HC Deb 18 December 2001 vol 377 cc131-3
3. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

If he will make a statement on progress in implementing his integrated transport network. [21558]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar)

We are making good progress in implementing our integrated transport strategy, through our 10-year plan for transport. We are already delivering: for example, £8.4 billion is pledged over five years to fund local transport plans, nine light rail lines are under development, and we have our targeted programme of road improvements to the trunk road network. There will be much more to follow.

Mr. Swayne

The 10-year plan calls for £34 billion for the rail network alone from private sources. How will the Minister guarantee that, given that the plug was pulled on Railtrack despite its ambitious investment record and plans?

Mr. Spellar

Unfortunately, Railtrack's investment record is that it bid £2.3 billion for the west coast main line and its cost overruns now amount to some £7 billion. Such a record might not give the necessary level of confidence. The hon. Gentleman will also know of the channel tunnel rail link, which is an enormously successful programme that is running to time and to budget. I initiated work on the second phase only a couple of months ago. To take that work forward, the Department is therefore looking at special purpose vehicles. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I were recently out in east London to see the work being done on the east London line. The real progress being made with transport suggests real confidence in the future.

David Wright (Telford)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that high-performing rail companies are central to a good integrated service? Is he aware that Central Trains, Wales and West Passenger Trains and the company serving the borders are failing to collect fares even on peak-time services, even though they complain about under-investment? Is not it time that they got their house in order?

Mr. Spellar

The new chairman of the SRA is looking fairly closely at the management of train operating companies across the network. We look forward to his strategic plan, which will be launched on 14 January.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

The Government's 10-year plan for transport will depend heavily on the successful completion of the rail franchising process. Why is the process so delayed, and when is it likely to be completed?

Mr. Spellar

The announcement on the franchising process will be made very soon. The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait long, and I am sure that he will welcome the announcement when it is made.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Will the plans include proposals to help relieve congestion on the Gateshead western bypass? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government office of the north-east recently announced proposals that revived the prospect of a bypass to the bypass—a proposal rejected under the previous Government, after a huge protest from local people, MPs and the council? Millions of pounds of public money were wasted when properties that had been bought had to be sold back to the sellers, or sold on. Will my right hon. Friend look at the matter urgently, and make it clear that the proposal will not receive the Government's support?

Mr. Spellar

I certainly undertake to look at the matter, and to take into account my hon. Friend's remarks, as well as the views of the local authorities involved, and of the local passenger transport executive.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

To return to the railways part of the 10-year plan, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that there are two principal lessons to be learned from Railtrack's interim profits, announced today? First, it is inconceivable that the chairman of Railtrack could have told him and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the company was insolvent. Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) has rightly pointed out, the level of investment in the railways has been £3 billion a year under Railtrack, while under British Rail it was just £750 million. Can the Minister give a better explanation than he gave my hon. Friend about where the bulk of the future investment will come from, given that it came from the private sector before? Will it involve a cut in railway investment or will there be a guarantee from the Treasury? Or, as is more likely, is the Government's indecisiveness still final?

Mr. Spellar

It was a guarantee from the Treasury—or, rather, the Government—that Railtrack was seeking. The hon. Gentleman must explain why Railtrack was, as it has admitted, asking for relief from the Rail Regulator or, at another stage, saying that it might have wanted to go to the regulator, in both cases because it claimed that it needed extra funding. Although he is right to draw attention to the paper profit made by Railtrack and announced today, it is surprising that he did not also draw attention to the £2 billion extra in debt carried by the company during the past year. He must also explain why, if Railtrack believed that its position was so sound, it did not, even though it was present in court, contest the petition that we put and which the judge decided required a declaration of insolvency and for the company to be put into administration.

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