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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Railways Bill

Railways Bill

Standing Committee A

Tuesday 11 January 2005


[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Railways Bill

Clause 15

Duty of Secretary of State and Transport for London to co-operate

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 34, in page 15, line 3, after 'services', insert ', within Greater London,'.—[Mr. Mark Field]

2.30 pm

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments:

No. 35, in page 15, line 3, after 'services', insert

    ', within Greater London and an area no further than five miles from the border with Greater London,'.

No. 36, in page 15, line 3, after ''services'', insert

    ', within the boundaries of the M25 motorway,'.

No. 37, in page 15, line 13, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 38, in page 15, line 14, leave out 'places outside Greater London' and insert

    'from a mainline terminus in Greater London'.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was summing up my comments on the amendments. I wish to endorse the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) made on Second Reading:

    ''There will be anxiety too among train operators about how decisions over the allocation of franchises will be taken under the new regime. Most alarming of all, however, is the Government's proposal to hand more power over the railways to Ken Livingstone.''

Those hon. Members who have been in the Tea Room may have seen today's Evening Standard, in which Melanie McDonagh refers to the notion that the Mayor of London can no longer be believed on transport-related matters. We have seen only today the concerns about the efficacy, or otherwise, of the oyster card.

One of our great concerns in relation to the clause is that some two out of three rail journeys begin or end in London. Therefore, the proposal is worrying, especially for passengers travelling to or from stations outside the area for which the Mayor of London is responsible. Passengers may find that it suits the Mayor to stop their fast trains on the edge of London in order to pick up a few more voters. They may also find that fares go up because Transport for London and, by implication, Ken Livingstone, decrees it.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk said on Second Reading:
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    ''Just this week, Ken Livingstone's officials at Transport for London caved in to trade union demands for tube workers to be given longer holidays than anyone else in the country. That is a warning of what lies ahead. I wonder whether it was Ken's attitude to cost control that tipped the balance when Ministers in the Department for Transport were deciding about handing over to him a bit more say about how our railways are run. Giving Ken Livingstone power over how trains are run is a sure-fire way to discourage the extra private investment that railways need to attract.'' —[Official Report, 25 November 2004, Vol. 428 c. 261.]

I reiterate my hon. Friend's question: where will the real accountability lie? Will local authorities in places as far flung as Birmingham, Rugby—I am sure that the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King) will make a contribution in a moment or two; it will make a change from his great concerns about airports—Milton Keynes and Watford be given a say about the trains that run from outside London into central London? It is quite clear that the proposed expansion of powers to Transport for London will affect constituents from far afield, not just those in the GLA area.

I hope that the Minister will have something positive to say on this matter. The amendments are partly probing because it is almost unprecedented to see the powers of Transport for London and therefore the Mayor being pushed into this much broader area. We in London take the Mayor's democratic accountability for granted. We want to see some suggestions that will ensure that the Mayor of London is properly and fully accountable to home counties areas such as Epping Forest—I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) is also here—Spelthorne and many other areas that potentially find themselves under the cosh of the ever increasing power of the Mayor and Transport for London.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): My apologies, Mr. Amess, for being a moment or two late. I have just got off one of Transport for London's trains. I am not sure whether that has anything to do with what I might say.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) said that some of his comments would be stand part issues. If I may go with that, although you may wish to rule otherwise, Mr. Amess, I will be content to cover under these amendments the ground that I want to cover and to accept that there will not be another chance to do so.

I have a dilemma as to whether to say everything that I want to say about the amendments and the clause in one go, or to do so in small bits. I might sometimes give the impression of talking at length for the sake of it, but there are occasions when there is genuinely a fair amount to say. It is entirely in the hands of hon. Members as to whether they hear me out or go out and get a cup of coffee. I do not mind.

There is another point worth making by way of introduction. Some Government Members helped me out when they talked about areas north of Watford, explaining where they were and what the issues were. It might be helpful on this occasion if I put my contribution into some sort of context. I hasten to add that I am probably speaking far more as a constituency
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Member of Parliament than as one of the usual channels. In fact, I am probably not speaking as one of the usual channels. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) often points out when he disagrees with me, I am probably not speaking even on behalf of my party, but I am at least, I think, speaking on behalf of the overwhelming majority of the 70,000 people whom I represent.

