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East Coast Mainline Company Ltd

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 19 December 2013

My officials meet with East Coast and Directly Operated Railways on a regular basis to discuss the performance of the franchise. DOR’s financial accounts are published on its website on an annual basis.

As this is the last Question Time before Christmas, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, and the Secretary of State and his team, a merry Christmas.

I declare an interest: I am a member of the RMT parliamentary group—unremunerated. The Secretary of State will be aware that the East Coast service has delivered record levels of passenger satisfaction, returned £800 million to the taxpayer and seen almost half of fares frozen, due in no small part to the staff, who have worked so hard. The best Christmas present for them would be to cancel the privatisation. Will the Secretary of State meet me and a small delegation to listen to their concerns about the application of TUPE regulations if the sell-off goes ahead?

Either I or the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), will be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues, but I just point out to him, as I have done frequently, that the last Labour Secretary of State for Transport said:

“I do not believe that it would be in the public interest for us to have a nationalised train operating company indefinitely…because of our recent experience of rail franchising”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 July 2009; Vol. 712, c. 232.]

Those recent improvements in rail franchising have resulted in passenger journey numbers in this country going up from 750 million to 1.5 billion and people using our railways a lot more, with a huge amount of investment guaranteed by this Government.

It would be churlish not to wish you a merry Christmas, Mr Speaker.

Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the management and the work force of East Coast Mainline on their achievements? Has he any information on journeys lost or delayed since the ratio of diesel to electric trains has changed?

Off the top of my head, I am afraid I do not have that specific fact and figure, but I will certainly write to my hon. Friend. I would like to thank all those, not just on the east coast main line but on all the other train services, who are doing everything they can over the seasonal period to make sure people get to their destinations.

Does the Secretary of State not realise that the staff and management of East Coast rescued that service after a second private sector franchise collapsed? They are concerned that their job security at the headquarters at York is being put at risk again, so will the Secretary of State come to York with me to meet the staff to explain his plans?

I have used East Coast trains on a number of occasions and have talked to the staff operating the service. The hon. Gentleman should just wait and see which companies come forward, and he may find he gets a much enhanced service over the coming years—and I very much hope he will do so.

May I also wish you the compliments of the season, Mr Speaker, and thank all the staff of the House for keeping us safe throughout the year?

People struggling with the Government’s cost of living crisis are carefully planning their budgets for Christmas and next year. They need and deserve to know how much their season tickets will cost from 2 January. Why is East Coast the only train company to have published its fare increases for next year?

The hon. Lady might just have welcomed the fact that for the first time in 10 years we have got rid of above-inflation rail ticket price increases. I would have thought that she might welcome that, because I am very proud that for the first time in 10 years this coalition Government have held rail fare increases down in line with the retail prices index.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the autumn statement but it is his decision not to remove the “flex” on fares, which means some commuter tickets could still rise by 5.1% next year. In 13 days people will buy their annual season tickets, yet they have no idea how much they will cost. That is completely unacceptable. Is not the example set by East Coast another reason that it should be kept as a public sector comparator?

The simple fact is that the reduction in rail fares announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the autumn statement has been widely welcomed by various organisations including Transport 2000, and I am very proud that we have managed to do something. The hon. Lady mentions the “flex”. We have reduced the extent to which the “flex” can be exercised, which the last Government never did.