I encourage the right hon. Gentleman to see, at least in this part of my portfolio, that what I seek to do is to build on what the right hon. Member for North Norfolk did in my role. I would rather that the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam did not talk in that manner and

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think that it has all come to a halt, because it has not. We are having to repair one or two things, such as perinatal mental health, in which we have put significant resources. The conversation has been advanced enormously in exactly the right way by consensual discussion, and we will certainly carry that on.

Mr Clegg: The right hon. Gentleman is being a little over-sensitive. I bent over backwards to say that it is entirely understandable that there is always a lag of time between rhetoric and delivery. All I will say, in the most consensual, cross-party, non-finger-pointing way, is that there is a real delay now between the pilots that were started back in 2012 and the paucity of the number of mental health trusts that have placed their financial arrangements on the new non-block grant system. That is the urgency with which we must deal.

Alistair Burt: I accept that. I was not in this post in the period from 2012 to 2015. I am certainly ensuring that we are progressing. I am glad that we have sorted that out. The coalition’s involvement with and commitment to this issue have been immense, and I am very proud to carry that on in the way I am doing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) brought her experience to this debate. She spoke about the integration of budgets for social care and for local authority expenditure in the national health service, which is absolutely crucial. For me, integration is not about getting two groups of people to sit down in the same room every few months or so to have a discussion. It really cannot be done without a combined budget. So long as there are perverse incentives for one budget or another, it will not work.

We are making progress on that and have clear plans to get it done by 2020. We will follow our progress with a scorecard to find out where we are. We have spoken for too long about finding the holy grail, but we are further towards it than anyone has been before. That is not a bad place to be, but we must ensure that we make progress. A lot of this is about relationships; it is not just about organisations being in the same room. Unless people really talk to each other and have a real sense of what can be done collectively, we will not get anywhere.

My hon. Friend made the heartfelt plea, “Leave us be from time to time.” That would certainly be echoed by virtually everybody I have ever been involved with in the public sector during the past 30 years. They just wish we would decide what is to be done and let them get on with it for a while before changing it again. I am quite sure that this Government have absolutely absorbed that lesson.

The hon. Member for Don Valley—[Interruption.] Will she forgive me? Once I have been in the House for a few years, I will get all such distinctions right. The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) speaks from a position of great experience and great success. She spoke about the successes and the failures in the system, which we all know about, and about how the commission could look at them. Again, I am not quite sure that it could bear the weight of doing so.

The right hon. Lady addressed the political issues and how difficult some of them are. If she will forgive me for saying so, she made an intervention on the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) that exemplified the point. There are difficult

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political challenges within parties as well as between parties across the Floor of the House, and I noticed the little challenge that was made.

I must say to the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth, who spoke with great passion about her party’s commitment to a publicly funded or taxpayer-funded NHS with no deviation from the line, that that is simply not true. It suits her to say it, but it is not true. Let me quote from an article from the New Statesman of 27 January 2015, under the headline “Labour can’t escape its Blairite past on the NHS, so it should stop crying ‘privatisation’.” It said that Alan Milburn

“serves as one of many reminders that not so long ago, during the New Labour years, the Labour party was driving through dramatic reforms in the NHS and did not shy away from private money in doing so.”

There are variations on a theme, even for the hon. Lady, and she perhaps protested about the public nature of the NHS a little too much.

Debbie Abrahams: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way as he did not challenge me when I made that point. Does he, however, accept that Labour stood on the platform of saying that the NHS should be the preferred provider? As other hon. Members have said, we have learned how important it is that policy driving the NHS should be based on evidence. We now have evidence that a health system with an internal market, or a marketised or privatised health system, which is what this Government are seeking, does not help to improve quality or to reduce inequity in healthcare. That was our platform.

Alistair Burt: Well, the platform was clearly stunningly successful. I am not embarrassed by being reminded of the Labour party’s NHS platform at the last election, because it did not succeed. For one reason or another, the public did not believe the stories run about us and the NHS, and they did not believe in Labour’s competence to handle the NHS. As we know, the amount of private sector involvement in the NHS is extremely small, and I am not sure that I accept the hon. Lady’s description of how it has all turned out. This is an example of how careful we must all be in dealing with such issues. We must not pretend to our publics that we are something we are not and that our opponents are something that they are not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)—he has great experience, given the work he has done with the NHS—spoke about best practice. He wanted the commission, but again added more pressure in the things it would be doing and considering. I would make the point that such a commission happens at a point in time. I know that it would be designed to look ahead, but it would inevitably consider the circumstances pertaining at the time. We need a process for discussing the NHS and its funding—where the money is coming from and how it is spent. We need to make the process work, rather than thinking that one push into the grass will do the job. Again, I am not sure that the weight will be borne in that way.

