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Column 200Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Speed, Sir Keith
Spencer, Sir Derek
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Column 200Temple-Morris, Peter
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Bowen Wells and Mr. David Lightbown.
Column 200Question 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.
That this House welcomes the substantial increase in the real level of education spending since 1979; applauds Government policies to raise standards in schools; acknowledges that this year's settlement is necessarily tough but congratulates teachers and governing bodies for meeting the challenge of education reform; and recognises that parents will judge schools above all by the performance of pupils and the quality of teaching and learning.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Before we start the debate I remind the House that there will be a continued limit of 10 minutes on Back-Bench speeches, and that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West): I beg to move,
That this House calls on the Government to fulfil its repeated promises that Passenger Train Services would only be franchised on the basis of current time tables.
I am sure that I have the House with me when I send our condolences to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), who would normally have wound up the debate tonight.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Dr. Brian Mawhinney): The Government side of the House wishes to be associated with those condolences.
Mr. Meacher: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that, and I am sure that he shares our concern and our feeling for my hon. Friend at this time.
This is the second major debate on the consequences of rail privatisation, and if the Government continue with their trail of broken promises on how services will be improved, I do not think that it will be the last. Until now, the Government's position on the franchising of passenger services has at least had the merit of being clear and unequivocal.
In the Committee that considered the Bill that became the Railways Act 1993, Ministers fell over themselves to state, and then to reiterate, that franchising would be based on the existing level of service. On Second Reading, the then Minister for Public Transport, now the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who was to take the Bill through Committee, said unambiguously:
"I wish to make it absolutely clear that we intend the franchising director, when he is appointed, to start franchising with the existing timetable and existing services."
The then Secretary of State had earlier said the same, telling the House:
"we expect the franchises--indeed, it will be the case--to be on the basis of the present timetable".--[ Official Report , 2 February 1993; Vol. 218, c. 159-244.]
Those are not isolated references. So far I have counted at least 17 occasions, either in the House or in another place, on which Ministers gave assurances in terms that the franchises would be based on the current timetables and the existing level of services. A week ago, the franchising director produced his first set of service specifications for four of the franchises. As the House well knows, the minimum standards set represent a cut of about 20 per cent. below the level of existing services overall and a cut of about 45 per cent. for the Gatwick Express.
The most significant aspect of those extensive cuts in minimum standards is the fact that, unlike the Rail Regulator, over whom the Secretary of State has no control, the franchising director is, in the words of the Minister in Committee, a "creature" of the Secretary of
Column 202State. So to that extent it is clear that the Secretary of State knew about, and assented to, those minimum standards. In any case, his fixing of the franchising director's budget means that he has indirect control over how far cuts are enforced and to what extent improvements are allowed for. The Secretary of State is therefore charged with flatly breaking every ministerial promise that the base for franchising would be the current timetable. There is nothing particularly remarkable in that--it is his stock-in-trade. Indeed, given the right hon. Gentleman's record, one might say that he rates as a serial promise-breaker.
The Secretary of State's predecessor promised that
through-ticketing stations would be fully maintained; this Secretary of State is set to cut them by 80 per cent. His predecessor promised that tickets would be fully inter-available between lines run by different train operators; this Secretary of State is presiding over the crumbling of that facility. His predecessor promised that there would be no investment hiatus due to privatisation; last year, under this Secretary of State, no new orders were issued for rolling stock for the first time since the war. His predecessor said after Lockerbie that airport security would be stepped up and that money was not an issue, and this Secretary of State told the House a week ago that he took channel tunnel security very seriously. We now know that, only four days previously, he had authorised a cut of 30 per cent. in the security division of his Department.
The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor promised repeatedly in 1993-94 that Railtrack would remain in the public sector for the foreseeable future; this Secretary of State has offered it for sale first, simply to provide money for tax cuts at the next election. The Secretary of State gave a clear understanding to Asea and Brown Boveri that it would get a follow-on order for 40 additional Networker trains for the Kent services. Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman peremptorily cancelled that order, and put 750 jobs and the very survival of the carriage works at York at risk.
The Secretary of State will say anything, promise anything and give any commitment, so long as he is not required to deliver. Can anyone believe a word that the right hon. Gentleman says? He has raised used-car salesmanship to a new art form. Reading the small print simply is not enough. It is not so much a case of "read my lips" as take every statement that he makes with a pinch of salt. However, like all persistent delinquents, this old lag has a string of excuses as long as your arm.
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Do you feel that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is using parliamentary language with regard to the Secretary of State? I suggest that he should retract what he has said.
Madam Deputy Speaker: I presumed that the hon. Gentleman's words were said with a certain lightness of touch. If that were so, I think what he said was acceptable. If it were put in a different way or with a different tone, I might take a different view.
Mr. Meacher: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. My remarks were meant in that vein, and I am glad that you saw it that way.