[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate on the Wessex route plan, Mr Streeter.
In 1996, when the railways were set free from Government control, it was assumed that we would need to manage their decline. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Privatisation stopped what had become a gradual decline. Passenger numbers on our railways have more than doubled since then, going from 750 million to 1.6 billion journeys a year. There has been a 60% increase in freight, too.
Passenger numbers on routes in and out of Waterloo have doubled since privatisation to 220 million journeys a year. Waterloo is Britain’s busiest mainline station, with over 100 million passengers a year. It has more passengers than Heathrow airport, yet Waterloo is the only major route into London that in the past 30 years has not had money spent on it to make sure that it can cater for the record numbers of people using it every day to get to and from our capital and to and from work. Waterloo uses track layout that was designed for steam trains in the 1930s, which was when the last very big investment in infrastructure on the Waterloo route was made.
Why the delay? Why has no money gone in there? It is because decisions about redesigning the route were put off, because they were too complicated and nobody came up with credible solutions. Even when the last Government set sky-high house-building targets for the south-east, the infrastructure investment was not there for the railways to match that growth. In my Basingstoke constituency, the then council called for the highest possible levels of house building, with 13,000 homes built in Basingstoke in the last 15 years alone, but again, there were no solutions on rail and no solutions on transport for residents. What that means for my constituents and those of right hon. and hon. Members here today is increasing overcrowding, not only at peak times, but throughout other points in the day. Passengers now regularly stand for the 50 minutes between Basingstoke and London at peak times, but late-night trains, such as the one I got last Monday that left Waterloo at 10.20 pm, are also full to capacity, and weekend services can see that sort of extreme overcrowding, too. Just to remedy the existing overcrowding, we would need 20% more space on our trains. Passenger numbers are forecast to grow by another 40% in the next 30 years, so now is exactly the right time for a radical redesign and a radical solution for the future.
As rail becomes the overcrowded option, so our roads have to take more of the strain. The knock-on effect is chronic congestion on the M3 and other roads in the local strategic network. I very much welcome this Government’s approach of investing in our roads, and in Basingstoke we have had £20 million allocated to alleviate some of the worst problems of road congestion, but Basingstoke residents are still paying the price for the past under-investment. As the now leader of the council, Councillor Clive Sanders, has made it clear:
“Investment in the railways is vital if Basingstoke is to thrive economically. Connectivity and accessibility are key factors affecting growth.”
We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past, and we have seen this week that this Government are not going to do so. Their commitment to investing in infrastructure is clear for all to see, and the national infrastructure plan launched today is designed to ensure that investment in roads and rail is made part of our long-term economic plan for the country.
I want to put on the record my thanks to Network Rail and the alliance for their hard work in producing the Wessex route study, published just last week, because I believe that, for the first time, it offers a way to get the extra capacity that the Wessex route so badly needs. I know that there are many competing demands for Government spending, but I believe that a strong case can be made for the Wessex route to be a priority of future Government investment.
The main line out of Waterloo serves the most important economic area in Britain. It brings workers into London and serves businesses throughout the south-east. My constituency of Basingstoke is part of that, and our growth in new business was double the average of the south-east last year, with growth expected to continue at a rate of between 4% and 6% in the next year. Basingstoke has seen some 1,000 new businesses formed in the past 12 months, and our draft local plan could mean another 13,400 homes being built in the next 15 years. Along the length of the main line out of Waterloo, thousands of new homes will be built. It is estimated that that will result in 60% more train capacity being needed by 2043—equal to an extra 37 trains an hour into Waterloo on the main line in high peak hours.
More train capacity is needed the entire length of the Wessex route in Hampshire. In the words of Andrew Finney, the president of the Hampshire chamber of commerce:
“The market leading status of the Port of Southampton is threatened by a lack of rail capacity for cruise passengers and rail freight. In linking Coast, National Park and Capital visitor attractions, the route simply has to grow to maximise future tourism opportunities.”
Others have added their voice to calls for that investment. Mr Geoff French, the chairman of the Enterprise M3 local enterprise partnership, has said:
“Good transport communications have always been an important part of Basingstoke’s and indeed all of the Enterprise M3 areas’ development and economic success. Today these transport links are more congested and under greater pressure than ever before. That is why the current Wessex Route Study by Network Rail is so vital…rail capacity improvements are needed urgently.”
The economic case for investment in the Wessex route is strong. It is a compelling case that will support the long-term economic plan for our country. Doing nothing is not an option for Basingstoke, it is not an option for the south-east and it is not an option for the British economy.
As in our road strategy, we need to tackle the problems in the short term and the long term. The route into Waterloo already has more trains on it than any other in the country, with one train a minute arriving at Waterloo across its three routes at peak hours. That is all done on signalling that is 30 years old, as many of my residents can attest, thanks to the delays that they experience. By comparison, Thameslink is investing more than £7 billion to achieve the same frequency of services on modern signalling. In the short term, we will need to squeeze extra capacity from the current rail network, using the additional 150 carriages recently ordered to increase the length of shorter shoulder peak services from Basingstoke into London, to help people to spread their journeys through the day. However, longer trains will also be needed for late-night and weekend services, as well as adjustments in the signalling.
In the long term, the Wessex route study identifies that the additional capacity that is most required is inwards from Basingstoke and Guildford. I think the plan offers a real opportunity of a step change and real solutions. It is now out for consultation and I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to submit their thoughts as part of that consultation.
My right hon. Friend is making a very cogent case on the need for extra investment in the routes into Waterloo, but she should not forget the importance of linking large urban centres outside London. The Wessex capacity study talks, for example, about the routes between Portsmouth, Winchester and Basingstoke, and Portsmouth, Southampton and Poole. Those are important centres economically, they are important centres of business, and they are residential areas, too.
As I would expect, my hon. Friend makes the very important point that the Wessex route plan covers not only the main line, but all the surrounding areas. He is absolutely right to say that investment in this plan will yield even greater benefits than those that rely on the main line. If we took forward some of the recommendations in the Wessex route plan, that would be important not only for those of us in that part of the country, but for people throughout the country.
Bigger, faster trains are needed on the Wessex route. When we examine the situation in some detail, we can see that the problems that we are experiencing are akin to some of the problems the airline industry has had to consider in recent years, which led to the development of the Airbus A380. We should be looking at how we can develop longer, faster trains for our route in the long term.
