Privatisation is moving forward. Most of the restructuring of British Rail is now complete. During the next 18 months or so, most of the railway will be transferred to the private sector.
Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the time-keeping problems on the south Kent coastal route, the quality of service and the lack of up-to-date rolling stock will be dealt with by privatisation? My constituents are fed up with the public sector British Rail and want a privatised British Rail.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is absolutely right that passengers are looking for maximum benefit from the railway services to which they contribute through their taxes and fares and on which so many are dependent. I am greatly encouraged by his support to move the railway into the private sector as quickly as possible and, on behalf of his constituents and those of other right hon and hon. Members, I will do just that.
Even though we have just been told that it is not the Secretary of State's style to flirt with the law, how does he get his mind around the considered judgment of senior judges of the Court of Session in Edinburgh that what happened in relation to the London to Fort William sleeper service was illegal? What are the Government's reflections on that?
Has my right hon. Friend had the misfortune to see the press release issued by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) on passenger service requirements? Does he agree that that press release was no more than black scaremongering propaganda and will he confirm that his Department and the Government fully confirm that the rail network is a public service and that it will continue, not only for the use of people throughout the United Kingdom, but particularly for my constituents in Market Harborough?
My hon. and learned Friend is right. I have seen that press release, just as I have heard about a press release about Peterborough, issued by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), in which she even got the date wrong. Last Wednesday week, Opposition Front-Bench Members issued a press statement which said that a new fares structure for the railways had been postponed indefinitely. It was announced the following Monday. They said that new passenger service requirements for four further lines had been postponed indefinitely; they were announced last Tuesday. They also said that the tendering arrangements for the first three franchises had been postponed indefinitely; they were announced last Wednesday. Given that record of accuracy, my hon. and learned Friend can reassure his constituents that, as everyone on this side of the House already knows, they should not be even remotely worried by what the Opposition Front Bench says.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the travelling public would be much more likely to have a better deal if British Rail was allowed to bid for the first three franchises? The fact that it is not allowed to do so shows that the Government and the franchising director care not one whit for the benefits that accrue to the travelling public.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as privatisation proceeds, as the travelling public and our constituents want, it is crucial that all those in the private sector who wish to run trains should have the fullest opportunity to develop their services? Will he look carefully at the proposals by Statesman Railways to re-introduce the direct through service to Blackpool, which was withdrawn by nationalised British Rail?
My hon. Friend is right that passengers will want to see the maximum benefit to them arising from the privatisation process. He will understand that those interested in making a bid will be able to do so in the normal and appropriate way.
I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman has been for the last week, but I have made it clear on a number of occasions, not least in last Wednesday's debate, that the Government will provide the appropriate and necessary subsidy, including that arising from the fares policy.