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John Thurso: I am following the Minister's argument with some interest. He makes a powerful argument that the measures in the Bill are stronger than the new clause. On the question of consultation, can he say whether the SRA is—or the Secretary of State will be—under any obligation to consult the Disability Rights Commission, which has been established since the 1993 legislation?

Mr. McNulty: That is a fair point, but I will have to get back to the House on it. I am not completely au fait with the legislation that established the DRC, so I do not know whether it drew in all consultation requirements in extant legislation. I half think that the DRC automatically has a general role in any aspect of disability provision, including transport and the railways. I will certainly get back to the hon. Gentleman and the House on that point.

The amendment would add the Mobility and Access Committee Scotland as a second consultee, after the disabled persons transport advisory committee, for Scottish matters. I freely concede that the amendment raises a very good point. MACS has been established by the Scottish Parliament to fulfil a similar role in Scotland to that of DPTAC in Great Britain and the Scottish Executive have advised that MACS is very important, but we need to take a step back. I have some sympathy with the principle behind the amendment, but we still think that it is unnecessary. As the matter is convoluted, let me go through it briefly.

The Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland was established by the Scottish Parliament in 2002, and fulfils a similar role to DPTAC. DPTAC was established under legislation that pre-dated devolution, but equal opportunities law, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, is reserved to Westminster. So, on the face of current legislation, DPTAC continues to have a role in Scotland.

However, DPTAC and MACS work closely together. They have a concordat between them that will ensure that their work is complementary and that while DPTAC will deal with all issues that are reserved to Westminster, MACS will deal with issues that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I can imagine a much greater role for MACS in future with the additional devolution proposed by the Bill, but believe me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have looked into how one might unpick the pre-devolution legislation that established DPTAC—pre-devolution legislation that established much of the framework of our equal opportunities legislative framework—and I have discovered that a great many amendments would be needed to get it all in order to such an extent that we could simply say that in Scotland, given where we have got to with greater devolution on rail, MACS should be consulted, and in the rest of the country DPTAC should be. Although it is convoluted, I think that that explanation renders the amendment unnecessary.

So, there would be a much greater role for MACS in future, given the additional devolution proposed by the Bill. However, a duty for Scottish Ministers to consult
 
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DPTAC but not MACS, however silly it sounds, should not adversely affect the existing role of MACS. Existing arrangements should ensure that DPTAC involves MACS or refers to it where an issue relates to devolved matters. I am also sure that when the Scottish Executive do consult on the code of practice, they will involve as wide an audience as necessary.

Although I have, as I have tried to explain, enormous sympathy with amendment No. 60, I think that, for many of the reasons that I have suggested in terms of the legislative complexities, it is unnecessary; equally, given the increasingly strong relationship between DPTAC and MACS, if the import of the amendment is to ensure that the Scottish voice of disabled transport users is as fully involved and consulted as possible once these rail matters have been devolved to the Scottish Executive, the House can have, I think, my assurance that we will work together with the Scottish Executive to ensure that what the amendment seeks to do will prevail. But please do not ask me to take the matter back and come back with what will be, I would guess, anything from 30 to 50 amendments just to get all the legislative elements lined up so that what we all want can prevail strictly and purely in law. Rather, I ask hon. Members, please accept the assurance that it will prevail in reality. We do not want to go unpicking pre and post-devolution legislation and the statutory framework. In that context, I hope that the new clause will be withdrawn and the amendment will not be pressed.

Mr. Chope: I note that the Minister has responded in great detail. We shall read what he has said and then consider whether we should come back with this amendment or something similar in the other place, but in the meantime, bearing in mind that there is only about 15 minutes left to discuss all the remaining amendments on the amendment paper, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12


Transfer Schemes at End of Franchising Agreements

Mr. Llwyd: I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 11, line 6, at end insert—



'(2A)   The appropriate national authority may make a scheme for the transfer, before the end of the franchise period, if the authority considers, after consultation with the Office of Rail Regulation, that the safety record of the franchisee is such as to warrant a transfer on the grounds of passenger safety.'.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 18, in page 11, line 13, leave out



'and



(e)   a franchise company.'.

No. 17, in page 11, line 14, at end insert—



'(3A)   The appropriate national authority shall not make a scheme for the transfer of relevant franchise assets to a franchise company, at the end of the franchise period, if an independent assessment, which must be authorised by the national authority, demonstrates that the assets could be operated more economically and efficiently by a person identified in subsection (3)(a), (b), (c) or (d).'.

 
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No. 4, in page 11, line 43, at end insert—



'(9)   The Secretary of State may not exercise his powers under subsections (2) and (3) to make a scheme to transfer the relevant franchise assets of any franchise currently operated by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to a franchise company. Those assets shall continue to be operated by a company wholly owned by the Secretary of State or the Scottish Ministers.'.

Mr. Llwyd: The effect of amendment No. 35 is obvious. It would make safety a paramount consideration overriding other provisions in franchise agreements. It would open up the possibility of renationalising rail services on safety grounds, although the term "transfer" could include a transfer to a private company.

4.45 pm

John McDonnell: There are only 15 minutes left in the debate, so I shall be as brief as possible. I shall speak to amendments Nos. 18, 17 and 4, which I have tabled. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope to press amendment No. 17 to a Division at the appropriate time.

The Bill is part of a sequence of events since 1997 during which we have been on a path of overcoming the problems faced by the railway industry as a result of privatisation under the previous Conservative Government. Although I do not think that the amendments go far enough, they offer a range of ways in which the Bill could be improved to bring back a degree of public ownership and public sector involvement.

I argue the case for public sector ownership, control and accountability because the promises that we were given at the time of privatisation have demonstrably not been fulfilled. We were told that privatisation would bring about more investment in the railways and that the service would be improved. We were told that there would be a transfer of risk from the public sector to the private sector and that we would have a more efficient railway system throughout the country. I congratulate the Government on the massive growth in investment, but that has come not from the private sector, but the Government, taxpayers and passengers.

Last year's public subsidy to the private sector from the taxpayers of this country was £2 billion. Since privatisation, the Government have put £10 billion into the railway industry, but £1 billion of that—figures now suggest that it might be nearer £2 billion—has been creamed off for profit. Today's Evening Standard publishes the various companies' profits for last year. Their profits have risen by an average of 20 per cent., with FirstGroup making £60 million, National Express £54 million and Stagecoach £43 million. The private sector continues to exploit the railway industry for its own benefit.

We were told on Second Reading that we required private sector involvement because it would bring £70 million a week of additional investment to the railway industry itself, but recent independent examination by independent experts has demonstrated that all that £70 million a week is public sector money that has been laundered back into the system. It is made up of subsidies provided to the private sector which it then disguises as its own investment.
 
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Profiteering has gone on apace, which is why we need a publicly accountable railway system. Profits have been achieved by what is called "sweating the assets", which means cutting services, exploiting the work force, and sometimes putting passengers at risk by undermining safety regulations and practices. We have heard of two further examples of that this week. On Monday, the Daily Mirror exposed yet again the fact that maintenance contracts on track renewal have led to the system being left unsafe overnight and over the weekend because of inadequate work done by inexperienced people. Only two days ago, 100,000 passengers were unable to travel on the London Underground because the private company managing the service could not complete its work overnight, as it did not bring the materials required for the job. Costs have escalated under the private sector, and costs for maintenance and renewal have almost doubled in the private sector compared with those under British Rail.


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