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As safety and reliability have improved, passenger numbers have increased, and overcrowding has become a real issue for many commuters. The White Paper contains the biggest single commitment for a generation to increasing the capacity of the railway through more services and longer trains. By 2014, we will have invested £10 billion to make this happen. Starting now, and over the next seven years, we will see: 1,300 new carriages to ease overcrowding in London and other cities such as Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester; £600 million of investment to tackle bottlenecks at Birmingham New Street and Reading
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stations; the £5.5 billion transformation of Thameslink, which provides a vital north-south artery into and across London; and new plans put in place for the development of each of our main lines, including the next generation of inter-city trains and signalling. The Government are also committed to ensuring that we close no rural lines in this period.

This continued investment will provide nearly 100,000 new seats for passengers on inter-city and commuter trains to our major cities. Our proposals will accommodate a further seven years of record passenger growth and, at the same time, start to tackle some of the worst overcrowding on some of our busiest services. There will be some 14,500 more seats in the peak hour on Thameslink alone and, while Crossrail remains subject to financial and parliamentary approval, it has the potential to deliver a similar scale of improvement for east-west services in the capital.

The White Paper also outlines other improvements that groups such as Passenger Focus tell us passengers want. These include a radical simplification of the fares structure and the modernisation of tickets to allow people to use smartcards; a further £150 million to be spent on 150 stations in the towns and cities outside London that form the backbone of the national network; better and safer stations from Wolverhampton to Dartmouth, Cleethorpes to Swansea, and Barking to Chester; and support for Transport 2000’s idea of local station plans so that people can better access the railway and make it part of a greener travel choice. We are also investing £200 million in a strategic freight network that will help to reduce the congestion on our roads and the environmental impact of moving goods.

Sustained investment will be needed to underpin all this. Having fought its way back on to a stable financial footing following the demise of Railtrack, it is essential that the industry maintain financial discipline. Both passengers and taxpayers have suffered the consequences of financial crises, and we will not allow a return to those days. The challenge is to deliver the sustained investment that the rail system needs while continuing to protect passengers, but we must also strike a fair balance between the call on taxpayers and fare payers. We are determined to continue to protect passengers, so any increases in regulated ticket prices will remain capped at the retail prices index plus 1 per cent. Such tickets account for over half the use of the railway and include season tickets and saver fares.

There has been some recent debate about unregulated fares, which operators can vary to respond to customer demand. Some unregulated ticket prices have therefore increased. I will monitor this closely and today I am committing to give Passenger Focus more say in the specification of future franchises before they are tendered. At the same time, many other tickets have been discounted. In fact, about 80 per cent. of passengers do not use the headline-catching first and peak tickets, but buy either a regulated ticket or a discounted product. A significant number of those fares have fallen in real terms over the past 10 years, with many deals cheaper in cash terms than they were under British Rail.

The result is that many more people are now choosing to travel by rail—some 340 million more passengers each year than in 1997. This strong growth
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also means that the railways need less taxpayer subsidy. In the difficult years of Railtrack, it was the taxpayer who footed the bill. The proportion of subsidy funding nearly doubled in five years. It is right that we now seek to return it closer to historic levels. I believe that we are meeting our goals of protecting passengers and achieving a fair balance between the taxpayer and the travelling public, while delivering the necessary investment that we all agree is necessary.

Today’s White Paper sets out our ambition for a railway capable of carrying double the number of passengers and twice the amount of freight by 2030, with modern trains and a network whose reliability and safety are among the best in Europe. This is not a White Paper that rests on distant promises of all-or-nothing projects. Schemes such as new north-south lines may have their place, and we will consider them if and as the need arises. This is a strategy that seeks to deliver real improvements that reflect passengers’ priorities and that builds on the real achievements and successes of our rail system over the past decade.

Twenty-five years ago, our railways were advertising “This is the age of the train”, but it was against a background of falling demand and chronic underinvestment in trains and infrastructure. Perhaps that claim was premature. If we can build on the progress of the past 10 years, with sustained investment and increased capacity while harnessing the full environmental gains of rail transport, we will be entering a new and exciting era of rail travel. This White Paper is a resounding vote of confidence in Britain’s railways and I commend it to the House.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): First, may I say that we welcome progress on Thameslink, Birmingham New Street, Reading and longer trains and platforms, but that I fear that the House should restrain its enthusiasm until we have seen contracts signed and the work actually under way?

I have to press the Secretary of State on a number of important issues. When it comes to Thameslink, Birmingham and Reading, has the budget definitely been committed for the whole of those projects or are they dependent in any way on the outcome of the comprehensive spending review? Is the whole of Thameslink 2000 now fully funded or only the northern parts? Are the 300 new carriages trailed today part of the re-announced inter-city express programme or are they in addition to it? Does the Secretary of State intend to keep the cap on saver fares or not?

