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Sustainable Railways

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2007

With permission, I would like to make a statement about how the Government intend to strengthen the country’s railways over the next seven years and beyond. Our proposal is the most ambitious strategy for growth on the railways in more than 50 years. This statement is being made against a background not of decline or crisis, as in the past, but of remarkable success for our railway network.

Of course, anyone who travels regularly by rail, as many of us in the House do, will know that big challenges remain before our country has the rail system that it needs. There is no room for complacency, but the measures put in place since the Hatfield tragedy mean that our railways are safer than ever before. Reliability, which declined sharply after Hatfield, is improving strongly on most lines and passenger satisfaction has improved. There has been sustained investment in the network, such as in the modernisation of the west coast main line and in new rolling stock. The result is that more freight and more people are travelling by rail than at any time for 50 years.

Our challenge today is not about managing decline. Instead, it is about how we can build on that solid progress to provide a railway that carries more passengers on more and better trains, and on more frequent, reliable, safe and affordable services. That needs the Government, working with the industry, the regulator and passenger groups, to take action in three main areas: first, to secure continued improvements in safety and reliability; secondly, to achieve a major increase in capacity to meet rising demand; and, thirdly, to deliver sustained investment through a fair deal for passengers and the taxpayer. Let me take each in turn.

Safety has improved and reliability is back to the levels seen before Hatfield, even though we are running many more trains. Those who work on our railways deserve credit for their focus. The White Paper sets out how we intend to continue reducing the risks to passengers and staff on our railways. We also intend to build on the improvements in reliability. Currently, 88 per cent. of services arrive on time. By 2014, I want that figure to reach 92.6 per cent., through investment in new rolling stock, maintenance and equipment, which would make our railway one of the most reliable in Europe. For the first time, we will require the industry to concentrate on cutting by one quarter delays of more than 30 minutes, which cause the most inconvenience to passengers.

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 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 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.

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.

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:

“We will seek real reductions in the cost of rail travel”.

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 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.

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,

“we’ve not had a clear transport strategy”

in recent years and that

“we’ve had tactical positions”.

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.

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,

“The verbals are great and if we could cash them in, we’d probably be building two Crossrails”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Given that the 2005 Labour manifesto promised us high-speed rail, why are the Government ignoring the Atkins report on high-speed rail that has already shown that north-south capacity around Birmingham will reach capacity by 2014? That presents only a tentative possibility of looking at that line seriously.

I note that the Secretary of State promises better and safer stations from Wolverhampton to Dartmouth. She might be interested to know, from Wikipedia, that no railway has ever run to Dartmouth. The town does have a railway station, but it is now a restaurant. There is a steam railway that runs Thomas the Tank Engine. I make those remarks simply to try to illustrate that there is so much in this report that is clever phrasing: will the Secretary of State be kind enough to tell us what it will actually deliver?

I am also disappointed by the hon. Lady’s contribution. She gave no recognition to the fact that the White Paper will deliver safer, more reliable trains. It targets investment on those lines where overcrowding is worst and will allow passenger demand to grow by 22.5 per cent. over the next seven years, so that 180 million more people can use the train every year—a huge contribution, not only to the environment, but to the economy.

The hon. Lady asks what is new in the White Paper. I can tell her what is new—1,300 new carriages and the major projects, such as £5.5 billion on Thameslink. The hon. Lady went back to the 10-year plan, and I will deal with that. The 10-year plan was launched before Railtrack spiralled out of control as a result of the botched privatisation, which is, as I am sure all hon. Members would now agree, a credible analysis of the situation. Network Rail has now regained control and, for the first time in recent history, we are entering a period in which we can predict safely both a rising number of passengers using the train and significantly funded investments that are deliverable. Of course the rail regulator will assure himself of that before we commit to, for example, precisely where the 1,300 extra carriages will go. There is also the £550 million investment in Birmingham New Street and Reading stations, the £150 million for medium-sized stations up and down the country, and improvements to track and infrastructure across the railway.

The hon. Lady asked two questions about the implications for fares. As a result of Railtrack and the botched privatisation of British Rail, the taxpayer subsidy rose significantly towards 50 per cent. last year. It is right that as costs are re-gripped and taken under control by Network Rail the level of taxpayer subsidy should fall towards historic levels. As a result of the strategy that we publish today, we envisage that that will reduce towards 26 per cent. in line with historic norms.

