§ Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)
Hon. Members from north and north-east Kent are pleased to have the opportunity tonight to raise the important matter of the breakdown in the rail services provided by Network SouthEast to north Kent.
Long before the past few disastrous months of travelling for our commuters, the line to north Kent, north-east Kent and the coast was, self-confessedly by British Rail, one of the worst two lines in the south-east. The other one, the Essex line to Southend, has attracted a great deal of notoriety.
The chairman of British Rail, Sir Bob Reid, has recently taken a much publicised journey on the Essex line and I am sure that, even if he did not visit our line, he would accept that he would find an equally appalling service on that line also. He knows that.
The transport users consultative committee for southern England, entrusted with listening to the complaints of travellers in the south of England, has been inundated with complaints, and in the third week of November it informed me that the daily service performance continued to be bad. On the day of its letter, 21 November, there were heavy delays of 40 to 50 minutes for many people travelling on the line that morning.
That line has been one of the worst for some time, needing new rolling stock and with heavy commuter pressure. But finally, its terrible performance drove the Medway towns commuter committee to issue an invitation to a public protest meeting headed "Kent commuters have had enough." Despite that meeting being the night of the Gillingham football club cup replay, our local well-supported football team, it had an attendance of 500-plus, with some people unable to get in the hall.
Under that heading, the invitation said:The past month has been the worst for commuters that many of us can remember.Yet from 23 December commuters face reductions which have been deferred and are alleged to be the cause of lower income during the recession, and in the new year they face fares increases above the rate of inflation of 7.9 per cent.
The new rolling stock that we were promised was expected early, but is now predicted to arrive in 1996. In their invitation, the commuters, who are now so pessimistic about it, are talking of having new rolling stock in the next century.
From mid-October, the service was monitored during a four-week period by the transport users consultative committee: it was found that only just over 70 per cent. of the evening peak period trains were arriving within five minutes of their due time. Since then, the situation has deteriorated further.
I received a letter recently which claimed that nearly 50 per cent. of the trains were late. Many additional speed restrictions are being imposed, and BR says that the track renewals are deferred. That reduces the standard of punctuality, although one understands that safety must take its full part as well. Once again, delays on the line have been severe as the annual phenomenon of leaf fall strikes again. Surely technology has some response to that.
In a letter to British Rail's chairman, a copy of which he sent to me, a Medway towns commuter wrote that, on 19 November, the 7.53 am Ramsgate to Cannon Street 1125 service which stops at the Medway towns was 25 minutes late, and that no explanation or apology was offered. On 20 November, the 8.44 am service to Cannon Street was 20 minutes at London Bridge, and again there was no explanation or apology. On 21 November, the same service was 14 minutes late, and no explanation or apology was offered on that occasion either.
Whatever disputes there may be about funding, a little human communication can be exercised without involving a great budget. There can be no adequate excuse for lack of information to passengers who are so inconvenienced and frustrated.
Fares increases for Essex line commuters from the new year have been reduced to 5 per cent. by way of acknowledging the poor service that they have suffered. North and north-east Kent commuters are fully entitled to the same consideration. My right hon. and hon. Friends at the Dispatch Box have frequently referred to the exceptional investment currently being made in the railways. It is hard for our commuters to accept that when they see no improvement to their daily travel—only a decline.
The cost of the annual season ticket to Medway towns commuters is more than £1,700. The quarterly ticket is comparatively more expensive, at around £500. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, that is highway robbery—or rather, railway robbery.
In view of the emphasis that my hon. Friend the Minister places on rail services and his commitment to them, and reflected by public expenditure on them, my commuting constituents are entitled to significant improvements before they are expected to pay even more for an appalling service.
§ Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) on her success in securing this important and urgent debate on the quality of commuter services serving northern Kent. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Members of Parliament representing Kent constituencies have battled for many years to secure improvements to the quality and reliability of commuter rail services. I am saddened that we are having to rehearse yet again arguments that we have made on many previous occasions, both inside and outside the House.
I note that the Opposition Benches are almost empty, although it is good to see the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) in his place. I would have liked to see present also the official transport spokesmen for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but it is left to Conservative Members for Kent constituencies—indeed, there are such only—to make the strong case for the commuter.
We need a commuter strategy. It would have been nice to hear from Opposition Members their proposals, but they do not care because it is late, no media persons are present, and we are out of sight of the cameras. We shall undoubtedly make that known not only to our local media but to members of Kent county council and local councils. When in future Labour and Liberal Democrat Members pay lip service to the problems of our commuters, others will know that in tonight's important subject, none were present to speak up for them but Conservative Members.
1126 I would argue a little with my hon. Friend the Member for Medway, although she was fair in pointing to the two worst lines in the country—the Southend to Fenchurch Street line and the Dartford loop line, en route to her constituency and elsewhere. I believe that the latter is the worst line in the country. That was confirmed at the Dispatch Box by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson) when he was Secretary of State for Transport, and by British Rail.
My constituency contains two major lines, the Chatham line and the Dartford loop line, and I believe that the catalogue of events mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Medway is of significance to my constituents. British Rail should adhere to three principles when providing a commuter service: reliability, quality and fair pricing. On each of those three counts, British Rail's performance leaves a great deal to be desired.
First, there is not much reliability. Often, trains do not arrive; when they do arrive, they are overcrowded and arrive late at their London or north Kent destinations. Secondly, their quality leaves much to be desired—which is not surprising, given that the rolling stock dates back to the 1950s. Thirdly, the price of BR's commuter service is now significantly higher, in terms of the fares paid out of net income by many people who have to struggle to London to earn their living. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Medway: it is highway robbery.
British Rail must improve its service on all three counts. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that all possible representations are made to British Rail suffer a smaller increase in fares, more in line with that experienced by south Essex commuters.
