The Conservative Party in Blackpool: Defiance of Lords over BR urged

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JOHN MACGREGOR, Secretary of State for Transport, was given the backing of the conference to overturn the Lords amendment allowing British Rail to bid for franchises in the Bill to privatise BR.

There was no hint of dissent over rail privatisation from Tory grassroots supporters in the stage- managed debate, but several speakers urged the Government to face down the Tory MPs threatening to rebel and to overturn the Lords amendment in the Commons.

Mr MacGregor said later: 'It was clear there was very strong support in the conference hall for overturning that amendment.'

Whips are taking soundings this week among some rebel MPs about the risk of a government defeat in the Commons. Mr MacGregor said he had to delay any decision until the Commons returns next week after the summer recess, but left little doubt that he will attempt to reverse the Lords decision.

He said the Bill would not prevent management 'buy-outs' by teams of BR managers who were 'raring to go'. But it was unfair to allow BR to bid for the franchises.

Mr MacGregor received a standing ovation after making a show of loyalty to John Major and Baroness Thatcher. 'I was proud to serve Margaret Thatcher. I am proud to serve John Major now. Let's stop carping from the sidelines.'

He defended BR's privatisation and sought to allay fears for rural services and the continuation of rail discount cards. 'The taxpayer will continue to pay subsidies for socially necessary lines,' he said, and promised to maintain the national network and safeguard pension benefits, safety standards and the benefits of through-ticketing.