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Growth and Infrastructure Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 25th April 2013.

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Votes in this debate

[Relevant documents: Thirty-third Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, HC-xxxiii; Twelfth Report from the Transport Committee, on The European Commission’s 4th Railway Package, HC 1001.]

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport 12:01 pm, 25th April 2013

I beg to move,

That this House
takes note of European Union Documents No. 5855/13, a Commission Communication: The Fourth Railway Package-completing the single European railway area to foster European competitiveness and growth, No. 6012/13 and Addenda 1 and 2, a Draft Regulation on the European Union Agency for Railways and repealing Regulation (EC) No. 881/2004, No. 6013/13 and Addenda 1 and 2, a Draft Directive on the interoperability of the rail system within the European Union (Recast), No. 6014/13 and Addenda 1 and 2, a Draft Directive on railway safety (Recast), No. 6017/13, a Commission Report on the progress made towards achieving interoperability of the rail system, No 6019/13, a Commission Report on the profile and tasks of other train crew members, No. 5960/13 and Addenda 1 to 5, a Draft Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1370/2007 concerning the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail, No. 5985/13 and Addenda 1 to 7, a Draft Directive amending Directive 2012/34/EU establishing a single European railway area, as regards the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail and the governance of the railway infrastructure, and No. 6020/13, a Commission report on the implementation of the provisions of Directive 2007/58/EC on the opening of the market of international rail passenger transport accompanying the Communication on the fourth railway package;
supports the Government’s aim of ensuring any resulting measures are appropriate, encourage competition and help to deliver a level playing field across the EU;
and further supports the Government’s view that any such measures should be evidence-based, proportionate and reduce or at least minimise the regulatory, administrative and cost burden for industry.

I welcome the fact that the European Scrutiny Committee has referred this subject to the House for debate. I also thank and pay tribute to the Transport Committee for its report on the fourth railway package, a number of whose conclusions and recommendations the Government support.

The fourth railway package is a major European Union legislative proposal involving three directives and three regulations. As Members will appreciate, we are still considering the implications of the proposals in consultation with other Departments, so all I can give the House this afternoon is our initial position.

The United Kingdom has one of the most liberalised rail networks in the EU, which is why the Government support further opening of the domestic EU public passenger transport markets. However, we want to ensure that the proposals that are implemented as part of the package are flexible enough to work within the UK’s public passenger transport structure, and are compatible with our plans for rail reform. The Transport Committee made that point in its report.

Evidence garnered by the European Commission indicates that about 40% of passenger routes in the EU are accessible to new operators. That implies that significant market opportunities could arise both for UK rail firms and for those in the rest of the EU if the proposals pass into European law. There would also be potential for expansion of the rolling stock leasing sector. The new infrastructure manager separation provisions could give freight operators benefits as well if they further open up access in practice, reducing the chances of discriminatory behaviour in some member states. In any event, I can assure the House that the proposals will be the subject of consultation with stakeholders and considerable negotiation within the European Union. We will continue to engage with the Commission, the European Parliament and other member states to ensure that any concerns are addressed in the final texts.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I am listening to the Minister’s comments with interest. Would these proposals force the publicly owned railway systems that exist in some parts of Europe to be handed over to the private sector, or would they allow the public sector to participate on a level playing field?

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I hope I can give the hon. Gentleman reassurance on that, if that is what he is seeking. It is not a question of forcing any railways in any country in the EU to move from one position to another, although the main thrust of the package is to create a greater liberalisation of the market for the benefit of both taxpayers in the EU and passengers.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Does the Minister agree that any operator, whether private or public, that returns £640 million to the taxpayers of any country is a good operation to have?

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I think the hon. Gentleman is trying to take us back to the House’s earlier Transport questions, as he is trying to highlight the east coast main line case. I am more than happy to take as long it takes to explain why it is the right thing to return the east coast main line to a franchise situation, as the last Labour Government wanted to do, but if I were to do so, I think, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you would step in quickly to tell me that that is beyond the scope of this debate.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am spoiled for choice, so I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

The important issue of whether ownership should be private or public has been raised, and I hope my right hon. Friend will assure me that he agrees that railways in private ownership are better run than those in public ownership. Certain countries in Europe, however, still have a tight grasp of public ownership of their railways, and I therefore hope he will encourage liberalisation of the market so that private companies can invest into markets throughout Europe.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he can certainly have that assurance. We lead the way in Europe on liberalisation of the rail market, followed closely by the Dutch, the Swedish and the Germans, seeking to—

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am trying to answer my hon. Friend’s question. His second point is also absolutely right. As he knows—and as Labour desperately tries to forget—since privatisation the number of passengers using our rail network has doubled, the number of journeys on our rail network has doubled, the standards have improved noticeably—but there is still some way to go to get even better quality and standards for passengers—and the investment in the infrastructure to improve the quality of the journeys has increased. It is incredible that, although the Labour party pays lip service to a good, efficient rail system, in 13 years of the last Labour Government there were just 10 extra miles of electrification on the network, yet in the first three years of this coalition Government there have been 850 extra miles of electrification.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman has had his turn, so I suggest he sits down. I will now give way to the hon. Lady, and then I will make progress.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

If our system is so much better than the European systems that have more state control, why is it that Members, including on the Government Benches, have been saying that the costs here are too great? Is there, perhaps, some relationship between the costs under a privatised system as opposed to the costs under a state-run system?

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I think I am in a better position than the hon. Lady to know what my hon. Friends say, as I probably mix with them more frequently than she does. They are impressed that since privatisation the number of passengers using the rail network has doubled, the number of rail journeys has doubled and the amount of freight on rail, and off our congested roads, has increased by 60%. They want continued investment in infrastructure to improve the quality of journeys and to improve rolling stock and track electrification so that people can travel around this country by rail far better than under British Rail. As someone who, sadly, is old enough to remember British Rail, I find it incredible that so many—almost dinosaurs—on the Opposition Benches seem to have a rose-tinted view of how fabulous it was. It was not.

I turn to the safety aspects of the package, which are important and are of major interest to the various sectors in the UK rail transport chain. In consultation with stakeholders, we are giving full consideration to their implications. The proposal to move from a two-part safety certificate to a single-part certificate is welcome as a simplification of the existing process. We expect it to lead to a significant reduction in the costs and regulatory burdens for railway undertakings. It will especially benefit those who operate cross-border services.

However, we need to look carefully at the justification for the extension of powers for the European rail agency to issue the single safety certificate, and we need to understand how it supports market opening objectives. Enhancement of the agency’s powers for audit and inspection of national safety authorities will change its current role. It is a fundamental shift away from a partnership role to a policing function. We are not convinced that those powers are necessary given the high level of co-operation already achieved between the majority of national safety authorities. We will ask the European Commission for further clarity about how any issues exposed will be resolved.