Another problem is timetabling. British Rail prefers to call its timetable changes "redesigning", which I believe is a euphemism for a reduction in service. As many Conservative Members will remember, in August British Rail slipped into the culture of commuter travel radical changes to services from Longfield and Farningham Road, and from Dartford to Black friars. Almost all the services to Blackfriars from Longfield and Farningham Road have disappeared, and services from Dartford and Crayford to Blackfriars were reduced by about 60 per cent. That had a significant impact on many people who work in the City, and who have no alternative means of access to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Medway also mentioned rolling stock. On a number of occasions, my hon. Friend the Minister has pledged that the Networker 465 rolling stock will arrive for the short-haul inner Kent services. I understand that the first will arrive very soon, and should be in passenger use some time next May. Although that is good news, it represents a slippage: we were promised that the trains would be in use in September, and would be taking passengers soon after that.
We want strong representations to be made to British Rail. We want apologies to our constituents who have suffered, and will continue to suffer. We want a radical examination of British Rail's management structure, and proper consultation about timetable changes now and in the future. We want to ensure that British Rail takes all possible action to minimise the disastrous impact on family life, jobs and marriages. Many people are undergoing extreme stress: they are having to cope not only with problems at work, but with the problems of getting to work and returning home. For them, such problems may be just as significant.
1127 We need to work towards the creation of a commuter strategy. There are large gaps in provision on the north Kent to London service. Many people whom I represent have only either the petrol engine or a British Rail locomotive-drawn vehicle by which to gain access to their point of work. Far more needs to be done as motor car ownership continues to increase.
I hope that we can, from now, start to make progess with and assist British Rail. When there are difficulties, we hope that they will be explained to the people who are forced to use British Rail services.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
On Monday 9 December, Kent Members of Parliament were having our annual meeting with local district councils when we heard about a major disruption to rail services at London Bridge due to a fire. We could not know then that it was to prove to be arson. It seemed to us to be the last staw. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) erupted and melted the telephone lines between here and Euston house, where British Rail lives. Bob Reid capitulated and agreed to meet Kent Members yesterday at 8 am.
I initiated a request for a Consolidated Fund debate, and was immediately supported by seven colleagues. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) on hers being the name that came up in the ballot for this debate.
Monday's fire at London Bridge was the last straw in a miserable saga of mishaps for commuters from north Kent and on the north Kent line. The saga goes back for some months—even for years—but it has got far worse this autumn. North Kent's rail services, as my hon. Friend the Member for Medway pointed out, are the worst in the whole of the Network SouthEast area—even worse than the notorious Fenchurch Street to Southend line, which the Father of the House, our right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), has mentioned so frequently.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) said, the rolling stock dates from the 1960s and even from the 1950s, and is now completely worn out. It is therefore uncomfortable and dirty. It carries too many people, and a substantial proportion have to stand the whole way into London—for 40 minutes from Chatham and for even longer from the stations of Gillingham and Rainham in my constituency. That is twice as long as British Rail thinks that people should stand. The service is uncomfortable, unhealthy, uneconomic for workers whose employers find that they have tired people arriving for work, and dangerous, as the Cannon Street crash earlier this year proved.
The service has seen a sharp deterioration in reliability this autumn. The notorious leaf fall is blamed, but I believe that that may be a smokescreen for other failings. The unreliability is compounded by the attitude of British Rail staff. Their attempt to communicate the reasons for failure is lamentable. People wait in the carriages in main-line stations when trains are late to leave. They get no explanation. People stand on platforms listening to those awful nasal tannoys giving some sort of notice that trains are late, but there is precious little attempt to apologise or to communicate any sort of explanation to people who are, after all, paying customers.
1128 The most unacceptable of all the delays occur because staff do not turn up for work. They do not let their managers know that they are ill or that they cannot turn up for work. People are left waiting for the next train. Trains are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the problem escalates out of all proportion.
I have a growing file of letters, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Medway, about the delays that have occurred over the past four or five weeks. The return journeys from the Medway towns to London for a whole week should not take more than seven to eight hours. There have been delays of anything up to five hours during one week. That simply is not acceptable.
Travel on the north Kent line is uncomfortable, unreliable and dangerous. To add insult to injury, as my hon. Friend the Member for Medway said, it is also very expensive. The price of an annual season ticket from Chatham has escalated from £1,464 in 1990 to more than £1,600 this year, and it is to rise to £1,736 next year. The prices of season tickets from Gillingham and Rainham further down the line are that little bit more expensive.
Many people cannot afford a lump sum of that magnitude, so they have to pay the quarterly season ticket rate, which takes their fares to more than £2,000 a year. That is not acceptable for the kind of service that is provided. Price increases over the past two years have been beyond inflation. My constituents have been told that they must pay for increases of twice the rate of inflation to fund investment. That is all very well, but it provokes a hollow laugh among my constituents, who see precious little investment on the north Kent line.
The trains get older, dirtier, less reliable and more expensive. There is a rumour that we will see the new Networker 465 trains on the inner suburban lines as far as Gillingham, but that will do nothing for the people who travel in from east Kent and from the eastern end of my constituency.
Only this morning, the chairman of British Rail told us that the 471 Networker programme, the long-haul Networker programme, is not even in the frame for the next three years. It was in the frame when my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) was Secretary of State for Transport. It has been taken out of the frame because, as Bob Reid has said, all his investment this year must go on channel tunnel-related projects and because his income from passengers and his receipts from land sales have fallen, while his debt charges and spend on safety have increased. He tells us that the gap has widened effectively by £1.8 billion. He has also told us that there are no trains ordered for London beyond 1993. The suburban Networker programme is incomplete, and the Kent coast Networker programme is beyond the horizon.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport must surely hold one of life's more miserable ministerial positions at the moment. Can he tell me what I can tell my constituents who travel daily on old, unreliable and dangerous rolling stock which is putting pressure on their health and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said, on their marriages as well? What hope of better travel do they have? When will their employers be able to rely on their prompt arrival in a fit state for work? When will their spouse or partner be able to rely on their timely arrival home in the evening? When will my constituents who rely on the Kent coast line be able to enjoy the Networker 471 trains for which they are even now being asked to pay?
1129 I have asked many questions. The chairman of BR would not or could not answer them yesterday morning. At this early hour, will my hon. Friend the Minister, whose heart is in the right place and who travelled on the line only last week, give my constituents some hope of better value for money for north Kent's rail services after a thoroughly miserable autumn?
