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Mrs. Ellman: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that he would give additional funding to a company that has a predicted deficit of £700 million by December and £1.7 billion by next Marchan uncontested allegation?
Mr. Pickles: The hon. Lady earlier made great play of the west coast main line. On 8 October, the Secretary of State was due to receive from Railtrack a solution to that problem. When, in about 10 years' time, the hon. Lady is still receiving complaints from her electors, we will have to remind them that she supported a decision that meant that money for phase 2 of the west coast main line was not made available.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was right to ask where the missing £34 billion will come from. Most will rest on the back of 15 special purpose vehicles to create a mixture of public and private finance. Few have any realistic chance of getting off the ground in less than two or, more likely, four years, by which time the problems will be much worse. That means the delay or cancellation of projects. Goodbye west coast main line; goodbye Thameslink 2000; goodbye improvements on South Central. The result?stagnation of the railways, low investment and fewer passengers.
Mr. Pickles: If the hon. Gentleman travels on Thameslink every day, he must realise that he will be later and later and that he will have to get up earlier to arrive in this Chamber. That will go on for years. I wish the hon.
We know that the senior civil servant within the Department said in a meeting with Credit Suisse First Boston in July that the movement towards a non-profit company was neither "appropriate nor attractive". We know that Mr. Winsor told the Select Committee that he warned the Secretary of State that this would affect public-private partnership deals. Hospitals, roads, railways and airports will all be affected, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said.
We all know that the next PPP deal will be the underground. Interest rates alone will cost an extra £10 million because of the incompetence of the Secretary of State. When we think about the number of hospitals and roads on top of that, we can appreciate the full extent. We know that Ministers have absolutely no interest in the shareholders or the employees of Railtrack. They realise that 92 per cent. of the employees of Railtrack own shares. Overnight, a grade 1 signaller took a pay cut of 9.4 per cent. For clerical staff, 6.1 per cent. of pay was taken away by the Government.
Let one family speak for them all; a Mr. and Mrs. Byers. They are pensioners who invested £3,500 for their old age and nursing care. They have said that their lives are "absolutely ruined". I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman who bears the same name will also bear the responsibility for his career being ruined.
The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): First, I wish to associate myself with the comments made by others regarding the tragedy in New York yesterday and the impact that that will have on the aviation industry and those who work in it, many of whom are our constituents.
We were pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) gaining his voice, and I was pleased to hear my neighbouring colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), putting the record straight on Railtrack and BMW. [Interruption.]
There were one or two interesting revelations. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) wished my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) a long period in the House, which shows an accurate reading of the opinion polls and the future prospects of the various parties. Alarmingly for those who sell hair dye, the hon. Member for Maidenhead revealed that she prefers mature men. There will be an instant reduction in the use of hair dyes and a great proliferation of grey hair around the Chamber in the coming days.
The debate was also interesting for the fact that we have wasted half a day when there are so many other issues that could be discussedissues on which, at business questions, Opposition Members have demanded debates. Last week, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) asked for a debate on arable farmers, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) for one on health, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) for one on the House of Lords, and the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) for one on London. All those might have been more appropriate subjectsthey are all important. The previous week, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham asked for a debate on the Crown prerogative, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) for one on civil defence and the right hon. Member for NorthWest Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for one on the economy. All those were more significant issues.
An extremely interesting aspect of the debate was Opposition Members' failure to mention certain subjects. I heard precious little mention of passengers, of freight, or of the industry, but an awful lot of talk about a small section of the Citythose who bought Railtrack shares
Let us deal with the underlying facts. Railtrack did not oppose our petition to the High Court for administration because it recognised the strength of the case. Our evidence to that court showed a deficit for Railtrack of £700 million by 8 December, rising to £1.7 billion by March 2002. Faced with those facts, the courtnot the Secretary of Statein the person of Mr. Justice Lightman, said:
During the debate, I was amazed by the cavalier way in which the Opposition treated public money. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the hon. Member for Maidenhead and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) all seemed to be quite easy about substantial but unspecified sums of public money being thrown around. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffein a term used in the debatehas form in that. After all, during the time when he was Chancellor we nearly doubled the national debt.