Schedule 2 - Abolition of Rail Regulator: Consequential Amendments

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 11th February 2003.

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Question proposed, That this schedule be the Second schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I want clarification from the Minister. The table in schedule 2 seems to have been lifted entirely from the Railways Act 1993—I assume that the Transport Act 2000 did not have a huge impact on the schedule—but it is not as clear as it could be. I am mindful of the Minister's earlier comment that there is provision for annual reports, annual accounts and a business plan, which is helpful. It would have been helpful to take the opportunity in schedules 2 and 3 to link in the relationship with the SRA.

Paragraph 22 contains the first reference to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996. One of our amendments proposed that the channel tunnel be specifically excluded from the Bill. We had the opportunity to allow a separate body to deal with the channel tunnel, which would prevent any funny business. Someone from Europe might insist, for example, that a French investigation be conducted on the English side of the channel, or vice versa. The Minister will be disappointed, because the amendment would have been helpful.

Schedule 3 refers to savings that will be made as a result of the abolition of the rail regulator. It would be helpful if the Minister would confirm the proposed timetable for that. My understanding is that the rail regulator will remain in place and serve out his contract. I assume that the start date for the Rail Safety and Standards Board is imminent, and that there will be a gap during which the board will perform some of the Office of Rail Regulation's duties. Can the Minister confirm the time scale for phasing out the rail regulator, so that the regulator, as well as the Committee, may know exactly where he stands?

I do not disagree with the hon. Member for Bath on the principle of replacing the rail regulator with the board, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said, we want to know the reasons for that. Are they in keeping with the principles that the Minister failed miserably to convince me about? I do not know how I shall explain to my hon. Friend how we square that.

The title of schedule 3 mentions that savings will be made. On a cursory reading—

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am ahead of myself. I am grateful to you, Mr. Hurst, for that stricture. Schedule 2, especially part 2 on amendments to other Acts, refers to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996. It would be helpful to know more about the references to the Postal Services Act 2000 and the Utilities Act 2000.

The Minister said earlier that the rail regulator publishes an annual report, accounts and a business plan, and I wonder whether the Minister could direct me to the specific provision between line 35 on page 51

and line 33 on page 52 that deals with annual accounts and, in particular, the regulator's business plan. Would it be appropriate in future for all three documents to be submitted to the relevant Select Committees?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I reassure the hon. Lady that the Rail Safety and Standards Board will not withdraw any of the regular's functions, nor will those functions be withdrawn when they transfer to the Office of Rail Regulation. With regard to the timing of the board's implementation, we have stated that we do not plan to introduce the Office of Rail Regulation before mid–2004. The regulator's appointment runs until then. As the hon. Lady will be aware, we have agreed to undertake an interim review of Network Rail's charges. That will occupy the regulator and his team over the next year. It is important that that work is not disrupted in any way.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the Transport Act 2000. I draw her attention to paragraph 19(t), which deals with that. The Office of Rail Regulation is substituted for the rail regulator in the appropriate clauses.

Yet again, I hope that the hon. Lady is satisfied that we are reading across from current regulations on the role of the Office of the Rail Regulator, and transferring those functions and duties to the Office of Rail Regulation. The schedule gives effect to the principles outlined in the clause.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister said that the present rail regulator is undertaking a review of Network Rail, and I think that all hon. Members have been consulted on that. A further part of his work will be proposed network licence modifications following the acquisition of Railtrack by Network Rail.

It may have been confusion on my part to think that the Rail Safety and Standards Board would perform any of the duties of the rail regulator, but the two will clearly work closely, as set out in annexe A of the document. Parliamentary scrutiny of the documents would be helpful. However, the debate has been helpful.

Schedule 2 agreed to.