British Rail (Commuter Services)

Part of Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th March 1976.

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Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler , Sutton Coldfield 12:00 am, 17th March 1976

The Pryke and Dodgson book and article set them out. I was trying to make the alternative point about the overmanning of staff but I will ask my hon. Friend the Member for Welling-borough (Mr. Fry) to deal with this matter. The hon. Gentleman laughs, and we are glad to see him with us even if he is laughing, but if he is talking about greater efficiency and increased productivity, perhaps when the Under-Secretary of State replies he will define it. The solution does not lie simply in reducing the number working for British Rail.

Secondly, for the commuter services the peak is all-important. Therefore, we must examine schemes for spreading it, for staggered hours and the rest. I appreciate that that is not a new solution but it is important that at this stage of financial crisis it is examined.

Lastly, there is a matter of more general application. It is quite clear that the Government have not succeeded in developing a successful working relationship between themselves and the British Railways Board. Sir Richard Marsh's complaint was always that the Government had not given him a clear or constituent guide of what was required. In his letter to the Secretary of State he complains about: the total lack of clarity of the Board's objecting. As he explained the position to me a week or so ago, he wanted to run a business, not a social service. He wanted a clear set of objectives from the Government. The other part of the bargain was that if the Board failed to meet those objectives, heads should roll. Ironically, what has happened is that his head has rolled, albeit with himself as executioner. However, the objectives still remain unclear.

Therefore, in this short debate we do not intend to divide the House but to use the opportunity to express the genuine and real concern felt about this matter in the country. We want to see the commuters' problem dealt with in the Transport Policy Review. If it is not, clearly we shall want to return to this subject. We do not want to gloss over the difficulties of commuter services or to suggest that commuters can have specially preferential treatment. However, we insist that the hundreds of thousands of commuters in this country deserve and should have a fair deal.