Mr. George Howarth: The Minister was present when I discussed some of the developments that have been achieved on Merseyside by the PTE there, which is known as Merseytravel. Perhaps he can comment on those points and on what successes it has had.
There has been discussion with the RPCs, much of it at their instigation, about what the passenger voice will be like after this Bill. Those elements do not necessarily or absolutely have to be part of the Bill, but the demise of the RPCs clearly has to be.
In terms of network modifications, many of the extensive clausesI accept that there are 22 clauses on thisare about the system post the Railways Bill. There are so many because the SRA and the RPC were central to the entire closure process up to now. We must put that in the context of devolution and ensure that everyone who needs a voice has a voice. The same is true in terms of bus franchising. I stress that any number of elements in the rail review White Paper are not part of the Bill and do not require legislation. It all needs to be seen in that context.
For example, to sum it up, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said that no one is doing rail freight. The Department will do the rail freight strategy. There is no need for a statutory duty in order for us to perform the function. The ORR already has a duty under the Railways Act 1993 to promote use of the network by freight. The Freight Transport Association broadly welcomed the White Paper proposals, not simply the Bill. We are working with that organisation and others that have a stake in freight to get to a stage where there is certainty on freight and its use of the network. Further expansion of freight on the network is far more guaranteed than it has been.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) talked about bustitution of rural lines. There may be some residual notional bustitution of rural lines, but the bustitutionit is a horrible wordclause refers specifically to PTEs. PTEs are overwhelmingly urban. However, I accept that West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire will have rural lines and not just urban lines. The quality contract legislation certainly applies to the PTE areas.
Jeremy Corbyn: Can the Minister assure me and the House that the community rail idea is about the retention, development and increased use of branch lines and not a Trojan horse for their closure à la Beeching?
Mr. McNulty: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is slightly different from bus substitution, but the community rail partnership strategy that we launched with the SRA just the other week could not be further from a Trojan horse or "Dr. Beeching 2". There are plenty examples of lines opening in a voluntary capacity. They have stayed open and become more viable, transforming themselves from branch lines to feeder lines to the rest of the network.
Penistone is a key example of that. I was there on a cold and windy day, and it does get very cold and windy up there. That line has gone from what was disparagingly described as a community, fluffy, beards-and-anoraks linewith all due regard to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, Northto feeding 500,000-plus passengers a year into the trans-Pennine express network.
My hon. Friend also spoke about the east London line extension and those elements that the Mayor will take forward. Again, before I deal with the point about devolution of power, much of what the Mayor can do within London is because of the almost £3 billion line of credit that he has been given through prudential borrowing. That is outwith the Bill and has nothing to do with it. However, it gives mid-term, if not longer-term, certainty to many of the schemes within London and will, finally, give Hackney a tube station.
My hon. Friend mentioned the east-west rail line. Again, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department for Transport are talking to local authorities and private sector companies to see how they can push that link on. We have made it clear that there is not a substantive economic case in terms of its being additional to our plans for the network. It is perfectly in order, however, for us, the ODPM and others to consider how that part of the loop can be fixed by working with the private sector, but those who most directly benefit from it should contribute to it. It is terribly short-sighted of the hon. Member for South Suffolk to say that because the Bill relates to Ken
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Livingstone, he does not want it. All the Bill does is to extend to London areas of influence and policy that the PTEs already have.
I could not for the life of me understand what the hon. Gentleman was going to do. Having agreed the demise of the SRA, who was going to make decisions on franchising? It seemed that he was going to get the transport operating companies that want to run the franchises to do the analysis and let the franchises. All he said was: more power to the TOCs. Perhaps we should cut out everyone else, give them the money and let them do whatever they want, but that would do nothing for public accountability.
It does not say why. There was not much illumination of that in the hon. Gentleman's contribution. Given that so much of intra-London travel is on the heavy rail network, it must be right that we move down the road initially of looking at the discrete services in London and at a role for TFL within that process. I do not understand how anyone could object to that in any way, shape or form.
Mr. McNulty: With the greatest will in the world, the hon. Gentleman has only just popped in, for which I am grateful. However, he was not here for the debate, so I shall not bother to trouble him for a contribution.
If we go further with London powers, it is appropriate that someone from the surrounding regions sits on TFL's board, but that is again way outside the Bill's remit and we are a long way from that process. As has been suggested, the Silverlink metro lines will be considered first in that regard, and all but about three miles of track to the north of my constituency are within the Greater London Authority area. It must therefore be right to start to examine those configurations, not only in that context but in the passenger transport executives.
