14 Feb 2006 : Column 1263

House of Commons

Tuesday 14 February 2006

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Railways (South-east)

1. Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): If he will make a statement on rail infrastructure in the south-east. [51241]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr.   Stephen Ladyman): The national rail network in south-east England, like that of the rest of the United Kingdom, is owned and operated by Network Rail, which is investing substantial amounts across its network, including in south-east England, to help to address years of under-investment. Total investment in 2005–06 is expected to be about £3 billion.

Michael Gove: I thank the Minister for his reply. He will be aware that the Evening Standard has been running a campaign to stress the importance of safety in our stations, but he will also be aware that safety is not only an issue in the capital. In my constituency, Camberley station has witnessed an upsurge in antisocial behaviour recently. I invite the Minister, when he invites companies to tender for the franchise currently held by South West Trains, to ensure that passenger safety and security are at the heart of the tendering process so that my constituents have the protection they deserve when they travel.

Dr. Ladyman: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that everybody should feel safe on the railway, and I can give him the assurance he seeks. In the consultation document about the letting of the franchise, we made it clear that safety, security and the condition of stations were key factors, which we shall reflect in the tender documents when they are issued to the shortlisted bidders.

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Department for Transport strategy for rail services from Brighton proposes the closure of the direct train line between Brighton and Watford? The train link to Reading is also due to be abolished. That is inconvenient for the elderly and disabled among my constituents. Given those changes to rail services from Brighton, what assurances can my hon. Friend give my
14 Feb 2006 : Column 1264
elderly and disabled constituents that barrier-free travel north to stations outside London will still be accessible to them?

Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend should be aware that we are looking into a number of opportunities to change services. There is a consultation and her views will be taken into account. She should bear in mind, however, that we need to ensure that we make the best use of existing rail capacity, and underused services sometimes have to be rationalised. When that happens, we have to ensure that there are alternative services, but at the end of the day we have to get the greatest number of people on to existing capacity, which is what we seek to do. However, my hon. Friend's views and those of her constituents will of course be taken into account.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): What discussions has the Minister held with Network Rail about improvement of the electrification of the stretch between London Liverpool Street and Shenfield, which will not only be important for the Olympics but which Network Rail says is the single biggest impediment to improving punctuality between London and Norwich? If he has not held such discussions, will he do so; and if he does so, will he let me know about it?

Dr. Ladyman: I have had no such discussions, but I am sure that my colleagues who more regularly deal with such things are in constant communication with Network Rail. They will have heard the hon. Gentleman and I shall ensure that he is notified when discussions take place.

Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Today in London we are all celebrating because at last the Mayor of London has been able to take over the running of the north London lines, which is a triumph for national Government working with London government. We will see a £25 million enhancement programme for our stations, eight trains an hour on the north London line through my constituency—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Meg Hillier rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady should sit down while I am speaking.

The purpose of a supplementary question is to ask a question, not to make a statement about the good work that the Mayor of London will be doing for us.

Meg Hillier: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for putting me right. I wanted to ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether he agrees that the north London lines should be included on London's tube map to celebrate that success.

Dr. Ladyman: I have noted my hon. Friend's comments and certainly share her view about the excellent work of the Labour Mayor of London. I shall pass on her comments about the tube map.
14 Feb 2006 : Column 1265

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): The Secretary of State made a welcome announcement a few months ago that the Eurostar terminal could be used for domestic services, but is the Minister aware that it was not included in the tender proposals for the South West Trains franchise? Will he do something about that?

Dr. Ladyman: Yes, the company will be able to use those facilities and we shall look into how we can facilitate that.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): I too welcome the decision to bring the west London line and the north London line under the control of Transport for London, and urge my hon. Friend to ensure that it is accompanied by sufficient borrowing powers in the capital spending review to ensure that TFL can develop London's orbital lines into a real service for Londoners.

Dr. Ladyman: Of course the funding will be transferred, but I should add that London has already received a very generous settlement from the Government.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I listened carefully to the Minister's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) about the South West Trains franchise. I read the tender document this morning. It sets out about 12 overall objectives for the new franchise agreement. It makes no reference at all to safety. Why?

Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman should read it again: the consultation document very clearly refers to safety and to the state of stations.

Chris Grayling: I did read it, and it is the Minister who may need to read again, because I can assure him that it makes no reference to safety. The Government promised in their 10-year plan to enable passengers to travel safety and to feel secure. Since the plan was first published, the number of violent assaults taking place on trains and at stations has risen by 43 per cent. Does the Minister think that the Government are keeping that promise?

Dr. Ladyman: First, let me tell the hon. Gentleman what the consultation document states, since he seems to have had a little bit of word blindness:

Perhaps he will get himself a new pair of reading glasses.

