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Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the structure of the railways has been exposed through the investment that has been provided, in the sense that the structure created at the time of privatisation is incapable of bringing about improvements and that what we have done is attempted to tinker with that structure? The review must bring about a root-and-branch alteration in the structure of the railway. Does he also find it surprising that the SRA thinks that this state cannot run a railway yet will consider another state to run a franchise in respect of the former Connex contract? Does he agree that the travelling public will find that somewhat surprising? In reviewing the railway, does he not think that we should put aside some of the dogma about everything that is private being correct and in the interests of the travelling public, and that, where the state can prove that it can run a railway effectively, we should consider that and compare that efficiency with any contract that we let in the future to ensure that we get value for money?
Mr. Darling: I was putting dogma to one side when I said that both public and private sectors have a role to play, but I think my hon. Friend was going in the opposite direction. I have always said that the public sector has an extremely important role to play. I have never taken the view that the public sector was blame or fault-free in the past. Just about everyone sitting in the Chamber will remember that, on one or two occasions, British Rail was not everything that it might have been when it comes to the model of a railway company.
In relation to my hon. Friend's point about the last six years, which was touched on by the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), we have done two things over those six years: first, we have begun to tackle the huge investment backlog and, secondly, we have sought to deal with the problems that related to privatisation, one of which was the complete collapse of Railtrack, which could not carry on; it ran out of money and something had to be done about it. The second problem in relation to the SRA was that it was necessarypeople widely accepted thisto have some strategic direction to the railways. We have done that. However, we have now reached the next phase, where we need to put in place an organisation that can take the railways forward over the next 20 to 30 years. I think
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the Secretary of State in his review consider the possibility of reuniting track and train in common privately owned regional companies and abolishing the SRA? I have a great deal of sympathy with him, given his unruly inheritance of those dreadful quangos and a botched renationalisation by the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers)
Mr. Darling: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman in two respects: he accepts that there was a problem after privatisation, and he has a policy, although it is not necessarily one that I would go along with. He is right to suggest that the whole question of track and train needs to be considered, and the precise model will be considered as part of the review.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that, over the past six years, there have been about half a dozen major statements about the railways? They started with one on the channel tunnel rail link when private money could not resolve the problem. Private money could not deal with Connex; private money could not deal with the Jarvis/Norris contracts; and private money could not deal with Railtrack. Is it not becoming increasingly obvious that privatisation, which has run for about 10 years or more, has failed, and that we ought to be thinking about another manifesto commitment that says that we will take the railways back into public ownership? Is that too much to bear?
Mr. Darling: Not for the first time, I have to disappoint my hon. Friend. We are not proposing to do that. I do not think that the problem is having public and private money and investment and operations on the railways. What is wrong is the structure that was set up.
My hon. Friend referred to the channel tunnel rail link and the same point applies to the franchises. The second thing wrong is that the Tories set them up in a way that was doomed to fail, because they were wildly optimistic in the assumptions they made. What was wrong with the privatisation was principally the way in which they botched it and left something that was completely fragmented and dysfunctional.
Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the groups of people who have particularly suffered from the constant dithering over different kinds of structure are London commuters? Will he undertake to give high priority to giving them a better deal and to dealing, in particular, with the problem of overcrowding that we discussed last
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right about London commuters, except that he will bear in mind the fact that one of the big problems that we face at the moment is that Railtrack failed to put in hand the upgrading of the power supply south of the River Thames. We are now putting that right and work is well under way. In addition, half the new rolling stock that is on order is going into London commuter linesmuch of it to Connex and the southern railway as well. Yes, there need to be more carriages in some instances, but he will no doubt have heard what I said about health and safety. One of the problems that I want to sort out is, for example, the business of putting on an extra carriage. When there is a need to extend the platform that should not end up in our having to re-do the whole station, as that would make the whole process totally un-cost-effective. That is why we need to consider safety generally.
Although I have a great deal of sympathy for what the hon. Gentleman says about the problems faced by London commuters, I would be hesitant about blaming all those problems on the fact that I am now looking at the future organisation. Many of the problems were caused by a lack of investment in the past.
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Since privatisation has clearly not worked and there is hardly a person in the country who does not realise that it was totally botched by the previous Government, why is my right hon. Friend so absolutely determined and dogmatic against bringing the whole system back into public ownership? Is he aware that there will be a great deal of disappointment in the Labour movement and among many Labour Members of Parliamentsome present; some notwho will say that what is now proposed is not the solution? The solution is public ownership, and my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister should be bold enough to recognise what is really required.
Mr. Darling: Perhaps I may give just one reason to my hon. Friend. Each week we spend about £73 million of public money on the railway. It brings in about the same sum from the private sector each week. If we get rid of the private sector, that is £73 million a week that we need to find. I do not think that there is anything dogmatic about saying that it would be a bit hasty to chuck that overboard.
Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle) (LD): In the statement, the Secretary of State said that Network Rail is taking maintenance back in-house to control costs. I agree with him about that. However, a parliamentary answer that I received last week from his Department indicates that maintenance costs have only increased by 7 per cent. over a seven-year period. The real increase has come in the upgrade programme in which, in the first four years up to the general election, costs were on an exponential upward curve. After a slight blip in the general election year of 2001, they are now again on an exponential upward curve. The cost of the upgrade programme in
Mr. Darling: Let me make two points. First, on maintenance costs, Network Rail estimates that bringing maintenance back fully in house will save it about £300 million a year, which will be a result of the Jarvis's of this world, and other companies, not doing that work. On the upgrade work, the original cost of the west coast main line, about which the hon. Lady knows something, was about £2.5 billion. Five years later, that had reached £13 billion, but the actual cost will be something like £7.5 billion. The reason for that is purely and simply that Railtrack did not know, did not admit to or was unable to control the costs. However, the costs are now being brought under control.