The Wessex route needs to be the Government’s priority for the rail industry’s control period 6. We need to make good the under-investment of the past. In the short term, technical ingenuity will squeeze in some additional space for our local residents, who are suffering some of the worst train overcrowding in the country, and extra carriages at shoulder periods will help, but there will be no real solution in the long term without a significant plan of investment in both the hardware of the route and the vehicles that travel on it. Those bigger, faster trains will help the M3 corridor to continue to provide the power that the British economy needs. We need to ensure that businesses continue to want to locate themselves in the M3 corridor, because the people whom we represent rely on businesses seeing our area as an attractive place in which to locate and providing jobs for them and their families in the future. That certainty and economic success help to ensure that our constituents have the jobs that they need and economic prosperity for the future.
I very much welcome the opportunity afforded by today’s debate to put that message very firmly on the agenda of the Government as they look at their investment in rail in the future. I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for coming here today and listening to the debate and to right hon. and hon. Members who have taken the opportunity to come and lend their weight to the case for prioritising the Wessex route.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) on securing the debate, which is very timely in the light of the document that was published earlier this week, or perhaps last week, if I have got the timing right. However, the principal reason why I wanted to speak in the debate is that when I received my copy of the document, it took me some time to find any reference in it to anything west of Salisbury.
As you will be aware, Mr Streeter, historically this was the main line, as far as Exeter, to the south-west. It was certainly the fastest and most direct one. It is only in relatively modern railway times, since the Great Western line took over as the principal route, that it has fallen into decline. However, with the renaissance of the rail industry that the right hon. Lady mentioned, it faces similar pressures to railways all over the country. It faces similar and very welcome increases in passenger numbers, and that is not just about people travelling between Exeter and Waterloo. This line is a favourite of retired people and students, because it has rather competitive pricing compared with the First Great Western line. That is an element of competition that I am sure everyone here agrees can only be a good thing. Although the journey times are a little longer as a rule, people can get cheaper prices, so it is a very popular line, not just with people for whom it is convenient—those living in the constituency of the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who may be speaking in a few minutes—but with people from Exeter and people visiting Exeter from London and the south-east.
The line is a vital lifeline on the sadly increasing number of occasions when our main line, the Great Western line, is incapacitated, usually through some act of nature at the moment. In the past two or three winters, we have lost our connectivity on the main line for considerable periods and, as you will know, Mr Streeter, that has had a very damaging impact on the economy of the south-west. The alternative rail access provided by the Wessex line from Exeter to Waterloo has been incredibly valuable, although there was a week or so last winter when we had no connectivity at all because the line between Yeovil and Exeter was also blocked. I cannot remember whether that was because of flooding, landslides or trees, but the route suffers from resilience and vulnerability problems, which I shall discuss in a moment. I remember one famous weekend when I was coming back from my constituency and I was literally stranded. I always take my bicycle on the train between Exeter and London, and I had to put it in a taxi from Exeter all the way to Yeovil to get to the nearest train station. That, admittedly, was a rare event, but it helps to explain the sense of vulnerability and isolation that we have in the south-west, with these two fantastic but ageing and in-need-of-investment rail connections.
We can find one or two mentions of the line west of Salisbury in the document, which are welcome, but I hope that the Minister, when he sums up, will be able to reassure me that justified as all the investment is in the south-eastern portion of the line, east of Salisbury, this line will also receive investment. It performs a vital function, not just for long-distance travellers but increasingly for commuters in the Exeter area. We have growing and thriving communities. We have a new town, Cranbrook, just outside Exeter, which is getting a new station. We have growing villages and market towns—Feniton, Honiton and others—in east Devon and they have irregular services at the moment. In some cases, that makes it incredibly difficult for people who would like to use the train to commute to and from Exeter for work to do so.
Devon county council, along with the other local and regional partners, has come up with a visionary transport vision for the area, including something called the Devon metro, which would involve significant improvements and upgrading of the access routes in and out of Exeter by rail. This route is one of the most important. I do not have the figures with me, but I would not be at all surprised if a large number of people commuted every day to Exeter from the growing and thriving settlements in east Devon, but they have, as I said, very irregular services, which tend to finish early in the evening and do not always start early enough in the morning.
I shall explain what we desperately need on the this bit of railway west of Salisbury, which over time has been reduced largely to single track. That is the main problem. With a single-track railway, we cannot run services as frequently as we can on a double-track railway; we need passing places. There are a few passing places, but not enough; we need more. Just a few more passing places at strategic points would enable this railway to run trains more quickly and regularly. At the moment, it is difficult to combine a regular service from Exeter to Waterloo with local stopping services servicing the villages and towns that I have referred to, but we need both. With the huge growth in passenger numbers that we have seen in recent years, and which are projected to grow even more in future, and with all the public transport policy from all political parties urging and encouraging people to use public transport where possible, not just for climate change and pollution reasons but for reasons of chronic congestion in cities such as mine, we need those rail routes to function properly as commuter routes, as well as the leisure and long-distance routes that operate at the moment as an alternative to the Great Western line.
I say to the Minister, “Please, when you respond, don’t ignore the south-west.” I say that as chairman of the all-party group on rail in the south-west. The document unfortunately does not mention anything west of Salisbury in its opening pages or headlines. We have to look rather hard in the 180-plus pages to find anything at all about the line west of Salisbury. It is a very important line that has a great future.
I would like some reassurance that the proposals in the document will help Devon and enable Devon county council to deliver its vision for a Devon metro public transport system around Exeter. It is a fantastic, sustainable vision for transport around Exeter, and it is exactly the sort of thing that a forward-looking, visionary Minister, such as the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), should support. I look forward to his addressing it in his response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, and to follow the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who is a fellow former chairman of the all-party group on cycling—I propose to say something about bicycles in a moment.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) on her choice of subject and on the way in which she made her case. My constituents are further west than hers, but they share an interest in increasing the capacity from Basingstoke to Waterloo. I commend her on the commitment to her constituents that she has shown in leading the campaign to drive up the quality of the service from Basingstoke to Waterloo.
As my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Exeter both said, this is a timely debate, as the Network Rail-South West Trains alliance route study has just been published for consultation. It is a good example of how the public and private sectors can work together for the benefit of customers by taking local ownership of a problem and producing a collaborative solution. It is a thorough document running to 159 pages.
To put the debate in context, nearly 20 years ago I went on the first privatised train service from Twickenham to Waterloo. It was at 10 past 5 in the morning on Sunday 4 February 1996. The franchisee was South West Trains, which has retained the franchise. A fare dodger joined us, thinking that the train would be sparsely populated. Sadly for him, there were 100 journalists and 10 revenue protection officers on the train, so his crime was swiftly detected.