§ 1.2 am
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
I add my congratulations to those that have already been expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) on securing a debate on a subject that is of burning importance to those of us with constituents who use the north Kent line.
I must express my thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport for taking a personal interest over a long period in the problems we face. We have discussed the problems of the past few months, but some of us are aware that the Minister took the trouble to come down to Kent some months ago to unveil the mock-up of the new Networker train at Margate station to allow the public to express their views about the design before the trains were built. We appreciate that, and the trouble that the Minister took last week when he spent a considerable time—it was not a publicity stunt—on platforms where he spoke to constituents and commuters. He then travelled by train to see the problems for himself. I only wish that BR's senior management had taken the trouble to do the same thing this week.
We have faced problems on that line over many months. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford is right to say that we have been pursuing the matter for a considerable time. We regard with some distain the Johnnie-come-lately publicity-seeking activities of some hon. Members trying to cash in on a real problem.
What are the problems? Commuters on the north Kent line are late to work in the mornings because the trains are unreliable. Commuters on the north Kent line are late home at night because the trains are unreliable. For employers, that is a nightmare. It means that they cannot rely on their staff. It means also that people travelling on the north Kent line do not get jobs in the City of London these days, because employers know not that the employees are unreliable but that the train service that they are required to use is unreliable.
Employees who travel, and have done for weeks since June, suffer enormously from stress. My hon. Friend the Minister stood on the platform with me only last week, when a lady and her two young children waited for the best part of 40 minutes for her husband to come home, not being told by British Rail when that train might arrive. It was not just the fact that the train was late but the fact that no information was provided. That is a daily occurrence for families whose breadwinners travel on that line.
Trains are overcrowded for much of the journey between north Kent stations and the centre of London. Passengers are standing to and from work. At the end of a hard day's work, that in itself is difficult to bear. It is also dangerous. My hon. Friends have referred to recent rail disasters. Unless something is done, it will be only a matter of time before a another similar occurrence takes place. Only tonight, we read in the London evening paper of the 1130 widow of the train driver who was sadly killed on the outskirts of London not so long ago. At a memorial service, she said that not enough had been done to put things right since her man was killed driving a train.
The service on the train is unusable. Some time ago, we prevailed upon British Rail to introduce a trolley service—a trolley service that is run with great pride by people who take pride in their work and who seek to serve their customers. The problem is that the ride is so bad that the coffee they serve is not holdable or drinkable. That is also very sad.
Last weekend, a group of my constituents came to my surgery to complain yet again about the standard and the quality of what passes for service on the north Kent line. My hon. Friend the Minister has seen the trains that travel from Ramsgate to Cannon Street. He knows, because he has seen them for himself, that the front four coaches on the trains are non-corridor. Travellers in the mornings are aware of that. Passengers boarding at Ramsgate board the corridor part of the train, and those joining in the Medway towns have the inconvenience of travelling in non-corridor trains, but only for a relatively short period, from Medway towns into the centre of London, albeit overcrowded.
Coming back at night is a different case altogether. Those running for trains that may or may not be leaving on time find themselves jumping into the first four coaches of the train—the first four coaches become the last four coaches—they go in at the front and they come out at the back. That means that many of those passengers, many of whom are travelling to the Thanet towns, find themselves in non-corridor trains.
One of my lady constituents told me last week that she was sharing a compartment with a man who was in absolute physical agony and sweating because he needed to go to the lavatory, on a train that had been sitting in a siding or on a railway track—it was delayed and doing nothing because of the signalling outside Cannon Street—for three quarters of an hour. That man had to apologise to the ladies in the compartment, and he urinated out of the window to relieve himself. That is—I hesitate to say it —the pass that we have come to. Those are the circumstances that our constituents face.
British Rail told us at an early hour today that it had lost 7 per cent. of its customers. Is that surprising? Of course the recession has cost customers, but some of my constituents tell me that they will not travel on the railways because they are not reliable and they cannot get to work on time. Now, they drive the 70 miles to London or they use coaches instead of British Rail.
British Rail's response to that is to say not, "We must improve our service," but, "We have suffered a 7 per cent. reduction in the number of travelling passengers, so we will cut 7 per cent. of the capacity." No thought was given to the fact that it might be possible to generate more business by improving the service. The logic of that argument is that one should cut all the passengers and all the trains. That is the downward spiral that we are now experiencing on the suburban lines.
The quality of the transport infrastructure affects jobs in my constituency. The Government have put many millions of pounds into the dualling of the Thanet way, the main arterial road down into my constituency. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) who first committed money to that, at the same time as he was dealing with the channel tunnel legislation.
1131 There has been a tremendous commitment to the roads, but we need the railways as well—not only to get our constituents to work in the morning, but also because we want to create jobs in our own constituencies. I want to see north-east Kent opened up. It is an area with tremendous investment potential. However, if it is to develop, business men from London have to be able to get into Kent. We need two-way traffic, not one-way traffic. The failure of the railways is having a significant effect on the economic development of north-east Kent.
What is the cause of all the problems that we have been having? Yesterday morning, British Rail helpfully provided us with a pie chart, showing that 12 per cent. of delays are caused by signalling equipment faults. The chairman of British Rail told us that the software for the new signalling at Cannon Street, into which millions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been put, does not work. That is not a lack of investment; it is investment in the wrong product. Seventeen per cent. of delays are caused by faults in trains, which may or may not mean manning faults, and 11 per cent. are caused by civil engineering problems.
The chairman of British Rail lays all those faults at the door of a lack of investment, but although money is being spent on signalling and on new trains on the line covering the constituency of my Friend the Member for Dartford, British Rail Engineering Ltd. apparently cannot deliver those trains either on time or to quality. We were told by the chairman of British Rail this morning that the lavatories and the lighting do not work. Again, that is not lack of investment—it is investment in the wrong product.
