London Orbital Rail Network

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I am sorry to disturb the hon. Gentleman so early in his speech, but perhaps a point we should also make as London Members is that London railways are used by hundreds of thousands of constituents from outside the capital?for example, as far away as east Kent. Therefore, the state of London railways isan issue of great concern well beyond the 74 constituencies in the capital.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) for his speech. Thank goodness it was a 90-minute debate, not a 30-minute debate, otherwise no one else would have had a chance to contribute.
Given the hon. Gentleman’s insatiable desire to know more about Gospel Oak, I should perhaps tell him?my friends in the London borough of Camden would be keen to point this out?that Gospel Oak was one of the wards that went to the Conservatives in the recent local elections. Indeed, I believe that our majority there is rather bigger than the hon. Gentleman’s majority in his parliamentary seat in Battersea, but that is another matter.

This is a useful debate. The failure to invest in London’s infrastructure, especially its transport infrastructure, is regarded as the single biggest issue facing London-based businesses. The debate is also timely, given the Conservative party’s transport initiatives, particularly its rail transport initiatives, which have been announced in the past 48 hours. Our concern is that the railway transport system is too disjointed and broken up?a complaint that goes back to the privatisation that took place under the Conservative Government. However, it could also be said that transport policy making in London as a whole is too disjointed.

One reason why we, as London MPs, perhaps have a somewhat limited voice on the matter is that much of the policy making and day-to-day decision making on transport is in the hands of the Mayor, Transport for London and the Greater London authority. That makes it difficult for us, as London MPs, to have our voice heard. As I said in my brief intervention, one of the biggest issues is that London transport affects not only the 74 London constituencies, but many constituencies and constituents far beyond the capital. It is all the more important, therefore, that debates such as today’s take place.

I worry particularly about financial services and the creative industries, because we need to promote those important areas of growth in our economy. For historical and other obvious reasons, those industries are based in London, and we need to do our bit to ensure that the infrastructure, and the transport infrastructure in particular, is promoted.
I appreciate that other hon. Members have quite a lot to say, so I shall not say too much, not least because none of the orbital railway directly affects my constituency. It just outside my constituency, although it might assist parents in Hackney who happen to send their children to schools in my constituency, as well as people making other journeys. However, the City of London corporation is keen to ensure that there is proper investment in the east London link line, and it welcomes the progress that has been made so far on phase 1. I have walked through the constituency of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and seen the disruption in Hoxton and Haggerston. An enormous amount of building work is going on, but it will all be to good effect in the longer term. I hope that phase 2 will ensure that there is an interchange with the Victoria line, which is crucial, for the reasons set out by the hon. Member for Battersea.

I do not want to speak only from a north London perspective, so let me also say something from a south London perspective. Thankfully, I have heard of Battersea and Clapham Junction, and it is important that they are linked in to the system so that we have a proper orbital railway. That will ensure that the City is well catered for and that people will be able to use the orbital railway, at least until the last available point, when they will have to take another form of transport, which might be a bus, rather than the tube or the train. That will also ensure that we take the earliest opportunity to avoid a lot of the wasted journeys that result, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, when people go into central London, only to come straight out again.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He is right to suggest that the London orbital railway may prove to be a most effective means of improving London’s train transport. I have 34 tube stations in my constituency, but, as I said, none of them is directly affected by the orbital link. However, if we can ensure that there is proper investment, we might well alleviate some of the problems that people experience when the tube is very busy, particularly on days such as this.

Let me say a quick word about Crossrail, which is a central issue for most London Members. I am pretty realistic about its prospects: notwithstanding the enormous amounts of time and effort that are being expended in this place on the hybrid Bill, it is highly unlikely that Crossrail, at least under the current plans, will ever be built. I do not think that the finances will be there, given that the cost is projected to be£13 billion, £14 billion or £15 billion and is rising fast. However, I hope that serious thought will be given, whatever the colour of the Government, to ensuring that at least part of the projected Crossrail infrastructure is built. In particular, I hope that we shall have a line that links the City of London with Canary Wharf and perhaps the Thames Gateway, which will be necessary if that redevelopment area is to be viable in any meaningful way.

All of us as London MPs irrespective of our party have an important message that we would like to get across to the Minister. Our voice is inevitably somewhat silenced by the fact that we have a Mayor and Transport for London, but that arrangement should enhance London’s transport, not diminish it. It is greatly to be regretted that the Department for Transport has taken its eye off the ball in respect of London’s great needs, although, to be brutally honest, the same would be true if we had a Conservative Government. How we deal with London’s substantial needs will affect its standing as a financial and tourist centre and whether we have a viable and thriving economy in the years ahead, all of which will have an enormous impact on the 560-odd MPs who do not represent London seats. I hope that the Minister will take due note of what has been said and of what other hon. Members will say, because we need to invest. In so far as the enormous sums required for Crossrail cannot be promised, please can the Government ensure that they put money towards getting the orbital railway up and running?

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) would understand that precisely that sort of mentality existed with the tramlink between Croydon, Wimbledon and Beckenham. Precisely that linking up of a range of different residential areas was involved. It predated Transport for London, so, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, it is not just the existence of TFL that has allowed some joined-up thinking in transport matters in the capital.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Does the Minister not accept that for strategic funding purposes, one of the difficulties that we have in London is that the Mayor has a precept? He is able to charge tax, part of which goes to transport, although other bits go to policing and are spent in other high profile ways. That breaks that nexus and makes it more difficult for all of us; it is the devolution debate writ large. I speak for Conservatives, although perhaps not for Labour Members of Parliament with London constituencies, when I say that there has been a sense in which the Department for Transport has taken its eye off the ball as far as London transport is concerned.