The communication includes proposals for a recast of the interoperability directive for railways. The Commission believes that there are problems with the authorisation process for rail vehicles, especially when the vehicle is intended for use in more than one member state. It refers to delays and costs reported by operators to the Commission due to vehicles sitting idle in sidings awaiting authorisation from national safety authorities. To solve the problem, the Commission proposes a recast of the directive and changes to the authorisation process. A key change would be that the applicant applied to the European rail agency instead of the national safety authorities for authorisation of their vehicle.

Removal of powers from national safety authorities to the agency will change their role. The three safety authorities in the UK—the Office of Rail Regulation, the Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission and the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland—will no longer be able to issue those authorisations.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

Does that not indicate the heart of the problem? The European Union is once again seeking to extend its powers in an area where it already has competence. In the review of competences, will my right hon. Friend consider returning the whole area to the authority of the United Kingdom and our democratic control, as we are an island and our connection with the continent by rail is limited to the channel tunnel?

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, to which I will respond in two parts. His second point is, I am afraid, above my pay grade. I hear what he says, and I understand what he is getting at, but I cannot give him an assurance. The transport field is a bit more complicated because so much is done on a Europe-wide basis, but I can give him the somewhat glib assurance that no doubt his concerns and his point will be heard and considered in other places. On the narrower issue, I beg his patience because he may be more reassured when I reach our proposals.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I endorse the views expressed by my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg. When my right hon. Friend reaches that narrower issue, will he make clear whether High Speed 2 is directly connected? It is being put around by the UK Independence party, and others in the county council elections, that HS2 is directly related to the issue.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I will deal with it now. HS2 is not directly related. It is a project drawn up by the coalition Government—to be fair, building on the work of Lord Adonis when Labour was in power. We support the project because we believe it is in the national interest, which is why it is going ahead. UKIP has sought to muddy the water on a number of issues with regard to HS2 and the European Union. As I was saying at Transport questions, before I was politely interrupted, that is fascinating, because if one were to travel around Buckinghamshire, and possibly Warwickshire, Staffordshire and a few other points north, one would see opposition to that magnificent project from the party my hon. Friend mentioned. He might then be confused if he read UKIP’s 2010 general election manifesto, which calls for three—not one, but three—high-speed railway systems in this country. But I now return—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. May I help the Minister a little more? He is right to suggest to the Chair that he does not want a rerun of Transport questions. I totally agree and we are not going to do that, are we?

Photo of David Anderson David Anderson Labour, Blaydon

The Minister wants to rerun the answers.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport


Before I was so cruelly interrupted by the hon. Gentleman, I was talking about the important issue of safety.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I want to make some progress.

The Commission’s explanation is that removing authorisation powers to the agency will help to address the delays that some operators have reported when seeking authorisations from national safety authorities. That is especially the case for cross-border operations where a train may run through more than one member state. We are not currently aware of significant costs or delays for railway undertakings in obtaining those authorisations in the UK, so we are not convinced that there is a problem in the UK. That is why we need to safeguard practices that already work here.

Overall, the Commission needs to be clearer about how the changes to the directive will contribute to market opening. Another Commission proposal is to change the authorisation process for trackside signalling, which would have a significant impact in the UK. There is not yet much experience in the UK of the authorisation of trackside signalling by the national safety authorities. However, UK projects are more likely to prefer to seek authorisation from the national safety authority rather than the agency, because they have not encountered difficulties so far.

The Commission has explained that to deal effectively with authorisation delays and cross-border problems it requires action at the EU level. It argues that individual member states acting independently cannot address such problems. However, at the Transport Council on 11 March, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State proposed that there might be an alternative to moving powers away from national safety authorities to the agency. We have suggested giving the market a choice about where the authorisation is obtained from, so we propose exploring with member states and the Commission an approach that would enable rail undertakings to choose whether to obtain an authorisation from the relevant national safety authority or the agency. The same principle could be extended to give the industry a choice about where it needs to apply for trackside signalling authorisations. The UK is continuing to push for our choice of approach so that the national safety authorities and the agency could have the power to authorise vehicles.

The details of the recast of the interoperability directive are being negotiated in Council working groups. However, there are indications that our views about choice are being listened to and that other member states support our idea, which gives us grounds for encouragement. We will keep a close eye on how the proposals develop to try to ensure that we get the best outcome for Britain and the rail system in Europe. We will try to preserve as much flexibility as possible for member states to determine what work needs to be authorised and the applicable standards.

Let me turn to the impact of the proposals to require a railway infrastructure manager to be separate from a railway undertaking. The Government will need to understand the possible effects on several areas, including alliances between Network Rail and railway undertakings, and joint working arrangements. Within the package are requirements to ensure the effective independence of the infrastructure manager within a vertically integrated undertaking. The Government are looking further at how they will influence the holding company model, as used by Eurotunnel in respect of the channel tunnel and the cross-border rail services that run through it. There will also be points to consider for the railway structure in Northern Ireland, which remains vertically integrated.

Sir Roy McNulty concluded in his report—we accept this—that the key to delivering long-term efficiencies in the rail industry is the alignment of incentives between track and train. Alliances or partnerships between Network Rail and the passenger train operators are central to our approach. Alliances are expected to maximise efficiencies and to ensure that minority freight and open-access operators are protected, not discriminated against. They do so by ensuring that capacity allocation and charging decisions are undertaken outside the alliance to avoid discrimination against smaller train operators, including freight operators. Safety is protected by ensuring that ultimate accountability rests with the statutory duty holder. We believe that that is compatible with the open competition in rail markets that the Commission wants, but we are worried that the way in which the Commission’s proposals are formulated might prohibit certain types of alliances, such as between Network Rail and rail undertakings, and joint working arrangements, such as integrated control centres and performance improvement projects. The proposals therefore might prevent us from achieving the benefits that we anticipate. I know that the Transport Committee’s report stated that joint working between Network Rail and train operators should not be prohibited or unduly restricted. We will continue to engage closely with the European Commission and Parliament, and other member states, to ensure that our concerns are addressed in the final proposals.

On the impact of the proposals on franchising, we welcome the commitment to market opening.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I actually have not said anything yet, so I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman is going to ask. Perhaps he will allow me to say a little more.

We believe that the liberalised domestic market has delivered significant benefits for passengers. We have shown our commitment to franchising through the recent announcement to restart the franchising programme and return the east coast main line to the private sector.

Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way on that point. Will he confirm that it would not be possible for him to continue to operate the east coast line through Directly Operated Railways if this package of measures goes through? I understand his commitment to returning the line to the private sector, but given that it is thriving in the public sector, why does he want to go along with these proposals?

