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Mrs. Lait: Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that no Liberal Democrats are present to listen to his clear exposition of the problems that commuters face in Bromley?

Mr. Horam: This is a matter on which we could have a measure of cross-party agreement. The Minister is here, and I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight). His constituency is far from Bromley, but he is still interested in these matters. It is disappointing that there are no Liberal Democrat Members present, and in view of what they have said in the past it is rather surprising.

I should like an answer to the crucial question of whether platforms at all the stations along the line from Orpington, Beckenham, St. Mary Cray and Chelsfield will be lengthened so that they can take trains long enough to resolve the problem of overcrowding.

It has been suggested that the toilets and seats should be removed from coaches to cram in more people. That is a desperate measure, and it would be a move backwards, not forwards, if people could not even get a seat on the train or go to the toilet. I hope that the Minister will comment on that. From Orpington, it may take 25 or 30 minutes to get to central London, so there must be no question of removing the seats and toilets from those trains. What, then, is being suggested? Are we talking only about very short journeys, of perhaps 10 or 15 minutes, in which case the train is more like a tube train and it may be acceptable to have no seats or toilets?

On my final point, safety, I shall be brief, as I want to give the Minister time to reply fully on this important matter. Like Conservative Members, he knows that the railways have a history of being very safe; and they remain so. Whether nationalised or privatised, the railways are the safest mode of transport, although the issue of safety was not well handled by the Deputy Prime Minister when he was in charge of these matters, or by the Government as a whole. There are still worries about safety, particularly in overcrowded trains such as those from Bromley and Orpington. People wonder, "What if something goes wrong while I am packed into this train like a sardine?"

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham may know that there was a derailment at Beckenham junction only 10 days ago. There were two serious incidents of signals passed at danger near Orpington in which, fortunately, no one was killed or seriously injured, and there was a fire on a train from Orpington to central London. I understand from the strategic plan that the train protection and warning system will be in place by 2003. Does that mean that all the trains coming from Bromley and Orpington will have the TPWS installed by the end of next year, so that the sort of accidents that occurred last year and continue this year will no longer be possible?

I invite the Minister to remember my initial remarks, which were that this debate concerns the most important people—the backbone of this country's economy—who come from Bromley every day to run London's economy.

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They deserve, and are certainly sorely in need of, a sensible and comfortable daily commute in and out of London.

10.34 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. David Jamieson): I congratulate the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) on securing this debate. He noted my assiduity in listening to him, which I always do, and I noted his assiduity in raising this matter in the House on so many occasions.

I was sorry that the tone of the debate was somewhat lowered by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait). I believe that the Speaker's guidelines are that no reference should be made to Members of other parties who may or may not be in the Chamber during half-hour debates. Perhaps the hon. Lady should refresh her memory in that respect. She also mentioned the renationalisation of Railtrack, and some may harbour an ambition to do that, but I am sorry to disappoint her: Railtrack is in administration and will come out of administration when that is what the administrator advises.

I am aware of the contribution made by the people of south-east England to our economy. The hon. Member for Orpington said that they were the most important; some might differ from him on that point, but I shall not engage him on it tonight. We recognise the importance to our economy of the south-east and those who travel daily to work. I hope he will note that I have the good grace to admit there are transport problems—he described them as a daily problem for his constituents. In return, he might have the good grace to admit that those problems did not start on 1 May 1997.

I have little time to respond to the debate, but let me first address the current performance of Connex South Eastern, which provides the service to and from Bromley North and Bromley South. The latest figures published by the Strategic Rail Authority for the period 1 April 2001 to 13 October 2001 show that 83.9 per cent. of Connex South Eastern services arrived within five minutes of their scheduled arrival time. Since those statistics were published, I understand from the SRA that performance has deteriorated, mainly due to adverse weather conditions and a consequential increase in infrastructure and train failures. The hon. Gentleman cited the figures for recent months, but I am sure that if he looks back over many years, he will see that performance figures tend to deteriorate at this time of year, and generally pick up as the weather improves.

Connex is well aware that improvements are necessary. On 10 January, it launched a new performance drive—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with it. Called "Over 90", it is aimed at achieving more than 90 per cent. peak punctuality. I understand the current results are encouraging.

The plan for the future of the railway published on 14 January by the SRA identifies priorities for improving Britain's rail network to ensure that the Government's growth targets are met. The plan outlines how improvements for passengers and freight customers will be delivered in the medium and short term, and also sets out our long-term ideas for the next decade.

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Although rail traffic has grown substantially since privatisation, which requires extra trains, the existing infrastructure has sometimes failed to match network capacity, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out. That has inevitably led to operating difficulties and poor perception of our railways. However, there is no question but that Britain's railways have a key role to play in the economy, in reducing road congestion, in offering a safe form of travel, in protecting the environment, and in safeguarding health and promoting social inclusion.

London and the south-east will benefit vastly from the strategic plan, as travel to and from London is the major source of demand for passenger rail travel: 70 per cent. of journeys nationally are made on the London and south-east network. The London and south-east area suffers from the worst overcrowding: the numbers passing daily through the main London terminals are now at an historic high. Measures will be taken to tackle overcrowding on all 10 London train operating companies. That may require longer trains, longer platforms and increased track capacity.

Early developments on the Connex South Eastern franchise will ensure the introduction of 210 vehicles of new class 375 rolling stock by 2002; I will say more about that shortly, if there is time. The company will also invest £40.5 million in rolling stock reliability improvements for class 465, 466 and 508 trains. Connex South Eastern has 145 stations eligible for upgraded facilities under the incremental output statements scheme described in the strategic plan, with which I am sure the hon. Gentleman is familiar. The works are due to be completed by the end of 2004 and could include facilities such as waiting rooms, toilets, security and information systems.

Significant capacity will be freed on the existing network in 2007, when the channel tunnel rail link is planned to open. It will offer fast domestic services from Kent, with new trains, and will contribute to a major reduction in overcrowding, as well as reducing the number of Eurostar trains running through Orpington from 2003 and through Bromley from 2007. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises that as an improvement.

In common with other train operating companies, Connex is required to remove all mark 1, slam-door rolling stock from service by 31 December 2004. The obligation to replace this stock is contained within its current franchise agreement.

Connex has 55 new trains, which are currently undergoing tests and modifications, which must be completed before they can go into passenger service.

The hon. Gentleman talked about power supply. The Strategic Rail Authority is leading a cross-industry team that is charged with overseeing the programme for replacing the slam-door trains in the Southern region and ensuring that the future electric power and infrastructure improvements are capable of meeting both the 2004 deadline for replacement and longer-term needs. I am assured that currently there are no vehicles sitting idle because of power supply problems. I am sure that that will be good news for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Horam: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jamieson: I will give way, but I will be inhibited from responding to some of his other points.

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Mr. Horam: Does what the Minister says mean that the power supply problem will be solved by the end of 2004?

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