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6.44 pm

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I had prepared a major speech for the debate after spending considerable time trying to digest such a complicated document. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), but I regret that he took so long to make his remarks because we have limited time in which to discuss the important order. I want to give the Minister an opportunity to respond in full to the many important

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questions that have been posed. I shall therefore disregard my speech and speak almost entirely as a constituency Member of Parliament.

I was deeply concerned to hear from the hon. Member for Bath that the parliamentary pension fund may have suffered to the tune of some £400,000 through Railtrack's failure and the Government's actions. I shall make no more of that. I am approaching retirement age, but I have no intention of retiring from the House in the foreseeable future. I hope that I shall continue to get my constituents' support.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) urged me to raise a specific constituency point. Many hon. Members who are present are worried about the modernisation and upgrading of the west coast main line. It is crucial not only to hon. Members' ability to get to the House, but—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member has been present throughout the debate and is aware of the constraints on it and its narrowness.

Mr. Winterton: As ever, I am grateful for the courtesy that you show to hon. Members, especially to me, Madam Deputy Speaker.

How will administration affect the investment that was planned and scheduled for the west coast main line? It is crucial to the economic potential and success of the north-west. How will the Railway Administration Order Rules 2001 that we are considering tonight, albeit too briefly, affect the line?

There was a partnership between Railtrack, Virgin Trains and Macclesfield borough council to find the necessary further investment for Macclesfield station and upgrade it to fulfil the requirements of my constituents, who use the rail service.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I use Macclesfield station twice a week; many of my constituents use it because it is the main—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member tempts his hon. Friend to go down a route that he would prefer not to use.

Mr. Winterton: I thought that I had gone down that route. I do not know whether that was a coded message, but I shall take it.

I appreciate that the Minister wants eight to 10 minutes to wind up, but I hope that he can deal with my points and perhaps help other hon. Gentlemen who have not been able to speak. [Hon. Members: "And Ladies."] And hon. Ladies, although I am concentrating on investment in the west coast main line, which does not affect my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), who is present. However, she and her constituents are clearly affected by rail investment.

I have great regard for the Minister and his endeavours to deal with matters that hon. Members have raised. If he can give me an answer, I shall not try to divide the House at the end of the debate. The Minister is now giving me his attention again. If he can deal with the simple questions that I put to him, I hope that hon. Members will agree, albeit reluctantly, to the administration order.

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6.49 pm

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) for ensuring that I have at least a couple of minutes. I realise that he had to give up his long speech. As my parents-in-law live in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), I have also used the west coast main line. I fear that that is the last time it will be mentioned tonight.

This situation is something of a mess. A number of questions need to be answered before we give our consent to the administration order, as the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) pointed out.

I wish briefly to discuss two minor issues. The notion that the 71-page document that we are discussing would take a week to prepare is sheer nonsense. Anyone who has worked in the City of London, as many hon. Members have, will realise that these are boilerplate documents that can be turned round in hours in a global financial world.

Part 5 of the order deals with the role of the administrator. On the one hand the Secretary of State and the Minister have insisted that shareholders will not get a penny from the taxpayer. As a number of speakers have pointed out, however, the administration structure is an extremely costly exercise and will remain so. Apparently, Ernst and Young, the administrators, are getting in excess of £500,000 per week. The lawyers, bankers and various other consultants seem to be engaged in a process that resembles an inversion of Christ's miracle of the loaves and fishes.

A vast amount of public money is being frittered away and, meanwhile, what will be happening to the railways? How will Railtrack's statutory duty continue to be fulfilled? Even in the past six or seven weeks it has seemed that the answer to that question is: "not terribly well". Delays are up by about 30 per cent. throughout the country.

I hope that the Minister will also be able to explain to some extent the slashing of the various investment programmes that has taken place, many of which were under way in the first half of this year. Obviously, I would be interested to hear some up-to-date details in that regard.

No blame should be attached to the administrators. They are dealing with the paraphernalia of a very complicated process, not least in the document itself. The patience of shareholders and passengers must fast be running out with this whole circus, in particular as it will career on for at least six months or so. As there are only eight minutes left, I will give the Minister a full opportunity to answer the various questions raised in the debate.

6.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. David Jamieson): I am delighted to be able to respond to this debate. When the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) was speaking at the beginning of the debate, his hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) intervened on him, using the words, "ill-informed, rushed and botched". I thought for a moment that we had got off the subject and were talking about the privatisation of the railways in the first place.

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As I have such a regard for the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), I will respond to his questions. I can assure him that investment in the west coast main line will be going ahead. I can also assure him and the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne)—they will be on the platform at Macclesfield station together—that they will be able to continue to use that line and that the improvements will be taking place.

I shared the concern of the hon. Member for Macclesfield about what the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said about our pension fund. The hon. Member for Macclesfield is perhaps a little nearer the time when he will be drawing his pension than the hon. Member for Bath and I.

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish): I am sure that my hon. Friend could please the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) by telling him that they could rename his station "Macclesfield International".

Mr. Jamieson: I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion.

Mr. Pickles rose

Mr. Jamieson: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman for a moment. I have only been on my feet for two minutes. He spoke for 23 and I stopped counting his questions when he got to 50. I will now attempt to answer some of those questions.

We should put on record why the order is being made and what the provisions are. The railway administration provisions of the Railways Act 1993, as amended by the Transport Act 2000, can be applied in the event of insolvency of what is termed "a protected railway company" carrying out "relevant activities", or if anyone applies to wind up such a company. That, of course, was embedded in the 1993 Act.

A "protected railway company" is a private sector operator with a passenger licence, or a network, station or light maintenance depot licence, and its relevant activities are, as appropriate, the carriage of passengers or the management of the network, station or light maintenance depot described in the licence. It is important to place that on record. It is also important to note that the provisions thus cover, among others, the 25 train operating companies as well as Railtrack.

Although firmly based on existing administration procedure, the key difference in the railway administration process in the 1993 Act is that, although the relevant company must be managed by a special railway administrator in such a way as to protect the interests of members and creditors, he must also ensure—this is the important point—that the company's activities continue to be carried out while it is in administration until it, or an appropriate part of it, can be transferred to another party who will similarly ensure continuation of those activities.

In simple terms, that means that while the primary duty in a non-railway administration is protection of the interests of the creditors, there is in a railway administration an equal duty to ensure that the train services, or at least the network, are kept running.

I am sure the House agrees that ensuring the continuity of train services, including those on the west coast main line, which the hon. Member for Macclesfield

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(Mr. Winterton) mentioned, must be vital to any railway administration process. [Interruption.] Now he is not listening to me, but I see that he has other interests. The hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) may be telling him that his tea is ready. It is a rare moment in the House when the hon. Gentleman blushes, but I seem to have succeeded.

I was waiting for the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar to say what he would have done in circumstances similar to those we found ourselves in during September and early October. [Interruption.] Well, he had 23 minutes to tell us, but he did not do so. He may tell us in another debate. He used a nonsensical expression, saying that hundreds of schemes would be frozen. I can tell the House that that is untrue. I shall deal with other points he made.

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