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am not sure what it is about the hon. Gentleman that he cannot comprehend the position, but I suspect that he just has not read the facts. Lord Adonis and Sadiq Khan, when he was in my post, also believed that it was best to operate trains through franchises in the private sector. Even when Lord Adonis had to introduce the emergency measure of taking the east coast main line into public ownership, as a result of the problems that blew up at that time, he was clear that that would be a short-term measure and that the service would be returned to a franchise when it was possible to do so.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman is displaying a degree of incredulity and suggesting that that was not the case. I know that he was not a Member at that time, but if goes to the Library to find the relevant copies of Hansard, he will read that Lord Adonis and the right hon. Member for Tooting were emphatic in their announcements to Parliament that the decision on the east coast main line was a short-term measure. I am rather grateful that Lord Adonis went a step further by saying that it was better for the railways to be run by franchises in the private sector.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

It is fascinating to hear that from one of Lord Adonis’s colleagues. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman—there seems to be a problem with Luton today—meant that in a derogatory way, but I thought that Lord Adonis was not a Tory, but the last Labour Secretary of State for Transport. I also thought that he was working with the present leader of the Labour party on formulating Labour’s policies.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

No, I am going to make progress—[Interruption.] I do not want to be disrespectful to the hon. Gentleman, but I have listened to many of his interventions and it is not often that they can be put in the category of making progress—they usually hark back to an era that most of us do not remember.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I will make progress in my way, not the hon. Gentleman’s.

The subject of franchising has aroused considerable interest among Labour Members, so let me briefly set out something that I have said before. Since privatisation, rail numbers have doubled and passenger satisfaction is at an all-time high. Recent European research has shown that the countries with the greatest growth in rail travel are those with the most liberalised markets.

As with the proposals I have already discussed, we will need to ensure that we continue to engage on the detail, including by ensuring that any changes to public passenger transport services regulation are compatible with the specific needs of our network and give us the flexibility to deliver a sustainable franchise programme. I know that the Transport Committee’s report is concerned that our arrangements for letting train franchises should not be challenged, and I assure hon. Members that the Government share that view and are looking closely at the issue.

On transport plans, we are concerned that the requirements are over-prescriptive and will therefore impose a significant regulatory burden.

In relation to the channel tunnel, the focus of the Commission’s proposal is on achieving effective competition and further market opening for domestic passenger services, thereby increasing the quantity and improving the quality of passenger services. It is still too early to assess whether this will lead to more cross-border rail services through the channel tunnel.

I will summarise our initial findings on the impacts of the package on the UK. The package may present significant market opportunities for UK firms wishing to expand their operations into the EU. However, the benefits for domestic rail transport are less obvious. We cannot see how a substantial proportion of the additional demand and cost savings identified by the European Commission in its impact assessment will translate to the domestic rail sector in the UK. This is because significant parts of the Commission proposal, including the competitive tendering aspects of the package, are already in place, and because in the UK we already have the benefits of vertical separation which avoids discrimination.

I remain concerned about the Commission moving powers from national safety authorities to the European Railway Agency. The Government will need to be convinced that these powers are necessary, given the high level of co-operation already achieved between national safety authorities. We also do not want anything that interferes with the current UK rail structure or adds bureaucracy and costs, or any proposals that are not compatible with our plans for rail reform.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I give way for the last time, before I allow other hon. Members to contribute.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

I am pleased the Minister is talking about UK passengers. My constituents would be happy just to be able to get on the train to Doncaster. They are not necessarily bothered about being able to get a train to Berlin, so I am reassured by what he is saying. However, having listened to the debate, my knee has started to jerk a little. We seem to be hearing the usual European argument about how all this will be in the interests of the passenger, but is not the risk that this is just another area that we will cede to the European Union? We will be told that it is all about improvements for domestic passengers, and down the line we will find out in short time that we have given away yet another power over another area of domestic policy, which will not be in the interests of passengers.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I think I can give some reassurance to my hon. Friend. As he will know, because he has been listening avidly to my remarks, I have identified a number of areas where we are concerned or where we are seeking to forge a partnership with other members of the European Union to make changes for the better. But the assurance is that we are so far ahead of most of the European Union with our liberalised market that we are seeking to bring others up to our standards and offer the same opportunities as we have of a more liberalised rail service in other EU countries. I do not think it is a case of our being dragged to do something that we do not want to do, because in many areas we are already doing it. We want other people to follow our good example and get the benefit that we have had from a liberalised market with a good franchising process, where more people are using our railways, standards are improving and we are investing in enhancing it.

On that happy note, I conclude by saying that I warmly welcome the opportunity that we have today to debate the document. I will listen with great care to the comments from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, and I will fascinated to see whether she and her hon. Friends will join me in the Lobby to take note of this important document.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 12:34 pm, 25th April 2013

This is an important package of proposals and we must consider their consequences carefully. As the Minister acknowledged when he appeared before the Transport Committee and today, the Government are still considering their position on several matters of detail.

A number of issues need to be looked at in the context of the UK rail industry. Given the recent success of the east coast main line and the collapse of the franchising system, we do not believe that it is necessary to move towards compulsory tendering of all passenger contracts. Within the wider package there are several proposals that we can support in principle, but reassurances are needed on a number of points.

We broadly welcome moves towards standardisation which have the potential to deliver savings to UK companies. Part of that process is the move towards uniform European safety standards, and we need to look closely at how those changes would impact on the UK. We need to look at how the proposals would affect our cross-border links with France. The channel tunnel has not yet fulfilled its potential in either passenger or freight traffic, and the proposals in the package for greater co-operation between infrastructure managers, combined with a single certification authority, may improve services between Britain and the continent. It is therefore right to pursue standardisation which could reduce costs, and it is also important that where countries have chosen to put contracts out to tender, British companies should be able to compete on a level playing field.

Previous packages have done much to remove the cross-border restrictions which hold rail back compared with other modes of transport, although as the Select Committee noted this week, some outstanding issues remain. There is still much to be done and the possibility of single certificates across the EU will be a boon to purchasers and manufacturers, who currently have to obtain approval from individual national regulators. However, there are also concerns, and we must make sure that any final agreement is in the national as well as the European interest.

Crucially, the UK’s recent exemplary safety record must not be put at risk in a rush to achieve uniformity. Since Labour ended the failed Railtrack experiment and tackled the decades of under-investment in our infrastructure, the UK has established one of the best safety records in Europe. Much of the credit must go to the work of the Office of Rail Regulation, which since 2004 has helped to deliver a significant improvement in safety standards. Fatalities on the railways are now at an historic low, but under the fourth railway package the ORR’s safety and certification responsibilities will be transferred to the European Railway Agency. Can the Minister give the House a categorical assurance that safety standards in the UK will not be weakened if the ORR’s responsibilities are transferred to the ERA? What discussions has he held with the Commission on this point? Will he give the House a full report on them today?

Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Labour, Wansbeck

Is it not fair to say that the British railways system is one of the safest in the world? We are on the right track with health and safety. If the package goes ahead, that could be in doubt.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Since Network Rail took over, overseen by the Office of Rail Regulation, safety has improved enormously. That is precisely why I am asking the Government to give us the assurances that we seek.

As the Transport Committee noted, there is a

“lack of clarity about how they”— the new standards—

“would work in practice.”

Will the Minister reassure the House that there will be a clear and simple division of responsibilities between the ORR and the ERA? What assessment has he made of whether there will have to be an increase in bureaucracy in order to enforce common standards across very different networks? The UK is currently leading Europe on safety, and our high standards must not be levelled down in order to reach a quick agreement.

There is also a difficult balance to strike on competition. Of course, where countries have decided to put routes out to tender, British companies should be able to bid without fear or favour, but the fourth railway package would force competitive tendering on all passenger services. This has already provoked opposition in Europe, and we believe that there are good reasons for opposing it in the UK too. If approved, it could deny the UK the right to maintain a public sector comparator or intervene in cases of market failure, as happened on the east coast. Since 2009, the award-winning not-for-dividend operator has returned £640 million to the taxpayer, so it is worrying to see the Commission base its proposals explicitly on the UK experience.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

My hon. Friend is making an exceptional case. The Minister talked about competition on the railways. Does my hon. Friend surmise that if a private operator returned £640 million to the Exchequer, the Minister would come to the Dispatch Box to say that it was an exemplary operator that should be encouraged?

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend makes a telling point. The Government’s claims—

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I will respond to the previous intervention first.

The Government’s claims about the east coast main line’s performance have been blown out of the water by the Office of Rail Regulation’s recent financial report. East Coast has seen rising passenger satisfaction and been given a national award. It receives virtually no subsidy and makes the second highest contribution to the Treasury. The Government’s case for re-privatisation just does not stack up.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Lady might want to reassure her hon. Friend Ian Murray that the west coast main line has paid back even more money to the Treasury. In the light of what she has just said, perhaps she would like to explain her view of the comments of her right hon. and noble Friend Lord Adonis and her right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan on the east coast main line going back to franchising and out of public ownership.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

The west coast main line, of course, enjoys the advantage of having had a major infrastructure and rolling stock upgrade, all funded by the taxpayer, and the east coast main line is due to have a large investment in infrastructure and rolling stock, also paid for by the taxpayer. Perhaps the Minister would like to reflect on the comments Lord Adonis made in last year’s “Rebuilding Rail” report. Some years after taking the east coast main line back into a not-for-dividend operator, he acknowledged that the current arrangements hold back our state operator.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Can my hon. Friend reassure the House that when the Government seek to put the east coast main line out for a new franchise, as they inevitably will, she will hold the Minister to account to ensure that whatever premium is paid by the new private operator will be at least the same as that which we are now receiving from the state-owned company, because anything less will surely be absolutely unacceptable to the taxpayer?

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, it is not just about the premium payments. At the moment, because the east coast main line is run by a not-for-dividend operator, not only is it making the premium payments to the Treasury, but the £40 million surplus has not been shared with private shareholders; every single penny has been reinvested in improving services. I think that is what UK taxpayers and passengers want.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Labour, Leeds North East

Following what my hon. Friend Mr Harris has just said, will my hon. Friend hold the Minister to account so that the Government ensure not only that the franchise delivers more to the Treasury than the directly operated railways are currently delivering, but that the franchise can afford to do so, because we remember the National Express fiasco?

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend has said exactly what needs to be said on the matter.

The European Commission’s case for extending competition in that way can be found in a recently published non-paper, or document for discussion, on the UK railways. Actually, the term “non-paper” covers it rather well. It implies that privatisation was responsible for improving safety, but in fact the infrastructure sell-off had the opposite effect and subsequent investment in safety was taxpayer-funded. It also claims that privatisation itself was responsible for increasing passenger numbers, but other countries that did not fragment their systems also experienced comparable levels of passenger growth, as the Transport Committee acknowledged this week.

Most remarkably, the non-paper suggests that privatisation has reduced subsidy. At the time, we were promised a more efficient railway, but subsidy rocketed. As the Office of Rail Regulation’s financial report last week confirmed, in 2011-12 train operating companies received more public funding than they paid back. They were paid £51 million more than they gave back in premium payments, while the Government paid almost £4 billion towards the cost of infrastructure.

Photo of David Anderson David Anderson Labour, Blaydon

Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures show that the subsidy has gone up by 300% since privatisation and, on top of that, fares have gone up by 22% in real terms, so the public are paying for the costs of privatisation? The really perverse thing is that a lot of the subsidy from British taxpayers and fare payers is actually going to the German, Dutch and French national Governments, because they own more than half the railways in this country.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend is right. That is precisely why the Opposition have been prepared to look at reforming the railways.

In total, the train operating companies were left with £305 million before tax at a time when, as my hon. Friend has just said, some fares and season tickets have been allowed to rise by well above the rate of inflation. Those are the headline figures but, as the McNulty report, the Transport Committee and many others have pointed out, there is a basic lack of transparency in railway finances, as commercial confidentiality serves to obscure waste in the system.

The waste is huge. The McNulty report identified an efficiency gap of 40%, compared with the railways of four other European countries. The fragmentation of the industry has led to massive interface costs between Network Rail, the operating companies and the supply chain. Taxpayers and fare payers are supporting replica bureaucracies and unnecessary legal challenges. That money could be better invested in the industry. The great railway sell-off was a botched, rushed job. Labour took action to reverse some of the most damaging legacies of privatisation, including the disaster that was Railtrack, but the Railways Act 1993 was hurried through Parliament for political reasons, creating inefficiencies that are still with us today.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

With regard to the interesting dialogue between the question of Europeanisation, nationalisation and privatisation, does the hon. Lady agree that the consequences of adopting a positive policy towards the underlying desire to Europeanise the system of railways are alien to what I assume to be the interests of the trade unions, whether in this country or elsewhere, because Europeanisation and the bureaucracy she has just referred to will ensure that it is inefficient?

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but my concern is to protect the interests of passengers and taxpayers. That prompts the reasons for our response to the Government’s proposals today.

