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Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Darling: I will give way shortly; I believe that I know where my hon. Friend is coming from.
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We believe that, where it is possible to devolve powers, it is right to do so, because it makes for better transport planning. As to PTEs—

Mr. Truswell rose—

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Darling: Hold on a moment. I promise that any hon. Member who wants to intervene will get to intervene, unless you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, call the Adjournment or something like it. It may be helpful to the House to say that I intend to say a few words about PTEs in England, then speak about London, then go to Scotland—actually, I would love to go to Scotland, but not just yet—and then back to Wales. My first subject is PTEs, so does anyone want to intervene?

Mr. Truswell: Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge the important role that passenger transport executives have played in securing, developing and monitoring rail services during some very difficult post-privatisation times? If he does, why is he seeking to reduce and remove so many of their existing powers and, if he is mindful of restoring those powers under the Bill, would that not represent an unnecessarily bureaucratic and confusing process?

Mr. Darling: No, quite the opposite. I am glad that my hon. Friend intervened because I thought that he might say what he did and it provides me with an opportunity to explain what we are doing. At the moment, franchises are the joint signatory of both the Strategic Rail Authority as it is now and the PTEs. In some cases, where the franchises involve more than one PTE, they have more than one or two parties to the contract. That means that it is complicated, because more parties are involved in the negotiations, and it can lead—let us be blunt about it—to a lot of horse-trading. At the moment, the PTEs do not have to meet the full consequences of the services that they specify because it all comes ultimately from the Government. In operational terms, we can end up with more and more services being purchased to run through a network that may not be able to take them. It may not be able physically to do so. My approach was to try to simplify the structure as much as possible, to make it less complicated and therefore less expensive. The more people involved, the greater the expense.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the PTEs are very important, not least because they must have regard to all transport within their area—not just railways, but light rail, buses, cars and so forth. The Bill provides that the Secretary of State must consult the relevant PTEs before issuing an invitation to tender, so the Secretary of State knows what the PTEs want to buy. If they want to buy more services, they can do so; if they want fewer, we intend to arrange it for them to receive the money for that and be able to spend the remainder on other things as well. In other words, they will be given greater power.

The Bill is necessary to ensure that we have a far simpler system than the one we have at the moment. Since the publication of the White Paper, I have made one change that was not contemplated in it. Because it may be necessary, for contractual reasons, to have the
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PTE as a signatory, it can, at the invitation of the Secretary of State, be a co-signatory, if necessary. PTEs thus have nothing to worry about in respect of their interests, which will be taken into account. There is a statutory obligation to listen to what they have to say. What we are doing is to streamline the procedure and, critically—I make no apology for it—I am determined that, in future, if PTEs can buy more services, they must accept the financial consequences of what happens. The present position is a nonsense.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The position in the constituency of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) may not be quite the same as the position that the Secretary of State has set out. What is the position when a PTE has entered into a franchise agreement already? Can it be retrospectively altered? For example, Nexus in the north-east has committed to making further improvements to the metro in Newcastle and Sunderland and to improving railway stations. Will its position be altered by the Bill?

Mr. Darling: No, because it is a general rule that legislation is not retrospective, except with the express consent of the Law Officers. The Bill will apply to new franchises. Existing franchises may be varied if that is agreed, but the Northern franchise was signed relatively recently. I remember an example that led me to believe that we needed a simpler way to deal with such negotiations. In the course of the negotiations on the Northern franchise, it emerged that one PTE had one service a day that went into the Northern franchise area, but it was able to hold up negotiations because it wanted something in its own franchise area. That is not a very satisfactory way of proceeding.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Notwithstanding what my right hon. Friend has said about the safeguards that he hopes to build into the Bill for PTEs in the future, does he agree that removing them as co-signatories to franchises weakens their position with franchisees? Can he give some examples of the difficulties and complications that the present system has caused?

Mr. Darling: It would not weaken the PTEs' position. The newer franchises have a far greater degree of specification—of performance and so on—than the older ones. Those specifications can be enforced in the future because a contract to provide services can be enforced by the Department, which will be the contracting party. My difficulty with what my hon. Friend says is that negotiations have not been a matter only for the PTE and the SRA—or the Government in the future—and the TOC. Often, negotiations have been between the PTE and the Government or the SRA. Those discussions have held matters up on several occasions. To put it bluntly, sometimes matters have been resolved by a compromise under which the Government pay some money to the PTE. I can see why the PTEs might think that that is a jolly good arrangement, but it is not, to coin a phrase, a very good way to run a railway.

We are trying to develop a rational system that is simpler than the present one. It will not diminish the role of the PTE. Indeed, what we propose—this is the whole
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thrust not only of the railways White Paper, but of the transport White Paper published a few weeks later—is that over time we will decentralise funds as far as possible to give the PTAs greater power and, crucially, to give them greater flexibility. At the moment, railways are regarded as somehow different from the transport that PTEs do, such as bus and light rail, but they should all be considered together. In some circumstances, it might not be right to run heavy rail because light rail would do the job better.

We are planning to give the PTEs greater power; when they get greater control over the money, that will provide greater influence over the TOCs. No doubt such matters will be explored further in Committee, but our proposals are an improvement. I know that a group has been organised in the past two weeks to campaign against the proposals, but its concern is misplaced.

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Darling: Yes, but then I am going to London.

Mr. Stringer: While he is still in the metropolitan areas, I remind him that I chair the group that he has just mentioned. Will he agree to a meeting with us so that we may make representations on that issue?

Mr. Darling: I am sure that either my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who will take the Bill through Committee, or I will meet my hon. Friend. I have always made it clear that it is one of the responsibilities of Ministers to meet their colleagues and I am sure that we can arrange an opportunity to go through the arguments.

In relation to London, let us again be clear what we are talking about. The Mayor and TFL have substantial responsibility for most of London's transport. It is logical that, if we can bring rail travel within the Greater London authority closer to what TFL is doing, it will provide a better transport system for the public, not least in relation to fare structures and ticketing. At the moment, it is sometimes difficult to work out why it should cost more to go between one place and another by rail, by bus or by tube, so the principle of greater co-operation is a good one.

In relation to the Silverlink services in London, which run within the GLA boundary—with the exception of the service that goes to Watford—it seems sensible to say that if TFL is responsible for transport in London, it should look after those as well.

The allegation that sometimes arises, certainly from the Conservatives, is that, somehow, we will give the Mayor of London power over all the services that run into London. The hon. Member for South Suffolk is right: about 70 per cent. of train services in this country go to London. There is no way that we will hand over power for those services to the Mayor of London. What I said was that there may be a case, in discussion with the local authorities that surround London, for looking at services—especially commuter services—that come into London where the Mayor wants to specify greater stopping in his area. Clearly, that would have a knock-on effect on services going outside London. That needs to be discussed. That will be done on a slightly longer
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timetable—it will not happen imminently—but any sensible transport planner would accept that we need to consider the way in which those services are organised.

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