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Rail Punctuality

Volume 659: debated on Thursday 2 May 2019

The Government take performance seriously and understand it is crucial to passengers and freight users, which is why we agreed a Network Rail settlement for England and Wales of £47.9 billion for control period 6 specifically aimed at maintaining and renewing the railway to improve reliability and punctuality for all rail users. The budget in Scotland is £4.85 billion, and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to make similar representations to the Scottish Government, who have devolved control of railway infrastructure funding in Scotland.

I am sure the Minister and the whole House will want to welcome Monday’s launch of the new sleeper stock on the Caledonian Sleeper service. I recommend the service to you, Mr Speaker, should you ever want to come and visit us up in Glasgow.

Of course, the first services were slightly hampered by delays and a fall in punctuality as a result of signal failures and problems with Network Rail. Given the success, the ambition and the vision that the Scottish Government have shown with this new sleeper service, should they not now also have the power devolved to control the whole of Network Rail so that we can deal with some of these punctuality issues?

The whole of Network Rail would include England and Wales, which might be a stretch for the Scottish Government. I obviously also welcome the arrival of the Caledonian Sleeper. I have not seen the service yet, but I understand it is fantastic and I look forward to seeing it, and potentially even using it.

On how this is structured, the Scottish Government, as they should, have control of the spending north of the border in Scotland. I am keen to see devolution across our rail network. Local solutions to local problems is a merit that we should be considering.

I just point out that we have had a good run on punctuality over the past few months in the UK. Performance obviously needs to be constantly improved but, when I checked this morning, 95% of trains were on time, including 94% of trains in Scotland. That is a strong performance from ScotRail and a strong performance across our whole network.

Punctuality is often viewed through the prism of the big strategic journeys, but may I urge my hon. Friend also to take into account, when considering how to improve punctuality and bringing pressure so to do on the operators, those small, intercounty and over county boundary journeys that are often so important to students and workers? I think particularly of those from Gillingham in my constituency through to either Salisbury or back to Dorchester—those journeys are vital to the local economy, and the service is not quite good enough.

I do sometimes fall asleep on the trains at the end of the week if I am heading north again. I was not planning such a visit, but I am always happy to visit and I would be happy to take up the invitation that you have just suggested my hon. Friend makes, Mr Speaker. I never think of punctuality as purely an inter-city question; everybody who uses our rail network should be able to expect to be on time every time. That is why the measure of punctuality is being changed to include “on time every time”, including all the stations on a route, not just the final destination. That data is being collected for the first time now and is very encouraging. Let me confirm to my hon. Friend that I agree entirely with his basic point, which is that passengers deserve an on-time service every time, and it is part of my planning.

I think this a bit tangential to punctuality, Mr Speaker, but I might try to get it in. [Hon. Members: “Give it a shot.”] Will the Secretary of State honour the pledge he made to me on 17 July 2017? I realise that that is not a punctual request, but now is the time. I asked him about the mutual mistrust between NW10 residents and HS2, and he said that his door would always be open. Now that construction has started, they feel as though they are living in a war zone, a dustbowl and the longest and largest building site in Europe. So will he make a visit or sit down with me and my constituents to sort this out?

Yes, there was a little bit of a tangent in that question. I am not the HS2 Minister, but I can, having just checked with the person who is, say that she will be happy to meet the hon. Lady. We will set that meeting up soon.

I know that, like me, the Minister will welcome the electrification of the midland main line, a project currently being undertaken, and the new half-hourly service to and from Corby, which will be a real boost for our rail services in north Northamptonshire. But there is still a demand for more northbound services from Corby, so will he help me to explore that possibility, as I think we ought to be tapping the huge potential there?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency, and for the rail services to and from it. The new franchise will certainly bring a wide set of positive developments for the rail passengers of Corby. I am more than happy to agree with him on this and meet him to work together to see what we can do to make these services even better.

If the Government are going to take on my predecessor Tom Harris, who sits on the Government’s own rail review board, they had better make sure that they are right. So can the Minister explain why Mr Harris is wrong when he calls for control over Network Rail to go to the Scottish Government?

I am aware of the work that Mr Harris does as part of the rail review, and I am looking forward to seeing what the rail review says. We have had some early indications on its thinking. We have seen some speeches made by Mr Williams to give some indicative direction on its thinking, and we will see more later in the summer. I think we should be looking forward to its work with enthusiasm.