HC Deb 18 December 2001 vol 377 cc145-6
10. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

If he will make a statement on the roles of the Strategic Rail Authority and the Rail Regulator. [21566]

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar)

The purposes and functions of the Strategic Rail Authority are set out in the Railways Act 1993, as amended by the Transport Act 2000. The Rail Regulator's functions and duties are set out in a number of Acts, including the Railways Act 1993, the Transport Act 2000, the Competition Act 1998 and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996.

Mr. Turner

I thank the Minister for that illuminating reply, but is he aware that passengers are more concerned about whether their trains are going to arrive on time and whether they can travel in reasonable comfort? Is either of the bodies continuing to collect information about time keeping, in which there has been a serious decline since October this year? Will the Minister publish regular reports on time keeping in the rail network?

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman recognises a problem that is part of the great difficulties of the system that we inherited from the Government whom he supported. The Opposition should recognise that it is that fundamentally flawed model that has created the difficulties. Notwithstanding that, there is, obviously, still a need to run the system. He will be extremely pleased with the progress that the new chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, Richard Bowker, has already made in starting to set new leadership in the industry. He will shortly be announcing the franchising proposals and will announce next month his strategic plan for the industry. That is the way in which leadership should be taken forward, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

In a recent parliamentary answer, the Minister confirmed to me that he was still in discussions with Railtrack about matters concerning the completion of phase 1 of the west coast main line modernisation; no mention was made of phase 2. What information has he provided to the Strategic Rail Authority about the matters that are outstanding, how will that outstanding work be financed and when will the project be completed?

Mr. Spellar

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for highlighting the problems with the west coast main line, which demonstrate exactly the reason why we had to take action with regard to Railtrack. It priced the project at £2.3 billion, but it was then going to cost £7 billion and rising. I was absolutely astonished that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) tried to brush that to one side as an insignificant item in its accounts. The matter requires discussion between the Department, the Strategic Rail Authority, Railtrack and Virgin Rail, precisely so that they can work their way out of the horrendous difficulties that the abject failure of Railtrack has placed with the authority, the Government and the train operating company. As he would expect, we are involved in very active discussions on the matter, because of the complexities and difficulties that we were left with.