Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I feel that it would be desirable if in trains, restaurants and other public places special areas were to be set aside. But I am not sure that it is a matter that the Government should seek to regulate. I am surprised that the noble Lord is unique in not finding overhearing phonecalls on mobiles extremely irritating, not only because they are usually conducted at an extraordinary volume but also because the conversations engaged in are extremely tedious.

Lord Peston: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord allow me to mention that my problem is that I find most of the conversations that I overhear extremely irritating and tedious? So far as I am concerned there is nothing unique about the mobile phone.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I do not agree. I can think of remarks overheard on the top deck of a bus which could be brilliant opening lines for a novel. I have not heard anything on a mobile phone that would have prompted my imagination.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that the practice is not confined to

7 Feb 1996 : Column 238

yuppies? One complaint that has come to me was about a prominent member of the Shadow Cabinet who telephoned on a train almost continuously between London and Edinburgh. The only light relief for the passengers, who were forced to overhear, came from his loud suggestions as to what the Labour Party should do about Arthur Scargill.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I do not feel that the noble Lord should boast of his good fortune in overhearing an interesting conversation. It certainly does not square with the general experience of the rest of us.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is the Minister aware that that particular problem is likely to be of importance only until the next General Election? After that, the members of the Shadow Cabinet will be in ministerial cars.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am intrigued to hear that we have at long last a solemn manifesto commitment that there will be no use of the railways by those who aspire to be members of the next government.

Lord Winston: My Lords, is the Minister aware that for some people a mobile phone is an essential method of communication and is highly desirable? Any time that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, wants to borrow a mobile telephone, he has only to ask.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, as regards the matter of manners, which was raised by the original Question, I believe that there are issues. The noble Lord is absolutely right. The mobile phone is of great assistance to all manner of people. I know that a number of organisations have particularly encouraged women travelling alone on motorways to carry a mobile phone. One can think of many other instances in which the mobile phone is indeed of significant advantage.

The Railways: Waiting Rooms

3.19 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will amend the Passenger's Charter to guarantee adequate waiting room accommodation for railway passengers on every manned railway station.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, it is for passenger service operators to decide what to include in their Passenger's Charter. But under their franchise agreements operators will be contractually required to provide weather-proof waiting accommodation or other adequate shelter.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: But is the Minister saying that the Government are not prepared to include in the Passenger's Charter the right of rail passengers to have the comfort and necessary shelter of a railway waiting room? Is he not aware that there are rumours of certain of the bidders for railway franchises declaring that they will close down all the waiting rooms on a certain line? Therefore, is it not clear that if, as the Government claim,

7 Feb 1996 : Column 239

the privatised rail companies are not to be allowed to increase prices above inflation or to cut services, the only way that they can provide a dividend for their shareholders is by shedding jobs, and that means shedding some of the comforts which have to be manned on these stations?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the way that the new operators will be able to increase their businesses is by attracting more people onto the railways. We believe that by providing better facilities, not only on the trains but also at the stations, they will succeed in attracting more people onto the railways. It is in their very commercial interest to do so. However, the new arrangements do provide more protection under the franchise agreement than exists at the moment for British Rail.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, in order to be politically correct, would it not be right to refer to these railway stations as being personed rather than manned?

Viscount Goschen: Quite possibly, my Lords, but I do not believe it is an issue which Her Majesty's Government have given detailed examination.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the inclement weather of yesterday hundreds of railway passengers were marooned on stations in terrible conditions and that only the minimum of waiting accommodation was available and in some cases none at all? Is it not about time that the Government turned their attention to this issue? Is he aware that Stockport station outside Manchester has seen little, if any, improvement over a great number of years?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord is looking forward, as I am, to the wholesale privatisation of the railways. This is the biggest structural change we have seen in the railways. We believe that great benefit will come to passengers, at stations as well as on the track.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister aware that his hallucinations about the success of privatisation do not coincide very well with the events of the past couple of days, with two major allegations of fraud involving franchisees? Will he reply to my noble friend Lady Castle, who said that there was a case where, despite what the noble Viscount said, a franchisee has either said that he does not intend to provide waiting accommodation or has already taken action in that regard?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I have explained that under the franchise agreements there are requirements and new protections which do not exist at the moment that will come to bear under the franchising process. If the House really wants to know about franchising it just has to look at what has happened with the two franchises that have been successfully let. We have now seen real commitments to increasing the provision of services on stations. Indeed, one of the franchisees has included the issue of stations in its agreement with the franchising director.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, as the Minister has chosen not to reply to the point that I made which was

7 Feb 1996 : Column 240

raised by my noble friend Lady Castle, will he comment on this point? Is it right that a franchisee has already indicated that waiting accommodation is to be shut down? If that is right, what action is to be taken in relation to the contractual arrangements that have been made with that franchisee?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord has clearly not been listening. I have answered the noble Baroness in detail and I have answered the noble Lord in detail. The franchise agreement specifies requirements upon the operator to whom the franchise is let. There is provision in the detail of the Act and the franchising director is bound to take that up with the operator. That adequately covers this point. As franchises come to be let, the franchising director has to be satisfied that these requirements are met. These are new provisions. They did not exist under British Rail. We shall therefore see better stations. One has only to look at what has happened with the two new franchises that have been let, with the commitments to capital investment in the stations, to see what will happen under privatisation.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, will the Government clarify something for me? Travelling on the railway one sees stations with signs on them saying "This station is owned by Railtrack". My understanding is that Railtrack encompasses all the infrastructure of the railway while the operators are to run the trains on the tracks. From the Minister's answers, it seems that that is not a correct understanding. Can the Minister explain where the dividing line comes? Does Railtrack, the provider of the infrastructure, have to provide the platforms or the stations? What is the operator's responsibility and what is Railtrack's responsibility?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, Railtrack owns the stations. They are leased to the operators.

Business of the House: Debates this Day

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debates on the Motions in the names of the Baroness Turner of Camden and the Lord Judd set down for this day shall each be limited to 2½ hours.--(Viscount Cranborne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page