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I contend that the Government had a duty to tell the Court in October 2001 all the facts and that they deliberately withheld that crucial component. The failure to make an honest disclosure to the judge about the power of the rail regulator is yet anotherperhaps the mostshameful scar on the Government's honesty. It was and is an absolute scandal.
The High Court case has shed light on a sly and deceitful plan to implement a clandestine policy without telling Parliament. Yet again, the Government have corrupted the proper process of government, which would have been genuinely to seek all channels of finance to assist Railtrack in avoiding financial difficulties. The proper process of government would have been to respect the independence of the rail regulator, not to corrupt the position with the stench of the Government's political games. The proper process of government would have been for Ministers to make decisions at Cabinet level, not to use unelected puppets to control operations from the Treasury. The proper and decent process of government would have been to come to Parliament in June 2001 and announce that a review of the railways was under way. The proper process of government would have been to disclose all the material facts to a judge in chambers, not to conspire by deceit and complicity to deny him the facts as they knew them.
Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan. The Chancellor called all the shots on this issue, and his absence shows that he is trying to hide. He was the organ grinder and the right hon. Member for North Tyneside was but the monkey. The Chancellor wrote the score; his representative on Earth did his dirty work.
The proper processes of government have, yet again, been shamefully sidestepped by Labour. It is to the detriment of our democracy, and it is an enduring testament to the corruption, deceit and arrogance of this pitiful and mucky Government.
"welcomes the judgement in the recently concluded Railtrack court case which, after weeks of evidence fully tested by cross examination, completely dismisses the claimants' allegation of wrongdoing on the part of Government; further welcomes the fact that the judgement exonerates entirely the way the Government responded to its growing concerns about Railtrack's financial position and the propriety of the process that led to Railtrack being put in Administration, including the Government's stance in relation to the Rail Regulator; notes that the judge described Railtrack's request for unlimited public funding and support, which was made in part to maintain its share price, as a "hopeless proposition"; and that there were good public reasons for the
The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) started his speech by asserting that the matters that he has spent the past hour and five minutes discussing were not, in fact, discussed in the recent court hearing, and he seemed to employ a very selective use of the facts in relation to this case. The truth is that all these matters were considered in depth after a long trial by Mr. Justice Lindsay, whose judgment was given just a couple of weeks ago.
I will refer to most of the points that the hon. Gentleman made and to what the judge had to say about them; but, essentially, it seems to me that the hon. Gentleman sought to make exactly the same case as the claimants made in court. He chose to ignore the fact that the judge found against the claimants and found that all the matters complained of by the hon. Gentleman and the Conservative party had no basis in fact, as I shall demonstrate.
The other curious thing about the hon. Gentleman's speech is that, when he started, he seemed to suggest that the solvency or otherwise of Railtrack was an irrelevancy, yet towards the end of his speech he seemed to suggest that the company was a going concern with nothing wrong with it and that it was only the dastardly Government who brought about its downfall. That flies in the face of all the facts, as I will demonstrate.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): Let me put to the right hon. Gentleman a question that was obviously not dealt with by the judge or the court, but that surely ought to be a matter of great concern to the House of Commons. A quotation has just been attributed to Shriti Vadera to the effect that the small shareholders do not matterit does not matter if grannies lose their blousesand that we ought to care only about the American investors. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is an acceptable attitude for a Treasury official or an adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take?
Mr. Darling: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the judgment. The judge deals with the evidence of the special advisers in paragraphs 10 to 12 and in other places as well. On the central charge made by the Conservatives today, the judge makes the point that only Ministers, who are accountable to Parliament, can make such decisions. Moreover, he found that Ministers acted correctly in the face of the evidence before them.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con):
The right hon. Gentleman purports to quote what the judge found. Will he remind the House of whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers) was the defendant in this case?
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Mr. Darling: I was the defendant in the case, to be precise, which is why I read the judgment with great interest. Of course the material decision complained of was taken by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers). I say in passingit would be interesting to hear what a former Chancellor of the Exchequer has got to saythat it would be quite extraordinary if the Chancellor, whoever it happened to be and whatever political party was in government, did not take an active interest in railway finances. After all, they consume a remarkably large amount of the public finances, so it is no surprise that the Chancellor should take an interest. In fact, the complaints made by the Conservatives and by the claimants related to the decision taken by my predecessor.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke : Of course I took a close interest in railway finances when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I would have expected to have a crucial say in them. We would have exchanged Cabinet papers and had a meeting of a Cabinet Committee. I would certainly not have sent along a special adviser to make cynical remarks about all those involved and to try to devise strategies for getting rid of the shareholders' interests in a company, and I certainly would not have expected the then Secretary of State for Transport to allow himself to be used as a cipher, as the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers) did.
Mr. Darling: Perhaps if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had taken a bit more interest in the public finances, he would never have allowed Railtrack to be set up in the first place. As I shall demonstrate, the setting up of Railtrack cost this country dear in every sense of the word.
Given that all the main lines in this railway disaster lead to No. 11, will the Secretary of State explain why not a single Treasury Minister has had the decency to turn up and account to Parliament for the Chancellor of the Exchequer's policy of dodgy accounting and expropriation?
Mr. Darling: The matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers was one of the central matters before the court. Lord Justice Lindsay did not find that the claimants' case was established, and he examined all these things.
I shall start with what the judge saidthis flies in the face of the earlier comments of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton that the judge paid no attention to these factsabout that splendid company, Railtrack, on whose behalf the hon. Gentleman spoke today. The judge stated at paragraph 274:
"Its own financial plan acknowledged the unreliability of its own estimates and a persistent inability to keep within budgets. It had virtually no management control; there was management paralysis. The Department had identified an amortisation error which, it thought, meant that it would be bust 'in spades' in CP 3"
"Against such a perception in both railway performance and financial terms there were plainly ample and sound policy reasons for the government wishing to be rid of Railtrack and for the railway assets to be passed into the control of another or others. There were good avowable and avowed public reasons for Mr. Byers"
The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton says, "So what?" Railtrack had severe financial problems and severe management problems. It would have been extraordinary if any Government had not taken the necessary action to look after the public interest.
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