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‘In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Act, in section E2, after “Exceptions” there is inserted—
“The provision of rail passenger services which start and finish in Scotland, including the power to decide who will run such services, the provisions of the Railways Act 1993 notwithstanding.”.’.—(Thomas Docherty.)
Brought up, and read the First time .
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I am obviously delighted to see that so many Members on both sides of the House take such a passionate and keen interest in Scotland’s railway services. We have had a great deal of support for the measure from the trade unions in Scotland. This is a simple, technical new clause. Most people think that the Scottish Parliament already has the ability to decide what the model of the franchise will be, and I am keen that the situation should be resolved—[ Interruption. ]
Order. We are debating a new clause to the Bill, and hon. Members should listen to the speeches. If they want to have private conversations, perhaps they could go outside. Mr Docherty is a bit squashed on the Bench there, but I am sure that he will stand in the right place while he is speaking to his new clause.
Thank you, Ms Primarolo.
Most people think that the Scottish Parliament already has the power to decide on the model for the franchise. After all, it has to fund the ScotRail franchise, through its Ministers, and it is responsible for the letting of the franchise. It is also responsible for funding the building of new railways in Scotland, and it is worth noting that a number of new railway lines opened in Scotland between 1999 and 2007 thanks to the Labour-led Scottish Executive. The Airdrie to Bathgate line and the Larkhall to Milngavie line are two obvious examples. It is disappointing that the SNP Government saw fit to cancel the Glasgow airport rail link; that is a blot on their track record, if the Committee will pardon my rather poor pun.
The new clause would not change the health and safety rules for the railways. It is absolutely right that we have a standard—[ Interruption. ]
The Second Deputy Chairman:
Order. I am really sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I can barely hear what he is saying. There are too many private conversations going on in the Chamber. Out of respect to him, will those who do not wish to listen to his speech on the new clause leave the Chamber quietly now?
Thank you, Ms Primarolo. I see that the Chamber is suddenly becoming a bit emptier. Perhaps it is worth pointing out that the Deputy Prime Minister is hosting a drinks reception tonight for Government Back Benchers. I imagine that hon. Members are off to make sure he does not drink all the wine himself, although after the Barnsley result he probably needs to do so.
I shall return to the substantive issue of the railways in Scotland. As I was saying before I was so gently interrupted, it is obviously right that we should retain the single health and safety policy throughout Great Britain. I say “Great Britain” because, as hon. Members will be aware, the railways in Northern Ireland are part of the single railway system of the island of Ireland. My proposal refers only to the railway network in Great Britain.
It is bizarre that, following the Scotland Act 1998 and the Railways Act 2005, we have successfully given greater powers to Scottish Ministers to do everything except determine the model of the franchise. I am not going to argue that a switch to a not-for-dividend model would necessarily be in the best interests of passengers in Scotland. As a member of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, I have worked for Network Rail. The problems that Network Rail has had in the past are well documented, and there is an ongoing issue involving the cases of sexual harassment and bullying by Peter Bennett, the head of human resources, of many of his employees. That has resulted in about £300,000 of damages and compensation being paid to employees. This is not an ideological debate; it is about who is best placed to make the decisions.
I shall give a couple of examples of how the present system is not working. We have only to look at the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I was lucky enough to live there, in the village of Moffat, for a number of years, and the Minister will recall that I put myself forward as a Labour candidate in a local council by-election. It was a secret ballot, so I am not quite sure how he voted, but I recall his featuring on one of my rival candidate’s leaflets, promising that if the Conservatives won the by-election—which, surprisingly, they did—he would ensure the reopening of the Beattock railway line. My hon. Friend Mr Harris will know from his time in the rail industry and as a Transport Minister that that line sits on what is now the west coast main line.
The Minister was also a great champion of the Eastriggs railway station, which is ably represented by my old colleague, Councillor Sean Marshall. The Minister’s constituency also contains the village of Thornhill, which is in the Galloway area of the constituency. In all those places, he was a huge champion of the reopening of railway stations, yet after six years as a Member of Parliament and 10 months as a Minister in the Scotland Office, none of those railway stations has reopened. That could not possibly be because he was making promises that he could not deliver, so the fault must be with the franchise model. We need no better reason for giving Scottish Ministers the power to shape their own model.