Rather than reading the Commission’s non-paper, Members could watch the accompanying video—I wonder how much taxpayers’ money was spent producing it—which is very amusing. They could be forgiven for thinking that there is no real dispute at all, but buried in the impact assessment for compulsory tendering is the giveaway sentence:

“There is a certain degree of uncertainty in the assessment of impacts of some options, as evidence is sometimes fairly recent (e.g. competition in the market) or ambiguous (evidence provided only by specific stakeholders). The choice to move forward with the aforementioned combination remains thus a political choice.”

There we have it. The decision to impose one particular model on European states is a political choice, just as the Government’s decision to re-privatise the east coast main line was ideologically driven.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I will make a little progress.

Countries should be free to choose the models that best suit national and local needs. We had just such a need in 2009, after two franchisees walked away from the east coast main line. As a not-for-dividend operator, East Coast has gone from strength to strength. Overall passenger satisfaction has risen and the operator has won a national award for how it manages disruptions to services, with a 12% improvement in satisfaction ratings in the past year. It has provided a public sector comparator at a time when the Government’s franchising policy has collapsed, at a cost to the taxpayer of more than £55 million. By the end of this year, it will have returned £800 million to the taxpayer and invested profits in the service.

The not-for-dividend east coast main line is working, and with a five-year business plan in place the operator could deliver more, if it had the Government’s backing. However, by prioritising the privatisation of the east coast main line, the Government seem to be saying that the service works in practice, but not in theory. We need to proceed on the basis of the best evidence available and build on success stories such as the east coast main line, Merseyrail and London Overground.

I am sure that the Minister will have listened closely to Transport for London’s concerns about the fourth railway package, particularly the definition of a competent authority. Interpreted literally, the definition of an authority that serves

“the transport needs of an urban agglomeration or a rural district” could force TfL to divest itself of some services at a time when it is looking to take on additional responsibilities. Perhaps the Minister could offer reassurances on this issue, which may impact on other bodies, including the proposed rail in the north executive. The devolution agenda must not be put at risk by these proposals.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

My hon. Friend will be aware of the current consultation on changing the rail network in London by extending the London Overground network to take in some of the suburban services run by other agencies. I am unclear about the effect that this European proposal will have on that. London Overground, after all, is one of the most popular and successful rail networks in the country and its expansion would certainly be welcomed by many people in London.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank my hon. Friend, and that is the precise concern that I am raising on behalf of TfL. As he says, London Overground is a successful operation and we would not want to see this package stand in the way of TfL continuing to develop services for the benefit of passengers and taxpayers.

There are a number of concerns, therefore, about a number of points in the fourth railway package. We need to reach a deal that works for the British railway industry—a deal that removes the uncertainty over safety and devolution, while allowing us the option of replicating the success of the east coast main line, which should not be re-privatised, as the Government plan. The fourth railway package is not there yet, and that is why we cannot support this motion.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. My word, there are more speakers than expected. I am going to have to introduce a limit of five minutes and it may even have to go down. The opening speech lasted 33 minutes, so that has affected the debate a little. I call Iain Stewart.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South 12:52 pm, 25th April 2013

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate.

I will first pick up on the fascinating comments made by Lilian Greenwood. I wonder whether we are witnessing the embryonic development of a Labour policy of whole-scale renationalisation of train operators. I have only five minutes, so I cannot pursue that much further. I imagine that the proposal finds a lot of favour with the hon. Lady’s Back-Bench colleagues and, indeed, trade union sponsors, but that is a matter for another day.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government’s position is ideologically bizarre, in that they seem to oppose public ownership of the railways by British people or the British Government, but have no objection at all to public ownership of British railways by foreign Governments?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

If the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will come on to some of the proposals in the EU package that I think will help British operators to expand into Europe, if they so wish.

I broadly welcome the package of measures. It takes Europe in a direction that we have already taken, so its broad thrust will not have a dramatic effect on rail operators in this country.

I want to pick up on a few specific concerns. There is an issue about how the rest of Europe will respond and I am concerned about how effective the European Union will be in implementing the package in other countries. The Transport Committee’s evidence sessions made it clear that it will be very difficult to apply the package to all EU member states, because of the different sizes and structures of their respective railway systems. Past experience shows that the proposals are so opaque in practice that national Governments can implement them as they wish so as to protect their own national operators. I asked Brian Simpson, the Labour MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee, whether there was lobbying from France and Germany to protect their national interests. He replied: “You bet there was.” I am, therefore, concerned about how the proposals will be implemented in Europe.

The Committee has recommended—I think this would help—that the maximum limit for the bundling together of rail network services should be one fifth instead of one third. On the evolution of services in Germany, while urban and regional services are diversifying, allowing different operators to enter the market, the entire intercity network, with only two exceptions, is operated by Deutsche Bahn. Therefore, a contract covering one third of the national network would allow Deutsche Bahn a near monopoly of the intercity services, which goes against the principle of the directive. I hope that in his discussions with colleagues in Europe, the Minister will pursue an upper limit of one fifth of the market, rather than one third.

The Minister has already referred to one of my domestic concerns, namely that the package should not prohibit the alliance between Network Rail and some of the train operating companies, particularly South West Trains. I believe that that is an effective way forward for the railways and I hope that the Minister will be able to get some clarification on it and protection for those British interests.

I am also concerned about international services. For obvious reasons, the impact on British railways has not been significant thus far, but High Speed 2 and its connection to High Speed 1 and the tunnel will lead to many more international services from this country. I do not want our interests to be inhibited by problems relating to track access or safety, which is what happened when Eurostar tried to buy Siemens trains for the tunnel. The existing regulations are not as effective as they could be. I hope we can get much greater clarity and certainty on both those areas, in order to allow the development of effective cross-border services from this country. The Minister has said that he is looking at whether the issue can be dealt with through a European-wide arrangement or through greater collaboration between national agencies. I do not have a particular preference, but the overall objective should be to give operators greater certainty so that they can plan services.

I am running out of time, so I will conclude by saying that I broadly support the thrust of the package, but hope that the Government will be successful in getting the assurances and clarifications needed to protect our interests.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee 12:58 pm, 25th April 2013

I begin by apologising that I will not be able to stay for the whole debate, because I have to lead a transport debate in Westminster Hall that starts at 1.30 pm. I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss some of the findings of the Transport Committee’s inquiry into the European fourth railway package.

The Commission justifies its proposals by talking about “stagnation or decline” in European railways. Of course, there is no such thing in this country. Our railways are enjoying an unprecedented period of growth. It is highly debatable whether that growth is due to privatisation or the growth in our GDP over the same period. It is worth recognising that there has also been major expansion in Germany and France, where major national rail operators run the rail services. It is therefore not justified to say automatically that our success in increasing passenger numbers is due to privatisation.

