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House of Lords

Tuesday, 6th December 1994.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by

the Lord Bishop of Coventry.

Regent's Park: Maintenance and Development

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the work which has been carried out by the private companies responsible for the maintenance and development of Regent's Park.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Viscount Astor): My Lords, we are satisfied with the work that has been carried out by the private companies responsible for the maintenance of Regent's Park. The Royal Parks Agency was established in April 1993 to manage and police the Royal Parks. Its chief executive retains responsibility for the development of Regent's Park.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that under the new management Regent's Park has been transformed? Not only are the recreational and refreshment facilities greatly improved, not only have very fine new gardens been laid out near the rose gardens, but the magnificent Avenue Gardens which are being built at present will be a tourist attraction in their own right. Is it not time that we paid tribute to the success of this policy instead of continually carping and criticising?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am very grateful for my noble friend's support. Regent's Park is very successful. There are 9 million visitors to the park each year, and 47 million people visit all nine Royal Parks. As my noble friend said, there have been a number of improvements, including Avenue Gardens. There are also projected improvements for the future: finishing Avenue Gardens, improvements to St. John's Lodge Gardens and the water fowl care centre.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what reductions have been made in the staffing levels in the park since privatisation? Are the Government content with the levels of security which now prevail?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the level of staff provided by the contractors is, of course, a matter for the contractors. The important issue is that they do a good job, which they are doing. The Royal Parks Agency monitors the performance of the respective contractors. As regards policing, currently 172

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policemen are responsible for the Royal Parks. Twenty-five constables, three sergeants and one inspector are responsible for Regent's Park.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, is there any significance in the fact that in his first reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, the noble Viscount repeated verbatim the wording of the Question except that he eliminated the words "and development"? In other words, he implied that the Government were not satisfied with the development work. Was that an oversight, or was it deliberate?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I compliment the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for listening so acutely to the Answer that I gave. He picked up a fine point. I was not aware of that. I stick by both my answers.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, the Minister gave some interesting figures about the number of people who use the parks. Can he tell the House how those people are counted?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, that is indeed a very interesting question from the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. I am not entirely sure how they are counted. The answer is that they are not counted individually, but there are estimates of how many people visit the parks. I shall look into the matter and write to the noble Baroness.

BR Sleeper Service: Scotland-London

2.40 p.m.

Lord Stodart of Leaston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are giving any advice to the director of passenger rail franchising with regard to ensuring the continuance of the overnight sleeper service between Scotland and London.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Secretary of State's objectives, instructions and guidance to the franchising director issued earlier this year made clear that for the initial letting of franchises the specifications for passenger service requirements should be based on the level of services being provided by BR immediately prior to franchising, taking into account the existence of and justification for seasonal variations in service schedules.

Lord Stodart of Leaston: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving me the hope that, after I have enjoyed sleepless--I beg your pardon, "sleepfull" nights on the train for the past 40 years, it looks as though the service will continue. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether the director has been made aware of the advice given by my noble friend Lord Younger of Prestwick (who is the chairman of Scottish Industry Development) on the very grave effects that any diminution of the sleeper services would have on industry and tourism in Scotland? I also congratulate my noble friend on his

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Statement made about a week ago that the privatisation of the railways would lead to a better service for everyone.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I hope that my noble friend was not right the first time with his remark about "sleeplessness". I accept that many noble Lords and many people outside the House value the sleeper services. However, they are subsidised, loss-making services and the franchising director will have a responsibility to examine that in the light of the service which is provided.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, can the Minister give an indication of the average occupancy per night of the service?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I believe that if one works out the figures, it comes to an average of about 64 passengers per train.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the immense burden which has been placed upon the staff of British Rail as a result of bringing forward the privatisation of Railtrack? Is he aware that 14,000 separate franchise agreements have to be negotiated before the privatisation is implemented? Further, is there not a danger that essential services like the one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, will be overlooked in the immense burden of administration that is now being put on the shoulders of British Rail?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I believe that the changes are necessary and that the new franchised railway will provide great benefits in terms of service and choice to its customers. I believe that the employees of British Rail will wish to participate in the reorganisation and to produce a better service.

Lord Parry: My Lords, does the Minister have any anxiety about the welfare of passengers on overnight trains who arrive at unattended stations, often outside towns or in areas of social difficulty?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord raises an interesting point. I shall look into it to see whether public awareness has been brought to the problem which he suggests exists.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the value of the sleeper services to the local social fabric in Scotland--that is, apart from the areas of industry and tourism mentioned by my noble friend Lord Stodart when he put the Question--is much greater than a simple calculation of their cost might imply? Will he further agree that that is particularly true of the West Highland line?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, those are the very considerations which the franchising director will have to take into account when coming to his judgment.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, if the Minister continually refers under "franchising" to an

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improvement in service, if the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, sleeps all night between London and Edinburgh, what improvement in service will he notice?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, he might have further opportunities to sleep during the day.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I understand that there are now only seven sleeper services in Britain: six to Scotland and one to Penzance. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, made an important point when he said that there was undoubtedly a fall-out to the community from the sleeper service. Will the Minister consider the possibility of "subsidiarity"--I believe that is the word--and allow ScotRail to make the decision and give it the responsibility for running the Scottish sleeper services? I think then the Minister would receive a most sympathetic hearing.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Lord that the point he raised at the end of his question as regards where responsibility for the sleeper services should lie, whether it is with the West Coast main line or with ScotRail, is currently being considered by the franchising director. Of course, the franchising director will take into account the considerations of social benefits which come from services which are less than commercially used.

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