HC Deb 24 May 1993 vol 225 cc726-7

'(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to formulate a national policy as respects the provision, maintenance and improvement of the railway network in Great Britain and from time to time to review that policy.

(2) In exercising his functions under subsection (1) above, the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability—

  1. (a) of the policy operating in a consistent manner throughout Great Britain;
  2. (b) of the policy being formulated early enough to enable its implementation to be achieved efficiently and to enable those with functions in relation to the provision, maintenance and improvement of railway services adequately to plan their own policies with respect to the execution of their functions.

(3) Before finally determining his policy in relation to any matter for the purposes of subsection (1) above, the Secretary of State shall engage in such consultations with those appearing to him to be representative of persons having such functions as are mentioned in subsection (2)(b) above as appear to him to be appropriate.

(4) The Secretary of State shall secure that a written report containing a summary of the policy formulated by him under subsection (1) above is prepared before the expiry of the period of twelve months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed and that subsequent reports are prepared at intervals of not more than one year.

(5) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of each report prepared under subsection (4) above before both Houses of Parliament.'.—[Mr. Rathbone.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Rathbone

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause is self-explanatory. It imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to formulate, in consultation with the operators, users and others, a national rail policy for the provision, maintenance and improvement of the railway network. It would provide a consistent framework within which passenger and freight services could be planned and operated over the short, medium and longer term. It would require the Secretary of State to prepare a written report and lay it before both Houses of Parliament.

In moving the new clause, I believe that one should tip one's hat again to our late colleague, Robert Adley. His belief in the way in which British Rail should operate in the future was always dependent upon a national plan for the railway services and a transport policy. Those are reflected in his Select Committee report.

Mr. Freeman

I certainly agree with the spirit of the new clause. I do not commend it to the House, but I can give clear assurances to my hon. Friend that the two key elements of the policy that he has just outlined will be followed. First, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will clarify his policy towards a national policy for the railway network, something which my right hon. Friend and I have sought to do on many occasions, particularly before the Select Committee that was chaired by the late Robert Adley. Secondly, I can give an assurance that there will be a written report. Perhaps the right vehicle would be the Department's annual report, which is available to the House. My right hon. Friend confirms that he will ensure that the annual report is written in such a clear fashion as to set out not only the achievements of his policy, but the activities and responsibilities of the regulator, the franchising director and, most important of all, the investment programme.

We accept unreservedly the spirit of the new clause. I hope therefore that my hon. Friend will not feel it necessary to press it. I look forward to the production of the first annual report covering the period following Royal Assent and the introduction of our reforms.

Dr. Marek

If the information is to be included in the annual report, let us have a little objectivity rather than a glossy Government public relations handout. If it were objective, with only a few statistics and with level-headed statements, I could go along with what the Minister has just said.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Without being presumptuous, I hope that, if Robert Adley is looking down on us, he will welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister said. I hope that he will smile at the way in which a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends in particular have debated with Ministers and that, like me, he will regard the outcome as advantageous to the country, as it is likely to help the railway's contribution to the country.

Mr. Rathbone

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the thought that he has put into the new clause in preparation for its being debated this evening. In light of what he had to say, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Patnick.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered this day.