Through Ticketing under Rail Privatisation

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 18th January 1995.

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Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons 3:34 pm, 18th January 1995

We now come to the first debate on the Opposition motions. I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister. I have not thought it right in this debate to limit speeches to 10 minutes, but I ask Back Benchers to exercise voluntary restraint in their speeches. In the spirit of the Jopling report, I also ask for the co-operation of Front Benchers to give Back Benchers opportunities to speak.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:44 pm, 18th January 1995

I beg to move, That this House, noting the repeated assurances already given by Ministers that it will be mandatory for rail operators to ensure through-ticketing following the franchising of passenger services, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to guarantee that these promises will be honoured. The aim of the motion is clear, simple and straightforward: that the unequivocal commitments that Ministers have made on several occasions that through ticketing will be fully maintained after privatisation shall be honoured. During the Second Reading of the Railways Bill on 2 February 1993, the then Minister for Public Transport, the right hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), stated in the clearest terms: we have said that it will be mandatory for rail operators to ensure through ticketing. Later in the same speech he reiterated that point even more clearly when he said: Through ticketing will be mandatory through the licensing system. Anyone who wants to run a passenger train service must ensure that through tickets are available for all journeys. That will be an obligation."—[Official Report, 2 February 1993; Vol. 218, c. 242–58.] On discounts, he further added: I firmly believe that discounts on through tickets, which amount to 10 or 20 per cent. off the sum of the fares on individual lines, will continue. The intention is to continue to use British Rail's ticket issuing machinery."—[Official Report, 18 February 1993; Vol. 219, c. 258.] Similar binding commitments were given in another place. On Second Reading in their Lordships' House on 15 June 1993, Lord Caithness, speaking for the Government, stated: Through ticketing will continue to operate across the network and operators will be required to participate in common ticketing and revenue allocation arrangements."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 June 1993; Vol. 546, c. 1428.] In all those commitments, Ministers simply confirmed Government policy as it was expressly laid down in the White Paper of summer 1992. Paragraph 88 of the White Paper on network benefits states: The Government is concerned to ensure that, so far as possible, passengers and freight customers continue to enjoy the advantages they get from a national rail system, including through ticketing, cross validity,"— I think that that is another word for inter-availability — discounted fares, and a national timetable. This will be taken into account in the arrangements made for timetabling and ticketing. But Ministers went even further than that. In March 1994, the Department of Trade and Industry issued a leaflet for general distribution to the public entitled "Franchising of Rail Passenger Services". It is written in the form of questions and answers: Can I still buy a through ticket to any destination?Yes. Through tickets will continue to be available as at present. I do not think that it could be any clearer than that.

Time and again, Ministers in both places have repeatedly made unequivocal commitments that, following the franchising of passenger services, through ticketing will continue to be available on exactly the same basis as at present. I remind the House that through tickets are now available at more than 1,300 stations throughout the country.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson , Eastbourne

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way at such an early point in his speech. What does he mean by "on exactly the same basis"? I understand that, of about 2,500 stations in the British Rail system at present, only 440 offer a full through-ticketing and seat reservation service.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

The fact is that 1,316 stations are staffed and 1,580 stations currently offer through ticketing in one form or another. The Department's literature made it clear that arrangements would continue "as at present". That is what we are talking about; that is the key issue in today's debate.

It was reported 10 days ago that the Rail Regulator was expected to limit the purchase of through tickets to just: 294 core stations throughout the network. That produced an immediate and strong reaction from the Secretary of State, and I give him credit for that. On the Saturday he issued a press release saying: If the regulator is proposing that the number of stations offering through ticketing should be fewer than now,"— I emphasise those words— that is unacceptable. There must be an improvement". Presumably, he was referring to an improvement on the current position. However, 48 hours later he was back-pedalling fast. On Monday, he was forced to make the humiliating admission that the Rail Regulator, not the Minister, would have the final word in determining the number of stations offering through ticketing. With that admission, echoed several times by the Prime Minister and again yesterday, all the proud boasts, which have regularly been repeated by Ministers, that network benefits would be fully preserved under privatisation, collapsed ignominiously like a pack of cards.

As hon. Members will know, the right hon. Gentleman has sought to cover his embarrassment by putting forward three defences of his position. Each repays some examination. First, he makes out that the Rail Regulator's proposals are purely consultative, but even a cursory reading of the Rail Regulator's report can leave no one in any doubt that the other two options are purely tacked on as a cosmetic in order to allay the political furore that the main proposal provokes.

I presume that the Secretary of State is perfectly well aware that Mr. Swift devotes no fewer than 21 pages of his document to the issues arising from putting a limit on 294 core stations, while the other two options— one of which is to leave things as they are— get fewer than four pages. The thrust of the document is about eroding the number of through-ticketing stations and the only argument is about how far and how fast that can be achieved. The document is consultative in name only.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that at present not only stations sell through tickets, but that there is a large network of travel agencies and telephone sales? Does he also accept that it would be in the interests of private operators to ensure that they get the best possible access to their potential customers of through tickets? Does not he accept, therefore, that there are ways of providing through tickets other than just through stations?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

No one is objecting if there is an improvement on the present position and there are more outlets for the sale of through tickets. We are objecting to the fact that the number of stations, which are used overwhelmingly for the purchase of through tickets, will be dramatically reduced.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

Anyone who reads the Rail Regulator's report knows perfectly well that that is the direction in which policy will go and, as I shall explain, the Secretary of State cannot stop it.

The right hon. Gentleman's second defence is that the Rail Regulator is laying down no more than minimum standards with which train operators must comply. He wants to believe that private operators will go further of their own accord. They may to some degree do so, but that is not the point.

Ministers gave repeated commitments, and their publicly distributed literature made it clear that through ticketing would continue as at present, and at present it is available at more than 1,300 stations across the country. They insisted that services for passengers would improve after privatisation, but no amount of fantasising by the Secretary of State will lead private operators to increase the number of through-ticketing stations to anywhere near 1,300.

The Rail Regulator has pulled the rug from under the Secretary of State when he concedes that private operators are unlikely to want to be burdened by excessive costs. The truth is that the Secretary of State's defence that minimum standards will be substantially bettered does not cut ice even with the regulator.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison , Hertsmere

The hon. Gentleman mentioned minimum standards. Can he assist the House by saying what British Rail's present minimum standard is?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am well aware that one feeble excuse made by the Secretary of State is that there is no statutory binding commitment at present. The point is that the public know that they can go into more than 1,300 stations and buy a ticket to any destination that they choose. That facility will be eroded by the regulator's proposals.

The Secretary of State's third defence is that he can issue formal guidance to the regulator. Although that is true, it is worthless because the regulator does not have to comply. In Committee, Ministers reserved to themselves the power to override the regulator in two specific respects—the granting of exclusive franchises and the limiting of track access charges. Significantly, both powers were designed to restrict competition on behalf of franchise bidders, not to assist passengers. The key point is that there are no other specific respects in which the Secretary of State can override the regulator.

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this debate is the most appalling waste of time? Franchisees will want to maximise their ticket sales. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the post-nationalised British Airways and the Galileo system. The hon. Gentleman will find that computerised booking systems for every form of transport are developing fast throughout the world. At a time when national lottery tickets are available at petrol stations, newsagents and the like, through on-line computer terminals, this debate is farcical. We are entering a world of thousands of outlets.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

If the hon. Gentleman is so convinced that commitments made by Ministers can be guaranteed and will be honoured, we shall be glad to welcome him in our Lobby tonight.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

I support the hon. Gentleman in putting it to the Government that the system has already broken down. A letter dated 14 January, but which arrived on 16 January, bears out the fact that the commitment to a national network timetable has not been honoured. If one asks for an InterCity timetable at Waterloo station, one is told that Waterloo is not an InterCity station and is given a telephone number, which one must call to request a timetable to be sent. If the network provision of services is to be guaranteed by the regulator, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the regulator has already failed?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

I shall refer later to many aspects of the beginning of the erosion of inter-availability and national timetabling systems.

Ministers have repeatedly affirmed that there will be no reduction in through ticketing after privatisation. The regulator, on the other hand, is clearly determined to reduce core stations offering through ticketing to perhaps as few as one in eight of Britain's 2,500 stations—and the Secretary of State cannot lift a finger to stop him. The right hon. Gentleman, in all his splendid isolation and irrelevance, sits there like a beached whale. He is a monument to the crass ineptitude of a privatisation that is fast running out of control. The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman is wholly unable to carry through the commitments that his predecessors gave, and he is being humiliated by what the regulator is doing.

The absurdity goes even further. We are told that the list of 294 was drawn up using a set of criteria to ensure that the key towns and cities, airports and recognised commercial centres would have core stations. The bizarre result is that travellers will be able to buy tickets to any destination from the Kyle of Lochalsh—a little-used station that is also a port on the west coast of Scotland—or from Ryde Esplanade on the Isle of Wight, or from Llandrindod Wells in mid-Wales, through which only three trains a day pass.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

Conservative Members are being exceedingly silly, because they know that they have no defence against the thrust of our argument. They are deeply embarrassed by the way in which commitments have been given, which the Government are now totally incapable of carrying through.

At the same time, some of the stations at which ticket sales will be limited are among the busiest in Britain. They include Lichfield in Staffordshire, with two stations and 185 trains a day. It will have no core station. Yeovil in Somerset, a base for Britain's aerospace industry, will be without one, too. Under the regulator's proposals, there will be an 88-mile stretch between Salisbury and Exeter, with Yeovil at its centre, with no core station. Thus a passenger wishing to travel from Yeovil to Birmingham will have to detour to Bristol or to Swindon to get a through ticket. [Laughter.] I agree, it is laughable. The hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) is right to laugh. It is an absurdity that beggars belief.

Photo of Mr Donald Thompson Mr Donald Thompson , Calder Valley

The Labour party Front-Bench spokesman has been kind enough to show that party's quinquennial interest in my constituency by naming a few stations there. My constituents are convinced that the privatisation of the railway industry will be as successful as the privatisation of British Airways. The railway industry will have a chance to compete, just as BA and BT compete. The hon. Gentleman is stuck in the steam train era.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful for that intervention. The whole House would like to know how the hon. Gentleman intends to justify to his constituents the fact that two of the stations in his constituency, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, core stations at present, will, under the regulator's proposals, cease to be so. Perhaps he will explain that to the House—if he catches Madam Speaker's eye.

It beggars belief that it is seriously intended, as part of the privatisation of the rail system, that the number of stations selling through tickets should be reduced by 80 per cent; and that as a result people will be expected, when necessary, to divert to another station on the same line—or even, from there, to another station on another line. They must then get off the train to buy a through ticket. Having purchased it, they will almost certainly find that their train has already departed, and they will have to wait for the next connection. [Interruption.] Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to tell us why he finds that so funny. Millions of rail passengers will find it quite intolerable. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman sits there giggling just shows his contempt for millions of people around this country.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

Subject to catching Madam Speaker's eye, I shall have an opportunity to respond.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

Instead of the Secretary of State looking so pleased with himself, perhaps he will accept that I should be pleased if, on this crucial issue, he intervened in my speech. I should be glad to give way to him. Perhaps he would like to explain. We shall be waiting for his explanation, but noting that he seems extraordinarily reluctant to give it following my offer to allow him to intervene.

Photo of Mr John Sykes Mr John Sykes , Scarborough

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

No. I am concerned with the Secretary of State.

Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously telling us that what I have described is the new Tory vision of a smart and efficient railway system, or if it is not, that there is nothing that he can do to stop it happening?

On Monday, the Prime Minister at his press conference, which I believe was designed to prop up sagging Conservative party morale, announced that he intended to turn Britain's railways from a stand-up comedian's joke into the envy of the world. Not for the first time, the irony of the situation seems to be sadly lost on the Prime Minister. It is he and his policies that are the stand-up comedian's joke. Proposals such as the one that we are discussing are making him and his Government the laughing stock of the western world. Even Harry Enfield could not have managed to produce a better script.

Why are the Government in such a position? It is riot because the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are stupid. None the less, they obviously fail to recognise the consequences of their policies.

The internal contradictions of privatisation are driving events in the direction that I outlined.

Photo of Mr Gyles Brandreth Mr Gyles Brandreth , City of Chester

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on his point about internal contradictions?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

I do not believe for a moment that the hon. Gentleman will intervene on that point. He has been persistent, however, in his efforts to intervene, and I am glad to give way to him.

Photo of Mr Gyles Brandreth Mr Gyles Brandreth , City of Chester

When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wants to make an announcement about his policy on the railways, he at least makes it himself, whereas the Leader of the Opposition has his press secretary sort it out for him.

The hon. Gentleman is either being mischievous or is hopelessly muddled. We are talking about a consultation document. A minimum standard is being talked about. Two of the purposes of the exercise of privatisation are to improve service and to increase the availability of tickets. That is what the thrust will be. The hon. Gentleman must understand and recognise that. That is why we find what he is saying risible. There is no thrust to his argument. He is tilting at illusory windmills.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman is not a silly man—

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

He is not silly by the standards of Conservative Members, but he is being disingenuous. If the Government's proposals are about improving standards, why is it that there is not one line in the regulator's report about improving the current system? The report is all about worsening it. The only issue is the degree to which and the speed with which that will come about. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that a consultative exercise is taking place, perhaps he is sillier than I thought. If he reads the report, he will find that it is clearly about severely reducing the number of stations that can offer through ticketing. The key point is that, consultative exercise or whatever, the Secretary of State cannot stop whatever the regulator decides to implement.

Why are the Government in such a situation? The regulator did not propose 294 stations because—

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

I shall not give way again.

The regulator did not make that proposal because he wanted to improve—

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have given way to the hon. Gentleman and I shall not give way again.

The reason—

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

The regulator did not propose 294 core stations because he wanted to improve services for passengers. That never entered his head. When asked whether he considered that passengers should be no more than an hour's drive from a core station selling through tickets, he said, amazingly enough, that he had considered that, but he thought that the value of such a criterion "was not obvious".

The irrelevance of the interests of passengers could hardly be clearer. The reason why the regulator wants to cut the number of core stations by 80 per cent.—meaning that people will be forced to travel up to 50 miles out of their way to buy a through ticket, which is of absolutely no interest to him—is to secure a sale of the passenger franchises at any cost.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

If the hon. Gentleman persists like that, I shall certainly not give way.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Opposition spokesman told the House a moment ago that the regulator's report did not mention improvements in services at all, whereas—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. That is not a point of order at all. It is a point of argument. It is not a matter for me what the regulator says. There has been no breach of Standing Orders or of our procedures here.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am on my feet.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) must try to correct the Opposition spokesman in debate, not through a point of order.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter , Plymouth, Sutton

But surely when an hon. Member misleads the House—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Let me try to explain the art of debate in Parliament. If hon. Members feel that another hon. Member is quoting incorrectly or is giving incorrect information, the way to correct that is to catch my eye. That is the way to do it, not through a point of order. Do we all understand now how points of order should be used and what the art of debate is? Very good.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

Before those bogus points of order were made, I was explaining that the real motive for what the House is debating today is to secure the sale of the passenger franchises at any cost. That is what underpins the debate. The Secretary of State said on 14 December that he intended to effect the sale of at least 50 per cent. of those franchises by April 1996. The fact is that there is such investor apathy about the sales that minimising the conditions that franchisees must meet, as in through ticketing, is a vital part of the exercise, and the interests of the passengers come absolutely nowhere. That is the first reason why this zany proposal has emerged.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman sees any correlation between the argument that he is making now and what happened with British Gas. Is he aware that British Gas closed a number of showrooms in which people could pay their gas bills, but at the same time it did a deal with the Post Office, which means that there are 20,000 new places where people can pay their bills? Does he regard that as an improvement for the customer or a decline in the service? I regard it as an improvement.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

I do not think that there is any parallel at all, for the simple reason that people expect to be able to go to stations to buy through tickets. If they can buy them at the local taxi company or the local showroom, fine, but that is not an acceptable substitute for a reduction of 80 per cent. in the number of through-ticket stations.

