Rail Industry

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:26 pm on 15th January 2003.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 3:26 pm, 15th January 2003

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3754, in the name of Bristow Muldoon, on the Transport and the Environment Committee's 15 th report 2002 on its inquiry into the rail industry in Scotland. I will allow a few minutes for members to exit the chamber.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 3:33 pm, 15th January 2003

Before I proceed to speak to and move the motion, I ask the chamber to note that among my registered interests is my membership of the Transport Salaried Staff Association.

The piece of work that the Transport and the Environment Committee carried out into the rail industry represents one of the most substantial and important pieces of work that it undertook in the past year. I am pleased that we have the opportunity to debate the report in the chamber this afternoon.

I will outline the reasons why the committee decided to undertake the inquiry and the key conclusions that we reached. I will then focus on the responses to the report from the Scottish Executive and the Strategic Rail Authority.

There are a number of reasons why the committee's inquiry is well timed. First, there seems to be a widespread feeling of public disenchantment about aspects of Scotland's railways and a recognition that the railways have the potential to make an important contribution to economic development, environmental protection and social inclusion. Railways also have a major role to play in the Executive's overall policies on reducing congestion in our major cities. Too often the potential benefits of the railway system have not been realised due to the difficulties in the operation of rail services in recent years. In the course of the evidence that we took, we heard many complaints from rail users that basic elements such as punctuality and reliability are not being delivered. We wanted to address those concerns.

The second reason our report is well timed is that considerable change took place in the railway industry during 2002. That change reflected the many problems that had become apparent during the early years of privatisation and the actions taken, initially by the UK Government, to address them. In particular, I am referring to the establishment of Network Rail as the successor body to Railtrack; the Executive's launch of the transport delivery report, which sets out many of the Executive's key transport priorities; the forthcoming review of the SRA's strategic plan; and the re-letting of the Scottish rail passenger franchise. We took the opportunity to reflect on those developments and to take a fresh look at how the rail industry operated in Scotland and how key industry bodies worked together.

The third reason the committee thought the inquiry was important was because we identified a desire in the industry both for clear leadership on the direction that should be taken and for a coherent vision for the industry and rail development in Scotland. Several witnesses called for clearer guidelines on where the priorities of the Executive and the SRA lay. They also wanted to know where funding for major initiatives would come from.

As we began the inquiry, we tried to hear from as broad a range of witnesses as possible. Our witnesses included representatives from the SRA, Railtrack, ScotRail, Strathclyde Passenger Transport, the Rail Passengers Committee Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. We also heard from the Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, Iain Gray. I thank all those who gave evidence, many of whom I have not mentioned. I also thank the committee's adviser throughout the inquiry, Tom Hart, who is chair of the Scottish Transport Studies Group. He brought a lot of expertise to the committee and certainly helped us to draft the final report. The report has provided a valuable opportunity for many key players in the Scottish rail industry, including Government figures, to discuss and exchange views, and I hope that many of our recommendations will be accepted.

Before I move on to discuss the report's detailed recommendations, I should point out that, prior to the publication of the final report, the committee made a series of recommendations on the Scottish rail passenger franchise. When the Executive issued draft directions and guidance for the replacement of the franchise early in the summer, the committee took the opportunity to express its views on that document. I am pleased to say that the Executive accepted some of our key recommendations. In particular, we called on the Executive to draw up a more disciplined and focused set of priorities for the new franchise and recommended that the franchise bids should set out bidders' positions on fare levels and structures.

Furthermore, we recommended that safety should be given a specific headline position in the new franchise and that stakeholders should have a greater voice in the franchise's development. All those recommendations, which the Executive accepted, represent improvements to the draft directions and guidance to the SRA. I welcome the fact that the Executive was prepared to engage with the committee in that respect.

I also note that, in a written answer that was published today, the Executive has confirmed that, although the franchise process is still on schedule to be completed by 2004, there might well be a few months' extension of the existing ScotRail franchise to allow full implementation of the new franchise. I am sure that the minister will refer to that in his speech.

I now turn to some of the key recommendations that the committee made in its report. First, we encouraged the Scottish Executive to ensure that the SRA takes Scottish interests fully into account. In particular, there should be closer contact between the Executive and the UK Government to ensure that an appropriate allocation of SRA funds is made available in Scotland. We also recommended an increase in direct Scottish Executive funding for rail projects that would go beyond even the increases that were announced in September 2002.

Secondly, we recommended that there should be a new concordat between the Scottish Executive and the SRA. Although the arrangements for the franchise process for Scotland's passenger railway were already in place, we suggested that there should be a new concordat to deal with the delivery of a range of other projects, including infrastructure projects. In addition, we recommended the establishment of a substantial SRA office in Scotland to deal with franchise supervision and rail enhancements and to work in partnership with the Executive on infrastructure improvements in the industry. We also recommended that there should be more clarity about funding levels in the years ahead and, specifically, that there should be time frames for the delivery of projects.

Thirdly, we recommended initiatives to remove some of the barriers to short-term rail delivery. Specifically, we proposed the use of a virtual board model to encourage key players in the industry to work on co-ordinated priorities and plans for action. We also recommended action to address complaints that the current performance regime inhibits the delivery of new projects; new staff training initiatives from the Executive; the use of qualified external contractors to progress the delivery of projects; and clarity in the funding of some of the smaller rail enhancement projects that have been identified in the SRA's plans.

Fourthly, in addition to medium-term projects, such as the enhancement of Edinburgh Waverley, we recommended that certain other priority projects identified in the report should be given clear time frames for completion and that the funding for those projects be agreed between the Executive and the SRA.

I could touch on a number of other recommendations but, for reasons of time, I will leave them for now. In the latter part of my speech, I will address the responses that we received from the Executive and the SRA.

There have been some positive contributions from the Executive. One of the report's recommendations was that the Executive should make progress on the enhancement of ScotRail's rolling stock capacity. I welcome the Executive's conclusion of a deal in December 2002 and its compliance with the target that the committee set. On that basis, perhaps the Executive would wish the committee to set all its targets—it might then achieve more of them. From a constituency point of view, I also welcome that announcement because one of the lines to benefit from that investment will be the Bathgate to Edinburgh line, which serves two important stations in the Livingston constituency.

The Executive and the SRA accepted the need to develop a strong concordat between the two organisations and to review performance regimes. They also recognised that new targets for freight transfers should be set—in fact, such targets have been set for the period after 2003.

The publication of the SRA's review of its strategic plan, which will be important, is due by the end of January. The review will indicate which projects will still be delivered and which might be subject to some modification since the SRA produced its original plans. Some funding difficulties and cost overruns have become apparent in the past year, particularly for the modernisation of the west coast mainline and other projects.

I welcome the progress made by the Executive and the SRA last month in agreeing various capacity improvements, which will benefit the Edinburgh to Bathgate line, the Dunblane line and the Fife circle among others. Along with the implementation of the rolling stock projects, that indicates that the organisations expect to make progress on those issues.

I realise that I am reaching the end of my allocated speaking time; in fact, I have probably overrun it already.