It is right too to recognise—I hope that the hon. Lady does so—that 80 per cent. of passengers now use regulated fares, which are capped at RPI plus 1 per cent. Some discounted fares are significantly cheaper, even in cash terms, than they were in 1997. Indeed, the average price per kilometre travelled has risen by only 3 per cent. in real terms since 1991.

The hon. Lady asked about the environment. The biggest single impact that we can have on the environment is by providing more capacity for passengers to use the railways. The White Paper is geared not only towards improving reliability, but to significant and major investment in delivering greater capacity. The industry has committed itself to come up with carbon reduction targets by next year, and for the next output control period we will set—alongside safety, reliability and performance targets—specific carbon targets and commitments.

The hon. Lady asks about added seats. I have already said, in answer to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), that 100,000 new seats will be added as a result of the significant investment we are making. She asks about freight. We are confident that rail freight will continue to grow over the next 10 to 15 years and that we can use the productivity element of the transport innovation fund as a potential funding stream to enhance the strategic freight network. We are making available an extra £200 million for the development of the strategic network.

The hon. Lady asks about the high speed rail link. Such a link would cost £30 billion and would not be delivered for 20 years, but it is right that we examine the case for it and that we continue to explore options and keep it under review. If we had £30 billion—the hon. Lady may have that much money but I do not at present—there are ways of spending it that will better deliver more, and sooner, for current passengers than a high speed rail link could ever do. If the economics or the environmental calculations change, it is right that we consider them in due course. The railway White Paper and the funding statement will deliver an improved railway for today’s passengers and accommodate an increase in demand of almost a quarter over the next seven years. That should be welcomed.

If my right hon. Friend wants to see the difference between a Labour Government and a Conservative Government running the railways, she should look at the west coast main line. Will the extra carriages announced today mean that each Pendolino train will have an extra two carriages? I am rather disappointed at my right hon. Friend’s dismissal of high speed lines. We have a high speed line that works—from the channel to St. Pancras—so there must be a case for a north-south line, because there will be major capacity problems on the west coast main line by 2014.

I hear my hon. Friend’s representations on behalf of the west coast main line. I know how important the project is to him, and the modernisation of the west coast main line will of course continue during this funding period. Precisely where the extra carriages will go will become clearer after negotiations with the industry, which will continue over the next few months. I know, too, of my hon. Friend’s commitment to the north-south high speed rail link. If we had £30 billion we could have funded the equivalent of the west coast modernisation several times over. The issue for the Government is what the best use of that money is today. In future, the environmental or economic calculations may change so it is right that the Government keep the matter under review, but today is not the right time to make a commitment.

While I wait with bated breath for tomorrow’s statement on motherhood and apple pie, will the right hon. Lady tell me what I can tell my constituents who use Wolverhampton station? Precisely how much of the £150 million will be spent on the station? When will it be spent and what will be done with the money? May we have some specifics?

From a sedentary position, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State whispered that we had the motherhood statement last week, so I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman makes the case for Wolverhampton, and I acknowledged in my statement that Wolverhampton should be funded for infrastructure improvements. They are, of course, the responsibility of Network Rail but I understand that Wolverhampton has an extremely strong case.

The Labour party in Scotland made proposals for operating train passenger services on a not-for-profit basis. Will the Government consider allowing Network Rail to operate passenger services on a not-for-profit basis, particularly where franchises are failing?

When the railway is entering an unprecedented era of growth, it would not be right for the Government to suggest that the answer to any concerns about railways is to restructure them. Network Rail has never advanced a proposition for running not-for-profit railway services, but if at any time it did so, the Government would consider the proposal.

In her statement the Secretary of State announced increases in the capacity of the railway system, and the House always welcomes such statements. She said that over the next seven years we will see

“the £5.5 billion transformation of Thameslink”.

Is she aware that I also announced the go-ahead for Thameslink? If she looks at Hansard for 27 February 1996, she will see that I said:

“On current plans, Thameslink 2000 services can be expected to start within six years.”—[Official Report, 27 February 1996; Vol. 272, c. 724.]

Who has been holding it up?

Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman had his own role to play in failing to deliver Thameslink, but today I can say for the first time that the Government have set the money aside to fund the Thameslink programme. The first improvements should come on before the end of the control period that we have set the funds aside for today, and there will be further improvements in due course.

May I say how much we welcome the improvements in the west coast main line? Labour Members who travel on it regularly know what a real difference it has made. But in looking at the plan ahead, will my right hon. Friend look at the role of local services, because if we have the extra use on the west coast main line, we need to improve local services along the line? It is no use just having an improved Crewe station if we do not have the improved services right the way east-west cross-country. Will she meet the north Staffordshire community railway group, who I met yesterday, to discuss passenger transport, to see how we can develop the investment in local services that are needed in north Staffordshire?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and the Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), has already offered to meet her and a delegation on this issue. It is important that we develop local services, and indeed rural services where there is demand for those services. This is the first White Paper that I know of that has said on the Government's behalf that there will be no closures on local or rural lines. We have also set aside some of the new carriages to meet increasing demand on those lines if that demand occurs, but my hon. Friend will be very happy to meet her to discuss it.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the works to convert platforms at Waterloo International for domestic use by December 2008 will now go ahead under these plans? Can she also confirm that her Department will now press ahead urgently with the feasibility studies that are required into all other options at Waterloo and its approach routes, to remove all bottlenecks to the use of longer trains, which is the only way to remove the overcrowding suffered by so many on London suburban routes?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Waterloo is identified as one of the railway stations in London that need significant infrastructure to enhance their capacity. He mentions the feasibility options that could enhance that further. I think it is right that we take time to consider those. I am very happy to meet him to discuss them if that would be useful.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has raised the issue of regulated, unregulated and discounted tickets, but will she impress on the rail companies the need to use modern technologies such as smartcards and mobile phones for the sale of those tickets?

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I understand that the first franchise that will offer the use of smartcards will be delivered in 2009, and following on from that experience we intend to see smartcards introduced right across the network. They have the potential really to simplify the experience for the passenger in the future.

London Bridge is one of the stations that has also been identified in the output period, so between 2009 and 2014 there should be improvements in that service too.

I represent the inner-London commuters who get on the trains when the carriages are already full and the seats already taken, so I warmly welcome the 1,300 extra carriages and the 100,000 extra seats. If my right hon. Friend wants to do even more to ease congestion in central London, will she also ensure that Transport for London is funded to proceed with the routes that avoid the centre of London, such as London Overground and the East London line phase 2, which will connect Clapham Junction to the tube system?

My hon. Friend makes his case very eloquently. Of course, I will consult him and, indeed, other interested parties during the development of those lines.

I welcome much of what the right hon. Lady has told the House this afternoon—in particular, her clear admission that the nationalised railways suffered from chronic under-investment in trains and infrastructure. From that, the House can only infer that she now admits that privatisation was absolutely necessary and that any of the improvements that have occurred in the past 10 years could never have happened without the investment that privatisation brought. Will she now admit that the political interference of the past 10 years, particularly that brought about during the reign of the former Deputy Prime Minister, has held back the progress that could have been made but has not been made in the past 10 years?

I was preparing myself to congratulate the hon. Lady on her wisdom, but I do not think that her comments will have much resonance with the public if she says that the success of the railway was somehow to do with privatisation, rather than recognising the fact that Railtrack lost control of costs altogether and that it was ultimately the taxpayer who ended up footing the bill of an additional £1.25 billion a year before we had to introduce Network Rail to regain control of costs and to start to make improvements in our railway system.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to rural lines, which will certainly please the residents of Barton-upon-Humber in my constituency. With all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), I will fight her tooth and nail to ensure that Cleethorpes gets a fair share of the £150 million for station refurbishment. However, are there any plans to increase the capacity on the trans-Pennine route, which services Cleethorpes?

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. I hope that she will have noted that Cleethorpes is one of the stations that is likely to benefit from infrastructure improvements, and I am sure that she will continue to press her case over the coming months. It is right that, over the next few months, the Government take time to consider where the investment for that additional capacity is best directed—where the extra carriages will go. I hear what she says about the trans-Pennine express. We will consult the rail regulator, Network Rail and the train operating companies to decide where those carriages are best targeted and come back to the House with a plan by January.

