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Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): While expressing my gratitude for one of the great successes in my areathe very good new Cambridge-Norwich servicewill my right hon. Friend ensure that any new management structures that may be put in place will be able to tackle effectively the real problems for commuters on Cambridge-London services: overcrowding, and continual delays and late runnings?
Mr. Darling: Yes, my hon. Friend is right, because anyone who uses the line knows that there have been problems with punctuality. Further problems have been caused by the fact that the route has become increasingly popular, because as Cambridge continues to grow, more people commute. It is thus important that we have a structure capable of running those railways. I am also grateful for her point about the Cambridge-Norwich railway line, which has been a great success.
Mr. Darling: While we are considering the review, the day-to-day running of the railways has to continue. We consider all franchises that come up for renewal and decide whether it is appropriate for them to continue in their present form or whether changes are necessary. The railways must continue their day-to-day business of running, and we must ensure that we continue to improve their reliability and efficiency.
Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend does his review, may I urge him to give as much power and responsibility as possible to passenger transport authorities? Given Merseyside's past experiencefrankly, the rail service went down the tubes when the private sector had control of itwill he give us an assurance that he will not be driven by the dogma of the Opposition and that he will give PTAs all the support that they need?
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): The Secretary of State will recall the Government's 10-year plan, which was published well after privatisation, well after his Government took office and, indeed, after the Hatfield crash. Will he confirm that it contained a variety of rail modernisation projects to which the Government were committed, such as work on the east coast main line, the upgrade to South Central and South West Trains, work in Manchester and Birmingham and Thameslink 2000? Will he confirm that none of those projects will now be completed by the end of the period covered by the 10-year plan, which is in about six years time?
Mr. Darling: I am not sure that I can do that. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the 10-year plan was published in July 2000 and that the Hatfield crash occurred a few months later. The plan marked a significant departure for railway planning because it set out railway spending over 10 yearsthat had previously been done annually. He mentioned several projects. I think he mentioned the west coast main line, work on which is going ahead. Work has been done on the east coast line and work is ongoing on the southern power upgrade. As I said to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), the day-to-day work of the railways must continue. However, we must continue to bear down on costs and improve reliability.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Despite some of his comments today, many of us see it as the first step on the inevitable path toward bringing rail back into public ownership. During the review, will he urgently meet the trade unions that represent the work force that supplies the industry, which has endured privatisation? Will the review cover the possibility of introducing a consistent approach on conditions and pay throughout the industry?
Mr. Darling: The review is looking at the structure and organisation of the railways rather than at pay and conditions. On nationalisation, I know what my hon. Friend thinks, and he has always thought that. I just do not happen to agree with him; I think that the railways benefit from both public and private involvement.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): When the Government did their welcome reinstatement of London regional government five years ago, they set up Transport for London to co-ordinate the main roads, the buses and the tube, but they resisted requests to make sure that commuter rail services in Greater London were integrated into the city's strategic transport planning. Will the Secretary of State say whether he is willing to look again at that and at least contemplate the idea of an agency or authority, linked to the current London strategic government, which
Mr. Darling: I am not sure that we need yet another agency to do that. The problem with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is that most London commuter services do not stop in the London area but go some considerable way outside it. My guess is that people who want to get on and off those trains outside the Mayor of London's jurisdiction might have something to say if heor, perhaps in future, shewas in charge of them.
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the plethora of organisations and their conflicting interests have resulted in unacceptable delays to repairing the rail infrastructure, but that putting the infrastructure right more quickly may result in greater disruption now, while minimising today's disruption will result only in more problems for longer? He is right to act now and to streamline the decision-making structure to get the necessary work done.
Mr. Darling: For some time, the industry has recognised that it may be better, because more work can be done, to close a railway line for two or three days than to try to take possession of it and perhaps do only a hour or two of work each night. That work is starting now. Work is done at bank holiday time, and it is always said that there will be chaos and confusion, but that does not always materialise. However, most people realise that that is a better way to maintain a railway than to try to do the work piecemeal.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Does the Government's definition of the right franchising arrangements involve long-term contracts and commitments or the short lease arrangements favoured by the SRA in cases such as that of South West Trains?
Mr. Darling: The problem with the long-term franchise arrangements that we inherited was that when franchises were signed all sorts of promises were made about an initial subsidy followed by money coming into the Treasury over 10, 15, 20 or 25 years. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is incredibly difficult to forecast what revenues might be in 25 years. The second thing that was wrong with those franchises was that in many cases they gave the operator a concession to operate services, but there was not much specification about what should be delivered. I cannot therefore promise the hon. Gentleman a return to the Tory-style privatisation model of franchises because I do not think that they
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): I am not against attacking rail privatisation, but why are the Government attacking rail privatisation in the name of rail privatisation? How will we improve rail regulation with continuing privatisation, devolution to assemblies and greater regulation by passenger transport executives? Even in the late 19th century, Alfred Marshall, who was no socialist, believed that railways were natural monopolies and that action needed to be taken with them on those lines.
Mr. Darling: I know that my hon. Friend was an academic at some point, and the first part of his question sounds like the sort of thing that students might be invited to discuss; perhaps later on we will have the opportunity to develop that idea over a glass of something. The whole point of the review is to look at all the options that are available to us. If I correctly understood my hon. Friend's point about local decision making, I can tell him that there are parts of the country where that might be a more efficient and effective way of running things.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and welcome it as another milepost on the long track back to public ownership. Does he acceptI have raised this point with him beforethat the cost of track renewal is four times as high in the private sector as it was in BR days and that the public got four times as much track for their money under BR as they do under the privatised system? Will he institute a thorough investigation of costs in the industry, with a view to getting back to the efficiency that we saw under BR?