The Select Committee raises a number of concerns about the package, one of which relates to the proposal to separate infrastructure management and service operation. That thread runs through the whole package. It is ironic that against the background of our success, the Government are trying to bring the operators and the infrastructure holders closer together. That is being done in a number of ways, including through the development of partnerships between the national rail network and the transport operators and through what is prescribed in the new rail franchises. It is important that the European package does not prevent the working together that this country is trying to develop.

It is also important that that division does not apply to light rail services, where management of the services and ownership of the network are combined, as in the case of the docklands light railway. Those services are extremely successful and they must not be jeopardised.

Before the package was published, it was thought that it would require the complete separation of infrastructure ownership and service operation, but that is not the case. The package says that there can still be a holding company, as there is in some other European countries, that owns both the network and the train operation. However, it says that there must be strict Chinese walls to separate the two.

A major concern of the Committee is that the regulations on how much of the rail service of any one country an organisation can hold will restrict the opportunities for UK companies to bid for overseas business in the way that the European companies that run large sectors of our rail industry have done here.

In the short amount of time left, I would like to mention the omissions that the Committee is concerned about. There is a need to encourage cross-border services for both freight and passengers. Track access charges are an extremely important issue. We were told repeatedly that high access charges are impeding the development of cross-border services. There seems to be no recognition of that in the Commission’s package. Border control is another area that requires attention, but to which no attention was paid in the Commission’s rail package.

Those are the Committee’s key concerns with regard to the expansion of our rail services. We made other points too, but I have only had a limited time in which to speak. We are also concerned about the omissions. I listened to the Minister’s comments at the beginning of the debate. I am confident that he will take our points forward and I hope he will ensure that they are considered fully in the discussions in Europe before the package is finalised.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 1:03 pm, 25th April 2013

First, I am glad that the Minister ruled out the connection between HS2 and this Europeanisation of the railway packages.

The European Scrutiny Committee asked for a three-hour debate on this matter. The Minister and the Opposition spokesman took up the best part of an hour, so we are down to five-minute speeches, but I will do my best.

What we need in our railway system is interaction, not integration. Obviously, we have to have compatible gauges because there has to be interaction between our country and the continent. I am very much in favour of trading and political co-operation in Europe, but I object to the Europeanisation of the railways on the one hand and their nationalisation on the other. That analogy, which was given by Frank Dobson, is very apt because there is no difference between the two.

The intention of the package is to create a single railway market and to reduce the barriers that are hindering the development of a single EU railway area. That has all the elements of centralisation and the creation of a monopoly in legislative terms. The effect will be to centralise power and reduce the extraordinary necessity for competition, on which the Minister put so much emphasis. Of course, we all want competition. We need the kind of competition that was created, albeit some time ago, in the mid 19th century. My family founded the London to Brighton railway and the Leeds to Thirsk railway, among others. In fact, my ancestor, William Cash, was chairman of the committee of inquiry into George Hudson, the crooked MP who created the monopoly of the railway system. There was a special inquiry into his behaviour and he was eventually driven out. I believe that Europe is probably moving towards the kind of monopoly that had to be unravelled in the United Kingdom.

I am deeply concerned about competition in relation to contracts. We remember the Bombardier fiasco, which affected British jobs. The French and Germans are very good at getting into our systems, but we are not allowed into theirs. We saw what happened with Siemens and Alstom. I have some knowledge of how that worked in practice, being a former Member for Stafford, but we do not have time to go into the details. The reality is that these matters affect British jobs. I remember discussing all this with Arnold Weinstock, who was so much in favour of the great venture of Europeanising GEC. I said, “Get the message: you will find that it doesn’t work in the way that you are hoping.” At the end of his life, he had a word with me and said, “You were right after all.” He had found that the system was very unfair and that other countries exploited it. We must have regard to our own national interests.

I am extremely worried about the direction of the railway package. I will go further and say that the Labour party should be worried as well. I would be interested to know what Mr Bob Crow thinks about it. Perhaps we will hear about that in a minute. Although I do not favour trade union control or nationalisation, I do believe in our national interest. Despite the fact that this is only a communication as yet, we know the direction in which it is going and I am not happy about it. The Labour party is doing the wrong thing because it is allowing this to happen. Although it is voting against it today, it will not really resist it for practical purposes. I am afraid that the Government are going to allow a system that will create a centralised monopoly in Europe.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 1:08 pm, 25th April 2013

I am a member of the RMT parliamentary group and the chair of the ASLEF group, so in a sense I have an interest in the railways.

The core intention of the fourth railway package is simply to visit the mistakes made in Britain on the rest of the EU. Railway privatisation in the UK is a laboratory experiment that was designed in the EU. It has been an expensive failure which continental Governments would be foolish to imitate. Separating trains from track and privatising train companies to set up liberalised and allegedly competitive rail operations has been massively expensive to taxpayers and passengers. We have the highest fares in Europe and we know all about the taxpayer subsidies. Sir Roy McNulty’s report clearly demonstrated that in concluding that UK railways were up to 40% more expensive to operate than state-owned and integrated railways on the continent.

Some five years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Germany with the Rail Freight Group, and we met Dr Mehdorn, chairman of the German state railways, Deutsche Bahn. He was visibly angry and banged the table with his fist at the prospect of DB being privatised, especially on the “British model,” as he called it, of separating track from trains. The fourth railway package brings that outcome closer. Separating track from train operators has been a serious mistake, and significantly in the UK we have been making moves in the opposite direction towards vertical integration. The fourth railway package will force continental railways to go in the opposite direction and disintegrate—a big mistake.

On the same visit to Germany I met a British transport economist who had been a supporter of the UK privatisation model—a computer model—which apparently told him that such a system would reduce costs and produce efficiency. It had the opposite effect, as McNulty clearly demonstrated. My economist chum confessed to me—rather feebly—that his computer model had failed. I suggested that the logical answer was to renationalise and reintegrate Britain’s railways, to which he had no answer.

Why on earth is the EU pressing ahead with this package? It must simply be ideology, dogma, and serving the interests of those who make money out of privatisation. Incredibly, as we have heard, more than 50% of UK franchises are now operated, or part operated, by European state railways. When English, Welsh and Scottish Railway was taken over by DB Schenker I said, “You’ve been nationalised.” It said, “No we haven’t,” and I said, “Yes. You’ve been nationalised and taken over by the German Government.” It had been a private company in this country.

Are UK railways simply being exploited for profit to the advantage of continental Governments and their taxpayers? The same is happening in the energy sector with companies such as EDF. What nonsense is that? What happens if the fourth package proceeds? It is time to junk this model of railway operations, stop the fourth package, and return to sensible, integrated, publicly owned railways, especially in the UK.

