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Railways Bill


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Mr. Wilshire: I listened with great care to the precise words that my hon. Friend used. In arguing that no more responsibility should be given to Transport for London within London, is he also saying that nothing more should be given to it outside London?

Mr. Field: I know that this matter is very close to my hon. Friend's heart, as his constituency abuts Greater London. Many people who go through places such as Staines and Shepperton might assume that they are in the capital, but I appreciate his concerns. If he will forgive me, I will come to those matters when dealing with some of the specifics of the amendments. I know that he has tabled amendments dealing with the concerns of many people who live in the home counties but rely on rail travel into central London. He rightly alludes to the fact that the suggestion from the Government is that far more power would be in the hands specifically of Transport for London and by implication of the Mayor of London, who is in no way accountable to my hon. Friend's constituents, although he is to mine and to those of the Minister in Harrow, East.

The amendments are, in part, probing amendments. It is accepted that the boundaries of Greater London are historic only in the sense that the Greater London council was created in 1965. Although they are not entirely arbitrary, there is still some confusion. I am sure that my hon. Friend will point out that the suggestion was that his constituency should have been part of what became Greater London, and that was a great debate in his area some 35 years ago.

Mr. Wilshire: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, and I again listened with the greatest of care. It may be that some arbitrary decisions were taken when setting up Greater London, one of which was to include what is now the borough of Spelthorne within it. However, there was such a huge fuss that it was left out. It was anything but arbitrary when my constituency was left out. We want it left out for ever.

Mr. Field: I very much take those concerns on board. My hon. Friend will be delighted to learn that it is not in my gift to decide which bits of Middlesex, or former Middlesex, or Surrey should remain in Greater London.

Mr. Wilshire: I am sorry, but a precision of words is necessary. I heard the words ''former Middlesex'' and ''Surrey''. If my hon. Friend were attaching them to my constituency, my constituency is still in God's own county of Middlesex, as is the Minister's constituency; it is most certainly not in Surrey.
 
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Mr. Field: As my hon. Friend will recognise, I am not a great geographer at the best of times—[Interruption.] It is only a matter of time.

As I said, we tabled probing amendments in order to debate which areas should be within the confines of the power of Transport for London, in so far as the Government get their way and can extend the powers beyond the boundaries of the Greater London authority. We must ask how best to ensure continuity for the key stakeholders—the passengers. It is possible that dividing at the M25 would be a better guide, but parts of Surrey, large parts of south Hertfordshire, and a big conurbation around Watford would feel very differently about being included within TFL's powers.

I should be interested in the Minister's views about substitution services—for example, bus for rail. I ask him to explain how the current system operates. Although we accept that there have been vast improvements in capacity in London, which may be subject to the jealous eye of people outside, they have come at great costs, which I suspect many in the home counties would be unwilling to bear.

How does the Minister envisage the operation changing under the new regulations for bus substitution services? They are increasingly important given the large-scale investment that continues in the infrastructure of the railway system. Substitution has almost become the norm in many parts of suburban London in recent years, especially at weekends and during the summer. There has been successful substitution when planned works have closed down the tube. How would that co-ordinate with companies outside Greater London?


 
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The amendments are interchangeable and alternative. We already have deep concerns about the lack of accountability of Transport for London, especially the Mayor's right to appoint under sections 154 and 155 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Even the pretence of indirect accountability will probably be denied to non-London residents if the services that are included extend beyond the boundaries of Greater London. Although that may aid integration, I ask the Minister whether he believes that it will lead to improvements in services for Londoners and non-Londoners coming into the centre.

The Conservative party accepts the case for London control of rail services in the capital and would like the greater influence that Transport for London could have over London commuter rail services, fares and station standards to be accompanied by moves to make that body more directly accountable. As the Minister, who represents a London constituency, will accept, there is little doubt that for residents, transport is one of the key London issues, especially as so many of the powers have been devolved from Parliament to the Greater London authority. However, they are concerned that too little of the financial authority has been devolved with it, which gives the impression of a power grab rather than anything else. Many Londoners are worried about the Mayor of London's track record, which does not inspire much confidence.

        It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

 
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Prepared 11 January 2005