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Mr. Greg Knight: I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely, and I wonder where it is leading. Is he about to suggest that we should abolish the Scottish Parliament?

Mr. Harris: Heaven forfend. The Scottish Parliament has many great achievements to its name, and I am sure that it will have a similar success rate in relation to transport. What I am saying—setting aside the fact that Scottish legislation would get rid of Strathclyde PTE in its present form—is that there is a strong case for allowing the PTE to become a co-signatory to the ScotRail franchise in the west, given the experience of its personnel.

In fact I must thank the last Conservative Government, who accepted the argument for PTEs to be signatories. Strathclyde PTE has made a huge difference to the negotiations on the ScotRail franchise, first when it was won by National Express and again when FirstGroup won it this time. It devoted many thousands of staff hours to negotiating with the franchisee on all sorts of standards and efficiencies, and on demands that democratically elected politicians in the west of Scotland were naturally making for rail services. As a result, we in the west of Scotland have a much higher level of satisfaction with rail services.

In my constituency, I am privileged to benefit from the Cathcart circle, which is heavily used by my constituents and by people throughout the city, particularly in the south. My constituents also rely heavily on the Strathclyde PTE underground, colloquially known as the clockwork orange. I shall explain that later: I see a quizzical expression crossing the face of the hon. Member for Poole. It is the third oldest underground system in the world, after those in Budapest and London. That may interest the train anoraks. In fact, it is called the clockwork orange because when it was reopened in 1980 after refurbishment the carriages had been painted orange, and they are entirely clockwork.

Mr. Syms: I thought for a moment that it had something to do with ancient sectarian politics.

Mr. Harris: I would not blame anyone for assuming that. It was probably a risky nickname, but it was not conferred by any authority in the city; it was conferred affectionately by some members of the community.

When I was in charge of public relations for the clockwork orange—the Glasgow subway—I came in for a huge amount of personal criticism. My job was to publicise the underground, and one of my brainstorms
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was to suggest to the travelling public that football fans should not use the underground to travel to Ibrox, the Rangers football club ground, because the system was not big enough for that to be safe. Allowing 6,000 fans to travel to Ibrox station in the space of half an hour would run a high risk of people being thrown on to the track in front of trains. I will not repeat the language that was used about me in certain Rangers fanzines; I will merely say that all that was said was untrue, but I did not sue.

I go back to the serious issue of local transport services, how those are developed and how political decisions are taken in the west of Scotland post this Bill and post the Transport (Scotland) Bill. There is already a perception that transport infrastructure projects such as the Edinburgh airport link and the light rail transport system in Edinburgh have been given precedence over similar projects in Glasgow, simply because the political focus has inevitably shifted in Scotland from Glasgow to the east coast, because of the Scottish Parliament. That is probably a welcome development for some MPs, for example, the MP for an Edinburgh constituency, say, Edinburgh, South or thereabouts—

Dr. Pugh: Edinburgh, Central.

Mr. Harris: That is what I was thinking of. Those MPs may not have any objection to that, but for those of us who represent a constituency in Glasgow, it is worrying.

Let us remember the ethos behind setting up the passenger transport executives in the first place. They were initially proposed in the White Paper published, I think, by Barbara Castle in 1968. The whole point of them was that they focused on the country's conurbations. A conurbation was defined then, as now, as a metropolitan area whose population exceeded 1 million. Using that definition, and no one has come up with an improved one, Strathclyde remains the only conurbation in Scotland, yet effectively, we are about to lose the passenger transport executive that was set up specifically for that conurbation.

That is a huge shame and I deeply regret it. I only hope that, post the changes, politicians in Edinburgh will be able to work closely with politicians in Glasgow and in the west of Scotland to ensure that some of the infrastructure changes for which we have campaigned for many years, including the Glasgow airport link and Crossrail, are not left to wither on the vine, as some people fear they may be.