The report provides an opportunity to ensure that action is taken to address immediate problems in the rail industry. I have detected more cohesion between the Government, the SRA and the major players in the industry which will allow them to tackle many key concerns about reliability, overcrowding and the future enhancement of the network. The concordat that we proposed, which will be developed, will set out a clear framework within which a programme for improving rail services can be delivered. The top priority for Government and the industry is to focus on early improvements for rail users and to deliver them. Only by focusing on achieving those short-term deliveries will the foundations be laid for longer-term improvements, including improving people's confidence in the industry. I commend the Transport and the Environment Committee's report to Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the 15th Report 2002 of the Transport and the Environment Committee, Report on Inquiry into the Rail Industry in Scotland (SP Paper 674).

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 3:44 pm, 15th January 2003

The Executive welcomes the work done by the Transport and the Environment Committee in its inquiry report. We also welcome the opportunity to respond to its recommendations today. We have, of course, made a full written response to the committee's findings, but I want to highlight a number of specific issues, the implementation of which will contribute to the vision that we share with the committee of a bigger, better and safer railway in Scotland. To ensure that we can deliver that, we must build on the good partnerships that already exist among the various players in the Scottish rail industry. Most important, we will continue to work closely with our UK colleagues and with the Strategic Rail Authority to agree and develop our investment priorities.

We agree with the committee's recommendation that we should have a productive and well-defined working relationship with the SRA. We have had a close working relationship with the SRA since it was established and we intend to continue that partnership approach. The committee has recommended that a concordat should be established and I am pleased to confirm that work has already begun on drawing up such an agreement. The intention is that a concordat between the SRA and the Executive will be drawn up. The concordat will be subject to annual revision to ensure that it continues to be a contemporary and relevant document.

The committee further recommended that the SRA should have a substantial presence in Scotland. That recommendation has also been taken forward. Since giving evidence to the committee in May last year, the SRA has established two offices in Scotland. The office in Glasgow is for the Scottish stakeholder relations manager, who is responsible for day-to-day contact with the Executive, Strathclyde Passenger Transport, the Rail Passengers Committee Scotland and local authorities. The other office, which is located in Edinburgh, is responsible for work specifically on managing the replacement process for the Scottish passenger rail franchise. It must also be noted that there is a regular presence in Scotland of SRA directors and managers in general and that the full range of SRA resources is deployed as required to address specific issues as they arise.

Several other recommendations made by the committee cover issues that have now been addressed by the directions and guidance that we have issued to the SRA in relation to the Scottish rail passenger franchise, or which will be addressed by the new franchise. Those issues include service improvements and enhancements, performance regimes and fares integration.

As Bristow Muldoon said, I answered a written parliamentary question this morning about the progress that is being made towards reletting the new passenger rail franchise. I want to provide the Parliament with a little more detail about that important matter. It is worth reminding ourselves of the various roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders in the reletting process. The Executive is responsible for issuing directions and guidance to the SRA. We approve the specification and we will fund the franchise once it is let. The SRA procures the franchise on our behalf and is a co-signatory to it. In turn, Strathclyde Passenger Transport specifies the service for its area and is also a co-signatory to the franchise. Although the SRA is responsible for the administration and day-to-day management of the reletting process, it is acting as our procurement agent and is at the behest of the Executive in delivering that new franchise.

As members know, we issued the directions and guidance for the next franchise to the SRA at the end of June 2002, ahead of the deadline set for reletting to be completed on time. Following that, the Executive and SPT set up a franchise team to work on the reletting process and the SRA, in turn, set up a franchise team of its own to work on the Scottish rail franchise. At the end of October, the SRA formally invited expressions of interest in bidding for the next franchise. Ten expressions of interest were received from a wide range of transport operators, including UK and continental railway operators. One has since been withdrawn, but the nine existing expressions of interest constitute a healthy level of competition, which can only be of benefit to rail users in Scotland.

Members of the committee will also be aware that, in early November, the SRA published its new franchising policy for the passenger rail industry throughout Great Britain. That policy reflects the development of thinking within the SRA about how to secure the greatest benefits from public money invested in rail passenger services. That new approach by the SRA placed a greater focus on service delivery and on improved services for passengers, such as reliability, punctuality and reducing overcrowding. The shift in SRA thinking closely reflected our thinking for the ScotRail franchise. Our directions and guidance to the SRA, which was issued some four months previously, had already identified the top priorities of improved punctuality and reliability and of reduced overcrowding.

We also took the opportunity that arose from the SRA review to look again at the length of the next franchise. When we published our transport delivery report last March, we indicated, in line with the SRA, that a 15-year franchise was our preferred option at that stage. However, we were careful not to specify a franchise length when we issued our directions and guidance to the SRA, in order to retain the flexibility to take account of changes in the industry. Events over the past year have confirmed that that was the right approach.

Last month, Iain Gray announced our intention to set a seven-year franchise with the possibility of a further extension of up to three years. That decision reflects some of the big changes that have taken place in the industry. It also fits much more closely with the pattern of the real, major investment that we and our partners are making in our rail services. Bristow Muldoon touched on some of that investment in his speech.

Substantial additional resources were secured for transport in the recent Scottish budget. They will contribute towards the delivery of key strategic projects such as rail links to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, the development of Waverley station and the development of the Airdrie to Bathgate line.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The minister will recall that we had a members' business debate last year about Waverley station. Can he bring us up to date with progress on the Waverley project and the working group that he talked about last year? Has there been progress on time scales and commitments from the SRA to advance the project?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Sarah Boyack will recall from that members' business debate that a steering group has been set up to make progress on that project with Executive support, taking into consideration all the options for the redevelopment of the station and the implications for Haymarket station. I expect the initial output from that work to be available to us in the spring. I also expect the SRA to carry that work forward with us.

A result of all those major planned investments in infrastructure is that a series of significant new services is likely to come into play on the Scottish rail network in the second half of this decade. Those new services will now coincide more closely with the end of the next franchise and the seven- year plan that we have announced. That will allow us to relet the franchise for the following period in a way that will reflect the extended rail system and which will achieve the best match between the franchise and its operator.

As part of its policy review, the SRA recognised the complexities of the franchise process and the significant costs involved. It has sought to simplify and improve the process and to invite bids from a smaller number of bidders for a single stage of bidding, which will involve a comprehensive best-value bid. We think that that is movement in the right direction, although it means that considerably more work is required from the Executive and the SRA at the front end of the process. That is why we have made it clear that the possibility exists that we will need to take up the option in the current contract of a six-month extension. That is a non-negotiable extension and does not require us to return to the existing franchise holder; it can simply be put in place, if it is required, on 1 April 2004 to allow the mobilisation of the new franchise to be completed quickly and efficiently, in line with the SRA's new plans.

It was important to take the opportunity to explain some of the background to the process and how we have got to where we are. I give the Parliament a reassurance that the franchise process remains very much on track. We have made the necessary provision for any delay, but we do not expect that delay to be significant or to throw the process in any significant way. Along with implementing the recommendations that have come from the committee—for example, our development of a concordat with the SRA—we will carry forward our plans for the railway industry in a way that will help to bring tangible benefits throughout Scotland. I look forward to working on those plans with the Transport and the Environment Committee in the years ahead.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 3:54 pm, 15th January 2003

The SNP welcomes the report and the debate. As a member who does not sit on the committee, I pay tribute to the politicians and civil servants who sat through the inquiry and—more important—to the members of the public and the industry who gave their time and ideas to benefit and advance the matter and to complete the report. It would be remiss of me not also to pay tribute to the convener, who has an affinity with and affection for the industry that goes beyond simply his past employment in it.