I welcome the extra investment in Cardiff, Reading and Birmingham New Street, which will be very good news for passengers in many parts of my country. However, is there any intention in the White Paper to devolve further powers over the railways to the Welsh Government? In the last White Paper, that happened with Scotland and included responsibility for London to Glasgow and Edinburgh services operating in Scotland. That has not happened in Wales, with the result that 60 per cent. of inter-city services in south Wales, for example, are entirely unaccountable to the Welsh Assembly Government. Will she agree to hold an urgent meeting with the new Transport Minister in the Welsh Assembly Government, who, as luck would have it, is the leader of my party?

I am certainly glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the investment in Cardiff station, which will receive £20 million to improve its infrastructure, thus also relieving the bottleneck at Reading station, where very significant investment will transform Reading station’s potential to operate as an interchange and improve the reliability of all the train services in Wales and elsewhere that use Reading. I am afraid that I cannot promise him that I will somehow reopen the devolution settlement today, but I hope that he rests assured that we take the interests of his constituents seriously.

At least one of the two Reading MPs is here to applaud the Secretary of State for having the wisdom and foresight to announce the long-awaited upgrade of Reading station. It will improve platform capacity, deliver service improvements and help to tackle the chronic overcrowding that is making commuting such a misery on the First Great Western main line, but is she aware that it will also remove the dreadful Cow lane bottlenecks, which are a blockage in west Reading for both motorists and bus passengers? The statement is a win-win for Reading and a win-win for Labour.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and pay tribute to him. Over the past few months—indeed longer than that: over the past five years—he has championed the cause of his constituents and made a strong case on behalf of all commuters who use Reading station or whose train line depends on Reading station. The £425 million that the Government are committing today will transform the prospects of people using Reading station and will improve the frequency and reliability of trains into London.

Has the Secretary of State had a chance to visit Derby station? If she has, she will have seen that the platforms look like a setting from world war two. When will Derby station be refurbished?

I have had the opportunity to visit Derby station and the right hon. Gentleman makes his case with passion. Today’s White Paper commits the Government to £150 million for 150 medium-sized stations. There is also other funding available for stations that do not qualify as the top 150 priorities. It is for Network Rail, together with the train operating companies, to decide what the priorities are and I am sure that he will continue to make his case to them.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to Thameslink, which serves my constituency and is the line on which I have commuted for 38 years—perhaps I should declare an interest. The £5.5 billion for Thameslink contrasts rather markedly with the £200 million committed to rail freight. Will she give further thought to more substantial investment in rail freight, particularly on strategic routes? That would not just take traffic off our road, but might take freight traffic off fast main line passenger routes and free them up for faster and more frequent passenger trains.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the attention of the House to the importance of freight and the need to deliver a strategic freight network that will allow the use of freight rail services to increase over the next seven years. The Government’s £200 million will really help that process. There are those who argue that we should have dedicated freight lines—I think that he is one of them. The issue for the Government is how to make the best value-for-money investments while delivering the objectives. I understand that not only do strategic dedicated freight lines cost a significant amount of money, they do not maximise the potential to relieve congestion on the busiest routes, because they do not alter the peak hours commuter congestion periods on passenger lines. We have to target our money appropriately to make the best use of it, but of course we keep the issues under review.

Seven years ago, in the 10-year plan, the Government said that they would bring forward schemes to ease bottlenecks, particularly in the west midlands. Will the right hon. Lady look carefully at the rail service and facilities improvement plan generated by my borough of Walsall, which highlights the Stourbridge-Walsall-Lichfield line? It connects Walsall with Stourbridge and thence the south and south-west, and with Brownhills and Lichfield for connections to Yorkshire and the north-east. The former Strategic Rail Authority in its land use planning guide cited the line as a potential capacity provider to ease congestion across the west midlands rail network. Anything that the Secretary of State can do to bring forward the revival of the Brownhills-to-Lichfield line, and so on, would be mightily welcome.

I will of course look at any proposal that an hon. Member puts before me, but I urge the hon. Gentleman to think about the potential costs of any improvements that he may suggest, because, ultimately, they have to be funded either by the taxpayer or by the fare payer—or we will be unable to deliver the investment. I have yet to hear a plausible exposition of an Opposition policy that would enable greater investment in capacity.