I mention that journey to emphasise how the context has changed in the past 20 to 30 years. Before privatisation, the only sources of investment in Wessex rail services were British Rail and the Government. If there was pressure on Government spending, the railways had to bear the pain. Nowadays, HMG are not the only source of investment, although I commend the Minister on the deal his Department has done with the Treasury. We now have rolling stock operating companies and train operating companies, which can invest in station improvements and service development using private funding.
We have also created a railway operating industry, which we did not have before. We have bus companies, airline companies and shipping companies. Train operators from overseas bid for franchises, thereby driving up the quality of the service for rail passengers. That was simply not possible when British Rail had a monopoly. The new system keeps the franchise holders on their toes.
Since winning the franchise some 20 years ago, South West Trains has done much to build on what it inherited. Crucially, it has increased services. We now have two trains that run at off-peak times to Andover. It has also increased capacity, which I will return to in a moment. There has been significant station investment at Overton and Andover, where we have a new newspaper and coffee shop, a refurbished waiting room and a new ticket office. I commend the regular surgeries that South West Trains holds in the House, at which Members of Parliament can discuss issues on behalf of their constituents.
However, South West Trains has become the victim of its own success, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke explained. It has attracted more people to the railways, and there are now serious capacity issues. My constituents who return home in the evening often have to stand from Waterloo to Basingstoke because of the pressure on capacity. For those who travel in the morning from Andover, by the time the train reaches Whitchurch and Overton it is often standing room only. There is enormous pressure on seating at off-peak times—for example on Sunday evenings when university students are returning. As my right hon. Friend said, that problem is likely to become more acute. There is a forecast 40% volume growth over the next 30 years. Andover, like Basingstoke, is growing fast, with major expansion towards the east of the town, and both Overton and Whitchurch are likely to have more commuters.
The west of England line will be a vital lifeline when the A303 is dug up. As we heard yesterday, there will be a major improvement at Stonehenge, which I suspect will cause disruption, so people will rely on the west of England line. As the right hon. Member for Exeter said, it is a vital artery to the south-west, and it was the only rail connection during the bad weather a few months ago.
The problem at the moment is the massive constraint on capacity between Basingstoke, Woking and London. That is the key issue addressed by the timely Wessex route study, which rightly takes a long-term view of what needs to be done. I strongly support the measures to speed up journey times and increase capacity on the west of England line from Basingstoke to Salisbury by electrification and investing in faster and better rolling stock. The study proposes possible solutions, including running double-deck trains to Basingstoke and increasing some line speeds to 125 mph—something available for more than 40 years on other lines, such as the Great Western railway line.
If possible, we would like more carriages during the off-peak period. Often, the trains to Andover have three cars, which are under pressure. I would have thought that more rolling stock was available. Ticketing technology should be utilised. I would like to be able to print my ticket at home, which one can do on some lines, but at the moment one cannot do it on that franchise. I hope that in due course travellers will be able to swipe in and out at both ends of their journey.
One needs to keep an eye on the balance between first class and standard class to ensure that there is not over-capacity in first class and congestion in second class. We need to keep an eye on provision for bicycles—I am sure the right hon. Member for Exeter agrees. The most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of making a journey is to bicycle to the station, go by train and bicycle at the other end. To do that, the trains must have the capacity to carry bicycles. I hope that will be a provision in the franchise.
We need a rail link to Heathrow from Woking station. There was a proposal, which I think was called air link, when I was in the Department that is now graced by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). In the study, it is now called the southern rail access to Heathrow. A lot of travellers from the south-west want to get to Heathrow. At the moment, they must get off at Woking and catch a bus. It would be much more convenient for them to simply get on a rail link to Heathrow. I think the track is there for most of the journey, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that that remains a priority.
There are some local issues on which Kit Malthouse, who I hope will be the next Member of Parliament for North West Hampshire, and I are campaigning. There are real constraints on car-parking capacity at Andover, Overton and Whitchurch stations. There are proposals for a two-storey car park at Andover, which is urgently required. We also need more capacity at Whitchurch, where land is available to the north of the station. There is a proposal for a private operator to provide a passenger service from Andover to Ludgershall, perhaps on a steam train. It is supported by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), a fellow Minister in the Department of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings. The Ministry of Defence has kept that line working—it is not used very often. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will smile on a proposal to have a privately-run steam train on that branch.
Finally, I want to underline the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke. We have done as much as we can with the existing infrastructure, and we now need a step change to increase capacity. The study offers a way forward. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister, when he winds up the debate, will smile on it and commend it as the right way forward.
Like other Members, I congratulate my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), on securing this debate. It is about an issue that she and I have discussed more times than we care to remember, and I have a feeling that we will talk about it many more times over the months and years ahead.
Today’s debate is a great success, not least given my right hon. Friend’s brilliant speech. Often in this House, we talk about things that are declining and problems in this country, but debates about the railways start with a great success story. As my other neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), correctly said, South West Trains is the victim of its own success, and that could be said of the railway industry across our country.
I do not wish to speak for too long, although time seems to be on our side—I want to hear from the Minister—but I want to make a couple of points. My right hon. Friend said that we must watch first class carefully. I completely agree; I have thought that for a long time. We have all seen surplus capacity in the first-class carriages. The TOCs need to watch that closely. I have often wondered whether the idea of first-class provision on our railways is an anachronism in the modern age, but maybe that is a debate for another day.
For my constituents travelling to and from Winchester, the issue is all about capacity. I have stations at Micheldever, Shawford and Chandler’s Ford in my constituency, but the vast majority of travellers, some 4.5 million a year, use Winchester railway station. Thousands commute from Winchester to London, primarily, each day.
I echo others in mentioning some of the success stories for my station and my service during this Parliament, which have been significant. A £3.5 million scheme brought the new decked car park to the station. I say to my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, that it is very good and very welcome, but we should watch the lighting inside, which has to be right or there will be serious and legitimate safety concerns. We have excellent new cycling facilities. As a vice-chair of the all-party group on cycling, I was pleased to see those facilities come online.
We have a fantastic new footbridge at our railway station. When I became a Member of Parliament, people had to get taxicabs from one side of the station to the other, which was ludicrous. We now have wi-fi on many services leaving Winchester, which is brilliant, and we have made real steps on late-night safety around our railway station with the opening of a ticket office so that people do not have to go through the dark side gate. South West Trains—I do not apologise for pressing it again on this—knows that it needs to do better on that.
I am a regular commuter, and I receive feedback from constituents. The reliability of services on South West Trains is very good, and I get good feedback from people in that respect. That is not the issue on which I want to focus today. As others have said, the issue is with the lack of seats on the 6.31 am, the 6.48 am, the 7.5 am and the notorious 7.18 am—standing with one’s face in an armpit is probably one of the best outcomes for which one can hope on that service—out of Winchester into London. That is what really hurts my constituents.