Autumn leaf falls account for 6 per cent. of delays, but 6 per cent. over the narrow autumn period means a tremendous impact on passengers in that short time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Medway has said, it is time that we managed to get to grips with that problem. I am not sure what "cancellations of other trains" means, but that accounts for 5 per cent. of the delays. Another cause of delays are the "external factors outwith BR", such as the incident at the beginning of this week when an arsonist burned the signalling at London Bridge.
We cannot and will not blame British Rail for that, nor would we wish to blame British Rail for acts of God or for the tragic attempted, and sometimes successful, suicides. Those are external factors that none of us can control. However, 28 per cent. of the sector of that pie chart deals with operations and retail staff. British Rail tells us that that means management, but not once this morning did the chairman of British Rail, for all his bluster, tell us what he was going to do about most of that.
If a train breaks down on the north Kent line, the driver has to get out of the stopped cab, climb across live rails to the railway equivalent of an AA box and find a telephone so that he can report what has gone wrong. The chairman of British Rail has a telephone in his car because he needs one. Many hon. Members, including myself, have telephones in our cars because we regard them as an indispensable tool of modern business, but the driver of a railway train, with people behind him for whose safety he is responsible and who needs to convey information to people who are waiting on platforms to meet their relatives or to tell signalmen and others what and when something has gone wrong, is not provided with the basic tools to do his job. The train driver does not have a simple radio 1132 telephone. Those are matters with which British Rail can and should get to grips. If there is one thing on the line it is the reputation of the chairman of British Rail.
I now come to investment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) said, the chairman of British Rail told us this morning that all his capital allowance for this year and the foreseeable future would be taken up with channel tunnel-related undertakings. When British Rail put through the channel tunnel Bill, the House was given assurances over and over again in one form or another, either direct or by innuendo, that the construction of the channel tunnel and the rail-related expenditure would not have a detrimental effect on the commuter services of Kent. It is patently clear that those undertakings were ill-founded and that that is where the money is going.
I do not dispute with the chairman of British Rail that that is where he is spending his money but I question whether British Rail is spending all the money on the channel tunnel because it has to or whether it is spending all the money on the channel tunnel project because it is aware that it will be the poor bloody infantry—the commuters—who will bear the brunt and shout and make the Government cough up yet more money.
There is clearly a case for more investment, and quick investment, in new rolling stock for the north Kent line. No one would dispute that. Through British Rail, the Government are already spending many millions of pounds, more than has been spent for many years, on new signalling, new stations, new platforms and in some cases new track. But we need new coaches. [Interruption.]
I hear the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who came in late and speaks for the Opposition, intervene from a sedentary position. I am sorry that his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is not here tonight. Last week, he took the opportunity of a photo opportunity on the train to all the television audience that he had a letter from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport saying that there would be no new investment in rolling stock for three years.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East told me that he would send me a copy of that letter, so I wrote to him that day and asked him for a copy. It has still not arrived. He also told the television station that he had a plan. His plan was that British Rail should lease for £50 million a year the necessary rolling stock. But he did not say who would pay for that rolling stock in the first place or whether that formed part of the Labour party's public expenditure plans. So I wrote and asked him to answer that question too. Perhaps the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East will take the message back to him that I still have not had a reply to that letter and that I would welcome a response and a copy of the Secretary of States letter which he says exists.
§ Mr Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
When the hon. Gentleman has finished griping and whining, which is all he ever does about commuter services in Kent, perhaps in the interests of accuracy he might reflect on something that he has just said. He said that the Government are spending more through British Rail than they have ever done. If we are to have a debate, it must be based on some accuracy in the hon. Gentleman's statistics. His statement is not true: British Rail is borrowing more. That is why the hon. Gentleman's commuters are paying more.
§ Mr. Gale
The hon. Gentleman came to the debate late. Perhaps he would like to listen to what I have to say. Undoubtedly he will make his own speech in a moment.
There are certain things that my hon. Friend the Minister can do to help us. First, it is clear that the programme for the new train sets for the north Kent line must be introduced as quickly as possible. I do not know anyone who disagrees with that. I hope that it will not be too long before he can come to the House and tell us that that programme is back in the frame and on stream and that those trains will be built not only quickly and on time but to a quality that apparently has not existed in recent months.
Secondly, I hope that my hon. Friend will ask British Rail to review the timetable of the programme. The thought of more trains being taken out and more passengers being put on to yet more overcrowded trains is not acceptable to any of our constituents. Lastly, I hope that my hon. Friend will persuade British Rail, in the light of the appalling performance that it has offered our constituents in the past few months, to make financial recompense and, above and beyond that, to guarantee reliability and quality for the future.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) on leading the debate. It is significant that at 1.25 am there are present in the House six hon. Members who represent north Kent constituencies, all of them Conservative, making the case for our railway line.
It is also significant that, in recent months, we have had heat, but no light, and not a little language from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) making party political points on television. Here we are, in the House of Commons, where the power lies, debating the issue of service for our commuting constituents, and where is Labour's principal transport spokesman? He is at home in bed.
§ Mr. Arnold
Whereas the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East can be relied on always to turn up on time in the TV studios, when it is less convenient for him to turn up—in the House—to debate issues of importance, where is he? He is abed.
My hon. Friends have emphasised the poor service that our constituents have had to suffer for a long time. But it has been getting noticeably worse in recent weeks. Like my hon. Friends, commuters have written to me. I will cite a few of them to exemplify the type of service that thousands 1134 of commuters in north-west Kent and elsewhere in north Kent have had to put up with. Mr Brian Sangha of Gravesend writes:I have been commuting for some 20 years and during that time have noted the declining standards of service, combined with substantial fare increases and increases in government funding.He writes that, in the week beginning 11 November, he carried out an analysis of the performances of the trains that he uses. He reports that, for 20 per cent. of the time, the trains were cancelled, for 60 per cent. of the time they ran between 10 and 15 minutes late, and the advertised journey time was not achieved on one occasion.
