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2.26 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill relates to another aspect of an issue that we just explored. I took some comfort from what the Justice Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) said in response to the previous debate, because legislation is starting to go in the same direction as the Government. The Bill is about resolving a real problem that arises particularly but not exclusively in asbestos cases.

Since 1969, employers have been compulsorily required to take out insurance against injury and disease for their employees-the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. I have not checked but I vaguely recall from my days in practice that that legislation began as a private Member's Bill, too. One problem is that a small number of employers, despite that legal requirement, do not take out insurance. A bigger problem is when employers have insurance, go out of business and, decades later, an employee finds that they have contracted an industrial disease, such as mesothelioma, and needs to claim compensation. The real problem is trying to track back to find out who the employer was and, more importantly, who the employer's insurers were at the time. That is a difficult, time-consuming and, ultimately in many cases, fruitless task. My Bill tries to provide an answer: an insurer of last resort.

If people are injured in a road accident involving a hit-and-run or uninsured driver, the insurer of last resort is the Motor Insurers' Bureau. It has been around since the 1940s and was introduced when the then Government said to the motor insurance industry, "Unless you get your house in order and produce your own insurer of last resort arrangements, we will legislate to do so." It is now a requirement under European Union law to introduce a system to compensate victims of uninsured motorists. However, there is no similar provision for victims of uninsured employers or employers whose insurance company has disappeared, if it ever existed in the first place. My Bill therefore tries to plug that gap.

I proposed the Bill last year in exactly the same terms; I am a persistent chap, as everybody knows. It took eight attempts to get the Crown Employment (Nationality) Bill through, and now it is part of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. We have just seen a second attempt at the pleural plaques Bill, and this is my second attempt with this Bill, although I do not suspect that we will get very far with it today.

Last year the Government indicated that they were not sympathetic to the Bill, but I understand from my right hon. Friend's earlier comments in response to the pleural plaques debate that they now look more sympathetically on the issue. Indeed, I have discussed it with my noble. Friend Lord McKenzie, a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, who suggested that the Government were now looking more favourably at it; and I hope that before long we will see Government consultation on how such a scheme might be established.

The proposal is relatively straightforward; it is based on the Motor Insurers' Bureau arrangement; and it will
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provide a compensation regime when an employer has become insolvent and has no employers' liability insurance, when the insurer cannot be traced, or for any employer-

2.30 pm

The Deputy Speaker interrupted the business (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 26 February.

Business without Debate

contaminated blood (support for infected and bereaved persons) bill [ lords]

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 26 February.

marriage (wales) bill [ lords]

Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

business of the house


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Rail Services (Sydenham Corridor)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Kerry McCarthy.)

2.31 pm

Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West) (Lab): I am most grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing me this opportunity to raise an issue that is of considerable concern to my constituents in the Forest Hill-Sydenham area. I have raised the matter on two other occasions during the 18 years in which I have been a Member. This is the third time, although the specific issue is not the same. The Table Office has rules about putting down questions; it says that they can be refused if they are part of a campaign. I would not like to think that anybody believed that I did not have a campaign on behalf of my constituents and their rail transport requirements in our corner of south-east London.

No London borough has as high a proportion of its residents working outside it as Lewisham does. Transport links of all kinds-not just rail, but bus; we do not have an underground service yet, although we will in a few short months-are crucial to the social and economic well-being of the area. They have a double benefit: they make the place easier for people to live in and travel to work from, and they attract people into the area for work, social and recreational purposes.

In recent years, there have been many improvements in services, not only in my constituency but in Lewisham more broadly. Perhaps the most notable was the docklands light railway extension to Lewisham via Greenwich, from the rather obscure terminus of Mudchute gardens on the Isle of Dogs. That has undoubtedly improved connections to Lewisham. Furthermore, bus services have been considerably improved since the advent of Transport for London and the directly elected Mayor of London.

More recently, Eurostar services have been transferred from Waterloo to St. Pancras International. That has released further slots on the surrounding railway infrastructure, which has allowed more services-not into my constituency, but into nearby stations such as Penge West and Sydenham Hill, which are used by many people from my constituency. Great improvements have been made in the recent past. Without doubt, however, the greatest improvement will come with the advent of the East London line, which is due to commence services in May, just a few months' time.

I speak with feeling about the extension of the East London line because I have been campaigning for it since I was first elected to Lewisham council in 1974. That is some 36 years. There is a Chinese proverb-an old Chinese proverb, as they say, but when was the last time we heard of a new one?-that states that success has a thousand parents but failure is an orphan. I claim to be one of the 1,000 parents who are the progenitors of the East London line extension through my constituency into Crystal Palace and on to West Croydon. It forms just part of the London Overground project, which will go north of the river, utilising the current East London line, to Dalston and then eventually on to various other points on the northern part of the London Overground system, to provide real alternatives to people in my constituency and surrounding areas as regards their transport options.

