I am most grateful to you, Sir Henry. I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir David Evennett on securing this important debate. Others may want to contribute, and we want to hear from the Minister, so I hope in two minutes to cover three points very briefly.
First, in recent years we have had fare increases that are too high, but they are also unfairly constructed. For Harlow and Sevenoaks, the cost of a weekly season ticket is over 15% of average weekly earnings. There is no reason why that should be the case there when the cost is less than 11% in Brentwood, Barking and Reigate. We need to look again at the fare structure and ensure some reasonable level of equity for our respective commuters.
Secondly, I hope the Minister will be able to dispel the rumours circulating about the franchise and say that it will not in fact be delayed again. There are even darker rumours about the faster service from Maidstone East stopping at Otford and Swanley, after already being postponed for a year. Will that still go ahead this December?
Finally, there is the whole issue of accountability. We learned during the timetable chaos of last May, as we pursued the two train operators—Southeastern and Thameslink —Network Rail and Ministers in the Department, that overall no one was actually in charge. As we look at implementing the Williams review when it comes up with its findings, we need to move to a better system where it is clear to all of us who is in charge.
I believe that our commuters deserve better. They are suffering from ever higher fares every January and unnecessarily complex fare structures. They need services that are more reliable and more fairly priced. Above all, they need a railway system that is properly accountable.