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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I remind the House that there is now a 10-minute limit on speeches until 9 o'clock.

7.6 pm

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) said that he thought that this White Paper was a missed opportunity. I hope that he and the House will not find that it is a messed opportunity.

The maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) was one of the most fluent and splendid I have ever heard. My only advice to him would be to tell the Whips, not ask them, about his views on this matter or on any piece of legislation. Whether this will turn out to be poll tax on wheels, I have no idea, but my hon. Friend should beware of offering Southport as a sacrificial lamb to the first franchisee.

My interest in the railways is a simple one : it is in seeing a strong and successful railway. I shall judge the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State by whether they will make a better or a worse railway system. I have never thought that party politics and public transport policy were anything but uneasy bedfellows. I should like to believe everything that my right hon. Friend tells me, but I cannot give blind acceptance to bland assurances. At present, that is all we have and we have rather to take it on trust.

Support for the Government's proposals--I say this modestly--does appear to be in inverse ratio to knowledge of the complexity of running a railway. The White Paper itself is a philosophical ramble. It should have been a Green Paper. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, we have had no debate about the role of the railway in our society. We should have had that first. What is expected of it, not just who runs it, should have been the debate about the future of the railway.

The background of the White Paper is clear : it has been an enduring commitment to privatisation by Conservative Governments over the past 13 years. Some of them have been good, some have been bad ; with some we have not

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comprehended their eventual side effects. Last week, we lived through the coal tragedy, which was undoubtedly a product of the privatisation of electricity.

The Secretary of State gave us a brief history lesson and talked about the 1930s. Let no one ever forget the Railways Act 1921, brought into effect by a Conservative Government in 1923, which reduced from 112 to four the number of railway companies because of the chaotic state into which excessive competition had brought the railway system.

While my right hon. Friend was speaking, I was jotting down notes about a possible future privatisation of the Ministry of Defence. We would have Army plc, Navy plc and Air Force plc. I was wondering who would build the European fighter aircraft. That is not wholly a stupid analogy to this debate. We talked briefly earlier about new technology, but who will pay for the introduction of new railway technology in Britain? Where will our equivalent to the Shinkhansen lines, the TGV in France and the Inter-City Express in Germany come from? If we do not get that clear, in the next few years we shall be spending an endless amount of time discussing an ever- declining railway system, and that is not something that I want to see. We have had 13 years of Conservative government and it is clear that the failure of former Secretaries of State, such as Lords Ridley, Moore and Parkinson, to produce any White Paper on railway privatisation was the result not of a lack of enthusiasm but of a lack of ability to find a workable system. The jury is still out on whether this system is workable.

Reference has been made to the Government's remarkable document "The Franchising of Passenger Rail Services". I do not propose to quote from it, but I ask hon. Members to look at the second paragraph under the heading "Important Notice" at the beginning of the document. Anyone who believes that, with those disclaimers, it is possible for prospective franchisees to put forward a business plan or any sort of serious proposal is living in an unreal world, and I say that with some years of business experience.

I refer also to paragraph 5.6 of that document. I want to read one sentence which shows the situation that we face. Let me take a deep breath. It says :

"The open access regime will continue to apply to infrastructure needed for passenger services that ceases to be operated by Railtrack because it has been sold outright or is being operated under a leasehold arrangement."

I could not say all that in one breath. For those who have any concern about the future of our railway system, that is the stuff of which bad dreams are made.

Paragraph 71 of the White Paper puts the onus for closure policy on the franchising authority. That is a proposition at which we need to look carefully. Paragraph 21 talks about the subsidy level of uneconomic services and says :

"the level will be determined by competition in the private sector."

Most of those services are run because of the social need for them. Competitive bidding alone is totally inadequate for people who want to see railway services continue in Cornwall, Scotland, Wales, right across the rural areas of England and on the commuter lines.

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What about through-ticketing? My right hon. Friend referred to the commitment to that, yet paragraph 5.8 of the franchising document from which I quoted refers to the possible need for more than one ticket outlet at single stations. There is some incompatibility--to put it no stronger--between the White Paper and the first of the eight subject documents that we are to see.

I share the concern of the hon. Member for North Devon. The only body to be excluded from the bidding to run trains in Britain in future will be the only body with any experience of running trains--British Rail. Even in local authority tendering, public works departments are at least allowed to tender. My right hon. Friend really must look again at that.

