Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Darling: On the hon. Gentleman's final point, it would not be wise of me to pre-judge the HSE report's conclusions. Everyone believes that it is in the best interests of all concerned to have the report as quickly as possible, and the HSE may publish further interim reports to keep people informed. Once I have the conclusions, I will consider them and come to a view.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about King's Lynn station, I am intrigued by the fact that Conservatives Members, having argued for years that the railways should be privatised and taken away from Government, are the first to ask detailed questions about the parking arrangements at their local stations. The SRA is charged with that responsibility, and I will pass on his concerns to it. However, as he has now raised the issue and because the chances are that I will be in King's Lynn at some point, I shall find out what the position is. If there is anything further that I can add, I will let him know.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): Will my right hon. Friend please confirm that responsibility for station maintenance and development will, in fact, rest with Network Rail, so that it will be the organisation to be approached if there are difficulties at local stations?

Mr. Darling: I shall be brief. That is absolutely right.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his announcement. Its key elements are the move from shareholder interest to public interest and the programme of investment, and it is important to bring those two elements together. Given the many demands that have been made of him today and the high public expectations that will result from the announcement, is it not crucial that a programme of work

27 Jun 2002 : Column 986

is developed so that public confidence can quickly accrue to the new company? People's expectations will include better disabled access to platforms and improvements to railway lines. May I put in a bid for cross-Pennine routes while I am at it? Public confidence in the new network will be built if the SRA can announce soon how it will meet people's reasonable expectations.

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend is right. Money and a competent operator are necessary. I hope that we now have both.

On my hon. Friend's more general point, we set up the SRA to ensure that we have a considered approach to these matters. It is now under extremely good management and I have not the slightest doubt that it will work with others to make sure that we get a decent railway. That will take time—let us be clear about that. There is a huge backlog of underinvestment over many years, but I hope that we shall see an improvement year on year. The SRA and others are very much seized of that point.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): In welcoming my right hon. Friend to his post, may I remind him of his words about the new company spending money efficiently and effectively, something on which I am sure we would all agree? On subcontractors, does the nature of the change give us an opportunity to renegotiate contracts with some of the subcontractors to bring about the changes that he described to my hon. Friends the Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes)?

Mr. Darling: I am sure that Network Rail will want to look at that, but I am not in a position to talk about individual contracts. However, I am sure that not only Network Rail, the Strategic Rail Authority and the train operating companies but, for obvious reasons, some of the subcontractors will want to ensure that the system works. The present situation is not entirely satisfactory.

Clive Efford (Eltham): My right hon. Friend will be aware that many Labour Members think that Railtrack was merely laundering public money into private hands while giving the illusion of trying to run a railway. His statement about its demise is welcome.

My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that it is essential to deal with repairs and maintenance and the scrutiny of the quality of work carried out. Will he also ensure that the accreditation of the workers who do the work that is essential to the rail service is checked and that training is provided to ensure that they are competent? Given that forewarned is forearmed, can we learn lessons from that specific issue for the management and running of the public-private partnership for London Underground, because some of the contractors are involved in both services?

Mr. Darling: As I said, it is not the employment of contractors in itself that is the problem because that has always been a feature of the railway system. What is at issue is whether proper controls are in place to ensure that contractors and subcontractors are trained and competent to do the work and, critically, to ensure that the work is done. I do not take the view that just because someone is not directly employed by the main owner-operator,

27 Jun 2002 : Column 987

whether that is public or private, there is something wrong with them. After all, most of the population work for companies in precisely that position. What is important, though, is to ensure that there is end-to-end accountability and that clear controls are not only in place but enforced.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West): As a frequent user of the west coast main line, I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. The west coast main line, which serves my constituency, has improved in the past six months, but much more needs to be done.

Does my right hon. Friend share my lack of surprise that Railtrack continues to deny that it was insolvent, given that trading while insolvent is a criminal offence for which directors can be held personally liable? Will he say a little more about the membership of the board and of Network Rail, the company limited by guarantee, especially in relation to trade union representatives because it is important that they are fully involved in the interests of modern industrial relations?

Mr. Darling: In relation to membership, I said that there will be between 100 and 120 members, who will be nominated by a special committee set up for that purpose. Membership will be open to anyone who has the interests of Network Rail and the railways at heart. Of course it will be open to unions, although bearing in mind what I have read over the past few days, one or two of them may not want to be involved. If they do, however, I am sure that the invitation is there.

My hon. Friend is right about the west coast main line, which is improving all the time. New Virgin trains will shortly start to appear and people will see a difference in the quality of rolling stock, which Virgin cross-country trains are also using. I want to ensure that the changes announced today and the work of the Strategic Rail Authority and others mean that we get a better railway system year on year. I am confident that that will happen. The investment is available and the right structures are now also in place.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement this morning and express the hope that it will bring forward the day when we at last have a direct rail link between Glasgow city centre and Glasgow airport. Does he agree that the good wishes expressed by the Conservative party for Network Rail will ring hollow in the ears of the British public given that the only time that it expressed any interest in the rail network was when it hoped to make a fast buck by selling it off?

Mr. Darling: The Conservative party is very much on its own in still believing in its heart of hearts that Railtrack could have carried on. That is the view of the shadow Chancellor and the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). They still think that Railtrack was a flourishing and going concern, whereas the High Court held that it was not. They have always had a rather grudging attitude to railways and public service in general.

27 Jun 2002 : Column 988

I suspect that, as we move on over the next two or three years, the big issue will be this: we have put in place substantial long-term investment. On the basis of the Conservatives' current economic policies, they would cut it; they are against every penny of that increased investment. Without investment, all the changes to structures in the world will make no difference. It is investment—sustained investment—that will make the difference. As the hon. Member for Maidenhead has been wrong on just about everything that she has ever said about Railtrack, this is a golden opportunity to move on, as her former leader used to say, and start looking at the Conservatives' policy in relation to investment in the railways.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): I very much welcome the clear message from my right hon. Friend to the shareholders that the current offer will not be on the table indefinitely. Given that, unfortunately, it appears from press reports that there are still some shareholders who are minded to reject the deal, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be totally unacceptable if this revival of the rail network were to be sabotaged by anyone trying to extract an even higher settlement than the current one, which is very generous in all the circumstances? If any inordinate delay were to be caused by such tactics, would he consider legislating to bring about the establishment of Network Rail as soon as possible?

Next Section

IndexHome Page