Meacher signals another U-turn

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The Independent Online
Labour policy on rail privatisation took another U-turn yesterday when Michael Meacher, transport spokesman, said it might try to renationalise services that had been franchised to the private sector.

Mr Meacher said John Prescott, the deputy party leader, had not ruled this out when saying on Monday that train-operating company franchises would be allowed to run their course of seven years if Labour won the next election.

"It was an option, one of several," said Mr Meacher at the launch of the party's anti-privatisation campaign.

Asked if this meant one of the options was to take back the franchises after a Labour victory, Mr Meacher said: "Yes." He emphasised his party's commitment to a "publicly owned and publicly accountable railway".

Mr Meacher's comments add further confusion to Labour's rail privatisation policy, which appears to be changing almost daily.

Last week Tony Blair appeared to rule out renationalisation but it emerged at the weekend that a committee of senior Labour MPs was examining how to take the railways back into public ownership.

The dithering was emphasised at Question Time when Mr Major, defending his policy, said the Government had not changed it on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Labour has initiated a debate on through-ticketing and privatisation in the Commons today.It said in a report that the railways were deteriorating because of lack of investment and the privatisation controversy. The rail engineering industry was "tottering towards extinction". Earlier this month, an order for 43 commuter trains from ABB in York was cancelled, with the loss of 750 jobs. Temporary speed limits had been imposed in Greater Manchester because new track was needed and in some areas every station needed refurbishment.