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London Tilbury And Southend Line

Volume 264: debated on Monday 23 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on progress made in privatising the London Tilbury and Southend line. [36458]

Good progress is being made with the LTS rail franchise. The franchising director has short-listed bidders, and aims to award the franchise in December.

As the bids for the franchise have to be in by Friday, will the Minister pull out all the stops to ensure that LTS becomes the first privatised line in the, United Kingdom? LTS has been such a continuing disaster under British Rail control that it got the name of the misery line, so can my right hon. Friend give some information about the benefits that will accrue to the public? For example, what about the replacement rolling stock which is urgently required?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his staunch support of the Government's policy on privatisation. I can confirm that the franchising director has decided that the LTS line should be one of the first for which a contract will be let. I hope that the service will be up and running early next year and that the benefits of privatisation will shortly be apparent to my hon. Friend's constituents. For example, my hon. Friend will be aware that fare levels have been frozen in real terms as from January and that service levels will be guaranteed, which his constituents have not benefited from before. I understand that the details of the arrangements governing the provision of improved rolling stock will be agreed imminently with the leasing company. I hope that it will not be too long before the safety clearances are completed so that that new rolling stock can be on track.

Did the Minister see the report in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday which said that City analysts believe that the sale of Railtrack before the spring or autumn of 1997 could lose public finances as much as £750 million? I am sure that the Minister will have noted that that estimate was not been made simply because City analysts expect a Labour Government, although they do—I warn anyone contemplating bidding for any part of the rail network that there will be no gravy train for fat cats out of that privatisation and that Labour intends that the rail system should remain in public ownership—but—

I have already asked two questions.

Did the Minister note the serious criticism that the information provided to City analysts by his Department is so inadequate that they cannot properly value Railtrack? Will he give a solemn undertaking that it will not be sold cheaply before the election merely to fund a Tory tax cut?

I welcome the hon. Lady to the Dispatch Box in her new role. I notice that the Opposition's entire transport team was so demolished by us during the debate on the railways last week that they had to be replaced and a fresh franchise secured.

As for receipts, we have not speculated about the proceeds that will be secured, but a full prospectus will of course be published in due course for those seeking to invest in Railtrack. I hope that at some point the hon. Lady will respond to the questions put to her predecessor on several occasions last week. How will the Opposition pay for their policy of buying back the railways? Will it be achieved through higher fares, higher taxes or higher borrowing?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that what he proposes for the London Tilbury and Southend line is extremely good? We are very pleased that that line will be one of the first, if not the first, to be franchised. For many years, there has been a great need for replacement rolling stock. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has said that it will be replaced, but could he give us some more detail?

As my right hon. Friend may know, a number of Networker express units currently under construction by ABB Transportation are to be deployed on West Anglia's Great Northern services. That will permit what is called a "cascade" of 25 four-class 317 units to my right hon. Friend's constituency, which in turn will allow the scrapping some old class 302 units, which are more than 35 years old.