I commend the report and see it as a basis for taking work forward. We have received the Scottish Executive's response, and I welcome the matters that have been intimated to date. All parties recognise the importance of advancing the rail industry not just to commuters' comfort but to the social and economic progress of our country.

The report's early paragraphs clearly state that transparency is important. That is a fundamental point. Following the post-privatisation fragmentation of the rail sector, it has been difficult for those in the industry—never mind those outside it—to follow what has been spent, where it has been spent, who spent it and what it has been spent on. Such matters cause considerable difficulty. I will return to some of the points that the committee made.

A benefit of the Parliament's committee system is that we can reach accords on various matters where there is consensus in a broad arena of political, social and economic interests in Scotland. That is the basis for driving forward matters on which there is committee agreement.

The SNP disagrees with some parts of the report and, to an extent, my colleagues minuted those disagreements in the report. I do not wish to spend too much time on such matters, as they will be the subject of debate in due course as we approach the election. However, my disagreements with the report relate more to the pace and extent of development and—perhaps most important of all—to the level of authority to be given to the Parliament and the Scottish Government. We will doubtless return to that matter in the prelude to 1 May and it will be debated in arenas other than this chamber; however, it is important that I outline for the record the parts of the report with which the SNP disagrees.

Paragraph 39 of the report mentions stability over the next five years. We believe that stability is a good thing, but the present situation is unstable. A window of opportunity exists that allows us to rethink radically in order to lay the framework for developing the strategy that has, to an extent, been enunciated and encapsulated in the report.

We have seen Railtrack change into Network Rail and the minister commented on the ScotRail franchise. A change in the length of the franchise from 15 years to seven years may not have been put into the framework document, but it was certainly anticipated that we were looking at a lengthy franchise—indeed, the previous minister alluded to that. The possibility of an extension of six months, which the legislation allows, has been acknowledged. Most important of all, within the past two days, Network Rail south of the border has acknowledged and taken into public ownership—if I can put it that way—some of the engineering and care-and-maintenance facilities on the London to Reading line, as it has recognised that privatisation has not worked. We do not believe that stability exists, but an important opportunity exists to drive matters forward.

We believe that the situation in which a public operator—in particular the Scottish Government or United Kingdom Government—is precluded from bidding for franchises is absurd, particularly when it is okay for German, Danish or French railways that are wholly owned by their Governments to be operators within the UK or Scotland. It is bizarre and absurd that we trust the public sector of a foreign country, rather than one that is in our own domain and jurisdiction. However, such matters are for the future and it would be churlish to concentrate on the negative as opposed to accentuating the positive.

Transparency is vital. It is also important that we have accounts from the SRA. Mr Bowker did not bless us with his presence at the last Rail Passengers Council meeting that I attended with other members, but when I asked his colleague whether he could provide accounts for the SRA in Scotland, I was told, if I recall correctly, that the SRA certainly did not produce such accounts and that, apparently, it was not possible to produce them. There is a separate Scottish franchise and a separate rail division, and it is incumbent on the SRA to provide us with separate accounts so that democratically elected members of the Scottish Parliament can see what money comes in and what money is spent. That is important.

Paragraph 42 of the report, which deals with passenger transport executive models, is important. I do not believe that all PTEs need to mirror the bureaucracy that may exist in Strathclyde, but we need to enhance and empower the south-east Scotland transport partnership and the north-east Scotland transport partnership, for example. At the end of the day, the board of the newly constituted Forth Estuary Transport Authority has more powers than such partnerships, although they cover a wider area and are arguably as important. Such matters must be dealt with.

Perhaps the most important part of the report is in paragraph 119, where there is an acceptance that the Executive must be the major driver. The only way in which we will be able to make progress on the railways is when we, the democratically elected representatives of Scotland, take the matter within our grasp and drive it forward, subject to the scrutiny of this Parliament.

I welcome the report. It provides us with a framework within which we can make progress on the matters on which we are agreed. There are issues relating to taking the matter further or making progress faster, but those will be dealt with in the election campaign and I commend the report as it stands.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 4:00 pm, 15th January 2003

Investment in transport infrastructure delivers economic and social benefits to all of us. By increasing our capacity to transport people and goods throughout Scotland, we maximise economic growth and, in turn, create more jobs and stimulate the economy.

The Scottish Conservatives welcomed the Transport and the Environment Committee's inquiry into the rail industry and I echo the congratulations that Kenny MacAskill expressed to those who were involved. The report provides a clear picture of the problems that face the rail industry in Scotland. It is good that a committee has brought this report to the Parliament because, so far, it has been left to the Opposition parties to ensure that rail and transport issues are debated in the Scottish Parliament.

As a train user, I share the public sentiment that our train services are all too often slow, inefficient and unreliable. It is entirely unacceptable, in 2003, that bottlenecks in the network delay journey times and hinder our ability to deliver fast rail transport. The punctuality of ScotRail trains remains below the target of 90 per cent, with more than one in five trains arriving at least five minutes late. According to the Rail Passengers Council, some workers regard their commute to work by rail as the most stressful part of their day. With 5 million people in Britain suffering from work-related stress, inefficient rail and other transport services are clearly failing commuters and our businesses. The fact that bad rail transport is being linked to bad health, which is evident from the UK Government's commitment to investigate the ill effects of commuting by rail, is indicative of how bad the situation has become.

The worth of any committee report is measured by the Government's response. As the response has only just been published, we will have to wait with anticipation for whatever action might follow in the lead-up to the election. However, past performance does not make us hopeful, as it appears that the Scottish Government's approach to rail issues has consisted only of spin over substance. After all, how many press releases have successive ministers eked out of the few million pounds that have been spent on studies into studies about Waverley station without there being any substantive commitment to the funding that is needed for the redevelopment project to go ahead?

Although it is pleasing to see the Government in Scotland making a commitment to producing an annual progress report on its transport delivery programme, as recommended by the committee, the progress will be measured on limited indicators, some of which have not yet been finalised. The overriding challenge of tackling urban congestion in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh to stabilise road traffic at 2001 levels by 2021 seems unachievable according to the Government's figures, which clearly show that Glasgow road traffic, for example, will increase by 40 per cent with targets compared to 24 per cent without targets by 2021.

I agree with the Government's point that the number of journeys is a key indicator for increased investment in public transport, but that must be linked to infrastructure investments. Rail passenger numbers are not now as high as they might be expected to be, with the total number of passengers originating in Scotland falling by 4 per cent in one year. In other words, there were 2.4 million fewer rail passengers in 2001-02 than there were in 2000-01.

Given that the rail industry faces engineering skill shortages, which extend to freight services, it is to be welcomed that the freight providers are seeking to address those problems and that the SRA is committed to establishing a national rail academy. However, one year after the announcement, little progress has been made.

We are still awaiting final decisions from the Executive on major infrastructure projects such as the long-awaited airport rail links for Glasgow and Edinburgh and the Waverley station development, which Lord James Douglas-Hamilton will discuss further.