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Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I would claim to be one of the other parents, and we are all very pleased about the regenerative effect that public transport investment has. The Government have done very well in their investment in London's transport, which was particularly good under the previous Mayor. Is it not the case that given the Government's strong emphasis on investing in east-west routes, as Members representing constituencies with strong north-south trends we must remember the importance of continued investment in those routes, such as Thameslink?

Jim Dowd: Yes, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. If he is claiming partial parentage of the East London line extension, I have to say that our relationship was very distant, if not non-existent, but in our part of south London we are all delighted to see it come to pass. The tendency that he mentions has traditionally been a problem for large parts of the capital that are not served by the underground system. Radial transport links are very strong, but lateral ones have not been, and the impetus of recent years has been to address that issue. Rather than ship everybody into the centre of town and then out again for work, social or recreational purposes, it is better to have lateral links. That is a great advantage to us, as he appreciates, because there will be an opportunity for us to travel to large parts of the capital without the need to go through London Bridge or to Cannon Street or Charing Cross.

I shall make some comments about Thameslink in a moment. The Thameslink programme will cause a lot of disruption and inconvenience in the short term, particularly to those of us closer to the centre of London, but over time it will prove to be a worthwhile investment and a considerable benefit to south London and London more broadly. As a key international centre and our national capital, London relies on its transport links more than anything. It needs to sustain the ability to move people around in large numbers very rapidly, and we can all recognise that without that, it would not be the centre that it is.

The hon. Gentleman encroached upon the next part of my comments.

Mr. Pelling: I apologise.

Jim Dowd: Not at all, I accept the inevitability of these things on occasion. Over the years there has been support for the plan for the East London line extension, particularly from the former Mayor and the Greater London authority. I thank them, as I have before in the Chamber, for their determination to turn the current East London line, which is little more than a cross-river shuttle to the east of Tower bridge, into a genuinely beneficial, sustainable and crucial link in London's transport network by increasing services from Croydon and Crystal Palace right through to Dalston, and beyond that to Highbury and Islington and elsewhere. The next stage, which will not run through my constituency, is the continuation of the service through Peckham and on to Clapham Junction, which will be a major adjunct to the services in that part of the world.

Let me make it as clear as I can to my hon. Friend the Minister that my constituents welcome unreservedly the extension of the East London line into our part of the world, and our appearance on the London tube map, particularly as we have some of the most congested
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commuter lines in the whole country. However, various aspects of that introduction might not be as beneficial to my constituents as they might otherwise appear. Transport for London has taken over the running of all the stations between East Croydon and London Bridge, including Crystal Palace, which means that all local stations are now staffed throughout the day, from the first train to the last, meaning a far safer and more secure environment for passengers. TfL plans a complete refurbishment of those stations over time, which will include new indicator boards, increased CCTV and new public address systems. My experience in recent years is that railway public address systems are far more comprehensible than they were in my youth. That is to everybody's benefit, but it also increases the security that people feel when using public transport systems, and therefore increases the likelihood that they will use them. That is to be welcomed unconditionally.

On 2 January-this was slightly delayed, because of decisions by the Mayor, but it was none the less welcome-the Oyster card system and pay-as-you-go were introduced on all suburban services right across the capital. That is a huge advance. One needs to use an Oyster card only once to realise the benefits of the system, and that is without mentioning its interoperability between different modes of transport. Before the end of this year, all platforms on the line will be lengthened to accommodate 10-carriage trains to and from London Bridge, rather than the current eight-carriage trains. The East London line will start in May, giving us eight trains an hour in each direction between Dalston in the north, and West Croydon and Crystal Palace in the south. Finally, a few years on, in 2015, the line will become part of the Thameslink network, so that the four trains an hour that currently terminate at London Bridge will instead continue north, thus allowing direct services to Blackfriars, Farringdon and, in particular, St. Pancras International for the Eurostar.

I am also delighted to see the reappearance of something that I believed to be little more than a pipedream when I was growing up in my constituency in south-east London, namely the extension of the Bakerloo line. In those days it was just a piece of imagineering, as they call it these days: someone drew a line on a map and said, "Wouldn't it be a good idea if, instead of terminating at the Elephant and Castle, the Bakerloo line went on, down through south-east London to Bromley and places south?" There was never any real backing for such a project, but now it is back on the agenda. However, I suspect that its prospects might be somewhat less encouraging under the current Mayor than they would have been under his predecessor or, let us hope, they will be under a successor with a more enlightened attitude towards public transport.

