George Young – 1995 Statement on Rail Franchising

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir George Young, the then Secretary of State for Transport, in the House of Commons on 18 December 1995.

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the franchising of passenger rail services.

The House will be aware that, on Friday, the Court of Appeal, considering an application for judicial review by Save Our Railways, found against the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising on whether the passenger service requirements for some of the first seven franchises had been developed in accordance with the instructions and guidance that had been issued to him by the Secretary of State.

The court ruled that the franchising director could proceed with the award of the first three franchises—Great Western, South West Trains and London Tilbury and Southend Rail—although it ruled that the PSR for LTS Rail was not consistent with the instructions. The court also ruled that the PSRs for the next four franchises were similarly inconsistent. In doing so, the court was overruling an earlier judgment of the High Court that had dismissed the judicial review.

The court’s ruling comes after the franchising director made excellent progress in preparing the first franchises for award to the private sector. Indeed, the first three franchises are ready to be awarded soon.

We have, of course, given careful consideration to the implications of the court’s judgment. I confirm that, as planned, the franchising director hopes to announce the award of the first three franchises later this week, and I welcome the court’s agreement that he should go ahead with them.

The court has been concerned with the consistency between the franchising director’s instructions and guidance and the PSRs. It is, in the court’s words, a “limited legal problem”. The court has not questioned the Government’s policy. Indeed, the judgment describes the franchising director’s approach to developing PSRs as

intelligible and in no way irrational”. The franchising director has prepared his PSRs in a manner which my predecessors and I have consistently approved. We believed them to be consistent with the formal instructions and guidance that were given to him. The Court of Appeal has now examined the meaning of the existing instructions and guidance and concluded that the existing PSRs are not consistent with them.

I have decided, therefore, to clarify the instructions and guidance to the franchising director to ensure that they reflect beyond doubt the policy that we have always followed. Franchisees should have flexibility to adjust commercial services, but the franchise agreement should ensure that a core service level is protected so that service levels operated by franchisees are broadly similar to those operated immediately prior to franchising. My intention is to ensure that the work done in developing the PSRs so far can be relied on in the continuing franchising process.

I am pleased to tell the House that, while clarifying the franchising director’s instructions, I intend to go beyond the requirements of the Court of Appeal judgment. I shall instruct him, when considering the award of future franchises, to take account of bidders’ contractual commitments to, and future plans for, providing services over and above the PSR. In practice, bidders for the first franchises are offering significant commitments in addition to the minima required by the invitations to tender, and they have been taken into account by the franchising director when evaluating bids, but I have judged it right to require him formally to do so for the future to ensure the continuation of that policy.

In view of the uncertainty generated by the court’s judgment, I hope that the House will welcome this statement of the Government’s intentions. Our concern is to ensure that passengers should be allowed to enjoy as soon as possible the benefits that franchising will bring. The Government’s policy has been clear and consistent and I assure the House that there will be no change as a result of last Friday’s judgment.