Rail Franchising

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd May 1995.

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Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham 12:00 am, 22nd May 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on progress in the franchising of rail services. [23885]

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

On 17 May the franchising director issued invitations to tender for the first three franchises. He expects to issue invitations to tender in respect of five further franchises later in the year.

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

My right hon. Friend will know that the nationalised British Rail has a very warm place in the heart of the British nation. For decades it has been the butt of jokes about leaves on the line resulting in train cancellations, or trains not running due to staff shortages despite considerable unemployment. Moreover, the record of the nationalised British Rail has been, and clearly still is, close to the heart of the Labour party. Does my right hon. Friend agree that once privatisation comes and the British people see proper private sector companies bringing about improvements—such as those brought about by British Airways and by long-distance bus services—they will never again want a return to nationalisation and the Labour party will then claim that privatisation was all its own idea in the first place?

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

It would be difficult for the Labour party to make such a claim. However, I agree that the injection of private finance and investment decisions, private management skills and the private sector's well-known sensitivity to what the customer actually wants will produce, over time, a better railway which is more focused on bringing benefits to the passengers. I assume that that will be welcomed across the House.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

If artificially holding down fares in the newly privatised sectors of British Rail will bring about greater passenger use of the railways, why have the Government been doing exactly the opposite for the past 16 years?

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

I hope that the House has noted the hon. Gentleman's antagonistic reaction to passengers benefiting from the unique benefits which will flow, for the first time, from the railways moving from the public sector to the private sector. I understand that Labour Members have difficulty in getting their minds around the concept that great benefits will flow from privatisation. Even ignoring the history of every other privatisation since 1979, they should accept that it is from the very act of privatisation that benefits will flow, and that those benefits should be shared by the passengers. That is our view, but we note that it is not the view of the Labour party.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst , Saffron Walden

Does my right hon. Friend think that the franchisees in the new railway sector will attract more customers if they can achieve the right balance between security at their station car parks and the charges that they make to park there? Should not the name of the game be getting more people to travel on the railways in the sure knowledge that their cars will be safe?

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

I share that perception with my hon. Friend. I think that I am right in saying that in those car parks where British Rail has installed an element of security the phenomenon referred to by my hon. Friend has already been observed.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler , North Cornwall

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that under the instructions issued to the franchising director by his predecessor in accordance with section 5 of the Railways Act 1993—that the service specifications for loss-making lines and services must be included in criteria which are put to the Secretary of State, agreed by him and then published—have been carried out and will be completed, including publication?

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

I can confirm that all the arrangements which are duly in place for moving forward the privatisation of the railways are being carried through.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson , Eastbourne

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a level of public subsidy has always been part of the Government's privatisation plans and that it is more than likely that, with a cap on fares charged to passengers, revenues will increase due to greater use?

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I told the House in the debate last Wednesday, subsidy was always part of the privatisation process, as was made clear in the White Paper, in the debates on legislation and by Ministers subsequently. Conservative Members recognise that subsidies are very important. Only the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is raising questions about the continuation of subsidy in the unlikely event of a Labour Government.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, in the bidding for the channel tunnel rail link, he permitted a bid to proceed from Eurorail which broke the terms of the tender document? Is he aware that the rules of the process, which were published last year, state unequivocally that all tenderers must submit a document on the basis of the reference specifications; yet Eurorail failed to do so and there was no mention in the rules of any tenderer being allowed to submit a fresh bid. Is it not clear that the Secretary of State bent the rules by allowing Eurorail to make a fresh bid because the consortium is led by one of the Government's friends and associates, Lord Parkinson?

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

First, that has nothing to do with the question before the House. Secondly, as I should have thought the hon. Gentleman understood, all those documents are commercial in confidence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] I hope that the Hansard will record that surge of contempt for legal contracts signed by those who have a desire to take part in a channel tunnel rail link project. Unlike the hon. Member for Oldham, West, I am not going to flirt with the law in that regard.