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Rail Franchises

Volume 497: debated on Thursday 22 October 2009

10. What recent representations he has received on the functioning of rail franchises; and if he will make a statement. (294802)

Ministers and officials within the Department for Transport have regular discussions with the rail industry about the functioning of rail franchises. The Department continues to manage the delivery of obligations of all rail franchise contracts, and officials report frequently on delivery to the Secretary of State.

Are the Government minded to reconsider the length of the franchise offered, particularly for the east coast main line? Does the Minister share my concern about the debt that the company that holds the franchise—the second company to have failed when holding it—has run up with the banks, which of course is now being serviced by the taxpayer? This is a particularly difficult time, so what is he going to do about that franchise?

The hon. Lady raises an excellent point. We keep our options open on the form and length of rail franchises. She is right to imply that a longer franchise might help to support more investment and provide greater stability, but she will be aware that when the directly operated—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but there is a lot of chuntering from Opposition Front Benchers. Clearly—[Interruption.]

Order. The Minister is right: there is too much chuntering from Front Benchers. I do not like it and I do not want it to happen again.

I am afraid that the public schools they went to did not teach them manners.

The point is that when the Directly Operated Railways company takes over the running of the line next year and when it comes to retendering, one of the things that we could look into, and seek representations on, is whether the franchise should be longer.

To what extent are current franchises furthering greater mobility, particularly among elderly citizens across the United Kingdom?

My noble Friend the Secretary of State looks into some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised, including rail usage—who is using the railways—and whether there are advantages in how a franchise is run. One advantage of retendering is that we can take on board passengers’ concerns. This is not directly relevant to him, but we recently refranchised South Central and asked Passenger Focus to ask users what they would like to see in the next franchise. I am happy to arrange for the hon. Gentleman to meet officials to discuss what can happen in the next phase in relation to his constituency and his community.