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British Railways (No 2) Bill (By Order)

Volume 129: debated on Tuesday 15 March 1988

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Order for Second Reading read.

9.43 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is the 25th in a long series of general purpose Bills introduced by the British Railways Board since its reconstitution under the Transport Act 1962. As on previous occasions, it will provide the House with an opportunity to discuss some of the many matters affecting our railway system. It also gives an opportunity to me and to others to draw attention to the real improvements that are being made to the service throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

Those who live in my lovely part of the world—the south-west — may be provided with an important improvement to which we shall all thoroughly look forward. Brand-new 100 mph trains, with extra seats for commuters and faster journey times, are all contained in a package of improvements being introduced on the Bournemouth main line. The recently completed electrification of the line between Bournemouth and Weymouth and the introduction of the Wessex electrics have provided a springboard to launch the new schedules.

The network manager for South Western services said:
"There is something for everybody travelling on the main line between Waterloo, Southampton, Bournemouth and Weymouth. Apart from the all-electric service and new trains, the timetable has been reconstructed to meet changing customer needs."
Indeed, the new trains will provide more seats from May, and, when the whole fleet is running, there will be 8,329 seats in the peak periods—8,772 on Fridays—compared with the current total of 6,227. Services will be very much improved for my constituents.

There will be a 5.15 am departure from Poole serving the principal stations, including Bournemouth, Southampton and Winchester, and arriving at Waterloo at 7.20 am. That will be especially useful for passengers wishing to catch early InterCity departures from King's Cross and Euston, in which many hon. Members have expressed interest.

A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about some of the Bill's many provisions, and, indeed, about some of the matters outside its narrow scope. It may be convenient for the House if I describe the board's response to some of the concerns that have been expressed.

The hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) earlier mentioned east-coast sleeper services. The announcement in the south-west relates to May of this year. That date is likely to be significant in this respect as well. InterCity is making major changes in May to the Anglo-Scottish sleeper service, to reduce costs and provide a more attractive service for the important Scottish market. Fewer, longer trains will be run, and all will operate from Euston via the west coast line, where they can be electrically hauled for most of their journey. The longer sleeper trains will have fewer intermediate stops to avoid disturbing passengers' sleep, and will be limited to 80 mph. They will include a lounge car, open all night, and breakfast in the morning. This strategy involves the withdrawal of the London-Newcastle sleeper away from Alnmouth and Berwick.

Newcastle is now only two hours and 50 minutes from London by the fastest train, with the first south-bound train arriving in London before 9 am, and the last train back at 10 pm. Demand for the sleepers has fallen, and is now below 20 a night south-bound and 10 north-bound. Berwick is used by an average of only two passengers a night, and Alnmouth by only one a week.

My hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), together with the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), have also expressed concern to the board about main line midland electrification. The board's position is that there has been increasing pressure recently to electrify the line from St. Pancras to Leicester and Sheffield. At present, the route is electrified as far as Bedford, and Network SouthEast has modest plans to extend to Kettering and Corby, in connection with a proposed theme park called Wonderworld at Corby. However, the financial case for electrifying the whole line is poor. The service is now entirely operated by InterCity 125 trains, whose journey times are almost as good as could be offered by electric services. A £25 million electrification scheme has just been completed covering the Bedford-Leicester-Loughborough area, and the new timetable from 16 May will offer InterCity trains between London and Leicester every half hour.

My hon. Friend said that the cost of the scheme was £25 million. That places the House in the quandary that I attempted to articulate on Second Reading of the previous Bill some weeks ago. These Bills have no financial memoranda attached to them. At some stage when a Bill is deposited, some estimate is laid in the Private Bill Office, but such an estimate is not attached to the Bill. We cannot, therefore, compare the estimated cost for these works with those of other works, and we cannot judge the whole. I know that there is a Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure, but could some memorandum containing the estimated costs of the work be attached to the Bill so that we can all see—

I understand what my hon. Friend has said. He referred to the Joint Select Committee, of which I happen to have the honour to be Chairman.

Whenever general purpose Bills are debated, it has been the practice to discuss the problems of the rail networks in general to allay concerns expressed by hon. Members who are not directly affected by the Bill's contents, but whose constituents are affected by the rail system in general.

My hon. Friend mentioned several hon. Members who are concerned that the line from St. Pancras should be electrified as far as Leicester, but that concern extends west of Leicester. My constituents are just as concerned as those of the hon. Members whom my hon. Friend has mentioned. It is a serious problem, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) shares my concern about it.

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said, and the board will also have noted his concern. I am responding to the anxieties of hon. Members about general issues. The figures that I have given were provided by the board, but we have not yet begun to discuss the Bill's provisions.

I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend in the middle of his interesting speech. I have just heard for the first time the figure of £25 million that he gave. Would it be possible before the debate is resumed at another time—assuming that it is — for the exact break-down of the cost to be made available in the form of documentation placed before the House so that we can consider it?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His request will no doubt be recorded in the Official Report and hon. Members will be able to study it at their leisure.

Electrification, I am assured by the board, will be reviewed periodically in the light of changing fuel costs or the need to renew the rolling stock, should that be necessary.

I should like, in this general introduction, to deal with the concerns of my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), who expressed concern, although unsuccessfully, about Market Rasen station. Just to make it clear, to reduce operating costs of the local services from Lincoln to Grimsby and Cleethorpes, the hoard plans to transfer ticket issuing and checking from the station to the train at most stations on the route. An early-turn clerk will remain at Market Rasen to deal with bookings for the busy morning trains, including those to London.

My hon. Friends have had a meeting with the board on this matter and, as a result, will know that a decision has been made not to sell the station building until there have been discussions with the local authority, and to make it clear that a member of staff will he present if trains are delayed, so that the lights are on and passengers are not locked in.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton has made it clear that he is concerned about safety on level crossings, on one of which, sadly, there was an accident in which a young constituent of his was tragically killed. He has now also had a meeting with the board and assurances have been given to him.

This Bill is divided into a number of parts. Part I deals with standard procedures with which the House is familiar. Clause 3 deals with the incorporation of general enactments and clause 4 deals with the application of part I of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965.

Part II of the Bill deals with a series of works. Work No. 1 is the spur road at Battersea. It requires the provision not only of a spur line but of a station, so that there can be dedicated services to and from Victoria. This is to enable visitors to attend the new leisure complex, which, as hon. Members will know, is coming in the place of the old power station, in the same building.

I wonder whether, in view of my earlier comments, my hon. Friend can give us some estimate of the cost of Work No. 1. I understand from clause 36 that the various costs of this Act will be defrayed from the board's general expenses. But he has referred to Work No. 1 and I wonder whether he has any estimate to offer us on behalf of the promoters as to the cost of undertaking that work.

My hon. Friend will know that the board has had new financial targets set for it, so all these works are against the background of a system which can provide money for the board in return for the works which are being done.

Works Nos. 2 and 2A refer to a railway and cut at Kilnhurst, and this is to build a new chord railway which will link the Sheffield and Swinton line with the great central line between Rotherham and Mexborough. Members may be interested to know that originally it was hoped that it might be possible that the intended Swinton curve, which was in the 1984 Act, which I also sponsored in the House, could be used. However, a possible new role has been identified for that curve, involving the establishment of a new station at Swinton on the midland route and served by Sheffield.

9.59 pm

The Bill is important and interesting and contains a wide range of provisions. One of the most important elements of the provisions is that there is a cross-London link from the northern routes through King's Cross to the southern half of the country. That is very important because—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Thursday 17 March.