My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what approaches have been made to British Railways in the hope of encouraging provision of further services at reduced fares following the reduction of road and air fares as a result of the Transport Act.
My Lords, as I am sure my noble friend is well aware, it is for the Railways Board to decide how they wish to respond to the stimulus to competition given by the Transport Act.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. Further to that, may I ask whether any approach can be made to British Railways regarding the possibility of encouraging the public to use their facilities which some of us think are far greater than what can be provided by road and air transport? Can this encouragement be given by any way other than possible reduction of fares?
My Lords, the board are aware of the effect of fares increase on passenger traffic, but the railways face rising costs, like any other business. We believe that there is scope for reducing the costs by improving productivity; otherwise the board will have to increase fares to meet these costs. Moreover, your Lordships will probably have seen that at the moment British Railways have not been slow to respond to the stimulus of competition. They have, for instance, already announced further discounts on their senior citizens' service, family rail cards, and concessions for those aged under 24.
My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind the outstanding results in Sweden, where they lowered the fares and suddenly enormously increased the passenger traffic? Will these lessons be drawn to the attention of British Rail, since there may be something to learn from that experience?
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend will be happy to know that on a number of occasions the board have considered a general reduction in fares on the same lines as in Sweden. However, they estimate that any increase in the number of passengers would not be sufficient to cover the losses involved, let alone improve their overall financial position. Instead their policy is to offer substantial reductions to specific sectors of the market, and this appears to be very successful.
My Lords, should it be necessary, will the noble Earl draw the attention of British Rail to the fact that 1981 is to be the Year of the Disabled, and will he express the hope that perhaps British Rail will do even more than they are now doing in regard to concessionary travel arrangements for disabled persons?
My Lords, I should be happy to draw that matter to the attention of British Railways.
My Lords, will the noble Earl consider offering one of the regions to Sir Freddie Laker to run, and see what happens?
My Lords, I rather think that at the moment Sir Freddie Laker has enough on his plate.
My Lords, will the Minister accept that the difficulties of British Rail are attributable not to the fare structure, but to the lack of investment at British Rail, which prevents them from offering an efficient and adequate service?
My Lords, I do not think that I can really accept that point, but I should like to take it up on another occasion if the noble Lord cares to put down a Question.