The issue at the moment is that Scottish Ministers must let the franchise according to a privatised railway model. As my hon. Friend knows, the Railways Act 2005 specifically bans a public body from acting as the franchise operator. The only exception to that is if that body is the operator of last resort, as is now the case with the east coast main line. The new clause would give Scottish Ministers the right not only to fund the railway, to let the franchise and to monitor its performance—all of which they have to do anyway—but to determine the shape of the model involved. This might well result in a privatised model like the one that we now have on the ScotRail franchise, or perhaps in a co-operative model. The Ministers might ask Transport Scotland to run the franchise, or set up a new company called Scottish Passenger Transport to do so.
The new clause provides a logical conclusion to the direction of travel—again, please pardon my poor pun—of the reconfiguration of the railways in Scotland. The reason that the proposal was not considered by the Calman commission is that it involves such a small technical change. Most Members of Parliament and MSPs were simply not aware that Scottish Ministers did not have this ability.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to these points. It is possible, if his civil servants have not done a particularly good job of advising him, that he might claim that the measure would somehow bring the whole of Great Britain’s rail network crashing down. Obviously, that would be an absurd argument. The Department for Transport is already running the east coast main line as the operator of last resort, placing the line back in the public domain. I am talking about a service that is wholly contained within Scotland, and the measure would have no impact on any other service. It would have no impact on the CrossCountry service or on the east coast main line—or, indeed, on the west coast services. The only services that leave Scotland are the one that runs from the Minister’s constituency to Carlisle, on the Glasgow to Carlisle line, and the Caledonian sleeper, which runs between London and Fort William, Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow. That service would stay in the franchise. As I have said, this is a very technical new clause. It is supported by all the trade unions and by the Scottish Government, who see it as a logical way forward.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question, which lets me clarify that this is purely about the franchise because the functions of Network Rail are already devolved to the Scottish Parliament. That is part of the absurdity of the situation. Scottish Ministers have responsibility for everything except, rightly, health and safety, because that needs to be regulated in a different way, and the franchise model itself. The funding, letting and monitoring of the franchise are carried out by the Scottish Parliament, but it does not set its own model. I look forward to the Minister’s well-chosen words of response to my case.
Much to my surprise, I support what Thomas Docherty has said. He made a good case, as it would be sensible to devolve this function to Scotland, although he ruined it a bit by making a totally unnecessary attack on the Scottish Government, who have supported the railway industry throughout Scotland and put a great deal of money into upgrading it and opening new lines and stations.
No, thank you.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife talked about the Glasgow airport rail link. I would be interested to see whether that proposal appears in Labour’s manifesto with full details of how it is to be funded, and what Labour is going to cut in order to do so, given the cuts that are coming in the Scottish budget because of Labour’s economic mismanagement and the incompetence of the current UK Government.
No, thank you.
Scotland has a good record on rail and will continue to invest in rail and build up the rail system. This proposal would give the Scottish Government the opportunity to get a different franchise arrangement should they wish to do so. It would be up to them to decide on the franchise, but it would provide flexibility. We support the new clause, notwithstanding the totally unnecessary attacks on the Scottish Government by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife.
I do not intend to detain the Committee because there are other new clauses we wish to debate.
The new clause deals with an issue that was probably neglected in the transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament in relation to rail, and it is appropriate and sensible that we use the opportunity of this Bill to resolve that. On that basis, we intend to support it and assume, given that it is a sensible proposal on a technical issue, that the Government will not have too much of a problem with it.
I was disappointed that Thomas Docherty missed out Symington station as one of those that I continue to campaign to be reopened in my constituency, as it has brought vital rail services to that part of Scotland.
I was interested in the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of the requirements of the rail services in Scotland. His constituency counterpart, Helen Eadie, was the only Labour MSP to vote against the legislative consent motion for the Bill in the Scottish Parliament. Of course, Mrs Eadie is well known for her radical views on the Scottish rail network, proposing as she has the demolition of the Forth rail bridge. I was pleased that he did not suggest that that would fall within the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
I am grateful for that confirmation, because the newspaper article that I read described Mrs Eadie as being unrepentant despite criticism from several quarters in that regard.
