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Column 355If I am clear, the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Opposition will decimate the roads budget and put it into the railways. The end result will be
"to hold fares, and hopefully to reduce fares steadily in off-peak hours".
Dr. Mawhinney: My hon. Friend is far too generous to the Opposition- -we have done much better than that. The people will understand that. What about the credibility test on punctuality and reliability? The hon. Member for Oldham, West made much of that, but against the doom and gloom he offered to the House, he will be encouraged to know that in the first period of 1995-96 performance not only increased, but 88 per cent. of the passenger charter measurements were above the annual average.
Let us consider the credibility of the Opposition Front-Bench team. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish)--
Dr. Mawhinney: I know that the hon. Gentleman does not like it, but if anyone was tempted to take seriously the contents of the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, we need to know how much confidence we have can in them.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central also issued a press release on Wednesday. The press ignored it, as they did the one issued on Friday by the hon. Member for Oldham, West. I should like to be helpful to the hon. Member for Fife, Central by referring to it. In it, he said that the new fares structure was aimed at
"protecting politically sensitive areas but exposing the majority of travellers to potentially unlimited fare rises."
That was wrong. It also stated that the announcement of
"Tendering arrangements for the first three franchises to be privatised"
had been "postponed indefinitely". That was on Wednesday; the arrangements have now been made public. According to the press release, the announcement of the new fare structure had been "postponed indefinitely"; it went out on Monday. Last Wednesday, the setting of minimum service standards for four further lines was "postponed indefinitely". That information went out on Tuesday. I understand the embarrassment of the hon. Member for Fife, Central, but the country needs to know what he wanted it to know last Wednesday. Last Wednesday, he wanted the country to know that the establishment of a fares regime had been postponed indefinitely; the information went out on Monday. Service requirements for the next four franchises had also been postponed indefinitely; the information went out on Tuesday. Tendering for the first three franchises had been postponed indefinitely; that went out on Wednesday. Such is the credibility that we now attach to the utterances of Opposition Front Benchers.
Let me remind the House of the process in which we are engaged. I shall begin by setting down some common ground. In 1953, 17 per cent. of journeys in this country were made by train; today the figure is 5 per cent., and falling. In 1953, 24 per cent. of goods were transported by train; today the figure is 5 per cent., and falling.
Column 356Conservative Members, at least--and I shall go so far as to say that I believe that the hon. Member for Oldham, West agrees--want that relative decline to be halted, and then reversed. There is only one argument to address: can that be done in the public sector alone? The answer is clear; it is--after 40 years of relative decline--no.
Let us consider past privatisations. The injection of private finance and investment decisions, private management skills and private sector sensitivity to customer needs has transformed those businesses and industries, to the benefit of their customers. No one, least of all Opposition Front Benchers, has produced any argument to suggest that rail privatisation differs fundamentally and qualitatively from other privatisations.
We are told that, if we had to privatise, we did so in the wrong way. European Commission railways policy, in directive 91/440, supports the division of railway business into more commercially oriented infrastructure companies, and separate passenger and freight service operations. That is exactly what we are doing. What is happening in Europe today? The German Government have split the operation of track infrastructure from passenger and freight services by establishing separate profit centres. The Dutch railway is to be split into four independent businesses covering passenger services, freight, infrastructure and capacity management. The Austrian railways were restructured in 1994 to separate infrastructure and train operations, and to make the full cost of operation transparent. The Danish railway has been organised into infrastructure, passenger and freight companies.
In other words, we are genuinely leading the world in separating infrastructure from the provision of services, and recognising the benefits that the passenger can gain from the injection of private sector finance. Labour's problem--clause IV or no clause IV--is that it is rooted in the demonology of trade unions circa 1960. I must tell the hon. Member for Oldham, West that there is no question of an erosion of services; quite the opposite.
My hon. Friends noticed, as I did, that the hon. Gentleman did not offer any alternatives. I need to say a quick word or two about that before I conclude. The country has a right to know what those who purport to be the next Government would do to the railways. I do not want to embarrass the hon. Member for Oldham, West; I want to look at the party's leadership. What does its leader say? He comes to the House on Tuesdays and Thursdays and says that he leads his party. Let us see what he says.
In October 1994 he said:
"Railways should stay in public ownership."
But in January 1995 he said:
"I'm not going to get into a situation where I am declaiming that the Labour Government is going to commit sums of money to renationalisation."
Column 357But also in January 1995, through his spokesman Alastair Campbell, he said:
"If the railways are privatised . . . we have plans that under a Labour Government the railways will be publicly owned, publicly run railways."
[Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] I hope that Hansard will record growls of approval from the Opposition Front Bench.
In March 1995 the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said:
"Our goal is clear. It is to ensure that we continue to have a publicly owned, publicly accountable, properly planned network. Nothing else will do."
I was getting confused, as are my hon. Friends. The policies are here today, gone tomorrow. I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman on 3 May. I said:
"I wrote to you on 13 January asking six questions about Labour's policy for the railways. You did not reply."
He did not even have the courtesy to acknowledge my letter. I continued:
"I assumed that this was because you were unable to answer the questions before the outcome of Labour's debate on Clause 4. Now that your Party has expressed a definitive view on state ownership, I am writing to ask for answers to my questions. I asked you:
Do you intend to renationalise the railways?
If you do, would compensation be paid to the shareholders of Railtrack?
Precisely how would passenger services be brought back under state control, bearing in mind the legal franchises and contracts which will govern the use of the railways?
If you do not plan to renationalise, what changes would you make to the way the railways are run?
How would you fulfil Labour's commitment to encourage more passengers and freight onto the railways?
Would you invest more in the railways and, if so, how much?" I must amend that now to ask how much more it would be than the £80 million a year to which the hon. Member for Oldham, West has just committed his party.
My letter continued:
"Your campaign against railway privatisation will continue to lack credibility until you tell the British people what plans you have for the railways. I look forward to receiving your response." I put those questions to the hon. Member for Oldham, West in the first of our series of debates when the Labour party went one-nil down. After the second debate, the Labour party was two-nil down and after today it will be three-nil down. I was generous to the hon. Gentleman, as I invited him six times to attempt to answer even one elementary question about what might fleetingly be referred to as a smidgen of Labour party policy on the railways. The result was: nada, nothing, just a great big black hole.
I received no reply from the right hon. Member for Sedgefield in January, February, March or April. I wrote to him again in May and have received no reply thus far. I promise that I shall keep the House informed of the progress of the non-correspondence. Today we have listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Oldham, West has had to say. Leadership--what leadership? Policy--what policy? Vision--what vision? As I sit here each time, I try to think who it is that the hon. Gentleman reminds me of. The last time he reminded me of one of those old-fashioned railway announcers who make plenty of noise but who do not
Column 358say anything intelligible. Today he reminded me of Violet Elizabeth Bott, Just William's friend. When she had nothing constructive to contribute and when she did not get her own way, she would say, "I'll thcweam and I'll thcweam and I'll thcweam." We have been entertained today by the hon. Gentleman's thcweam. That sums up the Labour party's policy on rail privatisation: a frustrated thcweam. I suggest that Labour Members continue to thcweam and we will deliver the benefits that the rail passengers of this country are crying out for and will receive.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): That was not so much a speech by the Secretary of State as an audition for a new job. It was the most deplorable speech that I have heard him deliver in the House. Having heard it, I shall proffer some advice to the Conservative party as a disinterested observer. The Conservatives would be better off sticking with the incompetence of the incumbent rather than putting up with that sort of behaviour. The Secretary of State did not mention the railway's present or future state; he simply made a series of cheap jibes reminiscent of a sixth form public school debate which were unworthy of a proper debate about the future of the railway industry. The Secretary of State should be ashamed of himself.
The state of our railway industry concerns many who have worked in that industry, and I must declare a passing interest as a member of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. It also concerns those who rely on the railway industry for transportation of themselves or their goods and those who supply the industry with wagons, rolling stock and signalling equipment. It is interesting to see what those people have to say about privatisation. When the Bill to privatise the industry was first published, the Railway Industry Association made a submission to the Select Committee on Transport, in which it said:
"The impact of rail privatisation, arriving during the continuing severe recession and at a point when order books are at an all-time low, poses a frightening risk to the railway supply industry. The fundamental danger is that the vital need for continuing investment--in both rolling stock and track signalling and electrification infrastructure--will be lost amid continuing political debate and organisational uncertainties about the new railway administrative structures and the passage of the Rail Privatisation Bill."
The Railway Industry Association recently submitted another paper to the same Committee, with the benefit of a year's experience of what has taken place since the passage of the Bill. It said: "Despite repeated past ministerial assurances that our anxiety over privatisation causing a hiatus in investment was unfounded, the opposite now seems to be accepted as inevitable, almost as policy in some quarters. With all its faults, the pre -privatisation process of public funding for railway investment gave both the operational railway and the supply industry some basis on which to plan production and investment strategy".