I warmly welcome the proposal to invest £425 million in Reading station, but will my right hon. Friend please make sure that the beneficiaries of that investment are not just passengers who live to the west of Reading, but those on the inner commuter lines of First Great Western? In my constituency, for example, three years ago there were 10 fast trains to Paddington during the morning peak; now there are four.

My hon. Friend makes her case well. I can assure her that the very significant investment at Reading station will have implications for her constituents, and I expect the reliability of trains on those routes to improve as a result of it.

I, too, welcome the investment in Reading station. It will certainly improve services to the west as, absurdly, the bottleneck means that the fast train to Bristol is frequent held up at Reading, even though it is not even meant to stop there. However, will the Secretary of State consider bringing forward investment in and around Bristol Temple Meads station? Resignalisation of the lines in the area will enable the underused branch network around the city, including the Severn Beech line, to be expanded, and the line to Portishead to be reopened. That would reduce significantly the number of cars coming into Bristol city centre, and the carbon emissions that they cause.

The Government, in conjunction with Network Rail and the train operating companies, always take seriously questions to do with whether a rail line should be reopened, whether extra carriages should be added to a particular service or whether a station needs to be enhanced to deliver improvements. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman has cleared his plea for more money with his Front Bench, as I do not yet understand how the Liberal Democrat sums add up.

Whether it is for reasons of economic efficiency, global warming or simple traveller comfort, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to give priority to investment in the railways over the next seven years and beyond. I do not want to reopen the debate about the devolution settlement, but she has considerable influence in Scotland and I put it to her that the provision of a modern rail connection into Glasgow and Edinburgh airports has to be a priority. Will she use her good offices to encourage the Scottish Executive, the railway interests and BAA, the airports’ owner, to make that investment?

I am afraid that I cannot give my right hon. Friend that assurance. He knows that those issues are for the Scottish Executive and not Westminster politicians—

Where airlines have a particular responsibility, it is clear that there are commercial decisions that also need to be made.

Like other hon. Members, I have been lobbying on my constituents’ behalf in respect of the First Great Western main line, so the news about the improvements at Reading is very welcome. Will the Secretary of State say when they will be completed, and update us on other important improvements, such as increasing capacity at Oxford and improving access to Paddington? Finally, what is the prospect of getting a station at Grove?

It is remarkable how representations from Opposition Back Benchers differ so profoundly from what Front Bench say. Opposition Back Benchers have welcomed what is in today’s White Paper, and even added to the proposals by asking for more investment and capacity improvements, but I have yet to hear those on the Front Bench make a credible proposition about how they would fund the improvements. We have set aside more than £425 million for Reading station in the control period from 2009 to 2014. That will deliver significant improvements for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.

The proposals in the White Paper will be widely welcomed, but is my right hon. Friend aware that, for Londoners, the test of the rail strategy will be what happens with Crossrail, which has been promised for so long? We know that the Government are committed to Crossrail and that the necessary legislation is going through, but the project’s credibility among Londoners will depend on their being able to see concrete funding plans. When Crossrail is in place, perhaps we can move on to Crossrail 2, with the underground being taken all the way from Hackney’s glittering spires to downtown Chelsea.

My hon. Friend is right that Crossrail is incredibly important to relieving overcrowding at some of London’s busiest stations and on the tube, and that it could make a real strategic contribution to passenger movements across London. The Crossrail Bill is going through the process of being considered by the House, but in the meantime it is right that the Government work with the private sector to try and make sure that the project is affordable and properly financed.

The very welcome refurbishment of Chester station has commenced, and in the past 12 months there has been a 30 per cent. increase in the number of passengers using the station. However, that has highlighted the real need for additional car parking there. Many of my constituents drive to Crewe or Runcorn to catch the train, so will my right hon. Friend look at trying to speed up the provision of extra car parking?

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. Chester will benefit significantly from the proposals that I have set before the House. She mentioned car parking, an issue that is being raised with increasing regularity across the country as demand for rail services increases. On the whole, such issues are dealt with by Network Rail in conjunction with the relevant local authority. I am sure that she is making her representations to those bodies directly, but of course I am happy to pass them on.

