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1 July 2009 : Column 434

Mr. Khan: I thank my hon. Friend for what he says about the staff. The railways employ more than 2,000 staff—very good staff who do an invaluable job in ensuring that the trains run well. I can assure him that we will include the staff when we speak to stakeholders to ensure that we get the best deal possible, not only for passengers and taxpayers but for staff.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): National Express got no brownie points at all when it recently introduced a £2.50 each-way seat reservation charge. That discriminates against elderly people who cannot run the risk of standing on the train and families who wish to travel together. Will he prevail on the new interim operating company to reduce this fare rise made by stealth?

Mr. Khan: The hon. Gentleman raises a very good point. That is one of the reasons Labour Members believe in regulating. When we re-tender the contract, we will ensure that such things do not happen, instead of allowing the market to dictate what happens on trains.

Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and our noble Friend the Secretary of State on their statements. Can he reassure us that the new trains that are due for the east coast line are still on track, given the decisions announced today?

Mr. Khan: We will ensure that we keep to the targets we have set and the agreements we have reached. That includes not only the quality of service that passengers receive but investment for the future.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Why have the Government effectively served notice on National Express with regard to the East Anglia franchise and told the country, “I note that the parent groups of previous franchise failures are no longer in the UK rail business”, when it is obvious that the Government do not have the power to terminate that franchise, and are going to get locked into a legal dispute? Having created maximum uncertainty for passengers on the East Anglia franchise, will the Government be able to deliver the coup de grâce to National Express or will there be a long period of protracted dispute and uncertainty for passengers?

Mr. Khan: We have said both in this House and in the other House that we are going to explore all our options. It is a statement of fact that the two other parent companies—Sea Containers and Connex—no longer run trains in the UK.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): As an Edinburgh-based regular user of the east coast main line, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that it is a great asset, which is why National Express signed up to put in £1.4 billion to operate it for 10 years? We should welcome the Government’s intervention, but may I put it to him that the key thing is to sustain this service? Will he do all he can to maintain it and go forward and build on it for the future? We have had a statement today, but we need more statements in future, because we are all concerned not only about the lines that we use regularly—many of us use this line regularly, and we have to maintain the quality of service, frequency and everything else—but the railway network generally.

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Mr. Khan: My right hon. Friend, who is clearly an expert in this area, understands and confirms what we all know—that this is a prestige line. That is why there was huge interest in it when it was last up for tender. It is why, as those who read newspapers will know, takeover attempts were reported in the press in relation to the company. I am sure that there will be a lot of interest when the contract comes up for re-tender towards the end of next year. I add that we recently had the experience of the South Central line, in which there was huge interest and for which we got £534 million over a six-year period.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): In the 1,500 square miles of my constituency there is not a single railway station, which makes the one at Berwick-upon-Tweed, in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, of great strategic importance to my constituents. Will the Minister give a specific pledge that under Government control and the new contract, services to and from Berwick-upon-Tweed will not be altered unless they are improved?

Mr. Khan: The hon. Gentleman has given one example of the sort of thing that we will consider when the contract next goes to tender. We will see whether we can include such things as a new station. We need to ensure that we take on board the concerns and issues raised by parliamentarians and stakeholders to get the best deal possible for passengers.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): In view of the comments that have been made throughout the day about the Government’s changing attitude to the viability of National Express East Coast, and the position taken on the two other companies, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) alluded to, what specific legal advice has the Minister or the Secretary of State received on the advisability of proceeding to remove National Express from the other two franchises? What analysis has been made of the financial ramifications of those actions?

Mr. Khan: I am slightly confused, because I have answered that question three times. We are going to explore all the options, legal and otherwise, to ensure that we get the best deal for the taxpayer, for passengers and for staff.

John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): Can the Minister assure us that he will be working closely with Scottish Government Ministers both on the refranchising and on any changes in the interim period?

Mr. Khan: I confirm that we will, and we already are. That is very important.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I welcome the substance of the announcement, considering that National Express has, frankly, run down the service. However, the way in which it has been made has been chaos tinged with farce, with press release politics, developments being heard on the “Today” programme and later National Express going on the radio to say that this was actually not happening. There has been confusion in Leeds and other areas. May I ask the Minister, first, to say why the GNER-Virgin bid was not accepted at the time, as it seemed a better one? Secondly, will he conduct an urgent review of—

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Mr. Speaker: Order. I think one question will do. [Interruption.] Order. I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that I implored Members to ask one question, and I think that that will do. The Minister has got the gist.

Mr. Khan: Just in case the hon. Gentleman is in danger of putting out a press release about this, let me make it clear that we got wind that National Express was going to make a report to the stock market—a pre-close statement—today. We liaised with your office, Mr. Speaker, and that of the Lord Speaker, to ensure that we gave due courtesy to both Chambers. Before my noble Friend the Secretary of State did any media—there were no press releases—he issued a written ministerial statement at 7 am, to which you have alluded, Mr. Speaker. To show the House respect and courtesy, I repeated it in my name, also at 7 am. To suggest that we put out press releases is disingenuous, and I hope that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will withdraw that suggestion.