That is what the Railway Industry Association is now saying about privatisation, yet the Secretary of State did not refer to the plight of that industry or that of railway
Column 359administration. In his hackneyed collection of cliches, he referred to the efficiency of moving from the public sector to the private sector. It is interesting to examine what has happened since track and infrastructure were separated from the main railway business when Railtrack was created.
In its recent evidence to the Transport Select Committee examining railway finances, the Passenger Transport Executive Group listed examples of cost increases which have occurred since the supposedly wonderfully efficient system was introduced, particularly since Railtrack assumed responsibility for infrastructure projects in April last year.
Centro, the passenger transport authority covering my area, pointed out that Railtrack's site supervision and possession costs amount to 48 per cent. of the contract cost at Five Ways station just outside Birmingham, compared with BR's figure of 21 per cent. at University station or 27 per cent. at Longbridge. Is that the promised land? In Greater Manchester, electrification from Castlefield to Salford Crescent was originally estimated by BR at £2 million; Railtrack now estimates the cost at between £4.2 million and £5.8 million. Is that the promised land?
In Merseyside, erection of a waiting shelter at Waterloo on the Southport line, to keep the rain off the passengers or customers, originally attracted no design costs because it would have been done in-house by BR. Railtrack's design estimate for a waiting shelter is £53,000.
The original InterCity 250 project in 1990 for the west coast main line was estimated to cost £750 million to provide new trains for the route and to carry out track alterations, including speed improvements and resignalling south of Weaver Junction. The current project is estimated at £1 billion for the entire route to Glasgow, but that figure excludes rolling stock and cab signalling equipment on trains.
Recently, I accompanied a delegation to see the Minister of State about the west coast main line. It did not get very far because he did not give the impression of having much idea about what we were talking about or when the scheme would commence.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Considering what has occurred in the House in the past few weeks, would it not be appropriate if hon. Members who had something to declare did so at the beginning of their speeches? I notice that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has listed in the Register of Members' Interests that he has remunerated directorships of West Midland Travel plc, Stage Carriage and Express Coach Services and Travel Agency.
Column 360railways, so I do not see what relevance a directorship of a stage carriage bus service in Birmingham has to the debate.
I was talking about the attitude of the Minister of State towards a particular project on the west coast main line. When I pointed out that the £1 billion to which I referred did not include a sum for locomotives and rolling stock, he gave us the impression that they were not necessary. I pointed out then, and I do so again now, that, if the project gets off the ground, it makes no sense to install a brand new cab signalling system in 25-year-old electric locomotives. I presume that modernising the west coast main line could, would or should include the provision of new rolling stock and locomotives. The hiatus to which the Railway Industry Association referred, and to which I referred earlier, is occurring right now. There is a continual decline in the standard of service being provided by what is still known as British Rail, and no conceivable sign, particularly in respect of equipment and resignalling, of the much vaunted private finance initiative doing anything about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) detailed the collapse in investment in railway expenditure. Excluding channel tunnel expenditure, the Secretary of State is halving the money available for expenditure on the railway industry in the next couple of financial years. He shakes his head, but the figures are there. His own Department gave them recently to the Transport Select Committee. The total rail expenditure in 1994-95 of £1.1 billion includes an estimate of at least half that towards the channel tunnel and the remaining £615 million, which is my personal estimate of what will remain, represents almost a halving of the money available. The Secretary of State's much vaunted policy announcements about reversing the drift of passengers and freight from rail to road will not be enhanced given those figures. Although he seemed tentatively to go back on that pledge in a television interview last Sunday, presumably it still stands.
Both sides of the House accept that Ministers did not actually intend the hiatus in railway investment to which I referred when plans for privatisation were formulated, but it is about time they accepted that it is happening. If my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure he will refer to that hiatus in respect of his constituency and the future of ABB Transportation.
Restructuring the industry and uncertainties over future funding resulted in fewer infrastructure projects being developed and fewer started. In 1990, 10 resignalling schemes were brought before Ministers for approval. In the current year, there is one. As far as I am aware, none is scheduled for next year.
Column 361The Secretary of State presumably travels by train. Why does he not take a cab ride from Euston up the west coast main line? With the exception of new power signalling installation at Crewe, he will find a mixture of 1960s power boxes, early BR equipment and some London, Midland and Scottish equipment. If he passes through my home town of Stockport--I invite him to do so when he comes to see his constituency football team--he will see a series of Victorian signal boxes that were erected in the 1880s. There is no lack of signalling projects on which money should be spent, but money is not being spent. Far from those projects being considered for future investment, they appear to have disappeared completely.
