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Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Minister for giving way and I apologise for not being here for the beginning of his speech. On the transfer of facilities in London to TFL, is he prepared to consider the issue of the suburban interchange stations, which at the moment are run by Network Rail but which have a huge TFL input? Does he agree that it would make sense to reconsider the structure of the organisations, so that just one authority could run such stations? I am thinking particularly of Finsbury Park, but the same also applies to Clapham Junction and a number of other suburban junction stations.
Mr. McNulty: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, which was made on Report, and Finsbury Park was prayed in aidI think that he was in the Chamber at that time. On where the ownership should remain, I made the point in Committee and on Report that the development of suburban, inter-urban regional stations should be duly considered, and that at the very least, protocols should be put in place so that TFL, Network Rail and others can work and operate them in the interest of their collective networks far more readily than they do now. A linked point is the potential of those network hubs for local communities, which has not been explored as readily by TFL or others thus far. My hon. Friend will know, however, that interlinking either between various tube lines or tube lines and heavy rail is complex, and the benefit of the interchange must prevail in the first instance.
If the Bill is passed, the framework will be in place at least to examine how that sort of co-operation and advance can work in a London context and in the context of this Bill and other areas on which the transport White Paper elaborated last July. Our passenger transport executives, in some of the most significant cities in our country, will be able to take forward an integrated approach across all modes far
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more readily than they have done up to now. A good deal of devolution for Wales, Scotland, London and our major cities in terms of PTE areas would be introduced.
If we do that, there are consequences for much of the railways legislation that is currently on the statute book. Much of the Bill, admittedly in a rather tedious way, has been about accepting that the Strategic Rail Authority is going, and that the regional network of passenger committees is going, to be replaced by a far stronger passenger voice. Those two elements, plus all the devolution provisions in the Bill, have meant in some cases a tortuous track back to correct previous legislation, hence the 19 clauses on network modification and the point that we discussed on Report about bus substitution, not, I hasten to add, "bustitution".
While the Railways Bill should be considered as one element, which is hugely integrated, has a logic to it, and stands as one piece, it needs to be regarded in the wider context of all that we are doing in terms of transport generally, not just rail. It sets a framework, but as I have said on numerous occasions, the legislation only takes us so far. What really matters is what happens on the ground.
As some of my hon. Friends have suggested during our deliberations, the Railways Bill needs to be seen firmly in the context of taking steps: to continue sustained investment in our railway network; to ensure that the management of the industry is as robust and efficient as possible; to make changes increasingly to franchising arrangements to introduce a degree of vertical integration; to introduce far greater co-operation between train operating companies and Network Rail through integrated control centres, and a good deal more co-operation at regional and franchise level; and to develop a far better rolling stock strategy than that which prevails at the moment to help the industry derive best value from future lease renegotiations. That is not part of the Bill but is central to our overall vision for the future of railways.
To deliver a far better deal, it is not necessary for freight to be a substantive part of the Bill, but as we discussed a little on Report and in more detail in Committee, freight remains very important in terms of the delivery of this Government's vision for rail. It is also important to recognise all that we have done, in full-co-operation with the outgoing Rail Passengers Council, to develop a far stronger, far more focused voice for passengers and consumers.
All that is possible because of the sustained investment being put in by the Government. We feel that we are now ready to move on to the next phase. The Bill will realise an exciting and improving vision for rail.
When I was made rail Minister last September, I announced that I could say without fear of contradiction that I was very pleased to be rail Minister, and that it was a very exciting time at which to become rail Minister. Had I said that five or 10 years earlier, John Major's fabled white coats would have been flapping over the horizon; but, not least because of the sustained investment that has taken place since 1997, this is indeed a very exciting time for the railways. The number of rail passengers is back to pre-1960 levelsand we should bear in mind that about a third of rail capacity was denuded by Dr. Beeching some years after 1960.
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As I said on Second Reading and in Committee, despite my excitement at being rail Minister, I have no intention of going down in history as the next Dr. Beeching. That cannot prevail, given our vision for the railways and the framework outlined in the Bill. We are starting to put right decades of mismanagement and underinvestment in both the private and the public sectors. The Bill will enable us to build on that sustained investment and accelerate the improvement of our transport networks to the benefit of allthe rail industry, business, taxpayers and, most important, passengers.
I thank everyone who has been involved in the Bill's passage, which has taken place in an engaging, informed and, dare I say, friendly fashion. The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) accused me of, for most of the Committee stage, doing a passable impression of Leslie Phillips. I do not know quite what he meant, other than that I was being nice rather than nasty. My hon. Friends said that I was probably more like Sid James, but I will leave hon. Members to decide.
I am very pleased to have been party to our dealings on the Bill. Once it has Royal Assent, given everything else that we are doingwhich I have sought to outline, at least in passingwe will have a railway industry fit for the 21st century. Strategic control will be with the Government, where it belongs, and operational control will be with Network Rail and the operating companies, where it belongs. I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Chope: As on so many occasions in Committee, the Minister has demonstrated that he is not lost for words. We greatly appreciated much of the conduct in Committee, and we are grateful to the Minister for dealing with so many of our concerns.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) would have liked to be here this evening, but he is helping to raise money for charity. A large number of hon. Members will be at the Palace of Varieties raising money for Macmillan cancer care. I think they will raise £50,000 tonight, and my right hon. Friend is heavily involved.
The Minister has been seeing the Bill through rose-tinted spectacles. He cannot disguise the fact that it is big on bureaucracy and centralisation, and very weak on how customers will actually benefit. I foresee that the passenger experience will involve more delay, increased overcrowding and rising fares during the years ahead. The only possibility of avoiding that would come from a change of Government, which we are working earnestly to bring about later this year.
Various aspects of the Bill represent unfinished business. Let me remind the Government of a specific worry of ours, which has not been resolved. We pointed out in Committee that paragraph 1G of schedule 4 is objectionable because it undermines the jurisdiction of the Office of Rail Regulation in carrying out an access charges review. Currently, the ORR, not the Secretary of State, determines network capacity, what it can deliver, where it needs most maintenance and what its renewal pattern should be. This was made very clear in a letter from the permanent secretary at the Department
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for Transport to the ORR on 16 December 2003the time of the most recent ORR access charges reviewwhich is published on the ORR website. The permanent secretary said:
"Under the Railways Act 1993, and the licences issued and contracts approved by virtue of that Act, it is the role of the Rail Regulator . . . alone to determine and establish the income requirement of Network Rail, and to set access charges accordingly."
On 9 February 2004, the Secretary of State told the House that the rail reviewthe Bill is a significant part of the review's implementationwould definitely not do certain things. He expressly excluded from the review re-nationalisation, loss of independence of the ORR and
In our view, it is impossible to reconcile paragraph 1G of schedule 4 to the Bill with the Secretary of State's statement to the House on 9 February 2004, because the schedule transfers from the ORR to the Secretary of State the role of determining the size and other features of the network. It diminishes the ORR's jurisdiction and thereby transfers a very important function from an independent regulator to the political Secretary of State.
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