Dr Murrison: Earlier in his remarks my right hon. Friend talked about having a discussion within the confines of the Palace of Westminster. He appears to be moving in that direction again. Does he agree that there is a need for a more iterative process with the public at large?

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A commission of the sort that the right hon. Member for North Norfolk has proposed might go some way towards that.

Alistair Burt: I think that engagement with all involved is essential. When I am away from Westminster, engaging with patients, the public and staff is fundamental to the visits that I make to the services for which I have responsibility.

There is nothing to stop any of the work that the right hon. Member for North Norfolk is suggesting from starting. It is essential that everybody is fully involved. I do not think that the Government or the Opposition will make any of their decisions on the NHS or its expenditure by excluding anyone.

The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), in a turbo-charged contribution, also spoke of the importance of getting integration right. She reminded us that Dick Crossman started it all off. I am sure that we have all had election manifestos that have spoken of an integrated transport system and integrating health and social care. Now we just have to make sure it happens. She made the point that no amount of talk or number of recommendations relieves someone of the burden of doing it. At the end of the day, it is doing it that counts. That is the role of the Government, while being appropriately challenged by all others.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) spoke of the importance of the workforce, particularly the workforce in social care, who have a very difficult time of it. They have great skills and need to be on a career pathway where they can acquire more. They also need to be valued. Again, my hon. Friend believed that the current mechanisms were better than others for dealing with these difficult problems.

To conclude, I will give my sense of the debate. I found it slightly hard to distinguish what the foundations of the debate were—whether it was about the quantum of funding or how the funding was gathered into the health budget in the first place. The commission is expected to cover a breadth of issues, but I am not certain that it can bear the weight. Decisions need to be made, no matter how the information comes forward.

We do not need a commission to deliver the process or to take the heat out of the debate. We have to be careful about how we speak about these subjects. By and large, what happens upstairs gives the public a good sense of how we deal with witnesses who come in from outside, members of the public and each other. We can do much more of that without the need for a commission. We must remember to handle things carefully.

I am not sure that structural change could be handled through a commission. That is very much a local decision. This is not all about funding; it is about how the funding is used. We have to ensure that we do not get into the trap of measuring everything by what we put in, rather than by output. One of the most telling points was when the right hon. Member for North Norfolk said that in the Commonwealth Fund analysis that gave the NHS such a good rating, the one thing it dropped down on was outcomes—treating people and whether people stayed alive. To most people, that is probably the most important outcome of all. We have to make sure

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that, for all the other good things that we are doing, such as the work the Secretary of State is doing on transparency and all the efforts we are making to give people more information, we recognise the importance of that.

Dr Philippa Whitford: Just on the Commonwealth Fund analysis, the standard that the UK did badly on was actually healthy life expectancy. That is not the same as an outcome in hospital. We may have successful operations, but we have underlying deprivation and ill health.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I just say to the Minister that I did give him the nod. I have been very generous. When we say that he has “up to 15 minutes”, he is meant to take 15 minutes. As he can see from the clock, he has taken a lot longer.

Alistair Burt: I beg your pardon, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have tried to accommodate interventions but I entirely take your point. I am just about to finish and am grateful for your generosity.

I take the hon. Lady’s point, but in conclusion, the Government take advice from a lot of sources on everything connected with health. If the right hon. Member for North Norfolk wants to do exactly what he suggested, he can do it, and we will listen very carefully to him, as we do to others. However, I am afraid that, at the moment, I cannot see a Government-sponsored commission. If we have more debates such as this one, the public will be better served and the House will have done its job.

4.45 pm

Norman Lamb: After your intervention on the Minister, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will ensure that I keep my remarks extremely brief. For those who have been here throughout the duration of the debate, it is probably time to have something to eat.

This has been an extraordinarily good debate and we have heard very well informed contributions. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) that we should be ambitious and that we should have the mindset that what happens at the moment is not good enough. We should aspire to have the best health and care system imaginable and in comparison with other European countries.

