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Strategic Rail Plans

9. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): How much (a) private capital he expects to be needed and (b) public funding he expects to provide to fund his strategic rail plans. [28443]

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers): We are planning for total rail expenditure over the next 10 years of £64.9 billion. That comprises private sector funding of just over £34.3 billion and Government support of just over £33.5 billion. The figure includes £3 billion of Government revenue support for private investment. I am also pleased to be able to inform the House that the total transport 10-year plan financial envelope has been increased by £2.2 billion, from £179.7 billion to £181.9 billion.

Mr. Turner: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but where is the private sector investment going to come from? Is he aware of recent reports that the amount of money available for the private finance

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initiative has almost halved over the past 12 months, not least because of his mishandling of those who had invested in Railtrack? What would he say to pensioners and others in my constituency about that? Would he have been willing to invest his pension fund in Railtrack?

Mr. Byers: There are two issues. The first is in relation to private sector involvement in rail and the 10-year transport plan generally. We saw just 10 days ago, with the GNER extension, £100 million worth of private investment going into that two-year franchise. A number of new franchises are being negotiated at the moment, which will secure hundreds of millions of pounds of private sector investment in our railway system.

On the second point about shareholders in Railtrack, I know that the Conservative party position is that Railtrack shareholders should receive compensation from taxpayers.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): No.

Mr. Byers: If that is not the case, we look forward to the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) saying so. We know that £1 billion from taxpayers would need to be made available to compensate Railtrack shareholders, and we will not make that money available because, as applies to all shareholders, their investments can go down as well as up.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Since my right hon. Friend will be aware of the extraordinary accounting that led Railtrack to come up with figures for things such as modernisation of the west coast main line that proved not only wholly inaccurate but very misleading, will he assure us that the money that will be pledged by Her Majesty's Government, which is so desperately needed, will be based on accurate figures and not those of the companies concerned?

Mr. Byers: Clearly, one of the real challenges for the administrator and the successor to Railtrack will be to ensure that their forecasts are accurate. That is one reason why we want the successor to concentrate on renewals, operation and maintenance, and not to be involved in major infrastructure projects, which to a large extent were the undoing of Railtrack, as it was unable to control its costs. So it is important that we learn the lessons of the failures of Railtrack and ensure that they are not repeated. That is what we intend to do when we come to consider the proposals made to us by the administrator.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): As I gave the Secretary of State advance notice of my question, will he confirm that the Government are beginning to have cold feet about the likely investment in the railways from the private sector, that the strategic plan shows a £4.5 billion reduction in the anticipated money from the private sector compared with the 10-year plan figures, and that the Government intend to make up that £4.5 billion from public sector investment? Given his welcome announcement today of the additional £2.2 billion going into the 10-year plan, will the Secretary of State acknowledge that that still leaves the 10-year plan £2.3 billion short for non-railway matters, and will he therefore tell the House where that money will come from? Will it come from the road-building programme, at a time when we have the

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highest backlog of road repairs and maintenance, or will it come from the buses, the day we are told that our bus services are in crisis?

Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman had clearly prepared that question before he heard my reply. As I had had early warning of his question, I tried to make sure that in my reply I answered the points that he intended to make. As a result of the additional £2.2 billion that is being put into the 10-year transport plan, we are able to use some of the unallocated provision to support rail, and with the additional money that I announced today, we do not have to take money from the roads, buses or local transport budgets. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would applaud the fact that we have that extra investment to support the 10-year plan, and that as a result, we will be able to deliver the significant improvements that our transport system needs.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): I welcome the additional investment, which I am sure will make a substantial contribution to clearing up at least some of the mess left by the Conservative party. Will my right hon. Friend consider the proportion of that investment devoted to transport—specifically, rail—in the west midlands? There is much disquiet in the region about that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that unless we get our rail infrastructure right in the west midlands, it will be a problem not just for the west midlands, but for the entire transport route from the south-east to the north-west and beyond?

Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of Birmingham and the west midlands as a hub for travel, not just in England, but throughout the United Kingdom. He will no doubt welcome the commitments made by the cross-country services to increase both frequency and capacity, which will assist the west midlands significantly. Through the local transport schemes, we are looking closely at how we can provide additional help and resources through projects for the commuter lines into Birmingham. When my hon. Friend has had an opportunity to study the detail of the proposals, he will see that the west midlands will benefit significantly from the implementation of the strategic rail plan.

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Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): Will the Secretary of State explain to the House how £33.5 billion plus £34.5 billion add up to £65 billion?

Mr. Byers: It is £64.9 billion, actually. The reason is that £3 billion is netted off. If it were not, we could be accused of double counting. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] And clearly, the hon. Lady has not seen table A2 in the original 10-year plan. If she had, and in particular if she had seen the footnote to table A2, she would see that £3 billion has been netted off to ensure that there is no double counting.

Mrs. May: If the Secretary of State wants to avoid double counting, he should say that the public sector investment is £30 billion, not £33 billion. He admitted today that he lost £2 billion of funding for Railtrack, that his figures have included double counting, and that nearly £68 billion is less than £65 billion. I can only assume that he is going to Edexcel for advice on how to do his maths.

With train delays up 75 per cent. since the right hon. Gentleman pulled the plug on Railtrack, train passengers want to know when the trains are going to run on time. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how much of the investment in the strategic plan for the railways will be spent directly on improvements to track and signals, leading to increased capacity for passenger services?

Mr. Byers: The figures are outlined in the strategic plan, and the details are in the proposals on the franchising system. I would have thought that the hon. Lady would applaud the fact that an extra £2.2 billion is going into the 10-year transport plan. That money will be made available to improve the transport system. The real issue that the people of this country face is whether the Conservatives would take that money away; under this Government it is going in. The hon. Lady cannot give a commitment to match our levels of spending on transport. Indeed, although the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) said on the "GMTV" programme that he was able to match that money, he was then slapped down by a representative of Conservative central office, who said:

That is because the Conservatives cannot make a spending commitment. We can, and that is what we are doing. We are investing in rail and in transport, because that is what the travelling public deserve.

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Farming and Food Commission Report

3.30 pm

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will respond to a question on the report of the policy commission on the future of food and farming, of which I have given prior notice.

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