When the Secretary of State meets the chairman of British Rail, will he discuss the latest delay to the advanced passenger train project? Apparently, as part of the present industrial action, drivers in Scotland are refusing to operate the train on trials. Will the right hon. Gentleman seek ways to ensure that the industrial dispute is not allowed to spill over and affect the advanced passenger train project?
Yes. I am sure that this is a matter about which I should speak to the chairman. I have seen a report to the effect that there has been a delay today. I have not had the opportunity of substantiating it. I would regret, as I am sure the whole House would, any delay in the introduction of an important new technological development which will do a great deal for British Rail.
When the Secretary of State discusses the next inevitable round of fare increases with the chairman of British Rail, will he remind the chairman that the rail commuters of southern London have had to pay unprecedentedly large fare increases in recent years? They have also had to put up with unprecedentedly calamitous industrial disruption in recent weeks. The commuters of southern London deserve some compensation for their present hardships.
The chairman of British Rail is fully aware of the anxiety felt on both sides of the House about the problems that the commuter faces, not only because of the increase in fares from time to time—which everybody who uses the railways must inevitably bear at a time when prices continue to rise too fast—but because of the special inconvenience of travelling in London and the South-East. The chairman is aware of that, and I am sure that he will do his best to remedy the situation.
When the Secretary of State meets the chairman, will he see that the chairman makes a really loud announcement—not like the muted one that he has made—to the effect that season ticket holders who have lost their train service because of industrial disputes or otherwise can claim either cash and/or an extension of their season tickets to make up for the inconvenience that they have suffered? Will he ensure that this is widely publicised, because hardly anyone in the House or the country knows that to be the case?
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. I remember that when I answered a supplementary question some weeks ago it caused surprise on both sides of the House that this provision existed. I shall draw the attention of the chairman to what my hon. Friend has said.
Yes, I hope that British Rail will be giving evidence to me as a result of the consultation which the Green Paper has introduced. If this were the appropriate moment, I would say that I would greatly welcome any comments from hon. Members upon this important issue as it affects rail as well as bus services.
Does my right hon. Friend find it strange that hon. Members opposite, such as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), should criticise the increase in prices on British Rail while at the same time calling for cuts in public expenditure and, necessarily, for cuts in subsidies? By what amount have the Government increased subsidies to British Rail and what would have been the effect on prices had that action not been taken?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this fact. There are no two ways about it: either we have an increase in fares—although I should want to see it at the minimal level consistent with the railways meeting their obligations—or we have an increase in revenue support. I have tried to stabilise that revenue support and give the railways the maximum opportunity of becoming increasingly cost effective. I think that that will be widely welcomed.