I suppose that what is behind my plea for a commission, which I will continue to make, is the brutal truth that our political process has let people down. The hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) made the point that an elderly person who does not get the care they need suffers when the political process fails. In a way, partisan politics has ducked the big issues, despite what some hon. Members have said about big political issues being determined in a partisan way. That has failed and let the people of this country down.

The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), in many ways gave a thoughtful speech, much of which I completely agreed with. She had a little go at me about social care funding, but the truth is that none of the political parties confronted the funding needs of social care at the general election. There was a bit of a race over health funding, but social care was neglected, as it has been again and again. Until we confront that, people in this country will continue to be let down.

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Opposition Members can choose to say, “It is all the Government’s responsibility.” The Minister clearly wants to keep it that way, and we could just attack for the next five years. When things get really difficult, we can go for the failures of the system. Alternatively, we could adopt a different approach and recognise that these are profound issues that, in a way, have not been thought about comprehensively since the foundation of the system back in 1948. In ’48, there was a process that garnered cross-party support, despite what the shadow Secretary of State said about that being impossible.

Sometimes, this country needs to reach big decisions together, whether it is about pensions or climate change, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) was saying, or about how we cope with an ageing population. I believe that this is the moment when it is necessary for us to come together to confront those issues. It is in the Government’s interest to think again and embrace the proposal. It is foolhardy to reject it, because I suspect that, with the projections that we all know about, during this Parliament, things will get very messy.

I will continue to campaign and I am very grateful to Members on both sides of the House for supporting that proposition. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to the debate this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House calls for the establishment of an independent, non-partisan Commission on the future of the NHS and social care which would engage with the public, the NHS and care workforces, experts and civic society, sitting for a defined period with the aim of establishing a long-term settlement for the NHS and social care.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In the past hour, we have had the news that the Lord Chancellor has scrapped the Government’s proposed legal aid reforms, which had drawn such huge protests from criminal solicitors across the country, including in my constituency. We had a debate on prison and justice issues for three hours yesterday, which would have given him ample opportunity to tell the House of the news. May I use your good offices, Mr Deputy Speaker, to ask whether it would be appropriate for the Lord Chancellor to come and make a statement to the House tomorrow, which is a sitting Friday?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I have been given no notice today of any statement, and it is very late in the evening and we are about to finish. What I can say is that it is certainly on the record and the Government are certainly able, if they wish, to make a statement tomorrow. The hon. Lady is able to put in for an urgent question if she feels it is appropriate. I cannot promise anything, but those avenues are open to the Government and to the hon. Lady.

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Southeastern Rail Services

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(George Hollingbery.)

4.50 pm

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): On one level it is a pleasure to raise this issue, but on another it is a great sadness. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to put the issue forward and a pleasure to have you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a great sadness, because frankly the debate should not be necessary.

Bromley and Chislehurst is quintessential London commuter-land. A very high percentage of its working population travels up to London to earn its daily crust. They are dependent entirely on Southeastern trains. We have no underground as an alternative. There is, in effect, a monopoly supply. People in Bromley and Chislehurst, as in other parts of south-east London, are being badly let down. It is significant that a number of Members of Parliament served by the Southeastern trains franchise are here in the Chamber today. I note in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr Evennett), whose constituents have suffered appallingly recently, following the landslide at Barnehurst. That demonstrated the complexity of the issues and the delay in putting them right—it was a long time before his constituents knew what was happening. It also demonstrated the fact that there is a shared responsibility between the train operator, Southeastern, and Network Rail, the owner and provider of the infrastructure. Both have failed woefully.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I agree with my hon. Friend’s opening statement. It is not entirely Southeastern’s fault: Network Rail is pretty abysmal too. Whoever takes over the franchise will still have the problem of Network Rail to sort out.

Robert Neill: That is perfectly true and that is an important point. In terms of responsibility, the split is about 70:30. A lot of the problems are down to Network Rail and signalling, but there are real failures with Southeastern relating to the passing on of information and other issues, including poor areas of customer service, which I will come on to. I know my hon. Friend’s constituents have the same issues.