There is a second reason, too, for this ridiculous proposal. If one breaks up an integrated national rail system into 85 different companies, which is what the Government are doing, one is forced to devolve ultimate power in policing the railways to an independent regulator and his staff, to prevent the conflicting interests that have been unleashed getting out of control. Once one gives such power to an unelected quango, one is handing over to an unaccountable body extremely sensitive political decisions that should be taken only by a political representative. But that, of course, is precisely the logic of privatisation. That is why it is so flawed. That is why a large and growing majority of the population is so passionately opposed to this privatisation.

Photo of Mr John Sykes Mr John Sykes , Scarborough

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

No. I shall not give way again.

Those people know that it is madness to split up a single integrated rail system into 85 separate, conflicting companies, which will produce a mountain of bureaucracy. They are opposed because they do not want the regulatory and safety framework of the railways undermined. They are opposed because they know that services will have to be cut drastically in order to generate the profits that shareholders demand, pushing the railways into a vicious spiral where higher fares will lead to fewer passengers, which will then force fares still higher. They are opposed to £700 million being frittered away in City and legal fees, money that could have been far better spent on redressing crumbling investment.

A growing majority of the population is opposed because there are no guarantees on season tickets or off-peak fares, because inter-availability is already being eroded and because the blight on investment imposed by privatisation is already producing serious damage. Temporary speed limits have had to be imposed on several lines because major track renewal work is simply not being done. Back-up for train breakdowns has been cut to the bone, so that one lost train can now wreck a day's timetable as cancellations and delays build up and, as we found in our recent survey, trains are increasingly having to run on no spares, so that branch line trains are having to be transferred to keep busier lines operating.

In his amendment to our motion, the Secretary of State talks about his plans to reverse the decline in rail use. But the facts are clear. The biggest barrier to greater rail use in Britain at present is the Secretary of State and his privatisation plans. The large-scale abandonment of through-ticketing stations is but the first of the disasters that will hit millions of passengers if rail privatisation is allowed to proceed.

The regulator has made a monkey of the Secretary of State and all that the right hon. Gentleman can do is to repeat plaintively that it was Parliament that decided that there should be a regulator. He has made no mention of the fact that it was not Parliament but Ministers who decided to privatise the railways in the first place, not Parliament but Ministers who decided that there should be 85 separate companies that required regulation, and not Parliament but the Secretary of State's predecessor who guaranteed that through ticketing would be fully protected in the privatised system.

It is Ministers who have produced this mess. It is Parliament that can still stop it. In the 60 most marginal Tory seats, there are now 173 stations. Under the regulator's proposals, only 24 of those will be core stations selling through tickets. Tory Members of Parliament have a clear and straight choice tonight. Either they take the Secretary of State at his word that any cut in through ticketing would be unacceptable and support our motion, or they support the Whips and vote down their constituents. But I give them this warning. This is a campaign on which we shall not let up until we have stopped this detested privatisation in its tracks by the next election.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport 4:17 pm, 18th January 1995

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: reaffirms the Government's commitment to maintaining through ticketing; welcomes the publication by the Rail Regulator of the Consultation Document 'Retailing of Tickets at Stations'; endorses the view expressed in the document that the continuation of network benefits such as through ticketing 'will be one of the key tests of the success of the restructuring of the industry'; notes that despite massive investment in British Rail the proportion of travel undertaken and freight moved by train has steadily decreased during nationalisation; and supports the Government's commitment to seeking to reverse this decline through the creation of a flourishing railway system operated by the private sector which will offer a better deal for passengers and for freight customers.". I have always thought that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) wanted to enter the Labour party's hall of fame of bons mots which go down in history and are remembered, such as that of the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), on the Gas Bill, who said: There is no evidence that the Bill will … produce cheaper gas".—[Official Report, 10 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 780.] or that of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who said that the British Steel Bill was totally irrelevant to the real interests of the industry, and it is based on dogma. The Labour party is unequivocally, implacably opposed to it".—[Oflicial Report, 23 February 1988; Vol. 128, c. 238.] About British Airways, the same hon. Gentleman said: It will be the pantomime horse of capitalism if it is anything at all."—[Official Report, 19 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 125.] I invite my hon. Friends to read Hansard tomorrow and perhaps we can have a ballot on which of the statements made today by the hon. Member for Oldham, West will go down alongside those bons mots of expressions of Labour party policy. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman because he has not had a comfortable week. Last Wednesday, this debate seemed like a good idea to him. I bet that he regrets it now.

Last week, the hon. Gentleman appeared to be in charge of Labour's policy—whatever it is. Today, the whole country knows that it is not the hon. Gentleman who controls Labour's policy, but the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). On Sunday afternoon, it was the hon. Gentleman who was to be on Monday morning's "Today" programme with me; by Sunday evening, he had been dumped.

Today's debate is entitled "Through Ticketing under Rail Privatisation". I wish to deal with the issue of through ticketing first, but I assure Opposition Members that I shall then deal with the privatisation issue, as did the hon. Member for Oldham, West.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East

Who is in charge of the Government's policy? Why did the Government make so many promises to maintain through ticketing, and then hand over that policy to an unelected, unaccountable regulator?

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

If the hon. Gentleman waits a moment, he will have the answer to his question.

The Government's commitment to through ticketing is absolutely clear: it has been a constant theme of our privatisation proposals. It was in our 1992 election manifesto, and in the White Paper that we published in July of that year; it was reiterated when we introduced our legislation at the beginning of 1993, and it is now in the Railways Act. Section 4 of that Act places a duty on the Secretary of State to promote measures to facilitate journeys involving more than one operator, and states specifically that through ticketing is one such measure. The same duty applies equally to the regulator, and it was in the exercise of that duty that he published his consultation document on the retailing of tickets at stations.

I should also remind the House that the regulator issues licences under a general authority from the Secretary of State. The general authority issued to him on 31 March last year makes it clear that he is obliged to include through-ticketing requirements in the licences that he issues.

In addition, Parliament has given the regulator responsibility for protecting passengers' interests, and the decision on what ticket retailing requirements should be imposed is for him, although it is open to me to give him guidance under the Railways Act. Incidentally, the hon. Member for Oldham, West was wrong: the regulator is not free to ignore that guidance as though it had not been given. He is under a statutory obligation to take account of it.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

Not yet. As I have said, the regulator is under a statutory obligation. In other circumstances, the hon. Member for Oldham, West has ascribed some importance to that.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

I will in a moment.

As the regulator is turning his mind to the issue of ticket retailing for the first time, he has decided to issue a consultation document to establish the views of those who would be affected by the requirements—the operators and, importantly, the passengers.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

I said that I would give way in a moment.

That is an entirely new development. In the past, no one consulted passengers about the kind of ticket retailing requirements that they wanted from the railways. Again for the first time, the regulator proposes that passengers should have guarantees that a specific level of ticket retailing service will be safeguarded.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

I said that I would in a moment. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a little progress, I will come back to him.

Neither of the two new services that I have just described operated in the old public-sector railway, and both are characteristic of the future rather than of the past.

The regulator's document contains three options—a requirement that operators maintain the current ticketing arrangements unless they can justify any changes to the regulator; the designation of core stations that will be required to offer the full range of ticketing facilities, with operators left free to decide what services to offer at other stations; and a two-tier approach, with core stations providing the full range of tickets and a less demanding requirement to be placed on other stations. The regulator is not committed to any particular option. He will carefully consider the responses that he receives before reaching any decision. The hon. Gentleman should be more careful about what he says in public about the regulator than he was in the debate. I shall quote what the regulator said on "Newsnight" on 11 January because, as my hon. Friends will understand, it goes precisely to the heart of the hon. Gentleman's argument and blows it away. The regulator said: I have never committed myself to a plan to reduce the number of stations at which through tickets can be bought to 294. That is absolutely absurd.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson , Stoke-on-Trent South

I was a bit worried that the Secretary of State might have gone beyond this point before giving way. Given his commitment that the present level of through ticketing would be maintained, if after the consultation the regulator produces a plan to reduce the availability, what will the Secretary of State do to maintain the commitment?

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

The Leader of the Opposition put that question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday, and the Prime Minister answered in exactly the same terms as I have answered. It is all in the record for the hon. Gentleman to read. [Interruption.]

The regulator and I have the same statutory objective: we both want an improvement in passenger services. The idea, which is absurd—to use the regulator's word—that the hon. Member for Oldham, West has been peddling to the House does not fall within the statutory remit that the House gave to the regulator. The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that that is the essence of the consultation document.

If I were to tell the House that there would be so many stations providing a certain service at a certain cost on certain days, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would say, "Why have a regulator and a consultation process in the first place? Why is the Secretary of State standing at the Dispatch Box and undermining the regulator's role?" That is exactly the point that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made yesterday to the Leader of the Opposition.

If the Opposition had voted in Committee against having a regulator with such powers perhaps the House would be more impressed by their arguments now.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson , Stoke-on-Trent South

I am trying to help the Secretary of State because he is clearly in a hole of his own making. I thought that he would have reached the part of his script that would have given me some answers but he has not, so I will repeat the question. If, after the consultation, the regulator comes up with a reduced number of stations that can provide through ticketing, what will the Secretary of State do to honour the commitment given by him and by the Prime Minister to maintain the present level? Will the right hon. Gentleman please answer the question?

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

I do not propose to anticipate what the regulator will produce by way of a response. I reaffirm to the hon. Gentleman the statutory requirement that through ticketing will be available and will be maintained. I remind him that I have the opportunity to provide statutory guidance to the regulator on that point, if I judge it necessary. So that everybody understands it, the fundamental difference between us is that we have plans to create an environment in which it will be advantageous for operators to do what passengers want. The hon. Gentleman is firmly in the grip of those trade unionists who want no change and, indeed, want to go backwards.

I reaffirm that I have also made it clear that the idea that the retailing of through tickets should be restricted to 294 stations is unacceptable. The regulator and I are as one on that. As he said in the same interview from which I have already quoted: So far as I am concerned there is no difference at all between my objectives and the objectives of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, that is to get better value for the passengers and better services. Lest anyone doubt the regulator's commitment to ensuring that passengers' interests are protected, I shall quote from his document, which states: Privatisation and restructuring of the railways are intended to improve services to customers and stimulate innovation. In looking at new proposals to replace British Rail's current arrangements I will want to be satisfied that they are likely to achieve these objectives. He also said: In going out to consultation on the issue of ticket retailing at stations, I want to be satisfied that there will be a better rail network and better use of the network by reason of the decisions I take.

Photo of Ms Jean Corston Ms Jean Corston , Bristol East

As the Secretary of State appears to be incapable of dealing with reasonable questions from my hon. Friends, which reflect the genuine concerns of our constituents, I shall put a simple question to him. What advice would he give to my 81-year-old father who lives in Yeovil, has no credit card and so would not be able to make telephone bookings and who regularly travels to Bristol to visit me? How would he get his tickets?

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

I advise the gentleman to do two things—first, not to vote for his local Member of Parliament, and secondly, not to listen to his daughter. What his daughter and her right hon. and hon. Friends are doing is trying to scare him into believing that something will be the case when in fact the very Act of Parliament on which the proposal is based makes it clear that our aim is to produce a better service rather than a worse one.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Labour party should make it absolutely plain this afternoon that the price of a deal between Labour and the trades union bosses is the handing over of British Rail under a Labour Government—if there were to be one—to be run by the trades unions?

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

My hon. Friend anticipates what I had already warned the House would form the second part of my speech. After I deal with through ticketing I shall deal with privatisation.

The regulator is proposing minimum obligatory standards which will be imposed on operators. That is also new. Under its old nationalised structure British Rail was under no such obligations. The same was true for other aspects of its operations. It was free to vary levels of service—and it did—subject only to very general constraints such as the statutory closure procedures. The railway operated under a system of bureaucratic centralised control with BR taking all the decisions—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Oldham, West need not sigh; it happens to be the truth. It is slightly depressing that he does not recognise the truth.

Under privatisation things are improving. Not only will passengers get better services, they will have specific safeguards for levels of service. Henceforth, passenger services will be provided under franchise agreements that provide clear contractual obligations that operators have to meet, unlike now. They will have to provide a specified level of service set out in the passenger service requirement. They will have to meet specific standards of punctuality and reliability, unlike now. They will have to provide discounted travel for the elderly, young and disabled and—where necessary—there will be safeguards against excessive fare increases. So under privatisation passengers can look to enjoy not just better, more efficient services, but greater security that the railways will be run for their benefit.

Let me repeat—the regulator is seeking to establish a minimum requirement to act as a safeguard. I do not believe that that minimum will in any way become the norm. It is self-evidently in the interests of operators to make their tickets widely available. Indeed, it will be more in their interests to do that in the future than it is in BR's interests now.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

Is not the difference between the Government and the Labour party that we are not prepared to see the railway industry fossilised, as it has been for some time? Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents are not bothered if they buy their rail tickets at a station? They want to know that they have access to tickets, whether from a shopping centre or a railway station.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

My hon. Friend is exactly right.

Ticket retailing will be an important part of a franchisee's business. It is his main interface with his customer. I expect operators to build on the current arrangements, using the new technology available to provide a better ticket retailing service to passengers. They do not need to be told that. No one tells the airline industry how to retail its tickets, but it has developed sophisticated, flexible and highly effective ticketing systems admirably suited to the needs of its customers. I believe that the privatised railway will do the same.

I confirm the point made earlier by some of my hon. Friends. There is a widespread myth that all BR stations provide a full range of ticketing facilities. Even now, ticket availability at individual stations is restricted by limitations on staff resources, fares information about remote journeys and ticket-issuing equipment. At least 1,200 of BR's stations are totally unmanned and offer no staffed ticketing facility, and only about 440 stations have direct access to the seat reservation data.

Ticket retailing will not be confined to stations. Some operators will choose to sell tickets on trains. Telephone sales will become more usual. There will continue to be sales through self-service ticket machines, and travel agents will have a role to play. Large organisations with staff using the railways will continue to be able to use travel warrants.

So the position is clear. Through ticketing will be maintained and passengers can have an influence on its form by responding to the regulator's consultative document. For the first time in history, they can influence the sort of service that they would like to enjoy. Passengers will enjoy an expanding range of services as franchisees develop policies to satisfy existing passengers and to attract new ones.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

Not at the moment.

More broadly, competition on the railways will offer passengers and freight customers a better deal. Do not take just my word for it. I remember being impressed by an impassioned speech which I heard at a party conference in Blackpool a few years ago. The speaker said: Nothing would more stimulate a change of attitude to the travelling passenger, than allowing a little competition for the privilege of our custom". I agree. That is why we are privatising the railways.

