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Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the concern expressed by the rail franchising director, Mr. O'Brien, who has referred to train reliability declining and has mentioned Connex and Virgin Trains in particular? What action are the Government taking to improve the quality of the regulatory system?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am aware of those concerns. The House will be aware also that there has been a series of fines on railway operating companies because of poor performance. We are looking at the regulatory framework. We intend to establish a more effective and accountable regulation of the rail industry. We are conducting a thorough review of rail regulations and the sanctions currently available to the regulators, to identify exactly what improvements need to be made. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is this afternoon giving evidence to a Select Committee in another place on progress so far.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that franchise agreements of the train operating companies require them to limit overcrowding on trains? Does she recall also that about a year ago the franchising director appeared to forget to carry out his annual check? What does the Minister intend to do to tighten those regulations and ensure that the occasional but very serious congestion which is appearing on Connex South Eastern and many other networks on which noble Lords have travelled is brought within that overall agreement? Will she ensure that measures are taken to stop it happening in the future?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, there is a framework in which to control overcrowding through the franchise agreements between the franchising director and the train operating companies. All have a general obligation
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I declare an interest as an irregular passenger on Connex South Eastern. Will the noble Baroness tell the House what compensation is available to travellers who find that their train regularly arrives late but who cannot claim compensation because the company--in this case, Connex South Eastern--has adjusted the timetable so that a journey which used to take 60 minutes now, according to the timetable, takes 75 minutes? What compensation is available under those circumstances?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord illustrates very well the fact that the regulatory framework is not always satisfactory in terms of meeting the expectations of passengers or when judged by the criteria that passengers would wish to use in assessing whether the service is satisfactory. That highlights even more why a review of the current structure of rail regulation is very necessary.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, will the Minister agree that, before privatisation, there was virtually no penalty that could be put on British Rail if the trains were overcrowded? Therefore, surely privatisation has at least brought some benefits to passengers.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, whenever claims of the benefits of privatisation for passengers are made from the Front Bench opposite, I know it is not a matter to which only I need to reply. Indeed, there are differing experiences as regards quality of service post-privatisation, and sometimes other Members of your Lordships' House wish to express their own personal experiences.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be far better if Connex South Eastern, instead of spitefully and probably illegally pursuing Mr. Boddington for smoking on its trains, were to ensure that passengers had a decent, regular, comfortable and clean service? Indeed, on the wider aspect, would it not be better if we had far fewer train companies operating on the system on an integrated basis, whether it be under public or private ownership?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, my noble friend is right to point out that we need to look across the board at the rail system that we have to see how it can be improved. That is why we are conducting a strategic review and studying railways in the context of an integrated transport policy. I certainly agree that passengers do want a service from Connex which is clean and comfortable so that they can appreciate the
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have an immediate response to the noble Baroness's question. However, I shall certainly undertake to write to her on the specifics in that respect.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, can the Minister say whether she is satisfied that the rolling stock leasing companies do not have any suitable rolling stock in store which could be leased to Connex South Eastern?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, that is a matter for Connex South Eastern, the regulator and Railtrack to consider. However, improving rolling stock is obviously one of the means which could lead to an improvement in the quality of passenger service.
Lord Hooson: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, is it not highly unfortunate that at such a vulnerable age these youngsters, who are themselves quite often difficult cases, are subjected to the influence of older prisoners? Indeed, they share with them the prison accommodation and regime. Although the number of girls involved may have been only 90 at the end of November, it is a highly unfortunate situation and is in breach of the requirement under Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, our belief is that present custodial arrangements for 10 to 17 year-olds generally are not satisfactory. The available accommodation is fragmented and quality is uneven. Moreover, the sentencing framework leads to arbitrary outcomes; the structure of sentencing does not allow for
Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, a week or two ago we were told that this year there would be a modest addition of 25 to the number of places in local authority secure accommodation. Can the Minister tell the House what plans there are, if any, for a further increase in future years?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as I understand it, the plans are to have further places available. However, that will be subject to the review presently under way to look at the whole of the prison establishment which, so far as concerns the question, will deal with girls under the age of 18. We are considering--and I hope this finds favour with your Lordships--designating establishments for juveniles only. That would cure some of the mischief identified by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, in his Question. Girls under 18 in the prison establishment are subject to the young offender institute regime. That involves separate wings and houses--although I agree, and regret the fact, that there is a possibility of their mingling with adults in those circumstances. That is not a good system.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that he is willing to embrace in his decision the provision for children under the age of 17 which is unsatisfactory in those prisons and establishments which presently house asylum-seeking children--such as Campsfield House, in Oxford--who are well under that age?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I shall re-state the policy I set out in reply to a Question earlier this week; namely, detention is used as a matter of absolute last resort for asylum seekers. Plainly no one wants to see children in those circumstances in detention if it can be avoided. There are difficulties involved which I referred to earlier. Some asylum seekers come to this country, wilfully having destroyed their documents, and it is sometimes difficult to be sure of the age of a particular detainee.
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