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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the services are a matter for the franchising director to determine with the franchisee. Of the franchises that we have seen--indeed, all of the franchises are now let--at least the existing BR timetable has been run, in many cases with additional services. I do not believe that the noble Lord needs to be unduly concerned about the results of the franchising of services. There have been improvements in the level and quality of services.
Dealing with the noble Lord's wider point, the Government are keen to encourage freight on to the railway, and in that regard Holyhead is of considerable importance. The Government have made available their freight facilities grant scheme for infrastructure projects where people can put up sensible schemes that show environmental benefits.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is it right that the north-west coast line is part of Regional Railways, which is the main operator on the line, and that the latter has recently announced that about 40 per cent. of the workforce are to be made redundant? In the light of that and of the appalling example set by South West Trains, which the Minister has not fully condemned, what confidence can we have that the present poor service will be enhanced or even maintained by Regional Railways?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord finished his question by recognising that the existing service could be improved. We also believe that the service can be improved. For that reason we have taken forward the privatisation programme. I believe that the franchise that is responsible for running this section of the railway has been operating for only one day. It is a little early to say what improvements it has brought about. Of course, staffing is a matter to be determined by a private company; it determines what staff it requires to run a service. It will have obligations under its passenger service agreement for the services that it needs to run. But we should also note that, for example, GWH will replace the entire Mark 1 rolling stock used by north west. By 31st March 2000 it will introduce a fleet of 70 new diesel multiple unit vehicles capable of a speed of 90 to 100 miles per hour. That is another example of the improvements that privatisation will bring.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, as we know from the South West Trains episode, staff arrangements impact on the convenience of hundreds of thousands of passengers. If we are to experience a 40 per cent. reduction in the workforce, which has been announced, is that not likely to have a similar effect? Surely the Minister cannot distance himself from staffing arrangements by saying that they are matters entirely for other people and not for him, when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people will be affected by such narrow-minded, short-term policy?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I assume from that example that the noble Lord will be telling British Airways how many staff it should employ. However, we have heard no such commitment. This is a private company, running a privatised railway service. It has clear obligations as regards the service that it must deliver. We safeguard services and safety through strict
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, 20 seconds would be an unduly generous period in order for me to make such a list. Clearly, there has been significant under-investment in the railways over many decades and services have declined. We want to see those services improve and that is why we are undertaking a massive structural change. Already there have been major changes to the railways, complaints have fallen by about one-third and there has been massively increased investment. Those are all tremendous improvements which the whole House should welcome.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the House will be aware that 10 or 15 years ago there were regular direct services between Euston and Holyhead. We are appalled to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, that mostly passengers on that line must change at Crewe. Will the Government apologise to the travelling public for the running down of that service? What steps will they require of the rail regulator to improve the service and return it to what it was only 10 or 15 years ago?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, obviously the noble Lord did not hear my response to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. I said that all the franchisees have agreed to run services to the British Rail timetable or more. I believe the noble Lord will welcome the announcements made by Virgin for its running of the Intercity West Coast franchise. It is determined to bring forward the new modern tilting trains, with a £150 million investment, reduced journey times, better facilities, entertainment within the trains and more reliability. I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome all those improvements when he travels on that line.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, there is nothing whatever to apologise for. I shall not apologise for better services, more investment, fewer complaints, more innovation and shorter journey times. These are not things to apologise for; they are things to commend.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Minister has told us yet again that the number of complaints has been reduced by one-third. Does he recall that a few days ago when we were discussing South West Trains I reminded him that the notices advising people where to complain had been removed? Is that one of the reasons why there has been a reduction in the number of complaints? If so, can we have the notices back again, please?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I have always found the ability to complain of people who travel on the railway to be perfectly adequate. If people are upset with the service, it is important that they complain. One needs to remember that until only a few years ago the passengers' charter did not exist; people were not able to be compensated; if British Rail decided not to run a service it did not run it, often as a result of industrial action. I am pleased to say that there have been tremendous advances in industrial relations on the railways.
Viscount Tenby: My Lords, in view of the second part of the Question about attracting freight to the North Wales coast rail line, will the Minister agree to prod Railtrack into getting on with devising its price regulation with the rail freight distributors?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, I emphasised that the Government were keen to see more freight on the railway. We recognise the developments that have occurred with the privatisation of the freight operators, as with Railtrack. Beyond that, the Government have an overall role in putting forward schemes such as the freight facilities grant, which is designed to do exactly what the noble Viscount desires; that is, to make a difference where there are infrastructure projects and where a case has been put to the Government. Beyond that, it is for Railtrack to talk to the freight operators, as it continually does, in order to come up with innovative plans.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, in response to the supplementary question from my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, the Minister said it was for the operator to cut its staff, and that if it chose to do so by 40 per cent., that was all right. That was exactly what happened with South West Trains, and 70 drivers is nothing like 40 per cent. of the staff. Does the Minister agree that it is of concern for an operator in the north west to cut staff by that amount? Should not the franchising director be encouraged to impose more penal damages than he has done on South West Trains for any inconvenience caused to passengers?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the fact that considerable penalties are laid down when train operating companies do not deliver the services. That was the case with South West Trains and we have seen a considerable improvement in the problems highlighted by the noble Lord. Beyond that, we want to see an efficiently run railway. We have laid down what services must be provided and the operators have volunteered additional services. We want to see a safe railway. Therefore, in terms of guaranteeing the service and the high levels of safety, the Government have a strong role. As regards how the companies go about delivering that, we would not want to fetter their discretion beyond those constraints and regulations.