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There can be no doubt that the state of the transport system in this country, and of the railways in particular, is a matter of prime concern to everyone. Central to that is the performance of the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. He has repeated this afternoon what he said to The Guardian on Monday 14 January:
It will surprise no Member of the House to hear that I think the Secretary of State is doing a pretty bad job. [Hon. Members: "Oh!] I realise that that is a revelation to every Labour Back Bencher, but nobody who has read the press or listened to commuters in recent weeks can be in any doubt that that view is widely held outside the House. Indeed, if the silence on the Labour Benches on Monday when the Secretary of State made his statement on the Strategic Rail Authority's 10-year plan is anything to go by, he can take little comfort in thinking that his colleagues have a better opinion of his performance.
We know that the Secretary of State has been undermined by the Prime Minister's appointment of Lord Birt to consider transport policy, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) for his reference to the fact that the Secretary of State thinks the Prime Minister has appointed Lord Birt in order to keep him occupied. The Secretary of State has been undermined elsewhere. He told readers of The Guardian that he might perform a U-turn on the London Underground public- private partnership, but the Prime Minister told us that the tube PPP is definitely going ahead.
Mrs. May: I find the hon. Gentleman's second question a little surprising, because the train operating companies are still in the private sector. I apologise, because I cannot remember whether he was one of those who applauded the Secretary of State when he put Railtrack into administration.
Mrs. May: Excellent, but the hon. Gentleman may think twice about the Secretary of State's actions when he discovers that the company to replace Railtrack will be a private sector company. Far from changing the structure of the railways, which the Labour party has always said has so many problems, the Secretary of State is keeping the structure between Railtrack, the replacement Railtrack and the train operating companies exactly as it was under privatisation. The hon. Gentleman needs to find out more about his party's policy before intervening.
Mrs. May: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. Now that this has been pointed out to Labour Members, I hope that they will start to understand a little more about what the Secretary of State's promises actually mean.
I would like to refer to investment, and I shall do so briefly. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bath for placing on the record the Library figures that compared the investment record of the last five years of the last Conservative Government with that of the first five years of this Government. The facts are clear. Investment in the railways during the last five years of the Conservative Government was higher than in the first five years of this Labour Government. The figures quoted by the Secretary of State on Monday are repeated in the Government
I have discovered how the Department came across these figures. I understand that it took the £49 billion of total public and private investment from 2000 to 2010, divided it by 10 and adjusted it for cash-expected prices. The Department then looked at the SRA national rail trend statistics on the SRA websitethere are two different sources for the statisticsreferring to Government support only, and averaged only public sector investment over the last five years of the last Conservative Government. The Secretary of State says that actually what people care about is the total amount of investment and not where it comes from, but they also care about the Government giving the facts correctly and not trying to spin fantasy figures to tell a political story that is not true. I hope that the Secretary of State will in future quote the right figures when he talks about investment.
Mr. Don Foster: Is the hon. Lady aware that if one takes the much-vaunted £180 billion of investment for the 10-year transport plan overall and, instead of adding accumulatively the various amounts, studies it on a constant price basis, it comes to only £157 billion? By the time one takes out all of the money that is regularly spent each year, the hon. Lady will agree that it amountsto use a phrase coined by a Labour Memberto not much more than a string of beans.
Investment is a key issue in looking ahead to improving the railways for the future. There is a black hole at the heart of the Secretary of State's plans. He prays in aid the Financial Times in terms of looking at private sector investment for the future and says that the private sector will come forward with all of the investment, but yesterday the Financial Times posed a very important question to the Government:
When the Minister for Transport sums up, perhaps he will tell the House what the Government estimate will be the extra cost of obtaining that £34 billion from the private sector, as a direct result of the Government's actions with regard to Railtrack, which have so damaged private sector confidence. [Interruption.] The Minister for Transport is laughing at that question so perhaps he would like to answer another one. How much of the private sector investment that is forecast in the 10-year plan from the SRA will he guarantee will have been put in to the railways by the time of the next general election?
The Government have created a problem for themselves through the way in which they handled Railtrack and put it into administration. That problem is accepted by the SRA which says in its plan that one of the milestones that needs to be passed on the way to delivering the strategic plan is the resolution of the Railtrack administration and the implementation of any financial and structural reforms that are needed as a result. [Interruption.] The Minister for Transport yawns when I mention the 10-year plan, but I thought it was the plan to end all plans and would give us all the answers on the railways. He is the same Minister for Transport who informed us that while the Secretary of State was on holiday in India he had not been in touch with the Department: it was not necessary, the Minister for Transport told us, because he was in charge so everything would be all right. He now seems to be bored by the issue.
Perhaps the Minister would explain to us when he thinks Railtrack will come out of administration and the costs will be closed down. The administrators have told meit has been confirmed in written answersthat the cost up to March will be £2.9 billion. That is what they have asked the Government for. If Railtrack stays in administration for as long as is now predicted by commentatorsuntil the middle of next yearan extra £7.5 billion will be needed to pay the costs of administration. The problem with that is the impact that it is having on the railways that the travelling public use. Delays have increased and people are suffering cancellations, but the 10-year plan gives no hope that they will see the increased capacity in the system that is needed if overcrowding is to be reduced and the quality of journeys improved.
Other aspects of the plan should worry rail passengers. It suggests a reduction in the number of train operating companies and the merger of some franchises, but the SRA has also stated its aim of giving priority to express services, and that could lead to a worrying situation. I shall give an example from my constituency. Maidenhead and Twyford stations are served by Thames Trains. First Great Western goes from Paddington through to Reading without stopping at Maidenhead or Twyford. The SRA proposes that First Great Western and Thames Trains
The Secretary of State says that he is responsible for the state of the railways. He promised us a 10-year plan that would give us a railway fit for the 21st century, but the real problem for passengers is that the 10-year plan does not deliver the increase in capacity that is necessary to improve services. The real problem is that the right hon. Gentleman does not know whether he can deliver a 10-year plan because he has no guarantee of future private sector investment or even of the public sector investment that he proposes. He is not delivering capacity, he is not improving services, and he gives passengers no hope.
Recently, in an interview, the Secretary of State said that his decision on Railtrack was high politics. It is time that he stopped playing high politics and started delivering the railways that passengers want and the economy needs.