One thing that is for sure, on which I think we can all agree, is that the Executive has perfected its waiting game. We will have to wait and see whether we finally hear something of substance in the weeks before the election. As we draw nearer to the election, recent funding announcements have given the impression that the Executive is investing substantially in transport, but that must be seen in the context that the Executive has conceded in the past that transport has been sold short. According to the Government's adviser, Professor David Begg, Scotland has by English standards been underfunded by £90 million between 1997 and 2004. After the raft of studies and reports, of which the committee report is one of the most welcome, the time has surely come for Scotland to get what it needs—a fast, efficient and reliable transport infrastructure. I am sure that during the election campaign, to which Kenny MacAskill referred, the Scottish Conservatives will make clear their commitment to deliver that, starting with the key rail infrastructure project: the redevelopment of Waverley station.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 4:06 pm, 15th January 2003

Perhaps Mr Mundell's speech, and his party's commitment, would have been more credible had his party not been responsible for the systematic running down of Scotland's railways while it was in Government between 1979 and 1997, which ended with the botched privatisation, and had those Governments made some commitment in their budgets to rail transport rather than to road, with which they seemed to be obsessed.

As a regular rail user, I am well aware of the problems that commuters face. My constituents tell me about those problems regularly when I am on the trains coming to this Parliament in Edinburgh and going back. The problems of overcrowding, delays and unreliable services have been caused not by something that this Executive has done, but by the systematic underinvestment in our rail network for many years.

We are at a junction on rail transport. We can take it forward, improve it and make it an invaluable part of our transport network that provides efficient, reliable, economic and environmentally sensitive services, or we can allow it to continue to decline, as it has done for many years. If we do the latter, there will be more overcrowding, more safety problems, poor service quality and unreliable services, which will mean that fewer and fewer people will use them. Perhaps the fall in passenger numbers for 2001-02 is the result of the problems that the rail network suffered during that year because of safety issues and other problems.

During the 1980s and 1990s, most of Europe saw a renaissance in its rail network, while in the United Kingdom we saw stagnation. Rail was shunted into the sidings while investment was concentrated on roads.

As I said, privatisation was a disaster. It was ill thought out and fragmented and it increased costs to the public purse although fewer services were provided. Privatisation resulted in poor accountability and put profits before safety. Prior to the 2001 UK election, the Liberal Democrats proposed that a new rail safety body should be abolished, that Railtrack should become a not-for-profit company and that there should be a simplified regulatory regime. Perhaps more by accident than design, the Labour UK Government has adopted all those proposals. That is what we felt was needed to set us on the right track. We are moving in the right direction with our rail services.

I welcome the committee's report, which highlights some of the ways in which we can make positive improvements to our rail services at reasonable cost. One matter about which I am perhaps slightly disappointed is the lack of coverage that the committee gives to freight, on which there are only a few paragraphs in the report. Perhaps a future Transport and the Environment Committee will devote more time to examining freight, because it is important that we address how to get more freight off our roads and on to alternative forms of transport, including rail and water-borne transport. The committee is right to state that the Executive should set targets—I look forward to seeing them—for the shift from lorries to rail and water from the end of 2003.

In paragraph 125 of the report, the committee rightly makes the point that the principal Anglo-Scottish bottlenecks for freight are in England, not in Scotland. That is why the SNP's approach, which is about the structure and having separate Scottish companies, is wrong. Many of the problems that we face on our railways must be tackled at UK level. We cannot solve the bottlenecks in our freight network in Scotland; they must be solved at UK level. That is why I think that the SNP's approach is fundamentally flawed.

The committee raises a number of issues that are of particular relevance and interest to my constituents. I was interested in the comments in paragraph 94 of the report, on fares:

"The SRA has indicated that the time may have come to increase rail fares on congested routes in order to cut severe overcrowding".

To say, "The trains are overcrowded, so let's increase the fares to stop people using them" is a bizarre and completely nonsensical approach to rail services. We have suffered from such an attitude for many years in Fife, where exactly that approach has been taken. Fares in Fife were artificially high because the authorities wanted to discourage people from using the services. Surely we ought to be moving away from that approach and improving services so that people can use them, rather than putting up fares to stop people using the services.

I support the report's comments on the need to simplify the fare structure. Another ludicrous situation in Fife is that people who want to go from Leuchars to Glasgow cannot go via Dundee if they want to benefit from the cheap fare, but have to go via Edinburgh, which is a busier, more overcrowded and more congested route. That does not make any sense, so please let us have some simplicity in the fare structure.

I am a little concerned about some of the comments and proposals on cutting journey times. We have to be careful not to get obsessed with cutting journey times between the cities while forgetting about those of us who live between them. We want short journey times too; we do not want times to be increased because every train that we are on has to stop at every station, while the express trains from Aberdeen to Edinburgh zoom past. We do not want the frequency of trains to be decreased, because that will affect the number of journeys that can be made and discourage people from using rail services. That would be counterproductive to what we want to achieve.

I welcome the Transport and the Environment Committee's report and most of its recommendations. It is important that Fife sees the changes that the recommendations would make on improved reliability and on tackling overcrowding and the bottlenecks in the network. Those recommendations are relevant to Fife in the contexts of longer trains, dealing with the capacity problems at Waverley station and diverting freight from the Forth bridge via a reinstated Stirling to Alloa line. We want improvements to the networks too, including the Edinburgh airport link and the Borders rail link.

We have spent the past four years planning for improvements to our rail service; the next four years must be about delivery.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 4:12 pm, 15th January 2003

I congratulate the members and clerks of the Transport and the Environment Committee on the report on the committee's inquiry into the rail industry in Scotland. I thank the Scottish Executive ministers for the recent funding announcements for Fife, which will assist a much-troubled area in the context of the rail industry. I do not need to document that today—the Executive knows from its filing cabinets full of material on the matter just how big the problems are in Fife. I am sure that Iain Smith and Scott Barrie endorse that point.

From the size of the committee's report and the detail within it, I can say that producing it has been no mean feat. I have taken an interest in rail matters not only since I have been a member of the Scottish Parliament, but before that when I served as spokesperson for Fife Council's strategic development committee on transport matters.

I have not been able to read all of the committee's report in the time available, but I searched it for areas that are of interest to me. I am pleased to note the variety of submissions of written evidence that the committee received, as well as the oral evidence that it heard. In particular, I congratulate the Engender women's budget group on its submission. It is a challenge for the people of Scotland to keep pace with the work of the parliamentary committees when they call for written evidence, but that is an important aspect of helping to shape policy in tandem with Scotland's new Parliament.

I do not mean to pour any cold water on the report, but it is always important to highlight an area of disappointment when we see one. I searched the report in vain for issues concerning the interests of disabled people. 2003 is the European year of people with disabilities, and I hope that all members of the Parliament and the Executive will strive to ensure that all policy documents have at their heart considerations for disabled people in Scotland. I say that as a member who represents a constituency that is near the top of the league of UK constituencies for the numbers of claimants of disability benefit and Motability car users.

I welcome the committee's support for the Scottish transport appraisal guidance, especially in the light of comments from various witnesses. In particular, John McCormick of the Scottish Association for Public Transport stated:

"The way in which the financial investigation of the rail schemes is carried out needs to be examined. Schemes are examined on a financial basis, without enough account being taken of the potential environmental benefits".—[Official Report, Transport and the Environment Committee, 5 June 2002; c 3186-87.]