There are, of course, good reasons for international co-operation to promote cross-border travel, but that can be done most easily by nationalised railways negotiating at international and national level. We do not need fragmented private companies trying to do that. As we know, rail travel is growing—I have been a commuter on Thameslink and its predecessors for 40 or 45 years—but it is growing in spite of privatisation, not because of it, and essentially because travelling to work on the roads is becoming more and more difficult. With the growth of the economy, particularly in London, more and more people are commuting.

Railways are wonderful things and the mode of the future, but they need state involvement and state running to make them work properly on behalf of us all, and to make them more efficient. We want to cut railway costs, and the way to do that is to bring them back into public ownership.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Liberal Democrat, Argyll and Bute 1:12 pm, 25th April 2013

The fourth railway package is the latest effort by the European Commission to reform a European rail sector still dominated by state-owned railway businesses that control both tracks and trains. Most national domestic markets in Europe are largely closed—other than the UK, only Sweden has opened its rail markets. Because the UK already has an open market, it is unlikely that infrastructure separation proposals will have a significant impact in this country. However, the package offers new opportunities for UK operators to enter other European markets with the same ease that European operators have found when trying to enter the UK market. I understand that the package would not affect metro and light rail operations. That makes sense, and I hope the Minister will confirm that today.

I would like to raise a couple of concerns. First, the Commission is proposing to remove the existing exemption that allows the direct award of contracts that do not exceed 10 years. I believe that the 10-year period could be reduced, but there must still be a shorter exemption period to allow for the occasional need to extend rail public service contracts or combine them in a different manner. Even with our competitive tendering arrangements, the Government used that exemption following the cancellation of the competition for the inter-city west coast franchises. Furthermore, temporary arrangements for the east coast main line service, which has operated in the public sector since 2009, would no longer be allowed. We need an exemption that allows for temporary operation backed by the public sector.

My second concern is the proposal to centralise powers that currently rest with national safety authorities with the European Railway Agency, as that seems to conflict with the subsidiarity principle. The move from a two-certificate system to the issuing of one safety certificate makes sense, as do proposals to standardise administrative measures across all European Union agencies. I do not, however, see the need to shift responsibility for issuing those safety certificates from national safety agencies to the European Railway Agency—NSAs will be far better able to appreciate circumstances in their own countries than the ERA. I hope that those issues can be satisfactorily resolved, and I support the Government’s aims as laid down in the motion.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Labour, Leeds North East 1:15 pm, 25th April 2013

Before I begin my brief comments—I will keep them brief as we are running out of time—may I say I find it astonishing that over the past three years when the Government have sought to blame somebody for their appallingly failed financial and economic policy, they have blamed the previous Labour Government and not their own policies, yet when they want to take credit for investment in the railways that must have been made at least three years ago under the previous Government, they take credit for that? Such things cannot be done that quickly.

I have a couple of brief points that relate, believe it or not, to the east coast. I have used the east coast main line for the past 16 years to come to London and return to my Leeds North East constituency, and we have seen many changes during that period. Great North Eastern Railway operated that line as a private company extremely well, and led the field. Unfortunately, however, its parent company went into liquidation and the franchise was taken over by the disastrous National Express experiment. When that failed, it had to hand the franchise back to the Government because it could not keep up with the payments it had promised—that is why I made my earlier intervention. I hope the Minister will ensure that if the line is franchised, the franchisee can afford to pay the money it promised.

Since Directly Operated Railways has been running the east coast, it has been a superb service and I thank its staff and management for running that service so efficiently, excellently and profitably. We have heard time and again this afternoon that £640 million has been returned to the Treasury over three years, and it is estimated there will be at least another £160 million in the current financial year. Contrary to what the Minister said, my understanding is that Virgin Rail has returned just £200 million net to the Treasury in 15 years. How does it make sense to say that it will be more profitable and better for the public sector and the Treasury to return the east coast line to private hands for private profit to be paid out to shareholders? Will that improve the service? I would say no. It seems ideological and defies common sense.

Last year I believe that the Government, through Network Rail, gave £172 million to rail operators to compensate passengers for delayed or cancelled trains.

East Coast trains paid £6.6 million of that, not because it was the worst performer but because it was the most honest. The average paid by the other companies was just £400,000. What have they done with that money? Why has that money not been paid back, and why have people not been encouraged to claim in the honest and decent way practised by East Coast? My final question to the Minister—I do not suppose he will have much time to respond—is will he please think again about refranchising the east coast line? If it is not broken, do not try and repair it.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 1:18 pm, 25th April 2013

There is actually something slightly surreal about this debate. So often in this Chamber we hear diatribes from Government Members about how Europe is trying to tell us what to do and interfering in how we do things. We now seem to have a situation in which the Government and many—although not quite all—Back Benchers who have spoken, seem to be happy for us to impose on countries in Europe our view of how railways should be run.

I raised this issue earlier today and perhaps the Minister will answer this time. It seems slightly odd that the McNulty report—which has been mentioned particularly by Conservative Back-Benchers—said that the cost of running the railways seems to be much higher in Britain than in European countries that have a higher degree of state rail operations. If that is the case, why do we suggest that our system is so much better?

In any event, why does Europe have to impose a one-size-fits-all proposal? Why not allow national Governments to have the choice? We are not necessarily arguing that countries must choose to run all their railways publicly. Apart from anything else, a comparator is extremely useful. In politics, we do not often get a chance to see different ways of doing things at the same time, in similar economic circumstances. A comparator allows us to say that one thing works and that another does not.

The five years since East Coast was set up by Directly Operated Railways to run the service have been helpful in that regard. We have learned a considerable amount. The Minister is fond of telling us, as he has today, what Lord Adonis and my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan said five years ago, but we must learn from what happens. The Secretary of State said earlier today that we must base our decisions on evidence. We now have evidence. In the light of the evidence, it is right to say that we perhaps want to do things in a different way. That is not unreasonable, especially for a Government who have turned semi-circles and circles and done U-turns in a shorter time than five years—they turned on the pasty tax and the caravan tax within months. It is reasonable, after five years, to say that any EU country should be able to choose to have directly operated services. They might want both directly operated services as well as franchises. Why not have both?

East Coast is making an important contribution to our environmental ambitions by making the service more attractive, particularly to people in Scotland, who have the alternative of flying—they are not a captive market. East Coast has made the service more attractive by extending services. It has an early morning service—a fast runner—and an evening service that enables people to get back after a late meeting. It offers a service to business customers and those who are able to take advantage of the first class service. Because of that, they might say, “I’m going to take the train rather than fly.” That is very important environmentally.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 1:22 pm, 25th April 2013

When we have such debates, it is important that we consult the people who run the railway system. I therefore refer hon. Members to the evidence provided to the Select Committee on Transport by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. When privatisation came about, RMT submitted evidence to the House and made it clear publicly that privatisation would result in a risk to safety. Eventually, Southall, Paddington and Potters Bar happened. I attended the funeral of the driver who died at Southall—he was an ASLEF member and my constituent. I remember the warnings that were given. As a result of privatisation, people such as that driver sacrificed their lives.

