I could not disagree with anything that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby has said. He is absolutely right about deliberately running down the service. British Rail has attacked me for making that allegation. Indeed, I have gone even further than the hon. Gentleman. I have accused British Rail of sabotaging the service, but that is what is happening.
Until last year, it was possible for passengers from Cleethorpes, Grimsby, Market Rasen and Lincoln to use the cheapest fare of the day on that train. Last year, British Rail withdrew that cheapest fare. If a housewife wishes to go to London as a casual passenger—perhaps she wants to do a day's shopping in London—she is encouraged not to use that train, because the cheapest fare of the day is now not available until after 9.30.
As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby has said, British Rail is judge and jury, yet it wants to have it both ways. Normally, one restricts the use of cheap tickets on a train in the morning and evening rush hours because it is a full train and one wants to use a pricing policy to ensure that those who travel on the train regularly, such as season ticket holders or business men, can get seats. Until last year, the casual traveller was encouraged, with all sorts of promotions and advertising deals, to take advantage of that train. Now they are denied the opportunity. Then British Rail has the cheek to advise the four hon. Members who represent north Lincolnshire and south Humberside that the reason that it will suspend the service with effect from next year is because not enough people use the train between Newark and Cleethorpes. That is a ridiculous argument.
British Rail is proposing that we should have small regional connecting services between Newark and Cleethorpes. That will simply encourage more people to drive their motor cars to either Newark or to Doncaster. In two or three years, British Rail will say, "Oh well, none of you is using the line between Cleethorpes and Newark, so we are certainly going to close it between Barnetby and Lincoln," leaving my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle without any railway service whatsoever in Market Rasen.
We are already seeing the beginnings of that plan of attack. British Rail is making it more financially worthwhile for a passenger to travel to London via Doncaster from Grimsby and Cleethorpes and Barnetby. The ticket via Doncaster to London costs £31. The cheapest ticket via Newark costs £38. British Rail will encourage more and more people to travel via Doncaster to London to enable it to reserve its position on the total closure of the line in three or four years.
I have dealt with British Rail for many years. I have seen its promises on pieces of paper. I have quoted those promises today, four years later, in the House. I can see exactly what will happen. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that there is at the least a case for local Members of Parliament saying to British Rail that, as the Government intend to privatise it during the next 18 months to two years, it should defer its decision? In the event that a private operator wants to take over the service, it should still be in operation on vesting day when ownership and control of British Rail or its track authority passes to the private sector. It would be an act of sabotage if British Rail ran down services and the direct train, in particular before the private sector had an opportunity to operate in the new environment that the Government intend to create in later years.
British Rail wrongly and unfairly seeks to put the blame on the Government. In its letter of 15 June, it says that anything that it said to me in 1988 is made redundant by the new targets on assets employed which the Government require it to meet. I do not accept that. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would elucidate on whether that is just another of British Rail's lame excuses.
I believe that, properly marketed, the train could continue to be as viable as it has been in the past. It is our only link with London. We used to have an air service from Humberside airport. We used to have competition. That competition spurred both Air UK and British Rail to provide a good service. For a time, we had true competition. There is no longer a direct air service between south Humberside and north Lincolnshire and London. Now there is not to be a direct railway service.
At the least British Rail should defer its decision until ownership has passed from the state to the private sector. I understand that it will be possible for private companies to operate over British Rail tracks when new legislation is in place in about 18 months. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister can confirm that that is the case.
In the meantime, I hope that the attendance of my hon. Friends the Members for Lincoln and for Gainsborough and Horncastle and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby will be noted by British Rail. I agree with every word that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby said. I hope that British Rail will take the fact that the debate has been attended by all the Members of Parliament for north Lincolnshire and south Humberside as a signal that we are all angry on behalf of our constituents. We shall not let the train go without one hell of a fight. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State can give us some words of encouragement.