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Lord Sewel: My Lords, the definition of the public interest that applies in these circumstances is that provided by Her Majesty's Government.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, is the Minister aware that our Chief Whip has expressly forbidden me to raise any suggestion that the escalation in cost could have anything to do with the choice of wallpaper for the new building? Therefore, I shall not do so. Does he agree that, as this is a very sensitive site, the building must be distinguished without being extravagant? Will he accept that the final cost of an entirely new parliament building is bound to compare favourably with the £200 million already mentioned by the noble Lord for a mere office block extension across the road?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I am not going to comment on the noble Lord's latter point. I thoroughly agree with him that we have to make sure that the new Scottish parliament is totally appropriate, a significant architectural statement, and of a quality that the people of Scotland, the United Kingdom and beyond can be proud of.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, the Minister said that the building will cost between £60 million and £80 million. Is that sum to come from the Scottish block and, if so, what services will have to be cut? If it is not coming from the Scottish block, how much higher will Scottish income tax have to be?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I believe I dealt with that question in an earlier answer.

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Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, in selecting the site was the Secretary of State for Scotland made aware that in the neighbouring premises Lord Darnley and Rizzio were murdered by their political opponents? Will he avoid any such eventuality?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, it depends who gets elected!

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, when considering that the cost of the Scottish parliament is less than £100 million and also that the Millennium Dome will cost more than £400 million, can the noble Lord tell me which structure he believes will be the first to become redundant?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I am sure that both buildings will be fit for their purpose and will survive as long as they are necessary and required.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can my noble friend clarify the position of the Scottish block, as it is called? Does that mean that the block will continue--as I believe it will--to be financed through the Barnett formula? Does it also mean that there will be no addition to that formula for this particular building?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, there will certainly be no addition to the Barnett formula for that building.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, when the Minister gave the details of the cost, he ventured the sum of £50 million for the building costs and left unspecified the amounts for site acquisition, professional fees and VAT. What is the maximum estimate of the cost of those three items?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, let me go through it again. We estimate £50 million for the construction costs and, I think, £4 million for the acquisition costs. I cannot give an estimate for the VAT costs or the fees.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, can the Minister give an estimate of the annual running costs of the Scottish parliament? What effect does he anticipate that that will have on Scottish Office programmes?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, perhaps I may seek the indulgence of the House. The reason that I could not give an answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, about fees and VAT is that I cannot do the percentage calculations quickly enough. The noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, asks about the running costs. The total running costs of the parliament--they should not be seen as additional running costs--are estimated to be between £20 million and £30 million per year.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, but I was stimulated to do so by the tone of the answer of the noble Lord when he came to define "the public interest". I hope that the noble Lord will be able to reassure the House that he is responsible to Parliament, and in particular to this House, for justifying

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what is in the public interest. Arrogant statements of that kind do not go down very well either with the Opposition or with the House as a whole.

Lord Sewel: Oh dearie dearie, we are a little sensitive from time to time! I thought that the point was that the noble Lord asked me to choose between definitions, one of which was based on parsimony and the other on extravagance--and I declined both.

Lord Annan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that just at this minute it is very important that we should not try continually to score points about the cost to Scotland or the cost to England? Making the devolution process work will be difficult and if we do not make it work, it will end in a demand from Scotland for independence--and that would be a disaster.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his measured and wise comments. We should all consider those points.

Noble Lords: Next Question!

Lord Geddes: My Lords, may I advise the Minister that the VAT on £54 million comes to about £9.5 million?

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I am sorry to have to rise, but we have already had 16 minutes and I think that we should move on.

Rail Services: Quality

2.53 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to improve the quality of rail travel throughout Great Britain.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the Government's overriding goal is to win more passengers and freight on to the railways. We are committed to creating a new rail authority, and to introducing more effective and accountable regulation of the railway.

Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, does she accept that much of Britain's privatised railway network, which has received billions of pounds in subsidies at the taxpayers' expense, is a shambles and is getting worse by the week? Does she also accept that there is very little realistic hope of persuading people to leave their cars at home if they doubt whether the train will turn up on time--or even at all? Will my noble friend acknowledge that what is required is a much stronger role for the railway regulators and a willingness, if necessary, to take the worst performing railway companies back into the public sector?

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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that it is in all our interests to have high quality public transport services so that travellers have real choice about how they make journeys. We are very concerned about poor performance by train operators and we are committed to establishing a more effective and accountable regulation of the rail industry that will produce the quality of services that passengers have the right to expect. We are conducting a thorough review of rail regulation and of the sanctions currently available to regulators to identify exactly what improvements we need to make.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, would the Minister not agree that in order to ease overcrowding on the east coast line the simplest solution would be to extend the franchise currently granted to GNER, thus enabling that company to invest in more rolling stock?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I note the noble Lord's comments, and I know of his interest and concern about that line. Requests for franchise extensions, such as that received from GNER, will be considered on their merits. However, there need to be convincing arguments of public interest and value for money to justify renegotiation of contracts which were freely entered into following a competitive process.

Lord Renton: My Lords, in order to relieve congestion on the roads and to add to the advantages of rail travel, will the Government consider restoring and increasing the Motorail services?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting suggestion which fits very well with the theme of integration we are considering in the context of an integrated transport White Paper. I shall certainly take the noble Lord's views into account.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, will my noble friend, whom I respect, do her utmost to improve the service between Anglesey and Euston station, which is the oldest named train service in the world? Will she also ensure that the service is improved to the extent that I can be here in time for Questions?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will want me to ensure that my noble friend is in his place for Questions. I know that there is great concern about that particular rail service and that we need to look at how we can improve performance. However, I also know that Members of your Lordships' House can indicate other geographical regions of the country equally in need of improvements in their rail services.


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