I am afraid that I must disappoint both the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife and Tom Greatrex, because the Government cannot support new clause 9. It deals with rail responsibilities, as the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife explained, and seeks to give the Scottish Parliament legislative competence over the provision of rail passenger services that start and finish in Scotland. That is a much longer list than the one to which he alluded, because it involves all cross-border services, including the Virgin franchise services on the west coast main line, which do not start and finish in Scotland and remain the responsibility of the Department for Transport.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Glasgow and Edinburgh councils are running a strong campaign for the construction of a high-speed line from London to the midlands and further north, with the simultaneous building of a high-speed line from Scotland southwards? That would provide additional cross-border services, and it, too, would have to be taken into account when framing legislation such as this.
Indeed. As my hon. Friend will know, the coalition Government are committed to high-speed rail services throughout the United Kingdom. On Thursday, there will be an event in Glasgow, attended by a Transport Minister, about a consultation on the ongoing developments in high-speed rail. The first part of the high-speed rail service from London to Birmingham is vital for its further development into Scotland.
I am listening closely to the Minister, but I am slightly confused. He is talking about the development of high-speed rail, which will be very good if it comes to Scotland—we will see whether the Government ever get it there—but that service does not begin and end in Scotland, and neither do the Virgin or east coast services. I do not understand his point. The new clause refers to services that begin and end in Scotland—basically, the ScotRail franchise as it operates at the moment.
My point, which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not recognise for dogmatic reasons, is that there are important rail services in Scotland that cross the border, and that those services remain important.
Given that that is the current situation, why on earth are the Government opposing a new clause that refers to services that “start and finish”, not “start or finish”, in Scotland?
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, he would have heard him give a very narrow definition of services which start and finish in Scotland, without giving sufficient recognition to the fact that there are significant services that cross the border.
I listened closely to my hon. Friend’s speech, and he was very explicit in saying that the new clause refers only to the ScotRail franchise. That includes one cross-border service, the Caledonian sleeper, but this would have no effect whatever on other franchise services that cross the border—Virgin, East Coast and TransPennine Express. They would be completely untouched; nothing would change in their operational or financial arrangements. The only thing that would change is the ScotRail franchise. Can the Minister explain why that is beyond the wit of the Government?
If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would realise that I have said that Scotland benefits from a mix of services within the ScotRail franchise, and that cross-border services are vital to Scotland. I would have hoped that he would support the view of my hon. Friend Iain Stewart that high-speed rail is important to Scotland. However, none of those things is why the Government do not support the new clause.
There are indeed services that travel from Glasgow to Dumfries and on to Newcastle.
However, the Government’s objection to the new clause is that we are committed to maintaining a GB-wide national rail network that is publicly specified, funded in the public interest and provided by the private sector. The new clause would interfere with that national network. If the intention of the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife is to allow for a not-for-dividend operator of the ScotRail network, that is possible within the current framework.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way once more. I agree with him that the GB-wide network should be publicly specified and commercially provided by the private sector. However, surely it goes against the spirit of devolution and of the Scotland Bill to deny Scottish Ministers the right to take a different view with regard to one self-contained franchise in Scotland. Surely devolution is about allowing Scottish Ministers to make mistakes, if that is what they wish to do.
The devolution settlement is indeed about allowing the Scottish Government to take decisions in respect of the areas for which they are responsible, as determined by the Scotland Act 1998 and the Scotland Bill. This discussion is about whether the issue in question should be devolved to the Scottish Government. The Government do not agree with that proposal because we believe that it would open the opportunity to fundamentally alter the national framework by allowing a renationalisation of the railway in Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman knows better than most that the Government were required to take over the east coast main line as a measure of last resort. Within the framework of the rail industry, there have to be measures of last resort. It is not a measure that the Government wish to promote. As I have said, we wish to promote a national rail network that is publicly specified, funded in the public interest and provided by the private sector. As I have also said, if it is the intention that a not-for-dividend company should operate, there is nothing to stop that in the present arrangements.