I referred earlier to the private finance initiative, which failed to deliver any new projects apart from the Northern line rolling stock deal. The Heathrow express and the Networker leasing deal were set up before PFI was established under Sir Alastair Morton. Decisions have yet to be made on the channel tunnel rail link, west coast main line, crossrail or Thameslink. All that work is crying out for decisions and investment, but there is no sign of the go-ahead from the Department. Within the restructured industry, there is no strategy or focus for planning that embraces track, trains and stations and Railtrack has still to publish its 10-year plan. The whole chapter of railway privatisation has been a disaster. It will take more than blustering from the Secretary of State to convince us differently and it is about time that the Government recognise that the project will not work and drop the whole silly idea.
Rail was first nationalised in 1948. I remember it extremely well because it was the year in which I was born. Since that time, some £54 billion of public money has been invested in the rail service. We should examine the impact of nationalisation and that £54 billion investment. The story is not at all good. The Opposition are in error in painting a picture of the golden heyday of a nationalised British Rail service. No such time existed.
Rail did not flourish or prosper--quite the contrary. Services were awful. They were unreliable. Management was pitiful and customer care was non- existent. The railways were run for the benefit of the unions and the workers, rather than for the benefit of the public.
Dr. Spink: The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that I have sat here and written a few notes simply to remind me when I was born and what has happened to British Rail since then. Central office did not provide me
Column 362with any information whatsoever. I was not even planning to speak until I heard the disgraceful comments from the Labour Front Bench.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): Does my hon. Friend not find it rather odd for a Labour Front-Bench spokesman to suggest that my hon. Friend is using notes from Conservative central office, when all his information was collated by the research assistants and goodness knows what else in Walworth road which exist to support a Front Bencher? It comes ill from the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench, who uses other people's notes, to make such a comment about a well-informed Back Bencher.
Dr. Spink: We have already heard that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is sponsored by one of the rail unions. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley) is also sponsored by a rail union. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), who is hoping to speak--
Dr. Spink: I take your advice, of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The result of the nationalisation of rail services since 1948 and the investment in them of public money has been a deplorable fall-off in the share of journeys on rail. In 1953, rail had 17 per cent. of all journeys. Today, that figure stands at a miserable 5 per cent. Clearly, the Government had to act to reverse that trend and to redress the situation.
I suspect that the Opposition will continue to call for more public investment to subsidise rail. I shall come to that later; first, I want to put the record straight on recent capital investment, which has been at record levels in recent years--£6 billion during the past five years. I congratulate the Government on that achievement. They have done extremely well by my rail service, to which I shall also come in a moment.
The investment of more and more public money has not resolved, and could not resolve in the future, the difficulties, and deliver the improving standards, reliability in service and increase in passenger numbers that are so much needed and that would lead to a better and more vibrant rail service at lower cost to the public purse. I want today to concentrate on the line that serves the majority of my constituents--the London-Tilbury- Southend line or the Fenchurch Street line. The majority of people who travel on that line use Benfleet station. The LTS line will, I suspect, be a microcosm of what will happen throughout British Rail as a result of the Government's initiatives. I welcome the excellent recent news for rail travellers.
The scene is now set, certainly in Castle Point, for a dramatic increase in passengers travelling on the Fenchurch Street line in coming years. I hope that we can climb back from the current level of passengers on the line, at about 22,500 passengers a day, and beat the peak number of passengers, which was more than 30,000. I hope that, by the millennium, we can reach a level of 35,000 to 40,000 passengers a day travelling on the Fenchurch Street line.
Column 363Let me say how we can achieve that. Passengers will be attracted by a range of factors. The most important of those is the real terms reduction in fares that can now be expected as a result of the Government's excellent strategy to hold fares at the level of inflation for three years and then to reduce fares below the retail prices index by 1 per cent. during the following four years, which should lead to a 4 per cent. overall reduction in fares in real terms by the year 2003. [Interruption.] That is not laughed at by my constituents as it is by Opposition Members. It is important to my constituents because they need to plan ahead. They need to decide how they will travel up to London, to the City or docklands, in order to work.