Is the Secretary of State aware that for the first time in many years, my constituents in Worcestershire can plan their journeys to London and Oxford with complete confidence, because the railway line is closed, thanks to the floods? Will she use this respite period to put pressure on First Great Western to improve its abysmal level of service, and on Network Rail to improve its infrastructure and maintenance work on the line, and to bring forward as quickly as possible the business case for the redoubling of the line between Worcester and Oxford?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that as recently as last Thursday, First Great Western met my hon. Friend the Rail Minister. First Great Western has an improvement strategy in place. I hope to see it commit to delivering on its franchise agreement, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and other Members of the House would welcome that.

I welcome the statement and the reiteration of support for the railway network. Will the Secretary of State say something about reopening the many closed railway lines in England, and the possibility of reopening enough routes to allow an east-west line to be formed? That has long been campaigned for, would not be expensive to introduce, and would mean a huge improvement to passenger and freight networks. Will she give us some hope on the question of when that might happen?

I have to tell my hon. Friend that those are predominantly issues for Network Rail. It has the necessary planning powers in place to put aside disused rail lines for future growth purposes, if it thinks that that is the right thing to do. It considers proposals on a case-by-case basis, and I am sure that it will have heard my hon. Friend’s representations.

I notice that the statement said that there is to be a welcome focus on passengers, and a greater involvement with future franchises. Given the unhappiness with the First Capital Connect franchise, will there be any revision or renegotiation of franchises about which people are deeply unhappy?

I can tell the hon. Lady that the franchises currently in operation are already delivering benefits for passengers. We hope to improve on that in the coming seven years as we accommodate a massive increase in demand—180 million more people are to travel by rail every year. Of course, as we go forward, we want to make sure that passenger concerns are right at the heart of the franchising process. That is why I intend to make sure that Passenger Focus has more input in specifying the franchises in future.

Will my right hon. Friend go for a truly integrated transport system, and do more about car parking facilities in all stations? I have travelled the length and breadth of the country, and no station that I visit has the necessary car parking facilities. Will part of the £100 million, or £150 million, which has been designated for 150 stations go on car parking?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that local authorities ought to have integrated transport plans that take into account not only bus usage, but local train stations, how people access those stations, how links are made, and whether people can drive to the station, leave their cars and use the train. However, it is right that those issues be determined locally, rather than in Whitehall. I am sure that he will want to take up the issues that he raised with his local authority and Network Rail.

The Secretary of State referred to the non-closure of rural lines. Will she give a guarantee of investment in places such as Norfolk, where efficient rural rail links are an absolute necessity?

I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. There will be no rural line closures in the next seven years. Beyond that, of course, there needs to be flexibility in place, so that we can make sure that rural lines can respond to passenger demand. We are also providing new rolling stock to increase capacity on rural lines, where that is needed.

I add my welcome for my right hon. Friend’s announcement of a £600 million investment to tackle bottlenecks at Birmingham New Street and Reading stations, but may I press her a little more on the Birmingham New Street aspect of the announcement? Will she confirm that the investment is only the first tranche of money, and that it is simply the rail component of a much bigger project that needs to be funded if, at New Street, we are to achieve the benefits that are so vital for Birmingham and the west midlands? How will the project be taken forward, and what will the responsibilities be of different Departments and Government agencies in taking it forward?

I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done in championing the cause of Birmingham New Street. I know that he and his colleagues have made their case strongly with the Department and others involved in the process. I can confirm that £128 million will be delivered by the Department for Transport for the railway improvements at Birmingham New Street, which are desperately needed. I also know that Birmingham city council has put forward plans for a much more ambitious scheme that would secure regeneration benefits for the area as well. The £128 million that we are pledging today is without prejudice to that larger scheme going ahead. In a way, the message for my hon. Friend’s constituency is that the first hurdle is cleared. We will assess any future scheme on its merits if a value-for-money case can be made.

Can the Minister confirm whether any money for the 154 railway stations is to go to Devon stations, or whether the reference to Dartmouth is a just a misleading mistake? Will there be an increase in capacity between Exeter and Waterloo? That will be vital, particularly during the construction phase of Crossrail.

There will be an increase in capacity at Waterloo station, which I think will serve Exeter too. Some £150 million has been set aside for middle-sized stations. Clearly, there will be a process of iteration with Network Rail and other interested parties about where that money is best targeted. Those are decisions rightly taken by the industry, rather than set from Whitehall. I hear the case that the hon. Gentleman has made, and I will happily forward it to those concerned.