HC Deb 10 February 1997 vol 290 cc5-6
4. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress is being made with PFI projects in his Department. [13348]

Sir George Young

My Department has made excellent progress with the private finance initiative and continues to take the lead: PFI is delivering substantial investment in transport infrastructure of more than £3.7 billion over the next three years.

Mr. Arnold

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, in many ways, north-west Kent is the epicentre of the private finance initiative. Not only do we have the leading hospital PFI at Darenth Park, but we have the channel tunnel rail link. Given both those projects and many others, does my right hon. Friend agree that the PFI presents magnificent opportunities for our transport infrastructure?

Sir George Young

The Government have worked up the private finance initiative and it is successful across the range of Government Departments. My Department has played a significant part in that the bulk of the deals have come from the Department of Transport. My hon. Friend mentioned the channel tunnel rail link and, as he knows, London and Continental Railways was appointed last February. It took over European Passenger Services and intends to achieve its main project financing and flotation by late 1997 or early 1998. The PFI also has applications for the London underground, roads and civil aviation—it has a lot of potential left.

Mr. Gunnell

The Secretary of State will know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when speaking to the Leeds chamber of commerce on the last day of January, mentioned the go-ahead for the Leeds supertram. What private sector contributions have been made to that project? Can the Secretary of State give more details of the reality behind the Chancellor's comments? Can he assure the House that there will be a start in obtaining funding for that scheme in advance of the need for fresh parliamentary provision to pursue it?

Sir George Young

I was in Leeds recently and I took the opportunity to talk to representatives of the local authority and others about the Leeds supertram. It is an important project. The difficulty at the moment is that the amount of private sector contribution is not as high as the sponsors would have liked. If we are to make progress with the scheme, which has potential, it is important to drive up the private sector contribution so that the project becomes more affordable within my Department's baseline. I am conscious of the deadline in the relevant legislation.

Mr. Mans

Bearing in mind the reports over the weekend about the franchising of the west coast main line, can my right hon. Friend say when we may expect a formal announcement, instead of information being leaked out through the press?

Sir George Young

The Director of Passenger Rail Franchising announced on Friday night that a preferred bidder had been identified. I hope that that deal will be finalised in the next few weeks; we will then see whether the benefits of franchising that we have seen in the rest of the country can be extended to that most important line.

Mr. Andrew Smith

If private finance is serving transport so well, will the Secretary of State tell us why he will not bring forward proper public-private partnerships for the London underground to attract investment now, in place of the running farce of his privatisation plans, which would sell public assets cheap and mean no new investment for years?

Sir George Young

The whole House knows the Labour party's policy on privatization—the Labour party is against it until it happens and then conveniently forgets about it.

On private finance, the hon. Gentleman must know that we are pursuing with London Underground a range of private finance deals—my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London rightly reminds us about the Northern line trains on every occasion. The three other major projects are power supplies, an upgraded ticketing system and the communications network—some £500 million of private finance initiative. It is therefore not the case that the Government are not driving that forward with the underground.

Mr. Bill Walker

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the pleasure felt in Scotland at the announcement of the PFI projects for the air traffic control centres. When is the second centre likely to go ahead?

Sir George Young

The bids are still being discussed and, following consultation with the airlines, we expect to be in a position to announce the outcome in March.