A constituent who knew I was hoping to speak in this debate sent me a note saying that the key issue is obviously overcrowding on the early-morning services into Waterloo: “With ticket costs increasing year on year, and with little discernible increase in seating capacity, insult is being added to injury.” The Wessex route study, which I welcome very much, confirms that and neatly illustrates the current chronic undercapacity of services from Winchester. He said, “This is not news, Mr Brine,” and I completely agree. He talks about adding insult to injury—a standard season ticket between Winchester and London costs £5,500 a year, which is, next to their mortgage, the second biggest outgoing for many of my constituents. They are entitled to a seat for that money.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that First Great Western has reduced the number of first-class carriages on its trains from three to two? That is a very good idea, although were South West Trains to follow suit, would he urge it not to lose the only quiet carriage in first class? I never go there myself because I am always in standard class, but I have had complaints from a number of people in the south-west who now have to put up with a lot of noise, as well as paying quite high fares.
The right hon. Gentleman and I have spoken many times about some of these issues on the all-party group on cycling. Yes, the number of carriages should be reduced where there is a surplus, but I was making a wider point about whether it is morally correct to have first-class and second-class carriages on the railways.
On the subject of the so-called quiet carriage, some of my constituents—and probably some of the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents—would find the idea of a quiet carriage laughable. Even though there are big signs on the windows saying that the carriage is a quiet carriage, many people seem not to notice. I have heard many mobile phone conversations in the quiet carriage during my travels, so the railways may need to do some education work.
I was talking about the cost of a standard season ticket for my constituents, which is huge. It actually costs more to get a season ticket from Winchester to Waterloo than it does from Southampton to Waterloo, even though we are nearer London. South West Trains is well aware of that issue, and I wish it would address the situation. Part-time season tickets are a nut that we have failed to crack, and I would be interested if the Minister had a comment on that issue. Smart ticketing is a coming issue, and I believe I am right in saying that it requires some sort of change at parliamentary level. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that situation.
High demand for peak commuter services to Waterloo from all our constituencies is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said, expected to increase dramatically over the years ahead. She coherently set out the housing development in her area; in my area our local plan, which is almost complete, is for 12,500 houses in the district over the next 20 years. Two thousand houses at the Barton Farm site, which is but half a mile from Winchester railway station, have been given the go-ahead in the past few years. I bitterly opposed that development. Yes, there will be a new primary school on the site, and there will be other infrastructure improvements from such a big development, but a brand new mainline railway station will not be built for my constituents as a result of that development, so something has to change and something has to give.
Southampton airport is a very short train ride from my constituency. Passengers going to and from that airport come through my railway station, and air passenger projections are only expected to grow. People relocating from London to places such as Winchester are welcome, and we enjoy having them. They come because of the “cheaper” housing in Winchester—everything is relative in life, but housing is certainly cheaper than in west London. They come to Winchester for the good schools, the great quality of life and the fantastic Christmas market that we have right now, but they want to commute back into London. They have every right to expect that they should be able to do that, and many contact me to say that they are horrified at the cost and the standing that they have to endure.
There are things that we can do, and others have mentioned some of them. The national infrastructure plan published yesterday has some very good announcements for my area. As I said in the House, the improvements to junction 9 of the M3, on which I campaigned for many years, are incredibly welcome. The smart motorways technology around junctions 10 and 14 are also a welcome investment in our motorway infrastructure for my constituents. Credit to the Minister and his Department for doing that. I thank him on behalf of my constituents.
There are things that we can do as a city. One of the core corporate priorities of Winchester city council is to reduce the daily outward migration from the city for work, which is why the council is so keen to redevelop Station approach, to keep top-quality employers such as Denplan and to attract other big, quality employers, all of which reduces the necessity for people to travel to London every day. It is important that should happen. Those are all things that we can do, but we cannot control all of them. The issue is about capacity.
The key constraints for passenger services are highlighted in the study, which states:
“the layout of the Waterloo throat restricts the number of services that can access the platforms at any one time; the layout at Clapham Junction does not allow all trains that currently pass through the station to stop there”.
The study continues:
“A further constraint on the ability…to accommodate passenger growth is the capacity of some station car parks”.
We have gone some way in that respect, but many other places have not yet done so.
Capacity is the issue. I admit that I was sceptical about the local enterprise partnerships, but they are part of the solution, as is Hampshire county council. Winchester Action on Climate Change sent me a brief ahead of today’s debate and, judging by its name, it is keen on railway travel, as am I. The organisation makes some positive contributions, and it will be responding to the route study in due course.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke talked about a significant plan of investment, which is exactly what is needed—now really is the moment for that. Ahead of this debate one of my constituents said to me, “A lot of the discussion points in the Wessex route plan are very big-picture and will take a long time, cost a lot of money and need a lot of political and stakeholder buy-in. What can we do in the short term?” I place one point on the record for the Minister’s consideration—I know he likes to muse on these things. As a temporary solution, could we make greater use of Victoria station for trains coming in from the Wessex area? I leave that idea for him to ponder.
You will be pleased to know, Mr Streeter, that I have nearly finished. First, however, I have some questions for the Minister. I know that St Pancras and all the investment there are very much on Ministers’ radars, but is Waterloo on the Minister’s radar? I do not know whether it is, but it needs to be.
I may be able to deal with that point now, so that we can settle the issue. Waterloo is absolutely on our radar. Further improvements will be made in terms of platforms coming into Waterloo, but I want to go a little further, as the Rail Minister for the day. I think we should take the lead from King’s Cross and St Pancras when it comes to the look and feel of some of our major stations. On that basis, we could do a great deal of work at Waterloo. I will ask officials to discuss the matter with the relevant people in the same spirit as my hon. Friend has shown.
That is a fantastic response, and my colleagues here will be pleased to hear it. Today must be the start of the conversation. The document is an excellent starting point, and we will all respond to it, as it has been suggested we must. As a group, Members from Hampshire are happy to see the Minister at any time to help push this conversation forward.
Do the Government have a view on double-deck rolling stock, which is mentioned in the document? Clearly, there are lots of historical issues to do with bridges, which sometimes make that particular issue challenging, but does the Minister have a view?