Politics will always be the dominant factor in the decision-making process, but information will be better rounded to reflect not just financial considerations but wider societal concerns over the environment, for example.

I welcome the suggestion that the Scottish Executive should pay the majority of passenger transport access charges directly to Network Rail. That would replace the current arrangements, under which funding is provided to the Scottish franchise holder, who in turn pays track access charges to Railtrack. Such a change would inevitably benefit the situation in Scotland.

The report sets out a variety of options for change to the structure of the rail industry in Scotland. In my view, we need to avoid more changes to the structure of the rail industry. This is a time for bedding down the changes that have already been made and for letting industry users move on.

I have forgotten to thank the many people in Scotland who have been involved in helping to shape policy. They include both amateurs—those whom some people might call anoraks—and professionals, who have helped to inform the report. I have always found them to be people who, like Bristow Muldoon, are absolutely enthused by this work. I also thank Sarah Boyack and the Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, who have helped to shape the report.

This is a very good report. I would like to say a great deal more about it, but my time has run out. I commend the report to members of the Parliament.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:16 pm, 15th January 2003

Members will not be surprised to hear that I intend to return to the issue of the Borders railway line. It is extremely disappointing—not for me, but for the many people who signed the petition for reinstatement of a Borders rail line and for the many businesses in the Borders who require it as a matter of extreme economic necessity—that paragraph 80 of the report, on key priorities, does not mention the Borders railway line.

The Executive response to the report states that a central Borders rail link—we are talking about a line to Tweedbank at the most—is

"likely to become operational towards the end of the decade."

That is far too long to wait to put an economic artery back in place.

I refer back to the debate that took place on the Borders railway line nearly three years ago. Our heart and soul is with the reinstatement of the line, but the money has not been invested and there is a lack of vision. This is not just a transport issue, but an economic issue, as is so often the case with transport. In the debate three years ago, Sarah Boyack said:

"I accept without reservation that improving the transport links between the Borders and the rest of the country is a prerequisite to the area's economic regeneration and for its social and environmental well-being."—[Official Report, 1 June 2000; Vol 6, c 1218.]

Why is the railway line not a priority? If there is one priority for all the hundreds of thousands of people who live in the Borders, it is that line.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Does Christine Grahame accept that it is an agreed priority that the Borders rail project should be developed, that the responsibility for doing so lies with the Waverley Railway Partnership and that it will be for the Parliament to decide whether to approve a private bill to make that happen?

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am coming to that issue. It is a great sadness that the Executive is leaving it to three local authorities to grub around to raise funds for an essential economic link. The investment should be made by the Strategic Rail Authority.

I support what Kenny MacAskill said about its being imperative, as paragraph 119 of the report suggests,

"that the major driver in improvements across Scotland should be the Scottish Executive working in conjunction with the SRA".

I do not see that push happening.

Paragraph 149 of the report states:

"The Scottish Executive should act to ensure Scottish interests are fully represented by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA)."

I do not think that that is happening. It is not good enough to expect three local authorities to put together £170 million to lay down a railway that should be laid down from UK funds, to which all taxpayers in Scotland contribute.

My second point relates to freight. I am glad that Iain Smith raised that key issue. Sometimes I agree with the member—although he is telling me not to. For the southern half of the Borders rail line, freight would be the way into Strategic Rail Authority funds. In the debate that took place way back in June 2000—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The member is in her last minute.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I apologise to the member, but I must continue.

I have received a letter from Scottish Enterprise Borders that refers to a LAMA. I found out that that is not an animal, but a local area modelling assessment. The timber transport forum received a request from the Borders timber transport group for a local area modelling assessment to be carried out. The group is examining the implications of taking timber from the Kielder forest, which is the largest forest in the UK, along trembling little Borders roads to trembling little Borders villages and putting it on to a railway line. It will report in March and I hope that the Transport and the Environment Committee is listening to this, because I am referring to a way of getting to the honey pot of the funds.

I come to my last point in the dying seconds of my time. Way back in 1999, the Scottish Executive's central research unit said of the Borders:

"The most pressing issue for the Council is the economic imperative against a background of large-scale job losses, with remaining jobs largely in depressed sectors with declining incomes."

The plus ça change is that the situation is getting worse. The railway line is an imperative and it should be top of the Executive's priorities.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 4:20 pm, 15th January 2003

As a member of the Transport and the Environment Committee, I recommend that members accept the report. I believe that our railway network is of enormous strategic importance to Scotland. It is also of enormous environmental importance, given that if we are to cut the number of car and lorry miles that are travelled on our roads we must make rail passenger and rail freight journeys more attractive.

It is nothing short of a tragedy that the rail network fell into such disarray and disrepair because of privatisation. I am thankful that Railtrack has been superseded by Network Rail, which is looking critically at the companies that are contracted to maintain the track and sacking members of them when they are incompetent. What we need most definitely is a period of stability rather than further disruption of structures, which the SNP proposes.

I want to underline how important the state of the UK rail network is for Scotland. Although I endorse the committee's recommendations that there should be transparency about the amounts of money coming to Scotland to support the Scottish network and a stronger presence in Scotland of the SRA—I welcome the minister's announcement on the concordat—I do not support the creation of a Scottish rail network. I am not impressed by arguments about comparisons between the amounts of money that are spent in Scotland and England. Money that is spent on English infrastructure has a profound effect on services that are crucial to my constituency, such as the sleeper from London to Inverness and Fort William.

I am deeply concerned to improve the west Highland sleeper, but there will have to be track repairs and enhancement and possibly the extension of the platform at Euston if we are ever to restore sleeper services to Oban. The west Highland sleeper is underused and underadvertised, but has tremendous potential for development as a tourist attraction once the track problems further south have been fixed. I am pleased that the Executive has confirmed its faith in the service by including it in the rail franchise, but I believe that the franchisee must be made to commit to a strong advertising campaign to maximise its use.

The committee considers that improving the existing network is preferable to network expansion, although that has not been ruled out. Over the past four years we have seen significant improvement in local Highland rail services, particularly commuter services around Inverness with the Invernet. There is growing demand for rail services throughout the day in the Moray firth area and I hope that the new franchise will build on the current provision.

The committee recommended investment in new trains just before Christmas. We are told that such new trains will impact on the Highland main line, although we do not yet have details, which I would welcome. We in the north hope that it will mean extra rolling stock for the Invernet and an enhancement of services in the north.

I endorse the part of the committee report that asks for transparency in awarding the new franchise and consultation on the enhancements that bidders are offering. People in the Moray firth area, Lochaber and north Argyll want to know what is on offer and to have a way of indicating their preferences.

We have to examine fare structures, which are far too complicated and are a barrier to people's using rail. The low prices on the Invernet—the Inverness commuter service—combined with the reopening of village railway stations have attracted many passengers who would otherwise be using their cars.

The Scottish Executive made it clear in its evidence that it wished there to be an on-going expansion of rail services and I am confident that that commitment will extend to the Executive's continuing to enhance the service on the west Highland and northern networks.