The Southern services into London Bridge are the mainstay of the commuter services from my constituency. It is the threat to those services posed by the introduction of the East London line that I wish to draw to the House's attention today. On all surveys, the route to and from London Bridge will still be the principal route used by more than 70 per cent. of my constituents. They have just lost the Charing Cross service, even though it was only an off-peak service, because during the development of the Southeastern timetable, which started on 13 December, it was identified that in order to make the incorporation of the high-speed service to and from Kent workable, significant limitations would need to be imposed on the through-London Bridge pathways for
5 Feb 2010 : Column 597
other operators. The long and short of that was that Southern lost its pathways into Charing Cross and now terminates all services at London Bridge.

Some would say, "Well, how much more difficult is it to get a train from Charing Cross and change at London Bridge? Those services still exist." That is true, but for my constituencies attending social, entertainment and recreational events in the west end in the evening-those going to the theatre, to the cinema, to restaurants, and so on-the direct service from Charing Cross to Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill and Sydenham was immensely important. That service has now been lost and, sadly, there is little or no hope for its reintroduction, because those pathways have gone. Some of my more suspicious constituents-it may come as a shock that, along with most other Members of Parliament, I have such constituents-think that, because Southeastern and Southern are owned by the same holding company, Govia, this was just a carve-up of the services between the two companies. I do not believe that to be the case. I think that genuine consideration for improving the service across the south-east as a whole was at the heart of this decision. As in most equations, however, some win and some lose.

The crux of the problem involves the off-peak services. During the route utilisation strategy investigation, fears were expressed that morning and evening services into London Bridge would be cut from their present level by at least two trains an hour. Fortunately, the morning peak service has now been secured. That is probably the most crucial element of the transport patterns in my area. However, the off-peak and evening service has now been cut by two trains an hour. My constituents-particularly the members of the Sydenham Society and the Forest Hill Society who have done a lot of campaigning on these issues-would like to know why the East London line should not suffer a reduction, instead of cutting the service on the London Bridge line by two trains an hour. If it proves more beneficial over time for the East London line to provide extra services, the number of trains could be increased, but why should my constituents have to suffer the possible inconvenience of having an established and well-used service reduced?

I understand that complicated calculations have had to be made in relation to the introduction of what is undeniably the great advantage of extending the East London line, but why should the existing services be put at risk when introducing the new ones? And, if those calculations prove inaccurate or non-viable in the longer term, what is the earliest opportunity at which such a shortfall could be redressed?

We do not for a moment dispute the benefit of the extended East London line. If it is introduced and incorporated properly, it will provide considerable benefit to people across south London and more broadly. However, the need to ensure that the present services are sustained until it has been demonstrated that they are no longer necessary is a higher priority.

2.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) on securing the debate and providing the House with this opportunity to discuss rail services in his area of south London. At the risk of making him feel a little old, may I tell him that, when he
5 Feb 2010 : Column 598
started campaigning as a Lewisham councillor in 1974, I was a schoolboy using Sydenham Hill station on a daily basis? I know that that station is not on the route that we are discussing, but he did mention it earlier. I am aware that this issue is of interest to a number of other hon. Members, given the correspondence that I have received from him and other Members in recent months, and also to other stakeholders and to the public.

I am also aware that any timetable change, however small, is likely to inconvenience some people and will therefore often be unpopular. In the case of train services on the Sydenham corridor, two sets of changes occurring at the same time are altering the nature of services on the route. I believe that, when these changes are looked at together-and once demand patterns have settled, later this year-the overall accessibility and attractiveness of train services in that area of south London will be vastly improved. However, I sympathise with users of the route if they are unhappy with the planned changes at this time.

I am conscious that, while many people are aware of those services that have been or will be changed or diverted as a result of the new timetable, little has been said about the additional services and journey opportunities that will emerge this spring. Transport for London will soon be starting a publicity campaign with regard to the East London line services and, as trial services begin to operate, I expect the benefits of those services to become more obvious to passengers. I have already asked officials to ensure that TfL is issuing appropriate publicity about the changes.

Mr. Pelling: It hardly behoves us to criticise investment in public transport, which is most welcome and quite transformative-in my constituency, the tram transformed the place in respect of employment prospects-but if a new service is being launched, there is a great danger of inflicting reputational damage if other services are being reduced. Are the Government sensitive to that concern, as it would be such a shame if such an excellent investment were compromised?

Chris Mole: The hon. Gentleman raises a legitimate question; there is a balance to be drawn as providing information too soon risks people having to ask where the new services are. I hope to address the issues further as I progress.

Mr. Pelling: I can never make myself clear from the back of the Chamber. The concern is that people might speak adversely about the new services if they are compromising other fast routes. I represent constituents who use Norwood Junction, which is just down the line from Sydenham, and they have already expressed their concerns to me in e-mails.

Chris Mole: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a little progress, I might be able to answer him more fully. As I have said, I have already asked officials to carry out appropriate publicity for the changes. Given the concerns expressed, it would probably be best to deal with each of those changes in turn. I shall start by providing some background to them.

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