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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, while it is always possible that my noble friend may be right, perhaps he will be good enough to look at the net book value because I am rather surprised at the low figure he has given for that. Does it not seem rather odd, in view of the fact that the rolling stock was sold at something of a bargain price which will result in enhanced profits, that there is still no requirement for those enhanced profits to be invested in the purchase of fresh stock?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am pleased and not a little surprised that my noble friend acknowledges the possibility that we might be right on some of these issues. We are sure of that figure, but I shall of course check it yet again. But I believe that the figure of some £1.8 billion which I have for the net book value is the

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correct figure. As to the question of whether further strings should be attached to the sale of these ROSCOS, we did not feel that that was appropriate. It was a commercial bidding process and we believe that the price paid was an appropriate one.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, who of course, as a former Minister of Transport, knows a great deal about such matters. However, a recent Minister of Transport, Mr. MacGregor, priced the rolling stock at £3 billion, whereas, as the Minister said, it has been sold for about £1.8 billion. It seems to be quite correct to say that the Government may have got a bargain because, Mr. Roger Ford, the editor of Rail Privatisation News, writing in The Times on 10th November, said:

    "This has to be a good deal for the taxpayer. We have got rid of a fleet of trains, two thirds of which are geriatric, to the private sector for not a bad price".
The really important question is: is there any guarantee that there will be investment in new rolling stock, and will the rail regulator have some power to ensure that the trains are of sufficient quality and sturdiness to carry the loads that they are being asked to carry?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I believe that the reference that the noble Lord made to the £3 billion refers to the question of the cost new rather than to the net book value. In terms of guarantees, it is important to remember that it is absolutely in the commercial interests of the rolling stock companies to invest and invest fully in rolling stock. For the first time there will be a competitive leasing market. We believe that the rolling stock companies--there are three of them now--will compete for investment opportunities. Of course, there are no additional barriers to entry to other companies coming in to participate in the leasing market.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, will the Minister respond to the second part of the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton; namely, what undertakings have been given by the purchasers as to the rolling stock's continued use? What undertakings have been given by the rolling stock purchasers that the equipment will continue to be used?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I specifically answered that question in my original Answer. I said that the purchasers were not asked to give specific undertakings as to the continued use of the stock as approximately 92 per cent. of the vehicles are currently on lease for periods of up to 10 years. The vehicles are tied up in long leasing arrangements. Therefore, there is no need to extract guarantees from the purchasers that they will continue to agree to the leases.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, will the Minister accept that many of us feel that questions of the type that have been put and, if I may say so, the supplementaries, are unfair? Noble Lords are fully aware--as, indeed, are the noble Lords, Lord Peyton and Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove--that the Government have no negotiating position in the area. They will have to meet whatever they are asked to pay eventually and that is what they are doing. However, given the enormous cost

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implications of the matter, are the Government still absolutely certain that the method they have chosen for achieving their objective is the best that there is? If such unexpected problems keep arising and they cannot find a better way to approach the matter, would it not be in everyone's interest to drop the whole business?

Viscount Goschen: No, my Lords; I do not believe that that is the case. I believe that we have the best method of addressing the very considerable problems that we have had on the railways. It is the best way of encouraging new investment in the system and the best way of introducing structural change so that we end up with a better railway, offering better services and better value for money for the taxpayer. I do not believe that the sale of the rolling stock companies was a problem; I believe rather that it was a success. It was the largest direct sale privatisation that there has been so far. Moreover, the proceeds were considerably in excess of those predicted by most commentators.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is now a smell of the poll tax about rail privatisation and that the more vehemently government Ministers continue to express their faith in it, the more we are prepared for a retreat?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, unlike parties opposite, we believe in our policies and we continue to support them. It is our view that this rail privatisation is the best way to encourage better services for the travelling public. We shall continue to pursue the interests of the travelling public and of the taxpayer.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, would my noble friend the Minister be able to use his influence with the purchasers to supply at least one extra sleeping car on the railway line to Fort William which, having been saved with great difficulty, is fully booked from now until Easter?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, if the line is fully booked, my noble friend will not be able to travel on it--unless, of course, a lot of those bookings were made by him and his family. I believe that we have fully rehearsed the issues surrounding the sleeper services and that they are not especially relevant to today's Question.

Relations between Central and Local Government: Select Committee

3.5 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the relationship between central government and local authorities in Great Britain; and, in particular, to consider--

    (1) the balance in that relationship between the powers exercised at central and local level;

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    (2) the effect of that relationship on local authorities' activities, particularly as regulator, service provider and community leader;

    (3) the need for regulation of local authorities as a means of ensuring appropriate standards of service and value for money, and the forms such regulation should take;

    (4) the financial relationship between central government and local authorities including the extent to which financial independence for local authorities is desirable and practicable;

and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be named of the Committee:

L. Beloff,
L. Dubs,
L. Gray of Contin,
B. Hamwee,
L. Hunt of Tanworth (Chairman),
E. Kintore,
B. Perry of Southwark,
L. Plant of Highfield,
B. Platt of Writtle,
L. Prys-Davies,
L. Sefton of Garston,
L. Tope,
L. Wade of Chorlton;

That the Committee have the power to adjourn from place to place;

That the Committee have power to appoint Specialist Advisers;

That the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee from time to time be printed and, if the Committee think fit, be delivered out.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, perhaps I may say that there is some relief in Wales that it has been seen fit to appoint a Welsh representative to this committee--and a very good one indeed. I should also like to express the hope that that kind of omission will not be seen on the Order Paper in future.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for his observations. Of course, the noble Lord urged upon your Lordships the need for such a change and, as the noble Lord will observe, another change has also been made which was the result of an initiative taken by his noble friend Lady White and other Members of your Lordships' House outside the House. As the matter has been raised, perhaps I may mention that it is very much in accordance with the recommendation made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, the proposed chairman of the committee.

I should also like to add something that is perhaps not said sufficiently often in your Lordships' House. I am most grateful to those involved in the consultations through the usual channels. That also helped to lead to this result which I hope is satisfactory to your Lordships.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for those observations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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