Above all, what has happened to Crossrail? The Secretary of State told us that she does not believe in distant promises, but yet again it is another false dawn for Crossrail, which is getting more distant by the day. Apparently, it does not feature in the Government’s plan for the next 30 years of our rail system—despite announcement after announcement by Ministers, despite £254 million spent on preparation and despite a clear commitment from the previous Prime Minister. Today’s statement is a slap in the face for Londoners and for the City of London, for which no amount of warm words from the Prime Minister can possibly make up.

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The point is that we have heard all of this before. Today’s hefty slab of paper is the latest in a long line of ever denser and longer strategies, reports and initiatives on transport from this Government. If the travelling public could get around on paper promises, there would be no delays, no overcrowding and everyone’s journey into work would be blissfully smooth every day—but they cannot. In the last year alone, we have seen commuters go on strike, toilets ripped out of carriages to provide extra standing room and fares hiked by 20 per cent. on a main route into London.

The reality is that the Government have announced and re-announced virtually all the initiatives that the Secretary of State has outlined today. We were promised Thameslink 2000 so long ago that the former Deputy Prime Minister was still in charge of transport—never mind Thameslink 2000; at this rate, it will be more aptly named Thameslink 3000. Even now, we are getting only part of the scheme that was promised. As for Birmingham New Street, the Government pledged to tackle bottlenecks in the west midlands seven years ago. Longer platforms and 1,000 of the 1,300 carriages mentioned today were actually promised last year. Not one of those projects has been delivered, so why should we believe the Secretary of State now?

The Blair years have been a litany of broken promises, from which the current Prime Minister cannot distance himself. What about the three-and-a-half hour journey time from Edinburgh that we were promised, or the light rail schemes in Liverpool and Leeds, not to mention the north-south high speed line? What happened to the pledge on safe and secure travel when there has been a 43 per cent. increase in the number of victims of violence recorded by the British Transport police? And this is a good one: seven years ago, the Government promised “improved commuter services”, “less overcrowding” and “reduced delays”; today’s announcement is therefore an admission of their complete failure to fulfil that promise. Even after fiddling the timetables to meet limp public performance measure targets, more than one in 10 trains in this country run late.

Thousands of commuters face standing for their entire journey every day of the working week. The overcrowding that blights lines into our major cities is reaching a crisis point that is seriously undermining our quality of life and competitiveness both north and south. The Secretary of State claims real achievements and successes today: well, tell that to the commuters packed so tight in the morning rush hour that if it were animals being transported, it would be a criminal offence to move them in those conditions. Tell that to the passengers on the 6.35 Bedwyn to Paddington service or on the 7.59 Durham to Newcastle service or indeed on any of the other lines that suffer from chronic overcrowding.

We now come to the biggest let-down of all. Let us remember what the Government’s 10-year plan promised:

Each of the three latest franchises awarded by the Department for Transport will clobber customers with fare rises of nearly 30 per cent. by 2015. Many families are feeling the pinch because of stratospheric fare increases—racing ahead of inflation—inflicted by the
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Department. In the light of the increases that we have seen over recent years, today’s announcement of a fair deal for passengers is, frankly, laughable. The one thing we can guarantee from the Government’s plans for the railway is that there are more rail fare hikes to come. They try to point the finger of blame at the train operating companies, but the real culprit is the Secretary of State, who now has a more intrusive role in our railways than in the days of British Rail.

Today does not usher in a new era on our transport system any more than the rest of the reports, strategies and studies that we have had from the Government in the past decade. The truth is that the Prime Minister cannot blame anyone but himself for the state of our transport system, because the extortionate fare increases for grossly overcrowded trains are his fare increases. The transport broken promises are his broken promises. The Metronet public-private partnership fiasco is definitely his personal fiasco, and the transport failures of the past decade are all his failures.

Ruth Kelly: For a moment, I thought that the hon. Lady might actually welcome some aspects of the White Paper. However, I must proclaim myself disappointed. I thought that she might welcome the significant progress that has been made on our railways. I thought that, for once, we might have a constructive and forward-looking approach. I am very disappointed that she is mimicking the approach of her predecessor, who admitted that, in the Tory party,

in recent years and that

The absence of long-term strategic thinking is characteristic of today's Tory party.

Let me deal with the specific questions that the hon. Lady asked at the beginning of her comments. [Interruption.] She asked a few, I tell my hon. Friends. She asked whether Birmingham New Street, Reading and Thameslink were fully funded. They are fully funded in the next output period. She asked whether the 300 carriages were in addition to the 1,000 already announced. They are in addition. Nearly 50 of the 1,000 were accounted for by inter-city carriages. She asked whether saver fares would stay regulated. It is intended to have regulated fares, although, as passengers want a simplified fare structure, it is right that we introduce clear categories of fares that apply across the railways and that everyone can understand. In fact, if we ask passengers what they want, we find that they want to be able readily to compare prices and to know that they are getting value for money. That is what we intend to enable.

