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Mr. Byers: I do not know who advised the hon. Lady to put that quote in the public arena, but the truth is this: had Railtrack applied for a review on the Saturday evening, which is what the regulator indicated that he would be prepared to accept, thenthis is the crucial pointon the Saturday evening, the regulator would have made public the fact that the review had begun. On the Sunday afternoon, the High Court judge, knowing that a review had commenced, would probably not have granted the petition. That is the situation.
Mr. Byers: For the benefit of Opposition Members, I cannot refuse an interim review. On the evening of Saturday 6 October, the Rail Regulator indicated to Railtrack that he would be prepared to conduct a review, or consider it, if an application were made. No such application was made by Railtrack.
Andrew Bennett: Does my right hon. Friend accept that it seems incredible that Railtrack, knowing immediately after the Hatfield disaster that it might have financial difficulties, did not consider going to the Rail Regulator and asking for a review, but preferred to try to negotiate with the Government? If Railtrack was really
The final point that the hon. Lady made was that, somehow, I had kept my approach, and the possibility of legislation, secret from the House. That is a serious allegation. I have made no secret of our position. It was disclosed in a letter from our financial advisers, which formed part of our evidence to the High Court on 7 October. That same letter was one of a number of papers placed in the Library of the House on 23 Octoberso much for keeping it secret. It was placed in the Library on 23 Octobera big secret. More important, on 2 November, the shadow Minister for Transport, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), received a parliamentary reply from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport drawing his attention to the fact that the papers had been placed in the House of Commons Library. [Interruption.] No, it was not after the event. Clearly, there was a breakdown of communication between the beauty and the beast[Hon. Members: "Who is the beauty?"] It is a close-run thing.
There was clearly a breakdown of communication because last Wednesday 7 November, the hon. Member for Maidenhead said about the possibility of introducing legislation that it was a stark new piece of evidence. It had been in the House of Commons Library for over a fortnight. That is the reality. Therefore, the position in relation to the regulator is this: open and honest, no misleading of the regulator and the House kept fully informed of the Government's position.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): Is the Secretary of State in effect saying that he values the independence of the Rail Regulator, and that he will protect in perpetuity that independence? It is not what the Rail Regulator appears to have understood the Secretary of State to say when he said:
Mr. Byers: No. I have given way several times to the hon. Lady. I want to go on to that particular point. I want to put on the record the response to her very important allegation that the £162 million that was legally due to be paid on 1 October was held back by the Government. I want to be clear about that, too.
As part of the April deal, £337 million was due to be paid on 1 October, which the Government were legally obliged to pay. That was paid in full, every penny, on 1 October, but in addition, in April, all parties accepted that they would use their best endeavours to establish a special purpose vehicle called Renewco. It was recognised that it could be only on the basis of best endeavours because the arrangement could go ahead only if Renewco were not classified as being in the public sector. By 1 October, that condition had not been met, so the payment could not be made.
However, the payment of the £162 million is a real diversion from the issues facing Railtrack. In discussions on restructuring, Railtrack made it clear that, even with the Renewco arrangement in place, Railtrack would still need additional Government support, and as my unchallenged petition to the High Court said, Railtrack would have a deficit of some £700 million by 8 December this year, and £1.7 billion by the end of March next year. Those were the figures. Railtrack's own view was that Renewco would not make a difference to those figures.
Mr. Byers: I think that when all hon. Members have the opportunity to go through the evidence and the regulator's statements, they will see that Railtrack did not avail itself of the possibility of an interim review although it was invited to do so by the regulator on the evening of
Mr. Byers: Hon. Members know that I am generous in giving way. I have already given way in this debate three or four times to the hon. Member for Maidenhead. I should now like to address the issue at hand, and specifically to examine Railtrack's stewardship of the railway network.
My decision on 5 October to refuse further funding to Railtrack was not an easy one. However, I firmly believe that Railtrack was not part of the solution for our railways but a major problem. Let us consider Railtrack's stewardship. No asset condition register for the rail network is yet in place. Railtrack consistently opted not to invest in and maintain the network to a sufficiently high standard. Six months after Hatfield, more than 1,000 temporary speed restrictions were still in place. Costs on the crucial west coast main line project had leapt from about £2 billion to £6.3 billion under Railtrack's leadership, which is an increase of more than £4 billion.
We had to say, "Enough is enough. Let us get to the root cause. Let us look at the structure and put it right, so that for the extra money that the Government are committing to railways, we will get a real return for the travelling public."