Examination of Witness (Questions 160-179)|
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
160. If they cannot get their 72 trains, Secretary
of State, what are you going to do? They have suffered now over
many months, and all sorts of firms are involved, it is not just
the straight EWS involvement, there are lots of small firms providing
jobs in the railway industry who are really suffering because
(Mr Byers) I appreciate that, and up and down the
country you are right to say it has a consequence, not just for
EWS, which is obviously the main company involved, but many other
161. So what are you going to do if they do
not get their 72 trains?
(Mr Byers) We have put pressure on the French authorities
and we are beginning to see benefits from that. As I said, the
figures are very clear: in the week ending 17 March, 21 trains
were coming through; the week ending 7 April, 42 trains were coming
through, so we have doubled the amount there. The French are now
saying that with effect from Monday of next week they hope to
run an average of 72 trains a week. Now we have to hold them to
that. They have to put in place the appropriate security measures.
They have put more police there, which is beginning to make a
difference. We obviously need to investigate the incident which
happened yesterday where something like, so we hear, 100 asylum
seekers came in on one train. We think they boarded in Milan but
it clearly was not checked properly in France, and that needs
to be properly investigated. The French authorities know the importance
we attach to this. As I say, it has been raised with them at the
highest level. I have written just this morning to my French counterpart
on exactly this issue in the light of what happened yesterday,
and we do expect the French authorities to take the necessary
162. With the greatest of respect, we have been
expecting them to take the necessary steps for some months now.
We are talking about 8,000 job losses, we are talking about an
enormous amount of investment and, with the greatest respect,
the Arrival of a small group of Gendarmerie is nothing like that
expense for the French Government.
(Mr Byers) No, there has to be a political will by
the French Government to meet their obligations.
163. So I ask you again, what will you do if
they do not get their 72 trains through? Another letter, frankly,
is not enough. I could provide you with a letter if you would
like some help in drafting it.
(Mr Byers) I have an army of civil servants for that.
164. Trueall very well paidbut
we need to know, what is the next step?
(Mr Byers) I think there are two things. One is, we
need to keep up the pressure as far as the UK Government is concerned.
Secondly, we need to ensure that there is free movement of goods
within the European Union, that the European Commission makes
sure that those obligations under the European Treaty are backed
by the French authorities.
Chairman: You will have noted the fact that
the Commission has just pointed out that France is one of the
worst offenders against European Directives and regulations, I
165. What does "keep up the pressure"
actually mean from your point of view?
(Mr Byers) It means government to government. It means
talking to the French Transport Minister.
166. How often do you actually do that?
(Mr Byers) On a regular basis. As I said to the Committee,
I have written to him today in fact, in the light of what happened
yesterday, because there are two issues here. One is the question
of people coming into the country illegally, which we cannot tolerate,
and we need to make sure that does not happen. Secondly, there
is the issue of freight being able to travel through the Tunnel.
We shall continue to do that and we shall enlist the support of
the European Commission to make sure that the French authorities
and the French Government meet their obligations within the Treaties.
167. I have two quick questions. One is speaking
in respect of the £300 million. Have you had confirmation
from the Treasurybecause without it there is absolutely
no point at all, it is a futile endeavourthat the £300
million will not count as a deficit in the public accounts?
(Mr Byers) The £300 million, as I say, we expect
will not be a cost to the 10 Year Transport Plan.
168. So they have told you it will not feature
in public accounts?
(Mr Byers) As I said, it will not be a part of the
10 Year Transport Plan.
169. My second question is very straightforward.
The freight operators have said that Virgin's £400 million
compensation claim would be far better spent in upgrading freight
paths. What is the view of your Department on this proposition?
(Mr Byers) This is in relation to the West Coast Mainline?
(Mr Byers) That is a matter for the Regulator.
171. You have no view on that?
(Mr Byers) It is a matter for him.
172. Fares, Secretary of State. Have you set
any limit within which the review of the rail fares must fall?