Passenger ratings show how bad the situation is. Key figures from Transport Focus show satisfaction ratings for Southeastern on value for money at 35%. Satisfaction ratings for how the company deals with delays are at 31%. Southeastern is ranked the second-lowest for overall satisfaction in the country, at 75%. If we look at the London commuter part of the Southeastern trains franchise, the figures are even worse—at about the mid-60s. I suggest even those statistics do not break it down. If we took off rush hour commuters from that, where the delays and knock-ons are often more acute, the satisfaction rate would go down even further, demonstrating the real difficulty.

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): My constituents also use the Southeastern network. Day after day their trains are being delayed, particularly at peak times. This morning all trains between Maidstone East and London between 6.30 am and 7.30 am were, according to a message I received from a constituent, cancelled. These are unacceptable levels of service. I have

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asked the Secretary of State to let us know whether Southeastern is compliant with its franchise. Will my hon. Friend join me in asking the Secretary of State to respond to that request, and, if it is not compliant, in calling for action?

Robert Neill: I am sure we would all echo that. My hon. Friend is quite right. According to my information, well over 20 rush-hour trains from Kent to London were cancelled because of overrunning engineering works. Sometimes, the delays were over two hours, which affects my constituents at Bromley South station, many of whom use those trains into London. So there is a real problem here.

I have quoted from the official statistics, but people sometimes think them dry and remote, so I want to read out some of the experiences put to me directly, either on Twitter or by email, which I think capture the problem. These are people talking about their problems on Southeastern trains. In my constituency, people pay £1,600 to £1,700 a year for a season ticket. One reads:

“People’s lives are literally being made a misery by Southeastern trains”.

Another reads:

“The service I have personally experienced this month has been shocking, almost daily delays”.

A third reads:

“I got to the train on time, but the train itself seldom runs on time because of track problems, congestion, lack of stock, no drivers—not on”.

I cannot disagree with that. I use the service myself on an almost daily basis to come to Westminster, and I now factor delays into my journey. It is absolutely ludicrous.

A fourth quote reads:

“Weekend engineering works mean no trains and earliest bus doesn’t get me to work on time so no overtime for 5 weeks”.

This is somebody on low pay whose job is being made a misery by this poor performance. “Not value for money” says another—well, you can say that again! Another reads:

“There is not enough time to write all that is wrong”.

Even this Adjournment debate is not long enough to expand on all that is wrong.

I have two final quotes. The first reads:

“The delays happen on a daily basis. My train is delayed again…use the Hayes line for a week, you’ll see.”

That is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), and is wholly within Greater London. One final quote, for those further into Kent:

“7.40 Dunton Green to London delayed this morning to let 2 fast trains through. Are Metro customers 2nd class citizens?”

That is the feeling actually. There is an inherent conflict or tension in the Southeastern trains franchise, as currently constructed, between the high-volume and frequent demands of the inner-suburban services, such as in my area, and the demands of those coming from further into Kent.

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): I assure my hon. Friend that the frustration of the inner-London customers is shared entirely by those a little

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further out. I have the great privilege of representing people who use the Tonbridge line, the Maidstone East line and the Medway Valley line. All three have had a woeful service for as long as I can remember. A survey I put out recently found that nearly 90% thought the service had gone downhill since Christmas, which is really saying something, because it was hardly uphill before then. I urge the Minister to do exactly what she has been talking about, which is to hold these people to account, get the money back off them when they fail and make sure that privatisation works by making the companies pay.

Robert Neill: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, although it is worth stressing that the failures are not just with the privatised train operating company, but with the publicly owned Network Rail. I draw a contrast between this line, which I now use, and the line I used before I moved to south-east London, the c2c line, which is also privatised but which has hugely improved its performance and satisfaction levels since it was privatised. So this is not an ideological issue; it is about sheer competence, and that involves enforcing the terms of the contract.

Bob Stewart: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Robert Neill: Once more, but then I must press on.

Bob Stewart: My hon. Friend has made the case for what we have all been asking for—Transport for London to take over as fast as possible.

Robert Neill: That is entirely right, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who is also present, would share that view too. We welcome that decision by the Department, but it is not going to happen until 2018. What we are concerned about is what will be done in the interim. For a start, when Southeastern is posting doubled profits, it sticks in the craw of my residents and commuters that they are paying a premium price for what is not an acceptable and not even a remotely premium service. There is plenty of money to pay the genuine financial penalties that are necessary if a private contract arrangement is to work. I hope it could be used to offer some form of reimbursement or remission of the fare increases for our commuters, who are simply not getting what they have paid for. That is a basic failing, and I hope the Minister will—

5 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(George Hollingbery.)

