|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): Before I respond to the statement, I should like to inform hon. Members that my husband is employed by a bank that has been appointed to advise the Railtrack administrators.
I thank the Secretary of State for just about prior sight of his statement; it was tight going. I also thank him for coming to the Chamber to respond to the Strategic Rail Authority plan. However, I appreciate that we may have to await the words of Lord Birt in another place before we hear the Government's genuine response to it.
Since the Secretary of State pulled the plug on Railtrack and put the company into administration, train delays have increased overall by 45 per cent. and by more than 70 per cent. on some lines. Strikes are crippling some lines and every day brings more news of commuters' misery. As the Secretary of State admitted this morning, responsibility rests firmly with the Labour Government.
As the Evening Standard tells us, there is no new money. That is significant. The Secretary of State would have told us that if he had not left out the paragraph in his statement that said "Most of the additional £4.5 billion has been the subject of previous Government announcements." In fact, it is difficult to find what is new in the statement, which is a triumph of cut and paste from Railtrack's network management statement.
The Government have provided some value added: a 25 per cent. increase in delay for most of the projects. Perhaps the Secretary of State could name one project for which the timetable has not slipped. Again, the Government have raised expectations that the plan will be the answer to passengers' needs.
Much is made of new carriages, and the Secretary of State referred to them. Will he confirm that they are not additional, as the statement suggests, but merely replacements? By how much will capacity increase as a result? Furthermore, what confidence can the beleaguered travellers on Connex South Eastern have that the power supply will be sufficient to run the new trains?
The SRA has set out three milestones that need to be reached to achieve the strategic plan. The first is resolution of the Railtrack administration. While the company stays in administration, the rail system is in limbo, with staff, contractors and train operating companies uncertain about the future, and the private sector unwilling to invest. Some say that Railtrack will remain in administration until next year. Will the Secretary of State tell the House his working estimate, for budgetary purposes, of the date on which Railtrack will come out of administration?
The second obstacle to achieving the SRA's plan is instability and lack of confidence in the railwaythe plan says that placing Railtrack into administration has damaged confidence in the railways. The Government are expecting the private sector to invest more than £30 billion in the railways over the next 10 years. Exactly what steps is the Secretary of State taking to restore the confidence of private sector investors?
What about passengers' confidence in safety? In December, at the Paddington survivors group summit, the Secretary of State signed up to implementing improved safety measures. The network management statement made a commitment to the installation of automatic train protection systems. In this plan, that has disappeared. Are the Government still committed to it?
The third obstacle mentioned by the SRA is skill shortages. Passengers' misery is being increased by the cancellation of trains due to strikes caused by the irresponsible behaviour of the RMT and ASLEF. We hear that last year the Minister for Transport was ordered to hold monthly meetings with the unions. Well, we can see how much help that has been. Will the Secretary of State join me in condemning the trade unions for calling these strikes, and will he clearly state to the House that the Government back the management of the train operating companies in dealing with the strikes?
There is a fourth milestone: capacity. Without increased capacity the Government will not deliver the improvements that they promise. The plan holds out little hope that that can be achieved and therefore fails in relation to the most important milestone of all.
Mr. Byers: Since I became Transport Secretary, I have made it very clear that the level of service provided on our railways is unacceptably low. That decline has not happened since the general election last year, or since the one in 1997. The problem has been caused by a number of reasons, and, as the travelling public know, the two main ones are underinvestment going back decades and the failed privatisation involving Railtrack. The Conservatives cannot come to terms with the fact that one of their creations, Railtrack, has been taken into administration by the High Court. They oppose that.
The shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer said on "Question Time" last week that privatisation of Railtrack was not given a chance. I see him nodding in agreement now. That is the Tories' solution: give Railtrack one more chance. That is the shadow Chancellor's policy, but the travelling public know better.
The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) spoke of the problems with drivers. There is a terrible shortage of drivers, which is why the trade union has been able to push up the rate of pay, for two reasons. First, the industry is run according to the short term at the moment; we do not have real investment in skills. The SRA plan proposes a National Rail Academy to address that problem. What are the facts behind the crux of the problem? On privatisation, what did the train operating companies do? They got rid of 1,000 drivers. That is the heart of the problem faced by the industry.
The hon. Lady raised issues about improved safety measures. Our commitments will be delivered, and that is a guarantee from the Government. On carriages, of course there will be replacements for the old slam-door stock, but if she reads the document and the detail on individual franchises she will see that capacity will increase as well. Each franchise is gone through in the strategic plan, and I ask her and the travelling public to read what improvements are planned and timetabled for their particular franchise area. That is there in detail and people can see, for the first time and with a timetable, the planned improvements in their area. The plan also takes into account the cost of Railtrack being in administration.
The hon. Lady makes a big point about no new cash being available to the industry, but we are very clear about investment: the figure was £29 billion when the 10-year plan was announced and it is now £33.5 billion, the sum which is being allocated today. We have made no secret of the fact that announcements have been made over the past 12 months or so about the additional money coming into the railway network. We have been very clear about that, but for the first timethis is the crucial pointwe are seeing big investment in our railway network, as £33.5 billion of public money is coming in. That stands in stark contrast to the penny-pinching of the Conservatives in government.
Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman may say that, and I look forward to the next election campaign, when he stands on a commitment to reduce the percentage of gross domestic product spent on services to 35 per cent. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) knows that an allocation of 35 per cent. of GDP for public services means a £60 billion cut in public services. It means that the whole investment need for railways will be lost totally. The shadow Chancellor may not like it, but he is on record as saying that very clearly.