According to one of Philip Hammond’s predecessors (William Lowndes) ‘Take care of the pence; for the pounds will take care of themselves’. Sadly this sort of attitude does not sit well with our modern day Parliamentarians. Every time a written question is asked in the House of Commons, we are expected to find the cost to cover the administration etc. of the question and answer. It is estimated that such costs amount to nearly £200. Whilst £200 may not seem like a huge sum in the overall scheme of a £2Bn a year Parliament, this sum could be better used in a myriad of ways. One of the regular questions that has been asked over the last year relates to the need for improving the Brighton mainline train infrastructure. I am sure that there are many previous examples of this question being asked. However back on 15th September, the MP for Lewes, Maria Caulfield asked Paul Maynard who was and continues to be the Parliamentary Under Secretary in the Department for Transport.
MC: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what long-term investment plans the Government has to improve the Brighton Main Line.
PM: Network Rail is currently developing proposals for potential upgrades of the Brighton Main Line, following the conclusions of the Sussex Route Study, and the London South Coast Rail Corridor Study, both of which highlighted significant capacity and performance constraints. Government will fund Network Rail to develop proposals as necessary.
Seven months later Henry Smith, MP for Crawley asked a similar question on 20th April 2017. Then not wishing to be seen to be ignoring the issue, his neighbour Nicholas Soames asked an almost identical question on 26th April 2017. Both men unsurprisingly got similar answers, from the same Minister. Perhaps what was surprising given that 7 months had passed was that very little had changed. Then bringing us right up to date on 16th October Caroline Lucas asked Paul Maynard a very similar question.
CL: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport….. whether the upgrade of the Brighton Mainline is one of the new enhancement schemes for which funding will be available for early-stage development; and if he will make a statement.
PM: The Government recognises the importance of the Brighton Mainline upgrade proposals, which are at an early stage of development. We will continue to support Network Rail in further developing and refining the proposals, including identifying any development funding that is required during the period 2019-2024.
It seems to me that if we are to avoid spending even more money on pointless questions and answers, that our Government needs to find a much more effective way of timetabling such an important set of changes and also a way of monitoring their fulfillment. This after all is the 21st Century and we are talking about a project that will impact literally Millions of people. To rely on a handful of MPs to choose the right time to ask these identical questions seems a very inadequate way of measuring progress.