Robert Neill: A sense of déjà vu has arrived, and probably rather more swiftly than the 7.39 at Waterloo East did last night as I was going home. That minor delay did not even warrant an explanation, which is another issue.

Punctuality is a real issue, as is overcrowding, which has been made worse by the timetable changes caused by the engineering work at London Bridge. That is necessary work, but there are some basic things that Southeastern can get right. More people from my

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constituency stations use the Cannon Street service in the rush hour than use the Charing Cross service, because it stops at London Bridge, which has the interchange for the Jubilee line, Canary Wharf and whatever. There are generally fewer carriages on the Cannon Street trains than on the Charing Cross trains, which is the complete reverse of where the demand is. That is a basic failure that could be put right now.

I know that Southeastern is talking to the Department about being able to transfer stock from other parts of the network. That needs to go ahead swiftly, because so far the new trains that have been produced on the franchise have tended to go on the high-speed link trains and have not benefited those of us on any of the commuter services. That needs to be taken on board straightaway. I would welcome the transfer of the franchise, because London Overground has a good track record of performance, but in the interim I hope the Minister will sit down and instruct Southeastern and Network Rail to work with the Mayor’s office and Transport for London immediately to talk about transitional phases, to see whether it is not possible by agreement to speed up the transfer of the franchise and certainly, as has been said, to enforce rigorously the contractual terms to the benefit of passengers and customers in the balance of the franchise.

Finally, let me highlight some other failings. I have talked about timetabling issues, such as the nonsense of the mismatch of rolling stock between Charing Cross and Cannon Street services. Even with the changes in the timetable, it is pretty bizarre that the interchange at Grove Park for the Bromley North service—a small spur line—was almost deliberately timed to miss the most convenient connecting train, which means people have to hang around for perhaps another 15 minutes or more. That is basic. Why can Southeastern not get that right?

Charing Cross station is in the heart of London’s theatre-land. Many London commuters, certainly from Chislehurst in my constituency, will go up to the theatre from time to time. The last direct train to stations such as Elmstead Woods and Chislehurst leaves at 10.36 in the evening. Otherwise, anyone who has gone to a show in town will have to wait until gone midnight. That puts huge pressure on them, because otherwise they will have to cart around on the District line to Cannon Street, when there is a station just down the way, or fork out for a taxi to come back from Orpington. The engineering work at London Bridge cannot be an excuse for that. That is just a clear lack of customer care.

On the most basic level, the staff at our local train stations are excellent. They cope with a pretty poor situation very well and sometimes they get it in the neck when it is not their fault. The people I regularly deal with at Chislehurst and Elmstead Woods are part of the community and they work really hard, but they are not given the information to deal with things and when they try to help, it is not taken up by the management.

Chislehurst—not the busiest station on the network, but a pretty busy commuter station, as most would imagine—has one automatic ticket machine. It is pretty busy in the rush hour. For the last four weeks, that automatic ticket machine has been unable to take credit cards. Despite daily reports by the station staff that that is a problem—one can imagine the queues it is causing, with people trying to fork out cash-only at that time in

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the day—it has still not been put right, and it was still not right this morning when I went there. That is a basic failure, and those are the sorts of things that ought to be jumped on from a great height by the operator.

The level of repeated delay is the issue that really irritates my constituents, but the issue of compensation is also raised. People can claim compensation, but it is not a lot of help on a London suburban network, because the delay has to be 30 minutes. If a journey is supposed to take only 25 minutes, it will have to be doubled or more before anyone is entitled to compensation, which will not matter, because the start of their day’s work will have been mucked around no end in any event. That does not work effectively for suburban commuters—another strong reason why it is better to split the franchise and put short-journey but high-frequency services under the Mayor’s office. Perhaps we could have a better compensation scheme to reflect those commuters’ needs more effectively.

Against that context, I hope that I have taken the chance to ventilate my constituents’ concerns. It is not good enough if large public bodies or current privately owned bodies acting under contract are persistently unresponsive. I give credit to the Minister for taking steps and holding summits with local MPs and the top management of both Network Rail and Southeastern—an initiative that we had not seen before. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. She also warned that when the franchise was renewed, it was the last chance. I am sorry, but they have drunk the last-chance saloon dry by now, and it is about time to start calling time on their franchise.

