Rupa Huq – 2022 Speech on the Future of Rail

The speech made by Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, in Westminster Hall on 26 April 2022.

Ealing and Acton would not be here without the railways. Both have stations underground, overground—not wombling free—east, west, south, broadway, common, central. They are in “that there London”, so people might be thinking, “You’re all right, Jack,” but I want to counter this misperception that has grown up around the Government’s levelling up rhetoric. It is in the suburbs of London that we feel this most acutely. Our trains are full and getting fuller, fares are rising faster than wages, and west London, the sub-region with Heathrow, is a key driver of our national economy, but it needs transport fit for purpose, not just to and from central London but between the suburban bits.

An obvious solution would be breathing life into the old Beeching line, the west London orbital. There is Ealing, the centre of west London, and to the north Brent Cross, with lots of jobs, and to the south, Brentford, but good luck to anyone trying to get between any of those three. There is the super-development opportunity area of Old Oak, which has promised 24,000 dwellings and jobs, jobs, jobs. Again, this proposal could link them all, but there is no chance in sight, because the Government will not commit long-term funding to TfL.

Instead, we have the ignominious situation of cap-in-hand, eleventh-hour settlements, being marched to the top of the hill and down again. We are pretty much the only capital city on earth—I am not counting Singapore—where there is no central Government subsidy. We need reliability, predictability and all those things. When the current Prime Minister was Mayor of London, he was bequeathed a load of goodies from his Labour predecessor: the bikes that bear his name, the TfL rail Overground—it used to be quite scary when it was the Silverlink; it is brilliant now—the DLR extension and bus investment. But for Sadiq Khan—bless his cotton socks—the cupboard is bare.

Chris Loder (West Dorset) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) on securing the debate. I have been listening intently to what the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) said about the finances for TfL. Does she agree that if the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport did not strike so often in London and bring the whole of London to a standstill, the TfL finances might be in a better position?

Dr Huq

The hon. Gentleman is falling into the Tory trope of union bashing. I am a proud trade unionist, and the unions are there to better the conditions of their members. We do not want exploitation, do we? Is he going to be shoving kids up chimneys next? I fear the track he is going down. This issue is a bit of a smoke screen. We need long-term funding and a dependable model for London, which we used to have. Every other London Mayor had that, but in 2016 George Osborne suddenly cut the support grant. I think that had something to do with the complexion of City Hall, but—[Interruption.] I am not going to give way, because I do not get any extra time.

With covid giving way to a cost of living crisis, what did we see from the Chancellor? A cut in fuel duty and a 3.8% rise in fares, and I am not counting that gimmicky video—that thing, whatever it was—about the 1% of journeys where someone can get a cheap fare, going to the right place on the right day. That is not going to affect any of my constituents.

Meanwhile, we can only marvel at what they are doing outre-Manche in the rest of Europe. Look at Austria’s climate ticket. In Germany, there is a €9 a month regional transport ticket. In this country, no one between 25 and 65, which is probably most of the people here, is eligible for a national railcard, which is available elsewhere. I urge the Minister to look at something like that.

In conclusion, the future of rail should include projects that complete vaguely on time. I have an Oyster card holder that says, “Crossrail—new for 2018”. Ha! The future of rail would have considerate construction. HS2 goes through my seat and has made life a misery for the residents of Wells House Road, NW10. The future of rail would also have a visionary Government that could think long term, rather than say, “It’s all Sadiq Khan’s fault,” any time a London MP stands up to say anything, when we know that our London Mayor is doing a fantastic job against the odds. The country cannot be levelled up by levelling down London. The new Piccadilly line trains, due in 2025, are being built in Yorkshire. Level up London and the whole country benefits. Let us get Ealing, Acton and Chiswick back on the rails. Now that’s what I really call levelling up.