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"Towards A Commuters' Charter"

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

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asked the Minister of Transport what analysis he has made of the British Railways Board's publication"Towards a Commuters' Charter "; and if he will make a statement.

I am anxious to see an improvement in commuter services. I therefore welcome the commuters' charter, especially since it helps define the service improvements that the customer wants. I also attach great importance to the inquiry by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into the efficiency and quality of service of British Rail's London commuter services.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he could make a major contribution to improving commuter services, particularly between London and the North-East, if, in concert with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, he allowed British Railways to pull down Liverpool Street Station, brick by brick, and redevelop it?

I shall certainly discuss that rather drastic proposal with the chairman of the British Railways Board. As for the general issue of improving commuter services, particularly those in my hon. Friend's constituency, I emphasise again the importance that I place on the examination of those services by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that no other railway in the world moves as many commuters in a day as does Southern Region? Will he take this opportunity to dissociate himself from the silly comments of his right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs in connection with the investigation of commuter services, especially since the right hon. Lady usually rides around in a Rolls-Royce and not a commuter train?

I back entirely what my right hon. Friend said about the importance of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's investigation into the efficiency and quality of commuter services. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first remarks, but the efficiency and quality of commuter services has not been investigated in this way before. I think that it is in the interests of commuters, and that, after all, is what we are about in transport policy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are probably far more people in favour of improving commuter services than there are in favour of the Channel tunnel? Will he therefore make clear that, when he says that public funds are not to be used on the Channel tunnel, he is referring also to public funds under the control of British Rail which could be used for commuter services and other purposes?

My right hon. Friend takes me back one stage. I do not complain about that, but I do not agree with the division that he is making. Clearly the impact on commuter services is a matter which we shall study when we look in detail at the Channel tunnel schemes that are put forward. I disagree when my right hon. Friend says that the Channel tunnel will not be of great benefit. I believe that it will be of benefit both to the public and to the railway industry.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a commitment that if the inquiry into commuter services in the South-East establishes that there is a lack of investment in that area he will raise public money and provide the appropriate investment for those services?

I shall obviously have to take account of that matter, and I hope that British Rail will take account of any recommendations or proposals about the efficiency, standard and productivity of the, services.