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Railways: Network Rail

Volume 719: debated on Wednesday 16 June 2010

Question

Asked by

My Lords, the Government are committed to making changes to Network Rail’s corporate governance to ensure that the company is properly accountable to its customers. The Government are in the process of considering potential forms that that change might take, and no decisions have yet been made.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. In view of the fact that the Office of Rail Regulation has written to the remuneration committee of Network Rail about its indifferent performance during the past year, does he agree that it would be inappropriate for the directors of that company to take bonuses for that performance?

My Lords, the Government do not have the power to veto the award of bonuses, but we hope to make it clear to Network Rail’s board that excessive payments are not acceptable in the wider economic climate.

My Lords, following the exchanges yesterday on the question that I asked the noble Earl regarding railway electrification during the exchanges on my noble friend Lord Berkeley’s Question, a report has appeared in today’s Sun newspaper that says:

“Plans for faster electric trains across Britain will be scrapped because they cost too much, the Government said yesterday”.

As the noble Earl, for this purpose, is the Government, does he have anything to add to that statement and will he confirm whether it is true?

My Lords, I never thought that I would get on to page two of the Sun so fast. No, the Government have made it clear in the coalition agreement that we support further electrification of the rail network, which helps to reduce carbon emissions and cut running costs. Clearly, though, we are in the early stages of the new Government and Ministers are considering the full range of transport policy to ascertain what is possible.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Network Rail. We are supposed to be the Government’s organisation but I have to say that it is not working very well. Has my noble friend considered a mutual structure for Network Rail, which might fit in with its devolved interest and with giving more power to the people? That might also solve the problem of too many bonuses.

My Lords, the Government have a commitment to review the structure of Network Rail, and we will do so.

My Lords, whatever the deficiencies of Network Rail, which the noble Earl says he is going to address, will he acknowledge that he is blessed to deal with Network Rail in comparison with his Labour predecessors in 1997, who had to deal with the botched Conservative privatisation of rail and the notorious Railtrack?

My Lords, when I was in opposition I could never get to the bottom of why the party opposite created the Strategic Rail Authority and then abolished it.

My Lords, will my noble friend also discuss with Network Rail the very worrying appearance of extra-heavy costs in their operations and the infrastructure costs? In comparison with other European countries, they seem to be strangely and unusually high.

My Lords, we are concerned about the efficiency of Network Rail. When Sir Roy McNulty’s report comes out, it will inform us about the next steps that we need to take.