Mrs. Lewis, of Lower Shorne, in my constituency, did a similar survey earlier this month and reports:Out of 20 trains, only six arrived within five minutes of their scheduled times, and of the remaining 14, seven were between 17 and 48 minutes late.That is for a 25-mile journey scheduled to take about 47 minutes, so what price the kind of statistics that British Rail has been issuing about the service?
The effect that that is having on commuters at a time of difficulty over jobs can be summed up by a lady from Meopham who, having gone into similar detail as other letter writers, adds:I count myself lucky to work as a secretary for a gentleman who is extremely understanding.Employers must indeed be understanding, given the timekeeping that my constituents have to put up with.
Such service is not confined merely to the most northerly lines through north Kent, through Gravesend. It also applies to the line to Meopham and Sole Street in my constituency. Not only must commuters on that service suffer the bad timekeeping and lack of cleanliness which has been particularly evident on British Rail in recent months, but they must also suffer the new timetabling.
British Rail says that the volume of commuters in north Kent has declined by about 7 per cent. of late, so it must trim costs accordingly, as any good business must do. I find it completely inexplicable that in the face of that 7 per cent. it saw fit last August, when many commuters were on holiday, to sneak out the announcement that the autumn programme would involve scrapping 100 per cent. of the services in the rush hour to and from the city on this line. All three trains up and all three trains down were scrapped. After much ado and going into some detail, British Rail somewhat grudgingly, late in the day, replaced one up train, but not one to come back.
We should also look at the kind of cattle-truck conditions that our constituents are supposed to put up with. The carriages on the north Kent line date from the 1950s and the new Networker carriages are long overdue. We in this House know that the Government have given British Rail the largest rail investment since the Conservative Government of the 1950s. It is significant that the occasional Labour Government that we have had since then did not bring a single new carriage on to the routes serving north Kent.
We know that the vast bulk of the Networkers are now being constructed at British Rail Engineering Ltd. and at Metro Cammel. We know that the first such unit is to be delivered next week, with weekly deliveries thereafter. We must, as north Kent Members, insist that British Rail keeps to this programme so that it properly introduces the passenger service of Networker trains early in the spring.
We welcome our hon. Friend the Minister here tonight and we hope that he will insist that British Rail delivers 1135 these Networkers trains on time. The overwhelming bulk of them have been authorised and ordered and are coming in. I ask my hon. Friend to make sure that British Rail does not continue to divert its capital investment into channel tunnel services but orders the remaining tranche of 188 Networkers for the north Kent line and makes sure that the system is completely re-equipped. It is high time that we had a 20th century or even a 21st century quality service for the commuters of north Kent.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
I begin by agreeing with the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and his proposition that most sensible people would be in bed at this time. I am delighted that he is here because he has been a consistent advocate of more investment in the railways and we should give him credit for that. I always remind him of the many very severe criticisms that he levelled at the Labour Government, most of them justified, about the lack of investment between the years 1974 and 1980.
The hon. Gentleman knows that this is not a new problem. In the 20 years that I and some of my hon. Friends here have been in the House, the problems of bad commuter services for north Kent have constantly been with us. There was a flashback in one of our local papers the other week to an item in the news 25 years ago when my predecessor, now Lord Boston, met a large number of very irate commuters and, according to the report, was rather surprised at their intemperate language. I think that most of us are very surprised at just how patient and forbearing many commuters have been in the most incredibly difficult travelling conditions that they have had to put up with in recent weeks.
Terry Boston's predecessor was another Labour member, called Percy Wells, and there is a story told of him in relation to trains. As we all know, in this House we are always forgetting things. We forget where we park our cars, briefcases and papers. It is a fairly well-known characteristic. But on one particular occasion Percy Wells excelled himself. He was travelling back on the last train to Faversham, as was his normal practice, when he remembered that he had left his wife sitting in the Gallery.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) referred to the visit of Sir Bob Reid to the House this morning. We should put on record the fact that we are grateful to him for coming early in the morning, with other senior managers of Network SouthEast. It was courteous and helpful of him to do so. It was a useful meeting. While it is right to level harsh criticisms at times like this, one should also appreciate it when the effort is made. They are doing their utmost to respond. There is general recognition of the tremendous problems. Having got to that meeting at 8 o'clock this morning, here we are debating the position at nearly 2 o'clock the next morning. I feel like many of our commuters, that some of the hours put in are unreasonable.
It should be understood how angry, frustrated and fed up so many commuters are. Journeys that should take an hour are taking two hours. Commuters get no explanations and complaints are legion. The suffering is real and the hardship is very great. I do not need to reiterate that because we all understand it and regret it very much.
1136 I have a bigger worry. The problems over the past: few weeks because of leaves on the lines, ice or whatever, have been dreadful, but we could be facing much worse conditions in coming weeks and months because we have not hit the hard winter. We have not had snow yet. The prospect is depressing for tens of thousands of people making the daily journey into London or desperately trying to get home.
What is to be done? The first problem is the old rolling stock. We have had a graphic description of travelling in non-corridor trains without toilets. One can cope with that for a journey lasting an hour, but if one is there for two hours or two and half hours, as can happen, one can appreciate the sheer misery that that causes. No one in any part of the House can justify that. That has not just happened. The problem of inadequate investment goes back a long time.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East was crossing swords with my hon. Friends about who spent the most money. I could probably find some words on the record from him, but the only time there was a significant cut in railway investment was under a Labour Government. That was regrettable, but under-investment is still regrettable. Given that it is a nationalised industry, there is always a shortage of investment funds and there are always clashes of priority for extra money. So year after year after year there has been inadequate investment in that line.
The conclusion I reach is different from that of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East. We have to find a different financial structure. It could be privatisation or it could be separating the railway into different management structures. There is no simple way of raising the billions of pounds that we need if we are to modernise the railway. The fascinating thing is that the hon. Members for West Bromwich, East and for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) realise that, even if there were a Labour Government, they would not get the necessary capital investment from their Treasury spokesman. So they have come up with the idea of leasing. The significance of that is that they know that they would not get capital funds.