We have had a good document, a good start and an excellent debate. I am glad to hear that Waterloo is so firmly on the Minister’s radar. However, we really have done as much as we can on car parking, wi-fi, cycle parking, foot bridges, the wonderful new concessions at Waterloo and making things nice for the traveller there. In many ways, that is the icing on the cake, but we now need to go back and work on the cake—that is about the infrastructure and the routes in and out of Waterloo. That is where we need real help and real change for all our constituents.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for, I think, the first time, Mr Streeter. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) on securing this timely debate. She spoke persuasively about the discomfort many of her constituents face, the inconvenience experienced when services are inadequate and the unacceptable numbers who have to stand on their daily commute and even in the evenings and at weekends.
I would like to take this opportunity to say how welcome it is to face the Minister for the first time. In May, I had the pleasure of travelling through his constituency on the line through Spalding. I know that he is familiar with Nottingham South, because he was a councillor in Wollaton for many years. I am sure that at some point he would be glad to hear about the excellent work his Labour successors are doing in the area.
The Wessex area suffers from serious overcrowding and other capacity constraints. The 07.32 service from Woking to London is reckoned to be the most overcrowded commuter train in the country. The hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) described the uncomfortable commute he and his constituents face from his area. The route study itself says:
“Standing is commonplace from Woking and Basingstoke”,
and those are clearly not the only parts of the route that are affected.
Waterloo is the busiest station in Britain and has the second highest number of train movements on the network. The region has vital freight links, especially from the port of Southampton to the midlands and the north. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said, it also provides an important alternative route to the south-west and vital local connections for his constituents.
The Wessex route study is a sobering reminder of the challenges the region faces. According to Network Rail, a 20% boost in capacity is needed to address just the current levels of overcrowding. To meet expected growth in demand, a further 40% increase in capacity is needed by 2043. The question is how that additional 60% can be found.
Would the hon. Lady like to reflect on why we we already have a 20% shortfall in capacity? The former Labour Government encouraged so much demand and so many houses were built in the area, but there was simply no investment in the rail or road networks to make that house building sustainable.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention, and I will set out in due course some of the issues around investing in the railways to meet demand.
There are some short-term steps that can be taken toward the 60% increase in capacity that is required. I am sure that, like me, the Minister is regularly lobbied—perhaps he is not, as he is only the stand-in Rail Minister today—on the need to extend trains that are formed of fewer than 10 carriages or even 12 carriages. Substantial investment has gone into rolling stock over the last 15 years, and I am proud of the last Government’s decision to fund the removal of unsafe, slam-door coaches from the region. In particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) deserves credit for the steps he took when he was Minister of State for Transport to bring together the train operators and manufacturers to hammer out a solution, which, just a few years earlier, was thought impossible.
There are routes where more carriages could be added and more trains run. As the report makes clear, however, the increase in capacity could be as little as 3% on some routes in the Wessex area, and some sections of track have reached the effective limit of their capacity on current signalling systems. We cannot pretend that there are easy solutions. Network Rail is clearly exploring all the options, including, as the hon. Member for Winchester said, the possibility of running double-decker trains for the first time in Britain since 1971. In that case too, however, there are significant obstacles to overcome.
I would like to focus on two points: first, the need for better planning of investment and the co-ordination of infrastructure improvements with orders for new trains; and, secondly, the rising cost of living for passengers who have faced fare rises of 20% in the last four years. In some cases, the prices of season tickets have risen even faster, and fares are, of course, set to rise again in January.
The Wessex area is one of the busiest on the whole network in both passenger numbers and the frequency of trains. As right hon. and hon. Members have said, the railways have seen a spectacular increase in the number of passengers over the last 20 years. They now carry the same number of passengers as in the 1920s, on a network that is less than half the size. That growth is probably not a result of privatisation; it has happened because, under 13 years of the Labour Government, there was record public investment in our railways. We could contrast that with the early 1990s. Network SouthEast had a major rolling stock order cancelled, even though it would have provided new trains. Instead, the industry saw job losses and 1,000 days without rolling stock orders. It took Labour to intervene to get rid of those unsafe, slam-door, mark 1 coaches. Let me just give an idea of the scale of that spending commitment. Some £500 million had been spent on the South West Trains area by the early 2000s—the same amount that was provided to the entire Network SouthEast sector under the previous Conservative Government. I am very proud of Labour’s record of investing in the railways, and I am delighted that investment has continued under the current Government.
In the context of long-distance Wessex services, the study notes:
“Capacity has failed to keep pace with rising demand.”
It is clear that, in the long term, significant infrastructure improvements will be needed to accommodate more passengers and more trains. Although new services could be run today, they would come at the expense of reliability.
It is worth dwelling on some of the language used in the Wessex document. I think it is fair to say that the Wessex route study was not intended for a wide readership, but passengers should be aware of the decisions being taken about their services and of the potential impact on the quality of their journeys. Options are being considered even though they could adversely affect other services. Also, frankly, the English could be plainer. When the option of running more trains is raised, the route study says:
“At this level of network utilisation, further measures are likely to be required to ensure the service can be operated punctually and reliably”.
Of the Windsor line, it says:
“Increasing the overall level of service into London Waterloo to 20 tph”—
trains per hour—
“on the Windsor lines may have a small negative impact upon the overall level of punctuality and reliability”.
On the option of adding two more long-distance services an hour, it states:
“Additional performance mitigation measures may be required”.
Punctuality on South West Trains is already below the national average. It would be helpful if the Minister explained what exactly the effect would be on existing trains if infrastructure improvements were not made.
Of course, the plans also require the purchase of new trains: 72 new passenger trains are required in the peak by 2024, and 156 new vehicles are required by 2043. There is also the possibility of running specialised double-decker trains from Waterloo to Basingstoke and Southampton. I am sure that passengers would welcome the increase in the number of seats, but the challenges of raising and widening bridges and tunnels on the route are likely to be significant. There have already been too many decisions about rolling stock that have not been co-ordinated with infrastructure changes. The technical challenges of the proposals in the document show up the need for a proper long-term rolling stock strategy that will bring together decisions about procurement and infrastructure investment.
Does the hon. Lady agree that we are uniquely well placed within the rail industry to do some of the things she has mentioned, because the South West Trains and Network Rail alliance is the bringing together, as far as possible within the legislative framework, of track and TOC?
I think that the deep alliance on the Wessex routes provides interesting opportunities, although there is much talk in the industry about the fact that, although it sounds good, what it will deliver is not clear. We really need to break down the fragmentation to make sure there is symbiosis between the planning of infrastructure and the procurement of rolling stock, which of course falls outside the alliance.
