Minister refuses to rule out fare rises: Speculation grows that leaking of British Rail document was intended to pave way for less swingeing increases

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT yesterday sought to play down the storm over British Rail proposals to raise fares on Network SouthEast by up to 16.2 per cent in the wake of fresh warnings of a revolt by Tory backbenchers, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

But the Earl of Caithness, Minister of State for Transport, refused to rule out the rises, insisting the recession, not high fares, was responsible for the 20 per cent drop in the region's passengers since 1989.

He said no decision on ticket prices had been reached and added that in previous years leaked figures about fare increases were incorrect. That prompted speculation the leak may have been intended to prepare for a less swingeing increase before the BR sell-off.

Sir Keith Speed, Tory MP for Ashford, Kent, was 'horrified' by the suggested increases in a document leaked to the Independent on Sunday. He and other backbenchers have already said they will defy the Government over any move to reimpose the ban on BR bidding for services when the Railways Bill returns to the Commons in the autumn.

The document showed the preferred option would be a 16.2 per cent rise for the all-zone London Travelcard, with standard single fares rising by 12 per cent and season tickets by 7.9 per cent.

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