Why is there this dissatisfaction with British Rail? We know all about that dissatisfaction. Will my right hon. Friend do one simple thing--look at the drop in the public service obligation grant for the past four years for which figures are available? It has come down from £1,600 million to £575 million. Will he look then at the level of complaints received by the regional transport users consultative committees, which have more than doubled from 3,010 to 8,053? The fact is that the cut in the PSO grant has caused the increase in complaints, the Goverment blame British Rail and we are faced with this legislation.

To many of us interested in railways, it is the familiar pattern of closures in the post-Beeching era. The timetable is disrupted and connections destroyed, then the station is painted and the track renewed and the outcome is reduced income, increased costs and then closure. Many of us are not prepared to see that happen again to our railway system.

If things are so bad on British Rail--we can all find

improvements--is it because of bad management, the reduction in the PSO grant, or the unfair competitive position of rail versus road? None of that is mentioned in the White Paper, and those issues need to be attended to before we come to any conclusions.

There is no mention in the White Paper of taxation policies. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) talked about Japan. Japan's railways are not privatised. It has six regional monopolies, all state- owned, but the success of the Japanese railways is due not just to the huge investment referred to by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) but to the fact that 80 per cent. of travellers on commuter services have their fares paid for them by their employers and the other 20 per cent. have tax allowances on their fares. That is the exact reverse of what happens here.

If we were to use our taxation policy as the Japanese do, our railways could succeed. The Germans use tax policies to offer incentives for the use of rail freight. If we did the same, that would go a long way towards helping our railway system, but nothing like that is proposed anywhere.

My hon. Friend the Minister made a speech, to which I referred briefly in the Select Committee yesterday, about our rolling stock manufacturers. There is a serious problem here. We simply cannot go on debating in the House setting up all these quangos, while giving British Rail no continuity of rolling stock investment and allowing our manufacturers to go to the wall. Not only will our manufacturers go to the wall, but our railway services will go to pot.

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There is lack of vision about all this. Before I support the Bill, I shall need to be satisfied that the proposal is not a hangover from Thatcherism but a guaranteed way of increasing investment in and improving the service on our railway system. The White Paper needs a large question mark after its title. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley), I, too, have grave reservations about this. I give notice that I am not willing to support any legislation unless I have many more answers than I have had so far.

7.16 pm

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston) : What we have in our hands is an incoherent patchwork designed to create maximum uncertainty, and uncertainty is the last thing that we need in our railway system at this time.

The White Paper has bold objectives. It says that it wants a reliable, efficient operation, offering high quality services to users, but its chosen instrument is the introduction of competition through greater involvement of the private sector. Nothing could be less relevant to the present needs of the railway system. Railway passengers want a reliable service which gets them to where they are going on time with a smooth journey and as economically as possible. That has nothing to do with the introduction of competition through the involvement of the private sector.

Even the White Paper does not intend to move to privatisation of everything. It excludes InterCity from its first plan, except in so far as paragraph 35 says :

"The first priority is to improve the service to customers by introducing private sector management, culture, disciplines and incentives."

What on earth does that mean when it is read alongside paragraph 3, which says :

"The productivity of the BR workforce is among the highest of any European railway. InterCity services and BR freight operate without direct subsidy"?

What do the Government mean when they say that they want to introduce private sector management culture?

The only conclusion that a British Rail worker could draw is that there is an intention to ensure that, despite their high productivity, they will be pushed around more thoroughly in future. That will not improve morale on the railways.

The White Paper forecasts and wants a healthy second-hand market in trains. We saw what happened when buses were deregulated in my area. A healthy second-hand market in buses developed--but healthy for whom? It was certainly not healthy for my area, which had had a very healthy productive capacity for new buses through Leyland. Employment has gone and passengers ride in clapped-out vehicles ; that has been healthy only for the short- term profits of a few. The last thing that we need is a healthy second-hand market in trains. Rather we need healthy investment in new trains.

Paragraph 4 contains a glowing account of the record of investment on the railways. From my seat in Preston, it looks rather different. GEC in my constituency has recently invested £5 million in its plant, but that plant is no longer in full use and 50 per cent. of the work force are on short-time working. Out of a work force of some 2,000, there have been 150 redundancies--55 in Trafford Park and 95 in Preston--because, having ordered 43 class 91 trains for InterCity in 1985, which were delivered on time in 1988, instead of proceeding with class 93 for the west coast line, there have been no further orders.