The community rail partnerships have been denigrated by some Conservative Members. I am surprised at that. This week, The Economist rather unkindly referred to the people running community rail partnerships as do-gooders and train nuts. That is a bit harsh. We are talking not about a back-door way of the Government closing under-used rail services, but about the possibility of rural rail services being brought out of mothballs and run by the local community—by people who are extremely interested and enthusiastic about running local rail services. That may not be appropriate for every mothballed service but 40 of those partnerships already exist in Britain. Surely, if they work—it is probably a bit early to decide whether they do—and if they provide what is intended, which is the
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rejuvenation of small lines with variable passenger numbers, every hon. Member, whatever side of the House they sit on, will welcome it.

Economies of scale are mentioned in the White Paper and in the Bill. One of the problems with the existing regime of the SRA and the Office of Rail Regulation is that costs are running out of control. As I have said, currently, Ministers have no legislative right to call those costs into line or to question how the ORR is coming up with those sums of money.

It happens with every capital project in this country and it has become a truism: anything that we buy in Britain costs more than what we would pay for it on the continent, whether we are downloading music, buying a suit or eating in a restaurant. It is accepted that in Britain things cost more money. That does not explain why in Germany the cost of building a new train station is the equivalent of £240,000 but in Britain we would not get much change from £1.5 million.

The Government must look at that urgently. If we are going to get value for money for our constituents and to make the money that we spend, and that is a lot of money, go as far as possible, we must ensure that every penny is spent wisely. Why are capital projects on the railways costing six to eight times the amount that the same projects cost on the continent? We must look at project supervision, at building standards and at the process for initiating those capital projects.

As I have said, I warmly support the Bill. There is a level of cynicism among our voters and the general public. Whatever improvements are made in rail services, it is no consolation to be told that a particular franchise has been performing well when one has been stuck on a cold and dirty train for two hours after it broke down. That is a difficult public relations barrier to get over, but I feel quite optimistic about the Bill. Some hon. Members are being unnecessarily oppositionist in their approach to it.

Mr. Greg Knight: One of the reasons why Conservative Members have concerns is that there are 22 clauses in the Bill to do with closures. Does not that worry the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Harris: That is an issue that I look forward to debating in Committee, if I am lucky enough to be appointed to it, but few of the criticisms made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk focused on the closure clauses. Most of his criticisms focused on the SRA. He criticised it, but then he criticised the Government for wanting to abolish it. He also criticised the amount of money that has already been spent on the rail industry under the Government's stewardship. Few of the criticisms focused on closures. However, all of us have railways in our constituency. Obviously, none of us wants to see any particular line closed. That is a legitimate concern, but it is not what we have heard this evening from Conservative Members. We have heard criticisms, a defensive attitude and, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Poole, a reluctance to admit that most of the problems we face in the rail industry stem from the botched privatisation. I see the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire shaking his head, but he is not getting up to intervene and frankly I do not blame him.
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The Conservative Opposition confirm public perceptions. Having made a mess of privatisation, they have no solutions to offer. We have sat in the House for quite some time and we have heard many positive ideas from the Labour Benches—from the Back Benches and the Government Benches. We have heard almost nothing from Conservative Members that will address the problems that we all face day-to-day on our railways.

I hope that the Conservative party continues with that attitude for the next five months at least. I hope, too, that the hon. Member for Spelthorne will be appointed its transport spokesman and put on the "Today" programme and on "Newsnight" every night between now and the general election, because that would do us nothing but good.

The Conservative party has not learned the basic lesson from its defeat of 1997. It has not learned to say sorry. Even when the Leader of the Opposition is questioned on pensions, instead of saying, "We got it wrong 20 years ago and we are trying to put it right now," which is what he should have said, even though he would be wrong in doing so, he said, "We were right then and we are right now." The Conservative party cannot win the debate on transport by saying that it has always been right and has never made a mistake—but strength to its elbow. That is exactly what it is doing and I hope that it continues to do it for a long time to come.

8.18 pm

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