Tory MPs fear higher fares and poor services

CONSERVATIVE MPs representing London's commuter belt voiced deep concern yesterday that privatising British Rail could lead to higher fares and poor services for constituents unless subsidies continue at present levels.

Sir John Stanley, Tory MP for Tonbridge and Malling, said that he had been informed by Sir Bob Reid, chairman of BR, that fares would rise by 190 per cent in Network SouthEast if subsidies were ended and the government-set rate of return maintained.

Introducing the Railways Bill, John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, told the Commons that subsidies would continue for socially necessary services, but, as Sir John and other MPs pointed out, he did not say at what level or for how long. The subsidy will go to franchisees of otherwise loss-making services to meet the charges of Railtrack, which will be separated from BR and made a government-owned company in April next year.

The Bill was given a Second Reading by 302 votes to 269 and will now be subject to detailed examination in committee. Robert Adley, Conservative chairman of the Transport select committee, and Sir John said that they could not vote for the measure.

Mr Adley condemned the Bill as a 'recipe for muddle, indecision and conflict' that was opposed by millions of rail-users and by those who managed the network and worked on it. The flaw was the proposed separation of responsibility for track and signalling from the operation of trains. 'We are breaking up a national railway system and replacing it with a vacuum,' he said.

Mr MacGregor was jeered by Opposition MPs when he detailed subsidies for private rail freight operators to try to switch traffic from road to rail. John Prescott, Labour's transport spokesman, said that he did not have to wait for completion of the legislation before bringing in the freight grants but had power to act immediately - a plea reinforced by Mr Adley and Sir David Mitchell, a former Tory rail minister.

Mr Prescott described the Bill as 'a cherry-pickers' charter'. It would make the railways less safe. There would be less investment, branch lines could close and more traffic would switch to road. 'What we want is modernisation, not privatisation.'

Mr MacGregor said that in return for subsidies to run unprofitable services, franchisees would sign legally-binding contracts specifying the quality and frequency of services. 'I see no reason why fares should increase faster under the new system than they do under the present nationalised industry structure, and, in many cases, I believe that in fact they will be more flexible and will be reduced.

'There will be controls on railway operators' freedom to increase fares where they might otherwise be able to take advantage of significant market power to exploit passengers, for example on London commuter services.'

Pressed by Brian Wilson, a Labour transport spokesman, to guarantee the continuation of national network railcards for the elderly and for young people, Mr MacGregor said that there was no statutory obligation on BR to provide them but he believed it would be 'in the interests of franchisees to offer facilities of that sort'.

David Howell, MP for Guildford and a former Cabinet minister, questioned where the investment was going to come from to provide Network SouthEast commuters with a new and modernised infrastructure for the 21st century.

Mr MacGregor cited price benefit to consumers following privatisation of British Telecom, gas and electricity, but Sir John Stanley said that whenever the public sector body had suffered from under- investment, as was the case with the water industry and BR, 'the implication for fares have invariably been upwards'.

George Walden, Tory MP for Buckingham and a former minister, warned: 'Anyone can run a line; what we need is someone to run a railway.'

(Map omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricket
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas