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The amendments are intended to maintain equality between Scotland and England in terms of the role of passenger transport executives in the rail franchising process. Although the Bill will devolve significant additional powers over the railway network in Scotland to Scottish Ministers, it does not confer any additional legislative competence on the Scottish Parliament. The primary legislation governing the relationship between Ministers and regional authorities on railway matters will remain reserved to this Parliament. Consequently, unless the Bill gets it right, there is a real risk of a gap in the statutory chain, which could both fetter the future discretion of Scottish Ministers and frustrate the effective delivery of integrated transport in the west of Scotland.
This is not just a matter of legal niceties. It is of fundamental importance to my constituents, and to the 44 million passengers who use the Strathclyde rail network each year. Rail travel accounts for more than a quarter of all fare-paid journeys in the Strathclyde area, and the level of railway use in the west of Scotland is second only to that in Greater London. The railway network is therefore a core component in the regional transport system in Strathclyde. It is also undoubtedly a key reason why there are proportionately fewer car journeys in Strathclyde than in the rest of Scotland.
In other words, we are looking at a balance between private and public transport in the west of Scotland that clearly goes with the grain of the Government's national transport and sustainability objectives. It is important that the Bill should not undermine the continued delivery of integrated transport in the Strathclyde Passenger Transport area, and therefore unwittingly work against the wider policy objectives that the Government have set themselves.
The relatively healthy state of affairs in the west of Scotland's transport is not simply a happy accident. It is the result of more than 30 years of conscious political
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choice and deliberate financial decisions by accountable regional bodies that had the will and the means to influence directly the delivery of local railway services as part of an integrated transport system. Strathclyde regional council, of which I was a memberas was the Minister: I hope she will bear that in mind when she repliesinvested more than £400 million in developing the local railway network while it was the passenger transport authority for the area. Since railway privatisation, the successor PTA has spent over £50 million of discretionary funding in service and network enhancements, and a recent study by consultants appointed by the Scottish Executive has shown that more than half the growth in traffic and revenue on the Strathclyde rail network during the 1990s was directly due to initiatives by the PTA and the PTE.
Unfortunately, the present drafting of the Bill appears to undermine the delivery mechanism for that assurance. It is that defect that the amendments seek to address. The Bill proposes to take away PTEs' existing powers in relation to rail franchises, and clause 13 replaces them with new provisions for engaging PTEs in the franchising process. However, clause 13 does not apply in Scotland, although this is an area where the Scottish Parliament has no competence to enact equivalent or alternative provisions. The amendments therefore seek to introduce an additional clause that will give Ministers in Scotland the same discretion to involve a passenger transport executive in future railway franchises that the Secretary of State for Transport seeks in relation to English PTEs.
There is a parallel Bill before the Scottish Parliament that could potentially amend the basis on which SPT currently operates, and result in a transfer of powers between it and Scottish Ministers. That is an undoubted complication, but I cannot emphasise too strongly that it does not remove the need for the amendments. I remind the Minister that the Scottish Parliament is not able to amend the underlying legislation governing railways. It is also worth pointing out that Holyrood's Transport (Scotland) Bill is at a less advanced stage than the Railways Bill, and its key components in relation to SPT are simply enabling. Their implementation will depend ultimately on secondary legislation whose terms and scope have yet to be defined, let alone scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament.
The Government's acceptance of the amendments would not oblige Scottish Ministers to follow any particular future course of action, other than introducing a statutory obligation to consult. I am sure that hon. Members would in any event endorse that latter requirement. The same principles of open and accountable government should be adopted consistently
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throughout the United Kingdom, and should not be differentially applied in a Bill that is the responsibility of this Parliament.
The remaining provisions of the amendments put the Bill's application to a PTE in Scotland on the same footing as in England. They would preserve a statutory framework that would enable, but not compel, Scottish Ministers to adopt the same participatory approach to a rail franchise in Scotland that would be available to the Secretary of State for Transport in England in equivalent circumstances.
We are always dealing with hypothetical situations when legislation is in progress, but in this one, the uncertainty is compounded by the fact that two legislatures are involved. If this part of the Railways Bill is passed unamended, there is a tangible risk of unintentionally restricting the future ability of the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament to provide for the continuing effective delivery of integrated transport in the west of Scotland. Such a risk could arise, for example, if the current Transport (Scotland) Bill failed to gain Royal Assent or was substantially amended by the Holyrood Parliament. A risk could also arise if Scottish Ministers chose not to exercise their proposed power to initiate secondary legislation in this field, or sought to change the basis of that legislation at the outset or in future.
My new clause and amendment seek to remove such risks by ensuring the consistency of the reserved legislative framework within which devolved railway policy will be made and delivered in Scotland. They preserve, rather than forgo, options by preventing a situation in which Scottish Ministers are statutorily debarred from involving a PTE in rail franchising. In the interests of even-handedness and of ensuring the future delivery of integrated public transport in the west of Scotland, I commend the proposals to the House. I am sure that the Minister will not fail to be moved by them and will accept them.
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