In addition, during the past two years there has been a continued improvement in service reliability. That is remarkable, particularly when one takes into account changes on those lines. Omelettes cannot be made without cracking eggs and the line has suffered disruption as a result of an important resignalling investment. Despite such disruption, dramatic improvements have been achieved on the line. The Government have invested £150 million in the resignalling project, which started about 15 months ago and is now almost complete. It is delivering the goods. It will improve reliability tremendously. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) nodding in agreement. Why then did the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) not allow me to intervene when he said that investment in resignalling has been cut by two thirds? He did not because he is running scared of his own false information. That is not the only improvement on the Fenchurch Street line. In about a year's time, we will have 25, 317 sliding-door trains to replace the 35-year-old slam-door trains. That will deliver further improvements in rolling stock. All those factors will help to bring people back on to the line.
Sir Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West): I am following my hon. Friend with great care and I am sure that he is right to say that privatisation, if it works properly, will attract more passengers on to the railways. Whatever our political point of view in the House, with the crowded roads and everything else, it must be everyone's wish to see more passengers on the railways. There is a huge incentive in privatisation for businesses to grow by attracting more passengers and by providing a better and better service. It is a classic service industry that needs to be in the private sector. It is amazing that the Opposition have not learnt that.
Dr. Spink: I am indebted to my hon. Friend who speaks with his characteristic wisdom on the matter. I shall come to the direct impact of privatisation and the new management and worker culture that that will bring with it, and the positive impact of that on customer care, service levels and innovation, providing, for example, new off-peak services which will also help to get passenger numbers up.
I introduced the subject by discussing the investment that my line has seen as a result of sound Government policy in this area. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) has been one of the prime movers who have pushed for investment in the line. He takes a great interest in what will happen in the franchise deal. I know that he continues to see Ministers. I believe that he
Column 364saw a Minister last night on the subject to press the case of his constituents in Basildon. He is an assiduous worker for his constituents, as we all know.
Mr. Nigel Evans: Does my hon. Friend find it somewhat bizarre that this is an Opposition day debate on the privatisation of the railways, yet only five Opposition Back Benchers are present and all of them are sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers or the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen? Where are all the others if they are so concerned about the railways?
Dr. Spink: In that case, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall chug along. Through ticketing is now offered by hundreds of stations, one of which is Benfleet in my constituency, the station which serves the greatest number of passengers who use that line. My constituents welcome that and are grateful to the Secretary of State.
We all read what the franchising director, Roger Salmon, said yesterday about passenger service requirements. Private operators, including those on the LTS line, will run more trains. We can look forward to innovative off- peak developments which will boost passenger numbers after line privatisation. I hope that the LTS line capacity will be increased by 13 per cent., as foreshadowed by the passenger service requirements announcement yesterday. That is good news for the people of Essex.
All that will lead to more passengers. More passengers will lead, naturally, to lower subsidies and less demand on the public purse. An increase in passengers will take vehicles off the road, which will help us environmentally and economically. Therefore, I very much welcome all those initiatives and strategies, all coming together this week, which is what I regard as a very positive week for rail for the people of Essex.
The current London-Tilbury-Southend line management are bidding, with some of their employees, for the franchise deal. The management have shaken off the "misery line" tag that was attached to the Fenchurch Street line and, in spite of all the disruption of the resignalling, have performed exceptionally well recently. During the passage of the Railways Bill, I argued strongly with Ministers that local management and employee teams should be able to bid for franchises. I was delighted that provisions to that effect were included in the Bill in the end. I understand that a significant number of local rail employees, many of whom are my constituents, are interested in investing in and supporting the bid by the management and employees for the franchise. I say no more about that, because I might embarrass my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but the future has never appeared rosier for rail in Essex.
I shall now briefly discuss the national scene. We all want a more successful rail network, reducing public subsidy and helping to improve the environment. We all know that Conservative policy is delivering that. The policy, as applied to my local line, is an exemplar of that phenomenon. However, we do not know the Opposition's
Column 365policies. The Opposition owe it to the people to stop being dishonest and to tell us those policies, because they have, on that as on everything else, no policies. They are doubly dishonest on that, as on everything else.
On the elusive, job-destroying minimum wage, for instance, Labour Members promise the public everything, but will they say what amount it would be? No, of course not. They have no policies. The leader of the Labour party has no answers to the questions about levels of investment or the renationalisation of rail. He has a policy vacuum. Apart from confirming that, during the past two decades, he and the Labour party have been entirely wrong and we have been entirely right, he has nothing to offer. The Labour leader is frozen in our headlights like "Blair rabbit", with no original ideas. If Opposition Members want more investment, will they be honest--will they intervene on me now? I shall sit down and take an intervention. Will they tell me how much more investment they want?