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The order for the west coast line would have produced about three years more work, but that has not happened. British Rail wanted a faster train--faster than the track could take. Nevertheless, GEC put in a bid for such a train and was then told that British Rail would not proceed with it, so we have neither a faster train nor the class 93 train. We have nothing and no work, which is good neither for those who travel to the north-west nor for those who work there. The Networker trains also give work opportunities for the regional railways, but only 50 per cent. of that order has ever been placed. GEC has had orders for 143 sets and British Rail Engineering Ltd. has had orders for 288 sets. That work at GEC is now coming to an end and, from next January, there are no fresh orders.

We want not a Government who mess around producing a patchwork, but a coherent strategy for a railway based on investment in new trains to give good service to passengers. When, ultimately, new orders are placed and new investment is made in rolling stock, will there be a manufacturing sector in this country? I was interested in the remarks made by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), who told us that the manufacturing companies in Europe have full order books for the next 10 years. When we finally get around to deciding that we need new trains, we may find that foreign and EC companies are too busy and that ours no longer exist. What will happen then to the reliable service for passengers discussed in the White Paper? The White Paper is a dangerous irrelevancy. While we are considering it, more and more people in the manufacture of trains will find themselves on the dole. We shall have to pay subsidies that will go into private pockets, possibly for an inferior service and certainly for a complicated service, without through ticketing and with doubtful systems. We shall also pay to keep the skilled workers in my constituency on the dole instead of producing the trains that all our passengers need.

I stress the word "passengers". Rail passengers do not benefit from being called "customers". Nor do they benefit from being treated simply as people who will pay out to a multiplicity of companies. They want a strategic service that regards them as passengers whose main desire is to get from here to there in the shortest possible time with the most comfortable possible journey and, in doing so, benefit the environment to a great extent.

Let the Government move in that direction instead of pursuing their dogma. Let us have a coherent strategy instead of the waste and muddle of the White Paper.

7.24 pm

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : I give notice to the House that, unfortunately, I shall be unable to remain for long after I have spoken. I must return to my constituency to honour a commitment that I gave some months ago.

I was delighted to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks), who spoke well, confidently and with tremendous lucidity. We look forward to hearing many of his speeches in the years ahead. Indeed, I hope that he will double the record of his predecessor but one and be here for at least 36 years, by which time he will be 66 years old.

I listened to the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) with great interest. She has been extremely consistent in the line that she has taken in the House over many years,

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in the two capacities that she has been an hon. Member. I do not agree with much of what she said but recognise the fervour with which she said it.

Unlike the two hon. Members who spoke immediately before me, I welcome the White Paper. It is long overdue and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will adhere to the timetable that he has set to bring forward legislation earlier rather than later.

I listened with respect and admiration to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley). We are real friends, although in terms of philosophy we are a million miles apart. I listened to what he said about the 1923 legislation, when the then Conservative Government reduced 112 railway companies to four because of the mess that they were in at the time. The early 1920s followed a long and devastating world war and, undoubtedly, investment had not taken place in the railway companies due to a variety of factors. The Conservatives, then as today, were entirely realistic about their approach to the transport infrastructure and to alternatives. For too long British Rail has been a sad music hall joke. It has been easy at meetings of women's institutes or political parties to make a comment about British Rail and for heads to nod. The poor people who must work there are given not the benefit of the doubt but the benefit of derisory laughter. British Rail is a Titan waiting to be freed from the shackles of the state, which is why I welcome the White Paper.

No hon. Member representing, as I do, a commuter constituency can fail to register with the House his or her concern and anxiety for the continuing deterioration and neglect of the services that our commuter constituents must cope with day after day, week after week--not just for the past year or 10 years but for many years. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and the Minister know that the Dartford loop line is a byword in lore and fable for poor service. Indeed, I would argue with any hon. Member from Essex that the Dartford loop line and not the line that runs from London to Southend--which is almost as bad--is the worst in the country.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dunn : No, because I am speaking under the 10-minute rule. Essex man must wait.