I would not wish to suggest that the Minister is misleading the House—he has obviously been misinformed by the civil servants in the Box—but the Railways Act 1993 is explicit that a public sector operator cannot run the railways. I would be happy to go out to the Lobby and get the section of the Act that says that.
The hon. Gentleman is seeking to give a different definition. I am specifying a not-for-dividend organisation. If he wants to go beyond that and into the realms of opening up the powers for the Scottish Government to renationalise the railways in Scotland, he should promote that point in a different debate, and not by tabling a new clause to this Bill. If he genuinely believes that the railways in Scotland should be renationalised, he should make that argument in the appropriate place.
The hon. Members for Dunfermline and West Fife and for Rutherglen and Hamilton West said that this was a minor matter that was being brought forward at this stage because it had simply been overlooked. However,
I have no doubt that the Minister is right to resist the amendment, because I am sure that it is technically deficient in some way, but—[ Laughter. ] I took part in the entire Committee stage of the Railways Act 2005, and the intention was to devolve everything that could be devolved to the Scottish Government in relation to the railways. Is there no room for compromise to allow for what is a reasonably sensible suggestion without breaking the principle that the Minister is evoking?
The hon. Gentleman, as always, offers wise words. I thought that he was going to refer to the debate in this House on
Again, I honestly do not understand the Minister’s position. The new clause refers to the provision of rail services, but it does not provide for the devolution of the rail infrastructure. The tracks and the rest of it could not be sold off. I suggest that he remembers that he is in a coalition and rethinks this issue before he is deserted by some of his colleagues to his right.
I have set out why the Government cannot accept the new clause. The Government believe that the devolved powers, which are significant, are best exercised within a coherent GB structure, as provided under the Railways Acts of 1993 and 2005. We believe that it is essential that the overall regime for the provision of rail passenger services and their regulation remains a reserved matter. It would not be sensible to run the railway in such a way that the Scottish Parliament could overturn the framework that governs the operation of passenger services on a GB basis. Our policy is to maintain a unified national rail network that is subject to appropriate oversight by Scottish Ministers. I believe that the current system achieves that. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife to withdraw the new clause.
This should have been a relatively short and reasonable debate. As my hon. Friend Tom Greatrex said, on the face of it there should have been no opposition to the new clause. I am therefore pretty surprised by the rather weak arguments that the civil servants have foisted upon the Minister, who I think knows better.
To address the point made by Iain Stewart, it would be absurd if a railway line that ran from Glasgow down through Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway did not have its terminus in Carlisle. There is a variation in the operating rules that allows ScotRail to run that service to Carlisle. That service is part of the ScotRail franchise and has no impact on the other services that run through and connect at Carlisle.
Perhaps I can clarify my point. I understood that the hon. Gentleman’s argument was about devolving the whole of the ScotRail franchise, and I was simply trying to clarify what would happen to the one route that is within that franchise but is a cross-border service.
Obviously that would be part of the ScotRail franchise and would carry on in that way.
The Minister’s argument is clearly ideological. He assumes that if the Scottish Parliament were given responsibility for the matter, it would automatically nationalise the railway. That is not the purpose of the new clause. It is about giving Scottish Ministers the power and authority to make that decision. His arguments are weak.
I am genuinely confused by what the hon. Gentleman said in response to my hon. Friend Iain Stewart. The new clause is clear that only passenger services that start and finish in Scotland should be devolved, but the hon. Gentleman says he wants to devolve the ScotRail franchise. However, as we have heard, that franchise sometimes crosses the border.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for joining us at this late stage. I must clarify for him that the legal terminology in the Railways Act 1993 defines the franchise area as those services that begin and end wholly within Scotland. However, the franchise also covers the tiny stretch to Carlisle. He might wish to take up that legal point with the Library, but it does not affect the new clause.
I am conscious that we are keeping Conservative Members back from their drinks reception with the Deputy Prime Minister. I regret to say that I found the Minister’s arguments rather weak and will therefore press the new clause to a Division.