Mr. Tom Harris: On a point of information, the hon. Gentleman may well be right, but I understand that the SRA, not the train operators, sets the timetables. In fact, the situation for the train companies will remain the same when the Bill is enacted.
Mr. Wilshire: The arrangements are all very vague at the moment. If I understand the White Paper correctly, the responsibility is split, but no one is quite sure. The allegation in the White Paper is that it is possible to pass the buck. To stop that happening in future, everything will lie with this wonderful thing called Network Rail.
The Secretary of State told us in magisterial termsif I noted this down correctlythat only the Government can handle strategy. I think that he said that twice. That was his great assertion. Let us give a little thought to the Secretary of State's performance in respect of the strategic handling of the railways. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), who opened the debate for the Conservative party, mentioned the Gatwick Express. The strategic thinking about the future of the Gatwick Express involves getting commuters to use it, making life more difficult for air travellers, thus driving the people who use Gatwick back on to the roads. Is it joined-up thinking and an integrated transport policy to attack a success, turn it into something else and undermine the principles in the aviation White Paper? That is really "strategic".
Dr. Whitehead: I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's alternative theory of how one moves towards a strategic view of the railways. Will he explain how, for example, one might increase and enhance freight capacity on the railways? Would that strategic responsibility lie in the hands of the freight companies or the passenger companies, or perhaps with the travelling public?
I am sure that my opposite number in the usual channels will have listened with some care to that intervention and spotted another volunteer to sit on
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the Committee and listen to me explaining at some length the answers to precisely those questions. I am having difficulty finding people for the Standing Committee, but it appears that my contribution is helping to produce Labour Members who are willing to serve and hear my pearls of wisdom.
The lack of joined-up strategic thinking by the Government does not end with the Gatwick Express. It has taken some effort to beat off the stupid idea that the Heathrow Express should be turned into part of Crossrail and made to stop here, there and everywhere. Not only do the Government want to undermine Gatwick's success, but they want to undermine Heathrow's as well and put at risk a large number of jobs in my constituency.
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the fact that the Heathrow Express is the world's most expensive railway, bar none, to travel on? Would he not be better employed in endeavouring to bring its prices more into line with those on other train services that operate along almost the same piece of track, apart from the short distance into Heathrow airport itself?
Mr. Wilshire: The cost of the Heathrow Express is a separate issue from the attempt to prevent it fulfilling its function, which is providing a service to Heathrow for passengers. I hear the hon. Gentleman's comment about the costI, too, have reservations in that respectbut the cost has nothing to do with trying to close it and turn it into part of Crossrail.
It is not only with the Heathrow Express that the Government's joined-up thinking comes adrift. Consider the attempts to build Airtrack at Heathrow. The Government produce an aviation White Paper that states that Heathrow has a role to play in the future of air transport in this country, but it can develop only if surface access is via public transport, not by road. However, we encounter attempts to stop the Heathrow Express, which is part of that strategic policy, and obstacles in the way of building Airtrack, which is a route from Heathrow into my constituency and thence to Waterloo or Victoria. That has happened because the Government choose a prioritycommutersand do not think through the implications for something just as important, namely, the successful continuation of British aviation. That does not make sense.
The position worsens when we examine the Bill's provisions for London. All the rail services into my constituency and all the stations in my constituency are targets for Transport for Londonits representatives told me so in a meeting on 19 October and made their
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desire to take over all of that crystal clear. When I asked them what they meant by taking over, they told me that TFL wanted to organise the timetables: never mind my constituents, it would be done for the convenience of London. They said TFL wanted to control fares: never mind what rail travel ought to cost my constituents, fares would be decided according to what is good for London. They told me that TFL would be responsible for improvements made to train services in its greatly expanded empire. That worried me, because I saw what happened to the buses in Londonthe huge expenditure and losses, and fares jacked up to pay for them. I realised that my constituents were in danger of having their rail fares increased to pay forwho knows what? Almost certainly not rail services in Spelthorne.
South West Trains has a programme of improving stations and platforms in my constituency and others outside London. I have no confidence, unless the Bill is amended, that money taken from commuters living in my constituency will not be squandered elsewhere in London for some politically correct programme that Transport for London prefers to helping my constituents. I cannot help wondering whether the plan goes further than the Bill admits. The Mayor of London has an undisguised desire to grab areas surrounding London and make his empire even bigger and he has made it crystal clear that my constituency is one of his prime targets. Perhaps he thinks that if he gets control of my rail services, he will be able to argue that Spelthorne ought to be part of London, after all.
The Bill suggests that we can overcome the problem of taking representations from people who do not live and therefore do not vote in Greater London by having two members of the board of TFL from outside the capital. I thought that, in principle, that might work, but then I looked at the details, and what did I find? The Mayor has to consult the regional assemblythat discredited body that no one in the south-east wants. What do people on the Isle of Wight have to contribute to a discussion about what is best for rail services in my constituency and Heathrow? Nothing. Surely consultation ought to be with those who will be affected by the change. Another thing I have discovered about the arrangement to try to buy us off and keep us quiet is a restriction that only two members of the board of TFL can be elected members of a principal council.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Is it not possible to engage in consultation, then totally ignore the views expressed therein? Is that not likely to happen in the situation that he is describing?
Mr. Wilshire: That is precisely what the Department for Transport seems to specialise in doing. It consulted on dualling the A303 in south Somerset down into Devon, and the proposal commanded widespread support from local councils, which thought it was precisely the right thing to do, but the Department ignored their viewsa wonderful arrangement.
As I was saying, only two members of the board of Transport for London may be councillors. I have not discovered what the present membership of the board is, but let us suppose that there are two elected members on it. Even if people outside London are given some sort of representation on the board, therefore, they will be
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barred by statute from being represented by persons who have a democratic mandate to speak on their behalf. That is not democracy. It is a sop to try to keep us quietbut we have spotted it.
I mentioned my concern about safetyan issue that I raise with some trepidation. I know that one of the responses is that the proposed arrangement is modelled on the air accidents investigation branch and on the Civil Aviation Authority's system, about which I know a fair bit and which seems to work. However, I have always had some reservations both about the CAA's safety arrangements and the AAIB. I note that as well as being responsible for safety, the Office of Rail Regulation is responsible for performance and costs. I would not mind if it was only responsible for safetywe could have a discussion about that. However, trying to improve performance and keep costs down often produces pressure to cut corners, and if an organisation that is responsible for safety faces that pressure to cut corners, I worry. I am sure that my concern can be laid to rest and that the Government can deal with the issue, but I believe that, as the Bill stands, there is a risk to the safety of rail passengers.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said that it might be cheaper to transfer functions carried out by the Health and Safety Executive to an existing body. I accept that argument, and understand why some people say that the CAA carries out such a role for air travel. However, there is a fundamental difference between air travel and surface transport. Everything that happens in the air can easily be brought within the ambit of aviation, so a single-issue approach is appropriate. However, on the ground, railways and roads are both involved, so people would ask whether something was wholly a railway matter, it partly a railway matter or something else. There is a danger of duplication, so perhaps we should consider making surface accidents the responsibility of a single organisation. Although I am concerned about those issues, I am not prepared to assert that I am right. I hope, however, that the Government are prepared to address them.
The Bill represents yet another missed opportunity by the Government, who are merely moving deckchairs around the Titanic. The White Paper said that the railways should be "more customer-focused" and "more passenger-friendly." The Bill, however, does the exact opposite. It marginalises people who work with customers and weakens passenger input, substituting remote national politicians and the unaccountable Network Rail. It is, as I said at the beginning of my speech, an admission of the Government's failure, and it will make matters worse, not better.