My constituents must put up with old trains. I know that steps have been taken to improve and replace rolling stock. The rolling stock is so old that the graffiti say, "Down with Ramsay MacDonald". The trains are unreliable--

Mr. Adley : That is not what my hon. Friend said last time.

Mr. Dunn : True. Last time I said it was Baldwin, actually, a different character altogether--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he should be addressing me.

Mr. Dunn : I thought that I was--

Madam Deputy Speaker : It did not look like it.

Mr. Dunn : The trains are dirty and covered with graffiti and there are many cancellations and delays. That has a

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tremendous impact on commuters. They are frustrated by the delays in getting to their place of work and it is difficult for my commuters who are late time after time, when jobs are difficult to get and hold on to, to explain themselves to managers who may not live in communities that rely on railway services to get people to work.

Of course there is an alternative in Dartford--the motor car. Unfortunately, the A2 in my constituency is being dug up yet again on both sides of the carriageway, and it has been up for road works for the equivalent of five years out of the past seven. So there is understandable frustration. There is no real choice between alternatives. Two poor alternatives face my constituents and those of other Kentish Members--

Mr. Adley : Perhaps they should get on their bikes.

Mr. Dunn : It is not a question of that. There is no facility for bikes to cycle down the A2--it was dug up by the Department of Transport.

Occasionally we feel that the Department of Transport is conducting a personal vendetta against the people of north-west Kent. No doubt the Minister will take steps to assure me that that is not so. Now we have a White Paper which I and many colleagues fully support. It contains a coherent strategy and, importantly, it is gradualist. It will enable my colleagues in government to consult the wider interests--not least the Select Committee on Transport, so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. The strategy will enable position papers to be issued from time to time so that we can evaluate the impact of the legislation on freight, on pensions, on employment prospects and on investment.

British Rail will gain in two ways--or rather, those who take over from it will. They will be accountable and in control, and they will be responsible. Dealing with British Rail at the moment is rather like dealing with the Liberal Democrats--like trying to strangle a jelly. One is passed from one person to another and time and again given standard replies. Senior management figures in British Rail have told me in conversation that they are ready and willing to take on the challenge of commercial liberalisation and the privatisation that this legislation and White Paper will offer.

The restraints of the Treasury will also be removed from the railway service. I know from our debates of a few years ago that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch shares my firm belief that, if British Rail is to be allowed to make amends for the indifferent service that it offers from time to time, it must be free to operate within the market, and that means access to financial support from the private sector--

Mr. Adley : British Rail has that now.

Mr. Dunn : But not enough. There will probably be greater access to it in future.

The attitude struck by the Government today is wholly commendable, and thousands of commuters will welcome it, because we must put passengers first. It is the Government's responsibility to see that passengers' interests are considered and rewarded.

Many hon. Members have quoted allegedly poor examples of privatisation and of the private sector, but there is one example of private sector work about which I agree with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr.

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Mackinlay)--the Dartford bridge. It was built by private money and private enterprise, and it was built on time. For south Essex and north Kent, the Dartford bridge, as an adjunct to the tunnels which were full to capacity every single day, has made a tremendous difference. That should be stressed as a major example of how the private sector can work, how it will work and how it should work, given accountability, control and responsibility.

The difficulty with British Rail is that it is a monopoly. It is not like going to the supermarket ; if people do not like Tesco, they can go to Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer or Gateway. If people cannot afford a car, they have no choice but to travel on the railway. Many of our constituents do not have cars ; and even if they have them, they have nowhere to park them, so British Rail is their only choice, and sometimes that is no choice at all.

Hence I welcome and wholly support the White Paper and the legislation that will follow from it.

7.34 pm

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York) : I should acknowledge an interest as I am sponsored by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. Perhaps I should also acknowledge my paramount interest : I represent the city of York. Many people claim to have railways in the blood ; York has railways in its soul. People think of the minster and the city walls, but the past 150 years of York's history have been dominated by our place in the railway network. The A1 passes us by 20 miles away, but the east coast main line goes directly through York, which is why it is a modern, thriving city today.

Despite the reductions in the number of BR employees, the east coast main line headquarters and the north-east regional railways headquarters employ between them some 3,000 workers. York is the operational centre for more than 500 railway men and women. The carriage works employ 1,500 people ; the national railway museum 200. There must be between 4,000 and 5,000 rail pensioners in York. York, more than any other city in the country, depends on the railways for its economic livelihood.

