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Network Rail

Volume 619: debated on Thursday 12 January 2017

1. What discussions he has had with Ministers of the Scottish Government on further devolution of Network Rail. (908115)

5. What discussions he has had with Ministers of the Scottish Government on further devolution of Network Rail. (908119)

I met the Minister for Transport and the Islands in the Scottish Government, Humza Yousaf, in October last year. I welcome working together to improve services for rail passengers within the current devolution settlement.

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, but can he explain why the Government are happy to devolve responsibility for maintenance and track operations on the Oxford to Cambridge line, yet they are so reluctant to devolve the same responsibility to the Scottish Government for Scotland?

The point we have consistently made is that there was no recommendation by the Smith commission to devolve the whole of Network Rail to Scotland. The Scottish Government can specify, fund and procure for ScotRail and the Caledonian Sleeper. They can also specify and fund all major projects, and we are devolving the British Transport police. That strikes me as a hefty menu for the Scottish Government to be engaged with.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The Reform Scotland think-tank published a report in November calling for Network Rail to be devolved—perhaps the Secretary of State has read it. The Minister will also be aware that an ever-growing list of people advocate further rail devolution, so will he do the right thing and commit to a date for opening discussions with the Scottish Government on this matter?

Devolution does not just occur within Governments and within Whitehall, and between Whitehall and Scotland. A significant amount of operational devolution is occurring within Network Rail as we speak. A Scottish route within Network Rail that will have much more independence and freedom of action is being set up. I urge the Scottish Government and Scottish Members to engage in that devolution process, not least because the Scottish Government are co-operating with the Office of Rail and Road on the periodic review that will determine the output for control period 6 within Scotland.

A report commissioned by Transport Scotland showed that Network Rail’s original cost estimates for Scottish projects were unreliable. Does the Minister agree that, especially when projects overrun by hundreds of millions of pounds, those who commission the work should have the power to hold Network Rail to account?

I reiterate the point that with the new devolution settlement within Network Rail and the growing independence of the Scottish route within Network Rail, there are ample levers available to Members here and indeed the Scottish Government to influence how the Scottish route director delivers those infrastructure projects.

Why does the Minister feel that Scotland does not need a rail project capability based in Scotland that is accountable to the people of Scotland?

I return to how I started my answer and remind the hon. Gentleman that we had a lengthy discussion about what was contained in the Smith commission. This did not emerge from that commission, so we are not taking it forward.