My constituency is part of God's own county of Middlesex, as I said earlier. When the Greater London council area was debated and set up, there was to be one more borough than there is, which was to be based on my constituency. It was before my time, but a huge row broke out because, although we are certainly proud to be people from Middlesex, we see ourselves as having nothing in common with London or Greater London—call it what you will. A battle was fought to make it clear that we should not be part of Greater London and that battle was won, although some people think that my constituency is an extension of suburban London. Many arguments will be advanced as to whether control in respect of rail services for Greater London ought to extend to the whole commuting territory, and that is at the heart of the contribution that I want to make. We are wholly outside London but we are slap-bang next door to it; we share a big boundary with it.

There is another difficulty. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster suggests alternatives in relation to Transport for London's sphere of influence. One of his options is the area within the M25, to which I say, ''God forbid'', because the whole of my constituency is within the M25. We most certainly want no part of what is suggested in the Bill. We were deliberately left out of London, and the last thing that any of us wants is to come back within that sphere of control. I will advance some arguments about what might be done in respect of integrated transport, but one of them is not to put us under any sort of control of anyone in Greater London. There are those of us who could advance arguments against the current Mayor and the current system, but that is not the point. It does not matter what is set up. A wholly Conservative dictatorship could be running Greater London. I would still want no part of it as far as this measure goes.

That is the background. On the proposals and arguments to extend Transport for London's sphere of influence, that is wrong in principle. I shall come on to Transport for London's views, because they are also included. There are those who think that it would be a good idea, at least in my part of the area immediately next to London, to extend some input into the rail services. I cannot speak for any other of London's neighbours, but I can speak for the people in my area, and such an idea shows a total misunderstanding of the issues.

Transport for London sees the proposal as an opportunity to do some good for people in Greater London. I do not blame Transport for London for that—it is what it is there for—but it assumes that, because it speaks for places such as Twickenham and Richmond, which are part of the commuting suburbs,
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its influence can be extended. These tiny minds, without any understanding of what is over the London boundary, think that that area must be the same and that, if only they could extend their influence a bit, that would make life better. It may make life better for people in Greater London, but I am elected to represent not their interests, but those of the people of my constituency. Not many of my constituents commute into London; more people commute into my constituency than commute out of it. If we want to pursue arguments about the control of Transport for London being extended outside the boundaries, and about the convenience of commuters, perhaps we should suggest that we take over Transport for London—how would it feel about that?

The significance of my constituency in this argument is that we look for employment more towards Heathrow airport—as the Minister will say in due course, it was not likely to be long before I mentioned that—than we do towards central London. Someone will undoubtedly point out in a moment that Heathrow airport is in Greater London, so perhaps I have shot myself in the foot. However, that is not the point. We are a group of people who are determined to keep our independence from London and who do not believe that we will benefit from such an extension of powers.

If people in the Committee and elsewhere cannot accept my argument that it is wrong in principle to extend the interests of Transport for London beyond the Greater London boundary, they must join a debate about how far beyond that boundary those interests should extend. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster offered several suggestions: not extending at all, which is the suggestion that I agree with, extending for 5 miles, or extending as far as the M25. If he wants me to vote for the latter suggestion, he will have to do an awful lot more persuading.

The question of how far the extension should go is an interesting one. I came into the Committee a minute late, and heard some mention of places such as Birmingham. It seems that, as the Bill stands, the limits could be extended anywhere. I decided that I would not join what might become a spurious debate because I can readily accept that Transport for London does not want to run services as far as Manchester. However, I made it my business to ask Transport for London how far out it wanted to have some influence.

The response that I received was fascinating. So that, in due course, I am not accused by Transport for London of getting it wrong, I note that I met one of its senior executives on 19 October to ask that very question. The answer that I received was that Transport for London wants to extend its influence or control—whichever way one looks at it—to where it can turn a train round. I asked what that meant and was told that it meant, ''As far as we send a train to bring it back again.'' I asked what it meant in my constituency, and was told that, on the Shepperton line, that meant as far as Shepperton, which was no great surprise because the line stops there, so it would be difficult to go any further. In other words,
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Transport for London wants to take over control of the whole of one of the lines in my constituency—not just part of it.

I then asked how far Transport for London would want to go on the other line, and was told, ''We want to go as far as Staines, because that is where we will turn trains round.'' That line goes to Windsor or Reading, and my impression is that the trains that go through Staines turn round at both Reading and Windsor.

From my questioning of Transport for London, I concluded that it had an agenda that it was not prepared to own up to—it would turn trains round where it fancied doing so, or where it suited it to do so, rather than where it suited my constituents. Not once was I told that it would do that for the benefit of my constituents—[Interruption.] There is a map coming for the Minister; he will find that what I am saying is correct. The line from Staines really does go as far as Windsor and as far as Reading, unless the Government have plans to close those routes.

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Prepared 11 January 2005