exists with regard to the fares to Heathrow? Those fares are also specially geared at a price quite different from normal. The fare as far as Hatton Cross is lower and is designed to be used by residents of London, but the minute you go past Hatton Cross as far as Heathrow the fare is specially geared to be an airport fare for overseas visitors. Could it not be said that that is a principle similar to that in respect of Gatwick and that there is a special fare attached to airport travel at the present time?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not believe that the point made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter is special to Gatwick. Indeed, I have had experience of being able to buy a ticket to a destination further down the line than the stop to which I wanted to go, for considerably less money.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the noble Earl said that it was a matter for the operators concerned. Surely we are not being asked to believe that the Government have no direct discussions with the operators on matters of this kind, particularly in respect of the British Rail service to Gatwick.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I confirm that it is the responsibility of the operators, but as the noble Lord will be aware my right honourable friend the Secretary of State set out guidelines for both LRT and British Rail.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister not agree that most members of the public would prefer the Government not to interfere in any way if it means an increase in the fare to Heathrow rather than the fare to Gatwick decreasing?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I can only concur with my noble friend.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that there is a large body of opinion in the country that says that we already give too many concessions to London airports and to airports in the South, as opposed to those made to airports in the North?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the subject of airports in the North was discussed fairly fully last Monday, on the Second Reading of the Airports Bill. With due respect to the noble Lord, it is not entirely relevant to the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that many of us who travel in the superannuated cattle trucks that Southern Region provides on its main lines look with envy upon the comfortable and usually half-empty trains to Gatwick? Can there not be some redistribution of comfort?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sure that the managers responsible at British Rail will note my noble friend's point.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl can find out the answer to this question, because probably he does not know it. While the rail line from Gatwick to Victoria is excellent, one of the problems has been that there are no porters at Victoria Station. I am aware that one can get trolleys there, but it is not easy. Nor is it easy for elderly passengers. I understand that, in the past, British Rail has not had the finances to take on porters. Will the Minister be kind enough to inquire whether or not that position has improved?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, if my memory serves me aright, I had the help of a porter quite recently at Victoria; but I shall check on the situation.