Certainly, it is true that the figures on attacks at stations that we produced this week are very disappointing. However, the mechanism by which they were calculated changed halfway through, which gives them a false air, unfortunately. Nevertheless, one is one too many. That is why we have increased the number of British Transport police on mainline stations and the underground by 50 per cent in the past two years—we have increased it by 300 in the past year alone—and it is why we are working to invest in CCTV at stations and to improve station services. We are making that
14 Feb 2006 : Column 1266
investment because we believe in ensuring people's safety, and the hon. Gentleman has consistently voted against that.

Network Rail

2. Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What steps he is taking to ensure greater co-operation between Network Rail and train operators. [51242]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): The changes made in the Railways Act 2005 are designed to improve efficiency and co-operation across the rail industry. As part of those changes, Network Rail is now accountable for performance and co-ordinating rail industry planning and operational management.

Rosie Cooper: Under the Tories' botched privatisation, Railtrack and the train operating companies were constantly fighting one another, and the main losers were the travelling public. With Network Rail in place, instead of Railtrack, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that all parts of the rail industry work together for a better service—for example, the rail interchange that was opened last week in my constituency at Burscough? What improvements does he believe—

Mr. Speaker: Order. One supplementary question is fine.

Derek Twigg: It is important to point out that, of course, working together is a very significant part of improving performance. That is why reliability is improving, with the number of on-time trains reaching more than 85 per cent and, of course, with the record investment of £87 million a week that is going into the railways. We have introduced joint control centres along lines, such as Birmingham to Waterloo, and joint improvement plans are being set up between the train operating companies and Network Rail. Of course, we are working together on projects such as that in my hon. Friend's constituency at Burscough Bridge station, which I opened last week.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Bitter experience—most recently, yesterday—has taught me to expect all trains from Worcestershire to London Paddington to be at least half an hour late, largely owing to the creaking infrastructure. Will the Minister urge Network Rail to co-operate much more effectively with the train operating company and listen to First Great Western's very practical and affordable suggestions to improve the infrastructure on the line and the reliability of services?

Derek Twigg: Clearly, part of the problem is that money was not spent on the infrastructure over the previous few decades, particularly under the Conservative Government, but I have raised the issue with First Great Western and Network Rail. Of course, we want to see further improvements, and significant investment has been put in place on the Great Western lines to ensure that improvements take place over the coming years.
14 Feb 2006 : Column 1267

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Does greater co-operation include discussions with the Office of the Rail Regulator? Will my hon. Friend look particularly at services on the Great North Eastern Railway main line, where the Office of the Rail Regulator has blocked plans from GNER to deliver the extra 12 services promised in its franchise?

Derek Twigg: I understand exactly what my hon. Friend is saying. Of course we have made representations about the fact that we have concerns, and we want services to improve as well—so, yes, such discussions take place.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Co-operation between Network Rail and the train companies is so poor that three out of 10 cancelled trains are cancelled because of Network Rail. Co-operation between the Department for Transport, the Association of Train Operating Companies, Network Rail and Alstom is so poor that Alstom has closed the UK's only test track for trains without formal prior discussions. Does the Minister believe that the Secretary of State for Transport's efforts to improve co-operation on the railways have been more or less effective than his intervention in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election?

Derek Twigg: The point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make about the Alstom test track is an interesting one. The fact remains that railway performance is improving. We have record investment in new rolling stock, the youngest railway stock that we have had for a number of years and more than 1 billion passengers used the railways last year. It is the fastest-growing railway in Europe. Significant improvements are being made but, of course, there are still things to do. About 20,000 train services run every week, about 1.2 per cent. of which are cancelled. Of course, we need to improve that, and it is something that we are working on.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend deny the suggestion that the only way in which the executives of Network Rail can be persuaded to fulfil their full potential for their not inconsiderable salaries is by privatising Network Rail?

Derek Twigg: I do not think that we have any proposals to privatise Network Rail, but the working relationship between the train operating companies, Network Rail and the Government has been important in securing improvements to the railways. Network Rail has improved its performance and its efficiency, but there is clearly still more to do on the railways. We want to see further improvements on the improvements that we have already made.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Does the Minister realise that one of the biggest obstacles to improving the rail infrastructure is the sheer complexity of the number of bodies involved? For example, we desperately need an extension to the platform in Bromsgrove, but it is not clear who is responsible for paying for it. Is it Network Rail; is it Central Trains, which is about to lose its franchise; is it Worcestershire
14 Feb 2006 : Column 1268
county council under the local transport plan; or should the Minister's Department provide the money? Will he tell me who we need to go to in order to get this necessary rail infrastructure improvement?

Derek Twigg: If we are talking about the mess made to the organisation of the railways, we have to go back to the Tory party and what it did to Railtrack and so on. We have now set up a new structure on the railways involving the Department for Transport, Network Rail, which is responsible for performance, operating and improvement, and the train operating companies, which are responsible for improving the service. Clearly, the answer to the hon. Lady's question depends on who owns the platform. Bringing together the partners is an important part of any business case or reasoning for developing the platform or changing it.

Next Section IndexHome Page