This time, RMT is saying clearly that the proposals, if they go ahead, will compromise safety. RMT is saying that the system is fragmented and complicated with numerous interfaces, and that the measure will simply introduce another tier of bureaucracy for it to deal with. Its view is that safety should be dealt with at national level and local level, where there is local knowledge. Yes, interfaces in Europe should be dealt with internationally by agreements within Europe, but safety should rest as a national competence. In that way, we can achieve safety on the basis of the knowledge of those who operate the system.

The second point made by RMT is on infrastructure. It clearly says that there is a move—the measure is a further step—towards a single European infrastructure manager. The House has debated High Speed 2. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that key decisions on infrastructure should be retained at national level. Of course, we need integrated decision making when we go across national boundaries, but basic infrastructure decisions should be based on local knowledge and the representation of local interests, and particularly local constituency interests. The measure will take us beyond that.

RMT’s third point is that rail is effectively a money laundering exercise. This is not petty nationalism, but we see an incremental nationalisation of our railway system by Deutsche Bahn and others. The taxpayer subsidy poured into the system is laundered into investment in those companies’ own countries. Why do I say that? Let me quote the German Transport Ministry. It said:

“We’re skimming profit from the entire Deutsche Bahn and ensuring that it is anchored in our budget—that way we can make sure it is invested in the rail network here”.

The laundering of the British pound into German euros is a deep irony, and it is happening as a result of the UK Government’s proposals to support elements in the package.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

Perhaps we should have a referendum.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

My hon. Friend says that we should have a referendum, but we will come back to that in due course.

The objection is about democracy. The measure will fetter the hands of a future Labour Government, who will be unable to renationalise the railway network or keep some element of it in public ownership. That is what the measure is about, and why Government Members support it. They want to ensure that no Labour Government can at any time in future bring rail back into public ownership.

A number of us prefer public ownership and have made the arguments time and again. Public ownership is more efficient, more effective and more cost-effective. If hon. Members disagree with that, I suggest they read a succession of Transport Committee reports from the past few years. I appeal to Members on both sides of the House. Whatever they think about rail nationalisation, they should not allow Europe to fetter the hands of a British Government on such a major issue. This is about democracy, and about ensuring that, when we go into the next election, we have the right to implement what is in our party manifestos. If the measure progresses, it will fetter the hands of future Governments, and therefore undermine British democracy when it comes to deciding the future of our transport system.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 1:27 pm, 25th April 2013

I should like to make a few points in the very few moments left to me. As a member of the RMT group, I commend its important evidence to the Transport Committee.

The Minister can never miss an opportunity to have a go at British Rail[Interruption.] There is no need for him to intervene yet. He should recall a couple of things. British Rail ran the system from 1948 until privatisation in the 1990s. During that time, there was a great deal of electrification, innovative engineering and scientific research. At the same time, the system was grossly underfunded. British Rail was always denied the funds it needed for infrastructure investment—it was always short of what it needed.

We privatised the railway system, and now spend more on subsidising train operating companies, which make considerable profits out of the system. We are spending more on the system so that we do not control it. Fares are among the highest in Europe, and we have the most expensive and diverse railway system.

I agree with the Minister that, for example, Virgin Trains runs a very good service on the west coast main line. I have travelled on Virgin trains and all the services at various times. The service is very good. I pay tribute to those who work on the trains and run the system—they do it very well with great difficulty. However, the Minister should not run away with the idea that Virgin Trains or any other company has done well because of its investment in the system. Who paid for the west coast electrification? We did. Who is paying for the electrification of the western region? We are.

The system is that we pump public money in for private companies to cream off very large profits. I am a strong supporter of the principle of the railway system and what it can achieve. Railways are the thing of the future. They are efficient and more environmentally sustainable than road traffic. The construction of railways has much less environmental impact. I understand the complaints about the route HS2 will take and the impact it will have in various places. I urge those who are concerned, next time they go on the west coast main line, to look at the section of the line that runs parallel to the M1 just south of Rugby. They should look at the land space taken up by the railways, and the number of people and freight travelling on that section of track, and compare it to the environmental impact of the M1, and of the widening of the M1 or any other motorway. The argument for railways is overwhelming.

The document is not a short, easy read, and these are just some of the papers associated with this subject. What it is, is a proposal for the privatisation of the whole railway system across Europe. We do not need that. As many colleagues have said, integration can work within the existing framework. Yes, we need common safety standards. Yes, we need trains running directly from Spain bringing agricultural produce to this country, just as we need trains running directly from Russia and many other countries. That can all be achieved. Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, has no problems integrating its services with Germany, France and Italy, and I do not think that any other country should have any problems either.

What we have is the worst of all worlds. The public are expected to pay for infrastructure and Network Rail has massive debts because of its investment in the system. I do not complain—

One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Deputy Speaker put the Question (Standing Order No. 16(1)).

The House divided:

Ayes 217, Noes 172.

Division number 227 Growth and Infrastructure Bill — Railways

Aye: 217 MPs

No: 172 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 5855/13, a Commission Communication: The Fourth Railway Package—completing the single European railway area to foster European competitiveness and growth, No. 6012/13 and Addenda 1 and 2, a Draft Regulation on the European Union Agency for Railways and repealing Regulation (EC) No. 881/2004, No. 6013/13 and Addenda 1 and 2, a Draft Directive on the interoperability of the rail system within the European Union (Recast), No. 6014/13 and Addenda 1 and 2, a Draft Directive on railway safety (Recast), No. 6017/13, a Commission Report on the progress made towards achieving interoperability of the rail system, No 6019/13, a Commission Report on the profile and tasks of other train crew members, No. 5960/13 and Addenda 1 to 5, a Draft Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1370/2007 concerning the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail, No. 5985/13 and Addenda 1 to 7, a Draft Directive amending Directive 2012/34/EU establishing a single European railway area, as regards the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail and the governance of the railway infrastructure, and No. 6020/13, a Commission report on the implementation of the provisions of Directive 2007/58/EC on the opening of the market of international rail passenger transport accompanying the Communication on the fourth railway package; supports the Government’s aim of ensuring any resulting measures are appropriate, encourage competition and help to deliver a level playing field across the EU; and further supports the Government’s view that any such measures should be evidence-based, proportionate and reduce or at least minimise the regulatory, administrative and cost burden for industry.