Rail Industry

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 22nd January 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 12:00 pm, 22nd January 2004

To ask the First Minister what impact Her Majesty's Government's proposed changes to the regulation of the rail industry will have on rail services in Scotland. (S2F-546)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As we all know, Her Majesty's Government has set up a review; however, it has not yet proposed specific changes. We will participate in the review and any discussions about the decisions that follow it. Our priority will be to improve performance for passengers here in Scotland.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

The First Minister will be aware that the Secretary of State for Transport said in his statement that he was considering how he could devolve more decisions on public transport to the Scottish Executive. What decisions will the First Minister seek to have devolved? What confidence can we have that the Scottish Executive will take those decisions, when it has clearly failed to give a quantifiable commitment to the Borders railway and has deferred important railway projects such as the upgrading of Waverley station, which all opinion agrees is essential for increasing capacity on Scotland's railways?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We take the view—quite rightly—that the upgrading of Waverley station is a project of UK importance. The hub of Edinburgh and the surrounding train network are of particular importance to the whole United Kingdom, rather than just to the immediate local area of Edinburgh and the Lothians. That is why we continue to discuss the UK contribution that will be made to that project. I remain committed to those discussions.

Our participation in the review should be focused on the output and outcome that we want. We want more and better rail services in Scotland. We want more track and lines, but we also want services to be reliable and safe. Whatever management arrangements are put in place, and whatever matters are devolved or reserved, should be focused on that outcome. We should not opt for a fully devolved rail service on a point of ideological principle if that would not work in practice. However, we should not retain the current system of a mixture of reserved and devolved functions if that is not working in practice. Our objective should be to secure better railways. We will approach this matter not from an ideological perspective, but from the perspective of rail passengers and transport users in Scotland.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

This week, John Armitt of Network Rail advised the Parliament's Local Government and Transport Committee that, each year, Network Rail is investing about £360 million in Scotland's railways, compared with an income of about £220 million. Is the First Minister aware that that level of investment in renewals represents an approximately fourfold increase on the all-time low that was delivered by the Tories? Does he agree that that means that both the Executive and the UK Government need not take any advice from the Tories on how to run a railway?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I agree that there is an increasing amount of investment in the railways in Scotland, both in track and in services. New trains, stations and lines are not just planned but are starting to be put in place. That is very good news. It gives us a chance to recover from the disastrous early years after privatisation. I thought that under their previous leader, Mr Duncan Smith, the Conservatives had finally rejected privatisation, but I see that under their new leader, Mr Howard, it is back in favour. Peter Duncan, unfortunately for him, said:

"Privatisation of the rail service under the Tories was a necessary and successful step."

I have a sneaking suspicion that that will not be in his election manifesto in Galloway in 2005.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I welcome the First Minister's support for the upgrade of Waverley railway station as a UK priority. When does he think we will reach the next stage of that proposal?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As soon as discussions on the potential UK contribution are complete.