Incidentally, the House will want to know that those words were spoken by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the leader of the Liberal Democrats. He seems to have changed his mind. What is the right hon. Gentleman's policy today? Does he still want to see competition on our railways? If so, he and his hon. Friends will be voting with the Government this evening. If he does not, it will come as no surprise to my hon. Friends. His party does not change. It says one thing in one place and does something different somewhere else. Never judge a Liberal by his words—just look at how he votes.

But I digress. Let me turn, for a moment, to the amazing performance of the Labour Front Bench in response to the regulator's consultation document. My hon. Friends may have thought that today was pretty amazing, but today was not the first occasion.

The hon. Members for Oldham, West, for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) and for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) each issued a press release. Taken together, they were an embarrassment to Labour. [Interruption.] Let me help the hon. Members. The hon. Member for Oldham, West, on behalf of Labour, thought that the regulator's three options were all different and he picked the one that he liked. The hon. Member for Fife, Central, on behalf of Labour, condemned all three options, saying that they all amount to the same thing". The hon. Member for Fife, Central, on behalf of Labour, claimed that I had been "humiliated" by the regulator. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North, on behalf of Labour, said that I had hung the regulator "out to dry". The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North, on behalf of Labour, said: I understand Mr. Swift threatened to resign … That is why Mawhinney backed off. On "Newsnight" the regulator replied: I certainly did not threaten to resign. The interviewer said: That's what Labour are saying. and John Swift said, "Well, they are wrong". What a shambles. It is no wonder that the Labour party cannot formulate a policy; it cannot even formulate a sensible press release.

Certain facts are not in dispute. Since nationalisation, under Governments of both parties, £54 billion has been invested in the railways. Every Conservative Government since the war has increased investment in British Rail. Since 1979, the Government have invested more than £15 billion in British Rail—more than £6.5 billion in the past five years. Yet, the proportion of all travel undertaken by train has fallen dramatically. In 1953, 17 per cent. of all travel was by train. Today, it is 5 per cent. In 1953, 24 per cent. of all freight was moved by train. Today it is 5 per cent.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

Not at the moment.

To be fair to the Labour party, in speeches, the hon. Member for Oldham, West and his hon. Friends have said the same as we have. Both parties have said that they want to halt the decline and reverse it. That is common ground between us. The question that each party must answer is—

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

If the Labour party wishes to increase the use of the railways, can my right hon. Friend explain why it backed the signalmen's strike?

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

That is a good question. I do not have a clue about the answer and I suspect that Labour Members do not know either. Each party must say how it plans to reverse that trend.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

No, I will not.

We plan to do that by injecting into the railway industry private finance, private management skills, privately driven investment decisions and private sector sensitivity to what the customer wants. We believe that that will work.

What about the Labour party? Let me tell the House the Labour party's position as I understand it. At the Labour party conference in October the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) pledged: The next Labour Government will reverse the break-up and privatisation of Britain's railways. That is fairly straightforward.

On 24 November, the hon. Member for Oldham, West—he is now taking refuge in a conversation because this is becoming too embarrassing—refused to back that pledge. All that he would say was: Labour remains wholly committed to a publicly owned rail system.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) has noticed that the Secretary of State is not giving way. The hon. Gentleman should not continue to stand up. Perhaps he will leave a decent interval before trying to intervene again.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

On new year's eve the Leader of the Opposition told the "Today" programme that he could not give any cast-iron commitments in one direction or another about renationalisation.

On 9 January the Leader of the Opposition said: I'm not going to get into a situation where I am declaring that the Labour Government is going to commit sums of money to renationalisation. On 10 January the hon. Member for Oldham, West was twisting and turning on the "Today" programme. He said: if you are asking me to set out now at this moment in time exactly what we would do in the light of the state of the economy, which we do not know about, when we do not know how much of the industry and what way it has been privatised in conditions which cannot be foreseen, I cannot sensibly give that answer, but our commitment to the objective is very clear. Whatever that is, it is not a policy.

Last Monday, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East refused to confirm that Labour was committed to renationalisation. This Monday he told the "Today" programme: We're going to make it a publicly owned, publicly accountable railway. Alastair Campbell, lately of the Daily Mirror and Today and now co-ordinating Labour's public messages—he must have a headache today—told David Frost on 15 January: There is a commitment that there will be a publicly owned, publicly accountable railway under a Labour Government.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

No, I will not.

Yesterday the hon. Member for Oldham, West said that the commitment given on Monday by his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East was merely an "option". What a shambles. The Labour party does not have a policy on through ticketing because it does not have a policy on the railways. Why the shifting? Why the twisting and turning?

I am not a cynical man—

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot just stand on the Back Benches and ask the Secretary of State to give way. It is up to any right hon. or hon. Member to decide whether to give way. Clearly, the Secretary of State does not wish to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

This is a short debate. I am coming to the end and I want to allow time for my hon. Friends to contribute.

As I have said, I am not a cynical man, but if I were I might be inclined to think that the twisting and turning may he something to do with clause IV. I wonder whether it is possible that the Labour party may have been influenced by Vernon Hince of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. On 10 January on the "Today" programme he said that the Labour party is committed to fighting privatisation before it happens and we would see it being returned to public ownership under a Labour Government. That is pretty clear. In case it was not clear enough, in Tribune on 13 January, Jimmy Knapp said: We expect a … Labour Government to renationalise any part of the rail network that has been sold, including Railtrack. John Edmonds said that renationalisation was "a very popular move".

So much for the "new" Labour party. It is just the same old Labour party—full of socialism and driven by the unions. Working out Labour's position on rail privatisation is like catching a train.If you miss a policy, don't worry … there'll be another one along in an hour or two.Does Labour really have a clue what is going on? Because we don't.Last week Tony Blair refused to commit himself on whether Labour would re-nationalise the railways.Then John Prescott jumped in. Labour wanted a 'publicly owned, publicly accountable' rail system.That kept the unions and the Left-wingers happy.But yesterday, Mr. Prescott decided to clarify everything—and as only he can, made everything as clear as mud.Labour wouldn't take the railways straight back into public ownership, he appeared to say.British Rail would be allowed to challenge for franchises (which it can under the Tory plans in any case). Confused? Of course you are.But what do you expect from a party that seems to be making it up as it goes along? That comes from the editorial in The Sunyesterday. I wish that I was half as eloquent in condemning the nonsense from the Labour party. It leaves unanswered the fundamental question that I have put to the House which is how the Labour party plans to reverse the decline of the railway industry. It takes me back to what the Leader of the Opposition said. Last Wednesday, at a remarkably candid press conference, he told us that the British people did not trust the Labour party. He said: 1995 is the year in which Labour will finally re-establish a bond of trust with the British people". That means that the British people do not trust them at the moment.

One of the reasons why the British people do not trust the Labour party is that the Labour party will not tell them what it has in store for them. Will it tell them what it has in store for them on education? No way. On devolution? No way. On the railways'? No way. I tried to be helpful to the Leader of the Opposition by asking some questions, but it is not only me that is asking them—radio arid television journalists and newspaper reporters across the country have been seeking answers, too.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a debate about through ticketing. Would it be in order for the Secretary of State to get back to the issue before the House instead of debating more general issues?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

When the hon. Gentleman is invited to take the Chair, he will be in a position to judge what is in order. Apart from his point of order, I judge that the rest of the debate has been in order.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I do not raise bogus points of order. A number of Members have sought to intervene and will continue to seek to catch your eye. A number of Labour Members are sponsored and controlled by trade unions but have not declared their interest. Will you please require all interventions from the hon. Members for Hampstead (Ms Jackson), for York (Mr. Bayley), for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) and for Wrexham' (Dr. Marek) and others, to declare their interest and the fact that they are controlled by transport and railway unions?

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. I shall take other points of order in a moment. I shall rule on one at a time. It is entirely up to hon. Members to decide when to declare their interests. It is a matter of honour for individual hon. Members.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry , Kingswood

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

I hope that it is a new point of order.

Photo of Roger Berry Roger Berry , Kingswood

It is. Is it in order for an hon. Member to refer to the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) when that hon. Member is not present? I thought that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) was referring to me although I represent Kingswood. I wanted to put the record straight on that point and to make it clear that I and my colleagues are not controlled by the Transport and General Workers Union.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. Many hon. Members of all parties want to make a positive contribution. I suggest that we get back to the substance of the debate.

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am, of course, sponsored by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers but I receive no pecuniary benefit. I object to the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) saying that I am controlled by a union. It is very objectionable and does not befit the dignity of an hon. Member. May I ask him through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to withdraw his accusation which is palpably untrue? Every hon. Member says only what he believes.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

I have already said that I believe that hon. Members behave honourably and that they are all equal in this respect. I think that we can let the matter rest there.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

I was hoping that the hon. Lady wanted to intervene.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate

Is it in order for an hon. Member to allege that another hon. Member attempted to conceal sponsorship when the latter has not made or attempted to make an intervention?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Hon. Members are entirely responsible for what they do and say. There are plenty of methods available to hon. Members to respond to any allegations that may or may not be made.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

I remind the House that this is an Opposition day. They picked the subject and the title and included privatisation in the motion. I am merely speaking to the amendment to Labour's motion.

Let us return to the fact that the British people do not trust the Labour party. They do not trust the Labour party because the Labour party will not tell them what it has in store for them. As I was saying, it is not only me asking the questions—television, radio and newspaper reporters are asking them, too. My goodness, even the "Today" programme has started to ask them.

I wanted to be helpful to the Leader of the Opposition so I wrote to him last Friday. I asked six simple questions and wanted six straight answers. I did not ask for warm words or for him to smile at me; I wanted six straight answers. I have not yet had a reply to my letter so I am going to give the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who is putatively in charge of Labour's policy, the opportunity to answer.

Does the hon. Gentleman intend to renationalise the railways? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] If he does plan to do so, will compensation be paid to the shareholders of Railtrack? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Precisely how would passenger services be brought back under state control in view of the fact that legal franchises and contracts would govern the use of the railways? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] If the hon. Gentleman and his party do not plan to renationalise the railways, what changes would they make in the way that the railways are run? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] It is amazing to my hon. Friends that I still have to ask such questions, but there was no hint of an answer in the hon. Gentleman's speech.

The fifth question is how would—

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Gentleman is in enough trouble without the input of his Back Bench colleagues. How would he fulfil Labour's commitment to encourage more passengers and freight onto the railways? Would he invest more in the railways and, if so, how much would the shadow Chancellor allow him?

Unlike Labour, we have a policy to reverse the decline in our railways. We are creating a modern railway. Our battle cry on behalf of passengers and businesses is, "Forward to the 21st century." Labour's battle cry on behalf of the unions is, "Forward to 1945". The Opposition do not have a policy on the railways; they have only a motion. Given the antics of their Front Bench spokesman, it is almost certainly a composite motion. I invite the House to vote against it and to do so with the disdain—

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones , Cardiff Central

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State has been on his feet for 40 minutes but just before Christmas the House approved the Jopling proposals which state that Ministers should not speak for more than 30 minutes. As the Secretary of State is not even speaking to the motion, do you think that you could advise him that it is time that he allowed Back Benchers to speak?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

In answer to one of the hon. Gentleman's points, the Secretary of State's speech has been in order. Whether or not it was to the liking of hon. Members is not a matter for the Chair. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is correct in what he said about the Jopling proposals, which have been approved for a trial period. They state clearly that Ministers and Front Bench spokesmen should be encouraged to speak for no more than about 30 minutes.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

On that note, I invite the House to vote for the amendment. I also invite the House to vote against the motion and to do so with the disdain that it so richly deserves.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate 4:58 pm, 18th January 1995

As I invariably do if fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in debates on the railway and the rail industry, I declare an interest as the only hon. Member to be sponsored by ASLEF, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen.

I well understand why the Secretary of State and Tory Members do not regard today's debate as a good idea, but I assure them that Opposition Members regard it as a very good idea—as do the 64 per cent. of the British people who totally oppose privatisation of British Rail. In the last analysis, the arguments for and against privatisation boil down to one fundamental question: will privatisation provide a better or a poorer service for those who depend on the railways?

Last week we had one of the first major announcements on the practical service implications of privatisation: the Rail Regulator's proposals on through ticketing. He came up with three proposals. The first was to allow what he called "incremental change" to the current arrangements until operators could, to use the regulator's own words, justify a reduction in the prescribed services at stations". The second proposal recommended what would amount to the virtual annihilation of through ticketing by reducing from 1,300 to 294 the number of outlets providing a through-ticket service, forcing passengers in some instances to travel up to 50 miles simply to buy a ticket. The third proposal was something of a hotchpotch and involved reducing the number of origins and destinations served by through ticketing. The Secretary of State failed to explain which of the options—slashing the current service, instantly reducing the current scope of the service or gradually reducing the scope of the current service—could possibly be deemed to provide a better service for railway customers.

There was a time when Ministers were robust in defending the future of through ticketing. In Committee on the Railways Bill, the former Minister with responsibility for railways said: Through ticketing will be mandatory … Anyone who wants to run a passenger train service must ensure that through tickets are available for all journeys … That will be an obligation."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 18 February 1993; c. 258.] Unfortunately, that promise has proved to be as empty as our stations and trains will be if the proposals are implemented, and almost as empty as the pledge given by the current Secretary of State for Transport who said last Saturday that he would not allow the proposal to stand but then on Monday said that there was nothing that he could do and that it was all a matter for the regulator.

What I find particularly amazing about through ticketing and Ministers' responses is the way in which they appear to have been caught completely unawares by the proposals that the regulator has published. The Secretary of State initially said that they were unacceptable to him. But what, in all honesty, did he expect? It has always been in the interests of British Rail, as a single entity, to provide access to all its services at all points of the system. Now that British Rail is to be fragmented, however, what possible incentive is there for operators to retail tickets on behalf of other operators, many of whom are their direct competitors?

The Secretary of State referred to ticketing facilities for airlines. Would he seriously expect British Airways to sell tickets on behalf of Virgin or vice versa? I do not believe that I would be the only person prepared to pay good money to see the Secretary of State for Transport try to explain to Sir Colin Marshall that he is expected to sell tickets for Richard Branson; there would be an international audience wanting to watch such an attempt.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate

No, I will not give way.

The present ridiculous situation has come about solely and directly because of the Government's privatisation proposals. The services provided to passengers before privatisation will he reduced or totally withdrawn after privatisation. How can that be good for the customer?

I have not given an isolated example of the effect that privatisation will have on service quality. On Second Reading of the Railways Bill, the then Secretary of State for Transport was asked by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) whether rail privatisation would improve reliability, improve infrastructure and improve rolling stock. The Secretary of State said: The answer to all three questions is yes".—[Official Report, 2 February 1993; Vol. 218, c. 158.]

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate

No.

Rail privatisation was to bring us greater reliability. The headline of a copy of a press release issued in December last year by the London Regional Passengers Committee, an independent organisation set up by statute to represent the interests of rail users, stated: Performance Crumbles as New Rail Structure Takes Shape". SHAPE". It continues: the weaknesses of the new rail industry structure are beginning to appear, and the short-term outlook is bleak … Already, punctuality is falling on most commuter lines into London, and cancellation rates are up … The outlook for British Rail's passengers is grim indeed. We were promised that rail privatisation would improve reliability; as the group set up by statute to monitor service quality on behalf of the public says, however, far from improving reliability, privatisation is eroding it.

