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Wales and the Border (Franchising)

5. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): If he will make a statement on the progress of the Wales and the border franchising process. [63715]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): The Strategic Rail Authority has invited initial proposals from the companies that were pre-qualified to submit bids for the new Wales and the border franchise. The SRA hopes to have the new franchise in place in early 2003.

Mr. Thomas: I hope, too, that this time that date will be adhered to. However, will the Under-Secretary take this opportunity to reiterate the evidence that he gave to the Welsh Affairs Committee, in which he acknowledged that, as a franchise area, Wales was short-changed in terms of funding? When can we expect funding for railways in Wales to follow the example of funding for other public services by meeting something like the Barnett proportion? Moreover, when can I expect the improvements that we have demanded for several months to on the railway line to Aberystwyth, at Dyfi junction?

Mr. Jamieson: I am pleased to say that there has been strong interest in the Wales and the border franchise, and we hope that it will deliver the services that, in our view, the people of Wales deserve.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been substantial increases in funding for Wales. The rail passenger partnership, developed with local authorities and local people, has delivered 20 per cent. of all funding to Wales—a sum far greater than that given to many other areas.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): There is massive concern in west Wales, particularly in the Fishguard area, about the Fishguard service and the new franchise. It appears that the franchise's passenger service requirements will not even match the standard of the previous franchise. My hon. Friend mentioned the money going into Wales, but will he ensure that the Strategic Rail Authority puts a proper proportion of it into services for west Wales, rather than simply stopping at Cardiff?

Mr. Jamieson: When the franchise is awarded, it will be for the SRA to ensure that all areas of Wales receive the funding that they wish to receive. We have improved the quality of the franchise, to give the people of Wales what they really want. At the moment, the timetable often includes trains that do not arrive, and which are not being delivered. The people of Wales want a timetable that delivers the trains listed in it, and trains that arrive at the stated times.

10-Year Transport Plan

6. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): If he will make a statement on the recommendations in the recent report from the Transport Select Committee relating to the investment programme in the 10-year transport plan. [63716]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): We will respond to the Select Committee report in the normal way. In addition, as I said when I was

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appointed to this job, I am looking at all the Department's policies, and I will keep the House informed of policy developments as and when appropriate.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Paragraph 84 of the Select Committee's stingingly critical report on the Government's 10-year plan states:

When can we expect from the Government some interim targets and a defined work programme? Indeed, when will the Government respond to the report, will a revised plan be produced, and will all such matters be smuggled out during the summer recess when Parliament is not sitting?

Mr. Darling: The report will be tabled in the normal way, when the House is sitting. In times past, particularly under a Conservative Government, funding for the railways—and, indeed, for everything else—was arranged on an annual basis. This Government have, for the first time, made clear the money available for 10 years through public and private sector sources. The Select Committee welcomed the Government's putting in place a 10-year plan as a major step forward for transport planning.

That gives a degree of certainty that the industry never had in the past.

On the specific problems that the hon. Gentleman raises and to which the Select Committee refers, now that Railtrack is in the course of being taken out of administration and Network Rail is being put in place, it will be possible to be far clearer about what the individual projects are and how we can deliver improvements year on year. However, I come back to the point that I made to the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). The difference between us and the Tories is that we are putting in place money for investment that was never available under Conservative Governments. The railways are having so much difficulty now because they are suffering from years of underinvestment.

Clive Efford (Eltham): I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to the railways and investment through the 10-year plan. Although I support schemes such as crossrail and the extension of the East London line, may I draw his attention to south-east London and the wider area, which also need increased capacity on the railways? Upgrading the electricity supply on the North Kent lines in particular would be a very significant improvement, adding capacity, increasing comfort and encouraging more people to use the railways.

Mr. Darling: I am aware of the problem referred to by my hon. Friend. As he will know, there is a substantial investment programme to introduce new railway carriages. I am also aware of the problems of electricity supply on a number of railway lines south of the river, and the Strategic Rail Authority is working to address them. Again, it comes back to the same point—the problems that we are encountering with the railways could have been foreseen 20 or 30 years ago, and we are paying a very high price for successive Governments' underinvestment.

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I share my hon. Friend's frustration about crossrail, or what is now the rather inappropriately named Thameslink 2000, considering that we do not have it yet. There is no doubt that the demands on London transport are substantial and are likely to be far greater as more expansion takes place, particularly in the east and the south-east of the city. I am anxious to ensure that we have both the money and workable plans in place. Sadly—I said this a few moments ago but the hon. Member for Maidenhead does not always listen to what I say, so I will repeat it—one of Railtrack's legacies is an appalling lack of planning, which needs to be addressed.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): In their 10-year plan, the Government have high hopes for rural bus services. However, the Secretary of State knows full well, and the Minister for Transport mentioned it earlier, that local councils such as the South Hams district council are prevented from entering into a local arrangement with bus companies and other partners, such as Age Concern, to provide tailor-made, demand-led services for needy people in rural areas. When will the Secretary of State come forward with proposals to remove these unnecessary regulations so that councils such as South Hams can provide the quality bus services that rural people really need?

Mr. Darling: Listening to the exchanges earlier between right hon. and hon. Members and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport brought back memories of the last time I really dealt with buses when, in 1986, I and other people had to pick up the pieces of bus deregulation introduced by the last Conservative Government.

I am very sympathetic to calls from Members on both sides of the House for greater use of the bus. I believe that we can do an awful lot with bus services that cannot be done with trains or cars, and I want to encourage their greater use. I am aware that some councils can do and have done a lot to improve bus services, rural as well as urban, whereas councils in other areas are not doing so. That is one of the issues that I want to look at over the next few months to see whether we can improve the level of bus provision, not only in rural areas but in those which are not well served under the present system. I believe that bus transport could enable more people to move around than at present. We are not exploiting it enough and should do more about it.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Central Railway scheme could make an enormous contribution to rail freight, provide vital economic links between the north, the midlands and the continent of Europe and make a great contribution to achieving the Government's 10-year transport plan?

Mr. Darling: As my hon. Friend knows, we want more freight users to use rail services. The Strategic Rail Authority is currently considering this and should provide us with advice and a report later this year, but I will keep my hon. Friend informed.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): The Select Committee in effect condemned the plan as a confidence trick. The previous Secretary of State promised that there would be a revised plan this July. Will a revised plan be

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published this July? Furthermore, does the Secretary of State have confidence in the present Chairman of the Transport Committee, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), and does he extend that confidence in her to endorsing her continued membership of the RMT?

Mr. Darling: Happily, the hon. Gentleman's last point lies outside my responsibility. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and I share exactly the same view of the hon. Gentleman—we are united on that.

On what might be described as the hon. Gentleman's more substantial point—the 10-year plan—I made it clear in an earlier reply that I want to look at all aspects of the Department's policies and I am currently doing so. I do not envisage making revisals to the 10-year plan in July. We should build on what we are doing; the 10-year plan has set out an investment strategy that will bring much benefit across the board. What I shall do, however, is to respond to the Select Committee, as I have just said, and over the next few months I shall keep the House informed of the improvements and developments that will be necessary in relation to the plan.

The 10-year plan is, in essence, an investment strategy and any such strategy must be capable of development and improvement. That is what we intend to do. When the hon. Gentleman next comes to the Dispatch Box, I hope that he will say whether he is prepared to match the investment that we are making or whether the Tories are still committed to cutting it, as they have been suggesting so far.

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