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Volume 461: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2007

In July the Department will publish the high level output specification, which will set out what we expect the railway industry to deliver in the years to 2014. It will be accompanied by a statement of funds available, setting out the funds that we expect to make available to the industry over the same period.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Streatham to Mitcham Common is the longest line of track in London without a station, and that although I have been campaigning for 10 years for a station in Mitcham, the campaign for the Eastfields halt goes back to the 1930s? Does he share my delight that Network Rail intends to build a station there, and will he do everything he can to ensure that it is introduced at the earliest possible date in December?

I am fully aware of the tireless efforts of my hon. Friend in relation to a new station at Eastfields. She has a reputation in the House for her efforts on behalf of her constituents, and I know that the matter is of particular concern to a number of commuters, who are keen to see a new station on that route. She is right to recognise that ultimately a decision rests with Network Rail. I understand that there have been constructive and positive conversations with Network Rail, and I urge her to continue those conversations.

It is interesting that the Secretary of State says that the decision about a new station rests with Network Rail. Last Friday I had a meeting with Network Rail to discuss the new station in Corsham in the light of the very helpful letter that I had from the Secretary of State for Defence, who said that he was keen that the station in Corsham should open. The Network Rail people said that it was nothing to do with them—it was a matter for the Government or the regulator, but they were not quite certain which. Will the Secretary of State clarify whether he agrees with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that the new station in Corsham would be a good thing, and if so, who will take the decision to reopen it?

With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, I doubt that the terms of the letter to which the hon. Gentleman refers suggest that the decision is one for the Ministry of Defence or the Secretary of State for Defence. I am happy to look at the correspondence and we will be back in touch with him.

When considering future rail investment, will my right hon. Friend take a particular look at west Yorkshire and especially the lines that run through New Pudsey, Horsforth and Guiseley in my constituency, bearing in mind the relatively low level of investment per person on transport in Yorkshire and Humberside?

I am aware of the importance of rail services not just in one region, but in every region and nation of the United Kingdom. I am happy to give the assurance that we will consider the needs of every part of England when we publish the high level output specification in due course.

Will the Secretary of State consider the service given to rail passengers on a Sunday? Does he think it is acceptable that most train companies offer appalling services on a Sunday, which take far longer than any other train journey during the rest of the week, and charge the same price for them?

Of course it has been the case historically that significant engineering work has often been undertaken on a Sunday. It is right to acknowledge that as lifestyle, retailing and leisure patterns change, there are greater expectations of the network on a Sunday than was the case in a different era. I am sure Network Rail is aware of that, and I will make sure that the point is made to it, in light of the hon. Gentleman’s contribution.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that any moneys paid into the public purse by rail operators are ring-fenced for use within the franchise area where the moneys were raised, for further improvements to the franchise and the benefit of passengers?

There has been some misapprehension on these issues in much of the commentary. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that she seeks, which is that the money received from the franchise is ring-fenced in the budget of the Department for Transport. It is part of the ongoing sustained investment which accounts for about £88 million per week on Britain’s railways at present.

Given the threat of climate change, is it not time the Government got serious about high-speed rail from Scotland to London to get people out of planes and into trains?

With the greatest respect to the hon. Lady, it is about time the Liberal Democrats got serious. If she was serious about looking at high speed trains, she might recognise that there is a correlation between speed and energy consumption, and therefore that the easy assumption that in every circumstance a high speed train is the pro-environment choice does not bear scrutiny. These are serious matters. We are considering them in the Department and we will bring forward our recommendations at the time of the high level output specification in the summer.

Will my right hon. Friend talk to his Treasury colleagues to ensure that the East London line extension is completed—not only phase 1 which is under construction, with the operator announced today, but phase 2 to Clapham Junction, which requires another £75 million under the comprehensive spending review?

Many Ministers are keen to speak to the Treasury this week. I am happy to pass on the point that my hon. Friend makes.

I am sure the House is aware of the reports that this is likely to be the last occasion on which the Secretary of State stands at the Dispatch Box for Transport questions. May I offer him my thanks for a constructive relationship over the past few months and wish him well for the purges that we expect on the Government Benches next week. Can he tell the House, though, whether Britain’s trains will be more or less overcrowded by 2015?

First, I know that in the rail industry as in other walks of life, forecasting is an inherently challenging and difficult business. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is in possession of information that I am certainly not aware of as we look ahead to the events of next week.

Let me deal with the substantive point, however. We have already recognised in the high level output specification discussions the centrality and importance of greater capacity on the railways. That is why I made it clear in March that as part of that statement this summer, 1,000 extra carriages will be provided for the country’s railways. At the same time, we are looking at a range of measures on infrastructure, such as platform lengthening, for example. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that capacity will be one of the central challenges that the high level output specification will address.

It is a shame that the 1,000 extra coaches will not be with us for another seven years.

The Government are receiving higher premium payments from train operators, because they in turn are passing on substantially increased fares to passengers—increases that are well above the rate of inflation. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment today that all the extra money raised from passengers in that way will be spent on tackling the overcrowding crisis on our railways?

Let me address both the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. First, he has suggested once again that the 1,000 extra carriages will not be available for a number of years. Let me correct that misapprehension, which I am sure is inadvertent, by confirming that carriages will be available on the network by the end of next year, which is 2008 rather than 2014.

Secondly, reflecting the earlier answer that I gave, we recognise that the premium payments that came in under the franchising system form part of the rail budget. I have already made it clear that one of key priorities for the rail budget in the years ahead will be capacity.