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Mr. Darling: As I said earlier, it is absolutely essential that representation should be drawn from throughout the United Kingdom because, unlike the hon. Gentleman, I believe that the integrity of the United Kingdom is very important, not least in the railway system. I repeat that the company will have 100 to 120 members, and they will be widely drawn from different interests, as well as from different parts of the country. The board will be a very much smaller, more businesslike organisation. It will be focused on delivering the business, and it will not be a representative body of all the various constituent parts. The board will be a businesslike, commercially focused organisation; the membership will be more widely drawn.
Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post. Does he recognise that his predecessor's action last autumn was so warmly welcomed by the majority of the travelling public simply because they believed that the Government were prepared to put investment in passengers, trains, stations, track and signalling before the endless investment back into a failed company and its shareholders? That drove the public support, but may I ask for an assurance that the additional funds used to bring Railtrack out of administration quickly are not at the expense of any investment proposals at present on the stocks in the network? Furthermore, may I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that the north of England and the north of this country, as distinct from the suburban areas around London and simply the west coast main line, get the proper infrastructure in the future? We in the north have our expectations, as well as the rest of the country.
Mr. Darling: As my hon. Friend will know, I have a passing interest in the northern part of the country. I am responsible for the rail track right up to the most northerly point of the Scottish mainland, as well as that around Sheffield, so I have some sympathy with what she says. Clearly, it is for the SRA to produce proposals to ensure
My hon. Friend asks about funding. Two things are necessary in relation to the railways. First, there has to be adequate funding. Through the 10-year plan, the Government have allocated very substantial sums on an unprecedented time scale. Spending is never normally allocated so far ahead. Secondly, it is necessary to have a competent operator. That was not the case with Railtrack. I believe that Network Rail has a far better structure.
In relation to my hon. Friend's last point, the Government, through the SRA, are providing credit facilities to enable Network Rail to raise commercial funding precisely because we believe that it is very advantageous to get private and public money into the system; it needs both. I want to ensure that as much public money as possible goes into improving the network, and the sooner we get the rescue of the railway system completed and Network Rail operating satisfactorily, the better things will be for everyone concerned.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Will the Secretary of State tell us whether Network Rail be accounted for as a subsidiary of the SRA? Will any of its debt appear as public borrowing? Will any of the finances raised from the private sector not be covered by facilities or guarantees from the SRA?
Mr. Darling: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman joins the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) in the Library this afternoon with his wet cloth. He will see that it is all set out. The position is that the SRA will account for the business of Network Rail so that everyone concerned can see what money is going in and where it is going. The Office for National Statistics is another body, which is independent of Government, that simply classifies these things as economic statistics. The point made by Opposition Members therefore has no substance. The key point is that, unlike under Railtrack, people can now see where the money is going. I commend the minutes to the hon. Gentleman. He will find all the information that he wants in them, in some detail.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): I heard my right hon. Friend refer to the board a couple of times. He said that it would be cast in a broad fashion. Will he ensure that none of the invitations goes out to the usual chattering classes? Will he take close guard to ensure that there are no Tories among the 120 people, or the smaller group? They caused the trouble in the first place. If there are any Tories in that group, they will leak to their friends in the press before you can say "Jack Robinson". The last thing that we should do is force them to have a loyalty oath. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), we do not believe in them.
Mr. Darling: I strongly believe that the membership of the company should be composed of people who have the railways at heart, first and foremost. I take slight issue with my hon. Friend, however, in that I know that there are still many decent people who are Conservatives, who are appalled by the attitude of the current Tory party
Bob Spink (Castle Point): Will the Secretary of State make investment available to Network Rail to enable it to deliver on the London, Tilbury and Southend line the objectives that the Strategic Rail Authority has set, particularly the 50 per cent. increase in passenger numbers over the next few years, bearing it in mind that that line is already running over capacity? That will mean that Network Rail will have to put down new track and a new station, perhapsI hopeon Canvey Island. I believe that 3,000 of my constituents on Canvey Island use that line each day, and 5,000 people in my constituency as a whole do so. They have been very long-suffering, and they deserve a breakthey deserve new infrastructure.
Mr. Darling: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman's constituents are enjoying the fruits of the economic success in this country. I shall say two things to him. First, we have made substantial sums available to invest, and the Strategic Rail Authority has the job of identifying where that money is best spent. I have no doubt that it will consider many commuter lines running into London.
Secondly, when the hon. Gentleman is travelling on one of those trains, he might like to say to his constituents that a lot of money is being invested through the 10-year plan, and that, if the Tories were re-elected, that would be cut, as they oppose every penny of that additional investment.
Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): There can be no doubt in anybody's mind that Railtrack was an abject Tory failure; it is as simple as that. I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement today, and I wish him well in his new post. May I press him further on contracting out? I accept that there will be a need to contract out to third parties. What worries me, and, I think, other rail users, is contracting out to fourth, fifth and sixth parties, as there seems to be no mechanism for checking them. What we do not want is people working on rail maintenance who do not have a clue about what they are doing.
Mr. Darling: As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), I am extremely concerned that there may not be the necessary supervision of contractors. As my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) says, it is not only subcontractors who are involved but sub-subcontractors. Many contractors work extremely well and efficiently, are very well supervised, and the job is well done. There is concern, howeverin Railtrack, too, to give it credit, as well as elsewhere in the industrythat, in some cases, there is not enough end-to-end accountability, not just to make sure that a process was followed or that someone ticked the right boxes to say that they did certain things, but to make sure that whatever should have been done was actually done.
However, there is a real problem with parking at King's Lynn station. My constituents find it very difficult to find parking places there after 8 am. The car park needs extending and, although the land is owned by Railtrack and the SRA, no one seems able to make a decision. Will the Secretary of State look at that issue urgently, because we need to encourage local rail users?
When does the Secretary of State expect the Health and Safety Executive report on the Potters Bar tragedy? If it finds that there was not malicious interference, but negligence on the part of the subcontracting firm, Jarvis, will he order a full public inquiry so that we can consider in detail the whole issue of subcontracting?