Rail privatisation could therefore devastate our city. I ask the Secretary of State to note this point. Privatisation could hit us harder than any other city. We could end up as a ghost town. There is no point in him claiming that for every BR job lost a private sector job will be created, because for the most part those private sector jobs will not be in York. If, for the sake of example, Richard Branson puts in a successful bid, his operation will be run from Gatwick airport or from wherever his corporate HQ are. He is unlikely to run the operation from York.

If works are contracted out to civil engineering or electrical engineering companies, the chances of York's jobs being replaced by other private sector jobs are minimal or nil.

I am not scaremongering. The railway men and women of York have given me a document written by John Welsby, chief executive of British Rail, and circulated to all managers in my region. It states :

"The medium term future for support services will lie within the private sector."

Mr. Welsby says he is talking about jobs in new works design, project management, infrastructure renewal and maintenance, train maintenance services, station plant and

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building services, and computer services. So thousands of York jobs are at risk. We would be left without the railway industry forming the core of our local economy.

I have with me a voluntary redundancy notice circulated to all members of staff in regional railways north-east. For those who remain, wages will be at risk. A document sent to his staff by the on-train services manager of British Rail Network SouthEast states : "I feel it only fair to advise you that on the basis of past privatisation experiences both your basic and average earnings will reduce when this comes about."

This manager goes on to advise his employees not to enter into new credit agreements or mortgages that could get them into difficulty. Great anxiety has been expressed to me about the security of pensions for railway pensioners. I welcomed the Secretary of State's remarks to the effect that he is considering establishing an independent, stand-alone, industry-wide pension scheme. He said three months ago that he was considering it, and I hope that he will soon confirm that that is the way the Government intend to proceed, because it would reassure thousands of rail pensioners in my constituency. Those people also want to be reassured that they will retain the travel concessions which they earned--they are not a gift--through a lifetime of service to the railways. A petition in my constituency is currently attracting thousands of signatures in favour of the retention of a national system of railcards for the elderly, the disabled, families and young people. The current proposals put railcards at risk.

York has two further special interests, the first of which is investment in new rolling stock. The Steer Davies and Gleave report, which was published on Tuesday, raises serious doubts about the prospect for investment in rail vehicles. Today I received a fax from ABB Transportation Ltd., the company that used to be called British Rail Engineering. The company confirms that the fears in the consultants' report are well founded. Over the past couple of years in York that company has invested heavily in the capacity to build modern aluminium-bodied railway carriages for Network SouthEast. On the basis of discussions with Network SouthEast, it invested to create the capacity to build 400 vehicles a year. It is currently building 200 a year,

"because of Network SouthEast's cutbacks in ordering new trains". The company's present work load runs out in 1994, and unless there are further orders soon, it will run into difficulties because the company needs a year to order components from its suppliers. It is the only company in the United Kingdom able to make modern aluminium-bodied railway carriages. A gap in production will put at risk the company's future and the future of our country's ability to build modern railway carriages. The ABB fax states :

"unless the ground rules are clearly defined and are designed to assist positive decision making in a rail' future and positive investments decisions, the onset of rail privatisation will at the very least increase the commercial uncertainties faced by ABB Transportation Ltd., and in the worst case lead the company to review its medium term productive capacity."

We cannot afford that on our railways or in British industry. Commuters in north Kent and Essex and throughout Network SouthEast cannot afford delays in the production of new carriages. The Secretary of State should give a firm commitment either to allow an increase in British Rail's external financing limit in the period leading up to privatisation to enable new orders to go

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through, or allow BR to do what he proposes for the private sector--to lease trains so that additional finance becomes available. Another constituency interest was mentioned to me by the national railway museum, which has rights under section 144 of the Transport Act 1968 to claim redundant equipment from British Rail. It has been discussing with the Department of Transport the continuation of those rights which the Department says will be exercisable over future public rail operators but not over private sector operators. That could damage the rail heritage of which the national railway museum is our guardian and create an unlevel playing field, because it would be a cost for the public sector but not for the private sector competitor. Either the cost to the rail operator is minimal, in which case it can be imposed without fear on the private operator, or it is substantial, in which case the same rules should apply to the public and private sectors.