I hope that the Minister will continue to press on these issues and provide us with a detailed timeframe for when she is next going to meet the management. Will she undertake to meet me to discuss the specific concerns I have raised on behalf of other Members in the area and ensure that all Members are kept briefed on what specifically is happening? We need to be able to see the whites of the eyes of the management, which does not always happen. More initiatives have to be followed up with real measures, which hurt any company where it normally hurts—in the pocket—and we need to look more rigorously at the publicly owned entity Network Rail, which is responsible for a very great deal of the problem, but basks in comparative protection in contractual terms. It should not be allowed to do so. That needs to be thoroughly investigated. Frankly, in the private sector, heads would be rolling if services were run in the way Network Rail and Southeastern run them. There would be proper accountability to customers and shareholders.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have trespassed on the House’s time, and I believe that my constituents and those in neighbouring constituencies are still more grateful for that opportunity.

5.6 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I have had a dry January, so I have not been in the last chance saloon once, but it has enabled me to have a clear head and to look carefully at the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) has raised—and this is not the first time they have been raised. Indeed, silenced on the Front Bench next to me are my right hon. Friends

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the Members for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr Evennett) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire). They, and many others who are able to speak, have left me in no doubt of the concerns of their constituents. These are daily concerns, because many people use these trains on a daily basis.

I welcome the opportunity once again to express my concerns about some of the issues raised, to talk a bit about what the Government are doing and to try to offer some bright spots. We have talked a bit about déja vu, and I am happy to keep talking about these matters for as long as it takes to get these services fixed. These are vital services that are delivering people to high-value jobs, and not necessarily just to high-earning jobs, but to lower-income jobs. These jobs are vital in the most dynamic part of the UK economy. It is absolutely right that those people have the transport investment that they need.

I do not defend the current system in any way, but my hon. Friend knows very well that these lines have been neglected for many a long year. It has been a failure of successive Governments to invest. In some cases, the tracks these trains are running over date from the 1930s and have not had proper investment subsequently. It was always going to be a challenge to deal with what is the busiest part of the railway, with 23% of this country’s railway journeys made under the Govia Thameslink Railway and Southeastern franchises, and to keep this huge number of people moving. It was always going to be a challenge to do the required improvements for the Thameslink works and the London Bridge investments without creating disruption. I want to thank passengers who, I know from my many visits to the station, get that and are very forgiving about the need for that investment.

I know my hon. Friend will be pleased to be reassured that I have made sorting this out an absolute priority. The return of services to a high-performing railway on this franchise and indeed on GTR has been my No. 1 priority since May. He may well say, “What have you achieved over all this time?” What I will say is that we have had Network Rail, the operators, Transport Focus and anyone who needs to be there down in the weeds of the problem.

Although I am interested, I do not think customers are interested in whose fault it is. They do not need to know that engineering works overran this morning, or that a tamping machine broke down. All they care about is that 20 of their services from my hon. Friend’s constituency were cancelled. We are not in the business of finger-pointing; we are in the business of working together to solve the problems as these necessary engineering works proceed.

Passenger numbers have more than doubled since privatisation, and, indeed, the number of passengers trying to travel on Southeastern’s trains has increased by 30% since it took over the franchise. As we know, investment has not kept up with that level of demand.

My hon. Friend mentioned crowding and rolling stock, an issue on which we have specifically focused. I am determined to review the business case for running the additional, bigger 12-car trains on the metro service in particular. I give the House an undertaking that there will be a decision on that in the next couple of months.

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If we decide to go ahead—if the business case is favourable —Southeastern will put additional trains on the tracks late in 2016.

Robert Neill: I am grateful for that assurance, but will my hon. Friend also undertake to provide my colleagues and me with a timeframe for that process in due course, along with the precise details of how it is to be achieved? All too often, Southeastern has made promises, but the deadline for delivery has been extended.

Claire Perry: I shall be happy to do that, but I want to ensure that Southeastern gets the best possible deal for those trains. They would be provided by a third-party rolling stock company, and I do not want to prejudice the negotiations. As I said, I want the trains with the additional carriages to run on the metro service, because there has been so much overcrowding.

Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): It would not be possible for 12-car trains to run on my line, the Greenwich line, because one of the stations is very short and there is no alternative door-opening facility. Will the Minister commit herself to having a conversation with Southeastern to ensure that it fits the software that will enable the right doors to open at the right station?

