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Column 730they want to halt the decline and reverse it. That is common ground between us. The question that each party must answer is--
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."
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): 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.
"cast-iron commitments in one direction or another"
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."
Column 731Alastair 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."
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--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: 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.
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 be 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?"
Column 732That comes from the editorial in The Sun yesterday. 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 and television journalists and newspaper reporters across the country have been seeking answers, too.
Mr. Hugh Bayley (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?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: 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.
Mr. Dunn: 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 --
Mr. Deputy Speaker: 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.
Mr. Berry: 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
Column 733record 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 --
Dr. Marek: 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.
Dr. Mawhinney: 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
Column 734contracts 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 --
Dr. Mawhinney: 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--
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?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: 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.
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): 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?
Column 735Last 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.
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 be 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
Column 736for 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.]
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".
"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.