[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair] — Southeastern Train Services

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:57 am on 2nd March 2016.

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Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling 9:57 am, 2nd March 2016

My hon. Friend is right; we need to get responsiveness into the system, and the way to do so, I am afraid, is through the pocketbook, as we all know.

I was canvassing in Old Bexley and Sidcup this weekend for the Conservative party’s wonderful mayoral candidate, my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith. I know that he will be working hard on this issue and ensuring that the trains respond significantly better to his constituents, although perhaps not mine. In his seat as well, the pressure on the trains is great, so I hope he will forgive me as I take his name in vain and press for a better service in Old Bexley and Sidcup.

I have been calling for more rail carriages on the Maidstone East line in my own area. The carriages introduce at least an element—I know that is not all of it—of resilience and flexibility into the system. That is why I raised only this week with Southeastern the question of what more it can do. It said, “Well, we could have a few more drivers on stand-by.” I asked why it was not doing that, and it said, “It’s not about the money.” I ask Southeastern again here today: why is it not doing that? If this is not about money, and if more carriages and more drivers allow for a bit of resilience and flexibility, surely that is the right thing to do for people across our county.

This is a county-wide problem. Tonbridge is the heart of the Kent rail network and, as Members will know, is the most important rail exchange in the county. Indeed, it has running through it one of the longest pieces of straight track in the United Kingdom. It was built in days when the Victorians did not value the land around the beautiful weald of Kent or the extraordinary richness of our communities. However, that is not true today. Our communities are the most blessed and the most beautiful in our country, and those train lines now provide the opportunity for some of the finest people in our entire kingdom to get to work and to generate the income that pays for the schools, hospitals and, indeed, armed forces across our country. It is therefore essential that we look at these rail networks not as a luxury—they are not that—or as some way of getting people home or to work on time, with 15 minutes here or there being just a problem, but as a fundamental part of the British economy.

It is essential we get this right, and the only way to do that is by holding the people who run the rails and the trains to account. This is not a question of public ownership or private ownership. It is not an ideological question for us to discuss; I think one Member of the House of Lords recently described the Opposition as “croissant eating”. No—this is a very important question about how we deliver results for our people. I am adamant that we forget the ideology and focus on what matters: delivery, delivery, delivery.