We also need to plan ways for the rail network to benefit from major projects, which, as the report states, include High Speed 2, Crossrail and, potentially, Crossrail 2. I am glad that HS2 Ltd is finally hiring an experienced operations manager to plan the options for integrating HS2 with the existing network. It would be good if the Minister updated us on the progress that has been made with that appointment. Crossrail 2 in particular could benefit the Wessex area, because some local services could enter the proposed tunnel at Wimbledon, freeing capacity at Waterloo. Whatever the Davies commission recommends, we want better rail links to Heathrow, Gatwick and regional airports such as Southampton. We need to know that that planning work is already under way and that decisions about allocation of that capacity are made fairly. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that point.
As the right hon. Member for Basingstoke, my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter and the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban) said, it is also important to strengthen links between towns and cities outside London. For example, off peak, the Basingstoke to Portsmouth train runs at only 32 mph. Proposals for a faster Brighton to Bristol service are welcome, but, again, passengers will want to know the implications for existing local services.
The five-year control periods have been an important mechanism for funding the railways with a degree of certainty. A project that was due to be completed in control period 5 was the conversion of the Southampton to Basingstoke line from third-rail to overhead-line electrification, a project that could bring significant cost savings. It was included in the Government’s 2012 high-level output specification statement for this control period, but the route study says that conversion is intended
“between Basingstoke and the docks at Southampton at some point during CP6.”
There has been uncertainty about the wider electrification programme, with reported cost increases of at least £500 million, so will the Minister confirm today that the Basingstoke to Southampton project has been delayed?
Finally, but most important, passengers face ever-increasing travel costs, even when commuters are unable to board trains at stations and thousands are forced to stand every day. As the hon. Member for Winchester noted, some people’s season ticket costs almost as much as their mortgage. Fares have risen on average by 20% since 2010, even though wages have risen by only 5% in the same period, and they are set to rise again in January. Ministers’ decision to restore “flex” after the election has led to some fares rising even higher than the supposed cap. A season ticket from Basingstoke to London now costs £724 more than it did in 2010—an increase of 21.6%. There is evidence that “flex” has been used unfairly to target commuters who have no choice but to travel by train. The Government evidently agree, at least in principle, because they scrapped the “flex” for 2015—for one year only. I will finish by asking the Minister whether he will bring relief to commuters in Wessex and the rest of the country by implementing a real cap on fare rises, and scrapping “flex” completely.
What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, and to be Rail Minister for a day! It is not the first time, as I have already performed once in that capacity, but I am delighted to do so again, particularly in response to the Adjournment debate of my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller). I congratulate her on securing it.
My right hon. Friend has once again shown that she is a great champion of the interests of the people of Basingstoke. She has also brought to the Chamber’s attention some wider issues, which I shall attempt to address in the limited time available. Should I not be able to get to all the matters raised by hon. Members—and there were many—I shall certainly write to them with details afterwards.
I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said:
“The centre of every man’s existence is a dream.”
It was that spirit that led to the creation of this country’s railways; without the vision and the dream, the reality would not have happened. That spirit, vision and passion for railways is needed at the core of future policy. Of course utility matters, but we must not be constrained by facts. We must have a big view of what railways can be, and what we can achieve. I shall attempt to imbue all that I say today with that passion for what railways can be.
My right hon. Friend made it clear that we are going through a railways renaissance. She was right to highlight the doubling in passenger numbers and to say that the prophecies of the prophets of doom at the time of privatisation have been frustrated by the response of the railway industry and passengers to the opportunities provided by rail travel. I was grateful that she brought that to the attention of the Chamber.
Across Great Britain, railways are playing an increasingly important role in economic development, are they not? When we speak of travel and transport, we need to speak of well-being as well as the economic effect, although the economic effect is not inconsiderable. Rail links people to their homes, jobs and recreational pursuits. That is particularly true across the south-east commuter network, including the Wessex route. As my right hon. Friend said, passenger numbers have doubled across the country in the past 15 years, and the Wessex route is no exception.
It might be helpful to begin with if I were to explain that Network Rail’s Wessex route encompasses the long-distance routes of London Waterloo to Portsmouth, Southampton, Weymouth, Salisbury and Exeter. It also serves the north downs line, linking Reading and Guildford to Redhill and Gatwick airport. It is therefore a vital component of the railway network, transporting millions of commuters into London and providing essential links to Gatwick and Southampton airports. I promise the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) that I will deal with the south-west part of the network, as I attempt to address the range of matters raised in this important debate.
South West Trains operates about 1,700 services a day, and about 222 million passenger journeys were made on its trains last year. In Basingstoke station alone, there are more than 5 million entries and exits a year. In debates such as these, I like to offer Members rather more than a litany of what we have already done and to give them the prospect of what we intend to do. I am delighted to tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke today that South West Trains is currently developing plans for improvements to the forecourt of Basingstoke station. Those works are yet to be guaranteed, but, if approved, they will start next year, with an estimated value of £30,000. We want to make the station as attractive as it can be and that work on the forecourt will do just that.
Crowding on services to Basingstoke and other destinations along the south west main line to London Waterloo, the UK’s busiest railway station, is, as my right hon. Friend said, a continuing challenge. One might say that it is a well-known issue. Ensuring that there is enough capacity on trains is one of the highest priorities for passengers and it is one of the key issues that we are tackling head on. The matter has been raised by a range of speakers in the debate, including my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) and the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). I am pleased and extremely proud that the Government have pledged more than £38 billion in support for the rail industry in England and Wales over the period 2014 to 2019. That massive investment will significantly contribute to improving the capacity and quality of the network, which is seeing such a big growth in demand.
I will return in a moment to another aspect of what my right hon. Friend raised. She is right to say that, in anticipating capacity demand, we need to look across government at the effects of other policies: the consequences of our plan for growth and the relationship of that with transport and travel—rail travel, in particular. In that spirit, she will be happy to hear that the investment I described includes a significant commitment to the South West Trains network.
It may be helpful if I explain to my right hon. Friend and other Members the process for delivering capacity improvements, because that was raised by both my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester. Essentially, it is a two-stage process. In the first instance, it is necessary to tackle the issues that constrain the suburban network in order to create the extra platform capacity at London Waterloo station. That will allow the industry to address the mainline capacity issues, which will benefit my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, her constituents and other constituencies. As I pledged earlier, in providing that extra capacity at Waterloo, we will also look at the style and character of that station. In a sense, we raised the bar at St Pancras and King’s Cross and people now expect the look and feel of London stations to match the best. We can do more in those terms at Waterloo.
In September, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), announced the latest capacity enhancement to be contracted with South West Trains. As part of plans to provide capacity for an extra 24,000 peak-time passengers each day, 150 new vehicles are being manufactured by Siemens to be put into passenger use by the start of 2018. However, the hon. Member for Nottingham South—as she said, I know her constituency well—made a good point in saying that we need to ensure that our policy is coherent. We need to be certain that the changes we make to rolling stock are integrated with the other necessary engineering considerations. I will ask officials to look afresh at that to ensure that we are pulling together all the necessary decisions in the way she proposed.
