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East Coast Main Line

Volume 551: debated on Thursday 18 October 2012

Following the tabling of this question, I considered what the hon. Lady is asking me to do, but I have decided to follow the policy set by the previous Government, who believed in franchising.

Since 1997 we have seen Great North Eastern Railway fail and National Express fail, but now we have East Coast trains returning £187 million to the taxpayer. Why on earth would the Minister want to swap that for the unmitigated disaster of the west coast tender? Is not that free-marketism gone mad?

I draw on what the shadow Lord Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), said when he was a Transport Minister:

“The rail franchising system was examined by the National Audit Office last year, and was found to deliver good value for money”

and “steadily improving” services. He continued:

“Passenger numbers are at their highest levels since the 1940s,”

and

“punctuality is more than 90 per cent.”—[Official Report, 1 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 425-6.]

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said then, and I think it is the right way forward.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on continuing the policies of this Government as well as the last, but there are lessons to be learned for both the east coast and the west coast franchise. Will he ensure that the product of the east coast main line service will remain the premier service in the land?

I want all services to be good services and to serve hon. Members’ constituents, but of course we have lessons to learn—lessons from the way in which certain franchises were unable to continue under the previous Government. I made a statement to the House on Monday in which I said that we would learn those lessons. Two reviews are being undertaken, and I look forward to receiving their representations.

The Secretary of State continues to claim that privatising the east coast rail service is necessary to deliver new investment, but he knows full well that both the planned improvements for the line and the new generation of inter-city trains are being funded by the taxpayer. In the light of the west coast fiasco, will he rethink his opposition to allowing the east coast line to be run as a not-for-private-profit service, not least since, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) said, it returned £187 million to taxpayers last year—money that, from next year, will have to be split with shareholders?

The hon. Lady is rewriting history: the simple fact is that the previous Government were committed to franchising on the east coast main line—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) says he is not bothered about that any more; I shall remind him of things that he supported in the past but now attacks.