I thank our adviser Tom Hart, who has a deep and wonderful knowledge of all things to do with the railways. The committee really appreciated his expertise. I also thank the clerks, who, as usual, worked above and beyond the call of duty and helped us to produce an excellent report. I also thank those who gave evidence to the committee. A great range of people gave evidence on all aspects of the railway industry and their evidence helped to inform the committee in a deep and interesting way. I commend the report to the Parliament.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 4:25 pm, 15th January 2003

The Transport and the Environment Committee is to be congratulated on producing a very good report. Although I support the Borders rail link, which Christine Grahame spoke about, I wish to raise the issue of the modernisation and redevelopment of Waverley station.

The Conservative party believes that the most effective way to generate growth is through the provision of a fast and efficient transport system. Therefore, investment in the infrastructure has to be a Government priority. Bristow Muldoon was right to mention that. I wish to reiterate the sentiments that I expressed in the members' business debate on 31 October. Completion of Edinburgh Waverley station is the central project that is required to increase capacity for the whole Scottish network.

Waverley is vital to the economic prosperity of Edinburgh and it has the potential to provide a significant increase in business efficiency through the provision of improved transport services. It will have a continuing benefit in relation to job creation.

The track and platform capacity of Waverley station is fully taken up, so I am pleased that the committee identified the expansion of the station as a funding priority, which could be completed within budget by 2007. That time scale is perhaps optimistic. The estimated cost of the project is more than £400 million. Given recent press reports, the revamp might be scaled down, even though there is a clear commitment to the Waverley infrastructure project.

I welcome the assurance that the minister gave to Sarah Boyack. It would be helpful if the minister would say a little more about the public-private finance arrangement that might be entered into and would expand on the potential time scale.

The committee's report highlights the Scottish Government's commitment to investing in the development of rail links to Glasgow and Edinburgh. I draw members' attention to paragraph 82, which linked those developments to the redevelopment of Waverley. It is of some concern that the Strategic Rail Authority appears to favour better airport bus services. That undermines the delivery of the proposed new infrastructure projects. The fact that the SRA seems to be prioritising investment in the existing rail network is worrying, given that both airport rail links will need to attract some funding from the SRA.

We must remember that the Scottish Government has made official commitments to both airport rail links. They are featured among the Executive's top ten priorities in its transport delivery report. Investment in those infrastructure projects will deliver a fast and efficient transport service for air passengers and will enhance Scotland's ability to attract business investment and tourists, which will benefit Edinburgh, Glasgow and the rest of Scotland. In my view, Edinburgh and Glasgow are on a par in relation to the proposed links. Completion of the projects would go some way towards addressing the congestion on the busy road routes to both main airports.

I warmly welcome the report, as it goes some way towards addressing a plan of action to improve rail services in Scotland. The Administration needs to live up to its responsibility of making certain that investment in existing and new infrastructure projects is delivered. We want a fast and reliable transport infrastructure and we see the redevelopment of Waverley station as the cornerstone in the arch; it will make an enormous difference to Scotland.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 4:29 pm, 15th January 2003

I must declare that my outside interests include membership of Capital Rail Action Group, the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Borders rail and the Scottish Association for Public Transport.

I want to draw the Parliament's attention to the Executive's response to the Transport and the Environment Committee's report. The response states:

"The overarching objective of the Transport Delivery Report is traffic stabilisation over the next twenty years".

I find that to be singularly unambitious. Under the Kyoto treaty, we should be aiming for traffic reduction to 1990 levels so that we can bring about reductions in the amount of carbon dioxide that is produced by traffic. I acknowledge that the Executive might achieve traffic stabilisation over the next 20 years, but that is not the most ambitious of targets.

I thoroughly endorse what Christine Grahame said, but I want to draw the Executive's attention to paragraphs 78 and 79 of the committee's report. Although paragraph 72 states that

"the Committee considers that improving the existing rail network, rather than network expansion, should be the key priority", that priority can, in my view, be for only the short term. That paragraph expresses what the committee felt at the time, but the long-term priority is clearly expressed in paragraph 79, which states:

"The Committee recommends that the development of these projects"— that includes the Borders rail scheme— is advanced to the next stage in the planning process."

The Executive must take note of that clear recommendation from the committee.

The final matter to which I draw the Executive's attention is the proposals for the Scottish transport appraisal guidance. I believe that the revised STAG proposals, if they have not already been finalised by the Executive, are on their way. The Executive will have received a detailed response to its consultation on that issue from the Scottish Association for Public Transport. I want to highlight for the Executive the SAPT's view, which carries considerable force, that the weighting aspects in STAG must be thoroughly and clearly worked out.

The weightings and appraisals in STAG are based on environment, safety, economy, accessibility and integration, and value for money—the meaning of which is currently not very clearly expressed. The Executive must accept that the environment can be valued and that investment in transport that is kind to the environment represents value for money. It must also accept that transport investment that provides for social inclusion, integration and accessibility represents value for money. Those matters must, within the new STAG appraisal, take a central place. There must be no manipulation of the revised STAG in such a way as to relegate those aspects to a lower status. I say that because I fear that if the revised STAG grants in any way place a lower priority on those aspects, projects such as the Borders rail link might not get the necessary assistance from the Executive.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour 4:33 pm, 15th January 2003

I joined the Transport and the Environment Committee only recently, so I was not a member during its deliberations on the rail industry. However, the committee has clearly made a number of useful recommendations on the future of rail in Scotland, for which it is to be commended.

The improvement of transport links of all kinds is vital to many parts of Scotland, but improvements in rail links are particularly important, especially in areas such as Aberdeen and the north-east, where congestion is increasing rapidly. The rail industry has been through a long period of upheaval, but there is now an opportunity for stability on which to rebuild Scotland's railways.

We are already beginning to see some of the effects of new investment, given the introduction of modern trains. I look forward to the 22 new trains that will come on stream. Extra money is also going into railway stations. We recently heard about extra investment to help tackle some of Aberdeen's problems regarding rail connections to Aberdeen airport, which will start to connect up different modes of transport.

As congestion on roads increases, people are considering the public transport alternatives. I always think that it might not be fair, but it seems that there is far greater acceptance of rail than there is of buses, and that there is more willingness to use trains than to use buses. Rail passenger numbers are beginning to grow. I know that Fife has problems with congestion.

Maintaining and supporting that growth to further increase passenger numbers by 5 per cent by 2006 will depend upon improvement of reliability, timetabling and comfort on trains. The Transport and the Environment Committee recommends greater and more transparent decision making by the Strategic Rail Authority, and that the authority should have a more visible presence in Scotland. I support that recommendation.

The current situation with the east coast line is disappointing. The line north of Edinburgh is no longer considered to be part of the east coast main line, so it is no longer considered in some discussions. Stronger representation about that could be made to the SRA. The line north of Edinburgh to Aberdeen and further has real growth potential that is currently being hindered by infrastructure problems, some of which are quite major. Many other people have been campaigning on that for a long time and we must address the fact that the drive from Aberdeen to Edinburgh is faster than the train journey.

The east coast line's problems are not all about infrastructure upgrades; that is true of lines elsewhere in Scotland. A lot can be done by considering issues such as timetabling. People who are travelling from Aberdeen to Edinburgh tend to want arrive between 9 and 9.30, but the current timetable does not facilitate that. I look forward to that issue being addressed as part of the new franchise.

I am also interested in what the Transport and the Environment Committee has to say about the potential development of a Scottish express rail network. I look forward to hearing whether the Executive will consider that.