The hon. Lady suggests that there is nothing in the White Paper apart from previous promises. She seems to have forgotten some of the history—it was this Government who had to clear up the mess of the botched privatisation. Network Rail has managed to get a grip on costs for the first time, so we can enter the new funding period seeing steady growth, improvements on reliability, on safety, on performance and a massive investment in new capacity. I wonder what her alternative would be.

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The hon. Lady says that we have not committed today to Crossrail. The Government are committed to that project, which would enhance capacity on the main east-west corridor and ease crowding on services to Paddington and Liverpool Street. As she well knows, the Crossrail Bill is being debated in Parliament and we are considering whether Government funding can be matched with private sector funding. As the Chancellor recently said of the private sector contribution,

by now. We must pin that commitment down.

The hon. Lady accuses the Government of ripping seats out of trains, but, as a result of the White Paper, 100,000 more seats will be added to trains. How many will be ripped out? Zero.

The hon. Lady asked why there is no north-south high-speed rail link. I certainly do not make any apology for that. Our approach is based on making targeted investments in the services that matter most for today's passengers. We do not want to spend huge sums of taxpayers’ and fare payers’ money on risky, expensive technologies that do not deliver what we need to meet passenger demand. I am surprised that it is her policy to commit to a north-south high-speed rail link. [Interruption.] If it is the policy of the Conservative party, perhaps it should be honest and say so, rather than the hon. Lady now trying from a sedentary position to dissociate herself from it.

Let me deal with fares. I am pleased that the hon. Lady has today backed off the policy that she held only a few days ago of challenging the idea of premiums from train companies being invested to achieve the capacity that our railway system needs. It is important that we get the balance between the interests of taxpayers and fare payers right, but also that we deliver the investment in capacity that rail travellers need. If the hon. Lady has an alternative to our proposals, I would like her to stand up and state what it is, because I have heard nothing today that challenges our position.

This is the most positive statement in 50 years on the growth and development of Britain’s railways. It sets out in detail what we commit to doing over the next seven years to 2014, as well as our long-term strategy—and it also goes beyond that. In order to address the long-term transport challenges we face, hard choices are required, not warm words. The Tories do not even offer a credible Opposition, let alone a programme for Government.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The Government have poured in large sums of money to rebuild the system and have started with a clear view, and they are to be congratulated on coming forward with a strategic policy to cover the next 20 years. However, the Secretary of State will still be dependent on many privatised monopolies running under unimaginative franchises for the delivery of the policy, and she might like to examine where the additional capacity will come from, how many of those companies are capable of delivering that, and how we can plan for a good fare structure when so many of them are determined not to let their passengers know where advantages lie.

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Let me also say that if the Secretary of State gives me the entire £150 million to employ a good architect to rebuild Crewe station, I could deliver for her a sparkling 21st century station of which we would all be proud.

Ruth Kelly: I will certainly consider that as the first representation on how the £150 million should be spent. As my hon. Friend knows, we will now go through a process of iteration with the industry—Network Rail and the train operating companies—on how the money can best be spent to deliver the additional capacity that is needed. We will involve Passenger Focus before the future franchises are re-tendered and let so that it can have a say on fare policy and other specifications that are of concern to passengers.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): The statement has been a disappointment. There has been a failure to recognise that there is huge pent-up demand for rail. Those of us who truly believe in the green agenda and saw the statement as providing a chance to divert passengers from air and road to rail consider it to be a missed opportunity. I therefore wish to ask the Secretary of State a number of questions.

What is new in the statement—what has not been announced before in the 10-year Transport Plan 2000, the Strategic Rail Authority plan 2002 or the Network Rail business plan 2007? What new funds have been committed over and above what has previously been announced? The director general of the Association of Train Operating Companies, George Muir, has said that funding for longer trains can be expected to come from “growing passenger revenues”. What proportion of that will come from increases in passenger numbers and what from increases in passenger fares? Some commuters have experienced 20 per cent. fare increases. What are the statement’s implications for unregulated fares, and for increases in them?

The Secretary of State said that no seats would be taken out to provide additional capacity. Will she pass that information on to South West Trains, which seems hellbent on removing seats from stock on the lines that pass through my constituency?

An answer to a question I tabled earlier this month contained the admission that the cost of driving had decreased by 10 per cent. in real terms over the past 30 years while the cost of using buses and the railways had increased by more than 50 per cent. Given the importance of climate change, as highlighted in the Stern report, how much will be diverted from internal flights and roads to rail? What shift of freight from road to rail will there be under the strategy? Is the £200 million new money, and what will it buy us?

Which of the bottlenecks identified in the Network Rail business plan 2007 are not addressed or funded in this strategy? Thinking of my own constituency, I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could tell us what is to happen to Waterloo and Eurostar. It is extraordinary that we did not have more detail on Crossrail, especially when the opportunity presented itself to confirm the Government’s commitment to adequate funding to take the project forward.

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