Claire Perry: I shall be happy to have that conversation. The hon. Lady probably finds it as frustrating as I do that selective door opening works perfectly well in some parts of the country and not in others. There may well be very good operational reasons for the need for a software change. I will certainly look into the matter.

Tom Tugendhat: The Minister said that Transport for London might take over some metro services. I understand that, but my constituents are rightly concerned about the fact that we do not have a vote on the mayoralty of London, and therefore have no democratic control over Transport for London. They fear that Transport for London would ignore our area in favour of those who would—how can I put it?—benefit more electorally from the change in service.

Claire Perry: If my hon. Friend will bear with me and can spare the time, I will say a couple of words about the genuine consultation that we are running. The change could indeed solve some problems, but I know that constituents outside the London boundary have real concerns.

The intention is to complete the review very quickly and secure a final decision on the business case in the next couple of months, so that, if it makes sense, the extra capacity can be put on the metro services by the end of the year, with an additional slug of capacity to come in 2018. Southeastern has already added 95,000 seats to the network, although it is a bit like the M25: as soon as the seats are provided, people travel, because they feel that they can now get on to the trains. In some instances, we are running to stand still.

Southeastern has also refreshed and improved its trains. I sometimes get on to a train and think, “This looks nice”, and then remember that it is a 40-year-old train that has been repainted. What we want are trains that look good, provide capacity, and have state-of-the-art toilets, and some of that has been achieved on this line.

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Let me now deal with the issue of performance. Basically, people can tolerate a great deal if their trains run on time, but I know that my hon. Friend shares my disappointment at the fact that this franchise holder has not met its public performance measure targets at any time over the last year—well, it may have done so on a daily basis, but not on a monthly basis. I can tell my hon. Friend that 60% of that failure is infrastructure-related, about 25% is the fault of Southeastern and involves issues related and unrelated to trains, and the rest is “train operator on train operator” stuff. I do not think customers care about that. My hon. Friend is right to say that we can demand improvements through the franchising programme, we can hold operators to account, we can demand plans and we can issue financial penalties, but what we actually want to do is run a reliable railway. I also make the following commitment to my hon. Friend and the House. Although the quadrant taskforce has been running and there has been an unprecedented level of co-operation between the operator and Network Rail, the industry needs to do more. I will be having that conversation with it in the next few days.

It is crucial, not least for the delivery of the Thameslink service which is so important in increasing the number of journeys through the core of London, that the outer bits of the track work effectively. Not only are the current levels of delays unacceptable, and in some cases inexcusable, but we have to get this working right to get the benefit out of the £6.5 billion the Government are investing in Thameslink. We have to keep demanding that Southeastern and Network Rail work together to keep the disruption to a minimum.

There have been some changes, although that is not always obvious. There have, for example, been small changes such as putting relief drivers at Cannon Street, so if there is a delay drivers are quickly on hand and do not have to move around; continuing to review the timetable to make sure there is resilience should there be a delay; and making sure trains leave the stations and the depot exactly on time—not 10 or 20 seconds late—because in a busy stopping service all that builds up.

I am very sorry to say one of the great causes of delay is trespass and suicide on the line. Someone takes their life every 30 hours on the national rail network. That causes an immense amount of delay and is, of course, often a dreadfully distressing experience for the staff and train drivers, as well as there being the tragedy of the loss. I know that Southeastern and the whole industry are working closely with the Samaritans to try and reduce that.

On compensation, in an ideal world we would not be paying it at all because the trains would be running perfectly on time. I am keen, however, to reform the delay repay scheme. It is already among the most generous in Europe; train users in other countries do not get a lot of money back. However, although in delay repay we have one of the most generous compensation schemes, we want to go further. As the Chancellor said in his autumn statement, we want to take the time at which the clock starts ticking from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, which will start to address some of my hon. Friend’s constituency problems. I expect to make announcements on that shortly. We are gearing up to reform that and I will have further details on it.

I also want to point out to the House the London Bridge improvements. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Part of that station will be open in August of

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this year, although there will be continued disruption to some Southeastern services. I urge the operators and all Members to make sure everyone is fully aware of those changes. By 2018, when this station opens, it will be a brand-new, state-of-the-art station with much more capacity, able to run many more services through the core of London.

