Privatisation 'not intended to reduce rail network'

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(First Edition)

JOHN MacGREGOR, the Secretary of State for Transport, said last night that the Government had no intention of reducing the national network under its railway privatisation programme.

But he told all-party Commons Select Committee on Transport: 'What I cannot say is that the service will remain for all time.'

Mr MacGregor also firmly denied that privatisation was being introduced simply in order to save money for the Treasury.

He assured British Rail staff and pensioners that rumours that the Government would take a large proportion of the BR's pension fund were 'absolutely and completely false'.

Mr MacGregor faced sometimes hostile questioning from the transport committee, whose interim report based on the evidence it had already heard about privatisation seriously questioned a number of aspects of the Government's plans.

Pressed on the matter of a possible cutback in services, he replied: 'I can't give a guarantee over every single line. But there is no intention of reducing the national network.'

Gwyneth Dunwoody, the Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich, asked him: 'Are you introducing privatisation primarily to save money for the Treasury?'

Mr MacGregor replied: 'No. It's to improve the services for the passengers.'

Mrs Dunwoody asked: 'Then which countries have you used as a role model for privatisation?'

Mr MacGregor replied that they had noted plans being pursued by a number of countries and he mentioned Germany, Sweden and Japan.

Mrs Dunwoody replied: 'We have taken evidence from these countries and they are doing things in a very different way.'

Mr MacGregor refuted suggestions that three of the initial routes to be run privately - announced last week - represented a 'cherry picker's' charter.

It was pointed out that the East Coast mainline, the Great Western line and the Gatwick Express were all highly profitable. But Mr MacGregor replied that the operators of these lines were not 'cherry pickers', as they would have to operate all the services on those lines.