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Mr. Pickles: I would give way to anybody who has attended the debate.

It is the same offer that the Government made to the court. With the removal of the independent regulator, the company exists at the whim of the Secretary of State.

Mrs. Ellman: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that he would give additional funding to a company that has a predicted deficit of £700 million by December and £1.7 billion by next March—an uncontested allegation?

Mr. Pickles: The hon. Lady earlier made great play of the west coast main line. On 8 October, the Secretary of State was due to receive from Railtrack a solution to that problem. When, in about 10 years' time, the hon. Lady is still receiving complaints from her electors, we will have to remind them that she supported a decision that meant that money for phase 2 of the west coast main line was not made available.

There is a gap in the Secretary of State's story. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said that

Given that the next capital project is to be the underground, perhaps the Government are realising that "mind the gap" might be a good way to remind themselves of how their capital projects are going.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was right to ask where the missing £34 billion will come from. Most will rest on the back of 15 special purpose vehicles to create a mixture of public and private finance. Few have any realistic chance of getting off the ground in less than two or, more likely, four years, by which time the problems will be much worse. That means the delay or cancellation of projects. Goodbye west coast main line; goodbye Thameslink 2000; goodbye improvements on South Central. The result?—stagnation of the railways, low investment and fewer passengers.

Mr. Hopkins rose—

Mr. Pickles: The hon. Gentleman has attended the debate so of course I will give way.

Mr. Hopkins: I travel on Thameslink every day and I understand that Thameslink 2000 was to have been finished by 2000 under privatisation. Is that successful privatisation?

Mr. Pickles: If the hon. Gentleman travels on Thameslink every day, he must realise that he will be later and later and that he will have to get up earlier to arrive in this Chamber. That will go on for years. I wish the hon.

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Gentleman many years in this Chamber, but I guarantee that when he retires, which I hope will be many years from now, he will have seen no improvement.

There will be fewer passengers, less freight and higher fares; in other words, welcome back British Rail.

Hugh Bayley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickles: I have told the hon. Gentleman that he did not attend the debate and I am not satisfied by his explanation.

We know that the senior civil servant within the Department said in a meeting with Credit Suisse First Boston in July that the movement towards a non-profit company was neither "appropriate nor attractive". We know that Mr. Winsor told the Select Committee that he warned the Secretary of State that this would affect public-private partnership deals. Hospitals, roads, railways and airports will all be affected, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said.

We all know that the next PPP deal will be the underground. Interest rates alone will cost an extra £10 million because of the incompetence of the Secretary of State. When we think about the number of hospitals and roads on top of that, we can appreciate the full extent. We know that Ministers have absolutely no interest in the shareholders or the employees of Railtrack. They realise that 92 per cent. of the employees of Railtrack own shares. Overnight, a grade 1 signaller took a pay cut of 9.4 per cent. For clerical staff, 6.1 per cent. of pay was taken away by the Government.

Let one family speak for them all; a Mr. and Mrs. Byers. They are pensioners who invested £3,500 for their old age and nursing care. They have said that their lives are "absolutely ruined". I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman who bears the same name will also bear the responsibility for his career being ruined.

We have read the views of an anonymous Minister, who is not here today, but who, I understand, is a member of the Cabinet. He told The Independent:

The Secretary of State must realise that he represents the single greatest obstacle to investment in the railways. Let us put it simply. The City no longer trusts the Government and the public no longer trust their money with the Government. The Government now have the great task of raising the sums necessary for the railways, but they cannot do so with the Secretary of State at the helm. He must now go.

6.47 pm

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): First, I wish to associate myself with the comments made by others regarding the tragedy in New York yesterday and the impact that that will have on the aviation industry and those who work in it, many of whom are our constituents.

This has been an interesting debate—

Hugh Bayley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me the opportunity to intervene at this point.

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When I intervened on the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) to ask whether she believed that Railtrack had made a sufficient contribution to rail safety and the reliability of services in return for the money it received from the Government, she said that rail safety had improved since privatisation. The Library has provided me with figures showing that the number of fatalities grew from eight in the year prior to privatisation to 43—[Interruption.] It may be a laughing matter for Conservative Members, but it is not for the families of those who died. There has been a fivefold increase and if the hon. Lady looked at the brief from the Library—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Interventions must be brief, particularly at this stage of the debate.

Mr. Spellar: My hon. Friend's point is well made.

We were pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) gaining his voice, and I was pleased to hear my neighbouring colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), putting the record straight on Railtrack and BMW. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The House should hear the winding-up speech in silence, which we have not had so far.

Mr. Spellar: My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) ably represented, once again, a significant part of London's commuterland.

There were one or two interesting revelations. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) wished my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) a long period in the House, which shows an accurate reading of the opinion polls and the future prospects of the various parties. Alarmingly for those who sell hair dye, the hon. Member for Maidenhead revealed that she prefers mature men. There will be an instant reduction in the use of hair dyes and a great proliferation of grey hair around the Chamber in the coming days.

The debate was also interesting for the fact that we have wasted half a day when there are so many other issues that could be discussed—issues on which, at business questions, Opposition Members have demanded debates. Last week, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) asked for a debate on arable farmers, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) for one on health, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) for one on the House of Lords, and the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) for one on London. All those might have been more appropriate subjects—they are all important. The previous week, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham asked for a debate on the Crown prerogative, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) for one on civil defence and the right hon. Member for North–West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for one on the economy. All those were more significant issues.

An extremely interesting aspect of the debate was Opposition Members' failure to mention certain subjects. I heard precious little mention of passengers, of freight, or of the industry, but an awful lot of talk about a small section of the City—those who bought Railtrack shares

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recently, while others in the City were selling them those shares. That is a very small constituency—but it is the one to which the Conservative Opposition largely address themselves.

Let us deal with the underlying facts. Railtrack did not oppose our petition to the High Court for administration because it recognised the strength of the case. Our evidence to that court showed a deficit for Railtrack of £700 million by 8 December, rising to £1.7 billion by March 2002. Faced with those facts, the court—not the Secretary of State—in the person of Mr. Justice Lightman, said:

Therefore Railtrack, in its current form, was not part of the solution for our railways but a major problem, and a very expensive problem at that.

During the debate, I was amazed by the cavalier way in which the Opposition treated public money. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the hon. Member for Maidenhead and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) all seemed to be quite easy about substantial but unspecified sums of public money being thrown around. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe—in a term used in the debate—has form in that. After all, during the time when he was Chancellor we nearly doubled the national debt.

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