The House will recall that we were also promised that rail privatisation would improve infrastructure. I have a copy of the December issue of the magazine of the Railway Development Society, "Railwatch". On the front page is an interview with Mr. John Ellis, production director of Railtrack, who states: We will not necessarily support every station or every route … We want to develop the network as far as we can but it will be on a commercial basis. We cannot and should not take into account social issues. He added, for good measure: I don't see us doing much re-equipping on the branch lines. We were promised that rail privatisation would improve infrastructure; yet Railtrack's own production manager admits that the quality of infrastructure on the branch lines will be allowed to deteriorate and the social value of the rail network will no longer be taken into account.

Finally, we were promised that rail privatisation would improve rolling stock. That is the cruellest of all the broken promises that Ministers have used to bolster this broken piece of legislation. Far from improving rolling stock, the proposals mean that for the first time in its history British Rail has no new rolling stock on its order books.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate

No, the hon. Lady will not give way.

An advertisement in last Friday's edition of Kent Today, placed on behalf of the ABB train manufacturing company and sponsored by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley), states: although British Rail has been due for some time to place a follow-on order for the next phase of Networkers, it has still failed to do so.If the order is not received by the manufacturers, ABB Transportation Ltd in York, within the next few weeks, the factory will run out of work and close with the loss of its entire workforce.This will mean no new trains for three years". Will Ministers explain how the loss of 750 jobs, the closure of one of the country's last train manufacturing companies and no new trains for at least three years will benefit anyone, let alone provide a better service for the public?

That is the central point about this piece of privatisation: whenever the question is asked whether privatisation will lead to a better service, the answer is a resounding no, whether we are talking about fares rising by double the rate of inflation, the loss of a central timetable, the loss of inter-availability of tickets or a lower passenger service requirement. We no longer have to predict the effects of privatisation; we can already see them.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane , Rotherham

The fundamental hostility of Ministers to the very existence of a rail service is reflected in the answers given to my parliamentary questions. Last year the Prime Minister used the rail service just once and the Secretary of State for the Environment, who should be using the rail service instead of elite, chauffeur-driven limousines, used it just five times. The President of the Board of Trade, who is supposed to be committed to British industry, used the rail service just nine times last year. The Government Front Bench have no interest in and no knowledge or practical experience of our rail service.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, which will appear in the public record. My constituents have raised that subject with me on more than one occasion, and it deserves a wider audience.

Almost without exception, the effects of privatisation are bad for the rail passenger and bad for the country as a whole.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate

No, I will not give way.

The Government have no coherent strategy for improving the rail service. One has only to look at the new funding regime: the budget for British Rail and Railtrack will be cut by more than £400 million in the coming financial year, with the shortfall supposedly made up by privatisation receipts to be received sometime in the distant future. Consider what happened yesterday: the Rail Regulator made one announcement about access charges and the value of those receipts was cut by an estimated £2 billion. That sum was lost to the industry in one day because of one announcement.

Rail investment has become a privatisation lottery, with the Secretary of State for Transport the Noel Edmonds of the rail industry, constantly promising each rail manager that he will be the one to receive a Treasury windfall, when in reality the Minister is totally unable to influence events or to deliver on his promises or those of his predecessors. One can almost hear the right hon. Gentleman saying, "Don't worry, Sir Bob, it could be you".

In this environment of fragmentation rather than co-ordination, of competition rather than co-operation, and of investment on the never-never, it is no wonder that the quality of service offered to passengers is deteriorating daily—and that is why this privatisation will ultimately fail. Whatever Ministers pledge, whatever excuses they give and no matter how often they point to the privatisations of the past, at the end of the day people will judge privatisation on the basis of the service that they receive. As the fiasco over through ticketing has so graphically illustrated, privatisation can mean only one thing: a poorer rail service and a country that is the poorer for it.

Photo of Mr Barry Field Mr Barry Field , Isle of Wight 5:12 pm, 18th January 1995

There we have it: independence for Scotland, independence for Wales and nationalisation for British Rail—a policy so popular in uniting Her Majesty's Opposition that only 12 Labour Members are present for the debate. The Opposition constantly call for more power for the regulators, but as soon as a regulator makes a pronouncement they invite the Secretary of State to intervene, clip the regulator's wings and subdue him.

It seems to have escaped hon. Members' attention that British Rail has already been privatised. For a number of years it operated the ferries to the Isle of Wight—which were run for the sole inconvenience of the passengers. As one crunched one's way through the paper cups and fag ends, if one found a seat that was not covered with seagull poo it was probably occupied by a burly British Rail seaman. If the train arrived on time, the ferry left early; if the train was late, the ferry left before it arrived. I should also mention the wonderful British Rail sandwich available on the Isle of Wight ferry, which was so curled from staleness that when one bit into one corner the other corner poked one in the eye.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson , Eastbourne

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Has it escaped his attention that the Labour spokesman, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), spoke for more than half an hour without making one solitary suggestion as to how renationalising British Rail would improve services to passengers?

Photo of Mr Barry Field Mr Barry Field , Isle of Wight

I will come to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) later in my speech.

Photo of Mr John Sykes Mr John Sykes , Scarborough

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, especially as the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) refused to do so. Does my hon. Friend think, like the rest of us, that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was contributing to the wrong debate? As he was all at sea, perhaps he should have been speaking in the fishing debate which begins at 7 pm.

Photo of Mr Barry Field Mr Barry Field , Isle of Wight

I will disprove some of the theories of the hon. Member for Oldham, West later.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has visited the Isle of Wight. He travelled there on the ferry, which is almost the only way to reach the Isle of Wight—as the escapees from Parkhurst discovered the other day—via one of the car ferry routes. With regard to Mr. Swift's arrangements for through ticketing, as my right hon. Friend tried to point out— though he had difficulty getting it through to Labour Members— this is a consultation document. It is clear that the Opposition do not intend to produce any policies on the subject today. According to Lord Stanley, it is the duty of Oppositions to oppose everything and to propose nothing, but I was not aware that he had also said that Opposition Members must remain silent whenever they are asked about policy.

The debate presents an ideal opportunity for me to put forward my ideas about through ticketing on behalf of the people of the Isle of Wight, knowing that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be present on the Front Bench and as attentive as ever. Mr. Swift suggests in his document that Ryde pierhead should be the through-ticketing office for the Isle of Wight, and the hon. Member for Oldham, West alluded to it in his speech. That is an extraordinary suggestion as Ryde pierhead is the most difficult of the three through-ticketing offices on the Isle of Wight to access. The other two have car parking facilities and passengers do not have to catch a train, have a long and drafty walk, or buy a ticket for their motor car and drive the length of the pier to reach those offices. Ryde is also an extraordinary choice because it is the route on which services are most subject to cancellation due to bad weather.

Whenever I am asked to advise Ministers about travel arrangements to the Isle of Wight—it happens from time to time—I find that their staff always choose the Portsmouth to Ryde route. That seems to be the preferred route because it appears in the British Rail timetable, but it is not the most convenient route. Passengers can catch a train from Waterloo, arriving in Southampton just over an hour later, and then catch the Red Jet—which was built on the Isle of Wight— to Cowes, which takes 20 minutes. Red Funnel has had a franchise for through ticketing for British Rail for years and I am sure that it will be most concerned at the prospect of losing it. At Yarmouth, car parking facilities are conveniently located outside the ticket office.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Isle of Wight rail services were initially in the first tranche of franchises that the Government intended to put out to contract—indeed, they were due to be franchised by October last year—but the Government subsequently withdrew the Isle of Wight services from that tranche. Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the Government's decision to withdraw Isle of Wight services from the franchising timetable, or does he wish that they had gone ahead in October last year?

Photo of Mr Barry Field Mr Barry Field , Isle of Wight

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect: the Government did not withdraw them. I will return to that point later in my speech. If he can contain himself, he will find that the train will eventually arrive at its destination.

At Yarmouth passengers can purchase a ticket for the half-hour ferry journey. It is one of the few services where the train arrives at the pierhead near the ferry service in Lymington. It would be extraordinary if one had to travel virtually the length of the island—from Yarmouth to Ryde pierhead—to buy a through ticket, when at present one can buy one at Yarmouth, catch a train through to Brockenhurst, which is on the main system, and on to Wales or Scotland.

I have taken quite an interest in British Rail and another extraordinary matter puzzles me. British Rail invested heavily in a computer system, which I understand is called Sportis. I travel regularly from the House to the Isle of Wight by train. If one does not have a ticket, the ticket collector comes round and uses a portable piece of equipment to issue one. It will issue a ticket to almost anywhere in the United Kingdom, but for some reason British Rail left the Isle of Wight out of the computerisation. Every night, when the ticket inspector goes off duty he downloads the information on to the British Rail mainframe and that is how the costs are analysed. Having acquired that mainframe computer and the ability to issue tickets on the train throughout the system, it seems extraordinary for anyone to suggest that through ticketing is to go. Indeed, perhaps we should shut down the ticket offices and issue tickets only on the trains.

Mention has been made of British Airways, which has a giant mainframe computer able to allocate seats and tickets all over the world.

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

It may be of interest to my hon. Friend and to the House that one can book flights on Virgin Airways through British Airways by means of the computerised booking system developed by British Airways after it was privatised, so the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms 'Jackson) is totally wrong.

Photo of Mr Barry Field Mr Barry Field , Isle of Wight

My hon. Friend is ahead of me. I understand that the system is called Galileo and that the Ministry cif Defence has adopted the same system for its own air transport requirements because it is so successful in allocating space.

As for the hon. Member for Oldham, West misleading the House and being mistaken, one of the keynotes of his speech was that there was investor apathy for the privatisation of the railway. That was the spur which made me apply to speak in the debate.

As hon. Members will know, I have been a keen advocate of privatisation of the Isle of Wight railway. which is just 12 miles long and runs from the end of Ryde pierhead to Shanklin. When I met my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell), the Minister responsible for the railways at the time, he said, "If you are going to do this, Barry, we must first assure ourselves that ministerial powers are available for the Isle of Wight railway to be sold." That took a few months. Then he said that there might be a problem with the Monopolies and Mergers Commission because we had formed a consortium on the Isle of Wight. I use the royal "we" because although I am not part of it, I was an instigator of it.

The consortium involved one of the privatised bus companies which have been so successful. We read about Opposition Members being shareholders in such ventures and we know how tremendously successful that privatisation has been. There was concern about whether the MMC might rule out the consortium and not allow it to bid for the Isle of Wight railway system, but we got MMC clearance for the bid as the consortium does not want to be the majority shareholder and is quite happy to be the minority shareholder. Tomorrow morning I shall be meeting my hon. Friend the present junior Minister to raise the matter with him.

I also met my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), when he was in charge of railways, and we had several discussions. There was a feeling that, because privatisation was on the manifesto agenda, it would happen in due course anyway, so it would be premature to do it in isolation from the rest. That was fair enough. Then I met my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), who is something of a steam and railway buff and he was very enthusiastic about the Isle of Wight railway being privatised.

So much for the suggestion by the hon. Member for Oldham, West that there is investor apathy: on the Isle of Wight there is investor anger that we have not got on with it yet. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering came to the Isle of Wight and met the consortium, bringing with him one of the Rail Regulator's staff. We were all horrified to be told that it was all rather difficult and that perhaps the Isle of Wight would not take first place after all.

Another ingredient made me decide to speak today. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) also made a journey to the Isle of Wight and travelled on the railway system. I did what I always do after any hon. Member has visited the Isle of Wight, including the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). I always thank them for coming to the Isle of Wight because we need all the tourist statistics we can get. When I asked the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East how he had got on and whether people on the Isle of Wight and had made him welcome, he said that they had and that he thought that privatisation might just work for the Isle of Wight railway line.

That is what really annoys me about the politics of the House and of the nation, and it gets right up the nose of the British people. The Opposition's policy has nothing to do with whether privatisation or nationalisation is right or wrong: it is about the Labour party's own agenda and delivering clause IV, and I can prove it. If the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East were the chairman of British Rail and we gave him half a billion pounds to improve the rail structure, I can say with certainty that he would not begin by expanding the railway system on the Isle of Wight. If my right hon. Friend were to make me the chairman of British Rail and gave me half a billion pounds to expand the system, I would not begin by expanding the railway system on the Isle of Wight either, and nor would my right hon. Friend. Certainly British Rail will never expand the system on the Isle of Wight.

We have ideology for its own sake and we cannot get the project through even though a consortium of local business people and hoteliers believes that we can expand the system on the island. The Liberal Democrat county council is also in favour of expanding the railway system on the Isle of Wight, although it pretends not to be and the Liberal Democrat spokesman will be speaking against it today. To give the Liberal Democrats their due, however, they have backed the project fully and are as disappointed as I am that it has been delayed.

It is a remarkable situation: I want to privatise British Rail on the Isle of Wight, and so do the Liberal Democrats, the people on the Isle of Wight, the consortium and the Ministers. Only Mr. Swift clearly does not want to privatise the railway line on the Isle of Wight. The other day he announced that the legal bill for doing so would be much too big and that it would have to be put on the back burner.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

The hon. Gentleman kindly answered my question by saying that he is disappointed that privatisation on the Isle of Wight has been deferred. The original proposal involved what was termed a vertical privatisation whereby the private owner would own the infrastructure of the track and run the services. Is the hon. Gentleman advocating that as a pattern for privatisation in England, Scotland and Wales? If so, will he explain why? If not, why does he feel that that should be the case on the Isle of Wight, if he still believes it to be the case?

Photo of Mr Barry Field Mr Barry Field , Isle of Wight

I am glad of the opportunity to ask the hon. Gentleman why his party's manifesto does not include devolution for the Isle of Wight. As I often tell my constituents when they talk about problems in England, I am responsible only to the Isle of Wight, whose electorate sent me here, and I hope that I do a reasonable job in representing them.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's commitment to his constituents. He is saying, in effect, that the private sector's enthusiasm and commitment to passengers will be so great that it will not need to be told that ways must be found to make it easy for people to buy tickets. The private sector understands that that is an essential part of its success. As regards the consultation document, I hope that my hon. Friend and his constituents will make their views clearly known to the Rail Regulator as this is the first time in British Rail's history that they have an opportunity to help shape our future railways.

Photo of Mr Barry Field Mr Barry Field , Isle of Wight

My right hon. Friend knows me well enough to assume that Mr. Swift will receive robust letters on that point from me and from more than a few of my constituents.

When an industry, business or other undertaking is in the hands of the state, the customer is seen as the enemy—a bit of an inconvenience. When such concerns are privatised, however, customers are seen as an opportunity and as friends. That is precisely what has happened with privatisations thus far. When British Rail ran ferries, we saw staff with glum faces and scruffily turned out, scruffy ships and all the problems to which I alluded earlier. Everything was done for the sole inconvenience of the customer. Today, the same employees who once worked for a nationalised industry are smart in appearance, proud, know who they work for and, above all, know that the customer is king.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering was 100 per cent. behind the Isle of Wight consortium to which I referred. The other day, he telephoned me with remarkably good news from the Ministry of Defence. He said that the Government were ordering 24 of the C 130J Hercules aircraft, which is good news for Westland Aerospace. When I asked my right hon. Friend whether they would be operational from the moment they were delivered, there was a long pause. Then he said, "Yes, they will—why do you ask?" I replied, "Because I would like their first task to be to bomb the office of the Rail Regulator so that we can get some action by him as soon as possible."

