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North-West Main Line

Volume 264: debated on Monday 23 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he last travelled on the north-west main line. [36468]

I travelled on the line to Blackpool on 9 October for what proved to be an excellent party. conference.

That is a funny old thing to say. Who would believe that? Will the Secretary of State have a word with British Rail and ask it to withdraw the rail passengers charter, in particular as it affects the west coast main line, so that timetables can be restored? Does he realise that, when the Government introduced the nonsense of the so-called charter, all that happened was that BR extended the journey times so that it did not have to pay compensation?

I am genuinely surprise to hear the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the passengers charters should be removed. That is no part of our manifesto. Indeed, far from removing them, we want to improve them and drive up the standards so that railway passengers get an even better service under privatisation than they did under nationalisation.

Is not the best way to restore reliability and investment on the north-west line—and, indeed, across the whole railway system—to proceed as quickly as possible with privatisation? We no longer have questions about lack of investment in telephones, water, gas or electricity because those industries were privatised and they have access to the capital that they need—something that the amateur corporate financiers on the Opposition Front Bench would not understand.

The whole House is grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that he read the Sunday Express yesterday, as I hope Opposition Members did. It contained an interesting article by John Edmonds, Railtrack's chief executive, in which he said:

"It is unquestionable that rail privatisation will lead to more investment."
That is exactly what my hon. Friend said.

The Secretary of State will know that the electric west coast main line does not go to Blackpool because the through train service has been discontinued. Does what he has just said mean that he is committed to ensuring that, when the west coast main line is upgraded, Blackpool has an electric train service running from London to Blackpool?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, it is a matter for the franchising director to decide whether to permit that service. However, I travelled via Preston, which is indeed on the west coast main line.

When my right hon. Friend next uses that excellent service, will he take the trouble to stop off at the city of Chester, where he will see the new improved station? He may realise that the station would have been improved some years ago, had it been privatised earlier, because the potential for investment in our railway stations is considerable. Will he also please pay tribute to the people who work on the line and are giving us an improved service of a very high standard despite the carping comments from the Opposition?

Invitations from my hon. Friend to visit his constituency are difficult to resist. He invited me to visit the tax office in Chester when I was Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and I am sure that my visit to his railway station will be every bit as exciting as my visit to his tax office.