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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that many people are extremely puzzled as to the difficulties which appear to be being realised in relation to through-ticketing? Is he further aware that before the war, when we had several railway companies, there was a system called the railway clearing house which managed to provide through-ticketing for very many more stations than we have at the present time and without the assistance of computers? That being so, why on earth is it proving so difficult for through-ticketing to be arranged after privatisation?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I do not believe that there are difficulties with the issue of through-ticketing. The regulator will be setting a minimum standard. We do not expect it to be the norm. The noble Lord described what happened many years ago with the clearing house system. We believe that private sector operators will take full advantage of the innovations in technology and computer booking and retailing systems in delivering a service which the customer wants.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, as regards the availability of timetables, particularly InterCity ones, I understand that these are now being restricted. I also understand that at one time there was even the possibility that they would no longer be produced. Can the noble Viscount give an assurance that this very important service, alongside through-ticketing, will be taken into account so that the availability of this service can be generally known to the travelling public?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the objective of this privatisation exercise is substantially to improve the service which the railway network gives consumers in order to provide more choice. I am sure that timetabling and the availability of timetables are an essential part of that.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend asks a very important question. Of course, retailing from other outletssuch as travel agentsthe use of railway warrants, telesales and the purchase of tickets on the train itself will be an important part of the way in which tickets are sold in future.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, can the noble Viscount give an assurance that the reduced fares which are available to those of advanced years will continue to be available under the new regime, if and when it comes into effect?
Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that just under 150 years ago, Mr. Gladstone, who was not unassociated with the noble Viscount's great grandfather, I would guess, made a slightly sad journey from King's Cross to a station between Dundee and Aberdeen and complained that, contrary to assurances which he had been firmly given, he was forced to pay five times in five separate instalments? Is the noble Viscount further aware that that had the effect of turning the mind of as notable an individualist as Gladstone to the benefits of rail nationalisation?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am very grateful, as I am sure the whole House is, for the history lesson on this particular subject. We believe that the privatised rail network will deliver all the benefits for which Mr. Gladstone would have been grateful.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will the Minister give an undertaking to the House that rural areas in particular will not be prejudiced as a result of any new arrangements in connection with through-ticketing? How does the Minister reconcile his answer to one of my noble friends, that the Minister has real powers in this matter if the regulator decides, while taking account of what the Minister has to say, to go his own way? Furthermore, how does it make any sense for the Minister in another place to say that the concept of reducing the number of core stations to 294 is unacceptable?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the regulator has a duty to protect passengers and to make sure that the service is improved and up to the standards which we all demand. As I mentioned, the Secretary of State has the power to give guidance to the regulator. But ultimately there are clear advantages from having an independent regulator. For the first time it will mean that the railways will have a guarantee of the minimum service available.
Lord Richard: My Lords, can the Minister clear up this situation once and for all? On behalf of the Government, can he give an undertaking that, under privatisation, rail through-ticketing will in fact be secured to the same level as it is at the moment?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I believe that I have made the situation absolutely clear. The regulator has a duty which I have fully explained. For the first time the railways and the passengers using them will have the protection of a minimum standard. That does not exist at the moment.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, successive governments have endorsed the provision currently contained in Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 that Scotland should be divided into not less than 71 constituencies. There has never been an equivalent provision for England.
Lord Ellenborough: My Lords, in thanking my noble and learned friend for that answer, may I reassure him that as an ardent United Kingdom Unionist I would have no cause to wish for there to be any change under the existing arrangements. But does he agree that, if there were a separate Scottish Parliament with wide powers, that would be a very different matter and would almost certainly necessitate a drastic reduction in the number of Scottish MPs in the House of Commons, with dire implications for the unity of the United Kingdom as a whole? Furthermore, is my noble and learned friend aware that the current devolutionary proposals of the Labour Party are even more irresponsible and worse than they were back in the late 1970s when they last plunged into the devolutionary quagmire? Does he further agree that the situation is worse now because the Labour Party wants to institute a motley collection of assemblies, regions and parliaments, all with different powers, which is a blue-print for disaster?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I entirely agree with what the noble Lord has said. There are clearly distinctive circumstances applying in Scotland. For example, if Orkney and Shetland and Caithness and Sutherland combined into one constituency, the electorate would still be significantly below the English average. As my noble friend will appreciate, I certainly do not advocate the establishment of a Scottish
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, when the noble and learned Lord says that he is not in favour of the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, why does he not just add the word "now"? His present attitude was not always the position. When we started out on the course of devolution the noble and learned Lord was one of our strongest supporters, along with many of his colleagues in the Conservative Party. He should have the courage to say that he has changed his mind.
Will the noble and learned Lord accept that now that I am a Member of your Lordships' House the number of Scottish MPs does not seem to be of the same concern to me as it once was? But when we talk about electoral representation in Scotland, why does he not explain to his noble friend that, because of the reorganisation of local government in Scotland, at that level Scotland will become the most under-represented country in Europe? In Scotland we shall have fewer councillors representing the people than any other country in Europe. Is the Minister aware that it is that diminution of democracy in Scotland, which was inflicted on us by the Tory Party, which poses a threat to the Union?
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