Mr. Stewart Jackson: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You made a point earlier, in answer to a question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), about the transmission of an interview with Lord Adonis, the Secretary of State for Transport. It was about whether the transcript of that interview showed that commercial information or a policy statement had been given about today’s decision by the Government. Have you had a chance to review that transcript, and are you in a position to report back to the House the results of your review?

Mr. Jenkin: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker: Order. With great respect, before the hon. Gentleman makes his point, I say gently to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) that I have of course had the opportunity to review the position. I thought that that was perhaps apparent from what I said to the House earlier, and I hoped that I had made the position abundantly clear.

Mr. Jenkin: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is grateful for the statement that you made before the Minister’s statement, but it raises a new question. I realise that it is an extremely difficult matter for you to tackle and I greatly appreciate your efforts in that regard. However, if it is now possible for Ministers to issue a written statement to the House at 7 o’clock in the morning, which then allows them to go on the “Today” programme before Members of Parliament—here or in the other place—have had a chance to cross-examine them, we are back to square one. I do not know what the solution is, but I hope that you will consider the matter carefully.

Mr. Speaker: First, I say to the hon. Gentleman that I am not complaining about any extreme difficulty. It does not seem to me to be quite as difficult as he suggests. Secondly, I thought that I had made it clear that there was a response to a commercial situation. Thirdly, it is fair to say to the hon. Gentleman and the House that it is not reasonable to be expected to be drawn into a continuing debate about those matters when one has already made the position clear. The position may not be liked by all hon. Members, but I
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thought that I had made my intention clear at lunchtime—to go away and consider the situation, which I duly did. I thought that I made the position even clearer by what I said before the Minister made his statement. I hope that, with that, the matter may be laid to rest.

Miss McIntosh: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was here at a quarter to 8 this morning, and would have loved to read the written statement. Where could I have found it at that time? As you know, statements often find their way to the Press Gallery before they reach the Library. Normally the House of Commons Library receives statements at 9 o’clock at the earliest. If I wanted to respond to constituents’ queries at a quarter to 8, where could I have found the statement?

Mr. Speaker: I am not at all sure that the hon. Lady would have found it easy to do that. That is a reasonable point, into which I will look further. I think that I made it clear that the circumstances that arose today should be either relatively rare or, better still, exceptional. I would not expect such circumstances to repeat themselves on a regular basis. I thought that I had already said that. Nevertheless, in so far as the hon. Lady has legitimately challenged me, I am happy to repeat the point.

Business without Debate

delegated legislation

Mr. Speaker: With the leave of the House, we shall take motions 6 to 12 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Constitutional Law

Building Societies

Banks and Banking

Terms and Conditions of Employment

1 July 2009 : Column 438

Data Protection

Rehabilitation of Offenders

European Communities

Question agreed to.




Hospital Parking Charges (Cheshire)

8.37 pm

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has introduced car parking charges at the Victoria infirmary, Northwich. After the first 20 minutes, patients and visitors now have to pay £3 for parking. The Victoria infirmary is the only public facility in Northwich that charges for car parking, and I congratulate Gina Bebbington and the Northwich Guardian on their campaign against those charges and on collecting a petition of 7,108 names, calling for car parking charges at the Victoria infirmary, Northwich to be scrapped.

The petition states:


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Bank Lending Policies

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— (David Wright.)

8.39 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): May I express my thanks to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to raise the subject of the debate and take the opportunity to congratulate you on your election to your distinguished post?

Many of my constituents will be pleased that I am taking the opportunity to highlight what history will surely judge to be a financial injustice perpetrated by the power of some banks against individual consumers. I have countless examples in my office of constituent cases where banks have imposed unfair charges on customers whose accounts may have been only a few pounds short for a brief period.

Let me briefly sketch the background. The Office of Fair Trading launched its investigation into bank charges in April 2007. It examined the fairness of charging terms for unarranged overdrafts on personal current accounts under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. In July 2007, the OFT entered into a written litigation agreement with seven banks, one building society and the Financial Services Authority, with a view to bringing a test case to ensure an orderly and efficient process for the resolution of the legal issues.

At that time, the FSA issued what is known as a waiver. Essentially, the FSA, as the regulator, was waiving the rules that specify time limits for dealing with any complaint about the level, fairness or lawfulness of unauthorised overdraft charges. The managing director of retail markets at the FSA said:

Before the test case agreement was reached and the waiver was invoked, we were in the scandalous position in 2007 where banks had paid out a staggering £784 million to approximately 378,000 customers. Rather than defend their untenable position in the courts, banks paid out when challenged. We can take it as read that some of the banks would not pay out a single penny if they did not need to.

It is important to establish my credibility on this subject by stating that I am not swimming in a tide of populist hostility towards the banks. As a matter of proof, I have in my possession a letter that I wrote to the OFT on 15 August 2007 and another one that I wrote to the FSA on 20 August 2007, along with other representations. In both letters, I questioned the tactics being deployed and the wisdom of both organisations in dealing with the vexed issue of bank charges.

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