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall 5:32 pm, 18th January 1995

I shall not take a journey around the Isle of Wight because I want to return to the subject of the debate. That has nothing to do with the fact that, when I visited the island recently, I was not welcomed by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), even though I took full advantage of its transport facilities.

Unfortunately, the Secretary of State has left the Chamber, but I shall pay the same attention as he did to the detail of statements. He made much fun of statements taken out of context, but I shall quote a statement precisely in context. It was made to my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) after hon. Members in the House and in Committee, from all parties, pressed for information about what guarantee the Government would give on the continuation of through ticketing. The right hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), then Minister for Public Transport, said: Through ticketing will be mandatory through the licensing system. Anyone who wants to run a passenger train service must ensure that through tickets are available for all journeys…That will be an obligation."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 18 February 1993; c. 258.] According to members of the Government Front Bench, that statement can now be interpreted as meaning that anyone who wants to run a passenger train service could provide only one outlet offering through ticketing—for example, the west of England could be covered by just Port Talbot station and, if the Secretary of State is right, the obligation would be met. That is patent nonsense. Even if that is the way that the Secretary of State intends to interpret the assurance given by the right hon. Member for Kettering, the House will not tolerate an attempt to undermine an assurance which, no doubt, was made with all honesty and integrity.

The Minister said also that there was a statutory obligation to take account of the Secretary of State's guidance. If we cannot be told what the guidance is, what is the statutory obligation? Promises and performance do not tally.

We are confronted with the extraordinary core list. The Minister said that it was only one of three options. It is curious that the core option is spelt out in so much detail but that the two others represent a diminution of the present position. The regulator's document makes a token examination of the two other options, and nothing that the Secretary of State said this afternoon has changed the rationale behind the document.

There is madness afoot, in the way that the regulator is approaching the planning of our rail network. Towns as large as Yeovil and Peterborough seem to be denied through ticketing. The right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) may care to explain why his town has been overlooked.

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

I do not want to allow the hon. Gentleman to go too far down a dead end. There was a transcription error in the document, whereby parts of Edinburgh were included twice and Peterborough was omitted. It was never the regulator's intention not to include Peterborough.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

The Minister took the words out of my mouth. There was an oversight. The document was issued without Peterborough being included, which is precisely my point. Such sloppy thinking has gone into—

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Was it within your hearing that the words used by my hon. Friend the Minister were "a transcription error"? Has that not been translated by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) into "an oversight"? Are not the meanings quite different?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

My hearing is exceptionally good and the hon. Gentleman is correct—but it is not for me to judge how any hon. Member interprets words used on either side of the Chamber.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. My point is that, if the transcription was a mistake, why was it overlooked? I hope that the right hon. Member for Peterborough will explain to his constituents why such an important railway station came to be overlooked.

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

I shall not give way again; I must make progress.

I suspect that the Peterborough question—or the Yeovil question, if the House prefers—will come to haunt the Secretary of State, as the West Lothian question has come to haunt the Leader of the Opposition.

Other areas of the country will not have the benefit of through ticketing. Newbury, serving a large area of Berkshire, will be without it, as will Lichfield, Stowmarket and Liskeard. The whole of south-east Cornwall will be without even one core station. People in that area will have to cross the national boundary into England, to Plymouth, to obtain through tickets. That will not only cause inconvenience but mean additional costs. If people have to take one single ticket journey after another, it is quite possible that there will be an increase of about 20 per cent. in the cost of their journey.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

No, I want to make progress.

The rationale for this proposal—if that is not too flattering a word—is that the Government want all the train operators, of which there will be dozens after privatisation, to be able to issue their own tickets. Unfortunately, however, the Minister does not seem to have realised that the combinations that result from that are so complex, with so many different tickets, that only a few highly trained squads of crack ticket task forces will be able to understand what on earth is going on, hence the proposal for core stations.

Of course, ticket chaos is already rife. I am advised that there are now no fewer than 17 different return tickets for journeys between London and Birmingham alone, and the difficulty of getting information out of stations at either end is already considerable. The Minister says that this is all done to encourage diversity and choice, but diversity is a sham when no one can explain what is on offer, and choice means chaos when the consumer cannot weigh up the options.

As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight mentioned, there is a system that allows those who cannot get a ticket at an unmanned station to obtain one for most destinations from a portable computerised ticket machine. For instance, on the Newquay to Par branch line, people can obtain through tickets to almost anywhere—as long as the British Rail network is still in existence. What we have not heard from the Secretary of State today is whether it is intended that that system should be taken apart or made obsolete or whether some new system of portable through ticketing should be made available in its place. It is because such a system fills in the gaps in the network at present that those who start their journeys from one of the unmanned stations can obtain a reasonable service en route.

We should surely be demanding an expansion and improvement of the ticketing system. After all, the technology is in place already; I understand that any station with a telephone line can provide this service. We should, therefore, not tolerate any retreat to a second-class service.

There is a sinister undercurrent to all this. The debacle is symptomatic of the Government's attitude towards privatisation in general; it is a portent of things getting worse. If through ticketing is for the chop, what are we to make of ministerial assurances about integrated timetables which we were given at the same time? My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has already referred to the difficulties of obtaining timetables. In many places, passengers will have to cross-reference between piles of pamphlets. What we need is a national passenger information service, providing seamless journeys, through ticketing and through timetable information.

What are we to make of the promises we were given at the same time about through train services? Horror stories are already surfacing about the difficulties that have become apparent even before the franchisees come on the scene. Operators will become so desperate to meet their punctuality targets that they are likely to decide that connections are of less importance. The logical conclusion is that, if operators ran no trains at all, they would be able to guarantee 100 per cent. punctuality.

It takes no genius to see that the upshot of all this is that even more people will desert the railways for their long-distance journeys. At present, a number of important holiday resorts in Devon and Cornwall benefit from Saga Holidays' use of through trains, with through ticketing and through services—not to mention the through timetables which are of critical importance to Saga's elderly holidaymakers, who routinely travel by train from the north of England to most of the major resorts in the south-west. In future, Saga says, they will go by coach. That will lessen the chances of maintaining a viable rail service and will put more pressure on the roads.

The conclusion to be drawn from all this muddle is that the Government want a minimalist, slimmed-down railway which will not pose a challenge to the great car economy which they used to champion. No doubt, the Minister will say that he is building a railway fit for the 21st century, or some such platitude. He came close to using one again this afternoon. More probably, he is building a railway fit for the scrap heap.

The motion is drawn in strictly limited terms, but the Government amendment opens up the whole privatisation can of worms. No doubt that is why a number of Conservative Members seemed to be shaking in their shoes. Perhaps they have been listening to their constituents on the subject of the unpopularity of this "privatisation too far" or, as The Daily Telegraph calls it, this "poll tax on wheels". I have good news for them. For the reasons that I set out in Monday's debate, I believe that the privatisation of Railtrack before polling day now looks increasingly unlikely, so Tory Members may be spared the experience of going to the electorate with Railtrack already in the private sector.

I believe, too, that the alleged attractions of the franchises are proving far from convincing, which is why so few bids are in. For our part, we have said—I said it on Monday—that we shall use our influence to retain or reclaim a golden share in Railtrack, to ensure that the network remains a public service. The Secretary of State quoted my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). I agree entirely with what my right hon. Friend said. We have repeatedly made it clear that we have no objections to introducing an element of competition—to the Isle of Wight or to any area where that would be appropriate but within a national railway network and only if there is a framework of guaranteed public service obligations, together with a national long-term transport plan.

Next week, we shall be able to take stock again, because we expect then to have the announcement by the Office of the Passenger Rail Franchising Director on minimum service specifications. If that announcement is in line with the sort of thinking exhibited by the Secretary of State this afternoon, and by last week's report from the regulator, we shall have further confirmation of the fact that standards are to be drastically lowered. Even the limited requirement that last year's timetable should form the base point for improved services in future will be torn up.

Perhaps all this does not bother Ministers. We know that the Prime Minister does not use trains—I understand that he has been on one only once since becoming Prime Minister—but the travelling public cannot afford to be so optimistic. This plan for rail privatisation is a one-way ticket to disaster. It is time someone pulled the emergency cord and stopped the train.

Photo of Mr Matthew Banks Mr Matthew Banks , Southport 5:46 pm, 18th January 1995

In view of the limited time available, I propose to keep my remarks short so as to be fair to other hon. Members who wish to speak.

Regrettably, far too much time was wasted earlier in the debate. When I saw the Opposition motion on today's Order Paper, it struck me that this was a debate of National Union of Students standard—it was all about playschool politics. It gives me no pleasure to say that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) came into the Chamber today with few notes and very little of substance to say.

One of the benefits of a national railway network is through ticketing. Parliament has expressly required the regulator to promote through ticketing as a network benefit, now and in future. That is why the Opposition motion is so silly. I feel that the hon. Member for Oldham, West could have done a great deal better. He did not even answer any of the points put to him by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We heard only the usual mishmash, "One day we will renationalise; the next day we won't." I feel sorry for the hon. Gentleman, because all too often in recent days I have heard remarks on the subject of transport made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), who is no longer an Opposition transport spokesman but who appears to give advice to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish). The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), also no longer an Opposition transport spokesman, appears to have taken the lead in these matters, and Alastair Campbell seems to be telling Opposition Members what they should be saying.

The Transport Select Committee quite rightly took a critical but constructive look at the Government's proposals, and the Government listened and acted on virtually all its suggestions. I was struck by how many British Rail employees privately told members of the Committee that they, acting as individuals or collectively, could provide a better service for the travelling public.

In this debate, as in similar debates over the past couple of years, we have heard far too little from Opposition Members about the necessity of improvements for the travelling public. That is what the Government's proposals are about. It is all very well for the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) to say that he and his party agree with increased competition, when he wants British Rail to remain lock, stock and barrel in the public sector. There must be change if some of the improvements that the Government want are to come to fruition.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard tomorrow, he will find that what he suggests is not what I said. The commitment that I gave this evening and on Monday was specific. I hope that he will do me the honour of at least reading what I had to say in Hansard.

Photo of Mr Matthew Banks Mr Matthew Banks , Southport

If I am wrong, I shall, of course, apologise. I know from personal experience, however, that the hon. Gentleman is not different from his Liberal Democrat colleagues: he says one thing in this place, one thing in his constituency, one thing at one end of his constituency and another thing at the other end of it.

Those of us who want to improve the quality of service to the travelling public back the Government's rail privatisation proposals. We should give those individuals who have said privately that they could do better individually or collectively the chance to do so through the franchising mechanism that the Government are putting in place to give a better deal to the travelling public. We must make rail travel more attractive and, above all, attract more people on to the railways and off the roads.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West talked about the number of through stations where we can buy a through ticket. Even though only half the stations in the United Kingdom are staffed, there are wide discrepancies between the sort of tickets that we can buy from different British Rail operators and from different stations. It is necessary to book in advance for many tickets to obtain them at a competitive price. It is necessary also to book a seat. Booking is necessary for a variety of other reasons, all of which are positive and are designed to improve the service that is available to the travelling public. I am not concerned at the fact that many tickets and fares are available.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) talked about the airlines. A person who wants to use one route from one destination to another will find that a wide range of fares is available. That choice is important. All too often, we hear, especially from trade union sponsored Labour Members—particularly those sponsored by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—about what is important to the union interest. Insufficient consideration is given to the travelling public.

Ticketing in the current British Rail set up has not been the result of statutory regulation or legal obligation; instead, it has been brought about by the commercial wisdom and know-how of those within British Rail. That is exactly what will happen within the new privatised franchises. Those who run the franchises will have a vested interest in encouraging as many people as possible to use their services.

The introduction of new ideas and privatisation will increase choice. That has happened in and between the airlines and it will happen within the railways. British Airways is not, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in quoting an Opposition spokesman, the pantomime horse of capitalism; instead, it has been a rip-roaring success. When the travelling public recognise the benefits of franchising in years to come, they will not see renationalisation as something on the menu that they might wish to choose. They will not take that view when they have experienced the substantial improvements that franchising will bring about.

As I have said, British Rail has no current statutory minimum service for ticketing. That is the point behind the regulator's consultation document. The hon. Member for Oldham, West said that there are just one or two paragraphs in the report on the existing system and a great deal on core and secondary services. It is not necessary to write many paragraphs on the present system, because everybody knows about it. We want maximum opportunities for passengers to buy through tickets to continue. The best solution to emerge from the debate would be new standards in the provision of service, with independent decision making by operators and standards prescribed and enforced by the regulator.

The current arrangements must form the starting point. For a period, the regulator should approve all changes within certain criteria. After a given time, operators such as British Rail should be able to exercise more and more of their own commercial judgment when introducing new ideas and innovation to improve the service that they provide. In short, changes must be gradual and incremental. I have no doubt that that is exactly what will happen.

We have not heard Opposition Members, and especially those on the Opposition Front Bench, set out their ideas on how they would improve the service. I have referred before to the fuddle and muddle of Opposition statements. Indeed, a press officer for the Leader of the Opposition has contradicted Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. It is sad to look across the Chamber and recognise that if ever there were a Labour Government, probably not one of the present Opposition Front-Bench team—well, possibly one for the sake of continuity—would end up as a Minister in the Department of Transport.

At one stage, the Leader of the Opposition is back-pedalling on renationalisation; the next minute, he is saying, "Yes, we need to follow that route." Where is he? I gather that he is travelling the country trying to drum up support for getting rid of clause IV. Why is there fuddle and muddle on the Opposition Front Bench? The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and other union influence have ensured that the Leader of the Labour party knows that he will not be able to ditch clause IV if he does not stick to his guns on renationalising British Rail.

What a way to carry on. What a contradiction. That is not the way forward. The public will not be fooled now or at the ballot box come the next general election by such nonsensical thinking by Opposition Members.

If the Labour party were to win the next general election, the union barons who are their pay masters would come out of the woodwork, as they are beginning to do now. I Live no doubt that the interests of the unions would be put before the interests of the travelling public. It is the interests of the travelling public that have made me so supportive of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. The Government amendment contains the most sensible balance to be found in the Order Paper and I shall have no hesitation in supporting the Government.

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham 5:59 pm, 18th January 1995

We heard much invective from the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks), but little sound advice of which the House could take notice. I can advise the hon. Gentleman that the next Labour Government—yes, the Labour party will win the next general election and there will be a, Labour Government—will take the railways back under public control and ownership. The quicker that that is done, the better. We shall do so for good reasons, one of them being that we want an integrated transport system.

In the area that I represent, rail connections with Chester have already been broken. Regional Railways prefers travellers from Wrexham who are making a journey to the capital or to the midlands to use sprinters, using Regional Railways stock. It discourages them from going to Chester—to go up the Trent valley using InterCity stock. The Government have no answer to that. There are no longer any decent connections at Chester for travellers from Wrexham to other places in the United Kingdom. That is something that privatisation cannot solve. I predict that the disintegration of the service will become greater.

