Jeremy Corbyn : Can the hon. Gentleman explain why he has a problem with a network that is funded largely by the public being determined by an elected Secretary of State who is answerable to this House? Surely that is a more democratic and transparent process than the arcane bureaucracy that the Opposition seem to be promoting.
Mr. Chope: At least that is a coherent policy. The Secretary of State said last February that re-nationalisation would not happen and he gave various guarantees. I am trying to point out that those guarantees are not reflected in the Bill.
I hope that this and other issues will be taken up with vigour in the other place, and that the Lords will also be able to examine the memorandum of understanding between the Government and Transport for London concerning the definition of TFL's control of rail services in London. I understand that the MOU has been produced and is available, but that it was not made available to members of the Standing Committee. That is a matter of regret, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that it is publicly available, so that it can be discussed in the other place. That was a missed opportunity for Members of this Houseeven some Labour Back Benchers might have liked to scrutinise the MOU.
We are extremely unhappy about the Bill in major respects, but it does of course abolish the Strategic Rail Authority. It is typical of the Minister's selective
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memory that he omitted to remind us that in 2001, Labour's election manifesto stated that the SRA would provide a clear, coherent and strategic programme for the development of the railways, so that passenger expectations are met. Here we are in 2005, abolishing that self-same authority. What a mess the Government are in with their railway policy, and how passengers are suffering as a result!
John Thurso : It is true that our deliberations at all stages on this Bill have been good natured and largely constructive, and that the Bill is all the better for it. However, I retain reservations about a number of matters.
I know that other hon. Members want to contribute, so I shall make only one or two brief points. First, my party continues to support he Bill's general principles. If the House divides on Third Reading, we shall support the Government.
I expressed my concern about closures on Second Reading. I am grateful that the Minister of State made it clear throughout our deliberationshe has done so again this eveningthat he did not intend to be the second Dr. Beeching. In Committee, he said:
"This is not about a secret agenda. It is not about closures. It is not about me or any successor of mine being the new manifestation of the Conservative Dr. Beeching."[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 13 January 2005; c. 204.]
However, I think that my noble Friends in the other place will want to look again at the strategy developed by the Secretary of State. I agree with the plan to get rid of the SRA. Given that the railways are largely, if not entirely, paid for from the public purse, and that the Treasury and the Secretary of State will make the decisions, it is correct that an elected Governmentthe representatives of the peopleshould have the duty to produce a strategy. I am completely at odds with those on the Conservative Front Bench on that matter. Even so, it is also right that the Bill should place a duty on the Secretary of State to develop that strategy, and to make an annual report on its progress. I know that that question will be revisited.
The Minister indicated that the Government would support rail freight, and I am grateful for that. Various issues are not covered by the Bill and will be dealt with elsewhere, as was said on Second Reading. I hope that the Government will continue their commitment to rail freight, the development of rail freight interchanges and other measures. Britain needs a safe, reliable and affordable railway as a real alternative to the roads.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab):
I welcome the Bill overall, as it is another stepping stone on the way to achieving a rational policy-making process in the industry. I have lost count of the number of rail and transport Bills that I have sat through, each of which has been said to establish a permanent structure for the long-term future of this country's rail industry and transport network.
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I believe that we shall return to this matter, and relatively soon. The travelling public have expressed a great many concerns about transport. For example, many people were trapped on the tube this week as a result of Metronet's mistakes, and the same thing has happened again this evening. I think that people will demand further change from the Government.
I regret that we were unable to use the Bill to acknowledge the efforts of the rail work force. Our rail system depends on the hard work and commitment of dedicated professionals in the industry, some of whom have been treated unfairly since privatisation. An example of that is the two-tier system of travel concessions available to workers. I hope that that problem can be addressed in another place, or perhaps in subsequent legislation. Some rail staff working before privatisation gained full travel concessions, whereas others employed after privatisation received only a fraction of that, or none at all.
Without the dedication, commitment and professionalism of staff we would not have the efficient service evident in many sectors of the industry. In addition, we should pay tribute to the commitment to safety that has persisted since the development of the regional rail network.
Jeremy Corbyn : Like other hon. Members, I have listened with interest to much of the debate on this Bill. I wish that it went a lot further, and various opportunities have been missed, but I nevertheless support it.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) noted, today's Evening Standard carries screaming headlines about rail company profits. We should remember that we are voting to invest large sums of money in the rail network and infrastructure. That is correct, but we must be aware that much of that money is simply creamed off in profits by the train operating and rolling stock companies, and by many others. It is our public responsibility to think carefully about that.
I hope that it is not too late for my hon. Friend the Minister to think again about the consequences of handing the South Eastern Trains franchise back to the private sector. The franchise has been run efficiently and effectively in the public sector, and Government money has been saved.
The amount being invested in infrastructure is enormous. I welcome that and we now have a higher level of investment in railways than we have had for decades. Investment is now higher than in most other parts of western Europe, which is welcome. That investment recognises the role of railways in our societytheir efficiency, safety and environmental sustainability.
I welcome the increased investment, but I hope that Ministers will recognise the need to think seriously about the expansion of the network. We have seen the reopening of several lines, but many more could be reopened, such as the east-west freight route or the Waverley line in Scotland. It would be very welcome if such lines could be reopened and money put into them.
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We also need to consider the serious issues of rail congestion that affect all the main routes in this country, to some extent because of the success of the transfer of freight from road to rail, but also because of the increase in the number of passengers. We have huge opportunities to develop, expand and improve the network.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington that the opportunities I have mentioned should be taken up within the concept of public ownership, because that is the more responsible and efficient way. I am sure that we will come back to that subject.
I welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister said earlier in response to my intervention on the question of local stations in London. The city has a complex transport network, with an over-used London underground system, a rapidly and vastly improving bus network, but several under-used overground railway lines. They need to be fully integrated. London's transport planning has been bedevilled in the past by the separation between London Transport and the railway network. We have an opportunity with Transport for London and the concepts enshrined in this Bill to make TFL the body that can integrate the tube network with the overground network, the expanding tram network and the bus network. We need good local hubs and interchanges.
I mentioned Finsbury Park station in my constituency. It is a parochial example, but I think that a lesson may be drawn from it. It is a local inter-transport hub. After much work between the bus companies, TFL's bus section and the local authorities, we have a wonderful refurbishment of all the external parts and the interchanges at the station. However, we do not have the necessary improvements to the station itself, where the underground and the overground meet, because the two organisations involved cannot agree on who will pay for it and what to do. If the station were run by one organisation, such as TFL, we could make some progress. I expect that exactly the same arguments apply to Willesden Junction, Clapham Junction and several other local suburban interchange
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stations. I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's comments on that point and I look forward to further discussions with him about it.