There is also a need to promote park-and-ride facilities and cross-modal ticketing. As a regular train user, I cannot think of any occasion on which I have been asked whether I wanted to buy a rail and bus ticket. That could be addressed as part of the new franchise.

Many positive things are happening and the committee has recognised that. The report mentions the Glasgow crossrail, but I would like to mention the Aberdeen crossrail project and the commitment to it from the Scottish Executive. I look forward to seeing that project being developed further, but it will work best if we consider the development of seamless links with other types of transport, whether we mean links with buses or allowing cycles to go on trains and connecting that facility with cycle lanes.

Finally, I would like to mention rail freight. The Executive's rail freight grants have been hugely successful in encouraging companies all over Scotland to consider alternatives to road haulage, and they are helping to reduce congestion. I look forward to further development of that.

I note—the committee mentioned this—that some of the problems with rail freight concern the height of railway bridges and the size of modern containers. Those problems must be resolved.

I will wind up at that. I commend the committee's report to the Parliament.

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat 4:38 pm, 15th January 2003

This has been a short but substantial debate on an important subject and on the substantial report on it that has been produced by the Transport and the Environment Committee. I welcome Lewis Macdonald's information about the progress that has been made on the rail franchise.

In the debate, we have heard a variety of suggestions about the way in which the rail industry in Scotland should be structured and financed. As ever in such matters, the constitutional issue has been a feature of the discussion. However, to be fair to Kenny MacAskill, he put his reservations in an acceptably measured and legitimate way. As Mr MacAskill said, in truth the issues to which he referred cannot be resolved at this time and the voters will have a chance to make their views known in the not-too-distant future.

The committee report shows that the Parliament has a legitimate wish that the relationships among the various authorities, agencies, operating companies, the UK Government and the Scottish Executive should all be closer. The administrative arrangements in relation to where offices are or how the companies are split up might be less important than good and practical relationships, concordats and understandings among management.

The fragmentation of the rail industry and the historical lack of investment in it have certainly caused complications, and further discussion will have to take place on how things can be organised and simplified into a more direct and accountable form. However, everyone recognises that in terms of investment and reorganisation, this is a crucial time for the rail industry. All the logic and rhetoric about integrated and sustainable transport and about pollution and congestion reinforces the view that the railways must have a continuing and increasingly important role in our forward thinking on transport.

In a sense, the Transport and the Environment Committee's report deals with rail as an industry, but it is important that we always acknowledge that it is also a service. In that respect, it is clear that in its discussions about railways, Parliament must pay attention to the needs and recommendations of rail passengers. There is a sense in which passengers will be less concerned about structures than they are about the services that they receive.

The Rail Passengers Committee Scotland welcomed in a briefing the proposed investment in new trains, and it emphasised the importance of tackling overcrowding, of exchange facilities, of through-ticketing advice, punctuality, and reliability, and of access to stations with park-and-ride facilities. Those are all urgent issues that need to be addressed in all our thinking. If we do not give the passengers what they want, they will be driven back on to the roads that we want to keep them away from. Iain Smith's comments on the transport problems in Fife were particularly cogent in that regard.

As well as providing a service to passengers, a proper rail infrastructure will help to deliver policies that are to the advantage of the people of Scotland. I will not go into that in detail because I am short of time, but it is clearly important that we get as much freight as possible off the roads.

Members will not be surprised that I wish to mention the importance of the extension of the rail network to include the reopening of the Waverley line to the central Borders as a first step towards a full link to Carlisle.

On page 3 of the report, the Transport and the Environment Committee recognises the importance of the rail industry in Scotland and its

"wider benefits - in terms of promoting economic growth, social inclusion and sustainable development".

In paragraph 12, Bill Ure of the Railway Passengers Committee Scotland states that rail projects need to be measured against

"a matrix of economy, environment and social inclusion".

Nick Brown of ScotRail states:

"Railways fulfil a wider economic and social role in the community. They do not exist simply to benefit those who travel on them ... The economic and social costs of not having a railway ... must be important elements in any value-for-money calculations."

In the light of those comments, I return to a well-trodden argument—which was accepted unanimously by Parliament in Glasgow—for the re-establishment of a rail link to the Borders. That would be a huge driver of expansion of the local economy; it would connect the Borders to the rest of Scotland in economic and social terms, help to ease congestion and housing pressures in Edinburgh, and provide employment opportunities for the Borders and Edinburgh. Progress is being made on the project and details are being prepared on the alignment. Communities are being consulted and people are being negotiated with.

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat

I should say clearly—I have been cut short a little—that the Liberal Democrats are committed to ensuring that progress is maintained and that the re-establishment of the Waverley line remains firmly on the Executive's programme and as one of Parliament's high priorities for the rail industry in Scotland.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

At least the runaway train is working this afternoon, Mr Jenkins.

I call John Scott to close for the Conservatives. You have four minutes—try to stick to them, Mr Scott.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 4:43 pm, 15th January 2003

I welcome the report on the rail industry in Scotland and I thank the Transport and the Environment Committee's clerks for all their hard work in preparing that enormous piece of work. I thank Tom Hart and Austin Smyth for their contributions, and I thank members of the industry who gave evidence to the Transport and the Environment Committee. I welcome the largely constructive contributions from all parties on what is one of Scotland's thorniest problems—the future of our rail industry.

It is obvious that our railways are at a crossroads—no pun intended—and, in management terms, are apparently lurching from one crisis to the next. The reasons for that are more complex than mere lack of investment. We in Scotland have to decide what future we want for our railways and other forms of public transport or we will be driven to conclusions that we might not otherwise embrace. The key driver, as has been mentioned, is the increase in road traffic growth. A projected 27 per cent increase in the next 20 years means that our roads will simply clog up unless something is done. David Mundell spoke about that.

With our limited budget for transport solutions, we in Scotland have hard choices to make. We must accept that some of our train services are already inefficient because the railways are operating in excess of their optimum capacity; we must therefore improve them.

We need to develop a coherent sense of direction and a transparent decision-making process. Above all, we need stability in our industry, because a lack of it is frightening away investment. For example, the Executive could not make up its mind about what length of new franchise it should offer. Should it be seven, 15 or 20 years? The Executive has now settled on seven years with a three-year extension, but some people in the industry feel that that is not long enough.

We need to develop a more focused Scottish approach to our problems. It was vital that a Scottish office of the Strategic Rail Authority be established in Scotland and I welcome the minister's announcement that two offices have been established. We also need a more transparent approach to the use of public funds. That is why STAG evaluation and appraisal are vital to the provision of key projects and the delivery of value for money.

The committee's report recommends a higher passenger transport target than the 5 per cent increase by 2006 to which the Scottish Government made a commitment in its spending review. The Executive has gone some way towards increasing passenger capacity by acquiring 22 new three-carriage trains, but we should surely strive for a higher year-on-year increase.

We also welcome the creation of virtual boards, and we support moves to encourage more freight off the roads and on to the rail network, where capacity exists. However, the solution comes back to money, the establishment of priorities and wise spending. For instance, we need investment in Waverley station more than we need any other project and now that the minister has given a commitment to that—which was reiterated today—we need starting dates. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and Sarah Boyack spoke eloquently on that subject.