Liberals a re sometimes their own worst enemies. I thought that I would be helpful to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) about the contents of the consultation paper. I was on the Minister's side when it came to interventions. The hon. Gentleman did not even allow me to intervene in his speech. I wanted to tell him that Wrexham does not appear in the paper.

Why is Wrexham not in the document? It is a borough of 115,000 people. One criterion that appears in the consultation paper is to be found on page 29, where it is stated that all towns and cities with a population of more than 50,000 will have at least one core station. There are four stations within the borough of Wrexham. Two are in the centre, where there is a population of well over 50,000. As I said, Wrexham does not appear in the consultation document.

There are plenty of things wrong with the consultation paper, but let me take it a little further. One little secret has been kept from the public and from the House in the debate so far. It is simplified by reading page 1, the regulator's foreword. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said, 21 pages deal with cutting the number of stations in the British Isles where one can buy through tickets. That cannot possibly be an improvement in services. I know that Conservative Members have been standing on their heads trying to pretend that such consultation papers are improvements in services, but they are not. The regulator says, in the first line: One of my duties under the Railways Act is to promote the use of the railway network. The regulator talks about customers, about service, about better railways. That is one of his duties. Does he tell us another of his duties? It is in section 4 of the Railways Act—to promote economy in the British railway network. That has not been mentioned. The Secretary of State did not mention economy. Perish the thought that that word should cross his lips. What it is about is an economic sanction being applied, and, of course, the British railway traveller will pay for the Government's decision to privatise the railways, if it ever comes about.

I accept that the Minister said that through ticketing will be available, give or take a few stations, in more or less the same stations as we have at present. But the problem is a little deeper. I hope that the Minister is listening, because I would appreciate a reply if one can be given, although in some instances the absence of a reply is rather telling. Will through ticketing be available at the best prices for the day of travel? I can see grave difficulties and that, I suspect, is why we are debating the matter.

This is not infantile, as Conservative Members have sought to make out. I know all about Conservative briefings and I am willing to bet that the words "infantile" or "petty" have appeared in the briefing that is handed out in the Whips Office to all the hon. Members who are dragged in to make their speeches. By and large they never use the railways, or very rarely. They are dragged into the Chamber on pain of not getting any further promotion, or whatever.

If through ticketing is to remain—this is a serious question—will any person going to a station to get a through ticket be able to get one at the best possible price on the day of travel? It would be easier, perhaps, to promise that if one was buying the ticket two or three weeks in advance, but what if one wanted to travel that day or the next? It is possible that one might pay standard class fares when there may be offers from another station, and if one booked a ticket to that station and rebooked, one might pay a cheaper price. That is something that the Government will have to face up to if this mad scheme ever comes about. I do not think that it will, because there is another problem.

There are literally tens of thousands of ways in which to book tickets, and if there are to be different operating companies, they will have different offers at different times and on different days. Some companies might have cheaper tickets after 4 o'clock, some after 7 o'clock. I do not believe that British Rail or the Rail Regulator, at this stage, has the ability through the computer system to get everything right.

British Rail's system is called Tribute. As far as I understand it, British Rail says that everything is going smoothly at the moment, but I do not believe that it has the ability to cope at this stage. The comparison with airlines is wrong, because airline ticketing is much easier. It is true that there are different fares, but the destinations by and large are the same or grouped for the same fare. The rules are much easier. The rules for rail through ticketing will be very complicated, and I suspect that that is why the Government are in trouble.

Photo of Mr Matthew Banks Mr Matthew Banks , Southport

The hon. Gentleman referred to airlines. Why should the system that may operate when franchising takes place, with a variety of different fares available at different times, from different locations and ticketed in a variety of ways, be any less a means of providing choice and value for money to the travelling public using the railways than the airline industry?

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham

My contention is that the system on the railway is much more complicated and is liable to vary in a much more complicated way and with much greater frequency. I do not believe that the Government can do it.

I should be grateful if the Minister gave the assurance when he replies that through ticketing will continue at the best available price. Let us remember that many people go to ticket offices. I know that a business traveller with a credit card can go to a travel agent or whatever and get his ticket whenever he likes two or three days in advance, but most of my constituents turn up at the railway station. They have either a £10 or a £20 note. They do not quite know where or when they are going. They do not know the fare structure, but they want to buy a ticket there and then and be off. It would be a disgrace if passengers were inconvenienced by withdrawal of through-ticketing facilities.

Let me draw to the attention of the House a previous debate that we had. As a member of the Committee that considered the Railways Bill, I should perhaps repeat that I am sponsored by the RMT, although I have said it once before. I do not want anybody to be under any misapprehension. On 16 February 1993, I tabled an amendment to what was then clause 4 of the Bill, making it the priority of the Rail Regulator to promote the railway network and to give it precedence over economies and efficiencies in the railway network. That was not acceptable to the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman). He said: I recommend the Committee to reject the amendment. All the duties are important. I concede that the first two are extremely important."— that is, promoting the railway system. He said that the third duty was to provide for economies on the railway system, and continued: I recommend the hon. Member for Wrexham not to attempt to put the regulator in a straitjacket. We have set out his duties clearly in the Bill. They are comprehensive and sensible. Let us not attempt to prioritise them. We must let the regulator make his own decision."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 16 February 1993; c. 136.] If one wanted to make a right old mess of anything, the Government did just that. They did it in Committee and are now paying the penalty. One of the reasons why they do not like this debate is that the average passenger, the average citizen, who will vote in a general election in the next two years, understands very well what the debate is about. It is not about airy-fairy economics, monetary supply, or relations with Cambodia or anywhere else. It is about being able to travel on a train when one wants to, to understand the system and not have to pay too much for it and to have the convenience of getting a ticket when one wants it. The public understand that. Unfortunately, Conservative Members do not.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison , Hertsmere 6:09 pm, 18th January 1995

I welcome this opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate, which has already had some distinguished contributions by Conservative Members. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) on managing the keep within the time limit that he set himself. He dealt with matters in some detail and gave the House an idea of some of the pressures that Opposition Front-Bench Members will have to face from their Back Benchers in favour of nationalisation. That came out quite clearly in his speech.

I wish to raise an important matter that is of great interest to my constituents. Although I welcome the opportunity to raise it, my first reaction when I saw the Opposition motion was one of some surprise. Although railway through ticketing is an important subject, it is surprising that the Opposition chose it for debate when there are so many other important issues before the House at the moment, and when the Opposition have chosen this time to launch important debates on matters such as devolution, which, incidentally, may enter into this debate.

If the Opposition were to have their way and set in train a course of events that broke up the United Kingdom, we might be unable to procure through tickets to Scotland. We would arrive at the Scottish border, pay a border tax to go into Scotland and then be unable to purchase a ticket for the return journey because the trains would be full of Scots people trying to escape from the high taxation being imposed on them by an Edinburgh assembly.

That is not the only reason why this seems a strange debate. We are debating a consultation document. It is strange for the Opposition to use their time to debate a document that is about the best way of achieving certain ends on which the Government have given firm commitments and which, as my right hon. Friend has said, the Government have a statutory duty to procure.

The fact that we are considering a consultation document places certain limits on the debate. It makes it impossible to do as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) did and call upon the Minister to give a cast-iron guarantee that the operation will be carried out in a particularly detailed way. It is impossible for the Minister to give such a guarantee when the consultation document is about the best way forward. I would not for a moment accuse the hon. Gentleman of deliberately asking the Minister for a guarantee on something on which it is impossible for the Minister to give a guarantee. It is probably an oversight on his part, if I may put it that way.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

It was precisely because Ministers gave those assurances, which Conservative and Opposition' Members took to be guarantees, that this debate is taking place.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison , Hertsmere

The hon. Gentleman illustrates the distinction that I made between guarantees given by the Minister and matters of detail concerning the way in which those guarantees will be fulfilled. That is what the hon. Gentleman was referring to and that is what the consultation document is all about.

I rest upon the criterion by which the proposal will be judged, which is contained in the consultation document. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said that there was nothing in the consultation document about having a better railway service at the end of the day. But if he had got as far as page 2, he would have found in paragraph 4 that the regulator had set himself the following criterion: I want to be satisfied that there will be a better rail network and better use of the network by reason of the decisions I take. One can dispose of the debate on through ticketing by urging my right hon. Friend the Minister to judge the consultation by that criterion. To be fair, my right hon. Friend gave every sign that that was just the criterion that he would apply.

That brings me to an important point that has been missed by some Opposition Members, which is the nature of privatisation itself. Like other Conservative Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks), who spoke so forcefully on the subject, I look forward to privatisation delivering benefits to railway users across a wide range of railway services. I see no reason to doubt that they will bring the same entrepreneurial spirit, the same innovation and the same skills as have been brought to so many other privatisations.

During the debate, we have heard all the scare stories that we have heard about privatisations in the past. But the important point, which Opposition Members must regard in a responsible way, is that it is vital for passengers that this privatisation is a success. The process is in train and its success is important if a good service is to be provided. We shall be letting down our constituents if, in our actions or words, we do anything to undermine the success of the venture.

We have heard much today about what has been said during the past week by Opposition Members on the subject. I do not want to go over the glaring differences that have already been amply exposed, but it is impossible to leave things as they stand. There is a glaring difference between Opposition Members as to whether they want the privatisation to succeed.

Yesterday we heard the news that the regulator was reducing by 8 per cent. the rents to be paid by privatised train companies. Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen could not make up their minds whether that was a good thing. In The Daily Telegraph today, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) is quoted as saying that the rent cut would make Railtrack less attractive to the private sector. He was therefore criticising the Government for making the privatisation unattractive to potential operators.

At the same time, the hon. Member for Oldham, West is quoted in the same edition of The Daily Telegraph, somewhat ironically juxtaposed on the same page, as saying that pulling the privatised companies back into the public sector remained an option. The report went on to say: In a sparsely veiled warning, he said: 'We are going to draw the attention of investors to the risk involved in that they will be dependent on continuing levels of high public subsidy.' Spelling out such a warning is damaging to the process of privatisation and getting good management on to the railway. It is also damaging to the interests of railway users.

I hope that the hon. Member for Fife, Central will deal with the question of ownership when he replies. The present state of play came from the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) yesterday. He is quoted in The Guardian yesterday as saying: We will allow those contracts"— which are to be allocated under the privatisation programme— to continue and when they are up we want a publicly owned and publicly accountable railway. One must take into account the fact that those contracts will last for seven years. How does that leave railway users and franchise operators during that seven years? It is more serious than the Labour party simply having a seven-year itch for a bit of nationalisation. It affects the railway's future during those seven years. How can franchise operators operate a franchise for seven years knowing that at the end of that time their franchises will come to an end and the system will be taken into public ownership? That is a recipe for chaos and confusion in our railway system for the next seven years.

No one would award a franchise under such circumstances. No one would take up a franchise with any confidence if there was a threat of renationalisation after seven years. The hon. Member for Fife, Central shakes his head. I should be grateful if he clarified what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said and said whether that is Labour party policy. I shall willingly give way to him if he wishes to do so. He remains in his seat. I hope that he will specifically say whether the Labour party has a definite commitment to renationalise the railways after seven years. Such a policy would be a recipe for chaos and confusion over seven years for railway users—for my constituents who depend on the railway service.

During the next seven years and beyond, I look forward to a railway service under private ownership having all the benefits of other privatised industries. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to proceed with that course.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East 6:18 pm, 18th January 1995

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is worried about a seven-year backing for franchisers, but it is a pity that he has not been worried about backing for a railway system which has meant that the United Kingdom has the lowest level of investment in rail infrastructure in Europe. It would be more appropriate if he turned his attention to that.

This is a highly specific debate, but it affects all rail users and so is of great concern to the general public. Although the Government are trying to dismiss it as being trivial, it is anything but trivial to people who have to use rail transport and to people who wish to see a properly funded and operating rail transport system.

The Government gave clear promises regarding through ticketing, but it is not clear whether they can or will deliver those promises. The public have had a comprehensive, country-wide integrated rail system, but they now see that that system is in danger of fragmentation as it goes through a Government experiment. No one can judge the outcome of that, but many of us are extremely worried by what we have seen in the early stages of the Government's plans. The rail system needs investment and modernisation, but the Government are delivering simply a strong dose of ideology.

The debate is about the practical consequences of the Government's policy and philosophy. Their privatisation scheme is creating a fragmentation of rail service provision and control whose consequences are just beginning to become apparent. From a unified, easily identifiable network is emerging a shattered, stuttering, incomplete system. The Government should not be surprised by the reaction to their plans, which could mean that only one railway station in eight will sell a complete range of tickets. Currently, 1,580 stations sell through tickets.

The public watchdog, the Central Rail Users Consultative Committee, has observed: Making people travel 50 miles on a 2 hour round trip to buy a ticket and then clutch a pack of cards to go by train is quite bizarre. The committee is entirely correct.

It is feared that only one in eight of Britain's 2,500 railway stations will sell a range of tickets enabling passengers to travel anywhere in the area controlled by what may soon be 25 franchisees in the new divided rail system. Of the three options given by the regulator, only that one is described in detail; no such space is accorded to the alternative—a considerable increase in the number of stations selling tickets.

Indeed, privatisation seems designed to make rail travel more difficult and expensive. The administrative costs of preparation, including legal and City fees, have been estimated at over £700 million. Surely it would he far better to invest such a large sum in services than to waste it by implementing an experiment intended to fulfil the Government's narrow-minded ideology, against the wishes of the general public.

Railtrack will be required to earn a much higher return on capital, and the higher fees to franchise holders will be passed on in higher passenger costs. I have heard nothing from the Government to dispel that worry. An estimated 90 per cent. of their income will have been pre-empted by access charges to Railtrack and fees to the rolling stock leasing companies. There is a real danger that services will have to be cut drastically so that they can generate the profits that shareholders have now come to expect. That must lead to fewer passengers and higher fares. The Government should heed that warning, because it came from the House's own Transport Select Committee, but so far I have seen no sign that they are listening to the views of a Committee that contained many of their own Back Benchers.

The debate is, in itself, a warning of forthcoming unattractions: unmanned stations, fewer ticket outlets and fewer services at stations. That adds up to a fall in service standards that the Government are describing as an improvement, which strikes me as monumental cheek. Gaps are opening up between the Secretary of State for Transport and the regulator—as we have heard today—between the public and their rail service provision, between different sections of the rail industry and between different types of provision; all that is a consequence of Government policy.

Let me ask a question that the Secretary of State ducked earlier. How will he use his powers of guidance vis-a-vis the rail regulator? Will guidance on through ticketing become an instruction? That question is at the heart of the debate. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that, under his own legislation, the Secretary of State cannot interfere with the regulator's independence. What exactly is the relationship between the publicly elected Secretary of State and the unelected, unaccountable regulator? Who will make the final decision?

The relationship between the Government and the regulator is at the heart of the debate. Under the Railways Act 1993, the regulator takes "direction" from the Secretary of State until the end of next year; but the regulator will determine the size of the network because he is the final decision maker on line closures—and for that he is paid £125,000 a year and is given 50 members of staff. No wonder the public are fed up, and worried about yet another growth in. quangos—bodies that are unelected and unaccountable, and are making decisions that affect all our daily lives.