On the introduction of the new fleet, I should say that existing trains will be cascaded, which will provide some additional mainline capacity, including one additional peak service from each of Basingstoke and Woking. That is in addition to the extra 108 carriages that are already starting to arrive and are being put into passenger service, to increase capacity each day by 23,000 at peak times. A similar cascade is also adding capacity to a number of peak mainline services that are not already operating at maximum capacity. That issue was raised during the debate and it is very much part of our thinking.
During the same period, Network Rail will carry out major enhancement and renewal works in and around the Waterloo area at a cost of several hundred million pounds. The signalling system that covers much of the suburban network needs to be renewed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire said. As part of that project, a new turn-back facility will be created so that an additional four services can operate at peak times from Hounslow to Waterloo.
By 2017, Network Rail will have carried out works to bring the remaining four platforms at the former Waterloo International terminal back into full operational use for scheduled domestic services, restoring a vital piece of the south western route infrastructure to domestic use. The availability of those extra platforms is essential to the plans to extend platforms 1 to 4 at Waterloo. Those platforms serve the main suburban routes and, once extended, they will be able to accommodate 10-car-length trains. That will remove the last constraint that has for many years hampered plans to increase mainline suburban capacity beyond trains with a maximum of eight cars.
All that takes time, and considerable effort in planning, to minimise impact on passengers. That point has been made and I recognise that people will have concerns—these are major engineering schemes and, as they are implemented, we need to ensure that disruption is minimised. There will be some disruption, however, so we have made it clear to the south-western railway that it will have to deliver high-quality communication to its passengers about what that will mean to their daily journey as it makes its plans.
However, I have every confidence that the long-term capacity uplift will be warmly welcomed by passengers and the prospect of better services will make short-term disruption more acceptable. My experience is that, when people know where they stand, they can adjust their arrangements accordingly, but it is important that we get the information out. I will endeavour to ensure that Members in affected areas are informed of the changes at the earliest opportunity so that they can act as one of the conduits for the dispersal of that important information. We will look at other mechanisms as well.
I understand that, even with this investment, some of the capacity issues on the main line remain and that that is a source of some frustration for my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and other Members. I therefore turn to the process for securing further investment in the railway.
To begin with, it may be useful to explain that major investments in the railway are funded on the basis of five-year funding cycles known as control periods, as hon. Members have mentioned. We are currently in control period 5, which began earlier this year and will run until 2019. During this control period, the Government are providing Network Rail and the rest of the rail industry with more than £16 billion to upgrade and enhance the networks in England and Wales. It is from that funding pot, known as the Government’s rail investment strategy, that many of the capacity enhancements I have already referred to will be financed.
The right hon. Member for Exeter asked specifically about services to his area. As he knows, although the rest of the Chamber may not—you will know this, Mr Streeter, given your local expertise—Exeter has two routes to London. The great western line is being upgraded during control period 5. That will include a number of resilience improvements, but I will ask that they are considered closely again to take account of some of the points that he made. The second route, via Salisbury, enjoys less demand and has less capacity. I think, however, that the route study needs to consider longer-term options to increase capacity, with more passing places and options for electrification of that route. As a direct result of this debate and the right hon. Gentleman’s overtures, I will ensure that we look at that closely and communicate those thoughts to him.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire, speaking with all the expertise from his own involvement in this Department as a distinguished Minister many years ago, before I entered the House—I was going to say “when I was a child”, but that would be something of an exaggeration—raised any number of fascinating matters. I will make all kinds of commitments to him, because if one is the Rail Minister for the day, one can do just that. The civil service will be shaking in its boots as I make this speech.
Ongoing developments for cycle space provision should be part of all franchises, in my judgment, and from today they will be.
The business decisions of train operators on the issue of first and standard class balance has been raised by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester. We need to ensure that we make best use of space on trains. That use will vary from time to time and I do not want to make any prescriptive judgment, but discussion of that issue needs to take place regularly, based on a proper analysis of use. If, as has been described, some carriages are empty and others are full to the point of bursting, we need to respond to that situation.
The argument about Heathrow southern access was a really good one. We need to have a new study on that issue, which should begin this autumn and which should be published as soon as possible, ideally—indeed, at the latest—by early next year, and we need to consider what more can be done.
On the issue of car-parking capacity, it is important that we identify demand and sites for car parks, and I am more than happy to commit to working with local councils to do that. Perhaps we just need to drop a line to those local authorities to remind them of our willingness to have that kind of dialogue, particularly where we know, from Members across the House, that there are pressing problems. There is a history at certain stations of parking issues, so perhaps we can initiate some new thinking on that.
When they think of railways, everyone thinks of Stephenson; some, with a more curious turn of mind, think also of Hodgkinson; and all romantics—such as you and me, Mr Streeter—think of Jenny Agutter and John Betjeman, do we not? We think of “The Railway Children” and Betjeman’s advocacy of the romance of rail. To that end, I would be very happy to facilitate contact with Network Rail to allow the steam train that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, who has ministerial responsibility for rail, has pressed for. Indeed, the case for that train was amplified today by my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire. Let us allow this to happen, and in that spirit let us look again at the historic estate. We have many old railway stations, some of which could be brought back into use. We also have many glorious signal boxes; more of them should be listed. Let us once again be bold and ambitious to have our dream of the romance of rail, and turn that dream into a reality.
My right hon. Friend talked about the capacity issue. Of course, his area will benefit from the commitment to increase capacity at Waterloo during the period between 2014 and 2019, and from proposals to “grade separate” working junctions in control period 6. I will come on to that in a moment, because it is important to say first that the process for identifying possible investments and upgrades for the next control period—between 2019 and 2024—began recently. As such, there are opportunities for my right hon. Friend, other Members and the public in general to contribute to this process and to influence the Government’s next rail investment strategy.
When these drafts are issued, it is important that right hon. and hon. Members understand that they can play a part in shaping the final outcomes. When I last spoke on railway matters, I emphasised that these things are not set in stone. The whole process is by its nature consultative, and drafts should not be deemed to be the final word on these matters, but instead a catalyst for fresh thinking, with right hon. and hon. Members playing a vital role in the process.
I return to the specific part of the railway under discussion today. Network Rail recently published its draft Wessex route study for just that kind of consultation. It highlights the network constraints in the area of Basingstoke, which include a mix of speed limits and the confluence of several lines. Due to its location on the south-west main line, Basingstoke suffers from the convergence of several routes further up the line at Woking, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke suggested.
