Railways: Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:12 pm on 29th November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Darling of Roulanish Lord Darling of Roulanish Labour 4:12 pm, 29th November 2017

My Lords, I appreciate that the Minister did not write the Statement—it is somebody else’s—but it contained a somewhat inaccurate précis of what happened to the railways after privatisation. There are two problems: one is that only central government is capable of providing the sustained level of investment needed to make the railways work. That dried up after privatisation. What the Minister referred to happened in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when investment started. The second mistake is to believe that the operation of track and rail could be fragmented. They are intimately connected, for obvious reasons, although that escaped the architects of the original privatisation.

On that point, I want to ask the Minister something. I welcome the idea that track and train should work closely together. It is not new; it started in 2003. I know that because I was there at the time, but I am glad that it is still being thought about 14 years later. On the point made by my noble friend Lord Adonis, what is happening on the east coast main line? Is the Virgin franchise continuing, or not? There is a real problem when we grant franchises to railway companies that come to believe that if it gets too difficult, or they do not want to do it, they can bail out and hand the keys back to the taxpayer. That is not acceptable and it needs to be stopped, so I hope the Minister will answer the noble Lord’s point. If she does not, that question will be asked again and again, because transparency is needed on what exactly is going on.