Robert Neill: I welcome the Minister’s comments on the compensation scheme. When she discusses, with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, funding issues with the Treasury, might she bear in mind that, while London Bridge improvements are critical in the long term, the price of that has been that my constituents and those in the surrounding areas have been deliberately given, in effect, a substandard service for the better part of four-plus years or so? That should be reflected in any future fare increases and in making sure that there is proper generosity in future compensation schemes.

Claire Perry: My hon. Friend raises a good point, and it was exactly that conversation which led to the decision to cap fare increases at RPI plus zero for the whole of this Parliament. We effectively now have rail fares going up at the lowest level, certainly relative to wages, in over a decade. We will continue that cap, which is costing the Government about £700 million a year, precisely because we do not think that fares should be going up at a time when we are doing engineering works and causing disruption, not just at London Bridge but right across the country. We have a £38 billion investment programme and we cannot deliver that without some disruption. That cap is worth about £425 to the typical commuter on a season ticket over the course of this Parliament.

My hon. Friend raised the question of customer service levels, and he was right to say that Southeastern was not at the top of the list for overall satisfaction. It is not quite at the bottom, but it is not at the top either. I know that there are many people out there who are genuinely in despair about their journeys. Nothing could be more dispiriting for them than showing up at the station only to find that their train is delayed, or being unable to get home to pick up their children from day care at the regular time. That is incredibly dispiriting, and that is why we need to make these investments. However, 75% of the users of Southeastern say they are satisfied with their journeys. There might be pockets of dissatisfaction, but overall, three out of four users are satisfied. We would clearly like that figure to be higher, of course.

I can tell the House that we included in the franchise agreement some specific improvements to customer services that we wanted the operator to make. My hon. Friend talked about information systems, and they are not always perfect. However, the company has made a considerable investment in better information systems, including through giving its staff real-time devices. Drilling through the numbers, I was interested to note that the score for how well Southeastern deals with delays has gone up by 9 percentage points in the past year. Similarly, the score for the attitude and helpfulness of staff has gone up by 4 percentage points, so it looks as though some of the improvements are starting to bear fruit. The company has also made a £5 million investment in stations, which has included deep cleans at Bromley South, Bromley North and Chislehurst, which I hope

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my hon. Friend has noticed. I do not have the numbers on station improvements, but I think that passengers are starting to recognise that they are taking place.

I understand the concerns and I know that the industry has to do more, particularly on the infrastructure side, to stop the delays. My hon. Friend is a long-standing campaigner on these matters, and I want to draw his attention to the proposals for London Overground to take control of some of these metro services. This is in response to tireless campaigning on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) —for obvious reasons—and the prospectus sets out some thoughtful questions that need to be answered. Clearly, some hon. Members will think that some of the services involved should go into a TfL-type service, although others might wish to raise concerns about that, particularly in relation to democratic accountability. I believe that there is a solution out there. This kind of devolution of service has happened before.

The new partnership is designed to give passengers what they need. We are trying to design the industry around passengers and customers. This proposal could deliver more frequent services and more reliable trains. It would also move the decisions on stations and stopping patterns away from Horseferry Road—much as I have fantastic officials—and closer to the people who actually use the services. This will be similar to the devolution process that we have seen in relation to transport investment in the north, as well as the support for TfL. I urge all

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Members who have an interest in these devolution proposals to stand up and ensure that their voices and those of their constituents and transport users are heard. The deadline is 18 March.

I would be the first to acknowledge that the system is not delivering for customers at the moment. When we talk to commuters, we find that they have been incredibly tolerant and understanding. They welcome the investment, and they want to see a joined-up industry that can respond to their needs, particularly when there are disruptions and delays. It is my Department’s job to facilitate that, either through the contracting process or, as my hon. Friend rightly says, through conversations with Network Rail, which is indeed an arm’s-length public body. I give the House my full commitment to ensure that this happens.

The aim is to return these vital parts of the railway, which move people around the busiest parts of the network, to high performance by 2018. If the results of these unprecedented levels of investment cannot be seen and felt by passengers, we will need to do better, and I offer the House my full commitment on this. I thank my hon. Friend once again for providing this opportunity to discuss these matters. He asked whether I would agree to meet him to discuss what is happening, and of course my door is always open.

Question put and agreed to.

5.24 pm

House adjourned.