The Government cannot escape the fact that they made clear promises on through ticketing. We are entitled to ask why they did not include guarantees on present levels of through ticketing as part of any franchising deal. The Secretary of State said today, clearly and unequivocally, that through ticketing would be maintained; but how does he know, and who will decide? Ministerial bluster will not hide the threadbare nature of past promises and the present failure to deliver.

The Secretary of State was very good at asking questions of the Opposition Front Bench, but managed to avoid answering questions about through ticketing. Will he make the final decision? Will he, the elected Minister, decide whether through ticketing is to be maintained at present levels, or will that be decided by an unelected, unaccountable regulator? I regret to say that, in this age of quangos, the answer lies in the right hon. Gentleman's avoidance of that key question: it speaks volumes.

Power is being taken from the people, against whose wishes these privatisation measures are being imposed. Apparently, a direct Government promise is now in the hands of an unelected regulator acting through an unelected, unaccountable quango. That is what the Government have brought us to, and they will take the full blame at the next general election.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley 6:25 pm, 18th January 1995

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. Opposition Members have said that Conservative Members are unhappy that the debate is taking place, but that is nothing to do with what they have said. The whole debate is facile: all the arguments have been rehearsed in the Chamber before, during debates on the original question of privatising the railways.

I am as confused now as I was before about the Opposition's policy on the railways, and I do not think that they know exactly what it is either. I will not take any lectures from Opposition Members who have now started to bleat about their concern for people who use the railways, given that theirs was the party that supported a signalmen's strike that brought misery and discomfort to many millions of passengers throughout a dreadful period; I do not think that they can give us any lectures about the care and service that we want customers of the railways to receive in future.

It is the same old story of scaremongering. Opposition Members are trying to scare passengers into thinking that they will be given a worse service after privatisation. We heard the same arguments in regard to all the earlier privatisations. In an excellent article, today's Daily Express talks of "Power to the people", referring to several of the privatisations that Opposition Members opposed. It mentions British Airways, for instance. I do not know whether any Opposition Members will stand up and say, "If we win the next general election, we will nationalise British Airways again", but I do not think that very likely. As a nationalised company, British Airways was losing taxpayers' money hand over fist, but profits for the last six months are expected to be around £450 million. It is the world's favourite airline. We want to ensure that ours is the world's favourite railway system—and we can do it, with the same efficiency savings that have been brought to bear on British Airways.

British Telecommunications is another example. Opposition Members put out their scaremongering stories about what would happen, saying that there would be fewer telephone boxes—

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. The debate is about railway privatisation and through ticketing; we do not want to hear a whole lot of questions about other privatisations.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

I will move on, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was trying to draw a parallel, and to show the difference between what Opposition Members are saying now and the reality following privatisation, but I shall return to the subject of railways and through ticketing.

I wonder whether any Opposition Members have bothered to read the regulator's report. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) said that he was not sure whether the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) had got as far as page 2; I have grave concerns about whether he even reached page 1. Paragraph 3 states: Privatisation and restructuring of the railways are intended to improve services to customers and stimulate innovation. In looking at any new proposals to replace British Rail's current arrangements I shall want to be satisfied that they are likely to achieve these objectives. The first sentence of a press notice issued by the regulator on Wednesday 11 January, which I am sure Opposition Members have seen, states: The rail regulator, John Swift…today invited views on the future arrangements for the retailing of through and other tickets at stations in the restructured railway industry …There are a number of options canvassed in this consultation paper. They range from enforcing the status quo to a radical change in concept, the core station and the core services. It should be fairly clear to everyone that this is a consultation paper and that Opposition Members and the public have until 28 February to make their views known. That is why this debate is facile. No firm decisions have been taken and it is reprehensible for Opposition Members to try to scare passengers into thinking that they will get an inferior service after privatisation.

The public have a choice: they can use the railways or they can use their cars, or coaches, or various other forms of transport. Since 1953, there has been a decline in the number of people using the railways. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the numbers have gone down from 17 per cent. in 1953 to 5 per cent. today. The tale of freight is even more tragic. A poll in today's Evening Standard shows that more people would like to use the railways if the service were up to it.

We need to improve the whole range of services for passengers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) said, a service should be advertised as much as possible so that as many people as possible have access to it. Through ticketing will be preserved, but we must also look at innovative ways by which people will have access to train tickets.

Clitheroe railway station is in my constituency and a service from there to Blackburn opened last year. Ticket facilities, including through ticketing, are provided not by British Rail but by a Clitheroe travel agent. I congratulate that Clitheroe travel agency on providing that imaginative service.

I hope that privatisation will improve stations because in the main they are miserable places. People sometimes have to wait 20, 30 or 40 minutes when changing trains, and much more could be done through investing in stations the sort of sums that BAA has invested in our airports. That should be done to provide comfort for passengers. I congratulate Keith Taylor and Ribble Valley council on holding an art exhibition in Clitheroe station to provide some pleasure for people who are waiting for trains. I also congratulate the regulator on reducing access charges for train operators who wish to use the lines. I hope that that will result in lower prices for consumers because we want to attract to the railways as many people as we can.

I had a letter last year from one of my constituents who had bought a ticket for his daughter at a cost of £8. When she could not use it her father sought a refund and was charged an administration fee of £5. That is outrageous, and I hope that that system will change. I have already brought the matter up with British Rail, which is not at all interested in the plight of one of its customers. It must do something about that.

I hope that after the changes more freight will be attracted to the railways because that would be good news. Castle Cement in my constituency has been forced off the railways by British Rail because of some of the high charges that have been introduced. I would be interested in hearing what Opposition Members propose to improve the service to rail customers and passengers—they have certainly not told us so far. We are not certain whether a future Labour Government would totally renationalise the railways, bringing the service back down to the level that people have experienced over the years.

We want to improve the quality of service for the public, and that can be done only through more private money being invested to improve lines such as the north-west coast main line, which runs through my constituency. That needs to be improved, and the only way to do it is by allowing access to private money. There has already been a fantastic investment of £15 billion in the railways since 1979, but it is not enough. As I say, more private money must be invested.

Such investment will attract more people to return to the railways, but that will certainly not happen if we follow what the Opposition have suggested. They do not have the slightest idea of policy on the railways. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has the policy somewhere. Perhaps it is in the boot of his car and he cannot work out where he has put it. If he ever does and he is able to read that policy document, perhaps he will share Labour's rail policy with us. We are waiting to hear what it is but we do not want to wait for two years until the next general election to discover Labour's policy on rail nationalisation. Opposition Members now have an opportunity to tell us. The country is listening. Perhaps they will share their policy with us.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife 6:35 pm, 18th January 1995

One has to retain a sense of humour when listening to Conservative Members. Their contributions ranged from a pathetic obsession with privatisation to sheer drivel. I shall not dignify them by responding to some of their points because this is a serious debate about through ticketing. They may not like it, but you will find out fairly soon in your constituencies as the station network is decimated and representations—

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the convention on the word "you".

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

Conservative Members say that this debate is a waste of time and that they want to talk about our policies. We have heard about consultation. Does any hon. Member believe that the consultation smokescreen is anything other than a device to get the Secretary of State for Transport off the hook on which he is impaled?

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

I will not give way.

My hon. Friends repeatedly asked the Secretary of State for his view on the fiasco that the regulator has unleashed on passengers. He dug himself into a hole and he kept digging. He was rescued only when some of his hon. Friends started to speak about further aspects of privatisation. The key question for Conservative Members is whether there will be 300 or 500 stations.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

I am not giving way just now: I shall give way in a minute.

Is it to be 1,000 stations or, like us, do they want to make sure that there is no diminution of the existing network for through ticketing, which provides an excellent service to the travelling public?

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there will be 300, 500 or 1,000 stations, but that is the wrong question. Why should people have to go many miles to a station to buy tickets? Why cannot they buy them at thousands of outlets in the same way as they can buy lottery tickets? That is the question that the hon. Gentleman should ask. They cannot buy tickets in that way because the nationalised British Rail insists that travel agents who sell rail tickets must use complicated, cumbersome and cost-driven paper systems. That is why the overwhelming majority of travel agents do not sell rail tickets.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

That was merely an abuse of an intervention.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I remind the House and the hon. Gentleman that interventions should be short.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

Let us have a unique and non-controversial idea injected into the debate. Possibly when one arrives at a station one might be able to buy a ticket. That seems to be one of the hallmarks of railway development this century. There is an obsession with the market. People are told to go to a Tesco or Safeway store for tickets. The Government want to take an axe and decimate the station network. Conservative Members may not like the facts, but one of them is that the regulator wants 294 core stations and that will mean first-class and second-class stations.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

No, I shall not give way again.

Conservative Members know that even if people get access to trains there will be a problem. Through ticketing will become a nightmare and fares will rise because of the marketing mechanism that the Government envisage. I thought that we had just one national lottery, but the Government want to turn British Rail into a second lottery. I do not believe that any passenger or member of the public could support the notion that to cut the number of stations from 1,580 to 294 could be called progress.

Another phrase for what is happening is sheer lunacy. Conservative Members are dismayed by the fact that the public simply do not want privatisation. The issue of through ticketing is their first opportunity to become involved in that complicated process.

Conservative Members have lectured us on our policies, so it is with rich irony that I say that the Government want to smash British Rail into 100 private political pieces, sell them to the private sector and then claim that there will be a national rail network, that through ticketing will be an instant success and that passengers will enjoy more choice, greater accessibility, lower fares and a better service. It is an insult to the House to suggest that any of that could be taken seriously.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison , Hertsmere

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

No.

In the brief time available to me, I want to deal with two issues that the Government do not want to discuss. The first is why, between 7 and 10 January, the Secretary of State changed his mind so quickly on the question of through ticketing. When he was first approached about the leaked regulator's report, he was quick to say that the proposals were unacceptable. He acted on instinct or, possibly, out of ignorance. Two days later he acted on instructions from his Department, the basis of which was a little-known report prepared on 7 January 1993—the right hon. Gentleman may not even have seen it—that shows conclusively that the original decision to decimate the rail structure was not taken by the regulator, but was hatched in the report. The report states clearly that it envisages the number of stations offering through ticketing to be about 400 or 500. The regulator might have gone further than that.

The whole thing suggests a conspiracy. I shall use just one quote to show how the public have been conned. The report states: There are potential weaknesses in presenting the difficulties in option 3"— that is, the free-for-all that the regulator now has. It continues: It offers no definitive guarantees and might lead to criticism that through ticketing in some areas could simply wither on the vine. Does not that underline our case? Stations throughout the country will be removed from the through-ticketing system. Whether we call that withering on the vine or the Tory axe makes little difference.

I warn the Government that the report will be widely circulated to ensure that the regulator does not become the scapegoat for the Government's obsessive nature. Ministers may shake their heads, but they have not read the report. I can provide a copy for any Minister who wishes to read it. It is a "Policy-in-confidence" document sent to a "Mr. McCarthy", a "Mr. Freeman" and the Secretary of State. It is a long report.

The key issue is that the report shows that the public have been misled. For two years, behind closed doors, there has been a private agenda, while the public agenda has been, "Not me, guy, it's the regulator." We must speak up for the regulator tonight and say that he is being abused. The Government should come clean and say that it is not the regulator but they who initiated the proposal.

The Secretary of State is in a real tizzy about another issue. He is caught between a rock and a hard place. He wants to be able to say that, because the regulator is independent, he cannot interfere with him, but the right hon. Gentleman also wants to sit idly by and watch the rail network be decimated. Why cannot some courage and leadership be shown by the motley crew on the Conservative Front Bench

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

The Secretary of State asks for our policy, but the real issue for the people of Britain is why a rail network that needs investment, encouragement and a way forward into the next century has to deal with the ravages of a privatisation which, in many people's eyes, is a fiasco. In fact, the media is running out of words to describe the mishmash of Government policy. The tragedy is that even if their objective could be accomplished, and it cannot, damage is being done to the morale of those who provide the service and to the very service itself.

Conservative Members keep asking us for our policy. Why do not the Government tell us why, for the first time since 1948, there will be no new orders for rolling stock from British Rail or from 25 operators? That is the question that the public want answered. They do not want the smokescreen of, "Where are your policies?" The Government are on a hook and it is high time that they dealt with some of the issues.

The Secretary of State waffled on about whether the regulator is so independent that the right hon. Gentleman can do nothing other than stand idly by. It was the Government who introduced and pushed through the House that ruination of a Railways Act in 1993. However, under section 4 the regulator and the Secretary of State have dual responsibilities and both have a duty to passengers. The same section also says that through ticketing is one of the subjects that will be covered by that— [Interruption.]

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. My views on seated interventions apply as equally to Secretaries of State as, to anyone else.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney The Secretary of State for Transport

If the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) had been listening, he would know that I had dealt with that question in my speech.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

I enjoyed your rebuke of the Secretary of State, Madam Deputy Speaker, more than I enjoyed his subsequent intervention.

I want to conclude my remarks with two important points. First, the Government want us to believe that the problems are not their responsibility. They are trying to slide out of that key question of responsibility, but we have a document to support our claims. The issue is not the minimum or the maximum; it is not consultation—which is a sham anyway—it is whether, when the House divides, the Government are willing to support the proposal that 294 core stations should offer through ticketing while the remainder are abandoned to the vagaries of the market.

Secondly, will the Government now assume the responsibilities provided for in the Railways Act and inject some sanity into the debate about the future of the railways? I am a very moderate person; all I want is some common sense from the Government. The people of Britain share Labour's view; the passengers who use the network share our view. I hope that when the Minister for Railways and Roads responds to the debate he will be all sweetness and light, put the nonsense of the regulator's report behind him and begin to address the real issues that dominate the debate about the future of the rail network.

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough 6:48 pm, 18th January 1995

I hope that I shall be all sweetness and light and so not disappoint the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) in that respect. He suggested that the consultation exercise—he called it a sham—was designed to get my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State off the hook. However, as I understood the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), he argued that the consultation exercise had put my right hon. Friend on the hook. Perhaps the two hon. Gentlemen should agree on which it is.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central then quoted, as is typical of the Labour party, from what he claimed was a secret report—something of dreadful import, which suggested that there should be between 400 and 500 core stations. Had he listened to my right hon. Friend's opening speech, he would have known—as he should have known anyway—that currently only 440 of British Rail's 2,500 stations have the physical capability to offer a complete through-ticketing service. In contrast to the hon. Member for Oldham, West, the hon. Member for Fife, Central said that he would speak up for the regulator who was being abused. I am sure that the hon. Member for Fife, Central had in mind some of the opening comments of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who took considerable pains to rubbish the office and the person of the regulator.

I am surprised that there remains some scepticism among Opposition Members about the extent of the Government's commitment to through ticketing. We all know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a reputation for being a man who means what he says and says what he means. If Opposition Front-Bench Members had been listening to my right hon. Friend's excellent speech, they would have heard him reaffirm the Government's commitment to through ticketing.

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

No, I must make progress at this stage.