We all face that problem. The commuters are entitled to new rolling stock and somehow we have to get it. If we do not order it now, the prospects for the line are dreadful. One way or another, we have to find the resources and commit ourselves to a programme of new trains on those long distance lines. We are talking about big money —£7 billion. It cannot be conjured out of thin air but it is the first basic requirement.
However, that is a long-term prospect and several measures should be taken immediately to help our commuters. My hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) made this suggestion and it is not new, but communications could be improved and information given out quickly. It is wonderful how quickly a high-grade, high-quality letter can be produced with modern photocopiers to explain to all commuters exactly what went wrong. Most of them are very supportive of British Rail and knowledgeable about the railways, and they want information but they do not get it. That measure can be taken tomorrow. Most passengers understand the problems and are ready to make allowances for the sort of problems that occur on that rail network, but for heaven's sake, let us get on with improving matters right away.
The next measure concerns fare increases. If the Southend line can achieve recognition of the fact that its 1137 service is poor and if passengers on that line have had a lower fare increase, the same should have been applied to the Kent line. If, as we are told, it is too late to reduce those prospective fare increases from 7.75 per cent. to 5 per cent., in line with inflation and comparable to the Southend line, the Government should find another way to make a concession to passengers in recognition of their suffering. One way would be to reduce fares; another would be to extend season tickets for a period. But let us do something in recognition of the serious problems.
As soon as new rolling stock is available, may we please have more standby stock ready so that it can no longer be claimed that there is inadequate stock in the wrong place when problems occur?
All those measures involve capital and, one way or another, we must create a larger investment programme. Frankly, I do not care whether that is done by leasing or by more Government investment, but it must be forthcoming. The leasing method is fudging the issue because it is cheaper for the Treasury to raise that money than to borrow it from the City. Unless we lease into a privately financed railway where there is genuine risk capital, it is simply Government borrowing by a different name.
We have a long-term investment problem and a short-term winter problem, coupled with short-term management problems. Those can be dealt with, given the right approach by my hon. Friend the Minister and British Rail management. We have the exciting prospect of a White Paper to be issued shortly on the new structure of British Rail, which can offer the right solutions for our passengers in the long term. That means smaller management units and a much better responsiveness to local customers. Only in that way will the hundreds of thousands of people in the south-east get the first-class modern railway that they deserve.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I apologise to the hon. Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner), who initiated the debate, for missing her speech. I had expected the debate to start later, and I hope that she accepts that, although it is my responsibility to be here at the correct time, I did not deliberately miss her speech, and I meant no discourtesy to her.
I arrived in time to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman). The first phrase that I heard bemoaned the state of the railway service in his constituency, and he asked what he should tell his constituents. I understand that he is desperate for something to tell them. After all, we are approaching a general election and, as he canvasses in the snows of February or March or even in the sunshine of July—none of us know yet—they may say, "Well, after 13 years, shouldn't you have done better on those services?"
I shall try to tell the hon. Gentleman what he should tell his constituents in a minute or two, but first I shall comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). He and I have spent the bulk of the past 18 hours in various Committees, so we have probably heard more than enough of each other. I hope 1138 that I shall not damage his career prospects by saying that I found his speech thoughtful, in direct contrast to some of the others that I heard this evening.
The hon. Member for Faversham rightly spoke of the investment problems that have occurred under successive Governments, both Conservative and Labour, for many years. He was right—I was critical of some of the policies of the last Labour Government. I shall probably be telling tales out of school about myself when I say that I once wrote a letter to The Guardian of all newspapers about the Labour Government's railway policies. The matter was taken seriously, because I was then a Whip. I was new to the post and professed ignorance of traditions, but I understand that neither the Ministers involved nor their civil servants were overkeen on my departure from the normal customs.
The two senior Ministers in the Department of Transport at that time were Mr Bill Rodgers and Mr John Horam, and there was precious little socialism in the railways policies from that quarter. One of them, having spent a few fleeting years in the SDP or whatever it was called, is now running the Royal Institute of British Architects. I understand that the other former Minister has been selected as a Conservative candidate for Orpington, in Kent.
Let us hope that if, in the far distant future, the nation is unwise enough to select another Conservative Government, Mr John Horam is not once again appointed a Transport Minister. If he is, I fear that the griping that we have heard tonight from Conservative Members about rail services will be redoubled. Mr Horam is no friend of the railways and the fact that he is a member of the Conservative party merely proves something that most of us long suspected when he was sailing under false colours.
The hon. Member for Faversham made some relevant comments. He rightly talked of the need for British Rail to improve communications. There is nothing more annoying for passengers than to sit in trains or wait at stations without being given information. There is a management problem in British Rail. I appreciate that modern communication equipment has not yet been installed in many stations in north Kent. When it has been installed in other parts of British Rail, it is often not used properly.
Therefore, not only is investment needed, but a little more managerial competence must be brought to bear when that investment is provided, to ensure that information is made readily available. Passengers are much more prepared to accept delays and problems if they know what is wrong and how long it is likely to take to put right. All too often, the most annoying aspect of a delayed railway journey is having to sit in trains, whether with corridors or not.
The hon. Member for Faversham talked about new ways of raising finance. There is no magic method of financing commuter trains. If, in the unlikely event of another Conservative Government being elected, British Rail were privatised, I do not think that there would be too many bidders for the north Kent rail services, whether modernised or not. It is a simple fact of financial life anywhere in the world that running a commuter railway is not, by its very nature, a profitable business. As on any other commuter line, many of the assets on the north Kent line—which are, in these modern days, expensive—spend 1139 18 out of 24 hours doing very little. It is at the twin peaks —the morning and the evening—when those assets are put to full use.
It is difficult to imagine anyone outside the railway industry rushing with cheques to purchase commuter railway lines in view of the fact that peak travel is the most expensive transport provision imaginable. I should have thought it pretty unlikely—but I am prepared to listen to Conservative Members, despite the fact that I rarely believe them on such matters—that there would be a great rush to buy their railway.
The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) talked about the railway problems affecting his constituency, and complained about the recent reduction in capacity. Where has he been? British Rail or Network SouthEast must cut its commuter coat in accordance with its financial cloth, and it is this Government who have drawn the financial guidelines so tightly. The necessity of living within a budget has led railway managers to reduce capacity on trains, because otherwise they would run over the budget for their sector or route.