The acid test for the people of Britain is whether the service will be better or worse. The regulation proposals in the White Paper are to protect the interests of the franchise bidders, the cherry pickers. Will the Secretary of State provide a regulatory body, an "Ofrail", to protect the interests of passengers and the public? Will he look carefully at the franchise document, which I see as a 167-page cherry-pickers' charter because it lists, service by service and vehicle by vehicle, what is up for grabs by competitors? Will the new rail system provide a better or worse service than the one provided by British Rail?

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sorry, but I have to apply the brakes.

7.45 pm

Mr. Iain Sproat (Harwich) : I should like to deal with two matters arising from the White Paper. First, I strongly support the Minister's determination to liberalise, privatise, and inject competition into Britain's railways. Privatisation has improved every industry to which it has been applied. The improvements have varied in content and size, but every privatised industry has got better for the customer, and that will be the case with the railways. Britain does not have the rail system it deserves. Far too often the system, and especially passenger services, is dirty, uncomfortable and unreliable, and does not care about the needs and requirements of passengers. Of course, it also loses a great deal of money which the taxpayer has to cough up. There are exceptions, and in the past few years British Rail has made serious efforts to improve itself and has done so, but it is still not good enough. The country will not get the rail system that it deserves and needs until British Rail's monopoly has been broken and private sector competition has been introduced. That is why I strongly support the White Paper.

The second matter is an uneasiness which was increased when it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). It is that the White Paper envisages the undoubted benefits of bringing private sector methods to the railways and bringing in entrepreneurial innovation, but also proposes a vast increase in a new, extensive and complicated bureaucracy. Three new quangos--the franchising authority, the rail regulator and Railtrack--are to be created, and there is also the involvement of British Rail, which is not a private sector

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company, and the Government. Before the Bill is introduced, will the Minister look carefully to see whether, in our desire to control this, as we must, we do not make it too bureaucratically top-heavy and do not engage in bureaucratic overkill.

One of the quangos, Railtrack, is to be a subsidiary of British Rail. Will the Minister look again at that matter, because there are two strong objections to structuring the track authority in that way? I am not arguing against the establishment of a track authority ; I am arguing against the establishment of a track authority that is part of British Rail. I do not see how a private-sector company can feel confident that a British Rail- controlled Railtrack will be able to make an independent decision between, let us say, two services that want to run on the same route at the same time--one of them being British Rail and the other being a private company.

My right hon. Friend will rightly point to the passage in the White Paper which states that the regulator will examine such matters. I have some experience of business, however, and I cannot think that any business man will believe that BR can be neutral when it comes to deciding whether to benefit another part of British Rail or a private competitor, despite the Chinese walls that will have been erected and the fact that a separate British Rail management will be involved. It is hard to find evidence for my argument, because so far there has not been much attempted participation in British Rail by private-sector companies. None the less, I well remember being told by the chairman of Orient Express of the appalling aggravation, hassle and difficulty that he encountered when dealing with British Rail. He described how much easier it had been to deal with the French and Italian railway authorities.

We cannot expect British Rail to bend over backwards to help its competitors. We have seen a bit of the problem with Orient Express ; and I understand that the Central Railways group, which is trying to run a track from Coventry down to the channel ports, is finding it almost impossible to deal with BR, which is making every conceivable difficulty. It is certainly clear--at least from the media, and we could not gain information in any other way--that BR did not bend over backwards to help Richard Branson. All our experience and common sense tells us that a Railtrack that is part of British Rail cannot take a neutral attitude to BR's competitors.

I have another objection to my right hon. Friend's otherwise splendid plans. Railtrack will be at the heart of the new system. It will be responsible for infrastructure maintenance and infrastructure investment ; it will also be responsible for signalling and timetabling. That means that the old British Rail will be at the heart of the new system. If that really means the old BR culture--the old sloppy, slack, slovenly ways--I fear for the new system. What we want is a track authority that is independent.

During the summer recess, I had the pleasure of going to Sweden to look at its rail privatisation, or liberalisation, programme. The Swedes have a track authority, but it is completely independent of the Swedish national rail system. It bends over backwards to accommodate new competitors, but does so fairly ; its director general came from outside the railways. I ask my right hon. Friend to look again at the idea of an independent Railtrack. I do not think that it would upset his plans--indeed, I believe

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