Many of the points made by the hon. Member for South Suffolk simply do not stack up. Apparently, we are seeking to perpetuate instability in the rail industry with regard to franchising. As to why, he was not forthcoming, and neither were any of his colleagues, apart from giving us the hoary old chestnut that there should be longer franchises. How long should they be? There was no suggestion. Should it be 20, 30 or 50 years? Perhaps we could go into Nicholas Ridley fantasy land, have the House of Commons meeting merely once a decade, give up all the contracts and franchises, and all
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go down the pub. That did not work terribly well for local government, it will not work well for central Government, and it is completely devoid of substantive consultation and public accountability, which must be the order of the day. Some serious points were raised which were specific to the Bill, some of which will be explored further in Committee. I stress that some of the answers lie outside the scope of the Bill, and I will undertake to keep Committee members, and if it is wanted, the House, fully involved.
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) referred to whether there should be a duty on the Office of Rail Regulation in relation to environmental matters. I am happy to tell him that that is already exercised in its functions. Under the Railways Act 1993, it must have regard to the effect on the environment of activities connected with the provision of railway services.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk spoke about the relationship between the Office of Rail Regulation and the Secretary of State. That is an important pointthe Bill does not simply reach into contours and leave everything much as it was. Every relationship in the Railways Bill changes. The relationship between the ORR and the Secretary of State will therefore change. The new relationship will maintain the independence of the ORR.
In relation to the point that existing contracts will be overridden, that is simply not the case. The ORR is obliged to review its position at times, but that is not about having a blanket power to override all existing franchises and contracts. It cannot be retrospective in that regard.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who chairs the Select Committee, made good points about ROSCOs and rolling stock. The issue should not simply be considered in the context of the existing skills base in this country, but I remind her that more than 75 per cent. of new rolling stock is British-made, and it is incumbent on all rolling stock companies, particularly British ones, to ensure that they can react to the pressure down on costs that we are seeking to get into the system. She and other Members raised the conundrum whereby a load of new rolling stock is on a railway line, and there is at least some hiatus while it is run in before getting back to the performance levels promised in the first place, which needs to be considered. Outside the Bill, we are reviewing the whole position of ROSCOs, and we are considering efficacy and efficiency on a company-by-company basis. I take the point, however, about losing job expertise in relation to rolling stock, and about ROSCOs' relationship with people more generally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich also made a point about safety, and I reassure her that safety will not be compromised by cost considerations in relation to the change to the Office of Rail Regulation. Safety remains paramount, and all the expertise moving through the ORR, which is embedded in and an integral part of all the other considerations, including economic and broader policy, must still have safety at its core. That is an absolute imperative, given all the lessons that we have learned.
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The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) said that it is a shame that Network Rail is being given timetabling powers. I am afraid that Network Rail already has such powers; indeed, it is the lead body in consulting with the rest of the industry. Other Members made a number of points, some of which were slightly confused, about the passenger transport executives. Some Members were responding to the White Paper rather than to the Bill's substance; these issues will doubtless be explored further in Committee. It is clear that PTEs must, and will, have an expansive role not just in rail, but in all other transport provision in their areas. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) that in many cases PTEs have been very strong advertisements for public transport networks, ensuring that all regions get the networks that they deserve. That said, by contrast with the situation in past years, we must ensure that we make optimal use of our railways throughout the system, and at a realistic cost.
On the consultation process, which was mentioned by a number of Members, it is entirely appropriate to look at how the Gatwick Express works with the Brighton commuter line, although we should not determine such matters at this stage. It cannot be right that the Gatwick Express is at best 50 per cent. full at peak times, when the corresponding commuter service is 130 per cent. full. I am not pre-judging the outcome of such consultation, but it is at least worth looking at how those two different services interact with each other.
What did we get from the hon. Member for South Suffolk? The answer is, not a lot. His greatest scheme at the minute seems to be flogging off as much Network Rail land as possible. He said on the radio this morningthereby spoiling my breakfastthat going down that route would unlock hundreds of millions of pounds. In essence, he has missed the boatif I may mix transport metaphorsin that much of the non-operational land previously owned by British Rail went not to Network Rail but to BRB (Residuary) Ltd. Much of what Network Rail has, in operational terms, it needs.
I will go half way towards the hon. Gentleman. I have explored this issue over the past couple of months and there are developmentssuch as major termini in London and elsewherethat Network Rail could take on far more readily. We are already exploring such ideas and we are grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. However, 794 of the 800-odd sites of British Railways Board land are worth less than £50,000, so quite how the hon. Gentleman is going to construct a major, integrated Tory transport policy on the back of sites worth less than £50,000 I simply do not know.
I hope that the real issues that I have not had time to deal with will be explored in some detail in Committee. The relationship between the Bill's four or five key areas, devolution, economic and safety regulation and the demise of the SRA are matters worth exploring, and I hope that we will do so, should Second Reading be secured tonight. But what we cannot have is this empty vacuum from the Opposition.
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