HC Deb 21 October 2003 vol 411 cc502-3
11. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

If he will make a statement on future contracts for maintenance of the rail network. [132970]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

Network Rail has already announced plans to bring railway maintenance activities in the Reading, east midlands and Wessex contract areas in-house. Network Rail has also announced that it will take Jarvis's three contract areas back as well. The Government welcome these plans for better management because they will lead to tighter control over the quality, cost and effectiveness of the maintenance regime.

Kevin Brennan

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Has not the fragmentation of maintenance following privatisation proved an unmitigated disaster? Is it not common sense that, where public safety is involved in relation to maintenance, the best thing to do is directly to employ the people responsible for the maintenance, check that they do it and sack them if they do not? Is it not now time for Network Rail to take all maintenance in-house?

Mr. Darling

When Network Rail took back the contracts concerned, it found very substantial concerns about the costs, about the quality of work, and about whether the work had been done. All those matters reinforced the view that it was right to take those maintenance contracts back in-house. It is too soon to evaluate what it has found in relation to the Jarvis contracts, but I am in no doubt—I have made this clear on a number of occasions—that it is essential that maintenance should be done effectively and that costs should be driven down. Costs were far too high as a result of the privatisation that the last Conservative Government left. In relation to safety, it is essential that people know what work is required, make sure that it is done and then check that it is operating safely. All those things will be improved as a result of what Network Rail has already announced.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

Does the Secretary of State expect that, before too long, all the rail network will be maintained by Network Rail, and that the other private sector operators will, step by step, hand their contracts back to Network Rail as well?

Mr. Darling

That is something that Network Rail will no doubt want to consider. One reason that the costs of maintaining the network had risen so dramatically was that there was no proper control over what the private contractors were doing. Network Rail has to consider what is best in terms of the running and operating of the network, but it will no doubt look at what it has found so far when considering what the next step ought to be.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)

When future maintenance contracts are considered, will specific mention be made of the north Wales railway stations, which have had massive under-investment in recent years? Will funding be put in place so that our stations no longer smell of urine, closed-circuit television can be installed and safe, secure car parks can be established?

Mr. Darling

Network Rail is looking at the entire network, both track and stations, to see what improvements can be made and when they ought to be made. As my hon. Friend will know, and as I pointed out earlier, we are already spending very substantial sums on the railway. Before anyone can consider asking people to put their hands into their pockets for more money, we must ensure that the money is being properly spent in the first place. As I said a few moments ago, the evidence in relation to the contracts that have been taken back in-house is that those contracts at least will be more effectively run by Network Rail. What it decides to do in relation to the others is, of course, entirely a matter for Network Rail.