Keith Williams has been tasked by the Government with leading a root and branch review into the rail industry, and he has confirmed that he will recommend scrapping the current franchising system. Full details will be set out in the White Paper which, all being well, will be published before summer.
I thank the Minister for his comments. Passengers in my constituency and across northern England welcomed the decision to bring Northern Rail into public ownership on 1 March, following the collapse of Arriva Rail North. In the past decade, more than £178 million has been paid in dividends to Northern Rail shareholders, while simultaneously, there have been cuts to safety-critical staff on trains and stations. Research has shown that if our railway was in public ownership, we would save £1 billion a year—enough to fund an 18% cut in rail fares. Will the Minister assure Members that Northern Rail will be kept in public ownership, to rebuild the trust and confidence of rail users, and that it will not be privatised at the earliest opportunity?
First, may I push back on the hon. Lady’s point about safety, which is completely incorrect? That issue is regulated by an independent body, and she is wrong. Since privatisation, we have seen the number of passenger journeys more than double, as well as more services and better trains. Northern Rail’s fleet is now being replaced with new trains, and that will be finished by the end of May. I very much hope that the new system will include a profuse and large group of private companies that want to run services for us.
Problems with the franchising system mean that London North Eastern Railway is now under control of the Minister’s Department. He will be aware of my long-running campaign to get through trains from King’s Cross to Cleethorpes. Can he tell me when that will happen?