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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:37 am on 2nd March 2016.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:37 am, 2nd March 2016

That is a very good point, to which I am just coming. The extension until June 2018 was awarded even though Southeastern had some of the lowest passenger satisfaction scores in the country and even though the Minister knew that passengers on the route have not always received the service they deserve. The Government essentially gave Go-Ahead the go-ahead for four more years of misery for passengers. The direct award was nothing more than a reward for failure.

At the time, the Minister assured us:

“We have also totally changed the contract terms to make sure they deliver on their promises.”

Has Southeastern delivered on its promises? Looking at the most recent passenger satisfaction survey, it seems that the answer is no, and I think, having listened to their comments, that hon. Members would rather agree with that.

We have heard quite a bit about the length of trains. My own experience is with the Cambridge line, on which, under the Labour Government, trains were extended from eight to 12 carriages, which made a huge difference. When it happens, it really does help. Again, I will quote the Minister, who said just over a month ago:

“I am determined to review the business case for running the additional, bigger 12-car trains on the metro service in particular. I give the House an undertaking that there will be a decision on that in the next couple of months.”—[Hansard, 28 January 2016; Vol. 605, c. 523.]

I would be grateful if the Minister would let us know whether that decision has been reached and, if so, what decision has been made.

Another question that hon. Members raised is what will happen when the extended franchise comes to an end in June 2018. In January this year, the Government and the Mayor of London announced that they would consult on transferring London’s suburban rail services to Transport for London, which many hon. Members have welcomed this morning. Devolving routes in some areas of the capital has been transformative; indeed, significant investment is going into recently devolved routes to Enfield town, Chingford and Cheshunt.

We would welcome the devolution of control to ensure that passengers are put before profits, so that they get the level of service they desperately need and deserve. However, despite the headlines, that devolution is still a mere proposal. There has been no firm commitment from the Department. In 2012, the current Mayor of London attempted to get Southeastern services devolved and he failed. Despite what Government Members might say, there is no reason to believe that Zac Goldsmith would enjoy any more success if he were successful in his mayoral campaign. The devolution of control might well be a calculated pre-mayoral election announcement, unaccompanied by any meaningful action to improve commuters’ journeys. It would be helpful if the Minister provided further information about the consultation and her Department’s consideration of the proposals.

Finally, with the Shaw report published later this month, it seems worth asking the Minister whether she really believes, after the disastrous precedent set by Railtrack, that breaking up and privatising Network Rail would improve services for passengers. Do we really want to return to the dark days of Railtrack? Passengers on Southeastern trains deserve better.