|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way on the question of London, before he goes off to Scotland. In his proposals for Scotland, the Scottish Parliament will be given control over the track. I welcome and support that. Does he envisage a situation where TFL and the Mayor would have control over trains in London, as well as the track infrastructure, particularly on the entirely suburban cross-London routes that are not inter-city by any stretch of the imagination?
Mr. Darling: No, I do not, and I had better explain why. In Scotland, most of the railway network is operated by one franchise, ScotRail. Although the Anglo-Scottish services run up to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness and include one or two sleeper services, the dominant provider of trains is ScotRail. The track will remain under the ownership of Network Rail, but the Scottish Executive are largely involved in specifications, enhancements, improvements and so on for ScotRail, the dominant operator, so it makes sense that they should specify what is appropriate for the track. Bluntly, if they want to open up services or take them away, that is a matter for them.
The situation is almost the opposite in London. As I said, 70 per cent. of train services in this country come into London, and a large number of them start well outside London. It would be very difficultin fact, it would be administratively and operationally impossibleto extract those parts of the track in London that no one else but London uses. I do not understand the strength of doing that, so we do not propose to do it.
However, we recognise that where something is wholly within Londonsuch as, for the most part, the Silverlink Metro servicesit is logical that TFL should take it on. In relation to services that go outside London, if commuter services might usefully take people to places with no transport links in London, that ought to be discussed. But I repeat that it can be done only after discussion and a general agreement on the way forward with the surrounding local authorities. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for South Suffolk, who would love us to propose a rather different policy, but there is no question of giving the Mayor say over trains that run outside London. That is not what we are proposing at all.
Mr. Wilshire: TFL representatives tell me that they want to get their grubby little hands on all the tracks and stations in my constituency and that they plan to improve facilities by increasing fares. What guarantee can the right hon. Gentleman give to my constituents that the extra fares that they pay to TFL will be spent in my constituency, and not on some grandiose, half-baked scheme that Ken Livingstone thinks up?
I would be surprised if TFL put the proposals in the way that the hon. Gentleman describes. I do not want to repeat myself, but we have no plan at
6 Dec 2004 : Column 928
all to transfer the track, as I was just explaining to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn); the hon. Gentleman is wrong on that.
Mr. Darling: I shall let both hon. Members intervene, but let me say first that the Scottish Executive has run the ScotRail franchise for two or three years, and the arrangement has worked well. There will have to be a transfer of resources to reflect the fact that the Executive is to take over responsibility for specifying what they want in terms of track; that is now being discussed.
Mr. Darling: No, but the position in Scotland is better than in some other parts of the country. Network Rail and the TOCs are now setting up joint control rooms, so that ultimately, when the number of franchises has been reduced, we will have alignment between the Network Rail regions and the single franchises, which will allow closer co-operation between track and train. That is much easier in Scotland, because ScotRail is the dominant operator; although, because of the Anglo-Scottish services, it is not the only one.
Pete Wishart: I have been keen to intervene to congratulate the Secretary of State on overseeing the biggest devolution of power since the Scotland Act 1998 was passed. It confirms the view of devolution as a process, not an event. Hopefully, the Railways Bill will represent the first of many steps in that process. However, can the right hon. Gentleman convince the House and Scottish Ministers that resources will follow the devolution of powers, so that the Scottish Executive can pursue their objectives in the coming years?
Mr. Darling: The Scottish Executive are well provided for thanks to the excellent spending settlement for the next three years that we were able to make in the summer because of the strong state of our economy and the strength that we derive from being part of the United Kingdom, something on which the hon. Gentleman might want to reflect. He should not count on a stream of further devolution measures regarding the railways; the Bill is sensible and practical, but it is all that is required.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Returning to the subject of London, clause 15(3) refers to consultation that must take place before an invitation to tender for a franchise agreement is issued in respect of services that
Given that 70 per cent. of all rail services pass through London, is not the Secretary of State setting up a huge bureaucracy, whereby he must consult and agree with
6 Dec 2004 : Column 929
the Mayor of London before such invitations are issued? If not, what will happen if there is disagreement between the two?
Mr. Darling: No, that is not so. The hon. Gentleman is letting his imagination run riot. The franchises will be awarded through a division within the Department for Transport set up for that purpose. Yes, we have to consult all sorts of people where appropriate, but the position will be infinitely simpler than it is now.
Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East) (Lab): I welcome the proposals that will lead to the Scottish Executive having more influence in discussions with the Department for Transport and Network Rail on the strategic objectives of the system as a whole. That will require resources to be transferred. Is it clear that the Scottish Executive will be responsible for all improvements to rail infrastructure throughout Scotland, including the whole of the east coast main line from Edinburgh north?
Mr. Darling: The Scottish Executive will be responsible for specifying and paying for those enhancements that they want. As for the east coast main line, the Scottish Executive might want to administer a series of comparatively minor upgrades, but so might Network Rail, depending on its requirements for, say, Anglo-Scottish services. However, the White Paper makes it clear that if a major upgrade were in prospect like the one for the west coast main line, the decision would be made by the Department for Transport in association with the Scottish Executive. However, the Scottish Executive could decide to upgrade the line from, say, Edinburgh to Aberdeena stretch that my hon. Friend knows something aboutif they chose to expend their resources in that way. The Executive will now have that power, which I think is a major step forward.
Under the asymmetrical devolution that we have in this country, each part of the country has to be dealt with differently. The Welsh Assembly Government will be able to, and will, specify the Wales and Borders Trains services, but we will remain responsible for the few Wales and Borders Trains services that operate wholly within England. That is consistent with devolution.
The Bill includes greater powers to make it easier to change services. Earlier, I spoke about wanting to encourage better decision making when choosing between heavy and light rail and so on. Such procedures must be changed because the SRA is going, but the procedures will be much better than those we have at present. Changes to the Rail Passengers Council have been largely instigated by the council itself to enable it better to represent passengers' needs and have been welcomed, by and large.
I said that there were other changes that do not require legislation. Network Rail will be given clear responsibility for operating the network and changes to the agreement between Network Rail and the Department are being discussed at the moment. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe), I said that track and train companies must work together more closely.
6 Dec 2004 : Column 930
The House may be interested to know that, in January this year, I opened the first joint control centre between Network Rail and South West Trains. In the first nine months, performance has improved by 35 per cent. If anyone had any doubts about the wisdom of separating track and train, which was contemplated by the authors of privatisation, that example shows that there is a huge difference in performance, which will continue. I also said that there would be a reduction in the number of franchises; on 19 October, I said that they would fall to 19, and that there would be a further reduction to align them with the Network Rail regions. Network Rail will take over responsibility for drawing up utilisation strategies to make the best use of the network. Finally, the discussions on the rolling stock companies are continuing.
Before I conclude, I ought to do justice to the amendment tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition; it is only a courtesy to do so. I do not want to labour the point, but while it is critical of the Government, as one would expect, it is hardly illuminating about what a future Conservative Government might do. That is curious; at this stage in the electoral cycleunless the hon. Member for South Suffolk is a 2006 manone would have expected the Conservatives to give a hint of what they would do in the unlikely event of their being returned to power.
The hon. Gentleman is silent about the £1.8 billion-worth of cuts that he would impose. Implicit in his amendment is his wish to keep the SRA, given that he is critical of the changes that we are making to abolish it. I should tell him that Mr. David James, who was hired by the Tories to look at efficiency savings, has banked the savings that derive from abolishing the SRA. I was therefore surprised by the amendment, until my attention was drawn to something that the hon. Gentleman said in an environmental publication in September:
"I'd be surprised if there is not some scope for efficiency savings but whether those are of the order that the James committee suggested I don't yet know. It isn't a priority for meit's much more important to get our policy indicators clear so people know exactly what we stand for."
The hon. Gentleman has shot himself in the foot regarding savings; at the same time, he has disappointed us, as we do not have a clue about where he stands. We do not know what the Conservatives' policy is, except that they want to cut £1.8 billion from spending on transport. It is difficult to see how on earth we could have an effective railway system, especially as they have some history, or baggage, as the privatisers of the railway, which led to so much difficulty.
I believe that the railways in this country have a very good future. I accept that there are difficulties and problems to be overcomereliability, for example, needs to be improvedbut we now have the funding and management, and the right organisation, for the railways to make sure that they carry more people and freight. I am optimistic about the future of rail, and I commend the Bill to the House.
6 Dec 2004 : Column 931
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|