For those reasons, two of Network Rail’s emerging priorities for the next control period are, as I said earlier when dealing with my right hon. Friend’s questions, to “grade separate” the junctions at Woking and Basingstoke. For the benefit of those Members who do not speak in railway terms, as I myself did not until very recently, that term refers to the lifting, via a bridge, or dropping, via a tunnel, of a track over or under another, which means that trains moving in one direction do not get in the way of trains going in the other direction, preventing some of the frustrating stopping and starting with which many rail travellers are familiar.
In addition, the draft route study sets out options for the possible introduction of double-decker trains between Basingstoke and London; such trains were mentioned earlier in the debate. Although they are a common sight in other European countries, they have not really appeared on the British rail network, partly due to the height of some of our Victorian tunnels and bridges. As I have said, because I value the historic estate I would not want to see those tunnels and bridges being disregarded. Nevertheless, while the introduction of double-decker trains would necessitate the adaptation of the network, Network Rail is of the view that they may be a viable option on certain lines, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend and her constituents would relish the chance to lead the roll-out of such exciting technology on their line, becoming early beneficiaries of the additional capacity that it would bring.
Let me reiterate that these ideas are some of the emerging views for control period 6. The draft route study has been articulated and published by Network Rail, based on the information available to it at the time the route study was published. Indeed, the document acknowledges that the dominant issue is the need to provide sufficient capacity in peak periods, and consequently it has focused on developing choices to address that issue where needed, such as options to increase peak main-line capacity through use of new technology and “grade separated” junctions.
To that end, Network Rail is working with Transport for London, local authorities along the route and other stakeholders better to understand their views on these matters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke eloquently and clearly outlined the other pressures that are likely to affect capacity. I know that she is concerned that the housing growth that is planned in and around her constituency will have a dramatic impact on that demand-supply balance.
I want my right hon. Friend to know today that I understand that concern, and that the Government appreciate the point she made about the importance of ensuring that wider policies are fully taken into account when capacity on this line is being planned. The case she has made has been heard by the Government and will be built into our further considerations.
I thank the Minister for giving way; he is generous with his time. It is incredibly reassuring to hear what he is saying, because at this point in time it appears that house-building levels are not taken into account when future capacity is determined, and indeed that capacity is more likely to be determined by the number of new jobs generated in London than by the number of houses being built in my constituency, or indeed in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young). We need to make sure that this issue is taken into account, so that we can ensure that the proper increase in capacity on the line is put in place now.
My right hon. Friend needs to know that Basingstoke, North West Hampshire and Winchester are never far from my mind, and that they have been brought to the forefront of my mind today. As a result of this debate, I will ask my officials to take into account the views she has articulated and to make it perfectly clear that—in a proper, joined-up and coherent way—we consider some of the effects of growing population and the likelihood of that growth increasing demand for rail use. It would certainly be a fitting tribute to her and to the debate she has stimulated today for me to deliver that fresh thinking for her, which is precisely what I will try to do.
I think that the issue of ticketing was raised by my right hon. Friend—my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester mentioned it as well—and I am open to further consideration of the options, in terms of technological changes, that would speed up the ticketing process. I am also mindful of what my right hon. Friend said about fares. My commitment on fares is very clear.
On ticketing, I specifically mentioned part-time season tickets, which constituents constantly raise with me. It is a smart-ticketing issue, but is that solely down to the train operating companies or is there a regulatory issue that the Government need to intervene on before part-time season tickets can be made available? Perhaps he will write to me on the subject.
I will write to my hon. Friend about the detail, but my view about all these things is that there should be a dialogue between the Government and the operating companies, because there we need lines of accountability for all public services to Government and, through the Government, to this House. When hon. Members raise such issues, it is important that there are means by which they can be communicated to the people who make the decisions. It is right that we have that dialogue, and I assure my hon. Friend that that will take place.
We understand the issues about housing and why my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke introduced this debate, and we understand the implications of her argument. Responses to the consultation will, as I said, feed into the final version of the Wessex route study, which is due to be published next year. That will then help to inform the Government’s priorities for the next rail investment strategy for the period 2019 to 2024.
Finally, as I reach my exciting peroration, may I explain that as well as looking at potential funding priorities for control period 6, the Wessex route study is looking at much longer-term funding priorities for this route? I spoke about vision and dreams. We should be ambitious for this route and, in looking ahead to 2043, we need to think about long-term changes to supply and demand and about rail travellers’ changing expectations, including considering increasing capacity—extra tracks—on key sections closer to London or, indeed, Crossrail 2. Again, on those matters of longer-term funding, all hon. Members and all interested parties are encouraged to respond to Network Rail’s consultation before 17 February next year.
My right hon. Friend has done the House a great service in bringing these matters before it. The Government are wholly committed to the railways and to rail investment. We published our investment strategy for roads yesterday. That, and our approach to rail, is indicative of a breadth of thinking and a long-term approach in respect of a transport strategy that is, I think it is fair to say, unprecedented in its ambition. It is right that we should think in those terms, because infrastructure and investment only serve economic purpose—they feed the common good—by adding to individual and communal well-being. To that end, my right hon. Friend made an important contribution—
I am interested in the Minister’s comments about the need for long-term vision and certainty. There has been a remarkable lack of long-term vision on the issue of fares. When his Government were elected, they were talking about raising fares by the RPI plus 3%, and we had announcements taking it down to RPI plus 1%, then to RPI. I am sure that is incredibly welcome for the hard-pressed commuter, but it does not give any certainty either to operators or to passengers. His scrapping “flex” for 2015 is welcome, but why is not there a long-term commitment to scrap “flex” altogether, to take the pressure off people who have had 20% fare rises in just four years?
Again, Chesterton said that how you behave when you lose determines how long it will be before you win. The hon. Lady’s thinking about fares may herald her party’s eventually winning: it will not be for many decades, but it will happen. It is absolutely right that she presses me on this issue and, because I am the Rail Minister for today, I make this commitment: fares will not go up by more than inflation. I will also commit to something else, which will cause some excitement in her constituency, which I know well, and feel that I owe it this obligation. We are committed to electrifying the midland main line between London and Sheffield via Nottingham. She knows the difference that will make, as someone who, like me, travels regularly on that line.
What a great debate this has been. It has provided an opportunity for hon. and right hon. Members to advance the interests of their constituents in the context of that bigger vision of the significance of rail. This debate has shown that the party divides in this place are small compared with our shared commitment to do our best by the people we represent.