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Mr. Byers: The figures are clearly set out in the plan. The important point is that somebody travelling on the train will not be bothered too much about whether public or private money has been used to buy, for example, the rolling stock. People will want to know only that the train is in decent condition, that it will get to the destination on time and that it is safe. Such a division does not make sense in the real world. Surely, the key issue is the total investment that is being made in the railways, not whether it is public or private. A big increase is occurring in terms of public investment and I am confident that we will secure the private investment that will be necessary to support the railway network.
Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): I am most grateful to the Secretary of State. We generally agree that it does not matter where the money comes from, but may I remind him that, although he has just spent about five minutes explaining why he could not put any money in and telling us that happy times were here again, he has not only failed to deliver a single penny piece extra of public money for the railways, but has put private money in jeopardy by making his ill-considered attack on Railtrack?
Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman returns to his refrain about the private sector not wanting to invest in the railways because of the action that the Government have taken on Railtrack and says that private companies will walk away. Interestingly, when we discussed the matter on 15 October last year, he said:
Mr. Byers: It is private sector investment; it is new money. Last year, the hon. Gentleman said that there would be a 12-month delay in private investment in the east coast main line, yet today GNER is making a contribution of £100 million. Let us consider how the money will be used. There is a contribution to the infrastructure upgradethat is the track, not rolling stock; £10 million for stations and integrated transport; money for rolling stock reliability and static converters, and for improvements to rolling stock and extra coaches. Every pound and every penny of the £100 million constitutes private sector investment. So much for the hon. Gentleman and the 12-month delay in private sector investment.
Mr. Pickles: Let us be clear. Does the Secretary of State claim that the upgrade to the east coast and west coast main lines can be covered by such relatively small sums of money? Is that why he is trying to get out of phase 2 of the west coast upgrade? Is that why he is trying to negotiate to ensure that we do not get trains that travel at 140 mph? In the world that he occupies, are such little gifts regarded as major triumphs?
The transport plan and the 10-year plan is clear and precise about the way in which the money will be spent. There will be a public sector contribution, much of which will be invested in the infrastructure, and private sector investment, partly through special purpose vehicles and partly through the new franchising arrangements.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the last Conservative Chancellor gave only £500 million to upgrade the whole west coast main line? When Railtrack went into administration, the predicted cost for upgrading that line was £10 billion. It would have been cheaper to build a brand new line.
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend has followed the vagaries of the west coast main line in considerable detail. He knows that the project was dogged first by a failure of political commitment by the Conservative party. We have tried to drive it through. As time goes by, the new management of Railtrack is beginning to realise the state of the project, and greater difficulties are becoming apparent.
However, it is important to acknowledge the significant contribution and investment that Virgin has made in the new rolling stock that it has earmarked for the line. That is another good example of private sector investment; the new trains are impressive. We must recognise Virgin's commitment. We have to work with Railtrack and the SRA to make sure that we conclude an agreement that will deliver on the west coast main line and make a genuine difference to the travelling public.
Mr. Wiggin: In the Select Committee meeting this morning, the Minister said that he favoured fewer train operating companies, perhaps because so many operate at a loss. Will GNER be one of the train operating companies that is likely to disappear?
Mr. Byers: The fact that GNER has made a commitment of £100 million suggests that it will be around for the long term. I am confident that it will be involved in the refranchise when it happens because it offers a good service on the east coast main line. However, it is right to go through the franchise process to ensure that we make a genuine difference.
Conservative Members have often made points about private finance in the current circumstances. Much has been written in the Financial Times and other newspapers about the clear distinction that the City makes between the financial state of a private company such as Railtrack, and the sort of public-private partnerships and special purpose vehicles that we envisage for investment in the railways in the future. That is how it should be, and I think that there is a recognition that that is the case. GNER has clearly demonstrated this morning, with its £100 million investment, the way in which the private sector wants to continue to be involved.
Mr. Don Foster: The Secretary of State has raised the issue of safety. Does he know whether Lord Cullen's recommendations on improvements in signalling in the Paddington area were implemented by 19 December last year, as they were expected to be?
Mr. Byers: I understand that the train protection warning system was introduced fully in Paddington during the autumn of last year. The hon. Gentleman is right to pick me up on Cullen, because he raised the issue earlier and I must address it. Cullen asked for an investigation into whether compliance had been achieved by 19 December. That work has been concluded, and certain issues are now being clarified. As I said in my earlier intervention, the conclusions will be published in March. However, the delay that has been incurred has exposed a weakness in the Health and Safety Executive.
The delay came about because the HSE was not properly staffed to deal with that level of work in the time in which we all agree it needed to be done. I have made sure that it is to be staffed at a proper level. In 1999, there were just 56 railway inspectors at the HSE. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a vital area, and the work was not being done quickly enough so far as I was concerned. As a result of the action that we have taken, there will be 196 railway inspectors at the HSE by March this year. The sort of delay that we have seen will not be repeated, and we can treat safety issues as a priority in the way in which the hon. Gentleman wishes us to do, in relation not only to Cullen but to the whole range of safety issues in the industry.
The broader range of objectives for the railways includes safety, performance and quality. Although the strategic plan focuses on the short and medium term, the longer term is not neglected. I have no doubt that the condition of the railways in the United Kingdom is not one of which anyone can be proud. I say that as Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I took the decision that we were not going to tinker around at the edges of the problem, or muddle through; rather, we would take the necessary decisive action.
I have come in for a great deal of political criticism from Opposition Members for the actions that I have taken. I do not regret the decisions that we have taken, because decisive action was necessary if we were to create a railway system fit for the 21st century, and the one that the fourth largest economy in the world deserves. We have not got that yet, but I am confident that, because of the decisive action that we have taken over timethere are no quick fixes so far as railways are concernedthe travelling public will be able to see real improvements by 2005. By 2010, at the end of the 10-year plan, we shall
Priority will be given to railways; that is my commitment as Secretary of State. It is a commitment on which I intend to deliver for the Government and for the travelling public. On that basis, I ask the House to support the amendment.