Serpell Report

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th March 1983.

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Photo of Mr Ronald Lewis Mr Ronald Lewis , Carlisle 12:00 am, 16th March 1983

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many meetings he has had since the publication of the Serpell report with the chairman of the British Rail,ways Board.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I have met the chairman on a number of occasions to discuss matters of mutual interest, including the Serpell report.

Photo of Mr Ronald Lewis Mr Ronald Lewis , Carlisle

During his discussions with the chairman of British Rail did the Secretary of State give any idea or undertaking about the likely size of the investment programme for the coming year? Further, in his discussions with Sir Peter Parker, did the Secretary of State say that the chairman's services would be dispensed with when his term of office expired this year?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, the answer is no. The matter has not been discussed. With regard to his first point, the investment ceiling for the coming year has not been finalised. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the investment ceiling has not been the constraint on the level of investment. The constraint has been that British Rail has seen its resources drained away through disputes and other current high costs. There is room for investment and I hope that British Rail will increasingly have the opportunity to take it.

Photo of Mr John Hunt Mr John Hunt , Bromley Ravensbourne

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to deplore any reference to "captive commuters" in connection with the Serpell report? Is he aware that a rise in suburban rail fares on anything like the scale that is envisaged in one part of the report would lead to a massive desertion of passengers from British Rail to the commuter coach services, which are becoming increasingly popular in parts of commuter land?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I shall certainly do that. My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity yet again to say that the distortions and rumours about the Serpell report advocating a 40 per cent. increase in commuter fares is completely without foundation. The best way to achieve low fares is through high efficiency, better use of equipment and removal of the restrictive practices that have dogged the railways. The sooner we get on with that, the better it will be for passengers.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield East

Has the Secretary of State taken the opportunity to tell the management of British Rail that it is doing a marvellous job, including the provision of the excellent 125 inter-city service, from which many Members of Parliament benefit? In his discussions with the chairman of British Rail, will the Secretary of State say anything about the Government's restrictive practices in preventing British Rail from electrifying those lines which it wanted to electrify, even though the return on capital was proven to be good?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, as I made clear in my evidence to the Select Committee on Transport last week, British Rail has many excellent achievements to its name. The difficulty is that, sometimes as a result of the image that British Rail projects, and sometimes because of the clamour of those who claim to be the friends of British Rail—and whom I believe are not—its woes are magnified and its achievements suppressed. The HS125 programme is in the world-beating class. It is a pity that we do not hear more about its value and fewer moans about more taxpayers' money being the answer to all of British Rail's problems.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

When can we expect my right hon. Friend to announce the successor to Sir Peter Parker?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I cannot give my hon. Friend any information on that now.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

Why did the Secretary of State have a private meeting with Sir David Serpell before his report was well under way and advise him to orient his committee towards advice that should be given to the new chairman of British Rail? Does that mean that options A and B are what the Secretary of State intends to pursue with the new chairman?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I did not give Sir David Serpell any advice of the type that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. My only contact with him was when he asked for an extension of the time that his committee might take in making its studies. He sought my permission for an extended term, which I gave, and the terms on which I did so are provided in the evidence to the Select Committee and relate to short and longer-term investments. The hon. Gentleman will see that if he looks at the notice in the Committee.