(Mr Byers) No, but we will obviously await with interest
the review which the Strategic Rail Authority has now begun. It
is timely that a system of fares is now given proper consideration.
173. Is it accepted that fares will have to
rise to pay for the increased investment by the Train Operating
(Mr Byers) I do not think that has to follow, but,
as I say, I think it would be better for all of us to await the
work that is now going to be carried out by the Strategic Rail
174. You use the East Coast mainline, as I do.
It is very expensive for my constituents to travel from Wakefield
to London, therefore I consider that the fare situation has to
be a part of the strategic planning for the East Coast mainline.
You did refer earlier to detailed specifications to be worked
out before the long-term proposals can proceed on the East Coast
mainline. Have you any timescale for that?
(Mr Byers) I spoke to Richard Bowker of the Strategic
Rail Authority about this just last week. We clearly do need to
move it with due speed. It is one of the reasons why the sooner
we can get Railtrack out of administration, that will be a benefit.
It also means that we need to look very carefully at exactly what
the improvements are that we need on the East Coast mainline for
the upgrade. That work does need to be done and it needs to be
done urgently. It needs to be done in a way which is realistic
and hard-headed, because one of the problems with the West Coast
mainline is that the details were not properly worked out, work
began which had not been properly costed and not properly time-tabled,
the engineering resources were not put in place. What we must
do is to ensure that we do not have a repeat of what has happened
on the West Coast mainline on the East Coast mainline.
175. That is the point I was making, but I think
I would be failing in my duty if I did not press you on this particular
issue, because of the passenger and freight services that we have
there, that we have a reasonable service on the East Coast mainline
from the north into the south. If the infrastructure is not maintained,
if the specifications referred to are not brought forward urgently,
we are going to see a deterioration in the East Coast mainline
which would not be acceptable to people from the north. So have
you any further guidance as to when we can expect some of the
capital to be invested in the East Coast mainline to make sure
that we can maintain that good service?
(Mr Byers) The thing about the East Coast mainline
upgrade is that it is going to be carried through, I believe,
in four separate stages. The first two of those I think have now
been broadly agreed. It is the details about stages three and
four which have not yet been finalised and worked through. I think
it may help the Committee if I put in writing the stages and the
timing of them. The difficulty we have with the franchise being
awarded over a lengthy period is that that will fall very much
into stages three and four of the upgrade because the details
are simply not there. It is the problem we have on the section
54 issue which I know you do not want to go back into, Chairman.
Those are issues to which we need to give proper consideration.
For the benefit of the Committee, I can put in writing the situation
that we expect. It is probably better coming from the SRA, because
they are actually involved in the detail on this, but I do think
it is important that we provide for the record details and the
timing by which we expect decisions to be taken. I share Mr O'Brien's
view that the sooner we can get this clarified and agreed, then
the better, because we can then move to the re-franchising of
the East Coast mainline.
176. You did say that there had been a legacy
inherited from Railtrack regarding the upgrading of the East Coast
mainline. I put the question to you again. Will that include the
development of Wakefield station?
(Mr Byers) I honestly cannot remember offhand.
177. Will you include it in the letter?
(Mr Byers) I certainly will.
178. Before we move away from fares, are you
aware that there is a dispute between the Rail Passengers Council
and the Association of Train Operators, on fares?
(Mr Byers) In terms of fares, there is a debate going
on, shall I say.
179. That is a nice way of putting it, but they
are giving us evidence that in fact the network card is going
to become useless on Mondays to Fridays within roughly a 35-mile
radius of central London, and that the average fare increase is
going to be 33 per cent. As you know, we have already been told
that the really important part of the rail system is not those
of us who inhabit the outer regions but those who have the honour
of living within the great wen, so if we are talking about 28
per cent increases, 58 per cent increases, 43 per cent increases,
in things like the network railcard, this Committee would wonder
whether you would think this was sufficiently important to raise
it with the SRA?
(Mr Byers) We certainly keep the whole question of
fares under constant review, both regulated and unregulated, and
will continue to do so.