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Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Perhaps he can say a little more about the Secretary of State taking into account the views of the PTEs in dealing with the people to whom he is minded to award the franchise. What does "take into account" mean? Is this a 10-minute meeting saying, "This is what I propose to do. What do you think?" or is it a real and meaningful consultation?
Lord Davies of Oldham: It is a real and meaningful consultation, my Lords. The Bill clearly envisages that the Secretary of State cannot be a party to the franchise and develop a position regarding the franchise without taking on board and making arrangements to take on board the views of the PTEs. I am at one here with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who has articulately expressed his view on several occasions, as have my noble friends. I am at one with their arguments that we should not create a system in which the PTEs, and therefore a local voice, has no effect and no role to play in the development of the railway in signing franchises.
The Bill envisages an effective role for the PTEs in relation to the Secretary of State. But it carries as its absolutely cardinal principle that the Secretary of State bears responsibility for the strategic development of the railwaysand of course he is the person who is responsible to and accountable for expenditure on the railways, which is provided to the greatest extent by national taxpayers.
Lord Snape: My Lords, am I to use my noble friend's own phrase "na-vely eulogising the past" in pointing out to him that it was a Conservative government who created this shambles in the first place, which allowed all the PTEsall of them Labour controlledto be signatories of franchise agreements in their areas? Here we have a Labour government saying to PTEsmost of them Labour controlledthat they cannot have any say in franchises. Am I "na-vely eulogising the past", or are his ears going slightly pink with embarrassment about that particular contradiction?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend is adept at bringing physical characteristics into our exchanges. I hope to sustain them on an intellectual level. I emphasise to my noble friend thatof course he may derive some satisfactionthe PTEs, because of their role as co-signatories, were able to make a minor contribution to what in fact was a totally ineffective structure for the railways.
We knew that it was a totally ineffective structure. That is why in 1997 it was an important part of our manifesto that we would change the system. We duly set out to do so, supported by an overwhelming majority of the elected House. We went before the country in 2001 with the same response, and we come
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before this House today recognising that the partial change we effected on the railway a few years ago needs to be completed by the Bill.
In doing so, the Bill absolutely clearlyI am sure all my noble friends join me on thiscentres the responsibility for the strategic development of the railways on the Secretary of State, because the Secretary of State is responsible for the resources which are used mainly with regard to the railways. That is the proposition behind the Bill. It is why, despite several attempts by those who are motivated by the very best of intentions in seeking to emphasise the constructive role of the passenger transport executive, I am unable to accept the amendment or their arguments. It is not that I am against the role of the PTEs in representing their areas and their transport needs regarding the railways. That role is protected under the Bill. The Secretary of State cannot fulfil his responsibilities effectively without consultation with the PTEs in order to ensure that he has the right background for signing any franchise.
Nevertheless, the position is clear. Fundamentally the Bill places the responsibility where it should bewith the Secretary of State. It is on that basis that I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, and reverting to the time-limit of 60 days, if by consultation that can be clarified by redrafting, is he prepared and is the department prepared to join in that process?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I fear that my answer to my noble friend is in the negative. As for the 60 days, I am in favour of, and the Bill envisages, effective consultation between the Secretary of State and the appropriate PTE for rail services in its area before any franchise is entered into. I ask my noble friend to accept that the concept of 60 days, even if it were drafted more accurately than it is in the amendment, would give to the PTE a restricted vetorestricted in time, but nevertheless a vetoover the signing of any franchise. That runs counter to the fundamental principle behind the Bill. That is why I cannot accept the amendment.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply; I find it totally unsatisfactory. He protesteth rather too much this afternoon. Yesterday afternoon, we invited the Minister to consider the amendment and suggest alternative phraseology but I assume that there is a time during the negotiation of a franchise when the document is ready. We are saying that there should be 60 days during which the Secretary of State, the PTE and the franchisee, whoever he happens to be, will sign it. Obviously, in any such period, there will be room for further negotiation; there always is.
To pretend that 60 days is a long time when some franchises have taken three or more years to finalise is nonsense. I am sure that many Members of the House find it very difficult to give that credence. If we carry the amendment, there will be an opportunity for that
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to be revisited. I do not think that presents a great difficulty. The Minister should reflect on the fact that we will give the PTEs something from the Bill; whereas I fear that, in his words, "such resources as the Secretary of State may devote to the railways" may leave the PTEs at the very sticky end of the wicket: they will be called on to close down services in their areas without any power to do anything about that and the Secretary of State will shuffle the responsibility on to them, because they will be the part-funding authority.
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