The rail network plays a vital part in supporting our economy across the country, including in Devon and Cornwall. That is why we are investing more than £400 million in the rail network in the south-west. This includes a fleet of brand-new trains for services to Devon and Cornwall.
I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware from our recent discussions that there is real disquiet in Devon and Cornwall about the references to it in recent consultation about the future of the CrossCountry franchise. Can he reassure me that there is no intention of ending vital direct services from key locations such as Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol to the heart of south Devon’s English riviera?
As I said to my hon. Friend when we discussed this issue a few days ago, the south-west is a vital part of our rail network. I am looking forward to discussing these issues with him further, as well as with the Peninsula Rail Task Force, which I hope to meet next week when I am in Cornwall discussing rail issues. The CrossCountry franchise offers passengers the ability to travel to Birmingham and on to the north-east and Scotland, or they can change at stations en route to connect on to trains that take them to other parts of the country.
The Minister just mentioned the Peninsula Rail Task Force. In the Government’s response to the recommendations in February, they said:
“we will look at improving connectivity between the Peninsula, Bristol and beyond”.
However, as we have just heard, that does not sound like it is happening, particularly with the CrossCountry franchise. Can the Minister explain what is meant by “improving connectivity”?
No decisions have been taken on any options for the next franchise. This consultation is a way for us to gather the views of the travelling public and of Members of the House, so that we have the best-informed choice of possible options when we take those decisions.