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Volume 670: debated on Thursday 30 January 2020

19. What recent assessment he has made of the future of the Southeastern rail franchise; and if he will make a statement. (900521)

Southeastern’s performance has been strong—much improved—and remained relatively stable over the last year. Southeastern is subject to several contractual performance benchmarks as part of its franchise agreement, and the Department monitors those closely.

I thank the Minister for his response. He will know that reliability is still a problem on the line and that for many years I have pressed his Department to hand responsibility for Southeastern services to Transport for London to ensure that passengers in my constituency get the high standard of service that those who use London Overground receive. I know that his immediate priority will be dealing with the franchise expiring on 1 April, but may I ask him and his officials, particularly in the light of positive developments in relation to Great Northern services, to step up conversations with the Mayor of London and TfL about the possibility of rail devolution in south-east London?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary question. We have met and spoken about this issue in the past. He will know that I am completely focused on making sure that that franchise works and on whatever might happen on 1 April, but I am interested to hear the proposals going forward for the devolution of certain areas of Southeastern’s franchise.

I thank the Minister for that answer, because it opens the door to some hope and to getting some resolution on the future of this franchise. Our constituents have long suffered delays, and despite what he says about performance having improved, over a long period it has not been adequate. We had a constructive meeting, but will there be another meeting with the local MPs to discuss the future of this franchise?

Yes, I would be delighted to meet again to press ahead on this agenda. Obviously business cases and a host of other details need to be worked up with TfL, but I met Heidi Alexander, its deputy chairman, earlier this week and we had a conversation on the matter then.

Angry and frustrated passengers in the south-east and elsewhere will have been delighted to hear the Secretary of State say that rail franchising is not working anymore, but will the Minister confirm that swapping the uncaring private sector monopolies of franchising for the equally uncaring state monopoly of renationalisation will not help overcrowded or stranded passengers one bit? Will he accept that we need a new and third option in which passengers can choose between lots of different provider services on their line each day and switch to whichever one they like best, in the same way as they choose different brands of coffee or cornflakes instead of taking whatever they are given?

I hear what my hon. Friend says. There is an argument for open access on our railways. The Williams review, which will report in the near future, will provide an opportunity to debate the issue at quite some length. I very much look forward to having that debate with my hon. Friend because he has some positive ideas.

15. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should extend contactless payment throughout the south-east, and perhaps even out to the coastline of Clacton? (900515)

If the Minister is prepared genuinely to think about rail devolution, will he think not just about Southeastern but about West Midlands trains as well? Some 40% of trains were not on time last month and 2,000 services were cancelled. The police and crime commissioner has had to convene hearings because the Mayor has failed to get a grip. It is not an acceptable standard of service. We want local rail devolution and we want it now.

Order. Unfortunately, the question is on Southeastern railways and is not really connected to Birmingham. If the Minister could pick something out that would address that, I would be grateful.