The hon. Gentleman should talk to the Minister—publicly or privately—about the reduction and tell him that running the railway system—especially Network SouthEast—in such a parsimonious manner has caused many of the problems that he has graphically if somewhat over-dramatically outlined. No one would feel anything but anguish—
§ Mr. Snape
I did not hear what the hon. Gentleman said, although I understand that he had a few things to say. Let me deal first with the hon. Member for Thanet, North, who told the—admittedly sad—story of the commuter forced to urinate out of the window because of delays. Everyone can understand that, and sympathise with the person involved. One could find oneself in such circumstances on any mode of transport.
I know that the railway system in Kent—especially in an election year—is set up to be an Aunt Sally, but if hon. Members decided to drive to and from their constituencies they would be aware of the fact that their arrival time, especially at this time of year, would be likely to fluctuate widely, depending on the traffic and the number of accidents on the trunk roads and motorway. They could end up in a traffic jam lasting an hour or an hour and a half.
§ Mr. Dunn
Perhaps I could be fairer to the hon. Gentleman than I was when he was not here. I accept his apology to my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner), but he did not listen to my speech either. However, I accept his apology in the spirit in which it was given.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) and I mentioned that British Rail argued that it has lost 7 per cent. of its customers because of the recession and that, consequently, it had to make cuts. Why did it have to cut 100 per cent. of the line from Chatham—in our constituencies—to Blackfriars and 60 per cent. of services 1140 from Dartford to Blackfriars? A 7 per cent. loss followed by cuts of 100 per cent. and 60 per cent. does not make sense.
§ Mr. Snape
From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Gravesham makes a fool of himself as usual. I am not trying to justify the cuts. I am agreeing with hon. Members that a great deal is wrong with the commuter services from their constituencies. I am making what I hope the Minister will accept is the relevant point—that railway finances, and especially those of Network South East, play a part in the illogical trimming of services, to use the words of the hon. Member for Dartford.
I hope that he accepts that British Rail will say that services have been cut so that it can stay within the budget imposed by its financial straitjacket. Those cuts might be said to be unfair and to bear down unfairly on those who live on the line, but British Rail managers say that they have to make cuts somewhere because they have to live within their budgets. None of us wants cuts that affect our constituencies, but that is what has to happen.
The hon. Member for Gravesham dripped and moaned about services from his constituency. His only consolation must be that he will not have to put up with all this much longer, because he will not be here to complain about the railway after the next election. I know that his Labour successor will do a better job than he has done to improve services from that part of the world—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is obviously obsessed by that successor, because he keeps mumbling about him. I have no doubt that, when he arrives, he will make a better fist of fighting for his constituents than the hon. Gentleman has.
I gathered that the hon. Member for Faversham did not feel that leasing was the right way forward. As he correctly said, it is cheaper to borrow money from the Treasury than from anyone else. He fairly conceded that any Government will have spending priorities governing the borrowing of money, and what British Rail needs to borrow is likely to be beyond the capacity of the Treasury to meet in full.
Leasing is not new. The 1970–74 Tory Government went in for quite a bit of it with British Rail. Deltic locomotives and some rolling stock were leased at that time. By leasing, British Rail can spread the burden over up to 20 years, and that means coming up with much smaller sums at the beginning.
I hope that Conservative Members agree that something drastic must be done. The desperately needed class 465 trains for north Kent have still not been ordered, despite the pleas from Tory Members. I do not think that the Minister of State will be able to pledge that those trains will be provided. That means that British Rail will have to spend £50 million on maintaining and improving clapped-out 40-year-old rolling stock for another four or five years. Apart from the problems that that causes the constituents of Tory Members, it does not make financial sense in the long term.
Some better way must be found. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government will do something to provide the rolling stock that his hon. Friends demand. That rolling stock will bring relief to passengers, improve efficiency, relieve congestion and 1141 reduce maintenance costs. In the long term, not renewing rolling stock on north Kent lines will be far more expensive. It is expensive to patch up stock that ought to be in the railway equivalent of the knacker's yard.
I hope that the Minister has good news for his hon. Friends. They need it. After all, it is not just the railways and the commuters that depend on better rolling stock and services: it is the necks and the survival of many Conservative Members with Kent constituencies that depend on them. That is the reason behind this debate and it is why these Tory Members, who have so slavishly followed the Government for 13 years, now ask them to come to their rescue. I hope that the Minister will come to the rescue of the railways. It is too late to save his hon. Friends—but I am not too worried about that.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) on initiating the debate and my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) and for Faversham (Mr. Moate) on their contributions. They have felt strongly for some time about the north Kent line, but particularly during the past three to four months, which have seen a clear deterioration in the service provided. They have made their points forcefully at this extremely late hour, and I am sure that their constituents will note that they have taken the trouble to attend the debate and speak so forcefully in it.
On behalf of the Government, I acknowledge the problems on the north Kent line, particularly during the past few months, as does British Rail. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North for accompanying me on the 7.2 am service from Ramsgate to Cannon Street and the night before on the station platform at Herne Bay, when I talked to a number of commuters, which I found helpful. On the train, I was able to talk at some length and in some depth not only with commuters from Ramsgate but with those who joined the train at subsequent stations. My hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Faversham also travelled with me.
My hon. Friend the member for Dartford summed the matter up accurately when he said that commuters want a reliable service. That is the most important thing. It must also be a quality service, and that is related to the age of the rolling stock. I use a station that is 90 miles from London, and the journey to London takes me one hour and five minutes. I suspect that Ramsgate is approximately 90 miles from London, but that service takes twice as long and it is a bumpy ride.
Before I make what I hope will be regarded as some positive statements, I should say that improvements are partly up to British Rail and they are partly a function of investment. British Rail has to make the best possible use of its resources. It has to control its costs and live within the external financing limits set by the Government. On behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport, I accept responsibility for setting that limit, but British Rail must make the most productive use of those assets.
