HC Deb 05 March 2002 vol 381 cc148-50
10. Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall)

If he will make a statement on the progress towards establishing a company limited by guarantee to take over Railtrack plc's responsibilities relating to running the network. [36653]

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers)

The team that has been engaged by the Strategic Rail Authority to develop a bid based on the concept of a company limited by guarantee is currently preparing its proposal. All potential bidders are aware that the administrator and the Government would like to keep the period of administration as short as possible.

Mr. Breed

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. What does the right hon. Gentleman expect the public expenditure required by the new company to be, and how much will be generated by private investment? Will that entail more moneys from the Treasury, over and above what has already been announced as part of the 10-year plan?

Mr. Byers

We shall have to await the business case that will be put by the hid team for the company limited by guarantee. Any bidder will have access to Government grant and track access charges and will be able to borrow on the financial markets on the basis of those two secured revenue streams. That is the current situation, but obviously the detail will depend on the proposal and the business case made by the company limited by guarantee or any other bidder.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

When my right hon. Friend next talks to Railtrack, will he ask whether something can be done about the Oulton Broad North level crossing? Because of an antiquated signalling system, the gates have to be lowered manually and are left down for five minutes to allow the passage of a two-carriage local train, thus blocking off one of the only two roads through the area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need an integrated approach if the proposal made by Anglia Railways for more trains between Lowestoft and Norwich is not to cause chaos on the roads?

Mr. Byers

As it happens, I know the Oulton Broad North level crossing extremely well. I was on my way to campaign for my hon. Friend in the general election last year—successfully, of course—and, as all campaigners will understand, I was running behind schedule and then the level crossing gates came down, manually. It was even more frustrating because I wanted to be with my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend has made an important point: we need to ensure that investment goes into the network. That includes the Oulton Broad North level crossing as well as the west coast main line.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

The Secretary of State has an entire Department of civil servants at his disposal—although the number is falling by the day. He has external consultants to advise him on the planning Green Paper, external consultants to advise him on his relations with the City and, of course, external consultants to advise the bidder for the company limited by guarantee. Is the SRA's cost for putting together a bid for a company limited by guarantee counted as public sector investment'?

Mr. Byers

The SRA is meeting the costs of the bid team from within its resources and will be accounted accordingly.

Mrs. May

So it comes within the public sector.

The Secretary of State told the House that total investment in the railways would be £64.9 billion over the next 10 years, but analysis shows that a third of that is accounted for by inflation, a quarter of it is double counting and a third of the remainder is ongoing renewals and maintenance work: so the real figure for investment for improving the railways over the next 10 years is not £65 billion, as the Secretary of State told the House, but less than £20 billion. Will the right hon. Gentleman apologise to the House, or does he just regret giving the wrong impression?

As this is the last DTLR Question Time before the Easter reshuffle, I just want to say to the Secretary of State—goodbye.

Mr. Byers

There are important issues that need to be addressed. Whether it is the hon. Lady saying bye-bye to me, or me saying bye-bye to her, time will tell. Under the 10-year plan, £64.9 billion will be invested in the railways. Those are the figures and that is the money that will be invested. The hon. Lady should not rely on the comments made in some of the newspapers. Those are the figures and that is the amount that will be delivered. The important issue for the Government and for me is that, whereas the hon. Lady may reflect the priorities of the Westminster village, the Government and I will deliver on the priorities of the people of our country. Those priorities are improving our transport system, decent housing for our people, regeneration of our economy and ensuring that we deliver for all our people. That is what I intend to do, and that is what I shall continue to do.