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British Railways (Chairman)

Volume 929: debated on Wednesday 6 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of British Railways.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of British Railways.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will next meet the Chairman of British Railways.

When the Secretary of State meets the Chairman of British Rail on 26th April, will he resist the Chairman's likely demand for a blurring of the distinction in British Rail's finances between investment payments and public service support? Would that not make it more difficult to secure the necessary transparency in British Rail's finances which is necessary to sustain the level of public understanding and support for British Rail's operational network?

The Chairman of British Rail does not usually make demands on me when I meet him, but I am willing to discuss—as I often do—such matters with Peter Parker. He is as anxious as I am to ensure that information is freely available so that the public can judge the performance of the railways.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many commuters in my constituency who normally travel by train are considering travelling by coach because they cannot afford the rail season ticket? When he meets the Chairman of British Rail will he do what he can to ensure that British Rail will do nothing to obstruct the granting of licences to commuters who are planning to charter coaches?

I am sure that the Chairman of British Rail recognises the choices that people have, and that they are free properly to exercise them, but, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said earlier this afternoon, we all regret the necessity of increasing rail fares. Many people find that travelling by train is convenient and the best way of going to work.

Is the Minister aware that since 1974 commuter fares have risen by 90 per cent. on a cumulative basis and are likely to rise by another 7 per cent. a year over the next four years? Are the Government totally indifferent to the plight of commuters?

That is nonsense. I wish the House would face up to the realities of the situation. The Opposition are against increased public expenditure, but if railways are not paid for out of fares they must be paid for by subsidies, and those come from public expenditure raised from the taxpayers and ratepayers. Let us have a little more hard common sense about this matter—whatever conclusions we may reach.

When my right hon. Friend last met Peter Parker during his visit to the railway workshop in Derby this week, did he see the impressive and advanced technical work that is being done there? Is he aware of the high export potential in that work? Has he discussed with Mr. Parker what effect any freeze on investment that might be outlined in the coming White Paper would have on this high and advanced potential?

Questions relating to investment and exports appear later on the Order Paper. I was greatly impressed by the work that is being done at the railway workshops in Derby, both for British Rail and for export. The railways are in a high technology business and they have a great deal to be proud of by way of innovation.

When the Minister meets the Chairman of British Rail, will he ask him why he finds it so difficult to reply to the questions of Scottish hon. Members about the use of disgracefully old rolling stock in Scotland—sometimes on long routes? Will he ask the chairman to open his fat file of complaints about the lack of heating on these long-distance trains, which was very frequent during the winter? Will he ask whether the reports that numbers of restaurant cars, buffets and the like are to be reduced are idle threats?

I am sure that the Chairman of British Rail will note what the hon. Lady said. If she was implying that he has not been replying to her letters, I hope that she will let me know.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.