1142 I draw the attention of the House to a statement made by London Underground about two weeks ago on the launch of an imaginative plan to make effective use of its manpower by having fewer people but paying them more so that they provide a quality service.
I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Medway, for Gillingham and for Faversham, particularly about information services. It surely must be elementary that prompt information is necessary not just for the people on the trains, but for the people waiting to depart and the relatives or friends waiting for trains to arrive. Such information must be prompt, audible, apologetic when that is appropriate, factual and honest.
It costs some money to put in a proper information system, but it does not cost tens or hundreds of millions of pounds. It is a simple management procedure, and we want British Rail to follow not only my hon. Friends' advice and guidance but mine.
Investment is clearly part of the solution. I am well aware of what is needed on the line in terms of the 471s. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North said, I went, together with his other hon. Friends to see the mock-up at Margate. It looks an attractive train.
I am also aware of the need for the Thameslink 2000 improvements in order to widen the throat of the main London termini, and allow more trains to get in at the peak. I support Sir Bob Reid's proposals for Thameslink 2000. They are important, and when resources permit, I am sure that those proposals will proceed, as they must.
The investment programme is large. My hon. Friend cited Sir Bob Reid's remarks this morning. The wrong impression may have been given about investment in channel tunnel services squeezing out Network SouthEast. For 1991–92—we are three quarters the way through that year—investment will be approximately £1,080 million. Channel tunnel investment will be £390 million; Network SouthEast, £290 million; and non-Network SouthEast outside London and the home counties, £400 million.
Investment in Network SouthEast this year will include £75 million on the new turbo trains on the Chiltern lines, and on Networkers for the Kent link lines. If one wants to deliver new rolling stock, one has to put the cash up front, and that totals £610 million. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said, the first new coach will arrive in December, and I hope that he and others of my hon. Friends will join me in examining the new rolling stock when it is tested. It will enter service in the spring.
Much must depend on the manufacturers—BREL and GEC—delivering that new rolling stock on time. As to finance for future years—a reference was made to the £50 million investment in resignalling on the London to Tilbury and Southend line—that for resignalling in Kent will total £80 million.
§ Dame Peggy Fenner
If the manufacturers do not deliver on time, will there be a forfeit in the shape of a reduced payment?
§ Mr. Freeman
Yes, in certain circumstances. If production and delivery schedules are not met, British Rail would be right to withhold payment.
In the few minutes remaining, let me sound a slightly more positive note, to try to help my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Freeman
As to the hon. Gentleman's sedentary comment, I would respond in the same constructive and helpful way whatever the debate, and whatever the line. I would address the issues on their merits—and that is what I am doing.
I want to make five points about the north Kent line.—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] I am taking this debate seriously, even at 2 o'clock in the morning. As to the 471 investment programme, British Rail must produce its corporate plan by 31 March 1992, and it must be consistent with the external financing limit settlement of £2 billion for 1992–93 that we announced.
That is an increase of £1 billion; it increases the public service obligation grant to £900 million this year, and it will probably be about £1 billion next year. I assure my hon. Friends that, by 31 March, we will clarify the ordering and delivery of the 471s. The House would not expect me to make a prediction tonight. British Rail must produce its plan for the next five years, consistent with the resources that we are making available.
In response to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North, I will ask British Rail tonight, in respect of Network SouthEast service, to review the new schedules for the north Kent lines for 1992. I appreciate that the service has reduced because of the Cannon Street works, and that there is a desire to stop trains at certain other stations in 1992, so that passengers who cannot currently avail themselves of that service will be able to do so. However, I will ask British Rail to take a fresh look at the service schedules for next year.
The service has obviously deteriorated over the last three months. I will ask British Rail to consider as an immediate gesture the provision of some form of compensation—probably by way of rail vouchers, which is the usual practice—to passengers who have suffered disruption over the past three or four months. That would be equitable, and I am sure that British Rail will consider responding promptly and fairly.
Fourthly, from 1 January, I shall be setting new performance standards for the Kent coastal services in 1992. If British Rail does not meet those standards, compensation will automatically be offered to season ticket holders. I shall not fix the percentage tonight, because the details have yet to be worked out. The system will give British Rail an incentive to provide a better service, and I think that passengers will consider it equitable. As we stated in the citizens charter document published in July, we intend to apply a similar system to all 1144 Network SouthEast lines to provide season ticket holders —who are locked into the service—with proper recompense. That will apply to annual, quarterly and monthly tickets.
Fifthly, there is the question of future fares increases. My hon. Friend the Member for Medway asked why we could not do something about the fares increases planned for 5 January. Those increases were set in early October, and I am afraid that adjusting them now is not a practical proposition: it would cause even greater confusion. I can tell my hon. Friend, however, that, had British Rail known then what would transpire in October, November and December, the fares increases proposed for that line would undoubtedly have been different. I give her this pledge: when fares increases are next set for Network SouthEast lines, the differential—particularly in regard to the service on the north Kent line—will take into account not only the service that is prospectively on offer, but the service that is being provided.
After Christmas, we shall be publishing a White Paper on British Rail privatisation. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is wrong to believe that we are considering only the simplistic solution of selling off the Network SouthEast lines. He knows that that would not work. The lines are currently heavily subsidised, and a much more sophisticated solution is needed to bring in the private sector. We shall unveil our plans shortly.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold
When he checks British Rail's forward programme, will my hon. Friend ensure that it includes the final tranche of 465 Networkers that is required for the north Kent line?
§ Mr. Freeman
I have already made it plain to the House several times that we must finish the Kent link line services —the inner Kent services—before we can turn to production of the 471 s. It would be extremely expensive to truncate production of the 465s to insert the 471s, and then come back to finish the Kent link services. I give my hon. Friend that pledge: we will complete the production programme.
I hope that the British Rail privatisation White Paper will prove helpful. I should value my hon. Friends' comments on it; the House will undoubtedly debate it. Unlike the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East, we have positive proposals to improve the quality of service on Network SouthEast. The hon. Gentleman has no policy, no money and no hope.