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Provision of Rail Passenger Services (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:51 pm on 9th November 2006.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 4:51 pm, 9th November 2006

The next item of business is consideration of motion S2M-5018, in the name of Bristow Muldoon, on behalf of the Local Government and Transport Committee, on the Provision of Rail Passenger Services (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 4:52 pm, 9th November 2006

I begin by drawing attention to entries in the miscellaneous section of my declaration of interests that record that the Livingston constituency Labour Party has constituency agreements with two rail unions—the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, of which I am a member, and the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. Both those trade unions made the wise decision to remain affiliated to the Labour Party.

The Provision of Rail Passenger Services (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Tommy Sheridan MSP on 29 September 2006. The aim of the bill, according to its long title, is

"to direct the Scottish Ministers as to how they shall exercise ... powers ... in relation to the provision of rail passenger services".

The bill seeks to direct Scottish ministers to use powers over rail passenger services in Scotland to remove the profit motive from the services and to provide rail services on a not-for-profit basis, either publicly or through another appropriate not-for-profit provider, at the end of the current First ScotRail franchise in 2011. The Local Government and Transport Committee was designated as the lead committee on the bill.

As you will be aware, Presiding Officer, rule 9.3.1 of the standing orders states:

"A Bill shall on introduction be accompanied by a written statement signed by the Presiding Officer which shall—

(a) indicate whether or not in his or her view the provisions of the Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Parliament".

Consequently, you ruled:

"In my view the provisions of the Provision of Rail Passenger Services (Scotland) Bill are not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

The reason for this view is that in my opinion the provisions of the Bill relate to the provision and regulation of railway services, a matter reserved under Section E2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. Section 29(2)(b) of that Act states that a provision is outside the legislative competence of the Parliament if it relates to reserved matters."

It is possible under the Parliament's rules for parliamentary committees and the Parliament to consider a bill even if the Presiding Officer has ruled in such a manner. However, given that statement by the Presiding Officer, as the convener of the lead committee I sought further advice from the Parliament's directorate of legal services and the legislation clerks. That advice, which I shared with members of the Local Government and Transport Committee, confirmed the Presiding Officer's advice that the bill is outwith the Parliament's legislative competence and that it is unlikely that it could be brought within the Parliament's legislative competence, even were it to be amended at stages 2 and 3. I believe that the relevant papers are available at the back of the chamber, if members want to consult them.

In the light of the advice that I have mentioned, I concluded that it would not be a productive use of the time of the committee or of the Parliament to go through the extensive work that stage 1 consideration of the bill would involve, especially as it was clear from all the available evidence that the bill has no prospect of being enacted because it is outwith the Parliament's legislative competence. That is why I recommended to the committee that I should move the motion in my name. The committee supported that position by five votes to one.

I do not criticise the policy aims of the proposal. Indeed, the infrastructure provider, Network Rail, currently operates as a not-for-dividend company. Any profit that is generated is used either to reduce borrowings or to invest in the railway infrastructure. That arrangement was put in place by the United Kingdom Labour Government in response to the safety, performance and financial failings of Railtrack. As someone who spent 10 years of his working life with British Rail when it was a state-owned company, I know that it managed to deliver effectively major infrastructure and rolling stock upgrades, such as the electrification of the east coast main line.

I recognise that although the bill does not fall within the Parliament's legislative competence, many members advocate that the Parliament should have the power to consider such a bill. However, it does not make for good law making for a bill to try to bind a future Executive, the political composition of which we do not yet know. If a future Executive did not agree with the terms of the bill, it could easily repeal it, provided that it could secure a majority in the Parliament to do so.

I believe that the next ScotRail franchise should be decided on criteria such as quality, reliability of service, safety, public accountability and value for money, and that whichever model best meets those criteria should be pursued. I remind the Parliament of the bill's lack of legislative competence.

I move,

That the Parliament does not agree to the general principles of the Provision of Rail Passenger Services (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SG 4:57 pm, 9th November 2006

I oppose the motion in Bristow Muldoon's name. He has just given us a fantastic argument against the private finance initiative. He said that we should not introduce policies that bind future Governments to decisions that they did not take. That is why we should reject PFI.

Mr Muldoon mentioned that the TSSA and ASLEF stayed affiliated to the Labour Party, but he failed to say that both those unions, along with the other main rail union—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—and his own party support the general principles behind the bill.

The convener of the Local Government and Transport Committee wants us to accept rejection of the general principles of a bill, even though the Scottish ministers have the powers to implement its general principles. The legal advice is that the Scottish Parliament cannot instruct ministers how to use those powers. It is a sad day for democracy when, despite the fact that the Scottish ministers have such substantial powers, the Parliament cannot direct them how to use those powers, even though more than 70 per cent of the Scottish population believe that it would be much more productive and would provide better value for taxpayers' money if railway services in Scotland were in the public sector rather than in the private sector. Such an arrangement would mean that the profits that we are pouring into the pockets of the private dividend holders would be used to lower train fares, improve services and deliver better wages and conditions for railway workers.

I ask the Parliament to vote against the Local Government and Transport Committee convener's motion. Members should give a clear statement that the Scottish ministers have the power to direct how our railways are governed and run. We should direct that those railways be run in the public sector on a not-for-profit basis. I ask members to join the overwhelming majority of the Scottish population who believe that that is how their railway services should be run.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question on the motion will be put at decision time.