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That the draft Postal Services Act 2000 (Consequential Modifications No. 1) Order 2001, which was laid before this House on 1st March, be approved.
Line 31, at end add--
'( ) The committee shall have power to appoint a sub-committee, which shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report to the committee from time to time.
( ) The committee shall have power to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before the sub-committee.
( ) The quorum of the sub-committee shall be three.'.--[Mr. Betts.]
Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 50, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 52, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'.--[Mr. Betts.]
Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I welcome the opportunity for this debate on train services in the south of London. The Minister has expressed some surprise that we should be having yet another debate on this subject, but I assure him that things have moved on since the last debate a couple of months ago.
A new start for the south central rail franchise is very welcome. I am afraid that services have deteriorated over the past year. As we have had many debates on Connex South Central services, I do not think that it will be necessary to go over this old and rather stony ground again. However, a recent survey that I conducted at stations in my constituency shows that a substantial majority of respondents--no less than 78 per cent.--feel that services have deteriorated over the past year. No one who responded said that they had improved. This is the scale of the challenge faced by GoVia.
Before I discuss GoVia's proposals, I should like to know what efforts the Government are making to ensure that standards are maintained on existing services to stop further slippage. I draw the Minister's attention to one area of innovation--that of colourful excuses.
One of my constituents contacted Connex to ask why his train had been delayed, and was informed, in an e-mail, that a pheasant had been caught in the shoe gear of the train. That is certainly a radical departure from leaves on the line or the wrong kind of snow. Perhaps pheasants being caught in the shoe gear is a common problem in rural areas, but it is certainly not usual in urban areas.
Not all the problems of the train service are the sole responsibility of Connex--the current operator. Since privatisation, people have experienced horrendous problems with rail services everywhere--partly due to privatisation itself but also because of previous underinvestment in the rail infrastructure.
Local rail users want change and they want it soon, so a rapid and clean transition of the franchise from Connex to GoVia is desirable. If the Minister has any information as to when that transition might finally take place, I should welcome it. Such information will be of considerable interest to my constituents.
However, just because a franchise is being passed to a new company does not mean that my constituents or I will accept that any change is a change for the better. Recent public meetings in my constituency show that local commuters are extremely concerned about what will happen to their rail services. I should point out that GoVia was extremely co-operative in sending representatives to those meetings. To ensure that rail users get the service they deserve, it is important that the company keeps open the lines of communication to their customers to ensure that they remain part of the process. I am grateful to GoVia for that continued co-operation.
Unfortunately, my constituents are concerned about one particular change proposed by GoVia; I shall refer to that shortly. Many of GoVia's proposals are welcome. Over the 20-year franchise, the investment programme is
There have also been encouraging signs in response to the 10-point plan proposed to GoVia by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) and me. The plan is based on key concerns raised by our constituents and was the subject of a previous debate. GoVia has addressed seven of those 10 points and has expressed general enthusiasm for the plan.
I should still like solid progress to be made on three of those points. First, there should be a guarantee of clean trains and stations. Secondly, a plan should be published and displayed in stations, setting out the major works to be undertaken in the area and the date of their completion--so that when passengers suffer disruption, they can see a light at the end of the tunnel and know that there will be a solution at a given date. Finally, opportunities should be investigated for the provision of orbital rail services for direct services to places such as Bromley and Twickenham--an issue raised by my hon. Friend.
I do not want to be churlish about GoVia's proposals--they are promising. The company's eagerness to keep the paying passenger involved in the process is encouraging. For that reason, I do not want to jump to conclusions about the particular proposal that panicked me and my constituents, although it could disadvantage many local residents. As it is only a proposal, it is appropriate to raise it now--before it is set in stone.
It is proposed that direct trains to Victoria station would no longer run from Carshalton Beeches, Wallington and Waddon--three of the six stations used by my constituents. Under GoVia's proposals those trains would run direct only to London Bridge; people would have to change at West Croydon for a connection to Victoria.
GoVia included a map outlining the proposals in its presentation document, but only by studying the map carefully can one get an indication that such changes are afoot. For instance, Carshalton Beeches, Wallington and Waddon stations are not even listed on the map, so it is difficult to determine what effect the proposals might have.
GoVia has sought to clarify matters in correspondence with me and has confirmed that, under its proposals, there would be four trains an hour to London Bridge station from places such as Carshalton Beeches station. The decision has apparently not yet been made and public discussions are continuing, which is a relief as there may be an opportunity for it to change its mind.
I am concerned that matters have been made worse by rail privatisation. It is difficult to find out about GoVia's proposals from the Strategic Rail Authority, because some of the proposals are commercially confidential. For example, it is impossible to find out whether the stations served by the different train operating companies come under the SRA's jurisdiction. Again, because of commercial confidentiality, the SRA was unable, or unwilling, to reveal whether that came within its remit, so we seem to have lost accountability in relation to the
We are certain from the proposals that GoVia will increase the frequency of train services, but, as I have said, it will do so at the expense of sending trains to two terminals in London. I wonder whether the SRA was aware that that was one of the implications of GoVia's proposals. I also wonder whether the SRA considers the bids in that detail and whether it considers the impact that such proposal can have on commuters. Certainly, the response that I have received to the proposals is one of great alarm. People have told me that they chose to live in a certain place because they want quick and relatively reliable access to Victoria station. People are worried about the impact on house prices and so on if the rail services alter.
I understand why GoVia has made those proposals: more slots are available at London Bridge station, so there are more opportunities to provide a greater number of trains. However, the local view is that people would prefer to forgo the advantages provided by a more frequent train service, preferring to keep the flexibility of travelling either to Victoria or London Bridge.
To remove the direct train service to Victoria station would constitute great inconvenience to local rail users and they would not accept that that would be offset by providing more frequent train services. We are not able to look at GoVia's planned timetable because we have not yet been given a copy, but it seems that the impact of its proposals, and this is being optimistic, would be an extra six minutes on the journey of passengers who wanted to go to Victoria station, and thus had to get out at West Croydon station.
Considering the fact that the survey results showed that 57 per cent. of commuters felt that current travelling conditions were poor or appalling, I suspect that many of them would prefer to wait on the platform for a less frequent train service, rather than have to endure a lengthier journey. A number of people have written to tell me that, if they want to change trains at Clapham Junction station, that would add yet another complication--yet another changing point--to their journey.
The proposals will not affect only a small number of my constituents. In the survey, Victoria station was the destination of 38 per cent. of customers, compared to 32 per cent. who travelled to London Bridge station, so there is clearly strong demand for trains to Victoria.
I do not believe that GoVia and the SRA have considered adequately the full implications of the proposals, so will the Minister tell us whether the SRA was aware of the implications of the proposed changes to the service? Does it take into account specific commuter needs when it makes its strategic decisions on train services?
Once upon a time our railways were a public service, not just a business. Privatisation has changed that, and we have seen the consequences. The nature of business means that GoVia wants to encourage the most customers to use its services, so that it can make the most profit. However, it has promised a "people first" culture that has given local rail users hope that they will have a real service for their