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British Rail

Volume 163: debated on Monday 4 December 1989

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5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to announce the new chairman or chairwoman of British Rail.

I expect to announce the name of the new British Rail chairman shortly.

Is not the Secretary of State at all worried about the long delay in making this announcement? The right hon. Gentleman must accept that that cannot be good for the management and future of British Rail, its workers and employees. Can he give an assurance to the House that the Department's advisers and the headhunters who are responsible for finding someone to carry out this top management task have had a trawl of the incredibly mature, experienced, good top management females in British industry and commerce, and that they are not to be excluded from consideration because it might be thought by some males that just because one woman cannot run the country a woman is not fit to run British Rail?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the person whose name I announce will be a man.

When my right hon. Friend has appointed the chairman, or preferably chairwoman, of British Rail, will he undertake to ask that person to exercise wide discretion about the restrictive compensation rules for those suffering due to the Channel tunnel rail link?

That is a matter not for the new chairman of British Rail but for the House.

Speaking as a mature woman, may I ask the Secretary of State whether in his talks with the present chairman he has been told that the constant cutting of the public service obligation grant is putting at risk the safety of the railways and that whoever is in that position must make that his or her first absolute priority?

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady about safety. There is absolutely no truth in the newspaper report yesterday that the Government were not prepared to contribute to the costs of meeting the recommendations in the Hidden report. I have not had any discussions of the kind suggested with the chairman of British Rail.

When my right hon. Friend appoints the new chairman of British Rail, will he urge the chairman to look again at the Channel tunnel rail link proposals and consider the alternatives which centre on Stratford, which provides far more direct and better access for the whole United Kingdom than King's Cross does? The Ove Arup route, in particular, envisages King's Cross as one of the London destinations.

I am sure that my hon. Friend has noticed that a recent poll shows that a substantial majority of the Members polled prefer the BR Eurorail option.

Is the Secretary of State surprised that he has had to hawk the job of chairman of British Rail around the City when accepting the job means waiting years for his Department to allow British Rail to spend its own money and when the new chairman or chairwoman will suffer constant interference in terms of how that money is spent, whether on safety, cleanliness, modernisation or punctuality? When it comes to implementing the Government's impossible rail policies, one Bob Reid will be just like another.

I am sorry to have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman again. He is incredibly ill-informed. We have had no shortage of candidates. In fact, I am surprised at the number of people who have written to me commending themselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name one."] There are too many to name, and none is in the House. I believe that we have found an excellent chairman, and I look forward to informing the House shortly of his appointment.