I know from experience that lines in Ayrshire need longer platforms and better signalling. Longer platforms are also needed on the lines to Bathgate, East Kilbride and Fife, which Helen Eadie mentioned. More trained engineering staff are needed just to keep the network going. We need a clear funding commitment from the Executive and we need to decide whether, as Robin Harper said, spending on the rail network delivers value for money in comparison with other infrastructure projects.

We cannot afford to do everything and we certainly cannot afford still-greater levels of taxation, which constrains economic growth. Even if we cannot expand significantly our rail network, we must maintain what we have. New developments must be put in place, but only when a clear-cut economic case exists for doing so.

Those are the hard choices that we must make. I urge the Government to consider carefully, but positively, all of our options.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

That was a model of impeccable timing.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party 4:47 pm, 15th January 2003

Bristow Muldoon opened with a good explanation of the starting point for the Transport and the Environment Committee's inquiry. He talked about the frustration of travellers and of other rail network users. He also said that the moment is opportune, because it has been and is a time of great change for the railways in Scotland and the UK. His opening remarks and the opportune timing give the lie to some of our opponents' comments about the SNP's view of the need for change to the railway structure.

I will take a few minutes to consider some of the rail network problems that the committee's report threw up and that have not been dealt with by the changes that have been mentioned or in the replies that we have received from ministers. It took a while for STAG to be mentioned in the debate, but I am glad that Robin Harper and John Scott, among others, referred to it. The Transport and the Environment Committee is committed to that guidance. We are concerned that some parts of STAG conflict with the SRA's guidelines and that must be resolved, but the committee recognises the strength of STAG and we must ensure that the SRA recognises it. Perhaps a more Scotland-focused SRA would be more amenable to guidance on that from the Executive.

Another matter that concerned the committee greatly was financial transparency. Great debate was held about whether the evidence showed a Scottish gain in railways investment over the Scottish collection of Railtrack access charges. Railtrack did not help that debate. Janette Anderson told the committee that

"we do not produce sets of accounts for Scotland, as we are not a separate subsidiary."—[Official Report, Transport and the Environment Committee, 15 May 2002; c 3072.]

We have learned that we have not moved forward from that position. We might not have Railtrack any more but, as we heard from my colleague Kenny MacAskill, the SRA does not produce separate accounts for Scotland.

The minister agreed with the committee about financial transparency. In paragraph 44 of the report, the Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning is quoted as saying:

"Transparency on track access charges can only be helpful."—[Official Report, Transport and the Environment Committee, 12 June 2002; c 3280.]

The phrase "can only be helpful" has to be one of the biggest understatements that has been made about Railtrack financing.

Those points led the SNP to dissent from the committee's view that there was no need to create a separate Scottish network rail company; however, if we went down that route at this time of change, we would be sure that money that was raised in Scotland was invested in Scotland. We could do something about the frustrations of rail users, which was the starting point of the committee's report.

Problems have arisen in respect of transparency and accountability of relationships; those problems are not as yet resolved. In Annexe B to the report, ScotRail is quoted as saying that

"key policy decisions affecting present and future investment in Scotland's railways" are "being taken in London." That led the committee to make extensive recommendations in paragraph 47 about the priorities for investment and progress in Scotland's railways. We also warned in paragraph 46 that, if we do not see those priorities coming to fruition in decent time, we might have to revisit structural reform of the railways in Scotland.

The committee hopes that its detailed recommendations, its list of prioritised projects and the problems that it highlighted are addressed. The minister listened courteously throughout the committee's inquiry—he must now show determination to deliver for Scotland's railways.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 4:52 pm, 15th January 2003

I am pleased to be summing up in what Ian Jenkins described as a "short but substantial" debate and to have an opportunity to thank all of the people who contributed to the inquiry through written and oral evidence. I also want to thank my fellow committee members and our convener Bristow Muldoon, who started the inquiry with the advantage of his considerable first-hand knowledge of the rail industry. I thank our clerking team for the power of work that they put in to organising the inquiry and helping to draft the report; the Scottish Parliament information centre for its series of excellent briefing notes and, last but not least, our special adviser, Tom Hart.

As Bristow Muldoon outlined, the inquiry was very timely because of the number of important changes and events that are taking place. In particular, I refer to the transfer of certain funds to Scottish ministers, the process of the changeover to Network Rail, publication in Scotland of the transport delivery report and the Strategic Rail Authority's strategic plan, and the preparatory work on the re-letting of the Scottish rail passenger franchise. The committee's work on the Scottish Executive's draft proposals for its directions and guidance to the SRA contributed to the improved final document. It was interesting to hear the minister's update on that and other matters.

As the inquiry proceeded, I got the impression that the various industry players appreciated the opportunity that was being afforded them to share their knowledge and experience and to put on record their views on the issues that face the industry at a pivotal point in its history. I welcome the opportunity that today's debate presents for members to raise or highlight matters of importance relating to the rail industry and I welcome the fact that members have availed themselves of that opportunity.

It is not a surprise that our Borders colleagues reiterated with passion and cogency the case for the reinstatement of the Borders railway. Kenny MacAskill outlined his party's different view of some of the opportunities, but he agreed about the importance of financial transparency and that the major driver for improvement will be the Scottish Executive.

David Mundell outlined some of the ways in which rail services fall short and took a critical look at some of the targets that have been set. He advocated swift action on the key development of Waverley station; a point that was endorsed by Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, who also highlighted the importance of rail links to airports.

Iain Smith identified that this is a pivotal time for the railway industry and that we have the choice of initiating our own rail renaissance. He made some good points about what needs to happen to facilitate the transfer of freight to rail and he articulated the aspirations of rail users in Fife. I picked out from Helen Eadie's speech the important issue of proper access to rail services for everyone.

Maureen Macmillan highlighted the untapped potential of sleeper services to the west coast and she mentioned local provision around Inverness, while Robin Harper was disappointed by the lack of ambition in the traffic targets. His main points related to STAG appraisal, to which Fiona McLeod also referred.

I was pleased that Elaine Thomson's speech highlighted the north-east's perspective—that saves me from having to do so. She mentioned through-ticketing, to which I do not believe any other member referred. Such ticketing is certainly a useful way forward. John Scott neatly summed up his contribution by calling for a careful and positive appraisal of all the options.

The Transport and the Environment Committee's recommendations are based on a number of things, including identification of a framework within which a coherent programme for delivery improvements in rail services can take place, and the idea that it is necessary and important to identify what can realistically be achieved within short, medium and long time frames. All of that was underpinned by what the committee felt were the key principles of financial transparency, and fair and objective prioritisation of rail projects against each other and against other modes of transport. The appraisal of rail projects should give due weight to environmental and social benefits, as well as to economic considerations. Furthermore, the importance of what might be described as rail awareness in other policy areas—for example, land-use planning, social inclusion and economic development—should not be overlooked by either the Executive or local government.

The quality and thoroughness of the work that went into the report are reflected in responses to it from the Executive and the SRA. The facts that some of its suggestions have been implemented since the report was published, and that many of its other points have been either taken on board or given serious consideration, has been gratifying. I particularly like the paragraphs in which the Executive's response begins with the single word, "Agreed".

I have enjoyed being involved in useful and positive work that makes progress towards more, better and safer rail services in Scotland.