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Lord Sewel: My Lords, given the somewhat emergent nature of public institutions and authorities in Iraq, will the Minister explain to us how we monitor public finance spend in Iraq?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. The coalition has introduced a system of complete transparency while it has been monitoring public spending in Iraq. For instance, the budget documents for 2003 and 2004 have been made public, which is a significant shift away from the treatment of the budget as a secret document under the former regime. That budget is available on our website.

Railway Rolling Stock

11.11 a.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced a review of the rail industry on 19 January. A key objective is ensuring that taxpayers can see value for money for the increased investment that the Government are putting into rail. Rolling stock represents a significant part of that investment and rolling stock issues are therefore likely to be addressed as part of the review. It is too early to say whether any changes to existing arrangements are necessary.

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Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I draw his attention to the fact that the rolling stock strategy, published recently by the Strategic Rail Authority, disappointed many people by being neither strategic nor forward looking. It is a very disappointing document. Will he comment on the fact that many passenger transport authorities are putting up with grotesque levels of overcrowding because of a shortage of rolling stock? Is this because of the oligarchy situation in the rolling stock industry where, despite the fact that there are three companies, there is little effective competition or surplus rolling stock? Alternatively, is it because the SRA is spending so much money on the vastly overspent West Coast Main Line that there is no money available for the very much needed alterations and improvements to the railway elsewhere?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is certainly the case that the long-overdue modernisation of the West Coast Main Line has been an important and expensive priority. However, I bring to the attention of the House the fact that by 2006 over one-third of the total rolling stock fleet will have been replaced in the previous four years. It is not just a question of the West Coast Main Line. On commuter lines south of the Thames 2 billion is being invested in replacing all the slam-door trains by 2005 and another 1 billion is being invested in upgrading the power supply to accommodate the new trains. Commuters, and passengers in general, will see the benefits of new and improved rolling stock, some of which will greatly help to resolve the overcrowding issue.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, will my noble friend accept that rolling stock leasing companies are overcharging?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the rolling stock companies signed up to a code of conduct that is supervised by the regulator. He has not felt the need to refer any of their practices in relation to the provision of rolling stock. There have been one or two reports that appear to have greatly exaggerated the profit margins on which the rolling stock companies are operating.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, even though there has been great expenditure on rolling stock, passenger trains are now far more uncomfortable than they were 20 years ago? Why cannot they make them more comfortable when they replace them?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, increasing the capacity of commuter trains may look as if it is not increasing passenger comfort, but I am not sure that the noble Earl is right when it comes to main line trains. Certainly, the ride is a good deal smoother because the technology underpinning the new trains is so superior. That will certainly be seen on the West Coast Main Line with the tilting trains.

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Lord Luke: My Lords, can the Minister tell us why so many of these new trains, which we all welcome, break down? Could it be because Network Rail is unable to supply track and other facilities for effective trials to take place before they come into service?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there were one or two instances where the performance of the new rolling stock was not up to standard and it caused great difficulty with the provision of services. But, as I have indicated, the investment in rolling stock, particularly over the past four years, will bring real benefits to the travelling public. This is already being experienced on some lines.

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, will the Minister expand on that and tell the House on how many occasions new rolling stock has been put into service that has proved to be unserviceable?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the biggest single problem with rolling stock is bringing it into service in the south of London where we do not have sufficient power supplies. That has been the single most regrettable development over the past 18 months. We are now on target to see the oldest form of travelling vehicle, the slam-door trains with their attendant dangers, phased out next year. I do not have figures on the numbers, but as I indicated earlier, there have been instances where the rolling stock introduced produced teething problems in operation to the discomfort of all of us.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, will my noble friend make any comment on the report that there are many new train units waiting to be cleared? If that is the case, is it not a scandal?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I think that my noble friend may be referring to rolling stock that we hoped would be in operation south of London. Utilisation has been held up by the inadequacy of power supplies for the new rolling stock which, because of its design, consumes considerably more power than the old rolling stock. It has additional features for the comfort of the travelling public. Power supplies have been our single greatest problem over the past few months. But, as I have indicated to the House, we confidently anticipate that we shall have the old trains out of use and the new ones fully in use next year.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this is because it is the wrong sort of electricity? We have already had the wrong sort of leaves and the wrong sort of snow.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on the way in which she has expressed her question. Let me assure her that the electricity is okay. Its quality is fine; there is just not enough of it.

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Lord Lyell: My Lords, the Minister has explained to us about slam-doors for the lucky commuters south of the Thames. Many of us, including the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, take diesels, which I think are known as high-speed trains, that are now 20 years old. We go on Great Western to Sheffield on the Midland line and north of Edinburgh, where the line is not electrified. Those trains have slam-doors that, in my present state, I am finding hard to open and close. Can he give us any news on these, or perhaps inform me in writing later?

Lord Davies of Oldham: Well, my Lords, I do not have briefing for every line in the country. More accurately, I have briefing for every line in the country but just cannot recall it at a moment's notice. So I shall have to write to the noble Lord on that. However, I assure him that the very significant investment put into the rail industry in recent years means that we can anticipate that the major problems with rolling stock will be overcome, because it will be replaced by new trains.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, perhaps I can tweak the Minister's memory. There is a very important line running from Paddington to south Wales and also to the west of England. Those high-speed trains are now 33 years old. They are the main carriers and rolling stock. Does that not underline the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that too many resources are going into the West Coast Main Line—which is electrified and was already, before the upgrade, far superior to that going to south Wales and the west of England? It is a disgrace and something needs to be done. Is the SRA's position much the same as that of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee which was said to be entirely independent? Surely the Government have some influence on SRA policy.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, in introducing new rolling stock and greatly improving the service on one line, one is always open to the charge that other lines no longer compare so well with that line. The noble Lord will forgive me, but I am sure he will recall that it is not so many years ago when the train service to the west and to Wales was the envy of those who came down from the north. Of course, in due course we shall have to address ourselves to the longevity of the trains in use on that particular line. However, I do not think that he should detract from the higher priority accorded to the West Coast Main Line because of all the difficulties of which we have been all too well aware over nearly two decades.

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