My right hon. Friend went through the various occasions on which the Government's commitment has been reiterated. He dealt with the point on which the hon. Member for Fife, Central invited my right hon. Friend to comment, which is that section 4 of the Railways Act 1993 places a duty on the Secretary of State to promote measures to facilitate journeys involving more than one operator and states specifically that through ticketing is one such measure. My right hon. Friend went on to say that the same duty applies equally to the regulator, and that it was in the exercise of that duty that he published the consultation document on retailing tickets at stations. My right hon. Friend went on to explain that he also has the power to give guidance to the regulator under the Railways Act.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

Will the Minister answer two simple questions? If the consultation is a real exercise, when will the Government submit their response and what will he in it, especially in relation to the core station figure of 294?

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

Let us first allow the consultation process to get properly under way. Every interested party will be able to make representations, and I am sure that the regulator will look on today's debate as a part of that process. Certainly, my hon. Friends have made valuable points about the stations in their constituencies. Let us see what the regulator proposes should be the framework for imposing requirements on the operators. It would be premature, and almost churlish, of my right hon. Friend to start offering further guidance to the regulator before the consultation process has got properly under way.

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

No, I must make progress, or I feel that I shall not be able to reply to all the important points which have been made.

Let us return to the widespread myth that all British Rail stations provide a full range of ticketing facilities. Those who ask for a guarantee that the status quo will be maintained ought to ask themselves what the status quo is. The availability of a full service at stations is restricted by limitations on staff resources, fares information about remote journeys and ticket-issuing equipment.

More than 1,200 British Rail stations are totally unmanned and offer no staff ticketing facility. Only 440 stations have direct access to the seat reservation database which is critical to the issuing of some through tickets. British Rail itself has no central record of the precise range of ticketing services offered by every station in its network. The current position is that matters are left very much to local commercial judgment.

My hon. Friends and I, who represent some of the more marginal seats, have been threatened with dire consequences as a result of the regulator's consultation on through ticketing. Indeed, I was rather surprised that no Opposition Member made any mention of the impact of the proposals of the consultation on Slough. That may have been out of kindness, but, unlike my right hon. Friend, I am sometimes a slightly cynical man. The reason they did not mention it might have had something to do with the egg which the Labour party found on its face last week, when it announced that none of the three stations in my constituency would be a core station under the proposals set out in appendix A of the regulator's document. Of course, it was always the case that Slough, which is No. 56 in the hierarchy of stations selling a full range of through tickets and which has every facility—

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the Minister. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) has just returned. Before you were in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, he said that many of my hon. Friends and I were sponsored and controlled by trade unions. [Interruption.] I took exception to that at the time, but I want your advice on the matter, Madam Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Member for Dartford is prepared to withdraw his remark, nothing further need be done. If he is not prepared to do that, may I ask you for permission to refer— [Interruption.]

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a point of order. I expect to be able to hear it.

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham

If the hon. Member for Dartford withdraws his remark, that will be the end of the matter. If not, may I have your advice as to how the matter can be raised in the Privileges Committee, Madam Deputy Speaker?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise a matter of privilege, the course for him is clear. The matter may not be discussed across the Floor of the House, and he must write directly to Madam Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course, I withdraw any imputation, if that is required, but the best way to clear up the matter up once and for all, and to avoid any misunderstanding in the future, would be for all Opposition Members to resign their sponsorships.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) suggested that there should be no fear for through ticketing because one could purchase tickets from travel agents, yet, when making that observation, he did not announce to the House that he is a paid consultant for a firm of travel agents.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I feel that the matter can now be dealt with adequately in other ways.

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would have done so had you been kind enough to call me to speak.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. We must now return to the debate. I ask hon. Members to remember that a very important debate is to follow this one.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson , Hampstead and Highgate

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Dartford demanded that Opposition Members declare their interests when making interventions. The fact that many of my hon. Friends had not at that point made interventions may have escaped his notice. That seems to be the defence that the hon. Member for Gravesham is putting up.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. The Deputy Speaker who was in the Chair earlier dealt with this matter at some length. I do not propose at this stage to take any more points of order on it.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The rules of the House state that a Member is required to declare an interest in any intervention, apart from during a question.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. It is up to each individual Member to decide when or how he makes a declaration of interest.

Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough

I was making the point that perhaps the egg which the Labour party found on its face last week when it made false claims about the impact of the proposals in the consultation document on my constituency led Labour Members to make no mention of the matter today. Indeed, the fact that they had to be corrected on that point shows clearly that they were indulging in their normal practice of commenting on a document which they had not bothered to read first.

The Opposition then switched their attack to the two other stations in my constituency, Langley and Burnham. Although they are both extremely important in offering services to my constituents who commute to London or Reading, neither of them has APTIS, so they are not capable of issuing a full range of tickets or of making seat reservations and selling tickets for InterCity services. If that is all that I have to fear, I have few qualms about facing my electorate in two years' time.

I am conscious of the importance of the debate that follows this one. I am sorry that I have not had an opportunity to respond to all the important constituency points that have been raised by hon. Members. I shall endeavour to do so as fully as possible by correspondence.

I invite the House to support overwhelmingly the amendment in the names of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to reject the Labour motion.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 282, Noes 317.

Division No. 40][10.00 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeDenham, John
Adams, Mrs IreneDewar, Donald
Ainger, NickDixon, Don
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Dobson, Frank
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Donohoe, Brian H
Allen, GrahamDowd, Jim
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Dunnachie, Jimmy
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Armstrong, HilaryEagle, Ms Angela
Ashton, JoeEastham, Ken
Barnes, HarryEnright, Derek
Barron, KevinEtherington, Bill
Battle, JohnEvans, John (St Helens N)
Bayley, HughEwing, Mrs Margaret
Beckett, Rt Hon MargaretFatchett, Derek
Beith, Rt Hon A JField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bell, StuartFisher, Mark
Benn, Rt Hon TonyFlynn, Paul
Bennett, Andrew FFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Bermingham, GeraldFoster, Don (Bath)
Berry, RogerFoulkes, George
Betts, CliveFraser, John
Blair, Rt Hon TonyFyfe, Maria
Blunkett, DavidGalbraith, Sam
Boateng, PaulGalloway, George
Boyes, RolandGapes, Mike
Bradley, KeithGeorge, Bruce
Bray, Dr JeremyGerrard, Neil
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)Godman, Dr Norman A
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Godsiff, Roger
Burden, RichardGolding, Mrs Llin
Byers, StephenGordon, Mildred
Caborn, RichardGraham, Thomas
Callaghan, JimGrant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Grocott, Bruce
Campbell-Savours, D NGunnell, John
Canavan, DennisHain, Peter
Cann, JamieHall, Mike
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)Hanson, David
Chidgey, DavidHardy, Peter
Chisholm, MalcolmHarman, Ms Harriet
Church, JudithHarris, David
Clapham, MichaelHarvey, Nick
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clarke, Eric (Midtothian)Henderson, Doug
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Hendron, Dr Joe
Clelland, DavidHeppell, John
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHill, Keith (Streatham)
Coffey, AnnHinchliffe, David
Cohen, HarryHodge, Margaret
Connarty, MichaelHoey, Kate
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Home Robertson, John
Corbett, RobinHood, Jimmy
Corbyn, JeremyHoon, Geoffrey
Corston, JeanHowarth, George (Knowsley North)
Cousins, JimHowells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Cox, TomHoyle, Doug
Cummings, JohnHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cunliffe, LawrenceHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr JohnHume, John
Dafis, CynogHutton, John
Dalyell, TamIllsley, Eric
Darling, AlistairIngram, Adam
Davidson, IanJackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Jamieson, David
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Janner, Greville
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)Johnston, Sir Russell
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mon)Pike, Peter L
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Pope, Greg
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jowell, TessaPrescott Rt Hon John
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPrimarolo, Dawn
Keen, AlanPurchase, Ken
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S)Quin, Ms Joyce
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)Radice, Giles
Khabra, Piara SRandall, Stuart
Kilfoyle, PeterRaynsford, Nick
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)Redmond, Martin
Kirkwood, ArchyReid, Dr John
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)Rendel, David
Lewis, TerryRobertson, George (Hamilton)
Liddell, Mrs HelenRobinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Litherland, RobertRobinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Livingstone, KenRoche, Mrs Barbara
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Rogers, Allan
Llwyd, ElfynRooker.Jeff
Lynne, Ms LizRooney, Terry
McAllion, JohnRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McAvoy, ThomasRowlands, Ted
McCartney, IanRuddock, Joan
McCrea, Rev WilliamSalmond, Alex
Macdonald, CalumSedgemore, Brian
McFall, JohnSheerman, Barry
McGrady, EddieSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McKelvey, WilliamShore, Rt Hon Peter
Mackinlay, AndrewShort, Clare
McLeish, HenrySimpson, Alan
Maclennan, RobertSkinner, Dennis
McMaster, GordonSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McNamara, KevinSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
MacShane, DenisSnape, Peter
McWilliam, JohnSoley, Clive
Madden, MaxSpearing, Nigel
Maddock, DianaSpellar.John
Mahon, AliceSquire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Mallon, SeamusSteinberg, Gerry
Mandelson, PeterStevenson, George
Marek, Dr JohnStott, Roger
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Strang, Dr. Gavin
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)Straw, Jack
Martin, Michael J (Springburn)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Martlew, EricTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Maxton, JohnTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Meacher, MichaelThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Meale, AlanTimms, Stephen
Michael, AlanTipping, Paddy
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Tyler, Paul
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Vaz, Keith
Milburn, AlanWalker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Miller, AndrewWallace, James
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Walley, Joan
Moonie, Dr LewisWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Morgan, RhodriWareing, Robert N
Morley, ElliotWatson, Mike
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)Welsh, Andrew
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Wicks, Malcolm
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Wigley, Dafydd
Mowlam, MarjorieWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Mudie, GeorgeWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Mullin, ChrisWilson, Brian
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWinnick, David
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)Wise, Audrey
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Worthington, Tony
O'Hara, EdwardWray, Jimmy
Olner.BillWright, Dr Tony
O'Neill, MartinYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Patchett, TerryTellers for the Ayes:
Pearson, IanMr. Joe Benton and Mr. Dennis Turner.
Pendry, Tom
NOES
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Duncan, Alan
Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanDuncan Smith, Iain
Alexander, RichardDunn, Bob
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Durant, Sir Anthony
Ancram, MichaelEggar, Rt Hon Tim
Arbuthnot, JamesElletson, Harold
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Ashby, DavidEvans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Aspinwall, JackEvans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Atkins, RobertEvans, Roger (Monmouth)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)Evennett, David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Faber, David
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)Fabricant, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Fanner, Dame Peggy
Baldry, TonyField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Fishburn, Dudley
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Forman, Nigel
Bates, MichaelForsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Batiste, SpencerForsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Beggs, RoyForth, Eric
Bellingham, HenryFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bendall, VivianFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Beresford, Sir PaulFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFreeman, Rt Hon Roger
Bonsor, Sir NicholasFrench, Douglas
Booth, HartleyFry, Sir Peter
Boswell, TimGale, Roger
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Gallie, Phil
Bottomley, Rt Hon VirginiaGardiner, Sir George
Bowis.JohnGarel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesGarnier, Edward
Brandreth, GylesGill, Christopher
Brazier, JulianGillan, Cheryl
Bright, Sir GrahamGoodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Gorst, Sir John
Browning, Mrs AngelaGrant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset)Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Burns, SimonGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Burt, AlistairGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Butcher, JohnGrylls, Sir Michael
Butler, PeterGummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Butterfill, JohnHague, William
Carlisle, John (Luton North)Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carrington, MatthewHampson, Dr Keith
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Churchill, MrHannam, Sir John
Clappison, JamesHargreaves, Andrew
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Haselhurst, Alan
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)Hawkins, Nick
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHawksley, Warren
Coe, SebastianHayes, Jerry
Colvin, MichaelHeald, Oliver
Congdon, DavidHeath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Conway, DerekHeathcoat-Amory, David
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)Hendry, Charles
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnHicks, Robert
Cormack, Sir PatrickHiggins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Couchman, JamesHill, James (Southampton Test)
Cran, JamesHogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)Horam, John
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry)Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Day, StephenHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Deva, Nirj JosephHowell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Delvin, TimHughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Dicks, TerryHunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Dorrel, Rt Hon StephenHunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesHunter, Andrew
Dover, DenHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Jack, MichaelPorter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Porter, David (Waveney)
Jenkin, BernardPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyPowell, William (Corby)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)Renton, Rt Hon Trm
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRichards, Rod
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineRiddick, Graham
Key, RobertRobathan, Andrew
King, Rt Hon TomRoberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Kirkhope, TimothyRobertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Knapman, RogerRobinson, Mark (Somerton)
Knight Mrs Angela (Erewash)Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Knox, Sir DavidRumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Lait, Mrs JacquiSackville, Tom
Lang, Rt Hon IanSainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Lawrence, Sir IvanScott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Legg, BarryShaw, David (Dover)
Leigh, EdwardShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir MarkShephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lidington, DavidShersby, Michael
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterSims, Roger
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lord, MichaelSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Luff, PeterSmyth, The Reverend Martin
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasSoames, Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnSpeed, Sir Keith
MacKay, AndrewSpencer, Sir Derek
Maclean, DavidSpicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
McLoughlin, PatrickSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickSpink, Dr Robert
Madel, Sir DavidSpring, Richard
Maitland, Lady OlgaSproat, Iain
Major, Rt Hon JohnSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Malone, GeraldStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mans, KeithSteen, Anthony
Marland, PaulStephen, Michael
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Stern, Michael
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Stewart, Allan
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Streeter, Gary
Mates, MichaelSumberg, David
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr BrianSweeney, Walter
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickSykes.John
Mellor, Rt Hon DavidTapsell, Sir Peter
Merchant, PiersTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Mills, IainTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)Thomason, Roy
Moate, Sir RogerThompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Monro, Sir HectorThornton, Sir Malcolm
Montgomery, Sir FergusThurnham, Peter
Moss, MalcolmTownend, John (Bridlington)
Needham, Rt Hon RichardTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Nelson, AnthonyTracey, Richard
Neubert, Sir MichaelTredinnick, David
Newton, Rt Hon TonyTrend, Michael
Nicholls, PatrickTrotter, Neville
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Norris, SteveViggers, Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir CranleyWaldegrave, Rt Hon William
Oppenheim, PhillipWalden, George
Ottaway, RichardWalker, A Cecil (Belfast N)
Page, RichardWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Paice, JamesWaller, Gary
Patnick, Sir IrvineWard, John
Patten, Rt Hon JohnWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWaterson, Nigel
Pawsey, JamesWatts, John
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWells, Bowen
Pickles, EricWheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Whitney, RayWolfson, Mark
Whittingdale, JohnWood, Timothy
Widdecombe, AnnYeo, Tim
Wiggin, Sir JerryYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Willetts, David
Wilshire, DavidTellers for the Noes:
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House reaffirms the Government's commitment to maintaining through ticketing; welcomes the publication by the Rail Regulator of the Consultation Document "Retailing of Tickets at Stations"; endorses the view expressed in the document that the continuation of network benefits such as through ticketing "will be one of the key tests of the success of the restructuring of the industry"; notes that despite massive investment in British Rail the proportion of travel undertaken and freight moved by train has steadily decreased during nationalisation; and supports the Government's commitment to seeking to reverse this decline through the creation of a flourishing railway system operated by the private sector which will offer a better deal for passengers and for freight customers.